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?
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?
The Truth about Trust (part four)
I’ve asserted that trust can’t be earned—though that’s clearly what most of us have believed. As humans, limited and fallible, we can’t be forever trustworthy (i.e. “worthy of trust”) in every turn and situation.
Some of us work hard to limit our promises to those we’re confident we can keep, to own up as soon as we discover we can’t, and to live as our word—as much as humanly possible. Friends who live this way I eagerly trust.
When they stumble, I’m quick to offer forgiveness, restoration.
Swiftly bestowing trust.
And, to these I bestow trust as well.
Believing they’re capable of living honorably, even if they’ve seldom done so, up ‘till now.
And when I need a ride to the airport at five am, I’m not going to call my more mercurial friends.
That’d be dumb.
Dozens of experiences have taught me what I’ve can expect and from whom. And, when I’m surprised, I try to rapidly bestow trust again…with wisdom.
Years ago a friend at church managed a real estate investment that, for years, had performed impressively. I invested. In a few months, I heard he’d moved to Kansas City. No notice. No forwarding address. Oh, and his email and phone were no longer working…
I’d been had.
I learned that I can trust that man to deceive and steal.
Invest with him again?
That’d be dumb.
And, God, as promised, was faithful to me, providing financially in other ways—while teaching me a great lesson.
This is my conviction: God is fully capable of providing for you and me, healing, comforting, and restoring in the aftermath of loss and betrayal.
My buddy’s wife had an affair. She repented. He forgave. Right away, he bestowed trust while he trusted God to heal his broken heart.
Then, it happened again.
He forgave again. This time, owning his contribution to what wasn’t working in the marriage. They forgave each other. It was powerful. Years have passed and they’re stronger than ever.
As I write this, a legal situation with potentially monumental consequences looms. The outcome unknowable.
So, I trust.
Trust God. The legal team. My financial partners (legal fees are immense). Our intercessors. The justice system. And many who’re standing with Annie and me.
I trust God.
“God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” [I Thes 5:24 NLT]
Because of that, I can trust you, and you, and you, and you.
I choose to.
I bestow trust.
Unless you’re that guy in Kansas City.
The Truth about Trust part four.docx
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 two)
Years ago I participated in a ministry that conducts potent character development workshops. Life-changing transformations happen over the course of a weekend. It was a privilege to host or help lead almost thirty workshops across the country.
Invariably, people came because of disappointment with their most important relationships. As each workshop unfolded a familiar pattern recurred:
People had been hurt.
Hurt by parents, an ex, a boss, roommate, business partner, or lover.
They pulled back.
They pulled back further.
Each time, more cautious.
Hiding the heart, hoping to protect it from harm.
Rendering them lonely, isolated, distant from those they love…
And, here’s the rub. Distrusting others may well be “wise” on one hand, but it leaves us empty on the other.
See, we’re all in relationship with human beings.
And humans fail.
Sometimes, even the best of us are selfish.
Because we’re human, we get tired.
We play safe. We play small.
We miss opportunities to live big, generous, courageous, God-honoring lives…
And, when we do, those we love are left holding the bag.
If they do what so many do, they’ll pull back from life, from others. They’ll withhold trust.
And, this leaves them lonely, isolated, and distant from those they say they love.
While I’m sure it seems callous, you can trust this: people will fail you.
Will you “turtle” as a way to protect your precious little tail, and feet, and head?
Safe, in your shell.
Safe and alone.
Will you withhold trust from everyone, or just men, women, people in authority?
God has made you, not just a “conqueror”, but a “more than conqueror” through Christ. [Rom 8:31-37]
That’s God’s doing.
God intends you and I to be so secure, so confident in Jesus Christ, that nothing dissuades us.
Imagine being un-discourageable…
No matter who fails you. No matter how often others drop the ball.
You are clear and confident in your Savior…and connected to people, open, trusting, and vulnerable.
The Truth about Trust part two.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
While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, much of the time.
So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!
As with each of the articles in this series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it. And you do this to your own relational and leadership peril.
Principle #8- Who gets to choose?
Who decides your decisions?
Who determines your attitudes: whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?
The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.
“So what?” you say.
Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:
You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.
You never have and you never will.
And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do.
Think about it.
You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online. How much your wife spends on shoes. How and when your son does his homework. Right? You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online. Susan has a strict budget—including shoes. Ben knows he has to do all his homework before TV.” And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Ben are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?
I assert that they choose. Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.
Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices. An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?
Think about it.
God, who is omnipotent, who knows everything, who is eternal and sovereign set it up that way. We get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.
Consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time. Imagine your life when you no longer manipulate, press, challenge, shame, and guilt others. Imagine never again being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those near you.
Imagine the impact on those you love.
Consider how they might live when out from under the crushing weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.
What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into whatever reality those decisions open up and close down for them?
You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed. The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!
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