The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part two)
It seems that the Church in North America is reasonable if it is anything, and that reasonableness has got us stuck.
“Syncretism” is what scholars call it.
I call it a blight … and a foundation to the culture of cowardice that’s commonplace in the Church today. One way to regain our verve and our nerve, it to take an axe to the roots of our commitment to being reasonable.
Trouble is, there’s comfort in reasonableness. There’s a degree of security there, too. The moderation it provokes can masquerade as wisdom after you’ve had any number of flame-outs when taking bold steps of faith.
I was discipled as a new Christian in a church that regularly twisted scripture and abused power…scarring people both emotionally and spiritually. Annie and I invested ourselves without reservation in a church plant that imploded after an extra-marital affair. Years ago we donated what for us was a breathtaking sum of money for a church building campaign, and later learned that someone on the inside misappropriated tens of thousands from that campaign.
If you’ve been around the Church for any time, scandals are nothing new. How the perpetrators can sleep at night remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the pressure these setbacks have exerted on my enthusiasm to live “all-in” for Christ. It’s as if powerful spiritual forces conspire to soften my commitment to live boldly for Christ.
A “voice of reason” resonates within coaxing me toward moderation. One popular paradigm suggests that we hold our faith as one of many important commitments. Important, but not essential.
Nothing to lose your head over.
Yet, in the scriptures, moderation in living for Christ is never esteemed.
Who was moderate in their allegiance to Christ?
Thomas, while doubting?
Jesus is unambiguous: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]
Clear as a bell.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part five)
My friends were approved by Habitat for Humanity several years ago. Working the graveyard shift in a manufacturing plant, driving a cab, and doing odd jobs whenever he could still wouldn’t provide the down payment my buddy would need to own a home. Habitat, however, had a pathway to home ownership.
Richard and his wife Jackie, donated their time – lots of it – to help other Habitat recipients build their homes over a period of months and years. Then, when the time came to work on their home, dozens of others were there to help out.
It was a blast.
Richard and Jackie had “skin in the game”. They got far more than a home. They invested themselves in their home in a way that changed them.
Why doesn’t Habitat just hand out homes? They could. They could use a lottery system to select the fortunate few who’d get a nice new Habitat house for free. But they don’t.
Pastor, if you’re in the disciple-making business then you’re in the business of changing people.
Changing people into the image of Christ. Provoking people to live and love and give and care and serve the way Jesus did—motivated by what motivated him.
And, that rarely happens when you keep handing people fish.
You might have read, back in installment # 16 of this Series, I was struggling my way through a character-development workshop in Honolulu with Dan, my trainer and mentor. Dan’s life-changing counsel:
Kirk, we’re not here to give people fish.
We’re not here to teach them to fish.
We’re here to provoke their hunger.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule
What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?
What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?
And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?
I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.
So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.
Think about it.
One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?
When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?
Another one does announcements.
One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.
Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.
A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.
And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.
What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.
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 nineteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
I ask you to consider that people have trained themselves, through their lives, as to how they respond to change. All change. Every change.
Last time we introduced the pioneers. These are your visionaries, riskers, outcome-focused action-takers. Their primary concern is not safety, nor reputation. Pioneers thirst to make things better. Period. Full stop.
The majority in any established congregation, however, aren’t pioneers.
They are ‘belongers’.
They don’t like to stick out. They’ve trained themselves to move with the group, the community. Which is why they’re called “belongers”. Pioneers don’t care about fitting in. They care about making a difference. But, for belongers, it’s different. Very different.
Belongers will change when certain conditions are met.
Primary among these is whether the proposed change will succeed and be safe. They will embrace change when they decide it is safe and successful to do so—and not before.
You’ll never see a ‘belonger’ on the leading-edge of change.
No matter how good a leader you are, they won’t. It’s how they’ve trained themselves. And, pastor, you’re not gonna change that.
Only they can.
Resisters are steady. Loyal to what’s been. They show up whenever the doors are open. Traditionalists, they engage in church life much the same way people have for decades. They still tithe.
Resisters have trained themselves to avoid the possibility of loss.
They’re not likely to implement any change that can be delayed. A core motivation is to avoid being wrong, to avoid failure.
Resisters will embrace change, but not until the discomfort of not changing is greater than the risk they associate with the change.
Resisters and pioneers interpret life in mutually-exclusive ways. When a pioneer is presented an opportunity, as soon as she sees the possibility of improvement, her default is: “Why not?” The resister will intuit the possibility of failure or loss and think: “Why take an imprudent risk?” The belonger will move, but not ‘til it’s “safe”.
The culture you’ve established in your congregation will determine the predominance of each group. Curiously, “church” is one of the few places in American society where resisters can gather en masse. I suppose government is the other. Think bureaucracy, not politicians.
Here’s the key: Pastor, live with your pioneers!
Every week, insure that you spend most of your time with them. In the next blog, we’ll clarify what to do when you’re together, so the change you believe God wants, actually takes hold in the congregation.
For now, work to clear your calendar of resisters, and fill it with pioneers. It may take three months or more to wean yourself away from the passion-extinguishing tantruming of the unmotivated.
Proactively schedule your office appointments with those who are most responsive to your leadership.
Invest generously in their lives. Support them as they grow in Christ. You’ll enjoy it a lot more, and more Kingdom fruit will be borne, as well.
By autumn, you could be leaping into your workweek with a vigor, optimism, and enthusiasm that most of your folks have never seen in you.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part fourteen)
In this blog, we’re considering the fourth of nine traits of healthy leadership:
Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
When confronted by opposition, this kind of leader will be swift to embrace the reality of God’s sovereign control and grasp the security provided by God’s unconditional love. She then leans into resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
A leader’s humility creates the opening to presence herself so resourcefully amid conflict.
In John Chapter 7, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him speak begin to gush with affirmation, applauding his brilliance, he rebuffs them.
Jesus’ response: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…”
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s solely responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes … nor its failures all by himself.
Yes, he has a part.
His colleagues have a part.
The system has a part.
And, factors beyond everyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals.
Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I find stunning the King James Version’s ancient rendering: “Quit ye like men.”
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 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 seven)
We’re considering the second of nine character traits of effective leadership in this era. It is this: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Facing, for the first time, the very real possibility of starvation and homelessness, the great majority of those chronically-immature sons and daughters find a way to get out of bed, land a job, and step into responsible adult lives.
But, the over-responsible parent has to cut down the safety net first. And, to do so, they had to increase their own capacity to tolerate the squawks and tantrums of the overly-dependent ones.
In Mt 23:37 Jesus mourns for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He offered comfort, protection, and rescue. They declined. And, Jesus is clear: their choice didn’t diminish him or the value of his offer of redemption. And, he was also clear that they would get to live-out the results of their decision.
So too, pastor, with you.
You are not your church. The congregation is not an extension of you. You don’t think of yourself as an extension of your spouse, boss, siblings, or district superintendent, do you? So, why enmesh with your congregation as if who you are is determined by their choices and deportment?
Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, asserts that leaders can bypass burnout by avoiding the trap of taking responsibility for others and their problems. Imagine life without the double-bind of being burdened by a false responsibility for the choices and decisions of others.
Do yourself a favor: re-read Ephesians, I & II Timothy, and Rev 2:1-7 then answer this:
- a) Did Paul make himself responsible for Timothy’s being and destiny?
- b) Was Timothy responsible for the being & destiny of the church at Ephesus?
If not, who was?
What does the Scripture teach?
Leadership step two is to take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny. Notice how Jesus presences himself when instructing the disciples about his betrayal [Mk 14:18-25].
You don’t see him coming apart at the seams, an emotional wreck, begging Judas to reconsider. Instead, he uses the impending calamity to instruct them about fidelity, sacrifice, and the cost of discipleship.
Responsible, before God, for his own being and destiny.
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.