Leading

Leadership Courage (part eighteen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part four)

After illuminating characteristics of a Culture of Cowardice and making sobering observations about how appropriately it applies to the Church in North America today, we’ve turned our attention to the kind of leadership that can serve to restore the Church to a place of redemptive influence in society.

Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation defines a leader as a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence. Last week, we unpacked some of what it means to be self-defined, or as my CRM teammates prefer: “God-defined”.

Today, a non-anxious presence.

A non-anxious presence does not mean carefree, laid-back, detached, or disengaged.

18 stormIt means an absence of anxiety.

As a powerful squall threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples are a mess. Nervous. Fearful. Panicked. Jesus is … asleep. [Mk 4:38]

Non-anxious.

After benefiting from the miracle of the loaves and fish the crowd wants Jesus to seize political control, overthrow the Romans, declare himself King. His response was simply to withdraw to a solitary place, alone.

Non-anxious.

A non-anxious presence is easy to carry off when your leadership is well received, when people are saying great things about you, when folks are happy and grateful for you.

A non-anxious presence is essential when anxiety appears omnipresent.

Recall the phrase: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.” The less mature are always attempting to enroll others in their disquiet, their “crisis du jour”. A perceived catastrophe on the part of certain members of the congregation does not constitute a calamity for a well-defined leader.

18 wringingDo you think for one minute that God, in Heaven, is wringing his hands over that leaky roof, or the lawsuit brought against the church, or the lousy turnout at the society meeting?

I often remind my coaching clients that God is not looking down at them stunned, saying: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t see that coming!”

And, since God is fully aware of your predicament, what do you suppose God wants to do in you as a result?

You who are in ministry are in “the people development business”.

And so is God.

What do you suppose that God is working to develop in you, through your present difficulties?

Leadership Courage (part seventeen):

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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]

Clear.

Focused.

Unfazed.

Self-defined.

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.

17 solitudeOr haven’t you noticed?

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.

Why?

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.

How’s yours?

Leadership Courage (part sixteen):

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part two)

Last time, I encouraged you to notice Jesus’ clarity as he moves through his relationships and through his world. It’s evidence of his embodiment of the first of nine crucial leadership postures for pastors:

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.

At age twelve, Jesus is 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]

16 megaphoneLater, his brothers press him to go to the Feast, reasoning that a public figure cannot rally a following without showing up in a big way at these big cultural gatherings.

Jesus response is interesting.

He didn’t say: “Wow, you’re right! How am I going to establish a movement if I don’t show the world who I am and what I have to say?” Nor did he say: “Quit giving me your stupid advice! For the last time, I’m not interested in becoming a political leader. Sheesh, you idiots just don’t get it!”

A self-defined person, he says: “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” [Jn 7:2-8]

My CRM teammates prefer this small modification to Friedman’s definition of a leader: “a God-defined person with a non-anxious presence.”

16 AwakenThey developed the Awaken Workshop to help Christians study and pray over their own lives, relationships, experiences, heart-passions, and values for one purpose: to extract from the remarkable investment of God in each life the unique calling God has for that person. Awaken is nine vigorous, intentional hours dedicated to uncover the clues to who you are and why you’re here.

How much concentrated time have you devoted to discovering the special impact God intends you to make with your life? [Eph 2:10]

Is it any wonder you’re fuzzy about what God’s calling to you might be?

16 noArmed with clarity about her calling, a mature, self-defined leader has little difficulty saying “no”.

In fact, the clearer she becomes, the more she says “no” to the many good, honorable, helpful things that would take her away from living her central calling from God.

She’s not threatened when people don’t see things the way she does. She does not need the agreement of others to bolster her confidence.

She is clear.

Decisive.

She understands her calling. She is proactive about setting her life up to live that calling from God. Unapologetically.

Like Jesus.

Leadership Courage (part fifteen):

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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?

15 failure of nervePicture 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.

15 maskIt’s not enough to intellectually know who you are called to be and the unique difference you’ve been prepared to make [Eph 2:10] and then to live as if you were someone else.

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.

Consider Jesus.

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.

Do you?

Leadership Courage (part fourteen)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part nine)

In this series, we’re examining a culture of cowardice that, in my view, seems to saturate much of the American Church—contributing to our diminishing influence in society.

Consider how often we cover up truth when a Christian leader falls.

For several decades now, we in the Church routinely sweep these humiliations under the rug: the priest is relocated to a new parish, the pastor takes a seminary position, the missionary goes on furlough, and the youth leader enrolls in graduate school.

Those close enough to the transgression to have been among the collateral damage just leave…the church…the faith…and our stand for liberating truth. [John 8:32]

Paul counsels Timothy against favoritism in leading the church and administering discipline.

And yet, isn’t that exactly what we’re doing?

14 pablumYears ago, I learned about an egregious ethical compromise by a nationally visible leader with whom I worked. My attempts to influence a correction were thwarted, so I resigned. The public explanation the leader provided was typical of the positive-sounding pablum of most such announcements. It said … nothing.

And, saying nothing, it succeeded in communicating one clear message: “You are not getting the truth.”

So, when people close to the situation asked why I’d resigned, I told them. I shared my errors in judgment, my failure to act years before when prompted by God: the ways my cowardice contributed to the leader’s collapse. And, I shared, honestly as I know, what this respected leader had done.

No cover up.

Full disclosure.

14 lightWhen we claim to be “children of light” and switch off the light when what it reveals is unpleasant or uncomely or uncomfortable… are we not hypocrites?

In a way, aren’t we strengthening the darkness? Doesn’t the darkness thicken when the Church fails to stand as light in life?

Paul, to the church in Ephesus wrote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.” [Eph 5:8-14]

Living in a Culture of Cowardice, we find it awkward to expose darkness the way Paul instructs. Orienting ourselves around the least mature, our response to moral failure is to go easy on the fallen leader. We tell ourselves that the “restoration” of the fallen leader is most important. So we keep the indiscretion secret. We keep it in the dark.

Paul didn’t see it that way.

In the business of making mature disciples, courageous leaders will mourn with those who fall and warn everyone else, lest we disavow the truth we profess by the way we lead…and undermine Christ’s message to the world.

Clear?

Leadership Courage (part thirteen)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part eight)

How come when a prominent Christian leader falls, it is so often shrouded in darkness? The secrecy so often persists until the police, the media, or the victim of the leadership abuse brings it into the light. How often are those illuminations met with skillfully-articulately denials or a minimizing reinterpretation of the offense?

Is it just me, or do you see it, too?

We who are Christian, are fond of reciting John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, particularly when the topic is evangelism. Trouble is, our behavior – at very important times and in very important ways – covers up truth.

The Greek word translated “truth” is alethia.

It means “reality”.

What is.

13 cover upYet, in times of crisis (like when a minister falls in sin), we invest ourselves in elaborate cover-ups. One reason we do, I think, is we’ve forgotten what business we’re in.

Is it any wonder that those outside our faith community scratch their heads?

What are they to think when we froth at the mouth about the “truth” of our Gospel and then behave in ways that endeavor to keep truth hidden away?

Were the roles reversed, what would you think? How likely would you be to consider their faith claims?

Andy Stanley in The Next Generation Leader identifies courage as central to leadership. One way leadership courage expresses itself, he says, is in recognizing and declaring current reality—regardless of how embarrassing or discouraging it may be. When a prominent pastor falls, the courageous around him or her will honestly and forthrightly communicate the truth of what happened.

Why?

In the people-development business, rather than the keep-the-people-comfortable business, they recognize this as a critical character-development opportunity.

A leadership failure is “ground zero” to anchor the values that are central to how we, as Christ-followers, are committed live.

When Paul instructed Timothy: “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” [2 Tim 5:20], he placed the benefit to “the others” above whatever difficulty the leaders who have to mop up the mess, or the fallen elder, would encounter. And, “the others” are not just Christians, but those outside who are intently watching how we live.

Leadership Courage (part twelve)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part seven)

Recently, I’ve invited you to consider to what degree a Culture of Cowardice has taken hold in the Church. My purpose is to invite you, Christian leader, pastor, denominational executive to a place of uneasiness, even painful discomfort.

Why?

Pain is necessary for change.

 

We’d prefer to believe that an appropriately reasonable explanation, cloaked in kindness, is all that’s needed for humans to embrace the adventure and uncertainty of the unknown. Since the Enlightenment, I suppose, societies have assumed that knowledge of what’s better will result in people making the reasoned choice to change.

But, do they?

More to the point, do you?

One condition that’s welcomed the stagnation common to the church experience of most is that we who are in ministry have forgotten what business we’re in. Now, I’m no historian, but my understanding is that the Protestant Reformation occurred in the sweep of the Enlightenment—the Age of Reason.

And we’ve been reasoning with our congregations ever since.

12 educationReasoning kindly and gently with them about the truths of the Bible. We’ve been teaching the Word—as if we’re in the education business.

The problem is, education is not an end. And, a religiously educated person is not an end either. No more than an elevator is an end. An elevator is a means to the 4th floor. Teaching the Bible is a means to an end.

The Church is supposed to be in the life-change business.

When someone approaches you with “nice message, Pastor”, what’s your reply? “Thank you”?

More often than not, when someone approaches me with a similar encouragement, my response is not “Thank you”, but “Why?”

I listen for how the person’s been impacted. Then I want to know: “So what?”

“How will you live differently?”

12 church in north americaYou see, if my teaching and preaching (and these blogs, for that matter) is not changing the way you live, I am wasting your time and mine.

If you’re not changing lives in identifiable, maturity-inducing ways aren’t you wasting your time and the time of those hear you?

Multiply this waste of time by the 90 or 390 people in your church, then multiply that by the months and years and decades that you’ve been educating people whose lives are not radically changing and what do you have??

The Church in North America.

Leadership Courage (part ten)

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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.

10 sacred cowI 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.

Isn’t it?

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.

10 rejectionThat’s 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!

Didn’t he?

Leadership Courage (part eight)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part three)

I’m a leadership coach to pastors. Last time, I introduced a pervasive cultural condition that’s true of so many churches it’s become characteristic of the Church in America.

A Culture of Cowardice.

While there are many exceptions, compared to the whole, these exceptions are so exceptional that the description deserves our attention—particularly when the topic is leadership courage.

Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve diagnoses American society as chronically anxious. As he describes systems experiencing chronic anxiety—the Church in North America fits the description even more than American society as a whole.

Chronically anxious systems, Friedman notes, are toxic to courageous, well-differentiated leadership. So acute is the culture’s abhorrence of discomfort that it “knee-jerks” its way from one perceived threat to another, clamoring for instantaneous relief from ministers, who are pulled in all directions at once.

A pastor may have begun with a clear sense of mission. But, in short order that mission is overwhelmed by the demand that the “crisis du jour” be averted with haste. Ministers, instead of challenging the congregation to mature and leading them to take important new ground, become consumed with smoothing out the never-ending ruffled feathers of the flock.

Caretaking is not leadership.

cry 8A constituency that is so developmentally-regressed requires that a clergyperson do little more than accommodate the low frustration tolerance of the most immature.

And, to do this, they need only to answer the phone!

Ministry, for many, resembles the role of a caregiver in an overcrowded orphanage, wearily scurrying to soothe the baby screaming most loudly before she can comfort the next infant to bellow.

For many, the priorities of ministry are based more on responding to the immediate needs of church members than in steadfast obedience to the Audience of One.

A leader who remains resolute in pursuit of a cause greater than the good feelings of the congregation (for example, the maturation of the disciples and the mobilization of members for ministry outside the church) is seen as heartless, unresponsive, deaf to the cries of the downtrodden, and out-of-touch with “real people” within. Emotionally and spiritually emaciated church members have no stomach for a real leader…like Christ.

What if Jesus belonged to a typical American church today?

pigs 8To a member of a beleaguered minority he declared: “You have no idea what you’re worshipping!” [Jn 4:22] Embarrassed by Jesus’ insensitivity, the Church might howl: “How cruel, abusive, and bigoted! All-loving heavenly Father is nothing like him!”

After freeing the Gadarene [Mt 8:32], imagine the uproar from the typical church at the brutality shown the pigs. Animal rights activists throughout the Church would demand that Jesus be locked up. “How could anyone representing God mistreat innocent wildlife so maliciously?”

Jesus says: “Let the dead bury their dead” when a potential new member asks to attend his father’s funeral. [Lk 9:60] To this, the church would smugly declare: “How unfeeling, cold, and heartless! A merciful God would never say that!”

Cleansing the Temple 8When Jesus comes upon merchants in the temple, he goes nuts: vandalizing their property, abusing the animals (again!), and misappropriating their funds. [Jn 2:15] Most churches would get a restraining order against Jesus—after his 5150 expired. “God is a God of order—not chaos”.

Jesus is revealed in scripture as clear, decisive, and disruptive.

You might think Him a study in contrasts: compassionate to the adulteress and hair-triggered to critique the religious leaders of his day. He’d be branded a troublemaker (or worse) in most US churches today.

Jesus was resolute in His commitment to model, bring, and defend the Kingdom of His Father.

Are you?

 

 

 

 

Leadership Courage (part seven)

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A Culture of Cowardice (part two)

 

  1. Courageous leadership is, by nature, decisive.

LC2015 scalpel 7And, 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 – like a parasite – that 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 unpopular. Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church…draining its vitality.

 

  1. 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 become.

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 around, wandering in impotent ambiguity.

But, those who get behind a leader who is clear will be a powerful force for good—the good to which that leader’s been called.

 

  1. 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.

LC 2015 disruptive 7Edwin Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed upon the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated by the leader doing exactly what she should be doing. Jesus did this all the time. But, notice the reluctance of anyone in church leadership to lead in a way that invites 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.

LC 2015 jonah 7Just five verses into his story, Jonah is asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so critical a moment. Waking Jonah, he demands: “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, folks: 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, and spiritual hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society? Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the very edges 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 community around them.

What else would a Christ-follower do?

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