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This summer I took over 40 hours of professional development related to curriculum design and on-line teaching. One result of this experience was my own reflection on the use of words. Not just any words, but what I call amplified words. One definition for the word “amplified” is; cause to become more marked or intense. It seems to me to be a good definition for the way words are recently being used in the three arenas in which I work; academia, business and the church.

Let me give you a little background on this professional development so you can get an idea of why I began to reflect on how we use certain words. One of the tasks involved in this training was to write Student Learning Outcomes (SLO).  This task was important to learn because SLO’s are mandated by the U.S. Department of Education and therefore required by academic accrediting agencies. You will find in most college courses that the SLO’s are stated on the Course Syllabus. Basically, SLO’s are used to clarify what students can expect to take away from the class.

There is now a whole industry that has built up around how to write a proper SLO.  There are books, seminars, and SLO specialists waiting to assist you in writing the proper SLO statement. And although there is apparently money to be made in the teaching, writing and evaluation of SLO’s my point, in this blog, are the words they use to write them. If you are interested in the increasing complexity of establishing the most successful student learning experiences just google “Bloom’s Taxonomy” and you will have your hands full. In the meantime, you have to memorize as many “action verbs” as you can, because action verbs are the words required for writing in the correct format for Student Learning Outcomes.

I am sure my blogs have revealed that I am not the best with English grammar.  But, as the famous line from the plague scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail says, “I am not dead yet!” So to improve my skills both in English grammar and in writing SLO statements I am learning about action verbs.

According to YourDictionary.com, “Action verbs are verbs that specifically describe what the subject of the sentence is doing. These types of verbs carry a great deal of information in a sentence and can convey emotion and a sense of purpose that extends beyond the literal meanings of the words.” The bold is mine because it captures the point of this blog. Writing these SLO’s got me thinking. I am being asked, through the use of action verbs, to convey emotion and a sense of purpose beyond the literal meaning of the word. The idea of conveying an emotion beyond or to some greater degree than normal is not just in the profession of education but it seems to be a common phenomenon within other fields and in our society here in the United States.

For the most part I am fairly straight forward when I write to or talk with people.  Usually I am calm and the words I use can be taken for their literal meaning. Occasionally, my words might be more marked or intense….say, if someone cuts me off on the freeway…. then I want their understanding to extend beyond my literal words! When I take my kids to a theme park like Six Flags and we ride a monster roller coaster, with the feeling that our lives are on the very edge of extinction, we try to describe the experience in some extensive emotional way. We don’t do this for every family experience we have, just for those that indicate we reached a richer, deeper, or higher plain then the normal everyday plateau.

The other day I asked my daughter if she would like to get some frozen yogurt. She replied, “Awesome!” Is this the same kind of “Awesome” I feel when science reveals to me the intricacies of the created order? I don’t think so. The awesome my daughter uses is a kind of slang, a watered down version that means she would like to go get some frozen yogurt…particularly if Dad’s paying for it.  Although I would like to think that going out with her Dad would cause or induce awe; or inspire her with an overwhelming feeling of reverence, and admiration, the true definition of awesome, I doubt very much that this is the actual case.  Like the biblical strongman Samson, who lost his strength when his hair was cut, and then was blinded by his enemies and used as a common slave to grind wheat, some powerful words have become weak slang used only as common filler to meet a requirement.

In education, we write SLO’s to fit a format that will be acceptable and conform to the requirements of the institution but the wording is just that “wording.” It is shoe horning in as many action verbs as we can. We don’t want our student to just comprehend humanities or religion we want them to classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, paraphrase, convert, distinguish between, extend, give examples, summarize, and translate them. Maybe, with all this amplification of comprehend I am just like an old cowboy who would adjust his hat and say, with that Clint Eastwood glare, “Well Madame, that’s what I said when I used the word ‘comprehend.’”

This amplification of words isn’t just a scourge wrapping itself around the field of education. Business can suffer from this curse too. With my company I assist clients in writing mission and vision statements and company core values. In the process I have had the opportunity to read countless examples. In many of these statements the amplification meter is all the way in the red zone. Here are just a few quick examples:

“Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.”

Albertsons: Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.

Ameren’s mission is to generate electricity, deliver electricity and distribute natural gas in a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally sound manner. Our vision is to be the recognized performance leader of the U.S. electric and gas utility industry. Being a performance leader means we will achieve operational excellence, industry-leading customer satisfaction and superior financial performance.

The point is not to malign these companies or even state whether these mission statements are good or bad. I can look at mission statements in another blog, but I do want you to notice the bolded words which I believe characterize the use of words in many vision and mission statements. We almost become immune to the words real meanings and there intensity.

What does it mean to be “relentless focused” or to “constantly strive?” When I take it at face value it sounds to me like there is some kind of psychosis present. Not that I am a psychologist but if my kid was relentless focused on something I probably would take him to a psychologist. Although, I am sure my wife and daughter would love to have the most compelling shopping experience possible!

Well, the church isn’t any less susceptible to amplification then education and business.

Here are some mission statements from churches:

Willow Creek exists to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

East Goshon Mennonite Church: Our vision challenges us to Passionately Follow Jesus, discovering Jesus’ practices of loving, inviting, equipping and living.  We desire to love and look like Jesus in our world.

Epic Church….don’t need to read our mission statement the name says it all. (This is not really what they said, or their mission statement, but I thought the name fit the point!)

Even in my own denomination I see the amplification of words in a mission statement that says, “The Reformed Church in America (RCA) is a family of churches in the U.S. and Canada radically following Christ in mission together.”

Again not to take away from these churches, I am sure they all have powerful ministries that have effectively influenced their communities.

The truth is we live in a society that loves to amplify words, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. But words and their true meanings, as Richard Lederer has shown us in his numerous books on the English language, do matter.

There are times when we need to use words that will “amp-up” the meaning of what we want to say. We need them as a part of our vocabulary! There are times when we want to be most compelling, or radically following, but not all the time.

I think the tendency towards the overuse of amplified words is the desire to be relevant to our own pop culture; unfortunately we are creating immunity to the power inherent in these words.  The spoken and written word is one of the most powerful ways that humanity can express itself. This human expression is a beautiful balance between commonness and amplification, an honest portrayal of a richer, deeper, and higher experience because there is a normal everyday plateau. When we respect this balance society is closer to a true perception of reality, and that’s a society I can comprehend.

John M. Scholte, M.Div.

Professor of Religion and Humanities

©2015 Scholte Consulting Services

As my teaching colleagues have said, “I am a renaissance man.” Besides teaching, which I love, I also own a consulting company. As a professional adjunct instructor I teach at four different schools. Two of which are business related, so when I started my consulting company four years ago the company focused on supporting business. As it has grown we have expanded into education and now we include churches. This is only natural, since I have a church background, teach religion, served two churches, and have certifications in church growth, leadership development, and conflict management. So as my company tag line says, my consulting services exist “for business and educational growth and development,” and this now includes churches!

I have a team that includes; a banker, a CPA, a media specialist, marketing professional, a special projects manager and even a caterer.

The team is there to help me assist pastors and congregational members in making God’s vision a reality in their congregations. I work alongside pastors with strategies and resources to help them and the churches that they serve. I want the pastor and his or her congregation to take the positive next step in the life of its ministry.

If a ministry is hindered by conflict, I can bring about successful conflict resolution. If the congregation has struggled with change, the pastor can rely on me, as a partner, to guide him or her through successful ministry transformation. My primary belief is keeping churches and ministers together and moving forward!

Every church experiences conflict at one time or another. It could be between members of the congregation, between the congregation and church board, between pastor and congregation, or pastor and church board. In whatever form, the energy of the conflict will stall the progress of the church’s ministry.

Scholte Consulting Services provides the expertise and mediation process that will allow you to continue your ministry and help your ministry and church move forward.

My approach to conflict resolution accentuates:

  • A Scriptural Basis with a Church Growth Perspective,
  • An Emphasis on Leadership for Growth,
  • Consideration of Denominational Requirements or Traditions,
  • Enhancing Communication Between all Concerned.

Not only can I assist your church with conflict resolution I can assist pastors and congregations in making the vision that God has given them a reality. This is done through what we call a Ministry Plan.

My team and I will develop the right Ministry Plan for your church. Working with the pastor and congregation, our team will develop a five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty-year ministry plan. While we follow the most current church growth research and information, we do not use a “one size fits all” approach.

Each church will receive a specific and exclusively designed plan using:

  • Your unique vision
  • Your denominational requirements and/or traditions
  • Your church’s history, distinct gifts, characteristics and demographics

Scholte Consulting can provide all services or work with your select group based on your needs and budgetary considerations. Consultation is available throughout the life of the Ministry Plan and during Evaluation periods. We can even provide catering at Ministry Plan events!

Here are some other things my company can do for your church;

Ministry Transformation

Assisting pastors and leadership teams to become change agents and turning declining churches to growing ones.

Church Incorporation

Assisting churches with Articles of Incorporation and receiving their 501 (c) 3 IRS designation. Franchise Tax Board Exemption. USPS Tax Exemption.

Vision and Mission Statements

Assisting pastors and leadership teams in developing or clarifying vision and mission focus for growth and development.

Church Board Development

Assisting pastors with selection, teaching and training board members on the biblical responsibilities of Elders and Deacons.

Church Administration

Developing By-Laws, Training in Documentation of Corporate Minutes, Procedures for Board Meetings, Creation of Website, Marketing and Collateral Materials for Outreach.

Educational Programing

Assisting Churches in Developing a Christian Education Program for both Adults and Children.

Pulpit Supply

Available for Contemporary or Traditional Worship Services. Even Last Minute or Emergency Fill In!

Prayerfully consider everything I have shared in this blog and call me today at 858.444.7666, or e-mail me at john@scholteconsulting.com. The initial consultation is free and I guarantee we are the most affordable consulting company working with churches today! We can work with churches anywhere in the USA and Canada.

John M. Scholte, M. Div.

©2015 Scholte Consulting Services

Ever since grade school I would hear teachers say, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” And I know why they repeat this mantra over and over to their students. They are trying to encourage students to speak up among their peers, and not be afraid. To be adventurous and curious thinkers, after all, their question may well be on the minds of others, and if not asked will go unanswered. I would also agree that it is important in the formation of young children to get this message, so please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to shake the already fragile ego of a second or third grader. But the fact is; there are stupid questions!

The sooner we realize this the smarter we will be. I guess you could chalk this up to some old cynical professor who has reached his allotment of ridiculous questions in the classroom. But I do think it’s time to honestly confront the issue. We need to be teaching our students to be critical thinkers, if not in middle school, at least in high school, because critical thinkers ask good questions, and we need more of them in college.

Part of the training in critical thinking is being held accountable for our thinking. Our ideas need to be challenged. I don’t think our world of Snap Chats, texts, tweets, and social media has done us any favors in the critical thinking category.  Not that I am against social media, but it doesn’t normally challenge us very deeply. And quite frankly, it isn’t designed to do that. The classroom, however, is designed for it, or at least it was some fifty or sixty years ago.

Unfortunately, over the last generation a new definition of “acceptance” has emerged which has crowded out any idea of challenging the student; in the fear that the students’ self-esteem might be damaged.  I believe the opposite is true. What a boost to someone’s self-esteem to be able to present ideas that have been tried, tested, refined and found to be rock solid. How important it is to hold the student to a high standard, that they can aspire to, which includes honest assessment of their work.

A part of this struggle, in the process of refining ideas, is learning how to ask the right questions. This takes the focused mental discipline of reading the textbook, doing the homework, listening to the lectures and conducting the research of solid scholarship. It is hard work, one in which students cannot be “let off the hook.” In other words, if the student isn’t disciplined in these areas he or she knows it will not be tolerated! The student will most definitely be taken to task by the professor or even other students.

However, this is impossible when we translate “acceptance” into the idea that everyone has to make the grade. No one can fail. Every question is a good question. This simply makes a student lazy and gives no incentive to be disciplined enough to think on their own. The outcome leaves little or no motivation to think deeply or critically, which is the core of a good question, and without that core there will never be an end to stupid questions.

We need to get back to the idea that acceptance is not that we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn, even if it hurts. The rough and tumble world of ideas, found in open discussion, with some of the best being in the classroom, is where ideas are developed, refined and even changed.  It is also the place where new ideas are found, because the best questions are being asked, or the worst questions are being pointed out. The point is not to ridicule someone, but to encourage a student in making a knowledgeable contribution to the discussion.

Sometimes, when I discuss this topic with others, I get the feeling they think I don’t care about students. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. I love my students! And my love and care for them is exactly why I believe they need to learn this important fact.  I have found that most of my students have agreed with my position, at least those who are serious students with a desire to learn. Students with a desire to learn want to be challenged. For some students, the idea that there is such a thing as a stupid question is a new idea, although deep down they probably are aware of the concept, but just haven’t spent much time thinking about it. So when we discuss the fact of stupid questions in our first class session they often ask for an example. Which is a good question, my answer is what I consider the top three stupid questions in the classroom.

“The way I see it, the first stupid question is ones which reveals to the professor that the student hasn’t done any of the assigned reading which clearly spells out the answer. The second stupid question is one in which the student wants the professor to give an answer, because they want to do little or no research on their own.  And the third stupid question is when the professor has just finished explaining a certain concept and a student, who was texting or surfing the internet and therefore not paying attention, asks the professor to explain the topic he just explained.”

These kinds of questions are the reason that during orientation I tell my students, “Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question.”

John M. Scholte, M. Div.

©2015 Scholte Consulting Services

As you might expect I really love and enjoy all of the major world religions. I have studied, and taught them for many years and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come. I am always learning something new about them; each religion is fascinating, and a joy to teach. In another blog, I am planning to go through the major world religions and share one teaching from each that I really appreciate. There is no doubt that they have informed, enriched and assisted me in an understanding of my own faith. I am even writing a book about them, which I hope to publish next year.

Inevitably, one of my students will ask me which religion out of the ones we study I ascribe too. Only fair since I ask them to share what they believe.  So my answer is the essence of this blog post. I think it is a good discipline for anyone to take some time to reflect on what they really believe and write it down. Of course this could open me up to criticism, but it may also open up discussion about religion and what people believe and why. These are questions and discussion that I think should take place, and often don’t in our society.  So if you have any questions, or would like further clarification of what I share, please leave your comments below or send an e-mail and I will get back to you.

I would also appreciate and invite you to send me your own Statement of Faith. I would be interested to learn about what you believe. As I tell my students, “It’s ok to talk about religion!”

The simple answer is that I am a Christian. Of course the answer is more complex, because every religion is multifaceted. To be specific, I am a protestant who follows the teaching of John Calvin. Therefore, I am known as a “Calvinist.” Now, I won’t be able to define in this post every doctrinal aspect or historical creed so you may need to look them up to learn more.  There is so much that could be included but I have taken what I believe are the most commonly covered topics in most Christian Statements of Faith.

The Creeds

I believe in The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Athanasian Creed as the Executive Summary of my Statement of Faith and what connects me with fellow Christians of all denominations and teachings throughout the world. I also ascribe to the Possibility Thinkers Creed as a practical and personal application of my faith in daily living.

The Confessions

I believe in The Belgic Confessions and hold to its 37 articles as the summation of the Doctrine of God and the eternal salvation of man. I believe in The Heidelberg Catechism and hold to its teaching as the foundation of my own understanding of how theology should be preached and taught within the Reformed family of Churches. That my own comfort and joy in life can only be found in Jesus Christ and that to come to this understanding I must know about sin, grace, and gratitude. I also believe in The Canons of The Synod of Dort which set forth the five points of Calvinism including Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. I believe in the Westminster Catechism and strive to make the chief end of my life be that of glorifying God.

The Inspiration of Scripture

I believe that the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and life. I believe the cannon of scripture is closed (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21).

God 

I believe God is the only Supreme Being with no real gods before or after Him in all of existence, in all places, in all time (Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 44:8; 1 Tim. 1:17). He has always been God and was never anything else (Ps. 90:2). He is holy (Rev. 4:8), eternal (Isa. 57:15), all-powerful (Jer. 32:17,27), everywhere present at one time (Ps. 137:12), all-knowing  (1 Jn. 3:20);  He is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16); light (1 John 1:5); Spirit (John 4:24); truth (Psalm 117:2); creator (Isaiah 40:12, 22, 26); unchanging (Mal. 3:6). He is to be worshiped (Gen. 24:26; Ex. 4:31; 2 Chron. 29:28; 1 Cor. 14:25; Rev. 7:11). He is to be served (Matt. 4:10; 1 Cor. 6:19; Phil. 3:7; 1 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 9:14). He is to be proclaimed (Matt. 28:19f.; Jn. 14:15f.; Acts 1:8).

Trinity 

I believe in the mystery of the Trinity. Which is one God in whom there are three eternal, distinct persons; the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. All three are the one God, coeternal and coequal. (Isa. 44:6, 8; 45:5; Gen. 1:26-27; 3:22; Matt. 3:17; 28:19; Lk. 10:35; 2 Cor. 13:14).

Jesus

I believe Jesus Christ is God who became a man. He is both human and divine, and, therefore, has two natures. One nature is wholly God and the other wholly man. (Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:5-13; Jn. 1:1-3,14).

Holy Spirit

I believe the Holy Spirit is a divine eternal person possessing all the attributes of personality and deity, including intellect (1 Cor. 2:10-13), emotions (Eph. 4:30), will (1 Cor. 12:11), eternality (Heb. 9:14), everywhere present at once (Ps. 139:7-10), all-knowing (Isa. 40:13-14), all-powerful (Rom. 15:13), and truthfulness (Jn. 16:13). In all the divine attributes He is coequal and is one in essence with the Father and the Son (Matt.28:19, Acts 5:3-4. 28:25-26; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Jer. 31:31-34 with Heb. 10:15-17).

The Human Condition

I believe that all human beings are dead in their trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) and are fallen, corrupt, and wicked (Job 15:16). Humanity is unable to come close to God through its own efforts (Jn. 3:3,5; 6:44; Rom. 3:10-12). No one can understand the spiritual things of God on their own (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7), nor can they earn salvation by attempting to do good works (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:1-6), nor once saved do they maintain salvation by their works (Gal. 3:1-3). Eternal punishment in hell and separation from the blessed presence of God are the consequences of the unregenerate person’s sinfulness that has not trusted in the redemptive sacrificial work of Christ on the cross (Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 6:23).

Salvation

I believe Salvation is being saved from the righteous judgment of God upon the sinner. Salvation is obtained by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone (Jn. 3:16) and not by our good works (Rom. 3:20; Eph. 2:8-9). We are chosen for salvation by God (2 Thess. 2:13). Therefore, I believe in predestination and election (Eph. 1: 4-23).

Justification by Grace through Faith Alone

I believe in Justification is being declared legally righteous by God. This justification is received by faith alone (Rom. 4:1-6), in the work of Christ fulfilling the Law in his earthly ministry (1 Pet. 2:22), and His removing of sin by His sacrifice. Justification is a gift from God (Rom. 3:24) and is received apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:21).

Regeneration

I believe Regeneration is the act of God by which He imparts new spiritual life to those who believe in Jesus Christ. This is often called being born again (Jn. 3:3, 5). Upon this regenerating work of God, man is transformed into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and is then able to resist his sin and grow in personal holiness before the Lord. The regenerate does not continue in unrepentant sin (1 Jn. 3:9-10; 5:4, 18). Though they do struggle with it, they battle against it and repent of sin before the Lord (Rom. 6; 7:21-25; 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Eternal Security

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand,” (John 10:27-28). Christ has done all that is needed for our salvation and He says that those who have eternal life will never perish. Those who appeared to be Christian, but fell away never were Christians to begin with (1 Jn. 2:19). Eternal security does not mean that we have a license to sin (Rom. 5:21-6:2) and those who believe this do not understand God’s ability to regenerate the sinner and turn his heart to repentance.

Sanctification

I believe Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire, and increases our ability to repent from and resist sin by God’s grace, (1 Thess. 4:7; Eph. 2:10; 1 Tim. 4:4; 1 Peter. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:25). This process continues through all of the Christian’s life and is the result of salvation, not a cause of it, nor a contributing factor to it.

Christian Church

God calls Christians to His Church where the Word of God is preached, where baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion) are administered, where believers are discipled and disciplined, and where believers serve to build up one another (Matt. 16:18). There is no one true earthly body that is “the true church.”  Rather, the True Church consists of all true believers wherever they might be.

The Sacraments

I believe there are only two sacraments, instituted by Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are signs and seals to believers of God’s grace. Baptism’s being the incorporation into Christ and of the washing away of sin through his sacrifice, and the Lord’s Supper being our ongoing communion with the living Christ and of his life continuing to nourish us. (Rom. 3:28-30; 4:3,5; 5:1; 6:3-4; I Cor. 10:16; 11:23-26; 12:13; Gal. 2:16, 21; Eph. 2:8-9;Phil. 3:9; see also Acts 10:44-48).

Spiritual Gifts

I believe in the present day operation of all Spiritual Gifts given to the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe that any one gift is greater than another or in itself is the sign of salvation. All the gifts are given for the edification and growth of the body of Christ. (I Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-13)

Eschatology

I hold to amillennialism believing in the imminent and personal return of Jesus Christ and the completion of his Kingdom on earth and in heaven. I believe in the bodily resurrection of all humanity and in the judgement of God over all humanity with a conscious everlasting reward in heaven or punishment in hell.

Once again, I invite you to send me your own Statement of Faith. It doesn’t have to be anything like mine, and it certainly doesn’t have to be related to Christianity. I would be interested in learning about what you believe. As I tell my students, “It’s ok to talk about religion!” So send your statement to john@scholteconsulting.com

John M. Scholte, M. Div.

©2015 Scholte Consulting Services

If you are someone who likes to “cry in their beer” you probably won’t like this blog post. On the other hand, if you are someone who likes “pie in the sky” Pollyannaism, you won’t like this blog post either, because Positive Thinking is neither of these two extremes.

The ideology of Positive Thinking, also known as “Possibility Thinking,” has been around for a long time, possibly since the beginning of time.  Definitely it is present in the biblical period. Setting aside, Jesus himself, who Schuller considered the greatest possibility thinker of all time, Barnabas, one of the first members and leaders of the early church, should be on the top of the list. Literally translated Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.” He was the first to see the possibilities in Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, who converted to Christianity. His convincing of the early church leaders to take a chance with Paul was the genesis for the expansive growth of the early church. If it hadn’t been for the positive thinking of Barnabas; the Church and its possibilities for growth may not have reached potential.

You can even find the light of positive thinking in the darkness of the Middle Ages.  Julian of Norwich, known as the Monastic Mystic, was a woman whose contribution of mystical theology to Christian doctrine helped develop a balanced view between sin and grace. In the 1300’s she wrote the book Revelation of Divine Love, now considered the most optimistic and sensible work of medieval theology.  It was in this work that she presents an optimistic and very positive view of nature and humanity, not denying the sin and evil of humankind, just not being dominated by sin and fallenness, as were so many other theologians of her time. She recognized the awful realities but offered to her readers the comfort and joy that is possible for them through a loving God and the saving work of Christ.

In modern times, the ultimate purveyor of the power of positive thinking and one who brought it to the attention of the American public was Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. For 52 years as pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, Peale preached, taught, and wrote about positive thinking. Interestingly enough his church, like Schuller’s, was part of the same small denomination of Dutch decent; the Reformed Church in America.

Peal’s magna carta of positive thinking was his bestselling book, The Power of Positive Thinking, which he presented as an instructional manual.  In the book he suggested to reader’s techniques they could apply assisting them to be positive thinkers. He also provided many examples of the success of his techniques from both extraordinary people and the common man. Peal believed that if a person practiced the principles of positive thinking it would produce in a person’s life; peace of mind, improved health, a never-ceasing flow of energy, and victory over anything that might try to defeat them.

His ideas helped millions of people throughout the United States including Presidents and influential captains of industry and finance. It also brought him a flurry of criticism from Christians, other pastors (some of whom were from the Reformed Church), significant theologians, who said his ideas were unbiblical, and psychologists who said his ideas were too simplistic for true psycho-social therapy. But despite these criticisms, Norman Vincent Peale prevailed and was able to be a mentor and friend to a man who would eventually surpass even Peale’s contribution and bring positive thinking to the world.

Robert Schuller was the embodiment of the three people I mentioned above, and many others who carried the torch of positive thinking through the ages. His personal story is an amazing one that is the epitome of the very heart of his message which is how God’s dream can come true through you. For those who may not know the story, I will quickly summarize it, however it is not the main focus of this blog, so I encourage you to research on your own. I also recommend reading the book, Goliath, by James Penner which is a biography of Robert Schuller.

Schuller grew up in a farming family in the Dutch immigrant areas of Iowa. Like most of the Dutch communities they worshipped at the Dutch Reformed Church and attended the denominations colleges and seminaries. Schuller went to Hope College and Western Theological Seminary both in Holland, Michigan. After he was ordained he served a church in the greater Chicago area, where he met his wife and in 1955 they moved to California to start a new church in Garden Grove just south of Los Angles.  The Garden Grove Community Church started in a drive-in movie theatre with Dr. Schuller preaching from the roof of the snack bar to the cars below. Over the years he also started the Institutes for Successful Church Leadership, the first 24 hour phone prayer line, build one of the most beautiful glass cathedrals in the world, known as the Crystal Cathedral, and grew a congregation to over 10,000 people. He reached around the world with his “Hour of Power” weekly television program, and many books on possibility thinking.

My grandmother was the first to introduce me to his positive thinking message and our family would often watch the Hour of Power and would on occasion attend seminars and conferences at the Crystal Cathedral. Being from a Dutch community in Western Michigan I attended the same college and seminary, although it was some 30 years after him. I felt an affinity with him because we came from the same type of community, and attended the same schools. Dr. Schuller certainly made a positive impact on my family and my own life perspective.

After graduate school I began my career founding a church in Denver, Colorado. The church often advertised on the local T.V. station during the Hour of Power broadcast and we did get people to visit our church from this advertising time slot. Many people had never heard of our denomination but they had heard of the Hour of Power and this gave our church instant credibility in the community. I know that many other new church starts, and even existing churches, owed a significant debt to Dr. Schuller’s ministry for the growth that they experienced.

Growing up in a family that appreciated and supported Dr. Schuller and his positive thinking message, and starting a church that was enhanced by his ministry, you might imagine my surprise when I  heard so much criticism particularly in my own denomination. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, because most of the criticism was similar to that experienced by Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Many said Dr. Schuller’s preaching and teaching was just unbiblical, simplistic motivational hype. Yet, like Peale, Schuller’s message helped millions, and brought thousands into churches throughout the United States and around the world.  And like Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, the Church grew and was opened to many possibilities for growth because of Robert Schuller’s positive thinking message.

So, after hearing the continual disparagement of Dr. Schuller’s ministry, while at the same time seeing so many people benefit from his ministry, I decided to make my own re-evaluation. I began by reading Mountains Into Goldmines, by Dr. Dennis Voskuil a former professor of mine. It was a critical look at Schuller’s ministry and classified it as a “Gospel of Success.” Is that all it was? To find the answer, I travel to the Crystal Cathedral campus, attended worship, reviewed the Adult Education program, attended the Leadership Institutes, spoke with friends who worked on staff for Dr. Schuller, and was given an opportunity to talk with Dr. Schuller himself.

What I found reminded me of the ministry and views of Julian of Norwich. Dr. Schuller recognized sin, but emphasized grace. He never denied the sin and evil of humankind; he just did not let it dominate the focus of his ministry. I remember that he told me, “People already know they are sinners. They are already living with guilt. I am offering what they don’t have; the joy and comfort that comes from knowing a loving God and the saving work of Christ.” This is the message that he presented in worship, the opposite of what so many other churches were preaching. It was not a failure to recognize the sin, or the fallenness of humanity, but a deliberate and successful effort to view the realities of the world through the optimistic and positive lens of faith. This was worship.

His education program within the Crystal Cathedral ministries provided for the nurturing of seekers, those interested in learning more about Christianity, and new Christians that wanted to grow in their faith. This was the place that taught the solid Reformed theology of guilt, grace and gratitude. Unfortunately, many critics never took the time to review the ministry in its totality.

Is it a gospel of success? Yes, if you define success as finding the human need and filling it with the fullness of God.  This was what Schuller did best, and the reason his ministry had impact. He would not put up with someone “crying in their beer” because he knew that with God, “Tough times never last, but tough people do!”

Many people have been critical of positive thinking as a form of Pollyannaism. Like Monty Python’s Life of Brain, where characters refused to acknowledge the true reality of life’s difficulties, and simply sang “Look on the Bright Side of Life.” However, Dr. Schuller taught us that positive thinkers must be realists.  Every obstacle in life cannot be ignored and there’s no doubting that life can be tough and sometimes even seems downright unfair. But life’s difficulties can be a step on the road to greater faith, hope, and happiness. Even when life is toughest, even when we are battling more than our share of disappointments, we can rise above adversity and find new hope and true happiness.

I remember reading a story Dr. Schuller told about a man who had a wonderful business with many employees and customers. Unfortunately, the economy changed and forced this man out of business. He could no longer serve his customers and he had to let his employees go and declare bankruptcy. He felt like a failure and coming to Dr. Schuller he asked how his situation could be looked at positively. Dr. Schuller asked him to think of the many times his company had helped the customer get what they needed. The man had contributed to his customer’s success. He reminded the man of the work experience he had given to his employees which they could successfully use in other opportunities. All the effort the man had put into his company had not been wasted. It had been invested in the success of his customers and in the experience gained by his employees. The man himself had gained important insight from the experience, which could be used to start a new company, or be shared with other entrepreneurs.

I was reminded of this story when I heard of the bankruptcy and selling of the Crystal Cathedral. At first, I felt a great sense of loss and heartbreak for Dr. Schuller. But then I started thinking about all the lives that had been touched in the past, my own included, and although no longer the Crystal Cathedral, the new Christ Cathedral, would still touch lives in the future. And I can say, because of Dr. Schuller, “Life’s not fair, but God is good!”

John M. Scholte, M. Div.

©2015 Scholte Consulting Services

Nervousness is a major concern for most people when having to give a speech or presentation of some kind. Often known as stage fright, it can be as debilitating as freezing up completely to speaking incoherently in front of an audience, as one beauty pageant contestant did so famously a few years ago.  Consistently, in poll after poll, the fear of public speaking grabs the number one spot, so it doesn’t surprise me that some people are more terrified about the prospect of public speaking than they are afraid of dying.

However, the ability to do well in the public speaking arena is crucial for job success! Few if any will be given the chance to advance their careers without the ability to give a good speech, sales pitch, or public relations presentation.

As a professor who has been teaching the craft of public speaking for the last five years, with twenty years of experience in public speaking through ministry, public relations, business, and teaching I have learn a few things about this art.  In this blog, I can’t cover everything involved in creating and giving a good speech, but I can share some ideas and hints on one aspect of speech making that might help you. Frequently, I am asked about how to handle the nervousness that comes with having to speak in front of a group. I have plenty of experience speaking in front of people from just a few all the way to several thousand, and no matter the size of the group, I am always nervous.

But take the words of Beyonce to heart, “I think it’s healthy for a person to be nervous. It means you care – that you work hard and want to give a great performance. You just have to channel that nervous energy into the show.”

I think Beyoncé captures the heart of dealing with nervousness. Everyone gets nervous before having to speak in front of a group of people.  It’s a natural thing, as a matter of fact, if you don’t get nervous before a speech there might be a problem. Most of the time when I’m nervous before a speech it turns out to be a good one. The few times when I have not been nervous the speech was a disaster. So if I am not nervous I should be worried because usually those are the times when the speech is not very good.

The best thing to do is not focus on trying to get rid of nervousness because nervousness is a natural part of the process and will probably always be present. Feeling what I would describe as “butterflies in the pit of my stomach” is really a sign that my body is getting prepared for action. This is where one can find the vitality and energy needed to be an effective speaker. So what we need to focus on with the nerves we experience is how to channel our nervousness in ways that assist us in getting our message to the audience.

It may seem odd to you, but nervousness is really a positive part of public speaking. It is the energy that can bring about the enthusiasm that makes the speech real to the audience. This may be hard to understand because a lot of times in our minds we imagine the worst. But the mind is one area where we can control how the message is conveyed. So controlling nervousness can begin by thinking positive thoughts and imagining the best possible outcome.

The first things I teach my students, and I share it with you, making effective speeches starts with what you think about yourself! Remember these thoughts; you are valuable, you are important, you have something of substance and depth to share, you have something positive to contribute! To do well you have to believe in yourself.  You must believe your message needs to be heard. You must believe that the audience needs to understand the meaning of the message. There is nothing more important than the message and getting that message across effectively to the audience, because you have something worth saying which is important for people to hear.

The second thing needed to turn nervousness into positive energy is thinking positive thoughts with much greater quantity than negative ones. Filling your mind with positive self-talk by saying things like “I’m glad I can give the speech and share my message,” or “no one’s perfect, but I’m getting better with each speech I give,” and “everyone gets nervous, but if other people can handle it so can I” or “I’ve a message that the audience needs to hear I’ve done my work and practiced I’m fully prepared and I know they’re interested in what I have to say.”

Along with positive thinking use the power of visualization. Think of yourself going up to the podium, lectern, or microphone standing with confidence and assurance making eye contact with your audience and delivering your message with a firm and clear voice. Feel the connection you’re making with your audience and see how the audience is becoming more and more interested in what you have to say. Then imagine yourself having a powerful conclusion and the sense of achievements as you conclude your speech knowing, that not only have you done your best, but the audience understood the message that you wanted to get across.

Now along with positive thinking and the power of visualization you simply have to gain speaking experience. Enrolling in a public speaking class or group that works together at polishing your speaking skills, like Toastmasters, are good ways to develop the craft of public speaking. First of all they usually are a somewhat sympathetic audience because their aim is to help you with constructive criticism which will improve your public speaking skills. With anything that’s new, like your first day at school, first day on the job, first date, nervousness will be at its height at the beginning but will gradually lessen with more experience. Remember you will always have the “butterflies” but the intense nervousness that you felt as a novice will become less overwhelming with experience. Over time you will learn to take command of those feelings and use them as a directive force for making a powerful impact with your message.

Now it may help you to know that the majority of the nervousness you feel will not be visible to the audience. And if you focus on your message rather than the nervousness you feel you will still look calm. If you focus on the nervousness many times it grows and becomes more apparent. There are certain tricks of the trade to help you with this. For example, if you’re giving your speech with a manuscript which is printed out on full-size paper lay it on the podium; do not hold it in your hands. Many times when you’re nervous and you are holding something in your hands, like a piece of paper, it will begin to shake. When you focus on that shaking paper it makes you even more nervous and so it compounds the problem. If you hold something in your hands while speaking use a heavier bond paper. Three by five cards with your notes work well because as card stock they are much sturdier. You can even hold the cards in the palm of your hand, making it much less likely to show any shaking.

I have found that many students feel very nervous while making their speech and they assume the audience can see or sense how they feel. However, when they’re done with their speech and they mention how nervous they were their classmates are surprised because they looked calm and assured.

Another trick of the trade is to hold onto the sides of the podium. Of course, you want to be careful that you don’t look like you have a death grip on the podium. But by placing your hands on the sides of the podium the audience will not see your handshaking and it may give you a sense of assurance and control.

Keep in mind there is no such thing as the perfect speech, so don’t expect perfection from yourself at any time. It’s always a learning experience. Don’t let it rattle your nerves.  Every speech has something that could be better or comes out differently than the speaker had originally planned. You may make a mistake in your speech but always remember that the audience, which has never heard the speech before, may not even realize that you made a mistake. If you just keep moving through your message it won’t draw attention to the fact that there was a mistake. If you lose your place or can’t immediately think about the next point just pause for a second and gather your thoughts and then move on. It’s better just to pause for a second to gather your thoughts rather than say, “I’m sorry,” or “I forgot what I was going to say,” which only draws your audience’s attention towards the fact that you lost your place. It also gets you flustered and you lose control of directing the nervousness towards its proper place which is enhancing the message. When the audience is focus on the fact that you lost your place they are no longer focused on your message. And remember the message is the most important thing; you don’t want to do things that might draw people away from it.

The last thing that will help you use nervousness in a positive way is an important principle not only for dealing with nervousness but is foundational for the whole speech making process. It is a mantra that I teach my students to remember and to say as much as possible; “prepare, prepare, prepare.”  Nothing assist you better with controlling nervousness than being prepared!

If you would like more information or if I can assist you with developing your skills of public speaking, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

John M. Scholte, M.Div.

© 2015 Scholte Consulting Services

You may know that I am a professor of religion and humanities at Grossmont College. You may not know that I am also a core faculty professor for Southern State University, a business University, as well as a faculty member of Coleman University which focuses on training for the computer industry. Over the course of my career, I have started two nonprofits of my own and assisted many other clients with starting their nonprofit and for-profit companies. Presently, I own a for-profit company, Scholte Consulting Services, which specializes in assisting people starting and developing nonprofit and for-profit companies both in business and education.

In this blog, I will share a presentation I gave at Southern States University which contains the basics of what I learned over the years with my own business and assisting others with starting for-profit and nonprofit companies. If you like to learn more, or would like assistance with developing your own company, I would be happy to assist you. I invite you to see my website: www.scholteconsulting.com You are also welcome to contact me at john@scholteconsulting.com

By way of introduction, many people believe that to start a company or nonprofit you have to begin with an attorney. This is a misnomer. You do not need to contact an attorney to start a nonprofit. Later in the process, I would recommend that you have an attorney who can advise you with different business decisions, contract reviews, agreements, business negotiations, etc.; however you don’t need to pay attorney’s fees to start your nonprofit.

Anyone can do the paperwork on their own, however many of my clients don’t have the time so they hire me to assist them with putting it all together. I can assist them with each detail from incorporating, receiving their nonprofit status from the IRS, seeking their nonprofit status from the USPS, getting their EIN number, applying to the California Franchise Tax Board, to writing bylaws, developing a corporate book, creating a board, running a board meeting, and taking board minutes. As much or as little as they need, depending on how much experience they’ve had in running a nonprofit company.

The place to begin is to visit the California Secretary of State’s website. You can find it here: http://www.sos.ca.gov/

When you get on the site select the following Business Programs – Business Entities – Forms, Samples, and Fees. You will find everything you need right on site.

You will find that there are many different types of nonprofit corporation, which come under the basic headings:

  1. Nonprofit Mutual Benefits
  2. Nonprofit Public Benefits
  3. Nonprofits Religious
  1. Mutual Benefits – Solely for the benefit of its members (Example: Golf Club –serves the needs of the members only) Not a charity or tax-exemption.
  1. Nonprofit Public Benefits – Exists to benefit the public (Example: Childcare centers, shelters for the homeless, community clinics, hospitals, performing arts groups, conservation groups, museums, schools.) Tax-Exempt.
  1. Nonprofit Religious – Exists for religious purposes. (Example: Churches, Mosque, Temple, Synagogue, School, Foundations)

Step one is to select the type of nonprofit you would like to create. If you’re not sure I’d be happy to assist you with this process, or you can go online and read up on the various definitions that can inform your decision.

Step two is to Prepare Articles of Incorporation. This is not a very hard task because you can simply follow the sample that the Secretary of State has on their website. Basically there are five articles that must be included on your Article of Incorporation statement. The first one is the name of the corporation. So you do need to think up a name for the corporation which is one of the fun things about forming a nonprofit. Second you need to state what type of nonprofit you are starting whether it is a mutual benefits company, nonprofit public benefits company, or a nonprofit religious. You will also need to state in that section the mission or the specific purpose of the corporation. The third area is providing the name and address of the corporation’s initial agent for service of process. An agent for service is basically a company’s representative and public face for the purpose of receiving legal papers. Fourth you need to include the corporate address, and this cannot be a PO Box, which is the company headquarters and where all official documents will be sent or where the service of process can take place. Finally, you make the 501 (c)(3) statement. This includes four things; first that the company is organized exclusively under the IRS code for nonprofits. Second, that the company is not organized for any political reason. Third, that the property of the corporation will not benefit any director, agent or officer of the company or any other private person.  And forth, how the company assets will be distributed if the company is dissolved in the future.

Step three File Articles (with fee) to Secretary of State. Send the articles of incorporation to the Secretary of State’s office with a nominal fee. You can find the address and fee on the website. Don’t forget to make a copy of the articles of incorporation and your check to keep in your files just in case they lose them in Sacramento.

Step four Wait for Secretary of State to Stamp Articles. In a few weeks after you send your articles of incorporation to the Secretary of State’s office you should receive the articles back. The exact amount of time it takes for them to send it back to you just depends on how busy the Secretary of State’s office is Sacramento. Before you do anything else wait for the return of the articles of incorporation. They will contact you if they don’t understand something on the form, if everything is correct you should receive them back with a stamp on the front giving the date when they were filed and a corporate number. There should also be a stamp on the back which is a certification from the Secretary of State with the state seal. When you receive them back you are now incorporated in the state of California. However you need to remember you are not a nonprofit as far as being a tax reduction for donors until you receive your designation from the IRS. This is a separate action, which I will discuss later in the blog.

The fifth step is to Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) [Form SS-4]. Employer Identification Numbers are issued for the purpose of tax administration, hiring staff, and communicating with the IRS. The IRS has now made it fairly easy to get an EIN number without even having to fill out Form SS – 4 and sending it in. You simply go online and fill out a few question immediately after which you get the number.

http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-%28EIN%29-Online

The sixth is to file a Statement of Information [Form SI-100].  California law requires corporations, limited liability companies and common interest development associations to update the records of the California Secretary of State on an annual or biennial basis by filing a statement. For a nonprofit you must file the Statement of Information with the Secretary of State (include fee) within the first 90 days of incorporation and thereafter file every two years.

The seventh step is to Begin the process of getting your 501 (c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

This is a tricky step because up to this point the corporation has not been designated by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, which is the only way the company can receive donations that are tax-deductible, however to get the designation you must act as if you are, so you can prove that you’ve been functioning as a nonprofit which deserves the nonprofit designation. Here’s how to prove that you are a nonprofit.

  1. Buy a Corporate Book – File all corporate papers including:
  2. Articles of Incorporation
  3. Minutes
  4. Financial Statements
  5. Bylaws

(Later also include)

  1. IRS Determination Letter
  2. California Franchise Tax Board Information
  3. Other Corporate Information

-United States Postal Service Tax Exemption

  1. Select Board Members
  2. Draft and Adopt Bylaws
  3. Have Board Meetings
  4. Create Minutes
  5. Create Website
  6. Create Marketing Collateral Materials
  7. Flyers
  8. Brochures
  9. Advertisements
  10. Announcements
  11. Press Releases

Take all of this information make copies and send the copies to the IRS with Form 1023.

Step eight File Form 1023 with required Information (Fee $400.00 if corporate income is less than $10,000, if over $10,000 fee is $800.00) Hopefully, you have included all the information that I stated in step seven. The more things you can show that demonstrate to the IRS that you are a nonprofit corporation the better. If the IRS needs more information they will contact you. Of course, this will take more time toward receiving your designation.

Step nine Wait for IRS Determination Letter.

Step Ten Apply for California Franchise Tax Exemption.

Even with the IRS designation you must apply to the California Franchise Tax Board to be tax exempt in California. It is easier if you have your IRS Determination Letter.

  1. File Form 3500A (no Fee) – If you file before you receive the IRS Determination Letter you must file Form 3500 with a fee of $25.00

Remember the company will need to maintain its tax-exempt status. So each year the company will need to file Form 990/990EZ and Schedule A (Churches File Form 990N if income under $50,000)

Even with the IRS designation and California Franchise Tax Board exemptions you will need to request a USPS Tax Exemption if you want to use the nonprofit status with mailings. This takes time and can be difficult to gain, but it will save the company money if you do any mass mailings.

This covers the basics on how to start a nonprofit company. If you would like more information or if I can assist you with the process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

John M. Scholte, M.Div.

© 2015 Scholte Consulting Services