Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty five)
We’re examining the adventurous life: a life that, for every Christian, should be completely normal. I’m just one of dozens of examples I know.
I keep ending up in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability. This was almost never the case before I surrendered my life to Christ. Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere. Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.
Traveling to consult the board and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve completely underestimated the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step. All that I’ve prepared must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan. I have no idea what to do, and I go anyway…
Leading a Bible study, I’m summoned to the phone and learn my son has been in jail for two days, out of state, and unable to reach me. I book a flight to leave the morning…
Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of an infection. She insists that I go to see her friend. On the way, I learn that her friend is dying of brain cancer. We go anyway, I lay my hands on the woman’s head and pray for her healing…
Driving from church to a Father’s day celebration, traffic is inching past a fire engine positioned to block the view of drivers when there’s a particularly gruesome accident. Glancing to my right I see the wreckage of a blue Mustang convertible…
It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car is flipped onto the hood, windshield flattened. There is no room for any human to have survived. Driver and passenger must have been thrown from the car … or decapitated.
There can be no other explanation.
Crying out to God, I jerk my car to the curb and sprint toward the shattered remains of Lauren’s car…
I’m shocked to learn that a massive sum of money is missing from a capital campaign. The only person with access to the funds is a nationally-respected executive with whom I’m scheduled to meet in the next few minutes. If the conversation doesn’t go well, end my career. I go and raise the concern, head-on…
While praying, I’m impressed by God (I guess) to “deliver a message” to our Mayor. For the next several days, I endeavor to dismiss the thought as a ridiculous concoction of my overactive imagination. The longer I struggle, the stronger the conviction that I’m to make an appointment, sit down with the Mayor, and ask him a very specific question. I make the appointment, meet with the Mayor, and ask the question…
Throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!
To fully participate in the life God’s given me, knowing that in myself I’m not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.
It’s waiting for you, too.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty four)
In this series, I’m challenging pastors to reacquaint themselves with the adventurous life. Biblical Christianity, I’ve argued, can be nothing else.
It demands that we continuously trust God and leap.
Jesus modeled this. The New Testament is full of examples. Consider this situation: Jesus is about to send the disciples out two-by-two. He gives them these instructions: “We gotta be wise here. Talk as long as you need to save up for your journey. Be sure to take plenty of money with you and arrange your lodgings well in advance. When you enter into a new village, if they’re happy you’re there, stay briefly, so you don’t wear out your welcome. And, if there’s any resistance at all, leave quickly and quietly.
For goodness sake, don’t stir anything up!
Peter and John are hurrying to the temple past a crippled person who is begging. They avoid eye contact and, as they pass, simply shrug their shoulders. One is overheard telling the other: “So sad that the government doesn’t take care of the indigent, isn’t it?”
Sure enough, a storm does arise!
Alarmed, they awaken a terrified Jesus. He screams out: “Quick, hand me a lifejacket! We’ve got to get to shore right away! These waves will probably capsize us! Luke, make a note of this: we must never travel by boat again. It is just too dangerous!”
Read through the Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the entire Old Testament. You’ll see God’s people continually in peril.
Sometimes, God tells them to do the impossible—like instructing Gideon to shrink his armed forces before going to war against a far more formidable foe.
Other times, God’s people find themselves in circumstances where they’ve no hope but for a miracle. The Egyptian army chasing the Israelite slaves to the shores of the Red Sea, for example.
God keeps putting his people in unreasonable situations. They keep finding themselves in circumstances where they have to trust God. Where they can’t rely on themselves.
They’re living the adventurous life.
What about you?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty)
Examining courageous leadership, a fifth principal is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. Watching ministers lead for more than thirty years, it’s breathtaking how diligently and fruitlessly so many labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.
No wonder the burnout rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the dropout rate.
Here’s an alternative, practiced by the most effective leaders in ministry: Pastor, live with your pioneers.
Make sure those most ready to follow your leadership populate your appointment calendar. Every week, spend most of your time with the pioneers: those who’ve trained themselves to take risks, to try new possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result. Ask about their passions for the things God has laid on your heart. Listen for the “overlap” between your vision and theirs, your heart and theirs, your passions and theirs.
This area of overlap is where you and they get to play!
Pray with them. Dream with them. If your dream is to touch the un-churched, envision the kinds of impact you’d most want to have on the lives of those you’ll serve. Imagine yourselves serving authentically, regularly, generously—for their benefit.
Do some planning and strategizing…but please don’t get a brain cramp trying to figure it all out in advance. Planning for ministry is an almost irresistible temptation for church people. Don’t waste your vigor over-planning in the familiar confines of your church conference room.
Quick, before you lose your nerve, get out there and bless people.
Thrust yourself into action with your pioneers. Get off the property. Meet civic leaders. Learn where your congregation can help, where you can make a God-honoring difference, and go after it. Love people. Serve them.
For Heaven’s sake, experiment.
Go-again, fearlessly and flexibly.
When what you tried doesn’t work—do something else.
Do anything else. Let these be rich times of learning and of enjoying the adventure together.
As your pioneers love and care for the un-churched in ways that bless their lives, they’ll be skeptical initially. They’ll be wary that church people would serve without an agenda, a “gotcha”, a hook. As you keep being with them for their benefit–and not for yours–their skepticism will be replaced by gratitude.
Communicate their appreciation broadly through the congregation. Raise the visibility of your pioneers; make them your “heroes” and make a big deal of their willingness to risk, innovate, and lead in the change.
Over time, the belongers will decide it’s beneficial and safe to join in. Have places ready for them to serve. Plan these in advance.
Eventually, more and more belongers will embrace the changes, until they become the “new normal” for your congregation.
All the while, another amazing transformation is taking place. As you continue serving the un-churched, from a place of humility and unconditional love, their gratitude will be accompanied by openness. When they ask about your relationship with God, then you answer.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” [1 Pt 3:15b]
The key, Pastor, is to give yourself to the pioneers, the “yes” people, the adventurers. Suspend your preference to win over the resisters and to bring along the belongers. They will watch—from afar—and when it seems safe to them, they will begin to play.
In the meantime, have a blast with your pioneers. Make a difference in the lives of those you’re serving. Enjoy what God does.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eighteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. This perspective is of central importance to pastors who are committed to lead their congregations through change. Maybe it’s because the religious culture’s assumption that the shepherd’s role is to comfort and soothe the sheep, that ministers tend to give most of our time and attention to those least motivated to change. Of course, there are exceptions.
Yet, in my more than 25 years of ministry—much of it to ministers—it’s stunning how much of pastors’ time, thoughts, and prayers are consumed with those who are least motivated to follow their leadership.
While you are breaking yourself to provide compelling insight in an attempt to inspire the unmotivated, they are breaking your will to lead. They are road-blocking the change you believe God wants, and your efforts to see God’s Kingdom advanced in your city.
Once the pastor’s will is broken, it’s “lights out” for that church—and for the un-churched community the congregation was assembled, by God, to influence.
If you believe America’s a mess—morally, economically, spiritually—you wonder how it got this way. Could it be the Church has been hijacked from her mission to salt and light society, by complainers opposed to Kingdom-advancing change who demand their anxieties be appeased by their leaders?
Pastor, your courageous, decisive leadership is critically important. Your will, resolve, and stamina in the face of opposition from people you love dearly, is essential to the Kingdom’s advance in American society.
I want to help you avoid the energy-sapping, confidence-draining effect of the unmotivated on your leadership.
To lead, you can’t “push on the rope”.
Rather than focusing on the resistant, give yourself to those who are most willing to go with you. Give them your time, your creativity, and your energy. In any community, you’ll find three kinds of people. This is over-simplified just a bit, so you can use and benefit from the concept.
These are pioneers.
They are God’s gift to you!
Next time, I’ll describe the other types of people who dominate Christian congregations in the US. Then, we’ll dig into specific strategies to lead all three, so you don’t waste another ounce of energy pushing on the rope!
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 nine)
As we consider how to lead our churches in these challenging times for Christianity in the US, we’re exploring the third of nine leadership principles: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Just to review, the first two principles are:
One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge. It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Jesus is our primary role model to live and lead successfully. His way of being demonstrates how he sought to promote healthy differentiation in the lives of those he influenced.
For example, in Mark 9:29, the disciples are unable to free the boy with the symptoms of epilepsy. Jesus behaves as if they are responsible for their own preparation for ministry: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Rather than taking that responsibility upon himself, Jesus’ response indicates that regular Christians can actually free those suffering horrible maladies like this boy’s epilepsy.
It’s what he expects us to do.
My dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [Professor of Leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he called Goodwin’s Expectation Principle.
Essentially it is this:
“People will live up to the expectations of those who they respect.”
Jesus seems to have understood this.
Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their preference for comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus lived as if he expected his followers to live and minister like he did. He expected them to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented.
Jesus had garnered their respect by the way he lived over the time they traveled and ministered together. So, after his ascension, not surprisingly, they lived up to his clear and challenging expectations.
Pastor, you have earned the respect of many of those you lead.
Maybe not all.
How clear, challenging, Kingdom-impacting, and God-honoring is the way of life you expect that they live?
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 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?