Phelps, Bolt and Kohistani

Phelps and Bolt are world famous Olympians. They are incredible athletes who are the best ever at what they do. They’ve shown us some leadership qualities such as drive, commitment, and focus but I have no way of knowing if they are leaders or not. One of my required measurements of being a leader is the number of disciples the leader has released into the world. To be the best Phelps, Bolt and so many other Olympians have had to focus on themselves. This isn’t bad or wrong but it isn’t a quality of a great leader.

Tahmina Kohistani is a name I came across in Friday’s USA Today editorial as I flew home from San Diego. She is a sprinter from Afghanistan. An Olympian who has also shown some of the same qualities as Phelps and Bolt but she is far from being the best of the best in her sport. Nevertheless I suspect she is a leader.

I could be wrong about her leadership qualities but Kohistani has trained and run in the face of life threatening adversity. Apparently there have been lots of obstacles placed in her way as a woman and yet she has competed. After coming in last in her prelim race she quietly proclaimed through her tears, “I just opened a new window, a new door, for the next generation of my country.”

Kohistani wasn’t just focused on herself, she was also thinking of the other girls and women in her community that will become even greater athletes than herself. I believe that’s what great leaders do. – BB

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Olympians and Leaders Need To Inspire

The London 2012 Olympics are in full swing. I’m watching as much of the 30th Olympiad as possible. It is a joy to watch these amazing athletes.

It’s intriguing to note that there are given countries, which aren’t perennial gold medal power houses like China, the USA or Russia, which excel at a given sport and have done so for decades. Usain Bolt is lightning fast but he isn’t the first Jamaican to speed down the track and he won’t be the last. If I say Ethiopia you should be thinking marathon running. The Turks know how to wrestle. Indonesians seem to consistently play badminton better than anyone else and Canada plays ice hockey. (Sorry, national pride forced me to stick that in there.)

Perhaps there is something in the local water which causes one part of the world to do well every four years on the world stage. Doubtful but what I think it signifies is that there are badminton players in Indonesia who have witnessed others excel at this sport. Others have set the example.  In 2012 there are children watching the current crop of champions from their home nation. Many of these youngsters will be inspired by what they see and begin to dream, then work towards the 2020 Olympics.

I’m too old, fat, slow and weak to be an Olympian. My athletic prowess will not be a good example for anyone. However as a leader I can ask which teenagers and young adults are watching me? Am I setting an example that inspires? Is there a new generation of leaders in the making because I do my job well?

It’s time for every leader, even the overweight old guys like me, to be an example which inspires. – BB

Hope in the Face of Evil

There is no end to the evil which is in the news on any given day. I find myself sometimes immobilized with feelings of helplessness.

At a recent neighborhood street party in Toronto innocent people were shot, some were wounded and thus far two people have died. This isn’t supposed to happen in Canada. It was a story shocking enough to hit the American news cycle for a day.  It is stories like this and the one which continues to unfold in Colorado, that brings a shadow of darkness to my mind and soul.

The morning after the Toronto shooting I had coffee with an urban leader who lives just down the block from where the mayhem occurred. You won’t read about him on Google news or see him in a YouTube clip anytime soon. He’s not famous.

He told me he was sorry for being late for our appointment but he had a hard time getting out of his neighborhood due to the number of police cars and news crews on his route. He only found out about the prior nights tragedy as he listened to the radio on his drive to meet me. After our meeting he was heading back to see if he could connect with any of the churches in that neighborhood.  “The churches and the pastors in that neighborhood are in the best position to help people respond to the crisis. I want to see if I can assist them in anyway.

He is a leader and it is people like him who give me hope.  I pray that Aurora has many quiet, faithful leaders like him.

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

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

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

Leaders Define Reality

“…although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result…”

~ Genesis 50.20

Leadership does not always have a happy ending.  Sometimes, the price of leadership is that our brothers leave us for dead or sell us out, just as Joseph’s brothers did.  No matter how hard we try to make sense of it, the stink of betrayal hovers around our soul, and sticks around for a long time.  Simply put, there are times and occasions when being a leader will result in taking a hit.  Our instinct is hold back in those moments – to soften the blows and do whatever is expedient to lessen the impact of our leadership.  In those moments, self-doubt can reign and our leadership wavers.

Joseph’s story has often been read to us as the story of an arrogant young man who got his come-uppance, then when he hit bottom learned to “turn it over to God” and receive his just rewards.  However, maybe another way to read the story is of a young leader who told the truth and let that truth take him on a journey.  Not always an easy journey and certainly not a pain-free journey, but Joseph’s life is testimony to a leader who tells the truth. 

Max Dupree once defined leadership as “the ability to define reality”.  Defining reality is telling the truth.  It isn’t easy, nor is it for the faint of heart.  At some point in your life and ministry, defining reality will cost you – guaranteed.  Nevertheless, it is in defining reality, in telling the truth, that God does good and ushers in a new result.  Don’t hold back.  Go ahead and define reality.  Tell the truth.  God will do good. – JW

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