Great Leaders aren’t impressed with themselves


Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

– Mark 10:42-45

Reading through Jim Collins‘ book on leadership, “Good To Great”, I couldn’t help but see the connecting points to the thing I am most passionate about, that is leadership in the Church.  I find that I can be quite critical about Church leadership and it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because it’s what I care most about.  I long for her (the Church) greatness and anything short of that just feels like compromise. 

By greatness, I don’t mean in a hyper-driven performance kind of way, I mean it in the sense of not settling for anything less than our full capacity spiritually, missionally, and in all the ways it means to be the peculiar people of God on earth.  “Good is the enemy of great.  And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.”  (p.1) 

Great leaders don’t think too highly of themselves

  • “Good to great leaders do not talk about themselves. . . . They are described with words such as “quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated and did not believe his own clippings.”  (p. 27)  
  • “The good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes.  They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons.  They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.” (p. 28)

In a world of consumerism and the pursuit of entertaining pleasures, are we okay with pastors/ministers/leaders who are not the most charismatic, but actually get the best results because they shepherd with an ear to ‘The Shepherd’ as opposed to a focus on themselves?  Do we believe the meek will inherit the earth, or are we hoping Jesus didn’t really mean that part? Collins actually believes that having the CEO kind of charisma is an inhibtor to greatness, not the very thing that propels you there.  “You can overcome the liabilities of having charisma, but it does require conscious attention.”  (p. 73) 

I have long chewed on these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realised by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of the brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.   (Life Together p.  27-28.)

Leading the Church cannot be about us.  If it is, then we are train-wreck waiting to happen.  Leading has got to be about serving, listening, following and denying ourselves.  It is not our ministry, it is his.  What we put into it is that we care so deeply about his bride that we desire the very best.  We are most passionate and work towards her greatness.

“Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done.”  (p. 209)



Leading with some Soul


Who do you follow and why do you follow them?  Is it because you like their management approach of dehumanizing you to a set of quantifiable tasks and functions in which they exert their control?  I’m guessing not.  Unless you’re a robot, humans like the idea of living and working in freedom where meaning and purpose drive functions. 

Perspectives on Leadership by Gilbert W. Fairholm is a classic text on leadership vs. management styles.  He contrasts management as attached to the hard sciences of modernism and introduces spiritual leadership as a path towards a more holistic future. 

“The manager role involves insuring that group activity is timed, controlled and predictable.”  (1)  The only problem is that human beings are fickle to being controlled and are rarely predictable.  Management at its worst dehumanizes people as merely another cog within the system of productivity towards desired results.  Fairholm suggests that this is a very low level of leadership regardless of results attained.  For too long we have equated critical management tactics as the definition of true leadership.  Have we become machines?  Managing risk is not the kind of leadership that people follow, it’s for those who are ruled by fear, not freedom. 

A spiritual core lies at the heart of all human life.  It expresses itself in beauty, aesthetics and in our relationships with others.  We need to reconnect to the fact that our hearts and minds, and not just our bodies, are dominant in our business relationships.  For life is about spirit, and we humans carry only one spirit that manifests itself in both our life and our livelihood.  (113)

We are to see, inspire and lead people, not control them. 

Fairholm lays out 4 Process Technologies of Spiritual Leadership:

  1. Building Community – being free but acting in harmony with others
  2. Setting a Higher Moral Standard – modeling the natural consequences of doing the right thing
  3. Wholeness – being concerned for the whole person, inspiring their future capacity
  4. Stewardship- trust is earned, but only for a temporary period of time, so act in it

People are not machines, they have souls.  They are capable for more than they realize and it is the role of the leader to get them there.  As a red-blooded American kid, growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s, one of the most inspiring stories of my childhood is something known as the “Miracle on Ice“.  That is where the US Olympic hockey team led arguably the biggest upset in sports history against the Soviets during the height of the Cold War.  It was a time where the country was fragile and vulnverable, we didn’t know what to think of ourselves. 

A group of late adolescent amateurs for one night realized their full capacity and beat the best collection of professional hockey players in the world at the time.  For most of their training, they hated their coach and his seemingly cruel tactics.  But Coach Herb Brooks wasn’t there to manage what they knew they could do, he was there to lead them to what they didn’t know they had the capacity to do.  He led by example, he earned their trust, he galvinized a community of brothers to see themselves as a team and not a collection of individuals.  It would take a team to beat the unbeatable Soviets.  Coach Brooks increased their capacity to it’s fullness, that’s leadership with some soul. 

Where are our leaders with some soul?  The world is waiting . . .

How long oh Lord?

The dark under-belly of society is the frequency and shame of sexual abuse.  I don’t know of a culture, tribe or people on earth that is immune to this embodied evil.  It has the power to destroy the personhood of another in deep and lasting ways. 

According to RAINN , every 2 minutes in the US someone is sexually assaulted.  80% of those victims are under the age of 30.  44% under the age of 18.  Often not assaulted by strangers as 2/3 of the reported cases are from someone known to the victim.

The Penn State scandal this week brought the darkness of one man out into the light.  The accusations surrounding Herman Cain add to the topic at hand.  These are the stories that made it to print, there are countless other stories that remain hidden in the darkness. 

I am a father to 3, my undergrad degree is in adolescent development, I have a long history of working with broken teens, I care about my community and culture.  I often wonder what the ramnifcations will be for a generation of boys raised on internet pornography will be like?  The trappings of porn have become mainstream, beauty and  meaning replaced by flippant consumerism.  We are taught in images that what we desire we are entitlted to.  Welcome to the lie of porn, and our kids are raised on it.

I believe in the one God, the creator of the universe and the sustainer of all things.  I believe that He has not left his creation, that He is actively restoring it back to it’s original intention and will one day complete that restoration.  But for now, in the midst of created beauty, we have brokenness.  Deep, painful, lonely brokenness.  I don’t know how that God sits idle when abuse is present.  He gives us our freedom, and some grossly misuse their freedom in the taking of another.  How He is patient to wait in those instances every 2 minutes as the statistics go, I’ll just never comprehend.  Justice and protection somehow look different from His perspective than it does mine, but I recognize that I don’t know all and I didn’t bring myself into being.  I trust that in the end, beauty will reign.  That is yet my hope.

I sit in deep solidarity with victms of sexual abuse today.  Anytime it makes major headlines, the media shouts its judgments for the sale of it’s goods and services.  In many homes, the victims have to re-live their tragedies in stark memory, walk through the next door of shameful emotions and pain.  But each time, perhaps they learn their freedom again, celebrate their recovery, out of darkness and into the hopeful light.  With the voices of the victims out there today, I pray, “How long oh Lord?”. 

Art as Worship

 ‘Visual Faith: art, theology and worship in dialogue’ by William a. Dyrness

Dyrness lays out a groundwork history and theology of how the visual arts have been used since the beginning of the Church and it’s major markers of differentiation in that span.  Most notably, the Protestant Reformation caused a great rif in terms of the western church being anti-visual images as not wanting to be associated with the ‘Catholics’ and ulitmately establishing itself in the sola biblia mandate choosing to locate it’s epistemology in the written word only. 

Dyrness does well to write the linear history but then lead it into today’s culture of image-driven postmodernity.  He suggests that if we want to be serious about the carrying on of the gospel in today’s culture, we have to take the arts seriously and find a place for them again.  “If they are serious about their inovolvement in culture, they should take seriously their role as patrons of the arts.”  (17) 

Art, then, may be a means, indeed one of the only means, that will catch the attention of this generation.  The problem is that art by itself does not provide the reconciliation and spiritual connection that the human heart really longs for.  It provides at best a kind of substitute religion.  (22)

There is an intersection of Art and Worship, where art leads us to a true reflection of the Trinitarian God amongst us.  What makes it Christian and thus leading to worship?  Dyrness lays out 4 statements to build his case:  (101)

  1. Art is nothing special
  2. What is special is God’s revelation of himself and the call of creation to praise him in response
  3. Human art, when it is good, manages some echo of this reality, either to praise or curse
  4. In some mysterious sense, all art aspires to be worship

Art engages our senses, not just our linear faculties. It beckons us to wonder, imagine and consider other perpsectives altogether out of a state of reflection. There is something powerful about sitting still, using the other side of your brain and slowing down to a contemplation in a world of manic pace.  Stopping to smell the roses, let alone look at them in wonder, is a lost art. 

I think the discerning of the object of worship is the key.  There is not a saving beauty outside of the Kingdom of God and it’s restoration of all of creation.  Dyrness seems to suggest the same:  “Cultivating a deeper consciousness is good as far as it goes; learning from various traditions is also admirable.  But an openness to the sacred, even a deep spiritual hunger, may not enough to sustain an artistic tradition.” (134)  In my opinion, the only satisfying endpoint to the object of worship is Christ and His Kingdom.  All other art, though aesthetically pleasing, would end in the search for something more.  If perhaps all art just feeds this hunger to wonder and desire something more, then that’s an art the Church could sure embrace and offer to a world of truth seekers. 

Street Crossers

Street Crossers , by Rick Shrout  is now out and I’m pretty excited about it!   Let me warn you, I’m pretty biased on this one. 

Chapter one is my faith, ministry, life-story of sorts of how I came to be a planter/leader of missional communities.  Rick and I were introduced years ago through some mutual friends at George Fox University and it has turned into a friendship and partnership along the journey.  I am  quite honored that Rick told not only my story, but the story of my spiritual home, Ordinary Community Church

As well, I couldn’t be more excited than to be neighbored in the book with my brother/friend and co-conspirator in Jason Evans as his story is chapter two.  Jason and I have kindred communities and our stories have long been inter-twined together from the same roots, and now you can see it in book form together.

For many like us, over a decade ago when we embarked on a different journey of church planting, there was little to no one willng to listen to our perspective, let alone take the time to really hear the callings on our hearts.  Rick has become a voice lending credibility and affirmation to missional leaders because his desire is that the Kingdom would continue to come ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. 

Much thanks to Rick for listening and telling our story.