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Are We Getting The Leaders We Deserve?

Leaders-we-deserve

Thinkpublic on Flickr

It is a presidential election year in the U.S. I know I am stating the obvious because it has been one of the most interesting run-ups to an election in my lifetime. It was only two short months ago that there were  five viable candidates for the presidency. Yet the fascinating aspect was that none of the five had a positive popularity rating. Even now as we are down to the two presumptive nominees–neither one has a positive popularity rating. It clearly feels like “we the people” are having to choose between the lesser of two evils.

How did we get to this point?

Are we getting the leaders we deserve?

In a word, “Yes.”

Leaders create culture, and that culture must be sustained by future leaders. If it is not sustained then that culture will reverse the role and create the leaders it desires. When we ignore this fundamental truth we should not be surprised by the results. But in a democratic society where our leaders are elected officials, it should not surprise us that we ultimately get a reflection of ourselves. Every election year we demand character, but we don’t express character. Our leaders are a reflection of who we are. Here are three reasons why.

Civil Over Sacred. Civil means those things that relate to the citizenry. It is climate and culture established by law that is deemed appropriate by citizens. Sacred means holy, that which is highly valuable and important. We are rushing headlong towards ensuring that there is no such thing as moral constants. Postmodernity has come home to fully roost.

We are rushing headlong towards ensuring that there is no such thing as moral constants. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and you may not challenge my truth.

The problem is that we know this axiom is not true. We know this at our core. Or we would not be demanding change. When we refuse to believe there are moral absolutes we are left with the excruciating reality that civility comes unglued. You see, sacred is necessary for civil to function well. Sacred holds civil together. When sacred vanishes civil loses its moorings. Civil runs to the loudest voice and the most aberrant one. Romans 1 in the Bible plays out. Leaders begin to lead in the direction of “the greatest civil good”–except there is not “good” anymore. There is no baseline for “good.” “Good” is just a notion, a fancy, and individualized construct.

Leaders begin to lead in the direction of “the greatest civil good”–accept there is no “good” anymore. There is no baseline for “good.” “Good” is just a notion, a fancy, and individualized construct. “Good” is good for me, not for we. We desperately need leaders who value the sacred, knowing that this will actually lay the strongest foundation for the common good.

Immediate Over Consequential. I read an editorial the other day that talked about two markers of our current culture that betrays us into a false sense of moral security. Today we live by the twin principles of “consent” and “no immediate harm”. The first means that as long as there is some form of consent (this mainly lies in the eye of the initiator) any and every behavior is acceptable. The second means that if there are no immediate harmful consequences the first choice of “consent” is affirmed. This was clearly the thinking behind Brock Turner’s actions that led to a sexual assault.

This is thinking only in the context of “now.” This is not wisdom on display that says, “If I go down this path, this is what will happen in the near or distant future.” This is life at our fingertips. This is “on demand” reality. This is snapchat reality–it will disappear as soon as I have been satisfied. This is stupidity at its cynical best–to believe that our choices never have lasting consequences.

Leaders fall prey to this immediacy too. Do whatever it takes to get elected now. Say what you need to say–and if it proves ineffective, change your position. It doesn’t matter if you are a habitual liar, a racist, or an expedient pragmatist.

The problem is we know this axiom is not true either. Choices and actions always have consequences. We will always reap what we sow. It cannot be otherwise. Galatians 6:7-10 stands tall as unavoidable truth and why we must seek ultimate good. We desperately need principled leaders who demonstrate integrity and understand consequential thinking.

One Dimension Over Two. Culture screams that we are simply one-dimensional beings. We are no more than flesh. Therefore our highest good is our own pleasurable experience. Whatever brings us the most pleasure is worthy of being pursued, because there is no other dimension to take into consideration or which we might be harmed.

Again, we know deep down in our hearts–oh, wait a minute, there is no such thing. We are just flesh.

Deep down we fully understand that we are at least two-dimensional beings–body and soul. And every choice we make with our bodies fully impacts our soul. It cannot be otherwise. It is the reason we ache when we harm others or we are harmed. It is the reason we ache when we make choices towards ourselves that are only about bodily pleasure void of any moral compass. It is why Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We actually long for eternity–this is where our soul relishes its fullest expression. We need leaders who fully understand that we were created for more than physical pleasure. We need leaders who understand and lead in such a way that every person’s soul is valued and honored.

Peggy Noonan wrote and insightful piece in her weekend column for the Wall Street Journal about the presidential election. She stated, “It is probably the case this year that most voters see the issue of character as null and void–neither candidate is admirable in that area. You can say that the old standards have been swept away, that when it comes to character we’re a changed nation, that Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton are the result of that decline, and that you pick from among the candidates on offer.” That is the leadership that our culture has created.

This is not just about politics. This is about good leaders in every realm of society–including the church.

We will always get the leaders we deserve.

Create & Redeem: Two Purposes for Every Leader

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Uzi Yachin on Flickr

There are many themes when it comes to the biblical storyline. Two themes stand out in my estimation: creation and redemption.

Genesis 1:1 reads, In the beginning, God created . . . 

Revelation 10:6 states, (he) who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it . . . 

Exodus 6:6 reads, Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.

Hebrews 9:12 declares, he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

From the beginning of the Bible to the end of the Bible there is the  witness of creation and redemption.

God’s leaders are able to emulate God himself according to these themes. We stand as co-creators with God and we are able to act in redemptive ways when it comes to lost causes and people in need of deliverance.

Noah built an ark. This stands as both a creative act and ultimately a redemptive act. Noah’s creative leadership preserved a family on the face of the earth.

Abraham built an altar to sacrifice his son. He did so at the command of God. Yet, this too was a creative act and a redemptive act. Abraham was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but God provided an alternative sacrifice that Isaac might become the child of promise.

David and his son Solomon built the temple. This too was both a creative act and a redemptive act. The temple served as the resting place for the very presence of God. The temple marked the people of Israel as God’s chosen people.

Nehemiah empowered many of his countrymen to construct a wall for the protection of Jerusalem. This was in concert with a rebuilt temple and a rebuilt people. A wall meant protection. A wall defined a city in the ancient Near East. This was a creative act and a redemptive act.

The Romans created the cross as a form of execution for known criminals. Unknowingly, it became a redemptive act as our Savior hung upon it for the sins of the world.

I think it is fair to say that all creative acts should have a redemptive purpose. That is the essence of servant leadership. Leaders should never create unto themselves. They should create in response to problems, deficiencies, injustices, and wrongs. Leaders are at their best when they are acting as problem solvers. The necessity of leadership implies the necessity for change. Leaders look out and discern what is broken and what requires correction. Then they create solutions–redemptive solutions that provide deliverance, that set people free.

Consider–what if every leader awoke tomorrow and pondered what needs fixing. What problem solved, if truly solved, would liberate people to take the next step towards being all that they were meant to be? What redemptive leadership step would allow more people to move towards their intended created purpose?

Try it on. Ask yourself,

How can my leadership actions towards creating redemptive solutions serve the world tomorrow?

How can I act with God as a co-creator to bring deliverance?

How can I right a wrong?

How can I bring greater flourishing?

How can I serve others in such a way that they move closer to their created purpose? 

This is leadership with purpose.

What will your leadership create and redeem?

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Nes Celeste on Flickr

The Environment Leaders Create

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Recently, I was part of a group of national leaders looking at Acts 11:19-30 and Acts 13:1-3 in the Bible. Our assignment was to consider the environment that these 1st century leaders created during the early stages of the Church.

These passages follow on the heels of the persecution of Stephen in Jerusalem. They also follow the resulting persecution of the early Church and the miraculous conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. In God’s sovereignty this was how the good news of Jesus death, burial and resurrection began to spread outside of Jerusalem. Now the Church was beginning to be extended to Cyprus and Syria. Acts 11 tells us that many were turning to the Lord, wherever the good news was being declared.

Two leaders arise out of a need to establish these new Christ followers in the regions beyond Judea. Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus (the same person who was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus in Acts 9) move to the forefront as missionary leaders for the Church in its infancy.

There are four tangible elements that can be discerned from this biblical episode towards the right environment for growth and effectiveness.

Leaders Help Create Change

In Acts 10 the good news of Jesus moves beyond the Jewish community to the home of a Roman soldier. Now we see in Acts 11 how that same good news is being broadly proclaimed to many Gentiles throughout Antioch. This is a significant paradigm shift. This is huge missional change. The people of God now began to include the Gentiles. Racial and ethnic dividing lines had been broken.

Leaders help initiate, lead, and sustain necessary change. If something doesn’t need change then you do not need a true leader. God, in His infinite wisdom, uses leaders to create change as a part of an effective environment for growth.

Leaders Affirm The Work of God

The church leaders in Jerusalem heard about what God was doing in Antioch. They sent Barnabas to inquire and validate the reality of life transformation that was taking place because of the gospel. Barnabas did just that. He affirmed the work of God in Antioch, and by doing so validated for the rest of the Church the work of God as it moves away from its cultural roots.

Leaders need to give affirmation to the effective work around them so that others are blessed and faith is expanded by all who see and hear. We can forget the power of encouraging words near and far. Affirmation injects confidence and courage into the missional environment. Timely affirmation is a critical piece of the right environment that leaders must help to create.

Leaders Add Resources to the Work of God

Barnabas began to realize that the Church in Antioch was growing so fast that more leadership was needed. In particular, more teaching was needed so that these new Christ followers could be established in the faith. Barnabas found Saul (Paul) and brought him to Antioch to meet the need. Barnabas and Saul remained in Antioch for a whole year to engage in teaching these new believers.

Leaders readily seek out more resources to meet the greatest needs of their followers. Sometimes that resource may be more or better tools. Sometimes it may involve more funding. This time it meant bringing in another leader to share the load . . . one who was well equipped to meet the current need. Appropriate resources are necessary for a leadership and missionary environment to flourish.

Leaders Release Resources to Further the Work of God

In Acts 13 we learn that new leaders have been raised up within the fledgling church at Antioch. The work must continue to spread. There were more villages, towns, and cities where the good news had not been heard. The gospel is always missional. God’s Spirit  communicated to these church leaders that it was time to send Barnabas and Saul out to extend the work. Without hesitation they did so. Saul and Barnabas were the right leaders to be on the front lines of this new endeavor. More leaders had been raised up for the work of sustaining what God had started in Antioch. It was time to release Saul and Barnabas towards the next frontier.

In God’s economy resources are never meant to be hoarded. They are to be wisely stewarded towards His calling and service. Sometimes this includes releasing your best to help ensure the ongoing work of Christ. This creates a healthy environment for the sending entity, those who are being sent, and for the work ahead.

Leaders always create some type of environment wherever they go.

That is the nature of leadership.

What type of environment are you seeking to create?

(photo credit)

Exposed Leaders

showImageThe team that I serve on just returned from attending the Q Conference in Los Angeles. It was a great two and half days of over stimulation. Q was started by Gabe Lyons. His stated purpose is, “Q educates the church and cultural leaders on their role and opportunity to embody the gospel in public life.” The tag line from the Q Ideas web site is “Ideas for the common good.” This was my 1st experience with Q and, upon evaluation, I believe they delivered. Every presentation was either 3 minutes, 9 minutes, or 18 minutes in length. They were powerful and varied. We heard messages on the power of story, child trafficking, the North Korean underground railroad, sexual economics, freedom inside of limits, the power of infographics, the cure for homelessness, surfing, and much more. There were over 40 presentations in two and half days. There were Q & A sessions with the presenters, there were round table discussions, and there was ample opportunity to meet unique and passionate leaders from all over the country who are fully engaged in our culture. It was a rich time of learning and understanding.

As I have begun to reflect on my experience at Q, I have seen afresh the great value in leaders being exposed to contexts outside their own.

All of us as leaders need to be exposed to new and different ways of thinking. We need to meet and engage with people who will challenge our categories. It is easy to stay inside the walls of our own understanding and never realize that needs abound right outside our gates. I am convinced that our team will be learning from this experience for sometime to come. It will certainly change how we approach our task. I know it will alter some of my fast held viewpoints.IMG_5347

Here are four reasons for the absolute necessity of leaders and teams placing themselves in challenging environments that are not their own:

1. To help us evaluate our own paradigms. It is easy to have tunnel vision. Leaders rightly are focused on their cause and their perceived solutions. But when you are exposed to new insights and different vantage points there is a natural evaluation that takes place. It is a healthy one. It doesn’t mean that you will quit your leadership role and take up a new cause–necessarily. But it certainly might lead you to fresh understanding and new solutions. You might see things in a whole new light which could lead to much greater effectiveness.

2. To stimulate our learning towards other’s paradigms. I know very little about North Korea except what I see on TV. I was unaware of some of the brutality that is taking place daily. I knew nothing of a vast underground railroad that is helping people make it to freedom. I have never thought much about the clothing industry and how it affects a woman’s identity. I have not rightly valued the virtue of modesty and dignity and all of their good consequences in a sex crazed world. I have never considered deeply that freedom and creativity actually arise from limits. I need to see life and culture through the lens of others. I need to have my limited perspective challenged. I will be better for it. Being exposed to another paradigm creates a learning opportunity I regularly need.

3. To humbly enter in as one among many. Its easy to feel like a big deal within your own organizational culture. That is the “beneficial” side of comparison. But when you get around a bunch of leaders who are half your age and changing the world . . . well, its humbling. When you talk to leaders who are 20 years older than you and you see the fire in their eyes . . . well, its humbling. And its inspiring. And it instills hope. It is invigorating. You gain a much grander view of God and His work in the world. And you realize that you are one part of the body of Christ. A significant part . . . but only a part. I think that is a good vantage point for leading boldly, but humbly into the future.

4. To personally meet and dialogue with leaders that are as passionate as you are . . . about something else. You and I do not have a corner on vision, passion, and drive. There are many gifted leaders out there who definitely feel called into human need. They are using their craft to bring light into a dark world. They are calling others to join them as vital participants to make a difference . . . just as I long to do. I need their callings and values to rub off on me. And I think they need me too. That is one of the great values of engagement and dialogue.

There are many good environments from which to choose to gain this type of exposure.

An unexposed leader will all to quickly become myopic and proud.

Will you join me for Q Nashville?

 

A Contrast of Two Leaders

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Alan Levine on Flickr

In 3 John 9-12 we find a contrast between two leaders in a fledgling community of Christ followers. Diotrephes is the negative example and Demetrius is the positive one. 3 John 9 says, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” The verb translated “to put himself first” is used only here in the New Testament and literally means “a love for having the highest rank or position.” Because Diotrephes held this attitude he could not acknowledge John’s apostolic authority, nor probably anyone else’s.

If you love to be first, it is going to be really difficult to acknowledge anyone else as a valid authority in your life.

There is a severe consequence to this kind of attitude.

You cannot give away power and you ultimately cannot multiply your own leadership.

I believe that the first job of every leader is to raise up more leaders. But you cannot do that without empowering others. John goes on to note that Diotrephes also did not welcome the brothers, and even tried to prevent others within the body from doing so. Most likely these “brothers” were traveling teachers, fellow laborers who circulated through the early church, helping to build up the body of believers. This too was probably a threat to Diotrephes’ desire to be first.

Another consequence of the attitude of preeminence is that you are unable to partner.

If you cannot recognize the contribution of others then you cannot partner with them for the greater cause of Christ. Diotrephes could not recognize the authority of others. Nor could he welcome the worthy contributions of others.

In contrast, John says that Demetrius “has a good reputation from everyone, and from the truth itself.” Demetrius seems to be held up as an example of a good leader to imitate. But who is this Demetrius? The only other reference we have in the New Testament of a man with this name is in Acts 19. The Demetrius described in the book of Acts was a silver smith who started a riot over the preaching of Paul in Ephesus. He did so because Paul threatened his business of idol making with his preaching of Jesus. We don’t know for sure if this is the same man. But John is most likely addressing this letter to the same general region geographically. If this is the same Demetrius then we have a picture of a radical transformation. The one who opposed Paul and caused a riot was now seen as a Christian leader with an outstanding reputation–one worthy of imitation.

Who do you want to be?

This is the only mention of Diotrephes in the Bible. This is not a legacy you should long for. We must realize that all authority is derived authority and submit our leadership to the lordship of Christ. That is the starting point. That position is what will allow us to honor and welcome others within the body of Christ. It is this attitude that will allow us to empower others and partner well.

A Gathering of Current European Leaders in Spain


I just returned from the Agape Europe Leadership Forum on the Costa Brava of Spain (this is a picture of our conference hotel). AELF is a collection of all the national teams serving Agape Europe (Campus Crusade for Christ in Western Europe). We met for five days and discussed several issues necessary to making progress in extending the gospel of Christ to Europeans in meaningful ways. We talked about fund development, staff development, and leadership development. We spent some great time each day in the book of Ephesians looking at the “fullness of His riches.” My favorite times were actually the many “off conference” conversations with old and new friends to be built up by them in the faith and learn what they are doing to communicate Christ to Europeans. I came home with several things I want to think through and apply in our ministry here in Italy. We also heard some fresh accounts of how God is at work in Western Europe to His glory. And we had some very meaningful times as the Italy national team proocessing all that we were hearing. God is at work in Western Europe–and He has His people strategically placed throughout the continent in faithful and faith filled service for Him. Maybe the greatest thing I took away was hope–in the God of the unvierse and His actions.