Thursday, February 26, 2015

The wrong questions to ask about life and God

We often ask the wrong questions about life. Questions that if we studied the life of Jesus, Paul and a host of Biblical heroes we would not ask. In fact, our questions reflect more of our society than of Biblical theology. Consider the following.

Why me God? We ask this question when suffering enters our lives but the real question is Why not me? Suffering and hardship is a part of the fallen world and I cannot think of a single great figure in the Scriptures who did not suffer and whom God did not use that suffering for redemptive purposes in their lives.

Why does this happen to me when I have served you so well? Another variation of the first question. Yet Jesus explicitly said that to follow Him is to daily take up our cross - as He did. Ironically, following Him closely will often result in more suffering than not because we are following in the "fellowship of His sufferings." What a privilege when it happens even if we would never ask for that privilege.

Why does God not give me all that I ask? Or answer my prayers? Jesus invites us to as Him to fill all of our needs, even our "daily bread." I would posit that he does answer our prayers but in ways that are best for us. Some things we pray for would not benefit us if He answered as we asked. Yet, He hears and responds to all of our prayers but from His perfect and divine perspective.

What if I am not worthy to ask Him for help? But we are! Because His willingness to hear us is not based on our merit but on His wonderful grace. The truth is that in ourselves we are never worthy of His help. But in His love, mercy and grace He freely gives us His presence, help and the best. There is nothing we can do to cause Jesus to love us more and there is nothing we can do to cause Him to love us less. 

If I serve Him will He  be good to me? Yes! But that question presupposes that there is a quid pro quo between our followership of Him and His blessing on our lives (by our definition). God is always good and He is always sovereign and He always does what is best for us (Romans 8:28). The question is in our definition of "good." God is always "good." We often do not realize what that good is. We see it from a human perspective and He sees it from a divine perspective.

God, if I do this for you will you do this for me? God is not to be bargained with but to be followed, loved and served. He is infinite in His love, His wisdom, His sovereignty and we don't serve Him for personal gain but out of love for the One who gave His life for us. I may serve him faithfully like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and pay with my life. We don't bargain with God. We serve Him and trust Him knowing that He is good, sovereign and has an eternal plan that will make Him look good and His reputation lifted high.

Why would He take my loved one from me in death? It is one of those tough questions but we often forget the other side of the equation. There is nothing - nothing - that compares to being in His presence for eternity. We mourn but the one we lost would not return to their earthly existence for anything once they had tasted just a moment in His presence. We overestimate life (precious as it is) and underestimate heaven (awesome as it is beyond our comprehension). 

Here is the wonderful thing. We, like Job or David in the Psalms can ask of God any question we like. He hears us, empathizes with us, loves us and comforts us. He is not irritated by our questions but they often do not reflect a Biblical theology as much as our own pain and our societies values. In spite of that He loves us in spite of what we ask. 

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A thought on Christian dishonesty

There is a phrase - "evangelistically speaking" that characterizes too much reporting on ministry results in the Christian world. We feel like we need to help Jesus out by exaggerating numbers whether it is the number of those who attend our church, results of ministry efforts, people who have come to Christ, or often, the results of our own ministries. 

Actually, it is not about Jesus at all but about us. We feel a need to inflate our results because it makes us feel good. But if it is not accurate it is also not honest. In written materials we can imply things that are not true and in general we can inflate the truth beyond what is really true. Consider a fast growing church where we report on the growth that sounds so impressive but don't add that 80% of our growth comes from those who transfer from another church.

I guess that this is one of those evangelical sins that we see as acceptable. But it should not be. Jesus is responsible for the fruit of our ministries and he does not need our help in making Him look good. Furthermore we are not being honest with ourselves let alone others and truth is a big deal to God - He is truth incarnate. The next time we are tempted to inflate the truth beyond what is true we ought to stop and consider.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Please pray for a ::staff member of our agency

Please pray for a missing staff member working in a creative access country with our agency. He was briefly detained and said to be let go but we cannot locate him. Please pray for his safety, God's intervention and safe return. I am not assuming the worst but concerned. Thank you.

Update: We have found the staff member - they are in custody and are in the process of trying to get him released quietly.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Generous and selfish leadership styles

One's style of leadership can be characterized as either generous or selfish or somewhere on the continuum in between. We often don't think of leadership that way but our leadership styles do reflect the larger issue of our own spiritual growth and where we are on our journey with Jesus because intentional followership of Him inevitably leads us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on Him. This is as true of high profile Christian leaders as it is of others. 

For selfish leaders, there is a high need for recognition, adulation and the approval of others. Self focus among leaders is a sign of pride and pride is about me and that means it is about selfishness. Generous leaders, on the other hand, love it when others get the praise and they intentionally lift others up. Selfish leaders lift themselves up while generous leaders lift others up.

In like manner, generous leaders look out for the well being of their staff while selfish leaders look out for the well being of themselves. How we interact with and treat staff is a clear indicator of our generosity or selfishness. Those who marginalize, mistreat or poorly treat staff are not living with generosity. Rather they feel that their leadership position gives them the privilege and authority to treat staff as they like rather than to treat them well. Generous leaders love to serve their staff while selfish leaders love their staff to serve them.

I am also always fascinated by senior leaders who have salaries significantly higher than the next level down. They will tell me, "the board made this decision." Might be, but they make the decision for the levels below them and when there is a significant disparity it reveals a selfishness on the part of the leader who is OK with their privilege and OK with the disparity. It is not uncommon in Christian organizations - or others. 

It is a worthwhile exercise for leaders to evaluate their actions and practices against the selfish - generous continuum. With some reflection we may realize that we could be doing better. The further we move toward generosity of spirit, the closer we resemble Jesus. This does not preclude tough decisions or dealing with problematic staff. But even there we can demonstrate either selfishness or generosity.

The more my leadership is about me the more selfishness I am reflecting. The more my leadership is about mission and others, the more generosity I grow. And it is a life long journey from selfishness to generosity.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The leadership contract: If you lead you signed it whether you know it or not.

Many leaders do not understand that when they agree to lead, manage or supervise others they are entering into an implicit contract. That contract or expectation is that they will lead from personal health, create a healthy culture, empower those they lead, provide clarity and alignment and deal with the barriers (people or otherwise) that prevent their staff from becoming all they can be.

This implicit contract means that our highest priority must be our team and what it will take for the team to be successful. Our own priorities come after this priority. It is no longer about me but it is now about us. When leaders do not understand the implicit leadership contract and attend to it, their leadership suffers and eventually they lose the confidence of their team and their job is at risk. It is one of the reasons some pastors are eventually moved on by their board. The leadership contract was forgotten or ignored.

A key component of that contract is that we will lead from personal health: Spiritual, emotional and relational. Our health or dishealth in these areas will invariably spill over into our professional lives and leadership. How healthy I am as an individual has a very real impact on my staff and my leadership - and yours.

Another component of that contract is that we will help the team accomplish something of significance for the Kingdom. No one wants to waste their lives or squander their gifts. All too often, good staff move on because their leader has not brokered a vision worth pursuing, brought the team into alignment around common purposes or ensured that we are going somewhere significant together. None of this is easy and it is often ignored but when it is, the leadership contract has been broken.

That contract includes giving our staff a voice in matters, leading in a collegial and collaborative style, helping staff get into their sweet spot and lane and creating a transformational staff culture. When ministry staff live and work in a toxic culture or one with significant dysfunction the contract is not being fulfilled. 

If we lead anyone you have a leadership contract, spoken or unspoken and those we lead have expectations that matter. We do not deserve to lead if we are unwilling to fulfill that contract. On the other hand, when we do we earn the respect and appreciation of staff who desire to become all that they can be and accomplish something of significance.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Seven grace killers among God's people

A culture of grace is often missing among God's people. And it is a big disconnect for those of us who represent the King of Grace - Jesus. I am talking about the ability and willingness to give one another the benefit of the doubt, accept that others are not perfect and are in need of grace and extending it even as we desire it to be extended to us.  

Here are seven common grace killers:

Critical spirits and sharp comments. When we allow ourselves to have critical spirits toward others we set ourselves above them in our attitude and demeanor. When we make sharp comments we compound our error and in essence demean others. Even when it is necessary to have a difficult conversation one can speak graciously with truth and ever conscious of our own issues. All of us live under God's grace which He extends daily. To follow Him is to extend that same grace to others. 

Playing the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. Needing to fix other people's issues is far more about us than it is about them. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict each of us about areas in our lives that need renovation. Sure there are times when we need to talk to others about issues in their lives but we ought to do it with great care. I have found that praying for others is often a far better approach than trying to fix others. God is perfectly capable of getting anyone's attention but He does it with amazing mercy and love.

Expecting others to live by our own convictions. Believers have a wide variety of convictions and practices that fall into the grey zone between what God commands and what He leaves to our conscience. Each of us makes lifestyle choices in those areas where God has not spoken clearly. When we are critical of those who make different choices than we do we are imposing legalism on them and moving from grace to control. We are also again playing the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

This extends to our theology. There are many points of theology - beyond the pillars of what it means to be evangelical that Christians differ on. When I insist that others slice and dice their theology they way I do I am arrogantly suggesting that I have a corner on truth and they do not. What is it in me that does not allow others to come to their own conclusions on issues that are not clear in Scripture? One day we will all stand before God and realize how little we actually knew of Him. Yet we are unable to be flexible with the convictions and practices of others.

Gossip and talking to others about issues rather than to the one we have an issue with. This is a huge grace killer and ubiquitous among God's people. Gossip is no different than writing a critical email and copying it to the world. Its ripples continue on and is a way to lift ourselves up by demeaning others. At its heart it is pure judgement and is from the Evil One rather than the One who gives life (John 10:10). Untold harm is caused to reputations and relationships when we engage in this grace killing behavior.

Assuming ill motives on the part of others. This is a grace killer because we are usually wrong (the motives were not poor) but our assumption about motives (as if we can know the heart of another) causes us to think poorly of them. Grace says that I will not assume the motivation of others because I cannot know it unless they tell me. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is about grace. Only God knows the heart.

Holding on to bitterness and choosing not to forgive. Lack of forgiveness and bitterness is at the root of a great deal of relational dysfunction and critical spirits. It not only kills grace in the relationship but in our own spirits that are poisoned by our refusal to forgive and let go. We become a prisoner of our own bitterness and the poison of that bitterness spreads to others around us. It is our choice to forgive or not to forgive but it is God's command that we do.

Lack of empathy and understanding. It is easy to become impatient and critical of others because we don't understand what they are dealing with in their own lives and we have not taken the time to find out. All of us live with either public or private pain from time to time and our lack of empathy for the issues others struggle with often cause us to be impatient and critical. The truth is that if we had to walk in their shoes we would probably  be struggling with some of the same things.

The Fruit of the Spirit is all about grace in our relationships. The fruit of our lower nature is not about grace but about us. In every relationship we have the choice of extending and living out the Grace God extends to us or conversely, choosing the selfish route of judgement and critical spirits. 

I would sum up the attributes of grace this way:

  • I will be slow to judge and criticize
  • I will be patient and forbearing with others
  • In my words and attitudes I will seek to encourage and lift up rather than discourage and tear down
  • I will not judge motives
  • I will forgive easily
  • I will allow the Holy Spirit to convict others rather than playing that role myself
  • I will be empathetic and understanding
  • I will seek to display the Fruit of the Spirit in all of my relationships and interactions
  • I will choose to assume the best
  • I will refrain from gossip

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why so many leadership development efforts fail

Developing leaders is a passion for many of us. But the truth is that often, our efforts are not nearly as successful as they should be. I would suggest that there are some reasons for this that we need to grapple with and understand.

Leadership development is not primarily about a classroom experience but that is often how we approach it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most good leadership is caught rather than taught but that goes against the grain of our western educational model which is content heavy. There is no better way to understand good leadership than to see it in action from another good leader. Doing ministry with someone is far better than doing it alone because it gives us an opportunity to have life on life influence. While there are skills and concepts that can be taught, seeing them in action is far more powerful.

Leadership development cannot be outsourced to a staff member: leaders themselves must be actively involved in the process. When people see senior leaders involved in the process of developing younger leaders they pay attention and are far more likely to do the same. When we outsource leadership development to "a staff member" we effectively indicate that it is not important enough for us to get involved. We may need a plan and logistical support but whenever leadership and development efforts do not have the full attention and participation of senior leaders they are likely to be less successful than they could be.

Leadership development that is not backed up by the actual practices and values of the organization will get little traction. People pay attention to what leaders do far more than to what leaders espouse. Perhaps we are jaded by the many values and commitments communicated that are not actually lived out in practice. What is refreshing is to see leaders living out the ethos and culture they talk about. Again, good leadership is more caught than taught.

Leadership development that does not give people a chance to try things and even fail is unlikely to be very fruitful. Most organizations and ministries are failure adverse. Yet if we don't bomb on a few things it is likely that we are not trying very many new ideas. Furthermore, how else do people learn than through trying things and even failing when a plan does not work. Others watch carefully when plans go awry to see if there is grace extended or not. If there is not, there is a high likelihood that others will be cautious rather than bold. Young leaders do fail at some things - even established leaders do.

Leadership development that does not include a significant opportunity for dialogue and discussion is likely to be far less effective than we would desire. This is why simply giving someone a book to read or a class to attend is not likely to produce a good leader. However, development efforts that are rich in dialogue and conversation with proven leaders is far more apt to get you to where you want to go. Dialogue creates far greater understanding than simply sharing information.

Leadership development efforts that are a "one off" are unlikely to be very effective. Leadership development is a process rather than an event. It takes place over time in the company of good leaders. The process gives one time to absorb, understand, see it practiced and even try it themselves. Events can add a piece to the puzzle but in themselves are insufficient to develop really good leadership.

Leadership development efforts that do not pay adequate attention to the inner life of a leader are unlikely to yield healthy leaders. The spiritual, emotional and relational health of leaders is a fundamental requirement for good leadership. If our primary attention is on leadership skills or techniques to the expense of the inner life of a leader we are actually sabotaging ourselves. There is no good leadership without healthy leaders. 

All of this presupposes that we are actually serious about developing our leadership bench and that we have a serious plan to get there. The vast majority of Christian organizations I work with do not. Our organization has made it a high priority because we know that we are only as strong as the leadership bench we have.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.