Prices and Payoffs


Crazy people do things for no reason.

For the rest of us, there is always a reason for whatever we do.  You might not like it, but it’s true.

We prefer to imagine that “something just came over me” when I chewed out the State Trooper while pulled over for speeding.  Or, we claim innocence when we’re caught doing something impulsive and out of character: “I have no idea” where that came from!”

Here’s the thing, since you’re not nuts, you actually had a reason for doing what you did.  True, you’re likely unaware of your motivations.  I’m inviting you to consider that, if you’ll look honestly, you’ll be able to uncover why you behaved as you did.

When coaching a client who’s in some kind of trouble, one helpful practice is to examine the prices (costs) and payoffs (benefits) of the choices that contributed to the mess. It sounds something like this:

What prices are you paying, because of the choice you made?

What prices are being paid by the people on the other side of this difficulty?

What payoffs, or benefits, do you receive by making this decision?

It’s this third question that stumps most folks.  The assumptive answer is “nothing”.  So, I remind my client that they’re not certifiable, and to dig deeper. You see, no matter how incomprehensible your choices now seem to be, they made sense to you at the time.  Inevitably, the client will discover that there was rationality behind the action. 

Over the years I’ve learned that at some level, every decision made sense at the time to the person who made it.  How it made sense is worth investigating.

Even more helpful is what comes next.

We collaborate to identify the beliefs that lay beneath that logic.  For example, a pastor I’m coaching might realize that she distrusts an elder, and afraid of being manipulated like in her last pastorate, she’s unwittingly locked in a conflict she didn’t know was there.

Such a belief can be articulated this way: this [situation, person, experience] reminds me of that [something troubling from the past], so, I reacted as if I was in the same situation. 

Problem is, this isn’t that and when I’m living in the present as if it’s essentially what happened before, I behave in ways that undermine my effectiveness now.  What might surprise you is that this recurring drama plays itself out all the time.

You do it, too.

It’s also common to be unaware that you’re motivated by of these four powerful desires:

  • To look good
  • To feel good
  • To be right
  • To be in control

More on this next time.

Compendium (part eight)


Leadership Courage Series # 42

The seventh of nine leadership characteristics needed in the Church today: Disengage from an unreasonable faith in reasonableness. 

Let me ask you: How reasonable was Jesus when confronting opposition,  faithlessness, and cowardice? 

Consider his arrest, in Gethsemane.  Jesus is betrayed with a kiss by one of his closest confidants, an armed mob seizes him, binds him, and Peter hacks off the guy’s ear.

Jesus is in charge.

He’s not reasoning with his captors—he’s in the moment, training his disciples about spiritual warfare and teaching the mob about God’s sovereignty: they are powerlessness to oppose the Father’s will. Would you call this reasonable behavior, in light of Jesus’ circumstances? [Mt 26:46-57] 

Thomas, I suppose, is a premier example of faithlessness. Hearing about Jesus’ appearance from the disciples, he’s unconvinced. A week later Jesus steps into the room and begins to soothe poor Thomas in his doubt and distress: “Sheesh, Tommy, I know how hard it must’ve been for you to believe these guys… here, let me give you a hug.”  Reasonable, in light of the circumstances, right?

No, Jesus expected Thomas to believe. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [Jn 20:25-28] 

Maybe most unreasonable is the Lord’s response to cowardice.  The term appears only once in the New Testament:“To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Rev 21:6-8]

Scripture portrays the human race as engaged in a very real, very important, very high-stakes struggle between the forces of darkness — which conspire to enslave us in destruction unto death — and the power of God which offers to free us to “life that is truly life”.

Those who understood this were unreasonable women and men. 

Moreover, God’s intent is that we grow into the way-of-being of God’s Son.  To this end, God is continually pressing us beyond the limits of what we know, what we can do, and what we can control. So that, like his Son, we’ll trust God more and more confidently, immediately, and unwaveringly.



If you’re trying to make Christians to be people who live like Christ.    


Compendium (part seven)


Leadership Courage Series # 41

The sixth leadership characteristic needed in the Church today is: Undermine the 80/20 Rule. 80/20 is another evidence that cowardice is thriving in much of the American Church.

A week ago, my pastor announced that last year’s tithes and offerings – totaling more than $5 million – came from 15% of the congregation.

The rest – thousand of them — gave nothing, financially.


Sad.  Isn’t it?

We leaders get to become more determined and intentional if we’re to break through the culture of cowardice and provoke our people to love and good works. [Heb 10:24]

Here’s how:

One:  Think like a people-developer, not a gatherer of spectators.  

Get out of the Christian education and entertainment business.

Jesus did not say: “Go and entertain people” in Mt 28.  Nor did he say we’re to “Go and educate people.”

“Make disciples”.

The point of all discipleship is that we are to be like our role model, Jesus. [Luke 6:40]

Two: Stop counting the numbers of spectators who show up for your events. Instead, count those who are intentionally and fruitfully living like Christ— and summon the courage to count them only.  What does it matter how many people consume what you give them for free?  What does it matter how many come and leave unchanged.  Un-matured.  Un-discipled.


Why do we care so much about numbers and ignore fruitfulness?

Three: Innovate ways to involve everyone, every time.  What if you devoted 80% of the time your staff now gives to developing a slick religious education and entertainment event —- you call it a “weekend service” —- to innovate ways to challenge, involve, and stretch your people?

What if you gave them ways to practice being like Jesus every time you gather?

What if they were expected to risk, to try, to fail, and to learn from the experience?

What if you measured your success by the impact your congregation is having on the surrounding community?  

“Oh no”, you say, “our people will leave if we expect this much of them!”

Are you sure?

My seminary professor, with his doctoral students, studied more than 1,300 biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders in a stellar career spanning decades.  One conclusion he calls “Goodwin’s Expectation Principle”.  My rendering is this: “People will rise to the level of the expectations of those whom they respect.” 

What if you began to expect your people—all of them – to live more and more like Jesus?  What if your congregation became passionate about doing what Jesus did, both within the church and outside it?

Or, what if they don’t? 

Do you not see American society disintegrating before you eyes?

Don’t you see godlessness taking the culture by storm?

While ministers inform and excuse and soothe and placate those who gather in our sanctuaries, the society that Jesus gave us to redeem [2 Cor 5:18-20] is speeding to its destruction.

It needs our salt and light. 

Doesn’t it?


Compendium (part five)


Leadership Courage Series # 39

The fourth trait to lead effectively in a Church caught in a culture of cowardice: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.

A Christian leader is not simply someone who gets things done or who gets others to behave in desirable ways, in a religious context. 

A leader is different.

She presences herself in life and relationships in a uniquely beneficial way.  This uniqueness transcends behavior, skill, and knowledge.  It’s best described in terms of being.  A courageous leader’s way-of-being is distinctive.

Its exceptionality is that it provokes maturity in those she influences.

The difference is palpable.  One difference is the way a leader is in the midst of sabotage and backlash.  My Fuller Seminary Professor and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton identifies 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.

A courageous leader recognizes that backlash and sabotage are normal and are the product of evacuated courage in those disheartened by difficulty.  The leader interprets backlash as an opportunity to:

a) model a way of leading that inspires confidence toward God, and

b) deepen the maturity and faithfulness of colleagues and followers.

The leader chooses to interpret opposition as provision from Heaven. 

Consider Jesus.  In John 6:66 many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  Immediately, Jesus challenges the twelve: Don’t you want to go away too?  He saw the departure of many as an opportunity to test the resolve of the leaders closest to him.

Embracing the reality of God’s sovereignty and apprehending the security of God’s unconditional love, she leans into the resistance with a posture of confident curiosity.

Grounding herself in the shelter of a loving, all-powerful God, the leader can reach for people for their benefit.

“God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.  Aware that God’s agenda is to grow all of us into Christ-likeness, the leader can stand, as Jesus did, for her parishoners’ progress into maturity.

Having taken full responsibility, before the Father, for his being and destiny, Jesus lives as if his actions, attitudes, and words are on purpose: to establish the Kingdom of God in the lives of men and women.

Acclimate yourself to the rigor of taking responsibility, before God, for your responses to your environment and circumstances.

After all, everybody’s watching.

Go First! (part six)


Leadership Courage Series # 34

Last time, I used the phrase “do what’s right because it’s right, whether it works or not.”  I learned this from a friend, who says he learned it from the Lord.  His wife had lost both her parents to cancer. One after the other.  Suddenly.  Unexpectedly.

The impact was devastating.  She was always the strong one for her parents and siblings.  Amazing everyone, she stood like Gibraltar: an emotional and spiritual fortress in a storm of incalculable ferocity.

But, after the second funeral her scaffolding rocked, then teetered, and collapsed.  When it did, my friend found himself in court-ordered isolation.

Banished from his home, his wife, and his children.

With tears in his eyes, Tom promised me that he’d do what was right for his wife, because it was right, whether it “worked” or not.

Whether he’d ever be able to move home.  Ever hold his wife again.  Ever have a meal at with his children at their table.

Leaders go first.

Which means they do GO.  Leaders move into the unknown.  They realize they cannot afford to wait until there’s no risk left. Guided by their values and attending to their functioning moral compass, they move.

This is what Tom chose to do.  To respond tenderly, mercifully, patiently, lovingly, forgivingly, kindly.  While facing a great threat to his and his family’s future.  There was no MapQuest with navigation instructions.  No one he knew had faced something like this.  Nothing about it made sense.

It didn’t have to. 

His commitment was to do right by his wife.

Courageous leaders have learned to govern themselves, to manage their emotional reactivity, to restrain their impulsivity. Like, the impulse for revenge.  To employ terrorist tactics.  Or zero-sum strategies. And the ever-present impulse to resist another’s resistance

Instead, she surrenders herself to integrity. Her integrity.  And, she entrusts herself to God, being obedient, as best she can, to what she knows to be right.


A Christian leader cannot afford to be capricious, impetuous, or mercurial.  If they are, those they lead cannot follow.  And, leaders are only leaders when people follow them.

It’s incumbent upon leaders in the Church to do what we know to be right.  Because, when we don’t, we compromise ourselves.  When you compromise your own integrity, you commit moral suicide. 

When you fail to do what you know to be right, you immediately lose esteem for yourself.  The antidote to low self-esteem is not the empty pumping up of those who live without integrity.  It is to live a life that you yourself esteem.  That you respect.  To quote my friend Tom, you do what’s right.

One tragedy of Christian leadership in our day is that far too many suffer from this malady.  Collapsing on what they know to be right, the erosion of esteem begins its inexorable advance.

Confidence is undermined.

One collapse breeds another.

Compromised, the leader looks outside to determine direction.  Like the politician taking cues from polling data, she’s straining to sense the political winds rather than standing on the moral certitude of doing what’s right.

The question is no longer “what’s right?” but “what’ll work?”  And, adrift of one’s ethical moorings, the tragedies mount up. 

Don’t they?

And, this is what passes for leadership in a culture of cowardice.

What if the Church in our nation determined to do what we know to be right, simply because it is right?   What if honor and integrity supplanted expediency and political advantage?

How might we then live?

How might our society respond?













The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part four)


Leadership Courage Series # 28

Within a larger conversation concerning courageous leadership we’ve been examining the outworking of placing “an unreasonable faith in reasonableness” – a central tenet of much of post-Enlightenment Christendom in the West.  I am indebted to Edwin Freidman’s A Failure on Nerve for illuminating this characteristic of the anxious, shallow, quick-fix orientation to leadership.

This kind of leadership is ruining the Church in North America in our time.

We’ve pointed out that when you preach what you don’t practice, the dissonance repels people – not just from your sanctuary – but from Christianity and Christ.  The implications for a society are deeply profound and can infect it for generations.

See, Christianity is nothing if not a call to courage.  When her leaders bow before the idol of reasonableness, a dry, humdrum philosophical religion results.

And, men leave the church in droves.

Or haven’t you noticed?

I subscribe to an excellent book reading service called Leader’s Book Summaries [].  I highly recommend it.  In a recent summary of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church I learned that only one third of church attendees are men—and most of them are over 50.  It’s almost impossible to find adults – of either gender — under age 30 in church.

How come?

Consider these two lists of values:  First, the pink list:  Love, communication, beauty, relationships, support, help, nurture, feelings, sharing, harmony, community, and cooperation.

And, the green list: Competence, power, efficiency, achievement, skills, results, accomplishment, technology, goals, success, and competition.

Which list of values are most consistent with the culture that predominates the North American Church today?

The two lists come from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and distinguish culturally “masculine” from “feminine” values.

What do you see?

In our commitment to be reasonable, among other major shifts, the Church in the west has been emasculated.  Neutered.  No.  It’s been feminized.

The Leaders Book Summary points out that numerous studies reveal “there is widespread agreement among both the religious and the secular that to be a Christian is to embrace feminine values.”

Consider this:  those most absent from church (men and young adults) value challenge over security. Again, taken from the Summary, the key values of this missing population include adventure, risk, daring, independence, variety, and reward.

Women and seniors are more likely to  embrace safety, stability, harmony,  predictability, comfort, support, and  tradition as core values.

Since values are revealed in behavior, not belief systems, what does your lifestyle reveal, pastor?

When the time has come to take a courageous stand, what does your behavior reveal?

  • When the opportunity came to stand up to that manipulative, obstructionist power-wielding elder, what did you do?
  • When you thought to lead your parish out into the city to serve and love and impact those outside your tight-knit congregation – and push-back came, as it always does – did you lead courageously or cave-in under pressure?
  • When a clear biblical injunction has become as unpopular in your denomination as in the culture at large, have you censored your own voice?
  • When the Holy Spirit stirred you to put your hand to the plow in pursuit of some great, challenging work for God’s glory, did the fearful complaints of the cowards prevail in the end?

As leaders, we get to champion our people to become who they always wanted to be, by taking them where they never wanted to go.

And, since life is always lived from now on, your past behavior is no predictor of the greatness you’ll accomplish before you breathe your last.

So, before you see Him face to face, what great, rewarding, daring adventure will you and your people give yourselves to?

What’ll it be?

You get to choose.

Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part three)


Leadership Courage Series # 24

Here’s a final look at the 80/20 Rule and its connection to the culture of cowardice in the North American Church.  And, it may be hard to hear.

Could it be that a distorted substitute for biblical grace has taken the Church?

Consider how little the Church asks of Christians… in the name of “grace”.

And, consider the abundance of resources we make available to Christians who are expected to contribute next to nothing in return.  Churches, in general, are so transfixed with providing for their own that they have little time, energy, and resources with which to be “the Church” to the unchurched.

Think about it:  Baby dedications.  Baptisms.  Child care.  Mom’s nights out.  Children’s ministry.  Youth group. Relationship counseling.  College and career ministry.  Pre-marital classes.  Weddings.  Marriage counseling.  Divorce recovery.  Grief counseling.  Financial management seminars.  Debt counseling.  Bereavement care. Memorial services.  Our churches provide cradle-to-grave services to the saved— most of which are free of any call that the recipients contribute their time, energy, or money to the community of faith from which they take, take, take.

Is it any wonder that fewer than 10% of church-dwellers tithe?

Ever attended a church while it undertook a major capital campaign?

What happened?

For a capital campaign to succeed, two things have to occur: those who already give must dig deep and give more—usually a lot more—and they often do. And also, those who rarely give and who only gesture at giving are called upon to sacrifice as well—and there’s where the commotion commences…

Doesn’t it?

A capital campaign–like the claims of Lordship that Jesus so clearly articulates–calls each of us to painful sacrifice.  In Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and 14:27 the gospels record Jesus’ clearly: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Yet, in our commitment to be visitor-sensitive, we communicate in dozens of ways that such cross-bearing is optional.   Not expected.  And, certainly not insisted upon.  And then, when we finally call our people – all of them – to get in the game in a sacrificial way, many of them pack up and leave for another church.  Or, no church at all.

Don’t they?

And, look where all this visitor-sensitivity has got us.  Do you see maturing disciples all around you?

Do you?

My friends were approved by Habitat for Humanity a number of 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?

Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part two)


Leadership Courage Series # 23

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?

One: Think like a people-developer, not a gatherer of passive spectators. 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?

What 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: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, etc?
  • 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 that might 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].
  • How would you insure that your people applied whatever is taught when you do an education event?  What pathways can you pave in advance of your weekend education event so that every person could take action in line with their new learning?

Two: Stop counting the numbers of spectators who amass at your weekend events.

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. 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 visible heroes.

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

What can you, as a senior leadership team do, to provoke your people to love and good works? [Heb 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, seven services a weekend, I think.  So … what if, routinely in our services, we grouped people and asked them to find someone in the group 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 they kept asking until 15 people agreed to come and help?

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

Where everyone contributes.

Where everyone plays.

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

The Adventurous Life #3


Why is it that the Christian life is such an adventure? What has your experience been, following hard after God, as best you know?

In my life, I repeatedly find myself in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability.  This was far less common before I surrendered my life to Christ.  Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere.  It seems that God wants me in water just over my head—where I get to trust him as a way of life.  Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.

For example…

As a consultant, while traveling to meet the board, elders, and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve been completely misinformed about the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step.  All that I’ve prepared for three days of meetings must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan.  I go anyway…

While 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 next morning…

Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of a severe 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 police cars and 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…

It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car has 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, it could undermine my career.  I go and raise the concern, head-on…

While praying, I’m impressed by God (I think) 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…

Paul says he pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. [Phil 3:12]  This “pressing on” suggests an ardor so intense, a struggle so severe, an exertion so demanding as to have required his all. I wonder if our pursuit of Christ’s calling to change our world would blanche in comparison to that of Paul.

Writing to the Church at Ephesus, about the ferocity of the spiritual struggle that is the Christian life, Paul elsewhere writes: “…and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand…” [Eph 6:13b-14a]  I understand this to mean: “after you’ve given everything in you to stand, keep standing!”

A friend who, for more than a decade, has championed me to live a life of bold, decisive action, says it this way: Throw yourself into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!

To fully participate in the life God has given us, knowing that in ourselves we’re not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.

See you there!

Leadership Courage Series #21:

Leadership in Culture of Cowardice (part twelve)

Leadership Courage Series #19:


Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part ten)

Where and when did the role of Pastor become so closely associated with the characteristics of terrible leadership: anemic, people-pleasing, comfort-oriented, weakness-honoring, safety-bound, consensus-collecting, approval-seeking, distress-abating caretaking?

How did we get from the decisive, principle-inspired boldness of Jesus with the money-changers [Mt 21], Paul and the riot in Ephesus [Ac 19], and Peter on the first Pentecost [Ac 2] to this?

How did we move from the frightening judgment of Ananias and Sapphira [Ac 5], the power of God resting on Stephen at his stoning [Ac 6], and the early church leaders arrested for “turning the world upside down” [Ac 17:6] to a religious experience so predictable, routinized, and boring that men of any age, and people under the age of 40 stay away in droves?

Maybe you saw the Flo TV ad that debuted in last February’s Super Bowl.

Sports announcer Jim Nance voice-overs the sad spectacle of Jason Glasby being led around the lingerie department by his girlfriend.  Nance says: “Hello, friends. We have an injury report on Jason Glasby. As you can see, his girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.”

I’m wondering about the injury report on the Church in North America.  Who has removed our spine?

Over the last nine installments in this Leadership Courage series, five principles have been offered for pastors who find themselves leading 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.

To this, a sixth: Re-introduce yourself to the adventurous life. Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, observes: “What our civilization needs most is leaders with a bold sense of adventure… Our nation’s obsession with safety ignores the fact that every American alive today benefits from centuries of risk-taking by previous generations…every modern benefit from health to enjoyment to production has come about because Americans in previous generations put adventure before safety.”

Do you find incomprehensible the pathway from the behavior of the Church described in the Book of Acts and that of most any Sunday morning gathering in the US today?

How on earth did the Church get from vibrant, exciting, world overturning, status-quo challenging, Kingdom of God advancing powerhouse to predictable, regimented, backward-looking, tradition-bound, safety-dominant, repository of religious relics?

When were ministers of the Gospel transformed from courageous, God-trusting, whole-hearted, catalytic change agents to … to … well… providers of religious education and entertainment, chaplains of religious tradition, scholar-rhetoricians, and caregivers to those who claim to follow Christ?

What has become of adventure?

I’m not advocating that we risk for the thrill of it, that we put ourselves in harm’s way for the emotional rush some get when they do dangerous things, or that we behave erratically just to break up the boredom.  I’m inviting you to the adventurous life for the advancement of God’s reign and rule in your community. This is not adventure for adventure’s sake.  It’s returning to the biblically-normal life of risk and trust as we presence the way of Jesus in a culture more dark and desperate than any of us may fully appreciate.

The Adventurous Life

What an adventure it could be to…

trust Christ as you call people to distinctively demonstrate the way of Jesus to the world.

trust the Father as you lead your people off the church campus to love people and meet real needs right in your community.

trust the Holy Spirit as you confront sin so clearly and confidently those within your sphere of influence regain their capacity to blush. [Jer 6:15]

invite your people to take responsibility for their own well-being and destiny in Christ, serving their commitment to mature in Christ-likeness.

love your spouse so consistently and spectacularly that no one would wonder if the congregation had taken her spot in your heart.

break up whatever fallow ground there is in your own heart [Jer 4:3], to commit to love as if you’ve never been hurt [Lk 23:34], to reach to reconcile with those from whom you’re now estranged [Rom 12:18]…and do it all in full view of your congregation, so they can learn to live like Jesus from your example as well as your preaching [1 Pt 5:3].

The Adventurous Life

What might be gained were you to love that elder enough to challenge the irritating and demeaning way he engages those around him?

What benefits could accrue if you were really to challenge your people to a lifestyle of financial sacrifice until it becomes the norm?  What do you think we in the Church are perpetuating when 60-80% of long-time church attendees give nothing in return for the services and benefits they receive?  When fewer than ten percent of Church members actually tithe?  Why, I wonder, do we take pride in attendance numbers when most of those who come contribute neither time nor money to the welfare of the community of faith, let alone the waiting and watching community outside our doors?

The Adventurous Life

If you are in the religious education and entertainment business I can understand why you’d eschew adventure and risk. But, if you’re in the people-development business, committed to make mature followers of Jesus, I’m not sure there’s any other way.

Are you?

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