A Culture of Cowardice (part five)
I’m a leadership coach for pastors. This is our tenth segment on Leadership Courage, and our fifth exposing a Culture of Cowardice that’s dominated much of the North American Church.
In the Gospels read just the words in red—and see how often Jesus challenged people. He did it all the time. Jesus stood as an interruption to whatever came between his hearers and the Kingdom of God.
Jesus constantly provoked, unsettled, undermined, and challenged those he was with—especially those closest to him.
Jesus loved them enough to offend and oppose what would harm them—even when they cherished it as good, or nice, or comfortable. He loved the rich young ruler enough to spell out exactly what it’d take to inherit eternal life. [Mk 10:21] Love motivated Jesus’ challenge. Love—not for himself, his comfort or reputation—but love for others moved Christ to risk offending them.
I assert that love motivates you to withdraw from challenging and opposing the nonsense and mediocrity your parishioners hold as true. Trouble is, it’s not love for them that keeps you from goring their sacred cows of compromise. No.
It is self-love that fuels your commitment to censor your voice, pastor.
You don’t want to put up with the resistance. Why poke a hornet’s nest? You’re already on thin ice with several stakeholders in the church. Don’t rock the boat. You’re tired enough. Besides, they make you pay whenever your preaching gets too personal.
Thank God that Jesus didn’t fear offending the woman at the well—maybe her whole village would’ve perished–had he played it safe. What if Jesus chose to quench his zeal [Ps 69:9, Jn 2:17] rather than go after the powerful and popular merchants in the temple?
Courageous leadership is leadership with heart.
With your heart fully exposed, fully engaged, fully at-stake. There is no virtue in being a jerk. I’m not advocating that you be oppositional just because you can. Nor am I suggesting that you blast away at whomever and whatever bothers you, just to get something off your chest.
To risk your own security, your comfort, the way others regard you for another’s benefit—that is love!
To stand powerfully resolute, because of love for someone else, in the face of ridicule and rejection—is exactly what Jesus did!
The Heart to Lead
Francis Frangipane asks in The Three Battlegrounds: “Is your love growing and becoming softer, brighter, more daring, and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love is. A measurable decrease in your ability to love is evidence that a stronghold of cold love is developing within you…”
Paul, with all that was at stake in Corinth, governed his own heart so that it stayed open wide, and his affections so that they were not withheld from them. [2 Cor 6:11-13] So rigorously and openly did he give his heart that he was able to call them to reciprocate—his leverage coming from his having gone first!
He called them to a “fair exchange” of affections.
I wonder if, on those occasions when I have been stunned by the absence of affection I’ve encountered, it actually represented a “fair exchange” of the stinginess-of-affection that I’d sown into the relationship.
I too have trained myself to keep my heart carefully cloistered away where it can’t be hurt. Not much. Yet, this protection comes at a great price.
As humans, let alone Christ-followers, we were made for love.
Built to access and share affection readily, easily, generously.
Like little kids do.
Living with and among imperfect human beings, I’ve been hurt and I’ve seen others get hurt.
In the movies and on TV we see characters that give the appearance of being deeply satisfied, fully alive, and relationally connected without the risk of hurt and heartache that love requires.
I once taught myself to live that way.
Denying what I was, and what I was made for… ‘till Christ captured my heart and taught me a new way: a risky way, a vulnerable, dangerous way. Since then, there’s been an accordion-like opening and closing, expanding and compressing of the affections my heart was meant to exude.
This past decade I’ve been intentionally entering the rigor to open my heart wide and to war against the regular impulse to withhold my affection from those I influence. Imperfectly and purposefully I’m giving myself to this dangerous and delightful way of life. Calling others to engage in a “fair exchange” of affection.
What might God do among those you lead, if you were to give up trying to keep your heart “safe”?
What if you trusted God and opened your heart wide to those you lead?
Leveraging your love with them.
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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
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Last time I raised the question: “What are people to you?” We’re talking about the meanings we give to ourselves, to the experiences in our lives, and to others. So, please stop and consider: what meaning have you attached to people?
I don’t mean your ex, or your mother-in-law, or your favorite Olympic athlete.
I mean human beings. The whole bunch of us.
Christianity, I suggest, invites the following:
- People are an opportunity to bring glory to God.
- People are openings for intimacy.
- People are possibilities for experiencing and expanding the Kingdom of God.
What would be created in your relationships, if you chose one of these meanings for the people God puts in your path… co-workers, neighbors, the clerk at the DMV?
What if your congregation embraced these meanings for those in your community who are not members of any church?
If our meaning shifts, what other shifts automatically follow?
For this next week, try one of these meanings on—like you would a sweater. Just put it on, every day, for a week… and see what happens.
Live in it as if it’s true.
As if people are an opportunity for you to bring glory to God. Then, do what comes naturally when “an opportunity to bring glory to God” calls you up, or asks for directions, or slinks into work hung over.
Just do what comes naturally when “an opening for intimacy” comes home late for dinner, forgets her textbook at school, or asks to borrow your golf clubs.
It’s surprising. Once your meaning shifts, a whole lot of other shifts happen all by themselves.
Emotionally, you’ll be different. Instead of frustration you may feel intrigued. Rather than disdain or judgment, anger or indifference, you might experience mercy or kindness, curiosity or compassion.
Since you’ll be feeling differently, your behavior will shift, as well. Not like gritting your teeth and tolerating someone you can’t stand. When the meaning shifts, and your emotions change, you actually behave differently, pretty automatically.
Here’s an example: A relative and I’d had an icy relationship for the several years after I became a fire-breathing Christian. Convicted by God, I began to see how oppositional my stance was.
It broke me.
Repenting, I chose to embrace him as a gift, rather than a threat. Love and kindness replaced fear and judgment. Automatically, I started to see the virtue in him and, just as automatically, I began to affirm it.
The “ice” began to melt almost immediately … and … twenty years later, he gave his heart to Christ.
Coaching Distinctions #24
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Buried in the archaic curiosity of the King James translation is a gem: “…godly sorrow worketh repentance … not to be repented of…”. [2 Cor 7:10]
Repentance that sticks.
Consider that when God sorrows, it’s not the self-serving, feeling-sorry-for-myself kind of sorrow that leads to death. God sorrows for others.
There’s the key to deep and lasting repentance: you must enter into the suffering of others. In this case, the suffering your sinfulness has caused those around you: your spouse, your family, your coworkers, your friends.
A decade ago I was in a workshop participating in exercises and discussions designed to help me see my impact on those I claim to love. Like most everyone I know, I’d made a practice of overlooking how my preference to look good, feel good, be right, and be in control had affected those closest to me. There was so much frustration and sadness and hurt and resignation that I just didn’t see.
Didn’t want to see.
Until… one particularly powerful exercise about the value of life.
In an instant I saw myself as an analyst, with lab coat and clipboard, standing on the sidelines of my own life, carefully studying its complexities. Once I understood, I’d lay down my clipboard and lab coat, walk off the sidelines and into “the game” of life.
Trouble is, while I’m on the sidelines, I’m not in the game.
And, without me, people I love were suffering.
Most poignant, when our kids hit adolescence, the game-changers came with such ferocity and velocity that – for years – I couldn’t figure it out. So… I stayed out of the game. Annie, essentially, parented all six kids through the turbulence and discontinuous change of their adolescence– alone.
In the awful hours that followed, I drank deeply from the cup of their suffering.
Slowly, thoroughly I considered each child and what it would’ve been like for them to traverse the stormy uncertainties from child to adult without their dad… without my love, assurance, encouragement, tenderness, confidence, collaboration, sensitivity, and wisdom.
Not that I’d actually gone anywhere. I’d mastered the art of being present without being present.
Then, I imagined what it must have been like, instead, to get a steady diet of my disappointments, judgments, distance, comparisons with my [idealized] recollections of my own adolescence, demands, and ever-present distraction.
I chose to enter into the loneliness, confusion, isolation, frustration, loss, sorrow, fear, perplexity, discouragement, de-valuing, and opposition they likely experienced because of the way I’d chosen to be.
I let myself feel everything.
Deeply. Influentially. Unrelentingly. Sickeningly.
It broke me.
It devastated me.
It undid me.
Coaching Distinctions #11
#7: A Culture of Cowardice (part three)
We’re seven segments into a series on Leadership Courage. This is our third pass exposing a Culture of Cowardice that I believe has dominated much of the Church in North America. I’ve confined my comments to North America because I have very little exposure to non-Western churches and leaders. Since the US has been exporting what we call “the Gospel” in earnest since WWII, no doubt we’ve packaged and shipped our cultural preferences along with it.
Regrettably, we may have exported a Culture of Cowardice to the foreign field. You who minister cross-culturally can offer your observations from around the globe, by commenting below.
Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve has been eye-opening. He identifies characteristics of chronically anxious families, communities, and societies. While I see ample evidence of these features in American society (just look at our national response to the “Crisis in the Gulf”) it has been stunning to consider how applicable these traits are to Christian churches in our day.
Two articles ago, I suggested that the insipid capacity of the typical congregation to tolerate discomfort has accelerated our orientation away from bold, courageous leadership and centered it on the most needy and emotionally-regressed among us. Last week, I opined that religious political-correctness has become so toxic to courageous leadership that Jesus – not the “Flannelgraph Jesus”, but the historical Jesus of the New Testament – would embarrass many in church today.
Do you find this stunning?
It is my privilege to work with pastors in dozens of denominations—each with their own peculiar polity and priorities. Some systems locate leadership responsibility and authority with the pastor. Others load the pastor with leadership responsibility yet deny her or him the authority to lead. Still others withhold both leadership responsibility and authority from their ministers. Regardless of denominational polity, it has been my observation that no one has as great an opportunity to influence the culture and values of a local church than the Senior Minister. That is why I’ve dedicated my life to standing with and strengthening you.
You who stand in pulpits determine – more than anyone else – what your congregants talk about. To the degree that you choose your title or topic or text when you preach, you inject that into the “congregational conversation”that takes place in the cars and restaurants and kitchens of those who hear. Now, you don’t get to determine what they say about your topic, but you do get to decide what that topic is.
Think about it.
Does your preaching provoke people to think? Do your sermons unsettle the status quo? Do your messages undermine the meaningless mediocrity of most of your members’ lives? Do you challenge your congregation to change?
If not, why not?
Read the Gospels—just the words in red—and notice how often Jesus did exactly that. Jesus stood as an interruption to whatever came between his hearers and the Kingdom of his Father. Jesus constantly provoked, unsettled, undermined, and challenged those he was with.
Jesus loved them enough to offend and oppose that which would do them harm—even when they cherished it as good, or nice, or comfortable. He loved the rich young ruler enough to spell out exactly what it would take for him to inherit eternal life. [Mk 10:21] Love motivated Jesus to challenge the rich guy. Love– not for himself, his own comfort, or reputation– but love for the other moved Christ to risk offending him.
I assert that it, too, is love that motivates you to pull back from challenging and offending and opposing the nonsense and mediocrity your parishoners hold as true. Trouble is, it is not love for them that keeps you from goring their sacred cows of compromise. No. It is self-love that fuels your commitment to censor your voice.
You don’t want to put up with the push back. There’s no point in stirring up a hornet’s nest. You’re already on thin ice with several stakeholders in the church. No need to rock the boat. You’re already tired enough. Besides, they’ve made you pay big time when your preaching got too personal a while back.
Thank God that Jesus didn’t fear offending the woman at the well—maybe she and her whole village would’ve perished–had he played it safe. What if Jesus chose to quench his zeal [Ps 69:9, Jn 2:17] rather than go after the powerful and popular merchants in the temple?
Courageous leadership is leadership with heart. With your heart fully exposed, fully engaged, fully at-stake. There is no virtue in being a jerk. I’m not advocating that you be oppositional just because you can. Nor am I suggesting that you blast away at whomever and whatever bothers you, just to get something off your chest. No, that would be selfish.
To risk your own security, your comfort, the way others regard you for another’s benefit—that is love! To stand powerfully resolute, because of love for someone else, in the face of ridicule and rejection—is exactly what Jesus did!
A decade ago, I attended a series of character development trainings. Each was designed to serve both as a crucible and a spotlight—to allow me to see aspects of my character and my impact on others that I was blind to.
Jean Marie is a powerfully incisive woman who had trained four of my children. She’d heard first-hand what it was like for them to have me as their dad: distant, demanding, disconnected, self-consumed, rigid, judgmental, severe, angry, cold. Then, she facilitated a workshop that Annie attended. She learned of Annie’s frustration, disappointment, loneliness, and anguish with a spouse like me.
For the next five years, Jean Marie served as a coach and trainer for me. I had never met anyone like her. Her love for my family and me was palpable, remarkable, undeniable, and unrelenting. And, so was her full-court press to challenge my self-consumption, to provoke me to consider my true impact on those I love, to undermine my commitment to remain clueless, to interrupt my many excuses and the beliefs that supported them, to oppose my hiding from life when I didn’t know what to do, to offend the arrogance of my belief that the way I viewed life was, in fact, “right”, and to unsettle the confidence I’d placed in my supposed innocence and virtue.
Up to that time, there were people who loved me and overlooked my childishness, selfishness, and playing small. Others, recoiling at the putrid odor of my self-righteousness would have nothing to do with it—or me. Jean Marie was different. She was sickened by the offensiveness of my hypocrisy, and yet she loved me steadfastly. It was her love that held me in the cleansing fire she brought.
Oh, that I would love so well!
What about you?
#5: A Culture of Cowardice (part one)
Who are the exemplars of courage in our culture? To whom does America look when seeking heroes to be our role models? Lady Gaga? Bill Moyers? Dennis Kucinich? Robert Downey Jr.?
Think about it.
Wikipedia defines an endangered species as a population “at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters.” Can you see that all three conditions are true of the Church today?
We’re left with what I call a Culture of Cowardice.
Back in the early 1990’s Dr. Edwin Friedman described America as “a seatbelt society” that is oriented more toward safety than adventure. In A Failure of Nerve he notes that America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression toxic to courageous, well-defined leadership. One effect of societal anxiety is a reduced pain threshold. The result: comfort is valued over the rewards of facing challenges. A culture like this has no stamina in the face of difficulty and crisis.
How well does this describe the contemporary Church?
In our commitment to “being nice” we prioritize togetherness over actually making a difference. In our desire to feel good we bury our heads in the proverbial sand while the culture around us sprints toward its own destruction. According to Friedman dissent is discouraged, feelings take precedence over ideas, peace over progress, comfort over anything new, and cloistered virtues over adventure. The press within church for togetherness smothers bold, daring, world-changing action – like we see in the Book of Acts – and those who are courageous enough to engage it.
What emerges, stunningly, is a culture that is so “nice”, so fixated on empathy that it organizes itself around the most immature, most dependent, most dysfunctional members.
Or, haven’t you noticed?
The average church in America has fewer than 80 in attendance and has been in decline for decades, fewer than 5% of their members tithe and the majority contribute nothing at all, and most fail to see a single convert to the Christian faith a year.
Who has hijacked the agenda in most of America’s churches? The least courageous, least responsible, and least emotionally and spiritually mature have taken most churches captive.
Courageous leadership, by nature, is decisive. And, the Latin root of decisive means “to cut”. But, it is not “nice” to cut anything away, to cut anything off, to cut anything out—even a toxic presence that – like a parasite – survives by sucking the life out of those who are healthy. To lead with heart is to stand for what’s best, simply because it is best—even when it is unpopular. Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church.
Courageous leadership, by nature, is clear. Such a leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, her values and priorities. The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you will be. And, therein lies the problem. As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals. As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not “up” for going where you’re going. Stay foggy and many will stick with you, wandering in impotent ambiguity.
Courageous leadership, by nature, is disruptive. Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction. They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead. Many interpret their leadership as crisis-inducing. Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed on the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated simply by the leader doing exactly what he or she should be doing. Yet, how reluctant is anyone in church leadership to lead in such a way as to invite a crisis for long-standing church members?
As a leadership coach and consultant to pastors, my life’s work is to champion Christian influencers to find their hearts and to fully re-engage them in this great, important struggle to stir the Church from its slumber. There is no altogether “nice” way to do this.
Just five verses into his story, Jonah is sound asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, is stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so important a moment – wakes him demanding: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jon1:6] Get this: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber—calling him to take action with God lest the “community” they were part of be plunged to ruin.
Look around you. Is not the community around your church caught in a destructive storm? A moral, ethical, spiritual, relational hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society? Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the nether regions of the culture?
To awaken the Church, her leaders must first rouse themselves. Then, embracing the opportunity provided by this life, they can stand clearly, decisively, and disruptively to awaken their churches to enter the glorious and dangerous fight for the redemption of the un-churched near them.
What else would a courageous Christian do?
#3: 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 from your own life and 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 deeply you care, the more of you, you invest.
Before long, you begin to 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 all works out.
As you do, you give yourself permission to see it. To see as possible what this could lead to. What it could turn into…
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 go. Your time. Your focus. Your attention. As you pour yourself into having it happen… you are changed. Some of what had captured your attention no longer does.
No longer repressing your enthusiasm, you invite others in with you.
Some back away. They want nothing to do with your stupid dream.
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 now higher. 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. Energized. Hopeful. 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? The scene at the bus station when Rudy’s decision to try to get into Notre Dame is confronted by his father: “Chasing a stupid dream causes you and everyone around you nothing but heartache…” 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, 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…
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#1: 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. To attempt 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 engaged.
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 so fast and loose with that heart of yours. You’ve learned to be cautious. Protective. Watchful.
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 ASAP!
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. Hard words. Harsh words. 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. And, a little farther from your dreams. Closer to your chest. 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. Safe. Unexposed. Invulnerable. Impenetrable. 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 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 pulls others to get in with you. You and those you inspire become fully alive.
The glory of God.