Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eighteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. This perspective is of central importance to pastors who are committed to lead their congregations through change. Maybe it’s because the religious culture’s assumption that the shepherd’s role is to comfort and soothe the sheep, that ministers tend to give most of our time and attention to those least motivated to change. Of course, there are exceptions.
Yet, in my more than 25 years of ministry—much of it to ministers—it’s stunning how much of pastors’ time, thoughts, and prayers are consumed with those who are least motivated to follow their leadership.
While you are breaking yourself to provide compelling insight in an attempt to inspire the unmotivated, they are breaking your will to lead. They are road-blocking the change you believe God wants, and your efforts to see God’s Kingdom advanced in your city.
Once the pastor’s will is broken, it’s “lights out” for that church—and for the un-churched community the congregation was assembled, by God, to influence.
If you believe America’s a mess—morally, economically, spiritually—you wonder how it got this way. Could it be the Church has been hijacked from her mission to salt and light society, by complainers opposed to Kingdom-advancing change who demand their anxieties be appeased by their leaders?
Pastor, your courageous, decisive leadership is critically important. Your will, resolve, and stamina in the face of opposition from people you love dearly, is essential to the Kingdom’s advance in American society.
I want to help you avoid the energy-sapping, confidence-draining effect of the unmotivated on your leadership.
To lead, you can’t “push on the rope”.
Rather than focusing on the resistant, give yourself to those who are most willing to go with you. Give them your time, your creativity, and your energy. In any community, you’ll find three kinds of people. This is over-simplified just a bit, so you can use and benefit from the concept.
These are pioneers.
They are God’s gift to you!
Next time, I’ll describe the other types of people who dominate Christian congregations in the US. Then, we’ll dig into specific strategies to lead all three, so you don’t waste another ounce of energy pushing on the rope!
Our example is the Duomo di Firenze: an architect’s vision of a majestic cathedral with a dome so immense that it could not have been built when he conceived it.
At 142 feet it would be larger than the domes of the U.S. Capitol, St. Paul’s in London, the Pantheon in Rome, and St. Peters in Vatican City. When it was finally constructed, it remained the largest dome in the world for almost five hundred years!
More than eighty years after construction commenced, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi was born. In his 20’s he moved to Rome. For three years he studied architecture with a buddy named Donatello. If you watch the History Channel (I don’t) you’ll know that name. Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon, the largest dome then in existence. How it’d been built was an architectural and engineering conundrum.
Brunelleschi made several significant discoveries. Returning to Florence, he convinced the builders that he had a method to put di Cambio’s dome on the cathedral. This solution was ground-breaking on several fronts. The innovations Brunelleschi employed, however, are not our focus today. What is, is the commitment to the completion of this cathedral by generations of people who’d never see it with their own eyes.
Leaders are not those with the best ideas or superior methods. Leaders have developed the strengths of character and the capacity to self-management so that they sustain movement in pursuit of what God’s called them to without giving up.
And, they do it in a way that motivates and mobilizes others in the pursuit of that great vision.
More than 2,000 years ago Jesus did this too. He laid out a vision of the Kingdom of God in ways that people could grasp.
Lots of ways.
In scores of demonstrations of God’s mercy, supernatural power, the stories he told and word pictures he used, and an occasional sermon. Most often, Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom by the way he lived and moved among the people.
This is our great and noble task today. To live in such a way that the Kingdom of God is demonstrated over and over in ways that people get.
My invitation is to join with those who’ll do this to their last breath and will have prepared a couple generations who’ll follow just as passionately and powerfully for as long as they have breath.
Think of it as a cathedral of great, influential human lives.
Coaching distinctions #40.doc
Often in coaching I encounter clients caught in the grip of a powerful, frightening choice. How she chooses has everything to do with what she sees. Without help, it’s tough to see from a perspective other than your own. Some find it nearly impossible to adopt an alternative perspective— for even a few minutes.
After all, my perspective is … mine. It is logical, sensible, familiar, and reinforced by my experience and my values. At least, that’s what I believe.
My perspective provides a “frame” around my thinking.
Like a picture frame, it establishes a boundary around what I see: what I interpret to be possible, what I limit my options to, and what I assume to be a reasonable method to work the problem.
Like a picture frame, my perspective draws my attention to certain features of the “picture” and, as I’m attending to those features, I overlook several others.
One common perspective can be summed up in this distinction: “Playing to win vs. playing not to lose.”
This is playoff time for both the NHL and NBA. Every night, we’re treated to heart-stopping drama as opposing players ignore the pleading of their coaches and shift from playing to win to playing not to lose, once they’re in the lead. How many times have you seen your team give up a dominant lead after they’ve moved from offense to defense?
And, when they do, they’re unstoppable.
Yet, too often, once they grab the lead, my Wings ease off, drop back, and hunker down in the defensive zone. And, playing not to lose, their intensity wanes just enough that when they make a mistake it costs them a goal. Too many goals, and they lose a game they once controlled.
And…you do it too!
How do you steal second base?
To progress to any goal, you’ve got to give up where you’ve been. As long as you’re all right with where you’ve been, you’re not likely to pay the price to move into the unknown and on to your goal.
Let’s be specific:
Until you’re willing to give up the marriage you have, you won’t get the one you want. I’m not suggesting divorce. This invitation is to give up the way you’re in your marriage and be in it in a whole new way.
Until you’re willing to give up the barely-get-by finances you’re accustomed to, your net worth won’t improve. Not much.
Until you’re willing to give up the pastorate you have now, it won’t be radically different—the way your heart longs for it to be.
See, you can only control yourself.
So, if you want to change your church, your marriage, or your finances, you get to change you. And, changing you is so costly it’ll only happen it if you’ve abandoned all hope of getting where you want without having to change.
My CRM teammate, David Zimmerman loves this from Robert Quinn: “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you must become the person you’ve never been before.”
Change, on this level requires risk. Leading off only works when you lead off far enough to be thrown out.
Far enough to be in danger.
Change is a dangerous game. It’s especially dangerous to your comfort. And, comfort, most of all, is what keeps our feet planted firmly on first. And you can’t steal second from there.
Making significant change—particularly the kind that undermines what’s become habitual– demands that you over-ride the “auto pilot” inside you. For many of us. the programming of your auto pilot began in childhood, was beta tested in your teen years, and then became codified in the early decades of adulthood. By the time you pass your 40’s the auto-pilot is engaged most of the time.
New client sales call? Auto-pilot.
Good Friday Service? Auto-pilot.
Mother-in-law’s visit? Auto-pilot.
Staff meeting? Auto-pilot.
Budget “discussion” with the husband? Auto-pilot.
Car shopping? Auto-pilot.
Weekend with the kids? Auto-pilot.
Stealing second, from the safety of first, can’t be done on auto-pilot.
— deliberately —
out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.
Leadership Courage Series # 40
Ever tried to get a kite out of a tree? If you’re like me, there’ll be moments when you’ll “push” the string, mindlessly assuming you can dislodge the kite by the motion. Of course, you can’t. A string, or rope lacks the stiffness to propel the kite away from you.
Here’s the thing. Those who are unmotivated lack the substance — the firmness of character — to be dislodged from their spiritual slumber by your orations—no matter how eloquent or convincing.
Have you noticed?
A leadership expert and friend of mine tells of leaving his home church for a five-year stint out East. Upon his return, he was shocked to find the people he’d left were no more mature. They struggled with the same issues, expressed immaturity in the same ways, were just as vulnerable to entitlement, sloth, and selfishness. All their religious activity — all those sermons, all the small group meetings, all those hundreds of Sundays later — failed to produce any discernible progress toward maturity in most.
Every Sunday, well-intentioned ministers bring artfully-crafted insights from God’s Word.
They assume that insight will motivate change.
And, people, by and large, are not changed—at least, not much. Too many are invulnerable to insight. You discover it when some sort of crisis occurs—and Christians respond with stunning immaturity.
Without compelling motivation, there is insufficient hunger to embrace the price and pain of change.
I urge pastors who are committed to bringing change to work exclusively with those who are motivated.
People have trained themselves to take one of three postures toward risk and change.
One group will attempt something new if it holds the possibility that a more beneficial outcome could result. These, I call “PIONEERS”.
A second category engages life with the priority of fitting in. They’ll entertain change when the majority of the group has decided that the change is safe and will be successful. Then, the “BELONGERS” will change. Not before.
The third classification of folks interpret life through the lens of loss. “RESISTERS” strive to avoid loss whenever possible. These will not change until the pain and loss of not changing exceeds the perceived loss they associate with the change.
Employing the distinction: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight, Christian leaders must introduce, experiment with, and lead change with their pioneers. To invite belongers and resisters to participate in the front end of any change process is just about the dumbest thing you can do!
Like pushing on a rope.
Leadership Courage Series # 23
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?
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?
What 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: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, etc?
- 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 that might 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].
- How would you insure that your people applied whatever is taught when you do an education event? What pathways can you pave in advance of your weekend education event so that every person could take action in line with their new learning?
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. 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 visible heroes.
Pay attention to their growth. Who among them is God stretching, growing, maturing, strengthening?
What can you, as a senior leadership team do, to provoke your people to love and good works? [Heb 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, seven services a weekend, I think. So … what if, routinely in our services, we grouped people and asked them to find someone in the group 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 they kept asking until 15 people agreed to come and help?
What if you made it clear that this is a community where, from day one, everyone gives.
Where everyone contributes.
Where everyone plays.
What if giving, and contributing, and playing is how mature disciples are made?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)
Examining courageous leadership, a fifth principal is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. Watching ministers lead for more than thirty years, it’s breathtaking how diligently and fruitlessly so many of us labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.
No wonder the burn-out rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the drop-out rate.
Here’s an alternative, practiced by the most effective leaders in ministry: Pastor, live with your pioneers.
Make sure those most ready to follow your leadership populate your appointment calendar. Every week, spend most of your time with the pioneers: those who’ve trained themselves to take risks, to try new possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result. Ask about their passions for the things God has laid on your heart. Listen for the overlap between your vision and theirs, your heart and theirs, your passions and theirs. This area of overlap is where you and they get to play!
Pray with them. Dream with them. If your dream is to touch the un-churched, envision the kinds of impact you’d most want to have on the lives of those you’ll serve. Imagine yourselves serving authentically, regularly, generously—for their benefit.
Do some planning and strategizing…but please don’t get a brain cramp trying to figure it all out in advance. Planning for ministry is an almost irresistible temptation for church people. Don’t waste your vigor over-planning in the comfort of your church conference room.
Quick, before you lose your nerve, get out there and bless people. Thrust yourself into action with your pioneers. Get off the property. Meet with civic leaders. Learn where your congregation can help, where you can make a God-honoring difference, and go after it. Love people. Serve them.
For Heaven’s sake, experiment.
Go-again, fearlessly and flexibly.
When what you tried doesn’t work—do something else.
Do anything else. Let these be rich times of learning and of enjoying the adventure together.
As your pioneers love and care for the un-churched in ways that bless their lives, they’ll be skeptical initially. They’ll be wary that church people would serve without an agenda, a “gotcha”, a hook. As you keep being with them for their benefit–and not for yours–their skepticism will be replaced by gratitude.
Communicate their appreciation broadly through the congregation. Raise the visibility of your pioneers; make them your “heroes” and make a big deal of their willingness to risk, innovate, and lead in the change.
Over time, the belongers will decide it’s beneficial and safe to join in. Have places ready for them to serve. Plan these in advance. Eventually, more and more belongers will embrace the changes, until they become the “new normal” for your congregation.
All the while, another amazing transformation is taking place. As you continue serving the un-churched, from a place of humility and unconditional love, their gratitude will be accompanied by openness. When they ask about your relationship with God, then you answer.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” [1 Pt 3:15b]
The key, Pastor, is to give yourself to the pioneers, the “yes” people, the adventurers. Suspend your preference to win over the resisters and to bring along the belongers. They will watch—from afar—and when it seems safe to them, they will begin to play.
In the meantime, have a blast with your pioneers. Make a difference in the lives of those you’re serving. Enjoy what God does.