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. 

People are ready to resume the social interactions they missed during the pandemic. They are yearning to get back to the groups and activities that brought meaning to their lives. They have rediscovered the importance of relationships and are ready to fill the void that has been created.   

Because of this longing to reestablish relationships, you are at a critical point in your leadership. You have an opportunity to step into this void and to nurture community. So, how will you lead? 

Relationships are Essential for Community

I know there are several alternatives, but the reality is you will either slide into the way things were before the pandemic or you will nurture people into new relationships. You will either allow people to close their circle of influence or you will lead them into deeper and broader interactions in their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. So, how will you lead? 

As you are thinking about it, remember that community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. 

Three Aspects of Community

This interrelatedness is seen in three aspects of community:

Connection

Nurturing communities facilitate connections between people. They are the places that help you develop relationships with others on several levels. There are immediate, superficial connections that cause you to look around the room and ask, “Who here is like me?” And on a deeper level, you connect with people around your stage of life, life experiences, likes, dislikes, interests, etc. When you experience connection with other people, you know you belong to something bigger than yourself.

Contribution

Nurturing communities invite you to make a contribution. Your connection leads to contributing to the community with your skills, gifts, and passions. Through your contribution, you are saying, “I am a valued part of this group and I have something to offer.”   

Care

Care is the integration of connection and contribution. When people know that you care about them, care about their talents, care about their contributions and connections to the greater community, they are more likely to be involved in the community. This doesn’t mean you have to offer all the care, but it does mean you are offering God’s love in every situation and circumstance of the community in which you are leading. Simply stated, you are loving God and loving neighbor in all that you do. 

Every community is made up of different members who work for a common purpose.  Effective leaders recognize those differences and understand that the differences are crucial for healthy community interaction and function.

Every Member 

Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, uses the metaphor of the human body, to illustrate this point. He writes that even though the body is made of many parts, it is still one body. And even though the body includes great diversity, every member is equally a part and important to the function of the body. 

As you know, his point had nothing to do with human anatomy.  He used the metaphor to show that every follower of Christ is important and for the body to function properly, all parts of the body are needed. He points out that no one has the right to act as though he or she is separate from the body and no one has the right to exclude others from the body. For the body to function properly, all parts of the body are needed. 

God created each of us and expects us to faithfully serve according to our unique giftedness. As a leader, you view every person of your community as a crucial part and you assist every person to live out his or her giftedness in relationship with others. 

“Members of the Body”

Maybe you can think of it this way. 

One day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work while the Stomach did nothing but store all the food. So, the Members of the Body held a meeting and decided to strike until the Stomach consented to do its share of the work. 

The strike began. 

The Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. After a day or two, the Members began to find that they themselves were in poor condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest of the Body. It was at that moment, the Members of the Body discovered that the Stomach was doing necessary work for the whole Body to be healthy.  The Members decided that they all must work together for the Body to function properly. 

Your Role as a Leader

As a leader, you work to make sure every person of your community makes their contribution to the whole of the community. 

Maybe you can think of it this way. A great orchestra had gathered to rehearse with a celebrated conductor. As the music reached a crescendo, every instrument was being played, except for one.  Distracted, the piccolo player had momentarily lost his place on the page of music.  He hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed.  Suddenly, the conductor brought down his arm and silenced the orchestra.  He looked over the group of musicians and asked, “I didn’t hear the piccolo. Where is the piccolo?” A skilled leader, like a skilled conductor, assists every person in the community, regardless of perceived importance, to make his or her contribution. Every part of the system is crucial, even those that seem small and less significant.

Now, why is this important? For God’s love to be known by all people in creation, it takes all of us, related to each other and working together, to connect with the people beyond ourselves. Each of us has our part in the body. 

Four Functions of a Nurturing Community

To use Paul’s metaphor, what does it have to do with our part in the nurturing community, the Body of Christ? It means the following: 

1. We see through the eyes of Christ

When we see each other as God sees us, we see with the love of God. There are distinctions and differences, but no one distinction has greater value than the other. In other words, there are distinctions of black and white, male and female, east and west, but all are one in Christ. Through the eyes of Christ every person is a child of God, a person of worth. As a leader, nurturing community means, you are leading people to see each other as God sees them and to see the world in loving concern. 

There is no selective service in caring for people. Seeing through the eyes of Christ means we see all people and not just the people who are like us. Where there is suffering, poverty, injustice, hatred, etc., you assist the people entrusted to your care to see Jesus.

2. We speak with the voice of Christ

When you speak, use words of care and compassion. Don’t confine the voice of Christ to those with whom you agree or with those who agree with you. Speak to human beings in every situation and every condition.  It is not a matter of a social gospel or a personal gospel.  Nor is it a matter of who is progressive or who is conservative. No, it does not matter who is a Democrat or who is a Republican. It is a matter of God’s love spoken into the lives of every human life.  Remember Jesus’ sermon recorded in Luke 4? He used the words of Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He had sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

To speak with the voice of Christ is to use your voice with words of love (agape).  Whether it be in our families or with our enemies, no area is off-limits to God’s Word (Jesus, the Word made flesh). As a leader, you have been anointed to speak the good news and to equip those entrusted to you to speak to all who will listen. 

Paul in this letter to the church in Ephesus wrote: “Let no evil talk of out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). As a leader, speak with the voice of Christ, so that those who need a kind, caring, and encouraging word, hear your voice of love, support, and care.  

3. We heal with the hands of Christ

 When you respond to human need, respond with the hands of hope and healing. Sometimes hope and healing come with grace and forgiveness. Do you remember the story of Hosea? As a prophet to Israel, Hosea’s job was to predict the nations’ exile and later restoration.  In order to illustrate God’s love for the nation, he was commanded to marry Gomer, a prostitute. He did so, but his heart was broken when she proved unfaithful and left him. Later, Hosea sought out an emotionally broken and financially destitute Gomer, forgave her, and renewed their marriage relationship.

Hosea’s love for Gomer serves as a picture of God’s love for unfaithful people.  It serves as an example for us to follow.  There will be times you are called upon, as the leader, to seek out, forgive and restore those who have wronged you. Such actions will require the compassionate and grace-filled hands of Christ. 

Sometimes hope and healing come with justice and compassion among the poor and the elderly; in the divisions that continue between races, the inequities that continue between female and male, and the widening economic gap between rich and poor. The healing of hands of Christ are needed among those who are economically deprived and politically oppressed, as well among those who have everything except what they need to make what they have worthwhile and meaningful. As a leader, assist those entrusted to you to heal with the healing hands of Christ. 

4. We breathe with the breath of Christ

We are not only a human organization or institution, we are living and breathing organisms. In fact, we have no community without the breath of Christ. On the day of Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church to be agape for all people. Because of God’s love for each of us, regardless of who we are or what we have done, God uses us to reach all people with his love. That is why, as a leader, assist people in finding connections in the community and in making their contributions of hope and healing. 

A Critical Moment

You are at a critical point in your leadership. This is a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. Will you step into this opportunity to nurture community to see with the eyes of Christ, to speak with the voice of Christ, to heal with the hands of Christ, and to breathe in the breath of Christ? God has provided the people you need to take a step into this opportunity. 

Think about it and reflect upon it. How can I come alongside you to assist you in making the connections needed, to make your God-given contribution to your nurturing community? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. Your next steps reveal your place in the Body and the God given contributions you are making. 

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  introduce our theme for June, “Rest, Relaxation, and Play.” If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 180. Become a regular LeaderCast listener. Subscribe and listen to 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.

Have you sensed the excitement of the people around you as the directives of the pandemic are being loosened? People are ready to get back to gathering. Whether it is with family, neighborhoods and playgrounds, schools and churches, weddings, graduations, birthday parties, reunions, funerals, etc., people are ready to get back to the community aspects of their lives. 

Before the pandemic, community life consumed most of our time.  Our interactions with one another influenced the way we thought and felt about the world and each other. We came together to exchange information, to inspire one another, and to develop relationships that brought a deep richness and joy to our lives. 

Community

Over the past year, the absence of gathering in community groups and activities has left a void that many people are ready to fill. Because people are hungry and yearning for the relationships of community, you have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture the social interactions people are missing. You were created to lead at this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? There might be other choices or alternatives, but the way I perceive it, you will either slide into the way things were before the pandemic or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

Remember, community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus.  

With that in mind, I am assuming that you want to lead people into relationships that bring value and joy to their lives. So, how can you take advantage of this opportunity? Below are three questions to help bring clarity to your leading. 

1.What is the purpose of your gathering? 

To nurture community, you must keep your purpose or your mission in mind.  Your purpose becomes your plumb line for your decisions. 

Maybe you could think of it this way: We gather to worship. We gather to solve problems and make decisions. We gather to celebrate, to mourn, and to mark transitions. We gather because we need one another. We gather to honor and to acknowledge. We gather to strengthen our schools and neighborhoods. We gather to welcome, and we gather to say goodbye. There are many good reasons for coming together as a community, but too often we don’t know why we are getting together. What could happen if you looked at each gathering as an opportunity to focus upon your purpose?    

You nurture community by bringing meaning to your gathering. Without a focus upon why you are getting together, you end up meeting in ways that don’t connect with or nurture the people entrusted to your care. 

IRL Example

Let’s say the purpose of your community is to grow Jesus followers who live, and love like him.  Your Finance committee is gathering for their regular meeting. What is the purpose of their gathering? If you say the committee is meeting to oversee the finances of the church, to pay the bills, and to discuss ways to raise revenue, you would be correct in that is what they do. To focus only upon what they do without the plumb line of your purpose, people begin to solve all the problems of the church. They begin to talk about the people who only take but never give. The idea of scarcity sets in and they begin to protect the assets of the community. There is an uneasiness and tension which tears at the fabric of trust and compassion. 

I think you would agree, that is not the purpose of the Finance committee. You nurture community by leading the Finance community in developing the relationships that help people grow as Jesus followers who live, and love like him. So, as the leader, how do you take advantage of the opportunity? Could you introduce a devotional moment focused on scripture? Have members of the group answer a question like, “Who was someone who was influential in you becoming a follower of Jesus?” Or have members pray specifically for one another? 

You already know you can do the same with any group that meets. The question is, how will you take advantage of these opportunities to nurture relationships. 

Explore the blog and podcast page to explore examples of how others are leading and loving in a new way. (Note: Episodes 159 – 162 of Leadercast are all about Purpose.) The point is there are resources to assist you in developing and putting into action a plan for living into your purpose. 

2. Who are the people involved in your gathering?

To nurture community, you build up and equip the people entrusted to your care. People are your greatest resource. 

Every group is made up of different individuals who work for a common purpose. As the leader, you look for the potential in each person and you develop that potential. You not only recognize their strengths and gifts, but you also realize that a diversity of strengths and differences in ability are crucial for the health of the group.  

Each person has unique strengths and gifts for the good of the community. Individuals might find pleasure and joy in their specific gifts, but the gifts are given to the group. As a leader, you have the opportunity to assist in discovering and developing the strengths and gifts of the group. To put it another way, you have the opportunity to lead people into becoming who God has created them to be. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote it this way, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of God” Ephesians 4:13.

According to Paul, Jesus understood the importance of building up and equipping people.  From his perspective, the people nurtured by Jesus were the foundation stones of his movement, “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 14:11). Each person was given unique gifts to enhance the community of followers.  The gifts were given not only for the enjoyment of the recipients but for the purpose of having all people become who God had created them to be.

Building Up and Equipping People

By building up and equipping the people entrusted to your care, you can find pleasure in developing their strengths and capabilities. There is satisfaction in finding the potential in others, treating even difficult people with dignity and compassion.

Maybe you will consider this. Jesus saw great potential in his disciples. The potential that might have been overlooked by others, was developed by Jesus investing his life in them.  Barnabas did the same in his relationship with Saul. He worked to develop that potential until he had the pleasure of seeing Saul become Paul (Acts 11:1-14:28). Paul did the same with Onesimus (Philemon 1-25). Consider the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Paul’s emphasis upon building up the lives of others in II Timothy 2:2

People are your greatest resource. Who are the people entrusted to you? In whom will you invest your life so they and you will become who God has created you to be? 

Sara Thomas can assist you in discovering the strengths of the people entrusted to you.

3. How will you model the love of God with the people around you? 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:

  • Being quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them.
  • Being patient and slow to anger. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown to you.
  • Being kind. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.
  • Being generous. You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. Ask questions like “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?”  

Showing Love

The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was the motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB).

If you need assistance in living in the love experienced in and through Jesus, invite 3 to 5 people to join you once a week for an hour to discover and discuss what it means to live in a relationship with one another. Remember, at the heart of our relationships is the love of God we know in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other. 

Again, you can explore blog posts and podcast episodes to encourage and guide you. In fact, this section on “How will you model the love of God with the people around you?” is directly from two blog posts: One Never-Before Opportunity to Lead and One Thing More Important Than Mission.

People are hungry and yearning for the relationships they have missed over the past year. You have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture those relationships for this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? Will you slide into the way things were before the pandemic or lead to a new way of living and loving? 

Who you are is how you lead. What is one thing you will do this week to help you lead into this new way of living and loving?

Reminders

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

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. This will be Part 2 of our conversation of working better across differences.   

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 179. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

We are on the downhill side of the pandemic.  Several of the mandates, like wearing masks outside and the number of people gathering in public places, are being relaxed. Much of what we could not do over the past year is coming back. With that in mind, how are you leading or preparing to lead into this “new normal”?

Are you expecting things to go back to the way they were? Are you building upon some of the things you learned? Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Things have changed. How are you leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality? 

The Moment Things Changed

As you reflect upon these questions, let’s look at a moment in time when things changed and a new way of leading emerged. The moment of change is recorded in the bible as The Day of Pentecost found in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. 

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty discouraged, self-absorbed, willful, frightened, powerless men and women were transformed into new people. They lived through an experience that brought about a new intellectual and emotional reality.  

Through their experience, they began to communicate in ways that connected with people. In that connection, the people who were curious asked, “What does this mean?”  As in all new experiences, the people who were cynical viewed the experience as nonsense. 

An Opportunity to Lead

Both the curious questions and the cynical comments were received as an opportunity to lead people into a new reality. Simon Peter, taking advantage of the moment, began to give his account of what had happened, beginning with his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and continuing through the presence of Jesus on that very day. He explained God’s offer of love (agape) and relationship (community) in Jesus. He clearly named current reality when he told them about people who had refused God’s invitation. Then he offered hope when he explained what could happen to those who would receive the invitation. 

Many of the curious, when they experienced the leadership of Simon Peter asked, “What shall we do?”  He was ready with clear direction. “It is time to change the way we have been looking at things. A new normal is here. God’s love is greater than we have ever imagined.” Then he gave clear directions for living into the new normal.   

A New Way of Leading

In the midst of the change, a new way of leading emerged. The people who followed, were received in a new normal of love and relationship, They devoted themselves to learning new ways to live together in koinonia (community). 

If you are saying that there is a world of difference between a COVID pandemic and the Day of Pentecost, you are correct. But just as the Day of Pentecost was an opportunity to love and live differently, the COVID pandemic provides the same opportunity.  

Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Even though some things have changed, other things have not changed. As you are leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality, keep in mind the following:

1. You are part of a learning community

Be persisted in learning new ways for a new day.  Learn from the people around you. Learn from authors and teachers. Learning is at the heart leading.

2. You are nurturing community

The word “koinonia” means having in common or in fellowship.  At the heart of fellowship or relationship is the love of God (agape). We know that love in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God we have experienced in Jesus who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other.  

3. You are in a community of prayer

Community life is lived out as unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for one another. It takes time to be together to listen to each other, care, and be for each other.   Prayer together becomes the time of communication with God, who replenishes us, so we are unselfish in care and concern.

4. You are a worshipping community

In worship, we express outwardly the presence of God’s love living within us, as we affirm our love for one another. People are attracted to the joy of the community. They want to be with loving people. 

A New Way of Living

The reality is you are on the downhill side of the pandemic. You will either slide into the way things were before or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

You have an opportunity to lead into a new day. This opportunity never presented itself before and will be present only for a short period of time. So, what one thing will you do to change and be the leader people need and want for this new day? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. So, keep your purpose in mind. Love the people around you. Communicate clearly and directly. And when the time is right, invite people to join you on this journey into a post-pandemic reality. We have been created for this moment in time. 

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

A Reminder

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I have a conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. April shares grace-filled wisdom about community, relationships, and  diversity. Her role is to help people work better across differences. 

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 178. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

Over the past year, in the midst of a pandemic, you have done some amazing things. You have kept yourself and the people you are leading focused upon the mission. You have learned new ways of doing important things. You have identified obstacles and navigated around them. You have even discovered and developed the potential in people who have stepped up to serve. Well done! 

As you reflect upon what you have accomplished, what would you say has been the most important thing you have done as a leader? Now, you might not agree with me, but as I look at it, the most important thing you have done is nurture community. 

What Does It Mean to Nurture Community?

Community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. 

Through a stressful time of disconnection, you have been a catalyst to holding people together. You have done more than manage people and coordinate events. You have nurtured community.

What does it mean to nurture community?    

Agape

To answer that question, let’s start with the biblical image of “agape”. Although “agape” is not a word we used in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament of the Bible. It is a Greek word, rarely found in the non-Christian Greek literature, used to describe the distinct kind of love found in the community of Jesus followers. It is the love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. This kind of love is at the heart of Christian community.  

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us, as human beings. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. 

To put it another way, this love is not contingent on any value or worth of the object being loved. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether love will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Agape love is: 

More than an emotion. 

It is the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible. As much as I like Hallmark Christmas movies, the love that holds the community together is not a Hallmark movie love. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief.

More than unity. 

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that this love is the source of our relationships. The purpose of the early church was not unity but agape, the love of God as experience in Jesus.

More than transactional. 

Too many times we talk of loving others so we can save their souls, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. This love is greater than our institutional concerns.  We love because God in Christ first loved us.  Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created us to be for no other reason that being who God created us to be.

Expressed through action. 

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21).

I have a friend who tells of when his son came into his office one day and said, “Dad, can we go to the park and practice ball today?” My friend said he was busy and told his son they would go later. His son came to him everyday that week asking him to go to the park and practice ball. It so happened that every time his son came to him, he could not go to the park at that moment. At the end of the week, the boy came to him again, “Dad, can we go to the park today?” My friend replied that they could go later. It was at this point that the boy looked at his father and said, “Dad, we have been talking about going to the park all week.  When are we going to do it?”

A different kind of love. 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:  

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. Too often, in conversations, we are forming our responses and interrupting before the other person finishes speaking.  As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree.

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown with you. The patience of love always wins.

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and to affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” Being generous means, you are providing what is at the time. 

This love is so important, that the early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Agape love is the essence of God. So, it makes sense to love one another as God has loved us. 

With that in mind, there is one thing more important than the mission. Without it, there is no mission and there is no church.

One Thing More Important

Fred Craddock tells the following story, “I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me.  I stopped my walk and watched him.  He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick; how long it was, how wide it was, and how deep it was.  He threw a bunch of good-looking bricks out.  He said, “I have to get them all exactly the same.” 

I asked, “Why?” 

He said, “I’m building a church and I want it to stand.” 

Craddock said, “There are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people that are from the same economic and social and educational background, then they will all be together.”  He said, “The man started stacking those brinks; they were all just alike.  I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick.  They fell down.” 

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks.  You have never seen such a mess in your life.  No two of them alike, round one, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones.  I said, “What in the world are you doing?” 

He said, “I’m building a church.” 

I said, “You are nuts!  The fellow around the corner had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.” 

He said, “This will stand.” 

“No, it won’t.  It won’t stand.” 

“Yes, it will.” 

Craddock said, “You can’t get it to stand.  The fellow around the corner… 

The man said, “It will stand.” 

The man went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth.  It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it.  He put healthy doses of that between the stones.  I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there.  It was that stuff in between that looked a lot like cement that made the difference.  That’s not what he called it.  But you know what it’s called. 

There is one thing more important than mission. You know what it is, don’t you? Let me know what difference it makes in how you lead within your community.

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

A Reminder

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

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our discussion on “community” with our guest, Christ Wiseman. Chris is the pastor of the Marne, Smith Chapel, and Perryton United Methodist Churches. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, I invite you to join us for Episode 177. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

If I ask you what you have learned over the past year, what would you say? “I’ve learned more about technology than I ever wanted to know.” Or “I learned how to relate to people without being face-to-face with them.” Or “I have learned more about myself and who God created me to be.” 

One of the things I have learned or relearned over the past year is “as a leader your character will be tested more than your competency”. People who look to you as their leader are looking for a person they can trust. They learn to trust you by paying attention to what you do more than listening to what you say. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

I’ll Keep You in Prayer

Maybe you can think of this way. Over the past several weeks I have heard some of you say, “I’ll be praying for you,” or “I’ll keep you in prayer.” I am grateful for your prayers. I know you are sincere in making your commitment. Now, understand, I am not complaining, but I often wonder if you, or any of us, actually deliver on that commitment to pray.   

In our culture, when a report of violence has taken place like a mass shooting, whether in a school, a shopping center, or a neighborhood, (there have been 48 mass shooting in the United States since March 18), I either hear people say, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” or I read on social media simply, “Thoughts and prayers.” Again, it is a good gesture to offer thoughts and prayers, but do you think people making that commitment actually pray?

Are You Accountable for Your Commitments?

I confess there was a time in my life and ministry when I would honestly say, “I’ll pray for you.” It was truly a desire of my heart to pray for the person to whom I had made the commitment. Yet, I would not think of that commitment until the next time I saw that person. The thought would run through my mind, “Oh, I hope they are doing well. I forgot to pray.”

Then one day it occurred to me, that every time I said, “I will pray for you” or “I’ll keep you in prayer,” I was making a commitment to pray. Now, I don’t know whether anyone knew I was praying or not, but I knew. For me, that was enough to develop new habits of accountability. What I have learned is, people listen to the words of their leaders and then observe whether the leader actually lives what he or she says. The question is “Are you being accountable for your commitments?”

Deliver on Your Commitments

Accountability occurs when you reliably deliver on your commitments. You demonstrate accountability when you show others you can be trusted to do what you say you will do. When you take responsibility for your actions and decisions, you model for others as well as set a path of accountability they can follow.

So, let’s stay with the practice of prayer. When you or I say, “I will be praying for you,” you are making a commitment. Now, how does that commitment to pray relate to accountable leadership?

 1. Lead by Example

By your actions, you model leadership by showing others how they too can be accountable. As a leader, you demonstrate accountability with these behaviors:

  • Discipline – Stay focused upon your goals and be aware when you are getting derailed by competing desires or priorities. If prayer is your goal and you make a commitment to pray, set aside the time to pray. The excuse of “not enough time” or “I had a meeting” reveals the need for the discipline to order your life around your goals.
  • Integrity – Be who you are. Be authentic and trustworthy regarding commitments and honest and responsible when something goes wrong. When you make a commitment to pray for someone, pray for them.  As a person of integrity, if you make a commitment to pray but don’t pray, be honest and responsible enough to admit that you forgot or simply did not pray. You will gain a greater respect and effectiveness if you keep your commitments as well as being honest when you don’t. Integrity does not come by “faking it until you make it.”
  • Improvement – Develop new skills and behaviors that assist you in keeping your commitments. If you want to pray for others, set aside time to pray. Establish new patterns and develop new schedules for prayer. You will not need to tell people you are learning and implementing new habits, your living will reveal the depth of your praying.

2. Develop Accountable Leaders

When you provide people opportunities to be responsible, you are developing accountable leaders. Regardless of the work or task, people learn to deliver on their commitments when they experience the importance of being reliable and trustworthy in the eyes of others. Assist the people around you with opportunities to pray for one another. Give your leaders prayer partners and have them check in with one another every time you gather. Celebrate the new prayer habits. If someone hasn’t prayed, asked what he or she needs to develop the habit of praying for others.

 3. Communicate Clearly

When you communicate clearly and share information and knowledge that helps others meet their goals, you are demonstrating accountability. People will learn and take their cues from you. They will observe what you do, practice what they observe, and listen for clear direction and feedback. Remember, clear is kind. It is important to not only share information that shapes behavior but to, authentically live by the information you are sharing. So, communicate not only with your words but with your character.  

Your Character Over Your Competency

Let’s come back to “as a leader your character will be tested more than your competency”.  I practiced most of ministry thinking I knew all the right things to do and say. Yes, I attended workshops, seminars, clinics, and conferences for the purpose of sharpening my skills, so I could do what I was doing better. I am grateful, that through the assistance of good friends, colleagues, and honest feedback, I realized that who I was as a person affected my leadership more than what I could do or accomplish as a person. So, again I say, “remember who you are is how you lead.”

Do It Again, Lord!

Dr. J. Edwin Orr, as a lecturer at Wheaton College, would take students to visit places where Christian leaders had preached throughout history. In 1940 he took a group to England to visit the Epworth refectory where John Wesley had lived.

When the bus arrived at Epworth, Dr. Orr led the students off the bus and into the house. The group first saw the study of John Wesley. There was a bible on the desk and several books on the shelves. There was a feeling of awe as Dr. Orr explained that the beginnings of a great spiritual awakening had started in the heart of mind of Wesley in that study.

He then led them to the kitchen. The table was neatly but sparsely set. There were cups on the counter and plates on the shelves. Dr. Orr asked his students to imagine Wesley sitting at the table eating and taking nourishment for his preaching missions. He explained that deep spiritual conversations had taken place with colleagues and friends around that table.

He then led them into Wesley’s bedroom. It was a small room, barely large enough to hold the students as they filled in. There was a bed, neatly made, and a nightstand with a bible and a writing pad. Next to the bed, on the floor, were two worn impressions. Dr. Orr explained that those worn impressions were made by Wesley as he knelt in prayer every morning and evening.  He explained that it was Wesley’s prayers that had helped bring about England’s social and spiritual renewal.

When the visit concluded and the students were getting back on the bus, Dr. Orr noticed one person was missing. He waited for a moment before going back into the house to look for the student. He took a quick glance into the study. No one there. He looked quickly in the kitchen.  It, too, was empty.  It was when he entered the bedroom that he saw his student kneeling by the side of the bed. The student had placed his knees in the worn impressions on the floor. He was praying, “O Lord, do it again! Do it again! And do with through me.” Dr. Orr, knowing the schedule he had to keep, placed his hand on the student’s shoulder and whispered, “Come on Billy, we must be going.” At that moment the student, Billy Graham walked out of the house with this teacher and got on the bus.

Who You Are Is How You Lead

Who you are is how you lead. Your leadership is rooted in your character. You become an accountable leader when others know you can be trusted to do what you say you will do and when you take responsibility for your actions and decisions. 

You don’t need me to tell you what you need to work on regarding your accountability.  My guess is you already know. So, take a few minutes now to do the following: 

  • Thank God for making you who you are
  • Confess that you have not always been who you were created to be
  • Ask God to help you to live fully into God’s grace.  “Do it again, Lord, through me.”

Who you are is how you lead. Let me know if your conversation with God reveals anything about accountability to you. 

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

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Charles Boayue joins us in discussing Accountable Leadership. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, you want to start with this one. Check out Episode 174 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Again, who you are is how you lead. 

As I reflect on the events of the past couple of weeks, I don’t know how much more I can take. It has been a tough couple of weeks. 

Over 200,000 people have died from coronavirus. The latest word from the CDC is, we could reach 300,000 or more deaths by the first of the year. 

Lord have mercy. 

The grand jury decision not to charge anyone for the death of Breonna Taylor. We are not only continuing to scoff at the worth of black lives but continue to maintain dysfunctional systems that stand in the way of dignity and healing. 

Lord have mercy.

With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our country has lost another champion of human rights. Just as John Lewis helped us see that the discrimination on the basis of race was not an abstract ideal of equality, Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of gender was not about an abstract ideal of equality. Liberty and justice for all is a real consequence for all persons, regardless of race or gender. 

Lord have mercy.   

The inflammatory statements made by political leaders in a time when we need leaders to pull together to overcome the pandemics of racism and coronavirus is just beyond my imagination. How much more are we going to have to endure? 

Lord have mercy. 

Your Leadership

My greatest relief over the past two weeks as been your steady and consistent leadership. I have seen how you have been navigating the converging and conflicting values of this time. I have experienced your stability as people have trusted you to lead them through these days of uncertainty and chaos. And even when there has been disagreement, I have heard of your compassion and care. I want you to know that you have been a source of hope for me. 

As tough as the past couple of weeks have been, I am writing to encourage you to not give up.  We are in the middle of a very crucial time in our history.  Your leadership is needed more today than ever before.  I know that sounds dramatic, but as I have reflected, this is what is needed: 

1. Continue to encourage people to pay attention to the protocol of wearing masks and social distancing. 

We have all grown weary of this pandemic, but now is not the time to let down. People want things to be “normal.” You already know, we are not going back to the way things were before the pandemic. Encourage people to keep going and to not give up.  There will be an end. 

We know that wearing masks in public, like church buildings, helps in slowing the spread of the virus. We know that keeping the number of people gathering in groups to a minimum helps to slow the spread of the virus. I miss the personal contact, the singing of hymns, and gathering together to pray and to share other signs of care, but now is not the time to let down. Continue assisting people to make the decisions they need to make to keep themselves and everyone around them safe and healthy.

2. Continue to learn about and to practice anti-racism. 

The protests and demonstrations that are taking place across the country might be frightening and, frankly, unnecessary to some people. What is frightening to me is that almost 20% of practicing Christians say race is not a problem in the United States. According to Barna research, this is an 8% increase over 2019. Now is the time to learn more about and to practice anti-racism. 

Let me try to put in perspective. This year, the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake have opened the door for conversations about racial justice. We have seen and experienced marches and demonstrations, a players’ strike in the NBA and WNBA, professional tennis players focusing upon justice, and new policies concerning issues related to Confederate symbols. 

Books on anti-racism have risen to top of the best-seller lists, and leaders in government, business and religion have examined their actions and influence.  With all these things and more, we might assume that the events of 2020 have increased our awareness of racial injustice and motivated us to do something about it.

But new Barna research suggests that the events over the past year have brought some clarity to how we think about racial injustice but has not necessarily helped us see the issue as important or to identify our role in it. In fact, according to Barna, within the Christian church, there is a sense that people are doubling down on their views of race. 

Now, like never before, is the time to learn about, teach, and practice anti-racism. Let me put it another way. Now is the time to “love your neighbor.” Now is the time to “love as you have been loved.” Now is the time to “welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you.” So, don’t give up. Take advantage of this opportunity to help the people entrusted to your care to become the people God has created them to be. 

3. Vote and get others to vote. 

Help people in your community to register to vote if they are not registered. Organize a group of people in your congregation to provide transportation for persons to get to the polls on election day. Assist those who are afraid to be out in public to vote by using an absentee ballot.  This might not seem like a spiritual exercise, but the dignity and worth of people who are affected by our votes are at the center of our spirituality.

Bring Hope

I am sure you are already thinking of other ways to bring hope into the lives of the people entrusted to your care. Now is the time to step up and lead.  It is in times like these that people need leaders they can trust, leaders of compassion and stability, and leaders that can offer hope of better and greater days ahead.

I am grateful for your leadership and for the ways you encourage me and offer me hope. May we, together, lead the people entrusted to us into God’s love in the days ahead. When Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

All leaders experience moments of frustration. Whether it is from not knowing how to handle a certain crisis or from unreasonable expectations, we all experience frustration from time to time. When perspectives clash, conversations grow tense, and people become annoyed, frustration levels rise. 

As a leader, you don’t want to be the source of frustration, but the political climate, differing opinions, and general weariness can lead you to wish you could lash out and say exactly what you are thinking.

Frustrations are a Part of Life

As you know, frustration is a part of life.  There are simple frustrations. I can get frustrated when I go to the grocery store, pull into the parking lot, and several spaces have grocery carts in them. I immediately say to myself, “How tough is it to return a grocery cart to the place it belongs? How rude to push the cart into an empty parking space and drive off.” Through my frustration I have learned that I do not like to be inconvenienced.

There are more complicated frustrations. I get frustrated when, during a pandemic, people want to politicize wearing a mask, or during a time for learning and conversation about racism, people get defensive and dismissive. How difficult is it to “love your neighbor as yourself?” It is frustrating to think that people who call themselves followers of Jesus have difficulty showing their love and care for the people around them. Through my frustration I have learned I have little tolerance for those who have little tolerance.

What Frustrates You? 

You might think my examples are silly, but it is important as a leader to know what frustrates you and what you do to frustrate others. When you experience frustration, it is a time to stop and ask yourself “why am I frustrated?”. Once you understand your frustrations, you can gain a greater understanding of your frustrating behavior. It is only in facing your frustrations that you can begin to change your behavior.

I’m sure you don’t frustrate people intentionally, but here are several behaviors that frustrate the people you love and serve:

Lack of integrity 

It can be as simple as not following through on what you say you will do. You are only as good as your word. There is nothing more frustrating than someone saying one thing and doing another. A sure path to frustration, mistrust, and disrespect is not backing up your promises with action.

Indecisive decision making

People thrive on action and progress. They are frustrated when they can’t move forward because you can’t make a decision. Trust your judgement. You have the education and experience to make the necessary decisions. You frustrate people when you can’t make up your mind.

Lack of vulnerability

You frustrate people when you have the attitude that you know more than anyone else. When you have to be right by making other people wrong, you shut down conversations and damage relationships. The people avoid discussing anything important with you. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Keep an open mind and heart. Take the ideas, thoughts and perspective of others as seriously as you want them to take yours. 

Blaming others for your mistakes

You are also frustrating when you refuse to be accountable or responsible for your mistakes. You damage relationships, undermine trust, and make people angry. People become fearful of being blamed. They stay in the background and often refuse to participate. Learn to take the blame and give the credit.

Self-preservation

When you are looking out only for yourself, you are not only a source of frustration, but you are perceived as self-centered and untrustworthy. You are in leadership to love and serve the people entrusted to your care.

Constant complaining

It is frustrating to work with people who are always complaining. Things do go wrong, and everyone complains occasionally, but non stop griping sucks all the energy and enthusiasm out of any group. Keep in mind that people follow your lead. Your attitude is contagious.

Now that you know how you might frustrate others, let’s look at how you can lead with courage and confidence. All leaders experience frustration, but you can lead by being a calm presence and by responding with care and kindness. Below are five characteristics of effective leaders in regard to controlling frustration. I am sure you already use some of these ideas and techniques.

Attributes of Effective Leaders

As an effective leader, you control your frustration, because you are:

Self-aware

You pause and reflect. You are aware of your emotions as well as the emotions of others. Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, you think through what needs to be said. Then, even if you need to express anger, you can do so calmly and reasonably. Controlling your emotions is a part of effective leadership, especially in the midst of change.

Aware of others

Things never happen in a vacuum. When you know the context of a frustrating behavior or a frustrating situation, you can resolve it. The more closely you observe the people around you and their intentions, the more you understand them and the bigger picture.

Curious

You ask questions for clarity and dig deeper for understanding. You know that you can find a solution to any frustration by tracing it back to its source. You don’t settle for superficial explanations but keep digging to find the underlying cause.

Listening

You know how to let people speak without letting your emotions get in the way. You give the other person the opportunity to say what they need to say. It can be hard to do when you want to interrupt, to defend yourself or just walk away. You stop and listen. You let them vent and get it out of their system so, together, you can start working toward a solution.

Responding and not reacting

It is easy to make a “mountain out of a molehill.” You control your own frustrations so that you don’t add to an already rising frustration level. Once you have responded with calm and coolness, it is easier to keep frustrations under control. You are vulnerable and transparent. You focus on the parts of the frustration that are in your control or influence. You don’t make false promises of change. 

Managing Frustration

Controlling frustration is a demanding skill. We admire the people who can keep their cool in tense situations. It takes practice. And sometimes it feels more like on the job training.

So, this week, try an experiment. 

Connect with a trusted friend and talk about what frustrates you. Then ask this question, “What do I do that is annoying or frustrating to others?” Practice listening. Don’t be defensive. This is not an easy exercise. Even if you get frustrated you will become a better person and a more effective leader.

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tom Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation in the midst of your frustration. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

I’ll be frustrated if you don’t!