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?
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.
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!
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? I 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.
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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Undermine the 80/20 Rule
What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?
What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?
And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?
I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.
So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.
Think about it.
One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?
When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?
Another one does announcements.
One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.
Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.
A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.
And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.
What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.
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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty five)
We’re examining the adventurous life: a life that, for every Christian, should be completely normal. I’m just one of dozens of examples I know.
I keep ending up in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability. This was almost never the case before I surrendered my life to Christ. Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere. Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.
Traveling to consult the board and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve completely underestimated the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step. All that I’ve prepared must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan. I have no idea what to do, and I go anyway…
Leading a Bible study, I’m summoned to the phone and learn my son has been in jail for two days, out of state, and unable to reach me. I book a flight to leave the morning…
Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of an infection. She insists that I go to see her friend. On the way, I learn that her friend is dying of brain cancer. We go anyway, I lay my hands on the woman’s head and pray for her healing…
Driving from church to a Father’s day celebration, traffic is inching past a fire engine positioned to block the view of drivers when there’s a particularly gruesome accident. Glancing to my right I see the wreckage of a blue Mustang convertible…
It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car is flipped onto the hood, windshield flattened. There is no room for any human to have survived. Driver and passenger must have been thrown from the car … or decapitated.
There can be no other explanation.
Crying out to God, I jerk my car to the curb and sprint toward the shattered remains of Lauren’s car…
I’m shocked to learn that a massive sum of money is missing from a capital campaign. The only person with access to the funds is a nationally-respected executive with whom I’m scheduled to meet in the next few minutes. If the conversation doesn’t go well, end my career. I go and raise the concern, head-on…
While praying, I’m impressed by God (I guess) to “deliver a message” to our Mayor. For the next several days, I endeavor to dismiss the thought as a ridiculous concoction of my overactive imagination. The longer I struggle, the stronger the conviction that I’m to make an appointment, sit down with the Mayor, and ask him a very specific question. I make the appointment, meet with the Mayor, and ask the question…
Throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!
To fully participate in the life God’s given me, knowing that in myself I’m not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.
It’s waiting for you, too.
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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty four)
In this series, I’m challenging pastors to reacquaint themselves with the adventurous life. Biblical Christianity, I’ve argued, can be nothing else.
It demands that we continuously trust God and leap.
Jesus modeled this. The New Testament is full of examples. Consider this situation: Jesus is about to send the disciples out two-by-two. He gives them these instructions: “We gotta be wise here. Talk as long as you need to save up for your journey. Be sure to take plenty of money with you and arrange your lodgings well in advance. When you enter into a new village, if they’re happy you’re there, stay briefly, so you don’t wear out your welcome. And, if there’s any resistance at all, leave quickly and quietly.
For goodness sake, don’t stir anything up!
Peter and John are hurrying to the temple past a crippled person who is begging. They avoid eye contact and, as they pass, simply shrug their shoulders. One is overheard telling the other: “So sad that the government doesn’t take care of the indigent, isn’t it?”
Sure enough, a storm does arise!
Alarmed, they awaken a terrified Jesus. He screams out: “Quick, hand me a lifejacket! We’ve got to get to shore right away! These waves will probably capsize us! Luke, make a note of this: we must never travel by boat again. It is just too dangerous!”
Read through the Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the entire Old Testament. You’ll see God’s people continually in peril.
Sometimes, God tells them to do the impossible—like instructing Gideon to shrink his armed forces before going to war against a far more formidable foe.
Other times, God’s people find themselves in circumstances where they’ve no hope but for a miracle. The Egyptian army chasing the Israelite slaves to the shores of the Red Sea, for example.
God keeps putting his people in unreasonable situations. They keep finding themselves in circumstances where they have to trust God. Where they can’t rely on themselves.
They’re living the adventurous life.
What about you?
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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty three)
For several segments in this series we’ve been investigating the challenge facing pastors today. The challenge: to stand with courage and clarity in a religious context that, for decades — maybe centuries — has become less and less courageous and clear. In this spiritual vacuum the greater culture has drunk itself sick on self-focused indulgence.
Or, maybe you see it differently.
Last time I invited you to reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life. A life of trust and risk and experimentation. Stepping beyond the natural limitations of your understanding, your competencies, your skill set, your own strength, intellect, and charisma.
And so with any adventure. There is the possibility of failure, of loss, of injury, of embarrassment, of being mistaken, and of hurt.
The Church today seems to have so little tolerance for the latter that it’s unwilling to engage the former. And, this reality is absolutely stunning in light of the Biblical record. The Christian life is anything but safe, cautious, predictable, measured, and reasonable. Everywhere in the Bible, those who followed God were adventurers.
By contrast, imagine this scene: more than 5,000 have come out to the wilderness to hear Jesus speak. Eventually it dawns on the disciples that if the crowds don’t get something to eat, some of them will grow faint, maybe ill. When Jesus sees that all they have is five loaves and two fish, he pats the young boy on the head and exclaims: “Oh my gosh! We’ve gotta shut this meeting down right now so everyone can get home to eat and rest. Luke, make a note: from now on, we have to hold these gatherings where people can get plenty of nourishing, low-calorie food, refreshments and medical services…and we need regularly scheduled breaks so people don’t over-extend themselves. We can’t have anyone getting tired or hungry at our meetings!“
“Hurry! Quick! Send everyone home!!”
Jesus’ orientation was to grow people to maturity. Those closest to him he challenged the most. Those further away were still challenged to grow in faith, in obedience, in selflessness. Jesus was clear that he was maturing women and men for his Father’s Kingdom.
Pastor, what are you doing?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty two)
Do you find incomprehensible the pathway from the behavior of the Church described in the Book of Acts and that of most any Sunday morning gathering in the US today?
How on earth did the Church get from vibrant, exciting, world overturning, status-quo challenging, Kingdom of God advancing powerhouse to predictable, regimented, backward-looking, tradition-bound, safety-dominant, repository of religious relics it is today?
When were ministers of the Gospel transformed from courageous, God-trusting, whole-hearted, catalytic change agents to … to … well… providers of religious education and entertainment, chaplains of religious tradition, scholar-rhetoricians, and caregivers to those who claim to follow Christ?
What’s become of adventure?
I’m not advocating that we risk for the thrill of it, that we put ourselves in harm’s way for the emotional rush some get when doing dangerous things, or that we behave erratically just to break up the boredom.
I’m inviting you to the adventurous life for the advancement of God’s reign and rule in your community. This is not adventure for adventure’s sake. It’s returning to the biblically-normal life of risk and trust as we presence the way of Jesus in a culture more dark and desperate than we may fully appreciate.
The Adventurous Life
What an adventure it could be to…
- trust Christ as you call people to distinctively demonstrate the way of Jesus to the world.
- trust the Father as you lead your people off the church campus to love people and meet real needs right in your community.
- trust the Holy Spirit as you confront sin so clearly and confidently those within your sphere of influence regain their capacity to blush. [Jer 6:15]
- invite your people to take responsibility for their own well-being and destiny in Christ, supporting their commitment to mature in Christ-likeness.
- love your spouse so consistently and spectacularly that no one would wonder if the congregation had taken her spot in your heart.
- break up whatever fallow ground remains in your own heart [Jer 4:3].
- commit to love as if you’ve never been hurt [Lk 23:34].
- reach to reconcile with those from whom you’re now estranged [Rom 12:18].
…and do it all in full view of your congregation, so they can learn to live like Jesus from your example as well as your preaching [1 Pt 5:3].
The Adventurous Life
What might be gained were you to love that elder enough to challenge the irritating and demeaning way he engages those around him?
What benefits could accrue if you were really to dare your people to a lifestyle of financial sacrifice until it becomes the norm?
What do you think we perpetuate when nearly 70% of long-time church attendees give nothing in return for the services and benefits they receive? When fewer than ten percent of Church members actually tithe?
Why do you take pride in attendance numbers when most of those who come don’t contribute either time or money to the welfare of the fellowship, let alone the waiting and watching community outside?
The Adventurous Life
If you are in the religious education and entertainment business I can understand why you’d eschew adventure and risk. But, if you’re in the people-development business, committed to make mature followers of Jesus, I’m not sure there’s any other way.
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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty one)
Where and when did the role of Pastor become so closely associated with the characteristics of terrible leadership: anemic, people-pleasing, comfort-oriented, weakness-honoring, safety-bound, consensus-collecting, approval-seeking, distress-abating caretaking?
How did we get from the decisive, principle-inspired boldness of Jesus with the money-changers [Mt 21], Paul and the riot in Ephesus [Ac 19], and Peter on the first Pentecost [Ac 2] to this?
How did we move from the frightening judgment of Ananias and Sapphira [Ac 5], the power of God resting on Stephen at his stoning [Ac 6], and the early church leaders arrested for “turning the world upside down” [Ac 17:6] to a religious experience so predictable, routinized, and boring that men of any age, and people under the age of 40 stay away in droves?
Maybe you remember the Flo TV ad that debuted a few Super Bowls ago.
Sports announcer Jim Nance voice-overs the sad spectacle of a young man being led around the lingerie department by his girlfriend. Nance says: “Hello, friends. We have an injury report on Jason Glasby. As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.”
I’m wondering about the injury report on the Church in North America. Who has removed our spine?
Over the last twenty installments in this Leadership Courage series, five principles have been offered for pastors who find themselves leading amidst a culture of cowardice.
One: 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.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
To this, we add a sixth:
Re-introduce yourself to the adventurous life.
Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, observes: “What our civilization needs most is leaders with a bold sense of adventure… Our nation’s obsession with safety ignores the fact that every American alive today benefits from centuries of risk-taking by previous generations…every modern benefit from health to enjoyment to production has come about because Americans in previous generations put adventure before safety.”
What about you?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty)
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 labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.
No wonder the burnout rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the dropout 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 familiar confines 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 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.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nineteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
I ask you to consider that people have trained themselves, through their lives, as to how they respond to change. All change. Every change.
Last time we introduced the pioneers. These are your visionaries, riskers, outcome-focused action-takers. Their primary concern is not safety, nor reputation. Pioneers thirst to make things better. Period. Full stop.
The majority in any established congregation, however, aren’t pioneers.
They are ‘belongers’.
They don’t like to stick out. They’ve trained themselves to move with the group, the community. Which is why they’re called “belongers”. Pioneers don’t care about fitting in. They care about making a difference. But, for belongers, it’s different. Very different.
Belongers will change when certain conditions are met.
Primary among these is whether the proposed change will succeed and be safe. They will embrace change when they decide it is safe and successful to do so—and not before.
You’ll never see a ‘belonger’ on the leading-edge of change.
No matter how good a leader you are, they won’t. It’s how they’ve trained themselves. And, pastor, you’re not gonna change that.
Only they can.
Resisters are steady. Loyal to what’s been. They show up whenever the doors are open. Traditionalists, they engage in church life much the same way people have for decades. They still tithe.
Resisters have trained themselves to avoid the possibility of loss.
They’re not likely to implement any change that can be delayed. A core motivation is to avoid being wrong, to avoid failure.
Resisters will embrace change, but not until the discomfort of not changing is greater than the risk they associate with the change.
Resisters and pioneers interpret life in mutually-exclusive ways. When a pioneer is presented an opportunity, as soon as she sees the possibility of improvement, her default is: “Why not?” The resister will intuit the possibility of failure or loss and think: “Why take an imprudent risk?” The belonger will move, but not ‘til it’s “safe”.
The culture you’ve established in your congregation will determine the predominance of each group. Curiously, “church” is one of the few places in American society where resisters can gather en masse. I suppose government is the other. Think bureaucracy, not politicians.
Here’s the key: Pastor, live with your pioneers!
Every week, insure that you spend most of your time with them. In the next blog, we’ll clarify what to do when you’re together, so the change you believe God wants, actually takes hold in the congregation.
For now, work to clear your calendar of resisters, and fill it with pioneers. It may take three months or more to wean yourself away from the passion-extinguishing tantruming of the unmotivated.
Proactively schedule your office appointments with those who are most responsive to your leadership.
Invest generously in their lives. Support them as they grow in Christ. You’ll enjoy it a lot more, and more Kingdom fruit will be borne, as well.
By autumn, you could be leaping into your workweek with a vigor, optimism, and enthusiasm that most of your folks have never seen in you.
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!