Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't wait for a funeral to say what you really want to say

Today I did a short video for a friend who is receiving an award and recognition for his life work to this point. It was a privilege to communicate just a bit of the huge respect and love I have for him. He is a man of integrity, love for Jesus, great compassion, and he lives to please his Lord Jesus.

It reminded me of something important. We all know people whom we love and admire and respect. It is a shame that we do not tell them of our love and admiration more often. What an encouragement it would be to share our observations and feelings. The apostle Paul did this all the time in his letters. He acknowledged people for their work and expressed his love. He called out individuals by name and told them why he did so. 

Our world is full of discouragement. We can bring huge encouragement to those around us by simply acknowledging the good and faithfulness we see. If Jesus was not shy about showing His love and appreciation for those who followed Him, we should not be shy in showing our appreciation for those who have followed Him well and who we deeply appreciate.

To the one for whom I recorded the video I say this: You are a friend, a brother and a great example to many of what it means to follow Jesus. Who can you say that about and will you tell them?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some reflections on the Mars Hill situation

Those who read this blog regularly know that I am an advocate for healthy pastors, elders and churches. You also know that I regularly explore issues of dishealth because they impact others in a significant way. Like many, I have watched the situation in Seattle with Mars Hill Church and have some reflections on a number of issues it raises.

Reflection: Never give senior leaders a pass on behaviors that are unacceptable. I have seen this way too often. Boards often ignore behaviors in their senior leader either because he is getting things done or because he is "God's man" and we should not challenge him. Do we not get the fact that the qualifications for leaders are actually higher than for the rest of the church? If that is so, leaders are held to a higher standard than others yet we often give them a pass because we don't want to challenge them. Lets just say - there is no excuse for bad behavior toward others on the part of senior pastors. 

Reflection: Pay attention to trends and patterns. I worked with a church where a long string of people had been fired or let go as at Mars Hill. Yet the board had never challenged the pastor on why it had happened, nor had they done exit interviews on the circumstances that surrounded the staff who left. One may give leaders the benefit of the doubt but where there is a troubling pattern over time, good leaders must wake up and take notice. When I interviewed staff who had left from the church I mentioned, I heard horrified stories of abuse by a senior pastor. Yet the board had not paid attention to a pattern that should have given them great pause. (See my blog, When the bodies pile up).

Reflection: Bad behaviors when not addressed will spill over into the congregation. It would appear that Mars Hill leaders tried to keep the behaviors of their senior leader private. This led to severance agreements tied to non-disclosure legal documents. Rather than addressing the issues it would appear that they tried to hide the issues. Then when it started to go public in social media they seemed to blame those who made the allegations public. Think about this: If you don't listen to people who have been hurt and try to shut them up the issues will spill out because people have a sense of justice. In my personal view, the only reason that this went public in Seattle was that church leaders did not listen to those impacted by their senior leader, take them seriously or deal with the real issue. (See my blog, Eight dysfunctions of church governance boards)

Reflection: Sad as it is, some pastors are bullies and their agenda gets in the way of their treatment of people. One of the most read blogs on my site is entitled Abuse in the Church - When the Pastor is the bully. What is interesting to me is that this blog post gets consistent hits with a current count of well over 3,000. I can see the blogs being read in my analytics and it always makes me sad to see this one being read. Yet just today I received word of another situation that would indicate an unhealthy pastor who is acting like a bully. My question: Why do those around him allow him to get away with such behavior?

Reflection: Bad behavior on the part of senior leaders hurts the reputation of Jesus. Unhealthy leaders give those around them grounds to become cynical of the church. After all, when people are hurt, marginalized, mistreated, inappropriately treated or fired by the very people who are charged to be their shepherd - and are undershepherds of Jesus, what would one expect? Sometimes the very pastors that are trying to make their ministry accessible to unbelievers are the ones who sabotage those efforts by their own behavior. When public behavior is different than private behavior there is an obvious character flaw that must be addressed.

Reflection: When issues like these are not addressed in a timely fashion they hurt the bride of Jesus. We are watching Mars Hill let staff go, close venues, cut budgets and struggle to deal with the aftermath of the issues that have surrounded their former senior leader. They will be a wounded body for a long time to come and I lay the blame on the senior leader and church leaders who could have and should have done something about it a long time ago. All I can say is that it is very sad and a lot of innocent folks will be caught in the middle. 

The drama at Mars Hill is sad. We need to reflect on the lessons we can learn from their situation and ensure that it does not ever happen in ours. 

Words that should strike fear in every Christian leader

There are two statements of Jesus that ought to strike fear in every Christian leader. They are these: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and "Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (John 15:4). The reason those are frightening words is that we are so used to doing things with the latest strategies, our fine education and great resources (in the west) and it is very easy to forget that eternal results only come from connection with the eternal God. That is the other side of the equation, "If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit" (John 15:5). The key is the closeness of our connection with Him.

What keeps Christian leaders from staying intimately connected with Jesus and dependent on Him in their ministries? I would suggest four common reasons:

  • Pride. We simply think that we can do great things by ourselves because we have an inflated view of our own abilities and we chase our agendas over God's agendas - of course with the appropriate spiritual language to give it legitimacy.
  • Busyness. We are too busy doing His work to really spend much time with Him. We begin to think that He will bless simply because we serving Him.
  • Resources. We have the training, education, money and personnel to get things done so we simply go for it.
  • Forgetfulness. We forget that the key to everything we do is our connection to Him.
We can indeed to much without God's help but we cannot do anything of eternal value without it. Fruit comes from Him alone and that is all about remaining in Him, in which case we will bear "much fruit." Ironically it is in doing less and abiding in Him that we actually see more because He is the the one who produces the fruit.

All of us would do well to regularly read and meditate on John 15. How are we doing in staying connected to the vine? How are we doing in "remaining in Him?" It is the leadership essential that we talk too little about as it is central to our success. 

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed...

Guest Blog from Paul J Murphy

" Paul, bring a sermon with you to Uganda because the church will ask you to preach." I dutifully printed and packed one of my recent sermons and headed for Uganda. But, after being in Uganda for 4 days I realized the sermon I had packed was best left unused. So with a blank piece of paper, and a pen I sat down and reflected on what I had been seeing, hearing, and experiencing while in Uganda. And a sermon flowed. It spoke to the Ugandans, and it spoke to me.

"the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all  seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter in its branches."   (Matthew 13:31-32)

Turn on the news, browse any news source and power struggles are the way of the world. This month it is Ebola and civil or sectarian wars in Syria and parts of the Middle East. Still wrenching from power struggles are Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Congo, Thailand, Ukraine and Russia. and the list goes on and on...and on. Control through power - military, money, or political power is the world's way. The distortion of the golden rule is too often how things work - "the one with the gold makes the rules". Even here in our own country, money is often the driving influencer behind politics.

Jesus had no army (who would have felt alarmed if told "the disciples are invading!"). Jesus had no financial clout nor any political position or party affiliation. Yet 2,000 years after His death, Christianity is global and growing!

 "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed".......

Nearly 20 years ago, 4 men in rural Uganda climbed onto their very used bicycles and began pedaling. They biked over 40 miles each way on dirt roads with ruts and potholes. They were biking to speak with a church planter evangelist named Patrick to ask if he would help plant a church in their rural area of Palisa, Uganda. Patrick agreed. Now, 18 years later, there are 35 churches in the Palisa region, which have sprung up from that one church plant - all of which came about due to the seed faith of 4 men who biked over 40 miles. They had no money...no army...no political clout. Just bikes and a love for The Lord.

 "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed".......

Remember the Lord's Prayer..."Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth". How does the Kingdom come? What are we saying when we pray for that?

Jesus did not need an army, or money, or political "power" because the territory He seeks to conquer is the hearts and lives of people. The Kingdom is an inside-out movement. Money, military might, or political power cannot change a heart, nor can they create a voluntary surrender of heart loyalty. 

Hearts are softened and conquered by serving love. Look in Philippians chapter 2. Paul urges them to "be one in spirit and purpose" (2:2). He means being "others" instead of merely "self" focused (2:3-4). Jesus is the example (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus did not cling to His status and position....Jesus emptied Himself becoming a "servant" of others (of 'sinners', not churchgoers)....Jesus suffered in love even to the point of a cruel and unfair death on a cross. All of that was for others. Jesus' way of extending the Kingdom was by serving others in love, even suffering in love. That is the polar opposite of how our world thinks about winning and ruling!

Yet, God honors humble, serving in love of others (see Philippians 2:9-12). And as followed of Jesus, we are to follow His lead (that is Paul's point in Philippians 2:12-16). Paul himself is a model of serving love (2:17-18) "even if my life is being poured out" for you... "I am glad and rejoice".  His life "poured out" in loving service of others. Just like Jesus.

 "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed".......

Here is the point - you and I are like seed. At work, you are the seed. At home, you are the seed. In our neighborhoods, and schools, we are the seed. Even with opponents and enemies, we are the seed of the kingdom.

As we serve others, by pouring ourselves out for them in love we stand out as strikingly different from how the world works. We fulfill Jesus command "if you love one another as I have loved you, the whole world will know you are My disciples." Love, suffering love for others is the fingerprint of Jesus. It is what touches, moves, and brings about heart surrender in others.

·         Where has God placed you as the tiny seed He intends to use?
·         Do you have the attitude of Jesus of serving others in love or are we trying to exercise power over people?
·         Who are you, or can you serve in the love of Jesus?

 "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed".......

Paul J. Murphy,  PROGRESS & JOY

Paul Murphy has served 33 years as a pastor, encompassing two permanent senior pastorates and 13 intentional interim pastorates in “turnaround” situations --  churches going through crisis or transition.  Paul has served churches of varying sizes, denominations and demographics. He has also experience as an executive in the faith-based non-profit world. Paul’s heart is to see the church BE the body of Christ to a needy, lost world.

Paul founded his own nonprofit, called PROGRESS and JOY – taken from Philippians 1:25. Its focus is renewing churches, developing leaders here in the US and overseas in Haiti and Uganda.   Paul has worked with multiple denominations as well as consulting with urban, ethnic, and immigrant faith-based groups. His specialties are change management and leader development. He works with leaders through individual one-to-one coaching and group trainings called Servant Leader Boot Camp. He works with churches and ministries through conflict mediation and a participatory vision process called Church Check-Up. He is ordained with the Evangelical Free Church of America.

Paul and his wife Liz are both native Californians. They met in college and have been married for 37 years. They have 3 adult children and 1 grand-daughter. Paul and Liz live in the suburbs of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis, St Paul.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pay attention to the EQ of those we interact with and save yourself great frustration

Think about the most problematic people you have dealt with and then consider the energy, time and frustration you experienced in trying to negotiate the relationship. Chances are good that you were dealing with individuals who had significant EQ deficits. Too often in these cases we deal with them as if they were rational, normal and reasonable individuals and we constantly hit the wall of frustration.

I am not suggesting they are "bad" people. I am suggesting that one needs to take the EQ of others into account in how we interact with them. Take for instance an individual who constantly brings up issues that they endlessly debate but they never seem able to come to resolution and put it to rest. Why get drawn into a conversation that never gets resolved? You are dealing with someone who is unable to resolve issues and their need to endlessly discuss them does not mean that we need to discuss them.

Here is a principle to keep in mind. The more frustration one experiences in dealing with another, the greater the likelihood that we need to reassess how we interact with them. And often, limit our interaction. Unhealthy individuals seek to draw others into their dishealth because that is where they are comfortable. Healthy individuals see this for what it is and refuse to get pulled in. Often the only way to do that is to limit one's exposure to those individuals and not get pulled into debates. I for one will not waste my time and energy trying to reason with unhealthy individuals. They are not open to reason.

That last statement is an important indicator of emotional health. You can have a productive conversation with a reasonable individual. Conversations with unreasonable people never seem to get anywhere. So why get pulled in? 

One can save themselves a lot of frustration by simply paying attention to the emotional health of those we interact with and modify our own interaction accordingly.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What is on your bucket list?

I suspect for frequent international travelers something like this may well be on the bucket list.

What It's like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

One of the most important attributes of leaders

One of the most important attributes of leaders is flexibility. I am not talking the physical kind but the flexibility to adjust their preferred plans in order to meet the needs of those they lead. Some things are not negotiable but there are far more things that are negotiable than most leaders recognize. 

In my upcoming book, Deep Influence, I write this about leaders and flexibility: 

"Leaders with high EQ are both self-defined and flexible. Their self-definition becomes a compass directionally, but within that direction they are highly flexible. For some, leadership is telling others what they will do and getting his way. For healthy leaders, the direction setting process includes other key stakeholders, leaving flexibility for them to choose strategies that will take the organization that direction.

In most situations where leaders are inflexible and need to get their own way, the inflexibility is not worth the effort it requires or the problems it causes. God’s design of church leadership as a team is based on the value of the counsel of multiple wise leaders. 

Many of the conflicts in which leaders find themselves are a direct result of either poor self-definition or inflexibility to negotiate a common course of action. The leader who is self-defined while also engaged in healthy relational dialogue is a master at flexibly helping other good people come to a common strategy that allows the ministry to move in the preferred direction. Black-and-white individuals tend to polarize rather than bring people together."

I encounter too many leaders whose inflexibility creates conflict which hurts their leadership and the organizations they lead. Ironically flexibility in how we achieve our ends gets us further and faster than inflexibility and the need to get our way! 

Flexibility also communicates that we are in this together and is is about us rather than me. Inflexible leaders irritate the very people they lead while flexible leaders are seen as reasonable and team players. Flexibility is also about humility. Pride says I need to get my way. Humility says I will work with others to achieve the ends but I am flexible in the way we get there. One polarizes and the other unites.

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