Monthly Archives: October 2014

Joseph empowered through listening well and understanding

All life involves systems—structure, interaction, behavior, and development.  Some are complex while others are simple.  Good systems enable health and growth while bad systems do the opposite.  Whether Joseph, son of Jacob, whom we learn about in Genesis 37-50 knew it or not, he was a master of establishing a life giving system.  Before looking at what he established and the process he facilitated, reflecting on his remarkable interpersonal skill is foundational.

Of the several ways one can gain influence to serve another person, none is more empowering than to listen well.  Listening is not something that is taught in school or in most workplaces.  It is naively thought that listening just happens.  Most married couples will dispel that notion!  If not in marriage, all parents know that children hear more of what they want to hear than what is intended.  There have been books written on how to be a better listener—Proverbs especially talks much about the value of listening.  But like many skills, you only learn to listen well by intentional practice.

For those who would like an objective resource to assess your listening ability, the best I have found is in this short online assessment:

Joseph was a man who intentionally learned to listen.  Unfortunately, he had to learn his skill through some very difficult life situations.  In Genesis 37 he twice told of dreams he had to his parents and siblings only to not hear or observe their responses.  We can only imagine his many painful hours of reflection as a slave on how he would have shared his dreams differently.  To serve as an excellent steward to Potiphar (39:1-6) he had to have learned to listen well.  Later while in prison, he listened to and served prisoners so well he was given complete charge (39:21-23).  Finally, when interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph displayed a discerning listening ability (beyond his special gift) that could both grasp the scope of the challenge and recommend a wise solution.

Good listeners are often perceived as understanding well.  To be understood is to feel loved. (See Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other) To feel loved is to act in response to the “lover.”  The greatest life giving change takes place when people feel safe and loved.  Joseph exhibited these qualities.

Again, for Potiphar to make Joseph his personal servant and steward of his entire household, he had to be convinced that Joseph understood his master’s wishes (39:4-6).  As a fellow prisoner with the cupbearer and baker, he understood how hard it was to be unjustly treated and exuded empathy (40:14-15).  Even the common people in Egypt affirmed his amazing understanding of them and their need (47:25).  But, Joseph’s greatest demonstration of understanding came after revealing himself to his brothers, and when recognizing their fear, he could attest that what they meant for evil God had a higher purpose for good (45:7; 50:19-21).

Could Joseph have established the systems within Egypt to save and store food along with executing an equitable process to save lives without having learned to listen and understand?  I suspect not.  Every organizational system needs leaders with these essential qualities.  How do others perceive your ability to listen and understand?

Next Blog: Joseph was a systems thinker.








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Organizational Development

Where do we find organizational development in the Bible?  Shouldn’t spiritual leaders be devoted primarily to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4)?  How risky is it to bring business practices into Christian ministry?

Like me you have probably heard these and related concerns expressed when looking outside of the Bible for principles and practices to guide our ministry.  You might personally have strong feelings on this topic yourself.  This next series of blogs will look at the life of Joseph whom I call an empowering organizer.  My hope is that we will see how Christian leaders can give a healthy balance to organizational leadership by recognizing the value of both biblical teaching and life wisdom.

Let me suggest a couple definitions to anchor how I understand organization and development.  Most basically, organization refers to an organized body of people with a particular purpose.  It implies a system where people function in some way together for a common cause.  If you are wondering how organization differs from team it seems largely in terms of size and complexity.  Although our word “organic” is embedded within the word organization, and is rooted in matter that makes up all living “organisms”, rarely do we talk about an organic organization.  These concepts are more often viewed as opposites.  Perhaps this reality needs a correction?

Development implies a cause/effect relationship.  If certain resources are applied and sufficient time is allowed, the desired result is likely.  When development is coupled with organization, this refers to the processes of human systems (formal and informal groups, organizations, communities, and societies) that are intended to increase effectiveness and health using a variety of disciplines.  No organization (or organism) is static—it is either growing or declining in health.  So, I suggest that organizational development is not a bad word but a very good one when viewed from the perspective of how to progressively increase health.

Enough with definitions and theory!  The practical reality is that any structural unit (as big as The Navigators or as small as a family) is either life giving or life draining; either enhancing our Calling and Vision or diminishing them; either a place to thrive or at best to survive.  Healthy individuals in an unhealthy organization will either live with frustration or leave.  Unhealthy individuals in a healthy organization will either be healed or feel awkward and leave.

Organizational development is all about enabling people in a given place to be nurtured and released to make their best contribution.   Organizational development aligns people with their calling, gifting, and divine design, so that both the organization and the individuals can synergistically accomplish their valued outcomes.

Where can we turn in the Bible to learn about healthy organizational development?  I suggest that a great staring point is by looking at the life of Joseph.  Here we find a system that was developed to bring much life and health to masses of people.  In upcoming blogs we will put on OD glasses as we reflect on the empowering organizer, Joseph.

Next Blog: Joseph listened with understanding.


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