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?
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]
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.”
They 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?
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.
She understands her calling. She is proactive about setting her life up to live that calling from God. Unapologetically.
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!
A Culture of Cowardice (part four)
I’m a leadership coach to pastors. We’re nine segments into a series on Leadership Courage. This is our fourth pass exposing a Culture of Cowardice that I believe has dominated much of the Church in North America.
These observations are confined to North America because I have very little exposure to non-Western churches and leaders. Since the US has been exporting what we call “the Gospel” in earnest since WWII, no doubt we’ve packaged and shipped our cultural preferences along with it.
Regrettably, we may have exported a Culture of Cowardice, to the foreign field. You who minister cross-culturally can offer your observations from around the globe, by commenting below.
In A Failure of Nerve Edwin Friedman identifies characteristics of chronically anxious families, communities, and societies. While I see ample evidence of these features in American society it’s stunning to consider how these traits apply to Christian churches today.
Recently, I suggested that the insipid capacity of the typical congregation to tolerate discomfort has accelerated our orientation away from bold, courageous leadership and centered it on the most needy and emotionally-regressed among us. Two segments ago, I opined that religious political-correctness has become so toxic to courageous leadership that Jesus – not the “Flannelgraph Jesus”, but the historical Jesus of the New Testament – would embarrass many in church today.
Do you find this stunning?
I work with pastors in dozens of denominations—each with their peculiar polity and priorities. Some systems locate leadership responsibility and authority with the pastor. Others load the pastor with responsibility and deny her or him the authority to lead. Still others withhold both leadership responsibility and authority from their ministers. Regardless of denominational polity, no one has as great an opportunity to influence the culture and values of a local church than the Senior Minister. That is why I’ve dedicated my life to standing with and strengthening them.
You who stand in pulpits determine – more than anyone else – what your congregants talk about. To the degree that you choose your title or topic or text when you preach, you inject that into the “congregational conversation” that takes place in cars and restaurants and kitchens of those who hear. You don’t determine what they say about your topic, but you do get to decide what that topic is.
Think about it.
Does your preaching provoke people?
Do your sermons unsettle them?
Do your messages undermine the mediocrity of most of your members’ lives?
Do you challenge your congregation to change?
If not, why not?
A Culture of Cowardice (part three)
I’m a leadership coach to pastors. Last time, I introduced a pervasive cultural condition that’s true of so many churches it’s become characteristic of the Church in America.
A Culture of Cowardice.
While there are many exceptions, compared to the whole, these exceptions are so exceptional that the description deserves our attention—particularly when the topic is leadership courage.
Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve diagnoses American society as chronically anxious. As he describes systems experiencing chronic anxiety—the Church in North America fits the description even more than American society as a whole.
Chronically anxious systems, Friedman notes, are toxic to courageous, well-differentiated leadership. So acute is the culture’s abhorrence of discomfort that it “knee-jerks” its way from one perceived threat to another, clamoring for instantaneous relief from ministers, who are pulled in all directions at once.
A pastor may have begun with a clear sense of mission. But, in short order that mission is overwhelmed by the demand that the “crisis du jour” be averted with haste. Ministers, instead of challenging the congregation to mature and leading them to take important new ground, become consumed with smoothing out the never-ending ruffled feathers of the flock.
Caretaking is not leadership.
And, to do this, they need only to answer the phone!
Ministry, for many, resembles the role of a caregiver in an overcrowded orphanage, wearily scurrying to soothe the baby screaming most loudly before she can comfort the next infant to bellow.
For many, the priorities of ministry are based more on responding to the immediate needs of church members than in steadfast obedience to the Audience of One.
A leader who remains resolute in pursuit of a cause greater than the good feelings of the congregation (for example, the maturation of the disciples and the mobilization of members for ministry outside the church) is seen as heartless, unresponsive, deaf to the cries of the downtrodden, and out-of-touch with “real people” within. Emotionally and spiritually emaciated church members have no stomach for a real leader…like Christ.
What if Jesus belonged to a typical American church today?
To a member of a beleaguered minority he declared: “You have no idea what you’re worshipping!” [Jn 4:22] Embarrassed by Jesus’ insensitivity, the Church might howl: “How cruel, abusive, and bigoted! All-loving heavenly Father is nothing like him!”
After freeing the Gadarene [Mt 8:32], imagine the uproar from the typical church at the brutality shown the pigs. Animal rights activists throughout the Church would demand that Jesus be locked up. “How could anyone representing God mistreat innocent wildlife so maliciously?”
Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their dead” when a potential new member asks to attend his father’s funeral. [Lk 9:60] To this, the church would smugly declare: “How unfeeling, cold, and heartless! A merciful God would never say that!”
When Jesus comes upon merchants in the temple, he goes nuts: vandalizing their property, abusing the animals (again!), and misappropriating their funds. [Jn 2:15] Most churches would get a restraining order against Jesus—after his 5150 expired. “God is a God of order—not chaos”.
Jesus is revealed in scripture as clear, decisive, and disruptive.
You might think Him a study in contrasts: compassionate to the adulteress and hair-triggered to critique the religious leaders of his day. He’d be branded a troublemaker (or worse) in most US churches today.
Jesus was resolute in His commitment to model, bring, and defend the Kingdom of His Father.
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 Heart to Lead
Francis Frangipane asks in The Three Battlegrounds: “Is your love growing and becoming softer, brighter, more daring, and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love is. A measurable decrease in your ability to love is evidence that a stronghold of cold love is developing within you…”
Paul, with all that was at stake in Corinth, governed his own heart so that it stayed open wide, and his affections so that they were not withheld from them. [2 Cor 6:11-13] So rigorously and openly did he give his heart that he was able to call them to reciprocate—his leverage coming from his having gone first!
He called them to a “fair exchange” of affections.
I wonder if, on those occasions when I have been stunned by the absence of affection I’ve encountered, it actually represented a “fair exchange” of the stinginess-of-affection that I’d sown into the relationship.
I too have trained myself to keep my heart carefully cloistered away where it can’t be hurt. Not much. Yet, this protection comes at a great price.
As humans, let alone Christ-followers, we were made for love.
Built to access and share affection readily, easily, generously.
Like little kids do.
Living with and among imperfect human beings, I’ve been hurt and I’ve seen others get hurt.
In the movies and on TV we see characters that give the appearance of being deeply satisfied, fully alive, and relationally connected without the risk of hurt and heartache that love requires.
I once taught myself to live that way.
Denying what I was, and what I was made for… ‘till Christ captured my heart and taught me a new way: a risky way, a vulnerable, dangerous way. Since then, there’s been an accordion-like opening and closing, expanding and compressing of the affections my heart was meant to exude.
This past decade I’ve been intentionally entering the rigor to open my heart wide and to war against the regular impulse to withhold my affection from those I influence. Imperfectly and purposefully I’m giving myself to this dangerous and delightful way of life. Calling others to engage in a “fair exchange” of affection.
What might God do among those you lead, if you were to give up trying to keep your heart “safe”?
What if you trusted God and opened your heart wide to those you lead?
Leveraging your love with them.
The Heart to Lead
This series is about courage… living with heart.
It’s written as an invitation for you, as a leader, to live and lead with your heart fully engaged. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in the commercial and cultural center, known as Corinth:
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” -2 Corinthians 6:11-13
As in all affairs of the heart, there is risk.
to be vulnerable.
Paul settles the issue for those in ministry: we get to go first! In doing so, we model the way of love for all those around. “We have opened wide our hearts to you”, Paul says. “We are not withholding our affection from you…”
Of how many in Christian leadership could that be said?
How generously, how obviously, how daringly do you love?
How careful are you to not withhold your affection from those you lead?
Most pastors say they love their people well, sacrifice for them, work tirelessly, and always try to be accessible. Yet, Paul speaks of his heart being wide open to them.
A heart wide-open!
A big, gaping opening that can be exploited, disappointed, rejected, maligned. And, I speak not just to the young, wide-eyed church planters that haven’t yet taught themselves to distrust their congregations and to bury their affections behind a mask of professional, religious niceness.
I mean you: the veteran of betrayals, abuses, attacks, and back-stabbings… by those who you’ll likely find in Heaven. You, who’ve been around the block a few times. “We’ve not withheld our affection…”.
Heck, how challenging has it been to keep your heart wide open to your spouse? What struggles have you encountered to not withhold your affection from your own wife or husband?
How stingy are you with your heart, these days?