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

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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

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

The Importance of Emptiness

The Baby-boomer anthem by that laid-back California troubadour Jackson Browne has always said it best:

“Running on-running on empty
Running on-running blind
Running on-running into the sun
But I’m running behind”

(Running on Empty, 1977)

Leadership often seems to have that sense of no matter how hard one works, one is always behind.  Leadership in the church is frequently about managing process without closure.  There is always one more call to make, one more meeting to take, one more thing to do.  We run and run and run…and run out of gas…and we become exhausted from all the running.  We find ourselves as leaders empty.

But is that such a bad thing?  Recently two writers, Gordon Cosby and Sister Joan Chittister, have given me new insight into the importance of emptiness.  Cosby, in a 2001 interview said, “Our culture promotes a constant filling up, but our disciplines will draw us toward a greater emptiness, so that we can be better prepared for obedience and, ultimately, for finding our place in God’s plan finding true relevance.”  Sister Joan, in her book, “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” (Eerdman’s, 2005), encourages Jesus followers to cultivate the spiritual discipline of detachment – of letting go – of emptying in order to gain that which is greater.

If we “run on empty” because we are obsessively trying to control our world, we will fail.  But if we run on empty as a means to unburden our souls from all that crowds us , to unclench from our tendency to hoard, then as leaders we discover true freedom, and the ability to be the non-anxious presence required of good leadership in our post-everything world.  – JPW

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

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

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

Great timing!

Teenage son winding me up.

I swear at son.

Son calls me a hypocrite.

Don’t you hate it when your imperfect, incomplete self shows up

just when you should be coming up with some gems of

wisdom about Christian leadership to share with the blogosphere…

Thanks for keeping me real son!

JK

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