Growing On Purpose

I love the transition from one year to the next. It’s a great time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. We’re told to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, NIV). Thoughtfully planning how we might grow on purpose is an exercise in stewarding our lives for God’s glory. In Global Partners, we have an organizational rhythm of refreshing personal growth plans (PGPs for those of us who love our acronyms 😊) at the start of a new year. It’s an expression of our value to nurture a culture of learning, increasing our capacity for fruitful and lasting cross-cultural ministry as we keep growing.

But how do we develop personal growth plans that go beyond ticking a box to motivate and lead us to grow on purpose? There are several ways to approach growth planning, but here is a process I’ve found helpful to pray through:

  1. Reflect on the past. Take some time to reflect on the previous year. Consider the goals you set last year. It can help to capture the significant events and experiences of each month and the lessons you learned along the way. What went according to plan? What was unexpected? What growth areas surfaced last year?
  2. Be mindful of the present. Take stock of your life. How are you physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially, and professionally? Consider your relationships and responsibilities. What has God been speaking to you lately? What is stretching or convicting you? What do you wish was true of you now but isn’t yet?  
  3. Envision the future. Think about what you know about the year ahead and how what you have reflected on from the past and present might impact you going forward. What’s on the calendar? How might it require you to grow? How could you build on what you learned last year? Which growth areas or themes make sense to focus on in the coming year? What do you want to be able to say is true of you by this time next year? Note any words, phrases, or verses God draws your attention to.

I spent several hours following this process last week. Last year’s growth goals were about listening and discernment, but a lot did not go as planned. Those were still good themes, but the growth I saw did not necessarily come in the way I thought it would. I didn’t read every book on my list, but that’s okay. I can see growth. Some lessons that shaped me in 2022: I learned a lot about forgiveness as an act of hopeful grace and humble trust. I learned that peace in ambiguity is found in surrendering the need to know and understand what is uncertain or the desire to agree with what is already known. When I let go of the need for clarity, I can appreciate the assurance that God is in control and good. I don’t have to know how everything will play out to believe that God will work things out according to his good purpose and plan. I also learned that there is a difference between caring about something and carrying it. I do not need to carry everything that I care about. This is one I need to grow in more.

As I think about the year ahead and what I should build on for next year, I see more transitions ahead. I need to learn to operate in shalom (or peace, wholeness, and completeness) with others, God, and my various roles in life and ministry in the season ahead. I wonder how I could intentionally grow in peace in 2023.

After reflecting on the past, being mindful of the present, and envisioning the future, it’s time to make a plan. For this, I find Steve Moore’s growth planning steps to be a helpful tool. So, with his permission, we’ve adapted them into this worksheet. Here’s a brief explanation with some examples from my own plan for this year.

1. Growth Goal- A focused statement for a way you would like to grow spiritually, personally, and professionally in the next 12 months. I recommend phrasing this as a statement you hope will be true(r) of you a year from now. Since I like to carry the word or theme of the year through the three life areas, each of my goals has to do with shalom (peace, wholeness, completeness). Here’s what I have so far:

Spiritual goal: I am nurturing my sense of completeness in Christ, no matter how complicated my circumstances are.

Personal goal: I am restoring physical, emotional, and relational wholeness.

Professional goal: I engage from a place of peace and bring peace to conversations and situations.

2. Growth Plan- The specific combination of growth assets that will help you stimulate growth toward this goal. What are the strategies, experiences, and books for meeting that goal over the course of the next year? I find it helpful to think of things that I’m already doing that I could do with greater intentionality. It doesn’t all have to be new! Less is more. I also like to reach out to people who model what I’m hoping to learn. I’ll ask if I can buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brain.

For example, for my spiritual goal, I’ll continue my existing daily and monthly times of connecting with God and make sure to be on the lookout for lessons about peace. I have a notebook ready to capture them. One way I’ll chase my personal goal will be to do stretching and breathing exercises after work 3-5 times a week. For my professional goal, I’m going to start scheduling 10 minutes of quiet before meetings so that I can slow my breathing and pray before I meet with people. I’ve also got a leader in mind that I’ve noticed brings the calm presence that I’d like to have in meetings. I’m going to ask them how they go about balancing their passion with peace.  

3. Growth Partners- The specific people and accountability formats you plan to use to keep you focused on this goal over time. Who can help you reach your goal? Who can inform or come alongside you? For me, I usually choose a combination of people I work with, live with, and mentor or lead so that I get 360 feedback.

4. Growth Check-Up- The time frame and evaluation process you will use to measure progress in relation to this goal. When will you meet? The quarterly review process provides a built-in rhythm for this step. I also like to think about questions I’ll ask myself and my growth partners to assess my progress. These are questions like: What difference is resting in the peace of God making in my outlook, stress level, and relationships? How have you seen me lend peace and calm to a situation?

Again, there are multiple ways to approach growth planning, but I hope this peek behind the current of my thought process gives you some ideas you can build on for your life. May the Lord help each one of us to learn and grow together in Him this year!

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Growing Up with Your Heart In Two (Or More) Places

“Where are you from?”

This is probably one of the most despised questions MK’s are asked. Are you asking me where my family originates from? Where I spent most of my childhood? Where my parents grew up? Where do I feel most at home? Where I’m currently living? Where my passport says I’m from? Where I was born? Or something completely different?

Each of these underlying questions could have completely different answers. Thus, it puts me and most other adult MKs into a tailspin of confusion, often presented as staring wide-eyed like a deer in headlights.

As a child, I found that my answer almost always depended on where I was in the moment. In Africa, my accent, white skin, and curly blonde hair made me stand out as the obvious “American girl”. While in North America, my lack of ability to open a locker, know the rules at school, and understand American culture quickly labeled me the “African girl.” In either case, I came to understand that I was never “from” here.

Now however, I tend to try to gauge my response based on the circumstances and on how interested the person sounds in hearing my life story. Or, if they’re really just looking for a simple answer to place me in a cultural box that they understand. Well, I don’t really fit into what most would perceive as a “normal” cultural box, so my answer often goes something like this:

“I currently live in [input current location of bed], but I grew up in Africa.”

This way, I can keep it simple while also expressing that my “from” is a little more complex. If the person is really interested, it leaves the door open for them to ask more. At the same time, it prevents me from spewing my whole life story at someone who isn’t actually that interested, and then feeling the inevitable sting of not belonging.

Unfortunately, even after giving my pre-scripted response above, I’ve still had individuals ask me, “But where are you FROM?” As if that makes the question any clearer!

Still, a deeper challenge with this question is the imposed pressure to place all your value, experiences, and heart into one single location. It’s like the ice-breaker question, “If you were to pick just one food to eat for the rest of your life and never eat anything else, what would it be?” It denies the value, richness, and nourishment found in variety.

And, as an MK, I could never pick just one place as my “from!” Each has impacted me deeply, shaped my life, and given me riches untold in the form of relationships, culture, memories, and much more! Sure, there have been hard things in each place and the pain of always missing “back there,” but this has never detracted from the total value my heart has found in each one.

When asked once how I felt about growing up as an MK and always moving to different places, this was the response I gave:

I love it! I feel like with each move, my heart keeps growing. Each new place adds a special spot in my heart that only expands the longer I’m there.

And, for me, this continues to prove true. Watching the Olympics, I cheer for each flag where my heart’s found a home. In public and on TV, my ears perk up at each familiar accent or mention of a place I love. And even as an adult, I’ve been privileged to add yet another country to my heart. Each touch with these cultures warms a unique place in my heart that will never go away.

And so, I celebrate the kaleidoscopic colors of my ever-growing MK heart and hope I can encourage other MKs to do the same.

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It was December 24th, but I was the only person out shopping that night thinking about stocking stuffers. I ran down to purchase a few last-minute items, missing my extended family and the unintended tradition of wrapping gifts in a crazy flurry on Christmas Eve.

It wasn’t Christmas Eve for most of the people in Egypt. I was one more person out shopping on a normal night. I was homesick and worried I wouldn’t be able to make the holiday special for my family.


The holiday season rolls around and many of us overseas become nostalgic.

You remember getting out the Nativity sets and arranging them on the windowsill. Perhaps you think about Thanksgiving dinner where you make your famous pumpkin pie and your cousin brings canned cranberry sauce. You think about delivering cookies to the fire station to tell them you are thankful for their service and helping your kids add extra donations to the Salvation Army bucket.

Now we are far from “home,” and the holiday season starts to sing a lonesome song.

In some countries, it can be challenging to remember that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. It’s funny how much of a difference commercialization makes.

Our first year in Egypt, I had to remind myself Christmas was three days away. There were no over-the-top store displays, no photos with Santa, no advertisements pushing me to buy the next gift. December 25th could come and go like any other day. (Most Egyptian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.)

It was up to me to make our Christmas celebration what we wanted it to be.

And it turns out, December is a much less stressful month in Egypt, without the pressure of all the extra things that American culture builds in.

Some of the expats I know can start to feel homesick around the holidays, wishing for the traditions and special events that made the season feel like the holidays.

It’s completely normal to miss certain aspects of previous Thanksgivings and Christmases when you can’t be home for the holidays. But with a few tips, you can find ways to lean into the season when you aren’t going home for the holidays.


I’ve found that if I hold onto the need for traditions to be exactly the same, I’m always disappointed.

Instead, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. Look for new ways to celebrate. Adopt new traditions or revamp old ones to fit the context.

Our family combined a few old traditions (drinking hot chocolate on Christmas morning while opening presents) with new ones (read about those down below).

We’ve adjusted our “turkey” expectations on Thanksgiving. One year we even ordered a roasted chicken and just called it a mini-turkey. (Yes, we ordered the roasted chicken because we just needed “easy” that year.)


When we can’t be “home” for the holidays, we love pulling friends into our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. We have invited people of other nationalities over for their first Thanksgiving meal, letting them know we are thankful for them.

Often, we also invite single expat friends over for Christmas morning, putting a few gifts under the tree for them, too. We invite local and expat friends for Christmas dinner, sharing with them the hope of the Word becoming flesh and coming to dwell with humanity.

One young woman we knew had never experienced Christmas dinner before. She celebrated with us for several years in a row.

People tend to be respectful of our traditions. So invite them in!


If being in your new home on Christmas Day seems too sad, plan a trip. You can go alone or with friends. Plan an adventure or go somewhere relaxing.

Think outside the box! There is no rule that Christmas has to be at home.

Our family will often take a trip to a new destination in Egypt on the day after Christmas. It gives us something to look forward to that brings us together and keeps us from dwelling on not seeing extended family. In addition, the trip lets us experience something new about this incredible country where we get to live, allowing us to grow in thankfulness and appreciation.

The first set of holidays abroad are often challenging because everything is new and we crave familiar routines around our holidays. With time and experience in your host country, you will find new ways to make the holidays meaningful and unique.


When you can’t be “home” for the holidays, don’t fight the feelings of sadness or discomfort by pushing them away. Embrace grief by acknowledging the losses you have willingly accepted by going to the field.

You won’t be home for the holidays. And while there’s so much good to be had, do acknowledge–not stuff–the losses.

We make sacrifices to go abroad. So you don’t have to pretend that we love every aspect of the sacrifices that we’ve made. We can still love God when we are sad.  It’s okay to name and recognize the sadness that comes from the losses.

Among other losses, we experience the loss of

  • proximity to family
  • our home culture
  • our usual routines

The good news is that we have a good and gracious Father who sees our sadness and knows our pain. We can lift these up to Him, asking Him to meet us there and bring us the joy of walking with Him.

With a little creativity and a bit of flexibility, you might fall in love with your new traditions in your host country. You might find new ways to celebrate and new people to share the good news with.

The holiday season can be one authentically full of hope and peace, knowing you get to rejoice in the One who gave us a reason to rejoice.

“Reprinted with permission from”

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My heart is torn in multiple directions!

My heart is not in two places but torn in multiple directions.  No, I don’t question God’s direction or call to go,  just how I’m to be faithful? What does that look like in my messy life?

Yes, we have adult children and aging parents to keep in contact with by the available technology. The same technology that keeps us up to date on the heartbreaking news that continues to come out of Haiti. How can one balance all the pulls in different directions? I don’t even feel that I have enough energy to pray for the requests I have now without adding additional ones.

Yet I find myself learning a new culture and language. Putting in time and LOTS of mental energy into this new place, new transition.

How can I be healthy trying to stay in contact with Haitian friends and employees; grieving, wondering what the future holds for them and our ministry there. Now and then gathering enough courage to watch the latest video knowing it will drive my homesick heart to tears while at the same time knowing how small my pain and struggle is compared to our Haitian friends and family living moment to moment struggling greatly. Not knowing when we’ll get to return?

At the same time I am very conscious that new baby roots that are growing here in Zambia with each relationship starting, each new adjustment that makes the house feel a bit more like home, each new plant/tree planted, each new piece of knowledge putting a fingerprint on my life that will leave me changed forever. I need to celebrate with Cory the agricultural project potentials and dreams. I need to make a peaceful, safe home for Fritz to grow and learn. Not knowing what life will look like in the future? Where life will be? Expectations ?!? Where can I even begin?

Having a healthy balance feels impossible on the tight-wire of my life; it appears more like a mirage that always remains out of reach, shimmering temptingly in the distance but never nearer.  Is there a way to divide my time, ministries, and life between three countries, two continents without having myself pulled apart? Those of you who have been in a similar place, how did you remain faithful? What helped or didn’t help? How did you keep your attitudes healthy in the middle of chaotic limbo? 

Always I must remind myself to lift my eyes to my Hope that can ONLY be found in my dear Lord and Savior. Even if that balance point always remains out of reach I can still reach toward it knowing that He is my safety net should the winds of life blow me over. He will provide the strength and power to help me stand again and start the climb back up with HIs gentle prompting always moving forward toward Him. I’m changing, growing…and with HIM and that’s more than enough. Faithful may just mean doing the next thing well-even if only doing the dishes; saying Good morning in Tonga knowing that it will likely result in getting laughed at; reaching out by text or email to a friend asking how they are doing…thousands of different small steps keeping my eyes focused on Him.

Prayerfully, consistently, intentionally paying attention to my attitude so that I can try to make any needed adjustments.

I’m learning to step back and rest. Stop and sit in the pain and confusion a while. It’s OK. It’s refining me. I know empathy on a new level. My prayers flow with new levels and mixes of emotions. While my life is messy and hard, it is well in my soul. And I’m still looking for advice on how to do better!

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Do I need to go home…

This may seem obvious but when we sign up for long term missions work, we like to think that we will serve for a long term, perhaps for a career.  What a career means is up for debate and for another time, but still our intent is to serve for a long time.

Sometimes I think that God is more interested in our faithfulness than in the actual work we do. You may beg to differ with that statement but how many stories of past and current missionaries start with incredible faithfulness and energy and end quickly for a variety of reasons that leave us puzzled.

A few years ago, Nancy and I had the opportunity to visit the graveyard in Makeni, Sierra Leone where faithful men and women gave up all to move to a foreign land and die quickly from disease. If I remember correctly, one didn’t make it more than a couple of months. This leaves me puzzled and yet supports my faithfulness hypothesis.

Lately we have had examples of folks in our tribe who have sold it all and moved overseas to find their country of service implode, causing them to evacuate and move back home. This can leave us confused, disillusioned and questioning if we missed God’s direction in our lives.

Then there are those life events that all of us experience. When we take an overseas assignment, we often have to face the “what ifs” of family back in the states. What if Cousin Jane gets married? What if Grandpa Joe passes away?  What if it’s a sibling or a parent that is diagnosed with cancer? What if our family suddenly needs us to consider returning?

When we left for Indonesia, Nancy had lost both her parents and all her grandparents, and only my parents remained on my side.  We were quite young, and my parents were in their 50’s so health and death was not something we were worried about with folks at home. However, our oldest son, who was in boarding school for half of our time there had malaria about 10 times. We were 1000 miles away, with very difficult contact methods, HF radio mainly that was spotty at best, and hearts that were hurting. There were many times we were ready to pack it up and head home. 

Clearly, there are no easy answers, and the struggle between our call which screams sacrifice, and our family which screams loyalty are in conflict. We are called to honor our father and mother, and at the same time, to leave it all behind, pick up our cross and follow Jesus…

And then there is the question of staying or going during civil unrest….

None of the questions are easy, but here are a few to talk over with your family, manager, wellness team member, etc…

How long will I need to be gone? Is this for a season? Or forever…..

Have I talked to my family about “what happens if” ahead of time?

How is or will my work be affected in my place of service (what will be interrupted) if I suddenly leave for a season, or for good?

Am I needing to think about a transition off the field permanently, or will a sabbatical be adequate?

In an article provided by ABWE (yes, Baptist lol), the example from the Apostle Paul’s ministry clears up the decision to stay or go .. In Acts 14:9, Paul willingly faces stoning by an angry crowd, and another time, he fled via helicopter, or maybe it was just a basket over a city wall (Acts 9:23-31).  See, cleared it right up!

No matter what you decide, be prepared to deal with grief, loss, and often the accompanying doubt of whether you made the right choice… all collateral damage when your heart is in two places.

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When your heart is in two places….When you can see what you are missing out on…

In a list of directions to new missionaries, a missions organization lays out a detailed plan for dealing with Facebook that starts with the line “set the expectation with your loved ones that you will only use Facebook for missionary work…” and “let them know you will only read and respond to emails, texts, and other messages on Monday during your personal day.”  It goes on to having you unfollow all friends, only follow official church published pages, and among other things, “unfollow all groups that are not in keeping with your missionary purpose.”  Later on in the directions, new missionaries are instructed about required equipment like locks and helmets that they must have for their bicycles.  At this point it is easy to conclude that this group is clearly out of touch with modern life and may elicit thoughts like “why are they treating me like a child…” This organization states that “one of the major purposes of this adjustment is to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary efforts and experiences.” 

At this point you are probably wondering where I am going with all this. Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at some of the struggles of being in “two places” at the same time. Cindy Austin did a great job of describing her current experience of loss and family and not being able to be home during difficult times. While we are called to “count the cost” when serving Christ as missionaries, we are also in a world where global connectedness and access are at an all time high. We are starting off with technology and the role it can play in our struggles.  When Nancy and I were missionaries, we didn’t face the issue of seeing and knowing all that we were missing.  We had a monthly 15-minute call with my folks, the kids grandma and grandpa, and that was it. At some point we had email, but it wasn’t very widely used by family for communication and cellphones were not a thing.  As we speak, my 1-year-old grandson is playing with Nana’s smartphone… Things have changed!

When we started with Global Partners, some fields asked new missionaries to stay off Facebook for 6 months or a year. This has quickly changed, and many missionaries use Facebook as an effective communication tool on a daily basis.

Is it possible though, that we can be too connected and that it can affect our work overseas? And if so, how do we manage this tool for our benefit?

Does social media help us to lower our anxiety by knowing what is going on with our families back home, or does it add to our homesickness and feelings of missing out?

Are we personally accountable for the amount of time we are on social media, and is it affecting our work and/or genuine time with family?  How often do we get together with friends to sit in a circle, everyone on their phones rather than engaging in meaningful conversation?

Is technology working for us or against us?

These are all questions that need to be answered personally, but they need to be answered if we are to be effective in ministry and to be “more involved in our missionary efforts and experiences.”  I encourage you to think about and answer the questions above.

Next time we will look at the topic of loss…

Oh, and one more thing… don’t forget to wear your bike helmet!

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When Your Heart is in Two Places

I'm starting to dread opening up Facebook. 

I come from a large family of aunts, uncles, Facebook is the best way to see what everyone is up to. (I have 31 first cousins!) Nearly all of our relatives are in the US, and most in the eastern half, and there's an Alderman family gathering every August for any who can make it.

But living in Europe, we only see a few of the aunts and uncles and cousins when we are in the States for PD. As one of them said a few years ago, soon we will just see each other at funerals!

This morning I opened up FB to see that my cousin Noele had posted last night (Europe time) that her Dad was very near the end. I prayed for them and commented that we would keep on praying during this hard time.

I scrolled down, and my aunt posted a couple hours after Noele's,  that Uncle Bruce is already with Jesus... 

I'll Zoom with my Mom later today, as soon as I know she is awake.  I am so very thankful for the technology that will make that connection easy and free!  I will be able to watch the funeral online.  And I know without a doubt that I will see my uncle again. He lived a simple life, driving and repairing trucks, caring for his disabled wife, and following Jesus with his whole heart.

But I won't be able to hug my dear aunt,  or sit with my parents at the funeral, or share Uncle Bruce's corny jokes with my brothers at the church dinner after the service.  

I won't be there. And that's hard.

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When is it Time for Missionaries to Leave?

While in theory most missionaries acknowledge that if all goes well the time will come that they will no longer be needed on the field where they have invested their lives. In practice it's not so easy. It's hard to recognize and accept that we aren't need, much less to admit that our continued presence could actually be a detriment to the work.

 In an article on the Southern Baptist missions website entitled, "The Missionary Task: Working Yourself out of a Job", D. Ray Davis described the situation as follows:

. . . precious resources and years of missionary effort can be wasted if exit is handled improperly. Premature exit puts the new work in danger of an early demise, but prolonged presence can also foster dependency. Discerning when to exit requires wisdom, prayer, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

If a church is healthy and capable of replicating, then continued involvement by missionaries can prevent that church from standing on its own. That is, exiting too late hinders healthy completion of the missionary task. On the other hand, exiting too early undermines the overall missionary task.

A tremendous benefit of healthy exit is that when healthy churches are planted, missionaries have the freedom to move on from one mission field and work in another context. By “healthy,” we mean that the church faithfully bears the twelve characteristics of a healthy church. It’s also a church that is self-led and self-financed.

Healthy, furthermore, means its people are aggressively sharing the gospel and planting new churches. Healthy further denotes they are fully able to train their own leaders well and have joined the global body of Christ in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Effective exit and ongoing partnership are enhanced through long-term partnership with US church partners. Partnership between field churches and US churches provides a mutual training ground where both are strengthened.   . . . 

We do not lose our commitment to walk alongside churches we have planted simply because our full-time presence is no longer needed. Rather, we enter into a new phase of partnership with these churches as, together, we press on to complete the Great Commission.

One wonders how well we as GP have thought through and implemented exit strategies for our fields. Or could it be that often we exited simply when we had no one else to send whether or not the field was ready? One also wonders how often we've left behind an "unhealthy" church, not because we left too soon but rather because we stayed too long? How well are we doing with this on our Phase 4/5 fields right now? 

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Fry’s Spiritual Leadership Model*

How can one teach spiritual leadership in a communal culture? Many current models for servant leadership are rather individualistic in their descriptions, focusing specifically on the necessary traits, skills, or duties of the leader. One model that I believe emphasizes community well is Fry’s Model of Spiritual Leadership. The basic premise in Fry’s model is that everyone in the organization is a part of all the parts of the model.

Although developed for secular businesses, on reading Fry’s explanation, one would almost feel like many definitions came from the Bible, rather than the research studies he cites. The model, in fact, is very basic, but I think that is part of its ease in helping a spiritual team work together. After interviewing some pastors in Mozambique for a course, I adapted Fry’s model to the Mozambican context, per the figure below, by simply adding the heart and cross to the Inner Life concept to avoid the implication that the church promotes any kind of spirituality. I also adjusted the organizational outcomes from business wording to the words highlighted by the Mozambican pastors I interviewed.

Here is a brief explanation of the model. The foundational section for the organization is encouraging each person’s inner spiritual life, i.e. salvation, sanctification, etc. for our perspective. Inner life includes spiritual practices like prayer, church attendance, and so on. These foundations produce faith, hope, love, and vision (for the future). The arrows show how the different facets interact.

The middle section indicates how people experience greater spiritual well-being in an organization when each one sincerely lives out their faith through the attributes listed in the first section, and the resulting vision leads members to feel they are accomplishing their purpose and/or fulfilling their perceived personal calling. Spiritual well-being is also experienced when the members show and experience love, thus feeling membership/community.

As each one in the organization lives out and experiences these concepts in community, healthy churches are produced with the outcomes that were desired in the vision, such as commitment to Christ, peace, growth, and community engagement. So, where does the leader of an organization fit in this model?

There is no focused attention on the leader in this model. Fry explains that the leader models the same spiritual attributes as everyone else. A leader also helps guide the organization’s vision and helps create self-directed teams which are intrinsically motivated to embody the organization’s spiritual values. Being in teams, members will develop leadership skills as well as strengthening their own personal and organizational expression of the attributes in the model. I am going to start using this model in training sessions in Mozambique to help give a clear picture of how a church can support each other. What leadership model works well in your cultural setting?

*Details on Spiritual Leadership Theory were taken from Fry’s 2003 article, “Toward a Theory of Spiritual Leadership” where he explains each part in detail and from his 2021 article, “What is Spiritual Leadership?”

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Relationship Based Transitions

Ten years ago we arrived in Nicaragua. Two Global Partners missionary families had preceded our arrival, so for our national leaders, we were expected to do as missionaries had done previously: teach in their Bible institute and fill pulpits. This was the unspoken Position Results Description we arrived under, but not the plan we had before we landed in Managua. We were left with a choice: either the perception needed to change or we needed to concede to the status quo. 

Our goals and the goals of the National church are the same: to see growth, leadership, health and Christ’s love demonstrated throughout Nicaragua and the world. The major differences come down to honor, timeline and partnership. 

Like most countries outside of the major developed Western nations, Nicaragua is a hierarchical culture. This was one of my most difficult cultural transitions to witness and process. It has often made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. As my time in Nicaragua passes, I have learned that Nicaraguans show their respect by honoring others with invitations to teach, preach and lead. I have also learned that we westerners can honor our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters by allowing them the opportunity to teach, preach and lead over us. By taking their place, we fail to reinforce their agency as national church leaders.

As North Americans we are in a hurry. We want to hurry up and get to the field, we want to get settled fast, we want to immediately get started with our job description, and when we are done, we are in a hurry to move onto the next project. Nicaraguans, I have learned, have a much different flow and timeline. I needed to learn that relationship-based leadership actually views a rushed conversation as wasteful, exactly the opposite of what we are taught in our western culture. This is worth added consideration and can impact our western concept of leadership transition in non-western contexts. Even though the goals can be the same, our timeline is, more often than not, a different timeline than that of our national leaders. We are left resolving the dichotomy between completing tasks and refining people.

I have to admit a grave personal oversight, although I have read many books on leadership and taken a number of classes on the subject, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that the root word of succession is actually success. I failed to understand that healthy and lasting transitions are succession. Healthy transitions take place after an extended period of relationship and dedication. I once was meeting with a former Global Partners missionary in her 90s who asked me what we did in Nicaragua. After sharing for a few minutes she sadly said that they didn’t do many of the things we did, that they barely were getting people into church. I assured her that God used her time and efforts for His glory and ministry to the people she served. As missionaries we need to be utility players on God’s team. Whether it is the mission or the missionary, our roles and responsibilities are constantly changing, but there are always ministry needs.

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