Category Archives: Faith

Just 18 Days to India!

Friends –

The time is at hand! I am just eighteen days away from my departure from Atlanta on August 9. I will get to spend eight days with the Dongerdive family and Life Light ministries in Aurangabad, India. I have been working with John, Life Light’s Executive Director, for ten years, ever since we met in seminary.

Life Light is a multi-faceted indigenous Indian ministry. They operate an orphanage, operate two schools (which are bursting at the seams!), directly oversee nine church plants (plus they have thirty missionaries to their own people who have planted 74 churches in their region), offer an annual pastors conference for up to 200 attendees and a correspondence course in biblical and theological training, conduct street ministry to lepers, and are growing their microlending program. They now have a staff of nearly 150 people.

John, and his brother James, the Director of the St. John’s Schools, asked me two years ago to serve on their U.S.-based board as Director of  Organizational and Staff Development. And now they have asked me to come and see and taste that the Lord is good. During this trip I will offer a one-day conference to local pastors on marketplace theology and ministries. I will also be meeting extensively with members of Life Light leadership and staff, local pastors, and local business leaders. I know that I will learn far more than I will be sharing with them. But the gist is to help them in any way that I can, especially with strategic planning, as they move forward in their reaching Maharashtra state for Christ.

I have two needs for this trip. There is far more riding on this trip, for myself as much as for Life Light, than I can imagine. I want to see and celebrate all the work that God has done through the Dongerdive family over the last 24 years. I also want to clearly discern how I can help them reach their city (3.7 million metro population) and their state (114.2 million), of which, less 3% are Christian. Please pray for my wisdom, for eyes to see and ears to hear what God intends in this region and for Life Light Ministries.

The other need is financial. I have raised more than 80% of the costs of this trip but am still about $500 short of my goal. I have my plane tickets but still need to cover my hotel, meals, and incidentals. Please pray about making a contribution. Eden’s Bridge, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3), not-for-profit so 100% of your gifts are tax deductible. Gifts can be given through PayPal by using my davedoty@edensbridge.org email address, or checks can be mailed to me, c/o Eden’s Bridge at 991 Lancelot Drive, Norcross, GA 30071.

Thank you for your friendship and encouragement through the years. I am looking forward to reporting some amazing things going on in the heart of India.

Shalom,

Dave Doty

Eden’s Bridge, Inc.

859-621-3636 (mobile)

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No, You Can’t

William Wordsworth was right in his poem “The World is Too Much with Us.” We allow ungodly influences to overwhelm our pining for God. Perhaps one of the largest flaws in secular thinking in post-modernity is the idea is that we are all uniquely special, that we should all win trophies just for showing up. We are setting ourselves up for a rising narcissism in society when we try to convince children that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. To shift that notion immediately to the absurd, I may be able to become a lot of things but becoming a member of another ethnicity should be a clear example of my limitations, and that is just the beginning.

When God was creating the earth and its inhabitants, he declared that is was not good for the man to be alone. One of the reasons was the obvious limitations of capacity one person possesses. I know that, given the fragile status of my lower back, that I cannot safely lift and carry 100 pound boxes. By working with others or machinery, I may be able to accomplish the task.

But a far more important human limitation is the individual capacity for collecting, retaining, and collating knowledge. We are finite beings, living in the presence of infinity. We cannot know everything. We are also, by extrapolation, subject to our own limited wisdom. There is a famous adage that tells us that knowledge is power. But knowledge alone is powerless. It is inert. Power comes by way of wisdom. That is, power comes when we know what to do with knowledge.

As said, knowledge is inert. It requires the catalyst of wisdom to derive any value inherent in the information we have collected. One of the reasons it was good for Adam to meet Eve was that they could not only pool their collective knowledge base, but they could reason together to discern the best uses of that knowledge. That’s called collaboration.

The reason I say “No, you can’t” is because none of us exist in a vacuum and that none of us has limitless power to do whatever we decide what we want to do. We co-exist within the network of all humankind. If the Internet has proven anything, it is that we cannot even begin to organize collective human knowledge. Coupled with the shifting sands of the changing dynamics of daily events, we are sometimes fortunate to even find our car keys, let alone solve global poverty or sex trafficking.

Yet we cling to our dreams of autonomy. We want to believe that we each decide how and where we will live. We refuse to believe that we are not in control. But if we are wise, we not only should pursue an ever-increasing knowledge base, we should also pursue collaborative opportunities to make the wisest decisions possible at every turn. Perhaps the four most powerful words in the English language are not “I do not know.” Rather, I think they are “what do you think?” Probably as powerful of a question that should always be forefront is “what don’t I know?”

One underlying problem in human endeavors, and the one that likely claims the most victims in organizational failure, is ignorance. It is more likely to undermine us than the decision making process itself. We all arrive at our decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously, by pursuing what we believe will best resolve our problems or advance our current standing. Some people make really stupid decisions simply because they do not understand the power of applying wisdom to knowledge. They can draw on their own experiences, limited as they are, or they can take a big step up and draw on the experiences of others. Greater knowledge may, if one refuses the egotism of denial, lead to greater wisdom. More information coupled with humility means better decisions.

Wise organizational leaders hire consultants or recruit advisory board members with a diversity of experience. One hopes those leaders will also look at the historic behavior of those consultants or board members to make an assessment of their successes and failures and what they have gleaned from them. Have they demonstrated growing in wisdom through both the good and the bad things that have come by their decision making through time?

As a joke, I recently ask some friends what they thought would be an appropriate hourly fee if I were to begin marketing myself as a professional conversationalist. The best answer was that I would likely have to pay someone $25.00 per hour to listen to me. Joking aside, I have updated my thinking, given my marketing experience through thirty years of business management and ownership, to think I should advertise myself as a collaborationist. It is not good for anyone to be alone and especially when faced with the seriousness of daily decision making in organizational leadership.

I know that I can bring value to the organizational operations of others simply by being present, asking pointed questions, and offering alternative thoughts on what next steps might provide desirable outcomes. I do not claim to have all the answers but those with whom I spend such time have already admitted that neither do they. But we can likely come to better solutions together than they may find in isolated contemplation. We all have something to offer and that something can be developed if we understand collaboration as an intentional pursuit. We all have unique experiences and interest, and have gained some measure of unique wisdom. But all our particularities never completely coincide with the particularities of any other single person on the planet.

The first company I co-founded with a friend was a tech pursuit. I used to encourage our employees that I wanted them to spend between ten and twenty percent of their work week away from the mundane tasks of their regular job duties to allow themselves room to think creatively. I have come to the decision that this is a good place to expand my own thinking and invoke the 80/20 rule. I do not know of very many people, at least outside very routine work settings like operating a press or assembling products, who work at their work 100% of the time they are on the clock. Sometimes they just need a mental break to step away from their computers to allow their brains to go through a refresh cycle.

If business leaders actually saw 80% productivity within the paid time of all employees, I suspect we would see a significant rise in global output. But what if we could find a way to help make that 80% more productive by making it more pleasurable and rewarding?

Here is my proposition. It contains both challenge and opportunity. The challenge: What if we required workers to complete their normal tasks in 80% of their work time to allow that 20% of their time could be spent on work and professional development? That 20% would be split evenly between isolated thought development (without electronic distractions including their own cell phones, their computers and social media, and incoming phone calls or co-worker disruptions) and focused collaborative discussions. In the first half, they could read industry or even job or skill-specific materials. Or, they could spend that time simply sitting with old school technology – a pen and paper. The questions to guide this time would include two concerns: what would make my job better for me (job satisfaction) and what would make my job better for the company (productivity gains)? Whether from quiet reflection or gleaning from their reading materials, notes would be taken on how their thoughts or the thoughts of others might be applied to advancing those two concerns.

The other half of this development time would be in intentional conversation with others to focus on fleshing out their thoughts. In some cases, workers would benefit from working with those with greater experience and broader knowledge in a mentoring mode. This works out because, for other employees, they could refine their own clarity and focus by helping those with less experience and knowledge . . . in a mentoring mode. Sometimes such sessions may prove most help in peer-to-peer conversations, working with those who most closely work in the same thought areas and facing similar challenges. In other cases, someone with a completely different perspective, from an entirely unrelated discipline, may be able to bring freshness to otherwise isolated “tower” thinking.

The collaborative conversations should be limited to two or three participants to allow each to bring the material from their thought development time to the table. The participant groupings should change from week to week to avoid tunnel vision and clique-ism. This is not just friends hanging out. And the last hour of the collaborative time would revert to isolation that each worker could tabulate their thoughts and ideas to pass up the management ladder . .  confidentially to someone other than the workers’ direct supervisors.

For one, this last piece would put some quality and performance control in place to ensure better outcomes than simply allowing people to hang out all afternoon without accountability. The second advantage is this would allow for candor, since direct reports would not have to fear retribution if their ideas are disagreeable to their supervisor. Employee inputs could be tabulated and passed to the heads of operations, accounting, and human resources for management accountabilities. And third, management would likely be surprised by the value of some of the operational, product, and service concerns, suggestions, and ideas that emerge from the process.

The opportunity is actually threefold for the worker with a bonus for the employer. For employees, they would be able to spend time thinking about what it is about their job they do not like and how to improve it. This will only work long term if management is serious about employee engagement and willing to work with the workers to increase job satisfaction. The benefits of employee engagement are already well known, especially in the direct value of employee retention through reduced recruitment, selection, and hiring costs and increases in productivity gained through the outputs of more experience workers; the one’s who have already learned more tricks of the trade.

Another benefit, which simply adds to employee job satisfaction, is significance. Most human beings have a strong desire to make a difference and to be recognized and rewarded for it. This is a psychological advantage for the worker but it would have a much more powerful impact if employers would agree to share the economic gains (at least 25%) of increased productivity that come about from the workers’ reflections and collaborations within a bonus system (the third benefit).

The obvious bonus for the employer is financial strength whether it comes from increasing sales or operational efficiencies gained from the workers’ suggestions.

To incorporate such a program would require strong leadership, one that is unafraid to run some risks, capable of carefully planning and implementation, and willing to challenge their employees to optimize their own potential. It may be that a single department could be set as a test case wherein performance could be measured over a six or twelve month period, kinks in execution could be worked out before broader implementation, and employee satisfaction (and therefore, things like retention) could be observed both objectively and subjectively (are income statements improving and is there more laughter in the office?).

Workers tend to appreciate increasing rewards, whether monetary or in other perks. But they thrive on the opportunities of becoming more significant in their work and expressions of their value to the organization. I have observed a multitude of organizations of every ilk – not for profit, for profit, cooperatives, educational and religious organizations. The two most common elements are that they all operate on the derivations of the same hierarchical organizational structure and they all live or die according to the quantity and quality of workers’ productive outputs.

Hierarchy is universally inevitable and can be modified only by degrees. Workers can be engaged or disengaged. The value of employee engagement is the key to success. No one can accomplish much alone. But organizations have the opportunity to tap into the collective knowledge of their entire workforce and to leverage that knowledge by releasing the collective wisdom of that same group.

Alone . . . no, you can’t. Together, we may have a chance at greatness.

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Seeking to Find: A Journey of Vocational Discovery and Calling

There is one call that is universal to all God’s children, the “Follow me” of Jesus Christ. But within a global population of more than seven billion souls, we each are called, perhaps varying by season, to distinct functions and roles. Oftentimes, we admire those who find a calling early and pursue it throughout their vocational lives. I fear, however, we can look around and just as often see those discontented with their work life, whether it is from the unsettling effect of mismatched of gifts and talents, the disappointment with meager pay, or the pain caused by abusive bosses or companies.

This essay is a self-reflective excursion from the perspective I suspect many find themselves in at various stages of life. In some ways, given my current circumstances, I feel adrift, without clarity or specific direction as to how or in what direction to proceed. So, welcome to my journey. I apologize if this meanders a bit. Perhaps the “why” of such wandering will become obvious. I am not sure.  But, one hopes, there may be a method to my madness. And trust me, it is sometimes maddening.

Even as I set about this writing, I am suddenly reminded of the Christmas hymn, “I Wonder as I Wander,” by John Jacob Niles. So I am distracted for a moment to look up the tune and its lyrics. And I realize that wondering and wandering are central themes of my life. But my life is anchored by the fact that “Jesus the Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I.” With that assurance, I am secure even in seasons untethered amidst the concerns of this world, so my wondering and wandering are with diminished anxiety about what the future holds.

I recently listened to a short recording of two Christian leaders speaking on the topic of calling. Since I am in a transitional season, seeking God’s direction for my here and now, these leader’s advice was poignant, even inspiring this essay. The key piece for me was that they advised that one should review personal history and ask, what is it that you have done in your life, both early and late, that has afforded the most positive pleasure and success? What is the thread that runs through the whole of your life that binds it all together. Reflecting on those questions led me to a single word: discovery.

It is doubtful that anyone who knows me well at all would be surprised if I were to say I am inquisitive. I have always loved learning, both by exploring the published ideas and stories of others and by the range of my own firsthand experiences. I once, jokingly I thought, told my spiritual mentor that my biggest problem was that I wanted to know everything. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. The problem with knowledge is that it can foster personal pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). And, I am sure, there are skeptics already thinking “knowledge won’t make you happy,” or “knowledge cannot save you,” or even, as Festus cried out at Paul, “Much learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 26:24). Trust me, many of my family members and friends will attest that I have long since taken leave of my senses and am a bit (or extremely) out of touch with reality.

I reiterate, for all the skeptics, the anchoring I have found in Christ. Perhaps, as said, there is a method to my madness, even if that method is not yet thoroughly understood. I resort again to Scripture, a safe haven and my foundation of reasoning: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). My comfort lies in knowing that, whether we respond appropriately or not, we are all called according to God’s purpose, that is, our salvation in Christ and the redemption of all creation through Christ.

So, what is it historically that speaks so clearly to me about discovery as my unifying theme? As I listened to the advice of those commentators, one directive stood out: think on what things align that you experienced both early in life, before the age of ten or twelve, and later in life. Both a set of circumstances and a particular incident in my early history jumped out at me.

The circumstances of my early life included being born to two curious parents. Though both were raised in poor farm families, their thirst for knowing, and especially seeing, led me to worlds beyond my home life, through the dozens of library books consumed during summer vacations, to family vacations travelling across the nation, to the activities of summer camps from the age of eight on. As farmers, my parents also instilled work and earning my own way as hallmarks of life. These two factors – hard work and learning – became inevitable strains in my life.

I began making money at the ripe age of six years old. That was when I started making potholders on a small metal loom. I sold them to housewives in our neighborhood for fifteen cents each or two for a quarter. Having earned $1.25 on my first outing was the demise of my weekly allowance. I had discovered earning by my own labor. That evolved into my first regular job as a paper boy at the age of eight from which I derived enough income to buy a cassette recorder from a local hardware store at age eight, keep myself supplied with candy and snacks of my liking, and, eventually, the outright purchase of my second bicycle, a Schwinn three speed at age twelve. I was on my way as an entrepreneur as a product of my upbringing.

The particular incident was one my aging father, now approaching ninety years of age, still enjoys recounting from time to time. One morning, well after I should have returned from delivering my newspapers, I had not. I was just eight years old and discovering the wonders of the morning hours in our quiet Midwestern town. Dad recognized that I was late and thought it best to track me down. He found me just one city block from home, sitting very still on the front steps of my elementary school. He stepped from the car and asked me, “Dave, what are you doing?” As way of explanation, I asked him a question: “Did you know that if you sit really quiet you can hear the water running over the dam?” That dam was about five blocks away. I was lost in those moments in the wonderment of my world, unawares as a child of discovery speaking to my heart, having read many times since, albeit without recognition until the very moment of this writing, that “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls” (Psalm 42:7) – a new discovery even in Scripture writing about discovery. Unbeknownst to me then, it was the voice of God I was hearing! Notice that I was sitting still, silently, and listening intently. Though I did not know the Bible at all at that age, is it any surprise that I would “Be still and ‘know’ God?” (Psalm 46:10).

Through the years, I have never found any particular marketplace vocation or career discipline overtly appealing. So, when I started college, I pursued a degree in English literature simply because it was something I enjoyed. Since I have had no technical education, along the way I resorted to self-led studies of practical business matters, especially business management and leadership development. My first “professional” position was in entry level management with a restaurant company, which contributed to partnering with a friend to launch a start-up before the age of thirty. The long hours did not bother me. I was pursuing my goals of wealth and independence and I was not afraid of hard work. And we failed miserably.

I married in the waning days of that first endeavor but would soon launch another. In that Schwinn three speed bicycle, I had discovered an extension of the travel – the going and seeing of firsthand experience – which had been planted by my parents. Just out of high school, I had embarked on a coast-to-coast bicycle tour. The second entrepreneurial venture was to buy a fledgling bicycle shop and build it, over the next nine years, into one of the top recumbent bicycle shops in the country. We did quite well in that business but our marriage hit upon some seriously trying times. We chose the marriage over commercial success and sold the business. Still somewhat adrift vocationally, I then heeded the call to attend seminary in mid-life.

Throughout my life, along with management and leadership reading, I had taken up various other studies, but all proved dissatisfying. Fictional literature is fascinating as a study of the human condition. And I added readings in history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. But all these fell short of what I was looking for, even though I was never quite sure what that was. I knew I was looking for answers and all these simply led to more questions.

I first came to Christ as a teenager at a youth rally in Kokomo, Indiana. Through high school and college I wandered away from God, seeking my own pleasures in life, pleasures that would ultimately nearly destroy me and my second marriage. In fact, those pleasures, as out workings of my own selfishness, were at the heart of undermining my first marriage. I was far too foolish to commit myself to anything or anyone other than myself.

It was those same foolish pursuits that brought the second marriage to crisis. But God, in his mysterious ways, had drawn me back to him nearly a deacde earlier and now, in the midst of that second marriage crisis, called me to the seminary. I was hooked! For all the shortcomings of philosophy and history and psychology et al, in God I found an infinitely deep subject, ultimately unfathomable but curiously accessible. And in Christ I found the only answer that could ever completely satisfy or that I would ever need.

Oddly, the call to seminary was not, as one might suspect, a call to a pulpit. It was a call to study another topic somewhat new to me but generally familiar due to my business experiences: economics. Now, I completely understand that look of consternation on the faces of many reading this essay. The question has arisen often, “what has economics to do with the Gospel and Christian faith?”

Frankly, it is a good question and much too complicated to answer simply here. But, after nearly a decade of research, I wrote a book on the integration of those topics. That part of my journey began during my second semester of seminary, in the spring of 2003, and culminated, at least insofar as the basic research was concerned, when the book was published at the end of 2011. Even now, the research and contemplation continue and the book has already proven itself incomplete. A revision, I hope, will someday be forth coming.

After seminary, my wife and I launched our third venture in an industry completely different from the two industries of earlier ventures, one in light electronic manufacturing and one in specialty retail. This third was in all things lawn and landscape and exterior property maintenance. Again, the long hours did not bother us. But at age fifty, the physical labor took its toll. By the end, I underwent a second back surgery which left me in a fragile enough state that physical labor is now ruled out for future work. This I found a bit saddening as I had always enjoyed physical labor, work that left me feeling gritty and bone-weary at day’s end but always with a sense of accomplishment and tired strength. Alas, the foibles and confidence of youth now fading.

The onset of recession, along with my treatment for cancer and the (second) back surgery bookending 2009, was the handwriting on the wall. In early 2010 we faced the demise of that business. I anticipated the opening of a new adventure of deeper discovery and new challenges. It was as the seventy-hour-a-week demands of that enterprise evaporated that I felt the nudge to write the book.

I had considered pursuing a doctoral degree after seminary. On the good advice of two professors, I decided to skip the time and expense and set about organizing my thoughts. I had formulated a theory that the marketplace was actually intended and instituted as part of God’s order for creation. I cannot say exactly where the thought originated, and I have yet to find the core issue reiterated by others, but something inside me said, “God did this.” I found the key in a single word – `ezer – in Genesis 2:18. Eve was to be Adam’s co-worker, one to share in the productivity of their work, one with whom he could exercise mutually beneficial exchanges materially, intellectually, and spiritually. And a market economy was born, not as a financial model (there was no need of profit amidst the abundance of the Garden of Eden) but as a socially ordering institution and a spiritual pursuit of living unto holiness. But I digress.

The discovery of that single element, nuanced obscurely within the creation story, was a moment of elation and affirmation. I found something that I had not known before, then found that no one else that I could find had discovered it before either. It may prove to be my “crowning achievement” in life. But let’s give credit where credit is due. All I did was read the story with different lenses perhaps than others had done. God wrote the story then revealed to me a subtlety, a subtext, if you will, when He saw fit. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time wearing the right glasses.

I was, however, misunderstanding the outcomes of writing that book. I had thought it one type of step in the progression of my life but it has proven a wholly other kind. I took nearly two years, while “unemployed,” to write and edit the final draft to the satisfaction of my publisher. I presumed its publication would lead to opportunities, and perhaps an unfolding of new career paths, to speak and teach as a subject matter expert. It was received well by a handful of academics attuned to the importance of the marketplace in God’s mission in the world but, to my disappointment, it has found little traction with pastors and lay leaders. Some of that perhaps was the serious nature of how I wrote, not exactly on a scholarly level but with intentional depth and seriousness beyond the tolerance of a popular audience.

So, my journey continued. After its publication, the book led to a handful of opportunities to minister to others. But given the general lack of reception and the difficulty in explaining its significance to a broader audience, the topic of marketplace ministry has been a hard sell. It has proven especially difficult in raising funds to carry out what I believed was to become my vocational calling: to teach and preach on the redemption of the marketplace. Opportunities have arisen, especially outside the United States, in numerous invitations to share what I have learned. But alas the Lord has not seen fit to make provision for fulfilling those requests. I am able to encourage many, through writing and even coaching trans-globally via the Internet, but my heart’s desire is to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), to “taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm 34:8).

Two and a half years have passed since the book release, and it seems many doors have been closed before they even opened. The life of wandering and wondering goes on as the prospects of finding wage-earning work seems to have dried up. I have not drawn a salary in more than four years and the likelihood of being hired after the age of fifty in the current economy appears to be increasingly remote, especially given my lack of technical education or experience. The grounding of those farm kids who raised me to look to work as the core function of life seems to be shifting sand as time accelerates and life is passing by me more quickly than ever.

But I am enthralled by the vocational tone within Jesus’ invitation: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). The yoke tells me there is work yet to be done, to be shared as I am harnessed alongside my Lord. I do not clearly discern the shape of that work. Nor do I even understand how it is that provision may come (though I have yet to miss any meals so I certainly cannot complain). But even now, he continues to reveal more of his glory, his grace (charis, NT) and lovingkindness (hesed, OT), satisfying my every need. Other than Christ, what else could I possibly need?

God’s revelation invites me into a whole-life vocation of growing adoration and increasing emulation of Jesus Christ. It is as if I am discovering more fully my only true vocation, my calling, in that simple command, “Follow me,” to simply trust and obey. I am finding rest and new food for my soul even in the midst of barrenness. God is feeding me with manna from heaven, the Bread of Life. The rest is just details and I am content to sit still, listening to the water pouring over that dam in my memory.

Shalom,

Dave Doty

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Marketplace Ministries – Pakistan and India

I have been invited to conduct three one-day seminars on marketplace ministry and business-as-mission (BAM), two in Pakistan and one in India (since I will already be on that side of the world). These conferences will be designed for pastors and other church leaders, business leaders and entrepreneurs. The end goal is to help pastors start developing marketplace Christians into networks then create a groundswell of evangelistic intention to reach out to their cities through businesses.

I will be preaching and teaching at Hujji Ministries International in Pakistan, then Life Light Ministries in India. Both cities are only about 2% Christian. The problems are many including issues with infrastructure, poor public education, and rampant corruption. The Christians in the marketplace have the opportunity to be major contributors to changing their cities practically AND spiritually. I want to be an encourager that business is their Kingdom calling.

This tour, however, needs your support. To facilitate travel, accommodations, food, venue rentals, and other logistical costs, I need to raise about $7,000 very quickly. Would you consider helping? I need just 70 people who will step up with a $100 gift to be able to go and bless those who are asking for help. Eden’s Bridge, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) so all gifts are 100% tax deductible in the U.S.

Please contact me directly at davedoty@edensbridge.org if you have any questions. Shalom, Dave Doty

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BAM Think Tank Report 12: How Are We Doing?

 How Are We Doing? – Measuring the Impact and Performance of BAM Businesses

Download Report Here

excerpts from the Executive Summary (© BAM Think Tank 2013)

Business as mission is hard.

They need a compass to guide them—something to remind them of their direction and tell them if they are on track. Well designed and implemented metrics can help.

Without some consistently applied metrics it is very hard to know if the business is on track to achieve what it set out to do. That is dangerous for any business. However, since BAM businesses set out to bring glory to God and to expand the Kingdom of Christ, the consequences of being off track have eternal significance!

The Measuring Impact Issue Group … grappled with questions of how and what to measure in a BAM business, as well as why to measure.

Benchmarking and the development of best practice indicators are valuable for the entire BAM community.

There are many pitfalls in metrics and this report attempts to highlight these.

Collecting data is one thing, analyzing and evaluating it is quite another. We need in our evaluations to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work and to guide.

Possibly the most important aspect of metrics is their application—what do you do with the measure after you have prepared it?

Good metrics are a compass that enables good leaders to stay on track.

 

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Raphah – Be Still

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10a

Be still here is the Hebrew term raphah. It has several meanings which we will explore in three installments. I have tried to group twelve different nuances of raphah into subsets of four related meanings.

Raphah: Respite, Relax, Wait, Be Still

The central thrust of the verse above is toward the idea of resting. While it may pertain to both physical and mental activity, perhaps of greater importance is the release of anguish. We often think that a person who is grieving the loss of a loved one should “get some rest,” by which we mean, “go to sleep.” We know that deep rest rejuvenates the body. How often we set aside a problem until the morning and while the problem has not disappeared or diminished, when we are fresh and re-energized, we are more able to deal with it without the same levels of frustration or fear.

We are told of times when Jesus, feeling pressed by the crowds and the depth of their needs, slipped away, into the desert, across the water, or into a garden, to pray. He took a break to be rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by an angel of God (Luke 22:43).

Western culture, and increasingly global culture, seems always to be speeding up but consistently we hear the sentiment of Psalm 46:10 reflected in Scripture but perhaps most importantly in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

When I reflect on my surrounding culture here in North Atlanta, which is one of the busiest commercial centers in the U.S., I am reminded of Thomas Gray’s description, in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, of the busy-ness of modern society, even in 1751, as the madding crowd’s ignoble strife. The frenzy of life easily makes us anxious, harried, and tired but Jesus says “Come away, rest.” It is as if He in himself is a place of escape from the insanity of the striving world, even in its midst.

When we can “get away from it all,” whether to a sunny summer hillside, or an overstuffed chair in a quiet corner, or a favorite secluded chapel, it is there that we can be still, and in our stillness wait to hear the voice of God, not in the rending of the earth, the roaring wind, or raging fire, but coming in the quiet moment, as it did for Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12).

We often recognize the intense tiredness that comes after a long day of solving work problems or interacting with others in troubled relationships. Our bodies respond to the weariness of our minds. Getting away to clear our heads, especially in prayer or reflecting on ministering passages of the Bible, or perhaps to listen to favorite worship songs, re-sets our agendas, restores weakening faith, encourages the heart and gives us the opportunity to begin again, re-focused on Christ and the importance of pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Philippians 3:14.

In stillness, forcing ourselves to set aside all the intrusions and worries that life throws our way, we can commune with God, knowing that “those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength” – Isaiah 40:31.

Raphah – Abandon, Cease, Let Go, Fall Limp

The second grouping of meanings we impute to raphah leans toward reaching an end, especially of our own strength to accomplish something, or moving beyond performance expectations. Perhaps it is best summed up when Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” – Matthew 16:25.

When Adam and Eve fell from grace it was essentially due to the sin of self-determination. But self-determination, which is a product of pride, has a deeper cause. They chose to disobey God because they questioned whether what God had told them about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was true. In essence, they removed the authority from God to decide what was best for them, taking upon themselves the mantel of moral authority. But that action was merely symptomatic of their loss of faith in the integrity of God. They distrusted Him. They stopped believing God.

Ever since the Fall and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, humankind, in one way or another, has striven to “re-gain” the lost intimacy with God, or pursued a variety of panaceas to replace His presence, whether through wealth, power, alcohol, drugs, sex, or fame. All those, without a relationship with God, end in the desperation of trying to fill the void left by His absence from our lives. Often those pursuits will bring us to a crash, recognizing enough is never enough, whether it is in the diminishing psychological returns of increasing wealth or the dissatisfaction and emptiness wrought from deeper and deeper addictive behaviors.

Unfortunately, we sometimes also strive after religion, which is nothing more than trying to achieve righteousness by our own actions, as one of those panaceas. We get in our heads that if we can be good enough, to discipline ourselves to perform the right way every day, we will be good enough to go to heaven, good enough to earn God’s love that saves us.

Even if we have turned from overtly sinful behaviors, we often put on religion as a new addiction and find we are drawn toward legalism, following the checklist of God’s commands to justify ourselves. God proved by giving Israel the Ten Commandments that they were a fallen people. We seldom think about the fact that He gave Adam only one law . . . and Adam broke it!

Because we cannot atone for our own sin, that is, to make right the wrongs we have committed against God, our striving after holiness outside of the finished work of Christ on the Cross will fall short. But until we come to the realization that we cannot save ourselves, we strive on and become increasingly anxious wondering if we are yet good enough to please God.

In a word, raphah in Psalm 46:10 speaks to abandoning any notion of our own righteousness or our ability to attain in. Be still tells us to release our agendas or false notions of our own holiness. Here raphah also encourages us to release the anxiety that comes from falling short of the glory of God . . . and we all fall short (Romans 3:23). It is not until we fall limp in our inability, in our weakness, to become holy, that God can manifest and we begin to understand how the power of Christ is “perfected in our weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

You see, it is not until we come to our own end, recognizing our utter lack of righteousness and ability to save ourselves, that we come to the recognition of our need of a Savior, one other than us who is able to atone for sin, one already holy and willing to sacrifice self completely, in the very character of God, for the sake of the one fallen. Only Christ can take that position in our lives and only as we collapse under the crush of our indebtedness to God and abandon our self-justifying ego. In that moment of our coming to terms with our brokenness, His strength comes into the middle of our relationship to God and is made perfect for our restoration into the Kingdom of God.

Raphah – Become Discouraged, Lose Courage, Fail, Become Helpless

By now, I hope that you are beginning to see the richness of the word raphah, and why I consider the first phrase of Psalm 46:10 as pivotal in our relationship to God. But the meaning is deeper still as we take this last look.

It may seem odd that we can “know that God is God” when we are discouraged, or back away from following Christ, seeing only the pressing and demoralizing circumstances of life or the depth of our weaknesses when we fail, stumbling in sin. Can we “know that God is God” when we become helpless?

In Western thought, we are driven by a sense of self-worth based in our ability to perform. Individualism and our standards of success compel us toward independently striving for success, pulling ourselves up “by the bootstraps,” so to speak, to be recognized by our peers and families as worthy of acclaim and respect. Our economic system is geared toward working harder and smarter to carve out our place in the world. As the saying goes, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone” (from Solitude by Ella Wheeler Cox).

When we fail or find ourselves discouraged, we also often find ourselves alone. It is easy to think that we are the only one suffering in such ways, that others in the church are surely more holy than we, or the folk down the street do not have the same depth of financial, career, or marriage struggles we face every day. Isolation deepens the darkness of our despair.

But we are not alone. Foremost, God is with us. When Isaiah prophesied of the coming Messiah, he said that the One would be called Immanuel, meaning God with us (Isaiah 7:14). A major component of the incarnational (in the flesh) presence of God in Jesus Christ was God condescending to share human experience with us. He faced the trials, tribulations, and temptations we all face. Life is hard and God knows it . . . firsthand.

So, when we are discouraged, or failing God, or recognize our helplessness to be holy, how is it we can “know that God is God?” Though Christ ascended back to heaven after the Resurrection, He did not leave us without resources, especially resources for the moments of our deepest spiritual needs. First and foremost is the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit within us. It is by the presence of the Holy Spirit that God helps and teaches us (John 14:26). The literal translation of helper (parakletos) is comforter. When we think of the gentleness of God, it is in the moments that the Holy Spirit invites us to look to God for our salvation and help rather than to self in the midst of our daily madness that we can perceive the comforting voice of God’s presence, calling to us, inviting our return, so “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16.

God has also given us the Bible. There have been many verses that have been soothing to me over the years of my walk with God. One of my favorites in the times when I am mostly acutely aware of my sinfulness is 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When I read this verse, I am encouraged to be honest with God and myself about my weakness and my stumbling. There are a lot of promises in the Bible that encourage, such as Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It reminds me to not try taking on God’s transformational work in my life and encourages me to reflect on times past when God has demonstrated His faithfulness in my life, and to think about His ability to save me when and where I am unable.

Finally, there is the church which is instructed to “come alongside each other daily for encouragement” (Hebrews 3:13). There have been countless times that I have feared the vulnerability of revealing my true self to others for fear of being rejected. We are created to live in community and fear being put out of fellowship with others. But inevitably, if I confide in those I trust in Christ, I find encouragement, sometimes exhortation, prayer, restoration, and forgiveness, all by the power of God’s grace, present in His church.

When we are hard pressed by the world or our own weakness, we should be still before God and know Him as our loving, Heavenly Father.

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BAM Think Tank Report #6: Business as Mission and Church Planting

Fruitful Practices for Establishing Faith Communities

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Executive Summary (© BAM Think Tank 2013)

Many within the business as mission (BAM) movement, especially those from church planting mission agencies, are hopeful that the BAM concept can become a key strategy in starting new churches and transforming communities. This report will confirm that indeed the potential exists for these goals to be attained. However, while there is a good rationale for integrating business and church planting, to date there has been a relative lack of working examples and resources on best practices.

The objective of the Business as Mission and Church Planting Issue Group has been to research current practices and trends in the BAM movement and to identify fruitful practices that lead to the formation of new churches. We conducted interviews with BAM practitioners to identify foundational principles, key challenges and fruitful practices for BAM and church planting. Real examples from BAM companies are shared to illustrate some of the lessons learned by current practitioners.

Fruitful practices for integrating church planting and business include:

• Make sure that the business provides regular contact with the focus people. 

• Invest substantial time in learning language and culture before attempting to start a

business.

• Make business sustainability and profitability an essential goal.

• Give thoughtful consideration to staff selection.

• Clarify and communicate your strategic mission.

• Build local partnerships.

• Work in a team.

• Incorporate prayer right from the start.

• Incorporate biblical values and teaching.

• Work with a coach or mentor(s).

• Witness by doing business ethically and with care.

• Provide excellent products and services.

• Intentionally invest in relationships.

• Be socially responsible in the wider community.

Most BAM practitioners were able to share illustrations of transformational business practices, discipling conversations, significant relationships and anywhere from one to a handful of new Christ-followers in their company or work community. In some cases the double bottom lines of profitable business and planting churches has been achieved.

Therefore, the results of our research indicate that God has already used business to launch new churches. However church planting alongside operating a viable for-profit business presents significant challenges. Furthermore, we discovered only a handful of examples that have helped initiate a new church that can reproduce itself on its own.

Areas for further consideration and research are suggested, as well as practical recommendations for making greater advances in this area of business as mission. Our hope is that in the future there will be many more companies that do business well and at the same time help establish communities of faith that will be a reflection of God’s glory.

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