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.
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
In many quarters of the Church, the contemporary understanding is that Christianity is lived in the passive voice. Wikipedia says: “the passive voice denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).”
The assumption is that the Christ-follower empties herself of all ambition and self-determination and simply waits, patiently, for God to move gloriously upon her life.
Problem is, it’s not biblical. It’s Buddhism.
How much ‘straining’ and ‘pressing on’ do you see in the Church today?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...” [Lk 13:24 NIV] In the Greek “make every effort” is agonizomai. Sounds a lot like “agonize” doesn’t it?
Consider Mt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been taken by storm and eager men are forcing their way into it.” [Philips New Testament]
Are these texts familiar to you?
The assumption that Christianity is lived in passive reflection—and our preoccupation with what we’re against—may have contributed mightily to the historic decline in Christian adherence in the West.
Especially among those under 35.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who … if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
How well Terry Roosevelt’s words describe the noble and rigorous Christian life!
Around the US, pastors are breaking out of the “please-the-parishioner” mold, and are leading members into their cities, daring valiantly to minister regularly and unconditionally to those outside. Though they make mistakes, the sincerity of their motive procures a response of surprise and gratitude from those outside… and eventually, an openness to the claims of Christ.
And, in their churches some oppose and criticize, hoping to undermine these risky and selfless ministry endeavors.
Cold and timid souls.
Coaching distinctions #47.doc
How does a minister develop tenacity … particularly when the surrounding culture is increasingly committed to relieving tension—in the short run—without regard to the long term consequences?
Tenacity is defined as the capacity to stick—like super glue—to one’s commitments. The word comes from the Latin tenere which means “to hold”.
This isn’t new.
The collapse of just about every great empire has been presaged by a similar shift. These once-great societies collapsed from within. Like tall trees hollowed by pine beetles, when opposing winds came, they lacked the fiber to stand.
I’m reminded of a moment early in the “Battle of Carthage” scene in Gladiator when Maximus draws his fellow gladiators into a tight circle, shields surrounding them. As well-armed chariots approach—and their every impulse is to run—he urges them to “Hold!…Hold!…Hold!” ‘till the charioteers are almost upon them. As a result, they overthrow their attackers and win a most improbable victory.
It is this act of holding that is essential to pastoral leadership in our day.
With my CRM teammates, I facilitate a leadership development and change process with Senior Pastors and their churches. Our goal is to strengthen the leadership character of pastors so they can lead their congregations through a massive cultural change: from consuming religious education and entertainment to ministering influentially to the un-churched in their communities. It’s been my privilege to work with dozens of churches all across the denominational spectrum. Initially, almost everyone agrees to become a missionally-effective church.
Yet, saboteurs abound!
Like the pine beetle, their largely covert opposition eats away at the church’s commitment to what it knows it must become.
Quick-fix fantasies emerge and gain a ready following. People take sides.
The lead pastor’s tenacity is essential.
So, from the outset, we work to strengthen the pastors’ capacity to hold.
By creating scenarios that invite opposition on a small level while monitoring, via coaching, the pastor’s responses to it. Over many months of facing gradually-increasing resistance, reFocusing pastors increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety—first in themselves; then in their congregations.
Walking with a coach and several other senior pastors who are encountering the same challenges in their congregations, the pastor develops the fiber to Hold!…Hold!…Hold! to what God has called them.
Coaching distinctions #41.doc
Our example is the Duomo di Firenze: an architect’s vision of a majestic cathedral with a dome so immense that it could not have been built when he conceived it.
At 142 feet it would be larger than the domes of the U.S. Capitol, St. Paul’s in London, the Pantheon in Rome, and St. Peters in Vatican City. When it was finally constructed, it remained the largest dome in the world for almost five hundred years!
More than eighty years after construction commenced, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi was born. In his 20’s he moved to Rome. For three years he studied architecture with a buddy named Donatello. If you watch the History Channel (I don’t) you’ll know that name. Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon, the largest dome then in existence. How it’d been built was an architectural and engineering conundrum.
Brunelleschi made several significant discoveries. Returning to Florence, he convinced the builders that he had a method to put di Cambio’s dome on the cathedral. This solution was ground-breaking on several fronts. The innovations Brunelleschi employed, however, are not our focus today. What is, is the commitment to the completion of this cathedral by generations of people who’d never see it with their own eyes.
Leaders are not those with the best ideas or superior methods. Leaders have developed the strengths of character and the capacity to self-management so that they sustain movement in pursuit of what God’s called them to without giving up.
And, they do it in a way that motivates and mobilizes others in the pursuit of that great vision.
More than 2,000 years ago Jesus did this too. He laid out a vision of the Kingdom of God in ways that people could grasp.
Lots of ways.
In scores of demonstrations of God’s mercy, supernatural power, the stories he told and word pictures he used, and an occasional sermon. Most often, Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom by the way he lived and moved among the people.
This is our great and noble task today. To live in such a way that the Kingdom of God is demonstrated over and over in ways that people get.
My invitation is to join with those who’ll do this to their last breath and will have prepared a couple generations who’ll follow just as passionately and powerfully for as long as they have breath.
Think of it as a cathedral of great, influential human lives.
Coaching distinctions #40.doc
As a coach to pastors and Christian influencers, I’m sometimes surprised at the vacillating commitment of we who claim to be Christ’s. I completely understand that life gets tough … so much so that, at times, I want to tear the hair from my head.
What I struggle to appreciate is the apparent over-arching power of the option to collapse on one’s vision and thereby escape the tension of living between what is and what God’s called us to.
Last week, Annie and I were with friends on a Segway Tour in Florence, Italy. I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to museums, tours, and lectures about things that occurred centuries ago. I’m much like Charlie Brown: “Bla, bla, bla… gelato!!… bla, bla, bla”.
But, as our guide was describing “the Duomo”, an incredible domed cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, I lit up.
An architect named di Cambio, designed it in the 1200’s with a massive eight-sided dome, and convinced the city council to build it.
Trouble is, nowhere on earth did the technology exist to build that dome! So, construction began on the immense cathedral in 1296… and when they got to the dome … they could not go forward.
For the next 120 years, eight architects worked the problem without success.
Think about it.
Six generations coming and going without a dome atop the greatest cathedral in Tuscany.
How many of us sustain our commitment for 120 months, 120 weeks, 120 days?
- Your first marriage?
- Your relationship with an angry, distant teen?
- An initiative to reach your neighborhood for Christ?
- Turning your congregation from entitled religious consumers to maturing ministers of the goodness of God?
- Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an embattled pastor whose desire is to bring the congregation into Christ-likeness?
I’ve watched many Christian pastors begin well, then collapse when confronted by opposition.
Usually their undoing is the resistance of church members activated by elevated anxiety. Anxiety because they’re so unaccustomed to trusting Christ in the midst of difficulty. Or, because when given the opportunity to live distinctly Christian lives they’re so out of practice they’d rather do anything else.
Watching these leaders succumb could break my heart, if I let it.
But then, I would’ve collapsed on the vision God’s given me. That vision is to strengthen the character of Christian leaders so that the churches they influence live courageously for the Kingdom of God.
Next time, we’ll return to the story of the Duomo and the commitment to a vision that took more than a century to apprehend.
Stay with me.
Coaching distinctions #39.doc