Christian Maturity

Leadership Courage (part thirty six)

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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?

36 religious educationWhen 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.

Are you?

Leadership Courage (part twenty one):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eight)

Jesus exemplified the second of nine leadership traits we’re examining in this series: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.

At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is in complete control of his emotions and reactions.

He does not personalize Judas’ betrayal: “Oh Judas, how could you?”

He doesn’t negotiate: “Hey fellas, what if I agree to stop teaching in the Temple—would that be OK with you?”

Nor does he play the victim: “Doggone it you guys. If you’d just stayed awake and prayed like I asked you, none of this would’ve happened!” [Mk 14:43-50]

25 sanhedrinBrought before the Sanhedrin [Mk 14:53-64], Jesus does not tantrum, collapse in an ocean of tears, call down fire, nor even expose his accusers’ hypocrisy. The only response recorded by Mark is his unmistakably clear admission that yes, he is the Christ, and that they will one day see him sitting at the Father’s right hand.

See, Jesus lived as if his being and destiny were securely and completely in his Father’s hands.

 

Clear about his calling to serve humankind as he fulfilled the Father’s will [Mk 10:45], Jesus’ being and destiny was undeterred by the autonomous choices made by the autonomous human beings all around him: Pilate, Peter, Judas, the false accusers before the Sanhedrin, and on and on.

Engaging his life in this way, Jesus catalyzed the maturing of the followers to whom he turned over the Church after his crucifixion.

And today, he’s turned that Church over to you, and me.

How often do the actions and decisions of other autonomous human beings affect your sense of wellbeing? How common is it for your confidence to be shaken when some human in whom you placed your trust turned out to be…well…human?

In the face of disappointment and betrayal, can you and I stand confident that our sovereign, loving God has not been caught by surprise, even if we are?

Yup. We can.

 

Leadership Courage (part twenty five):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eleven)

 

24 courageIf 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.

What does it mean to live and lead courageously, particularly amidst a culture of cowardice?

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve covered so far:

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.

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve does a masterful job illuminating several stunning characteristics of effective leadership. I am indebted to him for sparking the perspectives written about in this Series. We’ve been looking at the way Jesus embodied these traits—not for intellectual edification, but to challenge Christian leaders to change.

As a minister of the Gospel of Christ you are an exemplar. Your way of life is a model.

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.

24 stand outSometimes, 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 being 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 this Series.

Consider the accounts that are chronicled in John Chapter 6: the 5,000 witness the miracle of the loaves & fish, Jesus walks on the Galilee, and a sizeable crowd follows him to the other side of the Sea. 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” about eating his body and drinking his blood. [Jn 6:53f] The crowd scatters and many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him—ever.

Does Jesus explain that it was just hyperbole, a figure of speech?

Does he beg them to come back?

Does he soften the message, lower the bar, or ease their distress?

Read it, and see.

Leadership Courage (part twenty three)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)

As we consider how to lead our churches in these challenging times for Christianity in the US, we’re exploring the third of nine leadership principles: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.

Just to review, the first two principles are:

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.

Jesus is our primary role model to live and lead successfully. His way of being demonstrates how he sought to promote healthy differentiation in the lives of those he influenced.

23 epilepsy For example, in Mark 9:29, 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.

Rather than taking that responsibility upon himself, Jesus’ response indicates that regular Christians can actually free those suffering horrible maladies like this boy’s epilepsy.

It’s what he expects us to do.

23 clintonMy dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [Professor of Leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he called Goodwin’s Expectation Principle.

Essentially it is this:

“People will live up to the expectations of those who they respect.”

Jesus seems to have understood this.

Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their preference for comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus lived as if he expected his followers to live and minister like he did. He expected them to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented.

Didn’t he?

Jesus had garnered their respect by the way he lived over the time they traveled and ministered together. So, after his ascension, not surprisingly, they lived up to his clear and challenging expectations.

Pastor, you have earned the respect of many of those you lead.

Maybe not all.

Certainly some.

How clear, challenging, Kingdom-impacting, and God-honoring is the way of life you expect that they live?

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?

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