Yesterday I had the privilege to be interviewed on the radio. CUTV News, an NBC affiliate in New York City ran a 30-minute interview about my work coaching pastors on BlogTalkRadio.com.
If you’d like to hear it, here’s the link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/closeuptalkradio/2016/11/04/cutv-news-radio-spotlights-kirk-kirlin-of-kirlin-coaching.
I’m humbled and excited to be interviewed on the radio each of the next two Fridays at 1:00pm pst. Here’s the info: http://www.einpresswire.com/article/351721247/kirk-kirlin-of-kirlin-coaching-to-be-featured-on-cutv-news-radio?n=2
You can hear it live on: BlogTalkRadio
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part fifteen)
What kind of pastor will lead the Church in our day to salt and light the world? Pastor, what can you do to arouse your church from its slumber and stand in the storm of insolence and juvenility that such a stirring will provoke?
For several weeks, we’ve been examining what it means to live and lead courageously amidst a culture of cowardice that appears to have captured the Church in North America, leaving American society rudderless in a tsunami of short-sightedness, sensuality, secularism, and self-centeredness.
Thus far, we’ve suggested:
- 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.
- Take full responsibility for your own emotional being and destiny.
- Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
- Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
Now we turn to the fifth essential of effective leadership. As before, I’m indebted to Edwin Friedman’s remarkable examination of leadership: Failure of Nerve. Here it is: Don’t “push on the rope”: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
I’ve done a little boating. A few summers ago in Leland, Michigan, you’d have seen me standing on a dock, tugging on a line endeavoring to center the hull of our friends’ Boston Whaler over the submerged bunks of a small boat lift. Without thinking, I “push” my hand out, imagining that, by this motion, the boat will somehow move away from me. As if I’ve presumed that the rope has somehow stiffened so that it can propel the boat away from the dock and over the lift.
Of course, it can’t.
You cannot provoke change by pushing on a rope.
Friedman offers this: the unmotivated are invulnerable to insight.
Yet, Sunday after Sunday, good hearted, well intentioned ministers stand in pulpits all over the land, bringing scintillating insights from God’s Word, trusting that learning will motivate life change.
Statistics, sadly, illuminate the truth of the matter. People, by and large, are not changed by our preaching—at least, not much.
Too many of our listeners are invulnerable to insight.
Without compelling motivation, there is insufficient hunger to embrace the price and pain that always accompanies change.
Even change that sounds good, change that would be preferable to what is, or change that could propel the listener toward an honorable outcome will elicit mental agreement, without igniting any action.
What, do you think, is the key?
Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part nine)
As we consider how to lead our churches in these challenging times for Christianity in the US, we’re exploring the third of nine leadership principles: Promote healthy differentiation within the church or system you lead.
Just to review, the first two principles are:
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.
Jesus is our primary role model to live and lead successfully. His way of being demonstrates how he sought to promote healthy differentiation in the lives of those he influenced.
For example, in Mark 9:29, the disciples are unable to free the boy with the symptoms of epilepsy. Jesus behaves as if they are responsible for their own preparation for ministry: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Rather than taking that responsibility upon himself, Jesus’ response indicates that regular Christians can actually free those suffering horrible maladies like this boy’s epilepsy.
It’s what he expects us to do.
My dear friend and mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton [Professor of Leadership at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary] taught me what he called Goodwin’s Expectation Principle.
Essentially it is this:
“People will live up to the expectations of those who they respect.”
Jesus seems to have understood this.
Rather than making allowances for their playing small, their preference for comfort, and their penchant for control, Jesus lived as if he expected his followers to live and minister like he did. He expected them to trust God and step up to the challenges that life presented.
Jesus had garnered their respect by the way he lived over the time they traveled and ministered together. So, after his ascension, not surprisingly, they lived up to his clear and challenging expectations.
Pastor, you have earned the respect of many of those you lead.
Maybe not all.
How clear, challenging, Kingdom-impacting, and God-honoring is the way of life you expect that they live?
A Culture of Cowardice (part one)
Who are the exemplars of courage in our culture? To whom does America look when seeking heroes to serve as role models? Sandra Fluke? Caitlyn Jenner? Donald Trump? Bowe Bergdahl?
Think about it.
Wikipedia defines an endangered species as a population “at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters.” Can you see that all three conditions are true of the Church today?
We’re left with what I call a Culture of Cowardice.
In A Failure of Nerve he notes that America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression. A regression that is toxic to courageous, well-defined leadership.
One effect of societal anxiety is a reduced pain threshold. The result: comfort is valued over the rewards of facing challenge. A culture like this has no stamina in the face of difficulty and crisis.
How like the contemporary Church this is!
In our commitment to “being nice” we prioritized togetherness over actually making a difference. In our desire to feel good we bury our heads in the proverbial sand while the culture around us sprints toward its own destruction.
According to Friedman, dissent is discouraged, feelings take precedence over ideas, peace over progress, comfort over anything new, and cloistered virtues over adventure.
The press for togetherness in the Church smothers bold, daring, world-changing action – like we see in the Book of Acts – and those who are courageous enough to engage it.
What emerges is a culture that is so “nice”, so fixated on empathy that it organizes itself around the most immature, most dependent, most dysfunctional members.
On average, churches in America have fewer than 80 in attendance, and are declining, fewer than 5% of their members tithe, and most fail to see a single convert to the Christian faith a year.
Who has hijacked the agenda in most of America’s churches?
The least courageous, least responsible, and least emotionally and spiritually mature have taken most churches captive.
Or, haven’t you noticed?
The key to leadership is “followership”—and followership is always voluntary.
And you can only lead them where they already want to go.
This is a powerful, liberating truth for pastors and Christian leaders who are willing to break with the wrongheaded cultural assumptions about leadership and, instead, practice Jesus’ kind of leadership.
- How much positional authority did Jesus use to elicit followership?
- How often did he invite disciples to choose: “in” or “out”?
- When did he coerce? Manipulate?
- When they faced an impasse, how frequently did he grasp control, disempowering whose around him?
From the calling of Andrew, to the provision he made for the care of Mary when he was on the cross, Jesus led by invitation.
And, when Jesus’ vision “overlapped” with those who heard him, they followed.
So with you.
You will only effectively lead others in the area where your vision and theirs coincide.
In the diagram below, your vision for your congregation’s impact is represented by the yellow zone. Anna, a gifted lay leader’s vision is the red zone. The area where you and Anna get to collaborate to advance the Kingdom is the orange area.
I spend the majority of my waking hours coaching and equipping ministers. They give me permission to influence them in the zone where their vision and mine overlap.
Where we’re agreed.
Want to know how to soothe, calm, and pacify an entitled, demanding church member? Don’t ask me! I have no room in my vision for Jesus’ Church for coddling the immature or appeasing the petty terrorist on your elder board.
Want to explore ways to more effectively concentrate your resources on entertaining church members? I couldn’t care less. I mean it. I have no burden for putting on excellent feel-good productions for religious consumers. None.
But, you want to lead a congregation that routinely trusts Christ and risks to demonstrate the Good News to those in the community outside? I’m all about that!
Need help to identify, equip, and mobilize more lay leaders to reflect the character of Christ as they advance the Kingdom along side your staff? You bet!
You and I get to “play” together where our visions coincide.
And, no two leaders visions completely coincide.
And that’s OK.
Each person the Holy Spirit has placed in your congregation has been singularly shaped and prepared to touch lives and to embody the “Jesus kind of life” distinctively.
When God makes a thing, he makes each unique. Consider snowflakes, evergreens, mountains. But, when humans make so many things, we labor to make them all the same.
Cults labor for uniformity, conformity. Not so in the freedom for which Christ died.
We thrive together in that space, passionately pursuing what Christ has called each of us to. Most powerfully when it aligns.
One reason there is so little courage in American churches is there’s so little vision.
When Jesus shared his vision, which he did a lot, what was his focus?
- His followers’ health, wealth, and satisfaction?
- The happy and harmonious community they’d become together?
- How popular, successful, and resource-rich his ministry empire would soon be?
His focus was his Father’s Kingdom coming and growing in the lives and hearts of women and men. As it did, a new way of living would emerge. Willingly submitted to God’s will and ways. Lives rich in love, and forgiveness, and mercy, and trust. Risking greatly for the sake of that Kingdom way of life. And, he showed, with great clarity, how it differed from the accepted religious assumptions of that day.
This time of year, pastors roll out their annual “Vision Message”. “We’ll launch this ministry.” “Expand that program.” “Enlarge this other thing.” “Attract this many more people…”
I want us to become “A”, to have “B”, to enjoy “C”, to be known for “D”.
To have a vision clear enough and compelling enough to capture the hearts of courageous world-changers, our vision can’t be focused on us and our own.
The locus of vision is the impact we’re trusting God to make out there, in society, because of the influence of God’s Kingdom coming.
The first question is this: Who has your congregation been assembled to bless, heal, liberate, rescue, strengthen, or lift, as God’s presence, person, and power encounters their lives?
A friend’s congregation has several working in law enforcement. So, they bring God’s Kingdom to prison guards. Another, to their county’s Sheriffs.
Another’s congregation is elderly, so they’ve adopted a senior center where they presence the gospel of Christ almost every day.
Others have young families, so they regularly serve at a preschool.
The second question: When God’s Kingdom comes, what wrongs will be righted, what oppression will be relieved, what bonds be broken in their lives?
For the correctional officers it’s appreciation, kindness, value, and hope.
For residents and staff at the care center it is connection, love, companionship, meaning.
For preschool parents it’s practical assistance, a listening ear, kindness and concern.
It’s often said: people don’t care how much you know, ‘til they know how much you care.
Churches across America are discovering how true this is. People respond to genuine love and care with surprise, then gratitude, later curiosity, and finally openness. Openness to the One who motivates people to love and serve with no strings attached.
My CRM Team observes this transformation in hundreds of lives as congregations traverse the Missional Pathway.
The Pathway is the “how”.
A big, bold, community-impacting vision is the “why”.
Vision part three.doc
We’ve been examining the reality that, as humans, we ascribe meaning to our experiences—meaning that transcends what actually happened. And, when we do, we set ourselves up for all kinds of relationship-threatening mischief. This principle is: What’s it really about??
I’ve heard it said this way: When it’s not about what it’s about, what could it be about?
When the reaction indicates that the “issue” is not what — on the surface — it appears to be, then you’ll be well served to wonder: “what could this really be about?”
In the Missional Pathway process that I am privileged to facilitate with my CRM team, a unique problem solving model is practiced. One component of the model, designed to illuminate the issue, is to employ the “Five Whys”. In a number of ways, ask “Why?” five times in sequence. It might play out something like this:
K: I give up! I can’t serve one more day on the board of that NGO!
A: Why? What’s happened?
K: Oh my gosh, I’m so sick of all the pressure I’m under!!
A: What’s the pressure about?
K: It’s “open season” on the Executive Director! He’s really been a jerk to a number of people and they’re all coming to me to gripe about him!
A: Yeah, OK, so tell me more about why that’s got you ready to quit?
K: Huh? Isn’t it obvious?? People are pretty hacked off at Seth and they keep dumping their garbage on me!
K: And when I go to Seth about it, he’s completely closed off to their feedback. He’s even beginning to act like a jerk toward me… and I’m like the only one around here who’s trying to be supportive.
A: And, how come that’s hitting you so hard right now??
K: Because I really thought that by standing in the middle, I could fix this! Er… that I could fix Seth. I mean, I guess it’s pretty unrealistic to think that I could somehow get Seth to see what he hadn’t been willing to see all this time…
A: So, maybe you’re mostly disappointed in yourself? That you couldn’t pull off this miracle this time?
K: Yeah. Kinda idealistic of me, huh? I guess I’m starting to see how mush pressure I put on myself to make this thing work. I really, really care about Seth and the organization…
Even more effective than using a technique like the Five Why’s is simply to become curious.
Let your care for this person generate genuine interest inside you about them.
About what’s troubling them. About what’s affecting them so significantly.
Allow your curiosity to keep you from settling too quickly on the surface issue—particularly when your gut—or their reaction seems to indicate something more may be at stake.
Principal #7- Consider Contribution
My mentor and hero, Dr. J. Robert Clinton notes that one of the five practices that distinguishes those who finish well is a commitment to life-long learning. If learning is central to life, it is critical in times of turbulence. Trouble is, the way most of us behave in conflict closes down the possibility of learning very much at all.
As humans, we want life to be tidy. Yet, life is seldom tidy—and conflict never is. To benefit from conflict—which I believe is always God’s intent – you need to take learning into hyper-mode. One almost-irresistible practice that undermines learning is to look to assign blame. Think about it: as soon as the culprit is identified, the energy is focused on building a case against the villain… proving just how wrong he or she is. Evidence is piled up. The case is closed. In this mode, learning shrivels.
The well-rehearsed cultural practice of racing to decide who’s at fault, who’s to blame, who is responsible for the breakdown ignores this startling reality: each person in the conflict has a contribution.
I challenge you to honestly review the details of any conflict you’ve been in to identify how you contributed – however small or great – to the breakdown. You may have contributed by not taking action that might have mitigated the hurt. You may have contributed by not being clear enough — however well-intentioned you may have been – such that the other party mistook your motives. You, like me, may not have cared enough to notice your impact on another, even when no malice was intended.
The opening provided by a conflict is to learn: to discover what you didn’t know beforehand. Get this, and you’ll never be in a conflict the same way again: there is a gift in every breakdown; it’s the opportunity to learn what you don’t know you don’t know!
Failing to learn from your conflicts keeps you vulnerable to stumbling in the same ways again. Stumble into conflict often enough and you’ll see your impact diminished… greatly. Maybe worse, you’ll find people avoiding you, rendering you alone. As a leader, you cannot afford to be alone. Leaders champion those who welcome their influence to agreed-upon greatness. So, ignoring the provision of God to discover the ways you invite conflict and misunderstanding is deadly.
When you are called upon to referee a conflict, employing the concept of contribution can have dramatic results. For one, when everyone has agreed to banish the idea that one person is to blame, both parties are freed to look—really look — to see how they played into what didn’t work. When it is agreed that each party to the breakdown has a contribution, the judgmentally arrogant posture so common the “innocent victim” is stymied. At the same time, the self-deprecatory, subservient attitude of the identified wrongdoer is also thwarted. What results can be an honest inquiry into the nuances that provoked, cultivated, and prolonged the standoff.
When the community views conflict as a problem, a failure, or a sin, there is scant willingness to dig into the details to optimize learning. No, the press is to quick-fix it, with a rush to judgment, the dispensation of consequences, and far too often, the distancing of the designated scoundrel from the community. So seldom have the specifics been sufficiently studied, that any distinctive discoveries are embraced.
Frame a conflict as an opportunity for each participant to learn, and you’ll set the stage for real repentance and change.
Guest blog by Darren Adwalpalker, Senior Pastor, South Bay Church of God, Torrance, CA
Principle six: Step down the voltage.
Hazardous Voltage Inside.
Will shock, burn or cause death.
I’d just been through a difficult conflict and reflected on how being in conflict resourcefully is similar to the way an electrical substation processes electricity.
A substation receives high-voltage energy and transforms it into low-voltage energy—which safely powers our homes, heating, lights and lives.
Just as the raw energy entering the substation has the power to cause harm, so the raw emotions we experience in conflict have the power to destroy relationships.
Here’s my four-step process for “stepping down the emotional voltage” that’s often present in conflict. After a recent difficult conversation with someone who told me they’d be leaving the church, I opened my computer and worked through these steps:
1) What happened?
- What was the nature of the conflict or disagreement?
- What was said?
- What were the other person’s criticisms or complaints?
I try to write these down as objectively as possible.
2) What are my raw emotions?
- Here, I allow myself complete freedom to feel my emotions and capture them in writing as honestly as I can. I might write that I felt hurt, angry, let down, frustrated or sad.
- I write down any judgments I’m carrying and the stories I was making up about myself or the other person. Such stories might be “Perhaps I’m not a good leader” or “That person is being selfish.” What’s really important here is honesty. We seldom give ourselves permission to express the raw emotions we’re feeling. Once we do, we’re a step closer to turning that raw energy into something helpful, not harmful.
3) What’s closer to the truth?
After writing out my raw emotions and any stories I’m making up about the situation, I’m able to think much more clearly.
- I can then step back and look at the situation more objectively.
- I’m able to more clearly see my contribution in the conflict without having to own it all myself.
4) What are my next steps?
- After this process, I’m now ready to consider my next steps. Perhaps:
A follow up conversation.
Prayerfully releasing it to God.
Writing a letter to express gratitude.
The next time you are in a difficult conflict, work through these steps and see if you can “step down the emotional voltage” into something useful.