Christian Maturity

Leadership Courage (part twenty two):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eight)

What does it take to be a courageous leader, particularly in a culture that has been growing more cowardly, childish, self-absorbed, and immature?

Is it possible to live and lead in our Christian context so that spiritual and emotional maturity emerges?

If it is, you, as pastor, are key.

Let’s review for just a moment. We’ve covered two essentials to lead effectively in a culture of cowardice that I say has become characteristic of the Church in North America today.

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.

And today, we move from you to your organization, church, system, business, or family:

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

Differentiation means to take full responsibility for your own being and destiny. Stand in relationship with your congregants as if they were responsible for their own well-being, which, before God, of course, they are.

Remember how Jesus responded when his disciples were giving themselves to panic.

Did he take responsibility for their emotions?

Their sense of wellbeing?

Their comfort or discomfort?

Ever??

22 stormRemember the storm at sea. In Mt 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 might 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 character-development training for challenges that Peter and the others were likely to confront in the future.

When members of your church come up against frightening challenges, what do you think you’re doing with and for them?

Comfort?

Encouragement?

Appeasement?

Or, are you developing them into mature, godly, followers of Christ??

To develop your people to maturity—rather than laboring to remove the causes of their anxiety—will challenge you to grow up as well, pastor. Over and over again, you’ll get to abandon yourself to God…

Exactly what Jesus equipped the disciples to do.

Leadership Courage (part twenty one)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part seven)

We’re considering the second of nine character traits of effective leadership in this era. It is this: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

21 freeloaderHow many parents of adult children have lamented their 20-something’s dependence and irresponsibility—until the parents cut off the financial flow?

Facing, for the first time, the very real possibility of starvation and homelessness, the great majority of those chronically-immature sons and daughters find a way to get out of bed, land a job, and step into responsible adult lives.

But, the over-responsible parent has to cut down the safety net first. And, to do so, they had to increase their own capacity to tolerate the squawks and tantrums of the overly-dependent ones.

21 jerusalemIn Mt 23:37 Jesus mourns for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He offered comfort, protection, and rescue. They declined. And, Jesus is clear: their choice didn’t diminish him or the value of his offer of redemption. And, he was also clear that they would get to live-out the results of their decision.

So too, pastor, with you.

You are not your church. The congregation is not an extension of you. You don’t think of yourself as an extension of your spouse, boss, siblings, or district superintendent, do you? So, why enmesh with your congregation as if who you are is determined by their choices and deportment?

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, asserts that leaders can bypass burnout by avoiding the trap of taking responsibility for others and their problems. Imagine life without the double-bind of being burdened by a false responsibility for the choices and decisions of others.

Do yourself a favor: re-read Ephesians, I & II Timothy, and Rev 2:1-7 then answer this:

  1. a) Did Paul make himself responsible for Timothy’s being and destiny?
  2. b) Was Timothy responsible for the being & destiny of the church at Ephesus?

If not, who was?

What does the Scripture teach?

Leadership step two is to take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny. Notice how Jesus presences himself when instructing the disciples about his betrayal [Mk 14:18-25].

You don’t see him coming apart at the seams, an emotional wreck, begging Judas to reconsider. Instead, he uses the impending calamity to instruct them about fidelity, sacrifice, and the cost of discipleship.

Non-anxious.

Clear.

Responsible, before God, for his own being and destiny.

Like you?

 

Leadership Courage (part eighteen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part four)

After illuminating characteristics of a Culture of Cowardice and making sobering observations about how appropriately it applies to the Church in North America today, we’ve turned our attention to the kind of leadership that can serve to restore the Church to a place of redemptive influence in society.

Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation defines a leader as a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence. Last week, we unpacked some of what it means to be self-defined, or as my CRM teammates prefer: “God-defined”.

Today, a non-anxious presence.

A non-anxious presence does not mean carefree, laid-back, detached, or disengaged.

18 stormIt means an absence of anxiety.

As a powerful squall threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples are a mess. Nervous. Fearful. Panicked. Jesus is … asleep. [Mk 4:38]

Non-anxious.

After benefiting from the miracle of the loaves and fish the crowd wants Jesus to seize political control, overthrow the Romans, declare himself King. His response was simply to withdraw to a solitary place, alone.

Non-anxious.

A non-anxious presence is easy to carry off when your leadership is well received, when people are saying great things about you, when folks are happy and grateful for you.

A non-anxious presence is essential when anxiety appears omnipresent.

Recall the phrase: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.” The less mature are always attempting to enroll others in their disquiet, their “crisis du jour”. A perceived catastrophe on the part of certain members of the congregation does not constitute a calamity for a well-defined leader.

18 wringingDo you think for one minute that God, in Heaven, is wringing his hands over that leaky roof, or the lawsuit brought against the church, or the lousy turnout at the society meeting?

I often remind my coaching clients that God is not looking down at them stunned, saying: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t see that coming!”

And, since God is fully aware of your predicament, what do you suppose God wants to do in you as a result?

You who are in ministry are in “the people development business”.

And so is God.

What do you suppose that God is working to develop in you, through your present difficulties?

Leadership Courage (part seventeen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part three)

We’re considering how consistently Jesus modeled the first of nine leadership postures and practices necessary for pastors today. And in doing so, I’m indebted to Edwin Friedman for his stellar work: A Failure of Nerve.

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.

In John chapter four, when Jesus’ buddies encouraged him to take a break, have a good meal, relax a bit, after his encounter with the Samaritan, he said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” [Jn 4:34]

Clear.

Focused.

Unfazed.

Self-defined.

Now, self-defined does not mean workaholic. Friedman notes that the mature leader takes full responsibility for her wellbeing and destiny.

Like Jesus, she trusts the Father’s goodness, love, and sovereign plan. She does not look to other people or for her circumstances to define her. Responsible for her own being and destiny, she lives responsibly—even amid a culture that seems committed to promote irresponsibility at every turn.

17 solitudeOr haven’t you noticed?

Recall Jesus’ practice of withdrawing himself from the press of people and ministry to commune with the Father, get perspective, and to sleep.

Responsible for his own being and destiny, Jesus chose to get away from the very people who needed him: those he could’ve healed, delivered, taught, and built a bigger, stronger, more powerful ministry around.

Why?

Maybe Jesus understood that more than skill, technique, or knowledge, courageous leadership is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as the leader moves through life.

To presence himself well with people, Jesus recognized that a vital relationship with the Father, clarity, perspective, and attending to his very appropriate, very human need for rest and refreshing were necessary.

Self-definition, like Jesus modeled for us, was the result of his commitment to maturity. And one hallmark of maturity is standing responsible for one’s own wellbeing and destiny.

How’s yours?

Leadership Courage (part sixteen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part two)

Last time, I encouraged you to notice Jesus’ clarity as he moves through his relationships and through his world. It’s evidence of his embodiment of the first of nine crucial leadership postures for pastors:

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.

At age twelve, Jesus is in the temple, discussing the Law with the priests. Once his parents find him, his mother demands an explanation for his behavior. Jesus’ replies with a question: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my father’s business?” [Lk 2:49]

16 megaphoneLater, his brothers press him to go to the Feast, reasoning that a public figure cannot rally a following without showing up in a big way at these big cultural gatherings.

Jesus response is interesting.

He didn’t say: “Wow, you’re right! How am I going to establish a movement if I don’t show the world who I am and what I have to say?” Nor did he say: “Quit giving me your stupid advice! For the last time, I’m not interested in becoming a political leader. Sheesh, you idiots just don’t get it!”

A self-defined person, he says: “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” [Jn 7:2-8]

My CRM teammates prefer this small modification to Friedman’s definition of a leader: “a God-defined person with a non-anxious presence.”

16 AwakenThey developed the Awaken Workshop to help Christians study and pray over their own lives, relationships, experiences, heart-passions, and values for one purpose: to extract from the remarkable investment of God in each life the unique calling God has for that person. Awaken is nine vigorous, intentional hours dedicated to uncover the clues to who you are and why you’re here.

How much concentrated time have you devoted to discovering the special impact God intends you to make with your life? [Eph 2:10]

Is it any wonder you’re fuzzy about what God’s calling to you might be?

16 noArmed with clarity about her calling, a mature, self-defined leader has little difficulty saying “no”.

In fact, the clearer she becomes, the more she says “no” to the many good, honorable, helpful things that would take her away from living her central calling from God.

She’s not threatened when people don’t see things the way she does. She does not need the agreement of others to bolster her confidence.

She is clear.

Decisive.

She understands her calling. She is proactive about setting her life up to live that calling from God. Unapologetically.

Like Jesus.

Leadership Courage (part fifteen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part one)

How is a pastor, denominational exec, lay leader, elder, or board member to lead when the culture of your organization is shot through with cowardice?

What are the implications for George Barna’s “Revolutionaries” who’ve been so sickened by the self-soothing silliness in churches that, while ministering passionately and creatively for Christ, they’ve cut themselves off from the local church?

And, what of the thousands of Christians, frustrated by the infantile institutionalism and the soft-headed social activism of the mainline denominations, who’ve washed their hands of the whole religious mess?

15 failure of nervePicture yourself with the New Testament in one hand and Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve in the other. What if Jesus, our exemplar, understood Friedman better than Friedman understood himself? Read on, and at the end, tell us what you think.

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.

In Generation to Generation, Friedman gives this definition of a leader: A self-defined person with a non-anxious presence.

Today’s blog, fifteenth in this series on Leadership Courage, will begin to examine one attribute of courageous leadership: decisive self-definition.

By “self-defined”, I mean a person who has a clear sense of her or his unique calling from God and is living in alignment with that calling.

15 maskIt’s not enough to intellectually know who you are called to be and the unique difference you’ve been prepared to make [Eph 2:10] and then to live as if you were someone else.

It is not biblically acceptable to be a Christian and to live with a puny, self-consuming purpose. A purpose like: to feel loved, to be happy, or to feel good about yourself.

Consider Jesus.

Notice the clarity he embodies as he moves through his relationships, through his world. At age twelve, he’s in the temple, discussing the Law with the priests. Once his parents find him, his mother demands an explanation for his behavior. Jesus’ replies with a question: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my father’s business?” [Lk 2:49]

Jesus was clear. As I see it, “the Father’s business” was to establish, then advance, the Kingdom of God among women and men. To do this, he gave himself to develop ever-maturing followers, using every opportunity and difficulty to strengthen their confidence in God and their willingness to live the life he modeled.

Do you?

Leadership Courage (part eleven)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part six)

I’m a leadership coach to pastors. In a series on Leadership Courage, we’re laying out the context. I assert that a Culture of Cowardice dominates much of the North American Church.

Allow me to use a personal example to illustrate what it can look like to replace cowardice with courage.

11 crucibleFifteen years ago, I attended some character development trainings that served as a crucible and a spotlight—illuminating aspects of my character and my impact on others I’d been blind to.

Jean Marie is a powerfully incisive woman who had trained four of my teens. She’d heard first-hand what they experienced with me as their dad: distant, demanding, disconnected, self-consumed, rigid, judgmental, severe, angry, cold.

Then, she facilitated a workshop my wife attended. She learned of the frustration, disappointment, loneliness, and anguish to be married to a guy like me.

For the next five years, Jean Marie served as a character coach and trainer for me.

I’d never known anyone like her.

Her love for my family and for me was palpable, remarkable, undeniable, and unrelenting.

And, so was her full-court press to challenge my self-importance, to provoke me to consider my true impact on those I love, to undermine my commitment to remain clueless, and to interrupt my practice of excusing myself and the beliefs I fabricated to support it. She opposed my hiding from life when I didn’t know what to do, and offended the arrogance of my belief that my view was “right”.

She unsettled decades of confidence I’d placed in my innocence and virtue.

Up to that time, there were people who loved me and overlooked my childishness, selfishness, and playing small. Others, recoiling from the stench of my self-righteousness had nothing to do with it—or me.

11 jean marieJean Marie was different. Though disturbed by the offensiveness of my hypocrisy, she loved me steadfastly. It was her love that held me in the cleansing fire she brought.

Oh, that I would love so well!

Over the ensuing years, she and others like her, were used by God to transform me. Many times since then I’ve risked friendships to stand as an immovable interruption to some way of thinking that was undermining a friend. So has Annie.

To love our friends this way has sometimes cost us those friendships.

To lose a friend but save a soul, or a marriage, or a family—is what courage does.

Over my career in business and ministry, I’ve resigned five times.

Why?

To stay required that I compromise my ethics or my understanding of God’s call on my life. To go meant that I’d be unemployed. No small challenge for the primary breadwinner of a family of eight.

But, I’d learned from Jean Marie what courageous love does.

Leadership Courage (part nine)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part four)

I’m a leadership coach to pastors. We’re nine segments into a series on Leadership Courage. This is our fourth pass exposing a Culture of Cowardice that I believe has dominated much of the Church in North America.

These observations are confined to North America because I have very little exposure to non-Western churches and leaders. Since the US has been exporting what we call “the Gospel” in earnest since WWII, no doubt we’ve packaged and shipped our cultural preferences along with it.

Regrettably, we may have exported a Culture of Cowardice, to the foreign field. You who minister cross-culturally can offer your observations from around the globe, by commenting below.

In A Failure of Nerve Edwin Friedman identifies characteristics of chronically anxious families, communities, and societies. While I see ample evidence of these features in American society it’s stunning to consider how these traits apply to Christian churches today.

9 Flannelgraph JesusRecently, I suggested that the insipid capacity of the typical congregation to tolerate discomfort has accelerated our orientation away from bold, courageous leadership and centered it on the most needy and emotionally-regressed among us. Two segments ago, I opined that religious political-correctness has become so toxic to courageous leadership that Jesus – not the “Flannelgraph Jesus”, but the historical Jesus of the New Testament – would embarrass many in church today.

Do you find this stunning?

I work with pastors in dozens of denominations—each with their peculiar polity and priorities. Some systems locate leadership responsibility and authority with the pastor. Others load the pastor with responsibility and deny her or him the authority to lead. Still others withhold both leadership responsibility and authority from their ministers. Regardless of denominational polity, no one has as great an opportunity to influence the culture and values of a local church than the Senior Minister. That is why I’ve dedicated my life to standing with and strengthening them.

9 car conversationYou who stand in pulpits determine – more than anyone else – what your congregants talk about. To the degree that you choose your title or topic or text when you preach, you inject that into the “congregational conversation” that takes place in cars and restaurants and kitchens of those who hear. You don’t determine what they say about your topic, but you do get to decide what that topic is.

Think about it.

Does your preaching provoke people?

Do your sermons unsettle them?

Do your messages undermine the mediocrity of most of your members’ lives?

Do you challenge your congregation to change?

If not, why not?

Leadership Courage (part eight)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part three)

I’m a leadership coach to pastors. Last time, I introduced a pervasive cultural condition that’s true of so many churches it’s become characteristic of the Church in America.

A Culture of Cowardice.

While there are many exceptions, compared to the whole, these exceptions are so exceptional that the description deserves our attention—particularly when the topic is leadership courage.

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve diagnoses American society as chronically anxious. As he describes systems experiencing chronic anxiety—the Church in North America fits the description even more than American society as a whole.

Chronically anxious systems, Friedman notes, are toxic to courageous, well-differentiated leadership. So acute is the culture’s abhorrence of discomfort that it “knee-jerks” its way from one perceived threat to another, clamoring for instantaneous relief from ministers, who are pulled in all directions at once.

A pastor may have begun with a clear sense of mission. But, in short order that mission is overwhelmed by the demand that the “crisis du jour” be averted with haste. Ministers, instead of challenging the congregation to mature and leading them to take important new ground, become consumed with smoothing out the never-ending ruffled feathers of the flock.

Caretaking is not leadership.

cry 8A constituency that is so developmentally-regressed requires that a clergyperson do little more than accommodate the low frustration tolerance of the most immature.

And, to do this, they need only to answer the phone!

Ministry, for many, resembles the role of a caregiver in an overcrowded orphanage, wearily scurrying to soothe the baby screaming most loudly before she can comfort the next infant to bellow.

For many, the priorities of ministry are based more on responding to the immediate needs of church members than in steadfast obedience to the Audience of One.

A leader who remains resolute in pursuit of a cause greater than the good feelings of the congregation (for example, the maturation of the disciples and the mobilization of members for ministry outside the church) is seen as heartless, unresponsive, deaf to the cries of the downtrodden, and out-of-touch with “real people” within. Emotionally and spiritually emaciated church members have no stomach for a real leader…like Christ.

What if Jesus belonged to a typical American church today?

pigs 8To a member of a beleaguered minority he declared: “You have no idea what you’re worshipping!” [Jn 4:22] Embarrassed by Jesus’ insensitivity, the Church might howl: “How cruel, abusive, and bigoted! All-loving heavenly Father is nothing like him!”

After freeing the Gadarene [Mt 8:32], imagine the uproar from the typical church at the brutality shown the pigs. Animal rights activists throughout the Church would demand that Jesus be locked up. “How could anyone representing God mistreat innocent wildlife so maliciously?”

Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their dead” when a potential new member asks to attend his father’s funeral. [Lk 9:60] To this, the church would smugly declare: “How unfeeling, cold, and heartless! A merciful God would never say that!”

Cleansing the Temple 8When Jesus comes upon merchants in the temple, he goes nuts: vandalizing their property, abusing the animals (again!), and misappropriating their funds. [Jn 2:15] Most churches would get a restraining order against Jesus—after his 5150 expired. “God is a God of order—not chaos”.

Jesus is revealed in scripture as clear, decisive, and disruptive.

You might think Him a study in contrasts: compassionate to the adulteress and hair-triggered to critique the religious leaders of his day. He’d be branded a troublemaker (or worse) in most US churches today.

Jesus was resolute in His commitment to model, bring, and defend the Kingdom of His Father.

Are you?

 

 

 

 

Leadership Courage (part five)

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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!

Really? Are you sure?

If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?

Er…

Um…

Uh…

Ask me that again??

There’s a troubling trend in the Church these days. We, in ministry, see the evidence of this all the time.

It can be found in a complaint that, more often than not, sounds like this:

“I’m just not getting fed, here…”

“I don’t experience the presence of God here…”

“The worship no longer ministers to me…”.

And then off they go, out the door, on to another church, … or maybe to no church at all.

The thinking, both of the pastor and the complaining congregants flows from the same fallacy: that the pastor, the church, the elders are somehow responsible for the spiritual condition of those they serve.

Thinking like this, it’s no wonder the Church is diapered in perpetual spiritual infancy.

Isn’t it?

So, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

responsible 5You are.

Only you.

The responsibility riddle can be solved in this important, seldom recognized distinction: Your pastor is responsible to you, but is never responsible for you.

Think about it. A pastor is responsible to the congregation to model mature faith in action, to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, to represent Christ ethically.

Each believer is responsible for what they do with the Word of God: both the preached Word and the Word that sits in their lap, on the bookshelf, or on the coffee table gathering dust.

Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?

Of course not!

How could you be?

keys 5If you husband has handed you “the keys” to his emotional well being- 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 behavior, their “stress”, their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you bear responsibility to them, but are never responsible for them.

Do I have a responsibility to my wife? Absolutely!

I am responsible to keep my promises to her. I’ve promised to value her above every breathing human being. I’ve promised to honor her whether she deserves it or not. I’ve promised to pray for her. I’ve promised to champion her toward all God’s called her to be. I’ve promised to be faithful sexually and emotionally. I’ve promised to walk with God and to submit my life to Jesus and his Word. And, I promised to treat her better than she deserves.

And, she is responsible for herself.

Completely.

boys 5When our kids were small and unable to take responsibility for themselves, as parents we bore the responsibility for them. When our pre-teen had a friend over, and they snuck out at night and lit a porta-potty on fire, we were legally responsible—because they were minors and under our supervision.

Now in his twenties, it would be foolish for us to take responsibility for his decisions.

In fact, it would be irresponsible for us to do so.

To take responsibility for another adult is a violation of his or her autonomy.

An invasion of their sovereignty.

It represents a kind of abuse.

Yes. Abuse.

When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and incapable of bearing the adult consequences for those choices, what is your impact – really – on that person?

What is the “fruit” that is produced when you persuade another to live irresponsibly?

The distinction of being ‘responsible to’ vs. ‘responsible for’ is central for everyone in leadership.

There’s great freedom when you’re 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 require courage you’ve not been willing to summon, until now.

Time to call it up!

 

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