Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part sixteen)
You and I are indebted to Edwin Friedman’s remarkably insightful examination of leadership in Failure of Nerve, for this fifth leadership essential: You can’t push on a rope: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Think about Jesus’ parable of the farmer. [Mark 4:3-20] The key to fruitfulness was the soil …not the seed. Yet, we in pastoral ministry devote hundreds of our very valuable hours fussing over the seed—while ignoring the soil.
Does that make sense to you?
Look at it again: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” [Mark 4:15-20]
Jesus’ directs our attention to the condition of the soil. “Some people are…” he begins. The unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
In post-Enlightenment Christendom fussing over the “seed” makes up the largest portion of an Evangelical pastor’s work week.
Why have we given so little attention to tilling the soil of our hearer’s hearts?
Could it be that we’ve forgotten what business we’re in?
Maybe we’ve inadvertently supplanted the “make-mature-disciples-who-live-like-Jesus-business” with the “faithfully-proclaim-the-Word-of-God-business”.
Think about it.
We’re commissioned to faithfully proclaim God’s Word so that people around us live like Jesus.
To distill the ministry of the Gospel down to faithful proclamation without equal regard to the life-change taking place in those we lead is akin to straining gnats and swallowing camels.
If the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight and if the key to fruitfulness is the condition of the soil, would it be wise to get really good at soil preparation?
What if you cut your sermon prep time in half?
What if you dedicated all that time to working on the receptivity of your people’s hearts?
What if you started with those who are most receptive?
What if you focused your people-development energies on the most fertile hearts instead of those with the most rocky, barren soil?
What if you did what Jesus modeled and taught?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part fourteen)
In this blog, we’re considering the fourth of nine traits of healthy leadership:
Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
When confronted by opposition, this kind of leader will be swift to embrace the reality of God’s sovereign control and grasp the security provided by God’s unconditional love. She then leans into resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
A leader’s humility creates the opening to presence herself so resourcefully amid conflict.
In John Chapter 7, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him speak begin to gush with affirmation, applauding his brilliance, he rebuffs them.
Jesus’ response: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…”
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s solely responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes … nor its failures all by himself.
Yes, he has a part.
His colleagues have a part.
The system has a part.
And, factors beyond everyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals.
Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I find stunning the King James Version’s ancient rendering: “Quit ye like men.”
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part thirteen)
We’re examining what may be a unique kind of leadership—leadership that is compulsory if the Church is to provide the redemptive influence in American society that she was given, by Jesus, to bring. For nine segments, we examined the regressive and infantile culture that has become normative in so much of the Church in North America. For the last eight, you’ve been invited to reinvent yourself as a distinctly courageous leader.
Now, we’re considering a fourth leadership characteristic: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come. You were invited to recognize that, like Jesus, every leader is an exemplar.
It can be no other way.
A leader is not simply someone who decides things, who gets stuff done, or who gets other people to behave in desirable ways. A leader is different. She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way.
This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge.
It can better be described in terms of being. A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive.
It provokes maturity in those she influences.
The differences are palpable.
One difference is the way a leader is in the midst of sabotage and backlash.
Fuller Professor Dr. J. Robert Clinton has identified Leadership Backlash as one of the most common methods God uses to develop leadership character. Backlash occurs when once-enthusiastic followers turn against their leader in the face of unexpected difficulties. In A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman elaborates: “Mutiny and sabotage came…from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.” It is the leader’s person and posture amidst this collegial sabotage that is so stunningly effective.
The leader interprets backlash as an opportunity to model a way of leading that inspires confidence [from the Latin, literally “with trust”] toward God, and to deepen the maturity and faithfulness of colleagues and followers.
Further, this kind of leader chooses to interpret the opposition as provision from Heaven.
Consider Jesus. In John 6:66 we read that many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Immediately, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks: Don’t you want to go away as well? He saw the departure of the many as an opportunity to assess and challenge the resolve of the leaders closest to him.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part ten)
We’re looking at the fourth characteristic of effective pastoral leadership: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Consider the example of Jesus as revealed in John Chapter 12. By this point Jesus has become so popular that even the Hellenized Greeks are seeking him out. [Jn 12:20-24]
They ask Philip for an audience with the Master. At this moment, Jesus’ devoted followers may be at the pinnacle of their popularity. Imagine Philip’s enthusiasm as he tells Andrew the great news!
The two go together to let Jesus know that so-and-so has requested to see him. Rather than assign one of them to schedule his appointments with dignitaries he ignores the request and instead he talks to the two of them about of his impending sacrificial death.
Neither the admiration nor the disdain of the crowds and his closest followers seems to deter Jesus from his mission.
Jesus does not simply take a stand.
He is a stand.
Having taken full responsibility, before the Father, for his being and destiny, Jesus’ lives as if his every movement, his attitudes, his words, and even his silence are on purpose. His Father’s purpose. To establish the Kingdom of God in the lives of women and men.
This is what leaders do.
Acclimate yourself to the rigor of taking total responsibility, before God, for your own responses to your environment and circumstances. Friedman notes: “Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position, they must come to love it.”
So, you ask, where do I get that kind of courage? How could I ever come to love being ridiculed and adored, being evaluated and critiqued, judged all the time?
What if you have it all, already? What if you’ve been given all the courage you’ll ever have, or need?
What if you have it now in Christ? If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… [I Cor 5:17]
God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… [2 Pt 1:3]
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]
Brought 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 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?
Remember 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?
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 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.
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.
In 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:
- a) Did Paul make himself responsible for Timothy’s being and destiny?
- 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.
Responsible, before God, for his own being and destiny.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part six)
What does it take to be a courageous leader, particularly amid a culture that’s steeped in cowardice?
We’re examining courageous leadership, convinced that God has you reading this blog so that you might begin to practice a way of being in your life, your ministry, your business, your marriage, your family, your congregation, and your community for such a time as this.
I’m offering nine essential insights for pastoral leadership today. The first was this: 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. The past five entries have explored what it means to be a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence. Now, we’ll turn to a second insight from Edwin Friedman, author of A Failure of Nerve—and it’s another attribute that Jesus modeled wonderfully for us.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Most pastors struggle here: living as if they were responsible for the emotional being and destiny of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other people — and then participating in life as if their own well-being and destiny were dependent on others: the Bishop, their elder board, the denomination, local economic trends, or some abusive control-freak in some position of leadership.
How might congregations accelerate their progress toward maturity were pastors to make this single, profound shift.
Let’s break it down.
Step one is to disconnect from the generations-long ministerial malpractice of taking responsibility for others.
You and your members can’t both be responsible for their well-being and destiny.
If you take responsibility for them, they won’t. If you don’t, and you stand with them as if they were responsible before God for their own being and destiny then maybe – just maybe – they will begin to step up and take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, spiritual progress, and maturity.
And, I can promise you this: until you do, there’s no chance they will.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part five)
The self-defined leader chooses to interpret “crises” as precious opportunities to be developed to maturity in Christ and to develop mature disciples around her.
Friedman is clear: the leader’s capacity to contain her own reactivity to the trepidation of others, to avoid becoming polarized, and to self-regulate while staying connected to those who behave as if in distress is key to both the leader’s differentiation and to catalyzing maturity in the culture.
Think this through, Christian leader:
- How are you growing in governing your own emotional reactivity? Ask your spouse, your kids, your staff and elders: what evidence do they see of your growth in controlling your reactions when those around you are out-of-control themselves?
- When individuals or groups are locked in opposition, are you becoming better at “getting altitude”, above the fray, and remaining curious? Are you getting better at living in the tension, without knee-jerking yourself to one side or the other, primarily to exit the anxiety of the issue being, as yet, unresolved?
- When you react with frustration and anger to the low-tolerance frustration and antagonism of the immature in your ministry context, you’ve put yourself in exactly the same soup! The key is to manage yourself when in conflict and to stay in relationship with those who prefer to attack, blame, and remain irresponsible for their own being and destiny.
I am in such a situation right now. Attacked and maligned by someone who believes they’ve been harmed by me, it’s been crucially important to govern my own emotional reactivity, and, as best I can, and keep communication open. I continually get to remind myself about who I am in Christ, and that my destiny and well-being rests securely in God’s hands—as it is has my entire lifet.
That kind of stamina is not promoted in an education system that presses for togetherness over against the self-differentiation that is natural when honest competition and healthy individuation is endorsed.
Friedman noted almost twenty years ago that most of us are leading chronically anxious emotional dwarfs.
Too often, our churches have become hideouts for the immature.
We could be the most powerful, clear, selfless, and confident people on the planet.
God-defined people with a non-anxious presence.
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.
As a powerful squall threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples are a mess. Nervous. Fearful. Panicked. Jesus is … asleep. [Mk 4:38]
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.
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.
Do 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?