A Culture of Cowardice (part seven)
Recently, I’ve invited you to consider to what degree a Culture of Cowardice has taken hold in the Church. My purpose is to invite you, Christian leader, pastor, denominational executive to a place of uneasiness, even painful discomfort.
Pain is necessary for change.
We’d prefer to believe that an appropriately reasonable explanation, cloaked in kindness, is all that’s needed for humans to embrace the adventure and uncertainty of the unknown. Since the Enlightenment, I suppose, societies have assumed that knowledge of what’s better will result in people making the reasoned choice to change.
But, do they?
More to the point, do you?
One condition that’s welcomed the stagnation common to the church experience of most is that we who are in ministry have forgotten what business we’re in. Now, I’m no historian, but my understanding is that the Protestant Reformation occurred in the sweep of the Enlightenment—the Age of Reason.
And we’ve been reasoning with our congregations ever since.
The problem is, education is not an end. And, a religiously educated person is not an end either. No more than an elevator is an end. An elevator is a means to the 4th floor. Teaching the Bible is a means to an end.
The Church is supposed to be in the life-change business.
When someone approaches you with “nice message, Pastor”, what’s your reply? “Thank you”?
More often than not, when someone approaches me with a similar encouragement, my response is not “Thank you”, but “Why?”
I listen for how the person’s been impacted. Then I want to know: “So what?”
“How will you live differently?”
If you’re not changing lives in identifiable, maturity-inducing ways aren’t you wasting your time and the time of those hear you?
Multiply this waste of time by the 90 or 390 people in your church, then multiply that by the months and years and decades that you’ve been educating people whose lives are not radically changing and what do you have??
The Church in North America.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Culture of Cowardice (part five)
I’m a leadership coach for pastors. This is our tenth segment on Leadership Courage, and our fifth exposing a Culture of Cowardice that’s dominated much of the North American Church.
In the Gospels read just the words in red—and see how often Jesus challenged people. He did it all the time. Jesus stood as an interruption to whatever came between his hearers and the Kingdom of God.
Jesus constantly provoked, unsettled, undermined, and challenged those he was with—especially those closest to him.
Jesus loved them enough to offend and oppose what would harm them—even when they cherished it as good, or nice, or comfortable. He loved the rich young ruler enough to spell out exactly what it’d take to inherit eternal life. [Mk 10:21] Love motivated Jesus’ challenge. Love—not for himself, his comfort or reputation—but love for others moved Christ to risk offending them.
I assert that love motivates you to withdraw from challenging and opposing the nonsense and mediocrity your parishioners hold as true. Trouble is, it’s not love for them that keeps you from goring their sacred cows of compromise. No.
It is self-love that fuels your commitment to censor your voice, pastor.
You don’t want to put up with the resistance. Why poke a hornet’s nest? You’re already on thin ice with several stakeholders in the church. Don’t rock the boat. You’re tired enough. Besides, they make you pay whenever your preaching gets too personal.
Thank God that Jesus didn’t fear offending the woman at the well—maybe her whole village would’ve perished–had he played it safe. What if Jesus chose to quench his zeal [Ps 69:9, Jn 2:17] rather than go after the powerful and popular merchants in the temple?
Courageous leadership is leadership with heart.
With your heart fully exposed, fully engaged, fully at-stake. There is no virtue in being a jerk. I’m not advocating that you be oppositional just because you can. Nor am I suggesting that you blast away at whomever and whatever bothers you, just to get something off your chest.
To risk your own security, your comfort, the way others regard you for another’s benefit—that is love!
To stand powerfully resolute, because of love for someone else, in the face of ridicule and rejection—is exactly what Jesus did!
You might be in one now.
Perhaps you’re invested in an alliance that’s veered from the path or the purpose that originally drew you to it. Possibly it began as a way to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God or to do good for others. Somehow, things changed. The emphasis now is self preservation or personal gratification or simply avoiding the truth that the endeavor has failed to do what you intended … and no one’s had the courage or integrity to speak the truth.
Or maybe a friendship once had desirable virtues that brought life to each of you. In time though, that which you admired has been subsumed by dynamics that are far less ideal. You may be toiling to minimize the effects of compromises to your values that have become a fairly regular expression of the relationship you now share.
Another possibility is that you entered a relationship by meeting a need for someone else. Maybe she or he was in a rough patch, and you provided a friendly face, a listening ear, or a sympathetic shoulder. As the intensity of their troubles abated, you stayed stuck in that care-giving role—a role no longer as necessary as it once was—rendering your connections oddly awkward.
It could be your marriage. Perhaps each of you took the plunge for what you hoped you’d get. Then, when the marriage took more hard work from you than you expected to give, your heart went out of it. The one who once commandeered your affections is no longer someone you even like very much.
Like all sensible people, you leapt into the new opportunity for some benefit you anticipated. In some cases, it began well, then faded. In others, if you’re honest, what you’d hoped never materialized—even early on. Or, you were pigeonholed in a role that’s not needed. Most commonly the endeavor failed to provide quick, easy benefits without any determined investment on your part, and someone’s become disillusioned.
Not so, my friend!
Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!
And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.
Coaching Distinctions #76.doc
I’ve invited you to notice that, without unusual discipline and practice, you really aren’t listening to the person speaking with you—most of the time. Many of us are listening to the running commentary inside our own heads: the conversation we’re having about the conversation other people think they’re having with us.
We call that commentary “the Competitor”.
As you’d imagine, in coaching, this reality is profoundly influential. First, I get to devote myself to focus fully on my client—and to interrupt the Competitor when I realize it’s taken over. Second, I understand that most of my clients—at least at first—aren’t listening to me at all.
It’s this second factor to which I call your attention today.
Understanding this, it’s supremely helpful to regularly inquire what my client is hearing and thinking.
If you’re a coaching client, you’re aware that I do this hundreds of times. “So, Lars, what’d you hear me say?”
As you respond, I’m listening for what commandeered your attention. Because, whatever it was, it’s more important to you, in that moment, than what I said. Discovering what it is and why it’s important can be a powerful gift—to help me understand you, and to help you understand yourself, too.
This inquiry helps uncover to what you are drawn. For many of us, our thinking defaults to familiar topics, judgments, or assumptions. You’ve heard it said: “to a hammer, everything resembles a nail.”
Well, to a victim everything looks like a slight, and to a narcissist, everything sounds like a complement.
Many of us go through life listening for anything that will affirm what we fervently hold true. If you fear you’re a phony who’s likely to be found out, you’ll be drawn, like a bee to honey, to any hint of your insincerity or incongruence.
Also, I regularly inquire what my client is thinking. “So, Ada, what are you thinking right now?”
This helps uncover how you process information. Many people have well-worn cognitive “paths”. If I listen generously and stay curious, the paths emerge.
For one minister, the rut is a consuming concern that he’ll end up forsaken by God and destitute. For another, it’s indecision about whether the church fits his gifts and talents. For a third, it’s his inadequacy in reversing a decline in church attendance. To discover what and how you think, I constantly check in.
Try it. You’ll be amazed what you learn.
Coaching distinctions #75.doc
This is a series on Coaching Distinctions that commonly arise in my work as a leadership coach to pastors, without regard to church size, geographic location, or denominational affiliation. These distinctions address human challenges and apply to all of us.
So it is with these Audition Delusions.
Simply stated, without rigorous discipline, you are not listening to your boss, your spouse, or the chairwoman of your elder board; rather, you are listening to your internal dialog about what they’re saying.
Today, we consider the fourth aspect of the audition delusion: despite your exhaustive efforts to craft the perfect sermon, nobody is listening to you, anyway!
In seminary, my professors referred to sermons in hushed, reverent tones as ‘works of art’ scrupulously and skillfully fashioned, word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase as Whitman’s poetry or Hemingway’s novels.
I’d toil over each illustration, plan my voice inflection, pace, when and where to appeal to the listener’s emotion or engage my own. Hour upon hour spent in devoted isolation, researching, writing, editing, shaping, crafting, honing, trimming—perfecting my opus. Their rule of thumb: an hour of preparation for every minute we’d preach.
Then, Sunday, as I’m expounding my oeuvre, everyone is listening intently … to themselves. They’re hearing their internal dialog about the sermon, or following a rabbit trail an illustration put them on, or considering where they’ll have lunch… and if we’ll finish in time for the second half of the Seahawks’ game.
See, without discussion—without some form of feedback loop—there’s no way to know what message they heard. This is why, whenever someone complements me on a sermon or talk invariably I respond: “Why?”
I want to know what they’re complementing. What, of all they heard, struck them? What difference do they believe it made?
Only then can we enter into the kind of dialog that Jesus used to equip his disciples. While much is made of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, most of the life-transforming work he did was dialogical in form. Jesus shared parables in public. Then, privately, he’d explain the meaning. It is an audition delusion to think you’re changing lives by oratory alone.
It is engaging people up close, discussing their questions, probing their understanding, clarifying what’s preeminent, and working that out in practical ways that changes people deeply.
We get to make space for our hearers to push back on what challenging, clarify what’s confounding, and make sense of what’s confusing.
And as we intentionally let our people see us struggle, watch us wrestle with God, and live in God-honoring ways—now that can transform them forever.
Coaching distinctions #74.doc
Last time I posited a scenario familiar to most: arriving home your loved one launches into an oft-repeated grievance about dear little innocent you—and instantly—inside your head, you are far, far away.
Rather than hearing what’s said, you recount the other person’s failings, outrage at being accused without merit yet again, maybe the despair you feel to be “here again”, and frequently your subconscious connects this event to that of your most prolific critic earlier in life…
See, your ‘autopilot’ has kicked in, and now words, emotions, and actions pour out as if programmed by some diabolical ‘mission control’ determined to crash-land the relationship. And, since your beloved also has autopilot, the ensuing hailstorm of insults, emotional flooding, and furious vitriol is both familiar and painful.
All the while, no one’s listening!
I call this your “Family Dance”. All couples have one. As if performing well-practiced, intricate choreography, each of you steps, spins, moves, shimmies, and twirls with near-perfect synchronicity. She moves forward—he steps back—she leans left—he spins right—except that the carnage produced is anything but beautiful. If you filmed your last dozen breakdowns each would be a nearly identical replica of the others.
It is this way because as a couple you’ve ‘trained yourselves’ to break down this way! This is the third Audition Delusion: you two break down this way not because you married a crazy person. It the way you’ve trained yourselves to be in breakdown!
Crazy, but TRUE!
My invitation: have a different breakdown next time.
Since this way clearly isn’t working, DO ANYTHING ELSE!
If you’re silent, make yourself speak.
If you attack, don’t. Instead, hold your tongue ‘til your mate weighs in.
If you run, sit still. It will not kill you.
If you use sarcasm as a bludgeon, determine to be sincere and kind.
Each time the autopilot kicks in, re-cement your focus on your partner: What is she saying? What is she feeling?
Don’t miss this moment to hear.
It takes discipline to listen generously. And, it is an enormous gift to actually hear someone well.
Coaching distinctions #72.doc
By “audition” I mean hearing.
Attending to what is being spoken.
There is a common fallacy that contributes greatly to communication frustration, unrealistic expectations, and much wasted effort.
This isn’t to say that when we’re having a conversation that you’re not listening to anything. You are.
You’re just not listening to me.
And, without intentional discipline and effort, I’m not listening to you, either.
What you are listening to is that little voice inside your head.
Your running commentary.
What you’re saying about what I’m saying.
Test it out. Next time you’re in a conversation, attending a lecture, hearing a sermon, or listening to an audiobook, notice your thoughts.
See if you can discern the “running commentary” you’re having about what is being said.
Then, see if you can silence it, so you’re hearing just what’s being said by the person you thought you were listening to.
Coaching distinctions #70.doc
Here are the four key distinctions of the “Universal Human Paradigm”:
1) You, as a human being are a “resistance machine”.
2) When life looks the way you prefer, you engage it.
4) The universal way you resist your own life is by withholding your participation from it.
The “it” in the sentence above is your life!
Why’s this important?
Because, your life needs you in it.
What if the circumstances that you find so aggravating have been provided by God for you to bring Christ into their midst?
What if the perplexities, unknowns, and conundra that surround you are there so those watching can see you standing valiantly—like Jennifer Lawrence’ character challenging the corruption of the political system in Hunger Games?
Sometimes God will beckon you into the burning building to guide to safety those trapped inside.
Imagine if you were a new believer living in Acts 8 “…great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” [Act 8:1b-8]
The saints, surprised by the suddenly intense opposition, were driven from Jerusalem.
There’s no hint of them cowering in fear. Or hunkering down in private Christian enclaves. Or ditching their distinctive way of living in order to fit in.
They found communities of people needing Jesus. The Jesus they brought with them: his Good News, his healing, and his freedom-procuring deliverance!
Reading your Bible today, it’s easy to see that God used the diaspora to spread the life and love of Christ beyond Jerusalem and those of Jewish ethnicity living or visiting there. Today, we easily see how good it was that the persecution catapulted the believers to live as missionaries across the middle east.
See, when you’re in resistance, withholding your participation, those around you lose.
They miss out on the gift that you are.
The gift you bring.
Most of all, they miss Christ in you… the hope of glory. [Col 1:27]
Coaching distinctions #68.doc
I’m offering one of the most helpful perspectives on human behavior I’ve ever learned. It impacts my coaching with pastors all the time. Called the “Universal Human Paradigm”, it was explained to me this way:
1) Human beings are “resistance machines”.
2) When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it.
3) And, when life doesn‘t look the way we prefer, we resist it.
4) The universal way that human beings resist life is by withholding their participation from it.
Think about it…
Pick a topic: your dating situation, your finances, weight, investments, bowling average, church attendance, or blood pressure.
If you consider your situation to be “good”, you’re all about it, active, enthused, engaged, participating…
Maybe a while ago you were a ‘gold bug’.
Encouraged by the prospects of growing financial insecurity, a wobbling economy, and our government’s mindless pursuit of dollar-devastating “quantitative easing”, you pulled your savings and plowed into gold.
As prices rose, you followed it like a hawk. On the internet. In newsletters. Tracked commodity prices. Joined a gold investors club. But with gold falling almost 30% since 2011…you’ve barely looked at it.
For thirty years I’ve run hot and cold on my weight.
Broken by a half-dozen steep downdrafts, my weight has pretty much continued an inexorable incline over my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s— reaching an excruciating summit a couple years ago.
Those downdrafts were not accidental.
I started some formal weight loss regimen and, as weight came off, I focused on it more. And, as more came off I invested more of my energy and attention to it. I became more devoted, determined, disciplined. And it worked.
Then, after enjoying the benefits for a while, my weight began to creep up.
Discouraged, I paid less attention to it. The more I took my eye off my weight, the more I indulged my preference for weight-inducing foods. And, the more weight I’d gain. As I did, I ignored it all the more; checking my weight less often and exercising more infrequently.
So, you have this incorrigible elder who—in a number of religious-sounding ways— intimidates all who disagree with him. You’ve tried befriending him, encouraging him, reasoning with him, appealing to scripture… all without effect.
This guy is not looking the way you prefer!
So you resist. How?
By avoiding him. By pretending that the havoc he causes is less than it is. By looking the other way when he unloads his religious judgments on people.
And the terrorism continues…
Coaching distinctions #65.doc