Leadership Backlash


A leader is not simply someone who gets things done or who gets other people to behave in desirable ways. A leader is different. She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way. This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge. It can best be described in terms of being.

A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive. It provokes maturity in those she influences. The differences are palpable.

One difference is the way a leader isin the midst of sabotage and backlash. My mentor Dr. J. Robert Clinton has identified Leadership Backlash to be one of the most common methods God uses to develop leadership character. Backlash occurs when once-enthusiastic followers turn against their leader in the face of unexpected difficulties. Driving that leader to the foot of the cross, in prayer.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

God has given us…


Having taken full responsibility, before the Father, for his being and destiny, Jesus lives as if his every movement, his attitudes, his words, and even his silence are on purpose. His is the Father’s purpose to establish the Kingdom of God in the lives of women and men.

This is what leaders do.

Acclimate yourself to the rigor of taking total responsibility, before God, for your own responses to your environment and circumstances. Friedman notes: “Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position, they must come to love it.”

So, you ask, where do I get that kind of courage? How could I ever come to love being ridiculed and adored, being evaluated and critiqued and judged all the time?

What if you have it all, already?

What if you’ve been given the capacity to stand in this rigor, as an exemplar to those you lead? What if you have it in Christ? If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, remember? [I Corinthians 5:17] God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, remember? [2 Peter. 1:3]

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Neither admiration nor disdain…


In John 12:20-24, Jesus has become so popular that even the Greeks are seeking him out. They ask Philip for an audience with the Master.

At this moment, Jesus, and those close to him, appear to be at the pinnacle of popularity. Imagine Philip’s enthusiasm as he tells Andrew the great news. The two go together to let Jesus know that “so-and-so” has requested an audience with Rabbi Jesus.

Rather than seizing upon his mushrooming popularity and assigning one of them to begin scheduling his appointments with dignitaries, notice what Jesus does.

He completely ignores the request.

Instead, he talks to the two of them about his impending sacrificial death. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…”

Neither the admiration nor the disdain of the crowds and his closest followers deters Jesus from his mission. Jesus does not simply take a stand. He is a stand.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Sermon in the Synagogue


Consider the accounts that appear in John 6: five thousand people witness the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee, and a sizeable crowd follows himto the other side. He calls them out: “You’re only here for the show; because of the miracles.” This is how he greets them!

Then he exposes their shallowness with his seldom-repeated “sermon in the synagogue” where he speaks about eating his body and drinking his blood. [John 6:53] The crowd scatters and many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him—ever.

Does Jesus backtrack, and explain that his words were just hyperbole, a figure of speech? Does he beg them to return? Does he capitulate, soften the message, lower the bar, or take anysteps to ease their distress?

Read the end of John 6 and see for yourself!

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Stand, as an Exemplar


As a minister of the Gospel of Christ you are an exemplar. Your way of life is a model- and it must be so. It is ridiculous to serve in Christian ministry and to shrink from the exposure and vulnerability befitting your station.

A leader stands.

Sometimes that means you get to stand, alone. Always it means you are visible in ways that those who follow are not. My invitation is to embrace the reality and necessity of standing up, of standing out, and of standing alone— or get out of Christian ministry.

There is an anxiety, common to American culture, about standing alone. It seems that only raving narcissists are immune from this. I disagree.  There is another kind of person who has calmed her own disquiet when coming under scrutiny – or fire.

It is the kind of leader we’re examining in these posts.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.


If the Church in North America is to become fully alive, awake, and influential, her pastors must become what they were always intended by God to be.

Courageous leaders.

So far, we’ve offered:

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

Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Today we add a fourth leadership characteristic:

Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.

We’ve been looking at the way Jesus embodied these traits—not for intellectual edification, but to challenge you, Christian leader, to change.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Goodwin’s Expectation Principle


My dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [retired professor of leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he calls Goodwin’s Expectation Principle. Essentially, it is this: “People will live up to the expectations of those whom they respect.” Jesus seems to have understood this.

Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their love of comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus behaved as if he expected his followers to live and minister just like he did. He expected them to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented. Didn’t he?

How often and how consistently do you?

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

What do YOU think you’re doing?


When members of your congregation come up against frightening challenges, Pastor, what is it you think you’re doing with and for them?

Providing comfort?
Or, are you developing them into mature, godly, Christ-like disciples?
When the disciples are unable to free the boy with the symptoms of epilepsy, Jesus behaves as if they are responsible for their own preparation for ministry: “This kind can come out only by prayer.” [Mark 9:29]
Jesus seems to believe that “regular Christians” can actually free those who were suffering like this boy was.
Do you?

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Healthy Differentiation, Jesus’ Way

Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Remember how Jesus responded when his disciples were giving themselves to panic? Did he make himself responsible for their emotions, for their sense of well-being, or for their comfort or discomfort?

Remember the storm at sea.

In Matthew 14:25-31, the disciples are terrified both by the storm and what they thought to be a “ghost” walking on the water. Still out of the boat, Jesus says: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then, as Peter goes down into the water, Jesus grabs him and asks: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I imagine most pastors, instead, would exclaim something like: “Hey, great job Pete! I am SO VERY PROUD OF YOU! Look how many steps you took!! Hey fellas, let’s hear it for Peter!”

Jesus’ response indicates that he saw this incident as a character-development training opportunity. He interpreted it as a way to prepare Peter and the others for challenges that they would eventually get to confront.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.


Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Differentiation simply means “differentness.” Your uniqueness. Your sovereignty as an independent human being. A well-differentiated person takes full responsibility for her own being and destiny.

So, this third principle is an invitation to stand in relationship with your congregants as if they were responsible for their own well-being, which, before God, of course, they are.

-Kirk Kirlin, Leadership Courage

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