What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “grace”? Is it approval or acceptance like “he stayed in their good graces”? Or a temporary reprieve like “it was only by the grace of God?” Do you think of ease and coordination like “she moved with grace?” My assumption is the first thing that comes to mind is the “unmerited acceptance of God.” 

Leading with Grace

Whatever comes to mind, the word “grace” is used in multiple ways. It is the same with leading with grace. Some leaders of grace are described as charismatic. A charismatic leader is a person who has been graced with gifts and talents to lead. They are called spirit filled and are experienced as winsome, inviting, and exciting. 

But too often, the focus is upon themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they become the mission. Unhealthy characteristics are often overlooked or managed to keep the leader in place. 

Misunderstanding Grace

Sometimes leading with grace is described as “people pleasing.” Now that sounds negative, but when a person who has the desire to lead has no healthy understanding of who they are relationally or spiritually, he or she becomes a leader of “anything goes.” They want people to like them, so they say “yes” to everything. There are few boundaries, if any, and mission and direction have little influence. Often the leader is mistakenly identified as leading with grace. 

Sometimes leading with grace is identified as soft or weak because the leader is not seen as strong or decisive. There is indirect communication and passive-aggressive behavior. Collaboration and strategic thinking are sparce. There is poor time management and no conflict transformation skills. The leader is a lone ranger and is often isolated, surrounded by people who like being related to the leader. 

The above scenarios are negative because most of the images of leading with grace are negative. For example, take the time in which you are leading today. There are people, who in the absence of true information, are making up their own stories and communicating false information. They have an agenda, and they are using fear to get what they want. Who they are as Jesus followers and what they are saying do not align, yet they are considered good leaders. Without going to the source to check out what they are being told, they make up what they do not know. It is a matter of self-protection. 

Grace-Shaped Leadership Characteristics 

So, what does this have to do with grace-shaped leadership? Leadership is about taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and then having the courage to develop that potential. There are many characteristics of good, impactful, and courageous leaders. One characteristic often overlooked and misunderstood is grace. 

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of grace-shaped leaders and why those characteristics make a difference. Grace-shaped leaders are: 

Generous

When you are generous you work with the assumption that people are doing the best they can. You give them the benefit of the doubt, offering support with praise and encouragement. 

Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, defines generosity as the ability to “extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”  Being generous is not easy and does not come naturally. When faced with a leadership challenge, choose to be generous. 

Start with yourself. Assume the people with whom you work want the best for you. Then, with that assumption, you can respond with grace before jumping to negative conclusions. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, people need kind, caring, and encouraging words and action to become who God created them to be. 

So, as a grace shaped leader, lead by doing unto others as you want them to do unto you. Be generous with your assumptions and offer support with praise and encouragement. 

Relational

You are created for relationships, for up close interaction with people. The way to lead is not by more rules but through right relationships. In a time when people are losing being with one another, you can lead people into the right relationship with each other. 

Mother Teresa once said, “The worst disease I’ve ever seen is loneliness.” As trite as it might seem, it is true, people need people. You and I need each other. The value of relationships is immeasurable. 

The theme in Matthew’s gospel is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live righteous lives.” Righteousness in Matthew’s gospel is not presented as principles and propositions. It is presented as living in relationship with family, friends, strangers, even enemies. Relationships are foundational to right living. As a Jesus follower, your faithfulness is seen in how well you love others, especially the people entrusted to your care. 

So, as a grace-shaped leader, give your all to relationships. Embrace the fact that you are intimately connected to the people you meet each day. Develop relationships by following and living Jesus. Jesus will put you into right relationship with everyone you encounter along the way. Choose to be honest and open. Be a person of integrity. Love others as God in Christ Jesus as loved you. 

Authentic

When you are authentic you are true to yourself. You are a person of integrity. Regardless of the pressure you are facing, your values, ideals, and actions align. In other words, people experience your authenticity in your vulnerability and honesty. 

As a leader, your authenticity opens a way for compassion. When you give yourself wholeheartedly to living and loving, you reveal who you truly are. Even when it is hard, it is your authenticity that invites grace, joy, and gratitude into your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. 

Brene Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, writes: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.”

She continues with, “Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it is hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.” 

So, as a grace-shaped leader, lead with courage knowing that you are worthy of love and acceptance just as you are. With that kind of authenticity, you are able to be open and honest as you invite more grace, gratitude, and joy into your leadership. 

Courageous

True courage comes when you decide to take a risk without knowing the outcomes. It means showing up and letting yourself be seen despite the risk. (Bene Brown)

Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable.” 

Too often we think of courage as a valuable strength and vulnerability as a shameful weakness, but you can’t have courage without becoming vulnerable. Courage and vulnerability go hand-in-hand in grace-shaped leadership. As a leader, you show courage when you are curious because you are risking uncertainty. You show courage with compassion because it involves learning to move toward what scares you, learning to care for those with whom you disagree, and becoming vulnerable even when you know there is pain. 

It takes courage to be quick to listen and slow to speak, to be slow to anger, and to use kind, caring, and encouraging words even with those for whom you do not care. It takes courage to be Christian in a non-Christian environment. 

Empathetic

When you are empathetic you are able to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships, behaving compassionately, and leading courageously. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just your own. 

There is no right or wrong way to be empathetic. It is simply listening for the sake of connecting and communicating the message, “I’m with you. You are not alone.” Even though there are no right or wrong ways to be empathetic, there are some simple exercises for increasing your empathy:  

Talk to new people. Along with trying to imagine how some people feel, try asking them how they feel. Start a conversation with a stranger or invite a colleague or neighbor you do not know well to lunch. Go beyond small talk and ask them how they are doing. Put away your phone when you are having conversations. Even with the people you see every day. Listen fully and notice facial expressions and gestures.

Walk in someone else’s shoes. Spend time in a new neighborhood. Not only serve a meal with someone who is hungry but sit down and engage in conversation. Make time to attend a church, mosque, or synagogue to experience God from an unfamiliar perspective.

Share an experience with another person. Work on a service project together. Volunteer to serve meals together, to work on community garden, or join others who have experienced something similar.

The World Needs Grace-Shaped Leaders

Grace-shaped leadership is needed today more than any other time in my ministry. We have leaders who are seen as competent and impactful. My question is, are you shaped by grace in who you are as a leader. Grace is not a concept to be studied. It is a dynamic way of making a difference in the lives of the people you lead every day. We need grace-shaped leaders in a time when good, impactful, and courageous leadership is in high demand.

This week, look at who you are as a follower of Jesus and then measure your leadership with grace. How are you being led by grace? How are you leading by grace? Your honest answers to these questions will truly reveal “who you are is how you lead.”

Want to explore the above characteristics in more depth? Reach out and learn more about Dare to Lead.

There is something comforting about traveling throughout Ohio. There are familiar signs that remind me I’m never too far away from Jesus. Sometimes it’s a simple church sign. Most of the time, it’s the people I meet who remind me, show me, and embody the love of God I know in Jesus.

Collaboration & Community

But there’s also something that causes me to scratch my head and wonder out loud.

For over two decades of ministry, I have led, participated in, witnessed, and watched local churches in the same community behave in different ways. At times, I’ve stood in awe of how people shared Christ’s love, welcomed neighbors, and celebrated our common humanity. At other times, I’ve scratched my head and wondered, “How can your church building be within walking distance and you don’t even talk to each other?”

What I’ve come to realize, is collaboration expands our capacity to solve difficult, complex problems. Collaboration celebrates and utilizes the gifts of everyone, builds and fosters trust, opens communication channels, and ultimately creates a greater sense of belonging for everyone. 

It’s All Good

I’ve been known to say, “It’s all good!” I confess, sometimes I utter that phrase and mean something other than what the words alone say. But when it comes to collaboration, it IS all good. Collaboration is good for leaders, the church, the community, and it’s how God created us to live. 

Look at the creation account. God didn’t want us to be alone, so co-laborers were created. When Jesus sent out the 72, they didn’t go alone, wherever they wanted to go. They were sent out in pairs to all the places Jesus was about to go. And, as if those partnerships weren’t enough, Jesus didn’t do ministry alone. The 12 disciples were with him at every turn. Sure, Jesus went off to pray by himself and came back into the community to teach, preach, and lead people. Everywhere he went, he made sure in that community there were examples of love. 

Common Ground

Before I start preaching, let me ask you, “What do these examples have in common?” 

It’s the simple, yet profound, work of collaboration.

When I look at the word collaboration, do you know what I see? Co-laborers. We are co-laborers.

In my role as Regional Missional Specialist, I have the opportunity to come alongside leaders, local churches, and interact with different communities. Do you know the people and places that break my heart the most? The ones who are living isolated & inwardly focused. Whatever the reason, whatever the source, we are people created for community.

Collaboration Examples

Allow me to lift up two examples of collaboration. Over the coming months, Karen or I will likely share other examples with you. My hope is that God helps you to begin to explore what collaboration might mean in your local community. 

  • During a six-week sermon series, two churches came together to prepare, share, and meet together around Bible Study. The Bible Studies coincided with the Sunday sermon. The pastors swapped pulpits every other week. Throughout the study, they identified one way to be a blessing to the people in their local community.
  • When returning citizens and individuals and families experiencing homelessness seek to establish stable housing one of the barriers is furnishing their new apartment. Several churches collaborate with a non-profit organization and county social services to identify ways to pick up, store, and deliver gently used furniture to people establishing housing. Whether it’s donating furniture, picking up furniture, coordinating delivery, or volunteering to deliver furniture, together the church and community organizations are collaborating to remove a barrier to establishing stable housing.

Will You Be a Co-Laborer?

We have examples of churches that are already collaborating in their settings that we can connect you to.

What might God make possible if our local churches began collaborating within our local communities? If you’re ready to explore collaboration with other local churches, reach out to the District Office or Karen Cook or Sara Thomas.

Who you are is how you lead. Will you be a co-laborer with Christ in your local community?

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. I am not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings that lead to being nice and not wanting to offend others. I am talking about the kind of love that comes from a conscious decision to work for the good of others. It is the kind of love that allows people to be imperfectly human and at the same time inspires them and empowers them to become who God created them to be. 

Who You Are

Sometimes leaders seek out “what feels good” or “what feels right.” I don’t want to discount feelings. There is a place for feelings. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by the way others make you feel. 

Other times leaders fall back upon what they think they know. Without asking why they think or feel the way they do; leaders often default to what they have always done in their decision-making and how they relate to people. Again, I don’t want to discount the experience. There is a place to honor and build upon experience. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by what you think you know or what has worked in the past. 

When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ he was helping people to look beyond their feelings, and what they had experienced, to a new way (which was the old way) to relating to people.

What does that mean for you as a leader?

Read Matthew 5:38-39, 5:43-44

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, (Matthew 5:38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Reflect

Jesus’ understanding of the love of God was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Just as the fruit of a tree fulfills the blossom, his teaching brought the Law to its highest conclusion. In his sermon on the mount, he points out the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s love. 

It is important to understand what is meant by the love of God and how that love is lived out in your leadership. Based upon the context of the scripture, there is a distinct progression. Let us take a little journey to understand the progression. 

Unlimited Retaliation

The first way of relating to people was the way of Unlimited Retaliation. According to this principle, if someone knocked out one of your eyes, you were justified in knocking out both of their eyes. If someone knocked out one of your teeth, you could knock out their complete set of teeth. There was no limit placed on revenge. It was the law of every person for him or herself. 

A recent example of unlimited retaliation can be seen when a patient did not like the outcome of his surgery. In the midst of his pain, he bought a handgun and an AK-15, went back to the hospital, and killed the doctor as well as several people who got in his way. His actions are an example of unlimited retaliation. 

Limited Retaliation

A second way of relating to people was Limited Retaliation. It became evident that the result of unlimited retaliation would be mutual self-destruction. A better way was sought, so the law of limited retaliation arose. This principle declared that if anyone harmed you, “then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). 

It is the law of getting even. Someone knocks out one of your eyes, you must not knock out both of his, just one. Or if someone knocks out one of your teeth, you must not retaliate by knocking out all his teeth, just one. In other words, limit your retaliation to the exact amount of the injury. Get even. But no more. It is a twist on the “golden rule.” Do unto others as they do unto you. The books must balance. 

It is easy to see that limited retaliation is a little better than unlimited retaliation. But Jesus taught us we should go further. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer,” or never respond with evil.

An example of limited retaliation is capital punishment. Some people have limited retaliation in mind when they speak of “justice,” citing that it is biblical. True, it is found in the bible. But it is only biblical in the sense that it is found within the pages of the bible. Out of context, limited retaliation is not biblical. 

Limited Love

A third way of relating to people was Limited Love. This method is found in Leviticus. It is the law Jesus referred to when he said, “All of you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Leviticus 19:18). Some deeply religious people, devout people, agreed with loving your neighbor if their neighbor was a person of their ethnicity. If your neighbor, one of your people, knocked out your eye or your tooth, you might forgive them, but if the person was not part of your group, then you could get your revenge. 

Limited love is certainly better than limited retaliation. But it is interesting that there had to be some limit to love and goodwill. So, the proper place to draw the line was with your own race or nationality. In this way, a person could have two standards of righteousness: one in dealing with relatives and another in dealing with strangers. 

I know my examples might be offensive. My intent is to provide context. An example of limited love is nationalism. It is a form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “American is for Americans,” which, of course, does not refer to true original Americans. Another example is the backlash to “Black Lives Matter.”  It is another form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “Make America Great Again” which has come to mean, not a presidential campaign slogan but, a slogan for “white supremacy.” Even though loving your neighbor is in the bible, taken out of context, limited love is not biblical. 

Unlimited Love

A fourth way of relating to people was Unlimited Love. Love, even when limited to one’s own group, was far superior to retaliation, whether it be limited or unlimited. But Jesus didn’t feel that even this brought the law to its final goal or fulfillment. God’s love is not complete until it becomes unlimited love. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I have always asked “why” at this point. Why love outsiders, strangers, people who are different, people from Central America, people from Africa, Asia, or even Russia? Especially Russia. Aren’t the Russians our enemies? Aren’t they trying to overtake us and defeat us? Why love people who don’t like me or try to hurt me? Why? 

Jesus’ Answer to Why

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus answered my question “why?” He said so you and I could become daughters and sons of God. To love unconditionally is to be who God created us to be. Now, what I understand that to mean is what I understand Jesus saying when he says that God lets the sun rise and the rain fall on both good and bad people, both saints and sinners. Which I understand as God does not give anyone an advantage based upon our goodness. 

I understand that my life does not change if I only interact with my friends or love only the people who love me. As I think about it, I would be no different than non-Christians, even if they do that. Then I understand Jesus telling me to grow up. He doesn’t say it that way. He says, “Be mature…be holy.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

Unlimited Love is  Lived Out In Relationship

If I take what I understand to be the way of unlimited love, Jesus followers apply God’s love to all relationships. Whether it be to my race and to the United States of America or to another race or people from another country. In God’s way of loving, there is no double-dealing, no two-facedness, no partiality. Unlimited love, God’s love, does not stop at artificial borders and is not affected by differences. 

Reasons Unlimited Love is Practical and Impractical

Allow me to continue to provide context for reasons we do not engage in unlimited love. Some people say that unlimited love is not practical. The idea of turning the other check is good, but it just won’t work in the real world. Sometimes they go on to say, force is the only language some people can understand so we have to be realistic. 

There are other people who say that unlimited love is very practical and will work if given a chance. They believe that even the cruelest person has a tender spot that will respond to a continuous barrage of love and goodwill. They can cite examples from history and present a strong case for the effectiveness of non-retaliation and active love. Many of them are willing to back up their belief in this idea with their lives, which within itself is a compelling argument. 

We Love Because We are Loved

Then there are still others who say, we don’t love one another or strangers or enemies because it is practical or because it works. We love because we are the sons and daughters of God. We love because it is who we are. It is not easy. People who love unconditionally usually wind up on a cross. Remember that crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love is its beginning. Only those who are foolish enough to lose their lives will find them. It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that lives. 

Jesus did not tell his followers to love because it would work. It never occurred to him whether it was practical or not. As followers, we love because that is who we are. 

God does not limit God’s love to those who love him or obey him. As daughters and sons of God, the same love flows naturally from us. Being who God is, God cannot help but love all people. Being children of God, you and I have the same nature. Our nature is not determined by the action or reaction of the people around us, whether friends or foes. Our nature is determined by our relationship to God in and through Jesus. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. There are no limits to God’s love. 

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

God, I confess that I find it difficult to love others as you have loved me. I know that it is only by your grace that I will ever be able to love. So, I ask, by your grace, fill me with your love so that I may become more who you have created me to be by loving the people you have given me to love. By your grace, help me see you in the people I meet today. I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, return to these questions: In whom did I experience God’s love today? To whom did I extend God’s love today? With whom did I need God’s grace to love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

What kind of leadership is needed to address the mass shootings in our country? Are our thoughts and prayers enough? Is saying someone needs to do something making a difference? 

Since Sandy Hook, ten years ago when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in their classrooms, mass shootings in schools have become part of who we are. It should not be a surprise that 214 mass shootings have taken place since January 1 of this year. With that said, what kind of leadership is needed to be effective? 

What Kind of Leadership is Needed?

In recent years, even when someone stepped forward to do something, a group of people grew indignant. “We have our rights.”  “You can’t take away our rights.”  And nothing changed. The outrage faded until another act of horrible violence, like the shooting on Tuesday, shocked us back into the reality of our inactivity. The truth is, we do have our rights. But to address the public health crisis of mass shootings does not take away anyone’s rights. In fact, it takes seriously the rights of others, particularly children. 

So, let me ask again, are our words enough to be effective? Are our broken hearts, whether rooted in compassion or outrage enough? Has standing in the pulpit and declaring, “In the name of Jesus, someone do something” been sufficient? Oh, there have been some changes. I want to applaud what changes have been made. But it is obvious, the changes that have been made are not enough. So again, what kind of leadership is needed to make the difference?

Who Pays the Price?

There is a story of a monk, Telemachus, from southern France, who went to Rome to take in the splendors of the Holy City. When he arrived, he was caught up in the crowd going to the Coliseum. He wasn’t aware of all that was involved in the entertainment of the day. Soon, however, he realized what was going to happen when the gladiators took their places on the field. They drew their weapons, waved them at Caesar, then called out, “We who are about to die salute thee!” 

At that moment, the young monk realized that the gladiators were about to fight each other to their death. He called out in the middle of the roaring crowd, “Stop! Stop! In the name of Jesus, stop!”

His voice could not be heard above the roar of the crowd. He rushed down the aisle to the barrier that separated the cheering crowd from the strutting gladiators. Again, he yelled, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” Still, no one noticed him nor heard his pleas.

He jumped over the barrier and ran out into the middle of the Coliseum floor. He stood between two of the gladiators and yelled at each of them, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” 

The two gladiators ignored his words. The spectators of the gladiator fighting grew indignant with the monk for interrupting their sport. So, they stoned him to death. 

Caesar was informed of the death of Telemachus. When he learned that Telemachus was now numbered among the victorious martyrs, Caesar put an end to the sport. ¹ 

From that day on, there would be no more gladiator fights in Rome’s Coliseum. An end to the brutality and the death all took place because one person was willing to pay the price and give his life.

There is a price to be paid if we are to stop the mass shootings and the violence. 

We Can No Longer Live Our Lives This Way

Let’s face it, no one wants the violence that has taken place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, or at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, or Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado or the hundreds of other mass shootings over the years. Yet, we have gotten to a point where we can no longer live our lives without the fear that every time we say goodbye to our children, spouses, and friends, it could be the last. The question is, what kind of leadership will it take to stop it from happening again? 

Courageous Leadership

As I think about it, it will take several courageous leaders to step out and risk who they are and the positions they hold to make the difference. It will take courageous United States Senators and Congresswomen/men to risk re-election. The time has come to stop politicizing such acts of violence and to step up and advocate for the rights of children, teenagers, and adults who have become vulnerable in places assumed to be safe. Whether it be schools, concerts, or grocery stores, courageous leaders need to protect the rights of all of us regarding public safety. These leaders must shift from thoughts and prayers to policy and change. 

Courageous Leaders in our States It will take courageous governors and state legislatures to do the same. As our country moves more to state rights, it is imperative that state and local leaders think first of the people they serve before thinking of position or prestige. Courageous leaders are vulnerable leaders. They take the risk of being authentic and trustworthy. These leaders too must shift from aspirational rhetoric to real action. 

Courageous Spiritual Leaders

It will take courageous spiritual leaders to risk popularity and acceptance. Your leadership helps to shape the thinking and the action of the policymakers. You have the opportunity to model responsibility and accountability, not only for governmental leaders but for people who vote. Through your word and action, you will find a way to assist people to contact their United States senators and congresswomen/men to address mass shootings. You will find a way to contact the governor, state representatives, and local authorities to address the violence. You have the opportunity to step up and lead in an effort to hold the sanctity of life before policymakers as well as those who vote. 

Courageous Leaders who Vote

It will take courageous voters to risk voting for candidates who might not be members of their own political party. If there is to be any positive change, you, as a leader, must take advantage of the opportunity to assist people to vote and elect the leaders who will step up to make the changes needed. Help people be an educated electorate so that they will understand who they are electing and what each person stands for. Help people elect leaders who will have the courage to develop and deliver the policies needed to put an end to children being killed in our schools, racial hatred, and the availability of guns without appropriate laws and guidelines. 

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” In leading through this crisis, you will be living as a true peacemaker. 

Leading at this time is not easy. But you were created to lead at this time. You have everything you need to step up and provide the leadership to change our accepted culture of violence. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Resources to Respond to Violence

Below are several resources to help respond to violence.

Even though these resources were produced several years ago, the need remains the same:

A Response to Violence, A Response to Violence – Part 2, A Response to Violence – Part 3, A Response to Violence – Part 4, A Response to Violence – Part 5 

Other resources on the blog are: Prayer in Response to Acts of Violence, Responding to Violence as People of Faith, What is Our Response? 

Finally, here is podcast resource: Episode 201: The Intersection of Immigration, Faith and the Future Church with Scott Hicks 

What kind of leadership is needed to address the mass shootings in our country? Courageous, grace-filled, and action-packed leadership. Your leadership will make the difference. 

Know of my prayers as you become the leader needed for this time. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

  1. Story adapted from Let Me Tell You A Story: Life Lessons from Unexpected Places and Unlikely People, by Tony Campolo and Favorite Monks: Telemachus: The Monk Who Ended The Coliseum Games, by Monk Preston.

Hey, before you go…

Will you answer ONE question for us?

We do a lot of talking about mission, especially the mission of the church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” My perception is that you, as a leader, keep that mission in mind in most of what you do. My question is, do you feel connected to the mission? Do you feel what you are doing really makes much of a difference? 

You might be doing all the right things. You love the people entrusted to your care. But you just don’t feel the spark any longer. What’s happening? What’s going on? 

Bring Meaning to the Mission

What I am learning is a sense of fulfillment is needed to bring meaning to the mission. The question is, what brings that sense of fulfillment? 

You might think of it this way: goals are good and necessary. You can define and track your goals and you can show how you have reached your goals. Yet, you can feel disconnected from a larger sense of purpose. Chasing goals day after day, week after week does not bring the engagement needed to bring a sense of fulfillment. 

Interrelated Leadership Models

Over the years, I have identified and defined at least three models of leadership. Each model is needed to be an effective and courageous leader, but it is only when the models are intertwined and focused upon the mission that they are effective. Refining your leadership skills in each area will help you become the missional leader needed today. 

Qualities of the Leader

One model of leadership is defined by the qualities of the leader. Are you a person of integrity, transparency, and empathy? Do you inspire loyalty, communicate clearly, and develop relationships? These qualities are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can learn all the right qualities and do all the right things and still feel disconnected and unfulfilled. 

Servant Leadership

A second model of leadership is servant leadership. It is best seen in how you care for the needs and interests of those entrusted to your care. Have you developed an environment of support in which people can flourish? Are you providing what followers want from their leader: trust, compassion, stability, and hope? These qualities of servant leadership are necessary and vital to effective leadership. But you can care for the needs and interests of people and still feel less than fulfilled as a leader. 

Missional Leadership

A third model of leadership is missional leadership. When grounded in a mission, people become both leaders and followers. They lead by living into their strengths and by offering their expertise. People follow by learning how to work in partnership with others. They share the values of the group and share a mutual sense of purpose. Missional leadership is an integration of servant leadership and the qualities of the leader. The three together provide what is needed for leading in the times in which we live. 

Many of us do well in leading by the criteria of models one and two. We offer clear direction and guidance, stay connected with people, and care for their needs. Yet, in midst of all the good work, we do not feel fulfilled. We can articulate the mission with little connection to it. 

More to Explore

You will find these blogs to be helpful in becoming a missional leader.

 Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church-Part 3

Mobilize for Ministry

So, what do we do? Below are seven questions that will assist you and the leaders of your church to brainstorm, reflect, and mobilize for ministry. They will require prayerful reflection, dialogue, and discernment. Some of the questions will require you to move beyond the walls of the church building and to talk with people in the community. Others will require you to explore the areas of overlap between the mission and the responses to the questions. 

These questions are simple and challenging. I can promise that, when you take these questions seriously, you will find meaning and purpose in your leadership. For a more detailed explanation and direction click here.

The 7 Missional Questions 

1.      God’s Presence: Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? Neighborhood? 

This is a good question to ask at the beginning of every meeting, with small groups, and at the end of each day. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their lives and identify God’s presence in their communities. 

2.      The Church’s Mission: What is the mission of the church? 

This question is not about mission projects or service opportunities. The question is about purpose. What is the purpose of the church? Does everyone know the mission? Do they not only repeat it but embody it? 

This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Recognizing God’s presence and embodying the mission of the church are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. 

3.      The Mission Field: What is your mission field? 

Your mission field is the geographic region in which your church is located. Once you have decided your geographic region, define who lives within the mission field. After you know who lives there, define their habits and interests. Listen to their stories. Pay attention to their symbols. What do you need to learn about the people in your mission field, the people entrusted to your care? 

4.      Assets: What are the assets of your community? 

Make a list of the assets of the people who live in your mission field You are identifying skills, resources, and relationships. Other assets to explore include property, service, businesses, a community focus or physical attributes like a beach, a park, etc., and financial assets. 

To identify assets, take a walk through our community and meet the people in your mission field. Ask people this question: “What do you love about our community?” Neighborhood? City? 

5.      Needs: What are the needs in your community? Neighborhood? 

Make a list of the needs of people in your community. Remember that food, water, and shelter are the most basic needs. These are followed by safety, love, belonging, self-esteem, and respect. Recognizing and realizing your potential, learning, faith, and service round out your list.

To identify needs, when you take your walk through your community and meet the people in your mission field, ask this question, “What do you love about your community?” This question follows the question you asked in #4. 

6.      Relationships: What relationships exist with leaders in your community? 

Who are you and other church leaders in relationship within the following areas of your community: education, business, government, social agencies, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, and re-established? 

A good place to start building relationships beyond the walls of the church building is with the principal of your local elementary school. 

7.      Collaboration: What is one way you can collaborate with another church? 

Develop relationships with other church leaders. Listen to their stories and how they express their mission, and what disciple-making loos like in their faith communities. Even though theology and practices might differ, you are on the same team. How do you join together to cover the community with God’s love? 

What Overlap Exists?

Now, here is where your missional leadership is most needed. What is the overlap between the mission and the responses to the other six questions? 

Your overlap might be where you see God at work in the lives of children, or in community leaders of in service organizations. Begin to tell the stories of God being at work in your community and invite people to participate in what God is doing. 

You can also go to the LeaderCast podcast for helpful information. Here are episodes that will help in becoming a missional leader. Purpose and Presence  Set the foundation for missional leadership with these two questions. Needs and Assets Bridge the needs and assets of your community with these questions. Relationships and Partnerships Leverage the people and connections of your community for kingdom impact.

It is time to move from talking about the mission to becoming the missional leader needed to have influence in the world today. I can promise you and the people entrusted to your care that once you are focused on the mission of the church, you will find the meaning and purpose that has been missing in your life and in your church. 

It is my hope that you can and will begin to build a file of resources that assists you in becoming the leader that makes a difference. 

Remember, who is 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.

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.

We are living in a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. It is a critical time in the life of our country, our communities, and our churches. It is a time that calls for courageous leadership. This is the time for you to be the leader you were created to be. To step up and be the leader needed for this time, you must be in tune with yourself, because who you are is how you lead. 

A Few Reminders

We are in a two-part series on Leading Through Racial Unrest. In part one, you were asked to reflect upon the question, “How did I first learn about race?” You were asked that question because much of the way we view the events that take place around us and what we believe about the people with whom we interact has been shaped by the attitudes and behaviors of the people in our lives. So, to recognize your condition, or why you believe what you believe, or react the way you react is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. 

In part one we explored an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers. What we know is the reality of racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races. It comes through the differences of cultures and politics. It comes through the assumptions we make about one another. 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. 

If you want to catch up quickly, you can read Part One or you can take a few minutes to do the following: Answer this question: “How did I first learn about race?” 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?

Am I Willing?

Now, after you have an understanding of what racism is and how you first learned about race, you have another question to answer regarding leading courageously in and through racial and social unrest. It is the most important question regarding your leadership. The question is, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?” Let me be clear, if your answer is “no”, there is no reason to continue reading this blog. If your answer is “yes”, then continue reading to become the leader needed for this time and place in history. 

With what you have learned or are learning about your condition is key to our hope in addressing the evil of racism. If you are ready and willing to be transformed by the love of God, read on. 

Biblical Foundations

My point in writing this next section is to lay a biblical foundation for courageous leadership. I am not writing to present a political point of view or to debate the meaning of certain passages of scripture. It is simply to lay a foundation for you and for me to answer the question, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?”

There are several things we know beyond any doubt. Things that are not even debatable. Each statement is found in the scripture and is plain in its meaning. There are many passages throughout the bible. 

Old Testament 

Here are just three passages from the Old Testament:

  • Every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • Be careful when you pass judgment. You aren’t dispensing justice by merely human standards but for the Lord, who is with you. Therefore, respect the Lord and act accordingly, because there can be no injustice, playing favorites (II Chronicles 19:6-7).

New Testament

In the New Testament, every chance Jesus gets, he says and shows that every person matters to God and is a person of worth. Regardless of who the person is or what the person has done, he teaches and demonstrates that all people are equal in the sight of God. 

We have stories throughout the gospels of Jesus demonstrating the love of God. Do you remember the conversation he had with the woman from Samaria? She was at the well to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink. She is the one who points out the racial divide. She says to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink when Jews don’t associate with Samaritans?” Before the conversation is over Jesus has given her hope that will change her life. Why? Because Jesus will not let a racial divide keep anyone from hearing the good news of God’s grace. He will not allow a racial divide to get in the way of loving people. 

Jesus Bridges Racial Divide

Jesus was and still is the bridge of the great racial divide on this earth. Read the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 2:14-20). Paul tells the people in Ephesus that Christ broke down the racial barriers on the cross. His statement came in the midst of a deep racial divide between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles. They called Gentiles dogs. They saw Gentiles as less than human. The Gentiles felt the same way about the Jews. They saw themselves as superior in culture and in language over the Jews. 

These two groups of people, who hated each other, God brought together to be the Church. It was the experience of God’s love that brought hope in the midst of hatred. Jesus taught love for all people. He demonstrated love for all people. His love was greater than human differences. The presence of God’s love in Jesus, lived out in and through the people called the church, was greater than historical, social, cultural, and racial differences. 

Our Hope is in Jesus

Where is our hope as a country? As a culture? As a Church? It is in the love of God found in Jesus. He is the bridge over the great racial divide in which you and I live today. 

I just heard one of you scoff. I just heard you say, “this is not realistic.” I want you to hear me clearly, God’s love for God’s creation is the only way we have not attempted to answer the racial divide we face today.

The Answer is NOT…

The answer to racism is not in the political workings of a nation, though politics are important to getting things done. Political leverage has never transformed a heart. It has shaped attitudes and behaviors to the extent we get what we want. It creates lots of rhetoric and even incites fear, but the political power and persuasion of groups of people is not the answer to racism. If it was the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about our laws. Laws about equality are good, but laws don’t transform hearts. Jesus transforms hearts. Jesus can take a heart of hate and make it a heart of love. Jesus can bring enemies together to start a movement that transforms the world. Laws do not start such movements. In fact, many laws try to keep such movements from getting started. If laws were the answer to racism, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about training. Even though it is wonderful and each of us needs the training to respect and understand difference , to be empathetic, to not put people down or dismiss them, to understand different cultures, and to be tolerant of others, our hope is not in the training. Our hope is not even about tolerance. It is not about good behavior. Hear me, both are important and are needed. If training were the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. The answer is in the living and loving transforming power of Jesus Christ. 

Are you willing?

To move forward, my question is still the same, “Are you willing to be transformed by the love of God?” 

As Jesus followers, we know that the way to life is the way of love. Because love is the way, then leading through racial unrest is based upon allowing ourselves to be loved by God in and through the people around us. To love God and to love your neighbor are related to understanding yourself being loved. No matter who you are or what you think and do, you are loved. It is God’s decision to love, so if God loves you and all the people around you, then love yourself and all the people too. 

Bishop Michael Curry, in his book The Power of Love, writes that loving God and loving neighbor are based on a conviction that God knows what God “is talking about.” With that conviction he tells the following story:

I was a parish priest in Baltimore, and our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was probably three years old. My wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her. It was up to me to take the young one to nursery school. So, I said, “Elizabeth, I need you to go and put your raincoat on.”

And she looks back at me, at three years old now. Mind you, I am the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African American church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall and Pauli Murray. Yes, this is a serious church, and I’m the rector talking to this little three-year-old person. I said, “Elizabeth, go put your raincoat on.” And she said, “Why?”

I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker on the Today show said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth, just go and put your raincoat on!”

She actually thought she knew better than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did. And it occurred to me that must be what we look like to God. 

Bishop Curry continues, “I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips and just saying, ‘They are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love? Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together? Don’t they know how much I love them?’” 

God’s Transforming Love

On the day of Pentecost, God’s love was fully proclaimed and experienced. People were filled with the Holy Spirit. Another way of saying this is, people were filled with God’s presence and God’s power or by God’s transforming love. 

People from every nation under heaven were gathered. It was the greatest ethic, racial, and cultural division to ever gather. And the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s transforming love, on that day brought unity to the greatest diversity imaginable. 

The answer to racism that day, on the day of Pentecost was the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The answer to racism today is the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The Same Love

We are the church, the body of Christ, the bringers of the love of God to a racially divided world. The same love that came to us in a baby, the same love that was shown to us on a cross, the same love that came in and through the Holy Spirit. 

So, are you willing to be transformed by the love of God? You were created to lead at such a time as this. As a Jesus follower filled with the love of God, you are what the love of God looks like in the 21st century. You are the answer to racism. By God’s grace, you can lead a movement of Jesus followers who will change the world. Filled with God’s love, you are a bringer of hope in the midst of racial unrest. Who you are is how you lead!

Your Next Step

This week, what is one thing you will do to show the love of God? Who will you contact? What action will you take? If you are unsure, contact me. It is the greatest joy of my life to introduce you to God’s transforming love in Jesus and get you started on the path of putting an end to racism.

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, Sara and I present some ways you might rest, relax, and play. Join us for Episode 182 for a fun episode about Ingredients for Joy and Meaning. 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.