Canoeing the Mountains – Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod E. Bolsinger (Please support the author by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A couple of years ago I learned that three of my pastor friends around the country had resigned on the same day. There were no affairs, no scandals and no one was renouncing faith. But three good, experienced pastors turned in resignations and walked away. One left church ministry altogether. The details are as different as the pastors themselves, but the common thread is that they finally got worn down by trying to bring change to a church that was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Their churches were stuck and declining, stuck and clinging to the past, stuck and lurching to quick fixes, trying to find an easy answer for what were clearly bigger challenges. What all three churches had in common was that they were mostly blaming the pastor for how bad it felt to be so stuck. “If only you could preach better!” “If only you were more pastoral and caring!” “If only our worship was more dynamic!” “Please, pastor, do something!” (That is what we pay you for, isn’t it?) And to make matters worse, the pastors don’t know what to do either. As a seminary vice president, I am now charged with confronting this reality head-on. Our graduates were not trained for this day. When I went to seminary, we were trained in the skills that were necessary for supporting faith in Christendom. When churches functioned primarily as vendors of religious services for a Christian culture, the primary leadership toolbox was teaching (for providing Christian education) liturgics (for leading Christian services) pastoral care (for offering Christian counsel and support).

Lewis and Clark’s expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase was built on a completely false expectation. They believed, like everyone before them, that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east. This is the story of what they did when they discovered that they—and everyone else before them—had been wrong. And how instructive and inspiring that story can be to us today. Using the story of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and applying the best insights from organizational leadership and missional theology, we will learn together what it means for Christians to lead when the journey goes “off the map.” We will discuss and seek faithful responses to the following questions: How do we lead a congregation or an organization to be faithful to the mission God has put before us when the world has changed so radically? What are the tools, the mental models, the wise actions and competing commitments that require navigation? And mostly, what transformation does it demand of those of us who have been called to lead?

From Lewis and Clark we will learn that if we can adapt and adventure, we can thrive. That while leadership in uncharted territory requires both learning and loss, once we realize that the losses won’t kill us, they can teach us. And mostly, we will learn that to thrive off the map in an exciting and rapidly changing world means learning to let go, learn as we go and keep going no matter what.

To begin, let’s summarize the five vital lessons that make up the structure of this book: The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you. No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map.  In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything. You can’t go alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. Everybody will be changed (especially the leader).

*REORIENTATION* Christian Leaders: You were trained for a world that is disappearing.

Today’s leaders are facing complex challenges that have no clear-cut solutions. These challenges are more systemic in nature and require broad, widespread learning. They can’t be solved through a conference, a video series or a program. Even more complicated, these problems are very often the result of yesterday’s solutions. They are what Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges.”7

The changing world around us and even the success we had experienced had brought us to a new place where we would need a new strategy. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, “What got us here wouldn’t take us there.”8

What Is Leadership, Really? – Let’s begin by clarifying what leadership is and is not. Leadership is not authority. It is not the title or position that a person holds. Leadership is different from management. Leadership is not running good meetings, keeping good books, overseeing good programs and making good policies (as important as those are!). Management is a kind of stewardship. Management cares for what is. Leadership is focused on what can be or what must be. Management is about keeping promises to a constituency; leadership is about an organization fulfilling its mission and realizing its reason for being. To that end, let me offer three leadership principles that shape my work in leadership development (mostly in church and nonprofit circles).

Therefore, leadership is always about personal and corporate transformation. But because we are hard-wired to resist change, every living system requires someone in it to live into and lead the transformation necessary to take us into the future we are resisting. The person who takes personal responsibility to live into the new future in a transformative way, in relationship to the others in the system, is the leader. If someone is not functioning as a leader, the system will always default to the status quo.

The culture is changing, the world is changing rapidly, and churches are facing change on an unprecedented scale. Churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly irrelevant, even marginalized. Shared corporate faith is viewed with cynicism at best, downright hostility at worst. The cultural advantage we experience during the seventeen centuries of Christendom has almost completely dissipated. Seminary training for the Christendom world is inadequate to this immensely challenging—transformation-demanding—moment in history. We have to learn to lead all over again.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were about to go off the map and into uncharted territory. They would have to change plans, give up expectations, even reframe their entire mission. What lay before them was nothing like what was behind them. There were no experts, no maps, no “best practices” and no sure guides who could lead them safely and successfully. The true adventure—the real discovery—was just beginning.

Farewell to Christendom – After forty years as a missionary and bishop in India, Lesslie Newbigin retired and returned home to Great Britain in the 1970s. What he found in his beloved homeland was a more difficult mission field than he left behind. He wrote, “England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church.”10 In that one sentence Newbigin challenged the mental model of how the Christians in the West had seen their hometowns and resident cultures for what is now seventeen hundred years. No matter how many times English men and women sang “God Save the Queen,” no matter how beautiful the Christopher Wren cathedrals, no matter the presence of a state-sponsored church where bishops hold seats in the House of Lords, England—and for that matter most of Europe—had become a “pagan society.” Newbigin foresaw that the West was quickly becoming a mission field, and the church needed to “develop a truly missionary encounter” with their friends and neighbors.

Christopher Wright has reminded us that the sending of the church as the apostle to the world goes to God’s very purposes: “It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world.”13

Alan Hirsch, the mission or “sentness” of a congregation is its “true and authentic organizing principle”: Missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.14

A Church without Experts We are in uncharted terrain trying to lead dying churches into a post-Christian culture that now considers the church an optional, out of touch and irrelevant relic of the past. What do you do? If you are like me, indeed, like most people, what you do is default to what you know. You do again, what you have always done before.

We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work. In Moneyball, an exasperated Billy Beane looks at his manager and tries to urge him to think differently. “It’s adapt or die!” he says. Adapt or die.

What is needed? “A spirit of adventure,” where there are new, unexpected discoveries (serendipities) and ultimately “new perceptions.” To be sure, this is an adapt-or-die moment. This is a moment when most of our backs are against the wall, and we are unsure if the church will survive to the next generation. The answer is not to try harder but to start a new adventure: to look over Lemhi Pass and let the assumptions of the past go.

*REORIENTATION* If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what.

Back to the Pass – As he stepped off the map into uncharted territory, Meriwether Lewis discovered that what was in front of him was nothing like what was behind him, and that what had brought him to this point in the journey would take him no farther. Lewis faced a daunting decision: What would he do now? Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery were looking for a water route, but now they had run out of water. How do you canoe over mountains? You don’t. If you want to continue forward, you change. You adapt. Meriwether Lewis looked at the miles and miles of snow-covered peaks and knew that to continue his journey he would have to change his entire approach.

But what kind of leadership do we need today in a culture that has become again a mission field? What does leadership look like in a day when the moorings of society have become disconnected from the anchors of faith? What is leadership in a world where the task isn’t so much to re-mind as to encounter and engage, to proclaim and demonstrate a completely different world that is available and yet beyond awareness of or even interest to so many? What does leadership look like in a post-Christendom day when we have left behind rivers filled with the waters of shared Christian culture and are facing a new terrain marked by mountains to climb? Ironically, it looks a lot like the earliest church leadership.

The Recovery of Leadership for an Apostolic Church – In their book The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim recover the concept that the church—literally, “the ecclesia”—is an apostolic movement.2 Nurtured by a fivefold model of leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) found in Ephesians 4:1-16, they demonstrate that the church’s very nature is apostolic. That is, the church is the embodiment of the work of the original twelve disciples who became the first apostles, “sent” to the world, and equipping and being equipped for the sending. For Darrell Guder this is indeed the very purpose of the ecclesia, the apostolate, that is, “the formation of the witnessing communities whose purpose was to continue the witness that brought them into existence.”3

To live up to their name, local churches must be continually moving out, extending themselves into the world, being the missional, witnessing community we were called into being to be: the manifestation of God’s going into the world, crossing boundaries, proclaiming, teaching, healing, loving, serving and extending the reign of God. In short, churches need to keep adventuring or they will die. We need to press on to the uncharted territory of making traditional churches missionary churches.

Communal Transformation for Mission – At the heart of this book is the conviction that congregational leadership in a post-Christendom context is about communal transformation for mission. Christian community is not merely about connection, care and belonging. Spiritual transformation is not just about becoming more like Christ as an end in itself. In a post-Christendom world that has become a mission field right outside the sanctuary door, Christian community is about gathering and forming a people, and spiritual transformation is about both individual and corporate growth, so that they—together—participate in Christ’s mission to establish the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Leadership therefore is about the transformation of a congregation so that they, collectively, can fulfill the mission they, corporately, have been given. Every spiritual practice, including preaching, is to serve that end.

Don’t Just Fix the Problem – According to Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership is not about finding the best-known or most-available fix to a problem, but instead adapting to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for accurately seeing, understanding and facing challenges with new actions.

Adaptive challenges, by contrast, are those that “cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behaviour.”6 These are “systemic problems with no ready answers” that arise from a changing environment and uncharted territory.7 These are challenges leaders face when the world around them changes so rapidly that the planned strategies and approaches are rendered moot. This is when the discovery of the Rocky Mountains requires us to ditch the canoes and look for new ways forward.

In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world. To that end, I offer this definition of leadership: Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

For Christian leaders today, this is the moment of truth. Are we willing to take the risks and get up the nerve to lead a big adventure? lead our people to face the challenge of a changing world? acknowledge that what is in front of us is not at all like the world where we have previously thrived? clarify and cling to our core convictions and let go of everything else that keeps us from being effective in the mission God has given us? let go of the tried and true default actions that have brought us this far? learn a new way of leading that begins with our own transformation?

While leadership in uncharted territory may or may not require us to move our families to Alaska, Jon’s advice is worth remembering. Adaptation, even adaptive leadership, begins in the nuts and bolts of surviving and thriving, in the lessons passed on by those who are a few steps down the road, in the tricks and tips of “technical competence.” Or to put it another way, unless we demonstrate that we are credible on the map, no one is going to follow us off the map.

Technical Competence – Surprisingly, transformational leadership does not begin with transformation but with competence. At the same time, many of us assume that it begins with character, that is, the personal attributes that make up a good, wise and effective leader. But in reality, the opportunity to lead usually begins with technical competence (see fig. 4.1). The best player on the team becomes the team captain. The expert, the high achiever, the most articulate, the best producer, the smartest, strongest, most attractive are, under most circumstances, tapped for leadership (King Saul immediately comes to mind).

Technical Competence, Stewardship and Credibility – Another way to say this is: Stewardship precedes leadership. Biblically, stewardship is about faithfully protecting and preserving what is most important, about growing and developing the potential of everything and everyone under one’s care. It is about faithfully discharging the duties and carrying out the responsibilities that we have been authorized to do. It is the first and most basic act of being human, the first charge given in the garden to “cultivate and keep” (Genesis 2:15).

Stewardship, therefore, is on-the-map authorization, and technical competence describes the leaders’ ability to do the job they were hired to do—to navigate the known territory—before beginning the transformational leadership process. Before Lewis and Clark asked their men to follow them beyond the Missouri River headwaters into uncharted territory, they led them upriver with both expertise and efficiency.

*REORIENTATION* Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map.

Only she really wasn’t praying for my leadership at all, she was praying for my faithful stewardship of what she held most dear, the Scriptures and our theological traditions. She was praying that amid all of the things that were changing, I would keep very clear on what wouldn’t or shouldn’t change.

Competent stewardship of souls and communities. Pastors are more than preachers. Christian leaders are not just trusted with the Scriptures; we are also entrusted with souls. And before we can lead our people into uncharted territory, they have to believe that we will spiritually protect and personally care for them along the way. To be truly credible we also have to be shepherds.

In the same way, we are to lead the people of God into the mission of God and to care for each person with the love of the tangible embrace of Christ. We are called to offer both love for people just where they are and to call and equip them to be part of the kingdom mission of Jesus in the world around them. But to be sure, people need to experience the love of God as they are led into the mission of God. If they don’t feel loved, they will likely not let anyone lead them anywhere.

Competent stewardship of teams and tasks. Technical competence for the pastor is measured not only through fidelity to the Scriptures and the spiritual tending of souls and church, but also in the ability to competently manage the organization or institution given to our charge. Pastors of congregations need to be both personal and organizational. If they are not, they likely are not pastors. Spiritual directors, certainly. Evangelists, possibly. Prophets, maybe. Pastoring involves both persons and the communities they are part of. And this is a difficult challenge indeed!

We need to make sure that when our attempts at innovation go awry it’s because we have something to learn, and not because we mishandled an otherwise good idea. Or in the indelicate words of our unofficial team motto, “We can fail, but we can’t suck.”

In the same way, leaders must demonstrate competence in fidelity to Scriptures and traditions, the nurture of souls and communities, and fruitfulness in tasks and teams of people running the work of the church in order to develop the credibility that will be necessary later when the harder work of adaptation and dealing with loss begins.

Beyond Credibility – If leaders are going to take on challenges beyond day-to-day technical ones, competence isn’t enough. Credibility built through technical competence, while crucial, is not enough either. Especially in a congregation. The change needed for a typical traditional congregation to become a missionary congregation is radical and scary indeed. To lead into uncharted territory is to reconsider the cherished narratives and assumptions, and as Ronald Heifetz reminds us, “Refashioning narratives means refashioning loyalties.”

In addition, we need to grasp just how difficult organizational transformation can be. Even if we agree that we are in an adapt-or-die (even adventure-or-die) moment, the urgency of the situation is not enough. When given that particular choice, 90 percent choose dying.7 In a study of those who were faced with exactly that choice—stop drinking or you will die, stop smoking or you will die, change your diet now or you will die, the vast majority choose to risk death.

*REORIENTATION* In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over.

Building Trust – Trust must be added to credibility. Relationships must be healthy, life-giving and strong. The web of connectedness within the organization must be able to hold each other in the midst of all the chaos that comes from not knowing what is to come.

When we are experienced as congruent, trust goes up; when we are incongruent—when my words don’t match my actions—the trust level goes down. According to Osterhaus, “Trust is gained like a thermostat and lost like a light switch.”

Relational Congruence – Relational congruence is the ability to be fundamentally the same person with the same values in every relationship, in every circumstance and especially amidst every crisis. It is the internal capacity to keep promises to God, to self and to one’s relationships that consistently express one’s identity and values in spiritually and emotionally healthy ways.

As one of my clients, a former Army Ranger and West Point graduate said to me, “The mission first; the men always.”

For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world. As missionaries who have been thrown together into unfamiliar surroundings with little more than a sense of call and commitment to each other, when we love each other and are dedicated to our mission, we change.

For Christians who have answered the call to follow the Master who also calls us friends (John 15:15) and gives us to each other as brothers and sisters (John 19:26-27), this relational congruence is even more critical. For the mission of Jesus entrusted to his followers (John 20:21) is expressed to the world through the love that the disciples have for each other (John 13:34-35).

But it is crucial to remember again that the goal of the expedition was not to build a family—it was to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Similarly, the goal of the Christian faith is not simply to become more loving community but to be a community of people who participate in God’s mission to heal the world by reestablishing his loving reign “on earth as it is in heaven.”

“So, how do you change a church’s culture?” he asked. “Sex,” I answered.

Here is the key idea: The most critical attribute a congregation must have to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture.

The key words in Kotter’s definition are behaviors and values. Actions form the organizational culture, and that culture—like the DNA of a body—keeps reproducing the same values and behaviors. Note again, it’s not the aspired values that shape the church culture but the actual values that produce and are expressed in actual behaviors. It’s not enough to say that “we value creativity” if every creative idea is immediately criticized. It’s not enough for a church to “be committed to evangelism” if there are no adult baptisms. In the words of Dallas Willard, “to believe something is to act as if it is true.”6 A church can say that it values hospitality, discipleship and transparency, but these become part of the DNA of the church only when they are so resiliently present that they happen automatically, by default, because all aspects of the organizational life reflexively support and reinforce them. The actual behaviors of those in authority express and shape the actual values of the organizational culture.

For missional theologian JR Woodward this “unseen culture” is more important than strategy, vision or planning in determining a congregation’s health, openness to change and missional conviction.7 A church culture built on meeting the needs of its members will struggle with implementing changes that depend on putting those self-interested needs aside. A church that has expressed its devotion to God in the beauty and majesty of its worship will unconsciously resist a new informal service where people come in casual clothes carrying cups of coffee.

Numerous organizational writers have said the same thing: “After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail.”9

Alignment Toward a Healthy Culture – JR Woodward writes, “While management acts within culture, leadership creates culture.”10 Creating a healthy culture with the capacity to experiment, innovate, take risks and adapt is one of the primary preparatory tasks of a leader. That culture creation work rests on identifying the gaps between aspired values and actual behavior, and then working with the leaders to bring every aspect of the organization into alignment with the core ideology (core values, mission, primary strategy).

Perhaps in a previous generation where a highly regulated, centralized and authoritative structure was commonplace, some could argue that shared values could be enforced through power, position or other incentives. But today a genuine culture shift requires voluntary submission to shared values. No longer will church members simply accept the values of their leaders as their own. No longer will people dutifully submit their own ideals for the sake of a group. Before leaders begin any transformational work, cultivating a healthy environment for aligned shared values to guide all decision making must be a priority. Indeed, the values must be truly shared.

John Kotter puts it this way: “How does culture change? A powerful person at the top, or a large enough group from anywhere in the organization, decides the old ways are not working, figures out a change vision, starts acting differently, and enlists others to act differently.”

Love – We protect what we cherish. Love drives us to hold on to what is dear and cling to what gives us meaning and life. But it is also because of love that we are willing to change. It is a great paradox that love is not only the key to establishing and maintaining a healthy culture but is also the critical ingredient for changing a culture. Which takes us back to my answer to my colleague John, who was eating chips and salsa. How do we change the culture of a church? What if the default way of functioning is one of self-preservation? What if the behaviors of the leaders have created a culture of entitlement rather than discipleship? What if the church culture is focused on preserving American Christendom or worse? When the church’s default behavior, way of functioning, its organizational DNA is now hindering the very thing that must be done to fulfill the mission God has given us, how do we change it? And if “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” then how do we change the culture before we are eaten alive? Well, how do we change any DNA? Through sex. You have to birth something new.

Ronald Heifetz said, “You don’t change by looking in the mirror; you change by encountering differences.”24 To be sure, fear of differences can keep us resolutely committed to the status quo, to rejecting what seems foreign and to circling the wagons to keep out the intruder.

I looked at him and said it again. “You change the DNA of any living organism through birthing something new. The new birth won’t be all you or all them but a new creation, a new living culture that is a combination of the past and the future you represent. But you have to communicate that you really love them, or they will never let you close enough to them to take in the different perspective, experiences and vision that you bring. Right now, they know you are disappointed in them, and they don’t want to do anything but resist you. But seeing and embracing differences, if we know that we are loved and cherished just as we are, is also the way that we become open to the new possibilities. Love precedes change.”

The most critical attribute that a congregation must have if it is going to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture. When leaders are perceived as technically competent, they gain credibility in the eyes of their followers. When they are perceived as relationally congruent, trust is established. When credibility and trust are mobilized to create a healthy organizational culture, then we are ready to embrace the thrilling and daunting task of entering uncharted territory.

Adaptive Leadership: Loss, Learning and Gaps – Adaptive leadership is about “letting go, learning as we go, and keeping going.” It’s about loss, learning and gaps: “Adaptive leadership consists of the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.”4

This mode of leading raises up and sheds light on the competing values that keep a group stuck in the status quo. For churches, competing values like caring for longtime members versus reaching out to the unchurched, assuring excellence in ministry programming versus increasing participation with more volunteers, giving pay raises to staff versus bringing on a new hire, assuring control and unity versus collaboration and innovation entail conflict about things of equal or near equal value. Because they are both valued, the competition for resources and the decisions that need to be made can put individuals and congregations into a most vulnerable moment. Like a person with one foot on the platform and one in the train, the moment of adaptation exposes the gaps within a system and forces the leadership to ask painful questions: What will we lose if we have to choose one of these values over the other? What must we be willing to let go?

Adaptive Capacity – Adaptive capacity is defined by Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow as “the resilience of people and the capacity of systems to engage in problem-defining and problem-solving work in the midst of adaptive pressures and the resulting disequilibrium.”5

I looked back at the others, and while some still thought it was something we should do, they agreed it didn’t help kids feel more connected. Indeed, we had been doing it and we still have the problem of teenagers not feeling part of the church community. Youth Sunday hadn’t worked after all. So, I asked, “If we knew that Youth Sunday hadn’t worked to help teenagers feel more connected to the church, why did we suggest it?” After talking about it a while we came to the conclusion that we were talking about it, because it was the only thing we knew how to do.

But I’m trying to point out that when we get to moments of deep disorientation, we often try to reorient around old ways of doing things. We go back to what we know how to do. We keep canoeing even though there is no river. At least part of the reason we do this is because we resolutely hope that the future will be like the past and that we already have the expertise needed for what is in front of us. And facing the “geography of reality” and the inner uncertainty that arises within us is extremely difficult.

*REORIENTATION* When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical.

Lewis exemplified what happens to most of us when we are confronting rapidly changing circumstances: even though the evidence is around us, we cling to the previously held assumptions as long as possible. Now, to his credit and as an exemplar for us, Meriwether Lewis wasted no time in casting off that assumption once the brutal facts of his situation were clear.7 There was no water route, there were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them, they had no trail to follow, food was scarce in this rugged terrain and winter was coming. This is the canoeing the mountains moment. This was when the Corps of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage, no navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean. This is the moment when they had to leave their boats, find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong.

Recommitment to Core Ideology – First, by continuing on, they recommitted to their core ideology. At the core of adaptive work is clarifying what is precious, elemental—even essential—to the identity of an organization. The core ideology of any group functions as both a charter and an identity statement. This is who we are, we say. If we stop being about this, we stop being.

For church leaders, moments of disequilibrium like Lewis and his party faced at the top of the Continental Divide certainly bring our own motivations into focus: What are we really called to? Is it just to professional success or personal security? Is it merely to get more people in the church pews and dollars in the offering plates so our congregations can keep offering religious services to those who desire them? Is church leadership nothing more than an exercise in institutional survival? Or isn’t there a higher purpose, a set of guiding principles, a clear compilation of core values that are more about being a community of people who exist to extend God’s loving and just reign and rule in all the earth? This moment forces us to face and clarify our own core beliefs. And for each organization, this facing-the-unknown moment asks us particular questions we need to answer honestly together: Why do we exist as a congregation, institution or organization? What would be lost in our community, in our field or in our world if we ceased to be? What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?

Reframing Strategy – They reframed their strategy. With a recommitment to core ideology (values and mission) there is a critical moment to reframe the strategy for the mission at hand. In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges. It is a way of looking at the challenge before us through a different lens and in seeing it differently finding the possibilities for a new way of being and leading.13

New Learning They relied on new learning. At the heart of adaptive leadership is learning. To put it bluntly, if you are not learning anything new, it is not adaptive work. It might be a good, necessary, wise, even vital strategy. But if your group is addressing a new challenge with an old solution, relying on a best practice or implementing the plan of a resident expert, then the solution is a technical one, not adaptive.

In moments of uncertainty and disorientation, leaders own internal adaptations; that is, the work that leaders themselves have to do to clarify their own motives, identity and mission is the necessary precursor to the work that the entire community will have to do. When a leader and a people together resist the anxiety that would lead to throwing in the towel or relying on the quick fix, but instead look more deeply—recommitting to core values, reframing strategy and relying on learning—this enables them to gain the just-in-time experience necessary to keep the expedition going.

At the heart of adaptive leadership for the church is this conviction: The church is the body of Christ. It is a living organism, a vibrant system. And just like human bodies, human organizations thrive when they are cooperating with the wisdom of God for how that system is designed, how it grows and how it adapts to changing external environments.

This is what adaptive leadership is all about: hanging on to the healthiest, most valuable parts of our identity in life and letting go of those things that hinder us from living and loving well.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, vision was about seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory—where no one knows what’s ahead—vision is about accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality.

Leadership Vision – Every book on leadership talks about vision. Leaders, it is assumed, are visionaries who have the unique ability to see past the horizon, to see the future coming before anyone else and prepare the organization to meet that challenge. That is surely a valuable ability. But leadership vision is often more about seeing clearly what is even more than what will be. As the former CEO and leadership author Max De Pree has famously written, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”1

This system definition is assumed in the working definition of leadership we are using here: Energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

The church is not a collective but a communion. A local congregation is not just a collection of individual people but also the love, commitment, values and mission they share. A healthy church, like any healthy living thing, is always defined by the nature, quality and behaviors of the relationships.

For a church this means that when the members, the relationships and the mission of the church are aligned and working symbiotically toward a shared purpose, the church functions well. People are both loved (relationship) and challenged (purpose). There is both a commitment to depth and authenticity (relationship) and space to welcome new people (purpose). There is an ability to accept people as they are (relationship) and to be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ (purpose). There is a deep desire to enjoy life together (relationships) and use our resources and energy to serve others (purpose). Relationship and purpose are expressed in as wide a variety of ways as the diversity of the people (the elements) that make up the system.

Because every church has a different DNA code, Ronald Heifetz suggests that at the heart of any adaptive work are three key questions church leaders need to wrestle with together:12 What DNA is essential and must be preserved? What, in the words of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, “must never change”? What are the key elements of our theology, tradition, ministry practices and organizational culture that must be maintained at all costs because to lose them would be to lose our identity? Just as we discussed in chapter seven, for Lewis and Clark, water route was not as essential as discovery, and for churches, before we consider changing or adapting anything, we must first determine what is truly sacred. What DNA can be discarded? What elements of our church life, while important to us, are not essential? What can we stop doing or let die so we can free resources and energy for new forms of ministry? What do we need to celebrate for the impact it made in another day or circumstance that has outlived its usefulness? Or what do we need to set aside because there is no energy for or interest in it any longer? As we will discuss at length, this is the critical issue. “People don’t resist change, per se. They resist loss,” Heifetz and Linsky remind us.13 What DNA needs to be created through experimentation? What essential part of the church’s identity and mission needs to be adapted to a new day, environment or opportunity? How can the church keep doing the things it is called to do, but in a way that resonates, connects, serves and challenges people who wouldn’t otherwise pay it any attention? What potential healthy partners will create the possibilities of birthing something new?

Declining Attendance and an Anxious, Adaptive Moment – There is nothing that freaks out a pastor like declining attendance numbers. While most of us try hard not to show it, when the Sunday morning crowds thin out, we take it personally. When we look at the attendance reports and see the decrease, it is tempting to make excuses, blame other factors or just deny it entirely.3 If we do acknowledge the decline, we want to jump right in and turn it around. There is nothing that screams for a quick fix like less people in the pew (unless it’s decreased giving too).

Immediately, in the brainstorming session, elders and staff started suggesting strategies for dealing with decline. We should offer a more practical sermon series. The one you are doing now is pretty heady. We should get the kids more involved, let’s put together a new kid’s choir. We could do some better marketing. And so on. We did what most people do when faced with an anxiety-producing problem: we try to fix it as quickly as possible.

It’s All About the Process – The first component of developing adaptive capacity is to realize that it’s a process of learning and adapting to fulfill a missional purpose, not to fix the immediate issues. For Heifetz, adaptive leadership tries to look behind what might be a symptom to bring health and growth to the larger system. In this way, adaptive leadership is different from what I call “directional leadership.” Directional leadership offers direction and advice based on experience and expertise, while adaptive leadership functions in an arena where there is little experience and often no expertise.

Adaptive leadership, again, is about leading the learning process of a group who must develop new beliefs, habits or values, or shift their current ones in order to find new solutions that are consistent with their purpose for being.

Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow describe it this way: Adaptive leadership is an iterative process involving three key activities: (1) observing events and patterns around you; (2) interpreting what you are observing (developing multiple hypotheses about what is really going on); and (3) designing interventions based on the observations and interpretations to address the adaptive challenge you have identified.5

Observations – Observations are the data points for understanding a system. When a leadership team is on the balcony, their first task is to get as many different observations that are as objective as possible about the situation. In the observation stage, therefore, the group must intentionally withhold interpretations or interventions in order to gather as much data as possible.

The National Football League uses a video system called “All-22” for all professional football games. It’s a video system that records the entire game from overhead so that all twenty-two offensive and defensive players on the field are in view in any one play (or shot). It is standard for coaching and strategizing practices. Teams use it to take snapshots throughout the game and even fax pictures to the sidelines so coaches and players can get a broader perspective of what they can’t see while on the field.

*REORIENTATION* Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today it is learning how to ask new questions that we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask.

In autumn 2012, when our attendance did not come back from the usual summer slump, we decided to resist the temptation to either deny the problem or default to previous strategies, and instead made a plan to get as much perspective as possible. We decided to interview a cross-section of people we hadn’t seen in worship in at least three months, asking every elder, deacon and staff person to identify three people they knew well who they also hadn’t seen in church since the following spring. They asked their friends three questions: When were you most excited or felt the sense of deepest connection to our church? What was happening during that time in your life and in the life of our church? What has changed in your life or in the church since then that may have affected your sense of connection or excitement about our church? What is one wish/hope/dream you have for the future of our church?9 Note that none of these questions asked why they weren’t in worship, but tried to get bigger observations to serve as data points. Each interviewer wrote down the answers and then sent them on to one of the elders who collected and collated the responses for presentation the following month.

Listen to the songs beneath the words. In the interpretation stage we look for patterns we wouldn’t normally notice.

Very often I ask my coaching clients to consider the question, What is the song behind the words that is keeping us all dancing? In other words, what deeper tune of the church is getting played in this circumstance? What is going on in this situation that nobody is talking about but is affecting the whole system of the church?

Because of the gap between cause and effect, it is difficult to diagnose the true underlying causes of most problems.

We discovered that we didn’t need so much to attend to our worship as to our web of connections. We needed to focus our attention not on how to increase Sunday morning attendance but on how to strengthen and increase more points of connection for people, which would enable us to better pastor people through life transitions.12

Protect the minority voices. “People don’t learn by staring into a mirror; people learn by encountering difference,” observes Ron Heifetz.13 The interpretation step is only productive if there is freedom to explore as many different interpretations as possible, and especially the opportunity to hear from usually ignored voices.

David McRaney, author of the book and the blog You Are Not So Smart, writes about “survivorship bias,” that is, the tendency to look only at the “survivors” or “stories of success” and draw conclusions about reality.14

When they examined the planes, they discovered that they were shot up most on the bottom of the plane, on the wings and near the tail gunner. So, the engineers made preparations for putting more armor there. But one statistician, Abraham Wald, challenged the underlying assumption by pointing out that the planes they were studying were the survivors—these are the planes that were not shot down. In other words, Wald said, this is exactly where we should not put more armor—a plane can survive even if shot up in the bottom, wings and near the tail gunner. So they needed to look at other areas of the plane to reinforce. Through several tests they discovered that adding more armor to the ailerons, engine, stabilizers and around the pilot made the planes safer. Only listening to a different interpretation allowed them to find the right solution.

Raise up competing values. Any musician (and I am not) knows that harmonies in music are made up of concurrent concordant and discordant notes that sound in tension with each other and finally come to a resolution. That simultaneous tension of silence and sound, of notes that blend well and those that are related but different create the music that fills the ear and the heart.

The final piece of the interpretation lens is to begin to raise up these values for discussion and consideration. Some common competing values dilemmas are Do we serve our longtime church members who pay the bills, or do we innovate to reach new people and risk angering the stakeholders? Do we have a mostly professional staff that provides excellence in ministry program, or do we want a strong, involved laity to use their gifts? Do we want a centralized organization unified around clear objectives, or do we want a more creative, collaborative system that is nimble, innovative and able to experiment with new ideas?

Innovative interventions will always be resisted. Most of us don’t come to church to experiment. Even the idea of experiments raises anxiety. Most of the time the system will be inclined to shut down any experiments before they even begin. Growth, transformation and adaptation always means loss. Change is loss. And even experimental changes signal loud and clear that change—and loss—is coming.

The leaders of one of my church clients did a careful and lengthy study of observations and interventions that led the church to experiment with a contemporary blended worship service in their main sanctuary. They were not going to disrupt traditions of the choir and hymns, the traditional service; they merely were going to add an additional service led by a band to see what happened.

When they installed some new drums in the sanctuary, a number of members of the congregation balked. The pastor assured them that they would not play the drums in the most traditional service. They just needed them available for the contemporary service. Still the members of the traditional service complained: they didn’t even want to look at the drums, let alone hear them.

“Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb,” write Heifetz and Linsky.1 This painful truth brings us to the heart of the necessary adaptive capacity to lead transformational change in uncharted territory. Disappointing people “at a rate they can absorb” is a skill that requires nuance: Disappoint people too much and they give up on you, stop following you and may even turn on you. Don’t disappoint them enough and you’ll never lead them anywhere.

Leadership isn’t so much skillfully helping a group accomplish what they want to do (that is management). Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going. Leadership, as I have defined it, is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

Transformational leadership is always a two-front battle: On one side is the challenge of a changing world, unfamiliar terrain and the test of finding new interventions that will enable the mission to move forward in a fruitful and faithful way. On the other side is the community that resists the change necessary for its survival. If adaptive leadership is “enabling a people to grow so they can face their greatest challenges and thrive,” then it is crucial to acknowledge that a significant part of the greatest challenge is internal. Deftly handling resistance and the disappointment that comes along with it so a community of people can accomplish a goal for the greater good is the core capacity of adaptive leadership.

The answer was for me—and my leaders—to develop the adaptive capacity that comes from living out a core, clarifying conviction: The mission trumps. Always. Every time. In every conflict. Not the pastor. Not the members of the church who pay the bills. Not those who scream the loudest or who are most in pain. No. In a healthy Christian ministry, the mission wins every argument.

The focused, shared, missional purpose of the church or organization will trump every other competing value. It’s more important than my preferences or personal desire. It’s more critical than my leadership style, experience or past success. It’s the grid by which we evaluate every other element in the church. It’s the criterion for determining how we will spend our money, who we will hire and fire, which ministries we will start and which ones we will shut down. It’s the tiebreaker in every argument and the principle by which we evaluate every decision we make. Denominational affiliation? Mission partnerships? Financial commitments? Staff decisions? Worship styles? The key question is: Does it further our mission? The mission trumps all.

A mission statement serves the same purpose in a healthy organization. The one in power doesn’t win every conversation: the mission trumps.

If the mission trumps all, then a leader must develop the clarity and conviction to live out that mission no matter the circumstance, no matter whether the challenge comes from the context or the very community we serve.

The emotional processes, ways of relating and being, decision making, symbols, values and other parts of the organizational culture (see chap. 6) naturally work together to keep things the same. The church leadership who calls a young pastor to reach young families thwarts every new initiative. The evangelistic pastor who attracts outsiders to the church is accused of not caring for the church membership. The preacher who was called to bring intellectual depth is chided that she should tell more stories and offer more practical teaching. The elder board that commits to a new vision for ministering to their neighbors will place all the plans on hold in order to attend to denominational issues that have simmered for generations. This is normal.

In this and the following three chapters we’ll look at it clause by clause. It’s that important. I encourage you to commit it to memory. Write it on a Post-it note and put it on your bathroom mirror. Make it your screensaver on your computer. And say it to yourself over and over again: Start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.4

Start with Conviction – The first question about leading into uncharted territory is not about change but about what will not change. First we determine what is precious, what is worth keeping no matter the circumstances, what will never change, what is the core ideology of the church. Conviction is the core ideology in action.

Every conflict raises the question: Are we clear on and committed to our mission?

*REORIENTATION* There is perhaps no greater responsibility and no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible.

Because the mission is what matters. The mission trumps. Even more than whether our stakeholders like it, our mission demands that we make decisions based on conviction.

The purpose of the commander’s intent is to empower subordinates to be able to achieve the goals of the mission if the circumstances change and they need to adapt.5 If you tell a group of Marines, “Take the enemy airfield,” that is a very different commander’s intent than “Take the enemy airfield so we can use it ourselves.” The commander’s intent clarifies the goal so that all strategies and tactics (Should we blow up the air traffic control room or not?) can be evaluated.

The mission, when enacted and owned, becomes a conviction that holds and changes us. It is a simple, clear, almost humble statement of the reason we as a congregation believe we are occupying the bit of real estate God has given us at this moment of history.

Getting Clear on Conviction – Before acting on a conviction we actually have to have a conviction. And this takes time. It is the result of study, conversation, humility and discernment. It is formed through processes of self-observation, self-reflection and shared aspirations. Jim Collins describes this mission-statement conviction as a Hedgehog Concept made up of the intersection of three elements: What are we passionate about? What are we constantly talking about, praying about, involved in and concerned about? In the words of Jim Collins, “Nothing great can happen without beginning first with passion.” What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else? Collins says that this is an awareness of self, not aspirations or hopes. It is the humble and clear perspective about the particular value we as a church, organization or ministry have to offer our community or the larger world. It is a statement of uniqueness, not arrogance; a statement of the distinctive contribution we are equipped to make in God’s work in the world. What will pay the bills? What drives our economic or resource engine? What helps us continually create the resources that will keep us going? What brings us partners, money, opportunities and the talent we need to continue our work?6

Mulago requires grant applicants to write a simple proposal with an eight-word mission statement.7 The statement must be in this format: verb, target, outcome. And it can use only eight words.

The Leader’s Mission Within the Mission – For the leader navigating this two-front battle, he or she must have clear convictions about his or her call and purpose. To be blunt: The leader in the system is committed to the mission when no one else is. For the leader the mission always trumps. Again, this is hard.

Another conversation in my office. This time it was an older couple who were new to the church. They were registered for our next new members’ class, but after hearing from some concerned friends about how liberal Presbyterians are, they thought they’d ask me some questions. They told me they had been leaders in three well-known megachurches, but after a falling-out with the pastor they had been without a church home for several months. They started listening to a Presbyterian pastor via podcast and were so impressed they decided to check out our church (even though they had never dreamt of being part of a mainline church). They loved our church. They told me they loved our emphasis on discipleship, reaching out to the unchurched, and proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom to those who hadn’t accepted the good news. Everything they heard resonated with their hearts, and they decided to join. When they told a friend what they were intending to do, he cautioned them because of what he read in the papers. So, they came to see me. I found out that the Presbyterian pastor they had heard on the podcast was Tim Keller, and I explained that he was part of a different Presbyterian denomination. They had only recently learned that there was not only the Presbyterian Church (USA), our denomination, but others they thought they’d be more comfortable joining. I said to them, “You have heard me talk about our mission to proclaim the kingdom of God to the unchurched. Do you think the people we are trying to reach care what denomination we are in?” They responded, “No, not at all.” “So,” I said, “The mission trumps. As long as we can fulfill our mission, we are not going to spend time or energy on denominational worries. For us, it’s all about the mission.” “But Tod,” the wife chimed in, “the people you are trying to reach don’t care about denominational labels, but people like us do. If you want people like us to join your church, you may want to consider switching denominations.” I looked them and said softly but firmly. “You are not our mission.”

I said it again. “You are not our mission. Our mission is to be a community of disciples who proclaim and demonstrate the good news in every sector of society. We want to reach people for Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to help Christians move from one church to our church. You are not our mission. But . . . I think God brought you here so that you would join our mission. You have a heart for the unchurched and desire to see people come to know Christ and experience his reign and grace in their lives. All you have heard has resonated with you, and you have already begun new ministries here. No, you are not our mission, but I think God is calling you to join us in fulfilling our mission.” The husband looked at his wife. “Honey, I think we’re Presbyterians.” They joined our church in the next class.

The first step in adaptive change is “start with missional conviction”; the second is to “stay calm.” For the leader it is critical to monitor our own emotional reactivity when the anxiety within the church rises. The calm leader is self-aware, committed to the mission (the mission trumps) and focuses on his or her own self in the transformation process.

*REORIENTATION* When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose.

But when we enter the realm of adaptive work—working in uncharted territory—win-win often becomes lose-lose. Transformational leadership and the adaptive change necessary requires us to go beyond win-win to make hard, oftentimes forced choices. When we are faced with limited resources and a new experiment we can’t squeeze into the budget, a choice has to be made: Either the existing programs are going to lose some of their resources or the new experiment will go unfunded.

Heifetz and Linsky inform us that people do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain. 2

Transformational leadership, therefore, equips people to make hard choices regarding the values keeping them from the growth and transformation necessary to see in a new way and discover new interventions to address the challenges they are facing. And this is done with values that are valuable. Systems theory reminds us that “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.”3 This means that the program, ministry, staff person, principle, action or activity in danger of being lost was at one time of great value.

Crockpot Leadership – Imagine you are cooking a meal for a big, hungry family. You decide to make a stew in a Crock-Pot. You get raw meat, hard vegetables, some stock and seasoning. You put it in the Crock-Pot, and with enough time at the right temperature you get a feast. But if the temperature is too high, the meal gets burned; too low and even though a long time has gone by, all you have is hard vegetables and raw meat.

A leader’s job is to regulate the heat. The leader is like the thermostat on the Crock-Pot, keeping enough heat in the system so things begin to change, but not enough that individual parts get scorched.

The Heat of Urgency – There are two forms of heat for bringing transformation: urgency and anxiety.

Instead of patiently waiting for a widespread and true urgency, most leaders settle for the false urgency of attending to the most urgent issue or the one that has the most people in an uproar. Whenever the urgent pushes out the important, we fall into the trap of feeling as if we are busy accomplishing something while we are running on a treadmill—getting exhausted but not going anywhere.6

True urgency, on the other hand, is centered on the passion and vision that comes from developing a clear conviction and mission. It is the urgency of seeing both the reality of the moment and the opportunity God has given.

When we keep our deepest purpose/mission/vision as our true urgency, it should not wax and wane; it should remain the central root of urgency around which we regulate the heat of peripheral issues.

I also often coach my pastor clients to give a yearly “I Have a Dream” sermon in order to keep raising the urgency in the congregation.8 It’s important that the sermon is not shaming or demanding. It’s not a presumptuous “God told me this to tell you” or “this should be your dream” or even “an expert told me that this should be our dream” sermon. Instead this is an honest and very personal sharing of hopes and visions.

The Heat of Anxiety: Is That a Lion or Not? – In the harsh midsummer African heat, a herd of impala finds an increasingly rare water hole. They rush to drink, crowding in, fearful of not getting enough water to sustain them. Suddenly, one impala raises his head in high alert. Immediately every other impala stops drinking and stands at attention. No impala moves, none utter a sound.

If there is a lion and they do run, or if there is no lion and they don’t run, they live another day. But all that matters is: Is that a lion or not?

For leaders the point of calming down is not to feel better; it’s to make better decisions. It’s to make the best decisions for furthering the mission. When people are too hot, they don’t. The only issue is: Is there a lion or not? Is there a threat, or are we making this up? Is this true urgency or false urgency? Do we need to run, or should we stay here, get water and then calmly continue our journey?

For leaders this is the point to remember about anxiety: People who are overly or chronically anxious don’t make good decisions. When anxiety spikes we revert to more primitive ways of being. We fight, we flee, we freeze. We run from danger and leave others to face the lions alone. Or we capitulate and allow the herd to be overrun. We turn on each other instead of working together. We jump to quick fixes; we look for technical solutions to adaptive issues. Transformational leadership is built on leaders making good, wise, discerning decisions for the sake of both the health and the mission of the community—decisions that reinforce the missional conviction—and this requires leaders who are able to stay calm.

Stay Calm – What does it mean to stay calm? That we become a Mr. Spock-like Vulcan with no emotions and complete rationality? No. That would be impossible. To stay calm is to be so aware of yourself that your response to the situation is not to the anxiety of the people around you but to the actual issue at hand. Staying calm means so attending to our own internal anxiety in the heat of a challenging moment and the resistance around us that we are not tempted to either cool it down to escape the heat (thus aborting the change process) or to react emotionally, adding more fuel to the fire and scorching the stew we are trying to cook.

Osterhaus and his colleagues help us understand that the best decisions come out of the Blue Zone. Blue Zone is about serving the mission. Blue Zone decisions are marked by consistency and are focused on effectiveness. In the Blue Zone the mission trumps. But most of the time, when the heat is on, if we are not deliberately conscious to do otherwise, we will operate out of the Red Zone of high emotional reactivity based on one or more of four core issues: survival, acceptance, competence and control. Each person is different, and each person must negotiate different Red Zone issues.

But It’s Cool to Lose Your Cool, Right? – Some of us may be recalling great illustrations of passionate and prophetic leaders who lose their cool. Didn’t Jesus drive out the money changers? Don’t the prophets rail out in condemnation? Doesn’t that turn up the heat? From the 1970s movie Network to so much political discourse today, we assume that if change is going to come, somebody is going to have stand up and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Most of the time when things get heated, people get scorched. The meal is ruined and most is thrown out of the Crock-Pot. The community stops following and starts fighting or fleeing.

Anxious people scurry to quick fixes and work avoidance. But when the leader stays calm enough internally to attend to and regulate the heat of chronic anxiety so that it is instead the clear blue flame of urgency and mission, then transformation can occur.

How do you Regulate the Heat? – This is the delicate work of adaptive leadership. We need our people feeling the urgency and healthy anxiety enough to overcome complacency and move. At the same time we need our people to calm down enough to get beyond technical fixes, false urgency and work-avoidance scrambling. If the system is too cool and needs more heated urgency to change, then the leader’s own heat (passion, truth-telling, conviction, actions) begins to get things cooking. But when the system gets too hot and people are in danger of burning each other or bailing out of the change process, the very presence of a calm, connected leader cools the system down so people can tolerate staying on course.

In his book Just Listen: The Secret of Getting Through to Everyone, Mark Goulston recommends a simple process of self-talk that literally slows the brain processes down. It begins by acknowledging the anxious, angry or fearful feelings and breathing slowly until your heart rate comes down and you are able to hear and respond instead of lash out reactively.

All I want is for my presence to turn the anxiety thermostat down one click on the dial so we can focus on the urgency of our mission. Peter Steinke notes, “The leader’s ‘presence’ can have a calming influence on reactive behavior. Rather than reacting to the reactivity of others, leaders with self-composure and self-awareness both exhibit and elicit a more thoughtful response.”15

When a leader with conviction can stay calm amid the losses and reactivity of a congregation, then thoughtful, Blue Zone, “it’s all about the mission” decisions are possible. But sometimes being calm is not enough. So, what do we do when the others around us choose to fight or flee because of their Red Zone issues? The opposite of what our human nature does reflexively: we draw closer.

The Church and the Wheelchair – Hal is blind. Gus is an amputee confined to a wheelchair. Alone they would each be what we sometimes call shut-ins. Octogenarians both, they don’t get around very easily on their own. When they come to worship services at SCPC, Hal pushes Gus and Gus directs Hal. They make their way through the parking lot and the patio to their place together in the pew. Gus sits in his wheelchair and gives direction, Hal pushes the wheelchair and follows Gus’s lead, and together they get to where they want to go. And together, and only together, they come to church.

Why is it so difficult for the great idea to become embedded in the culture of the institution? Why does a new missional conviction so rarely become the new way of being, the new strategy for acting, the new normal? Why do so many innovations get stopped before they can be tried as an experiment? This is the demoralizing frustration for so many leaders.

If, as I define it, leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world, then leadership is always relational. It is focused on a community of people who exist to accomplish a shared mission. So, while we start with a missional conviction and regulate the heat by staying calm and focusing on our own self-awareness and personal responsibility, organizational transformation cannot be accomplished through the efforts of one person, no matter how gifted. So, in addition to “start with conviction and stay calm” we add stay connected. Which leads us to the next key principle of adaptive leadership. After finding a missional conviction and regulating the heat, to bring change we must enact relationally.

But human nature being what it is, it’s more effective in a change process for a leader to think not only of one team but six. Six different teams that reflect the different kinds of relationships a leader must attend to in order to bring transformation to the whole organizational system.6

1. Allies. An ally is anyone who is convinced of the mission and is committed to seeing it fulfilled. In this sense, allies are inside the system, taking part of the change process with a stake in it and aligned and in agreement—at least for the moment—with the adaptive changes the leader is attempting to bring.7

2. Confidants. To be a confidant, a person must care more about you than they do about the mission of the organization. Therefore, healthy confidants are usually those outside the system who can give you honest feedback about yourself as a leader in the system. Being a confidant is usually most comfortable and healthy for our friends and family.

3. Opponents. Potential opponents are stakeholders who have markedly different perspectives from yours and who risk losing the most if you and your initiative go forward. Let’s be clear here, if you are leading a change process, opponents are not your enemies in much the same way that allies are not necessarily your friends. Opponents are nothing more and nothing less than those who are against the particular change initiative.

4. Senior authorities. As I have said from the outset, leadership is not the same thing as authority. Authority is your role, your position of formal power, but leadership is a way of functioning. Very often the leader in uncharted territory is not the authorized leader but someone tasked to explore the new terrain. Remember, it wasn’t Commander in Chief Jefferson who crossed the Continental Divide, but two captains.

5. Casualties. In any transformational leadership effort there will be casualties. You can’t go into uncharted territory without risk. Even Lewis and Clark had to bury one of their men along the way. If a leader is “the person in the system who is not blaming anyone,” then the leader is also the one who assumes the responsibility for these inevitable casualties.8 As change initiatives are being proposed, don’t whitewash the losses. Acknowledge them.

6. Dissenters. In true adaptive change there are no unanimous votes. Someone, usually a significant number of people, will say no, no matter what. These voices of dissent are extremely important at every step of the way. The early naysayers are the canaries in the coal mine. They will help you see how opposition will take form and will raise the arguments that eventually will come to full volume.

Every visionary leader needs both a group to keep attending to the necessary work and a team to lead the transformation of the organizational culture. And while they may be one and the same in some circumstances, a great idea needs at least two groups of people to see it through: the maintaining mission group and the transformation team.

The maintaining mission group. The maintaining mission group has to be committed to giving safety, time, space, protection and resources to the project. At first, they don’t need to actually do anything except not create obstacles and not sabotage the change process (a big task, in itself!). At best, they actively voice support, keep a steady hand at the wheel and monitor the inevitable anxiety.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, visionary management usually comes from the board of directors. In the uncharted world of post-Christendom transformation, leadership will more likely come from a small Corps of Discovery who serve as a transformation team while the board manages the health of the organization currently.

The transformation team. The transformation team is akin to what John Kotter calls a “Guiding Coalition.”11 This group will add effort to the inspiration. They are going to do the work of listening, learning, attempting and, yes, failing. (Remember how many early attempts at building rockets flamed out on the launch pad?) This team needs to be innovative and persistent, cohesive and communicative.

For most leaders I know, and especially for pastors, all of this discussion of the different relationships certainly doesn’t sound like good news. While most of us are good at personally relating to people (praying, teaching, counseling), most of us have not been trained in organizational relationship skills.

Our theology affirms that leadership is a shared task, and the church is meant to be both a safe environment for protecting the community and a group willing to lay down their lives for the vision of God’s kingdom come to earth.

1. Give the work back to the people who most care about it. Are you the only one losing sleep over the challenges you face? Then you need to raise the urgency with a broader coalition of people. When a group of people bring a complaint, don’t jump to fix it but instead engage those who raised the complaint in the process of transformation.

2. Engage the mature and motivated. Let’s face it, most of our work (especially for pastors) is putting out fires, dealing with the resistant, attending to the cranky and trying to appease the complainers. These are part of our work and are indeed the people to whom we are called. But when it’s time to lead on, more and more of your energy must be invested in those who are motivated to grow and take responsibility for themselves.

3. Stay connected to your critics. From The Godfather we learned to “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” but that was for self-protection. In this case that great advice is a way to keep trying to turn enemies into friends (not through accommodation but through influence). This is the essence of what it means to “stay connected.”

We tell ourselves that if we don’t back down we’ll do something in anger that we’ll regret. So we do nothing instead. Face-to-face conversations become quick voicemails, phone calls turn into emails, and discussions over lunch become formal letters. After a while, because we are so afraid of the heat, thick walls of ice rise up around us, and while we may be able to see the subjects of our conflicts, we can’t hear or touch them. But when we lose connection, we lose the opportunity to keep gently influencing the system for good. We need at least a light touch on the wheel to steer the car toward the destination of our convictions.

So what is a leader to do? Stay connected. Keep contact. Close the distance with word and touch. When someone writes me an angry email, I call them at home. When someone sends a formal letter of complaint, I invite them for coffee. When people start getting upset, I call a meeting and invite them to talk. The more heated the situation, the closer I want to get to it. Believe me, this is hard. I’m no different than anyone else.

4. Expect sabotage. Which is where we turn next.

So, when we came to the General Assembly, how many of those same leaders who had affirmed our work all along the way made public statements of support? Zero. How many asked to testify to the oversight committee? Zero. How many of those who had hugged me in the hall did anything at all to support its passage? Zero. When I asked for public statements to counter the resistance, one person after another told me that the word had come down from “on high” that they couldn’t be seen “taking sides” in what was a controversial debate. The whole proposal was soundly rejected with the most benign part referred to a committee for further study.

That is the rub, isn’t it? It’s one thing to disappoint and anger the other side, but another thing entirely to endure friendly fire.

Even Lewis and Clark faced their own challenge with sabotage.

If the change process is “start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course,” then when you are focused on “staying the course,” expect that it is “your own people” who are going to try to knock you off course. And the key to staying the course is wisely and calmly responding to sabotage. Note the verb here: not reacting, but responding.

Sabotage is natural. It’s normal. It’s part and parcel of the systemic process of leadership. Saboteurs are usually doing nothing but unconsciously supporting the status quo. They are protecting the system and keeping it in place. They are preserving something dear to them. If every system is “perfectly designed for the results we are getting,” it became clear to me that our denominational system exists for institutional self-preservation.

Many who sabotage you will even claim that they are doing you a favor by doing so. Friedman describes these “peace-mongers” as “highly anxious risk-avoiders” who are “more concerned with good feelings than progress” and consistently prefer the peaceful status quo over the turbulence of change—even if change is necessary.

*REORIENTATION* When on the map, leaders could assume that once an affirmative vote was made, the challenge of bringing change was finished. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows.

First, expect sabotage. Anticipation is a great defense. To be aware that sabotage is coming will at least keep us from being surprised when it comes.

Second, embrace sabotage as a normal part of an organizational life. Even the saboteurs aren’t really to blame. Systems like stability. Natural survival skills demand it, in fact. You, by bringing change, have upset the emotional equilibrium of the system. The Israelites wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt once things got rough in the desert. Systems always look for and find comfort in the familiar.

Third, don’t take it personally. The people following you may be shooting you in the back, but it’s really not you that they are sabotaging, it’s your role as leader. They are sabotaging the change you are bringing.

Fourth, focus your attention on the emotionally strong, not the saboteurs. We are so focused on quieting our critics, appeasing or answering our accusers and shielding ourselves from the friendly fire that it often knocks us off course. While we need to stay connected to the saboteurs (“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”), what actually keeps the change process going is investing even more time in those committed to growing, adapting and changing for good. Find other calm, courageous people and strengthen and support them.

Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course. Endure. Stick with it. Be dogged and determined.

Leading change is a process not accomplished quickly, and the moments of sabotage are the most crucial times in the change process. At this moment everyone in the system sees the leader’s true colors. Sabotage is not only a test of the leader’s resolve but also a test of the system’s resilience.

Blue Zone Decisions: Staying the Course Amidst Sabotage – The key skill for staying the course amidst sabotage is to make Blue Zone decisions—no matter what. In chapter twelve we explored Osterhaus, Jurkowski and Hahn’s Red Zone–Blue Zone decision making. The Red Zone is “all about me”; the Blue Zone is “all about the mission.” Blue Zone decisions are made as an expression of the core values and healthy principles, and further the discerned, shared mission conviction of the group.

When making Blue Zone decisions, a set of questions are being asked and answered by the leadership group. These questions are different from the Red Zone “me” questions around survival, acceptance, competence and control. They are What furthers the mission? What principles are at stake here? What values are we expressing? What pain must we endure? How will we support those who are experiencing loss?

Whenever I talk about this with groups, the hands shoot up. “This contradicts Jesus. Didn’t he always choose people over principles?” Frankly, no, he didn’t. At least not the way we think of it. If we look closely at the ministry of Jesus, everything he did was for one purpose: to proclaim and demonstrate the good news: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 nasb). And as much as he ministered to people as an expression of that mission, he also disappointed people constantly. He left towns while there were still crowds waiting to be healed (Mark 1:38). After a miraculous feeding of one large crowd, he refused to feed another, and some of his disciples left him (John 6:30-66). He disappointed his mother and brothers who wanted him to return home (Mark 3:31-35), he initially refused to heal the Syrophoenician woman because his mission was to the “lost sheep of . . . Israel” (Matthew 15:21-28), and he constantly disappointed ministry leaders because he hung out with the wrong sorts (Mark 2:16-17) and did the wrong things, like healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Every parable Jesus taught that challenged the status quo (the prodigal son, the woman with the coin, the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to get the one sheep) did not describe his desire to care for and comfort people but, in effect, “I do this because God is like this” (Luke 15) or “I am doing these things because the kingdom of heaven is like this” (Matthew 13). Jesus’ mission was to reveal the presence and nature of God’s reign and rule. That was his purpose. That was his principle. When Jesus challenged the Pharisees, it wasn’t that they were concerned with religious principles and he was concerned with people, but that they had the wrong principles (Matthew 23:15). They valued human tradition over God’s own revelation about his character, his love and what he desires (Micah 6:8). Jesus… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

For Friedman, failure of nerve is the tendency among leaders to “adapt to immaturity,” that is, to give in to the most anxious elements within themselves or within the community who are clamoring to preserve the status quo and undermining the adaptations and experiments necessary for moving forward and meeting the challenges in front of them.10

A Picture of Courage – My favorite old movie is Casablanca. It’s a classic film with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, where Bogie owns Rick’s Café Americain restaurant in Casablanca, Morocco. It takes place during World War II. Casablanca was then a French territory under German occupation. In one of my favorite scenes a group of Nazi soldiers drinking in Rick’s bar gather at the piano and start singing the German national anthem so loudly and without consideration of the number of French citizens sitting glumly around them.

First, leaders must act. Laszlo doesn’t cower at the sound of the German officers singing their songs with such bravado; he stands and heads toward the conflict. He takes decisive action and determines not to let this moment pass by. When the heat is on, leaders head to the kitchen.

Second, when sabotage or opposition appears, leaders continue to calmly stand on conviction in the face of it. Laszlo doesn’t rant. He doesn’t rave. He doesn’t start a fight or call the manager to complain. He goes to the band (very likely French citizens, all) and calls them to act with him. From the backstory of the movie, we know that Laszlo has already suffered for his convictions. He has already spent time in a prison camp. He is being denied exit visas that would take him and his wife to safety. The authorities have him on a watch list, and he is certainly in danger. But nevertheless, he continues to act on his convictions.

Third, leaders inspire. The root word of “courage” is the Latin word for “heart.”

Last, leaders don’t act alone. Yes, Laszlo is first to his feet and willing to stand alone. Leadership requires a missional conviction that takes a stand whether anyone follows or not. But for a leader to become a leader, someone must follow.

Sabotage is indeed the critical issue for lasting change. Friedman calls it “the key to the kingdom.”11 The key capacity: Does the leader have the capacity to hang in there when reactivity is at its highest? If a leader can develop the emotional stamina to stay true to principles when reactivity and sabotage are most evident, the adaptation process reverses itself and the followers begin to adapt to the leader.

The paradox of transformational leaders is that the very conviction that causes the leader to be willing to “disappoint your own followers at a rate they can absorb” is what ultimately—when handled well—wins “your own followers” to join you in your cause. If we as leaders start with conviction, stay connected, calm and on course in the face of opposition, then others around us have both the time and conditions to take on these very convictions as their own.

His name was Jean Baptiste, and because his mother would become the most famous member of the party next to Lewis and Clark themselves, “Pomp” as William Clark would nickname him, would be the youngest member of the Corps of Discovery. Pomp’s mother, Sacagawea, had been born Shoshone. Kidnapped by the Hidatsa when she was eleven or twelve, she was now at sixteen or seventeen years old, one of the wives of a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. The captains had hired Charbonneau as a guide through the mountains and very quickly they saw the value of having a Shoshone woman to serve as interpreter. While, by all accounts, Lewis and Clark soon took a dim view of Charbonneau’s skills and value to the party, their opinion of—and need for—the teenage mother only grew. A month after she joined the party, Lewis mentions her “fortitude and resolution.” Two months into the journey, they worried about losing their translator when Sacagawea fell ill with a fever. When a canoe capsized, her quick-thinking saved the captains’ journals.1 When the captains needed horses to cross the Rockies, they turned to Sacagawea. She led them to the Shoshone, navigated the tense relationship at the first encounter, and when she discovered that she was translating between Lewis and her own long-lost brother (a most remarkable, tearful and near-miraculous reunion), she helped broker the deal that brought the Corps the critical horses they needed. When her tribe begged Sacagawea to stay, she instead insisted on going with the Corps and continuing the journey. Later, Clark would praise her as the “pilot” that took them through the country.

*REORIENTATION* Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. They are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home.

For many Christians throughout the world today, the death of Christendom in the West simply means there are more brothers and sisters joining them at the margins, more shared experience within the greater church, more equality of leadership roles, more valuing of previously ignored voices and more opportunities for shared witness to a world that is profoundly in need of the gospel. In other words, the deep disorientation for those trained in Christendom can be helped by learning to look to and partner with those who have already been living in post-Christendom marginality.

Entering uncharted territory is like boarding a time machine set for the future. Lewis and Clark made decisions and functioned with a leadership style that was decades, even centuries before their time. A true partnership without one clear leader in “command.” A woman in leadership. A native American woman and a slave given a vote. A soldier released gladly from his duties in order to further knowledge. Could it be that God is taking our churches and organizations into uncharted territory in order for the church to become even more of a witness for the future of the world?

Sometime in the 2040s, the United States will become a true ethnic plurality. During that decade white Americans will no longer be the majority but one of several considerably large ethnic groups. Even more surprising is that those trends are actually higher in the church and especially in seminaries that provide the training for Christian leadership. While white, mainline and evangelical churches are in decline, racial-ethnic churches are growing and predicted to increase even more; seminary enrollments show increases only among nonwhite students.33 In other words, what will soon be true of America is already becoming true in our churches and seminaries.34

*REORIENTATION* Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame. Exploration brings differentiation. Exploration requires us to become expert experimenters. Exploration demands our best selves.

Differentiation enables the leader to stay with the group in the most difficult moments even when the group is blaming the leader for the difficulties. Exploration so challenges our illusions of competence, so triggers strong reactions of others and so often leads to enough conflict that it requires differentiation to psychologically endure as a leader.

Escaping the Expert Expectation – One of the signs of an organization that is resisting change is what Heifetz calls “the flight to authority.”22 Instead of accepting the adaptive challenge of learning and being transformed, the congregation, company or even family will decide to elect an expert to the do the work for them. The expert becomes the “technical solution,” which is actually “work avoidance” that creates the illusion that something is being done (“We brought in an expert to solve it!”) when in truth nothing is changing.

The internal and psychological stress of leading, exploring, learning and keeping an organization on mission is demanding. The fear of failure weighs heavy on all types of leaders, but perhaps even more so for pastors. When failing can mean losing your job (survival), community (acceptance), reputation (competence), even the possibility of failure can make us feel out of control.

The most tragic tale of the Corps of Discovery, however, is the suicide of Meriwether Lewis. Today, Meriwether Lewis would be treated for severe depression. Even then, it had been noted by Jefferson that Lewis tended to get melancholy and exacerbated it with alcohol. But during the expedition, neither the depression nor any signs of excessive alcohol abuse were ever noted by Clark or the other men.

*REORIENTATION* While on-the-map leaders are praised for being experts who have it all together, uncharted transformational leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

But if I could meet with that group today, I would say something completely different. “If you want to keep your church from dying,” I would say, Focus on your own transformation together, not on your church dying. Focus on the mountains ahead, not the rivers behind. Focus on continually learning, not what you have already mastered.

Leaders thrust off the map in a rapidly changing world must trust that God is taking us into uncharted territory to extend the healing, justice and loving rule of God to all the world, and at the same time to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves being continually formed to be like Jesus. By doing the work of the kingdom, we become like the King. Leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization, starting with the leaders.

Perhaps that is the most important thing to remember: God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves. And the beautiful paradox is that the more committed we are to our own transformation, the better leader we will be.

*Reorientation Recap* You were trained for a world that is disappearing. If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what. In a Christendom world, speaking was leading. In a post-Christendom world, leading is multidimensional: apostolic, relational and adaptive. Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map. In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over. When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical. In a Christendom world, vision was seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory, vision is accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality. Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today leadership is learning how to ask new questions we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask. There is no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible. When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose. In uncharted territory visionary leadership is more likely going to come from a small Corps of Discovery while the board manages the ongoing health of the organization. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows. Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. Those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home. Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame and demands that we become our best selves. Uncharted leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

Given all of this Lewis and Clark imagery, it is probably no surprise that I tend to think of myself as a “take the hill” kind of guy. I like a challenge. I resonate with the idea of being a leader of a mission. One of my colleagues is rather different than I am. Maybe he’s seen enough pain in lives and congregations to be skeptical of the kinds of “charges” leaders like me seem to relish. My colleague has been called to minister to a church in the middle of a retirement home. He tells me with a sigh of great satisfaction that he spends his days “hugging and kissing, teaching and ministering to some of the greatest saints you’ll ever meet.” Sometimes I am jealous of him, and I get the sense that sometimes he thinks he’s supposed to be more like me. I take the hill; he cares for grandma. And I think most of us assume that these are two different types of callings. It is common to hear talk about the differences between missional ministry and chaplaincy, between leading and caretaking. But I think those distinctions reveal both our own projections about ourselves and a convenient way to avoid what is true about all Christian organizations, especially churches: We all have hills to take, and all of our organizations are filled with grandmas. None of us in church leadership get the luxury of a single-focused call, no matter how important we think it is. None of us get to handpick our own Corps of Discovery with nothing but the best, bravest, faithful, loyal and mature. Every church and Christian organization I know is filled with people of varying degrees of competence, courage and capacity to embrace change.

We have to love the kindly grandmas and grandpas, cute little children, cranky aunts and uncles, overcommitted brothers and sisters, and sometimes irascible and often inspiring teenagers with whom God has called us to be spiritual family. Then we have to try to motivate that group to work, sacrifice, give and take on the responsibilities of furthering the mission of the kingdom as we are called to do it. We are a family that wants to sit together cozy by the campfire, but we have to get up and charge the hill (at potentially great cost). To me this is the most demanding aspect of being a Christian leader: The complexity of it all.

Christian leaders, especially, live in an emotional field filled with competing values.2 Remember our earlier discussion about the nature of a family business (chap. 12)? We love, care and value each other with a kind of unconditional love and, at the same time, we need to make decisions based on the conditions of what will further the spiritual “bottom line” of furthering our mission. We are all called to take the hill—with grandma.

The Senior Citizen Who Reoriented the Whole World Thomas Jefferson was sixty when he enlisted Meriwether Lewis for his grand expedition. And make no mistake, it was Jefferson’s idea. He had lived in France and was the young nation’s true Renaissance man. He would be the founder of the country’s first public university and as a young man had written most of the Declaration of Independence himself. But he had never traveled more than fifty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley. That lack of personal experience or the physical attributes necessary for such a journey did not slake his curiosity. His personal library contained more books about the region than any other library in the world. Monticello even faced west.5

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Responding to Conflict Biblically

These are my notes from a seminar on resolving conflict, based on a book by Ken Sande, available at Amazon.

The Peacemaker’s Pledge:

  1. Glorify God – instead of focusing on our own wants and desires, let’s focus on seeking to please God and honoring and obeying him.
  2. Get the log out of your own eye – instead of focusing solely on the faults of the other person, focus on my part in all of this and how I might grow and change my attitudes and behavior.
  3. Go and show your brother his fault – instead of pretending the other person does not exist or overlook his offenses, focus on talking directly to the other person in a biblical manner.
  4. Go and be reconciled – instead of accepting premature compromise or allow the relationship to wither, focus on pursuing peace and reconciliation, forgiving as Jesus would.

Understanding Conflict and Our Responses to it:

  1. What is conflict?
    1. A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.
    2. In a fallen world, conflict is inevitable and should be expected (Romans 3:10-18, James 4:1-3, Acts 15:1-2, 36-39).
  2. What causes conflict?
    1. Misunderstandings (Acts 15:22-29)
    2. Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
    3. Competition over limited resources (Genesis 13:1-12).
    4. Sinful or selfish attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions (James 4:1-3).
  3. God provides a way to deal with conflict.
    1. Many believers have only a devotional theology for conflict resolution.
    2. To be a peacemaker, we need a systematic theology that resolves conflict in a biblical manner.
    3. We are guided by the Peacemaker’s Pledge, the four G’s.
    4. We are inspired and empowered by what God has already done and continues to do for us.
      1. We are powerless in our own strength (Romans 7:15).
      2. The foundation for peacemaking and reconciliation is our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3:24, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 1:20, 3:12-15).
      3. Jesus is our perfect model of a peacemaker: he died for us while we were yet sinner (Romans 5:8, Philippians 2:5-11), he suffered wrongs without retaliation (1 Peter 2:23), he confronted others for their good (John 4:1-26), he loved and forgave even his enemies (Luke 23:34). He promises to work in us so that we may do the same things (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 3:15).
  4. How do we respond to conflict?
    1. Escape response – on one end of the spectrum (designed to get away from the pressure).
      1. Denial – pretend the conflict does not exist or refuse to deal with it properly.
      2. Flight – run away from the person with whom you have conflict (which is appropriate if someone is in danger).
      3. Suicide – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    2. Attack responses – on the other end of the spectrum (designed to bring pressure on your opponent to defeat them).
      1. Litigation – a matter is taken to civil authorities for a decision.
      2. Assault – use force or intimidation to force submission.
      3. Murder – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    3. Conciliation responses – on the middle area of the spectrum (designed to find just and mutually agreeable solutions to conflict). The first three are personal, the latter three are communal.
      1. Overlook an offense – walk away and forgive (Proverbs 19:11, 12:16, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
      2. Discussion – personal offenses are resolved through confession or confrontation, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15, 5:23-24, Galatians 6:1-3, Proverbs 28:13).
      3. Negotiation – substantive offenses are resolved through a bargaining process to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement, involving compromise and collaboration (Philippians 3:3-4).
      4. Mediation – one or two others will meet with the parties to improve communication and facilitate a resolution (Matthew 18:16). Solutions can only be suggested.
      5. Arbitration – When the parties cannot come to a voluntary solution, the arbiter has the power to render a binding solution.
      6. Church discipline – When a Christian party refuses to do what is right and just, the church family intervenes to promote repentance and reconciliation (Matthew 18:17-20). Note that relationship is more important than worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Conflict Provides Opportunities:

  1. To glorify God – show him honor and respect, bring him praise, to be a witness for what he has done in your life.
    1. Trust him (Psalm 37:5-6).
    2. Obey him (John 14:15).
    3. Imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  2. To serve other people.
    1. Help carry their burdens (Galatians 6:2, 10).
    2. Help them change through constructive confrontation (Galatians 6:1).
    3. Teach and encourage others by example (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
  3. To grow into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-4, Hebrews 12:7-13).
    1. Conflict humbles us to remember our need for God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
    2. Conflict confronts us to uncover sinful attitudes and habits (Psalm 119:67, 71).
    3. Conflict provides an opportunity of cast off the old self through repentance and faith, and put on the new self created to be like Jesus (Ephesians 4:22-24).
    4. Conflict helps us practice godly habits (1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14). Remember the ABC’s (Adversity Builds Character).
  4. Opportunity, leads to Responsibility, which leads to Stewarding (a biblical approach to conflict). Stewarding requires an accurate view of God.
    1. If you believe that God is limited in power or his love is inconsistent, you will find it difficult to trust and obey his commands. Now you will take matters into your own hands.
    2. Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and omnipresent, he is unlimited and in charge. (Isaiah 46:10, Daniel 2:20-22, 4:34-37).
    3. God is also all-loving, holy, just, gracious, good, merciful, and faithful. He is for us (Psalm 62:11-12, Isaiah 43:2-3, Matthew 10:30-31).
    4. Therefore, all that happens does not take God by surprise (Matthew 10:29-30, Exodus 4:10-12, Proverbs 16:4-5, Acts 2:23, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Genesis 45:5, 50:20, Daniel 3:16-18).
    5. Stewarding means trusting that God is always up to something good, even when his purposes are not clear (Deuteronomy 29:29).
    6. Stewarding views conflict as an assignment, not an unfortunate accident.
    7. Stewarding focuses on faithfulness more than results (Matthew 25:21, Luke 12:42-47, John 12:24-26).

Peacemaking is Not Optional: (Romans 12:18)

  1. Three dimensions of peace.
    1. Peace with God (Colossians 1:19-20, Romans 5:1-2).
    2. Peace with other people (Romans 12:18).
    3. Peace within ourselves (Isaiah 32:17, 48:18, 26:3, Romans 3:20-22, Matthew 22:39).
  2. Jesus’ reputation depends on peace and unity.
    1. The priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-23).
    2. The command of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
    3. The worship of Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24).
  3. Make every effort – Ephesians 4:1-3, Romans 15:5-7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 5:19-22, Colossians 3:13, 15, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15).
  4. Conflict resolution inside the church, not the courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
    1. It’s a bad witness.
    2. It ignores the root problem.
    3. It does not bring peace or reconciliation.
  5. Peacemaking is not optional (Matthew 5:9).

Is This Really Worth Fighting Over? (Proverbs 19:11)

  1. Two kinds of “logs” to remove.
    1. A critical negative attitude that leads to unnecessary conflict.
    2. An actual sinful words and actions.
  2. Overlooking minor offenses (Proverbs 12:16, 19:11, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
    1. Why? To imitate the Lord (Psalm 103:8-10)
    2. When? If the offense is not dishonoring to God, if your relationship has not been permanently damaged, if others are not being hurt.
  3. Change your attitude (Philippians 4:2-9).
    1. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).
    2. Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).
    3. Replace (cover or control) anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
    4. See things as they truly are (Philippians 4:8).
    5. Practice what you have learned (Philippians 4:9).
  4. Count the cost (Matthew 5:25-26).
  5. Remember the rights and privileges given by God (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Matthew 25:24-27). This R does not stand for rights, but responsibility (to glorify God, serve others, to grow into the likeness of Christ).

Examine Yourself: (Proverbs 28:13)

  1. Take an honest look at yourself (Psalm 139:23-24)
  2. Repentance is more than a feeling.
    1. Mere remorse leads to further grief (2 Corinthians 7:10).
    2. Godly sorrow comes when we see sin for what it is, a personal offense against God (Luke 15:18, Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:3-4).
    3. Genuine repentance involves a change of heart and a new way of thinking (Luke 15:17, Isaiah 55:7-8).
    4. Genuine repentance leads to changed behavior (Acts 26:20, Matthew 3:8) resulting in confession, repair, and change.
    5. The benefits of confession and genuine repentance.
      1. Clear conscience before God.
      2. The first step toward constructive change.
      3. Sets an example for others to follow.
  3. The seven A’s of confessions – never make a confession just to get a burden off your shoulders.
    1. Address everyone involved (Psalm 41:4, Luke 19:8).
    2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Psalm 51).
    3. Admit specifically what you did.
      1. Sinful attitudes (Matthew 15:19, James 3:13-4:12, 1 John 2:15-17).
      2. Sinful words – reckless words (Proverbs 12:18, 15:1), complaining or grumbling (Philippians 2:14, James 5:9), Deception or twisting (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 24:28), gossip (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, 26:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), slander (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3), worthless talk (Ephesians 4:29).
      3. Sinful actions – not keeping your word (Matthew 5:37, Psalm 15:1, 4), not respecting authority (Mark 10:42-45, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:18-25), not treating others like you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
    4. Apologize expressing sincere sorrow for how you affected the other person.
    5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19, Numbers 5:5-7, Luke 19:8).
    6. Alter your behavior (Ephesians 4:22-32).
    7. Ask for forgiveness (Genesis 50:17).
    8. Allow time – OK, there’s an eighth A.

When Should You Go and Confront Someone?

  1. When someone has something against you (Matthew 5:21-24)
    1. You may be able to clarify a misunderstanding.
    2. You may learn that you were actually wrong.
    3. You may help to deliver the other person from the bitterness of unforgiveness.
  2. When someone’s sins are too serious to overlook (Matthew 18:15)
    1. Is it dishonoring to God? (Romans 2:21-24).
    2. Is it damaging to your relationship?
    3. Is it hurting other people (including you – Luke 17:2-3, 1 Corinthians 5:6)?
    4. Is it hurting the offender?
  3. Issues of confrontation.
    1. You are not to be a busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Timothy 2:23)
    2. You should not listen to excuses for not confronting someone.
      1. The Bible says not to judge (Matthew 7:1-5)
      2. Isn’t God the one who will show someone they are wrong? (2 Samuel 12:1).
      3. Confrontation is needed when someone is caught in a sin (Galatians 6:1).
      4. The purpose of confrontation is to restore the offender to usefulness to God (Galatians 6:1).
    3. The same principles apply to non-believers (Galatians 6:10).
    4. The same principles apply to persons in authority (2 Samuel 12:1).
  4. Communication skills.
    1. Speak only to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).
    2. Listen carefully – waiting (Proverbs 18:13), concentrating (Matthew 7:12), clarifying (Are you saying? Would you give me an example?), reflecting (From your perspective, I was wrong. You really care about this issue), agreeing (You’re right, I should have… A lot of what you say is true. I understand how you feel).
  5. Elements of effective confrontation (Proverbs 12:18).
    1. Prayer.
    2. Choose the right time and place.
    3. Believe the best about the other person until you have the facts that prove otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:7).
    4. Talk in person whenever possible (Matthew 18:15).
    5. Plan your words.
    6. Use a gracious tone of voice and friendly body language.
    7. Be objective (facts vs. personal opinions or conclusions).
    8. Use the Bible carefully (don’t preach).
    9. Ask for feedback.
  6. Recognize your limitations (Romans 12:18, 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
    1. Your job – speak the truth in love as clearly and persuasively as possible.
    2. God’s job – to change the hearts and minds of other people.

When Should I Involve Other People? (Matthew 18:16)

  1. After you have attempted step one – to overlook minor offenses.
  2. After you have exhausted step two – to talk in private.
  3. Step three: take one or two others with you. The key is “refuses to listen.”
    1. Mutual agreement.
    2. Unilateral request.
    3. What do conciliators do?
      1. They encourage self-control and courtesy.
      2. They ask questions and clarify facts.
      3. They counsel and admonish by God’s Word.
      4. The expand resources.
      5. They observe and report to churches.
    4. What is the opponent is not a believer? (Galatians 6:10).
  4. Step four: tell it to the church (Matthew 18:17).
  5. Step five: treat the other person as a non-believer (Matthew 18:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Titus 3:10-11).
    1. “As” means a functional decision, not a heart decision.
    2. Treat sinners like Jesus treated sinners – love them enough to tell them the truth.
    3. The purposes of church discipline:
      1. To prevent dishonor to God (Romans 2:23-24).
      2. To protect the purity of the church, preventing the offender from leading others into sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Matthew 18:16).
      3. To restore the offender, leading them toward repentance (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 12:20, Acts 3:19).
    4. When to go to court?
      1. If you have exhausted church remedies (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
      2. If you are asserting biblically legitimate rights (not all rights are right).
      3. If you have a righteous purpose (so count the cost). Will it glorify God, benefit others, and is it necessary?

Forgive As God Forgave You (Ephesians 4:32)

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling, nor forgetting, nor excusing (at first).
  2. Forgiveness is a decision.
    1. The major penalty of sin: personal separation (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23).
    2. Forgiveness releases us from this penalty (Ephesians 2:13, Jeremiah 31:34, Psalm 103:12).
    3. Four promises modeled after God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:12, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 130:3-4).
      1. I promise I will not think about this incident.
      2. I promise I will not bring up this incident and use it against you.
      3. I promise I will not talk to others about this incident.
      4. I promise I will not allow this incident to stand between us hinder our personal relationship.
    4. When you forgive, you tell them the real source of their forgiveness is Jesus Christ, and promised to forgive when we confess (1 John 1:9).
  3. When should you forgive? (Luke 17:3, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37).
    1. The ideal biblical response to sin: repentance, confession, restitution, and change.
    2. Promise #1 – forgiveness
      1. Conditional – a commitment made to the offender.
      2. Ideally, after repentance and confession.
      3. Minor offenses may be forgiven even if there is no confession or repentance.
      4. Major offenses – these promises may be delayed until the problem is resolved following Matthew 18.
  4. What are the consequences?
    1. There is a time for mercy (Matthew 18:21-25, Luke 15:21-32).
    2. There is a time for consequences (Psalm 99:8, Proverbs 19:19, Numbers 14:20-23) Forgiveness of personal offenses does not necessarily release a person from the material consequences of their actions.
  5. Overcoming unforgiveness.
    1. Unforgiveness will separate you from God (Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25).
    2. Renounce sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13).
      1. Expecting the offender to earn or deserve forgiveness.
      2. Desiring to punish the offender.
      3. Demanding a guarantee.
    3. Remember that our baptism into Christ and experience God’s daily forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
    4. Draw on God’s strength (Philippians 2:13).
  6. Reconciliation and the replacement principle.
    1. Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored at least to the condition it was before the conflict arose (Matthew 5:23-24, 6:12, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 5:18-21).
    2. Reconciliation usually take deliberate work.
    3. The replacement principle (Luke 6:27-28, Leviticus 19:18, Ephesians 4:22-24).
      1. In thought (Philippians 4:8).
      2. In word (Romans 12:14).
      3. In deed (Romans 12:20).
    4. It’s not forgive and forget, but forgive TO forget.

A Biblical Approach to Negotiating (Philippians 2:1-4)

  1. Cooperative vs. competitive negotiation.
    1. Competing is appropriate in some cases, but neglects the problems and needs, results in inadequate solutions, is inefficient, and damages relationship.
    2. Cooperating is preferred (Matthew 7:12, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 13:4-5, Matthew 22:39).
  2. When you negotiate – PAUSE.
    1. Prepare.
    2. Affirm relationships.
    3. Understand interests.
    4. Search for creative solutions.
    5. Evaluate options objectively and reasonably.
  3. Prepare (Proverbs 14:8, 22) – Pray, get the facts, identify issues and interests, study the Bible, seek godly counsel, anticipate reactions, pick a good time and place, and plan your opening remarks.
  4. Affirm relationship (show respect and concern) – communicate in a courteous manner, spend time on personal issues, exercise authority with restrain, submit to authority in a godly manner, seek to understand the other’s point of view, look out for the interests of others, confront in a gracious manner, allow face saving, and give sincere praise and encouragement.
  5. Understand interests (1 Samuel 25:24-31, 32-35) Issue (an identifiable and concrete question), position (a desired outcome or definable perspective on an issue), and interest (what motivates people and gives rise to positions; a concern, desire, need. limitation, and something the person values).
  6. Search for creative solutions (Proverbs 14:8, Daniel 1:11-13)). When brainstorming, separate inventing from deciding, no idea is out of bounds.
  7. Evaluate options, don’t argue – look for God’s truth (Psalm 19:7, 111:10), get objective facts (Daniel 1:11-16), seek objective opinions from trusted advisors (Proverbs 12:15, Matthew 18:16), look behind the opinions of others and deal wisely with their opinions and objections, and the last resort (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Romans 12:17-13:7).

Dealing with Unreasonable People (Romans 12:21)

  1. We have supernatural weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Luke 6:27-28, Ephesians 6:10-18).
  2. Control your tongue (Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 2:15).
  3. Seek godly advisors (identify with others, avoid being isolated – Romans 12:15-16).
  4. Keep doing what is right (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:15-16, 1 Samuel 24).
  5. Recognize your limits (Romans 12:18-19).
  6. The ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (Romans 12:20-21, Luke 6:27-36).
    1. Demonstrate love (Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).
    2. Doing good can protect you from your own bitterness and resentment.
    3. Doing good can help to bring another person to repentance.

Related Images:

Shepherds in the Church

I read and recommend Jim Putman’s book called, “Church is a Team Sport.” As followers of Jesus, we know that the Bible uses the imagery of a shepherd to describe the leadership in a church, but many pastors and leaders fail to lead the sheep as God intends. Here are a few quotes from the book…

Jesus gave us the example of a true shepherd when He gave up His life for us. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders to shepherd the flock of which he had made them overseers. He reminds the leaders in that passage that the sheep were purchased by God.

God describes His expectations of a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–10. [ read more about shepherds here and here ]

We see God judging the shepherds because they failed to fulfill their responsibility—they had not fed the sheep but only themselves.

In Ezekiel 34, the sheep were not cared for. When they were hurt, they were not nursed back to health. When they strayed or were lost, the shepherd didn’t look for them. They became food for wild animals. This is what happens in the church when God’s people are not shepherded.

Unfortunately, sheep stink, bite, and wander, and they can be stubborn. Yet God expects shepherds to care for His flock.

Many pastors teach but are not around when the sheep need help. Granted, a pastor can’t do everything, but his responsibility is to make sure all the positions on the team are filled.

Every coach needs to have a game plan for shepherding the hurting and chasing strays. We are often like the hired hand Jesus talks about. When the wolf comes, we run or ignore the plight of the sheep because we don’t really love them.

Sometimes, shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information.

Most of us think this means writing better sermons, but you have heard the true statement that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A leader must be someone who knows his sheep and understands their needs. He leads them, teaches them, and models for them how to serve God and others. There is mutual accountability and trust. The shepherd knows when his sheep have succeeded, and he celebrates with them. He knows when they feel defeated and need encouragement and support. He grieves with them, and when the sheep wander, he does all he can to get them back on track.

When a church becomes a shepherding community, when they care for the needs of others, when they help people beat the habits that have always beaten them, when they dare to be real, others can’t help but notice. They see joy and a change in the person they have always known, and they become interested—even excited. At the very least, they keep watching.

Related Images:

What We Need From Pastors

Today, I was reading Brian Dodd on Leadership. A good word for pastors…

We want our pastors to work on their craft, to be prepared, to think of new and creative ways to communicate the timeless message of Jesus Christ. But because of the over-abundance of pastoral talent and our access to it, we no longer need slickness and craftiness.

Here are a Few Things we Need:

  1. When you stand up on Sunday, we do not need you to impress us with your brilliance and insight. We just need to know you have been with alone with God and he has marked your life.
  2. We do not need a talk. We need you to have a message for us from the Ancient of Days addressing the issues we face at this point and time in human history.
  3. We need you to have calloused knees on our behalf.
  4. We need you to elevate the importance of the Bible. It is God’s Word on paper and we want to know what it says.
  5. We need you to preach the truth of Scripture, the virgin birth, the sinless life of Jesus, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
  6. We need you to tell people there is a heaven and a hell and everyone will go to one or the other.
  7. We need you to challenge us to live righteous and holy lives.
  8. We need you to prioritize the pursuit of personal holiness over the pursuit of personal freedoms.
  9. We need you to be a picture of the desired destination at which you wish for us to arrive.
  10. We need you to put your relationship with God above all else and your family second.

Here are a Few Things we Need for You to Know:

  1. We need you to know how much we love and admire you.
  2. We need you to know how often we pray for you.
  3. We need you to know how much we appreciate the fact you could make far more money consulting or in corporate America but you choose to pastor sheep like us.
  4. We need you to know how much we look forward to hearing you each Sunday.
  5. We need you to know we have you and your family’s back.
  6. We need you to know we were glad you were there at our most defining moments – weddings, funerals, baptisms and baby dedications.
  7. We need you to know how sorry we are for saying stupid, uneducated, and ill-advised things we deeply regretted later on.
  8. We need you to know we should have paid you more.
  9. We need you to know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.
  10. We need you to know how glad we are you did not resign this past Monday but decided to come back for another Sunday.

[print_link] [email_link] [ Brian Dodd on Leadership ]

Related Images:

The Shepherd’s Sacrifice

Today is the day that we in the USA set aside to recognize and honor the place of mothers in our society.

Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of their mother goddesses, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service.

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis. Following her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.

Over the years, many towns and churches adopted the holiday and Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1914, by Woodrow Wilson.

Get this, Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate moms, and with good reason because they are always looking out for someone else, they sacrifice so much for others, they protect their children and their household, and mothers lead their families in ways that are best, right, and true. They are not like the nanny or the babysitter.

The babysitter is a hired hand, and while they may be looking out for the children while mom is away, it would be unusual for the hired hand to sacrifice themselves by running into a burning building to rescue the children. It is the maternal instinct that kicks in and allows a mother to make such a sacrifice.

Enter the shepherd in John chapter ten:

Today we are looking at a passage of Scripture that reveals the magnificence of our Good Shepherd. We are going to see how the heavenly shepherd behaves, and you will likely make an obvious connection to the sacrifices of earthly parents.

In John 10, this particular debate grew out of our Lord’s confrontation with Jewish leaders, following the excommunication of the blind beggar (John 9). Jesus had briefly spoken to the people about light and darkness, but here he changed the imagery to that of a shepherd and his sheep. Why? Because to the Jewish mind, a “shepherd” was any kind of leader, spiritual or political. People looked on the king and prophets as shepherds. Israel was privileged to be “the flock of the Lord” (Psalm 100:3).

Jesus opened his sermon with a familiar illustration (John 10:1–6), one that every listener would understand. The sheepfold was usually an enclosure made of rocks, with an opening for the door. The shepherd would guard the flock at night by lying across the opening. It was not unusual for several flocks to be sheltered together in the same fold. In the morning, the shepherds would get up, call to their sheep, and assemble their own flocks. Each sheep recognized his own master’s voice.

The true shepherd comes in through the door, and the sheep recognize him. The thieves and robbers could never enter through the door, so they have to climb over the wall and enter the fold through deception. But even if they did get in, they would never get the sheep to follow them, because sheep follow only the voice of their own shepherd. The false shepherds can never lead the sheep, so false shepherds have to steal them away.

It is unfortunate that John 10:1 is often used to teach that the sheepfold is heaven, and that those who try to get in by any way other than Christ are destined to fail. While the teaching is true (Acts 4:12 says there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved), it is not based on this verse. Jesus made it clear that the fold is the nation of Israel (John 10:16). Did you know that Mormons use that verse and claim that THEY are the other sheep of which Jesus was referring? Jesus makes it clear that it is the Gentiles who are the “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel.

When Jesus came to the nation of Israel, he came the appointed way, just as the Scriptures promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God and sent by God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the true sheep will “hear his voice” and not be afraid to follow him. The true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them.

Since the people did not understand his symbolic language, Jesus followed the illustration with some application (John 10:7–10). Twice He said, “I am the Door.” HE is the Door of the sheepfold and makes it possible for the sheep to leave the fold (the religion of Judaism) and to enter HIS flock. The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!

But the Shepherd does not stop with leading the sheep out; He also leads the sheep in. They become a part of the “one flock” (not “fold” – see John 10:16) which is his church. He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9). When you keep in mind that the shepherd actually was the “door” of the fold, this image becomes very real.

He is the DOOR for the Sheep (John 10:7-10). As the Door, Jesus delivers sinners from bondage and leads them into freedom. They have salvation! This word “saved” means “delivered safe and sound.” It was used to say that a person had recovered from severe illness, come through a bad storm, survived a war, or was acquitted at court.

Jesus was referring primarily to the religious leaders of that day (John 10:8). He was not condemning every prophet or servant of God who ever ministered before He came to earth. The statement “ARE thieves and robbers” (not “were”) makes it clear that He had the present religious leaders in mind. They were not true shepherds nor did they have the approval of God on their ministry. They did not love the sheep, but instead exploited them and abused them. The beggar was a good example of what the “thieves and robbers” could do.

It is clear in the Gospel record that the religious rulers of Israel were interested only in providing for themselves and protecting themselves. They turned God’s temple into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13), and they plotted to kill Jesus so that Rome would not take away their privileges (John 11:49–53).

The True Shepherd came to save the sheep, but the false shepherds take advantage of the sheep and exploit them. Behind these false shepherds is “the thief” (John 10:10), which is probably a reference to Satan. The thief wants to steal the sheep from the fold, slaughter them, and destroy them.

When you go through “the Door,” you receive life and you are saved. As you go “in and out,” you enjoy abundant life in the rich pastures of the Lord. His sheep enjoy fullness and freedom. Jesus not only GAVE His life for us, but He GIVES His life to us right now!

Jesus also declares, “I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11–21). This is the fourth of our Lord’s I AM statements in John’s Gospel (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9). Certainly in making this statement, He is contrasting Himself to the false shepherds who were in charge of the Jewish religion of that day. He had already called them “thieves and robbers,” and now He would describe them as “hirelings.”

Some of the greatest people named in the Bible were shepherds by occupation: Abel, the patriarchs, Moses, and David, to name a few. Keep in mind that Jewish shepherds did not tend the sheep in order to slaughter them, unless they were used for sacrifice. Shepherds tended them that the sheep might give wool, milk, and lambs.

Jesus pointed out four special ministries that He performs as the Good Shepherd.

He DIES for the sheep (John 10:11–13). Under the old covenant, the sheep died for the shepherd; but now the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep! Five times in this sermon, Jesus clearly affirmed the sacrificial nature of His death (John 10:11, 15, 17–18). He did not die as a martyr, killed by men; He died as a substitute, willingly laying down His life for us.

Jesus contrasted Himself to the hireling who watches over the sheep only because he is paid to do so. But when there is danger, the hireling runs away, while the true shepherd stays and cares for the flock. The key phrase is “who is not the owner of the sheep” (John 10:12). The Good Shepherd purchases the sheep and they are His because He died for them. They belong to Him, and He cares for them.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are compared to sheep; and the comparison is a good one. Sheep are clean animals, unlike pigs and dogs (2 Peter 2:20–22). They are defenseless and need the care of the shepherd (Psalm 23). They are, to use Wesley’s phrase, “prone to wander,” and must often be searched for and brought back to the fold (Luke 15:3–7). Sheep are peaceful animals, useful to the shepherd. In these ways, they picture those who have trusted Jesus Christ and are a part of God’s flock.

The Pharisees, in contrast to good shepherds, had no loving concern for the beggar of John 9, so they put him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and cared for him.

He DISCERNS (knows) His sheep (John 10:14–15). In the Gospel of John, the word know means much more than intellectual awareness. It is more of an intimate relationship between God and His people (see John 17:3). The shepherd knows his sheep personally and therefore knows best how to minister to them.

To begin with, our Lord knows our names (see John 10:3). He knew Simon (John 1:42) and even gave him a new name. He called Zaccheus by name (Luke 19:5); and when He spoke Mary’s name in the garden, she recognized her Shepherd (John 20:16). If you have ever had your identity “lost” in a maze of computer operations, then you can appreciate the comforting fact that the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep by name.

He also knows our natures. While all sheep are alike in their essential nature, each sheep has its own distinctive characteristics; and the loving shepherd recognizes these traits. One sheep may be afraid of high places, another of dark shadows. A faithful shepherd will consider these special needs as he tends the flock.

Have you ever noticed how different the 12 disciples were from one another? Peter was impulsive and outspoken, while Thomas was hesitant and doubting. Andrew was a “people person” who was always bringing somebody to Jesus, while Judas wanted to “use” people in order to get their money for himself. Jesus knew each of the men personally, and He knew exactly how to deal with them.

Because He knows our natures, He also knows our needs. Often, we don’t even know our own needs! Psalm 23 is a beautiful poetic description of how the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. In the pastures, by the waters, and even through the valleys, the sheep need not fear, because the shepherd is caring for them and meeting their needs. If you connect Psalm 23:1 and 6, you get the main theme of the poem: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want … all the days of my life.”

As the shepherd cares for the sheep, the sheep get to know their shepherd better. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. They get to know Him better by listening to His voice (the Word) and experiencing His daily care. As the sheep follow the Shepherd, they learn to love and to trust Him.

He DELIVERS (brings) other sheep into the flock (John 10:16). The “fold” is Judaism (John 10:1), but there is another fold—the Gentiles who are outside the covenants of Israel (Eph. 2:11ff). In our Lord’s early ministry, He concentrated on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24–27). While the people converted at Pentecost were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:5, 14), the church was NOT to remain a “Jewish flock.” Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10–11), and Paul carried the message to the Gentiles in the far reaches of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1ff).

The missionary message of the Gospel of John is obvious: “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Jesus Himself defied custom and witnessed to a Samaritan woman. He refused to defend the exclusivist approach of the Jewish religious leaders. He died for a lost world, and His desire is that His people reach a lost world with the message of eternal life.

He has DOMINION over (takes up) His life (John 10:17–21) which benefits the sheep. This is a reference to his voluntary death was followed by his victorious resurrection. From the human point of view, it appeared that Jesus was executed; but from the divine point of view, he laid down his life willingly. Three days later, he voluntarily took up his life again and arose from the dead, demonstrating his dominion over sin and death.

Sometimes the Scriptures teach that it was the Father who raised the Son (Acts 2:32; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:20). Yet here, the Son stated that he had authority to take up his life again. Both are true, because the Father and the Son worked together in perfect harmony (John 5:17, 19).

I have one final D word, DIVISION. That is how the listeners responded to Jesus’ message. “There was a division therefore again among the Jews” (John 10:19). This is not the only time this word is used (John 7:43; 9:16). The old accusation that Jesus was a demon-possessed was hurled at him once again (John 7:20; 8:48, 52). People will do almost anything to avoid facing the truth!

We think this is only a Jesus story, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to us today. But whenever someone stands for the truth, stands for right, proposes something new that will enhance our worship experience or challenge us to grow in our faith and in numbers, it can cause division, even among God’s people. The root cause of this sort of division can be linked to our corporate attitude. Do we move ahead in faith, trusting God to move us to higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church? Or will we resist growth and change, and even the ability of God to work through us because we treat the traditions of men as doctrines of God?

Since Jesus Christ is “the Door,” we should expect a division, because a door shuts some people in and others out! He is the Good Shepherd, and the shepherd must separate the sheep from the goats. It is impossible to be neutral about Jesus Christ; because, what we believe about him is a matter of life or death (John 8:24).

In conclusion, let me tell you another shepherd story:

Two men were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the 23rd Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a very powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. (I think of Alexander Scourby reading the KJV Bible).

Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words–‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.

Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.

So, do you know this Shepherd of whom I speak? It is a matter of faith to trust that he is who he said he is. Today can be your fresh start of salvation.

How can you be more attentive to the voice of Jesus? I remember playing out in the neighborhood all day and then it came time for supper. Each of my friends and I could easily pick out that one voice, their own mom’s voice, from all the others calling us home for dinner. Have you heard HIS voice? That one voice that calls you to himself?

How can you develop a closer connection to Jesus; through prayer, Bible study, serving others?

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The Shepherd’s Staff

The Shepherd’s Staff – Ezekiel 34:7-16

This is a difficult and ambiguous time at King’s Grant Baptist Church. It is hard to take in that the person who has shepherded us for all these years has decided to leave us. Many couples have been married, many family members have been buried. A pastor goes through life with us, we were a family.

On the other side, now we feel alone, vulnerable, anxious, and to some degree we feel betrayed by the simple fact that our pastor is going to shepherd other people instead of us. Yes, we recognize God’s calling on his life, and sometimes following that call moves our ministers in a different direction, but we grieve the loss none the less.

There is no doubt that losing a pastor can be a time of upheaval for a church. When a pastor simply retires after long and faithful service (like Jerry), or if he moves on to another area of service in response to God’s leading (like Skip), it can be a time of sweet sorrow. We can, and should lift him up in prayer and encourage him in his new adventure.

But there is also a flip side. We grieve the loss, the ambiguity, and the anxiety, the uncertainty: who will faithfully teach us the Bible? Who will do our wedding? Who will preach my funeral? Who will train me to be all that God wants me to be for his kingdom’s sake?

Then there is the inevitable posturing for leadership by various members of a congregation. This is generally done because some people sense a vacuum of leadership now that the CEO is gone. The thought is that WE need to gain control of the situation, perhaps others feel that no one can better lead during this time than so and so, and during this election year, we can tend to campaign for taking on such leadership. After all this potential tension, it comes down to trusting the body of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit who is leading the people of King’s Grant Baptist Church.

In order to help us through this difficult time, we must first begin with an understanding of exactly whom the church belongs to. The church does not belong to the pastor or to the leadership or even to the congregation. While we embrace congregational rule and autonomy in a Baptist church, we cannot lose sight of the fact of whose church this really is.

The church belongs to Christ. The Bible says that Christ is the Head of the church. The word church (ekklesia) literally means the “assembly of the called-out ones.” These called-out ones gather together to worship the head of the church, our Savior, our Lord, our True Shepherd.

The church (all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ) is committed to following the leadership of Christ in all that we do; by obeying Him, and even presenting an accurate image of Christ to a lost world who is constantly watching. The church is the body of Christ. He died for His body, and His body dies daily in order to live for Him. Until and unless church leadership is committed to this biblical model and the congregation comes to grips with this truth, no pastor can really be successful.

So the first step in surviving the loss of a pastor is to understand the definition of the church. Additionally, we should be united in our understanding of and our commitment to the church, both the local church and the universal church. A lot of church conflict comes from a lack of unity in the beliefs of the church and the commitments of the church to its mission and purpose. The church is not about US, the church is about and FOR him. So, before beginning to seek a new pastor, the church, the body, must agree on the true leader of the church.

It is amazing that when we have a proper Christology, other issues become very clear. As an example, our understanding of Christ will determine our understanding of our mission; which in turn determines our understanding of church. We cannot get this out of order. For the visually inspired, it looks something like this:

Christology-Missiology-EcclesiologySecond, the church must understand and be committed to the sovereignty of God in all things. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God, God allowed this to accomplish his will and his purposes, for US and for HIM. God has assured us that, all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The church can take comfort in the knowledge that we are being led by the sovereign God who is involved in the details of everyday life and the ministry of his church.

Third, the departure of a pastor is a good time to reevaluate and/or redefine the mission and work of the church. There are obvious commands from Scripture—teaching and preaching the Word of God, being a people of prayer, worshipping and glorifying our heavenly Father, and fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples. But we have to ask ourselves if we have moved from our original calling to be on mission; living with purpose and intentionality. Have we embraced a more comfortable lifestyle and do we emphasize our own worship preferences? We must ask the question, as John says in the Revelation, “Have we lost our first love, and left the mission and vision that Jesus has for us?” Leaving our first love can manifest itself by promoting our own desires and preferences over Jesus and his mission, the lost, and God’s calling us to be on mission with him.

All this is to say, God is in charge, so we don’t have to take control of the situation. He knew that we would be going this long before the announcement was ever made. Nothing catches God off guard, and we don’t have to worry. Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you, Peter tells us (1 Peter 5:7). I believe that God is going to teach us something during this time. While our local shepherd has left us, the Good Shepherd will never leave us nor forsake us. We are NOT lost sheep and we are NOT left as orphans. God has a plan for us and we must simply trust that he is looking out for us!

This church has gathered under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; we have among us a fine group of servant leaders. You have a capable and faithful staff that is in place to care for the needs of this congregation and offer leadership during this interim time. It is my desire that the congregation have confidence in your current staff to guide us through this time of change and uncertainty.

Ok, so let’s get to this passage about shepherds in Ezekiel 34.

This passage begins with a look at the ungodly leaders of Israel, and the apostasy of the kings of Israel. When ungodly leaders lead God’s people, everyone suffers. While they are called “shepherds,” they are actually political leaders, perhaps kings. Of Israel’s 20 kings, ALL of them were weak, unspiritual, and evil leaders. Of the 20 kings of Judah, only six were good. Godliness was missing from every aspect of community life, just take a look at Ezekiel 22. Leaders used their strength to shed blood (Ezekiel 22:4, 6), prophets devoured people and seized their valuables, they multiplied widows (Ezekiel 22:25), the priests did violence and profaned the holy things of God (Ezekiel 22:26). So, with leaders like this, who will blame the people for practicing extortion, robbery, oppression of the poor, or exploitation of the foreigners, (Ezekiel 22:29). There is a great and sober truth at play here: people learn by example.

There was an absence of leadership in every way possible. And because if it, the Lord counted them all guilty of violating his trust and he announced their destruction. As a result, God’s lament over the situation is recorded in Ezekiel 22:30, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” The people needed a leader who would challenge them toward personal holiness and embrace God’s global purpose.

This verse of Scripture, Ezekiel 22:30, reminds me of a song years ago by Al Denson, called “Be the One”

In a world full of broken dreams, Where the truth is hard to find
For every promise that is kept, There are many left behind
Though it seems that nobody cares, It still matters what you do
Cause there’s a difference you can make, But the choice is up to you

Will you be the one, To answer to His call
Will you stand, When those around you fall
To take His light, Into a darkened world
Tell me will you be the one?

Instead of having leaders who were consumed by God’s glory, God’s mission, and leading the people for their own good, Israel’s shepherds were concerned with themselves, (Ezekiel 34:2). Look at some of the issues revealed in Ezekiel 34:1-8…

The False Shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-8)

  1. They feed and water themselves (Ezekiel 34:1-3)
  2. They refuse to care for the weak, sick, injured (Ezekiel 34:4)
  3. They allow wild animals to devour them (Ezekiel 34:5-8)

It was the responsibility of the shepherds, the leaders, to care for the people, to protect them, and to see to it that their needs were met. But these selfish leaders of the kingdom of Israel had abused and exploited the people because they thought only of themselves.

The leaders not only exploited the sheep but they also abused them by neglecting to meet their needs. Sheep require constant care, but the leaders didn’t manage the nation’s affairs for the sake of the sheep, but for their own profit. They didn’t care for the sheep at all, but only for themselves. As I put this together, I thought, any resemblance to those in DC is purely coincidental.

False shepherds of the Old Testament had led the nation to ruin, yet God will come to rescue his people. True leaders don’t exploit their people—they sacrifice for them. Jesus, the true shepherd, set the example by laying down His life for His flock (John 10:10). I’ll talk more about this on Mother’s Day May 8.

Rather than focus on the ungodly shepherds of their day, I want to focus on that which God expects of US today, for the leaders of his sheep.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was called, “the Dukes of Hazard.” At least once each week Uncle Jessie would get on the CB radio and call out, “Shepherd to lost sheep, shepherd to lost sheep, y’all got your ears on?” So, in this passage, while God has stern words for the shepherds, he will also comfort his people, because he has a message for his lost sheep.

God may have been chastising the shepherds, but he never gave up on his sheep. Check out what he expected the shepherd to do.

The Faithful Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

  1. He seeks the sheep (Ezekiel 34:11)
  2. He cares for his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12a)
  3. He delivers or rescues his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12b)
  4. He gathers his sheep (Ezekiel 34:13)
  5. He feeds his sheep (Ezekiel 34:14-15a)
  6. He leads his sheep (Ezekiel 34:15b)
  7. He pastors his sheep (Ezekiel 34:16)
    1. Positive: seeks the lost, brings back the scattered, binds the broken, strengthens the sick (Ezekiel 34:16a)
    2. Negative: destroys the fat and strong, feeding them with judgment

I want you to notice the personal pronouns used in this section, Ezekiel 34:11-16. These are first person promises, some 25 promises in all. These promises include judgment as well as deliverance. When we read about all of the exploitation of the kings, these “I will” statements in Ezekiel 34 suggest God’s determination to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people. No longer will there be a human mediator between God and his people. The Messiah was to be the shepherd of God’s people.

God was leading the sheep for their own good, not as Israel’s shepherds had done, who were in it for themselves. After reading this list of what the faithful shepherd is going to do, why would the people of God want a different kind of king over them, other than God?

What about us? God wants to have authority over us, but we often feel that his authority is NOT in our best interest. Is he really looking out for us? Don’t I get a say in this? I have all of my life goals and plans, or the vision for this church, all set and they’re beginning to unfold, so don’t come in a make me change anything. Let me tell you, immediate obedience to God is always in our best interest; disobedience always brings vulnerability and downfall.

God wants to lead us for our own good. He is not a tyrant; he is one who wants to relate to us and carefully lead his sheep.

What I see here is actually pretty staggering; but the truth is that we DO NOT deserve this type of leadership. In case we are viewing ourselves as defenseless, fluffy, innocent sheep who are worthy of a sacrificial leader, we should always remember that just like Israel, we have often rejected God’s leadership. Perhaps we have even hated God’s leadership. In fact, every sin that we commit is actually a profession that WE are really in charge. Each sin is a reminder of our OWN reign in our lives, and a demotion of God’s reign. And we are ALL guilty, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6).

In spite of our rebellion, God has never wavered from his desire to reconcile sinners to himself. No one has ever sacrificed so much, his own Son, to bring an ungrateful people into his presence.

So during this time of uncertainty of not having a senior pastor, I trust that you will have confidence in God’s direction and leadership, and in the earthly shepherds that our heavenly father has provided. We need, and have, shepherds (your staff members) who are looking out for your best interests. We are here to love you, care for you. We are here to challenge you to strive for God’s best, and to take risks for the kingdom’s sake. You are not left as orphans because our pastor is gone. This time in the life of our church is cause to embrace the True Shepherd who cares for us more than any earthly human being is ever able to do. Don’t fret, don’t worry, but have confidence in God, in our Savior, and in his timing. Anticipate and expect much greater things in our future. For his glory and his honor! Amen.

Next Steps:

  1. Will you commit yourself to prayer during this time, as we seek a new pastor?
  2. Will you commit yourself to others in this church through faithful participation and active service?
  3. Will you put your own desires and personal preferences aside as we seek to become a church focused on God’s mission and global purpose?
  4. In what ways will you seek the lost? Bring back the scattered? Bind the broken? Strengthen the sick? Feed or lead the sheep?
  5. In what ways will you meet the needs of others during this time of uncertainty?

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Sheep Are Led, Not Driven

I was recently reading some A. W. Tozer on leadership; very sobering and needed in American cultural Christianity…

Cattle are driven; sheep are led; and our Lord compares his people to sheep, not to cattle.
It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader—that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.—Psalm 95:6-7

The minister must EXPERIENCE what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to CULTIVATE his OWN heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others.

If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will SURELY FAIL. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go on beyond the point to which he himself has attained.

The law of the leader tells us who are preachers that it is better to cultivate our souls than our voices. It is better to polish our hearts than our pulpit manners, though if the first has been done well and successfully it may be profitable for us to do the second. We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, and it thus becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

[ The Price of Neglect, 151-153 ]

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