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

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

You Can’t Save The World

For one day this holiday season or perhaps even two or three days leaders need to do their utmost to forget that they are leaders. Your world can hopefully survive without you for a little while.

I have vivid memories of my extended family coming together at Christmas for the exchange of gifts and sitting down for the turkey feast. Every year the family would turn to my uncle Lester, a pastor, and ask him to say the prayer before the meal. After all he was the Holy man in our midst. Every year my uncle would resist this invitation. As a child I didn’t understand his reticence but I think I get it now. On that festive day with family he didn’t want to be the professional pastor. He just wanted to be Uncle Lester. He didn’t want to be the leader all of the time.

In this season it is important to find rest. Even presidents and prime ministers get away with family and friends. I hope that in those settings they are treated as just one of the crew instead of the captain of the ship. The challenges and the joys of leading will still be there after your retreat from the front lines of leadership.

Every leader needs to escape lest they start to believe they’re indispensible. It’s Christmas so please surround yourself with family and/or friends or perhaps you just need to be alone with a good book. Do anything but lead. Merry Christmas! – BB

Liberating Leadership

As someone who has been following the Occupy movement with some intrigue I have been pondering Brian’s last post about leaderless movements.  I have visited the St Paul’s Occupy site twice recently and today I visited their newest site in London, the Bank of Ideas – a disused property owned by one of the banks recently bailed out by the British tax payer.

On each visit I have been warmly welcomed and included in discussions and even decision-making processes.  To begin with it has sometimes felt awkward not knowing who to go to for information but this has forced me to speak to one of the first people I have encountered to acknowledge my inexperience and humbly ask to glean their knowledge of the situation.  On each occasion I have received helpful, warm and empowering information.

In an age when I hardly need to be dependent on anyone for help (because my phone tells me everything I need to know!) it is actually quite liberating to rediscover this character of my humanity.

Having a visible, active, all-knowing leader may give us a sense of security but it may not always be the type of leadership that empowers and releases the most people.  Could hidden leadership which pushes others forward and enables them to discover their own talents be a strength rather than a weakness?

JK

Bank of Ideas

Bank of Ideas

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

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

“Say it ain’t so Joe”

Leaders need to remember that trust is hard to acquire and easily broken. This week Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State University. If you don’t know the story simply Google his name. The short version is that this much loved, legendary, well respected coach of an American college football team did not do nearly enough to report the criminal actions of an alleged pedophile who was a senior member of his staff.

We earn trust one rung at a time as we climb the ladder of trust with the people around us. However when that trust is broken we don’t just lose it one rung at a time. When you fall off a ladder you hurdle all the way to the bottom, the same is true of trust. It is a delicate thing and no leader gets to abuse it and survive for very long.

The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Boy Scouts of America are two large institutions that have been in the headlines for breaking trust along with a whole host of other church, business and political leaders. The news cycle provides leaders with regular reminders that looking the other way or if I ignore ‘it’, ‘it’ will go away doesn’t suffice.

PLEASE use this current tragic story to be certain you, as a leader, have a firm grip on the trust ladder. At the very least you can do what Joe failed to do; muster the courage to protect the children and youth in your sphere of influence. – BB