In the world today, whether it be in Europe, Asia, Africa, your community, or your church, opportunities for conflict are multiplying. We view this conflict as a clash of different values, opinions, or cultures. From that perspective, whether it is ethnic, religious, political, or personal differences, the conflict has the potential for harmful consequences. 

As leaders, we are focused mostly on transforming conflict into positive action so that everyone can move forward together. That work is good and needed. But have you considered the conflict of everyone agreeing without question or challenge?

Conflict of Agreement

I remember meetings when project decisions moved forward without question to only be confronted after the meeting by persons who were disappointed and upset. When I asked why there were no questions for clarity or challenges to the decisions, I received answers like, “I didn’t want people to think that I was disagreeing with them,” or “I didn’t want to rock the boat.” As a leader, have you considered the conflict created when people say they agree but do not want what has been agreed upon?”  

Abilene Paradox

This kind of conflict is called the Abilene Paradox. The paradox arises when a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is opposite to the information or research they have in front of them. It involves a common breakdown of trust and communication in which each member mistakenly believes that his or her own thoughts, feelings, or knowledge is counter to the group’s thoughts, feelings, and knowledge. People even give support for an outcome they do not want. They don’t want to “rock the boat.” They don’t want to go against group decisions. 

Leading into and through conflict means not only assisting people through disagreements but recognizing that agreements might also be a problem in unhealthy group dynamics. 

Are You Going to Abilene?

The Paradox was named by Dr. Jerry B. Harvey, professor emeritus of management science at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Harvey tells the story of visiting his in-laws in Coleman, Texas on a hot summer afternoon in the late 1950s. The family had gathered on the porch, staying cool by sitting in front of a fan and sipping lemonade. While playing dominoes, Harvey’s father-in-law suggested that they take a trip to Abilene for dinner. Abilene was fifty-three miles away. 

Harvey’s wife said, “Sounds like a great idea.” 

And Harvey, despite having reservations about the drive because of its length and the heat, thinking that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group said, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” 

His mother-in-law then said, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

Going Along for the Ride

Harvey said the drive was hot, dusty, and long in an unairconditioned car. When they arrived at the cafeteria, the food was as bad as the drive. When they finally got back home four hours later, exhausted from the 106-mile round trip, Harvey dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” 

His mother-in-law said that she would have rather stayed home but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. 

Harvey said, “I really didn’t want to go either. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” 

His wife said, “I just went along to keep you happy. It was crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” 

Then Harvey’s father-in-law said, “I only suggested it because I thought all of you were bored.” 

They all sit back perplexed that they together decided to take a trip that no one wanted to take. They each preferred to sit comfortably on the porch, being cooled by a fan, and eating leftovers. But not one of them said so when they thought the others wanted to go to Abilene. 

Hesitant and Reluctant

The Abilene Paradox reveals that people are often hesitant and reluctant to act contrary to their friends or the direction of the group to which they place value. In other words, we create our own stress, based on stories we tell ourselves because we are concerned that we might be rejected by the group if we don’t go along. So, being motivated by the fear of exclusion, we set aside honesty and truth and “travel to Abilene.”  

Real and Phony Conflict

As a leader, you navigate and help transform different forms of conflict. What the Abilene Paradox opens is the possibility of two kinds of conflict, real and phony. On the surface, they look alike. But, like headaches, they have different causes and therefore require different treatment. 

Real conflict occurs when people have real differences. Individuals come to different conclusions based on the information presented. Conflict is often experienced in the struggle between groups who have differing opinions on social issues, different theological viewpoints, or groups seeking support for their projects when funds are limited. 

Learn More 

LeaderCast Episode 208: Peace Is A Big Deal

Leadership and Conflict

Conflict of Agreement

Phony conflict occurs when people agree on the actions they want to take and then do the opposite. The anger, frustration, and blaming behavior that follows is not based on real differences. The conflict arises when a decision that no one believed in or was committed to create anxiety and tension. 

It is a conflict of agreement, not because everyone agrees based on true data, but because they do not want to be contrary to the group. You might find this kind of agreement to avoid the struggle of differing opinions on social issues or different theological viewpoints. People tend to agree to follow the group decision, not because they agree but because they don’t want to lose friends or be perceived as being troublemakers for the group. 

It is often more difficult to lead through the conflict of agreement than the real conflict. As the leader, you can create an atmosphere in which people feel trusted and empowered to speak up with courage and integrity. 

Leading Through a Conflict of Agreement

To lead through the conflict of agreement:

1. Be yourself

God created you and gifted you to lead at a time like this. With humility and without insisting on your own way, trust your instincts. Model integrity and authenticity. 

2. Be truthful about the current reality

Where you start makes a difference. Being truthful about your context helps in creating a solid starting place. Often people will agree to travel to Abilene to avoid facing reality.

3. Keep your mission clearly in focus

Your mission is your purpose. One sure way not to detour to Abilene is to keep your destination clearly in front of the people entrusted to your care. 

4. Be curious

Ask questions. Your curiosity creates an atmosphere of openness. By asking questions you set an example for others. One question to always ask is, “What questions do you have concerning the direction we are going?” 

5. Take others seriously

It is helpful to imagine what people are thinking and feeling. Don’t assume you understand all the facts. Set aside your assumptions. What questions will you ask to understand others’ perspectives? 

6. Listen carefully

Practice active listening. Give your full attention and reflect thoughtfully. Use empathy to connect. Rephrase, restate, and summarize so people know you have heard them. When you don’t understand, ask for examples to clarify the issue. 

7. Communicate Clearly

Remember that clear is kind. Be clear in your statements and be aware of how you are perceived in what you say and do. If appropriate, tell Jerry Harvey’s story of traveling to Abilene then ask, “Who feels like you are traveling to Abilene?” What do you think we should consider? 

8. Be Generous

Provide useful and genuine feedback. Give people the benefit of your best thoughts and responses. Be open to receiving feedback. 

Your Next Step

You have what it takes to lead through the conflict of agreement. This week, contact a trusted colleague or friend and discuss the Abilene Paradox. Share examples of times you have seen it at work. As you share your examples, using the list above, discuss what you might have done to avoid the trip to Abilene.

Your discussion and interaction will help you become more the leader needed for navigating the conflict of these days in which you are leading. 

Please know how grateful I am for you and your leadership. May you be blessed through your relationships and interactions this week.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

The past two years have offered each of us, as leaders, numerous learning opportunities. A variety of situations and circumstances have required changes in how we work and how we communicate with those entrusted to our care. The shifts are subtle but are necessary for becoming the leaders needed for this time. Whether it is back in the office, in the coffee shop, at the kitchen table, or in person in the meeting room, these shifts will help you navigate the leadership challenges of today.  

Three of these shifts are: 

  • Rhetoric to Relationships  
  • Self-Awareness to Self-Direction  
  • Time Management to Time Value  

Rhetoric to Relationships

Courageous leaders are effective communicators, but leadership is deeper than words. Courageous leadership transforms rhetoric into relationships. When people say, “we need to improve our communication” or “you are not communicating with us,” they are saying “we feel disconnected and not a part of things.” When they say, “You don’t know who we are” or “we don’t know who you are,” they are saying, “we are not connected, and we don’t trust you.” 

The number one characteristic people want in their leader is trust… People want more than rhetoric. They want a relationship. 

To continue this conversation of Rhetoric to Relationships, explore the following:

Self-Awareness to Self-Direction 

Courageous leaders have the understanding and ability to manage their own thoughts and emotions when responding to individuals and to unwanted situations. There is a difference between reacting emotionally and responding neutrally. Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of and control your own emotions. We might call it emotional intelligence. 

The shift is from being only aware of your thoughts and emotions to directing your behavior willingly with curiosity and kindness. Your response does not invalidate or deny your emotions but trusts them as a way of learning about yourself and how to use them in positive and productive ways. 

So, as you become more aware of your feelings, you know more how to navigate through them. How do we do this? For more on shifting from self-awareness to self-direction go to www.transformingmission.org click Blog and search 3 Leadership Shifts for Today.

Explore the following: 

Time Management to Time Value

Courageous leaders not only manage their own time and value the time of others, but they know the significance of the time they have been given to relate to and lead others. 

Your workdays have changed. Your context for leading is changing. So, it is necessary to shift from managing your time to designing your time around how you work, based on what you are working on and with whom you are working.  

For more on Shifting from Time Management to Time Value go to www.transformingmission.org click Blog and search 3 Leadership Shifts for Today. You will also want to check out Deep Change or Slow Death 

Shifting to Relationships

There is never enough time in the day. But, since we all get the same 24 hours, why is it that some people achieve so much more with their time than others? The answer lies in shifting from activities to relationships. Being busy is different from being effective. It isn’t even working smarter instead of harder. It is in using your time to develop relationships with care and compassion. People want a leader who they can trust, a leader who has time for them, a leader of integrity and authenticity. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Other resources which are helpful in assisting you in becoming a more effective leader can be found on LeaderCast. Learn more here on the theme of Courageous Leadership. 

Take time to listen to the LeaderCast episodes and read the blogs listed above. You can only improve your leadership skills as you learn to adapt to the changing landscape and lead through challenging times 

5 Things to Keep in Mind

As you explore these resources, keep in mind the relational skills that grow from these characteristics. As you listen and reflect upon the resources above, here are five things to keep in mind. 

  1. Listen Carefully – Give your full attention and reflect thoughtfully. Use empathy to connect more authentically with others.
  2. Ask Questions – Model the behavior of being curious and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Stay True to Your Values – Model integrity and authenticity.
  4. Communicate Clearly – Remember that clear is kind. Be clear in your statements and be aware of how you are perceived in what you say and do.
  5. Be Generous – Provide useful and genuine feedback to those entrusted to your care. Give them the benefit of your best thoughts and responses and be open to receiving feedback.  

This week, what one shift will you make in becoming the leader needed for this time in which you lead? 

Who you are is how you lead. 

Who you are is how you lead. As Jesus followers, Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, offer you an opportunity to Read, Reflect upon, and Respond to the events that give meaning and focus to your leadership. At this time in history, the courage you need for leading is found in Jesus and his response to the accusations and abuse he faced. 

Courage is not the absence of fear but is grace under pressure. Take a few minutes to read this scripture, reflect upon its truth and meaning, and respond to the grace being offered to you. You will become more the person and more the leader, God has created you to be. 

Read Luke 23:22-24 

“They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his lift. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  

Reflect

Jesus Prays

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a solitary or deserted place to pray. Jesus did this to keep his focus on what God had called and commissioned him to do. 

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and followed him. 

Now, in Luke 24, while he is on the cross, Jesus prays. The Roman government considered him an insurrectionist. The Jewish leaders considered him a blasphemer. Both wanted him out of the way. So, they conspired to have him crucified. The religious leaders, using their influence with the government leaders, helped to find him disloyal to Rome, so he was sentenced to be crucified. 

Crucifixion

Crucifixion was a public execution. There is evidence that as many as 800 crosses would line the road like power poles. Persons, mostly men, who attempted to overthrow Rome, were impaled on stakes, or nailed to crosses. It created fear in the people who passed by. It was a scene like this that Jesus was crucified publicly between two criminals. 

Nailed to one of those stakes, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him. In this story, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They killed Jesus in ignorance. 

Forgiven for Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the various kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes eyes when there is an opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is forgiveness. The forgiveness rooted in the love of God is greater than our self-protection, fear, and anxiety. 

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand, when we remain silent and do nothing, and when we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem,” we are participating in intentional ignorance. 

As he hung on the cross, crowds of people walked by Jesus, hurling insults, “He saved others; let him save himself.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” And Jesus responded, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

Intentional Ignorance

Think about it. Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance to the sin and evil of the world? Can you and I be forgiven for intentionally turning our backs and remaining silent when we have the power and authority to know the truth and do nothing about it? 

I confess that this has bothered me for years. Below is not an exhaustive list, but it is part of my intentional ignorance list. I offer it to you for your reflection. 

Father, Forgive Us…

When we are filled with prejudice and let innocent people be targeted and killed because of the color of their skin, when we consider people of color less capable to achieve, and when we dismiss people of other cultures because they are different…Don’t we have the power to vote, legislate, and, more importantly, love? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

When we don’t use our position and power to work for equality for all people, especially when you know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, and overlooked for being less than men…Don’t we have the power to initiate change in the places we work and more importantly, love? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant. 

When children and adults are not important enough to protect. When guns are used in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches to murder innocent people yet we demand our rights…Don’t we have the power to initiate change in the places we live by our right to work for the rights of all people regardless of age or power. “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

When medications are used make more of a profit than to care for the health of others. Whatever happened to loving others as we have been loved? Don’t we have the responsibility to work for the good of others? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

Oh, there is more. Keep in mind if you can think of more situations and circumstances, it might indicate you are not as ignorant as your actions reveal. Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance? 

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” 

These words of forgiveness were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God, whose only crime was being different, and who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. 

Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, Jesus called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers. 

One of the meanings of the Cross is that God will not take our ignorance, intentional or not, as an excuse. God is not waiting for you to stop, recognize your ignorance, turn around, and do something about it. God has already acted. Listen to the prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  

Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance? The truth is, we have already been forgiven. 

Respond

Where will you see Jesus today? How will you hear his words of forgiveness for you and for the people around you? In what situations or circumstances will you have the opportunity to work on behalf of another person? Who needs your help because you have the position and authority to help them? 

Return

Where did you experience God’s love today? How did you experience forgiveness? Where did you offer forgiveness? What could you have done differently regarding your interactions with people? Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be. 

O Jesus, forgive us, our only hope is you. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you dealing with stress these days? Stress can take a toll on the best of us. No matter how strategically or effectively you lead there is always a level of stress. As you juggle multiple demands to meet the needs that keep your church or business running smoothly, the stress gradually builds. Before you recognize it, your body and mind give way to sleepless nights and high doses of caffeine. Without your attention, the stress finally takes its toll, and you are left in a mess. 

Busy or Stressed?

Many of us are reluctant to admit it when we are stressed. We usually choose to answer that we are “busy” rather than admit that we are overwhelmed or do not want to deal with the workload. Our reluctance to talk about how pressure is impacting us has reached the point that some of us are ineffective in our ministry, and we don’t admit it or recognize it…at least publicly. 

High levels of stress can have a negative influence and ruin your effectiveness as a leader. It is easy to slip into the stress trap as you work to resolve day-to-day issues while dealing with difficult and disgruntled church members and not to mention doing your best to reach new people. Add to the list family dynamics and lack of personal care, too much stress causes unnecessary and often unnoticed anxiety and worry. 

I don’t need to continue down that negative path. You already know that stress keeps you up at night and irritable during the day. You already know the symptoms of being tired, sad, and disinterested, as well as poor eating habits and the general dislike of certain people. 

Not all Stress is Bad

But with all of that, not all stress is bad. 

There is healthy stress. When you are healthy as a leader, you search for answers to problems, connect with others, effectively use resources, and creatively use your strengths, talents, and skills. Keep that in mind, because when stress is not healthy, it overwhelms, isolates, and paralyzes. 

As a leader, you will feel pressure from all sides. Whether it is to meet certain expectations from supervisors or to address the needs and wants of the people entrusted to your care, there is pressure. The question is, how do you transform the pressure or stress into effective and courageous leadership? 

There are respected physicians and consultants who can and do provide effective plans for dealing with stress. I’m not attempting to take anyone’s place. I simply want you to consider how you can name your stress, face it, and transform it as a healthy leader. Below are four things to consider:   

Be True To Yourself

The greatest internal cause of stress is trying to be someone you aren’t. Knowing yourself frees you from living inconsistently and enables you to live within your values. It strengthens your ability to withstand pressure from others. 

It is not unusual to give up personal time and to work as many hours as needed to get the job done. But to be an effective leader, you must know your limits, set your boundaries, and care for your emotional, mental, and physical health. 

Take time to exercise, to pursue a hobby, to be with the people you love. You know what energizes you and what brings you joy. You can and will transform the stress you experience into effective and courageous leadership when you are healthy and in sync with yourself. 

Focus On Your Purpose

Another cause of stress is saying yes when you should say no. One of the causes of stress is that you do not keep your purpose clearly in focus. You are out of focus when you fear saying “no” will cause people not to like you. As an effective and courageous leader, you learn to prioritize both people and work. You don’t have to say “yes” to have people like you. 

A common mistake leaders make is trying to do it all. When you lose focus, you invite more stress, and when you are more stressed, you are counterproductive. Learn the strengths and abilities of the people with whom you work. Delegate tasks. Set people free to be who God has created them to be. Trust that they can do their jobs well and avoid being a micromanager. 

Keeping your focus allows you to get more done in less time. It transforms your stress into effective and courageous leadership. 

Adapt To Changing Contexts

Another cause of stress is trying to control things you can’t control. You can control what you do. You can influence what others do. But you can’t control the situations or the circumstances in which you and others interact.

Being true to yourself and focusing on your purpose is essential in keeping what you cannot control in check. So, keep yourself focused on what you can control. When you need help, ask for it. Effective and courageous leaders know what they need to get the job done. Working collaboratively is what makes a good leader a great leader. It is shortsighted to think that you can do it all without support. Knowing what you can and can’t control takes the pressure off you and helps develop the strengths and skills of the people with whom you work.

This might come across as stating the obvious, but you cannot control what is happening in Ukraine. You might not be able to influence the Ohio State legislature regarding concealed weapons or voter redistricting. You might feel helpless in what is happening in the United Methodist Church. But you do have control over how you will lead in the midst of what you cannot control, and you have influence over how the church responds.

Adapting to what you can control leads to effective and courageous leadership. You can transform stress into effective leadership by being true to yourself, keeping your purpose in focus, and leading through the chaos and confusion of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.

Surround Yourself With Trusted Leaders 

Another cause of stress is a lack of trust in the people with whom you work. You can and will relieve yourself of stress when you develop and trust the strengths, talents, and skills of the people entrusted to your care.

Effective leadership is not a matter of authority or position, it is a matter of emulation. The people with whom you work want a leader they can trust. When you cultivate an atmosphere of trust, you find yourself in the midst of highly productive and hope-filled leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders are content to see the honors and rewards of hard work go to their followers. When people know that you trust and respect them, they trust and respect you.

Effective and courageous leaders are loyal to those entrusted to them. When people know that you have their backs, they are free to live into their full potential as leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders live by the words of Jesus, “The greatest among you shall be the servant of all.” This is a truth that followers respect the most. 

There is so much more that can be said, but you get the point. Stress is a real and important issue in relation to effective and courageous leadership. As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your stress levels do not impact the people with whom you work, as well ensure that their stress levels are kept in check. 

Stress and Christ-Centered Leadership

Allow me to conclude by reminding you of a familiar passage from Scripture and the pattern of read, reflect, respond and return. 

Read Matthew 11:28 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

Reflect 

Jesus is speaking to all who are stressed. The words are spoken to people who are burdened with obligations that keep them from being in communion with God. In the case of stress, people who are burdened with situations that keep them from being who God created them to be. 

The invitation to rest is not an invitation to a selfish life of ease, but of deliverance from the artificial burdens that cause stress. 

Jesus is offering true Sabbath rest or the invitation to be true to yourself and to God’s love and care. 

Respond 

Where will I experience stress today? How will I address it? With whom will I share my stress? 

Return 

Where was I weary today? How did I respond to my weariness? What would I do differently? For whom am I grateful? 

O God, I give you thanks for what I have learned today and for the people who have helped me through my stress. Thank you for the rest you have provided.  Amen 

So, how are you dealing with your stress these days? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

This past week I read a quote by Pope John Paul II, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The quote comes from a sermon he preached in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1995. In the sermon, he shared his passion for human rights. He referenced Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s dedication to freedom and equality for all people. He referred to himself growing up in Poland during the rise of the Nazi party. He said that “a true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing our lives to serving the greater good and standing up for what is right.”   

As I have reflected upon his words, I have been thinking of you and your leadership. You have been given the opportunity and the task to lead during a time focused upon personal freedom, often referred to as “rights.” Whether it has been the right to bear arms or the right to not wear a mask, the right to worship or the right to say what I want to say, you have navigated stormy waters of entitlement. 

I have also given thought to what it means to be a leader who is a follower of Jesus. What I have learned is freedom, particularly Christian freedom, is necessary for leading. When freedom is applied to leadership, it emphasizes the truth that everyone has the ability to make his or her own decisions, as well as the responsibility for those decisions. 

What I have experienced is most people think leadership works better when the leader has control instead of applying responsibility to freedom. It is as simple as emphasizing rules over relationships. Please understand that I am not downplaying rules, but I am emphasizing the development of relationships in regard to working for the greater good. Too often we take the path of least resistance and instead of standing up for what is right we give into the selfishness of personal rights. 

Freedom

In a time of entitlement, how do you model freedom and the responsibility of freedom? 

The reality is the way you live, the things you say, the attitudes you develop, the lifestyle you adopt, the people in whom you invest continuously produce either positive or negative results in your church and in your community. You are not detached or uninvolved in the trauma, turmoil, or tension of the day. In fact, you might be contributing to them. 

How you exercise your freedom, as a follower of Jesus, makes a difference. In an atmosphere of antagonism and an environment of hostility, you have the opportunity to lead with love and peace. The question is, will you live for yourself, or will you live for what is good and right for the people entrusted to your care? As a follower of Jesus, you have the right to live as the person God has created you to live. 

The apostle Paul faced a similar dilemma in Galatia. For Paul, Christian freedom was freedom to walk in the life of the Spirit. He understood that the unbridled passions and desires of our fallen nature were opposed to the passion and desires of our true and created nature. To put it another way, the passion of our hearts is opposed to the passion of God’s heart. To be led by the Spirit was to follow the direction of God’s purposes of love and peace. 

Paul knew the distinction between his desires, his rights gone astray, and the fruit of the Spirit through his own experience. His life had been in chaos. He had lived in rebellion against God. He was at war with himself. Then came the reconciling love of God. In Jesus, love for God and love for others came together in his heart and in his living. It all centered in the unifying love of Christ. 

The evidence of your integrity, as a leader, is witnessed in your obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. This is especially true as you lead through these challenging times. Paul said it this way, “I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other. Galatians 5:16-17, 22-26 

The impact of your leadership grows and is expressed when you willingly place your “rights” and your entitlements second to the new life you have received through Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is the outward expression of Christ living within you. Regardless of your position and power, giving yourself over to the direction and power of God’s presence in your life helps you become the leader needed for these difficult and challenging times. Whether with a world at war, a denomination in turmoil, a church in distress, or your own personal dilemma, the Spirit of God works to transform your life and leadership. 

Pray for Restraint

Fred Craddock tells the story of being asked to speak at a president’s prayer breakfast. At the time, the prayer breakfasts were held not only in this country but around the world. He said, “I got a letter from Washington asking me if I would hold one of these. The place was Seoul, South Korea.” 

“The general in charge, and my host, was four-star General Stilwell. He gathered officers and enlisted people in this large room. We had a nice breakfast and then we had prayers. It was not just prayers in name only. The general’s assistant, a colonel, had the soldiers there enter a period of sentence prayers. They had prayers for mothers and fathers and sisters and babies and for my wife back home and for peace in the world. They were emotionally moving prayers. 

“There was a young private from Formosa who played ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipe before I spoke. The general sat there with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘I love that song.’” 

Craddock said he gave his talk. Then, there was a benediction, and the room began to empty as the soldiers filed out. He shook hands with the general and thanked him for his gracious hospitality. The general said, “I want you to remember us in prayer.” 

And Craddock said, “I will. You know I will.” 

Then the general said, “Pray not for more power. We have the power. We could destroy this whole place in one afternoon. Pray that we have the appropriate restraint.” 

Craddock continued, “It was such an unusual request. ‘Pray that we have restraint.’ He knew his history. He knew he was American, and restraint is built into our history. Why do we have executive, judicial, legislative branches except to build in restraint? Why is it said that we shall allow a person only two terms as president? Restraint. Why do we say that the commander in chief of all armed forces of this country will always be a civilian? Restraint. 

“The general knew that the mark of a civilized society is the restraint of power. The mark of a civilized human being is restraint of power.” 

Every time I read or hear someone say, “It is my right” or more specially “My God given right,” I stop and say to myself, “Of course it is. But is it right and good for you to exercise your right in relationship with the people around you? 

When Craddock left the room, everybody was gone except the general and his aide. His aide asked, “General, shall I bring the car around?” 

The general replied, “Not now, I want to sit here awhile.” In the silence of the moment, he asked the private from Formosa to stay and play on the bagpipe. 

Craddock looked back as he left the room. There was the general seated alone with the private in front of him playing “Amazing Grace. Craddock said, “Now isn’t that a picture? Four stars shining, listening to a voice of restraint.” 

Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing our lives to serving the greater good and standing up for what is right. 

In a time of entitlement, how do you model freedom and the responsibility of freedom? Try living with the restraint of doing what you have the power and position to do. Then, live in a relationship with the people around you in expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Your leadership will reflect the love and peace of the One who gave you the power in the first place. 

Reflect on Your Rights

Today, take a moment to reflect upon your “rights” as a leader.

Would you say your inner life and outer life are integrated?

What are the barriers in your personal life that keep you demanding your own way?

Who do you need in your life to assist you in producing the fruit of love and peace?

Are you willing to be held accountable to loving others as God in Christ has loved you? 

The true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing your life to serving the greater good. Restraint is love’s submission to integrity.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

You have been leading through difficult times. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it has been or what you have had to navigate. But I imagine that about the time you are ready to take a breath and to get some traction, there is a war breaking out and denominational turmoil unfolding. So, how are you doing today? 

If you are wondering if there is any hope in the midst of all the difficulties, chaos, and confusion, I can tell you there is hope.  Hope centered in Jesus. Hope for our future. I’m sure of it. 

It has been my experience that in the midst of change, whether I want it or not and whether I like it or not, God has something new and exciting on the other side of the difficulties and confusion. 

Remembering Hope

Take a journey with me today that will lead to remembering the hope that God has offered to us in and through Jesus. As we start this journey, there are several things you can do.  

You can remember the past. 

You can think about how things used to be and yearn for something that is never coming back. You might be thinking of your congregation during its “glory days” and are convinced that with the right leadership, (young pastor with a family), your church could get those glory days back…just as you remember them.   

You can remember the present. 

You can think about how things are now and enter survival mode. You are realistic about the uncertainty of the future, not only of the denomination but of your own congregation. People are getting older, there are fewer and fewer young people, so let’s go into a holding pattern and “wait and see” what happens. 

You can remember the future. 

With the mission as your guide, you can think about what is possible at the moment with the resources you have been given. 

Revelation

The writer of The Revelation of John remembers the future.  He “pulls back the curtain” of the future and presents a vision of hope. 

So, this is what I want you to do. Take a day this week, or better yet, take the days of this week, and READ the scripture, REFLECT upon one aspect of it, RESPOND by focusing upon that aspect during the day, and RETURN at the end of the day to reflect upon and assess what you have experienced and learned. 

Participating in the practice of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return, can and will lead you into remembering the future with hope. 

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty, I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. 

REFLECT 

The world in which John and the people entrusted to his care have been living is in turmoil. Their lives have been interrupted and what they have known as normal has been changed. John is writing to give them a vision of the future. The image that comes to mind is, “he pulls back the curtain to the future” and he tells what he sees.  

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”  This is a way of saying that he saw a new day, a new order, a new life. He sees healing and hope. 

“The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…” He is saying that what has been known as normal is gone. There is good news in that statement because what has been normal was separation and chaos.  His next statement, “and the sea was no more” is a hope-filled statement. The “sea” was a symbol of separation. When he says, “the sea was not more” he is saying that there will be no more separation or that in the new day there will be reconciliation, a bringing together of the people who have been separated from one another.  

“I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” He is saying that in the new day there will be a shift from being good enough to get into heaven to God getting heaven into us. And it will be as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Those words are words of intimacy and relationship. God has come to be intimately related to us. It will be God’s relationship with us that gets heaven into us.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” John is saying what he just said in another way. He is telling his followers and us that God is with us. We are his people. We can trust God for this new day. 

Then he quotes scripture to tell us what is going away, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” It is a new day in relationship to God. What has been normal, including the terror of death, is behind us. There is a new day, new life, a new order. 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters.” John is trying to get his point across to the people he loves, the people entrusted to his care. He repeats what he has been saying, again, in a different way. 

God is making all things new. We are God’s children. God will provide for us. 

By pointing out the future, John is offering hope to his people. 

RESPOND 

Take one of those themes and live it out each day this week. 

  • Day One: Where will you experience new life or a new order? Where will you experience healing and hope? 
  • Day Two: Where will you experience change or transformation? Where will you experience reconciliation?  With whom will you experience reconciliation? 
  • Day Three: Where will you experience God’s presence today? Where will you see Jesus? 
  • Day Four: Where will you experience being so close to God that you will stop and give God thanks for God’s presence and love? 
  • Day Five: Where will you experience God’s healing and wholeness today? With whom will you experience love and peace today?  
  • Day Six: Where will you experience new life today? Where will you be renewed by God’s grace? 

RETURN

At the end of each day, take time to look back over the day and reflect upon the experiences you have had, the encounters you have had with individuals, and the places you saw Jesus, God’s love, at work. Give thanks for the new life God is giving you. Give thanks for the people God placed in your life today. With whom did you experience forgiveness? Who might you need to forgive? 

As you come to the end of this part of our journey, remember God is doing a new thing in our midst. John pulls back the curtain of the future to let us see the hope that God provides as we step into the days, weeks, and months ahead. It will be different.  But with God with us, it will be just what we need to be who God created us to be. 

You are a beloved child of God and a hope-filled leader with Jesus at the center of your life. Pull back the curtain and catch a glimpse of what God has in store for you. You were created to lead at this time in history. Be the hope-filled leader God created you to be. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Let’s begin where I ended Part 1. 

Here are a few reminders to ground us: 

  • God is good, faithful, just, and right on time.
  • The church is the body of Christ and we are members of that body, each with different functions and gifts.
  • Our mission is focused on disciple-making.
  • The love of God we know in Jesus is hope incarnate. 

In part one I explored two current realities and expanded on the reminders above. Today, let’s look at 5 trends. These trends might just prompt you to have conversations with friends, colleagues, and the next generations. 


Before we explore these trends, I want to invite you to put on the hat of a “Reinvention Specialist.” The reason for that will become clear shorty. 

Trend 1 – Declining participation 

This is not a new trend. It’s an accelerating trend. In a survey of 15,000 churches across the United States, in 2020, the median worship attendance among US congregations was 65. In 2000, it was 137.

About 7 years ago, while serving at the General Board of Discipleship, I began to explore the pattern of baptisms and professions of faith. I was looking for a positive trend to celebrate. Instead, what I found was it is the exception, not the norm, for baptisms and profession of faith to happen in local United Methodist Churches.

In 2021, for the first time ever in the United States church membership dropped below 50%. Please hear me, membership is not the only number and probably not the best number to look at. But it is an indicator of an ongoing trend.

What does this mean? One thing I think it means is our current approach to church isn’t working. Dare I say, it has not been working my entire life. The church has been in decline for decades. 

At the end of each trend, I’ll offer a question for you to consider. Here is your first question:
Are you willing to change your methods to amplify the mission? What does that look like? 

Trend 2 – Reinvent Ministries at Least Every 3 years

That means anticipating, designing, and implementing change every 3 years. Please DO NOT read that as “It’s 2022, so in 2025 we need to start focusing on reinventing ourselves.” 

No, you’re going to be reinventing all the time. And it doesn’t have to be exhausting if you’re anticipating, designing, and implementing change. It will necessitate building a system of leadership and processes to listen, pay attention, experiment, and assess effectiveness.

By the end of 2022, you will likely have a different church than you did in 2019. Because of all the changes in the past three years.

Why do I say every reinvent every 3 years? 

  • In the 1900s, organizations reinvented themselves every 75 years.
  • By 1989, it went down to every 15 years.
  • In 2020, that went down to 6 years. The pandemic accelerated this and it is anticipated we’re now at 3 years.

If you want to lead successful reinvention, you’re going to do it when the church is still growing, moving toward its prime. 
Only 10% of organizations who try to reinvent themselves are successful on the downward slope. Yes, many of us find ourselves in congregations that are past our prime. But, if we are resurrection people, and we are, there is hope. You can be the 10%. Or, consider this: sometimes death needs to occur so the new life can emerge. 

What this means is something is always going to be being reinvented. We’re not living in a time when you’re going to settle on the next method and keep at it for the remainder of your life. We’re living in a cycle of ongoing change that requires us to anticipate change, design change, and implement change at least every three years. 

What’s Reinvention About?

Reinvention is about:

-Embracing change by reimagining and remaking something so that it manifests new and improved attributes, qualities, and results.

-A systematic approach to thriving in chaos that includes ongoing anticipation, design, and implementation of change via continuous sense-making, anticipatory and emergent learning, and synthesis of cross-boundary, cross-disciplinary, and cross-functional knowledge.

-A way to foster sustainability of a system by dynamically harmonizing continuity and change.

-An immune system designed to ensure systematic health for individuals and organizations

-A structured and deliberate effort to engage in healthy cycles of planned renewal, building on the past to ensure current and future viability. 

Reinvention includes the following three elements:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Design
  3. Implement

What happens if you only do 1 &2?

You’re going to burn out.

What happens if you only do 1 & 3?

You’re going to live in chaos and craziness. 

What happens if you only do 2 & 3? You’re going to be too late. You’ve designed for the wrong thing. Arrogance is what often keeps us here. 

Question: What do you need to work on the most: Anticipating change? Designing Change? Or Implementing change? 

Trend 3 –  Location Independent Church and Localized Community Development

Location independence creates opportunities for you to worship and be a part of a church in Cincinnati while living in Columbus and not going anywhere. 

The church has tried to exist on 1 hour of contact a week. This makes a one-hour experience the primary connection point. Often, this results in little integration of faith into daily life. Further, it means people exist in silos.

This trend, location independence, coupled with localized community development is about the integration of life. The trends are all pointing to a world that is interconnected. This isn’t new. But it is accelerating. What is important about this trend is creating spaces where people are known and participating in spaces where being known is already happening. 

This doesn’t mean everyone is going to know everyone’s name. But it does mean everyone has an experience of being known. That “being known” likely will happen in a localized, integrated way, rather than a siloed approach to life.

What possibilities does this create?

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • It could mean your church on the westside may have people living in California with a home group doing life-on-life discipleship.
  • Integrate Jesus into the daily fabric of life. 
  • Equip globally and nurture locally. It means relationships are central to everything we do. There’s something that has NOT changed!
  • Move discipleship to our neighborhoods and homes.

Question: What does this trend make possible?

Trend 4: The  Rise of Web3 and AR/VR

Here’s something that is already a reality: hybrid church is simply becoming church. There are people who connect online, there are people who connect in person. But, technology is also taking us to new places. Consider for a moment what augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) mean for the church? Will I be able to put on my VR headset and sit in church in Florida?  What do cryptocurrency, web 3 mean for the church?

If you just completely zoned out because those letters and numbers mean nothing to you. It’s ok. 

Go back to where we started. Are you willing to shift methods to amplify the mission?

The big question I see emerging with new technology is this: How do in-person and online portals share information and invite transformation? Said differently, what is informational and what is transformational? Where can technology help us share information and where do local relationships help us create transformational experiences? 

Only time will tell how AR and VR change the landscape of our world. But if you know any teenagers, ask them. They’ll likely be willing to show you their VR goggles.

Trend 5: The Great Resignation and Well-Being

I touched on this in Trend 3. But, it bears its own trend. People are longing for an integrated, holistic, life that acknowledges their wellbeing. It’s estimated that at least 50% of working-age people will think about leaving their current workplace in 2022 at the cost of billions of dollars to organizations. The same statistic for clergy is hovering around 40%.

Why? One of the reasons is this: our well-being has plummeted. The two primary drivers of wellbeing are liking what you do every day (career) and having meaningful friendships in your life (social). 

There are many reasons “the Great Resignation” began. One of the reasons is this: work became complex, at home, and we became disconnected from the people we love to spend time with the most.

If you want a quick check on your own well-being. Pause and explore these five questions:

  • Career: Do you like what you do every day?
  • Social: Do you have meaningful friendships in your life?
  • Financial: Are you managing your money well?
  • Community: Do you like where you live?
  • Physical: Do you have the energy to get things done?

Before you ask, “where is spiritual wellbeing?”allow me to say this. Here is the danger and the possibility for the church. We pick one of these areas and say “that’s where faith/spirituality lives.” Instead, faith is the foundation of our wellbeing.. Our spiritual well-being grounds our career, social, financial, community, physical, wellbeing.  

These things are not addressed in a one-day seminar. Or even a 2-hour workshop. They’re addressed when people do life together. 
Imagine what begins to happen when disciple-making moves to homes and neighborhoods. You begin to see the emergence of an Acts 2 Church – Where people are caring for the well-being of others.


Question: Which aspect of well-being are you thriving in? Which aspect of well-being needs attention?

Now What?

I’ve offered five trends for the future of the church. There are probably five more trends you could name, too. While none of us know how these emerging trends will play out, we do know that God is good. These trends invite us to be a part of the Great Reinvention and to consider again if our methods amplify our mission. I don’t know about you, but when I consider what God can do in and through people open to transformation, I see great possibilities for the future of the church and the people in our communities.

In her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle uses the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe change within the church. Tickle notes that historically, the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a “giant rummage sale,” deciding what to dispose and what to keep, making room for new things.

Every 500 Years

Looking back over 2000 years, the time of Christ was the first rummage sale. Tickle calls this time “The Great Transformation,” when Jesus who was “Emmanuel, God With Us” created a new understanding of our relationship with God.


Five hundred years later saw the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. In this period, the church entered an era of preservation as the church went underground with monks and nuns practicing the monastic tradition in abbeys, convents, and priories. 


At the beginning of the new millennium in 1054 came “The Great Schism.” This is when the Christian Church split into the Eastern and Western branches that we still see today in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.  


Then in the 1500s, “The Great Reformation” resulted in new branches of Christian tradition. The reformation leads to different understandings of how people relate to God personally through direct prayer and individual interpretation of the bible.  


Every 500 years or so, writes Tickle, there are tectonic shifts in the Christian tradition. These shifts result in huge changes in both understanding and practices of the church.


In 2017, we marked 500 years since the Reformation. With the changes and disruptions that continue to unfold, it appears the church is ready for its next giant rummage sale. Or perhaps we are already holding it. I think we are. 

  • What is the purpose of the church? 
  • What are her defining characteristics? 
  • In 2022 and beyond, what methods will allow that purpose to be amplified? 

While the purpose of the church will not change, how we live out the purpose will. The ways we connect with people to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world continue to shift and change.

The First Shift: VUCA 

Change and disruption are happening all around us. To be more specific, we’re living in a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (vuca). 

Volatility

Unexpected and rapid change is happening. Consider the protests at the border, what is or isn’t unfolding with Russia and Ukraine, violence in our communities, and the increase of domestic violence. If I were to write this next week, the list would likely grow and change. That’s a characteristic of volatility. Opinions of individuals (or groups) escalating out of proportion with reality are also an example of volatility.

Uncertainty 

The lack of understanding is all around us. Technology changes, new modes of communication, economic shifts, public health, and employment instability are just a few ways uncertainty is playing out. We live in a time when information is available and information can be disseminated from platforms that provide no insurance that the information is true, reputable, and/or factual.  

Complexity

Complexity is about the presence of multiple variables and interconnections – some seen and some unseen. Complexity leads us to say, “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.” But, we can always approach complexity with grace. Decision-making, when there are competing demands, or complexity, is less about right and wrong and more about navigating the tensions of the complexities. Many, if not most, of the decisions we make as leaders right now are complex decisions.

Ambiguity

 “I don’t know” is a complete sentence. As Christ-centered leaders, I see colleagues try to have all the answers. We’re living in a time of ambiguity. Hold on to what we do know: God is good, faithful, just, and right on time. And, recognize there are a lot of unknowns. As Christ-centered leaders, our job isn’t to remove all of the ambiguity. Our role is to use our gifts and the gifts of the people around us to get perspective so we can creatively move forward. 

Polarization and VUCA

Taken together, you can likely see how VUCA and polarization go hand in hand. 
Since at least 2015, and probably before, the increased polarization/volatility in our country has been redefining our culture. I’d love to say the church has offered a counter-culture. Instead, in many places, the church is adopting the patterns of the surrounding culture. 


People need you to continue building trust, offering stability where you can, embodying compassion, and being a person of hope. VUCA certainly presents challenges. The people you lead don’t need you to “fix” what is happening. They need you to lead. Often that means being the calm presence that knows who to invite into conversations and recognizing when you don’t have the answers. 


Shift 2: Hybrid is Here to Stay

The second big shift is this: the world is now hybrid. We don’t worship and work in person or online. We work and worship in both. That’s the reality of a hybrid world. The question is not virtual or in person, it’s both. It’s here to stay. Hybrid meetings, hybrid work, hybrid worship will continue to be present. This one might be easier to navigate, but it also adds to the complexity and ambiguity above.

Reminders for the Journey

In a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and hybrid world, there are three things I hold on to:

1. God is good, faithful, just, and right on time

Chronos time is for our brain to try and make sense of things and keep order. The reality is kairos moments are happening all around us. 
Pause and pay attention to God’s presence. God’s timing is perfect. It may frustrate the heck out of us sometimes. But, if we start with the goodness of God, we can quickly recognize that frustration is often more about our expectations, needs, or wants than it is about God. 

2. The church is the body of Christ

The church is the body of Christ and we are members of that body, each with different functions and gifts. The church, the body of Christ, is not an institution. We’re a part of an institution, it’s called a denomination in church language. The body of Christ and institutions are designed for two different purposes. 


To be a part of a living, breathing, life-giving organism, is to be a part of the church. Don’t expect the institution to be the body. It can’t and wasn’t designed for that. It provides structure. Which, in any institution, is perfectly imperfect. To focus on the institution, you’ll risk losing sight of the body, and the gifts of the body. And yes, I say all of that as someone who has a position in the institution. I have different expectations of our denomination and the local church.

3. Our mission is focused on disciple-making. 

To add another biblical metaphor, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. Whether you go to Matthew 28 or Luke 10 for the mission, our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. 


Jesus told us to go. Jesus did not say, “stay in holy huddles.” Jesus sends us out two by two to immerse people in God’s ways, to teach and to model God’s ways, to walk with people, to do life with people, remembering Jesus is always with us. In short, our methods must change to amplify the mission. 
If you’re going to consider the future of the church. Begin with the three reminders about whose and who you are. 


Next week I have 5 trends that can add some context and color to the two big realities I named this week. Until then, remember this: the love of God we know in Jesus is hope incarnate.

Hope is a powerful thing.

 “It is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

-Dr. Shane Lopez, Gallup

Building hope is essential for these times of complexity and change. It helps people see a way forward when facing uncertainty. It helps people face the future with courage and confidence. It is what people look for in their leaders. 

Looking for Hope

You know better than I can describe that we are living in a time when people are looking for hope in every aspect of their lives. Whether it is their workplace or in their schools so much has changed and seems to continue to change. Everything from vaccines to supply chains have people looking for something or someone they can depend upon for hope. 

So, how do you build hope? How do you guide people toward a tomorrow that looks better than today?

People usually move toward what you hold before them. Are you holding a grim and gloomy vision of what lies ahead or are you creating a sense of direction toward exciting possibilities? 

Hope-Filled Living

I know it is tough to build hope when you, as the leader, are not feeling hopeful. Let me suggest that you become aware of who God created you to be. Who you are is how you lead. You are a child of God, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities for this time. When you are true to who you are, people feel cared for and feel a sense of stability. When people sense the compassion you have for them, your leadership will instill trust. Be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. Become a model for people to follow. Your hope-filled living shapes your hope-filled leadership.

The Beloved Community

Then become aware of the people entrusted to your care. They, too, are children of God. Each of them is a beloved child, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities. As a leader, you have the opportunity to discover and develop their potential as you move into the future together. Remember, people need to feel a sense of stability. They want to be able to say, “I fit into that hopeful future.” Because you are helping them live into who they were created to be, they will trust your leadership and will sense the compassion you have for them. They will step up and out to move toward the positive future you are holding before them. 

Hope: Connecting Voice and Touch

Max Dupree, in his book Leadership Jazz, tells the story of his granddaughter Zoe. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound and seven ounces. She was so tiny that his wedding ring fit over her arm. In addition to being born prematurely, Zoe’s biological father abandoned her mother a month before she was born

The first time Max suited up in protective gear to visit Zoe in her isolate in the neonatal unit of the hospital, she had two IVs in her arms, one in her navel, and a feeding tube and a breathing tube in her mouth. A wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave Max his instructions. 

She said, “For the next several months, you will be the surrogate father. I want you to come to her every day. While you are here, I would like you to rub her arms and her legs with the tip of your finger. While you are caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her because she needs to connect your voice with your touch.” 

DuPree writes, “Ruth was doing exactly the right thing for Zoe and without realizing it, she was giving me the perfect description of the work of a leader. At the core of being a leader is the ability to always connect one’s voice with one’s touch.” 

DuPree understood the leader’s voice to be an expression of one’s beliefs and the leader’s touch as an expression of competence and resolve. Using DuPree’s description, I want you to think of leading with hope as bringing “who you are” together with “your relationships.” Think of it this way:

Your Voice: Who you are

1.      You are a child of God

2.      You are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You are a leader created to lead at this time

4.      You are learning about and adapting to the changing situations and circumstances

5.      You have something special to offer to life and leadership

6.      As a child of God, who you are is how you lead

Your Touch: Your relationships

1.      You live and work with people who are children of God

2.      You live and work with people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You have the opportunity and responsibility to help people discover their potential and to help mentor, coach, lead people into living their potential

4.      You are assisting them to learn about and to adapt to the changing world around them

5.      You are learning how each person entrusted to your care helps you become more who God created you to be

6.      You model trust and compassion in your interactions

Leading with hope means you are learning about yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, and at the same time, you are adapting to the needs and ideas of the people around you. You are learning when to step up to lead and when to step aside to be a follower.

The Leader You Were Created to Be

So, as you step into this new year, here are three questions to reflect upon. Your reflection will assist you in becoming the leader you were created to be.

  1. What are you good at doing?
  2. What brings you joy when you are doing it? Whether at work or at play, what brings you joy?
  3. How are you helping others discover their joy? How are you celebrating their joy?

I recently read this quote, “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” You were created to build hope and lead during this time. Hope is a powerful thing and you, as a leader, have the opportunity to lead like no other time in history.

The time is now to lead with hope. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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!