New Ways to Research, Serve, Lead, and Counsel

By LeRoy Lawson

The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia
Andrew Lih
New York: Hyperion, 2009

Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning
Richard Stearns
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013

Creative Followership: In the Shadow of Greatness
Jimmy Collins
Decatur: Looking Glass Books, 2013

Neo-Coherence Therapy: A Bridge to the Soul
Bruce R. Parmenter
Eugene: Resource Publications, 2013

You understand—I went to college. I wrote research papers. I had to convince my professors I had consulted the best sources, written by the most highly qualified authors with letters behind their names, and that letters were granted by the most prestigious of universities. They were acknowledged experts in their fields. For the most part, references to encyclopedias were not allowed, or if they were, they had to be only the most trustworthy ones like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

03_Lawson_books_JN2That was then. This is now. When Wikipedia first appeared, according to Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution, it was received with polite (or not so polite) disdain in most academic circles. It wasn’t written by PhDs. The articles weren’t first reviewed in peer journals. Anybody could submit articles—anybody could edit them. Where was quality control?

So what happened to this upstart electronic challenger to the proud Britannica? It buried the competition, that’s what happened. Fussy professors may huff and puff all they want to, but Wikipedia has become the most trusted compendium of knowledge in the world. And not just in English, but in hundreds of languages.

Here’s how the author accounts for its success: “Wikipedia is a human-centered endeavor that invites participation on a massive scale. It usurps top-down authority, empowers individuals, and harnesses previously untapped labor of individuals previously isolated in separate social networks, but brought together by the internet.”

Wikipedia conquered by rigorously applying its five governing principles:

1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia (that is, it does not publish original research but relies on the research of qualified others).

2. Wikipedia has a neutral point of view (it seeks to find the middle way between partisan extremes).

3. Wikipedia is free content (this isn’t about making money or exercising control).

4. Wikipedia has a code of conduct (while a great deal of freedom and boldness is encouraged among the contributors and editors, mutual respect and civility are expected).

5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules (it prefers guidelines).

Print journalism is becoming increasingly yesterday; so is the publishing of print encyclopedias. Even electronic ones like Microsoft Encarta, based on the top-down print model, have been unable to compete. And for many languages in the world, Wikipedia is the only encyclopedia in that native tongue. Wikipedia, it appears, is here to stay.

Whether professors like it or not.


Finishing the Job

This is a footnote to an earlier column, where I reviewed Richard Stearns’s excellent The Hole in Our Gospel. In that book the World Vision president passionately pleaded for Christians to apply the full gospel, including the “going into all the world” part, including the “taking care of the poor and feeding the hungry” part.

Unfinished is the same song, second verse. Excellent lyrics though. Once again Stearns expresses his anguish over American Christians’ easy-believism, our conviction that all that matters is to get this belief in Jesus right and everything will be well with our souls and the world’s. Wrong. We’re saved, Stearns argues, so that we can get to work to right the wrongs, save the lost, be the church.

My daughter’s home group is studying Unfinished. I would love to be in the room when they discuss chapter 13, in which Stearns presents “A Five-Point Checkup” for churches. I suspect there’ll be a little discomfort there. How would your group do on Stearns’s true-false test?

• We have valued belief above behavior.

• We have replaced exhortation with explanation (not really expecting anything to change).

• We have turned inward instead of outward.

• We have allowed apathy to replace outrage.

• We have prioritized the institution over the revolution.

This author hits hard. The fact is, though, he has earned the right. He left his lucrative career as a corporate CEO to head World Vision’s worldwide ministry to the left out and left behind. He’s doing what he can to “finish the job” Christ commissioned his disciples to undertake.

He challenges us to partner with him.


Following and Leading

Avis taught and insisted that when you’re number two, you have to try harder. Jimmy Collins understands that. His book Creative Followership is unique among leadership books I’ve read. He’s written it for number twos. It’s not about how to be the leader, but about how to be an effective follower. Good for him.

An old friend of mine, himself an effective leader, used to say you can’t be a leader until you’ve learned how to follow. Collins would agree. He eventually became the president of Chick-fil-A, but only after years in the shadow of founder Truett Cathy—and even as president he was still in the shadow.

In the shadow—but not as a lackey. In fact, the argument can be made that the astounding success of this fast-food restaurant chain had as much—perhaps more—to do with Collins’s competent followership than with Cathy’s charismatic leadership.

On these pages, Collins spells out the principles—all 35 of them—that made him an exemplary number two. They’re simple things, but essential: Make your boss look good, take responsibility, cultivate feedback, do it right, take risks, avoid executive privilege, and many more.

I had the privilege of working beside Jimmy Collins on the CMF International board. He contributed there, as he did for so long at Chick-fil-A, from the second chair. It wasn’t his sitting in a power position that caused us to listen to him; his authority was in the strength of his character.

And that’s what Creative Followership is all about.


Learning to Counsel

I like listening to ministry veterans talk about their life’s work, not their reminiscing so much as their summing up, their candid taking stock of successes and failures, of lessons learned and insights gained the hard way.

What I enjoyed about Bruce Parmenter’s Neo-Coherence was his admission that after decades as a Christian counselor, he was still learning his trade, still adapting others’ insights in his counseling rooms.

In Neo-Coherence, the counselor reverses role; it’s his turn to talk. He particularly wants to share what he learned from Bruce Ecker’s and Laurel Hulley’s 1996 book, Depth Oriented Brief Therapy. Parmenter explains how, so late in his career, their insights caused him to take a new look at his own practices. He recognized that their method offered “a more elegant, effective, and economical way to bring relief to clients.”

With their help he probes such subjects as “emotional truth,” “necessary symptoms,” “radical inquiry,” “position work” (which brings unconscious knowledge into consciousness), but does so as a committed Christian, quite a departure from Ecker and Hulley, whose approach is not faith-based.

Neo-Coherence Therapy is not an easy read for nonprofessionals. It would have helped me if the author had illustrated more generously. At best, I felt I was almost understanding how coherence theory differs from other psychotherapeutic techniques—almost but not quite.

What I had no difficulty understanding and appreciating, though, is its firm grounding in Scripture. Parmenter does not agree with Ecker and Hulley’s postmodern conviction that objective truth is not attainable. For him, God really is, and God’s revelation is objective truth.


LeRoy Lawson is international consultant with CMF International and professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Johnson City, Tennessee. He also serves as a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.

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