Monday, September 14, 2020

Practicing space and grace in a time of division and conflict

Our world is increasingly polarized and it is easy for us to judge others who don’t believe what we do politically, theologically or in how they choose to live their lives. I remember a time when my kids were teenagers and they announced to us that their friends' parents believed that we were bad parents because of how we raised the boys and what we allowed them to do. In fact, we can find many reasons to judge one another within the body of Christ. Even what a speaker wears on the platform can become a subject of judgement and public comment.

The tendency to judge others for their convictions or lifestyle choices is nothing new. It was happening in the church in Rome and Paul devoted considerable attention to this topic in Romans 14 and 15. The controversy was over whether people could eat food offered to idols as the pagans regularly did, how one practiced the sabbath, and other issues where people’s convictions differed. 

Paul counseled the believers in Rome to extend to one another space and grace. Space to make decisions based on their conscience in areas of life where there is no obvious right or wrong, and grace to resist the temptation to judge or look down on others for choices they make. Paul reminded the Romans of three things in this regard.

First, that we all make choices that we believe honor God, so why would we judge one another? “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:7-8

Second, we will give an account for the choices we make to God one day. It is not our place to judge others but to ensure we are living in a way that pleases God. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me;  every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Romans 14:9-13

Third, Paul uses the example of Christ, who accepts us, to encourage us to accept one another. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7.

There is a wonderful beauty in the church when we are able to encourage one another, accept one another, and give the space and grace that Jesus gives to us. The world has enough divisiveness and we are called to unity, peace, grace and patience with one another. That is a congregation that is inviting and loving.

As we enter a divisive campaign season, argue over whether one's church should meet in person, navigate the various views on Covid, space and grace are desperately in need. We cannot control what others do but we can control our own attitudes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The enemy of innovation is inertia


In a changing world, innovation (reexamining our practices for a changing environment) is a necessity for a healthy organization. When we live with what was rather than adapting to what is, we quickly lose our edge and ability to respond in an environment that has changed. Many organizations and ministries are in that very spot because of the changes brought by Covid 19.

This stagnation affects even very smart people because we tend to think as we always have. Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst puts it this way: "Rather than thinking about which candidate represents their values, voters tend to pick whoever represents the party they voted for in the past. Rather than starting fresh and thinking about which projects deserve attention, companies take last year's budget and use that as a starting point. Rather than rebalancing financial portfolios, investors tend to look at how they've been investing and stay the course. Inertia explains why families go back to the same vacation spot every year and why organizations are wary of starting new initiatives but loath to kill off old ones." (The Catalyst, page 5).

Inertia is a comfortable place to be because we know it well. Innovation means that we need to think differently and look for new solutions and ways of doing things. It is an uncomfortable but necessary place to explore and live. 

Covid has forced organizations to think differently. REI is selling its massive corporate campus in Seattle because they now realize that they can do without it. Instead, many will work from home or from small hubs. I suspect there will soon be a great deal of empty office space in our cities. The need to use tools like zoom has taught us that there is not always a need to travel in person to meet others. Parents are having to become teachers like in days past as schools open part time if at all.

Organizations that will flourish in the future will have leaders who question everything: Their current practices, assumptions, financial models, and priorities in order to meet needs of constituents in a changing environment. It is the choice between innovation and inertia.

Good leaders ask good questions:

  • Why do we do it that way?
  • Is there a different and better way?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we start doing?
  • How do the changes around us impact our priorities?
  • Does our budget reflect our true priorities?
  • If we were organizing today, how would we do it?
  • Do we need to organize as if we were starting over?
  • How are others addressing problems we address?
  • Can we do more with less staff?
  • Are we clear today on what our mission is?
  • What staff have lost their edge and are living in inertia?
  • What programs need to be killed?
  • Do I have the time to reflect on my organization rather than just doing what we have always done?
Ask yourself the question. Is your organization, church, non-profit living more in the world of inertia or regular innovation? Remember always that the enemy of innovation is inertia.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Reactance: Why giving staff choices matters in creating healthy cultures


In interpersonal relationships, reactance is a term that describes the push back that people give when told what they must or must not do. When freedom to choose is restricted in areas that staff feel are unnecessary you get reactance which often comes with cynicism and often a failure to comply. Anger or irritation are often parts of the equation.\

The more freedoms are proscribed, the more reactance occurs. 

"In general, people are convinced that they possess certain freedoms to engage in so-called free behaviors. Yet there are times when they cannot, or at least feel that they cannot, do so. Being persuaded to buy a specific product in the grocery store, being forced to pay tuition fees, being prohibited from using a mobile phone in school, and being instructed to perform work for the boss are all examples of threats to the freedom to act as desired, and this is where reactance comes into play. Reactance is an unpleasant motivational arousal that emerges when people experience a threat to or loss of their free behaviors. It serves as a motivator to restore one’s freedom."

For years I traveled to parts of the world where one does not normally get receipts. So, I would keep a log of expenses and hand in that log for expense reports. The accounting department didn't like that even with my explanation and I was told I had to have receipts for everything. That irritated me (reactance), as I knew it was silly and a waste of my time, but I did as they said and came back with a pile of receipts with foreign languages, usually stamped on tissue paper with some sort of red stamp (that evidently makes it official). I dutifully handed them in with my expense report in a pile. A few days later I received a call that said, "What do we do with this, we cannot read anything." My reply was "I don't know." (Said with a smile on my face). Soon we were back to the old way of doing things.

Good leaders, try not to force people to act in a certain way but give them "agency," the ability to choose to do the right thing, or to choose between options

While some regulations or policies are necessary, there are many policies that are put into place for one reason or another that restrict an individuals freedom that are totally unnecessary. In one organization I led, I asked the staff what policies could be lost and we eliminated two thirds of them. This led to a greater sense of freedom for the staff. Ironically many of these policies were put in place to deal with stupid things staff members had done over the years. Instead of dealing with the staff member, policies were written. A bad idea as it constrained others. 

A best practice when considering a new policy is to ask staff what is needed and what they would recommend. This gives them agency and considerably minimizes reactance. The more participation staff have in areas of policy the less reactance there will be.

Bottom line: Try not to limit the freedom of staff and when it is necessary to do so, get them involved so that you minimize reactance. Freedom of choice raises the level of employee satisfaction where limiting it lowers it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Learning to love our friends and colleagues as Paul did


I have always been fascinated by the greetings to specific people that Paul includes in his epistles.

Far from being an unapproachable theologian and church planter Paul paid attention to the people in his


Even as a type A personality, Paul took the time to encourage, appreciate and acknowledge his friends and colleagues. We find it hard to carve out time for a phone call. He wrote letters and never forgot his colleagues.

A great example of this is found in the personal greetings that Paul ends his letter to the Romans with.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.  Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.”

Paul knew people and their stories!

Paul’s life was filled with people as ours should be. He cared about them as we should. He took the time to let them know of his love, appreciation, and prayers. He encouraged them and prayed for them. Each one was precious to him. Paul was a theologian and Apostle and he recognized that the gospel is about people, redeeming them and calling them into work for the gospel alongside him. Everyone matters in God's sight.

Paul was not too busy to pay attention to the people in his life.

He was not so consumed with his own concerns that he ignored those who he loved and those who he worked with.

How are you doing with the people in your life? Do you love them as Paul did? Do you pray for them and encourage them as he did? Too often we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to care for those around us. To know their story, to call them to something greater than themselves, to thank them and let them know that they are noticed.

Are there people who you should reach out to today to thank and encourage? 

Paul specifically:

  • Communicated with the people was close to
  • Acknowledged their contributions
  • Encouraged them
  • Loved on them
Ultimately, our lasting impact is very much intertwined by how we love our friends and colleagues.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A key to wisdom is introspection - a rare commodity in a hurried world


Wisdom cannot be microwaved! It comes from deep reflection, asking the right questions and careful self analysis. That is why it is in short supply today. Our world values quick answers and fast results. It favors the busy. Wisdom, however, favors introspection, truth and self-analysis.

Given that, what are some of the keys to becoming a person of wisdom?

Times of solitude

I am indebted to Henri Nouen on his insights into the necessity of solitude for personal transformation. He often wrote of the necessity of solitude - without the distractions of media or others - where we were forced to think deeply about the scaffolding of our lives. In fact, he suggested that we often avoid solitude because of what we might find when we have to face our true selves. Wisdom favors those who can and will look deeply into themselves, like King David, to see if there are any displeasing ways in us. 

A source of truth

There is no wisdom without an unchanging source of truth that becomes the mirror against which we examine ourselves. For Christ followers, this is Scripture. But here is the problem: Most of us are too busy to read Scripture and think through its implications for our lives, decisions, thinking, attitudes and words. We want wisdom but we don't want to pay the price for it. Or, we read the latest book on leadership, self help (good as those are) and ignore the foundational truth of God's Word on which wisdom is always based. 

Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 2:1-8. "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones."

The wisdom of others

Wise individuals are readers. They have the humility to understand that they need many mentors and many of those mentors can be found in reading the wisdom of others. I don't have many books - I have many mentors on my shelves. Each one teaches me something about life and challenges my thinking. 

A journal

Why keep a journal? It helps us to reflect on our lives, lessons we are learning, changes we would like to make and clarify our next steps. As Solomon wrote, finding wisdom is like mining for it, searching for its nuggets and brining our lives into alignment with that wisdom. There is no better way to accomplish this than to take the time to clarify your observations and commitments through the discipline of writing. 

The common denominator in introspection and wisdom

The common denominator - and one reason there is not enough wisdom evidenced in our world is that it takes time. Wisdom cannot be microwaved. It is developed over time, taking the time to think deeply so that we can apply the principles to our lives and live with intention and wisdom. We can live fast and come to the end of our lives having missed the most important truths by which to live or we can live slower and take the time to live out those truths today. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

What I have learned about people who complain

What should leaders do with anonamous letters and comments that come to them in their leadership role?

Ignore them! In not being willing to identify themselves they have taken the cowardly way out.

What should leaders do when people see that they are leaving their organization either as staff or as constituents?

Listen to them! Ask why they are leaving. It is better to know than to not know. You may not change anything but you may learn something.

If you are in a change process and people decide to bail, what should you do?

Nothing. Be gracious but don't change your plans because people complain or leave. When something changes, people will complain. Be gracious but don't appease. 

If you have a vocal critic in your congregation. Before you engage with them check their giving records.

Those who don't give regularly in the church don't have standing to complain because they have no commitment to the church. I will listen but will not receive their criticisms as valid.

If people complain with poor attitudes toward leaders or your organization...

Remember that those who don't live out the Fruit of the Spirit will not help you get to to where you need to go. When people violate the law of love in their attitudes they cannot help your organization smell like Jesus. 

If people tell you that they are leaving your church...

They have already left in their heart. They have moved on in their minds so trying to convince them to stay is not helpful. They may come back on their own at some time but don't try to change their minds. Remember that some leave because they feel God calling them elsewhere and we should bless them. Others leave unhappy and it is better for them to be in a place where they have a happy heart and a clear conscience than unhappy in your congregation - infecting others with their unhappiness.

If someone puts private pressure on you to change something or do something...

Don't feel pressured and get counsel from others rather than allow the voice of one individual to create angst in you. If it is a trusted friend who you know has your best interests in mind, listen. If it is someone with a personal agenda, be wary.

If you are attacked by an individual whose words, actions or attitudes are unloving...

Their attitude which  is anti-Jesus should compell you to take their words with a grain of salt. 

Remember this. All leaders face criticisms and complaints. We live in a highly conflictual time where people are venting in all kinds of unhealthy ways. Who shares criticism with you and how they do it is a critical factor in how much you should listen. Everyone has a plan for your life but the only one whose plan matters in the end is God's.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Generosity of spirit


If there were something that I would identify as lacking in our current world, I would say that it is a generosity of spirit. Social media, discourse, attitudes, emails and other communications often reflect a lack of generosity of spirit. We criticise, make assumptions, denigrate one another's opinions or convictions, take cheap shots and slander others - often without knowing facts. Rather than a generosity of spirit there is a stinginess of spirit. A cheapness and shallowness of spirit. 

What would a generous spirit look like? Look at this list from 1 Corinthians 13:  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Or consider the Fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

If we were to measure our words, attitudes and actions against these two core Biblical passages, we would see a much more civil and God honoring discourse. 

There are several ways we can nurture a generous spirit toward others.

First, choose to assume the best rather than the worst. Here is an interesting observation: We always want others to assume the best about our motives, words and actions but we often assume the worst about the motives, words and actions of others. Why? We are sinful - and we overestimate our own righteousness and underestimate the righteousness of others. Choosing to assume the best rather than the worst is a choice we make and it directly impacts our own attitude.

Second, respond as if Jesus was in the room. How might we modify our words, actions and attitudes if Jesus were sitting next to us. And he does through His Holy Spirit who is resident in our hearts. I wonder how many times I have made the Holy Spirit wince, sigh and sad by my responses to others or emails I have sent or words I have spoken. And think of how generous He is with us even as we are often stingy in our response to others. The passages in 1 Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit reflect His character and a generosity of spirit. 

Third, Before we act, never assume you have all the facts. Faulty assumptions are the result of faulty facts and those facts we think we know are often more driven by gossip, incomplete facts, and our own interpretation of those facts than by the facts themselves. I cannot count how many times I have made faulty assumptions based on incomplete, inaccurate or just wrong "facts." Generosity of spirit always assumes that we may not know the complete story. 

There is a beauty about people who nurture a generosity of spirit. They exhude grace, understanding and kindness. They give people space and grace. Their words build rather than tear down. Time with them is encouraging rather than discouraging. They relfect the character of Jesus. This is who I want to be. How about you?