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Before you say, “How can angels be courageous?” Stick with me. The messengers of God have a word for us about courage.

When I consider the messengers of God – the real-life angels among us – the people who speak God’s truth, embody God’s love and call forth grace in others, I can tell you about some of the most courageous people I know.

  • She is the one who challenges the long-held assumptions with grit, grace, and gumption. She steps onto a platform once reserved for men and owns the space as a brave, clear, loving determined leader.
  • He is the one who loves unconditionally, speaking his mind by telling his heart every chance he gets…and even when the stress of in-laws and out-laws are driving his blood pressure to new heights.
  • They are the ones whose arms are open to the least of these – the children. The ones caught in an unending cycle of neglect, abuse, divorce, crime, addiction, lack of care, and much, much more.

They do not judge. Instead, they embrace. 

They do not rant. Instead, they open their doors. 

They do not demand that others should embrace their cause, but model compassion, grace, conviction, and adaptability like no other.

And none of the above people would consider themselves angels.

But, here’s why I call them God’s messengers.

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It is the second week of Advent. It’s time to explore the courage of two more characters involved in the birth of Jesus. This week, through the LeaderCast, we will look at the Courage of Elizabeth.  Today through this blog, we will look at the courage of Zechariah.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are married and have been for years.  They are an older couple who approach each day with the same activities, the same people, and the same thoughts as every other day. They have no children and because they are older, they are past their childbearing years. In the culture in which they are living, being childless is a disgrace. Yet, it is with this older couple, that the story of the birth of Jesus begins. 

Zechariah has been chosen to be the priest to burn incense before God.  It is not only a special opportunity to perform such a high priestly function, but it is a privilege to enter the Holy of Holies where the tradition of experiencing God is too real to be true. Because of his position among the priests, he takes advantage of the opportunity and privilege.  

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What great work does God have for you to do?  You know the desires of your heart and the stirrings in your soul.  You also know the tensions and anxieties of living into who you know God created you to be and the pressures of the work and world around you.

So, how do you respond or react to the tension?

As you reflect upon that question, let me ask you to be honest with yourself. Read the following statements. Which statement describes you?

  • You live alone. Even though you have a family and you are surrounded with friends and colleagues, you live separated from the benefit of others speaking into your life.
  • You feel more comfortable with isolation than you do with letting people get close to you. Keeping your personal distance protects you.
  • You know what to do with your isolation and you are intentional in developing the relationships that feed your soul.

Which of the three statements best describes your mode of operation?  Be honest. No one knows but you.  Which one?

Lonely Leaders

Lonely leaders are everywhere.  Although you are surrounded by people, you can’t seem to connect in meaningful ways. So, you have entered a self-imposed separation.  It is easier to disconnect from people than it is to risk being vulnerable.

Bruce Thrall, one of the authors of The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, did research around “deception” as a leadership dysfunction.  The title of his project was “Everybody Lies, But Leaders Do It Better.”

He interviewed leaders who had deceived and been publicly caught, from the fields of medicine, journalism, law and law enforcement, the church, etc. The interviews exposed isolation as the primary reason the leaders gave themselves permission to lie.¹ Although these leaders were constantly around people such as family, friends, and colleagues, they were isolated, fearful, and alone.

Isolation robs you from becoming who God has created you to be. So, how do you and I overcome the isolation that threatens to keep us from the authentic community and courageous leadership?

An Example of Leading with Vulnerability

Let’s look at the life of a vulnerable leader.  His name, William Wilberforce. As a popular member of Parliament in Great Britain, Wilberforce liked the power and prestige of his office. Even though his personal life was not of the highest character, his political career looked promising.

Through the encouragement of a college friend, Wilberforce began to take a serious look at his life, which lead him to an encounter with Jesus.  After some personal struggle, he trusted God with his life.  As he considered the implications of his decision, through personal study and reflection, Wilberforce wrestled with the idea of leaving politics and becoming a minister. Here is one place he became vulnerable.  Instead of moving forward with a decision, he first went to several trusted friends, asking for their counsel.

Allies and Friends

He approached William Pitt, the soon-to-be prime minister of Great Britain.  Pitt wanted Wilberforce as a political ally, especially with his improving reputation.  So, he asked Wilberforce to stay in politics. Wilberforce was not convinced.  He knew what he wanted while he listened to his trusted friends. As he continued to wrestle with his conscience, he sought out John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” himself a convert to Christ.  Surely Newton would understand his desire to pursue the ministry.  Instead, Newton encouraged him to use his political position and knowledge as his ministry.

I can imagine that no one knew how much Wilberforce struggled to open his life to his colleagues and friends.  But knowing myself, it could not have been easy. He knew what he wanted, but he chose to become vulnerable, listening to those who knew him and loved him.

What are the Desires of Your Heart?

Let me ask you, how many people have you shared the desires of your heart, asking them to help you make sense of those desires?  How many people have asked you for direction regarding their lives?  How many people do you know who have gone as far as Wilberforce, following the advice of others even while disagreeing with their advice?

Sometimes our resistance to vulnerability comes after a profound experience of God’s love.  Once we come to the point of trusting God, we jump to conclusions about our calling in life, choosing to do things inconsistent with our capacities and character.  I know some people who have been encouraged to leave their careers and enter into a more “spiritual” work when it might have been the opposite of God’s purpose.

Choosing Vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability is tough work. You might not like what people say.  You might even disagree. But recognizing God as you focus upon your purpose, allows you the courage to listen, discern, and enter into dialogue with the people around you.

Here are some things to remember:

  1. Know who you are and whose you are. Whether you agree or disagree with others’ advice, choosing to be vulnerable cannot happen without trusting who God has created you to be.
  2. Find colleagues and friends who can be trusted. As hard as it might seem, becoming who God has created you to be is not a casual practice done in isolation.
  3. Vulnerability does not mean transparency. It is more than disclosing yourself at times and in ways that are convenient for you. Vulnerability is deliberately submitting yourself to the strengths and influences of trusted friends and colleagues at times that might be inconvenient.
  4. Vulnerability means you choose to let others have access to your life, teach you, and influence you. To the degree that you become vulnerable with others is the degree to which you will experience the love of others.
  5. Vulnerability invites trust. The trust others have in you depends upon your level of integrity. Your vulnerability expresses and sustains such integrity.

What Great Work Does God Have for You?

For Wilberforce vulnerability was not a passing fad.   He chose vulnerability over and over again.  After a time of doubt and reflection, he decided to stay in politics. He chose vulnerability when he asked is friends and colleagues to help him choose which issues to focus upon.

Slavery was the issue at the top of the list. He decided to recruit others to assist in his fight against slavery.  He met with groups of people regularly to listen, to develop mutual vulnerability, and support.  Vulnerability became a pattern of his life as he consistently opened his heart to the influence of others.  As a result of choosing to be vulnerable, Wilberforce is remembered as a great reformer whose work led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.²

So, I’m wondering, what great work does God have for you?  To become who God has created you to be, you need to start with vulnerability.  What one step will you take to get started. Consider the following:

  • What one thing will you do to address your isolation?
  • In what relationship(s) are you willing to become vulnerable?
  • What relationship(s) will you develop that will feed your soul?

Our families, our communities, our jobs, our churches, need vulnerable leaders, leaders who are willing to take the risk of opening their lives to the influence of others. Who knows what God has in store for you as you open yourself to the care, compassion, and influence of trusted friends and colleagues?

Choose vulnerability and become the leader God has created you to be.

 

 

Notes

  1. Thrall, Bruce, The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, page 76.
  2. The story of William Wilberforce was adapted from The Ascent of a Leader

We all want healthy, life-giving, encouraging, relationships in our lives.  Relationships of mutual respect, grounded in compassion and care.  Relationships built on love and integrity which give us the strength to live our lives to the fullest.

Courageous relationships give us support to be the leaders needed at work, at home, in the community, and even in our churches. Yet, too often we find ourselves in relationships carved out of fear where we are tentative in our commitments and based upon co-dependency where we seek to survive.

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When Tim and I set up TransformingMission.org in 2015, we did so to share resources about disciple-making. From 2015 until now, we’ve experimented, pivoted, and developed resources to serve Christian leaders in changing times.

Why?

Because as Bob Dylan said all the way back in 1964, Times They Are A Changin’

We recognize the challenges Christian leaders face. We see the challenges within our own denomination. And most importantly, we want to serve you.

We are committed to developing and equipping Christ-centered leaders for changing times.

And by leader, we borrow Brené Brown’s definition. A leader is:

Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

If that’s you, we need your help.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Looking Back to Look Ahead

  • This is our 264th post.
  • We released Episode 087 of LeaderCast on October 1, 2019
  • I’ve lost track of the number of Bible Studies and reading plans we’ve produced. But, we’re working on two right now. One is on courage and another is on call.

Neither one of us ever envisioned a weekly podcast as a part of what we’d share with you. Nor did we envision regular Bible Studies. That may sound silly given our focus on disciple-making. But, really, we thought there we enough Bible Study resources available.

But, you guessed it…Times they are a changin’.

And we’ve recognized while the number of resources could never be larger (hello, Google), there are few places that help people follow Jesus every day.

You see, the broad concept of disciple-making is central to our lives and leadership. And, as we regularly take time to pause, reflect, and pivot so we can continue to serve you with excellence we recognize the critical pause has helped us:

  • Launch a podcast
  • Identify topics for Bible Reading plans
  • Curate blog posts that encourage and equip you as leaders

Our focus remains on Jesus, and…

Yes, we’ll refer to Bob Dylan once more: Times They Are a Changin’.

So when we recently took a critical pause to reflect on what we’re offering you here, we realized we never asked YOU what would be helpful.

You’ll have to trust us that we listen closely to the conversations we have with leaders like you and to the emerging needs in local congregations. But, we’d really like to hear from YOU.

If you’d like to help us serve you, please complete this simple feedback form before October 9 at noon.

Integration

If we’re going to live into our commitment to develop and equip Christ-centered leaders for changing times, we know that means helping you live an integrated life.

But, for many, following Jesus is simply showing up to a religious service on Sunday morning.

That means we have a long road ahead.

If following Jesus means your thinking, feeling, and actions are an embodiment of Jesus every day, we also know there is work to do. And we want to help you grow and develop as Christ-centered leaders. At the center of leadership is living on the outside what you know on the inside. We believe that is true for you and for every Jesus follower who seeks to lead.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Thanks, in advance, for your time. We know it’s one of the most valuable resources you have. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us.

In Christ,

Sara Thomas and Tim Bias

PS – We’ll keep the feedback link active until Wednesday, October 9 at noon.

Last week when I sat down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I did not know what to write.  This week it is different. The writing still comes with pain, but this is pain that grows in my heart.

How can I be quiet when the images of children in detention centers keep flashing before my eyes, taking up residence in my thoughts, and knocking at my heart?

Children, who have been separated from parents, surrounded by strangers, confused, afraid, not knowing what will happen next.  There are children who have become abstract statistics and detached policy arguments.  Children, who have become the fodder of political debates.

How Can I Keep Quiet?

How can I be quiet when people, wanting to help children who are in need of drinking water, clean clothing, and soap, are told that their supplies cannot be accepted? The basis for the rejection is a federal mandate known as the Antideficiency Act.  Under the act, the government cannot spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. Really? Is that true?

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

The US Border Patrol reported to Congress that they were holding 2,081 children in detention centers. Children sleeping on concrete floors. No access to soap or showers. No access to toothbrushes or toothpaste. Inadequate food. Lord, have mercy on us! How can this happen?

Pain Intensified

As the pain intensifies in my heart, I try to make sense of such incomprehensible conditions and treatment. Oh, I hope I’m wrong but children have been used for political expediency throughout the ages. Didn’t the king of Egypt tell the Hebrew midwives when a child is born, “…if it is a boy, kill him…?” When the midwives did not obey the Pharaoh, he commanded, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile…?”1 How can little boys create such fear and anxiety?

And the one Christmas story we do not read each year is the story after the wise men from the East visit Jesus.  Wasn’t it after their visit that Herod, out of anger, ordered the death of all the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem? There are times, even today when I can hear “Rachel weeping for her children.”

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

I must confess, that doesn’t help. But isn’t it true? Children continue to be used for political expediency. Remember when World Vision, a humanitarian organization, announced a change to its hiring policy allowing people in same-sex marriages to work in its United State offices? In response, there was a group of people who rallied in protest, and within seventy-two hours, more than ten thousand children had lost their financial support from canceled World Vision sponsorships. Ten thousand children.

Then the CEO of World Vision announced the charity would reverse its decision and return to its old policy.  Children had been successfully used as bargaining chips in our culture war.

In February, as a result of the decision of the special General Conference of our United Methodist Church, several churches not only threatened to stop paying apportionments but did stop funding for projects in African countries through Global Ministries. I’m not sure who we thought we would leverage.

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

The first image that came to my mind was the little girl digging in a dry river bed in Nigeria. She and other children in her village would spend hours each day, digging in the sand to reach water so their families would have enough for that evening and the next morning. When I heard of the decisions to withhold apportionments, I thought of the well that Global Ministries had provided in her village.

Children, more often than not, pay the price in our attempts to leverage the system to get what we want. Even when we are acting for the right reasons, we might be doing more harm than good.

When Mark wrote, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children…,”3 he was not implying that children are perfect or that we should become more like children.  We all know that children, if given matches, can burn the house down, or given a saw, and cut the family dog in half.  No, what Mark implies is that children are vulnerable and powerless.  And Jesus says, “Let the vulnerable and powerless come to me…Let those who have nothing to offer but themselves come to me…” 

As Jesus followers, as kingdom people, we receive the vulnerable and care for the powerless.

How Can We Be Quiet?

So, as a Jesus follower, how can I be quiet?  At the border, when the children arrived with a parent or a relative, the border officials separated them. How can I be quiet? When many of the children have parents and relatives in the United States who are able and eager to care for them, yet the children remain in limbo, pawns in an ongoing battle over immigration enforcement, how can you and I be quiet?

Would it be different if they were our children?  Would we find ways to hold them, to defend them, to soothe them, and to set them free?

Peter Arnett, former CNN television reporter, tells the following story:

I was in Israel, in a small town on the West Bank, when there was an explosion. Bodies were blown through the air.  Everywhere I looked there were signs of death and destruction.  The screams of the wounded seemed to be coming from every direction.

Shortly after the explosion, a man came running up to me holding a bloodied little girl in his arms.  He pleaded with me, “Mister, I can’t get her to a hospital. The Israeli troops have sealed off the area.  No one can get in or out.  But you are the press.  You can get through.  Please, Mister! Help me get her to a hospital.  Please! If you don’t help me, she is going to die!”

I put the man and the girl in my car, got through the sealed area, and rushed to the hospital in Jerusalem.  The whole time we were traveling through the city streets, the man was pleading from the backseat, “Can you go faster, Mister? Can you go faster? I’m losing her.  I’m losing her.”

When we finally got to the hospital, the girl was rushed to the operating room.  Then the man and I sat in silence in the waiting area.  We were too exhausted to talk.

After a short while the doctor came out of the operating room and said, “I’m sorry.  She died.”

The man collapsed in tears.  I put my arms around his shoulders to comfort him.  Not knowing what to say, I said, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”

The man, with a puzzled look on his face, said, “Oh, Mister, that Palestinian girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler.  That Palestinian was not my child.  But, Mister, there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or son.  There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”

So, whose children are these children in the detention camps at the border of our country?  If they aren’t our children, whose children are they?

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

The United Methodist Church has spoken very clearly on this matter. General Conference delegates from around the world call on us to advocate for the “elimination of indefinite detention [and the] incarceration of children.” (Book of Resolutions 3281). We also stated very clearly that we “oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children. (Social Principles paragraph 162.H).

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

  1. Organize a public prayer vigil. A resource to assist you in organizing one is found on our webpage.
  2. Contact your Congressional Representatives and our two Ohio Senators. Let them know that you are a United Methodist, a follower of Christ and that the separation and detention of children is cruel and immoral. Demand they work together to find a moral solution to the care of children fleeing violence and civil unrest. Click Here.
  3. Help your children and young people draw pictures and write letters to send to members of Congress. Click Here.
  4. Join the West Ohio Immigration Network. Email Dee Stickley-Miner at  dstickley@wocumc.org

Regardless of what you and I may think or feel.  The children are not a political issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Independent. As a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, it is time to speak on behalf of the children.  Whose children are they anyway?

  1. Exodus 1:15-22
  2. Matthew 2:16-18
  3. Mark 10:13-16

Additional Resource

Looking for a book to explore the stories of Scripture about migrants and the meaning of belonging in a Christian context? Here’s a book that is a part memoir and part Biblical exploration by Karen Gonzalez. The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belonging.

Karen Gonzalez immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. She explores the Biblical stories about migrants and shares her personal stories and reflections in The God Who Sees. Meet people who fled their homelands: Hagar, Jospeh, Ruth and Jesus.

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them.

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid, and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”¹

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations?

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.”²

Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love.

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus who comes out.

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105

Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church. I’ve been thinking:

  • Who or what makes us who we need to be for the congregations and communities we serve?
  • What makes any one of us effective in our leadership?

Over the years of my ministry, I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I have clarity about who I am and why I do what I do. I have learned that I become a more effective leader when I trust who God has created me to be. Edwin Friedman calls this self-differentiation.¹

Self-Differentiated Leaders

How do you and I become self-differentiated leaders? What helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?

Jonathan Saks, in his book Lessons in Leadership, writes,

“The great leaders know their own limits. They do not try to do it all themselves. They build teams. They create space for people who are strong where they are weak. They understand the importance of checks and balances and the separation of powers. They surround themselves with people who are different from them. They understand the danger of concentrating all power in a single individual. But learning your limits, knowing there are things you cannot do – even things you cannot be – can be a painful experience. Sometimes it involves an emotional crisis.”

According to Saks, effective leaders are honest with themselves. They have the courage to say yes to who they are and no to who they are not.  Even in the midst of pain and conflict, they emerge less conflicted and more focused than before.

Great leaders practice self-differentiation. They know their strengths and build teams to support their shortcomings. Learn more on the blog post. #leadership #leader #transformingmission #bloggers Transforming MissionBiblical Examples of Self Differentiation

Saks uses examples of people like:

  • Lot, a Hebrew and not a citizen of Sodom. Lot leaves Sodom with difficulty. He has invested his whole future in a new identity for himself and his family.  Lot is paralyzed by ambivalence.  He is torn with inner conflict. Yet, he leaves Sodom. (Genesis 19:16ff)
  • Abraham’s steward is given the responsibility of finding a suitable mate for Isaac. The steward is ambivalent. He hesitates because he is conflicted between loyalty to Abraham and his personal ambition. Loyalty won but not without a deep struggle. (Genesis 24:12ff)
  • Joseph is living in a new and strange land. He is seduced by Potipher’s wife. He refuses her advances.  But he has great inner conflict.  He struggles with who he is. Why not do what the Egyptians do?  He struggles with is identity, “Am I an Egyptian or a Jew?” (Genesis 39:7ff)

Effective leadership, according to Saks, grows out of our struggle in the midst of a conflict of values.  So, in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church, what helps us remember who we are as Jesus followers and keeps us focused upon why we do what we do?

Remember

At baptisms in our local churches, we hear the words, “remember your baptism and be thankful.” We are saying, remember who you are and whose we are.

In baptism, we acknowledge that we are claimed by God, initiated into the Christian community, and called to ministry.  In Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, the words are, “you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

As effective leaders, we remember that we are God’s beloved and that we are part of God’s plan and purpose.  So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember who and whose you are.

In the church, when participating in Holy Communion, we hear the words, “do this in remembrance of me.” In other words, remember why you do what you do.

The word “remembrance” means to “wake up, to open your eyes, to call to mind or action.”  In Holy Communion, we wake up to why we do what we do.

Integrity and authenticity are necessary for leaders. Being who you are is not an act of arrogance, it is an act of self-awareness. Learn more on the blog post. #self-awareness #leadership #leader #transformingmission #bloggers

Who Do You Need to Be?

As effective leaders, we must wake up to why we do what we do.  So, in the midst of stress and anxiety, remember why you are in this ministry as a follower of Jesus.

I have been thinking of who you and I need to be in the midst of the stress and anxiety of our United Methodist Church.  I believe we need to be leaders of authenticity and integrity.  We need to be courageous, more dependent upon character and charisma.  We need to be strong from the inside out and have the capacity to model and share God’s love in difficult situations.

Together, we need to be missional leaders who can and will lead our congregations to engage our communities, neighborhoods, and cities in love of God in the midst of stress and anxiety.  In short, we need to be self-differentiated leaders who know who we are in relationship with Jesus, our congregations, and our communities.

As Jesus followers, be who you are. Even if leading is painful, stand firm in faith and move forward with grace.

 

  1. Edwin Friedman, Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve

Imagine picking up your car from the shop after a routine tune-up.  The technician says, “Your car is in great shape. You do a great job in maintaining it.”

On your way home the brakes fail.  You discover there is no brake fluid.

Now, how do you feel?

You go to the shop, find the technician, and say, “Why didn’t you tell me there was no brake fluid in the car?” And the technician says, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. I was afraid you would get upset with me and I want us to be friends.”

Just how furious would you be?

Would you say something like, “I don’t come here for a fantasy-based ego boost! I come to have my car maintained.  When it comes to my car, I want the truth.”

Imagine going to the doctor for your annual check-up. At the end of the examination, the doctor says, “You are in great shape. You have the body of an Olympian. Keep up the good work.”

Later that day, while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. Tests show clogged arteries.

You go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me about my condition?” The doctor says, “Well, I did see that you were one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.  I didn’t want any problems between the two of us. What if you started liking another doctor?”

Now, what would you say? “I don’t come here to be pacified about my health. When it comes to my heart, I want the truth!”

When what gets in the way becomes the way transforming misssion

The Truth of Courageous Leadership

When something matters to us, we don’t want a false comfort based on pain avoidance. We want the truth. In any discussion of leadership, we if we are to build trust, we must deal with the risk of honesty and the gift of clarity. Truth-telling in the church is about courageous leadership. Specifically, it’s about embracing the skill of vulnerability.

Being a courageous leader is hard work. No one is writing hymns that sing, “Amazing truth, how sweet the sound.”  As a leader, the closer the relationship, the harder the truth. In every one of us, there is the feeling that we do not want to hurt those who mean so much to us.  That’s why so many leaders, in their relationships, run into the “Jack Nicholson theology.”

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Remember Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men?”  Remember that famous scene near the end? It’s the one scene that even people who never saw the movie know. Nicholson’s a marine officer on the witness stand.  He is angry.  Out of his anger he shouts, “Do you really want to know what happened?”

Tom Cruise says, “I want the truth!”

Nicholson shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

A lot of leaders run on Jack Nicholson theology. We act like people can’t handle the truth. We don’t want to hurt others and we don’t want others to hurt us. Since when did caring for people and truth become divergent paths? When we give up our role as a leader for the sake of not hurting feelings, or being liked, or for keeping things peaceful, even our silence speaks loudly.

What Gets in the Way of Courageous Leadership

The question is, “What gets in the way of you being a courageous leader?  We have learned that what get in the way usually becomes the way. We abdicate our role as a leader, contributing to establishing a church culture that becomes a barrier to disciple-making.

After reflecting on the work Brené Brown has done around courageous, daring leadership, we had to ask ourselves the question: What behavior and church cultural norms stand in the way of courageous leadership?

We need courage to focus on our mission of disciple-making. Do any of the following behaviors and church culture sound familiar? Do any of these behaviors stand in the way of your courageous leadership? Because what stands in the way, often becomes the way.

13 Behaviors that Get in the Way

  1. Do you avoid tough conversations?
  2. Are you being nice and polite in the place of being truthful and compassionate?
  3. Do you say one thing to the pastor’s face and another to your friend?
  4. Are you undermining the leadership of the church by gossiping or by making up what you do not know and passing it off as truth?
  5. Do you avoid talking about Jesus or the mission of the church because you don’t want to offend people?
  6. Do you participate in parking lot meetings? The meetings that take place after the meeting where you agreed with the decisions but outside the meeting you disagree?
  7. Do you fail to acknowledge your fears and feelings in regard to change in the church? Changes like a change of pastors or sharing a pastor or having fewer people capable to serve and to give.
  8. Does your church lack connection to the community? Are you no longer vulnerable? Do you avoid relationships with people in the church because you were hurt by someone or offended by someone in the past?
  9. Are you afraid of failure? Do you fear looking stupid or saying something wrong about situations, relationships, or opportunities in the church?
  10. Do you explain away or ignore external criticism? Have you ignored or rationalized the ministry environment and the current cultural situation inside and outside the church?
  11. Has denial and blame of others taken priority over examining your soul?
  12. Are there needed changes that no one is willing to make? Are there untouchable areas and unspeakable issues that are debilitating but are declared to be “off limits” from critique or discussion?
  13. Do people have a sense of hopelessness? Is there talk about tomorrow with any sense of clarity or excitement, or has nostalgia for an unreturning yesterday replaced the stepping into the future?

What’s the Solution?

There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complexities of the behaviors and cultural norms we just named. But one of the ways to address these behaviors is to develop our skills as brave and courageous leaders.

And that starts with learning the skill of vulnerability. If we want to share the truth, we’re going to need to practice the skill of vulnerability.

We can’t lead with courage without embracing vulnerability. No, we’re not talking vulnerability for vulnerability’s sake. What we’re talking about is relational vulnerability.

Here’s how Brené Brown describes vulnerability from her decades of research, “Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

Disciple-making necessitates vulnerability. Without vulnerability, there is no connection with people, let alone a connection with Jesus. To love is to be vulnerable. If we love God and are going to love our neighbors, we are going to be vulnerable. From the place of vulnerability, we can learn not only to tell the truth with compassion but to ask for what we need.

when what gets in the way becomes the way transforming missoin

An Invitation to Practice

We know practicing courageous leadership means sometimes we will fall, sometimes we will fail. But we also know, “our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability.”1 Vulnerability is a skill. It’s a skill we can learn.

It’s time to talk about what’s getting in our way so we can get it out of the way. If you’re willing to go on this journey with us, head over to the LeaderCast Podcast and listen to Episode 050: What Gets in the Way of Disciple-Making? We talk about the 13 cultural norms and behaviors above as well as share an experiment to begin practicing courageous leadership.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

 

  1. Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. , p. 11