Friday, November 21, 2014

Appealing to our vanity

From time to time I receive "notice" that I have been chosen as an outstanding contributor in some field and that upon the acceptance of my application (and significant fee) I may be approved to be included in this exclusive list of names to be listed in a fancy volume so that I can purchase it and put it on my shelf. 

Of course, this is not about my great accomplishments but someone making money but the fact that they publish said volumes year after year is indication that there is no shortage of vanity to take advantage of. My latest accomplishments seem to be in the field of HR which my own HR office would find highly comic, and highly suspect.

Studies show that we consistently overrate our abilities and wisdom and underrate out weaknesses and mistakes. No matter, we know better and often think of ourselves more highly than we should.

Those in Christian service who see success often start to buy the press they (we) receive. It is a dangerous path to walk down. The leaders I admire the most are the most ordinary of people, real people, who have not allowed anyone to place them on a pedestal, who discount the adulation they receive because they both know themselves well and know who gave them any gifts they possess. It is their humility and humanity (and these two go together) that endear them to others. 

Pride is one of the most often named sins in Scripture because God hates the haughty but loves the humble. The humble, after all, reflect the character of Jesus (Philippians 2). The humble reflect the character of God who has no need to be humble in any sense. As the beatitudes say, "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." I have made it an "unseen practice" when people are praising me to inwardly say, "Jesus it is all yours and any praise that comes to me is your deserved praise." I cannot claim credit for gifts that God gave me to steward. He was the source and His is the praise. It is why I am always uncomfortable in that situation.

It is easy to think we are humble. It is a lifelong discipline to stay humble, especially for those who are in the limelight. I will always remember the funeral of my mother in law, one of the most humble people I ever met. The place was packed. Not because she was somebody in circles that "mattered." Rather because from behind the scenes, she lived out her faith in humble acts of kindness that endeared her to all who came to her service. I receive accolades in this life. She may receive more of them in heaven. 

Guarding ourselves against vanity and practicing humility is one of the more important disciplines for those who end up in the lime light. 

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You cannot see the picture if you are inside the frame

How often we are blind to the issues within our own organizations that in retrospect we wish we had seen. It is often a challenge to see what we need to see without a great deal of intentionality because you cannot see the picture if you are inside the frame. All of us live and work within certain frames and it is difficult to see the whole picture from our vantage point. It is the very reason we bring in consultants. They may not be brighter than us but they can see the picture better than we can.

There are ways to mitigate against not being able to see the forest for the trees. One is to intentionally maintain an outside perspective by asking how others would see our organization. Or, what would I say if I were a consultant to my own organization? Another is to routinely question why we do things the way we do, or "if we were building this today how would we design it?" Usually we would design it differently than it is designed today. Should we do something about that? In other words, we intentionally seek to look at our way of doing things from the outside rather than just assuming we do them well.

This is also why the best leaders spend time with other leaders asking them about issues that they wonder about. Many leaders never do this because they simply assume they have it down. None of us have it down perfectly or are exempt from learning from others. Run of the mill leaders are not inquisitive but the best leaders are.

Finally this conundrum of perspective is why it is so critical to create an organizational culture of openness, candid dialogue and the ability to question the status quo. It is the absence of this kind of culture (usually due to the insecurity of a leader) that keeps our own staff from naming issues that need to be seen. Staff will not go where they are not invited or allowed to go so leaders either create this kind of culture or don't depending on their own EQ.

There is one thing I can assure all of us. None of us see perfectly from inside the frame. That fact in itself ought to humble us and give us pause. And cause us to work diligently to see as much of the picture as we can.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I wish many adults knew and understood

"This is your heart. It goes in your belly so you can hear 


My Grandson Gavrel

I know my church board is healthy when....

There are a number of key indicators of a healthy church board. If you are serving in this capacity, consider these indicators as you consider your own board.

I know my church board is healthy when...

  • There are healthy relationships between all board members - even when there are differences of opinion
  • We are free to put all issues on the table with the exception of hidden agendas and personal attacks
  • A concern for what would please Jesus is front and central all the time
  • There is a healthy balance between business and prayer
  • Meetings are focused and generally stay within the set time constraints
  • I want to go to board meetings!
  • There is clarity about ministry direction and we seek to move in that direction
  • We do governance work and allow staff to do their work without interference
  • We place a high priority on learning and growing
  • There are no elephants in the room
  • Unhealthy behaviors on the board are not tolerated
  • We have a vision that goes beyond us and is Jesus and Kingdom centered not us centered
  • There is a deep concern for the spiritual growth of those in the church as well as for those in our community that do not yet know Jesus
  • We are willing to tackle hard issues but always with the grace of Jesus
  • We know one another well enough to tolerate and appreciate one another's differences
  • We are never satisfied with the status quo but are always looking to the future and where God wants us to go
  • We pray for one another outside of board meetings
  • We have a board covenant that speaks to how we work with one another
  • There are no unresolved conflicts between board members
Simple indicators but indicators of health. It is worth taking a few minutes as a board and asking the questions!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I am sad this evening

I am no stranger to health issues which is why it saddens me when others are suffering from them. I spent the afternoon at a hospital visiting a friend whose brain function is unknown after a fall. I had the privilege of praying for him and as I did he opened his eyes and tried to focus, it seemed, but I don't know.

A few days ago I received news of a senior team member of ReachGlobal who has an aggressive brain tumor. It has not left my mind since I heard it. I am praying for full healing as I prayed for my friend in the hospital but I am grieving for the uncertainty he faces along with his family. They are expressing their faith in the title of their blog (Good Things from the hand of God). That is the kind of faith we all need to live with. Nevertheless I grieve as I pray in faith.

And then there is a dear friend who informed me that she has been diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. She is my age. I grieve and I pray. And then there is a dear friend of mine from college (it seems like yesterday) who just entered hospice care after fighting ovarian cancer with everything she had for seven years until she knew it was time and she could not fight anymore. 

I am reminded of the number of times in the Scriptures it talks of those who visit the sick, who care for the forgotten and I think of the many who ministered to me and my family during times of life threatening illness. They encouraged, they ministered and they prayed. We can never make enough home or hospital visits to the sick and suffering. We can never extend enough love to those who are physically hurting. We can never pray enough for those who are dependent on our prayers because they don't have the strength to pray themselves. 

We who have health ought to never take it for granted and it will not last forever. Thank God for it. And remember those who do not. Minister to them, pray with them, be bold in your prayers. Love them and their families. It may be the most important and unknown ministry you will ever have. Our family will never forget the friends who stood by us during long hospital stays. I will be forever grateful. Jesus was honored by their faithfulness. It is never a wasted opportunity.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons I have learned in helping churches resolve conflict

After many years of working with churches that find themselves in conflictual situations, I have come to the conclusion that there are six non-negotiable principles if there is to be a successful outcome.

First, an outside facilitator is usually necessary. The nature of conflict is that people take sides so it becomes very difficult for anyone from within to play the role of a neutral mediator. In fact, the larger the conflict the more critical it is that the individual you bring in is trusted by both sides to have the best interests of the church at heart. The sooner you bring someone in when it is clear that the situation is dangerous the better.

Second, the issues that are fueling the conflict need to be brought into the light. Conflict thrives in the shadows, in gossip, in cliques, in assumptions and behind the scenes. Bringing all the competing agendas, attitudes and positions into the light and allowing all members of the congregation to understand what is being said, what is happening and what the issues are takes the mystique out of the situation and allows everyone to respond from a position of knowledge. It also removes the power of those who have an agenda but have not been willing to make it public but have instead been putting on pressure from behind the scenes. Getting everything on the table allows all stakeholders to understand what is going on and to have a voice in solving the issues. Ironically, those who are most vociferous in their opinions overplay those who agree with them when in fact, if all facts were known, the majority would not agree. 

Third. Reconciliation is always preferable to disunity. This is actually a hard concept for many who have taken a position in church conflict. First, our natural tendency is to take a hard line and once we have told others about our own line-in-the-sand it is humbling to change our position. Second, the longer conflict goes on, the more we see the members of the opposing side as evil, dishonest, disingenuous, people with bad motives and once we demonize people it is hard to ever think that reconciliation is possible. 

To not be willing to consider reconciliation is to make a mockery of God's reconciliation with us and His call for us to be reconcilers. Speaking of church conflict, this is what Paul had to say to the Corinthians. "I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10)." 

In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul writes, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Having said that, I acknowledge that sometimes it is not going to be possible to reconcile and stay together. Sometimes it means that we part ways and speak well of one another.

Fourth, ground rules need to be established. One of the most incendiary fuels in all conflict is the absence of ground rules - what is acceptable and what is not. For a list of the ground rules that I recommend, see my blog, Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner. Or if you want to keep it very simple, look back at the passage in Ephesians 4:1-6 where he says be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. When you think about it, these characteristics are almost always lacking when conflict is taking place. What gets in our way? Pride, wanting to get our own way, anger, and our emotions.

Five, you probably will not convince everyone. There are people who don't want to reconcile. There are people whose pride is far greater than their humility and they have no desire to seek a win/win solution. In working with churches in conflict, I don't do very much to try to convince the unconvincible even if they have the loudest voices. I am looking for people of peace and reason who are willing to work together to see the church come together in unity. This does not mean that the issues that have caused disunity are swept under the rug. To the contrary, as principle two states, they are all on the table and those that need to be addressed are addressed. To do that successfully, however, it requires men and women of peace and reason, whose personal agendas do not cloud their emotions.

Who is most likely to leave in church conflict? Those who have taken a hard stand and cannot or will not compromise that stand. Frankly, it is good for them to leave because they will simply contribute to ongoing conflict if they are not willing to come together with the rest of the congregation.

Sixth: It is a process. Church conflict does not start overnight and it does not get settled overnight. It may take a year in some cases to bring the church back to health. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the trauma of either a church split (which damages churches for years to come) a powerplay by a faction in the church (which causes huge trauma to a church and a significant lack of trust) or not dealing with it at all which dooms the church to later issues.

What is needed for a healthy process is a willingness of the congregation to work together recognizing that how they handle their differences will either enhance or diminish the reputation of Jesus. If His reputation is at stake - and it is - I will do all I can to enhance it.

Additional blogs on church conflict:

Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner

8 Reasons in my experience that churches experience major conflict

Church conflict: Finding the core issue and the common source

Seven things to understand about church conflict

Church conflict, christian character and the reputation of Jesus