We’re seven installments into an examination of the role and nature of vision in leadership.
We’ve considered how a compelling vision has the power to call us through the difficulty and discomfort of our own transformation; transformation in you that’s essential for the vision to become reality. We evaluated the urgent need for the Church to be alive, awake, and influential in a culture that—as Edwin Friedman observed—is chronically anxious. I challenged pastors to focus vision on those outside the Church. Not on those within it. Then, we looked at the essential interplay between the vision of leaders and followers necessary for people live into change.
“Grounding” means the soil—the dirt—in which vision is planted … and from which it springs.
Only vision that emerges from the revealed will of God, via God’s inerrant Word is legitimate for the Christ follower. When leaders take it upon themselves to concoct notions of a preferable future to which they’re committed it’s doubly disastrous.They’ve deceived themselves and who follow. This is one reason why Christian leaders face harsher judgment.
Consider James’ warning: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…” [Jas 3:1,5a]
Ever observed a religious ceremony in an arm of the Church different than yours…and been bewildered by the “peculiar-ness” (I’m being polite) of whatever it was they were doing?
Ever had a denominational executive explain why their particular denomination exists, and what prompted it to sever relations with whomever they were aligned before? Did the explanation make any sense at all in advancing the cause of Christ in the Earth?
Have you ever questioned the motivation behind sprawling mega-church complexes where up to $100 million gets poured into elaborate buildings and beautiful grounds—that, for all practical purposes only benefit believers?
Jesus’ vision was grounded in the Father’s will. Nothing else.
“…the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” [Jn 5:19]
“Father…take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Lk 22:42]
And, if you hadn’t noticed, the Father apparently was not interested in bizarre religious rituals, political hair-splitting, and self-eggrandizing empire-building.
The grounding for vision, yours, your church’s, your ministry’s, your denomination’s can only be the Scripture. Now, I don’t mean an obscure proof-text here and there. I mean the whole counsel of God. [Act 20:27]
The grounding of vision is the Word of God. Nothing else will do.
The Grounding of Vision part seven.docx
Principle #1- Focus on you
There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict.
For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll keep good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.
If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, yet conflict seems to dog your path. See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet. Why? Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are a few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples; one of them is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18].
The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef.
Let that sink in a little.
Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!
For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.
This flies in the face of our natural tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in conflict with anyone, you have a contribution!
Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then a friend challenged me to discover how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to initiate relationship with one of them. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.
Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you’ve had about that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged.
Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out.
People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mentioned it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.
Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.
In thousands of messages we’re told: “you’ve gotta do a, b, and c in order to have x, y, and z so that you can be: smart, important, respected, beautiful, famous, admired, significant, wealthy, important, successful…somebody”.
Yet, Christ modeled a completely different way of living. “I AM the Father’s Son, so I DO what I see my father doing, and I HAVE the glory intended for me.” [Jn 5:19-23]
Of us, he says: “We ARE his handiwork, we DO the good God intended for us to do, as a result we HAVE been brought near to God [Eph 2:10,13]
BE>DO>HAVE is the way of the Kingdom of God.
Think about it.
In this view, people are a threat. If your roommate has what you think you’re supposed to have, you’ll view her as a competitor. If a co-worker does what you think you need to do—or does it faster, better, quicker—you’ll naturally interpret this as a hazard to your becoming.
Rather than being blessed for someone’s success, you feel diminished—in some crazy way. So you’re jealous, bitter, resentful, or worse!
Notice your language. If you frequently evaluate yourself in reference to others (better, prettier, less than, better paid, faster, less successful, smarter, taller, less popular) you’re living DO>HAVE>BE.
A mentor, Lawrence Edwards once told me “comparison is the seedbed of envy”. Envy is deadly to relationships. [Mk 7:22]
In DO>HAVE>BE you can’t be generous, because anything you give away reduces what you have left. And that shrinks your significance.
But living BE>DO>HAVE your identity is solid, secure, intact. It’s not based on performance, other’s opinions, or what you have. You are. And, secure in who you are, you live generously with praise, talent, friendship, resources, opportunities, material goods, wisdom, esteem, perspective.
Pastor, is that church down the street a competitor or an opening for you to bring glory to God?
It all depends…on you.
Coaching Distinctions #85.doc
As a sincere Christ-follower it’s easy to develop a convoluted relationship with striving, with industriousness, and with determined, diligent labor. On the one hand, we aspire to live peacefully [Rom 12:18], to be unfazed amid difficulty [Jn 14:27], and to enter into God’s rest [Heb 4:1].
And, on the other hand we struggle against sin [Heb 12:4], agonize to enter the Kingdom [Lk 13:24], and strive for mastery in the Christian life [2 Tim 2:5].
And, many times God has me in situations where I can’t do anything to rescue myself. All I can do is trust Christ and embrace my powerlessness.
Over a decade ago I attended a powerful character development workshop that transfromed my understanding of and relationship with doing. Let me share it with you.
The transformation hinges on the fundamental ways you understand yourself. Shift this understanding, and much about your relationship with doing will shift…radically. I say “relationship with doing” because each of us has one. Just like your relationship with a sister or cousin, you relate to doing in specific ways. For many of us, they’re not helpful.
The relationship is revealed in the way most of us approach any goal, obstacle, or desire. Someone asks what you want to be when you grow up. Oh, a doctor. Well then, you should…get great grades, go to medical school, pass your boards, and get hired by a top hospital.
To be beautiful, go to the gym and the plastic surgeon, get a perfect face and body.
Think of it as an equation: DO > HAVE > BE.
DO go to school, HAVE your Juris Doctor and pass the bar, BE an attorney.
DO dig wells in Kenya, HAVE the esteem of friends and family, BE a good person.
DO get ripped abs (and hair implants), HAVE a great body, BE attractive.
DO perfect your preaching, HAVE a large congregation, BE a successful pastor.
DO gather 400 to your High School ministry, HAVE the biggest youth group in town, BE somebody.
DO launch a radio ministry, HAVE airtime on hundreds of radio stations, BE an international sensation.
What’s the alternative?
BE > DO > HAVE.
Coaching Distinctions #83.doc
Coaching pastors in the development of their leadership, it is important to distinguish between the leader’s intention and her impact. Much of the time, my clients’ intentions are good…or, neutral.
Yet their impact is sometimes far from either.
This creates an important opening for some catalytic coaching.
Possibly originating with Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, the concept burst into prominence in 1936 in an article by sociologist Robert Merton. The general notion is this: in a complex system, any effort to engineer a beneficial outcome can be thwarted by the emergence of unanticipated and often undesirable effects.
In other words: impact, not intention.
Leaders are influencers. There’s no leadership apart from influencing others.
And, leaders—no matter how highly skilled—at times create an impact other than what they intend.
As a leader it is imperative to manage your impact, regardless of the nobility of your intention.
Every married person, no doubt, has conjured up a plan to bless their mate, only to have it “blow up” … producing a very undesirable result.
About 15 months into our hand-to-mouth existence as a newly married couple, I though we’d finally saved enough money to take our first vacation.
Thinking it would “bless” our wives if Rich and I handled all the details, we did.
We chose the destination: the seaside community of Marblehead, Mass, the means of transportation: 38 hours in a two-door Buick [far too cramped for two couples and two babies], lodgings along the way: relatives and friends (to conserve our cash), and our ultimate destination: a roadside motel that stunk of mildew and the last guests, who typically stayed only a few hours at a time.
The trip was a disaster—and Annie endured, dreading every minute of it!
Any woman reading will have already exclaimed: “Kirk, what were you thinking??!!!”
And, my answer illustrates the importance of this distinction. See, my intentions—while wrongheaded, seemed innocent enough to me. And, I defended myself for weeks on that basis.
But, the undeniable reality is that I overlooked, frustrated, devalued, hurt, and dishonored Annie.
THAT’s my impact.
Until I address my impact, own it, and make amends for it, there’s no movement toward reconciliation.
Intentions are irrelevant.
It’s my impact I must respond to.
Coaching distinctions #59.doc
I thank God for the gift of repentance. For the provision in the atonement, of forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration of relationship when I do. What’s troubled me, though, is how often I seem to be “returning to the well”: asking forgiveness over and over again for the same things.
What about you?
Since “repentance” means to turn and walk the other way, why is it that we so often turn back?
Why do we repent of our repentance?
I get that I’m fallen. Human. Frail. All that. And I get that Christ lives in me [Col 1:27]. That God has given me everything I need for life and godliness [2 Pt 1:3].
So, what of all this repenting and turning back and repenting again?
What does it take for repentance to stick?
Long ago, when I was a devoted “King James Christian”, 2 Corinthians 7:10 caught my attention. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Godly sorrow produces repentance we don’t repent of. Repentance that sticks!
So, what kind of sorrow is “godly”? How does God sorrow that is so different than the “sorrow of the world”?
When the “world” sorrows, it sorrows for itself. It is sorry it got caught. It is sorry for its loss. It is sorry things didn’t turn out better. Sorry there are prices to be paid because of its poor choices. Sad that it behaved the way it did. Poor decisions produced outcomes it didn’t intend or choose.
That’s why worldly sorrow leads to death.
It is self-consumed.
Consider how differently God sorrows. As mentioned last time, when God sorrows, it is for us. Why did Jesus weep at the tomb? He was impaled by the grief of Mary and those who loved her and Lazarus [Jn 11:35].
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he contemplates the difficulty that’s about to befall its residents, and he weeps for them [Lk19:41-44]. God’s concern is not himself but others.
And, I think, that’s the key.
Repentance that sticks emerges from truly and deeply and honestly and gut-wrenchingly sorrowing for others.
This kind of repentance requires that we drink deeply from the cup of their suffering. The suffering we have brought on, whether intended or not.
It is slow, awful work to honestly consider the impact of our selfishness on others. To climb into their skin and feel the pain we’ve caused them.
Yes, it’s horrible.
The older I get the more sure I am that it is impossible to control anyone … other than myself.
And, controlling myself is a full-time job.
Ironic that we invest so much energy and effort trying to control that which is most uncontrollable: another human being.
Don’t believe me?
Try raising a child.
You may eventually soothe your bellowing newborn, but not before dozens of attempts to quiet her went unheeded.
Undaunted by the reality that we can’t control our kids, co-workers, congregation, or spouse, we continually employ strategies in an attempt to do just that.
The beleaguered clerk who, after being humiliated at work, comes home and browbeats her spouse.
A teen who, feeling powerless to communicate effectively with his parents, steals the car and runs away from home.
The spouse of the rapidly-ascending politician who suddenly comes down with a mysterious illness and can no longer make public appearances.
An elder who, being confronted, deftly pivots and attacks the semantics or logic of the person raising the concern.
The denominational executive, discouraged by the anemia in the churches under her influence, who travels from one seminar to the next hoping something will happen to stem the tide of attendance and financial declines.
A minister who pretends not to see troubling immorality among church officials, hoping it will all take care of itself.
These control strategies have enormous prices attached to them. Prices are extracted from the perpetrator and those connected to him. When I’m with a coaching client who’s operating out of the formidable four, we explore the impact on those closest to the client.
What prices are your loved-ones, co-workers, congregants paying?
What do you think it’s like to be in relationship with you?
The key is to drill down far enough until the client has embraced – both mentally and emotionally – the devastation caused others. This is slow, painful work.
To be impacted by the pain one’s control strategies have caused others is central to repentance.
The Apostle Paul noted: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Cor 7:10] See, worldly sorrow is sorrow for myself.
But when God sorrows, God sorrows for us. [Lk 19:41] So, to truly repent from our commitments to the formidable four, the pathway runs straight into the suffering we cause others.
From this place, repentance lasts a lifetime
Coaching Distinctions # 9
Leadership Courage Series # 34
Last time, I used the phrase “do what’s right because it’s right, whether it works or not.” I learned this from a friend, who says he learned it from the Lord. His wife had lost both her parents to cancer. One after the other. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.
The impact was devastating. She was always the strong one for her parents and siblings. Amazing everyone, she stood like Gibraltar: an emotional and spiritual fortress in a storm of incalculable ferocity.
Banished from his home, his wife, and his children.
With tears in his eyes, Tom promised me that he’d do what was right for his wife, because it was right, whether it “worked” or not.
Whether he’d ever be able to move home. Ever hold his wife again. Ever have a meal at with his children at their table.
Leaders go first.
Which means they do GO. Leaders move into the unknown. They realize they cannot afford to wait until there’s no risk left. Guided by their values and attending to their functioning moral compass, they move.
This is what Tom chose to do. To respond tenderly, mercifully, patiently, lovingly, forgivingly, kindly. While facing a great threat to his and his family’s future. There was no MapQuest with navigation instructions. No one he knew had faced something like this. Nothing about it made sense.
It didn’t have to.
His commitment was to do right by his wife.
Courageous leaders have learned to govern themselves, to manage their emotional reactivity, to restrain their impulsivity. Like, the impulse for revenge. To employ terrorist tactics. Or zero-sum strategies. And the ever-present impulse to resist another’s resistance.
Instead, she surrenders herself to integrity. Her integrity. And, she entrusts herself to God, being obedient, as best she can, to what she knows to be right.
A Christian leader cannot afford to be capricious, impetuous, or mercurial. If they are, those they lead cannot follow. And, leaders are only leaders when people follow them.
It’s incumbent upon leaders in the Church to do what we know to be right. Because, when we don’t, we compromise ourselves. When you compromise your own integrity, you commit moral suicide.
When you fail to do what you know to be right, you immediately lose esteem for yourself. The antidote to low self-esteem is not the empty pumping up of those who live without integrity. It is to live a life that you yourself esteem. That you respect. To quote my friend Tom, you do what’s right.
One tragedy of Christian leadership in our day is that far too many suffer from this malady. Collapsing on what they know to be right, the erosion of esteem begins its inexorable advance.
Confidence is undermined.
One collapse breeds another.
Compromised, the leader looks outside to determine direction. Like the politician taking cues from polling data, she’s straining to sense the political winds rather than standing on the moral certitude of doing what’s right.
The question is no longer “what’s right?” but “what’ll work?” And, adrift of one’s ethical moorings, the tragedies mount up.
And, this is what passes for leadership in a culture of cowardice.
What if the Church in our nation determined to do what we know to be right, simply because it is right? What if honor and integrity supplanted expediency and political advantage?
How might we then live?
How might our society respond?
Leadership Courage Series # 27
Pastor, who you are is more important than anything you say.
Who you are is more important than everything you say!
This Leadership Courage Series is a call to the courageous, risky life leaders lived in the Church of the New Testament. It stands in glaring contrast to the lifestyle of the professional clergy that, more often than not, resembles tenured professors at our nation’s universities…without the taxpayer-funded salary package.
This is primarily troubling because you are not primarily an educator… you are a role model.
Just like Timothy, Paul, Priscilla & Aquila, Barnabas, John, and Stephen.
Yes, just like them.
If not you, then who?
Who else is to model the vibrant, sold-out Christian life than you, your elders, and leaders?
Those who write books, like those who traverse the Christian speaking circuit, don’t provide the regular proximity and access that you, as shepherd of a local congregation, do– unless you hide in your study and only emerge when it’s time to preach or run a meeting.
Think about those words: proximity and access.
If, however, you’ve raised your way-of-living to match your preaching or lowered your preaching to that which you actually live, those words will resonate with your heart right now.
See, when your life is “Chamberlainian” [see last week’s blog], the dissonance between it and the biblical message undercuts your effectiveness as a leader of God’s women and men.
And, when your living is “Churchillian”, the bravery to which you call your congregation is the same as the courage you routinely summon to bring God’s reign to the chaos and disorder that has besieged your community.
One of my all-time favorite preachers is Mike Erre. Mike’s always been an amazing Bible expositor and communicator. Biblically-sound. Funny. Profound. Engaging. Illuminating. Winsome.
In recent years, a medical crisis has befallen someone very dear to Mike and Justina. A crisis from which there’s no recovery. None.
Mike’s preaching has gained gravitas. Like Jesus had, when the scholars marveled at his understanding [Lk 2:47] and when demons quaked in his presence [Mk 5:7].
You can sense it when you’re around Mike. This man knows what it is to follow Jesus no matter what.
When you live in harmony with the Biblical message, you have gravitas.
So does your preaching.
When you don’t, your sermons are hollow. And that hollowness drives folks away.
Some of the first to go are the true believers. The uncompromising. The bold. The spirited. The gutsy. Those who read their Bibles and believe that it says what it says. That it means what it means.
The people who long for authenticity. Not theory. They want to associate with a faith community that will live this stuff – Jesus’ stuff – like it’s real. Because it is.