Who woke Jonah to pray?

Just five verses into his story, Jonah is sound asleep below deck, aboard a ship imperiled by a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, stunned to find Jonah asleep in so critical a moment. He wakes Jonah demanding: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jonah 1:6]

Get this: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber— calling him to take action with God lest the community they’d become be plunged to ruin.

Look around you. Isn’t the community outside your church caught in a destructive tempest? In my observation, an ethical, spiritual, economic, and relational hurricane is threatening to destroy the fabric of American society. This same storm is buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the very edges of the culture.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Courageous leadership is disruptive


Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction. They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead. Mature leaders understand that their leadership is crisis-inducing.
Let me repeat that: healthy leadership is crisis-inducing.
Edwin Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed on the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated simply by the leader doing exactly what he or she should be doing.
As you study Jesus’ leadership, particularly with his disciples, you’ll be stunned how frequently he invokes adversity for those closest to him. Yet, how reluctant is anyone in church leadership to lead in a way that invites a crisis for long-standing church members?

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Courageous leadership is clear.

Courageous leadership is clear.

A courageous leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, and her values and priorities. The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you become.

And, therein lies the problem. As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals. As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not willing to go where you’re headed. Stay foggy and many will stay with you, wandering around in impotent ambiguity.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

The Trouble with Togetherness


The pressure within church for togetherness smothers bold, daring, world-changing action – like we see in the Book of Acts – and those who are courageous enough to engage it. I’m not one to sentimentalize the “early church.” The early church had its own problems, and we have ours. But, scripture describes a Church that was strong, courageous, bold, and risk-taking.

Do you see this kind of fervor in the average church-goer today? What has emerged is a church culture that is so nice, and so fixated on empathy that it organizes itself around the most immature, most dependent, most dysfunctional members.

Who has hijacked the agenda in most of America’s churches?

In my experience working with hundreds of church leaders from across the denominational spectrum, I’ve found that the least courageous, least responsible, and least emotionally and spiritually mature are often the ones who have taken most churches captive.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

A “Seatbelt Society”

In the early 1990’s, Dr. Edwin Friedman described America as “a seatbelt society.” He noted that our culture had oriented itself more toward safety than adventure. In “A Failure of Nerve” he notes that America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression that is toxic to courageous, well-defined leadership.

One effect of societal anxiety is a reduced pain threshold. The result: we value comfort over the rewards of facing and surmounting challenges.

A culture like this has no stamina in the face of difficulty and crisis.

How like the contemporary Church this is. In our commitment to “being nice” we have prioritized togetherness over making a difference. In our desire to feel good we bury our heads in the proverbial sand while the culture around us sprints toward its destruction. According to Friedman, in environments like this, dissent is discouraged, feelings take precedence over ideas, peace over progress, comfort over anything new, and cloistered virtues over adventure.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Where are the Exemplars of Courage?

Who are the exemplars of courage in society today? Often they are pop-culture icons or sports stars with little evidence of moral fiber. It seems to me that the courageous have become an endangered species…and not just in society but in the Church.

Think about it.

Wikipedia defines an endangered species as a population “at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in number or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters.”

Can you see that these conditions are true of the Church today? We’re left with what I call a “culture of cowardice.”

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Salt, Light…

The Church is to be God’s redemptive gift to salt and light the communities where God has placed it.

By “salt” I mean that capacity to spice up the experience of living in God—and all humans are living in God whether they acknowledge or deny that reality. Historically, salt’s seasoning effect was experienced as good. In addition to seasoning all it touches, salt preserves. Salt slows decay. In the arid middle east at the time of Christ salt kept meat from rotting. It was essential to survival. Everybody understood this.
“Light” illuminates. Light can point the way like a car’s headlights serve those driving, warn of danger the way a lighthouse does, and enable us to see when vision would otherwise be impossible. Light allows us to make helpful distinctions in thousands of beneficial ways that keep us from harm, make sense of our surroundings, allow us to read, to learn, and to respond advantageously. Without it, society is confined to grope in darkness, suffering needlessly, sorrowing greatly.
When churches fail to be salt and light in our communities, our congregations suffer—but, the unchurched around us suffer much more.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Responsible to, not for…

When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and unable to bear the adult consequences for those choices, there is an impact–a “fruit” that is produced. This happens whenever you persuade another to live irresponsibly.

The distinction of being responsible to vs. responsible for is central for any of us in leadership. There’s actually great freedom when you are clear about this distinction, and lead in such a way that those you influence are clear about it too. To stand in life responsible to others and responsible for your own emotional being and destiny may call for courage you’ve not been willing to summon, up ‘till now.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage


Whose Responsibility is it?

Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?

Of course not! How could you be?

If your spouse has handed you “the keys” to their emotional well being, please give them back! Now.

When you notice that someone has tried to make you responsible for whatever it is that God has made them responsible for – their attitudes, their feelings, their behavior, their “stress,” their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you may have a responsibility to them, but you can never be responsible for them.

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

The Responsibility Riddle

Question: Pastor, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

Answer: I am, of course!
Ok, fine. Now answer this…
Question: : Pastor, who is responsible for the spiritual maturity and vitality of your congregation?
Answer: Again, I am!
Question: Really? Are you sure?
If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?

– Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Go to Top