Leadership Courage (part fifty)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part five)

Within a larger conversation concerning courageous leadership we’ve been examining the outworking of placing “an unreasonable faith in reasonableness” – a central tenet of much of post-Enlightenment Christendom in the West. I am indebted to Edwin Freidman’s A Failure on Nerve for illuminating this characteristic of the anxious, shallow, quick-fix orientation to leadership.

This kind of leadership is ruining the Church in North America in our time.

We’ve pointed out that when you preach what you don’t practice, the dissonance repels people – not just from your sanctuary – but from Christianity and Christ. The implications for a society are deeply profound and can infect it for generations.

See, Christianity is nothing if not a call to courage. When her leaders bow before the idol of reasonableness, a dry, humdrum philosophical religion results.

 

And, men leave the church in droves.

 

Or haven’t you noticed?

 

I subscribe to an excellent book reading service called Leader’s Book Summaries [www.StudyLeadership.com].

I highly recommend it. In a summary of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church I learned that only one third of church attendees are men—and most of them are over 50. It’s almost impossible to find adults – of either gender — under age 30 in church.

How come?

Consider these two lists of values: The first list: Love, communication, beauty, relationships, support, help, nurture, feelings, sharing, harmony, community, and cooperation.

And, the second list: Competence, power, efficiency, achievement, skills, results, accomplishment, technology, goals, success, and competition. 

Which list of values are most consistent with the culture that predominates the North American Church today?

The two lists come from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and distinguish culturally “masculine” from “feminine” values.

What do you see?

In our commitment to be reasonable, among other major shifts, the Church in the west has been emasculated. Neutered. It’s been feminized.

The Leaders Book Summary points out that numerous studies reveal “there is widespread agreement among both the religious and the secular that to be a Christian is to embrace feminine values.”

Consider this: those most absent from church (men and young adults) value challenge over security. Again, taken from the Summary, the key values of this missing population include adventure, risk, daring, independence, variety, and reward.

Women and seniors are more likely to embrace:

safety,

stability,

harmony,

predictability,

comfort,

support,

and tradition

as core values.

Since values are revealed in behavior, not belief systems, what does your lifestyle reveal, pastor?

When the time has come to take a courageous stand, what does your behavior reveal?

  • When the opportunity came to stand up to that manipulative, obstructionist power-wielding elder, what did you do?
  • When you thought to lead your parish out into the city to serve and love those outside your tight-knit congregation – and push-back came, as it always does – did you lead courageously or cave under pressure?
  • When a clear biblical injunction has become as unpopular in your denomination as in the culture at large, have you censored your own voice?
  • When the Holy Spirit stirred you to put your hand to the plow in pursuit of some great, challenging work for God’s glory, did the fearful complaints of the cowards prevail in the end?

As leaders, we get to champion our people to become who they always wanted to be, by taking them where they never wanted to go.

And, since life is always lived from now on, your past behavior is no predictor of the greatness you’ll accomplish before you breathe your last.

So, before you see Jesus face to face, what great, rewarding, daring adventure will you and your people give yourselves to?

What’ll it be?

You get to choose.

Leadership Courage (part forty nine)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part four)

 

Pastor, who you are is more important than anything you say.

 

In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say!

This Leadership Courage Series is a call to embrace the courageous, risky life that leaders lived in the Church of the New Testament. It stands in glaring contrast to the lifestyle of the professional clergy that, more often than not, resembles tenured professors at our nation’s universities…without the taxpayer-funded salary package.

 

This is primarily troubling because you are not primarily an educator… you are a role model.

 

Just like Timothy, Paul, Priscilla & Aquila, Barnabas, John, and Stephen.

 

Yes, just like them.

 

If not you, then who?

 

Who else is to model the vibrant, sold-out Christian life than you, your elders, and leaders?

 

Those who write books, like those who traverse the Christian speaking circuit, don’t provide the regular proximity and access that you, as shepherd of a local congregation, do—unless you hide in your study and only emerge when it’s time to preach or lead a meeting.

 

Think about those words: proximity and access.

 

If the lyrics and music of your preaching and your life don’t align, those words will strike fear in you.

 

If, however, you’ve raised your way-of-living to match your preaching or aligned your preaching to the faith you actually live, those words will resonate with your heart right now.

 

See, when your life is “Chamberlainian” [see the last blog], the dissonance between it and the biblical message undercuts your effectiveness as a leader of God’s women and men.

 

And, when your living is “Churchillian”, the bravery to which you call your congregation is the same as the courage you routinely summon to bring God’s reign to the chaos and disorder that has besieged your community.

One of my favorite preachers is Mike Erre. Mike’s always been an amazing Bible expositor and communicator. Biblically-sound. Funny. Profound. Engaging. Illuminating. Winsome.

 

In recent years, a medical crisis has befallen someone very dear to Mike and Justina. A crisis from which there’s no recovery. None.

 

Mike’s preaching gained gravitas. Like Jesus had, when the scholars marveled at his understanding [Luke 2:47] and demons quaked in his presence [Mark 5:7]. You can sense it when you’re around Mike. This man knows what it is to follow Jesus no matter what.

 

When you live in harmony with the Biblical message, you have gravitas.

 

Weight.

 

Substance.

 

Authenticity.

 

So does your preaching.

 

When you don’t, your sermons are hollow. And that hollowness drives folks away.

 

The first to go are the true believers. The uncompromising. The bold. The spirited. The gutsy. Those who read their Bibles and believe that it says what it says. That it means what it means.

 

The people who long for authenticity. Not theory.

 

They want to associate with a faith community that will live this stuff – Jesus’ stuff – like it’s real.

 

Because it is.

Leadership Courage (part forty eight)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part three)

In this series, we’re examining a distinct type of leadership that is essential when anxiety is afoot—as is certainly the case in the Church in North America. You may attend a strong, confident church: one that is largely free from disquiet and emotional volatility.

Good for you.

But the Church as a whole is a dreadful mess. Hemorrhaging people and funds, closing buildings and selling off property, many once-dominant denominations in the US are failing. Even more troubling, her leaders, destabilized and evacuated of courage, are fearfully and fretfully overseeing the demise.

It’s in this context that clear, decisive, non-anxious leadership is non-negotiable.

We’re looking at nine characteristics of such leadership. Each one modeled for us by Jesus. Currently we’re looking at the seventh: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.

Realize that there was nothing “reasonable” in Jesus’ call to be his disciple. His standards were unmistakable. Like this one: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other… [Lk 16:13]

As a leader, who you are is more important than anything you say.

In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say.

 

Ministers, often times, are master pulpiteers.

 

Skilled rhetoricians.

 

Gifted orators.

 

Big talkers.

 

But talk that’s not backed by a life has a hollow ring. And that hollowness drives people away… away from church… away from the Church.

When Winston Churchill addressed the Harrow School in late October 1941 his speech included these most famous words:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

His words, then as now, ring true.

Why?

 

Because Churchill didn’t give in.  

 

Neville Chamberlain, who famously capitulated to the Nazis could not have made that speech.

And if he had, it would never have been remembered.

The words didn’t match his life.

Do yours?

Leadership Courage (part forty seven)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part two)

It seems that the Church in North America is reasonable if it is anything, and that reasonableness has got us stuck.

“Syncretism” is what scholars call it.

I call it a blight … and a foundation to the culture of cowardice that’s commonplace in the Church today. One way to regain our verve and our nerve, it to take an axe to the roots of our commitment to being reasonable.

Trouble is, there’s comfort in reasonableness. There’s a degree of security there, too. The moderation it provokes can masquerade as wisdom after you’ve had any number of flame-outs when taking bold steps of faith.

I was discipled as a new Christian in a church that regularly twisted scripture and abused power…scarring people both emotionally and spiritually. Annie and I invested ourselves without reservation in a church plant that imploded after an extra-marital affair. Years ago we donated what for us was a breathtaking sum of money for a church building campaign, and later learned that someone on the inside misappropriated tens of thousands from that campaign.

Sad.

If you’ve been around the Church for any time, scandals are nothing new. How the perpetrators can sleep at night remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the pressure these setbacks have exerted on my enthusiasm to live “all-in” for Christ. It’s as if powerful spiritual forces conspire to soften my commitment to live boldly for Christ.

They do.

A “voice of reason” resonates within coaxing me toward moderation. One popular paradigm suggests that we hold our faith as one of many important commitments. Important, but not essential.

Nothing to lose your head over.

Yet, in the scriptures, moderation in living for Christ is never esteemed.

Who was moderate in their allegiance to Christ?

Peter, in Caiaphas’ courtyard?

Thomas, while doubting?

Judas Iscariot?

Jesus is unambiguous: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]

Clear as a bell.

Leadership Courage (part forty six)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part one)

We’re been looking at Christian leadership from what I hope are refreshing and resourceful perspectives. The genesis of this entire series is A Failure of Nerve by the late Edwin Friedman. I am indebted to him for sparking today’s thoughts with his charge to “disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.”

Pastor, after all the years of disappointments, setbacks, and betrayals in your experience as both minister and disciple, have you become reasoned, balanced, measured, composed in the application of your faith?

Has your Christianity become, somehow, affordable?

I wonder how this impacts those you seem frustrated to inspire?

We are, after all, talking about leading with courage…

If the Christian faith is but one among many, then a sensible, reasonable approach to applying its teachings is appropriate.

If Christianity is just one philosophy among many then holding your faith as you do your political convictions is understandable.

If church involvement is one of several “membership commitments” then you are wise to be measured in your investment therein.

The thing is, Christianity cannot be any of these, for any of us.

If it is but one among many anything — then it is a lie.

False.

A hoax.

The reasonable thing to do with a thing like that is to have nothing to do with it.

The claims of Christ are so radical, singular, and exclusive they can only stand alone. Without rival in any of our lives.

So, Christian, the one question: Is it true?

If Jesus Christ is the completely unique son of God… the way, the truth, and the life… the only route to the Father… the one in whom the fullness of God dwells… then to be reasonable in your commitment to your faith is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.

To be reasonable in your commitment to Christ is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.

And to be unreasonable in your commitment to Jesus and His Church is the most reasonable thing you could ever do.

No reasonable person would declare “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21]

Maybe you rationalize: “Well Kirk, that was Paul. The Apostle Paul. He wrote half the New Testament. Paul’s was a highly unusual commitment to Christ and Christianity.”

Yet, Paul was either crazy or he fully expected the Christians in Philippi to do the same with their lives.

Didn’t he?

Paul, like Jesus, was no reasonable person.

Gripped at his core, from his core, to his core with the unreasonableness of faith, everything Paul wrote and modeled indicated a radical, all-in embrace of faith.

All-in.

Are you?

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part five)

My friends were approved by Habitat for Humanity several years ago. Working the graveyard shift in a manufacturing plant, driving a cab, and doing odd jobs whenever he could still wouldn’t provide the down payment my buddy would need to own a home. Habitat, however, had a pathway to home ownership.

Richard and his wife Jackie, donated their time – lots of it – to help other Habitat recipients build their homes over a period of months and years. Then, when the time came to work on their home, dozens of others were there to help out.

Many of us who love them pitched in as well.

It was a blast.

Rewarding.

Resourceful.

Empowering.

Richard and Jackie had “skin in the game”. They got far more than a home. They invested themselves in their home in a way that changed them.

Why doesn’t Habitat just hand out homes? They could. They could use a lottery system to select the fortunate few who’d get a nice new Habitat house for free. But they don’t.

Know why?

Because, getting a house for nothing doesn’t change people. Doesn’t develop character. Strengthen confidence. Shift one’s self-perception. Not really. Not like Richard and Jackie’s did.

Pastor, if you’re in the disciple-making business then you’re in the business of changing people.

Changing people into the image of Christ. Provoking people to live and love and give and care and serve the way Jesus did—motivated by what motivated him.

And, that rarely happens when you keep handing people fish.

You might have read, back in installment # 16 of this Series, I was struggling my way through a character-development workshop in Honolulu with Dan, my trainer and mentor. Dan’s life-changing counsel:

Kirk, we’re not here to give people fish.

We’re not here to teach them to fish.

We’re here to provoke their hunger.

Are you?

Leadership Courage (part forty four)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part four)

Here’s another look at the 80/20 Rule and its connection to the culture of cowardice in the North American Church. And, it may be hard to hear.

Could it be that a distorted substitute for biblical grace has taken the Church?

Consider how little the Church asks of Christians… in the name of “grace”.

And, consider the abundance of resources we make available to Christians who are expected to contribute next to nothing in return. Churches, in general, are so transfixed with providing for their own that they have little time, energy, and resources with which to serve those outside.

Think about it:

Baby dedications. Baptisms. Child care. Mom’s nights out. Children’s ministry. Youth group. Relationship counseling. College and career ministry. Pre-marital classes. Weddings. Marriage counseling. Divorce recovery. Grief counseling. Financial management seminars. Debt counseling. Bereavement care. Memorial services.

Our churches provide cradle-to-grave services to the saved— most of which are free of any call that the recipients contribute their time, energy, or money to the community of faith from which they take, take, take.

Is it any wonder that fewer than 10% of church-dwellers tithe?

Ever attended a church while it undertook a major capital campaign?

What happened?

For a capital campaign to succeed, two things have to occur: those who already give must dig deep and give more—usually a lot more—and they often do. And also, those who rarely give and who only gesture at giving are called upon to sacrifice as well—and that’s where the commotion commences…

Doesn’t it?

A capital campaign–like the claims of Lordship that Jesus so clearly articulates–calls each of us to painful sacrifice. In Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and 14:27 the gospels record Jesus’ clearly: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Yet, in our commitment to be visitor-sensitive, we communicate in dozens of ways that cross-bearing is optional.   Not expected. And, certainly not insisted upon. And then, when we finally call our people – all of them – to get in the game in a sacrificial way, many of them pack up and leave for another church. Or, no church at all.

Don’t they?

And, look where all this visitor-sensitivity has got us.

Do you see maturing disciples all around you?

Do you?

Leadership Courage (part forty three)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part three)

We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing!

As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?

Last time, we proposed that you and your staff think like people-developers, not gatherers of passive spectators.

43 SpectatorsTo that we add: Stop counting the numbers of spectators who amass at your weekend events.

Instead, fix your attention on those who are making a difference for Christ.

Decide what maturing in Christ looks like in your context: serving the un-churched, giving sacrificially of one’s money, time, and talents, etc. Count those who live this way. Those who contribute, who serve, who minister outside as well as inside the church.

Count only those who do.

Focus on their progress. Use them as examples when you teach and train. Make them your ministry’s visible heroes.

Pay attention to their growth. Who among them is God stretching, growing, maturing, and strengthening?

What are the experiences that seem to contribute to the development of their character, confidence in ministry, trust in Christ, and tenderness of heart?

43 ProvokeWhat can you, as a senior leadership team, do to provoke your people to love and good works? [Hebrews 10:24]

And, while you’re doing that, wean yourself off your fixation with how many attend this or that. To undermine the 80/20 rule, stop yourself from caring about how many come and listen… to you. Stop asking about how many came and sat and took and left.

Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time.

A lot of people come to my church, several services a weekend. So …

  • What if, routinely in our services, we formed groups and asked them to find someone with whom they discover they have something in common, then turn that common ground into prayer?
  • What if our greeters grabbed the first ten strangers who walked in, and asked them to help?
  • What if our ushers randomly asked people to help them?
  • What if our trained prayer team folks picked a handful of people who they quickly trained to pray then had them come alongside and assist them when praying for others?
  • What if every ministry team, the weekend before they do some local ministry, randomly ask people in the service to come and do it with them? What if the service was suspended until 15 people agreed to come and help?

What if you made it clear that this is a community where everyone gives. From day one.

Where everyone contributes.

Where everyone plays. 

What if giving, and contributing, and playing is how maturing disciples are made?

Leadership Courage (part forty two)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part two)

We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing!

As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?

42 trainerOne: Think like a people-developer, not a gatherer of passive spectators.

In other words, re-think why you’re in Christian ministry.

Decide to jettison the notion—promoted by almost three hundred years of post-enlightenment Church culture—that your role primarily is to educate and entertain church dwellers. Instead, become primarily a disciple-maker and maturity-provoker. When your purpose is to catalyze people to live like Jesus, so much of the activity that fills and frustrates your workweek will change.

Think about it.

What if your senior staff took 80% of the hours it devotes to preparing for and pulling off a slick service –- an education and entertainment event – and dedicated that time to imagining ways to provoke Christ-likeness in your people?

42 street ministryWhat if you became trainers, coaches, and equippers rather than event planners and producers? What experiences would support your people’s growth into maturity?

  • What skills would you be sure to have them practice? Let me propose a few: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, succinctly sharing the story of their introduction to Christ.
  • What would you have them role play? Communicating parts of their Christ-story so as to connect with a variety of people in any number of typical life situations, responding biblically to universal ethical and moral challenges, selecting appropriate scriptures to support people facing common difficulties, life experiences, and perplexities.
  • What field trip experiences would be core to your disciple-making process? Serving those outside the church who are culturally similar to your trainee, volunteering with secular service organizations, interviewing community leaders about the true needs of neighboring residents [police officials, mayor’s office, school administrators, YWCA director, city council members], meeting and befriending their actual neighbors.
  • How would you insure that your people apply whatever is taught when you do an education event? Pave pathways in advance of your weekend education events so that every person can take action in line with their new learning.
In the people-development business the options and opportunities available to you are virtually unlimited. Challenging your people to trust God in real-time and to discover God’s goodness as, and after, they do, can become central to your congregation’s experience.

It’s up to you.

Leadership Courage (part forty one)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty seven)

We’re unpacking the sixth leadership principle for pastors who find themselves immersed in a culture of cowardice that in my observation has taken over the Church in North America.

UNDERMINE THE 80/20 RULE!

Consider this: what expectations are communicated to those who gather at your weekend services?

Park here.

Don’t smoke in the building.

Sign in your kids. Take a pager.

Leave your coffee outside the sanctuary.

Give something, if you want to.

Take part in this class, that event, the other small group experience.

And… please come back!41-come-back

You can boil down the “contract” you make with most of your folks this way: “Just come back and we’ll take care of everything else.“

And, if they come back, they do exactly what you’ve asked: nothing.

And you’re relieved if they do this this for years…

Now consider: how frequently and how clearly do you teach your congregation about giving?

Jesus spoke more about money than any subject other than the Kingdom of God. Why? Because what you treasure reveals your character. [Mt 6:21]

Yet, most pastors dread speaking about finances. “People will think that all we care about is money” some of you say. So, you rarely teach the topic and how closely allied it is to all issues of the heart of your people.

And, here’s the irony. Pastor, if you’re honest, you think about money all the time!

Don’t you?

See, if you’re in the business of packing the pews and parking lot [what I call the “religious education and entertainment business”], you’ll avoid all the topics that invite people to take offense (and reveal their values).

Strange that Jesus wasn’t smart enough to remember this, since he addressed the topic so very, very often? In fact, of you study his behavior, you’ll conclude that keeping the crowds coming back for more wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as it is to us.

What was Jesus’ priority?

Why did Jesus say what he said? Why did he teach, tell the stories he told, and live among people the way he did? 41-woodenI assert that Jesus was in the people-development business. Jesus was making Kingdom citizens of people. And, when it happened, these people lived in very distinct ways.

“Discipleship”, to Jesus, had everything to do with how people live, and why they do what they do. The heart-posture and motivation of one’s actions. Discipleship began with the renovation of the heart… and that heart-posture expressed itself in a way-of-being in the world that was…well, remarkable. [Acts 16:7]

Yet, in North America, church dwellers’ way-of-being in society seems anything but remarkable.

Doesn’t it?

Funny, too, that when pastors teach about finances, giving almost always increases… at least for a while.

Ever wondered why cults get a following? I offer that one reason is that they communicate clear expectations of their members. Very rigorous expectations. Often misguided. Theologically corrupt as well. Yet, people by the thousands “pony up” whatever is required. Maybe the cult leaders abuse the scriptures that you avoid

Still, Jesus said: “If anyone will come after me, he (or she) must take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34] Yet, such preaching is rarely heard in the seeker-sensitive, politically-correct Church of our day.

I wonder what prices we pay, as a result.

I wonder what prices American society is paying, too.

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