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Leadership Courage (part forty seven)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part two)

It seems that the Church in North America is reasonable if it is anything, and that reasonableness has got us stuck.

“Syncretism” is what scholars call it.

I call it a blight … and a foundation to the culture of cowardice that’s commonplace in the Church today. One way to regain our verve and our nerve, it to take an axe to the roots of our commitment to being reasonable.

Trouble is, there’s comfort in reasonableness. There’s a degree of security there, too. The moderation it provokes can masquerade as wisdom after you’ve had any number of flame-outs when taking bold steps of faith.

I was discipled as a new Christian in a church that regularly twisted scripture and abused power…scarring people both emotionally and spiritually. Annie and I invested ourselves without reservation in a church plant that imploded after an extra-marital affair. Years ago we donated what for us was a breathtaking sum of money for a church building campaign, and later learned that someone on the inside misappropriated tens of thousands from that campaign.

Sad.

If you’ve been around the Church for any time, scandals are nothing new. How the perpetrators can sleep at night remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the pressure these setbacks have exerted on my enthusiasm to live “all-in” for Christ. It’s as if powerful spiritual forces conspire to soften my commitment to live boldly for Christ.

They do.

A “voice of reason” resonates within coaxing me toward moderation. One popular paradigm suggests that we hold our faith as one of many important commitments. Important, but not essential.

Nothing to lose your head over.

Yet, in the scriptures, moderation in living for Christ is never esteemed.

Who was moderate in their allegiance to Christ?

Peter, in Caiaphas’ courtyard?

Thomas, while doubting?

Judas Iscariot?

Jesus is unambiguous: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23]

Clear as a bell.

Leadership Courage (part forty six)

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The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part one)

We’re been looking at Christian leadership from what I hope are refreshing and resourceful perspectives. The genesis of this entire series is A Failure of Nerve by the late Edwin Friedman. I am indebted to him for sparking today’s thoughts with his charge to “disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.”

Pastor, after all the years of disappointments, setbacks, and betrayals in your experience as both minister and disciple, have you become reasoned, balanced, measured, composed in the application of your faith?

Has your Christianity become, somehow, affordable?

I wonder how this impacts those you seem frustrated to inspire?

We are, after all, talking about leading with courage…

If the Christian faith is but one among many, then a sensible, reasonable approach to applying its teachings is appropriate.

If Christianity is just one philosophy among many then holding your faith as you do your political convictions is understandable.

If church involvement is one of several “membership commitments” then you are wise to be measured in your investment therein.

The thing is, Christianity cannot be any of these, for any of us.

If it is but one among many anything — then it is a lie.

False.

A hoax.

The reasonable thing to do with a thing like that is to have nothing to do with it.

The claims of Christ are so radical, singular, and exclusive they can only stand alone. Without rival in any of our lives.

So, Christian, the one question: Is it true?

If Jesus Christ is the completely unique son of God… the way, the truth, and the life… the only route to the Father… the one in whom the fullness of God dwells… then to be reasonable in your commitment to your faith is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.

To be reasonable in your commitment to Christ is the most unreasonable thing you could ever do.

And to be unreasonable in your commitment to Jesus and His Church is the most reasonable thing you could ever do.

No reasonable person would declare “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21]

Maybe you rationalize: “Well Kirk, that was Paul. The Apostle Paul. He wrote half the New Testament. Paul’s was a highly unusual commitment to Christ and Christianity.”

Yet, Paul was either crazy or he fully expected the Christians in Philippi to do the same with their lives.

Didn’t he?

Paul, like Jesus, was no reasonable person.

Gripped at his core, from his core, to his core with the unreasonableness of faith, everything Paul wrote and modeled indicated a radical, all-in embrace of faith.

All-in.

Are you?

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part five)

My friends were approved by Habitat for Humanity several years ago. Working the graveyard shift in a manufacturing plant, driving a cab, and doing odd jobs whenever he could still wouldn’t provide the down payment my buddy would need to own a home. Habitat, however, had a pathway to home ownership.

Richard and his wife Jackie, donated their time – lots of it – to help other Habitat recipients build their homes over a period of months and years. Then, when the time came to work on their home, dozens of others were there to help out.

Many of us who love them pitched in as well.

It was a blast.

Rewarding.

Resourceful.

Empowering.

Richard and Jackie had “skin in the game”. They got far more than a home. They invested themselves in their home in a way that changed them.

Why doesn’t Habitat just hand out homes? They could. They could use a lottery system to select the fortunate few who’d get a nice new Habitat house for free. But they don’t.

Know why?

Because, getting a house for nothing doesn’t change people. Doesn’t develop character. Strengthen confidence. Shift one’s self-perception. Not really. Not like Richard and Jackie’s did.

Pastor, if you’re in the disciple-making business then you’re in the business of changing people.

Changing people into the image of Christ. Provoking people to live and love and give and care and serve the way Jesus did—motivated by what motivated him.

And, that rarely happens when you keep handing people fish.

You might have read, back in installment # 16 of this Series, I was struggling my way through a character-development workshop in Honolulu with Dan, my trainer and mentor. Dan’s life-changing counsel:

Kirk, we’re not here to give people fish.

We’re not here to teach them to fish.

We’re here to provoke their hunger.

Are you?

Leadership Courage (part forty three)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part three)

We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing!

As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?

Last time, we proposed that you and your staff think like people-developers, not gatherers of passive spectators.

43 SpectatorsTo that we add: Stop counting the numbers of spectators who amass at your weekend events.

Instead, fix your attention on those who are making a difference for Christ.

Decide what maturing in Christ looks like in your context: serving the un-churched, giving sacrificially of one’s money, time, and talents, etc. Count those who live this way. Those who contribute, who serve, who minister outside as well as inside the church.

Count only those who do.

Focus on their progress. Use them as examples when you teach and train. Make them your ministry’s visible heroes.

Pay attention to their growth. Who among them is God stretching, growing, maturing, and strengthening?

What are the experiences that seem to contribute to the development of their character, confidence in ministry, trust in Christ, and tenderness of heart?

43 ProvokeWhat can you, as a senior leadership team, do to provoke your people to love and good works? [Hebrews 10:24]

And, while you’re doing that, wean yourself off your fixation with how many attend this or that. To undermine the 80/20 rule, stop yourself from caring about how many come and listen… to you. Stop asking about how many came and sat and took and left.

Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time.

A lot of people come to my church, several services a weekend. So …

  • What if, routinely in our services, we formed groups and asked them to find someone with whom they discover they have something in common, then turn that common ground into prayer?
  • What if our greeters grabbed the first ten strangers who walked in, and asked them to help?
  • What if our ushers randomly asked people to help them?
  • What if our trained prayer team folks picked a handful of people who they quickly trained to pray then had them come alongside and assist them when praying for others?
  • What if every ministry team, the weekend before they do some local ministry, randomly ask people in the service to come and do it with them? What if the service was suspended until 15 people agreed to come and help?

What if you made it clear that this is a community where everyone gives. From day one.

Where everyone contributes.

Where everyone plays. 

What if giving, and contributing, and playing is how maturing disciples are made?

Leadership Courage (part forty two)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part two)

We’re looking at another characteristic of the culture of cowardice that’s become normative in North American Christianity: the 80/20 Rule is flourishing!

As senior pastor, elder, or lay leader, what can you do to Undermine the 80/20 Rule in your congregation?

42 trainerOne: Think like a people-developer, not a gatherer of passive spectators.

In other words, re-think why you’re in Christian ministry.

Decide to jettison the notion—promoted by almost three hundred years of post-enlightenment Church culture—that your role primarily is to educate and entertain church dwellers. Instead, become primarily a disciple-maker and maturity-provoker. When your purpose is to catalyze people to live like Jesus, so much of the activity that fills and frustrates your workweek will change.

Think about it.

What if your senior staff took 80% of the hours it devotes to preparing for and pulling off a slick service –- an education and entertainment event – and dedicated that time to imagining ways to provoke Christ-likeness in your people?

42 street ministryWhat if you became trainers, coaches, and equippers rather than event planners and producers? What experiences would support your people’s growth into maturity?

  • What skills would you be sure to have them practice? Let me propose a few: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, succinctly sharing the story of their introduction to Christ.
  • What would you have them role play? Communicating parts of their Christ-story so as to connect with a variety of people in any number of typical life situations, responding biblically to universal ethical and moral challenges, selecting appropriate scriptures to support people facing common difficulties, life experiences, and perplexities.
  • What field trip experiences would be core to your disciple-making process? Serving those outside the church who are culturally similar to your trainee, volunteering with secular service organizations, interviewing community leaders about the true needs of neighboring residents [police officials, mayor’s office, school administrators, YWCA director, city council members], meeting and befriending their actual neighbors.
  • How would you insure that your people apply whatever is taught when you do an education event? Pave pathways in advance of your weekend education events so that every person can take action in line with their new learning.
In the people-development business the options and opportunities available to you are virtually unlimited. Challenging your people to trust God in real-time and to discover God’s goodness as, and after, they do, can become central to your congregation’s experience.

It’s up to you.

Leadership Courage (part forty one)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty seven)

We’re unpacking the sixth leadership principle for pastors who find themselves immersed in a culture of cowardice that in my observation has taken over the Church in North America.

UNDERMINE THE 80/20 RULE!

Consider this: what expectations are communicated to those who gather at your weekend services?

Park here.

Don’t smoke in the building.

Sign in your kids. Take a pager.

Leave your coffee outside the sanctuary.

Give something, if you want to.

Take part in this class, that event, the other small group experience.

And… please come back!41-come-back

You can boil down the “contract” you make with most of your folks this way: “Just come back and we’ll take care of everything else.“

And, if they come back, they do exactly what you’ve asked: nothing.

And you’re relieved if they do this this for years…

Now consider: how frequently and how clearly do you teach your congregation about giving?

Jesus spoke more about money than any subject other than the Kingdom of God. Why? Because what you treasure reveals your character. [Mt 6:21]

Yet, most pastors dread speaking about finances. “People will think that all we care about is money” some of you say. So, you rarely teach the topic and how closely allied it is to all issues of the heart of your people.

And, here’s the irony. Pastor, if you’re honest, you think about money all the time!

Don’t you?

See, if you’re in the business of packing the pews and parking lot [what I call the “religious education and entertainment business”], you’ll avoid all the topics that invite people to take offense (and reveal their values).

Strange that Jesus wasn’t smart enough to remember this, since he addressed the topic so very, very often? In fact, of you study his behavior, you’ll conclude that keeping the crowds coming back for more wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as it is to us.

What was Jesus’ priority?

Why did Jesus say what he said? Why did he teach, tell the stories he told, and live among people the way he did? 41-woodenI assert that Jesus was in the people-development business. Jesus was making Kingdom citizens of people. And, when it happened, these people lived in very distinct ways.

“Discipleship”, to Jesus, had everything to do with how people live, and why they do what they do. The heart-posture and motivation of one’s actions. Discipleship began with the renovation of the heart… and that heart-posture expressed itself in a way-of-being in the world that was…well, remarkable. [Acts 16:7]

Yet, in North America, church dwellers’ way-of-being in society seems anything but remarkable.

Doesn’t it?

Funny, too, that when pastors teach about finances, giving almost always increases… at least for a while.

Ever wondered why cults get a following? I offer that one reason is that they communicate clear expectations of their members. Very rigorous expectations. Often misguided. Theologically corrupt as well. Yet, people by the thousands “pony up” whatever is required. Maybe the cult leaders abuse the scriptures that you avoid

Still, Jesus said: “If anyone will come after me, he (or she) must take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34] Yet, such preaching is rarely heard in the seeker-sensitive, politically-correct Church of our day.

I wonder what prices we pay, as a result.

I wonder what prices American society is paying, too.

Leadership Courage (part forty)

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Undermine the 80/20 Rule

40-eightytwentyWhy is it that 20% of the people in our churches are doing all the giving, all the serving, all the ministry?

What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?

What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?

And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?

I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.

So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.

Think about it.

One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?

When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?

40-curtainOne preaches.

Another one does announcements.

One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.

Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.

A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.

And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.

What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.

Don’t they?

Leadership Courage (part thirty nine)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty five)

We’re examining the adventurous life: a life that, for every Christian, should be completely normal. I’m just one of dozens of examples I know.

I keep ending up in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability. This was almost never the case before I surrendered my life to Christ. Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere. Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.

39-chicagoTraveling to consult the board and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve completely underestimated the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step. All that I’ve prepared must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan. I have no idea what to do, and I go anyway…

Leading a Bible study, I’m summoned to the phone and learn my son has been in jail for two days, out of state, and unable to reach me. I book a flight to leave the morning…

Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of an infection. She insists that I go to see her friend. On the way, I learn that her friend is dying of brain cancer. We go anyway, I lay my hands on the woman’s head and pray for her healing…

Driving from church to a Father’s day celebration, traffic is inching past a fire engine positioned to block the view of drivers when there’s a particularly gruesome accident. Glancing to my right I see the wreckage of a blue Mustang convertible…39-wreck 

It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car is flipped onto the hood, windshield flattened. There is no room for any human to have survived. Driver and passenger must have been thrown from the car … or decapitated.

There can be no other explanation.

Crying out to God, I jerk my car to the curb and sprint toward the shattered remains of Lauren’s car…

I’m shocked to learn that a massive sum of money is missing from a capital campaign. The only person with access to the funds is a nationally-respected executive with whom I’m scheduled to meet in the next few minutes. If the conversation doesn’t go well, end my career. I go and raise the concern, head-on…

While praying, I’m impressed by God (I guess) to “deliver a message” to our Mayor. For the next several days, I endeavor to dismiss the thought as a ridiculous concoction of my overactive imagination. The longer I struggle, the stronger the conviction that I’m to make an appointment, sit down with the Mayor, and ask him a very specific question. I make the appointment, meet with the Mayor, and ask the question…

39-ennioEnnio Salucci is friend who’s inspired thousands to take bold action for more than a decade. He says:

Throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!

To fully participate in the life God’s given me, knowing that in myself I’m not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.

It’s waiting for you, too.

Leadership Courage (part thirty eight)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty four)

In this series, I’m challenging pastors to reacquaint themselves with the adventurous life. Biblical Christianity, I’ve argued, can be nothing else.

Risky.

Challenging.

It demands that we continuously trust God and leap.

Jesus modeled this. The New Testament is full of examples. Consider this situation: Jesus is about to send the disciples out two-by-two. He gives them these instructions: “We gotta be wise here. Talk as long as you need to save up for your journey. Be sure to take plenty of money with you and arrange your lodgings well in advance. When you enter into a new village, if they’re happy you’re there, stay briefly, so you don’t wear out your welcome. And, if there’s any resistance at all, leave quickly and quietly.

For goodness sake, don’t stir anything up!

Peter and John are hurrying to the temple past a crippled person who is begging. They avoid eye contact and, as they pass, simply shrug their shoulders. One is overheard telling the other: “So sad that the government doesn’t take care of the indigent, isn’t it?”

38-lifejacketsThe disciples are in a boat, attempting to cross the Galilee. Jesus is asleep below deck. Always cautious, they hug the shore just in case a storm appears.

Sure enough, a storm does arise!

Alarmed, they awaken a terrified Jesus. He screams out: “Quick, hand me a lifejacket! We’ve got to get to shore right away! These waves will probably capsize us! Luke, make a note of this: we must never travel by boat again. It is just too dangerous!

Read through the Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the entire Old Testament. You’ll see God’s people continually in peril.

Sometimes, God tells them to do the impossible—like instructing Gideon to shrink his armed forces before going to war against a far more formidable foe.

Other times, God’s people find themselves in circumstances where they’ve no hope but for a miracle. The Egyptian army chasing the Israelite slaves to the shores of the Red Sea, for example.

God keeps putting his people in unreasonable situations. They keep finding themselves in circumstances where they have to trust God. Where they can’t rely on themselves.

They’re living the adventurous life.

What about you?

 

Leadership Courage (part thirty seven)

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Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty three)

For several segments in this series we’ve been investigating the challenge facing pastors today. The challenge: to stand with courage and clarity in a religious context that, for decades — maybe centuries — has become less and less courageous and clear. In this spiritual vacuum the greater culture has drunk itself sick on self-focused indulgence.

Or, maybe you see it differently.

Last time I invited you to reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life. A life of trust and risk and experimentation. Stepping beyond the natural limitations of your understanding, your competencies, your skill set, your own strength, intellect, and charisma.

37 patchOf course, the problem with living the adventurous life is, in the words of Patch Adams’ love interest Carin Fisher: “People get hurt”.

And so with any adventure. There is the possibility of failure, of loss, of injury, of embarrassment, of being mistaken, and of hurt.

The Church today seems to have so little tolerance for the latter that it’s unwilling to engage the former. And, this reality is absolutely stunning in light of the Biblical record. The Christian life is anything but safe, cautious, predictable, measured, and reasonable. Everywhere in the Bible, those who followed God were adventurers.

37 crowdBy contrast, imagine this scene: more than 5,000 have come out to the wilderness to hear Jesus speak. Eventually it dawns on the disciples that if the crowds don’t get something to eat, some of them will grow faint, maybe ill. When Jesus sees that all they have is five loaves and two fish, he pats the young boy on the head and exclaims: “Oh my gosh! We’ve gotta shut this meeting down right now so everyone can get home to eat and rest. Luke, make a note: from now on, we have to hold these gatherings where people can get plenty of nourishing, low-calorie food, refreshments and medical services…and we need regularly scheduled breaks so people don’t over-extend themselves. We can’t have anyone getting tired or hungry at our meetings!“

“Hurry! Quick! Send everyone home!!”

Jesus’ orientation was to grow people to maturity. Those closest to him he challenged the most. Those further away were still challenged to grow in faith, in obedience, in selflessness. Jesus was clear that he was maturing women and men for his Father’s Kingdom.

Pastor, what are you doing?

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