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

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

Conflict of Agreement

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

Abilene Paradox

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

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

Are You Going to Abilene?

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

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

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

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

Going Along for the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitant and Reluctant

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

Real and Phony Conflict

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

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

Learn More 

LeaderCast Episode 208: Peace Is A Big Deal

Leadership and Conflict

Conflict of Agreement

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

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

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

Leading Through a Conflict of Agreement

To lead through the conflict of agreement:

1. Be yourself

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

2. Be truthful about the current reality

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

3. Keep your mission clearly in focus

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

4. Be curious

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

5. Take others seriously

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

6. Listen carefully

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

7. Communicate Clearly

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

8. Be Generous

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

Your Next Step

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How was your Easter celebration? Although you have been back to “in person” worship for several months, celebrating Easter in person for the first time in two years must have felt extraordinary. I know it sounds silly, but you must have felt good getting back to some form of normal. 

The desire to get back to normal has been part of our thinking for months. The pandemic not only interrupted worship and church activities, but it also interrupted all of life as we were living it. So, I’m sure it felt good to celebrate Easter for several reasons, not the least of all the feeling of normalcy. 

Unexpected Interruptions

Unexpected interruptions have been part of human life from the very beginning. You can think of all the natural disasters, wars, deaths, births, and accidents that created a new normal for you. And when you look at the scripture, whether it was talking to a serpent in the garden, discovering a ram in the thicket, noticing a baby in a basket floating in the river, finding manna in the morning, getting water from a rock, human life has been interrupted with events that changed what was considered normal. 

Follow Me

Consider the lives of the first followers of Jesus. Fishing all night without catching anything was normal. Not fun or productive, but normal. Jesus comes along and tells them to do something that was not normal, “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” 

They were fishermen. They knew it was too late in the morning to catch any fish. Yet, they dropped their nets in the water and they caught more fish than they could handle. They had to call for help. Jesus came along and interrupted their lives. He said, “Follow me and I will teach you to catch people.” For the next three years, interacting with people became their new normal. 

Interrupted by the Resurrection

They gave themselves to the teaching and ministry of their new leader. Their new normal was living with Jesus. Although he was a little unorthodox in his dealing with people, life was good because it had become normal again. Then their lives were interrupted, not by a pandemic but by the resurrection. 

Although Jesus was arrested, convicted, and put to death by crucifixion, it was the resurrection that interrupted their lives. John tells us that Simon Peter and six other disciples wanted to get back to normal. After their experience of the resurrection, they went fishing. As far as their experience, life with Jesus was over. It was good while it lasted, but it was over. So, they were longing for life to get back to normal. Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” 

Do You Love Me?

It was while he and the others were going back to what they considered to be normal that Jesus appeared to them. Jesus serves them breakfast. It was in the normal experience of eating that Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love me?” In the normal experience of eating a meal, like a stranger on the road to Emmaus, or the dinner parties Jesus attended, Jesus shows up and asks, “Simon, do you love me?” 

Even though Simon Peter responds with, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” Jesus asks repeatedly because the desire to go back to what we consider normal blinds us to the new normal. So, with Peter’s confession, Jesus then gives him the words of the new normal, “Feed my lambs.” “Care for my sheep.” 

Resurrection Gives You a New Normal

Simon Peter wants to get back to normal. But Jesus shows up as his new normal. This is a wonderful, frightening thing. Jesus, the risen Christ, is on the loose and is at work, where you live, with the people whom you lead. Notice that Sunday is the first day of the Jewish work week. It is interesting that Jesus wasn’t raised on a Saturday, a holy day, but was raised on the day when everything was going back to normal. Everyone was going back to work. 

The resurrection interrupts our normal and says that you demonstrate your faith in the places you live, work, and play. That is because the resurrection puts today and every day into a new perspective. Every day is sanctified and all of creation, even your community, is the Holy Land. Every person is sanctified and every person you meet is one of God’s children in whom you can see Jesus. You might long to go back to normal, but as a follower of Jesus, the resurrection gives you a new normal. 

Resurrection Interruptions

We are the people whose lives have been interrupted by the resurrection. We have had something happen to us that the world is yet to experience. The risen Christ has come back to us. In one way or another, you are here because Jesus, the risen Christ, has sought you, met you, caught you, and commissioned you for God’s purposes at this point and time in history. 

When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, look up. You are not walking alone. When you come to some dead end in life and you look over the edge into the dark abyss, look up. He is there waiting for you as a light in the darkness. When you listen to the news, skim social media, read reports on the internet, and you feel overwhelmed, remember that Jesus confronts the powers and principalities of the day. He comes in the midst of the normal, no matter how bleak the normal might seem, and when you want to give up in despair, don’t be surprised to find him nearby. 

As you lead, you will find yourself stepping into unexpected interruptions. As a Jesus follower, living in a new normal, you might consider summarizing your leadership in light of the gospel. In an overall sense, in the Bible, it gets dark. Then it gets very, very dark. Then Jesus shows up. But Jesus doesn’t just show up; he shows up for you and for the people entrusted to your care. 

Experiencing the Resurrection

Several years ago, I visited a man in the hospital. He was a leader in the church and well known in the community. He was near death. We talked for a few minutes then I asked what I could do for him.

He responded, “I’m glad you came to see me. I want you to know something that you can tell the people at the church. I have had several people ask me if I was afraid. I want you to tell them at the church that I am not afraid. My faith is in Jesus.” 

I responded, “I can do that. We all have hope that our future is in God’s hands.” 

I’m sure I sounded too pious because he said, “Well, I’m not hopeful because of what I believe about the future. I’m hopeful because of what I have experienced in the past.” 

He captured my interest. I said, “Tell me more about what you mean. I want to represent you well.” 

He said, “I look back over my life, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, gone my own way, strayed, and got lost. And time after time, he found a way to get to me. He would show up and get me. He was looking for me when I wasn’t looking for him. I don’t think he will let something like my dying defeat his love for me. So, tell them I’m not afraid. Whether I live or die, Jesus is with me. 

I experienced the resurrection again that day. 

A New Normal

Simon Peter and his friends decide to go fishing. They want to get back to normal. Jesus shows up and gives them a new normal. He says, “What I have been doing, I want you to keep doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.” Or in other words, “Feed my lambs. Care for my sheep.” 

So here is a question for this week and throughout the Easter season. What if you are called to be the resurrection, to live a new normal? What if the presence of Jesus could be witnessed in who you are and what you say and do? 

Think about it and then decide what one thing you might say or do to reveal the new normal. It’s a tough assignment. To “care for my lambs” is to face the fact that some are going to stay lambs for forty years and never become sheep. “Feed my sheep” is not simple at all. Some of them refuse to eat. How will you lead into that unexpected interruption? 

You Are Never Alone

There will be moments of exasperation when you might be more of a nursery school teacher than you are their leader. But just as God sent Jesus, you are now being sent. Once your life has been interrupted by the resurrection, in whatever leadership situation you find yourself, look closely. The One who has called and equipped you for this ministry is nearby. You are never alone. 

That is the new normal. Leading into unexpected interruptions changes what is normal, especially when the interruption is the resurrection of Jesus. 

Who you are is how you lead.

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

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

Read Luke 23:22-24 

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

Reflect

Jesus Prays

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

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

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

Crucifixion

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

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

Forgiven for Ignorance

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

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

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

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

Intentional Ignorance

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

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

Father, Forgive Us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Who you are is how you lead. Authenticity and integrity are two characteristics of effective and courageous leadership. What is the basis of those characteristics? Today, let’s explore one fundamental truth of leading as a Jesus follower.

Read Exodus 20:7

Below are three different versions of the same scripture text. Each version portrays the same message but each in a unique way.

  • New King James Version: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
  • New Revised Standard Version: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
  • Common English Bible: “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.”

The message?

Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard. Who you are is how you lead. 

Reflect

Name

Name is important to God. There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God, “Who shall I say sent me?” or “What is your name?” God was gracious and answered, “I AM.” The name translated in Hebrew is YHWH.

Hebrew scholars have noted that the letters YHWH, when pronounced, sound like breathing.

YH (inhale) WH (exhale).

There is so much more to say at this point, but what is important to know is that God’s name is as important as breathing. YHWH. YHWH. YHWH. Name is important to God.

The Hebrews were a nomadic tribe. They did not stay in one place long enough to take the name of a nation like the Canaanites, the Egyptians, or the Assyrians. So, they took the name of their deity, YHWH. For them, taking the name was serious business. As the scripture says not to be taken lightly or in vain. They understood that their very lives depended upon the name of God.

As a Christian, you have taken the name of Christ. You have particularly taken the name of Jesus Christ, God’s name in the flesh. In the same sense as the Hebrews understood their very lives depended upon the name of God, who you are, as a Christian, is important.

In Vain

The words “in vain” mean “empty and meaningless, of no account, of no seriousness.” For the Hebrews, to take the name of God was to live a holy and different life. So, to take the name of God in vain meant that taking God’s name had little significance or impact on their lives. Instead of being holy and different in their living, they continued to live the same old life, have the same old attitudes, and relate to people with the same old prejudices. The name meant nothing, so life did not change.

From this perspective, there are two more things to consider. The first is, taking God’s name in vain is more than saying God’s name in profanity. You don’t take the name of God in vain with your lips. You take it in vain with your living. Somehow, in our culture, we have reduced taking God’s name in vain to saying God’s name in a vulgar way. Please understand, I am not saying that is good. But I am saying, you take God’s name in vain when you confess you are a child of God, and you live contrary to God’s purposes.

The second thing is, you can’t take God’s name in vain if you have not taken God’s name. We often point to people outside the church who use God’s name in profane and vulgar ways. But, if they have never taken the name of God, how can they take God’s name in vain? It is those of us inside the church, we nice people who would not dare let one little cuss word fall over our lips, whose lives are totally unchanged by the grace of God, who take the name in vain. In other words, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, but you live your life outside the love of God for you and for others, you have taken God’s name in vain.

If you are still with me, let’s go a little deeper. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Those words can be translated as Jesus saying, “Be different as I am different” or “Be different as God is different.” The question is, what is it that distinguishes you? What makes you different?

The Hebrews had the idea that when God gave you a name God made you a daughter or a son. You were adopted into God’s family. You were a child of God. From that time on, God’s name was important to you. That is what Jesus is teaching when he says to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  Let your name mean something.

At your baptism, you were given God’s name. You were baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You were claimed by God as a daughter or son of God. As a child of God, you live as one of God’s beloved children.

In the Flesh

Why is this important?

God is made known to people and is identified in and through those of us who wear God’s name. You can see God in the lightning and hear God in the thunder; you can experience magnificent sunsets and breathtaking views of mountains; you can experience God in the wind and watch the mighty waves roll; but God is made known to us in human flesh.

If God is to be known in the world around us, and known by the people we encounter, it will be because we are wearing God’s name. We are identified as God’s children.

In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers might be kept “in the name.” The way our churches and our communities will experience God’s love is to see and experience God’s love being translated into flesh, your flesh, through your living and loving relationships. Just as Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” You and I continue the incarnation over and over and over again. We live our lives in such a way that we say, “If you have seen me, you have seen Jesus and if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The world will be transformed by God’s name becoming flesh in you and me.

You translate who God is by your words, your prayers, and your preaching, and ultimately by the way you relate to people in God’s name. To take God’s name in vain is to give people the wrong or distorted image of God.

Your Identity

As a teenager, I delivered newspapers, cut grass, and did odd jobs in the neighborhood to earn money for school. I opened a bank account at the bank in town. When I needed or wanted spending money I would go to the grocery store and cash a check. It was easy and simple. I made my check out for cash and Freda, the woman at the cash register, would give me the amount of the check. The system worked well until I graduated from high school and went off to college.

When I got to college, I opened an account and transferred my money to the bank where I was living. One weekend, while home visiting, I wanted spending money. I went to the grocery store, where I had gone for years, to cash a check. I made my check out for cash and gave it to Freda, the same woman who had cashed my checks for years. She looked at the check and then looked at me, and said, “We don’t cash out-of-town checks.”

I said, “But you have been cashing my checks for years. Can’t you cash this one for me?”

Before she could say anything, a man standing in line behind me said, “Freda, cash his check. That is Dick Bias’s boy. Look at him. He is a spitting’ image of his old man.”

She said, “He does resemble Richard. Why didn’t you tell me you were Richard’s boy?” With that, she took my check and cashed it.

The man in line had seen in me the image of my father. I didn’t have a name on my forehead. I didn’t tell him my name. He said it was the “image of my father” that identified me.

The Image of God

When people see you as a person of peace, of reconciliation, of mercy, of humility, of kindness, they say “I know who you are. You are God’s daughter,” or “You are God’s son.” They see Jesus, the image of God, in you.

The apostle Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit,” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If you live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

In other words, “Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard.”

Respond

How will you define God’s name today? What will set you apart? How will you live differently with the people you meet? What will you do to show them whose name you wear? In whom will you identify God’s image? How will you let them know you have seen Jesus in them?

Return

Inhale YH, exhale WH. YHWH.

  • How did you define God’s name today?
  • How did you live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with the people around you?
  • In whom did you see God?
  • With whom could you have responded with more grace?
  • With whom might you need forgiveness?
  • Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be.

“O God, you have given me your name and you have asked me to keep it holy, to keep it different. By your grace, keep me in your name so that the world might see you in me and experience your love through my living. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

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

Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for Restraint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect on Your Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

Remembering Hope

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

You can remember the past. 

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

You can remember the present. 

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

You can remember the future. 

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

Revelation

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

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

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

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

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

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

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

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

REFLECT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESPOND 

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

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

RETURN

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

If you sat down with any group of people and said, “Today, our subject for discussion is temptation,” someone would quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything but temptation.” The discussion would go from there to stories of pranks, parties, and pies. Each story illustrates some form of temptation. But the point of our reflection today is not to reduce the temptation to a few harmless activities. 

You, as a Jesus follower and a leader, are tempted, in one way or another, to be successful. Being successful, by itself, is not a bad trait. But how you get there can be. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, a small group leader, or an executive, the temptation to be someone other than who God created you to be is always present and sometimes overwhelming. 

To discover the key to becoming a hope-filled leader in the midst of temptation, let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, RETURN as a lens to look at Matthew’s story of the temptation. 

1. Read Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” 

 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 

 After that, the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. 

2. Reflect

Immediately following his baptism where he has been claimed by God as “my beloved son in whom I am pleased,” Jesus entered a time of fasting. This was a time for Jesus to come to terms with who he was as “God’s beloved child.”

I find it fascinating that Matthew tells his story of Jesus like the story of Israel. Israel passed through the waters into the wilderness, was tested, and failed. They were disobedient and worshiped other gods. Jesus, the true Son of God, repeats Israel’s experience in coming out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, and remains obedient to God. He refuses to worship another. In contrast to Israel in the wilderness, whose faith faltered until restored by the miraculous manna, Jesus is hungry but remains faithful without the miracle.

After fasting for forty days, Jesus is prepared to be who God has claimed him to be. The story is not about Jesus deciding whether he is God’s beloved child but about what it means to be God’s beloved child.

Question for Reflection

Here is the question for reflection. What does it mean for you to be a leader who is a beloved child of God? Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, tells how Jesus overcomes the three basic temptations leaders face.

First Temptation: Please People

The first temptation is to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to live into the Jewish expectations of the Messiah. He was challenged to use his power to not only gratify himself but to meet the human need around him. Both are good actions, but to “Turn these stones into bread,” was not who he had been created to be. Jesus replied, “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is not wrong to want to please people or to make them happy, but if you form your leadership around applause, you will soon be unproductive and fruitless in your ministry. The temptation is not to please others as much as it is to become someone other than who God created you to be. Hope-filled leaders do not always please people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus found his identity and strength in being who God created him to be. He experienced God’s love to the point that he trusted God’s direction in loving people and giving them what was needed so they too could become who God had created them to be. He often disappointed people, but he was true to being a beloved child of God.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Second Temptation: Impress People

The second temptation is to do something to impress people. For Jesus, the temptation was to make some sensational demonstration to show he was the Son of God. He is challenged to do something spectacular like “Jump from the pinnacle of the temple!” Jesus resisted and said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:6-7).

It is not wrong to set lofty goals and high expectations, but if you form your leadership around unrealistic accomplishments, you will soon be burned out and cynical in your ministry. There will always be pressure to do something new, exciting, bigger, and better. There will always be people who want you to do something that is not true to who you are as a leader. Your temptation will be to feed your ego, to compare yourself to your peers, and to slip into a behavior that is less than authentic. Hope-filled leaders do not always impress people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

You don’t have to be a hero. But you do have to love people for who they are and to teach them the very things you have been taught about loving one another, forgiving one another, and leading one another to become the people God has created them to be.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Third Temptation: Compromise Who You Are

The third temptation is to compromise who you are by focusing upon something or someone other than the God who has created you. For Jesus, the temptation was to control the kingdoms of the world. He could do all the good he wanted to do, by giving up who he was created to be. He responded to the temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

It is not easy being a Jesus follower when you are taught to “turn the other cheek,” “to make things right with those who have something against you,” and to “love your enemy.” It is not easy to “forgive 70 x 7 times.” But to give into the temptation to control your life and relationships is to compromise who God has created you to be. Hope-filled leaders are flexible. They know to pivot to lead people to the hope they desire. But they do not comprise who they are. They lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus didn’t use his power to build an empire. He didn’t make people serve him, he served them. He included persons no one else wanted, washed the feet of those who hurt him, and cooked breakfast for those who had given up on him. He made friends with the poor, associated with outcasts, and disciplined them to be leaders. He helped them all discover that they were beloved children of God.

This is what Matthew is teaching us. To be a follower of Jesus means to have a trusting relationship with God that does not ask for miraculous exceptions to the limitations of being an authentic human being. You have been claimed by God, gifted to lead at this time in history.

You are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead. 

3. Respond

Today, be aware of the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. Be aware of where you are tempted to gratify yourself? And where you might compromise who you are to please or impress others. Look for Jesus throughout the day. Be aware of how being a Jesus follower helps you make the decisions needed to help others.

4. Return

  • Give God thanks for the day, for the people you have encountered, and for the places you have encountered God? 
  • What temptation did you face? 
  • In what situations did you try to please people? 
  • Impress people? Compromise who you are to get what you want? 
  • Who are some of the people who enriched your life? 
  • Who are some of the people you need to forgive or who you need to ask for forgiveness? 
  • How have you grown to become more of who God has created you to be? 

You are a leader at an incredible time in history. You were created for this time. So, don’t give in to the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. You are needed just as you are…a beloved child of God.  

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Let’s begin where I ended Part 1. 

Here are a few reminders to ground us: 

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

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


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

Trend 1 – Declining participation 

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

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

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

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

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

Trend 2 – Reinvent Ministries at Least Every 3 years

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

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

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

Why do I say every reinvent every 3 years? 

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

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

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

What’s Reinvention About?

Reinvention is about:

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

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

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

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

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

Reinvention includes the following three elements:

  1. Anticipate
  2. Design
  3. Implement

What happens if you only do 1 &2?

You’re going to burn out.

What happens if you only do 1 & 3?

You’re going to live in chaos and craziness. 

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

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

Trend 3 –  Location Independent Church and Localized Community Development

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

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

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

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

What possibilities does this create?

Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:

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

Question: What does this trend make possible?

Trend 4: The  Rise of Web3 and AR/VR

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

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

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

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

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

Trend 5: The Great Resignation and Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Now What?

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

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

Every 500 Years

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

The First Shift: VUCA 

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

Volatility

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

Uncertainty 

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

Complexity

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

Ambiguity

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

Polarization and VUCA

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


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


Shift 2: Hybrid is Here to Stay

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

Reminders for the Journey

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

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

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

2. The church is the body of Christ

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


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

3. Our mission is focused on disciple-making. 

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


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


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

How are you doing? I have been thinking of you and praying for you over these past six weeks. We entered the new year with the hope things were going to be different. Yet, we are still living in the confusion of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are still learning new ways of interacting with one another, making decisions, and worshiping together. 


We are living in a time of great social, economic, and political polarization. I cannot recall a time when people divided into contrasting groups as much as they do now. It seems people, whether in politics or the church, are moving in opposite directions. They are becoming as separate as the North and South poles. 

Conflicting Values


It is confusing to hear people say, “you don’t have the right to mandate masks” and at the same time want to ban books in public schools. It is disheartening to hear the insinuations of distrust and blame from people who we look to model lives of trust and understanding. It is disappointing when we separate over theology, issues, and politics, especially when we are leaders of love and reconciliation. 


So, my question “How are you doing?” is genuine. You are navigating conflicting values as well as deep feelings, both your own and the people entrusted to your care. I pray you will always be clear in your thinking and courageous in your actions. 


Being a Hope-Filled Leader

With that said, how can you be a leader with hope in times like these? The things I have listed above are as much about the church as they are about our culture. The truth is we are part of the culture. We are not on the outside looking in. We are not above it looking down. We are the culture. We not only have the financial and political means to shape it but we have been created to be the leaders to transform it. 


So, consider this: as a follower of Jesus, you have been called and gifted to offer hope and direction during these difficult and troubling times. So, instead of starting with your stance on social issues or your personal political point of view, start with Jesus. I am convinced he can and will lead you through these challenging times. When Jesus pointed out that we “love one another” he was putting love in the context of relationships. We don’t love in isolation. We love in relationship. In fact, we have no identity in isolation. We are only truly ourselves when we operate within a network of relationships. Without faithful relationships, “loving one another” relationships, there cannot be Christian discipleship. 

Your Relationships


Your relationships help make you who you are. I believe that God puts people in my life so I can become more who God created me to be. Now, I know that sounds like I am using people, but consider this: your relationships are not simply for encouragement or for help in times of need. They reveal God to you, and they offer something you need to know or incorporate into your thinking and living.

Start looking for God in the people you encounter each day. You will become more who God created you to be. Jesus models for us a life that gives priority to others, whether they be on the fringes or whether they be in center. Your relationship with Jesus demands that you love all people, even those who oppose you, misuse you, or disagree with you. Too often we limit relationships to those in the church, the people who are most like us. Thomas Morton, in his book Knowing Jesus wrote, “It is not in the church that we know Jesus, but in the world. We know him in the life of love, suffering, and hope that he shared with all people. But without the church few of us would be in the position to recognize him in the world.” 


Loving People

To be a follower of Jesus means building relationships with people who have different points of view and different values. You love them because of who they are, not because of what they believe. You accept them and their differences and you are willing to be enriched by those differences. It involves discovering Jesus in places and people you don’t expect Jesus to be. 

Even at his last supper, Jesus was open to people who betrayed him and who were using him to get what they thought they wanted. The disciples were less concerned about Jesus than they were about who was going to get the best seats in the kingdom. But never forget that Jesus loved Judas. This is the relational understanding that you, as a leader, need to navigate the times in which we live. You must love a culture and people who are more like Judas than faithful followers of Jesus. 


Being a Leader of Hope

It is not easy being a leader of hope, but because it is not easy does not mean you don’t move courageously forward. Being a Jesus follower, in our culture, is often more the problem than the solution. But following Jesus helps you recognize him in the people you meet along the way. And you will begin to lead people into the light of hope needed so desperately today. There is an old story about three African Elders visiting the West. The visitors were asked: “How can you tell when the night ends and the day begins?” 


The first Elder responded: “When I can distinguish the olive trees from the fig trees, then I know that night is over, and the day has begun.” 
The second Elder answered, “When I can see the forms of the animals across the Serengeti, I know that the darkness is leaving, and the light of day is arriving.” 


The third Elder took an entirely different view, “When we can see a black woman and a white woman and call them both “sister.” When we see a poor man and a rich man and call them both “brother.” Then the darkness of night has lifted, and the light of day has come.” The darkness lifts according to the practice of relationships. The problem you face is not the breaking of commands; it is the breaking of relationships. It is not the laws in stone that are broken, it is God’s heart of love that is broken.

That is why the answer is not better education or better willpower. It is not better social policies or inclusive programs. The answer is a better means of reconciliation and restoration of relationships. The answer is loving one another as God in Jesus as loved you. You are a leader at an incredible time in the life of your community, your city, and the world. You were created for this time. So, don’t give up.

Keep Steady in Following Jesus

Keep steady in following Jesus. In fact, when you lead on the path of hope, and you must make tough decisions, take the path in the shadow of the cross. It will be the least traveled, but it will bring the greatest blessings. Be intentional to look for Jesus in the people you encounter this week. As you recognize Jesus, what is he telling you about who you are? Where are you experiencing hope?  Remember, who you are is how you lead.