For two decades I’ve been coaching and training pastors, church planters, and denominational execs. My focus has largely been leadership. Developing and strengthening the leadership acumen of front-line ministers who, more than ever before are dealing with anxiety in their people, congregations, and systems. The prominence of disquiet in much of the Church seems to have mushroomed since the recession of 2007. In many ways this has undermined our willingness to attempt God-honoring exploits as daring agents of change in society. Instead, pastors find themselves consumed with appeasing the angst that presides in their elders, staff, leaders, and members.
“Leadership Courage” is a response to that condition. It describes a distinct type of leadership necessary for the North American Church that is struggling to be courageous. Edwin Friedman, in “A Failure of Nerve,” noted that the United States had become a culture characterized by chronic anxiety. He predicted that, if unchecked, American society would continue to become increasingly immature, lurching from one self-declared “crisis” to the next.
This he observed more than two decades ago.
It’s not just secular society that’s shot through with cowardice. Cowardice has become the way of being for the Church in our time. Immobilized by the growing opposition to our faith by America’s influential thought leaders, the rapid greying of our congregations, and the decline in attendance, vitality, and money, the Church has abandoned God’s mandate to salt and light our neighborhoods, communities, and nation. The result is exactly what we have today in politics, ethics, relationships, education, and the law. While the Church has been asleep the nation has lost its spiritual and ethical mooring.
In “Leadership Courage,” Part One reveals the heart nature of courage. To lead with courage means to lead with one’s heart exposed, available, vulnerable, accessible. To be the kind of leader the Church needs, one must pay the high price of hurt, rejection, and misunderstanding while continuing to risk one’s heart.
In Part Two, the author examines the state of the Church in North America, evidencing the claim that its most identifying characteristic is its cowardice. Supplanting people development and Kingdom advance with religious education and entertainment, the Church has forgotten what business it’s in.
In this context, nine leadership postures and practices are essential. They are described in Part Three, illustrated by the life of Jesus, and applied to pastors in North American churches. The nine characteristics are:
• 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.
• Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
• Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
• Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
• Don’t “push on the rope:” the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
• Undermine the 80/20 Rule.
• Disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
• Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life.
• Go first!
In Part Four, contemporary examples are offered of pastors and church planters who’ve applied the principles of “Leadership Courage” in their own ministries, some of what they’ve learned, and the fruit that’s been produced, as a result.
“Leadership Courage” is an easy, informative read, ideal for leaders, pastors, and small groups. Each chapter offers a study guide of personal reflection and group processing questions. Most of all it is practical, calling Christians to several key shifts in posture and practice that, according to both Jesus and Friedman will provoke maturity in those they lead.
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