The Heart to Lead
This begins a new blog series. The topic is Leadership Courage.
Courage is integral to leadership.
The link between the two is inseparable. Attempting to lead anyone, without employing courage, will undermine the possibility of the enterprise you hope to lead others in.
Management is another bird entirely. A manager does not a leader make. I hold a management degree. An advanced degree. From a pretty good school. We learned and practiced sophisticated problem solving techniques. We got pretty good with multifaceted analytic tools: market, cultural, financial, logistical, and competitive analysis just to name a few. Maybe most importantly, we developed our abilities at strategic reasoning and planning. In no way is my objective to denigrate management or management education. Yet, leadership is an altogether different matter.
Leadership is the visible employment of courage in a way that changes people
Their thinking, behavior, and the impacts of those changes.
So, what is courage?
A friend and mentor often says: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but is moving forward in the face of fear.”
So, what is it that moves one forward in the face of fear?
The answer, I think, can be found in the etymology of the word itself.
Our English word “courage” comes from the French cor which means “heart”.
Courage, literally can mean “with heart”.
To live courageously is to live with heart.
With your whole heart.
Your whole heart invested.
Your whole heart at stake.
Your whole heart exposed.
Your whole heart vulnerable.
And, what makes this whole-heart living so elusive is this: we’ve all had our hearts hurt! You cannot live, be in relationships, and love without having your heart broken… rejected… crushed. In short: hurt.
Since you’re not stupid, you learn from each heartbreaking experience not to play fast and loose with that heart of yours.
You’ve learned to be cautious.
Once, you lived with your heart in your hand. You put it out there where someone could embrace it as a marvelous, generous, precious gift. And, sooner or later it was rejected, repelled, repulsed.
That hurt. A lot.
And, since you’re no fool, you made sure not to make that “mistake” again. So, you pulled your heart back.
You weren’t quite so willing to give your heart away. A person would need to prove himself before you’d loosen your grip on your heart. And, at the first sign of trouble, you’d be quick to retrieve it!
Then, maybe later, an opportunity presented itself. A good opportunity.
A really, really good one. Possibly it was a venture, a business idea, a ministry, a job, a project. You might have been skeptical at first, but the idea grew on you and, as it did, you became more and more passionate. You began to see yourself in this. You decided that you could actually see this working out! As you gave yourself to this possibility other priorities fell aside. You invested more deeply. Past the point of “no return”…
Then, somehow, in some way you hadn’t anticipated, the bottom fell out. Words were spoken.
Again, you and your wounded heart retreated from this “folly”—and any future follies as well. From now on, you’d be playing your cards a little closer-to-the-vest. What a fool to risk like that! What an idiot to trust so indiscriminately!
With each experience, you pulled your heart back.
To a place less vulnerable. A little further from other people. Not so susceptible to their whims and vacillations.
A little farther from your dreams.
Eventually, you took that heart of yours and stuffed it back inside your rib cage. Back where you decided it should’ve been all along.
Like everyone else.
Well… most everyone else.
In AD 185, St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his theologically important treatise Against Heresies wrote: Man fully alive is the glory of God.
A human being fully alive is the glory of God.
When you take your heart out of your chest and extend it at your arm’s full length to those you have affection for, are you not becoming more fully alive?
When you put your heart in play, at stake, at risk for some great, worthwhile heart-engaging endeavor, do you not become more fully alive in the process? A human fully alive is the glory of God.
So, what does all this have to do with Christian leadership?
When you lead with your whole heart fully invested, you inspire the rest of us to join you.
When you are fully at stake, with your eyes wide open and yet you are still “all-in”, you invite us in, as well. In fact, when you are engaged like that, you exude an almost irresistible magnetism that draws others in with you. You and those you inspire become fully alive.
The glory of God.
The Truth about Trust (part three)
Thus far, we’ve considered two distinctions about trust that I found surprising…and true. One’s that people really never earn our trust.
We bestow it.
At some level, every human is un-trustworthy. We pretend that those we trust are thoroughly reliable beings who keep promises unfailingly. Because of our experience with them, our love for them, and what they do for us, we choose to overlook their discrepancies.
We chalk it up to human frailty.
Not all the time, thankfully.
And, some more than others. Much more. Some people play fast and loose with the truth. The Bible calls them “deceivers”. We call them criminals and politicians.
They lie for a living.
The rest of us operate in a “zone of reliability” in which we either occasionally or regularly break our word. Usually, small commitments:
“I’ll be home by 7:00.”
“We’ll visit your mother next month.”
”You look good in those jeans.”
What I’ve found to be helpful for me and for those I coach is this:
Solomon, considered the wisest person on Earth implores: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” [Prov 3:5-6]
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” [Deut 7:9]
“In you our fathers trusted; They trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were delivered; In you they trusted and were not disappointed.” [Psa 22:4-5]
“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!” [Rom 3:3-4a]
“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” [2 Thes 3:3]
Funny, we who are Christian often behave as if trusting God is the last thing we ever do.
Crazy isn’t it?
We trust ourselves. We trust people. We trust our experience. We trust our ability to figure things out…
All the while, our God who has pledged himself to be faithful, to meet our needs, to watch out for God’s own is waiting to act on our behalf. To be revealed for who God is.
My invitation is to trust God to protect, heal, repair, recover, restore even when people turn out to be…well…human.
The Truth about Trust part three.docx
The Truth about Trust (part one)
Pretty audacious, right?
How can I claim to know how you trust? And if, by some miracle I do, how can I assert that you misunderstand how you trust people? The way you trust is other than the way you believe you do?
Scripture says the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can know it? [Jer 17:9] Said more contemporarily: We’re good at fooling ourselves.
Because trust is central to relationships, misunderstanding how we trust causes much mischief…especially when trust’s been broken.
Let me explain.
Most believe that, as largely rational beings, we evaluate the trustworthiness of those with whom we relate. We assess their veracity, and, finding it substantial, we trust them. If we discover them dishonest, mercurial, deceptive, or deceitful we withhold trust.
And when someone we trust betrays that trust, it’s game over!
“I don’t trust you. And I won’t.” (Here’s where the mischief arises.) “Not ‘til you earn my trust again.”
The first falsehood about trust is that trust is earned.
Trust is bestowed.
Think about it.
You see your doctor, maybe recommended by a friend, or based on an online review, or because she’s connected to a reputable medical group. Waiting, as we always do, you don’t suspect the framed diploma on the wall is a forgery do you? The nurse who enters, takes your BP and administers your flu shot could be an impostor…a fraud in a uniform with a stethoscope who walked in off the street.
No. You trust that your Doctor is who she’s portrayed to be, that this is her nurse.
You bestow trust.
If you’re the suspicious type, you make small talk about your Doc’s Alma Mater: “How’d you like New Haven when you were there?” Easily satisfied, you move on.
You say they’ve done nothing to undermine your trust… so you trust them. But honestly, it’s impossible to know a person is completely trustworthy.
After all, we’re human.
Human = limited…imperfect…flawed.
I can have the best intentions to keep my promise to you, respond to a pressing need that’s just arisen, and to not ‘drop the ball’ on any of a dozen other commitments I have in play at the same moment in time: Edit manuscript. Invoice coaching clients. Submit expense reports. Call potential participants for June seminar. Email prayer partners. Invest in marriage.
If I’m honest, I’m not all that trustworthy.
So, why do people trust me?
‘Cause, it’s bestowed, not earned.
The Truth about Trust part one.docx
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
The Christian life, your Christian life, is to be lived “all in”.
What if the challenges, perplexities, opportunities and disappointments your life presents have been orchestrated for you to take Christ into? [Romans 8:28-31]
When you know God is with you, you can always be “all in”.
This morning I read Acts 15. It opens with a dispute erupting in the fledgling church about whether Gentile Christians must keep the Mosaic Law to be saved. Paul and Barnabas throw themselves into the center of the dispute, arguing unsuccessfully, on the side of freedom; freedom procured by Christ.
Unwilling to collapse on their convictions and unable to win the war of words in Antioch, they travel three hundred miles – more than ten days on foot – to Jerusalem. There, they convene a council of the most notable Christian leaders, and dig into the details of the dispute until they all get clear. Peter speaks. Paul and Barnabas contribute much, and James makes a ruling. The conclusion is put to writing that Paul and Barnabas carry back to Antioch. On their arrival they convene a meeting of the believers, deliver the Jerusalem council’s determination, and remain there ministering to the saints.
Barnabas and Paul live all-in.
Troubled by the posture of the legalists, they weigh in—passionately. When they fail to persuade the pharisaical believers, they don’t go ‘passive aggressive’ like most church people. They don’t just shrug their shoulders and hope things work themselves out. And they don’t wait for someone else to act.
They sacrifice their comfort, time, and reputation. In Jerusalem, ‘though they’re not in charge, they give themselves until the issue gets resolved. Then—rather than take several personal days to recover from the strain of the ordeal— they step up to deliver the response to the Syrian believers.
They are all-in.
Later in this chapter, Paul and Barnabas have it out over whether John Mark should accompany them ministering to the churches in Turkey and Syria. Instead of ‘giving in to get along’ or ‘playing nice’, they have a full-blown argument in front of everyone.
There’s no back room deal to “spin” the story, to clean it up, to whitewash the mess.
They’re all-in in their breakdown, as in their ministry collaboration.
They hit big or miss big.
Coaching distinctions #54.doc
This is not to suggest that you aren’t busy. No, ministers are among those who can be overwhelmingly active and profoundly unproductive at the same time.
Postured to bunt, you desperately drive from hospital room to committee meeting, from one religious function to the next.
Are lives changing? Can’t tell.
Are those outside the Church coming toward Jesus via the loving example of your members? No way to know.
Your week is jammed with your best attempts to anticipate or respond to the complaints and requests of church members who mistakenly believe that you exist to serve them.
Most of what you do to soothe, comfort, and appease them does just the opposite. It keeps them infantilized.
Study the way Jesus interacted with His followers.
You’ll see that he constantly challenged them to trust God on their own. To experience God’s faithfulness for themselves. Unlike you, Jesus kept putting his disciples into harm’s way! The way your local police and fire academies put perfectly good people in peril for the sake of those they will rescue one day.
See, you and they have forgotten that God has given ministers to equip the people to do the work of Christ’s ministry [Ephesians 4:11] …so that they actually mature. I don’t see a lot of either happening in the lives of most church-goers these days.
To what degree do you challenge your people?
Do you press them to examine and repent of their immaturity, entitlement, and commitments to comfort?
Does your preaching regularly unsettle them?
Do you raise many more questions than you answer?
I don’t see how Christianity can be a part-time pursuit. Can you?
How is it that couples can live together, unmarried, and worship as if the were? How can we cheat on our taxes and pray as if God doesn’t know? How can we hold unforgiveness toward others and not think it undermines our prayers?
When you live “squared off to bunt”, pastor, your parishioners will follow suit. Could society’s sudden pursuit of much that’s contrary to God’s Word be the result of a Church that’s “squared off to bunt” so much of the time?
In 1988, an injured and aging Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate for the L.A. Dodgers. Though his legs could barely carry him around the base path, he took a mighty cut at the ball…
and made history.
You can, too.
Coaching Distinctions #53
I was in Memphis one snowy morning recently. A CRM teammate we affectionately call “Hound Doggie” and I were designing curriculum for the upcoming reFOCUS:Atlanta conference when his cell phone rang.
I tried to decipher what had happened.
“Hey Kirkie, I’m gonna have to run home for a little bit. Our house was broken into; a lot of stuff is missing. Be back soon as I can.” Matt was as calm with me as he was with Jen.
In a few hours he’d filed a police report, met his insurance guy, arranged for his family to spend a few nights at the in-laws. And he was back—fully back—writing content for the Leading Change track, where we support pastors to be leaders of change by being leaders in change.
This recession has been tough on churches. Giving is down—way down. Many have reduced staff. Attendance has declined and so has vitality and optimism. While there are many exceptions, this is a decades-long trend across the Church in America.
Congregations often blame to pastor. Yet, rarely is any pastor good enough to grow a church where there’s an embittered, conflicted congregation. And, few pastors are bad enough to run people off when a congregation is vibrant and loving, passionately pursuing Christ.
Still, many pastors live discouraged as if they are responsible for their churches’ decline. Questioning herself, she pulls back from leading boldly. Fearing the firestorm of criticism, he “softens” his sermons, muting his own voice—and the Word of God through him. Rather than take on that manipulative, gossiping leader she placates, hoping something will change.
Squared off to bunt.
A Barna survey found the #1 concern among Christians is a “lack of leadership”. And the #1 need of leaders is courage.
Courage comes from the French word “kor” which means “heart”. I suggest that to live courageously is to live with your whole heart. Your heart engaged, invested, vulnerable, at risk.
Defending himself weakly before the Sanhedrin. Negotiating with Pilate. A few rote prayers in Gethsemane.
No great struggle.
No great sweat.
No great victory.
Coaching distinctions #52.doc
I love the movie Taken in the way Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson’s character) keeps giving himself to recover his daughter, who’s been kidnapped. When Kim’s parents learn of her abduction, their responses illustrate, the distinction: Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long.
Neeson’s Mills is clear-headed, studying his daughter’s room for clues to her disappearance. He is determined and he is in motion … the product of his extensive training as a CIA operative.
Both of Kim’s parents had been in training—all their lives—for a crisis such as this.
So have you.
It was Father’s Day 2001. Driving from church to lunch, traffic was snarled. Creeping along we eventually came upon the source: multiple police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck situated diagonally to keep the public from being able to view a particularly grizzly scene.
It was my daughter’s car!!
In crises, people often say: “NOTHING could have prepared me for what happened!”
Reality is, I had been preparing myself all my life for that morning. We were privileged to see God’s merciful intervention in what should have been a double decapitation. Both kids walked away shaken, but unhurt.
Not every family crisis has resolved as swiftly and miraculously as that one. Each catastrophe—and the many mundane opportunities to trust God in between—has been preparation. Every relationship breakdown has provided opportunities to examine my reactivity and vulnerabilities, to pursue repentance, and grow in Christ-likeness.
So with you.
Ever wonder how Jesus carried on—through Judas’ betrayal, the isolation and agony in Gethsemane, the beatings and the travesty that was his trial? After all that, with spikes through hands and feet, his own weight suffocating him, he forgave those who crucified him, made provision for his mother’s care, and ministered to the believing thief on the cross next to him.
“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8 NLT] Like Jesus, you and I can learn how to live great, God-honoring lives by the ways we train ourselves while in the midst of suffering.
It is possible, even for a “career bunter” to learn to crush the baseball.
Go hire a coach and reacquaint yourself with the batting cage.
Coaching distinctions #51.doc
You don’t hear much about one’s will in preaching these days. There’s plenty about God’s love, God’s mercy, and how God thinks each of us is so very wonderful. There’s lots about our allowing God to do this or that— be the center, be in charge, be on the throne, take my life, let it be this or that for Thee.
Listening to all of this, it’s easy to get the idea that the Christian life is lived passively. The inference is that you just sit and wait, yielded and surrendered until God decides to act upon your life … then suddenly, you do great things for God.
In my observation, people pretty much do what they’ve trained themselves to do. If you’ve trained yourself to live your faith passively, you’re not likely to spring into action when God makes an opening that requires fast obedience and involves risk.
When we sing “Lord take my life and let it be fully pleasing unto thee” I imagine God asking us: “Well, what do you want?
Do you want your life to please God?
Then, tell your boyfriend you’ll sleep with him when he marries you. Not again ‘till then.
Insist that your employer pays you “above the table”.
Gather some friends and help someone who’s needy. Keep doing it until they ask you why.
Each is an action.
It requires your will to do it.
To drift through the years, living an indistinctive life also takes your will. The will to live like everyone else.
Your stuff is paramount.
All this, Martin Buber calls our “little will”. He says it’s “ruled by things and drives”. Like our emotions and preferences. The little will never accomplishes anything great.
And, in the US in this hour, so pitifully little seems to be getting done that honors Christ and blesses those outside the Church, that we’d be wise to engage our “great wills” and get after it.
If not, I fear Christianity could be within a few decades of extinction.
Recently I heard an interview with the founder of a Freedom from Religion group. Their purpose is to educate the United States in “nontheism” –ridding society of all worship. He relished the amazing progress of their cause in the US and points to Scandinavia where he said fewer than 4% have any religious faith.
A secular utopia.
You can bet this man’s will is fully engaged in its pursuit.
Coaching distinctions #46.doc
To discover what you invite, notice what keeps coming your way.
Why would you want to know? If you’re not intentional about it, you’re likely inviting what you don’t even want.
I coach pastors. Lots of them. Last month a client lamented that his office door is like a turnstile – bringing a never-ending string of parishioners and staff members to him, eating his time and keeping him from what’s most important.
“What do they want?”
Thinking for several moments he answered: “They want me to do something to either ease their distress, change someone else, or make their lives better.”
“Why do they come to you for that?”
He didn’t know.
I do. It’s an occupational hazard for ministers. Somebody re-wrote the playbook generations ago. Rather than equipping God’s people to live mature, influential lives, clergy became an invitation to calm member’s fears, quell their disquiet, relieve their suffering, and ease their distress.
I call it: “THE MINISTRY OF THE KLEENEX BOX”.
Instead of provoking mature faith—like Jesus did—ministers run with Kleenex and band-aids, wiping noses and bandaging boo-boos… of Christians who’ve been called by God to be wiping the noses and bandaging the knees of the people who aren’t yet following Christ. [Eph 4:11-13]
Stand as an interruption to this popular and unscriptural notion or you will be conscripted into the ministry of the Kleenex box to the religious.The best way to interrupt it is to get very clear about what you are inviting people to.
Ministry, fundamentally, is about people-development and Kingdom-advance.
Jesus developed people into mature disciples and advanced God’s reign: healing, delivering, liberating, and forgiving … mostly for those outside his circle of disciples. Jesus invited people to give their lives away in the service of the King. To surrender self-interest and follow him into ministry … to benefit those outside the commonwealth of faith.
What if you invited people to that?
With his disciples, Jesus provoked them to get off themselves and onto advancing God’s Kingdom. He frustrated them when they wanted him to minister to them. He directed them into challenges so they’d grow strong trusting God.
Pastor, I invite you into the game Jesus modeled.
Call people to that.
Like he did.
Coaching Distinctions 35.doc