Go First! (part one)
Could you imagine the impact of a largely leaderless Church for, say, 400 years?
Well, look around…
We’re heading for the home stretch on this examination of courageous Christian leadership. The impetus for my challenges and observations is Edwin Friedman’s wonderful book: A Failure of Nerve. Thus far, we’ve made eight observations about leadership amidst a culture of cowardice:
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.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Six: Undermine the 80/20 Rule.
Seven: Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life.
Eight: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
This brings us to the ninth principle: Go first.
Ever wonder what happened to the Church the Apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians chapter four? A Church in which the saints are the “ministers.”
Paul is clear:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… and become mature… Then we will no longer be infants… Instead… we will grow to become in every respect the mature body… the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:11-16]
In Paul’s conception, Christ gives ministers to the church to train, develop, and equip the members to minister, to mature in every respect, and to w-o-r-k.
Religious educators who teach, and teach, and teach the saints who sit, and sit, and sit while they learn, and learn, and learn.
The saints serving.
The body maturing.
Every part working.
What if the culprit is not so much the laziness and lethargy of the saints but the focus and function of the clergy?
See, Christ himself gave apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching gifts to equip his Church for maturity and ministry.
An overwhelming super-abundance of pastor-teachers.
Imagine a softball team in which all nine positions are played by catchers. Very well equipped catchers.
Can you see it?
Catcher’s glove. Catcher’s mask. Shin pads. The whole get-up.
Now, put that catcher on the mound and ask her to pitch… Put her in left to run down a deep fly ball… Or, at shortstop to turn a ground ball into a double play.
This is the Church in the West today.
People who learn lots of things, important things, and not much else.
I’m not denigrating the teaching gift. I’m denigrating the notion of the teaching-only ministry.
I’m inviting you to look at the results of recurring generations of pastor/teacher-dominant ministry in the West.
Are you impressed by what you see?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty)
Examining courageous leadership, a fifth principal is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight. Watching ministers lead for more than thirty years, it’s breathtaking how diligently and fruitlessly so many labor to lead those who are least-motivated to follow.
No wonder the burnout rate in the pastorate is dwarfed only by the dropout rate.
Here’s an alternative, practiced by the most effective leaders in ministry: Pastor, live with your pioneers.
Make sure those most ready to follow your leadership populate your appointment calendar. Every week, spend most of your time with the pioneers: those who’ve trained themselves to take risks, to try new possibilities, to leap into the unknown just to see if something better can result. Ask about their passions for the things God has laid on your heart. Listen for the “overlap” between your vision and theirs, your heart and theirs, your passions and theirs.
This area of overlap is where you and they get to play!
Pray with them. Dream with them. If your dream is to touch the un-churched, envision the kinds of impact you’d most want to have on the lives of those you’ll serve. Imagine yourselves serving authentically, regularly, generously—for their benefit.
Do some planning and strategizing…but please don’t get a brain cramp trying to figure it all out in advance. Planning for ministry is an almost irresistible temptation for church people. Don’t waste your vigor over-planning in the familiar confines of your church conference room.
Quick, before you lose your nerve, get out there and bless people.
Thrust yourself into action with your pioneers. Get off the property. Meet civic leaders. Learn where your congregation can help, where you can make a God-honoring difference, and go after it. Love people. Serve them.
For Heaven’s sake, experiment.
Go-again, fearlessly and flexibly.
When what you tried doesn’t work—do something else.
Do anything else. Let these be rich times of learning and of enjoying the adventure together.
As your pioneers love and care for the un-churched in ways that bless their lives, they’ll be skeptical initially. They’ll be wary that church people would serve without an agenda, a “gotcha”, a hook. As you keep being with them for their benefit–and not for yours–their skepticism will be replaced by gratitude.
Communicate their appreciation broadly through the congregation. Raise the visibility of your pioneers; make them your “heroes” and make a big deal of their willingness to risk, innovate, and lead in the change.
Over time, the belongers will decide it’s beneficial and safe to join in. Have places ready for them to serve. Plan these in advance.
Eventually, more and more belongers will embrace the changes, until they become the “new normal” for your congregation.
All the while, another amazing transformation is taking place. As you continue serving the un-churched, from a place of humility and unconditional love, their gratitude will be accompanied by openness. When they ask about your relationship with God, then you answer.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” [1 Pt 3:15b]
The key, Pastor, is to give yourself to the pioneers, the “yes” people, the adventurers. Suspend your preference to win over the resisters and to bring along the belongers. They will watch—from afar—and when it seems safe to them, they will begin to play.
In the meantime, have a blast with your pioneers. Make a difference in the lives of those you’re serving. Enjoy what God does.
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 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.”
The Price of Love
Courage, I’ve suggested, is living with heart. With you heart fully engaged. Fully invested. Fully in play.
Some would argue that to live this way is expensive. Costly. Reckless. Even dangerous.
To live with your heart withheld is costly, too.
There’s no living without paying prices. Give your heart; there are prices.
Hide your heart; other prices are paid.
So, let’s examine prices that living with heart exacts. Just to be clear about it.
Whenever you care about anyone and anything, you invest some of yourself.
The more you care, the more of you, you invest.
What it could become.
Before long, you entertain how you might be affected. How you might contribute. The good that could come out of it all. How you might benefit… if it works out.
As you do, you give yourself permission to see it. To see as possible what this could lead to. What it could become…
And, as hearts are wont to do, your heart gets gripped.
Not only do you see this as preferable, you begin to love what this might be. Now wanting it, you give yourself to it, a bit at a time. Giving more of yourself as you do. Your time.
As you pour yourself into having it happen… you are changed. Some of what used to capture your attention no longer does.
No longer repressing your enthusiasm, you invite others in.
Most are satisfied to stay on the sideline, amused maybe, watching to see what will happen…
whether your dreams will be dashed or fulfilled…
waiting to see if it’s “safe” to join you.
And, a few are enrolled.
They choose in.
Into the possibility of what could be. As they do, your relationships change.
The stakes are higher now. Greater. “If this thing goes south…”, you catch yourself thinking, “a lot of people could get hurt.” “And, if we succeed…”
Momentum seems to come from nowhere. Connections appear in surprising ways. Provision arrives unexpectedly. It’s like there’s a wind at your back, propelling you forward.
You feel alive.
Life seems to open up before you, to expand.
At the same time, loved-ones caution you not to get in too deep.
Remember the movie Rudy?
You’ve heard the message too: Don’t go too far. Don’t move so fast. What about the risks? What if this doesn’t work?
Don’t you care about us?
All along the way, with your heart engaged, you are paying prices. You set aside the predictable, the familiar, the safe. You wade into foreign waters. So much is unknown, untested, uncertain.
Disappointments come, as they must.
Setbacks catch you off-guard.
Betrayals stun you. Backlash comes from unexpected sources. Supporters withdraw. Criticisms that began as a whisper grow in ferocity. You feel alone.
Each time, your hopeful heart is nicked.
Lanced. Pierced. Wounded. Assaulted.
You want to pull back, dis-invest, protect yourself, be reasonable, find balance, cut your losses.
Most of all, you want to rescue your heart from the hurt.
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves, writes: “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…”
To live and lead with courage is to love so much that your heart is vulnerable to being “wrung and possibly broken”. And yet, when your heart is wrung, or broken, you choose to keep it engaged.
Silencing your survival instincts and trusting God to heal and strengthen your heart, you keep giving yourself — fully – to your life.
This is no small matter. If it were, the world would be full of powerfully courageous leaders.
Imagine if the Church – even your church – was a gathering place, and equipping place, a sending place for leaders like this…
The key to leadership is “followership”—and followership is always voluntary.
And you can only lead them where they already want to go.
This is a powerful, liberating truth for pastors and Christian leaders who are willing to break with the wrongheaded cultural assumptions about leadership and, instead, practice Jesus’ kind of leadership.
- How much positional authority did Jesus use to elicit followership?
- How often did he invite disciples to choose: “in” or “out”?
- When did he coerce? Manipulate?
- When they faced an impasse, how frequently did he grasp control, disempowering whose around him?
From the calling of Andrew, to the provision he made for the care of Mary when he was on the cross, Jesus led by invitation.
And, when Jesus’ vision “overlapped” with those who heard him, they followed.
So with you.
You will only effectively lead others in the area where your vision and theirs coincide.
In the diagram below, your vision for your congregation’s impact is represented by the yellow zone. Anna, a gifted lay leader’s vision is the red zone. The area where you and Anna get to collaborate to advance the Kingdom is the orange area.
I spend the majority of my waking hours coaching and equipping ministers. They give me permission to influence them in the zone where their vision and mine overlap.
Where we’re agreed.
Want to know how to soothe, calm, and pacify an entitled, demanding church member? Don’t ask me! I have no room in my vision for Jesus’ Church for coddling the immature or appeasing the petty terrorist on your elder board.
Want to explore ways to more effectively concentrate your resources on entertaining church members? I couldn’t care less. I mean it. I have no burden for putting on excellent feel-good productions for religious consumers. None.
But, you want to lead a congregation that routinely trusts Christ and risks to demonstrate the Good News to those in the community outside? I’m all about that!
Need help to identify, equip, and mobilize more lay leaders to reflect the character of Christ as they advance the Kingdom along side your staff? You bet!
You and I get to “play” together where our visions coincide.
And, no two leaders visions completely coincide.
And that’s OK.
Each person the Holy Spirit has placed in your congregation has been singularly shaped and prepared to touch lives and to embody the “Jesus kind of life” distinctively.
When God makes a thing, he makes each unique. Consider snowflakes, evergreens, mountains. But, when humans make so many things, we labor to make them all the same.
Cults labor for uniformity, conformity. Not so in the freedom for which Christ died.
We thrive together in that space, passionately pursuing what Christ has called each of us to. Most powerfully when it aligns.
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“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
It’s something we take for granted…
Until we find we’re losing it, or have gone blind altogether.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology 7,000,000 people go blind every year.
That’s seven million.
Imagine being unable to see.
In my work with pastors, churches, and systems across the US, I learned that many have a vision problem.
As society presses Christianity to the edges, many raised in Church in a very different era find themselves destabilized—unsteadied by the rapid secular ascent. Ministers are not immune. The chaplaincy model seems profoundly inadequate as parishioners die off and young and middle-aged adults evacuate the Church. Neighbors seem more disinterested than ever in our religious offerings…
Now, that’s the question.
The vision question.
What are you doing? What’s the reason you’re breathing? Why is your church in this community? What’s the difference you want to see it make?
It’s not arrogant to ask—and answer—this question. It’s essential!
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
If there’s no compelling reason to invest deeply, passionately, even dangerously—the courageous won’t stay. They’ll go find a cause to champion, a wrong to right, an injustice to surmount, a greater good to get done—and go after that.
Somehow between the church that Jesus founded and the mess we have today, pastors have assumed their job is to soothe, comfort, encourage, and appease religious folks.
Pastor, your job is to make mature Christ-like disciples of Jesus.
People who change the world—beginning with their hometowns and neighborhoods and workplaces and schools–like Jesus commissioned us to.
The quote: “Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.” I learned at a character development training God used to change my life more than a decade ago. It acknowledges that transformation—change—induces pain.
You’ll choose to embrace that pain in pursuit of a vision so good, so important, so noble as to call you forward into that pain and through that pain to what waits on the other side.
Power of Vision 1.doc
We’re examining why it’s important to be a learner when embroiled in a conflict. The principle: “leader, know thyself!”
Suspend the very natural impulse to get out of this—quick. Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can, and to model a way to respond to conflict.
If you’re like me, you have an Achilles heel in this area. As a child and teenager, I was about as likely as anyone to occasionally do bone-headed things. I was probably as vulnerable as the next teenage boy to forget something I’d said I’d do, to impulsively leap before thinking things through, and for failing to consider who else might be impacted by something I did or left undone.
Rarely, if ever, did I intend evil or harm toward anyone, and when I learned of my mistake, I did what I could to repair the breach.
Yet, one of our family dynamics was that it was assumed that I meant to hurt or embarrass or slight another. That my motives were malicious, evil, cruel. So regularly and forcefully were my motives impugned that I became unsure of them, myself. I developed a hyper-sensitivity to accusations about my heart and intention.
To this day, I’m vulnerable here. When we disagree over tactics, over ideas, over differing ways to accomplish things, I’m fine. But, when you accuse me of intending evil, of purposing to hurt someone, of premeditated unkindness… my auto-pilot switches on:
My heart races.
My mental mechanisms seize up.
Instantly, I’m 11 years old again and I’m caught: the cruel, malevolence of my heart has been exposed and I didn’t even know it! In this condition, I’m lousy in a conflict! Fight and flight appear irresistible.
Because I’ve studied my vulnerabilities (with the help of great coaching and counseling), I’m able to get altitude in real time … when it counts most.
I’m able to coach myself in the moment, interrupt my emotional machinery, and return to the here-and-now:
How about you?
What are your unique vulnerabilities? What are the recurring themes in your conflicts—especially of those where you behave least maturely?
You’ll be well served to chronicle these and to plan in advance how you’ll handle yourself when these buttons get pushed. You, and those who love you, will be glad you did!
Being in Conflict 6.docx
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Like many exquisite things, this beauty has a price. Rents are challenging enough in winter quadruple to astronomical heights in summer.
Last night I met the landlords where we’ll live this summer. David and Juliette seem to be lovely people. He’s from London and she’s from the Seychelles. He’s a retired real estate developer. They “summer” in Rhode Island and hope to visit friends in the UK before fall.
That is all I know about them. In a thirty-minute encounter with two remarkable, unique, and talented people who’re created in God’s image—that’s all I know about them.
I wasted the exchange in a “IT-IT” relationship.
I was “tenant” and they “landlord”. We covered the pertinent details about rent and keys and utilities and parking and trash day. But, I failed to encounter them.
Lewis says that in every encounter with every person we hasten them to one end or the other. And I cannot tell you where this couple stands regarding the Savior. I didn’t bring it up!
As an “IT”, I hastened to conclude the meeting. I’d planned the evening, and had already decided there wasn’t room for an “I-THOU” encounter.
What if God wanted me to represent him to them?
What if God intended that we pray together?
What if God desired that we become friends?
As “tenant” these considerations don’t surface. But as “child of God” they do.
My being with Juliette and David is an opportunity for Heaven to come to Earth. For Christ’s goodness to touch two lives beneficially like he has mine.
It may have nothing to do with “religion” and everything to do with love.
An “I-THOU” encounter allows that we move each other. Each life is altered, impacted, changed. Not just in our thinking, but in reality changed.
How much greater is the possible reciprocity among people to call, draw out, impact, move, and be moved by each other?
I and THOU.
Coaching Distinctions #88.docx
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Maybe you’re committed to DO>HAVE>BE. After all, it’s what you know, how you keep life manageable, and the best way you’ve found to get people to accept you.
DO>HAVE>BE provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in constant activity without struggling with the existential question of why you’re alive.
As daughters and sons in whom God delights, who’ve been rescued from judgement to security in the Father’s love … the answer could be straightforward. For many Christians, apparently it’s not.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Not really. Ours was a productive home. I learned early that my value lay in productivity. DO good, DO helpful things, DO what’s right…and you’ll be valuable, virtuous, loved. Subtly and overtly, the message was reinforced a hundred ways.
I came to understand myself as a ‘productivity machine’ and to people as ‘a means to get things done’.
So, like my siblings, I was a bit of an achiever. At Harvard, I surrendered my strife-filled life to Christ, experienced surprising peace, joy, and love. To be unconditionally loved was rewarding and refreshing. Completely new.
Soon, though, I landed in a fundamentalist charismatic church. Suffocating legalism grew gradually. I compiled an ever-growing mountain of behavioral do’s and don’t. Desiring to please God who’d so graciously rescued me, I mustered the self-discipline honed in childhood, tucked in my chin, and ran toward the “high calling of God in Christ”. DO>HAVE>BE.
Along the path were achievements, accolades, esteem, and recognition.
I morphed into a ‘ministry machine’.
What about you?
And, as years passed isolation grew. So did insecurity, discouragement, exhaustion, fear.
Have you noticed?
After several excruciating setbacks—I consider them God’s severe mercy—I came to the end of my striving…again.
I’d been introduced to BE>DO>HAVE.
Unsettling initially, it provided a framework for seeing God’s Word—and myself—differently. It anchored my primary identity as God’s beloved child. A few workshops helped clarify my uniqueness. Recalling experiences of God’s particular pleasure (remember Eric Liddell?) I discovered specific ways of being that blossom to life. In these times, people experienced clarity, courage, and confidence to be who God had distinctively called them to.
A securely loved child of God, I get to champion leaders to live God’s special calling, all-in.
Leaders like you.
Not what we do, but who we are.
Coaching Distinctions #86.doc