Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part three)
We’re considering how consistently Jesus modeled the first of nine leadership postures and practices necessary for pastors today. And in doing so, I’m indebted to Edwin Friedman for his stellar work: A Failure of Nerve.
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.
In John chapter four, when Jesus’ buddies encouraged him to take a break, have a good meal, relax a bit, after his encounter with the Samaritan, he said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” [Jn 4:34]
Now, self-defined does not mean workaholic. Friedman notes that the mature leader takes full responsibility for her wellbeing and destiny.
Like Jesus, she trusts the Father’s goodness, love, and sovereign plan. She does not look to other people or for her circumstances to define her. Responsible for her own being and destiny, she lives responsibly—even amid a culture that seems committed to promote irresponsibility at every turn.
Recall Jesus’ practice of withdrawing himself from the press of people and ministry to commune with the Father, get perspective, and to sleep.
Responsible for his own being and destiny, Jesus chose to get away from the very people who needed him: those he could’ve healed, delivered, taught, and built a bigger, stronger, more powerful ministry around.
Maybe Jesus understood that more than skill, technique, or knowledge, courageous leadership is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as the leader moves through life.
To presence himself well with people, Jesus recognized that a vital relationship with the Father, clarity, perspective, and attending to his very appropriate, very human need for rest and refreshing were necessary.
Self-definition, like Jesus modeled for us, was the result of his commitment to maturity. And one hallmark of maturity is standing responsible for one’s own wellbeing and destiny.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part one)
How is a pastor, denominational exec, lay leader, elder, or board member to lead when the culture of your organization is shot through with cowardice?
What are the implications for George Barna’s “Revolutionaries” who’ve been so sickened by the self-soothing silliness in churches that, while ministering passionately and creatively for Christ, they’ve cut themselves off from the local church?
And, what of the thousands of Christians, frustrated by the infantile institutionalism and the soft-headed social activism of the mainline denominations, who’ve washed their hands of the whole religious mess?
Picture yourself with the New Testament in one hand and Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve in the other. What if Jesus, our exemplar, understood Friedman better than Friedman understood himself? Read on, and at the end, tell us what you think.
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.
In Generation to Generation, Friedman gives this definition of a leader: “A self-defined person with a non-anxious presence”.
Today’s blog, fifteenth in this series on Leadership Courage, will begin to examine one attribute of courageous leadership: decisive self-definition.
By “self-defined”, I mean a person who has a clear sense of her or his unique calling from God and is living in alignment with that calling.
It is not biblically acceptable to be a Christian and to live with a puny, self-consuming purpose. A purpose like: to feel loved, to be happy, or to feel good about yourself.
Notice the clarity he embodies as he moves through his relationships, through his world. At age twelve, he’s 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 was clear. As I see it, “the Father’s business” was to establish, then advance, the Kingdom of God among women and men. To do this, he gave himself to develop ever-maturing followers, using every opportunity and difficulty to strengthen their confidence in God and their willingness to live the life he modeled.
The Responsibility Riddle
QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?
ANSWER: I am, of course!
Ok, fine. Now answer this…
QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for the spiritual maturity and vitality of your congregation?
ANSWER: Again, I am!
Really? Are you sure?
If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?
Ask me that again??
There’s a troubling trend in the Church these days. We, in ministry, see the evidence of this all the time.
It can be found in a complaint that, more often than not, sounds like this:
“I’m just not getting fed, here…”
“I don’t experience the presence of God here…”
“The worship no longer ministers to me…”.
And then off they go, out the door, on to another church, … or maybe to no church at all.
The thinking, both of the pastor and the complaining congregants flows from the same fallacy: that the pastor, the church, the elders are somehow responsible for the spiritual condition of those they serve.
Thinking like this, it’s no wonder the Church is diapered in perpetual spiritual infancy.
So, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?
The responsibility riddle can be solved in this important, seldom recognized distinction: Your pastor is responsible to you, but is never responsible for you.
Think about it. A pastor is responsible to the congregation to model mature faith in action, to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, to represent Christ ethically.
Each believer is responsible for what they do with the Word of God: both the preached Word and the Word that sits in their lap, on the bookshelf, or on the coffee table gathering dust.
Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?
Of course not!
How could you be?
When you notice that someone has tried to make you responsible for whatever it is that God has made them responsible for – their attitudes, their behavior, their “stress”, their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you bear responsibility to them, but are never responsible for them.
Do I have a responsibility to my wife? Absolutely!
I am responsible to keep my promises to her. I’ve promised to value her above every breathing human being. I’ve promised to honor her whether she deserves it or not. I’ve promised to pray for her. I’ve promised to champion her toward all God’s called her to be. I’ve promised to be faithful sexually and emotionally. I’ve promised to walk with God and to submit my life to Jesus and his Word. And, I promised to treat her better than she deserves.
And, she is responsible for herself.
When our kids were small and unable to take responsibility for themselves, as parents we bore the responsibility for them. When our pre-teen had a friend over, and they snuck out at night and lit a porta-potty on fire, we were legally responsible—because they were minors and under our supervision.
Now in his twenties, it would be foolish for us to take responsibility for his decisions.
In fact, it would be irresponsible for us to do so.
To take responsibility for another adult is a violation of his or her autonomy.
An invasion of their sovereignty.
It represents a kind of abuse.
When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and incapable of bearing the adult consequences for those choices, what is your impact – really – on that person?
What is the “fruit” that is produced when you persuade another to live irresponsibly?
The distinction of being ‘responsible to’ vs. ‘responsible for’ is central for everyone in leadership.
There’s great freedom when you’re clear about this distinction, and lead in such a way that those you influence are clear about it too.
To stand in life responsible to others and responsible for your own emotional being and destiny may require courage you’ve not been willing to summon, until now.
Time to call it up!
The Price of Love
Courage, I’ve suggested, is living with heart. With you heart fully engaged. Fully invested. Fully in play.
Some would argue that to live this way is expensive. Costly. Reckless. Even dangerous.
To live with your heart withheld is costly, too.
There’s no living without paying prices. Give your heart; there are prices.
Hide your heart; other prices are paid.
So, let’s examine prices that living with heart exacts. Just to be clear about it.
Whenever you care about anyone and anything, you invest some of yourself.
The more you care, the more of you, you invest.
What it could become.
Before long, you entertain how you might be affected. How you might contribute. The good that could come out of it all. How you might benefit… if it works out.
As you do, you give yourself permission to see it. To see as possible what this could lead to. What it could become…
And, as hearts are wont to do, your heart gets gripped.
Not only do you see this as preferable, you begin to love what this might be. Now wanting it, you give yourself to it, a bit at a time. Giving more of yourself as you do. Your time.
As you pour yourself into having it happen… you are changed. Some of what used to capture your attention no longer does.
No longer repressing your enthusiasm, you invite others in.
Most are satisfied to stay on the sideline, amused maybe, watching to see what will happen…
whether your dreams will be dashed or fulfilled…
waiting to see if it’s “safe” to join you.
And, a few are enrolled.
They choose in.
Into the possibility of what could be. As they do, your relationships change.
The stakes are higher now. Greater. “If this thing goes south…”, you catch yourself thinking, “a lot of people could get hurt.” “And, if we succeed…”
Momentum seems to come from nowhere. Connections appear in surprising ways. Provision arrives unexpectedly. It’s like there’s a wind at your back, propelling you forward.
You feel alive.
Life seems to open up before you, to expand.
At the same time, loved-ones caution you not to get in too deep.
Remember the movie Rudy?
You’ve heard the message too: Don’t go too far. Don’t move so fast. What about the risks? What if this doesn’t work?
Don’t you care about us?
All along the way, with your heart engaged, you are paying prices. You set aside the predictable, the familiar, the safe. You wade into foreign waters. So much is unknown, untested, uncertain.
Disappointments come, as they must.
Setbacks catch you off-guard.
Betrayals stun you. Backlash comes from unexpected sources. Supporters withdraw. Criticisms that began as a whisper grow in ferocity. You feel alone.
Each time, your hopeful heart is nicked.
Lanced. Pierced. Wounded. Assaulted.
You want to pull back, dis-invest, protect yourself, be reasonable, find balance, cut your losses.
Most of all, you want to rescue your heart from the hurt.
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves, writes: “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…”
To live and lead with courage is to love so much that your heart is vulnerable to being “wrung and possibly broken”. And yet, when your heart is wrung, or broken, you choose to keep it engaged.
Silencing your survival instincts and trusting God to heal and strengthen your heart, you keep giving yourself — fully – to your life.
This is no small matter. If it were, the world would be full of powerfully courageous leaders.
Imagine if the Church – even your church – was a gathering place, and equipping place, a sending place for leaders like this…
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.
The Truth about Trust (part four)
I’ve asserted that trust can’t be earned—though that’s clearly what most of us have believed. As humans, limited and fallible, we can’t be forever trustworthy (i.e. “worthy of trust”) in every turn and situation.
Some of us work hard to limit our promises to those we’re confident we can keep, to own up as soon as we discover we can’t, and to live as our word—as much as humanly possible. Friends who live this way I eagerly trust.
When they stumble, I’m quick to offer forgiveness, restoration.
Swiftly bestowing trust.
And, to these I bestow trust as well.
Believing they’re capable of living honorably, even if they’ve seldom done so, up ‘till now.
And when I need a ride to the airport at five am, I’m not going to call my more mercurial friends.
That’d be dumb.
Dozens of experiences have taught me what I’ve can expect and from whom. And, when I’m surprised, I try to rapidly bestow trust again…with wisdom.
Years ago a friend at church managed a real estate investment that, for years, had performed impressively. I invested. In a few months, I heard he’d moved to Kansas City. No notice. No forwarding address. Oh, and his email and phone were no longer working…
I’d been had.
I learned that I can trust that man to deceive and steal.
Invest with him again?
That’d be dumb.
And, God, as promised, was faithful to me, providing financially in other ways—while teaching me a great lesson.
This is my conviction: God is fully capable of providing for you and me, healing, comforting, and restoring in the aftermath of loss and betrayal.
My buddy’s wife had an affair. She repented. He forgave. Right away, he bestowed trust while he trusted God to heal his broken heart.
Then, it happened again.
He forgave again. This time, owning his contribution to what wasn’t working in the marriage. They forgave each other. It was powerful. Years have passed and they’re stronger than ever.
As I write this, a legal situation with potentially monumental consequences looms. The outcome unknowable.
So, I trust.
Trust God. The legal team. My financial partners (legal fees are immense). Our intercessors. The justice system. And many who’re standing with Annie and me.
I trust God.
“God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” [I Thes 5:24 NLT]
Because of that, I can trust you, and you, and you, and you.
I choose to.
I bestow trust.
Unless you’re that guy in Kansas City.
The Truth about Trust part four.docx
The Truth about Trust (part two)
Years ago I participated in a ministry that conducts potent character development workshops. Life-changing transformations happen over the course of a weekend. It was a privilege to host or help lead almost thirty workshops across the country.
Invariably, people came because of disappointment with their most important relationships. As each workshop unfolded a familiar pattern recurred:
People had been hurt.
Hurt by parents, an ex, a boss, roommate, business partner, or lover.
They pulled back.
They pulled back further.
Each time, more cautious.
Hiding the heart, hoping to protect it from harm.
Rendering them lonely, isolated, distant from those they love…
And, here’s the rub. Distrusting others may well be “wise” on one hand, but it leaves us empty on the other.
See, we’re all in relationship with human beings.
And humans fail.
Sometimes, even the best of us are selfish.
Because we’re human, we get tired.
We play safe. We play small.
We miss opportunities to live big, generous, courageous, God-honoring lives…
And, when we do, those we love are left holding the bag.
If they do what so many do, they’ll pull back from life, from others. They’ll withhold trust.
And, this leaves them lonely, isolated, and distant from those they say they love.
While I’m sure it seems callous, you can trust this: people will fail you.
Will you “turtle” as a way to protect your precious little tail, and feet, and head?
Safe, in your shell.
Safe and alone.
Will you withhold trust from everyone, or just men, women, people in authority?
God has made you, not just a “conqueror”, but a “more than conqueror” through Christ. [Rom 8:31-37]
That’s God’s doing.
God intends you and I to be so secure, so confident in Jesus Christ, that nothing dissuades us.
Imagine being un-discourageable…
No matter who fails you. No matter how often others drop the ball.
You are clear and confident in your Savior…and connected to people, open, trusting, and vulnerable.
The Truth about Trust part two.docx
The Truth about Trust (part one)
Pretty audacious, right?
How can I claim to know how you trust? And if, by some miracle I do, how can I assert that you misunderstand how you trust people? The way you trust is other than the way you believe you do?
Scripture says the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it? [Jer 17:9] Said more contemporarily: We’re good at fooling ourselves.
Because trust is central to relationships, misunderstanding how we trust causes much mischief…especially when trust’s been broken.
Let me explain.
Most believe that, as largely rational beings, we evaluate the trustworthiness of those with whom we relate. We assess their veracity, and, finding it substantial, we trust them. If we discover them dishonest, mercurial, deceptive, or deceitful we withhold trust.
And when someone we trust betrays that trust, it’s game over!
“I don’t trust you. And I won’t.” (Here’s where the mischief arises.) “Not ‘til you earn my trust again.”
The first falsehood about trust is that trust is earned.
Trust is bestowed.
Think about it.
You see your doctor, maybe recommended by a friend, or based on an online review, or because she’s connected to a reputable medical group. Waiting, as we always do, you don’t suspect the framed diploma on the wall is a forgery do you? The nurse who enters, takes your BP and administers your flu shot could be an impostor…a fraud in a uniform with a stethoscope who walked in off the street.
No. You trust that your Doctor is who she’s portrayed to be, that this is her nurse.
You bestow trust.
If you’re the suspicious type, you make small talk about your Doc’s Alma Mater: “How’d you like New Haven when you were there?” Easily satisfied, you move on.
You say they’ve done nothing to undermine your trust… so you trust them. But honestly, it’s impossible to know a person is completely trustworthy.
After all, we’re human.
Human = limited…imperfect…flawed.
I can have the best intentions to keep my promise to you, respond to a pressing need that’s just arisen, and to not ‘drop the ball’ on any of a dozen other commitments I have in play at the same moment in time: Edit manuscript. Invoice coaching clients. Submit expense reports. Call potential participants for June seminar. Email prayer partners. Invest in marriage.
If I’m honest, I’m not all that trustworthy.
So, why do people trust me?
‘Cause, it’s bestowed, not earned.
The Truth about Trust part one.docx
The Supremacy of Vision (part ten)
In the Garden, Jesus modeled visionary leadership, powerfully.
As scripture reveals, Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. Wrestling with his impending crucifixion, he demonstrates the final key distinction about vision: the leader subordinates her psychology to her vision.
Here’s what I mean:
This agony, we understand, was his natural human response to the anticipation not just of a dreadfully painful execution by crucifixion, but also some kind of separation from the Father [Mt 27:46] for a period of time.
Physiologically, sweating blood is called “hematidrosis”. When capillaries around the sweat glands rupture, and blood oozes through the sweat ducts. It occurs when a person is facing death or highly stressful events, having been seen in prisoners before execution and during the London Blitz.
Hematidrosis indicates just how powerful Jesus emotions were. Bible translators describe his prayer as fervent, urgent, earnest, anguished, and intense.
Fully human, Jesus possessed all his psychology. He experienced the full range of human emotions.
Just like you do.
We see him engaging deep, intense emotion—completely authentic and appropriate in light of what he’s facing. And, he didn’t just emote. He wrestled. He cried out: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” [Lk 22:42a]
It was not for show.
Real, honest, penetrating, intense emotions.
And, he chose to subordinate his emotions to his vision: the will of the Father. He suspended his human preference for emotional resolution (apprehensions comforted, fears assuaged, aloneness addressed, hurt salved, etc.) so that his great, world-changing, eternity-impacting vision could be accomplished.
He resolved: “…yet not my will, but yours be done.”
This is visionary leadership.
Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s team’s research of 1,300 biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders has revealed patters—similarities—in the ways God develop leaders. One is that all leaders experience Leadership Backlash multiple times over their lifetimes. Leadership backlash occurs when leader and followers move to fulfill the vision they’ve agreed upon. Then, when unanticipated difficulties arise, followers turn against the leader, on whom they blame the setbacks.
In backlash, the leader’s psychology is activated. Depending on the leader’s spiritual maturity, those emotions either request, demand, or tantrum to be assuaged. Often isolated, alone, the leader either abandons the vision, or subordinates her psychology to it, like Jesus in the Garden.
This it the pursuit of God-authored vision against all odds, through all resistance—even our own. We have our psychology. But, no longer driven by it, we can marshal its potency to keep us moving toward vision’s fulfillment.
Like Jesus did.
The Supremacy of Vision part ten.docx
“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