A Culture of Cowardice (part two)
- Courageous leadership is, by nature, decisive.
And, the Latin root of decisive means “to cut”. But, it is not nice to cut anything away, to cut anything off, to cut anything out—even a toxic presence – like a parasite – that survives by sucking the life out of those who are healthy.
To lead with heart is to stand for what’s best, simply because it is best—even when unpopular. Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church…draining its vitality.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is clear.
Such a leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, her values and priorities.
The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you will become.
And, therein lies the problem. As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals. As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not “up” for going where you’re going. Stay foggy and many will stick around, wandering in impotent ambiguity.
But, those who get behind a leader who is clear will be a powerful force for good—the good to which that leader’s been called.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is disruptive.
Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction. They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead.
Many interpret their leadership as crisis-inducing.
Edwin Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed upon the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated by the leader doing exactly what she should be doing. Jesus did this all the time. But, notice the reluctance of anyone in church leadership to lead in a way that invites a crisis for long-standing church members.
As a leadership coach and consultant to pastors, my life’s work is to champion Christian influencers to find their hearts and to fully re-engage them in this great, important struggle to stir the Church from its slumber.
There is no altogether “nice” way to do this.
Just five verses into his story, Jonah is asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so critical a moment. Waking Jonah, he demands: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jon1:6]
Get this, folks: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber—calling him to take action with God lest the “community” they were part of be plunged to ruin.
Look around you.
Is not the community around your church caught in a destructive storm?
A moral, ethical, and spiritual hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society? Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the very edges of the culture?
To awaken the Church, her leaders must first rouse themselves.
Then, embracing the opportunity provided by this life, they can stand clearly, decisively, and disruptively to awaken their churches to enter the glorious and dangerous fight for the redemption of the community around them.
What else would a Christ-follower do?
The Precision of Vision (part nine)
As a leader, the clearer you become—about who you are and what you’re for—the clearer those around you become.
Problem is: we don’t always like what that clarity reveals.
Imagine leading a ministry which such clear focus and purpose that everyone is aligned behind the vision. Where everyone’s energy is invested in pursuit of the ministry’s goals.
Being laser-focused about your church’s purpose will drive off everyone who wants something inconsequential, self-centered, and puny.
Everyone who wants something else
Very, very good.
Focused vision will attract exactly those who want that kind of church. Who’ll give themselves to have it happen.
Who are “up” for the sacrifice to accomplish something noble and God-honoring…something great with their lives.
Just ask the founding families at Willow Creek, Saddleback, YoungLife or any ministry that’s significantly advanced God’s Kingdom in this country.
You’ll hear about the precision of vision that called them to invest deeply, passionately, wholly in it.
Take up your cross every day in pursuit of me. [Lk 9:23]
If you don’t give up everything you have, you won’t be my disciple. [Lk 14:33]
Follow me and I’ll change everything about the way you live. [Lk 5:10]
Jesus’ was not some puny, inconsequential invitation to a happy, challenge-free life.
He called women and men to greatness: to God-honoring exploits that people would marvel at [Jn 14:12] and, as a result, honor God alone. [1 Pt 2:12, Mt 5:16]
Vision—true vision, God-authored vision—calls people to live great Kingdom-advancing lives.
Most don’t want it … they’ll flee.
Glory to God!
The Precision of Vision part nine.docx
The grounding of vision is the Word of God. Nothing else will do.
Jesus said this about religious leaders who anchored their vision in their own ideas: “They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions…You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions… Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” [Mk 7:7-9,13]
It seems it’s become popular to play fast and loose with the Word of God in our day. Whole systems within Christendom have decoupled themselves from God’s Word, promulgating views grounded in popular culture and political correctness.
Now, if you’re Apple or GE or Procter & Gamble, I get it. Flex with the times, move with the market, that sort of thing.
But a Christian leader has another calling and concern.
Jesus put it this way: “…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me… I always do what pleases him.” [Jn 8:28b, 29b]
If anyone’s in a position to trust his or her own instincts it’d be the Son of God.
Yet, Jesus willingly submitted himself to the word and will of the Father.
He expects the same from us: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” [Jn 12:48-50]
A psalmist concluded: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” [Ps 119:105]
“Just what the Father has taught me…”
Working with churches across the country, there’s often a vocal minority whose vision is for the Church to focus on the care and comfort of her members. Though it can’t be defended biblically, this view is so prevalent that it’s led to the dismissal of pastors, the diminution of budding spiritual vitality, and discontinuing fruitful ministry to many outside the Church.
See, the grounding of vision is the Word of God. And nothing else will do.
The Grounding of Vision part eight.docx
We’re seven installments into an examination of the role and nature of vision in leadership.
We’ve considered how a compelling vision has the power to call us through the difficulty and discomfort of our own transformation; transformation in you that’s essential for the vision to become reality. We evaluated the urgent need for the Church to be alive, awake, and influential in a culture that—as Edwin Friedman observed—is chronically anxious. I challenged pastors to focus vision on those outside the Church. Not on those within it. Then, we looked at the essential interplay between the vision of leaders and followers necessary for people live into change.
“Grounding” means the soil—the dirt—in which vision is planted … and from which it springs.
Only vision that emerges from the revealed will of God, via God’s inerrant Word is legitimate for the Christ follower. When leaders take it upon themselves to concoct notions of a preferable future to which they’re committed it’s doubly disastrous.They’ve deceived themselves and who follow. This is one reason why Christian leaders face harsher judgment.
Consider James’ warning: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…” [Jas 3:1,5a]
Ever observed a religious ceremony in an arm of the Church different than yours…and been bewildered by the “peculiar-ness” (I’m being polite) of whatever it was they were doing?
Ever had a denominational executive explain why their particular denomination exists, and what prompted it to sever relations with whomever they were aligned before? Did the explanation make any sense at all in advancing the cause of Christ in the Earth?
Have you ever questioned the motivation behind sprawling mega-church complexes where up to $100 million gets poured into elaborate buildings and beautiful grounds—that, for all practical purposes only benefit believers?
Jesus’ vision was grounded in the Father’s will. Nothing else.
“…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” [Jn 5:19]
“Father…take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Lk 22:42]
And, if you hadn’t noticed, the Father apparently was not interested in bizarre religious rituals, political hair-splitting, and self-eggrandizing empire-building.
The grounding for vision, yours, your church’s, your ministry’s, your denomination’s can only be the Scripture. Now, I don’t mean an obscure proof-text here and there. I mean the whole counsel of God. [Act 20:27]
The grounding of vision is the Word of God. Nothing else will do.
The Grounding of Vision part seven.docx
You’ll only effectively lead others where your vision and theirs coincide.
Since this is true, it is incumbent upon leaders to do three things well, as it relates to vision.
1) Get clear about God’s call to you and the vision for a preferable future that will result if God has his way. Vision has a way of unfolding as you obey what God has revealed. Like Abraham leaving Ur [Gen 12:1] and Peter leaving the fishing boat [Mt 14:29], God will call you to take a step – without revealing anything more. There’s no following God without risk…trust…faith.
Christian discipleship is a life of faith. Quit trying to rid The Faith of faith. Trusting God is central to the lifestyle of a Christ-follower.
If you wait for God to make every detail clear, you’ll never move, you’ll never act, you’ll never share. Vision is the end point; a word picture describing the impact God desires to make through you and your congregation. Consider who is impacted and in what ways they benefit, because Jesus’ Kingdom has come near them.
You’ll need a handful of communication devices—analogies, stories, similes, and examples to keep the vision real, tangible, and accessible to your people.
You’ll have to share the vision so often, in so many contexts, and in so many ways that you’ll tire of saying it long before people understand it well enough to embrace it as their own.
You hear yourself repeat it every time—but nobody else does! And those who hear you share the vision are actually hearing—not you—but what they are saying in their heads about what you’re saying.
Creative repetition is essential!
3) When you share vision watch how people respond.
Ask for feedback. What did people hear? What about the vision excites them, challenges them, concerns them? Have them describe the impact they believe God wants to have in the city. Listen generously. What can you agree with?
Who’s with you? Who wants what you believe God wants?
These are the ones you get to lead.
Don’t worry about convincing others. Be content to lead those who want to go where you’re headed. Who want to see that impact occur. As you do, others will discover they want it too.
The key to leadership is “followership”—and followership is always voluntary.
And you can only lead them where they already want to go.
This is a powerful, liberating truth for pastors and Christian leaders who are willing to break with the wrongheaded cultural assumptions about leadership and, instead, practice Jesus’ kind of leadership.
- How much positional authority did Jesus use to elicit followership?
- How often did he invite disciples to choose: “in” or “out”?
- When did he coerce? Manipulate?
- When they faced an impasse, how frequently did he grasp control, disempowering whose around him?
From the calling of Andrew, to the provision he made for the care of Mary when he was on the cross, Jesus led by invitation.
And, when Jesus’ vision “overlapped” with those who heard him, they followed.
So with you.
You will only effectively lead others in the area where your vision and theirs coincide.
In the diagram below, your vision for your congregation’s impact is represented by the yellow zone. Anna, a gifted lay leader’s vision is the red zone. The area where you and Anna get to collaborate to advance the Kingdom is the orange area.
I spend the majority of my waking hours coaching and equipping ministers. They give me permission to influence them in the zone where their vision and mine overlap.
Where we’re agreed.
Want to know how to soothe, calm, and pacify an entitled, demanding church member? Don’t ask me! I have no room in my vision for Jesus’ Church for coddling the immature or appeasing the petty terrorist on your elder board.
Want to explore ways to more effectively concentrate your resources on entertaining church members? I couldn’t care less. I mean it. I have no burden for putting on excellent feel-good productions for religious consumers. None.
But, you want to lead a congregation that routinely trusts Christ and risks to demonstrate the Good News to those in the community outside? I’m all about that!
Need help to identify, equip, and mobilize more lay leaders to reflect the character of Christ as they advance the Kingdom along side your staff? You bet!
You and I get to “play” together where our visions coincide.
And, no two leaders visions completely coincide.
And that’s OK.
Each person the Holy Spirit has placed in your congregation has been singularly shaped and prepared to touch lives and to embody the “Jesus kind of life” distinctively.
When God makes a thing, he makes each unique. Consider snowflakes, evergreens, mountains. But, when humans make so many things, we labor to make them all the same.
Cults labor for uniformity, conformity. Not so in the freedom for which Christ died.
We thrive together in that space, passionately pursuing what Christ has called each of us to. Most powerfully when it aligns.
While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, much of the time.
So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!
As with each of the articles in this series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it. And you do this to your own relational and leadership peril.
Principle #8- Who gets to choose?
Who decides your decisions?
Who determines your attitudes: whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?
The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.
“So what?” you say.
Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:
You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.
You never have and you never will.
And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do.
Think about it.
You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online. How much your wife spends on shoes. How and when your son does his homework. Right? You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online. Susan has a strict budget—including shoes. Ben knows he has to do all his homework before TV.” And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Ben are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?
I assert that they choose. Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.
Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices. An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?
Think about it.
God, who is omnipotent, who knows everything, who is eternal and sovereign set it up that way. We get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.
Consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time. Imagine your life when you no longer manipulate, press, challenge, shame, and guilt others. Imagine never again being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those near you.
Imagine the impact on those you love.
Consider how they might live when out from under the crushing weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.
What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into whatever reality those decisions open up and close down for them?
You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed. The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!
Scenario A: Think about a time when you were in an argument with someone … and you thought you knew what you two were arguing about. At least you know what you were arguing about. As the two of you launched salvo after salvo, gradually it dawned on you that you were either arguing with a completely crazy person—or, whatever it is your adversary was angry about, it wasn’t what you thought it was.
Scenario B: You made a blunder that by all accounts was relatively benign. But, the reaction it triggered in someone else was orders of magnitude greater than you expected. Once again, you’re tempted to conclude that the offended party is institutionally insane. What else could account for the over-the-top reaction?
Scenario C: A friend asks you about one facet of an issue you both know you’ve been struggling with. You intend to give a focused, factual answer and before you know it, your emotions are so powerfully engaged that the two of you are stunned. While you try to collect yourself, an awkwardness permeates the mood. Now you’re wondering if you are the crazy one…
This principle will invite you to interrupt your natural press to resolve your conflicts hastily, or to simply shrug your shoulders and assume you’ve wandered into the psychiatric ward of the local community health clinic.
When you encounter a response that seems inappropriate in its intensity, I invite you to ask: what could this really be about?
Stay curious enough, long enough to find out what is really in play.
If you fail to do this, you will miss your friend and you will miss the opportunity to bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to this situation, as well. As rational human beings, we all do some pretty irrational-seeming things.
One of them is this:
We attach meaning to things, to words, and to events that transcend the things themselves.
Think about it.
Let’s say that as a child you heard over and over that you were a poor student, slower than your siblings intellectually. Maybe the words “stupid” or “dumb” were used in reference to you.
Decades later, you are an accomplished sales executive, and you’re in one of those 360° performance appraisals. A peer points out that you were slow in adopting a new reporting procedure… and you flush, become agitated, and a smoldering fury begins to blaze in your bosom. You’re only vaguely aware of what incited the reaction, but your reaction seems both valid and surprising at the same time.
As a human, you’ve attached meaning to your intellectual prowess, borne in your childhood experiences, that transcends your true intellectual attributes.
When you heard the word “slow” it represented something other than the speed with which you implemented the new reporting procedure.
Subconsciously, you applied “slow” to you.
And, since you interpreted the feedback as an indictment on your intelligence, you went nuts… in a professional way.
We’ll expand on this next time.
See, all my life I’d been training myself to put tasks above people.
As an extrovert, I’ve enjoyed being with people far more than being alone. For most of my adult life, I’ve used the people I’m with to get things done. Reduced them to a “means to an end.”
That’s produced two experiences in those I’m with. Practical help and committed encouragement to achieve what we want to accomplish and an uneasy awkwardness when we’ve just been together.
I befriended Sam, a successful and hilarious radio personality, hoping to introduce him to Christ. Soon, his very difficult marriage became the focus of our conversations. I slid into the role of “marriage advisor”. We spent hundreds of hours together over many months … Sam began to change, Suzi responded, their marriage improved.
When it did, I was at a loss.
We had nothing to talk about.
Tim and I planted a church together. Then we launched a business.
I loved it!
Tim became one of my best friends. We were together all the time, working on the church of the business. Both were new, exciting adventures with regular progress and limitless possibilities.
What Tim said almost 25 years ago I’ll never forget:
“Kirk, when I’m with you, I feel more like a project than a person.”
I didn’t understand what he meant. So, I hired a counselor and asked her. Years of very helpful therapy, intensive work in a character-development ministry, reflecting on Buber, and being supported by a wife and friends have brought transformation in my way of being with people.
And…there’s more coming.
Coaching Distinctions #89.docx
Like many exquisite things, this beauty has a price. Rents are challenging enough in winter quadruple to astronomical heights in summer.
Last night I met the landlords where we’ll live this summer. David and Juliette seem to be lovely people. He’s from London and she’s from the Seychelles. He’s a retired real estate developer. They “summer” in Rhode Island and hope to visit friends in the UK before fall.
That is all I know about them. In a thirty-minute encounter with two remarkable, unique, and talented people who’re created in God’s image—that’s all I know about them.
I wasted the exchange in a “IT-IT” relationship.
I was “tenant” and they “landlord”. We covered the pertinent details about rent and keys and utilities and parking and trash day. But, I failed to encounter them.
Lewis says that in every encounter with every person we hasten them to one end or the other. And I cannot tell you where this couple stands regarding the Savior. I didn’t bring it up!
As an “IT”, I hastened to conclude the meeting. I’d planned the evening, and had already decided there wasn’t room for an “I-THOU” encounter.
What if God wanted me to represent him to them?
What if God intended that we pray together?
What if God desired that we become friends?
As “tenant” these considerations don’t surface. But as “child of God” they do.
My being with Juliette and David is an opportunity for Heaven to come to Earth. For Christ’s goodness to touch two lives beneficially like he has mine.
It may have nothing to do with “religion” and everything to do with love.
An “I-THOU” encounter allows that we move each other. Each life is altered, impacted, changed. Not just in our thinking, but in reality changed.
How much greater is the possible reciprocity among people to call, draw out, impact, move, and be moved by each other?
I and THOU.
Coaching Distinctions #88.docx