Too Busy

Many leaders, sooner or later, bemoan how busy they are. Stephen Covey, who died this week after a long and productive life, wrote a leadership classic long ago in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is one of those rare books that is withstanding the test of time plus has served as the inspiration of a multitude of other self help leadership books which have a number in their titles. An invaluable thesis within Covey’s book is that leaders need to be busy doing highly important work and not fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent.

Just in case you’re too busy to read the book here is a simplified explanation of Covey’s thesis.

Leaders must take all of the tasks which they perform and place them within one of four quadrants. The quadrants sit on a High Importance/Low Importance and High Urgency/Low Urgency axis. He argues that leaders too often are focused on matters which today are Highly Urgent but for the long term health and vitality of the organization they lead prove to be of Low Importance. As leaders are able to focus on matters of High Importance the number of urgent problems that appear on their doorstep actually decline.

Today is a good day to give thanks for a leader like Covey who could articulate such a simple yet highly important discernment tool for leaders around the world. If you are too busy you really need to pick up a copy of the book and put the thesis to work for yourself. – BB

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People are Watching, Wash Feet

This post was inspired by JE’s post “Leaders of the Towel and Basin”

I grew up in a faith community that practised what Jesus did with his disciples in John 13. Twice a year, Good Friday and Thanksgiving, we washed each others’ feet. Since leaving home as a young adult this Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ lost much of its meaning for me. As a pastor and a Christian of the Mennonite tradition I avoided the washing feet thing at every turn.

Then I visited Burma.

In the back waters of that nation I spent a week teaching and preaching an Anabaptist understanding of the Gospel to a Bible College student body and faculty. At the end of the week I spoke at their convocation service. Over 500 people gathered on a warm February Sunday afternoon to celebrate the 14 students who were graduating with their Bachelor of Theology degrees.

With input from the President of the school I decided I would dust off the Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ which I had grown to loathe. Nancy, my wife and fellow teacher, and I proceeded to wash the feet of these students. I was unprepared for the rush of family and friends who came forward to take pictures.

One of the faculty summed up the people’s curiosity around foot washing. “We have taught the importance of John 13 to our students but no one ever dared to think that a wealthy, educated, leader from the west would ever wash the feet of one of my people. We look up to you. We are your servants. That you would wash our feet is amazing to me.” 

Read JE’s post. Then, as a leader, go out and serve those who least expect it. You too may be as surprised as I was.

People are watching; wash feet! – BB

Imitate Me?

People follow leaders.  One of the greatest accolades a leader can have is when someone says ‘I did what I thought you would do’.  To hear this is indeed very humbling yet it also adds weight to the burden of responsibility leaders have to be good role models.

The pioneering church planter and former disciple-hater and murderer Paul was not afraid to urge people to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4 v 16), yet he must have been abundantly aware that there was much in his former life he didn’t want people to imitate and he must have been aware that in his old life he himself had caused much pain and suffering in peoples’ lives.  The only way Paul and the disciples could have journeyed on from this is is in the arms of forgiveness which Paul first experienced on the road to Damascus.

Forgiveness is a precious gift and characteristic we leaders can model as we choose to acknowledge our own failings and the pain we may have caused others and ask for forgiveness.  It is also something we can model as we daily make choices to forgive those who have let us down and as we forgive ourselves for not always being the people we seek in our hearts to be.

Who knows, maybe one day someone will say that they forgave a person because they knew that’s what we would do…?  JK

Women, Love and God

Today, 8 March, 2012, is International Women’s Day and so it is fitting for us to make a special note of the strides made and not made to bring about gender equality in our communities.  Though most of us can list extraordinary women who have had and continue to have a global impact, I want to focus on one particularly special women – my mother.

My father passed away when I was twelve and so I credit my mom for teaching me how to be the best man I could be.  Though I wasn’t always the best son (especially during those teenage years), my Mom’s enduring love for me never ceased.  She never gave me a reason to question her love for me.  Her ability to always find the good in my life and her never dying belief that I always had the imagination to pull through any situation gave me the assurance to step out and take risks.  All this while society kept telling her she was of the lessor gender and weaker without a husband to take care of her.  Even today Mom’s gentle encouragement to me, even while she is struggling daily with her own health woes, never ceases to amaze me.

As I reflect on Mom and her life and the life lessons she passed my way, her most important lesson to me is the reminder that God’s call to each of us to live a life of Love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a reminder of this love.  Thank you Mom for reflecting God’s love to me in ways only a mother can to her son.  And may I as a man find the strength and courage to pass on this love to my daughter, son & wife. – JM

GPS Leadership

With a bone crunching weariness I slipped the car into park and shut off the engine with a satisfied sigh. The 4 day 1500 km road trip to Montreal & Ottawa to check in with 6 leaders and their new churches was now in my rear view mirror. The challenges I listened to from these men and women were numerous: not enough resources to meet the overwhelming needs of their communities; not enough leaders in their faith community to share the load; good leaders leaving to find work in another city; immigrants trying to understand Canadian culture. I must also say that the joys that breathe life into their long days are plentiful enough to keep them at their tasks with confident smiles on their faces.

All I can do is listen attentively to these anabaptist leaders and pray that the few words I choose to share will bring encouragement to their spirit.

At times I fantasize about what it would be like to hand these leaders a road map with all the twists and turns, breath taking peaks and soul sucking valleys already mapped out. In my car I managed to navigate these two world class cities without taking one wrong turn. Even where all signage is in French I didn’t get lost, not once. Although there were a few times when my GPS quietly, non-anxiously said “recalculating”.

Leaders don’t get to have detailed road maps or a GPS. Instead perhaps the best we have to offer the leaders in our sphere of influence is a listening, understanding ear and a heartfelt non-anxious word of encouragement. It’s what leaders and I suppose the GPS get to do. – BCB

Rip Those Pages Out

Last week, over a simple meal, some friends and I were discussing the merits of the Old Testament.  Can we as followers of Christ in the 21st century do without the Old Testament?  What is the real value of this text to the person in the pew?  As a Mennonite, I often struggle with the “God as Warrior” image of the Old Testament.  Or even the “vengeful God” imagery.  It would be so easy to rip those pages out of the Canon.  And yet, there they are glaring at us. 

Johnny is a close friend of mine who lives in South East Asia.  He frequently shares stories of his displaced friends living on the Thai-Burma border.  Johnny is an ardent promoter of just peace making.  This deeply rooted belief has put him on various government target lists.  He has been prohibited from visiting dear friends and places and even spent time in prison for this belief.  As he watches his displaced friends on the border continuing to suffer, he asks me (his institutional administrator friend), “as a leader, how often do you consider how your decision impacts the poor?” 

This question came roaring back to me last week.  Here we were in Lancaster County, USA discussing the merits of the Old Testament wanting to rip pages out of the Bible to suit our perspective on just peace making.  Meanwhile, the displaced in SE Asia find comfort in the arms of a God who is on their side and would be willing to fight and take revenge on those who were continually maiming, raping and killing their families.  So, if we are to truly seek the welfare of the poor, should we be ripping pages out of the Bible or releasing our dogmas to God? – JM

Liberating Leadership

As someone who has been following the Occupy movement with some intrigue I have been pondering Brian’s last post about leaderless movements.  I have visited the St Paul’s Occupy site twice recently and today I visited their newest site in London, the Bank of Ideas – a disused property owned by one of the banks recently bailed out by the British tax payer.

On each visit I have been warmly welcomed and included in discussions and even decision-making processes.  To begin with it has sometimes felt awkward not knowing who to go to for information but this has forced me to speak to one of the first people I have encountered to acknowledge my inexperience and humbly ask to glean their knowledge of the situation.  On each occasion I have received helpful, warm and empowering information.

In an age when I hardly need to be dependent on anyone for help (because my phone tells me everything I need to know!) it is actually quite liberating to rediscover this character of my humanity.

Having a visible, active, all-knowing leader may give us a sense of security but it may not always be the type of leadership that empowers and releases the most people.  Could hidden leadership which pushes others forward and enables them to discover their own talents be a strength rather than a weakness?

JK

Bank of Ideas

Bank of Ideas

Rezoning

When we started this church, one of our goals was to bless and serve the community that we were in as a church. I was convicted through a question posed in something I’d read which said, “If your church left, would the community notice?” We do this serving through a whole variety of events geared at sharing God’s love in tangible non threatening ways including neighbourhood parties, playing with kids in the park, Easter egg hunts, youth after school programs, etc. Our ability to engage the community has increased through a “community space” which our church leased just over a year ago across the street from the school where we meet Sundays. Getting the space was a succession of miracles, including getting the site rezoned to have a church group using it. In order for that rezoning to happen, the city does checks with the residents within several hundred meters of our building. At our annual community pancake breakfast last month, a woman came up to one of our pastors and said, “Someone came to our door asking us to sign a petition because they didn’t want the church in the area. But I told them, “The church comes to bring life not death. They have helped my children. I’m not signing this petition. So I started one of my own to support your church…” I didn’t know this person, and we didn’t get wind of either of these petitions. But I could not help but think that our presence in the community through acts of serving, helped give legitimacy to our being here. -JLT

 

“Say it ain’t so Joe”

Leaders need to remember that trust is hard to acquire and easily broken. This week Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State University. If you don’t know the story simply Google his name. The short version is that this much loved, legendary, well respected coach of an American college football team did not do nearly enough to report the criminal actions of an alleged pedophile who was a senior member of his staff.

We earn trust one rung at a time as we climb the ladder of trust with the people around us. However when that trust is broken we don’t just lose it one rung at a time. When you fall off a ladder you hurdle all the way to the bottom, the same is true of trust. It is a delicate thing and no leader gets to abuse it and survive for very long.

The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Boy Scouts of America are two large institutions that have been in the headlines for breaking trust along with a whole host of other church, business and political leaders. The news cycle provides leaders with regular reminders that looking the other way or if I ignore ‘it’, ‘it’ will go away doesn’t suffice.

PLEASE use this current tragic story to be certain you, as a leader, have a firm grip on the trust ladder. At the very least you can do what Joe failed to do; muster the courage to protect the children and youth in your sphere of influence. – BB

Audacity!

As the US economy continues to hobble along, it is clear a major issue is that of job security.  In the past few months there have been a spate of layoffs among several church agencies in our area.  These layoffs have frequently been carried out in the name of developing “more effective program.”  And I would agree there is some truth to these claims and wishes. 

However it does not minimize the pain felt by individuals who have been sidelined in the process or, put differently, not included in the new vision for the agency.  At times such as this I am reminded of well-known church administered who was released from service after three decades of service because he was deemed “irrelevant” to the institutions future.  The shock of the moment left this dedicated servant paralyzed.  However he recovered and found a way to envision a new place to engage in God’s ministry with the poor.  In the latter part of his life, his wife passed away leaving him yet again spiraling downward.  It was during this time of deep trial that he found the wisdom to pen for himself, “Do you have the AUDACITY to believe the best is yet to come?”  Anyone who has lost meaningful employment or a loved one will understand the ridiculous polarity of this question to the context they face.  And yet I wonder if this is a question we should be asking in times of both deep pain and enormous joy.  – JM