Go First! (part one)
Could you imagine the impact of a largely leaderless Church for, say, 400 years?
Well, look around…
We’re heading for the home stretch on this examination of courageous Christian leadership. The impetus for my challenges and observations is Edwin Friedman’s wonderful book: A Failure of Nerve. Thus far, we’ve made eight observations about leadership amidst a culture of cowardice:
One: Courageous leadership is not about skill, technique, or knowledge. It is, most of all, about the presence of the leader as he or she moves through life.
Two: Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
Three: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Four: Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Five: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Six: Undermine the 80/20 Rule.
Seven: Reintroduce yourself to the adventurous life.
Eight: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
This brings us to the ninth principle: Go first.
Ever wonder what happened to the Church the Apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians chapter four? A Church in which the saints are the “ministers.”
Paul is clear:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… and become mature… Then we will no longer be infants… Instead… we will grow to become in every respect the mature body… the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [Ephesians 4:11-16]
In Paul’s conception, Christ gives ministers to the church to train, develop, and equip the members to minister, to mature in every respect, and to w-o-r-k.
Religious educators who teach, and teach, and teach the saints who sit, and sit, and sit while they learn, and learn, and learn.
The saints serving.
The body maturing.
Every part working.
What if the culprit is not so much the laziness and lethargy of the saints but the focus and function of the clergy?
See, Christ himself gave apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching gifts to equip his Church for maturity and ministry.
An overwhelming super-abundance of pastor-teachers.
Imagine a softball team in which all nine positions are played by catchers. Very well equipped catchers.
Can you see it?
Catcher’s glove. Catcher’s mask. Shin pads. The whole get-up.
Now, put that catcher on the mound and ask her to pitch… Put her in left to run down a deep fly ball… Or, at shortstop to turn a ground ball into a double play.
This is the Church in the West today.
People who learn lots of things, important things, and not much else.
I’m not denigrating the teaching gift. I’m denigrating the notion of the teaching-only ministry.
I’m inviting you to look at the results of recurring generations of pastor/teacher-dominant ministry in the West.
Are you impressed by what you see?
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part two)
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?
In other words, 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 skills would you be sure to have them practice? Let me propose a few: discerning God’s voice, praying for others effectively, listening well, succinctly sharing the story of their introduction to Christ.
- 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 to 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], meeting and befriending their actual neighbors.
- How would you insure that your people apply whatever is taught when you do an education event? Pave pathways in advance of your weekend education events so that every person can take action in line with their new learning.
In the people-development business the options and opportunities available to you are virtually unlimited. Challenging your people to trust God in real-time and to discover God’s goodness as, and after, they do, can become central to your congregation’s experience.
It’s up to you.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule
What if we who lead have actually established the culture that reinforces 80/20?
What are we communicating such that the vast majority of church dwellers feel great about coming, taking, and contributing nothing?
And, though you’re unaware of it, pastor, what if this is exactly what you want?
I invite you to ponder: what are you doing to perpetuate 80/20 in your congregation? And, since, according to Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve “No one has ever gone from slavery to freedom with the slaveholders cheering them on” I fully expect to encounter your resistance to this claim: 80/20 is yet another evidence of the culture of cowardice that is alive and well in much of the American Church.
So, take a breath. Set your resistance aside, and gather your key leaders together. Lock yourselves in a conference room until you can identify at least ten ways your church communications, culture, and leadership promote and preserve 80/20.
Think about it.
One: what do we model when, every time the doors are open, a relative handful minister to the many who simply spectate?
When a thousand gather for “worship” what do they see?
Another one does announcements.
One or two run the soundboard, show the videos, dim the lights.
Maybe a dozen play instruments or sing in a worship band. Or, maybe you have an organist. One organist…and a soloist. One soloist.
A couple dozen function as greeters and ushers.
And, several dozen teach the children—but that happens elsewhere… out of sight of most of the adults.
What you model reinforces a culture in which very few exercise their gifts and very many do next to nothing.
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!
In some sectors of the church today there’s great momentum, clarity of mission, risk-taking experimentation, courageous leadership, and fresh reliance on the Holy Spirit for direction, empowering, and transformation.
Churches are breaking out of the attractional paradigm and are moving their ministry focus off their facilities and into the community where those who need Christ are. Committed to love and serve people until they ask why, Christians are living the Gospel among the unchurched – and they are responding with surprise, with gratitude, and with saving faith in Jesus.
And, in other sectors, churches, ministers and members are bewildered. Attendance is falling. So is giving. Enthusiasm for church programs is low. Discouragement is high. Anxiety is epidemic.
Denominational systems feel this more intensely. Local churches are less able or willing to send money ‘up the food chain’. Regional and national budgets are being slashed. Programs and staff are being eliminated. Every forecast is more sobering than the last. The Church is aging…more rapidly than ever. Since most giving comes from the more senior members, their mortality portends the same for the systems their generosity built and sustained for decades.
The advantage is if you’re going to bunt, it’s the best stance to be in. The disadvantage: you can’t do anything but bunt from that crouch. And, here’s where many in the Church find themselves today.
Not sure how to stem the receding tide of dollars and attendees, Church leaders cycle from one well-worn, low-risk program to another.
Bunt down the middle.
Trouble is, the “score” is so lopsided that laying down bunts won’t move us forward fast enough.
What’s needed is to restore apostolic momentum to the Church.
Apostles are “sent ones”. The apostolic Church was a sent church. In contrast to today’s stogy institutions, the early Church was on the move.
Its message: Jesus.
Its focus: heart transformation.
Its method: personal encounters as the redeemed loved, healed, and shared their stories.
For this to recur, our churches need to mature and mobilize Christians as ministers to those outside.
In May, my CRM team will equip pastors, church planters, and lay leader to do exactly that.
At reFOCUS: ATLANTA we’ll introduce tools we’ve developed working with more than 5,000 pastors and churches. Strengthening pastors to lead, Christians to mature, and churches to engage their cities with the lived-and-proclaimed Gospel.
Join us for these three very important days: http://www.refocusing.org/events/
Coaching distinctions #49.doc
How does a minister develop tenacity … particularly when the surrounding culture is increasingly committed to relieving tension—in the short run—without regard to the long term consequences?
Tenacity is defined as the capacity to stick—like super glue—to one’s commitments. The word comes from the Latin tenere which means “to hold”.
This isn’t new.
The collapse of just about every great empire has been presaged by a similar shift. These once-great societies collapsed from within. Like tall trees hollowed by pine beetles, when opposing winds came, they lacked the fiber to stand.
I’m reminded of a moment early in the “Battle of Carthage” scene in Gladiator when Maximus draws his fellow gladiators into a tight circle, shields surrounding them. As well-armed chariots approach—and their every impulse is to run—he urges them to “Hold!…Hold!…Hold!” ‘till the charioteers are almost upon them. As a result, they overthrow their attackers and win a most improbable victory.
It is this act of holding that is essential to pastoral leadership in our day.
With my CRM teammates, I facilitate a leadership development and change process with Senior Pastors and their churches. Our goal is to strengthen the leadership character of pastors so they can lead their congregations through a massive cultural change: from consuming religious education and entertainment to ministering influentially to the un-churched in their communities. It’s been my privilege to work with dozens of churches all across the denominational spectrum. Initially, almost everyone agrees to become a missionally-effective church.
Yet, saboteurs abound!
Like the pine beetle, their largely covert opposition eats away at the church’s commitment to what it knows it must become.
Quick-fix fantasies emerge and gain a ready following. People take sides.
The lead pastor’s tenacity is essential.
So, from the outset, we work to strengthen the pastors’ capacity to hold.
By creating scenarios that invite opposition on a small level while monitoring, via coaching, the pastor’s responses to it. Over many months of facing gradually-increasing resistance, reFocusing pastors increase their capacity to tolerate anxiety—first in themselves; then in their congregations.
Walking with a coach and several other senior pastors who are encountering the same challenges in their congregations, the pastor develops the fiber to Hold!…Hold!…Hold! to what God has called them.
Coaching distinctions #41.doc
We’re looking at distinctions employed coaching pastors and Christian influencers. I hope coaches find these helpful with their clients. Pastors read this blog to more effectively lead those God’s entrusted to them. So, whether you’re a pastor, a coach to leaders, or both, this is for you.
Christian ministers have a tricky leadership challenge. With the exception of staff members, pastors always lead an all-volunteer army. Whenever you preach, speak, or write, your audience is agreeing and disagreeing with you, point-by-point.
There was a time, in some contexts, when clergypersons were esteemed as being close to God. Some believe they spoke for God. Ministers could wield out-sized influence with parishioners and the surrounding society. Sadly, not all that influence was God-honoring—in some cases the abuses were horrific. Today ministers in the US are far more likely to be viewed with skepticism than reverent trust.
And, this is not all bad! It’s a context very similar to that in which Christ and the apostles ministered.
This brings us to being an invitation. Pastor, if you’re going to successfully advance the influence of Christ in your community and bring people to maturity, it’s imperative that you sharpen the invitation you are.
First of all, who do you want to invite toward you? What kind of people do you need to be with to best fulfill God’s calling? The game you’re in determines the players you need.
Yesterday I met with a pastor who’s committed to build a powerful, community-impacting regional church. An African-American, he’s attracted a congregation that matches his ethnicity and who are inspired by his preaching. Now, he needs to invite visionary, take-charge leaders representing all three ethnicities that predominate the area the church influences. To do this, Wayne gets to be clear and intentional.
He gets to redefine the invitation he is.
Second, what are you inviting people to? What “game” are you enrolling them in? Many pastors offer no more compelling invitation than that people sit, tithe, and don’t cause trouble.
That’s a pitifully small game!
Wayne gets to invite capable women and men to lead lay teams to invest their lives, hearts, and talents influentially in the realms of entertainment, education, commerce, government, and arts.
These last two weeks, both parties held their national conventions, choreographed for TV. It’s easy to see who each side venerates and why.
Pastor, you get to be just that clear.
Fourth, a clear invitation repels what you don’t want. Notice that Jesus had no grace for the religious legalists, the externalists, the rule-enforcers. Jesus’ invitation cut to the core motivations of people’s hearts.
Yours can, too!
Coaching Distinctions 36.doc
A friend challenged me once: “Kirk, you think you’re planting tomatoes, but you’re harvesting beets. And, when you don’t get tomatoes, you just work harder and harder planting and watering and fertilizing those same seeds. Beet seeds.”
Derek wasn’t taking about vegetables; he was taking about my marriage.
Unwilling to examine the seed I’d been sowing in my family, I just upped the ante, laboring more diligently…producing more and more “beets”…
Last night I met a wonderful pastor and the elders of his church not far from Miami. A member of my CRM team and I were there to introduce them to the amazing reFocusing Network Process: a two-year transformational pathway for churches desiring to impact their communities for Christ. Never have I met a more sincere team of leaders, each wanting to introduce the Savior to neighbors who – presently – have no interest in Christ.
Their enthusiasm for the community was palpable, contagious, inspiring. As we were introduced, the pastor spoke confidently of their commitment to engage those outside the church. “We’re very active in the community”, he explained. “We’ve adopted a public school and, when school starts, we provide backpacks with school supplies for the students. At Thanksgiving, we give turkeys and groceries to families in need. And, at Christmas time, we give $50 and $100 gift cards to school families who otherwise couldn’t afford gifts for their kids. We do this with no strings attached; not to coerce them to join our church or to promote ourselves. We do it to love them in Jesus’ name.”
As our presentation began, they were invited to consider that, excellent as their intentions are, they’d been in the wrong game. “See, people don’t need your stuff nearly as much as they need you.”
These days, people stay away from church on purpose. They’ve decided Christianity doesn’t have the remedy for what ails them; we don’t have the scratch for their itch. And while it’s not a bad thing to provide what people lack, receiving things from well-meaning people does little to uproot these assumptions.
Regular, repeated, positive, life-on-life experiences with Christians who are postured to love and serve them unconditionally.
As people have multiple, positive encounters with you, they begin to question some of what they’ve assumed about Christ. Over time, you become credible – not based on what you know – but how you live. Eventually, some will trust you with the most important conversations of life.
Coaching Distinctions 33.doc
What I mean is this. When an event occurs—particularly if it’s surprising, we’re not content simply being surprised.
We have to figure out what it means. The stronger your “TJ” on Myers-Briggs, the greater this pressure. But, TJ or not, we’re thrown to make the senseless sensible.
So, we demand a meaning.
If I was abused by my mom, suffered a terrible accident in childhood, experienced a forceps injury at birth, or lost my dad at age seven, before long, I’ll arrive at an understanding why misfortune has befallen me. And, if I avoided these tragedies, I will not have escaped unscathed. Because being human, raised by humans, befriended and rejected by humans, we will experience difficulty, harm, or worse.
The thing we can tolerate even less than being hurt in life is not knowing why.
So, if there’s no rational, justifiable explanation for our plight, guess what humans do?
We make one up!
Rather that live in the ambiguity of not knowing why this-or-that has befallen us, we make something up. “I was hated as a kid because I’m un-loveable.” “God has it in for me… maybe a curse from my ancestors.” “I’m so unlucky, I attract tragedy.”
Often we’re “helped” in this making-up-meaning process by influential voices (parents, siblings, teachers) early in life. Once we grasp a particular meaning, we almost always hold it so tightly that it becomes intertwined with our own identity—and how we interpret life’s events.
Let’s say, in first grade, you’re labeled an “underperformer” by an influential teacher. A couple years later, you choke in the late rounds of a spelling bee. Then, you’re injured on the eve of a ballet recital, and can’t perform. Despite dozens of other experiences where you performed admirably, these few stand out to you. They support the thesis that as an “underperformer”, you find ways to sabotage almost certain success.
As you move through the decades that follow, you experience a normal mix of accomplishments, failures, and successes. To make sense—particularly of the disappointments and near-misses—you interpret these through the lens of self-sabotage.
As a coach to pastors, I listen for the meanings my clients attach to themselves and their circumstances.
Invited to suspend these meanings, the client is freed to consider the events as they are. While Freud apparently never said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” it remains true.
Some events are just events. Setbacks happen. As does betrayal, difficulty, harm, and loss.
Still wonder why?
Try Genesis 3.
Coaching Distinctions #22
How do you steal second base?
To progress to any goal, you’ve got to give up where you’ve been. As long as you’re all right with where you’ve been, you’re not likely to pay the price to move into the unknown and on to your goal.
Let’s be specific:
Until you’re willing to give up the marriage you have, you won’t get the one you want. I’m not suggesting divorce. This invitation is to give up the way you’re in your marriage and be in it in a whole new way.
Until you’re willing to give up the barely-get-by finances you’re accustomed to, your net worth won’t improve. Not much.
Until you’re willing to give up the pastorate you have now, it won’t be radically different—the way your heart longs for it to be.
See, you can only control yourself.
So, if you want to change your church, your marriage, or your finances, you get to change you. And, changing you is so costly it’ll only happen it if you’ve abandoned all hope of getting where you want without having to change.
My CRM teammate, David Zimmerman loves this from Robert Quinn: “If you want to do something you’ve never done before, you must become the person you’ve never been before.”
Change, on this level requires risk. Leading off only works when you lead off far enough to be thrown out.
Far enough to be in danger.
Change is a dangerous game. It’s especially dangerous to your comfort. And, comfort, most of all, is what keeps our feet planted firmly on first. And you can’t steal second from there.
Making significant change—particularly the kind that undermines what’s become habitual– demands that you over-ride the “auto pilot” inside you. For many of us. the programming of your auto pilot began in childhood, was beta tested in your teen years, and then became codified in the early decades of adulthood. By the time you pass your 40’s the auto-pilot is engaged most of the time.
New client sales call? Auto-pilot.
Good Friday Service? Auto-pilot.
Mother-in-law’s visit? Auto-pilot.
Staff meeting? Auto-pilot.
Budget “discussion” with the husband? Auto-pilot.
Car shopping? Auto-pilot.
Weekend with the kids? Auto-pilot.
Stealing second, from the safety of first, can’t be done on auto-pilot.
— deliberately —
out into danger and away from all that’s familiar, predictable, safe, and comfortable.