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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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

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

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

“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

A Leaderless Occupy Movement?

An American business leader recently suggested in an interview on PBS that the Occupy movement was leaderless. I haven’t done any research or made personal contacts with people in the Occupy movement. I only know what the news media tells me and they haven’t yet latched onto a captivating celebrity but I do know one thing; A movement is never leaderless.

Occupy may not have one main charismatic Moses like figure in the middle of the fray but that hardly makes it leaderless. Leaders aren’t always found in the spotlight. Often they are the caring, thoughtful little guy who shuns the camera and the microphone.

 Troy Watson, a friend and colleague, recently visited an Occupy site and he saw leaders. Troy is a prophetic, provocative guy and this is what he wrote. “I think it is clear where Jesus stands on the oppressive economic and political systems of power in our world today. I find it hard to believe any Christian could think our current capitalist democracy is the kingdom of God Jesus envisioned for our planet. Jesus proclaimed a kingdom of selfless love, egalitarian ethics, holistic values and an economy of compassion for the ‘least of humanity’. Is this not similar to what the Occupy movement is calling for?”

I find myself strangely encouraged by Troy’s insights into the Occupy movement. To live into that kingdom requires leaders. Leaders who are passionate, wise and courageous and I believe most of all leaders who aren’t larger than life. – BCB