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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Leaders get to say NO

Leaders get to say “No”. I don’t like to use this tool very often but this week I find myself with no other alternative.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I let the disciple, the leader in training learn from their mistakes. The leadership lessons we learn from our mistakes stay with us for the rest of our lives. I justify this stance by realizing that I know a lot but I don’t know everything. So when a disciple presents an idea or a direction which makes me pause but they are passionate and believe in the concept I’m willing to let them run with the idea. I like to encourage as it builds confidence in the disciple. Mind you I’m constantly monitoring the progress and outcomes.

Even as I write this post I recognize my hesitancy to deal with the “No”. When a colleague, friend or disciple is engaging in poor judgment or manipulative behaviour to accomplish a task it is my job to say “No”. If others are being discouraged or the organization is put in harm’s way by the disciple’s misplaced exuberance it is my job to say “Stop”.

I do my utmost to a.) Check my frustration at the door because I do want to salvage the relationship with the disciple if at all possible and b.) Measure my words so that I’m not scolding the disciple but instead giving them new insight into their actions.

 Too often I procrastinate hoping and praying that the disciple will figure it out on their own…BUT in the end I still have to say “No”. It’s what leaders get to do.

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

Jesus liked A.P.E.s

Recently I noticed first hand a leadership reality which Alan Hirsch, an Australian Missiologist, teaches. “At the beginning of a religious organizations life the Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists are large and in charge and by the time the organization matures and plateaus the Pastors and Teachers have taken over the management positions. The ‘APE’s’ have either moved on or have been ostracized.”

I had the privilege of meeting with the National Executive of a 15 year old Christian non-denominational organization in Burma two weeks ago. It was a room full of passionate, fervent, God fearing, fearless, tireless, and generous to a fault men and women. The majority were self-proclaimed Evangelists with a couple of Pastors thrown in for some balance.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this room of large yet healthy egos would not be tolerated in the North American church circles where I typically move as a leader. At best these Evangelists would be gently ignored and at worst be treated with disdain and derision.

They taught me a valuable lesson. If I as a leader want to see new things begin or old ways truly renewed then I have to be able to identify the “APE’s” in the crowd, disciple them and then let them loose on the world.

This is what Jesus managed to do. Peter, ‘the Rock’; James and John, ‘Sons of Thunder’; Judas; were not gentle shrinking violets. I realize anew that Jesus chose leaders with large personalities who after three years of being discipled were going to be instrumental in starting a new thing; a large sustainable, life giving God thing.

It is an example worth following today. – BB

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

ReThink Everything

What we plant determines what we grow.  Farmers understand this but for an urban guy like me, it has taken a while to figure out.

For 25 years, I’ve been involved in what evangelical-Anabaptists refer to as, “church planting.”  The Christian world can be divided into those who think church planting is a good idea and those who are actually doing it.  I’ve lived in both camps, and I think that some of my fellow-travelers (myself included!) have been involved in a great adventure in missing the point.

 Leaders have engaged in church planting as institutional formation.  We focus on executing strategies that attract a collection of people who we hope find spiritual meaning in the church plant’s wonderful programs.  Growing a church requires the planter to commit to sustaining program excellence, manage costs, and form relational bonds through customer intimacy.  Mission agencies sustain this model by offering venture capital to the church plant with the expectation that a sustainable and self-funding church will emerge that supports the mission agency in return.  In short, the system demands we plant churches as institutions.

What if we did gospel planting instead?  What might it look like if we see every follower of Jesus as a church planter and believe every church can plant another church?  What if we incarnated the victory news that Jesus is Lord of everything?  

Gospel planting requires leaders to re-think everything:  our definitions of mission and church; our leadership cultivation and discipleship formation; and the way we use money in the formation of church plants.

Our current church planting models grow from the same Christendom assumptions that have informed much of the way we have done church over the past 1700 years.  Instead, let’s start planting the gospel, and experience the church fruit that grows from that seed.

 Scary, huh? – JW

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

Jim and Casper

It sounds like the set up for a classic joke:  “A Christian and an Atheist walk into a church together…”  But it’s no joke, it actually happened.  In the summer of 2006, Jim Henderson, a former pastor, and now publishing executive went on a road trip with his best friend, Matt Casper, an avowed Atheist.  They visited eleven churches across the USA:  mega-churches with superstar preachers and mainline congregations with mind-numbing liturgy and an Anabaptist-related house church (way to go, Jason!).  They pooled their insights into a book:  Jim & Casper Go to Church (Barna:  2007).  www.amazon.com

At the end of the book, Jim reflects: “Casper saw and experienced – over and over and over again – what Christians do when they do church.  He saw it done with big budgets and no budgets, in large stadiums and in small buildings.  The same format repeated itself regardless of the setting.  The greet-sing-preach-collect-present form played out in front of us with unrelenting predictability.  And when it was all done, he would turn to me and ask, ‘Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’”

Ouch.

Jesus told us to go into the world and share the victory news that God does not hate anyone for anything; that God loves everyone, all the time.  Only then can we baptize – forming communities of Jesus followers.  Together we figure out how to live faithfully, in love with Jesus.

Yes, sometimes we get it backwards. We figure out how people should live; try with all our might to assemble a group of those folks; then tell them God loves them.

Is that what Jesus told us to do?  What would it look like to start a church whose focus was not on the “show” or the “shoulds” but on the good news?

Dream BIG, take small steps

Big ideas from a passionate, intelligent, charismatic and articulate visionary can be incredibly inspirational even intoxicating. One such example is Martin Luther King Jr. for whom a National Memorial in Washington D.C. is being dedicated. Like the memorial itself, no one could ever accuse him of dreaming too small. The virtual tour is pretty cool http://www.mlkmemorial.org

In the realm of church life where I spend much of my time I often find that leaders struggle with two things. There are those who are afraid of dreaming big. It feels overwhelming or there is always that nagging thought, “What if I fail?” So they choose to play it safe.

Then there are those leaders who love to dream big, real BIG. They know the talk and they’re sincere in their belief that this vision is from God. Unfortunately they haven’t learned how to build the dream into reality. They’re in a hurry to get to the Promised Land. The notion of one small pain staking, deliberate step at a time is too pedestrian for them.

 The God we read about in the Christian Old Testament left his people in the land of slavery for 400 years. Then they were detoured on their way to the Promised Land for another 40 years. Great leaders like MLK Jr. aren’t afraid to dream big and his purposeful, courageous one step at a time is an example for leaders to emulate today. – Brian

Counter Cultural Engagement

There are at least three good reasons to start new Anabaptist faith communities.

First, starting a new faith community represents one important way to express faithfulness to Christ.  Following Jesus has historically led us into the development of new faith communities.

Second, it helps we Christians keep the Gospel relevant without being culture-bound.  I use the word, “relevant” with caution.  I have seen many new projects do dumb things in the name of “relevancy”.  Nevertheless, as Western culture gives way from modernity, Christendom and an industrial economy to post- all of that, the way we did church in the last century is less and less coherent.  We need new forms of church to speak into the culture being created.

Third, starting a new faith community helps the people of my tribe leave our Mennonite ethos of separation behind, and become more engaged with the wider society.  There is a lot of litter across the history of the church with the relics of expressions of churches that practiced physical separation from the world, rather than a counter-cultural engagement with the world.  Anabaptism is, at its best, a counter-cultural engagement with the world.  Mennonites and our spiritual cousins settled for separation for good historical reasons.  However, the time has come to renew our commitment to radical discipleship, authentic community, and genuine peace building, and to do so in the form of new churches.  Starting new faith communities in the brave new world we are creating must become thoroughly Anabaptist in perspective. – JW