Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty five)
We’re examining the adventurous life: a life that, for every Christian, should be completely normal. I’m just one of dozens of examples I know.
I keep ending up in dilemmas that are completely beyond my ability. This was almost never the case before I surrendered my life to Christ. Now, it seems, the adventurous life beacons everywhere. Something inside urges me to sprint into the center of my untidy life and to look for God there, as my provision.
Traveling to consult the board and staff of a conflicted church, I discover I’ve completely underestimated the severity of the situation into which I’m about to step. All that I’ve prepared must be scrapped, and there’s no time to adequately develop a new plan. I have no idea what to do, and I go anyway…
Leading a Bible study, I’m summoned to the phone and learn my son has been in jail for two days, out of state, and unable to reach me. I book a flight to leave the morning…
Delivering groceries to the needy, I learn that a woman with whom we’d prayed has been cured of an infection. She insists that I go to see her friend. On the way, I learn that her friend is dying of brain cancer. We go anyway, I lay my hands on the woman’s head and pray for her healing…
Driving from church to a Father’s day celebration, traffic is inching past a fire engine positioned to block the view of drivers when there’s a particularly gruesome accident. Glancing to my right I see the wreckage of a blue Mustang convertible…
It is the car my daughter and son were driving— the car is flipped onto the hood, windshield flattened. There is no room for any human to have survived. Driver and passenger must have been thrown from the car … or decapitated.
There can be no other explanation.
Crying out to God, I jerk my car to the curb and sprint toward the shattered remains of Lauren’s car…
I’m shocked to learn that a massive sum of money is missing from a capital campaign. The only person with access to the funds is a nationally-respected executive with whom I’m scheduled to meet in the next few minutes. If the conversation doesn’t go well, end my career. I go and raise the concern, head-on…
While praying, I’m impressed by God (I guess) to “deliver a message” to our Mayor. For the next several days, I endeavor to dismiss the thought as a ridiculous concoction of my overactive imagination. The longer I struggle, the stronger the conviction that I’m to make an appointment, sit down with the Mayor, and ask him a very specific question. I make the appointment, meet with the Mayor, and ask the question…
Throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it!
To fully participate in the life God’s given me, knowing that in myself I’m not enough, is to apprehend the adventurous life.
It’s waiting for you, too.
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty four)
In this series, I’m challenging pastors to reacquaint themselves with the adventurous life. Biblical Christianity, I’ve argued, can be nothing else.
It demands that we continuously trust God and leap.
Jesus modeled this. The New Testament is full of examples. Consider this situation: Jesus is about to send the disciples out two-by-two. He gives them these instructions: “We gotta be wise here. Talk as long as you need to save up for your journey. Be sure to take plenty of money with you and arrange your lodgings well in advance. When you enter into a new village, if they’re happy you’re there, stay briefly, so you don’t wear out your welcome. And, if there’s any resistance at all, leave quickly and quietly.
For goodness sake, don’t stir anything up!
Peter and John are hurrying to the temple past a crippled person who is begging. They avoid eye contact and, as they pass, simply shrug their shoulders. One is overheard telling the other: “So sad that the government doesn’t take care of the indigent, isn’t it?”
Sure enough, a storm does arise!
Alarmed, they awaken a terrified Jesus. He screams out: “Quick, hand me a lifejacket! We’ve got to get to shore right away! These waves will probably capsize us! Luke, make a note of this: we must never travel by boat again. It is just too dangerous!”
Read through the Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the entire Old Testament. You’ll see God’s people continually in peril.
Sometimes, God tells them to do the impossible—like instructing Gideon to shrink his armed forces before going to war against a far more formidable foe.
Other times, God’s people find themselves in circumstances where they’ve no hope but for a miracle. The Egyptian army chasing the Israelite slaves to the shores of the Red Sea, for example.
God keeps putting his people in unreasonable situations. They keep finding themselves in circumstances where they have to trust God. Where they can’t rely on themselves.
They’re living the adventurous life.
What about you?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part twenty three)
For several segments in this series we’ve been investigating the challenge facing pastors today. The challenge: to stand with courage and clarity in a religious context that, for decades — maybe centuries — has become less and less courageous and clear. In this spiritual vacuum the greater culture has drunk itself sick on self-focused indulgence.
Or, maybe you see it differently.
Last time I invited you to reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life. A life of trust and risk and experimentation. Stepping beyond the natural limitations of your understanding, your competencies, your skill set, your own strength, intellect, and charisma.
And so with any adventure. There is the possibility of failure, of loss, of injury, of embarrassment, of being mistaken, and of hurt.
The Church today seems to have so little tolerance for the latter that it’s unwilling to engage the former. And, this reality is absolutely stunning in light of the Biblical record. The Christian life is anything but safe, cautious, predictable, measured, and reasonable. Everywhere in the Bible, those who followed God were adventurers.
By contrast, imagine this scene: more than 5,000 have come out to the wilderness to hear Jesus speak. Eventually it dawns on the disciples that if the crowds don’t get something to eat, some of them will grow faint, maybe ill. When Jesus sees that all they have is five loaves and two fish, he pats the young boy on the head and exclaims: “Oh my gosh! We’ve gotta shut this meeting down right now so everyone can get home to eat and rest. Luke, make a note: from now on, we have to hold these gatherings where people can get plenty of nourishing, low-calorie food, refreshments and medical services…and we need regularly scheduled breaks so people don’t over-extend themselves. We can’t have anyone getting tired or hungry at our meetings!“
“Hurry! Quick! Send everyone home!!”
Jesus’ orientation was to grow people to maturity. Those closest to him he challenged the most. Those further away were still challenged to grow in faith, in obedience, in selflessness. Jesus was clear that he was maturing women and men for his Father’s Kingdom.
Pastor, what are you doing?
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 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 four)
After illuminating characteristics of a Culture of Cowardice and making sobering observations about how appropriately it applies to the Church in North America today, we’ve turned our attention to the kind of leadership that can serve to restore the Church to a place of redemptive influence in society.
Edwin Friedman, in Generation to Generation defines a leader as a self-defined person with a non-anxious presence. Last week, we unpacked some of what it means to be self-defined, or as my CRM teammates prefer: “God-defined”.
Today, a non-anxious presence.
A non-anxious presence does not mean carefree, laid-back, detached, or disengaged.
As a powerful squall threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples are a mess. Nervous. Fearful. Panicked. Jesus is … asleep. [Mk 4:38]
After benefiting from the miracle of the loaves and fish the crowd wants Jesus to seize political control, overthrow the Romans, declare himself King. His response was simply to withdraw to a solitary place, alone.
A non-anxious presence is easy to carry off when your leadership is well received, when people are saying great things about you, when folks are happy and grateful for you.
A non-anxious presence is essential when anxiety appears omnipresent.
Recall the phrase: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.” The less mature are always attempting to enroll others in their disquiet, their “crisis du jour”. A perceived catastrophe on the part of certain members of the congregation does not constitute a calamity for a well-defined leader.
Do you think for one minute that God, in Heaven, is wringing his hands over that leaky roof, or the lawsuit brought against the church, or the lousy turnout at the society meeting?
I often remind my coaching clients that God is not looking down at them stunned, saying: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t see that coming!”
And, since God is fully aware of your predicament, what do you suppose God wants to do in you as a result?
You who are in ministry are in “the people development business”.
And so is God.
What do you suppose that God is working to develop in you, through your present difficulties?
A Culture of Cowardice (part two)
- Courageous leadership is, by nature, decisive.
And, the Latin root of decisive means “to cut”. But, it is not nice to cut anything away, to cut anything off, to cut anything out—even a toxic presence – like a parasite – that survives by sucking the life out of those who are healthy.
To lead with heart is to stand for what’s best, simply because it is best—even when unpopular. Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church…draining its vitality.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is clear.
Such a leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, her values and priorities.
The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you will become.
And, therein lies the problem. As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals. As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not “up” for going where you’re going. Stay foggy and many will stick around, wandering in impotent ambiguity.
But, those who get behind a leader who is clear will be a powerful force for good—the good to which that leader’s been called.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is disruptive.
Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction. They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead.
Many interpret their leadership as crisis-inducing.
Edwin Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed upon the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated by the leader doing exactly what she should be doing. Jesus did this all the time. But, notice the reluctance of anyone in church leadership to lead in a way that invites a crisis for long-standing church members.
As a leadership coach and consultant to pastors, my life’s work is to champion Christian influencers to find their hearts and to fully re-engage them in this great, important struggle to stir the Church from its slumber.
There is no altogether “nice” way to do this.
Just five verses into his story, Jonah is asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so critical a moment. Waking Jonah, he demands: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jon1:6]
Get this, folks: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber—calling him to take action with God lest the “community” they were part of be plunged to ruin.
Look around you.
Is not the community around your church caught in a destructive storm?
A moral, ethical, and spiritual hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society? Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the very edges of the culture?
To awaken the Church, her leaders must first rouse themselves.
Then, embracing the opportunity provided by this life, they can stand clearly, decisively, and disruptively to awaken their churches to enter the glorious and dangerous fight for the redemption of the community around them.
What else would a Christ-follower do?
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 Heart to Lead
Francis Frangipane asks in The Three Battlegrounds: “Is your love growing and becoming softer, brighter, more daring, and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love is. A measurable decrease in your ability to love is evidence that a stronghold of cold love is developing within you…”
Paul, with all that was at stake in Corinth, governed his own heart so that it stayed open wide, and his affections so that they were not withheld from them. [2 Cor 6:11-13] So rigorously and openly did he give his heart that he was able to call them to reciprocate—his leverage coming from his having gone first!
He called them to a “fair exchange” of affections.
I wonder if, on those occasions when I have been stunned by the absence of affection I’ve encountered, it actually represented a “fair exchange” of the stinginess-of-affection that I’d sown into the relationship.
I too have trained myself to keep my heart carefully cloistered away where it can’t be hurt. Not much. Yet, this protection comes at a great price.
As humans, let alone Christ-followers, we were made for love.
Built to access and share affection readily, easily, generously.
Like little kids do.
Living with and among imperfect human beings, I’ve been hurt and I’ve seen others get hurt.
In the movies and on TV we see characters that give the appearance of being deeply satisfied, fully alive, and relationally connected without the risk of hurt and heartache that love requires.
I once taught myself to live that way.
Denying what I was, and what I was made for… ‘till Christ captured my heart and taught me a new way: a risky way, a vulnerable, dangerous way. Since then, there’s been an accordion-like opening and closing, expanding and compressing of the affections my heart was meant to exude.
This past decade I’ve been intentionally entering the rigor to open my heart wide and to war against the regular impulse to withhold my affection from those I influence. Imperfectly and purposefully I’m giving myself to this dangerous and delightful way of life. Calling others to engage in a “fair exchange” of affection.
What might God do among those you lead, if you were to give up trying to keep your heart “safe”?
What if you trusted God and opened your heart wide to those you lead?
Leveraging your love with them.
The Heart to Lead
This series is about courage… living with heart.
It’s written as an invitation for you, as a leader, to live and lead with your heart fully engaged. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in the commercial and cultural center, known as Corinth:
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” -2 Corinthians 6:11-13
As in all affairs of the heart, there is risk.
to be vulnerable.
Paul settles the issue for those in ministry: we get to go first! In doing so, we model the way of love for all those around. “We have opened wide our hearts to you”, Paul says. “We are not withholding our affection from you…”
Of how many in Christian leadership could that be said?
How generously, how obviously, how daringly do you love?
How careful are you to not withhold your affection from those you lead?
Most pastors say they love their people well, sacrifice for them, work tirelessly, and always try to be accessible. Yet, Paul speaks of his heart being wide open to them.
A heart wide-open!
A big, gaping opening that can be exploited, disappointed, rejected, maligned. And, I speak not just to the young, wide-eyed church planters that haven’t yet taught themselves to distrust their congregations and to bury their affections behind a mask of professional, religious niceness.
I mean you: the veteran of betrayals, abuses, attacks, and back-stabbings… by those who you’ll likely find in Heaven. You, who’ve been around the block a few times. “We’ve not withheld our affection…”.
Heck, how challenging has it been to keep your heart wide open to your spouse? What struggles have you encountered to not withhold your affection from your own wife or husband?
How stingy are you with your heart, these days?