Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Pain of Leadership

Before sending in Picket's Brigade at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee is reported to have said to General Longstreet, "The greatest pain is to order the death of what you love the most - but we do our duty, sir. We do our duty." There is great pain in leading effectively. I want to repost something Wade Hodges put up some time ago on tolerating pain. So, let me know what you think.

In order to be an effective leader you have to be able to tolerate pain. Your own pain as well as the pain of others. Sometimes others will inflict pain upon you. You must absorb and carry it forward in order to lead. Sometimes you will be called upon to inflict pain on others for their own good or for the good of the organization you lead. If you don’t think leaders inflict pain, then go make a decision and see if anyone yelps. Sometimes you will inflict pain upon yourself when you inflict pain on others because you care so much about those whom you are leading. Without a doubt, one of the hardest things to do as a leader is to watch people we love squirm with emotional pain because of a position we’ve taken. Most of us end up caving sooner or later and we sheepishly reverse our position or change our direction in order to dull the pain and keep the peace.

The reason most churches within my sphere of awareness are struggling to move forward in any kind of discernible way is because their leadership is spending all their time and energy trying to avoid pain. They think the absence of pain is a sign of good leadership. Making sure no one gets hurt may be a win for a bank robber (put your hands in the air and do what you’re told and no one gets hurt), but it’s a terrible way of judging how well we’re doing as leaders. All pain avoidance does is delay the inevitable, which is . . . pain.

Leaders who try to avoid pain will someday be confronted with the worst pain of all, the awareness that the end result of their perpetual pain avoidance is the collapse of the organization they were supposed to be leading. Are you called to lead? If so, and if you’re not ready to experience and tolerate some pain, then please say no to the call. Whatever organization you’re being called to lead will be better off without you in leadership. If you’re ready to deal with some pain, then step up and buckle in, because it’s gonna hurt.

Monday, July 23, 2007

By Age 33 . . .

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was only 33 years old. That's how old I am right now. What did you accomplish by age 33?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Tyranny of the Tiny

He who lightly esteems hand washing shall perish from the earth – The Talmud

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’ Jesus replied, ‘and why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?’” (Matthew 15:1-3)

In his book, A Church That Flies, Tim Woodruff tells of a devastating controversy that erupted in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. The accepted way to make the sign of the cross was to place the thumb against the ring finger and raise the remaining three fingers. Certain outlying churches, however, began a practice of placing the thumb against both the ring finger and the little finger, only raising two fingers. In 1684 these “schismatics” were outlawed. They were arrested, tortured, dissident priests were executed, churches were burned, and entire communities were wiped out!

We could so easily dismiss these people as confused or tragically off-center, but to them, this matter was critical – it was a test of “faithfulness.” We could multiply stories of religious people consumed with tiny things. For centuries, the Catholic Church insisted that services be conducted in Latin – long after that language was dead. Quakers still used “thee” and “thou” long after Elizabethan English had passed from use. The Amish still cling to 19th century modes of transportation. Why? They will all say, “faithfulness.”

I call tiny things tyrannical because of the disproportionate amount of time and energy we spend on small things. Jesus criticized this kind of spiritual microscopia in Matthew 23 when he told the Pharisees they strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel! That’s what the tyranny of the tiny does – it makes one blissfully ignorant of what’s important. It focuses on a tree rather than the forest. The tyranny of the tiny persuades one that small things are important. This is why Jesus despised Pharisaism. That is what he found so pernicious about their faith. They ignored what mattered, they deified details, they valued what was worthless – and in so doing they turned God’s Kingdom on its head. In our efforts to be “faithful” let’s not fall into the same trap as so many others. Let’s see the big picture. Let’s join with Jesus in his mission so seek and save the lost!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Finger Wagging and Trite Morality

I've been thinking a lot lately about how Christians interact with culture. Two of my favorite movies are Love Actually, and Saved - both have been hammered by Christians. Why? Because Saved makes fun of the whole "Jesus is my personal savior" shallow, and, ironically, judgmental evangelical culture, while Love Actually is replete with bad language and some nudity. These same people will watch Facing the Giants and tell all their friends to do the same. That's odd because the message of Facing the Giants is unChristian! One Christian review site site this: "I saw absolutely nothing offensive to mention. There is no violence at all, other than normal football play. I saw nothing of concern in that. One player was hurt in a game and helped off the field. There is no profanity, no sexual situations, and no scantily-clad or half-dressed people in the movie. It was a good, clean family film; and I recommend it for viewers of all ages." So, Christian theology holds that if you pray hard God will let your football team win and you'll make more money and everyone will love and respect you? Where? In what gospel? Meanwhile, Love Actually presents a profoundly Christian message about the primacy of love - and the many expressions of love.

So, in this context I found this quote from ethicist Christian Smith: "When it comes to the relatively important things in life – basic values and behaviors concerning power, prestige, justice, peace, security, work – most Christians are indistinguishable from the world. Still, Christians know that they should be different from the world in some way, and so in an effort to establish some kind of Christian distinctiveness, attention is focused on the trivial, which by it’s very nature does not require us to make difficult changes in our lives. In the end, it’s entirely okay to be captive to the idols of mass consumerism, as long as we don’t watch R-rated movies; it’s perfectly acceptable to spend our lives pursuing a cozy affluence, as long as we don’t mow our lawn on a Sunday; it’s just fine to live a life completely indifferent to systematic starvation around the world, as long as we don’t drink a beer. We, like the Pharisees, strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel." I tend to agree. How about you?