Friday, September 25, 2009

Leadership and Relational Enmeshment

A common issue related to poor Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is relational enmeshment. This is when we allow ourselves to become enmeshed in someone else’s issues and take on their issue or their offence. This happens in families all the time where two members of the family will triangulate against a third rather than dealing with issues directly. So Tom who has an issue with Mary will talk to Bill about Mary. Bill take up the offence and there is therefore pressure on Mary by both Bill and Tom to conform. What Tom has done is enmesh Bill in his issue.

This happens in churches and workplaces all the time. It is bluntly a violation of Matthew 18 and the coward’s way out of dealing with conflict. Rather than dealing with the person we have an issue with we bring someone else into the equation and enmesh them in the problem.

Healthy individuals do not allow themselves to be drawn into other people’s issues. They may well seek to help that individual solve the problem in a healthy manner but they do not triangulate, nor do they take on the offenses of others. Often in cases like Tom, Mary and Bill, the two with the issue solve the problem but the one who became enmeshed, Bill, continues to carry it in his heart – unresolved - which is not surprising since it was not his to resolve in the first place.

How do unhealthy leaders triangulate or enmesh others in their issues? Often they do so by playing the victim role. They communicate their hurt to those who they feel are sympathetic and draw those folks into their circle of hurt against those who they feel have hurt them. It is dangerous and hurtful when pastors (or others) do this because those they triangulate with have no way of solving the issue since they are not a part of the dispute. So, even when the pastor resolves his issue, those who he has enmeshed often continue to carry ill will toward the individual that the pastor had an issue with.

I have watched pastors actually divide boards by choosing to triangulate with sympathetic board members against other board members. Long after the issue is resolved the board remains divided.

Very simply, enmeshment or triangulation is unbiblical, unhealthy and the wrong way to resolve issues that we have. For leaders, especially it has consequences that are far reaching.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Secular or Sacred Worship?

My wife recently attended a worship service where the message was shaped around a popular country western song (rather than the text used) and then the secular song was the last set by the worship band. She left deeply disheartened.

The service raised an interesting question. Does the sacred influence the secular or does the secular influence the sacred? Now without a doubt there was some truth in the song. But why use a secular source to try to communicate eternal truth when it is the word of God that is the source of all truth? Maybe to illustrate but not as the source. There are many good illustrative stories from the secular world, but the source of all truth about God is found in His word.

In addition, how can a secular song as a worship set raise our hearts to the throne of God? Again, does the sacred influence the secular or does the secular lead us to the sacred?

What was more interesting was that many loved the song. Actually I like the song. But I question the discernment of those who believe that the secular can lead us to the sacred as an act of worship. In our effort to be relevant we often forget that the Word itself is the source of all relevance and that word, empowered by the Holy Spirit has amazing power to change lives.

Perhaps our drive for relevance is an indication that we don't always think the truth of the Word is enough. Paul did. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith' " (Romans 1:16-17).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reveal Study and Preaching in America

I just finished listening to the Reveal report on line of an evangelical church that I know very well. It was a fairly devastating report. I give the leaders and pastor high credit for their candid report to the congregation and some of the things that they really need to address.

Across the board, the Reveal results have been problematic in terms of the American church's effectiveness in bringing spiritual transformation to the lives of those in their congregations. I don't lay all the fault at the feet of the church as we live in a society of huge distractions and a secularism that threatens to rob us of our historic biblical and evangelical commitments.

However, there is one area where I do lay much responsibility on pastors and that is in the area of preaching and teaching. My observation is that we have dumbed down the gospel in our effort to be "relevant" and to bring new people into our churches to the the extent that we are not proclaiming the whole truth about God, ourselves, His call on our lives and what a non-negotiated followership of Christ is all about.

When we cannot connect the message to the biblical text, when there is not a call to radical followership, when hard issues are avoided and real life application not made, why are we surprised that the spiritual temperature of our people is so low. We have made numbers and programming and flashy services our criteria of success and in direct response, the spiritual temperature of our congregations has declined.

We have neglected the words of Paul to Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We have come dangerously close or frankly guilty of of Paul's prediction that "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3).
Saddest of all, it is the very ones who preach the word who all too often are blind to the dumbing down they are perpetuating while those looking for substance quietly move out of their congregations looking for greater depth from God's word. The irony is that even basic but biblical preaching will do more for people than the "relevance" many try to produce which leaves out the truth of the word.

And we wonder why followership is so shallow and biblical knowledge so non-existent today. Most people in our churches could not even articulate the great doctrines of the faith that make our faith what it is. We have sacrificed truth for our definition of relevance.

Not all have sacrificed truth at the altar of popularity and the Reveal study is a wake up call to the church that people long for substance and truth and the life changing Word of the Living God.

I was interested to hear that the church referenced above has plateaued and seen a decline in attendance over the past several years. Is it possible that those who have left are looking to drink from deeper wells of God's truth? I applaud those pastors who diligently preach the Word and not a version that has been diluted for the sake of some definition of relevance. The only real relevance we have is God's truth. That is relevance that can change hearts and lives and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts

The writer of Hebrews said it well, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Board Evaluation

One thing pastors notice is that boards are far more likely to evaluate them than they are to evaluate themselves. Yet, the quality of board work has as much impact on most churches as the quality of the senior pastor's work. Annual evaluation of the senior pastor should be combined with a self evaluation of the board including the input of the senior pastor.

If you are a board member, evaluate the work of the board you are on (church or otherwise) with the following evaluation. As you think about the past year evaluate the following and give a numerical score from one to five for each item with one being weak and five being strong.

Our board is deeply intentional in driving a clear ministry agenda:

Our board has healthy relationships and keeps short accounts:

We are able to engage in honest constructive dialogue on all issues:

We engage in regular corporate prayer:

The majority of our time is spent on future issues rather than day to day management:

We are clear on our church's mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and preferred culture:

We guard the gate to church leadership ensuring that only qualified individuals get on a ballot to serve:

We have a clear board job description that mirrors what the New Testament says about church leadership

We have a permission granting rather than a permission withholding culture in our church

We ask that our senior pastor work with Key Result Areas and an Annual Ministry Plan and use those objective results as the basis of our annual review of him.

We delegate issues to others that do not need to be dealt with by the board:

Our meetings are well planned and well run:

We evaluate the major ministries of our congregation honestly at least once a year and make corrrections as needed:

We focus on developing, empowering and releasing our people in meaningful ministry in line with their gifting:

What is the average score you gave the board you are on? Each of these are critical issues for a healthy board.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Worship Music: For Christ Followers or Seekers?

As my own church has tried but failed to articulate a philosophy of music and worship for the past ten years - they are still trying - I have reflected on the purpose of worship in the church.

Fundamentally worship is for those who follow Jesus. That may seem obvious but I believe that it is not clear in many congregations that are trying to attract seekers. I believe that much worship direction is focused more on those who the congregation is trying to attract than it is on those who actually know Christ.

If so, that is an amazing shift from what I believe Scripture would say about worship. Only those who know that God of the universe can truly worship the God of the Universe and whether in the Old Testament or New the purpose of worship is to honor, praise and connect with the One whom we love and serve.

This leads me to a second observation. Different believers connect with God and worship him through different types of worship. Thus when we do not honor those different styles and offer different styles we are essentially excluding those whose style is not represented.

It seems to me that we are so concerned about "attracting" new people to our congregations that in many cases that focus overshadows the central focus of worship which is to help Christ followers within the church worship the God of the universe in ways that work for them. When that happens we have shifted the true focus of worship to an improper focus of worship and it is the worship of God's people that gets lost in the refocus.

The reveal study has made it abundantly clear that our lack of focus on the needs of God's people to grow and mature is the cause of many leaving the church today. Is it possible that our obsession with bringing new people into our church actually forces Christ followers to leave the church?

This is complicated when church leaders focus on one demographic to the exclusion of other demographics. In many churches the focus on reaching seekers through their style of worship has a detrimental affect on existing believers in the church who don't connect with that particular style.

I believe that that seekers are attracted to the genuine love, unity and heart worship of those they see around them. The more genuine and real the worship of God's people, the more that seekers will be attracted. But, this is the distinction, the focus is not on seekers but on believers - they are the only ones who can truly worship God.

We have complicated what should be simple. Worship is for believers and believers need options today in worship styles. Seekers will be attracted to Christ not because they hear their style of music but because they encounter God in the people, love, unity of God's people and the truth they hear from His word.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leadership by consensus or unanimity

I am often asked what I think about leadership by unanimity - where all leaders must agree to a course of action before they move forward. My answer is "not much." While it may sound spiritual and well meaning, leadership by unanimity presents two very real problems.

First, it puts tremendous pressure on those who might choose a different route to change their minds under the pressure of needing a unified vote. To be the person who is holding out because they disagree becomes a tough place to be - for those who value teams working together. It is simply unfair to members who might disagree.

Second, it allows one person to determine the direction of the organization because just one vote can keep the organization from moving forward. In the best case scenario this individual simply does not agree and prefers another way. In the worst case scenario, a recalcitrant member holds the rest of the board hostage. Either way it is a net loss for leadership momentum

Far better is leadership by consensus where there is general agreement on the board and those few who are in the minority graciously agree to the direction determined. General agreement is more than a bare majority. Where a board has only a bare majority on an important issue, there needs to be more work and discussion because you run the risk of a divided board. In fact, bare majority decisions if they are frequent indicate a lack of unity and alignment on the board and signal deeper trouble

Boards that are healthy and shoot for consensus do well.

Intimacy before Impact

One of the ministries I have a long term relationship with, Life International, has one of the most unique but important guiding principles of any ministry I know: Intimacy before Impact!

Life International is a global "life" ministry dealing with issues of "life" wherever abortion exists around the world. It is a holistic ministry helping pastors train their congregations in abstinence outside of marriage, in healthy relationships between men and women and ministering to those with unwanted pregnancies.

But they know that their best strategies are worthless unless they have the power of the Holy Spirit ever present in their lives. They believe what Jesus said in John 15 about the importance of "abiding in me." So, built into their DNA and into their ministry lives and day is a culture of worship of God and paying close attention to their spiritual connection.

There is one phrase of Jesus in John 15 that always causes me pause: "Without me you can do nothing." All of us need to pay attention to those six words. We expend great energy in the cause of our ministries but in the end - without the empowerment of His Spirit and the connection of "remaining" we cannot accomplish anything of eternal value. But, "Ask anything of me and I will give it for it is to my father's glory that you bear much fruit."

A guiding principle to live by today and every day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Boards that are not united and don't face reality

I have recently been watching a church board that is not united and not facing realities within its congregation. Members have been marginalized, issues have been ignored and there has been a slow but steady exodus of key long time members from the church. Notwithstanding the evidence of problems that board has not been willing to deal with substantive issues the church faces. Instead it has presented an "all is well" message to the congregation.

Here is an interesting fact about congregations. They are not stupid. They may not know all the facts but they can sense when something is wrong. But, being gracious and not wanting to hurt the church most will not fight, make a fuss, or try to force change. Nor are they in a position to do so. They are not in leadership and in the end it is the leaders who either choose to deal with problems or not. And their choices have consequences for the church.

What do they do? As they become disillusioned, they simply leave, quietly. And board members and staff whitewash their leaving. There is always a good reason. And who leaves? Usually the very people who have the insight to understand the issues that are not being addressed are the ones who leave. And in many cases they have been ignored when they tried to appropriately address those issues with leaders.

So, the very people that the church needs to move forward are the ones who quietly migrate out of the congregation. I have watched this many times and it is disastrous for the church in the long run.

I wish at every annual meeting, someone would ask the church chair or board chair how united, aligned and healthy the board is - and get a candid answer. Here is something I know from long experience. Divided boards end up dividing a congregation - one way or another. It may be a visible division or as I have mentioned, an invisible one, as insightful people simply migrate out.

No church can be healthy with an unhealthy board! Few congregations will rise above the spiritual health of their leaders. People who sense not all is well and don't see that changing, or who sense powerplays in the church will often simply leave. Unhealthy leaders whitewash issues rather than deal with them. They hope that those issues will not get "out" and they do all they can to keep them "in." But, the wisest among us are not fooled. Nor will they stay indefinitely if they believe that leaders are not dealing with real issues.
What happens is a quiet but real leadership drain from the church. Leaders who do not lead well end up losing the leadership pool in the church. Something to think about.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Signs of healthy and unhealthy boards

How healthy is your board? Do not underestimate the importance of this question if you serve on a board.

The question matters because the health of your board (church or otherwise) will reflect and determine the health of your ministry. Too many boards live with a lack of health and their ministries suffer because of it. If you are a board member, your contribution to health or dishealth of the board you serve on either contributes to overall health or dishealth. Because we are talking about ministry boards, we ultimately answer to the Lord of the Church for our board involvement and stewardship. Board health matters.

Healthy Boards have certain characteristics. They have clarified what is important for the ministry and can clearly articulate its direction. They spend the majority of their time thinking about the future rather than dealing with present day to day management. They learn together, read together and pray together.

On healthy boards, all board members represent the whole of the ministry and engage in honest, respectful, robust dialogue. On a healthy board there are NO ELEPHANTS that cannot be discussed. To the extent that there are issues that one cannot address directly the board is not healthy. Nor do healthy boards ignore real issues in the ministry whether they involve a board member, a ministry program, or the ministry leader. To the extent that there are real issues that cannot or are not discussed, the board is unhealthy.

Healthy boards are unified. That does not mean they always agree but they can work together agreeably and are "in the game" together. They want the best for the church or ministry and will pull together to get there. In this regard, they also care about ministry results. Because they are clear on ministry direction, they are able to measure ministry results. They give staff freedom within clear parameters but they also hold them accountable for measurable results.

Unhealthy boards have a predictable set of practices. They are often unified, focus on management rather than the future, micromanage, allow elephants to exist, do not engage in honest dialogue, allow factions to develop on the board, don't clarify ministry or the future and don't hold staff accountable for ministry results. One of the results of conflict on an unhealthy board is often conflict within the congregation.

The first step toward health is knowing how healthy your board is. The following board self analysis will give you a clue. It is from the book High Impact Church Boards. Remember, the health of your board matters.

1. Are you ever frustrated by the pace of decision-making?
Yes No

2. Is it necessary to get the approval of more than one group
in order to get something done?
Yes No

3. Do you find your board revisiting issues that you thought
you had settled already?
Yes No

4. Is there confusion or conflict over what place the congregation,
staff team or board plays in leadership or decision-making?
Yes No

5. Does your board have a clear job description and understand
its responsibilities?
Yes No

6. Do you find that you spend more time “managing” day-today
activities than thinking and planning for the future?
Yes No

7. Could you identify the clear “preferred future” for your
congregation, and is this a shared dream of the board?
Yes No

8. Do your board and staff members have clear annual ministry
goals and plans?
Yes No

9. Are you frustrated with the number of decisions that need
to go to the congregation for approval?
Yes No

10. Is there a high level of unity and relational health among
board members?
Yes No

11. Do your church structure and bylaws hinder rather than
help leaders make timely decisions?
Yes No

12. Does your board have ample time for prayer and study of
Scripture, and to dream and plan for the future?
Yes No

13. Does your board have a covenant that spells out its procedural
and relational practices?
Yes No

14. Has the lack of such a covenant ever caused problems for
the board?
Yes No

15. Do you have a process designed to find the very best leaders
for your senior board?
Yes No

16. Do you have a process to mentor and train potential leaders
before they become leaders?
Yes No

17. Do you believe that your church is maximizing its ministry
Yes No

18. Does your congregation have more than one elected board?
Yes No

19. Is there tension or confusion between the staff and board
over who is responsible for what?
Yes No

20. Are you able to attract and retain the best leaders in your
church to serve on your senior leadership board?
Yes No

How many yes answers do you have? _____. A perfect score
would be a yes for questions 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 20

How many no answers do you have? _____. A perfect score
would be a no for questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 11, 14, 18, 19

Take a moment and find out how each member of your board
answered these questions, and discuss the results together. The
resulting conversation will help you identify issues in your
church leadership paradigm that need to be changed—if you
are going to maximize your congregation’s ministry impact.