Leadership is stressful even in the best of times. When you are leading through a time of crisis, sometimes the stress feels unmanageable. Learning to cope with stress is one of life’s most important lessons. Learning to lead in the midst of stress is a mark of a courageous leader. So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading?

Acknowledgment or Denial?

My assumption is you are doing one of two things. You are either avoiding the stress by denying it or facing the stress by acknowledging it. You are either escaping it by numbing yourself or you are coping with it by finding a way through it. You are either blaming others for it or you are dealing with it responsibly, learning about yourself and learning how to lead in the midst of it.

Feeding the 5000

One of the most popular stories in the bible gives us insight into coping with stress. It is the story of the feeding of the 5000. When we read the story from Mark’s perspective, we gain insight into coping with the difficulties that come with leadership.

The disciples have just returned from a mission trip, and they are wanting to tell Jesus about their experiences. But there are so many people coming and going that the disciples don’t have time for themselves. Not even time to eat. So, Jesus says to them, “Let’s go off to a place by ourselves. You can rest while you report on your mission encounter.”

They get in their boats to cross the Sea of Galilee to a place less populated, a deserted place. When the people see the disciples leaving, they run ahead to meet them at their destination. When Jesus and the disciples arrive, they are met with the crowd they were trying to leave on the other side of the lake.

The Response

Jesus, out of deep compassion, rearranges his plans and works with the people all day. But his followers are not as flexible or as generous. By late afternoon they are tired and irritable. They realize that the people are hungry and could soon get hostile if something isn’t done to help them. Out of concern for the people, the disciples want to send them away to get their own food and provisions. They pull Jesus aside, point out the difficulty, and suggest that he disperse the people quickly before things get out of hand. It seems logical based upon what they perceive. A problem situation, full of stress and perceived danger.

So, how does Jesus cope with the situation?

Jesus Faces the Situation

First, Jesus decides to face the situation openly. He chooses not to escape or to avoid by rationalizing the situation. When the disciples want to send people away, Jesus responds out of integrity and compassion. He does not see people as a nuisance, so the situation becomes an opportunity to be who he was created to be.

Jesus Surveys his Resoures 

Second, Jesus surveys his resources. He chooses to find out what he has in hand to meet the need of the situation. Although it is not much, it is what he has. In their hurry to escape the problem, by sending the people away, the disciples do not consider what they have going for them. Even though it is not much, they are amazed to discover that there is some food available in the group.

Jesus Uses Available Resources to Address the Need 

Third, Jesus takes the resources and begins the task of meeting the need of the situation. He chooses to do the best he can with what he has. What seems impossible to the disciples, as they look at the problem, becomes a possibility through the courage and decisiveness of Jesus. He is not immobilized by the need or the lack of resources. He knows that nothing can begin until the first step is taken. So, he acts on the basis of what he has. His action gathers strength and turns an unsolvable problem into a success.

Untapped Potential

Now, it is obvious that there is a radical difference between the way Jesus coped with the difficulty and the way you and I usually go about dealing with reality. But the difference is not so much about lack of capacity as it is unused potential.

When you are tired and irritable, you become short-sighted and reduce your field of vision. Too often, in the face of problems or in the midst of difficulties, you don’t always see the possibilities. Instead of utilizing what God has already placed in your midst, you seek a way out either by denying the difficulty or by avoiding the situation.

The reality is, there are always “five loaves and two fish” in every problem. And when you don’t see the possibilities or recognize the resources at hand, you waver, hesitate, and become immobilized. There is nothing that intensifies stress more than inactivity. The longer you standstill in the face of a problem, the more stress you create. On the other hand, the decision to act, no matter how useless it may seem, often breaks the spell and turns the tide. The ability to start acting, even when it seems small and insignificant is key in facing difficulties and solving the problem.

Problem Solving

Life is, and always will be, a process of problem-solving. Jesus came to terms with that fact. He seems to have laid aside all the fantasies of a place where there is no conflict or difficulty. He accepted the fact that such a place does not exist for us humans. This realistic outlook enabled him to focus all his energies on the real issues of life rather than trying to escape them by seeking “the way things used to be” or by longing for things to get back to “normal.”

Posture of Gratitude

How was Jesus able to cope? The secret is found in a posture of gratitude. In facing a hungry crowd when his followers were wringing their hands, Jesus calmly looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God. I don’t think this act pertained only to five loaves and two fish. It included not only that event, but life as it was given to Jesus day by day.

God is Good

Jesus learned the deepest secret there is to learn. The secret? God is good. And God, who gives us life, also loves us, is for us, and is working for our good. Out of that realization came the ability to receive the events of life with gratitude, not resentment. He learned to regard the events and encounters in his life as expressions of love rather than acts of hostility. He was able to see the events as God’s way of dealing positively with humanity.

It is amazing the difference such a posture of gratitude can make in the way we cope with difficulty. If we really begin to look at the things that happen to us as good gifts from God, even the problems take on a different form. Instead of seeing them as hopeless obstacles to our happiness, we come to see them as the challenges that give life its meaning and hope. Problems cease to be overwhelming when we see them as something to be received with gratitude.

Posture of Thanksgiving

The posture of thanksgiving opens our eyes to the resources that are present. Even though the resources might be hidden by the problem, our eyes are opened and we no longer say, “We don’t have enough” or “There is nothing here we can use.” No matter how deep the crisis, God has provided “five loaves and twelve fish” to meet the need. Gratitude opens our eyes to what we already have going for us.

Gratitude encourages us to begin with what we have and to expect more as we move forward. After all, what we have at the beginning has been given by a gracious God. Can’t we expect God to give even more to complete the task? This is what Jesus did. He began to act out in a profound sense of gratitude. His trust and action gathered up strength from earth and heaven until a multitude was fed.

Coping with Reality

So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading? There are a thousand unhealthy ways of coping, like avoiding or escaping being two. 

But there is at least one healthy way of coping. It is the way Jesus modeled for us on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There in the shadow of great difficulty, he faced the problem. He laid hold of the resources already present, and he began to act in terms of what he had.

The truth is you can do the same. It is possible for you to lead through the stress and difficulties you face today. It is as simple and profound as this: let Jesus show you God by letting him reconcile you to the fact that God, who gives life, is good. Let him teach you to receive all of life in gratitude. When this becomes not only your perspective but your way of living, the courage to cope will rise from the depths of your being. Your problems will become the shape of a challenge. Your difficulties will be seen as the bearers of hidden resources. And the crisis will become nothing more than the moment to begin.

Your Next Step

This week, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks for your anxiety. Ask God to open your eyes to the resources present in the situation. And then, by God’s grace, take your first step toward addressing the difficulty. Again, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks in the midst of what seems impossible to overcome. It was good enough for Jesus. Shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

Remember, who you are is how you lead! 

Leadership can be about doing the things that most other people don’t like doing. Confronting interpersonal conflict is one of those things. Whether it is called conflict resolution or conflict management you must address the tension head-on. When it comes to conflict, leadership is not easy. Here is another place I want to say, “Who you are is how you lead.”

Conflict and Disagreements

Abraham Lincoln once remarked that his father had taught him the value of hard work but had never succeeded in teaching him to enjoy it. I confess that I find myself with the same feeling when it comes to conflict and disagreements. To be honest, I like it best when people relate together in warm and harmonious ways. The psalmist says it best, “How good and pleasant it is when people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Yet, after 47 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that such a harmonious state is not always possible or, at times, even desirable.

Barriers to Health

You and I have seen what happens when “being nice” becomes the mode of operation and “peace at any price” is sought out in the midst of conflict. Such actions do not lead to relational health. In fact, they inhibit any honest interaction in which real differences are shared and true fellowship is experienced. 

That is why I say I feel the way Lincoln felt about hard work. When it comes to conflict, I cannot say I “enjoy” it, but I do see its value. With that in mind, there are several insights that are necessary for courageous and effective leadership.

Conflict is Inevitable

First, conflict is inevitable. It is part of who we are as human beings, and it happens in every ongoing relationship. Because it is a part of who we are, it is an opportunity for growth and understanding, as well as change and improvement. It is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed. 

Think of it this way, we are created differently. You and I have different strengths, talents, and abilities. If we love and respect one another, there will be times we find ourselves in disagreement with one another. 

Diversity and Unity

In fact, if we take seriously the doctrine of the Trinity, there is individuality and diversity within the nature of God. There is a dynamic interaction between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not surprising that a world created in the image of this kind of deity would be full of diversity. 

You and I do not think, feel, or act in the same way. This means there will be conflict between us when our differences interact. It also means there will be a richness and creativity that will emerge when we acknowledge our differences and love one another in the midst of our differences. Conflict is the price we pay for our individuality. It is inevitable.

Conflict Shapes Who We Are

Second, conflict shapes who we are. It is through conflict that we become more who God created us to be. Theologian Paul Tillich defined reality as “that which comes against, that which resists us.” It is through conflict that our individual natures are shaped. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Again, think of it this way. It is through encountering resistance that a child begins to distinguish the limits of her/his being. At first the world is an extension of themselves. But when the child pushes on the side of the crib and it does not move, or demands something from his/her parents, and they do not comply, the child experiences conflict. Without it, the true shape of the child’s personality would never be known. 

Disagreements Can Bring Clarity

You and I may not really know each other until we disagree. When I come up against something in you that is not the same as what is in me, then the shape of who you are begins to stand out clearly and distinctly against who I am. 

Our distinctiveness is neither good nor bad. It is just who we are. We each can love and respect each other for who we are and to move forward from there. Only then is there a chance for us to have real fellowship together. Conflict is a gift we receive that helps us love and respect one another as God has created us to be.

An Opportunity for Courageous Leadership

Third, conflict provides the opportunity to lead courageously. Conflict is a daily occurrence. Whether at home, at work, or within relationships, each occurrence is an opportunity to lead with courage and compassion. 

Remember, leadership is taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and the courage of developing that potential. When conflicts arise, you can embrace the situation and the people involved. You work not only to address the problem, but you learn about your own leadership as you lead others through the adverse circumstances. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Tension Leads to Growth

As a leader, you see opportunities that others do not see. You assist others in growing in healthy relationships, because you know that the most authentic relationships do not truly begin until they experience some form of tension with each other. 

Think of it this way. In I John 1:5-7, John writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” 

This means that God is willing to be Godself in all openness. God, by nature, is transparent. God does not hide his uniqueness in darkness or in the shadows. Walking “in the light…” means practicing the same kind of authenticity and transparency. This is the only way you can have true fellowship with those entrusted to your care. You openly acknowledge the realities of the differences of the people around you and interact with them with honesty and clarity.

Courage to Lead

This is where your courage as a leader takes place because this way of leading and relating brings with it the possibility of conflict and disagreement. When two individuals who are not the same come down on opposite sides of things, you must have courage to be authentic and transparent. 

As I stated earlier, this is the price you pay for the kind of fellowship that grows out of honest interaction. It is inevitable. On the other hand, it is a gift that helps you lead with love and respect. It is not easy. Don’t try to avoid or minimize the conflict. See it as an opportunity to become the person and leader you were created to be. 

Your Next Step

This week, take a moment to reflect upon the conflict you are facing. As you focus upon the people involved, are you able to set aside your personal feelings? Are you able to listen to what is being said and to the feelings being expressed? As you listen, where can you work for positive and constructive change? 

Decide how you can best lead in the midst of the situation. Share your decision with a trusted friend. Offer your decisions and conversations to God and move forward with courage. You are not alone. Walk in the light and be who God created you to be. 

No matter how difficult, when you dare to lead with authenticity, working to transform conflict into healthy relationships, you will discover the fellowship God has intended for all God’s creation. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

There was a time in my life when making a name for myself was extremely important. I never said it out loud, but I wanted to be known for something significant. I thought that would give me a reason to like myself and that I would really be somebody who had accomplished something. 

Be Like Jesus

Even though I felt this way, I said I wanted to be like Jesus. I confess at that time I did not understand why Jesus did not share my preoccupation for notoriety. In fact, I was astonished at how indifferent Jesus was to fame or reputation. 

For example, during the early days of his ministry in Galilee, when he was making an impact with the wisdom of his words and the power of his deeds, he deliberately asked the people he helped not to say anything about it to other people.

One day in the wilderness, after feeding 5000 people, the crowd got so excited they wanted to make him their king.  He turned down their offer without batting an eye.

On the last night of his life, after the disciples had been quarreling all afternoon about “making names for themselves” and over who was going to be greatest among them, they gathered for supper in the Upper Room. Not one of them was willing to lower themselves to do the servant’s task of washing the other’s feet. According to John, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” (John 13:3-5).

Jesus and Status

In other words, Jesus did not hold himself above doing the lowliest of tasks. He did not care about status, position, or prestige.  And, there are those puzzling words Paul used in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…” (Philippians 2:5-7). At the time I was trying to make a name for myself, I often wondered how Jesus could be that way and why something so important to me was not important to him. 

So, why am I telling you all of this?  Well, I believe this is one of the secrets to courageous leadership. 

Acceptance of Who God Created You to Be

Jesus didn’t have to make a name for himself because he wholeheartedly accepted the name God had given him. In the Hebraic sense, a name stood for the whole reality of the person. For Jesus to accept and be satisfied with this name meant that he totally accepted who he was, when he was, and where he was in history.   

It was this acceptance of who God had created him to be that freed Jesus from having to make a name for himself. He didn’t have to spend his energy trying to earn what he had already been given. He was at one with God and with whom God had created him to be. 

Jesus’ Authority

Here is the secret. Jesus’ authority was not because of an unusual I.Q. or a healthy E.I. His authority was neither because of a charismatic personality nor economic, social, or political power. His authority lay in his freedom to say, “I am who I am by God’s grace. It is good.” 

This means that it was good that Jesus’ parents were who they were.  It was good that his life was in the time of history that it was in.  It was good that he was a carpenter, that he got to associate with the people who lived in Nazareth.  All these things that came together to make Jesus who he was were good.

Who You Are is How You Lead

This is why I can say, “Who you are is how you lead.” You were created to lead at this time in history. Your experiences from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, and up to today, have shaped you into the person and leader you are for this time in history. 

Now, I’m not dismissing traumatic experiences, but whether you agree or not, you have been shaped into the leader needed for your church and for your community.  You might find yourself in a place you never dreamed of being, but life is good where you are.  You might find yourself with people with whom you identify as not your type, but life is good and enriched by the people entrusted to your care.

Courageous Leadership

The secret to courageous leadership is found in the condition of your heart. You might read books on leadership and attend seminars on leadership, but until you accept the truth that your life is good, that who you are, where you are, and when you are is a good gift from God, you will not be the person God intends you to be, much less the leader needed for this time. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

Look at the writer of the fourth Gospel. The writer is traditionally known as John. Yet, at no point in the Gospel does John identify himself by name.  He describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Why would he identify himself this way? Was he a spiritual egotist, suggesting that he was the favorite among the disciples? Was he part of the inner circle, making his way to the right hand of Jesus?  I suppose either could be true, but I think such speculation reveals more about us than him. 

Here is what I think. John, after meeting Jesus, began to live into his name. He began to become who he was created to be. I think when John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” it was his way of saying, “The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me was the fact that Jesus loved me.  Before then I never had a reason to love myself.  My father, Zebedee, was so busy in the fishing business he did not have time for me.  My mother was a proud and ambitious woman. She had dreams of who my brother and I could be. She was always trying to get us in on the right and left hand of glory.  And my brother, James, was terribly competitive.  

But I never felt I had much worth until the day Jesus met me beside the sea. I could hardly believe it. He didn’t have an agenda. He didn’t pressure me. He didn’t make me feel as if I had to be number one in order to earn his affection.  He simply took delight in me. He took my gifts and interests seriously. And as our friendship developed an incredible thing happened. I began to love myself. For the first time in my life, I realized I did have worth and that who I was and when I was and where I was had value.”

“This is why I chose to refer to myself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ At first, it seemed like a miracle.  Jesus actually loved me.  But the more I lived with it, the more I realized that it was just the way it was supposed to be. I didn’t need to strive to be somebody. Because of Jesus, I was somebody. Before I met him, I was the son no one had time for or the child a parent was always trying to push, or a sibling’s rival.  But now, I see myself in a new light. I am a follower of Jesus.  I am the disciple whom Jesus loved, and because of that I am now a person who loves himself and who loves others.”

The Secret of Courageous Leadership

The secret to courageous leadership is to be who God created you to be…nothing more and nothing less. 

This week, try living up to your name and be who God created you to be. Contact a trusted friend and tell him or her how God’s love for you has shaped you into the person you are. Then tell them how God’s love has shaped your leadership. Just think about it. You are the leader whom Jesus loves.

Who you are is how you lead!

Wow. We have come to the end of September. Where has the year gone?  Over the past nine months, you have moved forward in your leadership by adapting to unexpected changes and developing new relationships. You have navigated a pandemic and established different patterns. From my perspective, you have learned to lead in surprisingly new ways. 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

In his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, John Maxwell, playing off the quote, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” points out that we learn from our losses.  He writes that if we apply what we learn in the midst of our losses to the situations and circumstances in which we lead, we will be much closer to reaching our goals. I’m guessing you have learned a lot over the past nine to eighteen months. 

Learning is one of the key values of leadership. Effective leaders are learning leaders. Learning is as much a part of your life as eating. Leaders who are learners improve the environment for everyone around them. Learning is key to improvement.

What have you been learning?

So, what have you been learning over the past nine months? As I have been listening, I have heard you say you have learned:

New Technology

You said, “I need to learn how to…” and you learned what you needed to move forward with worship, bible study, virtual gatherings, etc. You learned to approach routine encounters in fundamentally different ways.

Alternative strategies

You have experimented with different ways of living out the mission by engaging a coach and/or peers to provide feedback regarding what you have learned.  

To become a more effective leader

You have been determined to learn useful insights by reflecting on what worked well, what didn’t so well, and what might work better next time.

I know you have learned much more than what I have listed above. But from my perspective, you have learned some significant patterns for effective leadership.  I am grateful for you and for what you are learning. You were created to lead for this time.

What Have I Learned?

Over the past nine months, I have learned some things as well. I have learned:

Effective Christ-centered leaders become part of the fabric of the community

To be the leader needed for today, you must be intimately involved in the life of the community. You know the assets as well as he needs. You know the marginalized as well the influential people by name. You are recognized and known by people in the places you show up. (For help in becoming the fabric of the community, check out 7 Missional Questions).

It takes courage to follow Jesus

If you assume I should have learned this early in my ministry, you are correct. But I think it takes more courage today than in my earlier years. In the culture in which we live, “you can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Anne Lamott). It takes courage to show up in the places Jesus leads and to love the people Jesus loves.  I saw a sign recently that read, “I love you. You’re probably thinking, ‘You don’t even know me.’ But if people can hate for no reason. I can love.” When you invite Jesus into your life, he tends to bring all his friends with him.

It matters where you start

I have known this for a long time, but it seems more applicable today. 

You might think of it this way, the starting place is not whether someone or some issue is progressive or evangelical, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist. To start with a political stance is to argue your political stance. Starting with this, does my action love my neighbor, look out for his or her interests more than my own, and produce the fruit of the Spirit? It matters where you start.  I am learning that when we figure out that God is more concerned with loving creation than judging it, we will then be part of the transformation of our churches, communities, and the world. As Jesus followers, we start with Jesus.

Effective Leaders are Learning Leaders

Just like you, I have learned more than I have listed. The point is learning leaders are effective leaders. Learning leaders model for others what they are learning and invite others into learning as well.

An Invitation

I want you to join me in an experiment for the month of October. I have been reflecting on one way you and I, as leaders, can model God’s love for those entrusted to our care as well as our communities. This is an experiment in courageous leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Here is what I want you to do. Whether you are in an urban church, suburban church, or a rural church, get in your mind one of the persons you encounter at an intersection holding a sign. 

The sign usually says something like, “Homeless. Need Help. Hungry. God Bless you!” or “Homeless and hungry vet. Anything will help.” Get the face of the person in your mind. Regardless of what you feel or think, God loves that person as much as God loves you. So, this month, as a child of God, try something other than passing by another child of God. 

Do one of the following: (Just try one for the month)

  • Pray asking God how you can best share God’s love with the person
  • Prepare a sandwich and/or some fruit and hand it them
  • Give them something to drink. Something warm on a cold day, something cold on a hot day
  • Better yet, park your car, get out and introduce yourself to the person, and listen as he/she introduces themselves to you.
  • When you get to know the person by name, take food to them on a daily basis.

When you have done one of the above, give God thanks for loving you in and through the person at the intersection. I promise your action of care and compassion will transform your life and make you a more courageous leader. Who you are is how you lead.

Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Let me know how you are doing with the experiment. I’ll check back with you. May what you learn assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be.

And remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing? How are you holding up while leading through these days of fear and uncertainty? I thought of you recently during a conversation about courageous leadership. 

The conversation was with a guest on LeaderCast. While telling of his experiences of courageous leaders he said, “It takes courage to follow Jesus.”  Wow. I know that to be true, but I have not heard it articulated regarding leadership. 

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

So, I began to think, it takes courage to love your neighbor as yourself.  

It takes courage to love the people with whom you disagree much less love your enemy. It takes courage to pray for those who hurt you as well as to be reconciled with them. It takes courage to turn the other cheek, forgive as you have been forgiven, and to serve with care and compassion. It takes courage to lead in times of fear and uncertainty. 

Courageous Leadership

I confess, sometimes I would rather not think about courageous leadership, especially when I fall so short of my own expectations. When I stop and think about it, I have had enough of my life being turned upside down. I would rather live life peacefully, without a lot of noise and turmoil. But, while writing this blog, I began to ask myself why I am resistant to stepping up and leading with courage? 

With the statement of “It takes courage to follow Jesus” ringing in my ears, I discovered that more times than I want to admit, I’m afraid to follow. My fear is not rooted in a lack of belief.  It is rooted in the uncertainty of following without knowing all that it means to follow.  What are the risks? What are the pitfalls? What does it mean to say/sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” How does following Jesus make me look as a leader? 

Fear

Early in my ministry, I read a statement by Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia. He wrote, “Fear is the polio of the soul. It paralyzes us from living by faith.” He talked about a healthy fear. It is the fear that allows us, as human beings, to survive. Healthy fear is a built-in, automatic, and dependable system that alerts us to the presence of danger. On the other hand, there is an unhealthy fear, the fear that paralyzes us.  It is the fear that is based upon assumption and projected onto reality. There are times we are confronted with real threats, but most of the time you and I create our own fears.  

The Middle of the Night

When I was in seminary, my wife and I lived in a neighborhood just south of Atlanta.  Although crime was rising in the city, we felt safe in the community in which we lived, until about four o’clock one Sunday morning. 

We were awakened by a loud knocking at our back door. When I realized I was not dreaming, a sense of terror swept over me. Kim, my wife, said in a frightened voice, “someone is banging on the door?” I remember thinking, “Who in the world could this be in the middle of the night? Is someone trying to break in? Are we going to be robbed? Killed?” In my terror, all kinds of possibilities flashed through my mind.  Should Kim and I try to escape by climbing out a window? Should we barricade ourselves in the bathroom and hope that the lock on the door keeps us safe?

Finally, I grabbed my baseball bat, told Kim to call the police, and managed to creep to the door. With my heart pounding as hard as I can remember, I forced myself to push aside the curtain covering the window on the door. There, to my relief as much as my fear was my next-door neighbor.  He was sitting on the step outside the door, holding his chest. 

I opened the door. My neighbor was having a heart attack. Because his family was gone for the weekend, his only hope for help was to come to me, his neighbor.   

The Unknown

The fear I had experienced from the moment I awakened until I finally opened the door was entirely my own making.  It was what I had done to an event, rather than what the event had done to me.  

Think of a time you let the unknown send you into a panic.  A time when instead of “going to the door” and directly confronting reality, you let your anxiety and imagination take over. Did you imagine the worst and react, not to what was really there, but to the terrible things you created in your mind?  

Genesis and Fear

According to Genesis, one of the reasons our world is in such a mess is rooted in the mishandling of fear.  The first man and woman are seen as living in an unbroken harmony with reality.  Then a serpent appears and proceeds to give “a knock at the door.” 

The serpent stirs up a sense of anxiety by insinuating that they do not know what they are doing, that they are not okay as they are, and that they are only a fraction of what they can be.  Then the serpent identifies God as the problem.  He lays the blame squarely on the Creator, claiming God has lied to them about the forbidden fruit. Then, in the midst of the anxiety, the serpent explains that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but their eyes will be open, they will be able to determine right and wrong for themselves, and they will become gods in their own right. 

It was their first experience with the anxiety that grows out of uncertainty. What would have happened if they had responded differently? What would have happened if they had faced their fear and taken their uncertainty straight to the reality in question? Would they have seen the positive joy that is the source of everything and not be afraid anymore? 

The tragedy is that they did not answer the door.  Instead of finding out for themselves about God’s true nature, they jumped to a conclusion about God that had no basis in fact, and they proceeded to act self-destructively. 

The Key to Courageous Leadership

So, what does this have to do with courageous leadership? Who you are is how you lead. Let’s go back to “It takes courage to follow Jesus.” Here is the key to courageous leadership. 

You have been created to lead at this time in history. Whether you like or want it, God has gifted you to live in this time and to love the people entrusted to your care. The greatest gift God has given you is the gift of faith. Your leadership depends upon your desire to trust who God is and who God has created you to be. The ultimate source of your existence is working for your good. While there will be painful and harmful things that happen, nothing has the power to separate you from the God who created you and who loves you.

I know it goes without saying, but you and I know this God in and through Jesus. Over and against all the confusion, anxiety, and fear of the day, God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history, walking our streets, living in our neighborhoods, caring for all people, loving even the unlovable. The leadership question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Are you willing to take this action of God seriously enough to let God do God’s work in you? It takes courage to trust and to follow. 

It Takes Courage

It takes courage to get in touch with your true thoughts and feelings, but until you do, you will not realize how big a part fear plays in your living and in your leadership. It takes courage to follow Jesus. 

Maybe you can look at it this way: Fear of failing can paralyze you, but you can look at failure as a learning experience. Failure only stops you if you let it. Fear of facing unwanted situations can paralyze you, but you can face what is before you with the confidence that you are not alone and that the situation is resolvable. Fear of relationships can paralyze you, but you can risk being vulnerable and empathic, knowing that you are loved and accepted. 

Who you are is how you lead. Knowing what you know about God in and through Jesus, you do not have to be paralyzed by fear. The knock at the door just might be Jesus. When you answer the knock, I pray you will, by God’s grace, have the courage to follow him.  

Take time this week to reflect upon why you think and feel the way you do. What one fear is paralyzing you? How will you face that fear this week?

Final Reminders  

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week on LeaderCast, Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Bishop Cal Holloway as we discussion of the essential callings of Christ-centered leaders. Listen to Episode 196 here, Being Among the People. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

And, remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing this week?  I genuinely want to know. I care about you and your ministry. To say the least, you have been through a lot over the past eighteen months. I don’t need to rehash all the events, but I do want to commend you on your leadership and to take an inventory of how you are doing. 

Becoming Who God Created You to Be

Over the years I have had some good district superintendents. Those who I considered the best were the superintendents who came alongside me and assisted me in becoming the leader God created me to be. 

So, I’m wondering how I best serve you as your district superintendent.  Some of you know that I ask a lot of questions. Most of my questions are either out of curiosity or for clarity. I can honestly say that with each question, I am seeking ways to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.   

Reflecting on Ministry

With that in mind, I am curious about how you are doing in this season of your ministry. You have just lived through a time like no other time in history. There have been concerns over what is coming next, grief over what once was, and anxiety about what to do now. You have learned new ways of doing some things and better ways to do others.

So, I have some questions, mostly out of curiosity, to help take an honest look at what you have accomplished so you might step into your next season of ministry with courage and effectiveness. 

Let’s consider the impact you have had on the people entrusted to your care.  Whether family, friends, neighbors, church members, or colleagues, let’s look at how you have made a difference in their lives. 

1. Reflect upon some things you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. 

Be honest and generous with yourself. What challenges did you have to overcome? What did you learn that can be useful now or be used in the future?    

It is okay to feel good about it. Be kind to yourself and take notice of some of the small things you have accomplished. 

Did you learn to cook something you haven’t cooked before, start a new exercise routine, or pick up a new hobby? Maybe it was keeping your children fed and clothed as you navigated the chaos of becoming an at-home teacher. Or, may it was when you set boundaries, either with work or in your personal life, you accomplished something significant.   

Get one or two of those accomplishments in mind. 

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for giving me the strength and courage to endure through difficult and uncertain times. Amen.” 

2. Reflect upon times you shared or experienced love over the past eighteen months. 

When were you vulnerable and empathetic? 

Where did you take people seriously when you felt it was difficult to do? 

When did you listen to and make a place for people with whom you disagreed? 

Whether it was with family, friends, church members, or strangers, where did you provide a caring and safe place for people to become who God had created them to be? 

 Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for loving people through me, and thank you for loving me through those same people. Amen”  

3. Reflect upon times when you experienced joy. 

What made you stop to remember God’s goodness and to give God thanks? 

What was taking place when you realized your interaction with people was a response of gratitude for God’s grace? 

When did you feel at one with God and the people around you?  

Think about a time when you laughed so hard you cried, a time you were amazed by God’s presence, and/or a moment you keep close. Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind.  

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer,

“O God, thank you for the deep joy you have planted in my heart. Help me be so joyful that the people around me experience your joy in and through me. Amen.”  

4. Reflect upon the moments you gave someone the benefit of your doubt. 

How did you show God’s love and kindness to people whether they deserved it or not? When did you say to yourself, “I know he is doing the best he can?” Or “How can I help her take the next step?”  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for caring for people in and through me. Help me to be open to receive your kindness and goodness through them.  Amen.” 

5. Reflect upon the situations where you experienced courage. 

What risks did you take? When did you have to be vulnerable? What empowered you to make decisions and lead through difficult situations? Who were the people that came alongside you to encourage you?  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for giving me the strengths and skills to lead with courage. By your grace, give me the courage to assist others to live and lead courageously. Amen.”  

You’re Doing Great!

As a leader, you have accomplished more than you have given yourself credit for accomplishing. You have been gifted to lead at this time in history. People are looking to you to be the leader they can trust, a leader of compassion, a leader who is stable, and a leader who offers genuine hope. 

At the moment, we are in the middle of a mess. But because you have taken the time to reflect upon what God has done in and through you, you are more able to step up and out to lead with courage and grace. You have been created and gifted to lead at this time in history. So, how are you doing? 

Your Next Step

This week, call, text, email a trusted friend or colleague, and tell them something you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. Give them the opportunity to celebrate with you. At your best, you cannot be who God created you to be alone.  Remember, it is okay to feel good, so celebrate.

If you don’t have someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing, then call, text, or email me.  It would be my pleasure to celebrate your accomplishments. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. You have accomplished much. Now is the time to stop and catch your breath before stepping back into the mess.  

Just remember, who you are is how you lead. Stay focused upon the God who has gifted you. Continue to be who God has created you to be. You have already made a significant difference. Just imagine what God will do in and through your leadership today and tomorrow. 

A Prayer for You

O God, thank you for my friends and colleagues. Thank you for the ways you have enriched my life in and through them.  By your grace, embrace them through me so we can be the leaders you need us to be at this time in history. I offer them to you in the name of Jesus. Amen 

Final Reminder

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing what to do when you are living in times of uncertainty. Sometimes uncertainty looks like doubt. At other times, it looks like the need to learn a new skill. And still, at other times, it is wrapped up in decision fatigue or endless options that overwhelm you. Tune in and listen to Episode 190: What to Do When You Don’t Know What To Do. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past Episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

It has been a while since I checked in with you.  How are you doing? You have done well leading through a difficult time. I have said it before and I believe it today, you were created to lead in such a time as this. 

Which brings me to the question, “How have you been leading during racial unrest?” I’m curious. I am learning that each of us leads in different ways. Some believe that the less said the better. Others believe that they should call out racism when they see it. Some dismiss racism saying, “this too shall pass,” while others have difficult conversations. How have you been leading people to respond to racial and social unrest? 

We may be coming to the end of the COVID pandemic, but we are not coming to the end of racism. The day I am writing this blog is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre

My guess is that you are just learning about this event in our history. I say that based upon my own experience.  I did not read or hear about the massacre in high school. It was only after I was in college, as a Social Studies major, that I heard about it. And at that time, it was still called the Tulsa race riots.  

Just to refresh your memory, on May 31, 1921, a white mob marched into the predominantly Black Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, and set fire to businesses, homes, and churches. Over 300 black lives were lost, thousands of people were left homeless, 35 blocks of the city were burned, all within an 18-hour period. For many years there were no public ceremonies, memorials for the dead, or any efforts to remember the events of the massacre. In fact, until recent years, the event was not even taught in Oklahoma classrooms. 

How are you leading?

How do you lead in that kind of racial and social unrest and denial? I know that it takes some courage to even talk about race and the differences that have kept so many of us apart as human beings. But I think courageous leadership can be shown in another way which might bring about the deep change that is so desperately needed.  This week we will look at our condition. Next week we will look at our hope. 

Our Condition

Let’s start with our condition. An honest look at current reality will help you lead effectively with conviction and courage.  

What do we know? We know that racism is the belief that:

  1. Human beings can be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities.
  2. These exclusive biological entities possess distinct characteristics, abilities or qualities, that distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. 
  3. These exclusive biological entities are inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, as well as other cultural and behavioral characteristics.
  4. The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantages of another racial group

In other words, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism, in our attitudes and actions, toward people who are different in ethnicity or race. Our attitudes and actions are usually rooted in the idea we are superior to those who are different. 

What else do we know?

We know that as Jesus followers, we believe:

  1. Racism in all its forms is sinful (James 2:1, 8-9)
  2. Racism goes against God’s design for the world. All of us belong to the family of God, we have a high calling to love other people as Christ has loved (John 13:34-35)
  3. Every person is created in the image of God and is worthy of our deep respect.
  4. When we treat anyone as lesser than anyone else, we simply are not in line with the gospel of Jesus.
  5. When we see life through the lens of God, every person we see is loved by God and equal in the sight of God.

The Reality of Racism

Even with an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers, the reality is racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races, the differences between cultures and politics. It also comes through the assumptions we make about one another.  Finally, it comes through the experiences we have and the teaching and modeling we have received from those who have gone before us. Racism is passed on when we teach our children what to believe about race. 

To understand our condition and to lead courageously in and through racial and social unrest, it is helpful to know how you first learned about race. What attitudes, actions, or events have shaped your life and ideas?   

South Pacific

As you think back upon your life experiences, let me tell you about the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific”. The issue of racial prejudice was explored through the musical. 

One song in particular created a controversy. It was sung by the character, Lieutenant Joe Cable, a United States Marine. He was in love with Liat, a young Tonkinese woman. Yes, he explored his fears of what might happen if he married her.  He struggled with his own racism. Lieutenant Joe Cable is able to overcome it sufficiently to love Liat, but not enough to take her home. He said, “Racism is not born in you, it happens after you are born.” Then he sings: 

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a different shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The production of South Pacific was almost cancelled because of this one song. Written in 1949, based upon the book, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, the producers were told to remove the song, or the production would not go forward. Rodgers and Hammerstein defended the song. They had a story to tell, so they built the musical around the song and its implications. Even if it meant the failure of the production, the song was going to stay in the musical.

Is the Song Correct?

Think about it.

Is the song correct?

Is racism taught?

How did you learn about race when you were growing up? Are you able to trace back to when, how, and by whom you were taught? Your understanding of yourself, attitudes, thoughts, and actions regarding race is important to you being the courageous leader needed to navigate the racial unrest of our day. 

This week, to better understand your current reality and to navigate the obstacles of racial unrest, reflect upon this question, “How did I first learn about race?” Set aside a few minutes to write your thoughts down so that you can get a clear understanding of your first awareness and learnings. What experiences do you remember? Who was involved? What happened to leave an impact upon your memory? 

Recognizing Your Condition

Recognizing your condition is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. You are at a critical point in your leadership. This is a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. Who you are is how you lead. Will you step into this opportunity to explore who you are in relationship to the people around you? 

We will continue this discussion in next week’s blog. We will explore our hope in part two of “Leading Through Racial Unrest.”

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.   

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Amy Burgess, Rosie Red, is our guest are we explore the theme of “Rest, Relaxation, and Play.” Join us for Episode 181. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Do you have a heart for leadership? To seriously answer the question, you could go in several directions. 

To say “yes,” you could be saying you have the courage to lead as in “I am not faint at heart.” You know your heart must be in it to be a courageous leader. 

You could be saying you have the compassion to lead as in “I will hold you in my heart.” You know that one of the characteristics followers want in a leader is compassion. They want leaders who will hold them dear to their hearts. 

You could be saying that you have the empathy to lead as in “I have a big heart or I’m all heart.” You know that empathy is a key characteristic of effective leaders. It is essential you have a heart of understanding.

You could be saying that you have everyone’s best interest at heart as in “I am leading in a way that it benefits everyone.” You know that courageous effective leadership is not based upon your opinions but upon what helps people grow in their own hearts and minds. 

There have been times I have said “yes” with great enthusiasm with “all my heart” but I have lacked the basic understanding of what my “yes” meant. I answered from my heart without taking into consideration the full responsibility.

Do You Have a Heart for Leadership?

Do you have a heart for leadership? I know you do. Your heart is in the right place. I have seen you at work over the past 11 months. As difficult as it has been, you have not lost heart.  So, without getting too cheesy, I want to thank you with my whole heart.  Truthfully, I am grateful. 

Two weeks ago, we discussed developing relationships as a fundamental competency of good leaders. Last week we discussed a process you can use, as a leader, to focus upon the faith development of the people entrusted to your care. This week let’s bring those two things together. 

Every Heart is Unique

I recently had a conversation with a cardiac sonographer, the technician who performs echocardiograms. The conversation took place while he was administering the procedure. I asked him if he administered echocardiograms all day every day.  He answered, “Yes. Five days a week.” Then he added, “I’ve been doing this over 43 years.”  

Thinking about myself being in ministry for almost 47 years, I asked him, “There must be something interesting and rewarding about your work if you have been doing it over 43 years?” 

He responded, “I love it. It is amazing.  Every heart is unique.” He went on to explain some of the functions and images he looked for in the procedure.

I confess that I don’t remember much of what he said after his statement, “Every heart is unique.” Truthfully, I had not given much thought to the functions of the human heart. But his statement captured my imagination, not about physical functions, but how awesome to think that every heart is unique. Could it be that if every heart is unique that every relationship is unique as well? 

Healthy Relationships 

I’m convinced that at the heart of effective and courageous leadership are healthy relationships. Unique, one of kind, relationships. Because relationships matter in all areas of life, then each relationship carries its own value. Whether you are a pastor, congregational leader, parent, teacher, coach, business or community leader, each relationship matters.   

So, during a pandemic, when you are not meeting in person, face-to-face, with the people entrusted to care, how do you develop those healthy, unique relationships that are essential to developing the depth of faith needed for people to become who God created them to be?   

Developing Relationships

The questions below are offered as one way to help with developing those relationships. There are two sets of questions.  The first set is designed to help develop and strengthen the relationships of the leaders in your congregation.  For too long, we have worked with the assumption that the people serving in leadership positions know each other.  I have learned that is a false assumption.

The second set is designed to help initiate conversation with people who are not Christian or who do not have a church in which to call home but are people with whom you are developing relationships. 

Both sets of questions are designed to be used with people in business meetings, social gatherings, or groups where relationships are key and important. (For me, that would be in every group in which I am involved). The questions are designed to assist with the following:

  • Understanding 
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Storytelling
  • Prayer

Ideas for Taking Action

You can be creative in using the questions.  Use one question for each meeting as a way of helping people get to know one another.  The questions could be used for the Story Telling time we discussed last week. 

Use the whole set of questions in a retreat setting as you assist in developing depth in personal relationships.  You might even want to think of your own questions to ask.  The point is the development of healthy relationships by understanding the uniqueness of each person involved in the process. 

For the sake of clarity and time, give each person 60 seconds to answer each question. So, if you put people into groups of three, give them three minutes to answer the question. 

You might want to consider giving an extra minute or two when you ask the question regarding praying for one another.  You know your time constraints. Keep in mind the people with whom you are working.

What is important is, you are focusing upon the growing relationships and faith development of the people involved.

Questions for Congregational Leaders

This set of questions are to help develop and strengthen the relationships of the leaders in your congregation.  

  1. Who was one person in your family who was influential in you becoming a Christian?
  2. Who was one person outside your family who was influential in you becoming a Christian?
  3. When was a time you made a commitment to Jesus?
  4. What are you doing today to grow as a follower of Jesus?
  5. What gifts do you use to serve others? Where do you serve?
  6. How may I (we) pray for you at this time in your life?

In asking these questions, you might discover that not everyone grew up in the church or came to faith in and through the church. You might also discover that one person’s understanding of making a commitment to Jesus is not like your commitment(s) or the commitments of others. I am sure you will learn that not everyone understands how they are serving others or that there are persons serving in compacities unknown to you. 

Many times, in our meetings and gatherings, we pray for the needs and concerns of others and the community, but we don’t pray for ourselves or one another.  The opportunity to pray for one another is usually a powerful experience for people.

Questions for People Not Connected to Christ or a Local Congregation

The following set of questions is designed to help initiate conversation with people who are not Christian or who do not have a church in which to call home. 

  1. Who was influential in shaping you to be the person you are today?
  2. Tell me about a time you made a commitment? Why was it important to you?
  3. What are you doing to continue to grow in your life? How is your life improving?
  4. What activities bring a sense of joy or peace to your life? 
  5. During what activities have you had moments when you thought, “How did I do that?”
  6. With what activities have you thought, “When can I do that again?”

Why These Questions?

Remember, the point to engaging in conversation with the above questions is to initially develop a relationship with individuals.  Each person is a child of God, loved by God, and sent to you by God to be loved. “Receive one another as God in Christ has received you…” In other words, each person is unique and is a person of value and worth.  

Do you have a heart for leadership? 

To answer “yes” is to develop healthy, unique relationships with people entrusted to your care as well as the people God sends to you to love as you have been loved.

This week, I encourage you to answer one of those questions for yourself. Which question will it be? Write out your answer and send it to me. I look forward to hearing the uniqueness of your heart.

I know your heart might not be in it, but sometimes your heart follows your decision to participate. Do you have a heart for leadership? Show me with heart in your healthy relationships.

One More Thing

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we had a conversation with Amy Graham. We focused on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader. This week our conversation is with Joe Geary. Our conversation focuses upon the beautiful as well as the messy aspects of relationships. 

This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together. 

Happy New Year!

I want to start with these words for this new year, “Who you are is how you lead.” 

You are now asking, “what does that mean?” Let’s think of this way. How often have you heard someone say about a person who is happy, joy filled, clicking on all cylinders, “She was born to do this” or “He was born to do that.” Those words are often spoken about persons who are being who they were created to be. They have a purpose in who they are and how they live, work, and play.   

Focus on Your Purpose

As you step into this new year, you have the opportunity to focus upon your purpose for living, loving, and leading. Why are you doing what you are doing? What is your purpose as a leader? As a parent? Or as a colleague? As a human being? 

Your purpose grows out of the essence of who you are. It is the natural flow of your strengths and talents as they are related to the people you serve and to the context in which you are living and working.  Too often people inhibit or ignore this flow, but it is always there. It is what you do because it is who you are. How it gets lived out depends on your ability to recognize it, claim it, and live into it.    

What is Your Purpose?

Contrary to what some people think, your purpose is not a list of accomplishments, education, experience, and skills you have gathered in your life. It is not a professional title, limited to your current job or assignment. Each of these things are important and might assist you in living out your purpose, but none of these things define who you are. 

Your purpose is who you were created to be. Paul came close to defining purpose in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote, “we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives” (Ephesians 2:10 CEB).  You have been created for a purpose. 

In her book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman writes that purpose in leadership is significantly related to leader effectiveness. She points out that purpose is found in the center of God’s priorities, personal gifts and passions, and the world’s needs. 

What is a Leader’s Purpose?

With that in mind and using Brene Brown’s definition of leadership, your purpose, as a leader, is about taking responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and processes and then developing that potential. Living out your purpose and how it relates to the people you serve transforms the world. 

My purpose is to assist you in becoming the person you are created to be. Whether you are a leader, parent, preacher, or pastor, I find great joy and satisfaction is assisting you to use your strengths and talents in the context in which you are living and working. 

So, what is your purpose? I know someone, because of who he is, naturally finds ways to affirm and encourage the people around him. He actively engages in ways to help people live into their potential.  When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, he bought coffee mugs, with these words “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” on the mugs and gave them out to the people whom he supervises. I am sure he was not trying to make a statement but was naturally offering himself in helping the people around him live into their full potential.  

So, what is your purpose? 

How are you living your purpose in relationship to the people around you and the context in which you live and work. Here are five reasons your purpose helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

Purpose motivates.

Many of us talk of what we do as our calling, as our vocation. What does that mean to you? Are you called to an institution, a business, a particular way of life, or to being who you are created to be?  These examples are not mutually exclusive, but it matters where you start. 

So, what if you lived your life, related to people, and led from being who you are created to be? Would your life, relationships, work be more creative, more satisfying, more impactful? When you pursue your work with purpose it becomes a reservoir of energy, joy, and well-being that keeps you moving forward when facing challenges and adversity. 

Purpose empowers.

Your purpose empowers you to strive for something bigger than yourself. It is not about a position in a hierarchy or about having power over people. It is about sharing and giving power to others. Just as your purpose is being who you were created to be, you assist others in becoming who they were created to be. In this way, purpose is bigger than you. It includes the people entrusted to your card.

Purpose makes you courageous and resilient.

It energizes you to take risks by facing your challenges and fears with stability and hope. It calls you to grow and to be more vulnerable, more courageous, and more resilient than you thought was possible. The ability to take risks is a key to effective leadership. It is required to lead into and through any situation. Having a bigger purpose is what motivates you to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. 

Purpose helps you engage others. 

When you live into your purpose and assist others to live into their purpose, you build engagement. People go the extra mile because their hearts, as well as their minds, are engaged. Effective leaders inspire action through a contagious sense of purpose. 

Purpose helps you navigate obstacles and uncertainty.

Your purpose allows you to be decisive and courageous and empathic and hopeful in service of a bigger cause. When you are living out of your purpose, you make a unique impact upon the lives of the people around you. You contribute to making the world better. It shows up in your decisions, how you face challenges, how you relate to others. However it shows up, when you identify your purpose, you are energized, and you are able to lead through whatever obstacles and uncertainty you face.   

Your Next Steps

So, as you step into this new year, here is what you do. Set aside 10 minutes to answer these questions and to do the following: 

Step 1

Answer these questions: What brings you joy in life? What do you enjoy doing that helps you come alive? What are the experiences that energize you at work, at home, in life?

Purpose comes from your heart, your intuition, and from your emotions. It moves you because you are one with who God created you to be, one with yourself, and one with the people around you.

You might have to take extra time to truly answer this question. But when you come to an understanding of your purpose, you will be blessed beyond measure.

Step 2

Take notes on your reflection. Make mental notes if you don’t write them down.

What are those experiences that energize you at work, at home, in life? Reflect upon the common themes. What are you doing? Who are you being? What strengths are you exercising? What do people seek you out for? What are the challenges you have faced? What inner resources have you developed to overcome those challenges? Who are you drawn to help? 

Step 3

What leadership legacy do you want to leave? What lasting impact do you want to make? In your family? In your work? In your life?

Reflect on and seriously consider what the ideal world would look like if you were in charge? How do you want your contributions to be remembered? A leader with purpose makes a world changing impact when he/she leads out of their purpose.

For me, a perfect world is where everyone is becoming who God created them to be in their relationships with one another. It is your sense of purpose that moves you from being a transactional leader to a transformational leader. 

Step 4

Now find a trusted friend or colleague and share with them your work. Invite them on the journey with you so you can become more the leader you have been created to be. 

Wow! That seems like a lot at the beginning of the year. But, wouldn’t it feel good to be in your sweet spot, where you are your most effective and are making your greatest impact, and at the same time living a joy filled life? It starts with becoming who you are created to be. The question is, what is your purpose? Only you know the answer.

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out our LeaderCast podcast. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

A year ago, not one of us would have guessed that this Advent Season would be as valuable as it is. Advent has always been an important time to rehearse our hope in God’s love and care as experienced in the coming of Jesus. But who knew that in this Advent season, our proclamation of hope, peace, and goodwill would be interrupted by a killer virus?

You are not alone in your feelings of disappointment, discouragement, weariness, and despair. It has been a long nine months of starts and stops, of foggy vision, and wondering what to do next. Whether you feel it or not, you have done well in providing leadership at critical moments along the way.

A Critical Moment

This advent season is another critical moment. The world, our communities, our churches are facing the unknown of COVID-19. We have not experienced a time like this in recent history. What we know is, when we face the unknown, our default setting is to focus upon every negative consequence imaginable. I usually say, “We make up what we don’t know.” It is a way of expressing fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. When we are anxious and fearful, we are often paralyzed. Because we don’t know what to do, we do nothing and blame those around us for our circumstances. That is why this is a critical moment. 

This advent season provides you the opportunity to use your influence to offer hope and to lead a movement forward, shifting from the paralysis of fear to hopeful action. The question is, how do we make that shift?   

An Advent Opportunity

There are many people working to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Most people are intentional in their care for one another and for themselves. I am grateful for the many acts of care I have noticed and for the reports I have received. You have done well.

To take advantage of our Advent opportunity and to help move forward, I want to share an image with you. It has been helpful to me as I have attempted to offer encouragement and hope.  

A River of Hope or Despair?

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the river back can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

Dispenser of Hope

So, here is your Advent opportunity. As a leader, decide to be a dispenser of hope. Build upon the love and care people have to offer. Give encouragement and support to those who are working to navigate the fear and anxiety of the time. 

You know your present situation (current reality). You also know the goals you have in mind (mission). Now, how will you navigate the obstacles in the way? Your navigation of the obstacles will be where you become a hopeful leader and a dispenser of hope.  

Here are some things to help in your navigation.

  • Use the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love as ways of leading through the anxiety and fear of this time. Be forward-thinking, inspirational, and positive.
  • Encourage the people entrusted to your care. Be generous with them. Focus upon their strengths and encourage them to be courageous in their leadership.  
  • Embrace change. The quickest path to growth and improvement is by embracing the changes that come your way. Be vulnerable. Step into the changes, even at the risk of not knowing what to do.   
  • Accept failure. Your failure is not final or fatal. Hopeful leadership requires courage and courageous leaders often fail. The question is, are you learning from what you have tried that did not work? 
  • Keep your heart and mind on the mission. Keep moving forward. Invite others to join you on the journey and encourage them to become courageous leaders. Because your hope is in God, be confident in your mission. 
  • Hold the future before the people entrusted to you. Hopeful leaders believe tomorrow holds great opportunities. Even when COVID-19 messes up schedules and routines, morale is low, and discouragement is high, hopeful leaders don’t sit back and let things happen. Hopeful leaders know where they are going and how to navigate the obstacles along the way.    
  • Follow through and do what you say you will do. No matter how significant or insignificant the task or assignment, get it done. Credibility is built over time because of hundreds and hundreds of small assignments done well.

Offer Hope

So here is your Advent opportunity. Offer hope to those who are giving themselves in love to care for and to protect the people around them. 

  1. Write a note of thanks to the individuals who have worn masks, kept their distance, and have helped in keeping protocols.
  2. Send an email or text of encouragement to the individuals who have been doing double duty. Whether as parents working at home and teaching their children at the same time, whether as care-givers to aging family members and neighbors, whether giving up social activities like not gathering in groups to play cards, or not gathering as family during special holiday meals, a note of encouragement and care goes a long way in offering hope.
  3. Be intentional in giving thanks and support to those healthcare providers, whether in hospitals or test sites, whether you know them personally or not, make the effort to share with them your gratitude and appreciation. Your support will become contagious.  
  4. Proclaim with clarity and boldness the hope that God provides in and through Jesus. It is the Season of Advent that provides us the opportunity to remember and rehearse God’s love and care for us and for all people. 

Don’t Get Swept into the River

Even at our best, not one of us can solve the COVID-19 crisis on our own. But as a team of people, as the Body of Christ, the church, we can do our part. We can link arms with those to our right and to our left and trust one another. It really does no one any good if any of us gets swept into the river as we try to help.

Throughout the remainder of this Advent Season be a dispenser of hope. What is the one thing you will do to instill hope and a positive vision in the people entrusted to your care? Okay. Now is the time to do it. 

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.