Thursday, July 31, 2014

What I have learned from leaders who have failed or disappointed me

Like most of us who have been around a while I have seen my share of Christian leaders who have failed the test of leadership. This has included affairs, financial misappropriation, addictions, extreme narcissism, unwillingness to be accountable to their boards, staff abuse, plain poor leadership and the list could go on. Just do a Google search and there is no lack of  high profile leaders whose lives have come undone.

As in all of life there are lessons to be learned here and these are some of the lessons I have learned.

One. All of us have feet of clay and struggle with our own shadow side. Leaders do as well. No one is exempt from one's lower nature or the normal temptations of life. Thus while we hold Christian leaders to a higher standard, they too will fall in a fallen world. While disappointed, I am no longer surprised. But for the grace of God go I.

Two. That being the case I no longer place any individual on a pedestal believing they are different. The higher one places them the further they fall and the greater the disappointment. I pray for leaders in my life but recognize that they are subject to the same life issues that I am. I refuse to become a groupie of the latest high profile Christian leader.

Three. I cannot outsource my relationship with God to others. I am personally responsible for my life, my spiritual growth, the use of my gifts and how I use my life for God. Thus when a leader falls, the truth is that it does not impact my spiritual life and I do not become disillusioned

Four. I recognize that one of the reasons leaders fail is that they get caught up in their own success and people no longer tell them the truth. I am committed to being respectful but absolutely honest with leaders around me, resisting the temptation to treat them differently or to be less than candid. What they do with it is their business. Mine is not to contribute to the problem.

Five. I must guard my own life so that the common factors that contribute to leadership failure do not become my experience. This includes accountable relationships, encouraging my staff to be candid and upfront, living with humility and being deeply aware of my own shadow side and vulnerabilities. No one is exempt from the issues that contribute to failed leadership. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

World conflict, the gospel and our personal response

It is easy to watch the news of the various conflicts in our world such as that between the Palestinians and Israel or Russia and Ukraine and simply think about who are the good guys and the bad guys, informed by our political persuasion or where we are from. I believe that for believers, the issues are more complex than this.

I am not naive about world realities. Those movements who engage in ethnic cleansing, the eradication of believers or those not like them (ISIS) or who simply disregard human life for their own purposes are quite simply evil and must be dealt with if we believe in the sanctity of human life. The purpose of government is to maintain peace and there are times when evil must be addressed whether the genocide in Rawanda or the Nazi aggression in the Second world War. 

Certainly I have strong feelings on many matters informed by my own world view. I am an avid reader of history and world events and see issues from the perspective of my Third Culture upbringing. As one involved in the proclamation of the Gospel, however, I have a higher interest and that is seeing the Gospel spread. Ultimately the hope of our world is not in any political system or government but it is quite simply Jesus. 

Yesterday I wrote this letter to a friend in Russia (who is ethnically Russian) who is engaged in ministry there and was pointing out atrocities of the Ukrainians against the Russians. Of course the perception in most of the west is that the aggression in this region was initiated by Russia upon Ukraine.

I am grieved about the loss of life on both sides in this conflict. I know that all of us have our personal opinions on where the most culpability lies. War is a dirty business and the innocent are the biggest losers. I believe the Gospel is the only true answer to our world’s conflicts including this one.

As I travel and do ministry abroad I don’t do so as an American citizen but as an ambassador of the Gospel and therefore never engage in public political discussions (even though I have convictions on them). I am praying for the advance of the Gospel in Russia and Ukraine. As you may remember my wife’s father was from Ukraine and most of her relatives reside there.

I also pray that Russian and Ukrainian believers will not be divided by what their governments do, good or bad. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus and He is the one who unites us.

Our world is a complicated place, diminished and wounded by sin. I grieve for the loss of life in Gaza and in Israel. I pray peace as Paul told us to pray. I pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven as Jesus taught us to pray. I know there are aggressors and I know that many innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

If we look at the situation in Israel there are no simple answers either. Both Israel and the Palestinians have been involved in horrific actions against one another and there is enough blame to go around and neither government is righteous and no government will be until Jesus returns. Jesus died equally for the Israelis and the Palestinians. He cares about justice and mercy and walking humbly before God and that applies to nations and individual.

I am often asked in third world countries about the politics of America and the perception that Americans are all about wars, drones, bombs and aggression. My standard answer is that I am not here to represent any government and there are no righteous nations. The hope of the world is Jesus. I do have political opinions but they have never appeared on this blog in my role as one involved in world missions. I leave that to others and my government does not necessarily reflect my convictions. 

There are people called into the political arena (Daniel in the Old Testament was one). I pray for them and I pray for righteous decisions to be made in a complicated, broken and often brutal world. My role is to champion Jesus.

The future of evangelical denominations. Which will thrive and which will not

Are denominations a thing of the past and destined to disappear? Certainly many of the main line denominations have been in decline for decades now and while they may have money they have fewer and fewer churches and congregants. Some are already relics and irrelevant although they don't seem to know it yet. Their decline has little to do with where denominations are but much to do with their theological drift and the long ago loss of the Scriptures as truth. Yes they are a thing of the past.

What about denominations in the evangelical world? It depends! Denominations that are primarily about structure, institution and authority are likely to become increasingly irrelevant in today's world where churches can choose their affiliation, if any. On the other hand denominations that are movements driven by vision and common purpose (broadly defined) will not dissappear. Movements grow while calcified structures die.

Here are the characteristics that I believe will define growing denominational movements.

  1. They are all about the proclamation of the Gospel and are rooted in the authority of Scripture.
  2. They have an ethos that encourage local churches to flourish and minister in their unique ways without control.
  3. They welcome innovation, new ways of reaching people and new forms rather than trying to fit people and congregations into a specific structures or philosophy.
  4. They guard the theological integrity of the movement through ordination - one of the few structures that do matter.
  5. They encourage movements within the movement which naturally occurs as visionary pastors become movement leaders and plant other congregations that look like them - or not.
  6. They value the Bride over the brand (denomination) and have Kingdom hearts that work with, bless and champion other evangelical churches and groups for the spread of the Gospel and reaching whole communities. They are non-territorial.
  7. They are vision driven rather than structure driven. Structures simply serve mission and vision. Structures in growing denominational movements will be kept to a minimum and only what is helpful to the movement.
  8. Their leaders are people with kingdom hearts whose sole purpose is to see the Gospel expand and local churches and their leaders reach their full ministry potential. They lead out of influence rather than authority 99% of the time.
  9. Denominational movement leaders are not the experts but are skilled in helping congregations and their leaders ask the right questions and can point people in the right direction when that is desired. 
  10. They are constantly guarding against the movement becoming about structure and institution. They guard the missional ethos.
What I am describing are movements, rather than what we typically think of when we hear the word denomination. There will always be movements. Old ones die and new ones emerge. Denominations that are movements rather than institutions are far more likely to thrive and survive in the coming decades. 

Leadership board time outs for reflection

Many church and ministry boards would benefit from a periodic "time out" from their regular agenda to talk to God and themselves about their ministry. Even in good board work we get caught up in the routine which can mask issues or opportunities that would help us clarify, move forward and become healthier. Here a few but powerful questions that can be used in a "time out" session where decisions are not going to be made but rather where dialogue can take place without the press of other business.

  1. Where are we seeing God work in significant ways and how might we leverage that work?
  2. Has God been speaking to any member of the board about any aspect of our ministry? What are they hearing or sensing from God and do others have the same sense? And then press into this in prayer.
  3. How are we doing as a board relationally with each other, in the way we do our work together and in moving the ministry forward in an intentional manner?
  4. Are there any elephants that we have allowed to fester - things that we know need to be addressed by that we are afraid to verbalize. What are they? Once named, elephants are simply issues that can be talked about.
  5. Have we become complacent in any area of our leadership work? In what areas? How can we do better?
You may have other key questions that can be used to spark conversation but taking time out to simply reflect can spark thinking, debate, prayer and dialogue. Most importantly it may help the ministry significantly move forward.

Monday, July 28, 2014

No time to think

This insightful article from the New York Times talks about the frenetic schedules we keep and hints at why we do so. It is well worth reading and thinking about - if you have the time! The deficit of thinking time is one of the epidemics of our time, and leaders are not exempt!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

When failure is not failure

Many of us in Christian ministry have very high standards for ourselves, often too high. We are not able to relax in the fact that we cannot do everything to perfection and some things not even in the ballpark. Yet we often live with a sense of failure when something does not go right, if we don't get something right or when others tell us that we simply don't have the skill to do something. 

In real life that is normal. Why do we who are in ministry need to perform to standards that are not normal? Yes we serve the perfect God who always gets it right but that same God gave us specific gifts (Ephesians 2:10), called it good and was content that he wired us for a few things and not all.

In my work with staff of ReachGlobal and other ministries one of the key issues is always helping leaders understand their gifting, play to their strengths and get out of areas where they are not gifted. Often what I get when we talk about the latter areas is a sense of failure on their part. But it is the furthest thing from failure. It is simply recognizing how God did and did not gift them. Half of success is knowing what we are not good at so that we can focus on those things we are good at. 

The most successful people I know are those who can tell you the instant you ask what they are not good at and what they are good at. And rather than a sense of failure on the former they are fulfilled and happy and vow that they will stay in their lane of gifting because that is what God made them for. 

Real failure for many is never admitting that they are not wired for certain things. Success is knowing what we are wired for and playing to our strengths. That is when failure is not real failure but rather success. It took me some time to learn this but when I did it was liberating.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How people respond to organizational change and why it matters

I am reposting a blog from November 19, 2012 because of its relevance to any organization going through change. The better we understand predictable responses to organizational change, the more successful we will be in negotiating the white water of change.

Many are familiar with the bell curve that describes how people respond to change: innovators; early adapters; middle adapters; late adapters and laggards. In my experience in the change process I have another set of suggested categories to watch for. Where individuals are on this continuum from change resistors to evangelists for change makes a great difference when you are considering them for leadership positions either on staff or a board.

Resisters. Like the laggards on the bell curve, these are people who will actively resist change because they are simply wired that way. This is the individual who told me, "T.J., you can bring whatever change you want to the organization but don't expect me to do anything different." No rationale is going to change the mind of a resister.

Protectors. The protector is also highly resistant to change but for another reason. They believe in the status quo, the way things have been done in the past and they will actively try to protect "what is," rather than embrace "what could be." This was the individual who told me and many others that the changes I was bringing to ReachGlobal would destroy the mission. 

Cynics. This group is simply cynical about change unless the proposed change is their idea. They tend to view change as "the flavor of the month" and are often vocal about their opinion. Cynics generally don't trust leaders so proposals brought by leaders are quickly discounted.

Loyal followers. These individuals have a deep commitment to the organization and team. They accept change if there is a good rationale for it. These are staff who say, "Just tell me which direction we are going and I will go with you." 

Idealists. This is an interesting group with an upside and a downside when it comes to change. When creating change one inevitably creates a gap between what is and what should be. Idealists are highly impatient to get to what should be and believe that we should be there now. On the up side, they want the change. On the down side they can become highly critical that we have not arrived. Thus on any day they can be either an ally or a critic.

Realists. This group is supportive of change, realizes that it will take time and process and is generally comfortable with that process. They are helpful in realistically figuring out how to get there and can live with the tension of what is and what should be.

Change agents. These individuals not only support proposed changes but will be active agents in helping the organization get there. They are your front lines in speaking a new language, setting a new course and helping redesign philosophy and strategy.

Evangelists. These are the champions of change who publicly and privately live the change out, help others understand and get there and advocate for the new direction.

In my experience it is the realists, change agents and evangelists who will help drive change while the resisters, protectors and cynics will actively undermine change. Loyal followers and idealists will go with you but will not drive change. 

Think about the implications of these eight ways that people respond to change in terms of who you hire, who you put into leadership and who you ask to serve on a board. One church leader, after hearing these descriptions aptly commented, "no wonder so many boards are stuck." He is right. Resisters, protectors and cynics must be managed but beware of allowing them into positions of leadership and influence!