The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part five)
Within a larger conversation concerning courageous leadership we’ve been examining the outworking of placing “an unreasonable faith in reasonableness” – a central tenet of much of post-Enlightenment Christendom in the West. I am indebted to Edwin Freidman’s A Failure on Nerve for illuminating this characteristic of the anxious, shallow, quick-fix orientation to leadership.
This kind of leadership is ruining the Church in North America in our time.
We’ve pointed out that when you preach what you don’t practice, the dissonance repels people – not just from your sanctuary – but from Christianity and Christ. The implications for a society are deeply profound and can infect it for generations.
And, men leave the church in droves.
Or haven’t you noticed?
I subscribe to an excellent book reading service called Leader’s Book Summaries [www.StudyLeadership.com].
I highly recommend it. In a summary of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church I learned that only one third of church attendees are men—and most of them are over 50. It’s almost impossible to find adults – of either gender — under age 30 in church.
Consider these two lists of values: The first list: Love, communication, beauty, relationships, support, help, nurture, feelings, sharing, harmony, community, and cooperation.
And, the second list: Competence, power, efficiency, achievement, skills, results, accomplishment, technology, goals, success, and competition.
Which list of values are most consistent with the culture that predominates the North American Church today?
The two lists come from John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and distinguish culturally “masculine” from “feminine” values.
In our commitment to be reasonable, among other major shifts, the Church in the west has been emasculated. Neutered. It’s been feminized.
The Leaders Book Summary points out that numerous studies reveal “there is widespread agreement among both the religious and the secular that to be a Christian is to embrace feminine values.”
Consider this: those most absent from church (men and young adults) value challenge over security. Again, taken from the Summary, the key values of this missing population include adventure, risk, daring, independence, variety, and reward.
as core values.
Since values are revealed in behavior, not belief systems, what does your lifestyle reveal, pastor?
When the time has come to take a courageous stand, what does your behavior reveal?
- When the opportunity came to stand up to that manipulative, obstructionist power-wielding elder, what did you do?
- When you thought to lead your parish out into the city to serve and love those outside your tight-knit congregation – and push-back came, as it always does – did you lead courageously or cave under pressure?
- When a clear biblical injunction has become as unpopular in your denomination as in the culture at large, have you censored your own voice?
- When the Holy Spirit stirred you to put your hand to the plow in pursuit of some great, challenging work for God’s glory, did the fearful complaints of the cowards prevail in the end?
As leaders, we get to champion our people to become who they always wanted to be, by taking them where they never wanted to go.
And, since life is always lived from now on, your past behavior is no predictor of the greatness you’ll accomplish before you breathe your last.
So, before you see Jesus face to face, what great, rewarding, daring adventure will you and your people give yourselves to?
What’ll it be?
You get to choose.
The Unreasonableness of Being Reasonable (part three)
In this series, we’re examining a distinct type of leadership that is essential when anxiety is afoot—as is certainly the case in the Church in North America. You may attend a strong, confident church: one that is largely free from disquiet and emotional volatility.
Good for you.
But the Church as a whole is a dreadful mess. Hemorrhaging people and funds, closing buildings and selling off property, many once-dominant denominations in the US are failing. Even more troubling, her leaders, destabilized and evacuated of courage, are fearfully and fretfully overseeing the demise.
It’s in this context that clear, decisive, non-anxious leadership is non-negotiable.
We’re looking at nine characteristics of such leadership. Each one modeled for us by Jesus. Currently we’re looking at the seventh: Disengage an unreasonable faith in reasonableness.
Realize that there was nothing “reasonable” in Jesus’ call to be his disciple. His standards were unmistakable. Like this one: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other… [Lk 16:13]
As a leader, who you are is more important than anything you say.
In fact, who you are is more important than everything you say.
But talk that’s not backed by a life has a hollow ring. And that hollowness drives people away… away from church… away from the Church.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
His words, then as now, ring true.
Because Churchill didn’t give in.
And if he had, it would never have been remembered.
The words didn’t match his life.
Undermine the 80/20 Rule (part four)
Here’s another look at the 80/20 Rule and its connection to the culture of cowardice in the North American Church. And, it may be hard to hear.
Could it be that a distorted substitute for biblical grace has taken the Church?
Consider how little the Church asks of Christians… in the name of “grace”.
And, consider the abundance of resources we make available to Christians who are expected to contribute next to nothing in return. Churches, in general, are so transfixed with providing for their own that they have little time, energy, and resources with which to serve those outside.
Think about it:
Baby dedications. Baptisms. Child care. Mom’s nights out. Children’s ministry. Youth group. Relationship counseling. College and career ministry. Pre-marital classes. Weddings. Marriage counseling. Divorce recovery. Grief counseling. Financial management seminars. Debt counseling. Bereavement care. Memorial services.
Our churches provide cradle-to-grave services to the saved— most of which are free of any call that the recipients contribute their time, energy, or money to the community of faith from which they take, take, take.
Is it any wonder that fewer than 10% of church-dwellers tithe?
Ever attended a church while it undertook a major capital campaign?
For a capital campaign to succeed, two things have to occur: those who already give must dig deep and give more—usually a lot more—and they often do. And also, those who rarely give and who only gesture at giving are called upon to sacrifice as well—and that’s where the commotion commences…
A capital campaign–like the claims of Lordship that Jesus so clearly articulates–calls each of us to painful sacrifice. In Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and 14:27 the gospels record Jesus’ clearly: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Yet, in our commitment to be visitor-sensitive, we communicate in dozens of ways that cross-bearing is optional. Not expected. And, certainly not insisted upon. And then, when we finally call our people – all of them – to get in the game in a sacrificial way, many of them pack up and leave for another church. Or, no church at all.
And, look where all this visitor-sensitivity has got us.
Do you see maturing disciples all around you?
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