Hi fellow SEND-ers,

Online module completed. This morning, I finished reading the last assignments and forum posts in the online Team Leader Orientation module. The second edition of this course is now history, and I am very pleased to see that 12 more team or area leaders have completed all the assignments and have "graduated" from this 5-week course. During those five weeks, each of the course participants identified their key areas of responsibility as a team leader, and what outcomes they desired to achieve in each of those key result areas by God's grace. They sought to describe how they would know whether they had achieved these outcomes. These different components were assembled in an outcome-based job description for themselves, which they then submitted to their classmates for comments and critique. The job descriptions were very well done, and I know several of the students are still revising and improving them as they discuss them with their teams and area directors. If you are interested in seeing the template for developing the job description, you can find it
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on the SEND U wiki.

But its not just about the task. But we not only focused on the responsibility of leading a ministry team. Throughout the course, I repeatedly heard the participants emphasizing the importance of devoting significant time to developing their personal relationship with God, and how foundational this is to their effectiveness as a missionary and as mission leaders. Many of the class shared examples of spiritual mentors, teachers and pastors who left an indelible mark on their lives through their example of personal commitment to Christ. Phil Jackson shared that one of our own SEND veteran missionaries has often been heard to say that a good recipe for a growing relationship with Jesus is "an hour a day, a morning a week, a day a month." I find it refreshing to see younger leaders recognizing the value of a daily "training time" with the Master Teacher, as He works on changing our character.

SEND U is very much concerned about the development of both character and skills. We can impart knowledge and provide ministry skill training through seminars and various types of technology, but real character formation is only possible as we humbly submit to the work of the Spirit of God in our lives. We have a growing list of resources under "Spiritual formation" on the SEND U wiki. But we recognize that at best, we can only seek to supplement what God is already doing in your lives through His Word and the life experiences He gives you.

Working out at the "Y". This past winter, I have been going to a local gym to get some aerobic exercise and lift some weights. The professional trainers that run the gym are always present, ready to give instructions or advice or count how many reps we have done. But they do none of the hard work. My personal discipline in coming to the gym on a regular basis and my willingness to stretch my capacity to the point of pain is going to have far more impact on my physical fitness than all the advice or programs of the professional trainers. Maybe in some ways, we in SEND U are like those trainers. We can encourage and maybe even prod you to grow, but in the end, particularly when it comes to character, your response to what God is doing in your life is the most important.

Sometimes those growing experiences are ones that we have planned and chosen. At other times, these life experiences are not at all our choosing and stretch us in ways that are decidedly uncomfortable and even painful. I prefer the character lessons that under my control, but God knows I need the second kind as well. During the last week in my personal devotions, I have twice been led to meditate on the theme of how God uses hardship in our lives to develop our character.

Discipline = character development. The first verse that gave me pause was Hebrews 12:7 - "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? " The word "discipline" conjures up for us an image of various forms of corporal punishment ("being taken out to the woodshed?"), but that is unfortunate for the Greek word could also be translated as instruction or training. (The Message actually renders this verse as, "God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training.") I do not believe that this verse or its context imply that whenever we go through a hard time, God is punishing us for a particular sin in our lives. Rather "discipline" should be seen as a general program of character development. It is painful and requires endurance, but it is designed to help us grow and boost our capacity. The same word "endure" is found in Hebrews 12:2,3 in reference to Jesus enduring the cross, and Hebrews 5:8 says that the Son learned obedience through what He suffered. Jesus also endured hardship, and His character was formed through it.

Getting an "A" in life's lessons. We all have to admit that hardship is a great teacher. I learned some of my most valuable lessons as a missionary when I was frustrated and discouraged as an AD back in 2005, or when I faced opposition in our church plant in our first term. But unfortunately we do not always gain the full value from these painful lessons that God allows into our lives. It seems to me that we only can score an "A" in these difficult life lessons if we spend the time thinking about what God is teaching us.

That brings me to my reading in James. "Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. " (James 1:4–5) We can short-circuit the beneficial impact of trials on our character by not persevering under them. If we back out of difficult assignments or unpleasant teaming situations before the bell has rung and God has said the class is over, we can miss out on why God put us in that difficult situation in the first place. We can also miss obtaining the full value of the trials by not understanding them from the context of wisdom. These verses promise us that God gives us all the wisdom we need to process the trials and glean the learning and growing we need out of them. Our responsibility is 1) to persevere and 2) to ask for wisdom.so we can absorb the lessons God is teaching.

Well, that is enough of a sermon for this month! Keep growing.

Ken
Ken Guenther
SEND U Director
based in Kiev, Ukraine