The Responsibility Riddle
QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?
ANSWER: I am, of course!
Ok, fine. Now answer this…
QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for the spiritual maturity and vitality of your congregation?
ANSWER: Again, I am!
Really? Are you sure?
If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?
Ask me that again??
There’s a troubling trend in the Church these days. We, in ministry, see the evidence of this all the time.
It can be found in a complaint that, more often than not, sounds like this:
“I’m just not getting fed, here…”
“I don’t experience the presence of God here…”
“The worship no longer ministers to me…”.
And then off they go, out the door, on to another church, … or maybe to no church at all.
The thinking, both of the pastor and the complaining congregants flows from the same fallacy: that the pastor, the church, the elders are somehow responsible for the spiritual condition of those they serve.
Thinking like this, it’s no wonder the Church is diapered in perpetual spiritual infancy.
So, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?
The responsibility riddle can be solved in this important, seldom recognized distinction: Your pastor is responsible to you, but is never responsible for you.
Think about it. A pastor is responsible to the congregation to model mature faith in action, to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, to represent Christ ethically.
Each believer is responsible for what they do with the Word of God: both the preached Word and the Word that sits in their lap, on the bookshelf, or on the coffee table gathering dust.
Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?
Of course not!
How could you be?
When you notice that someone has tried to make you responsible for whatever it is that God has made them responsible for – their attitudes, their behavior, their “stress”, their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you bear responsibility to them, but are never responsible for them.
Do I have a responsibility to my wife? Absolutely!
I am responsible to keep my promises to her. I’ve promised to value her above every breathing human being. I’ve promised to honor her whether she deserves it or not. I’ve promised to pray for her. I’ve promised to champion her toward all God’s called her to be. I’ve promised to be faithful sexually and emotionally. I’ve promised to walk with God and to submit my life to Jesus and his Word. And, I promised to treat her better than she deserves.
And, she is responsible for herself.
When our kids were small and unable to take responsibility for themselves, as parents we bore the responsibility for them. When our pre-teen had a friend over, and they snuck out at night and lit a porta-potty on fire, we were legally responsible—because they were minors and under our supervision.
Now in his twenties, it would be foolish for us to take responsibility for his decisions.
In fact, it would be irresponsible for us to do so.
To take responsibility for another adult is a violation of his or her autonomy.
An invasion of their sovereignty.
It represents a kind of abuse.
When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and incapable of bearing the adult consequences for those choices, what is your impact – really – on that person?
What is the “fruit” that is produced when you persuade another to live irresponsibly?
The distinction of being ‘responsible to’ vs. ‘responsible for’ is central for everyone in leadership.
There’s great freedom when you’re clear about this distinction, and lead in such a way that those you influence are clear about it too.
To stand in life responsible to others and responsible for your own emotional being and destiny may require courage you’ve not been willing to summon, until now.
Time to call it up!
While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, much of the time.
So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!
As with each of the articles in this series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it. And you do this to your own relational and leadership peril.
Principle #8- Who gets to choose?
Who decides your decisions?
Who determines your attitudes: whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?
The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.
“So what?” you say.
Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:
You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.
You never have and you never will.
And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do.
Think about it.
You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online. How much your wife spends on shoes. How and when your son does his homework. Right? You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online. Susan has a strict budget—including shoes. Ben knows he has to do all his homework before TV.” And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Ben are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?
I assert that they choose. Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.
Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices. An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?
Think about it.
God, who is omnipotent, who knows everything, who is eternal and sovereign set it up that way. We get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.
Consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time. Imagine your life when you no longer manipulate, press, challenge, shame, and guilt others. Imagine never again being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those near you.
Imagine the impact on those you love.
Consider how they might live when out from under the crushing weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.
What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into whatever reality those decisions open up and close down for them?
You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed. The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!
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Football season is here! Annie and I love to cheer for perennially great teams, like the Crimson Tide and pathetic teams like the Boilermakers. Many practices, disciplines, and perspectives distinguish the teams that succeed on the gridiron from those who seem to find a way to lose Saturday after Saturday.
Where are we vulnerable? What’s our Achilles heel? How can this opponent take advantage of our weaknesses, quirks, and vulnerabilities?
Like any ball club, you have vulnerabilities, susceptibilities, and blind spots, too.
Think about the last major conflict you were in… or the last several contentious situations that had something to do with you.
What made you a target?
Do people experience you as impulsive?
What complaints do people have about you, when your relationship with them has broken down?
Do you even know?
If you don’t know, you’d be smart to seek out some honest feedback – right away! Ask your siblings, your spouse, co-workers (but not your subordinates), and anyone you’ve offended, ever. Ask them how they experience you?
What is the impact you have on others that you’re largely unaware of?
Years ago, a dear friend gave me a great gift.
We’d planted a church and started a business together at the same time.
Tim told me he “felt more like a project than a person” when he was with me. And, I was completely unaware that I impacted people that way. Tim’s honest feedback launched me into an intentional process of seeking help, engaging a therapist, requesting feedback, self-awareness, undergoing character coaching, and self-discovery that’s ongoing.
Along the way I learned that I’ve often been experienced as detached, unaware of my emotions, and blind to the distress and sadness of others… even those closest to me.
Twenty years of counseling, coaching, character-development work, and fearless accountability commitments have brought growth and satisfying fruitfulness. Yet, I still miss the impact I sometimes have on others. My failure to attend to my impact has landed me in hot water with a number of folks on several occasions. This, for me, has been an Achilles heel.
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In thousands of messages we’re told: “you’ve gotta do a, b, and c in order to have x, y, and z so that you can be: smart, important, respected, beautiful, famous, admired, significant, wealthy, important, successful…somebody”.
Yet, Christ modeled a completely different way of living. “I AM the Father’s Son, so I DO what I see my father doing, and I HAVE the glory intended for me.” [Jn 5:19-23]
Of us, he says: “We ARE his handiwork, we DO the good God intended for us to do, as a result we HAVE been brought near to God [Eph 2:10,13]
BE>DO>HAVE is the way of the Kingdom of God.
Think about it.
In this view, people are a threat. If your roommate has what you think you’re supposed to have, you’ll view her as a competitor. If a co-worker does what you think you need to do—or does it faster, better, quicker—you’ll naturally interpret this as a hazard to your becoming.
Rather than being blessed for someone’s success, you feel diminished—in some crazy way. So you’re jealous, bitter, resentful, or worse!
Notice your language. If you frequently evaluate yourself in reference to others (better, prettier, less than, better paid, faster, less successful, smarter, taller, less popular) you’re living DO>HAVE>BE.
A mentor, Lawrence Edwards once told me “comparison is the seedbed of envy”. Envy is deadly to relationships. [Mk 7:22]
In DO>HAVE>BE you can’t be generous, because anything you give away reduces what you have left. And that shrinks your significance.
But living BE>DO>HAVE your identity is solid, secure, intact. It’s not based on performance, other’s opinions, or what you have. You are. And, secure in who you are, you live generously with praise, talent, friendship, resources, opportunities, material goods, wisdom, esteem, perspective.
Pastor, is that church down the street a competitor or an opening for you to bring glory to God?
It all depends…on you.
Coaching Distinctions #85.doc
Talk at length with just about anyone and you’re likely to hear about a relationship that’s difficult, painful, or unsatisfying in some way. The common view is that we are “passengers” in relationships driven by forces we can’t influence…or that are controlled by someone else.
For the last six segments we’ve been examining the reality that each of us “architects” our relationships. Because you do, you can re-architect it at any time.
When the Bible introduces the Apostle Paul he’s “Saul” a bloodthirsty oppressor of the Church, feared by believers and heralded by the Jews. Acts 9 – 14 chronicles the amazing “re-architecture” of Paul’s relationship with both.
In the Old Testament, we meet Esther, an orphaned Jewish slave known only for her good looks and lovely figure. [Est 2:7] Winning his favor in an elaborate beauty contest, Esther becomes King Xerxes’ wife.
Xerxes ruled more than 100 provinces from India to Egypt. At the insistence of Mordecai, the relative who raised her, Esther keeps her ethnicity a secret. The text is largely silent about Esther’s role as Queen. But everything suggests that it was limited to keeping herself fit, looking good, and being available to the King when called.
She was not consulted by the King nor did she participate in affairs of state. No doubt her relationship with the King was heavily influenced by law, political precedent, and deeply entrenched customs. And, the whole time, she was a co-architect in their relationship.
At one point, induced by Haman, (an elite official who despises Mordecai for his allegiance to Yahweh), Xerxes decreed that all the Jews in the realm be annihilated. [Est 3:13] Mordecai asks Esther to intervene with the King to overturn the decree. Here’s the thing, it’s illegal to approach the King without being summoned—punishable by death. [Est 4:11] She’s forbidden from involvement in the legislative process and most certainly mustn’t resist any of the King’s rulings.
In a series of bold, unprecedented steps, Esther secures an invitation to Xerxes’ throne room, holds private banquets for Xerxes and Haman, and requests that he spare her life and that of Jews–her people.
Not only does Xerxes save the Jewish people, he orders that Haman meet the fate he’d planned for Mordecai.
Re-architecting your marriage likely won’t require you risk to your life, and yet the opportunity to bring “life” from “death” quite possibly awaits.
You’re an architect. Go for it.
Coaching Distinctions #82.doc
You might be in one now.
Perhaps you’re invested in an alliance that’s veered from the path or the purpose that originally drew you to it. Possibly it began as a way to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God or to do good for others. Somehow, things changed. The emphasis now is self preservation or personal gratification or simply avoiding the truth that the endeavor has failed to do what you intended … and no one’s had the courage or integrity to speak the truth.
Or maybe a friendship once had desirable virtues that brought life to each of you. In time though, that which you admired has been subsumed by dynamics that are far less ideal. You may be toiling to minimize the effects of compromises to your values that have become a fairly regular expression of the relationship you now share.
Another possibility is that you entered a relationship by meeting a need for someone else. Maybe she or he was in a rough patch, and you provided a friendly face, a listening ear, or a sympathetic shoulder. As the intensity of their troubles abated, you stayed stuck in that care-giving role—a role no longer as necessary as it once was—rendering your connections oddly awkward.
It could be your marriage. Perhaps each of you took the plunge for what you hoped you’d get. Then, when the marriage took more hard work from you than you expected to give, your heart went out of it. The one who once commandeered your affections is no longer someone you even like very much.
Like all sensible people, you leapt into the new opportunity for some benefit you anticipated. In some cases, it began well, then faded. In others, if you’re honest, what you’d hoped never materialized—even early on. Or, you were pigeonholed in a role that’s not needed. Most commonly the endeavor failed to provide quick, easy benefits without any determined investment on your part, and someone’s become disillusioned.
Not so, my friend!
Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!
And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.
Coaching Distinctions #76.doc
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Though naturally predisposed to function like ‘resistance machines’, Annie and I have several friends who’ve re-trained themselves to give themselves to their lives—especially when they’d prefer to hold back. I was with a dear friend and mentor at the moment the oncologist called with the diagnosis: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. CLL is a devastating disease—essentially cancer of the blood.
Still in his 40’s, it came as a complete shock.
We were at a convent in Kalamazoo conducting a character-development workshop that supports people to transform their ability to fulfill God’s unique purpose freely, passionately, and powerfully. Using revealing exercises, guided reflection, Socratic questioning, and focused discussions, participants discover beliefs, heretofore unexamined, that undermine their success in life, career, relationships, and ministry.
Stunned, I watched my friend absorb the blast of the diagnosis, remind himself why he was there in the first place, and give himself completely, generously, and enthusiastically for the forty people enrolled in our training.
Ennio was so invested in serving others that his very natural concerns for himself faded into the background. Though we talked and prayed frequently that week, I don’t actually know how he battled his own resistance. While remaining aware of the realities of his medical situation, the uncertainty it cast on his future, and gradually being informed about the treatment regimen that would be required, he threw himself into his life—and the lives of our participants—with the same exhilarating commitment I’d seen him do dozens of times before.
If not for his physical symptoms, which worsened dramatically each day, I don’t think any of them would have known what we knew. Ennio epitomizes what it means to “throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it.”
God did plenty with Ennio that week. And ever since.
Yesterday I was in Atlanta training pastors in CRM’s Awaken and Activate Workshops. As the name implies, Awaken is about awakening in Christians the calling of God to live Jesus’ goodness with those outside the Church. It’s great, cerebral stuff.
But in Activate, participants leap into action, connecting meaningfully with people outside the faith community with practical, meaningful, and beneficial results. The action is not theoretical or imaginary. It is real actual action.
So, transitioning from Awaken to Activate we moved effortlessly through the material, the exercises, and discussions. Then, as we approached the “Action Zone” the room locked down.
Our cooperative and congenial participants were suddenly confused…
It was time to DO SOMETHING—something completely new. It requiring they break through the inertia of church-focus and instead to phone or email a neighbor or co-worker outside the Church and invite her over for a meal. Or volunteer to serve in the community…to take “irreversible action” to serve and bless someone on the outside.
Firmly and skillfully, David identified the resistance in the room, re-enrolled the pastors in their vision to lead community-impacting churches by becoming community-impacting leaders…
and off they went—into the “Action Zone”—leaping one by one into the uncharted territory of unprecedented relationships holding eternal potential.
They threw themselves into the middle of the room… and God met them there!
Coaching distinctions #69.doc
I’m offering one of the most helpful perspectives on human behavior I’ve ever learned. It impacts my coaching with pastors all the time. Called the “Universal Human Paradigm”, it was explained to me this way:
1) Human beings are “resistance machines”.
2) When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it.
3) And, when life doesn‘t look the way we prefer, we resist it.
4) The universal way that human beings resist life is by withholding their participation from it.
Think about it…
Pick a topic: your dating situation, your finances, weight, investments, bowling average, church attendance, or blood pressure.
If you consider your situation to be “good”, you’re all about it, active, enthused, engaged, participating…
Maybe a while ago you were a ‘gold bug’.
Encouraged by the prospects of growing financial insecurity, a wobbling economy, and our government’s mindless pursuit of dollar-devastating “quantitative easing”, you pulled your savings and plowed into gold.
As prices rose, you followed it like a hawk. On the internet. In newsletters. Tracked commodity prices. Joined a gold investors club. But with gold falling almost 30% since 2011…you’ve barely looked at it.
For thirty years I’ve run hot and cold on my weight.
Broken by a half-dozen steep downdrafts, my weight has pretty much continued an inexorable incline over my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s— reaching an excruciating summit a couple years ago.
Those downdrafts were not accidental.
I started some formal weight loss regimen and, as weight came off, I focused on it more. And, as more came off I invested more of my energy and attention to it. I became more devoted, determined, disciplined. And it worked.
Then, after enjoying the benefits for a while, my weight began to creep up.
Discouraged, I paid less attention to it. The more I took my eye off my weight, the more I indulged my preference for weight-inducing foods. And, the more weight I’d gain. As I did, I ignored it all the more; checking my weight less often and exercising more infrequently.
So, you have this incorrigible elder who—in a number of religious-sounding ways— intimidates all who disagree with him. You’ve tried befriending him, encouraging him, reasoning with him, appealing to scripture… all without effect.
This guy is not looking the way you prefer!
So you resist. How?
By avoiding him. By pretending that the havoc he causes is less than it is. By looking the other way when he unloads his religious judgments on people.
And the terrorism continues…
Coaching distinctions #65.doc
We’re looking at one of the most common dumb things most people do most of the time. When “A” offends “B”, A rushes to A’s defense, pleading that, after all, A’s intentions were innocent. B just took it wrong and B got hurt. End of discussion!
This is dumb because in A’s self-focused concern to clear himself, A left the injury—and the injured party (i.e. B) unaddressed.
If A was hoping for restoration of relationship, this strategy is just plain dumb!
If I’m smart, I’ll attend to my impact, not my intention.
Recently, while leading a workshop I was bemoaning “bait and switch” tactics employed by some churches. They show up to do some form of community service then to use it to buttonhole people with religious arguments and promote the church they attend.
When the “switch” is thrown, people are offended.
To illustrate the impact of bait and switch, I described a time Annie and I were invited to dinner at the home of an admired minister. When the conversation awkwardly turned to a multi-level marketing “opportunity” they discerned was ideal for us, their true motivations were revealed.
We felt hurt, manipulated, and used.
During the break, a workshop participant angrily challenged the negative light I’d cast on the MLM I’d mentioned—a business to which he and his wife had devoted decades. I had so offended her that she’d left, humiliated and angry. I should be more careful about what I say!
Impulsively, I explained that I’d simply shared a story whose details were true. I’d done nothing to disparage his particular MLM. I’d simply shared the facts as they occurred. About this time, I began to notice him.
I could see that my defense had accomplished nothing in assuaging his anger, addressing his hurt, or communicating concern for his still-absent spouse.
In an instant, my heart cracked. “Please forgive me … I am so sorry to have been so thoughtless! I should never have named the business—it was completely unnecessary for that illustration. I was terribly insensitive!! I can only imagine how much I hurt your wife and you. You’ve given so much to build your business, and I come traipsing into your town and trash your reputation in front of your friends!!” Now, with tears welling up: “Could you forgive me, please?”
What happened next has occurred so many times when I’ve blundered like this and then attended to my impact.
We became close.
The ‘breakdown’ between us became an opening for intimacy. I invited him to tell me more about how my words impacted him. He talked about the care they’d taken to grow their business with integrity, to honor Christ in all their dealings, and to be honest with everyone along the way. Graciously, he forgave me. We shared laughter, hugs, and tears.
Owning my impact honestly and authentically brought us closer than if I’d never made the mistake in the first place.
See, a relational breakdown is an opening for intimacy.
Coaching distinctions #62.doc
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In my coaching practice it’s common to address situations where a leader’s decision impacts people in less than desirable ways. We know the higher up you are in an organization, the more challenging the problems that land in your lap.
Senior Pastors of large congregations spend much of their time dealing with very complex situations. And, when they do, no matter how many or how clear headed your advisors are, it will fall to you to make the most difficult decisions. And, the nature of leadership is that several will be upset with almost any decision you make.
Interesting that the Greek word “crisis” means “to decide”.
When leaders decide, they and others are impacted, and the impact—as we’ve said—is not always positive. This is why it is so detrimental to pastor your congregation as an appeaser, a consensus-builder, a “lets all go happily together” guy. The only way to please the majority is to avoid the “crisis” that every decision brings. And that, of course, is not to decide at all.
In the absence of clear, courageous leaders making painful but principled decisions, debtor nations keep amassing ever more enormous deficits and the ECB creates worth-less Euros in a vain attempt to forestall the collapse of that teetering house of cards.
In 2009 a CNBC study revealed that of the world’s top twenty debtor nations seventeen are European.
To avoid the “crisis” of making important, necessary, and difficult decisions now, we can create an impact in the future many times worse.
How much of the current disconnect between the Church and the society she was given by God to rescue and resuscitate is the result of pastors who, for decades, were unwilling to upset parishioners committed to the minister-to-me status quo? As congregations removed themselves from helping in the communities where God placed them as salt and light, those communities have continued to struggle in the dark.
Whatever our intentions, we get to address the impact of our decisions—including those decisions not to decide.
If immersing yourself in work—because the mortgage crisis reduced your family’s only asset to a liability—has produced isolation and distance in your marriage, there’s no point defending yourself. Own your impact and give yourself to your spouse with the abandon you once promised.
If you’re “sideways” with one of your siblings over different views of how to care for aging parents, it does no good to keep asserting the “rightness” of your position. Just get off it and reach for your sibling in love.
Today, begin having the impact you’ve always wanted.
Coaching distinctions #60.doc