The Heart to Lead
This begins a new blog series. The topic is Leadership Courage.
Courage is integral to leadership.
The link between the two is inseparable. Attempting to lead anyone, without employing courage, will undermine the possibility of the enterprise you hope to lead others in.
Management is another bird entirely. A manager does not a leader make. I hold a management degree. An advanced degree. From a pretty good school. We learned and practiced sophisticated problem solving techniques. We got pretty good with multifaceted analytic tools: market, cultural, financial, logistical, and competitive analysis just to name a few. Maybe most importantly, we developed our abilities at strategic reasoning and planning. In no way is my objective to denigrate management or management education. Yet, leadership is an altogether different matter.
Leadership is the visible employment of courage in a way that changes people
Their thinking, behavior, and the impacts of those changes.
So, what is courage?
A friend and mentor often says: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but is moving forward in the face of fear.”
So, what is it that moves one forward in the face of fear?
The answer, I think, can be found in the etymology of the word itself.
Our English word “courage” comes from the French cor which means “heart”.
Courage, literally can mean “with heart”.
To live courageously is to live with heart.
With your whole heart.
Your whole heart invested.
Your whole heart at stake.
Your whole heart exposed.
Your whole heart vulnerable.
And, what makes this whole-heart living so elusive is this: we’ve all had our hearts hurt! You cannot live, be in relationships, and love without having your heart broken… rejected… crushed. In short: hurt.
Since you’re not stupid, you learn from each heartbreaking experience not to play fast and loose with that heart of yours.
You’ve learned to be cautious.
Once, you lived with your heart in your hand. You put it out there where someone could embrace it as a marvelous, generous, precious gift. And, sooner or later it was rejected, repelled, repulsed.
That hurt. A lot.
And, since you’re no fool, you made sure not to make that “mistake” again. So, you pulled your heart back.
You weren’t quite so willing to give your heart away. A person would need to prove himself before you’d loosen your grip on your heart. And, at the first sign of trouble, you’d be quick to retrieve it!
Then, maybe later, an opportunity presented itself. A good opportunity.
A really, really good one. Possibly it was a venture, a business idea, a ministry, a job, a project. You might have been skeptical at first, but the idea grew on you and, as it did, you became more and more passionate. You began to see yourself in this. You decided that you could actually see this working out! As you gave yourself to this possibility other priorities fell aside. You invested more deeply. Past the point of “no return”…
Then, somehow, in some way you hadn’t anticipated, the bottom fell out. Words were spoken.
Again, you and your wounded heart retreated from this “folly”—and any future follies as well. From now on, you’d be playing your cards a little closer-to-the-vest. What a fool to risk like that! What an idiot to trust so indiscriminately!
With each experience, you pulled your heart back.
To a place less vulnerable. A little further from other people. Not so susceptible to their whims and vacillations.
A little farther from your dreams.
Eventually, you took that heart of yours and stuffed it back inside your rib cage. Back where you decided it should’ve been all along.
Like everyone else.
Well… most everyone else.
In AD 185, St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his theologically important treatise Against Heresies wrote: Man fully alive is the glory of God.
A human being fully alive is the glory of God.
When you take your heart out of your chest and extend it at your arm’s full length to those you have affection for, are you not becoming more fully alive?
When you put your heart in play, at stake, at risk for some great, worthwhile heart-engaging endeavor, do you not become more fully alive in the process? A human fully alive is the glory of God.
So, what does all this have to do with Christian leadership?
When you lead with your whole heart fully invested, you inspire the rest of us to join you.
When you are fully at stake, with your eyes wide open and yet you are still “all-in”, you invite us in, as well. In fact, when you are engaged like that, you exude an almost irresistible magnetism that draws others in with you. You and those you inspire become fully alive.
The glory of God.
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
It’s something we take for granted…
Until we find we’re losing it, or have gone blind altogether.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology 7,000,000 people go blind every year.
That’s seven million.
Imagine being unable to see.
In my work with pastors, churches, and systems across the US, I learned that many have a vision problem.
As society presses Christianity to the edges, many raised in Church in a very different era find themselves destabilized—unsteadied by the rapid secular ascent. Ministers are not immune. The chaplaincy model seems profoundly inadequate as parishioners die off and young and middle-aged adults evacuate the Church. Neighbors seem more disinterested than ever in our religious offerings…
Now, that’s the question.
The vision question.
What are you doing? What’s the reason you’re breathing? Why is your church in this community? What’s the difference you want to see it make?
It’s not arrogant to ask—and answer—this question. It’s essential!
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
If there’s no compelling reason to invest deeply, passionately, even dangerously—the courageous won’t stay. They’ll go find a cause to champion, a wrong to right, an injustice to surmount, a greater good to get done—and go after that.
Somehow between the church that Jesus founded and the mess we have today, pastors have assumed their job is to soothe, comfort, encourage, and appease religious folks.
Pastor, your job is to make mature Christ-like disciples of Jesus.
People who change the world—beginning with their hometowns and neighborhoods and workplaces and schools–like Jesus commissioned us to.
The quote: “Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.” I learned at a character development training God used to change my life more than a decade ago. It acknowledges that transformation—change—induces pain.
You’ll choose to embrace that pain in pursuit of a vision so good, so important, so noble as to call you forward into that pain and through that pain to what waits on the other side.
Power of Vision 1.doc
Principle #1- Focus on you
There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict.
For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll keep good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.
If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, yet conflict seems to dog your path. See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet. Why? Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are a few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples; one of them is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18].
The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef.
Let that sink in a little.
Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!
For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.
This flies in the face of our natural tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in conflict with anyone, you have a contribution!
Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then a friend challenged me to discover how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to initiate relationship with one of them. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.
Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you’ve had about that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged.
Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out.
People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mentioned it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.
Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.
Though naturally predisposed to function like ‘resistance machines’, Annie and I have several friends who’ve re-trained themselves to give themselves to their lives—especially when they’d prefer to hold back. I was with a dear friend and mentor at the moment the oncologist called with the diagnosis: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. CLL is a devastating disease—essentially cancer of the blood.
Still in his 40’s, it came as a complete shock.
We were at a convent in Kalamazoo conducting a character-development workshop that supports people to transform their ability to fulfill God’s unique purpose freely, passionately, and powerfully. Using revealing exercises, guided reflection, Socratic questioning, and focused discussions, participants discover beliefs, heretofore unexamined, that undermine their success in life, career, relationships, and ministry.
Stunned, I watched my friend absorb the blast of the diagnosis, remind himself why he was there in the first place, and give himself completely, generously, and enthusiastically for the forty people enrolled in our training.
Ennio was so invested in serving others that his very natural concerns for himself faded into the background. Though we talked and prayed frequently that week, I don’t actually know how he battled his own resistance. While remaining aware of the realities of his medical situation, the uncertainty it cast on his future, and gradually being informed about the treatment regimen that would be required, he threw himself into his life—and the lives of our participants—with the same exhilarating commitment I’d seen him do dozens of times before.
If not for his physical symptoms, which worsened dramatically each day, I don’t think any of them would have known what we knew. Ennio epitomizes what it means to “throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it.”
God did plenty with Ennio that week. And ever since.
Yesterday I was in Atlanta training pastors in CRM’s Awaken and Activate Workshops. As the name implies, Awaken is about awakening in Christians the calling of God to live Jesus’ goodness with those outside the Church. It’s great, cerebral stuff.
But in Activate, participants leap into action, connecting meaningfully with people outside the faith community with practical, meaningful, and beneficial results. The action is not theoretical or imaginary. It is real actual action.
So, transitioning from Awaken to Activate we moved effortlessly through the material, the exercises, and discussions. Then, as we approached the “Action Zone” the room locked down.
Our cooperative and congenial participants were suddenly confused…
It was time to DO SOMETHING—something completely new. It requiring they break through the inertia of church-focus and instead to phone or email a neighbor or co-worker outside the Church and invite her over for a meal. Or volunteer to serve in the community…to take “irreversible action” to serve and bless someone on the outside.
Firmly and skillfully, David identified the resistance in the room, re-enrolled the pastors in their vision to lead community-impacting churches by becoming community-impacting leaders…
and off they went—into the “Action Zone”—leaping one by one into the uncharted territory of unprecedented relationships holding eternal potential.
They threw themselves into the middle of the room… and God met them there!
Coaching distinctions #69.doc
In my coaching practice it’s common to address situations where a leader’s decision impacts people in less than desirable ways. We know the higher up you are in an organization, the more challenging the problems that land in your lap.
Senior Pastors of large congregations spend much of their time dealing with very complex situations. And, when they do, no matter how many or how clear headed your advisors are, it will fall to you to make the most difficult decisions. And, the nature of leadership is that several will be upset with almost any decision you make.
Interesting that the Greek word “crisis” means “to decide”.
When leaders decide, they and others are impacted, and the impact—as we’ve said—is not always positive. This is why it is so detrimental to pastor your congregation as an appeaser, a consensus-builder, a “lets all go happily together” guy. The only way to please the majority is to avoid the “crisis” that every decision brings. And that, of course, is not to decide at all.
In the absence of clear, courageous leaders making painful but principled decisions, debtor nations keep amassing ever more enormous deficits and the ECB creates worth-less Euros in a vain attempt to forestall the collapse of that teetering house of cards.
In 2009 a CNBC study revealed that of the world’s top twenty debtor nations seventeen are European.
To avoid the “crisis” of making important, necessary, and difficult decisions now, we can create an impact in the future many times worse.
How much of the current disconnect between the Church and the society she was given by God to rescue and resuscitate is the result of pastors who, for decades, were unwilling to upset parishioners committed to the minister-to-me status quo? As congregations removed themselves from helping in the communities where God placed them as salt and light, those communities have continued to struggle in the dark.
Whatever our intentions, we get to address the impact of our decisions—including those decisions not to decide.
If immersing yourself in work—because the mortgage crisis reduced your family’s only asset to a liability—has produced isolation and distance in your marriage, there’s no point defending yourself. Own your impact and give yourself to your spouse with the abandon you once promised.
If you’re “sideways” with one of your siblings over different views of how to care for aging parents, it does no good to keep asserting the “rightness” of your position. Just get off it and reach for your sibling in love.
Today, begin having the impact you’ve always wanted.
Coaching distinctions #60.doc
The Christian life, your Christian life, is to be lived “all in”.
What if the challenges, perplexities, opportunities and disappointments your life presents have been orchestrated for you to take Christ into? [Romans 8:28-31]
When you know God is with you, you can always be “all in”.
This morning I read Acts 15. It opens with a dispute erupting in the fledgling church about whether Gentile Christians must keep the Mosaic Law to be saved. Paul and Barnabas throw themselves into the center of the dispute, arguing unsuccessfully, on the side of freedom; freedom procured by Christ.
Unwilling to collapse on their convictions and unable to win the war of words in Antioch, they travel three hundred miles – more than ten days on foot – to Jerusalem. There, they convene a council of the most notable Christian leaders, and dig into the details of the dispute until they all get clear. Peter speaks. Paul and Barnabas contribute much, and James makes a ruling. The conclusion is put to writing that Paul and Barnabas carry back to Antioch. On their arrival they convene a meeting of the believers, deliver the Jerusalem council’s determination, and remain there ministering to the saints.
Barnabas and Paul live all-in.
Troubled by the posture of the legalists, they weigh in—passionately. When they fail to persuade the pharisaical believers, they don’t go ‘passive aggressive’ like most church people. They don’t just shrug their shoulders and hope things work themselves out. And they don’t wait for someone else to act.
They sacrifice their comfort, time, and reputation. In Jerusalem, ‘though they’re not in charge, they give themselves until the issue gets resolved. Then—rather than take several personal days to recover from the strain of the ordeal— they step up to deliver the response to the Syrian believers.
They are all-in.
Later in this chapter, Paul and Barnabas have it out over whether John Mark should accompany them ministering to the churches in Turkey and Syria. Instead of ‘giving in to get along’ or ‘playing nice’, they have a full-blown argument in front of everyone.
There’s no back room deal to “spin” the story, to clean it up, to whitewash the mess.
They’re all-in in their breakdown, as in their ministry collaboration.
They hit big or miss big.
Coaching distinctions #54.doc
This is not to suggest that you aren’t busy. No, ministers are among those who can be overwhelmingly active and profoundly unproductive at the same time.
Postured to bunt, you desperately drive from hospital room to committee meeting, from one religious function to the next.
Are lives changing? Can’t tell.
Are those outside the Church coming toward Jesus via the loving example of your members? No way to know.
Your week is jammed with your best attempts to anticipate or respond to the complaints and requests of church members who mistakenly believe that you exist to serve them.
Most of what you do to soothe, comfort, and appease them does just the opposite. It keeps them infantilized.
Study the way Jesus interacted with His followers.
You’ll see that he constantly challenged them to trust God on their own. To experience God’s faithfulness for themselves. Unlike you, Jesus kept putting his disciples into harm’s way! The way your local police and fire academies put perfectly good people in peril for the sake of those they will rescue one day.
See, you and they have forgotten that God has given ministers to equip the people to do the work of Christ’s ministry [Ephesians 4:11] …so that they actually mature. I don’t see a lot of either happening in the lives of most church-goers these days.
To what degree do you challenge your people?
Do you press them to examine and repent of their immaturity, entitlement, and commitments to comfort?
Does your preaching regularly unsettle them?
Do you raise many more questions than you answer?
I don’t see how Christianity can be a part-time pursuit. Can you?
How is it that couples can live together, unmarried, and worship as if the were? How can we cheat on our taxes and pray as if God doesn’t know? How can we hold unforgiveness toward others and not think it undermines our prayers?
When you live “squared off to bunt”, pastor, your parishioners will follow suit. Could society’s sudden pursuit of much that’s contrary to God’s Word be the result of a Church that’s “squared off to bunt” so much of the time?
In 1988, an injured and aging Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate for the L.A. Dodgers. Though his legs could barely carry him around the base path, he took a mighty cut at the ball…
and made history.
You can, too.
Coaching Distinctions #53
I was in Memphis one snowy morning recently. A CRM teammate we affectionately call “Hound Doggie” and I were designing curriculum for the upcoming reFOCUS:Atlanta conference when his cell phone rang.
I tried to decipher what had happened.
“Hey Kirkie, I’m gonna have to run home for a little bit. Our house was broken into; a lot of stuff is missing. Be back soon as I can.” Matt was as calm with me as he was with Jen.
In a few hours he’d filed a police report, met his insurance guy, arranged for his family to spend a few nights at the in-laws. And he was back—fully back—writing content for the Leading Change track, where we support pastors to be leaders of change by being leaders in change.
This recession has been tough on churches. Giving is down—way down. Many have reduced staff. Attendance has declined and so has vitality and optimism. While there are many exceptions, this is a decades-long trend across the Church in America.
Congregations often blame to pastor. Yet, rarely is any pastor good enough to grow a church where there’s an embittered, conflicted congregation. And, few pastors are bad enough to run people off when a congregation is vibrant and loving, passionately pursuing Christ.
Still, many pastors live discouraged as if they are responsible for their churches’ decline. Questioning herself, she pulls back from leading boldly. Fearing the firestorm of criticism, he “softens” his sermons, muting his own voice—and the Word of God through him. Rather than take on that manipulative, gossiping leader she placates, hoping something will change.
Squared off to bunt.
A Barna survey found the #1 concern among Christians is a “lack of leadership”. And the #1 need of leaders is courage.
Courage comes from the French word “kor” which means “heart”. I suggest that to live courageously is to live with your whole heart. Your heart engaged, invested, vulnerable, at risk.
Defending himself weakly before the Sanhedrin. Negotiating with Pilate. A few rote prayers in Gethsemane.
No great struggle.
No great sweat.
No great victory.
Coaching distinctions #52.doc
I love the movie Taken in the way Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson’s character) keeps giving himself to recover his daughter, who’s been kidnapped. When Kim’s parents learn of her abduction, their responses illustrate, the distinction: Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long.
Neeson’s Mills is clear-headed, studying his daughter’s room for clues to her disappearance. He is determined and he is in motion … the product of his extensive training as a CIA operative.
Both of Kim’s parents had been in training—all their lives—for a crisis such as this.
So have you.
It was Father’s Day 2001. Driving from church to lunch, traffic was snarled. Creeping along we eventually came upon the source: multiple police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck situated diagonally to keep the public from being able to view a particularly grizzly scene.
It was my daughter’s car!!
In crises, people often say: “NOTHING could have prepared me for what happened!”
Reality is, I had been preparing myself all my life for that morning. We were privileged to see God’s merciful intervention in what should have been a double decapitation. Both kids walked away shaken, but unhurt.
Not every family crisis has resolved as swiftly and miraculously as that one. Each catastrophe—and the many mundane opportunities to trust God in between—has been preparation. Every relationship breakdown has provided opportunities to examine my reactivity and vulnerabilities, to pursue repentance, and grow in Christ-likeness.
So with you.
Ever wonder how Jesus carried on—through Judas’ betrayal, the isolation and agony in Gethsemane, the beatings and the travesty that was his trial? After all that, with spikes through hands and feet, his own weight suffocating him, he forgave those who crucified him, made provision for his mother’s care, and ministered to the believing thief on the cross next to him.
“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8 NLT] Like Jesus, you and I can learn how to live great, God-honoring lives by the ways we train ourselves while in the midst of suffering.
It is possible, even for a “career bunter” to learn to crush the baseball.
Go hire a coach and reacquaint yourself with the batting cage.
Coaching distinctions #51.doc
This is the 50th blog entry on distinctions I often make in coaching. For close to a decade, it’s been my privilege to coach pastors, primarily. Invariably, our conversations center on leadership. And, because of the inseparable link between the two: on character.
Pastors who lead well do so because of who they are.
Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long. In times of calm and storm, you are training yourself for the challenges you can’t yet see. Those that await in the future.
Christian Leaders who’ve been given great responsibility have developed the capacity to rely on God in their own crises, and to stand with others in theirs. The more faithful they are, the greater the tests.
A pastor marveled at the intense off-season regimen of an NFL player who trains at his gym. “Do you need all that muscle development to play your position in football?” he asked in disbelief. “No. I need it to survive the physical beating I take every Sunday.” Every day, he strengthens muscle fibers in anticipation of the opposition his body will encounter.
In Squared Off to Bunt, I invite you—as I do my coaching clients—to consider the posture of your life.
Or, are you crouched to bunt?
- How clear are you about where God has you leading your congregation?
- How compelling is the vision you’re calling your people to?
- How great is the sacrifice you challenge your members to, as apprentices of Jesus?
- How bold is your trust in Christ for the miraculous in your ministry?
- How desperately do you cry out for the power of God’s Kingdom to break in on your city?
- How diligently are you training yourself to recognize the voice of God, then unflinchingly obey?
Should the political and cultural opposition to Biblical Christianity continue to strengthen, we may find ourselves ministering in a far more challenging climate.
In Lystra, as Paul is preaching Christ a mob stones him, drags his body outside the city, and leaves him for dead. Believers gather around, he rises up, and goes right back into Lystra.
Paul is “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” [Acts 14:22]
Who lives like that?
Someone who’s not postured to bunt.
Coaching distinctions #50.doc