Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part one)

How is a pastor, denominational exec, lay leader, elder, or board member to lead when the culture of your organization is shot through with cowardice? What are the implications for George Barna’s “Revolutionaries” who’ve been so sickened by the self-soothing silliness in churches that, while ministering passionately and creatively for Christ, have cut themselves off from the local church?  And, what of the thousands upon thousands of Christians who, frustrated by the infantile institutionalism and the soft-headed social activism of the mainline denominations, have washed their hands of the whole religious mess?

Picture yourself with the New Testament in one hand and Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve in the other.  What if Jesus, our exemplar, understood Friedman better than Friedman understood himself?  Read on, and at the end, tell us what you think.

One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge.  It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.

In Generation to Generation, Friedman gives this definition of a leader: A self-defined person with a non-anxious presence.

Today’s blog, tenth in the Leadership Courage Series, will examine one attribute of courageous leadership: decisive self-definition.

By “self-defined”, I mean a person who has a clear sense of their unique calling from God and is living in alignment with that calling.  It’s not enough to intellectually know who you are called to be and the unique difference you’ve been prepared to make [Eph 2:10] and then to live as if you were someone else; someone with a puny, self-consuming purpose; like: to feel loved, to be happy, or to feel good about yourself. Please!

Consider Jesus’ example.  Notice the clarity he embodies as he moves through his relationships, through his world.  At age twelve, he’s in the temple, discussing the Law with the priests.  Once his parents find him, his mother demands an explanation for his behavior.  Jesus’ replies with a question: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my father’s business?” [Lk 2:49]

Later, his brothers press him to go to the Feast, reasoning that a public figure cannot rally a following without showing up in a big way at these big cultural gatherings.  Jesus response was interesting.  He didn’t say: “Wow, you’re right!  How am I going to establish a movement if I don’t show the world who I am and what I have to say?”  Nor did he say: “Quit giving me your stupid advice!  For the last time, I’m not interested in becoming a political leader.  Sheesh, you idiots just don’t get it!”

As a self-defined person, he says: “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” [Jn 7:2-8]

My CRM teammates prefer this small modification to Friedman’s definition: a God-defined person with a non-anxious presence.  They’ve  developed the Awaken Workshop designed to help Christians study and pray over their own lives, relationships, experiences, heart-passions, and values for one purpose: to extract from the remarkable investment of God in each life the unique calling of God for that person. Awaken [available at www.reFocusing.org] is nine vigorous, intentional hours dedicated to uncover the clues to who you are and why you’re here.

How much concentrated time have you devoted to discovering the special impact God intends you to make with your life? [Eph 2:10]   Is it any wonder you’re fuzzy about what God’s calling to you might be?

Armed with clarity about her calling, a mature, self-defined leader has little difficulty saying “no”.  In fact, the clearer she becomes, the more she says “no” to the many good, honorable, helpful things that would take her away from living her central calling from God. She is not upset or threatened when people don’t see things the way she does.  She does not need the agreement of others to bolster her confidence.  She is clear.  Decisive.  She understands her calling.  She is proactive about setting her life up to live that calling from God.  Unapologetically.  Like Jesus did.

When his buddies encouraged Jesus to take a break, have a good meal, relax a bit, after his encounter with the Samaritan, he said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” [Jn 4:34]  Clear.  Focused.  Unfazed.

Self-defined does not mean workaholic.  The mature leader takes full responsibility for his well being and destiny. Like Jesus, he trusts the Father’s goodness, love, and sovereign plan.  He does not look to other people or for his circumstances to define him. Responsible for his own being and destiny, he lives responsibly—even amid a culture that promotes irresponsibility.

Recall Jesus’ practice of withdrawing from the press of people and ministry to commune with the Father, get perspective, and to sleep.  Responsible for his own being and destiny, Jesus chose to get away from the very people who needed him: those he could’ve healed, delivered, taught, and built a bigger, stronger, more powerful ministry around.


Maybe Jesus understood that more than skill, technique, or knowledge, courageous leadership is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he moves through life.  To presence himself well with people, Jesus recognized that a vital relationship with the Father, clarity, perspective, and attending to his very appropriate, very human need for rest and refreshing were necessary.  Self-definition, like Jesus modeled for us, was the result of his commitment to maturity.

How’s yours?