coaching

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 twenty):

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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?

20 cowardiceCan a pastor, denominational exec, or church leader actually turn the tide of emotional and spiritual regression before the Church loses what’s left of its traction in American society?

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 Courage (part nineteen):

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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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Non-anxious.

19 togethernessIt takes stamina to continually define oneself to those who lack self-regulation. Sadly, that kind of stamina is not developed within a culture of cowardice.

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.

Sad.

We could be the most powerful, clear, selfless, and confident people on the planet.

God-defined people with a non-anxious presence.

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 fourteen)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part nine)

In this series, we’re examining a culture of cowardice that, in my view, seems to saturate much of the American Church—contributing to our diminishing influence in society.

Consider how often we cover up truth when a Christian leader falls.

For several decades now, we in the Church routinely sweep these humiliations under the rug: the priest is relocated to a new parish, the pastor takes a seminary position, the missionary goes on furlough, and the youth leader enrolls in graduate school.

Those close enough to the transgression to have been among the collateral damage just leave…the church…the faith…and our stand for liberating truth. [John 8:32]

Paul counsels Timothy against favoritism in leading the church and administering discipline.

And yet, isn’t that exactly what we’re doing?

14 pablumYears ago, I learned about an egregious ethical compromise by a nationally visible leader with whom I worked. My attempts to influence a correction were thwarted, so I resigned. The public explanation the leader provided was typical of the positive-sounding pablum of most such announcements. It said … nothing.

And, saying nothing, it succeeded in communicating one clear message: “You are not getting the truth.”

So, when people close to the situation asked why I’d resigned, I told them. I shared my errors in judgment, my failure to act years before when prompted by God: the ways my cowardice contributed to the leader’s collapse. And, I shared, honestly as I know, what this respected leader had done.

No cover up.

Full disclosure.

14 lightWhen we claim to be “children of light” and switch off the light when what it reveals is unpleasant or uncomely or uncomfortable… are we not hypocrites?

In a way, aren’t we strengthening the darkness? Doesn’t the darkness thicken when the Church fails to stand as light in life?

Paul, to the church in Ephesus wrote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.” [Eph 5:8-14]

Living in a Culture of Cowardice, we find it awkward to expose darkness the way Paul instructs. Orienting ourselves around the least mature, our response to moral failure is to go easy on the fallen leader. We tell ourselves that the “restoration” of the fallen leader is most important. So we keep the indiscretion secret. We keep it in the dark.

Paul didn’t see it that way.

In the business of making mature disciples, courageous leaders will mourn with those who fall and warn everyone else, lest we disavow the truth we profess by the way we lead…and undermine Christ’s message to the world.

Clear?

Leadership Courage (part thirteen)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part eight)

How come when a prominent Christian leader falls, it is so often shrouded in darkness? The secrecy so often persists until the police, the media, or the victim of the leadership abuse brings it into the light. How often are those illuminations met with skillfully-articulately denials or a minimizing reinterpretation of the offense?

Is it just me, or do you see it, too?

We who are Christian, are fond of reciting John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, particularly when the topic is evangelism. Trouble is, our behavior – at very important times and in very important ways – covers up truth.

The Greek word translated “truth” is alethia.

It means “reality”.

What is.

13 cover upYet, in times of crisis (like when a minister falls in sin), we invest ourselves in elaborate cover-ups. One reason we do, I think, is we’ve forgotten what business we’re in.

Is it any wonder that those outside our faith community scratch their heads?

What are they to think when we froth at the mouth about the “truth” of our Gospel and then behave in ways that endeavor to keep truth hidden away?

Were the roles reversed, what would you think? How likely would you be to consider their faith claims?

Andy Stanley in The Next Generation Leader identifies courage as central to leadership. One way leadership courage expresses itself, he says, is in recognizing and declaring current reality—regardless of how embarrassing or discouraging it may be. When a prominent pastor falls, the courageous around him or her will honestly and forthrightly communicate the truth of what happened.

Why?

In the people-development business, rather than the keep-the-people-comfortable business, they recognize this as a critical character-development opportunity.

A leadership failure is “ground zero” to anchor the values that are central to how we, as Christ-followers, are committed live.

When Paul instructed Timothy: “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” [2 Tim 5:20], he placed the benefit to “the others” above whatever difficulty the leaders who have to mop up the mess, or the fallen elder, would encounter. And, “the others” are not just Christians, but those outside who are intently watching how we live.

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