Tag Archive for: leader

Have you heard the word discernment lately? I ask you with a smile because in every direction I turn I meet a leader or a congregation in the process of discernment. As I have reflected upon what I have heard and experienced, I think it is time that leaders take a good look at the intrinsic value of discernment in their leadership style and decision-making. 

What is Discernment?

Discernment is a unique discipline that takes practice and insight. It is wisdom based upon facts as well as context, options, implications, and motivation. It is a learned skill that focuses on the process of reflection based upon the values, principles, and integrity of the leader and others engaged in the process.  

Too often a leader will discern a direction for an organization or make a decision involving the people entrusted to his or her care and then ask those followers to trust their discernment and decision-making.

What would happen if you, as the leader, would become vulnerable enough to depend on the discernment of a larger body of followers who might be as focused on God’s direction as you are as the leader?

Let’s take a moment to read the scripture, reflect upon it, respond to it, and at the end of the day return to assess what has been learned through implementation and experience.

Read Philippians 1:9-10 

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. (CEB) 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (NIV) 

Reflect

The apostle Paul prayed for Jesus’ followers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life. He prayed that they would be able to decide what really matters and to make their judgments accordingly. 

What does it mean to discern something? Discernment, at its best, is the ability to recognize small details, accurately tell the difference between things that are similar, and make intelligent judgments by using such observations. This ability was important to Paul. He writes to the Jesus followers in Rome to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they could discern the will of God, that which was good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Paul’s prayer is not just for individuals but for the entire church body. We usually think of discernment as an exercise of the mind and heart of the leader, but discernment is also of the mind and heart of the body of people who are making decisions. Your commitment to leading people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. You help people to think for themselves and to discern who to follow and to whom they should listen. 

A Model of Discernment

Let me offer one model which will assist you as a leader, especially during these days in which we are living. This process is known as “The Fenhagan Model For Corporate Discernment.” It was developed by James C. Fenhagen and can be found in his book, Ministry and Solitude.   

It is designed to assist in making decisions regarding ministry opportunities or projects. It is to be used when groups are making major decisions and are looking for the best direction for the church or organization. It is a process of prayer, meditation, and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It engages participation in searching the scripture, prayer, and listening to God and one another. 

Starting the Discernment Process

The process begins when all possible information is gathered, clearly identified, plainly described, and made available to those who will be engaged in the deliberation.  

Discernment Steps

First, start with scripture. Below are examples to use for setting the context. You might have other scriptures to help frame and focus your discernment. 

  • Psalm 119:125: I’m your servant! Help me understand so I can know your laws. (CEB) Or, I am your servant, give me discernment that I may understand your statutes (NIV) 
  • James 1:5: But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. (CEB) 
  • Gaining discernment or sound judgment involves trusting God and one another. King Soloman  advised his son to hang on to discernment so that he would stay safe and secure on life’s course:
  • Proverbs 3:5–6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (CEB) 
  • Proverbs 3:21–23: My son, don’t let them (common sense and discernment) slip from your eyes; hold on to sound judgment and discretion. They will be life for your whole being, and an ornament for your neck. Then you will walk safely on your path, and your foot won’t stumble. 
  • And as we mentioned before, the apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi to have discernment so they could judge the right way to go in life:
  • Philippians 1:9–10: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (NIV) 

Second, provide a time to ask and answer questions regarding the information provided. Too often in this process, we use only the information that helps move toward the decision we want. Making all information available allows persons the freedom needed to hear God’s direction in their discernment. God will speak through the persons who are gathered. 

Third, is a time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share the reasons he or she discerns against moving in a particular direction.  It is important that all people participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, it is important that all persons have participated.  

Fourth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying.   

Fifth, is another time of sharing. Each person has the opportunity to share his or her own personal discernment regarding moving forward. Again, it is important that all persons participate. If a person does not have a reason or wishes not to give a reason, he or she can pass. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate. When the decision has been made, all persons should have participated.   

Sixth is a period of prayer and meditation. After each person has reported, take the time to pray and reflect upon the seriousness of what has been reported. Ask the group to set aside emotions and preferences and to listen closely to what God is saying. 

Continue Until Consensus Is Reached in Discernment

If no clear consensus emerges, the process continues. Take the time to sort out and weigh the reasons behind the pros and cons, recording those reasons so that they are available to all, and to discern communally, in the light of what has been listed, the direction to which the community is called by God.  

In commenting on this aspect of the process, John Futrell, in his book, Communal Discernment: Reflection on Experience, writes, “…if the conditions of authentic communal discernment have been fulfilled (i.e., if there is genuine openness to the Spirit), the decision should be made clear, and confirmation should be experienced unanimously through shared deep peace…finding God together.”  

Final Steps for Discernment to Reach a Decision

Through scripture, prayer, reflection, and conversation, your church or organization can reach a decision.  Even though you might want total agreement, the reality is there will be some who disagree with the decision being made. So, here is the final part of the process.

Ask each participant the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t fully agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. If the answer is no, ask the following question:
  • If you don’t agree, can you live with the decision? If the answer is yes, you have affirmation of the decision. Seldom is there a totally negative response. But if the participant says I don’t agree with the decision and I can’t live it, then say, “God must be saying something different to you. We are ready to listen and to learn what God is saying. What is God saying? How do we move forward?

Reaching a Decision

You will either get an affirmation of the decision or a new direction will surface. If it is a viable alternative, lead the process of discernment again. When you are vulnerable and listening to God and to the people, the right decision will be made. 

Finally, when the decision has been made and everyone can live with it, give God thanks and affirm the corporate commitment to carry out the decision.

Paul’s prayer was for the entire church body to grow in love and to gain more knowledge and depth of insight so that the body might be able to discern what is best. 

Your commitment to lead people in discerning and doing the will of God is what distinguishes you as a spiritual leader. Who you are is how you lead.  

Respond

O God, thank you for your call upon my life. Give me the wisdom and insight to trust you in and through the people you have given me to love and serve. In all I say and do, may I be a reflection of your love and care, even in the decisions I make and help others to make. By your grace, let me and the people entrusted to my care, be a part of what you are blessing in the name of Jesus.  Amen

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What decisions did you make? How were you able to cut through the confusion and ambiguity? Give God thanks for the wisdom you received to discern and understand? Are you able to be vulnerable enough to trust the people you lead to make decisions? What do you need to trust others as they trust you?

Do you always tell the truth? I am smiling as I ask that question. We don’t often talk about truth-telling, but you and I know that effective leadership requires telling the truth. Truth-telling shows up in your leadership as courage and respect. The courage to see the truth and to respect people enough to share the truth with them. 

As a leader, your responsibility is to discover the potential of the people you serve and to develop that potential so they can become who God created them to be. Sometimes that requires the courage to share what people might not want to hear but what they need to hear. 

I am the way, the truth, and the life…

As a Christ-centered leader, your faith is rooted in the truth, the truth we know in Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and “…you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” When you are truthful with your words and actions, you are revealing the very nature of your faith rooted in God, seen, and experienced in Jesus. To do otherwise is to be unfaithful. 

So, what does truth-telling mean? Let’s look at one verse of scripture, Ephesians 4:25, and discover what it means to be a leader who tells the truth. 

Read  Ephesians 4:25 

So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. (NRSV) 

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (The Message) 

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is teaching the Gentiles and the Jews what it means to be followers of Jesus. The scripture is part of the teaching regarding the old life and the new life. 

For Paul, and those in the early church, the faith was transmitted by teaching. Those reading his letter had entered a new life by “learning.” As you know, Paul was writing and teaching before the culture had been “Christianized,” so the church could not expect the culture to transmit the faith. People did not learn what it meant to be Christian simply by absorbing the attitudes of the culture. 

Authentic Faith

With that in mind, the church in the twenty-first century finds itself in the same situation as the readers of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As the world becomes more and more secularized, the Christian community must develop its teaching and learning strategies to pass on the authentic Christian faith. Faith is rooted in the truth of God as seen and experienced in Jesus. 

Paul uses the imagery of changing clothes. Put away your old self and clothe yourselves with the new self. He is addressing the people on the inside. He is saying that conversion to Christ is not a one-time check off the list and left behind event. There is a growing into this new life in Christ. 

That brings us to our scripture. The Common English Bible says, “Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. 

The Truth

The Christian life is not only a matter of theological truth, but of truth in everyday personal relationships. In our fallen human nature, we project a desirable self-image by speaking our version of the truth to our advantage. We shape the truth to look better or to achieve what we want. But when we become followers of Jesus, the way of the new life frees us from the concern of self-protection or self-promotion. 

Isn’t it interesting that Paul is instructing the followers of Jesus, the church, not to lie to one another, but to tell the truth. We all like to consider ourselves honest yet we tend to shape the truth to our advantage. Lies over time, pollute relationships and create false world views. 

Leaders Tell the Truth

At time, it is more about being careless with the truth than deliberately lying. As a leader, what you say matters. People look to you for directions. What you say, and often how you say it, has consequences. Just an inference to an untruth can be taken as truth when said with sincerity and conviction. 

There are other times, without checking out sources or having conversations with others, you can repeat an untruth as truth. You can carelessly create negative thoughts and images of others based on your assumptions.

Read “Leadership and Assumptions” 

We live in a world where we expect politicians, social media, and news agencies to spin and distort the truth. But we do not expect our spiritual leaders, our Christ-centered leaders, to distort the truth in any way. Lies at any level are hurtful, but public lies, especially about other persons or institutions, do the most damage. 

The Reason for Telling the Truth

Paul also gives the reason for telling the truth. It is because we are all members of the same body. In this scripture, Paul is teaching followers of Jesus not to lie to one another because both Gentiles and Jews belong to the same body, the body of Christ. We belong to each other. A body can only function accurately when each part of it passes true messages to the brain and to other parts. Being a part of the body of Christ means that we can only function when we speak the truth to one another. We are related to one another, dependent upon one another. That is why Paul wrote, “putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor.” 

Regarding your Christian witness as a leader, “neighbors” are not just your fellow Christians, but are all people in general. Neighbors include the people you encounter each day, family, friends, strangers, and even enemies. Christian talk is dedicated to truth rather than self-protection. The way we talk to one another, talk about one another, and support or vilify one another reflects who we are as leaders. Your talking reflects your witness to Jesus. 

We live in a time when truth has become a welcomed commodity. And who best to speak the truth to others than you as a Christ-centered leader? Put your faith into action and lead the way through telling the truth about God’s love, about Jesus who shows us God’s love, and about yourself, a sinner saved by God’s grace (love). As a follower of Jesus, the time has come, to tell the truth.

Respond

O God, it is hard for me to be truthful with you when I have trouble being truthful with myself. When I am at my best, I am grateful for the truth of your love that holds me and will not let me go. I know you take me just as I am, and you are loving me into who you created me to be. I confess there are times I do not trust your acceptance and I try to shape myself without your truth and love. By your grace, put the truth of your love deep into my life so that I know and live being truthful is part of loving others as you have loved me. Remind me of each time I shape the truth to my advantage and help me become a living model of your truth in all I say and do. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. 

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • What situations did you find yourself telling the truth today? In what situations were you reminded that you were shaping the truth to your advantage? 
  • Now ask God to empower you to love others by simply telling the truth in your speech and action. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

It is my prayer that you will take God’s love so seriously in your life that all you say and do will bring God glory and work for the good of the people entrusted to your care. In the situations and circumstances you find yourself, be a leader and tell the truth. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Followers look for different qualities in their leaders. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that one of the top qualities followers look for is hope. Although there are people who perceive hope as passive and as wishful thinking, you instill hope when you understand the reality of the present, can imagine a better future, and live and work to make the future a reality.

When you are hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior. When you are hopeful about the future, you take the initiative to make a difference, as you shape the future and influence the people you lead. 

Hope is essential to leadership. Dr. Shane Lopez, of Gallup, spent his life studying hope. He wrote, “Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” 

Passive Hope 

When you see hope as wishful thinking, you wait for external forces to shape your future. Even with wishful thinking, you can see a better future, but you don’t believe you have the power to influence situations or people to achieve that future. When hope is passive, people look for “leaders” who will fix their problems. They sometimes complain about their leaders who aren’t delivering on the vision of a better future.

Leadership is about identifying potential in people and actively assisting them to live into their potential. Passive hope blocks that behavior. You aren’t a leader when you are waiting for someone else to show up and make things happen. 

Active Hope 

When you understand hope as active, you become a participant in bringing about that for which you hope. You need active hope to be the leader needed today. Active hope is something you do rather than something you have. 

It is about knowing what you want to happen and working to get there. For example, my wife, Kim, and I grow daylilies in our flower garden. Every spring we anticipate the lilies blooming. We watch as the green leaves begin to form, push their way up out of the ground, and blooms burst open. 

Because lilies and weeds grow together, I weed the garden on a regular basis. Although most of my work depends on how fast the weeds grow, there are times I must remove dead leaves from the plants. In fact, this year, because the lilies were not blooming, I cut them back so they could produce new growth. 

Kim and I are enjoying our lilies in full bloom. For the lilies to grow and bloom, I must be active in caring for them. I must show up throughout the growing months and weed the garden, even though I know more weeds will be there tomorrow. 

My blooming lilies are an example of active hope. 

Active Hope in Action

Think about it this way: 

First, know your current reality. 

Hope is rooted in the reality of your situation. Anchor yourself in that reality. Face it, name it, and acknowledge it. Where you start makes a difference. So, start where you are with what you have, not where you aspire to be or with what you aspire to have. 

Kim and I had an area of our yard, in front of the porch, where we wanted flowers. So, we started with that area. It was bare, covered only with dirt and random weeds. It had not been cultivated to grow flowers. But that was our current reality. We could have done nothing. We could have said, “I hope grass grows there someday.” But we didn’t. Instead, we started where we were with a bare, random weed and dirt-covered area. Honestly, it did not look like much would ever grow there. But that area is where we started. 

Second, identify what you desire to happen. 

Hold that vision/mission before you and the people whom you are leading. Keep your values in mind and imagine what “being better” would look like for yourself and others. This sets the direction in which you lead. 

Kim and I decided we wanted flowers to grow in the uncultivated area. So, we began to imagine what the area could look like with daylilies. We identified what we wanted to happen, which set the direction we needed to move. Again, we could have done nothing. We could have said, “It would look nice to have daylilies in the area.” But we didn’t. Instead, we began to imagine what that bare random weed area could become. It was that image we set out to make a reality. 

Third, begin to move in that direction. 

In other words, you show up and act in a way that is aligned with the future you want to happen. You navigate the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of your goal. Active hope does not require your optimism, it requires your resolve. You choose what you want to achieve. Rather than weighing your chances and proceeding only when you feel hopeful, you focus on your goal/mission and let it be your guide. 

Kim and I knew that to make our daylilies a reality, we had to buy daylilies. But before that, we had to cultivate the ground. Even before that, we had to have the tools to cultivate the ground. So, to make our vision a reality, we had to have a shovel, a rake, and other garden tools. We had to break up the ground, remove the rocks, pull the weeds, and make the ground ready for daylilies. As we moved forward, we adjusted our vision. We decided the lilies would do better if surrounded by rock as opposed to mulch. So, we bought our lilies, planted them, surrounded them with rock, and watched as green leaves began to form, push their way up out of the ground, and bloom. 

We made our desire a vision and our vision a reality. That is active hope. It invites you to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist at the moment. 

Hope Shaped Leadership

Hope-shaped leadership has a realistic understanding of reality and a clear vision of the future. Hope is experienced in your behavior to make the vision a reality. It is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters, not only to you but also matters to the people entrusted to your care. When you lead through the challenges and obstacles with your future in sight, you not only practice leadership, but you also offer hope…a real and active hope. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

One other thing that is critically important regarding hope-shaped leadership. Who you are is how you lead. Whether you like it or not, people are watching you and they take their cues from you. They are listening to your words, they are watching your behavior, and they are observing your relationships. They follow your lead. As the leader, you paint the picture of the future. If you are negative and manipulative, don’t be surprised when the people around you become negative and do not trust you or others. You might get what you want for the immediate future, but the culture you have created will not be one of hope and productivity.

Who you are is how you lead. So, as a leader, when you are hopeful, you help people see a path that leads to a better future. Even though there are challenges and distractions, your words and actions fill the hearts and minds of the people around you with possibilities of healthiness and wholeness. 

Impact of Hope Shaped Leadership

Finally, hope-shaped leadership makes an impact. Here are five ways hope-shaped leadership makes an impact.

Renews Faith 

Hope allows you to become more of the person you were created to be. As you grow in faith, the people around you renew their faith as well. With renewed faith, hope introduces you to a path of new beginnings and to solutions you never knew existed. 

Builds Confidence

Hope helps you build your self-confidence. As you grow in confidence, you assist others in living into their potential. They begin to achieve things they never knew were possible. With the confidence to face the future, you know you can face your fears and move forward. You have the confidence to know that “perfect love casts out fear.”

Promotes Clarity

Hope broadens your perspective and gives you the vision to see around, beneath, and beyond the goals you seek. It allows you to translate complexity into clarity. When you begin to see through a wider lens, you begin to see the potential of the people around you and it fuels your perspective. Clarity assists you in modeling vulnerability and authenticity.

Gives purpose

Hope helps navigate all obstacles that stand between you and your purpose in life. You find a way to get things done. Living into your purpose gives others the hope to live into their purpose. The truth is hope is an ultimate life changer. It keeps you and the people around you moving toward dreams, goals, and aspirations.

Strengthens relationships

Hope is a force that brings people together. It instills a sense of unity, pride, and optimism. It builds trust. When people can trust you as their leader and you can trust them as your partners, relationships are strengthened, and everyone becomes more who God created them to be.

Hope-shaped leadership is about making a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” (From Strengths Based Leadership) As a hope-shaped leader, you must keep your eyes, and the eyes of the people entrusted to you, on a hopeful future. 

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

Who you are is how you lead.

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

Collaboration & Community

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

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

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

It’s All Good

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

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

Common Ground

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

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

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

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

Collaboration Examples

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

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

Will You Be a Co-Laborer?

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

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

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

A quick internet search will reveal that there are many styles of leadership. Whether it be authoritarian, strategic, visionary, coaching, transitional, adaptive, or any number of other styles, each style is a method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.

Leadership styles are based on a number of factors, including the level of control and power the leader possesses. Different situations call for different approaches. Most leaders use a combination of styles to motivate and equip people to fulfill a purpose or mission. 

What’s Your Story?

Regardless of the style, your inner story will subconsciously guide the way you lead. You do not leave who you are, how you think, or what you feel, at home. Your needs, emotions, and dreams come with you. As much as you want the people with whom you work to trust and respect you, the people who look to you as their leader are looking for the same. 

Over my years I have learned there are two underlying influences in the style of every leader. There are those who lead with fear and there are those who lead with love.

The question is, which is the underlying influence in your leadership?

Fear-based Leadership

Fear-based leadership usually shows up in two ways. You either make decisions based upon what you want, or you are paralyzed because you want people to like you. 

Either you react to challenges based upon assumption and hearsay or you deny and dismiss challenges because of the fear of offending someone. You either make unilateral decisions or make no decisions which lead to “anything goes.” Your cynical attitudes permeate your style, and you pass your pessimism on to others. 

Even when it is not your intention, you create an “us and them” culture based upon mistrust. You either micro-manage out of fear things will not be done the way you want them done or your desire to be liked creates a culture of mistrust where everyone is doing his or her own thing. Lots of activity but little production. Both types of fear-based leadership become the center of all the work.

Fear-based leadership cultivates fear rather than trust and stability. It always seeks an enemy. Its focus is usually on something the leader is against rather than on people and their potential.

There are good people who are motivated by fear. Just remember, who you are is how you lead.

Love-based Leadership

The opposite of leading with fear is leading with love. Loved-based leadership is relational. You are vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Love-based leaders look for their potential and equip them to live up to their potential. You are generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. You are courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.

Love-based leaders cultivate trust and compassion. They take pride in the work of the people entrusted to their care. Love-based leaders focus on the well-being of the people entrusted to them. They are grateful for the work of their colleagues and give credit to whom credit is due.

Lead with Love

Love-based leadership is rooted in unconditional love. It is selfless and works for the well-being, not only of the people entrusted to your care but of all people, especially strangers. Love-based leadership is Christian leadership. It is greater than your likes and dislikes. It is greater than your fears. John in his first letter wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).

There is one characteristic of love-shaped leadership that sets the foundation for everything else: self-care and self-compassion. Stephen R. Covey, in his writing and speaking, emphasized the significance of love in leadership. According to Covey, love, trust, and managing people with a dedication to helping them reach their full potential were key responsibilities of leaders.

He said having a love for yourself was critical to your performance as a leader. If you want to care for others, you must look after yourself. Love-shaped leadership is built upon a solid basis of self-care and compassion. It is the first step toward leading with love.

You can lead with love once you have established care and compassion for yourself.

Three Characteristics of Love-Shaped Leaders

There are many characteristics of love, but here are three to help you lead with love. 

Vulnerability

One of the most essential characteristics of an effective leader is vulnerability. It is one of the qualities we look for in others but is the last quality we want to show of ourselves. To lead with love means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care. 

It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, you own them. You ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you. 

Although vulnerability is difficult work, it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

Explore more about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership here.

Listening

One of the most desired characteristics of an effective leader is the ability to listen. It is another quality we look for in others but find it difficult for ourselves. But love-shaped leadership is focused on the well-being of others. Listening builds trust and shows your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down. 

It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. As a leader, you know the path that needs to be taken. You know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. But unless you give people the opportunity to be heard, they do not feel they are a valuable part of what you are doing. 

A reminder is, God has given you two ears but one mouth. It is difficult to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but it helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

What stops people from listening to you? Explore more here.

Generosity

One of the most needed characteristics of an effective leader is generosity. It means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. You only have to look at your relationships with family and friends to experience how difficult it is to truly understand one another. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. 

It is closely related to listening. Generosity requires patience and humility. It requires a sense of wonder and curiosity and a genuine interest in the people you are leading. You listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, and explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way they should but staying open and curious in conversations creates an environment where people feel heard, seen, and truly cared for. 

The best way to think of it is, you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you become the leader you are created to be.

Perfect love casts out fear

You know better than anyone what motivates you and your leadership. This week, examine your leadership style. Are you leading with fear? Afraid to be vulnerable? Does fear emerge when you seek to listen and develop relationships? Are you afraid to be generous with colleagues?

As you reflect this week, keep in mind that you were created to lead at this time and place. Accepting God’s love for you is as important as you sharing God’s love for others. In fact, there is no love-shaped leadership, your acceptance of God’s love for you and for the people entrusted to you care.

Who you are is how you lead. I pray that your relationships are shaped by love this week.

Two brothers, John and George, once lived on adjoining farms.  Over the years they worked together to produce food for the surrounding community and other parts of the world. One day while John and George were planning for the future, they had a disagreement. They had worked through disagreements in the past, but this one was significant. It began as a small misunderstanding, grew into a major difference of opinion, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words. The two brothers, who had worked together for over 40 years, no longer spoke to one another.

One morning, there was a knock on John’s door. When he opened the door, there was a man looking for work. The man said, “Good morning. I don’t intend to intrude; I’m looking for a few days’ work. I have done work as a carpenter. Do you have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?”

John replied, “Well, yes I do have a job for you.” John led the carpenter to the backyard of the house. He pointed across a creek to a house on the other side of the field, and said, “Look across the creek at that farm. It belongs to my younger brother. Last week, there was a meadow between us. But look at what he has done. He took his bulldozer and widened the creek. It looks like a small river is now dividing us.” Pointing to a pile of lumber, John said, “I want you to take that lumber and build an 8-foot-high fence. I don’t want to see the river, I don’t want to see his place, I don’t want to see his face anymore.”

The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I’ll do a good job for you.”

John got the man started on his project. Then, John had to go to town to take care of some other business. He was gone for most of the day. When he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. John, expecting to see a fence, saw a bridge. The carpenter had built a bridge.

The bridge, with handrails, stretched from one side of the river to the other. John was angry with the man and was about to fire him when he saw his brother walking across the bridge. As George reached his brother, he stretched out his hand and said, “You are quite the guy. After all, I have said and done, you still are reaching out to me.”

The two brothers shook hands and turned to the carpenter, who was leaving. John said, “No, wait! Stay a few days. I have a lot of other projects for you.” The carpenter replied, “I’d love to, but I have more bridges to build.”

Courageous Bridge Builders

I know the story is simple, but it reveals the truth for today. We need courageous bridge builders. Whether it be in the life of our country, community, or church, it is time for Jesus followers to become bridge builders.

So, what does that mean? In my 48 years as a pastor and leader, I have learned that churches follow their leaders. Churches might shape the quality of leadership, but people follow the leaders they trust. In the midst of disagreements and divisions, the opportunity is now for leaders to navigate the divisions being created in our culture and in our churches.

It Matters Where You Start    

Disagreements are unavoidable, but division is a choice.

This is a good example of “it matters where you start.” We live in a politically polarized environment. When you start from a political position, you are always working to get people to come over to your way of thinking. When you carry that out to an extreme, you begin to use hurtful and untruthful language.

I hear name-calling language like “racist Republicans” and “godless Democrats” in conversations among church members. I read words like “unscriptural progressives” and “closed-minded, inflexible conservatives” in letters to congregations. Why do you feel you must vilify someone to get people to follow your thinking? Why do we have to make someone your enemy to get what we want?

Instead of doing the courageous work of bridge building, we have reverted to the political ways of our culture that have moved our disagreements to division.

Bridge-building leaders do not need an enemy.

What if you started with the love of God seen and experienced in Jesus? Imagine what might happen if you start with “Do No Harm” from John Wesley? What if you quit pointing fingers and telling those with whom you disagree, “You’re wrong” and began to live like Jesus by turning the other cheek, listening, and engaging in holy conversation? Bridge building does not divide us into separate groups just because we don’t agree.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians wrote, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NRSV). Paul wrote those words to a church in the midst of conflict. They are recorded in the part of his letter where he is instructing followers of Jesus on how to live the life of Jesus in relationship with others. Just in case the New Revised Standard Version is too difficult to understand, read them from the Good News Translation, “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.”

From my perspective, those are bridge-building words. It matters where you start.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Disagreements are unavoidable, but division is a choice. This is a good example of “the truth will set you free.” We live within a theological polarizing environment. When you think and act as if you are the holder of the truth, instead of speaking the truth from your perspective, you tend to point out where others are not living out the truth.

When you carry that out to an extreme, there is a tendency to demean those who disagree with you and over-characterize the differences. You create a fear of “the other side.” This fear begins to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree and creates a division to show that you hold the truth that the others don’t hold.  

This form of truth and fear has been in action throughout history, especially where there is a desire to control the situation. It creates a division between “us and them” and becomes a tool to persuade others to accept the truth you hold.

Instead of doing the courageous work of bridge building, we have reverted to who is right and who is wrong, and we have moved our disagreements to divisions of theology and polity. 

The Love of God

Bridge-building leaders do not need an enemy, but when they are characterized as unfaithful and Godless, they love those who call them names and persecute them with their words. What if you started with the love of God seen and experienced in Jesus?

John wrote in his gospel, “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” (John 8:31-33

Bridge-building leaders live out the truth found in Jesus – a truth of love and relationship. Sometimes leaders replace the ultimate truth of love and relationship with personal, political, and institutional truth. All three have their place, but the truth that will set you free is the truth of God’s love embodied in Jesus. 

From my perspective, bridge-building leaders not only talk about knowing the truth, but they also live the truth. For bridge-building leaders, “the truth” always leads to the freedom to love and develop healthy relationships, even with those who disagree with them. 

Who You Are Is How You Lead 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

I am sure you and I would disagree on the characteristics of courageous bridge-building leaders. But, from my perspective, Paul gives us a good list with which to start.

Characteristics of Bridge Builders

Live up to their call

You are a beloved child of God, gifted for leading at this time in history. Be who God created you to be. As a follower of Jesus, love the people around you, even if you consider them to be your enemies. As a child of God, you love, even your enemies.

Live lives of humility

You might be right about most things, but you don’t have to put others in their place or demean them, or call them names, or characterize their differences. Love others and accept others as God in Christ has loved and accepted you. Does that mean you have to agree? No. Does it mean you reach out in care and compassion, listening with understanding? Yes.

Exemplify Gentleness

You have given yourself to Jesus, are open to learning his ways, and are considerate of others who are learning as they live each day. Bridge builders are generous with the people around you, knowing that not all persons are in the same place regarding God’s love as you are. You create a space for them to learn and to grow in grace as you are learning and growing in grace

Have patience

You develop an attitude of grace. It is seen in your loving, forgiving, and merciful attitude toward the people around you. It is the same attitude that God has toward you.

Bear one another in love

Your care for others is expressed in the concrete act of unselfishness. Your love for your neighbor, and especially for those with whom you disagree, is the first and most important activity as a Jesus follower who is a leader.

Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – The word peace has its roots in the concept of shalom. Shalom means “wholeness” and “completeness.” You work to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of wholeness and completeness. In other words, you are a shalom maker or a peacemaker. Peacemakers are children of God, which means you bear the image of God in your relationships and interactions with the people entrusted to your care. Your work is the work of God. You work for wholeness and completeness. It reveals who you are as a daughter or son of God.  

Bridge Builders are Needed

We need bridge builders in our churches and in our communities today. Just as building walls of division is a choice, giving your life to building bridges is a choice. It is not easy being a leader these days. But even when you are being asked and tempted to build walls of differences, be a courageous leader and build a bridge.

Your decision to be a bridge builder will fulfill the truth of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus was talking about his followers loving one another. People will follow your lead. In the midst of the disagreements and divisions, the opportunity is now for you to step up and navigate the divisions being created among your sisters and brothers in Christ.

May I put it another way? Through your bridge building, everyone will know that love is the priority of being a follower of Jesus. That love is lived out in your relationships with the people around you. It is time for you to be the leader God created you to be…a courageous bridge builder.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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

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

What Kind of Leadership is Needed?

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

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

Who Pays the Price?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can No Longer Live Our Lives This Way

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

Courageous Leadership

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

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

Courageous Spiritual Leaders

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

Courageous Leaders who Vote

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Resources to Respond to Violence

Below are several resources to help respond to violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, before you go…

Will you answer ONE question for us?

Do you remember a time when you pronounced a blessing upon an individual or upon the people around you? As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you pronounce a blessing in every worship experience. Whether it be a baptism, holy communion, or a benediction, blessings are common in worship. But have you ever had the opportunity to bless someone outside of worship? 

Have you ever considered offering a blessing in a greeting, or words of encouragement, or an offer of peace? I know you bless people when they sneeze and I know you have heard people (even those who have no interest in God) use the words, “God Bless You” in their daily lives. Sometimes, even when you get a diet drink at the drive-thru, you hear the words, “Have a blessed day.” 

Most blessings are simple sayings that communicate kindness and goodwill. In the Bible, however, we learn that God’s blessings carry far more significance than just a casual greeting or obligatory saying. 

Let’s look at one of my favorite blessings. I memorized it as a teenager. It was used every Sunday evening at the end of Youth Fellowship. I confess that I was an adult before I realized that I had been quoting scripture every Sunday with the UMYF benediction. 

Read Number 6:22-27 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: Thus, you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them: 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

“So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

Reflect 

This blessing comes at a low and chaotic time for the people. They are in the wilderness, suffering for their separation from what has made them God’s people. Even though they blame others, their suffering has come from their own distrust, disobedience, and disloyalty. 

It is at this low point in their lives that God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his family (the priests). God wants to bless the Israelites. In the midst of their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God wants the Israelites to know his heart. Aaron and his family are to be the instruments of the blessing. 

So, what is the meaning of this blessing for you and your leadership? 

The Lord bless you…

You are a beloved child of God. God never abandons you nor breaks covenant with you even when you have turned away and broken covenant with God. God’s blessing is a reminder that you are in a right and loving relationship with God and the people God places in your life. 

And keep you…

God protects you and provides for you. As a leader, God protects you by sending people into your life to love and care for you. God also provides the grace you need to extend the same love to the people entrusted to your care. Just as God kept Israel, Jesus keeps you. 

The Lord make his face shine upon you…

When God turns his face upon you, you are in God’s favor. God’s face represents God’s presence. Because God’s face is shining upon you, you are assured that you are never alone. Being in God’s favor allows you the freedom to love as you have been loved. 

And be gracious unto you…

God never deals with you according to your misunderstanding or you missing the point. God always deals with you according to God’s goodness. God always sees the best of you and the potential in you. It is by God’s grace that you can lead at this time in history. 

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you…

When God looks upon you there is acceptance and reconciliation. What has been in the way is taken away and what has been broken has been healed. When God looks upon you, God is hugging you, drawing you close, and letting you know how special you are. 

And give you peace.

The word for peace is shalom. It means wholeness, completeness, and well-being. God’s peace makes you whole and complete. When you are at peace with God, you are who God created you to be, a beloved child of God in the right relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care. 

It is important to remember that the priests, led by Aaron and the rest of the Levites, were set apart to lead the people in worship and spiritual teaching. The priests were God’s chosen intercessors and a direct mouthpiece to the people. They were trusted by the people and looked to for guidance and instruction. 

God’s Blessing

So, just like the priests, you are the trusted leader for today. You are being called upon to bless God’s people, the people entrusted to you. One thing to always remember, the blessing is not your blessing. The blessing is God’s blessing upon the people. “So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

You have the distinct responsibility to bless the people of God with God’s blessing. You not only remind them of God’s blessing but name them and claim them for God. What a grand and glorious opportunity. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

Respond

O God, make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Whether family, colleagues, friends, or foes, use me as an instrument of your love and peace, so that each person I meet receives a blessing through me and then becomes a blessing to others. I offer myself to you in the name of the greatest blessing of all, Jesus. Amen. 

Return

From whom did you receive a blessing today? Where were you when you received the blessing? Who did you bless? What opportunities did you have that you missed either receiving or extending God’s blessing? How might you offer a blessing to the people you encounter tomorrow? 

To be a blessing you must acknowledge and receive a blessing. So, read and listen closely: 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

May you be as blessed as you are a blessing. Remember, who you are is how you lead!

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

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

Bring Meaning to the Mission

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

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

Interrelated Leadership Models

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

Qualities of the Leader

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

Servant Leadership

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

Missional Leadership

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

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

More to Explore

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

 Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church

Leadership Challenges for the Missional Church-Part 3

Mobilize for Ministry

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

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

The 7 Missional Questions 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Overlap Exists?

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, who is are is how you lead.

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.