Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Theology of Time

When scripture says, “Teach us to number our days,” it put its finger on a simple but profound truth. Our time is limited and therefore how we spend our time is important. In fact, time is one of the only things that one cannot get more of. Money comes and goes but time simply goes. Every day is one day closer to eternity and a day that we cannot get back.

Think of how often you consider your financial investments or how carefully you think through purchases since for most of us, money is in limited supply. If that is true with money that fluctuates over the years, how much more true it is of time which cannot be reclaimed. Wise individuals budget their money, prioritizing their spending. Wise leaders likewise budget their time and prioritize their allocation of that time.

For leaders, time is the most precious commodity and every time we say yes to something we alternatively say no to something else. That means that if we agree to something that is good but not essential we have eliminated the opportunity to give time to the essential. Leaders cannot overestimate the value of their time and the importance of evaluating the choices they have given their limited hours.

Because we do not think of time like money, we often do not think carefully about time we give away. After all, someone needs a piece of us, or they want us at a meeting, or it would be nice to have us at a conference. All good things, perhaps, but if we were being asked for money we would not quickly say yes but would want to think about it, pray about it and consider because our money is limited and we only want to invest it in important things. So with our time: thinking of time like money makes one realize that every hour, every meeting, every trip, every day we give away is an investment and given the nature of time, an expensive one.

I had this very conversation with a ministry leader I coach last week. Like many leaders he is constantly trying to figure out how to fit in all the commitments he has. So I asked him about his upcoming schedule. He had a trip to Europe scheduled and had given away five days to one ministry leader there. I asked how much time it would take to actually get done what he needed to get done and he said, two days. I pointed out that he had just given away one fourth of his month. Then I shocked him by suggesting that every day he gives away is equivalent to $5,000 dollars and that he had just given away $25,000 worth of time. Not that he gets paid that much but his time is valuable and if one put a cost to each of his days, he is worth at least that. It was a different way of thinking and it got his attention, and a modification to his trip.

Time is precious and often, the very fact that leaders are not disciplined in their use of time at work compromises their ability to be present with their wives, families or friends or to be with people when they really need us. To say nothing about what our schedules often do to time we spend with Jesus, whom all of our energy is dedicated in the first place. Never underestimate the implications of choices we make about how we spend our time. For people of deep influence it matters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Determining what missionaries to support

The question of who a church should support as missionaries is always a critical one for a local church. Often, the selection of missionaries is far less rigorous than the selection of church staff. It can be based on emotion, on sole fact that the individual grew up in your church or all too often it is simply a relative of someone in the church and they press for the church to support their family member. None of these are good reasons in themselves to take precious ministry resources and spend them.

One local church I know has been working on a grid to use in their evaluation of who to support. I want to share this with you because it indicates the kind of thinking that should go into such a decision. They have six factors which they consider.

Probability of success:

To what extent do they have a proven track record in the venture they are seeking support for? How does their past track record inform the probability of future success? Are they in a proven sweet spot for them?

Congregational support:

Since our goal is to provide more than money, to what extent are they known and embraced by the broad membership and those regularly attending our church? How long and to what extent have they been a part of our body? This will be a reflection of the amount of prayer, relational and emotional support by the entire body. And the more the GO team supports people that have broad support the more the body will become invested in and value the GO programs. And it will be an indication of their ability to gather support from others in the body and not just from the church budget. Although it may seem counter intuitive, the more we believe they can gather support from the body, the greater the support they will have from the church budget - within limits of course.

Alignment with our church’s mission

To what extent is the venture to which they are seeking support in alignment with the mission of our church? To what extent is their venture, mission critical to the mission or objectives of our church? By supporting their mission, to what extent will this help us to fulfill our mission?

Who is their sending agency?

To what extent do we know the practices and health of the sending agency? Who they go out with has a big impact on their oversight and management support which greatly impacts their success and whether they will burn out. All agencies are not created equal. The permissive and liberal practices of some agencies, although initially attractive to missionaries on intake, can result in their failure on the field.

Proven character, relational health & high emotional intelligence.

To what extent do we know about their proven, godly character? How have they demonstrated relational health and responsiveness to authority? How high is their EQ? Since the number one failure of missionaries on the field is relational conflicts with others, what do we know about this area of their lives?

Probable Strategic Impact

Not all missionary ventures have equal strategic impact in the kingdom. Some will often have more impact than others. Some ventures will have more kingdom impact than others. This is not an issue of faithfulness but of broad significant impact. To what extent will the venture have broad significant Kingdom impact?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Transformation of our Priorities

It is the transformation of our thoughts and the bringing of them into alignment with how Christ thinks that makes possible the third area of needed transformation – that of our priorities. Our priorities reveal what is truly important to us rather than what we claim is important to us.

Jesus made an amazing statement in John 6:38, considering that He was one of the three members of the trinity. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Here was Jesus committed to doing the will of His father, in submission to His father’s will. His highest priority was to do the will of the one who sent Him.

In the same vein, speaking to His disciples he said, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” For the Christ follower, life is not about us – it is all about Him. To the extent that we believe that life is about Him and that we are here to do His will, we will consult Him regarding what is truly important in our lives.

One of the fundamental decisions each of us makes is whether life is about us or about Christ! Life about us is about our agenda while life about Christ is about His agenda, knowing that He wants to use us to advance His agenda in our world. The two choices are mutually exclusive and how we answer that question will directly determine the influence we have for Him.

Even after we have answered that mega question we face the micro questions in many different ways each day, each week, each month, each year. Life is a series of choices and those choices are smaller versions of the bigger question: Is life about me or about God?

The question of our life agendas is a deeply personal one that requires significant thought and introspection. I know pastors, for instance whose motivation is all about success as defined by numbers which looks very much like a personal agenda. I meet other pastors whose motivation is all about helping God’s people become all that they can be which looks very much like God’s agenda. Both are involved in God’s work but their priorities are different. It is all too possible to be in full time ministry with agendas and priorities that are more about us than about God.

As I lead an international organization, I am always faced by the personal question, is this about me as a leader, or is this about God and His mission for our world? The question is not how others see me (it is always possible to portray a God agenda) but my own personal agendas and motivations and therefore priorities. Are they driven by my ambition and goals or is my ambition that of fulfilling God’s purposes and goals. Without introspection on this issue it is possible to fooled about whose priorities we are looking after and probably all of us have occasions or periods when it is more about us than it is about God. And it is often when we have our priorities mixed up that we get ourselves into trouble.

I believe that the question of agendas and priorities becomes more significant as we grow in our leadership responsibility and scope. Responsibility brings with it power and authority. Success brings with it a history of making more right calls than wrong calls. Thus the temptation to act personally without considering God’s agenda or priorities grows as our self confidence grows. Ironically, the more successful we are the more critical it is to ensure that we understand our motivations and that they are centered on accomplishing God’s will rather than our own.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Our Thinking and Transformation

Paul makes a remarkable statement about how he lived life when he said, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Think about the picture he paints with this metaphor: taking captive – bringing into submission every thought to make those thoughts obedient to Christ.

What does it mean to make our thoughts obedient to Christ? The implication is that our thoughts can be disobedient to Christ or obedient to Christ! We often think about actions or behaviors that are disobedient or obedient to Christ. But the source of either disobedience or obedience lies first and fundamentally in how we think and whether our thinking is in sync with Christ.

Taking every thought captive is really about intentionally seeking to align our thinking with how God thinks. It is understanding His concerns and making them our concerns, grasping His priorities and making them our priorities, seeking always to understand how Christ would view the issues we are facing or thinking and aligning our thinking with His.

I have often taught in various countries and cultures and received the response when talking about ethical issues that Scriptures speak to, “but this is how we do it in our country” even when their practices are in direct violation of Biblical teaching. My standard response is “there is a way of doing it in your country and a way of doing it in my country but there is also a way of doing it in God’s Kingdom and that is our central concern because we are members of His kingdom.” I say that knowing that for every one of us there are areas where we find it desperately hard to bring our thinking into alignment with Christ’s because we know that in doing so there is a cost to our autonomy! And sometimes it is very inconvenient.

One of the reasons that people of deep influence immerse themselves in Scripture is that they understand that it is the key to understanding the heart of God and the mind of God so that they can align their thinking with God’s thinking. As Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

As I write this, our nation is in a political battle over immigration reform with loud and obnoxious voices on all sides. It would be easy to simply take a side, depending on one’s political orientation. But there is a deeper question: What does God have to say about how we treat the widow and orphan or the alien in our midst? In other words, does God have anything to say in the din of opinions, fear and agendas? A reading of the Old Testament would suggest that God does have something to say and I am more concerned that I take into account His concerns than I am of the concerns of my particular political party.

Those who are committed to bringing their thoughts into alignment with God’s values and concerns are always asking themselves, “what does God have to say about this issue? They do not simply accept uncritically the thinking of those around them or the prevailing wisdom of their culture. There is a way of viewing issues in our culture but we are people of God’s kingdom and the two are not the same.

The transformation of our minds and thinking takes place as we evaluate our thinking against God’s Word and examine closely the life of Jesus and His teaching in the Gospels to discern how He thinks. And then it is bringing alignment to our own thinking so that it aligns with His thinking. In the process our minds are literally renewed through the truth and light of God and the result is that we are “able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

Transformation of our minds only takes place with a deep desire on our part to think like Christ and an intentionality to understand His thinking and align my thinking so that it matches His. This requires more than a surface reading of Scripture. It takes a thoughtful approach to His truth, and a willingness to take our thinking captive, in Paul’s terminology and make it obedient to the thinking of Jesus.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Who does God want us to be?

God wants us to be the person he designed and made us to be. He wants you to be the person he designed and made you to be. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The word “workmanship” literally means “a unique work of art” indicating that each of us is a uniquely designed work of art by God of which there are no others like us. God designed a unique me, never to be repeated, and a unique you never to be repeated. We are one of a kind!

And in his creativity he wired and gifted us for a unique purpose that only we can fulfill, for we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God created me to lead the organization I lead. He created me to write books. He created me to be a husband of a wonderful woman and two wonderful boys. And he created me for a unique work in his kingdom that I am uniquely wired to fulfill and the same is true for every one of us no matter what our occupation or circumstance.

Finally you and I were created for relationship with Christ and in Christ we have the two desires of every heart: the desire for relationship (I experience that in Christ and His people); and a desire for significance (the unique work God created just for me for).

When I come to Christ and invite him into my life, the unique me that God created me to be does not change. I was hard wired with gifts of vision, strategy and communication. Everything else I was not hardwired for! In coming to Christ, he takes His creation and infuses it with His Holy Spirit empowering the wiring he gave me at birth, forgiving my sin and launches me on a journey that the New Testament calls sanctification – the life long journey of my lower and sinful nature being taken off piece by piece and His holy nature being put on, piece by piece. That journey of sanctification or spiritual transformation is not complete until we meet him face to face in heaven but it is an amazing and wonderful journey to be on.

Many people have the thinking that God wants to change our lives 180 degrees when we come to Him. That is a misunderstanding of God’s intentions. Many of our behaviors will change and need to change 180 degrees but God wants to take His unique creation and complete that creation which was marred by sin entering our world so many eons ago by helping us become the us He made us to be. The process of us realizing the full potential for which we were created is the process of spiritual transformation.

Many people fear the process of spiritual transformation and never embrace it, believing erroneously that it will cost them too much. This fear is the essence of our old sinful nature that craved autonomy. The prophet Isaiah put that autonomy from God this way: “We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Autonomy from God leads away from God and toward our shadow side. Engaging with God in ongoing life transformation leads us toward His life and character – and His impact on others.

Many others simply do not pay enough attention to this aspect of their lives and end up living at a shallow spiritual level (even many in ministry) substituting activity for true life change. It is a trap that prevents many from realizing their full potential or having the kind of deep influence God designed them for. Shallow spiritual lives lead to shallow influence even if masked by impressive achievements. There simply is no substitute for going deep with Christ!

Christ’s vision for our life is very simple: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). There is a direct connection here between the transforming of our lives, the renewing of our minds and our ability to understand “God’s good, pleasing and perfect will!” The ongoing transformation of our lives as a life priority is directly connected with the influence we have and is a prerequisite for being a person of deep influence.

One of the temptations for ministry leaders who live and work in full time vocational ministry is to substitute work for God (our ministry) for the work of God in our hearts and lives. Not only does this substitution hurt the individual involved as they do not become all that God designed them to be but it hurts those that they influence as their model is one of doing rather than one of becoming. This has led to countless Christ followers who have spent their lives focusing on either doing or modifying behaviors to meet the standards of their church or leader without significant transformation of the deepest core of their lives.

It is a matter of priority. If my priority is that of seeing authentic spiritual transformation take place in my life, I will bring all of life under His lordship and will engage in His business and will modify my life in many areas to bring it into alignment with His. But if I focus instead on doing things for Him and modifying my behaviors rather than that of spiritual transformation I will end up frustrated and with a substitute transformation that is more about me than about Him. Too many Christ followers have settled for the latter rather than committing to the former. The first brings real life change while the latter is often little more than legalism. One ministry I work with actually has a guiding principle called “Intimacy before Impact” to remind themselves of the proper priority!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Leadership and Spiritual Transformation

Our influence as leaders is not so much about how we lead but from what source we choose to lead. The source of our leadership is the key to deep influence and at its core is our desire to embrace the spiritual transformation Christ wants to bring to our lives as we live in relationship with him.

Spiritual transformation leads to changes in our character, lifestyle, habits and practices. All too, often, however we have reversed the order thinking that if we live or act a certain way that we will be pleasing God. Just watch new believers as they are coached by other believers in what lifestyle choices they should embrace and what they should avoid. Quickly they are enculturated into a lifestyle that looks like those around them. What looks a certain way on the outside often has nothing to do with true spiritual transformation. Furthermore, real transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, not other people as He convicts us of sin and brings us to repentance and new practices that are consistent with the character of God.

Transformation is not about the adoption of a new set of rules and regulations (now that I am a Christ follower) rather than the old set of rules and regulations that I lived by previously. Such an understanding of transformation is as skewed and twisted as that of the Pharisees in the New Testament who substituted outward regulations for inner transformation.

Spiritual transformation is the process by which God, through his Holy Spirit and with our active cooperation, on an ongoing basis brings change to our lives as we allow Him to realign our lives with His. It is a deeply personal process that impacts our hearts, our minds, priorities, relationships and experiences. There is no part of our lives that God does not want to infuse his life into and to bring transformation to.

This transformation is at the core of Influence because the deepest influence we will ever have does not come out of our wisdom or leadership but from a wisdom, character, heart, and mind that have been so transformed by the Holy Spirit that they more and more reflect the wisdom, character, heart and mind of God! This is not primarily about knowing about God (although that is important) but knowing God and choosing a life that is always open to His reformation and actively cooperating with His transformation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Antidotes to the Shadow Side

All of us have unique vulnerabilities – places or times or situations where a shadow side can show up if we are not aware, careful and have a plan to compensate for them. Vulnerabilities are not something to be ashamed of – we are human – but to be aware of and to manage so that the vulnerability does not turn into something worse.

I know that I am vulnerable when I am overly tired. So does my family who can be the brunt of my cranky attitude. I also know that I am prone to periods of depression if I do not get enough rest. At the same time I tend to say “yes” to too many things and it takes people around me to help me moderate my schedule and think realistically about what my body can take especially after two severe bouts in the ICU that I am still recovering from.

The evil one is described as a prowling lion waiting to devour. Lions love the tall grass where they can hide, watching for just the right moment to attack. They watch for the laggard of the herd, the vulnerable animal and then at the right moment they launch an often fatal blow. That is an accurate description of the evil one who loves to discourage, hurt or take down God’s people. It is also why we must be even more aware in our times of vulnerability than we are in our times of strength. Satan is most likely to attack when we are weak, not strong.

This again takes us back to the importance of self knowledge and acute awareness of our strengths and weaknesses. Satan wants us to live unaware and unexamined lives while the Father wants us to be acutely aware and wise in how we live. After all, every day, there is a lion on the prowl waiting for a moment when he can launch an attack.

Because I am by nature an introvert (in an extrovert’s job), my tendency would be to be by myself when tired and worn out. But that is when I am personally most vulnerable so I compensate by spending time with family or friends rather than by myself. Knowing my vulnerable moments I seek to take offensive moves in order to stay healthy.

I don’t need to repeat the list of temptations common to man that assail us in our weak moments. The list is long and apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we are weak. You know what your vulnerabilities are and I know what mine are. The real question is whether we are intentional in our awareness and have a plan to offset those temptations so that vulnerabilities do not become casualties. All of us are vulnerable, none of us need be casualties to those vulnerabilities.

There is no escaping our shadow side but there are ways to minimize its damage in our lives and in the lives of others. I believe that there are six major antidotes to our shadow sides: none of them are enough in themselves but practice together they are powerful tools toward deep influence. They really involve choices so I am going to posit them as choices we make – and each of us makes them regularly.

Living in isolation or living in relationship

We live in a highly individualistic culture at least in the west. It is easy for us to live in isolation rather than in relationship. Yet it is in authentic relationships with others that life rubs on life, where iron sharpens iron, where we are challenged to be our best and to become all that God intended us to be. Mary Ann and I have made the cultivation of key relationships (we call them friends for life) a high priority in our lives because it is so critical to a “healthy” us.

I am convinced that the healthier our relationships, the healthier we are. The more isolated we live, the greater the opportunity for the shadow side to show itself – and ultimately to hurt our influence.

Living with autonomy or accountability

This follows from the first choice. Choosing to live in authentic relationship is a choice to live with accountability rather than autonomy because with relationship comes healthy accountability. If I were to choose to do something stupid with my life, I know that there are a good number of friends who would show up at my door and call me to reason.

There are also those whom I invite to speak into my life if they sense the shadow side is showing up. They are people I trust, whose feedback I value and who I know have my best interests in mind. Choosing to live with accountability is a major hedge against our shadow sides becoming liabilities. Those who live without accountability and whose relationships are only with those who affirm them rather than who can be honest with them almost always end up on the shoals!

Living with self knowledge rather than an unexamined life

There are things I don’t like about me! But knowing those things is far better than ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist. The better I know me, the better the chance I have that I can cooperate with God so that I become the me I want to be and the me He made me to be. That means knowing how God wired me, where my shadow side is, what my unique vulnerabilities are and where and how I can hurt others because of my makeup.

People of deep influence are always people who are deeply self aware, appropriately introspective so that they understand their motivations, tendencies, areas where they are vulnerable to temptation and how they deal with those vulnerabilities. Their self knowledge includes an understanding of God’s amazing grace in their lives and they are not overwhelmed by their sin but by God’s grace. They are not seeking to prove themselves to God but to simply live in His presence, forgiveness and grace on a daily basis.

Living with humility rather than pride

If we are living with self knowledge it is very hard to be prideful. We know that we are justified by Christ (made clean and whole) and that he is sanctifying us as we walk with him (becoming more and more like him) but we also know that we live with brokenness and sin and shadow sides that we wish were not there. Humility is recognizing that life is about Him, not us and that everything we are is because of Him and His work in our lives.

Pride is a rejection of God’s place in our lives and an elevation of us! A rather presumptuous attitude! Pride does not want to know the truth about ourselves and actually promotes an alternate truth about who I really am. Humility has a nothing to prove/nothing to lose attitude that is not afraid of who the true me is, does not need to wear a fa├žade to pretend there is an alternate me and realizes that I am completely indebted to God for all that I am and have.

Living intentionally or accidently

We are most vulnerable to shadow sides when living without a plan, without the discipline of knowing what our priorities are and living them out in a purposeful fashion. Careless living leads to careless lives and careless lives allow shadow sides to show up without our even being aware of it.

I have never met an individual of deep influence who lived carelessly. The very framework that helps them prevent the impact of their shadow side from becoming a liability is one of careful thought and intentional practice. Managing our shadow side in itself requires a plan that comes out of deep self knowledge.

Living with intimacy or distance with Christ

Our connection to Christ, when we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to us and to peel back layers of our own lives to reveal sin, disobedience, elements of the lower nature and areas where He wants to work is a critical element in managing our shadow side. Certainly the closer we stay to Christ, the more receptive we are to His nudging in our lives. The further we are from Him the more of us we are relying on for our understanding and wisdom – a dangerous place to be.

As the writer of the book of Hebrews put it, “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 4:2-13). To the extent that we allow the Scriptures to be a mirror against which we see our lives and the Holy Spirit to speak to us about our lives we will become sensitized to our shadow side and allow God to bring His character even to those difficult areas.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Unique Vulnerabilities

Some vulnerabilities are not as obvious as others. In fact, sometimes the very things we yearn for can become our greatest vulnerability! Think about success. All of us want our ministries to be successful and to impact as many as possible. But with success comes a major liability: pride, self-confidence that can push out our need for God or others and a feeling that somehow we are immune from the temptations of others. After all, have we not successfully negotiated life and ministry to get to where we are?

Ministry success has been the vulnerable spot for many. It is not that we should not seek ministry success but we must recognize that the greater our success, the more vulnerable we are to the dark side of success – and its ugly consequences.

One of the classic signs of the dark side of ministry success is unaccountability. In its twisted logic, many successful individuals can come to the conclusion that they do not need the council and accountability of others (usually what got them to where they are) and as they move away from accountability and toward dangerous autonomy there are fewer and fewer people who they listen to and often there is a marginalization of those who give them “bad news” rather than what they want to hear. Pride is one of the most insidious of dark sides for it elevates us above others and sometimes above God. Pride, autonomy, lack of accountability, and eventually twisted thinking come in a package often fueled by success.

With success comes the tendency of others to curry favor rather than to speak honestly. It isolates because of the increased demands that success brings. Those increased demands lesson the time for thinking, self reflection and close relationships which are so foundational for spiritual transformation, self-knowledge and intimacy with Christ. With the accolades of success comes the temptation to actually believe all those things people say about us when in reality if we were honest with ourselves we know that the true us does not match the us that others project upon us.

The more successful we are the more cautious, humble and accountable we must be to avoid the consequences of the shadow side. Successful men and women go in one of two directions – toward humility and accountability or toward pride and autonomy. The former deepens influence while the latter will eventually cause influence to dissipate.

We are also vulnerable in times of failure. This is particularly true for individuals in ministry whose identity is often wrapped up with what they do – confusing their identity in Christ for their ministry identity. Failure calls into question our calling, our competency, God’s intervention (or lack of it) and sometimes our very faith.

In times of failure we have two options and I have watched both play out with friends and acquaintances. Either we press into God in a new way, choosing faith and optimism or we settle for bitterness and a diminished life, often holding God responsible for our situation. Which direction we choose is just that – a choice we make. Life comes undone for all of us at one time or another. It is either an opportunity to move forward and build character and experience or it becomes a pit that we sink into and wallow there.

In no way do I want to minimize the pain of failure. I felt that my whole world had come apart when I left my church at the age of 28, clinically depressed, tired, broke and deeply wounded. It took me some ten years to fully heal from that traumatic experience: I know failure well, and its wounds. But, as hard as it was, we faced a choice during those years: to live in faith and hope or to settle for bitterness and diminishment. We chose the former and God has used what I felt as a failure as a major part of my spiritual construction, personal development and ministry impact. I could never have known how my failure would be used by God in my life and ministry. In fact, “failure” is one of the most powerful tools God has to mold us.

Ironically, what is failure to us is often a win for God and for our character and future influence. Moses’ early failure became his training ground for success. Joseph probably felt like a failure when he ended up in jail prior to becoming the second in command in Egypt.

Suffering is a prerequisite to deep influence. Failure is just one of the ways that suffering manifests itself. How we respond will determine its positive or negative impact on our life. I came close to throwing in the towel on ministry after my difficult pastorate. How grateful I am today that I walked away from that brink! Today I see that failure as one of the greatest gifts of my life and I will wear its divine scars proudly into eternity.

Between success and failure are periods of life that just are. And sometimes, like David sitting in his palace while his troops were out at war, boredom sets in and our restlessness makes us vulnerable – to temptation, to laziness, to moving away from our intimacy with God. Periods of restlessness, when boredom sets in are actually wonderful opportunities for growth because it usually means that we have more time on our hands. Either we find something productive to do that will build into our future influence or we move into that intellectual and vision decline that so often afflicts individuals in their forties and fifties.

Intellectual laziness and decline is actually one of the most acute issues faced by those in ministry. The world keeps changing and morphing and unless we continue to grow and lead in our sphere of influence we become superfluous just as so many middle and even senior managers in business have become. Thus the vulnerability that comes with allowing ourselves to slip into comfortable rhythms, content with what we already know is a real one. In many ways, laziness and contentment is a shadow side of earlier success and competency.

The Apostle Paul understood this vulnerability and risk and would have nothing of it in his own life. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Each of us has a prize – it is the fulfilling of God’s call on our lives and to settle for anything but the fullest expression of that call is to settle for less than God intended for us.

One of the reasons I write books and a regular blog is to continue to stretch myself, to force myself to think clearly, to explore new territory and to ward off boredom whether in a lonely hotel room when travelling or simply the dog days of life when it would be easy to settle into intellectual laziness. Each of us must find outlets for intellectual growth and rest (for me fly fishing) where the soul is nurtured, our hearts stay full and our intellect is challenged.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ways to Minimize our Liabilities

Leaders who build healthy teams of highly competent individuals use those teams to help alleviate their own liabilities. Many of the issues we face have to do with personnel, relationships and complex problems. Even though I have a strong sense of direction and a great deal of experience in dealing with organizational issues, I know that council from a group of wise individuals is far better than dealing with the issue by myself where my own perspective can easily get in the way of the best solution.

I am convinced that the wisdom of others often prevents our liabilities and our limited perspective from compromising our decisions and responses. When faced with a difficult decision or situation, I never respond without significant dialogue with trusted colleagues whose wisdom and perspective I trust and they have prevented me from making stupid calls in any number of instances. There is simply too much at stake for me to make unilateral decisions in tough spots. And, it is often hard to separate out our own emotions and issues from what is best organizationally.

Bringing in trusted colleagues into tough decisions is also a check against any tendency to lead autocratically or to deal with problematic personnel in unfair or harsh ways. Even as the senior leader of the organization I lead, I have accountability in my leadership and decisions through the involvement of other senior leaders. In fact, I never make any major directional decision without the assent and council of my senior team. Again, this becomes a check against human tendencies to lead out of personal preferences, arrogance, pride or the limited perspective any one of us has by ourselves. It literally can save us from ourselves!

Another hedge against our shadow side getting us into trouble in tough decisions is to resist the temptation to respond quickly. Quick decisions often come out of emotion and emotion is often influenced more by our shadow side than wisdom or our strengths. Difficult decisions and difficult people often stir anxiety in us. The anxiety makes us feel as if we need to do something now, when in reality waiting, thinking and getting counsel is often far wiser. In addition, anxiety often causes us to react emotionally when what is needed is a wise, reasoned, non-emotional response. How many of us have sent an emotional email in the heat of the moment that we wish we had been able to recall?

Emotional responses to people and situations can be a significant opportunity for our shadow side to become a liability. In the heat of emotion we do and say things that are not filtered by wisdom and even if we have reason to be angry we contribute to the problem and lose the high ground of leadership.

Time is our ally in most difficult decisions. It gives us time to pray, to evaluate options, seek counsel and think more clearly. The temptation to act quickly is really a temptation to act out of emotion rather than out of wisdom. Emotion and wisdom are not always compatible in leadership. I have a practice that I will not act before I have agreement with a trusted colleague or colleagues that the time is right and the approach is wise. The knottier the problem, the longer I will usually wait unless there is an overwhelming reason to act quickly.

The wisdom of the Holy Spirit is critical to keeping our dark side from compromising our leadership. One of the reasons that time is an ally in hard decisions is that it gives us time to pray, to think, and to allow the Holy Spirit to give us a divine perspective that transcends human understanding. I am constantly amazed at how solutions come to mind as I think, pray, dialogue with colleagues and allow God the time and opportunity to give me perspective that is critical to doing the right thing and avoiding my own liabilities, human perspective or shadow side.

One of the traps that good leaders fall into is to start to believe that because they have had leadership success that they are always capable of making the right decisions. Our very success can lead to decisions that are unwise because we trust our own leadership instincts and choose not to seek council or take the time for prayer and evaluation. In fact, the more success we have as leaders the more cautious we ought to be not to believe our own press, to remain humble leaders who seek wise council and take the time for prayerful consideration. Success can lead either to greater leadership wisdom or to the dark side of hubris. We choose the path by how we lead.