Tag Archives: mentor

Every Church Team Needs at Least One D.O.G.

I prefer dogs to cats. Some wag (yes, intended) once said that dogs have owners and families with cats have servants. That has been my observation of the canine/feline divide.

So, when I say that every church needs a D.O.G., you might think I was advocating some four-legged church mascot. And, trust me, if I did, it would be a Dane or a Great Pyrenees, or some other “real” dog–not one of those micro yappers.

But, when I advocate for churches to have D.O.G.s, I am not suggesting that each church leadership team head to the local animal shelter.

Nope–I’m advocating another kind of D.O.G. This is a D.O.G. that I’d call the “Designated Old Guy (or Gal).” This D.O.G. is necessitated, in my view, by our culture’s (and our church culture’s buying into the) idea that old ministry guys and gals should just move along and make way for the young pups.

I’ve written about aspects of this before but, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to me that D.O.G.s are more essential now than ever. The one thing universally required when dealing with potentially overwhelming issues is the mature wisdom that can only come with experienced church leaders–men and women who have navigated tough times before and therefore have (mostly) the capacity to lean back in the chair and say, “Let’s not be either cavalier or panicked; let’s be prudent and burrow into the accumulated wisdom of the church–not just the latest trending tweet from the latest twit.”

This is not the first time that the church has had to navigate a health crisis that has crowded out other concerns and fixed a population’s attention on human mortality. This is not the first time that priorities have been rapidly adjusted to minister to the hurting and dying. This is not the first time that churches’ meetings have been disrupted by a wider cultural phenomenon.

But, if you are a young pup…everything that is new to you seems like it must be actually new–when, in actuality, it’s not. The writer of Ecclesiastes nailed it when he said that there is “nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Though the particularities of a “novel Coronavirus” are different and require some specificity in the clinical responses, the generalities of widespread infectious disease impacting the church and the culture are not new. The church has been here before. The church will prevail. Church leadership teams need to take a breath and listen to accumulated wisdom–most often available through the life and ministry and learning experiences of that old D.O.G.

So, I think church leadership teams need a D.O.G. To help navigate “unprecedented times.”

I also think church leadership teams need D.O.G.s to provide readily accessible accountability and support for the rest of the team. Too many church leaders have stumbled and fallen by the wayside in recent years. And, most sadly, too many church leaders have reached the end of their personal resources and taken their own lives. D.O.G.s may not have the entirety of the Christian life mastered, but they have been with the Master longer, through more joys and difficulties. Those additional “laps around the track” provide for the perspective and wisdom and, yes, cautionary tales that can only come with time.

D.O.G.s for leadership teams need permission to ask hard questions, to look other church leaders in the eye so as to provide actual accountability. As churches (particularly we evangelicals) have focused our attention on the latest center stage personality, we have often missed the idea of responsibility toward each other that is woven throughout the Scriptures. From the early days of the forming of the Israelite people, through to the last New Testament record of church leadership responsibilities, the “one anothers” mandated often demonstrate the need for a seasoned voice to meet the relational and leadership tests that come to any church ministry team.

When COVID-19 was first gaining traction in the United States, it seemed as if every newscaster had enrolled in the “school of breathless reporting.” Many of them, it seemed to me, had spent hours with their digital thesaurus app searching for the most impactful adjectives. I tweeted to them (yes, I am a twit on twitter), “enough of the breathless reporting. Where is Walter Cronkite when you need him?” Of course, many these days will not remember much of Cronkite, but I can remember his solid, accurate, sober reporting–of even extraordinary national events–the tragic assassination of a President and the landing of the first astronauts on the moon. You could tell he was emotionally invested in those significant cultural moments, but his demeanor was always forthright and designed to do his job: pass on the news.

Similarly, we don’t need breathless church leadership–convinced that this is the one and only time that the world has faced trouble. We need the firm foundation of the D.O.G.s. Find yourself a D.O.G.–take him or her out for a walk.

© 2020, All rights reserved


Three Things I Learned from Three Dog Night (It’s a Band; From the 60s…Sigh)

three_dog_night

I went to a Three Dog Night concert last month to celebrate my birthday–the tickets were a gift from my dear wife. Several things surprised me about the concert. First, was that Three Dog Night was still rockin’ and rollin’ after these many years. They got their start in the 1960s (yes, last century). The second surprise was that they were playing in the metropolis I now call home.

But, the concert was fun. The guys played most all their well-known stuff and the crowd rocked along–in actual rockers. (Yes, that was an “old people” joke.) I’m not saying the crowd was old, but the synchronized, motorized wheel chair line dancing was a thing to see. “Reach high, when you sway those canes!” Three Dog Night shouted. “What’d he say?” the guy next to me asked. “Highway cones,” his wife said. “What the what?!?”

I’m not saying the crowd was sedate, but the police officers (all two of them) assigned to S.W.A.T. patrol kept chuckling as the attendees shuffled in and out of the concert hall like they were in the line for the dessert trolley at the cafeteria. By the way, S.W.A.T. stands for Something Will Ache Tomorrow.

A woman seated in front of me tried to dance…it was not pretty. At least I think it was dancing; it may have just been a pacemaker flameout. Then there was that one 1960s-era rebel carrying pot with him…no, not weed; it was an actual pot. The bathrooms were on a distant shore.

I was having a good time laughing at all those old people, up until I encountered the old, bald, fat guy staring me down in the bathroom—I was stunned to realize the old, bald, fat guy was me in the mirror. Turns out, these old people were my people.

But as the concert got underway and I was “present in that space” (sorry, that’s a line that makes me gag that I heard from a chaplain once), I figured out that I was learning a thing or three. So, here they are:

One:  Old dogs should keep doing what they’ve been gifted to do as long as God empowers them to do it. The Three Dog Night guys are old–at least the original members of the band are. We’re talking not leathery skin, but busted up, frayed in all the wrong places, pleathery skin. We’re talking encore appearances that took hours to get underway because the Dogs had to limp off and shuffle back onto the stage. We’re talking that when they sang their hit, “Celebrate,” it was because they had managed to not trip over their mic stands. But they still have it. Those God-empowered vocal cords can still “dance to the music.”  The Christian community has bought the culture’s notion of retirement. So, we look to artificial age benchmarks to begin thinking about not doing anymore what God has gifted us to do. If you want to retire, fine, but don’t stop doing what God has gifted you to do because Uncle Sam thinks it’s time. Or because some young pups think it’s their time.

Two:  Old dogs need to stick around to help the new dogs. It’s a shame that old dogs shuffle off the stage (or are shuffled off the stage) at the precise cultural moment when all the research says the young dogs not only want but need mentorship and friendship and the benefit of experience. The young dogs want to be wise, but wisdom is a commodity acquired over time. And part of that wisdom is learning from the old dogs. Shared wisdom is a biblical mandate from the very beginning. It’s one of the reasons that Christians lean into the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the Bible. It’s one reason why we “test the spirits” against the systemic teaching of Scripture. If I want to navigate Snapchat, I’ll ask my grandkids. When I wanted wisdom for navigating life’s speedbumps, I asked my Dad.

Three:  Old dogs can learn new tricks. Three Dog Night introduced a new song at the concert. It was an acapella rendition of Prayer of the Children. It was grand and it was good and it gave lie to the notion that “older” means done. Three Dog Night was self-deprecating about how age had made them a bit slower, but when it came time to create something new, there was nothing “slowish” about it (yes, I made up a word).

I have to go now. I am about to install a new eight-track player in my component stereo system. But I should go to the bathroom first–someone said something about blue teeth–and the bathroom is very far away. 

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.


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