Students Drive Me Crazy

Today I met with a frosh who is trying to choose between Chi Alpha and another ministry–we’ll call them Ministry X. A summary ensues:

“What I like best about Chi Alpha is the messages. Ministry X’s messages aren’t very good. And it isn’t clear what they believe. And I really don’t like their Bible study. Chi Alpha’s Bible study is much better. And I’ve found a place to serve at Chi Alpha–it would be much harder for me to find something to do at Ministry X because they’re so large. But I think I should choose Ministry X.”

That sound you hear is me slamming the door shut on my head repeatedly.

Federal Governance And Its Discontents

This is sort of random, but I find it fascinating so please bear with me:

Whenever power is split between one central and several regional authorities, we are talking about a federal system of governance. The most obvious American example is the federal government (Washington, D.C.) versus the state governments.

In a federal system of governance there is a built-in tendency towards tension between the central authority and the regional authorities.

Each side is trying to do the best they can from their perpective, yet each side keeps making decisions that don’t make sense from the other side’s perspective. This results in a lack of confidence in the other side. Most regional authorities probably have a 85-95% confidence factor in the national leadership (which is reciprocated by the national authority). This distrust centers on two areas: competence and character.

  • incomplete trust in competence: I believe that you mean well, but that you lack the necessary attention to detail/big picture perspective/fundraising knack/writing ability/knowledge of the issues/etc.
  • incomplete trust in character: I don’t think that you’re evil, but I do think that you’re operating with a different set of values than I am. You define honesty differently than I do, or you have a personal as well as an organizational agenda, or you lack the courage to disappoint people, etc.

I’m not talking about a complete lack of confidence, mind you. I’m merely talking about a lack of complete confidence. A complete lack of confidence calls for drastic action. A lack of complete confidence calls for mid-course adjustments.

Some specific examples of a lack of complete confidence:

  • “Will this really happen or is it just a big todo about nothing?” (character)
  • “This is what they say here and now, what will the emails say in three months?” (character)
  • “This is what they want to do, but can they really pull it off?” (competence)
  • “Are they willing to actually enforce this policy or it really going to be the same-old same-old?” (competence and character)

The Assemblies of God tends to use a federal system of governance:

  • Springfield, MO versus District Officials
  • District Officials versus Sectional Presbyters
  • the national youth department versus the district youth departments
  • Chi Alpha (see my notes on a Chi Alpha leadership team meeting)

Since we have a federal system of governance we shouldn’t be surprised when the same tensions emerge in our movement that we see in other federal organizations. But we are surprised. Not only are we surprised, we tend to diagnose it as a spiritual problem such as disunity, a failure to submit to authority, an example of unethical leadership, or the politicization of a spiritual organization.

While a spiritual problem may be present and exacerbating the situation, it’s not the causal factor. The tendency towards tension is produced by the structure itself.

Is the federal system a bad system of governance? No. It just provides us with challenges that we need to overcome: other systems provide other challenges and there is no panacea.

So what should we do if we realize that a lack of confidence is hindering our effectiveness?

A few things occur to me:

  1. Remember that this is a natural problem, not an intrinsically spiritual one.
  2. Remember that this is not evidence of a failing organization or failing leadership. This will recur over time regardless of the organization’s health or the leadership’s competence (although the frequency and duration of the cycles of mistrust will tell you something significant about the organization and its leaders).
  3. Realize that you would probably agree with the other side if you had their responsibilities and resources. You’ve seen it a million times: someone who previously agreed with you changed positions and all of a sudden became unreasonable. You would do the same thing.
  4. Be reluctant to criticize where you are not willing to help. I say “be reluctant” rather than “refuse” because sometimes you’re asked for feedback–giving it honestly is a matter of integrity.
  5. Be frank about the tensions and their reasons. Forthrightness is the long-term key to health. Pretending that they aren’t there exacerbates the tension.
  6. Focus on the issues and not the personalities (and most assuredly not on the history).
  7. Pray.

And we thought it was bad here

College ministry in the United Kingdom is even stickier than it is here: “The Christian Union was advised that the use of the words “men” and “women” in the constitution were causing concern because they could be seen as excluding transsexual and transgendered people.” (source)

Visiting Prof Condemns Porn

A fascinating tidbit from today’s Stanford Daily: Texas prof condemns porn.

Invited speaker Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, presented a fairly biting criticism of the medium, warning that the content of pornography is “increasingly cruel, degrading and hostile to women.”

What I found most interesting at the end of the article is that no one wanted to go on record as defending pornography. Every pro-porn quote is anonymous. Given that there’s no real persecution of pornography lovers, I can only assume the desire for anonymity is from shame. That says something pretty profound about the extent to which they have doubts about the cause they advocate for.

Seven Things I Love About Chi Alpha Nationally

I was thinking in the shower about how wonderful Chi Alpha is.

Here are seven specific things I love about our movement:

  1. We have a great culture in Chi Alpha. Almost all the big buzzwords in leadership (mentoring, learning organization, authenticity, being missional, etc) have been core parts of our DNA for decades.
  2. Most of the best people I know are Chi Alpha leaders. Read that again if it’s confusing.
  3. Chi Alpha offers great training. Whether it’s in the area of leading a small group or support-raising, the training is top-notch and useful.
  4. Chi Alpha consistently offers life-transforming regional and national conferences (with some of the best worship to be found anywhere, I might add).
  5. Chi Alpha is part of the Assemblies of God, and the Assemblies of God rocks in ways I cannot even begin to describe here. Someday I’ll have to make another list of seven things about them.
  6. Chi Alpha is very entrepeneurial. I have almost complete autonomy within my sphere of responsibility (the campus I am assigned to). I can pretty much do whatever I want, and yet I know that if I need help or coaching it’s just a phone call away.
  7. Chi Alpha is very missional, both in what we do on campus and in what we seek to do beyond it. We teach our students to be effective for Christ in a non-Christian environement and we do it so well that they have become the recruits of choice for some of our sharpest missionaries around the globe. Which is why Assemblies of God World Missions sank over a million dollars into The World Missions Summit earlier this year–and which is why they got over 700 recruits in return.

Chi Alpha’s Advisory Leadership Team

I just spent 16 hours traveling in order to spend 18 hours in Springfield, MO.

First, an apology to all my Springfield friends, but I literally had zero free minutes the entire time that I was there (I am now at an age where I view sleep as non-optional). I’ll try to carve out a more flexible schedule on future trips.

Which leads me to the point of this post: I’m on Chi Alpha’s newly formed Advisory Leadership Team (ALT). I would have preferred to be in the CTRL or DEL group, but ALT is where they stuck me. 😉

This group is comprised of three local Chi Alpha leaders (presently me, Dick Herman and Mark Briley) along with the resident national Chi Alpha staff and meets every two months to advise the national director on strategic decisions and policy issues.

This is my own quirky and highly subjective take on things.

Things I Learned:

  • Scott Martin had to fight to keep the World Missions Summit from opening with a human video (and one involving swords, at that). We all owe him a tremendous debt.
  • The biggest Chi Alpha ministries are:
    • 600 students at San Diego State University with Sue Hegle.
    • 430 at Western Washington University with Brady Bobbink.
    • 275 at the University of Central Arkansas with Matt Carpenter.
    • ??? at University of Louisiana-Lafayette with Eric Treuil (his numbers aren’t on file, but I estimate his ministry probably fits here on the list).
    • 190 at Florida State University with Mario Solari.
    • 175 at the University of Minnesota-Duluth with Chuck Haavik.
    • 175 at Tennessee Tech University with Jonathan Scales.
    • 160 at Murray State with Mark Randoll.
    • 150 at Missouri State University with Noble Bowman.
  • Most Chi Alpha groups meet on Thursday or Tuesday at 7pm.
  • Only 19% of Chi Alpha students have an Assemblies of God background.
  • Chi Alpha at Yale University saw 40 students get saved last year. Big props to Andy Cunningham.

Things We Discussed There Which I Am Also Free To Discuss Here:

  • Filling out the annual Chi Alpha census needs to be part of the annual affiliation process. Not filling it out (and not affiliating) will be grounds for having your paycheck withheld, just as with our monthly financial reports. Also, this needs to be doable online.
  • We spent a lot of time talking about Chi Alpha’s decision-making process and organizational structure. There’s a lot of that I can’t comment on yet because our National Director is going to be talking to many people one on one to explain things to them. Here are things I think I can safely say:
    • Chi Alpha doesn’t exist in a vacuum: we’re embedded in the Assemblies of God and are absolutely governed by its constitution, bylaws, and policy manuals. The most important takeaway from that is that the National Director is pretty much the pope of Chi Alpha when it comes to national decisions (as opposed to district and local decisions).
    • In addition it is helpful to realize that there are four tiers (for lack of a better word) of leadership within Chi Alpha.
      • The National Director
      • National Staff
      • Translocal Influencers (Area Directors, CMIT Directors, DXARs, national Resource Personnel, etc). This is the most confusing, because most of the groups at this level are entangled (almost everyone who serves in one of these roles also serves in at least one other translocal capacity) and there’s not really a hierarcy among them (for example, CMIT directors are subordinate to DXARs in certain respects but not others and CMIT directors are more influential within Chi Alpha than DXARs). Realizing that they are all in roughly the same tier of leadership (which they express in very different domains) is helpful when trying to figure out how this beast called Chi Alpha actually works.
      • Local Staff
    • Functionally, each level has autonomy within their assigned level of responsibility (for example, no one can tell a local staffer what to preach on any given week). Micromanaging is the root of all kinds of evil.
    • We really need to define for each group exactly what decisions they are empowered to make without fear of their decisions being meddled with. We also need to clarify who reports to whom. This has to be in a public written document that everyone can look at.
    • The real challenge that we face is trust. My own take on it: many of the tier 3 leadership lack confidence in tiers 1 and 2. Some lack trust in the competence of the top tier leadership and others lack trust in the character of the top tier leadership (update: I do not mean that they lack trust completely; rather, I mean that they lack complete trust–a nontrivial difference). Most Tier 4 leaders seem unaware of this dynamic–they tend to hold the Tier 3, 2, and 1 leadership in a certain amount of awe and imagine that they’re all best friends. Many of them are good friends, and almost all like one another and are committed to working together effectively. But there’s still a breakdown in trust between the national leaders and the rest. (update: I wrote an article explaining that this is a tendency intrinsic to federal governance)
  • We need a national representative to serve our student-led groups. We’ve invited Dave Short to fill this position (contingent on his district’s approval).
  • The probable (but by no means certain) evolution of the ALT will inlcude all the Area Directors along with a non-DXAR non-CMIT Director rep from their region. Sort of like the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God.

Anyway, I put all this online for two reasons:

  1. As a local campus representative I feel an obligation to let the people I’m representing know what’s going on. As long as it’s not confidential I’ll talk about it freely. If it is confidential I’ll tell you as much as I can.
  2. To ask for feedback. You can either comment on this post or email me directly. I’ll be sure to post the agenda for the next meeting once I get it so you can give me input on that heading into it.