For Amanda

Today, I had a conversation with a young woman that we’ll call “Amanda.” A conversation might be stretching it. Amanda made little sense in what she said and didn’t seem to hear–or at least respond–to much of what I said. She was mostly naked and stumbling down the sidewalk in downtown San Diego. She had scratches along her arms intermixed with sporadic, blurred tattoos. Her hair looked as if it had been cut with hedge trimmers. Her shirt looked as though she, or someone else, had torn it almost completely off. She wore a pair of shorts that were an inch away from being classified as underwear. She cried. She moaned. She spoke of having been killed, of being allergic to dirt and water, of Mother Mary, of being abused by horses, of being deaf and blind, of FBI conspiracies.

I told Amanda I was sorry for how sad she was. Myself and another person tried to get her covered up and settled down. She was calmed somewhat by our kindness but remained terribly disturbed. She told me she wasn’t a human, just an animal. I told her it wasn’t true. That she was a person, created in God’s image and loved by that same God. She cried out that it wasn’t true, she wasn’t human anymore. My heart broke.

Amanda’s situation is drastic, although, working in downtown San Diego, I see a lot of this kind of thing. But there remains a broader lesson to learn from her. We live in a broken world and it is as if this broken world works at its best to dehumanize us. We are reduced to numbers and demographics, voting blocks and consumers. The wonderful work of Christian leaders, and followers of Jesus in general, is that this is just isn’t true and we get to announce that. We are more than those things. The good news of the kingdom of God encompasses within it the recognition of human dignity where it was not recognize before. That the Creator of the cosmos fashioned us in his own image, would choose to work with us in the accomplishment of his mission and save us from our error is profoundly good news. The world today, and historically, tells that we cannot escape from our error, that we are insignificant, that we serve no grand purpose. Yet the gospel stands in contrast, declaring that being human is so much more than this through the work of Jesus.

Your work is to display God’s creative will and design where others do not yet see it. Most poignantly this is done in the lives of others. Give them dignity, declare that there is another way to be human… and pray for Amanda.–JE

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Painting the Future

This is a painting by the artist Magritte which I was first introduced to by Stuart Murray Williams and which I now steal regularly!  It is a picture that all leaders would find worth pondering.  Here are some questions to help you reflect on your own role as a prophetic, entrepreneurial or creative leader:

  • What is the artist doing?
  • What does the egg represent for you – a person, a community, an initiative,  a congregation, a vision, a network or something else?
  • What is your role as the artist?
  • What if you are the egg?  Who is the artist – a parent, a mentor, a friend, someone who believes in you… God?
  • Who has seen and drawn out your potential?
  • Is there more to be realised?

Ponder…reflect…give thanks…imagine…pray…do something…

JK

Removing barriers…

For the past four years our church has organized an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids in the community where we are located. Fifteen hundred eggs are hidden behind the school where we meet Easter morning, and in 20 minutes about a hundred kids find them all. Then, we invite the kids and their parents into the school gym for baking and coffee. The first year we did this, to my surprise, almost all of the parents stayed for coffee. Its one of my favorite moments in ministry: people from many nationalities enjoying coffee and baking together. The last two years we’ve hauled over our church’s espresso maker, which creates another level of joy among the devoted! Anyway, when it’s all done, we invite people who wish, to stay for the Easter worship celebration. Over the years, few have stayed. This year, however, we opened the large divider separating the two gyms, so the worship area and coffee area were one. Now if you wanted to stay for the service you didn’t need to enter another room. More people from the community stayed simply because we left the gym open. It’s a “no brainer” I guess, but it touches on a theme I’ve been brewing on the past while. The barriers as leaders we put up that keep people from experiencing the love of God. Easter morning I believe folks from our community received it in three doses-four if you like espresso! JLTImage

Leaders of the Towel and Basin

Today is Maundy Thursday on the Christian calendar. Christians all over will gather together and wash each others feet, mimicking Jesus’ actions the night of his betrayal. Yet, there is something within this action documented in John’s Gospel that we ought to consider beyond annual ceremony. When Jesus undresses himself, kneels down and washes the feet of his disciples, he communicates a profound statement of what the Christian leader ought to be. While the other Gospels don’t relate the foot washing story, the intent of its message is still conveyed in their own telling of Jesus’ story.

On his magnificent book on Christian leadership, Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders wrote, “True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.” Here, Sanders captures the heart of Jesus’ message to those that would lead the effort of taking the gospel of the kingdom around the known world. Jesus was serious about it, it wasn’t a nice platitude. Serving is how we lead.

This doesn’t mean that we are to become human doormats. Consider what it means to “serve God.” If we serve God, we go about attending to what he asks of us. We derive this in great part from Scripture. But we also have to live with “eyes wide open.” That is to say, we have to pay attention to the voice of God as he speaks to us in natural and supernatural ways; through community, the natural world, etc. In doing so, we uncover what it is that God is asking of us.

It is no different in becoming the servant to others. There are often the obvious requests or needs to be attended to. But we serve our neighbor in the ways not always obvious at first glance as well. Consider John McKnight’s work on asset-based community development. His method intends to, draw out the dignity, the capacity of the other. More than a symbolic gesture, an asset-based approach seeks to discover the worth of those around us and put it to work. Not for our agenda, but for the sake of the other.

As we wash each other’s feet today, consider how you might use this a model to shape how you lead. Do you know the need around you? Do you know how to go about serving the need in a manner that elevates others rather than yourself? Ponder these things as someone washes your feet and you wash theirs.

– JE

Preach, pray, be…

Around the dinner table one evening about five years ago, our family was having a conversation about the various abilities that people have. Then the conversation shifted to the various gifts each of us around the table had. My eleven-year-old daughter looked at me and said God had given me the gifts to “preach, pray, be…” It was one of those moments when the earth seemed to spin just a bit slower. I felt like God was speaking into my life, so I asked her what she meant by “be” and she said, “I don’t know, I just had to say that…” It was a season when I was asking God again to confirm or clarify my life mission. My daughter spoke into my life with her words. It was the last part of her sentence that really caught me however. God was calling me to be. I know it’s critical for me to just “be,” but her words affirmed it’s also part of the call of God on my life. I know that when my leadership loses its focus, it’s often because my primary connection to God has lost its focus. Doing is critical to leadership, but on its own leads to burnout. Activity isn’t the primary task of leadership, its movement out of a sense of being grounded. I’ve returned to my daughter’s words many times as a word of grace in my life. JLT

Let It Die

I have to confess, I’ve become a podcast junkie. One of my favorites is the Freakonomics podcast on NPR. A while back, hosts Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt produced a show on quitting. It was brilliant. Quitting is underrated.

In Christian circles, quitting has more baggage than just being afraid of a sense of failure. We often feel as though giving up on a project, program or agenda equals giving up on God or not having enough faith. But I think this is bad theology.

We Christians don’t believe in just life and death. We believe in life, death and… resurrection. In other words, while we Christians are aware that we are constrained to realities of life and death just as any other human being, we have hope. And that hope is in a God that is working beyond those constraints of life and death, that can actually defeat death. Its something we can’t do. Its something God can. That’s why we follow him.

So, for Christians giving up can be a good thing. When its time for our projects, programs, campaigns, agendas… even churches to die, we ought to let them. Because we believe that there is an agenda far greater than ours working within the world that does not depend upon our efforts but certainly welcomes them. And an opportunity to participate in the kingdom of heaven will always resurrect itself within our reach. We just need to be ready for it.

There is another side to this. In a short-attention span culture such as hours, we tend to move on from one thing to another often too quickly. My recommendation to let things die when its time isn’t an excuse to give up early or to flow with the whims of culture. Rather, I am simply trying advocate for a proper humility and hope. That God is at work in the world, that we’re invited to participate in that. Yet, the winds of the Spirit often change, and our hang-ups can often get in the way. When one of these two things happen. Quit. Let it go. And watch and listen for what God is inviting you into next.

– JE

I Don’t Want To

My boss said, “Yes, I think you should go to preach in Burma.” Sounds cool, right? There’s just one little hitch. I don’t really want to go and I don’t have to go.  

I’m not much of a globe trotter, never have been. Even as a young adult when given the opportunity to head across international borders in the development work of the church the farthest I chose to go was the east coast of my home land, St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. My brothers went to Brazil and France.

Leaders get to do things that they don’t always want to do. Yes we’re aware of those things in our work that aren’t any fun to do but there are also times when we don’t want to do what others see as the fun stuff. We have our reasons and people around us may not understand, “You’d rather officiate at a funeral than a wedding? Really?” “Seriously, you aren’t looking forward to seeing a fascinating part of God’s creation?” Yes, seriously. 

I’m going to a strange exotic land not because I want to or have to go but because I need to go. One of my disciples needs me to be in his homeland. It is what he needs from me so that his credibility and ministry can grow. It is for this relationship that I’ll sit on a plane for 15 hours straight, eat questionable ‘delicacies’, suffer jet lag for too many days and dance with Montezuma’s revenge. Leaders know when they need to say “Yes” to an invitation to lead even when they don’t want to. – BB

A Time For Everything

As the wisdom of Ecclesiastes states, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” And herein lies a principle that all good leaders ought to appreciate: you can do anything… for a season. Whenever we take on a new role, a new project or a new team we have to take this into consideration. To explain, let me share a little about myself.

I am drawn towards entrepreneurial opportunities. I’ve worked for young businesses and churches. When I’ve worked for an established company or congregation it has always been on new projects, new divisions. But new starts always require lots of work with few resources and, most often, by fewer people. It can be tiring but its the kind of work I’ve found I love and thrive within. But I’ve also burnt myself out on many such endeavors. Along the way, I’ve learned to say a simple phrase that is inspired by Ecclesiastes 3: “I can do anything… for a season.”

To be an effective leader you need to be able to see the end of the “season.” When we can’t see the end we burn out, burn others out and, sometimes, we break things that are irreparable… on this side of eternity at least. If we want to be healthy people and cultivate healthy teams and worthwhile projects or products we have to be able see the end. Sometimes thats a deadline that only you can establish. Sometimes its knowing when its time to give up or quit before you self-destruct. Sometimes its knowing when to “pass-the-torch” or hand things over to someone else after having modeled how something was to be done for a period of time. This is what separates the delegators from the megalomaniacs; the loved from the the feared leaders. Which will you be?  – JE

“You Farted”

It happened at the grocery store. I thought I was being discreet and subtle as I went about purchasing a few items in the fresh produce aisle. But alas the ears of a four year old boy were not fooled by my cool misdemeanour. The tyke’s grin could not have been broader as he pointed and giggled his accusation, “You farted!”

Now, the next few seconds are delicate ones for a leader caught in the act of a minor indiscretion. Responses can range from ignore the incorrigible in your midst through frown disapprovingly, excuse yourself, laugh along, to deny, deny, deny. None of these responses are right or wrong except perhaps the last one but on the whole these surprise encounters in the day do reflect our moods, mindsets and worldviews.

Leaders are not saints so we know that we will make mistakes. Others around us are watching how we deal with mistakes both small and large. Leaders get to set the example even when they are not in a leadership situation; even in the grocery store.

This doesn’t have to be your response but I find a little self-depreciating humour goes a long ways to get me through the day. Not everything can be a laughing matter but my colleagues know that I make mistakes and that I’m willing to own them.

So what are you going to do the next time you are caught in the act of a minor indiscretion or one of those less than saintly little mistakes that occur throughout everyone’s day? – BB

Drawing…


I visited a large church in our community last summer. During the service a new believer shared their faith story and said they didn’t attend church, but knew they wanted to attend this particular church if they would start attending. It was a church that was having a high impact on the community around them. It got me thinking again about something I’ve been brewing on lately. When Jesus said “I will build my church” its clear that building seems to be happening a great deal more at some churches more than others. Or to put it another way, God draws people to certain churches, and people, and keeps others away as well. Many of the churches I connect with get few if any visitors. A few years ago, a woman showed up at our service, and when asked by a greeter how she’d found us, she told them she had a dream where she met a lion in a forest, and she asked the lion what it was doing there. The lion in return said, “What are you doing here? I’m at The Gathering Church and that is where you should be!” “So”, she said, “It took me a few weeks to gather up the courage, but here I am…” It seemed she had clearly been brought to us. (I don’t think she had any idea of the significance of the lion in scripture). Several seeking folks who attend The Gathering now have been brought to us because they sensed clearly they were to attend our church-or a program connected with our church. There are lots of factors as to why that drawing happens more in some places than others, but it seems to me one fact is simply having some kind of a plan for walking with someone not connected with the story of Jesus. The other factor is the culture of the church itself, but that’s for another blog. JLT