Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nineteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
I ask you to consider that people have trained themselves, through their lives, as to how they respond to change. All change. Every change.
Last time we introduced the pioneers. These are your visionaries, riskers, outcome-focused action-takers. Their primary concern is not safety, nor reputation. Pioneers thirst to make things better. Period. Full stop.
The majority in any established congregation, however, aren’t pioneers.
They are ‘belongers’.
They don’t like to stick out. They’ve trained themselves to move with the group, the community. Which is why they’re called “belongers”. Pioneers don’t care about fitting in. They care about making a difference. But, for belongers, it’s different. Very different.
Belongers will change when certain conditions are met.
Primary among these is whether the proposed change will succeed and be safe. They will embrace change when they decide it is safe and successful to do so—and not before.
You’ll never see a ‘belonger’ on the leading-edge of change.
No matter how good a leader you are, they won’t. It’s how they’ve trained themselves. And, pastor, you’re not gonna change that.
Only they can.
Resisters are steady. Loyal to what’s been. They show up whenever the doors are open. Traditionalists, they engage in church life much the same way people have for decades. They still tithe.
Resisters have trained themselves to avoid the possibility of loss.
They’re not likely to implement any change that can be delayed. A core motivation is to avoid being wrong, to avoid failure.
Resisters will embrace change, but not until the discomfort of not changing is greater than the risk they associate with the change.
Resisters and pioneers interpret life in mutually-exclusive ways. When a pioneer is presented an opportunity, as soon as she sees the possibility of improvement, her default is: “Why not?” The resister will intuit the possibility of failure or loss and think: “Why take an imprudent risk?” The belonger will move, but not ‘til it’s “safe”.
The culture you’ve established in your congregation will determine the predominance of each group. Curiously, “church” is one of the few places in American society where resisters can gather en masse. I suppose government is the other. Think bureaucracy, not politicians.
Here’s the key: Pastor, live with your pioneers!
Every week, insure that you spend most of your time with them. In the next blog, we’ll clarify what to do when you’re together, so the change you believe God wants, actually takes hold in the congregation.
For now, work to clear your calendar of resisters, and fill it with pioneers. It may take three months or more to wean yourself away from the passion-extinguishing tantruming of the unmotivated.
Proactively schedule your office appointments with those who are most responsive to your leadership.
Invest generously in their lives. Support them as they grow in Christ. You’ll enjoy it a lot more, and more Kingdom fruit will be borne, as well.
By autumn, you could be leaping into your workweek with a vigor, optimism, and enthusiasm that most of your folks have never seen in you.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eighteen)
We’re investigating a fifth leadership concept: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. This perspective is of central importance to pastors who are committed to lead their congregations through change. Maybe it’s because the religious culture’s assumption that the shepherd’s role is to comfort and soothe the sheep, that ministers tend to give most of our time and attention to those least motivated to change. Of course, there are exceptions.
Yet, in my more than 25 years of ministry—much of it to ministers—it’s stunning how much of pastors’ time, thoughts, and prayers are consumed with those who are least motivated to follow their leadership.
While you are breaking yourself to provide compelling insight in an attempt to inspire the unmotivated, they are breaking your will to lead. They are road-blocking the change you believe God wants, and your efforts to see God’s Kingdom advanced in your city.
Once the pastor’s will is broken, it’s “lights out” for that church—and for the un-churched community the congregation was assembled, by God, to influence.
If you believe America’s a mess—morally, economically, spiritually—you wonder how it got this way. Could it be the Church has been hijacked from her mission to salt and light society, by complainers opposed to Kingdom-advancing change who demand their anxieties be appeased by their leaders?
Pastor, your courageous, decisive leadership is critically important. Your will, resolve, and stamina in the face of opposition from people you love dearly, is essential to the Kingdom’s advance in American society.
I want to help you avoid the energy-sapping, confidence-draining effect of the unmotivated on your leadership.
To lead, you can’t “push on the rope”.
Rather than focusing on the resistant, give yourself to those who are most willing to go with you. Give them your time, your creativity, and your energy. In any community, you’ll find three kinds of people. This is over-simplified just a bit, so you can use and benefit from the concept.
These are pioneers.
They are God’s gift to you!
Next time, I’ll describe the other types of people who dominate Christian congregations in the US. Then, we’ll dig into specific strategies to lead all three, so you don’t waste another ounce of energy pushing on the rope!
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part seventeen)
We’re indebted to Edwin Friedman’s remarkably insightful examination of leadership in Failure of Nerve, for this fifth leadership essential: You can’t push on a rope: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Several years ago I was in Honolulu, in training with a catalytic character development ministry. I’d been “an apprentice” for what seemed like an eternity. It was late at night, and Dan, my trainer walked with me. I was feeling defeated… confused… perplexed. I’d been given the opportunity to facilitate a number of crucial conversations with seminar participants, and they hadn’t gone well. I clearly had missed it, and I didn’t know why.
I recount it in the hope that it will change yours as well. He said: “Kirk, you keep handing people fish!” “We are not here to give people fish. We are not here to teach people how to fish. We are here to provoke their hunger.”
When a man is hungry enough, he will feed himself. If fish is the way, he will teach himself to fish, find someone to show him how, or find a way to get fish out of the lake and onto his family’s dinner plate. In study after study in Western Europe, welfare recipients did not find jobs until after the government’s assistance ran out. Then, almost immediately they found work.
What Dan said to me next has changed my life.Hungry enough, they were no longer unmotivated. Motivated, they were vulnerable to insight.
They took risks.
They found work. And, they kept on working in the jobs they got. They fed themselves and their families. Starvation did not skyrocket. Neither, according to what I’ve read, did crime. The unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
What might occur if you got great at provoking your parishioners’ hunger for God’s Word?
What if, this coming year, you devoted yourself to provoking their hunger for maturity?
What if your parish became a more uncomfortable place to remain spiritually and emotionally immature? You might get to reinvent yourself in the process. Trusting Jesus in ways you haven’t in a long time, you could trade familiar patterns and skills for fresh, provocative, people-changing ones.
Why wouldn’t you?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part sixteen)
You and I are indebted to Edwin Friedman’s remarkably insightful examination of leadership in Failure of Nerve, for this fifth leadership essential: You can’t push on a rope: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Think about Jesus’ parable of the farmer. [Mark 4:3-20] The key to fruitfulness was the soil …not the seed. Yet, we in pastoral ministry devote hundreds of our very valuable hours fussing over the seed—while ignoring the soil.
Does that make sense to you?
Look at it again: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” [Mark 4:15-20]
Jesus’ directs our attention to the condition of the soil. “Some people are…” he begins. The unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
In post-Enlightenment Christendom fussing over the “seed” makes up the largest portion of an Evangelical pastor’s work week.
Why have we given so little attention to tilling the soil of our hearer’s hearts?
Could it be that we’ve forgotten what business we’re in?
Maybe we’ve inadvertently supplanted the “make-mature-disciples-who-live-like-Jesus-business” with the “faithfully-proclaim-the-Word-of-God-business”.
Think about it.
We’re commissioned to faithfully proclaim God’s Word so that people around us live like Jesus.
To distill the ministry of the Gospel down to faithful proclamation without equal regard to the life-change taking place in those we lead is akin to straining gnats and swallowing camels.
If the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight and if the key to fruitfulness is the condition of the soil, would it be wise to get really good at soil preparation?
What if you cut your sermon prep time in half?
What if you dedicated all that time to working on the receptivity of your people’s hearts?
What if you started with those who are most receptive?
What if you focused your people-development energies on the most fertile hearts instead of those with the most rocky, barren soil?
What if you did what Jesus modeled and taught?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part fourteen)
In this blog, we’re considering the fourth of nine traits of healthy leadership:
Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
When confronted by opposition, this kind of leader will be swift to embrace the reality of God’s sovereign control and grasp the security provided by God’s unconditional love. She then leans into resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
A leader’s humility creates the opening to presence herself so resourcefully amid conflict.
In John Chapter 7, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him speak begin to gush with affirmation, applauding his brilliance, he rebuffs them.
Jesus’ response: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…”
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s solely responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes … nor its failures all by himself.
Yes, he has a part.
His colleagues have a part.
The system has a part.
And, factors beyond everyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals.
Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I find stunning the King James Version’s ancient rendering: “Quit ye like men.”
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part thirteen)
We’re examining what may be a unique kind of leadership—leadership that is compulsory if the Church is to provide the redemptive influence in American society that she was given, by Jesus, to bring. For nine segments, we examined the regressive and infantile culture that has become normative in so much of the Church in North America. For the last eight, you’ve been invited to reinvent yourself as a distinctly courageous leader.
Now, we’re considering a fourth leadership characteristic: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come. You were invited to recognize that, like Jesus, every leader is an exemplar.
It can be no other way.
A leader is not simply someone who decides things, who gets stuff done, or who gets other people to behave in desirable ways. A leader is different. She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way.
This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge.
It can better be described in terms of being. A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive.
It provokes maturity in those she influences.
The differences are palpable.
One difference is the way a leader is in the midst of sabotage and backlash.
Fuller Professor Dr. J. Robert Clinton has identified Leadership Backlash as one of the most common methods God uses to develop leadership character. Backlash occurs when once-enthusiastic followers turn against their leader in the face of unexpected difficulties. In A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman elaborates: “Mutiny and sabotage came…from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.” It is the leader’s person and posture amidst this collegial sabotage that is so stunningly effective.
The leader interprets backlash as an opportunity to model a way of leading that inspires confidence [from the Latin, literally “with trust”] toward God, and to deepen the maturity and faithfulness of colleagues and followers.
Further, this kind of leader chooses to interpret the opposition as provision from Heaven.
Consider Jesus. In John 6:66 we read that many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Immediately, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks: Don’t you want to go away as well? He saw the departure of the many as an opportunity to assess and challenge the resolve of the leaders closest to him.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part ten)
We’re looking at the fourth characteristic of effective pastoral leadership: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Consider the example of Jesus as revealed in John Chapter 12. By this point Jesus has become so popular that even the Hellenized Greeks are seeking him out. [Jn 12:20-24]
They ask Philip for an audience with the Master. At this moment, Jesus’ devoted followers may be at the pinnacle of their popularity. Imagine Philip’s enthusiasm as he tells Andrew the great news!
The two go together to let Jesus know that so-and-so has requested to see him. Rather than assign one of them to schedule his appointments with dignitaries he ignores the request and instead he talks to the two of them about of his impending sacrificial death.
Neither the admiration nor the disdain of the crowds and his closest followers seems to deter Jesus from his mission.
Jesus does not simply take a stand.
He is a stand.
Having taken full responsibility, before the Father, for his being and destiny, Jesus’ lives as if his every movement, his attitudes, his words, and even his silence are on purpose. His Father’s purpose. To establish the Kingdom of God in the lives of women and men.
This is what leaders do.
Acclimate yourself to the rigor of taking total responsibility, before God, for your own responses to your environment and circumstances. Friedman notes: “Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position, they must come to love it.”
So, you ask, where do I get that kind of courage? How could I ever come to love being ridiculed and adored, being evaluated and critiqued, judged all the time?
What if you have it all, already? What if you’ve been given all the courage you’ll ever have, or need?
What if you have it now in Christ? If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… [I Cor 5:17]
God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… [2 Pt 1:3]
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eight)
Jesus exemplified the second of nine leadership traits we’re examining in this series: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is in complete control of his emotions and reactions.
He does not personalize Judas’ betrayal: “Oh Judas, how could you?”
He doesn’t negotiate: “Hey fellas, what if I agree to stop teaching in the Temple—would that be OK with you?”
Nor does he play the victim: “Doggone it you guys. If you’d just stayed awake and prayed like I asked you, none of this would’ve happened!” [Mk 14:43-50]
Brought before the Sanhedrin [Mk 14:53-64], Jesus does not tantrum, collapse in an ocean of tears, call down fire, nor even expose his accusers’ hypocrisy. The only response recorded by Mark is his unmistakably clear admission that yes, he is the Christ, and that they will one day see him sitting at the Father’s right hand.
See, Jesus lived as if his being and destiny were securely and completely in his Father’s hands.
Clear about his calling to serve humankind as he fulfilled the Father’s will [Mk 10:45], Jesus’ being and destiny was undeterred by the autonomous choices made by the autonomous human beings all around him: Pilate, Peter, Judas, the false accusers before the Sanhedrin, and on and on.
Engaging his life in this way, Jesus catalyzed the maturing of the followers to whom he turned over the Church after his crucifixion.
And today, he’s turned that Church over to you, and me.
How often do the actions and decisions of other autonomous human beings affect your sense of wellbeing? How common is it for your confidence to be shaken when some human in whom you placed your trust turned out to be…well…human?
In the face of disappointment and betrayal, can you and I stand confident that our sovereign, loving God has not been caught by surprise, even if we are?
Yup. We can.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part eleven)
What does it mean to live and lead courageously, particularly amidst a culture of cowardice?
Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve covered so far:
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.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve does a masterful job illuminating several stunning characteristics of effective leadership. I am indebted to him for sparking the perspectives written about in this Series. We’ve been looking at the way Jesus embodied these traits—not for intellectual edification, but to challenge Christian leaders to change.
As a minister of the Gospel of Christ you are an exemplar. Your way of life is a model.
It must be so.
It is ridiculous to serve in Christian ministry and to shrink from the exposure and vulnerability befitting your station.
A leader stands.
My invitation is to embrace the reality and necessity of standing up, of standing out, and of standing alone—
or get out of Christian ministry.
There is an anxiety, common to American culture, about being alone. It seems that only raving narcissists are immune from this. I disagree. There is another kind of person who has calmed her own disquiet when coming under scrutiny – or fire. It is the kind of leader we’re examining in this Series.
Consider the accounts that are chronicled in John Chapter 6: the 5,000 witness the miracle of the loaves & fish, Jesus walks on the Galilee, and a sizeable crowd follows him to the other side of the Sea. He calls them out! ‘You’re only here for the show; because of the miracles!’ This is how he greets them.
Then he exposes their shallowness with his seldom-repeated “sermon in the synagogue” about eating his body and drinking his blood. [Jn 6:53f] The crowd scatters and many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him—ever.
Does Jesus explain that it was just hyperbole, a figure of speech?
Does he beg them to come back?
Does he soften the message, lower the bar, or ease their distress?
Read it, and see.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)
As we consider how to lead our churches in these challenging times for Christianity in the US, we’re exploring the third of nine leadership principles: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Just to review, the first two principles are:
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.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Jesus is our primary role model to live and lead successfully. His way of being demonstrates how he sought to promote healthy differentiation in the lives of those he influenced.
For example, in Mark 9:29, the disciples are unable to free the boy with the symptoms of epilepsy. Jesus behaves as if they are responsible for their own preparation for ministry: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Rather than taking that responsibility upon himself, Jesus’ response indicates that regular Christians can actually free those suffering horrible maladies like this boy’s epilepsy.
It’s what he expects us to do.
My dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [Professor of Leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he called Goodwin’s Expectation Principle.
Essentially it is this:
“People will live up to the expectations of those who they respect.”
Jesus seems to have understood this.
Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their preference for comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus lived as if he expected his followers to live and minister like he did. He expected them to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented.
Jesus had garnered their respect by the way he lived over the time they traveled and ministered together. So, after his ascension, not surprisingly, they lived up to his clear and challenging expectations.
Pastor, you have earned the respect of many of those you lead.
Maybe not all.