Tag Archive for: prayer

Have you ever tried to go 24 hours without saying something negative about another person? If you are like most people, you shrug off little “white” lies, slander, and gossip as “only words.” Words that are not meant to hurt or belittle anyone, become hurtful and harmful when not taken seriously.

Your Words Matter

Your words matter. As a leader, people pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Your words can and do shape the reality of the people who hear them. The Bible clearly states the influence of words, teaching that God created the world with words.

In his book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Like God, human beings also create with words. We have all had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by the fate of one of its characters that we felt love, hate, or anger. Sometimes we cried, even though the individual whose fate so moved us never existed. All that happened was that a writer took a blank piece of paper, and through words alone created a human being so real that he or she was capable of evoking our deepest emotions.”

Words are tangible and powerful 

I think that is one reason Paul wrote to the newly formed church in Ephesus while instructing them on how to live as followers of Jesus, “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.” (Ephesians 4:29 The Good News Bible)

I am writing today to ask you to consider the impact of your words. Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person? Let’s try an experiment to discover if you can. Use the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to discover how you do.

Keep in mind, just as who you are is how you lead, what you say and how you say it reflects who you are as a person and as a leader.

Read John 8:1-11 

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” 

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” 

Reflect

Most people when they read this story get stuck on the woman, adultery, the Law of Moses, or on Jesus’ action of writing in the dirt. Some get stuck on the “Neither do I condemn you,” as a sign of forgiveness. Others get stuck on, “Go, and…don’t sin anymore” as an example of grace and transformation. Regardless of what part of the story speaks to you, there is something to learn here.

Screaming at Trees

Robert Fulghum, in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, tells a story of the Solomon Islanders. Some of the villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.

Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Those poor naïve people. Screaming at trees. Too bad they don’t have the advantages of modern technology and science. I don’t yell at trees. I may yell at televisions, cars, drivers of other cars, my wife, and my children.

What Good Does it Do to Yell?

I even shake my fist and yell at God sometimes. I have heard people, educated people yet at umpires, officials, coaches, and players and they are not even at the game. People yell at step ladders, televisions, computers, and machines. Especially machines. Machines and family get most of the yelling.

What good does it do? Machines and things just sit there. Even hitting and kicking them doesn’t help. As for people, the Solomon Islanders might have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. You remember the words, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – they break my heart.”

Words that Cut to the Soul of People

You don’t even have to yell. All you have to do is speak. In her book, The Cracker Factory, Joyce Rebeta-Buritt, tells of a woman by the name of Cassie. She drinks too much and is hospitalized for emotional distress. She writes a letter to her brother, Bob. This is part of what she writes:

“It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve been running around half crazy, trying to remember whatever it is Alexander (her psychiatrist) said I learned in the hospital the last time. Bob, I don’t even know. I just know that I’m coming unraveled and can’t seem to stop it. It’s been a whole year of Charles’ (her husband) running off and slamming doors when I need him. I tell him I’m sick and he says, “You’re telling me? I’m sick of your sickness.” And…bam…out the door.

He looked at me one night and said, “Cassie, you’re a loser.” Bob, when I stand on Judgment Day to hear myself condemned to hell, it will be no more devastating and irrevocable than Charlie’s “You’re a loser.” Forever defective. Forever doomed. No hope at all.”

Your Words Can Shape the World

Your words matter. As a leader, you shape the world and the reality of the people who hear your words. Just reflect upon it for a moment, God, who has had every right to yell at us, has shaped our reality by sending us an encouraging Word. God, who could yell and say, “I’ll love you when you get your act together,” did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all. God’s encouraging Word is Jesus.

In the scripture for today, Jesus said to the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” I think these words are the most overlooked and dismissed in the story.  It is easy to miss the point of God’s grace.  I mean, it is just words. “Sticks and stones…but words…do great harm. So, are you ready? Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person?

If you are without sin, say your harmful and hurtful words. But, if you know God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, use “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.”

Respond

O God, thank you for your Word made human in Jesus. Forgive me when I forget how powerful your Word is in my life and I use words that hurt and harm. By your grace, give me clear thinking so that what I say will provide what is needed to help others become who you created them to be. Use my words as an instrument of your love and peace in the lives of the people you have given me to love and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Return

So, how did you do today? Were you able to go the whole day without saying something negative about another person? Give God thanks for the opportunities you have had today to love others as God has loved you. Where did you use encouraging words today? How were your words received? How were you aware of the words of others? What was said and how could it have been said differently? Think about this, your words reflect who you are and who you are is how you lead.

May I offer you an encouraging word today? You are leading during a very difficult time. There is disagreement and separation at every turn, and you are expected to offer hope in the midst of grief and pain. The reality is that people want leaders who offer hope. It is the kind of hope that brings reassurance and encouragement. 

The Apostle Paul

So, may I offer you encouragement? Although this is a challenging time, there have been challenging times in the past. The apostle Paul faced a difficult leadership challenge in the church at Ephesus. It was a diverse church with a clashing of values much like today. There were Jews who had deep ethical standards. They were people who lived with strong religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different world view and a different set of strong values, different from the Jews. Paul addressed the challenge by teaching about new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles could live together in mutual respect and relationship. 

He grounded his teaching in love, agape. It was the kind of love that worked for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching has become part of the values of the Christian faith today. 

In the midst of the conflict, he wrote the following words:

Read Ephesians 4:29

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. (NRSV)

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. (Good News Version)

Reflect

Let me offer encouragement to you and give you a tool for offering encouragement and hope to the people entrusted to your care.

Take a moment to think about the context in which you are leading. Picture in your mind one or two persons who need encouragement. These persons might be family, friends, church members, or persons who cause you pain and grief. Think of each person as someone who needs to experience God’s grace. Get a face in mind and a name on your lips.

Now, read and reflect on the following story*: 

There was a first-year teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. She said she had thirty-four students who were all dear to her, but one student stood out. His name was Mark Eklund. She said he was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance with a happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

There was one thing about Mark: he talked incessantly.

She had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. Every time she corrected him, he responded, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.” She said, “I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.”

One morning she said her patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. She said, “I made a first-year teacher mistake. I looked at Mark and said, ‘If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!’”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when one of the students blurted out, “Mark is talking again, Teacher.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. At my desk, I very deliberately opened my drawer, and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth.

I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders.

His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

At the end of the year, Mark went on to fourth grade and the teacher was asked to teach junior-high math. Several years passed. As Mark entered the ninth grade, Mark and the teacher met again.

She said Mark was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to the instruction on the “new math,” he did not talk as much. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and the teacher sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asks them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students’ said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. No one mentioned those papers in class again.

It was several years later that the teacher learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral, she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. The teacher was invited to come by. Mark’s mother and father wanted to speak with her. When she arrived, they met her at her car.

“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. She knew what it was without looking at the paper.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album. “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet, and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. I carry this with me at all times. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. We all saved our lists.” *

Respond

Do you still have the people in mind I asked you about? Sometime today, tomorrow or this week, send a word of encouragement. Send a text or email letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Make a phone call so they can hear your voice. Better yet, when you are face to face, let them hear and see how much you appreciate them and care about them.

While you are doing that, I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you. I am grateful to be in ministry with you, sharing life with you, and learning and growing in grace with you.

The best encouraging word I can offer to you is Jesus, God’s Word made real in our lives. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Take a moment to take a walk with Jesus and let his presence be an encouragement to you. Let God’s Word take up residence in your life.

Now, share kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging words today.

Return

At the end of day:

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Give thanks for them and how they have added to your life. With whom did you offer words of encouragement and care? Give God thanks for those opportunities. How were you encouraged by the persons with whom you offered encouragement?  Remember, who you are is how you lead. Ask God to love and encourage others through your words of encouragement. Be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word.

*Story adapted an article in The Reader’s Digest written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, and the teacher in the story. The story first appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal in 1998.

Are you aware of the words you use in your everyday relationships? In your leadership? In our world today, we do not give much thought or attention to the words we speak, whether in public speaking, in personal relationships, or on social media. Words are powerful. It is important to understand why you use the words you use. 

Words are so important that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote about the use of words while teaching about new life in Christ. 

Read Ephesians 4:29

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 (NRSV)

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift (The Message).

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is writing to a diverse church where there is a clashing of values. There were Jews who had a deep ethical background. They were people who lived with deep religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different worldview and a different set of values. 

Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles can live together in mutual respect and relationship. His teaching is grounded in love which goes beyond emotion. It is “agape,” the love that works for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching will become part of the values of the Christian faith. 

Old Life and New Life

I can imagine when the two sets of values clashed and created tension within the church. So, Paul, using the imagery of old life and new life, is teaching both the Jews and Gentiles what it means to be followers of Jesus. 

After writing in verse 25: “…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,” Paul writes, “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” (NRSV). The Good News Bible translates it this way, “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) 

No matter how it is written, Paul is instructing followers of Jesus, in a time of conflict, how to speak to one another. When you open your mouth, do not be nasty or malicious. Don’t belittle or be disrespectful. Don’t vilify those with whom you disagree. Say only what is useful for building up as there is a 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…” 

In other words, your words reflect your relationship with Jesus as well as express who you are as a person and as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Power of the Spoken Word

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.? There are two characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, no matter what the situation, the woman uses the stick to beat the snake. 

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 lying on the ground in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.” 

Words are Powerful

Words are powerful. They create images and assumptions. They shape the way you and I view one another and the world. You can use your words to encourage, build up, discourage, and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. 

At this very moment, in the United Methodist Church, there are a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. Most of them shape viewpoints, creating fear, anger, and defeat. But there are other words being spoken and written that are offering encouragement and hope. 

Your Words Make a Difference

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. “…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) 

When you stand to preach or to address a group of people, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away general characterizations, innuendo, and inference. 

Check your references before you speak. Also, check your motive for speaking. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader that models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

Speaking to Others

When you are speaking of others, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away gossip. Share only information you have checked out personally, and don’t share harmful or hurtful words. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Speak out of your integrity. Your words reflect who you are. 

When you are speaking to others, be generous. Being aware of your own thoughts and feeling will help you speak the words that give care and encouragement to others. Keep in mind that when you are hurting you hurt others. So, care for yourself and be aware of when you are projecting your pain upon others. 

Speak to others the way you want them to speak to you. Offer support and praise even in difficult situations. Keep in mind that people are doing the best they can. Give them the benefit of the doubt and offer words of support, praise, and encouragement. Put your words of care and support into action. 

Words in Social Space

When it comes to social media, keep in mind what has been said above. Your self-awareness is even more critical regarding your words on social media. Treat others with the same respect you want for yourself. Keep in mind that it is easier to put words on a screen than it is to speak them face to face.

Because people do not see your face or hear the inflection of your voice, your words can be misunderstood. So, take advantage of the opportunity to develop and maintain relationships with your words, whether spoken or written. Your social media presence reveals more about you than you might want to reveal. Remember, even on social media, who you are is how you lead. 

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

Paul, writing to a church under stress and in the midst of conflict, says to use kind, caring, encouraging words of truth. So, be a courageous leader. Step up and speak words of truth with care and understanding. 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.”

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.” 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? 

Right or Righteous?

In times like these, you do not have to be right, but you do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God’s holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find God’s encouraging Word made flesh. 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, God’s love, and care, that 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) 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your Word, both written in the scripture and made flesh in Jesus. Put your Word so deep in my heart that I am shaped into the person and leader you created and need me to be. May Jesus be so real in my life that all I say and do brings you glory and encourages and supports the people around me. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. I offer myself to you in the name of Your Word, Jesus. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Then, turn to these questions:

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using hurtful or harmful words? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using helpful words of encouragement and care? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to learn more about yourself and the words you use. Now ask God to empower you to love others through the words you speak in every situation and circumstance of your life. And be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

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.

As Jesus followers, we talk a lot about love. We talk about loving our neighbors, as well as our enemies. We talk about including strangers, as well as people with whom we disagree. We do a lot of talking, but when do we put love into action?

As a leader, you meet people with different experiences from your own. Who has helped you put your love into action? Who has taught and modeled for you the love that makes a difference in you, your family, your community and the world?

I hope this short devotion will assist you in becoming more the person and leader God has created you to be. Always keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Read Matthew 7:43-44

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Reflect

In 1960, I started first grade in an elementary school in a small town in West Virginia. Every day, I walked up the sidewalk to the school with other children. I talked and laughed with friends as I made my way into the building. I was welcomed, by a smiling teacher, into a classroom full of children. I was just a kid starting my educational journey with no care or concern of what was going on in the world.

That very same year, a little girl by the name of Ruby started first grade in an elementary school in New Orleans. Every day, as she walked up the sidewalk to the school, she was escorted by federal marshals. She was not welcomed by smiles. The sidewalk was lined with adults shouting threats at her, calling her names, and screaming for her to go home. Enraged parents pulled their children from the school. Due to the chaos, Ruby spent her first day of school in the principal’s office, not because she had done anything wrong, but for her protection. She was just a kid starting her educational journey which would change her city, her state, her country, and the world.

My teacher was my neighbor. I could stand in my backyard and see her house. Ruby’s teacher came to New Orleans from Boston. She was the only teacher willing to accept Ruby. I was in a classroom full of children just like me, Ruby spent her first year in a classroom by herself. Every day, I played on the playground at recess, and I ate lunch in the cafeteria with my friends. Every day, at recess, Ruby played in her classroom and ate lunch in the same classroom with her teacher. Neither Ruby nor I missed a day in our first-grade year of school. But as you can see, our experiences were worlds apart.

Ruby Bridges and I were six-years old. But Ruby at 6 years old learned and lived something that has taken many years for me to learn and all my 68 years to live.

Robert Coles, a noted author, and Harvard psychiatrist volunteered his time to work with Ruby that first year. Every day he would talk with her and offer her assistance to cope with the crisis. One morning, on the news, he noticed Ruby walking up the sidewalk while people screamed at her and threw things at her. In the midst of the turmoil, Ruby suddenly stopped and said something before walking on up the sidewalk. Then the marshals picked her up and took her into the building.

When they met later that evening, Cole asked her what she said to the marshals. She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.”

He said, “Yes, you were. I saw you on the news. I saw your lips moving. You were talking to the marshals.”

She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.”

He said, “Well, what were you doing?”

She said, “I was praying for those people who were hollering at me. I had forgotten to pray, and I was trying to go back and pray for them as I walked to the school building.”

Coles shook his head and said, “You were praying for the people who were screaming at you?”

She said, “Yes, my mama taught me that when people speak mean of you, you pray for them just like Jesus prayed for the people who spoke mean of him.” Then she said, “You see, when Jesus lives in your heart, you just can’t hate anybody.”

Through her mother, Ruby learned to love and pray for the people who were mean to her. She had learned that when Jesus lives in your heart, you just can’t hate anybody.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Respond

O God, come and live in my heart so I can love the people who have hurt me, who disagree with me, and who wish to do me harm. Fill me with your love so that my heart is big enough to include each person you send my way. Help me to be aware of your presence that everyone I encounter will meet you in me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Return

Who did you love and pray for today? Who taught you to love your enemies and to pray for the people who hurt you? Give God thanks for the people who have helped shape your life into the person you are today?

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.

How are you dealing with stress these days? Stress can take a toll on the best of us. No matter how strategically or effectively you lead there is always a level of stress. As you juggle multiple demands to meet the needs that keep your church or business running smoothly, the stress gradually builds. Before you recognize it, your body and mind give way to sleepless nights and high doses of caffeine. Without your attention, the stress finally takes its toll, and you are left in a mess. 

Busy or Stressed?

Many of us are reluctant to admit it when we are stressed. We usually choose to answer that we are “busy” rather than admit that we are overwhelmed or do not want to deal with the workload. Our reluctance to talk about how pressure is impacting us has reached the point that some of us are ineffective in our ministry, and we don’t admit it or recognize it…at least publicly. 

High levels of stress can have a negative influence and ruin your effectiveness as a leader. It is easy to slip into the stress trap as you work to resolve day-to-day issues while dealing with difficult and disgruntled church members and not to mention doing your best to reach new people. Add to the list family dynamics and lack of personal care, too much stress causes unnecessary and often unnoticed anxiety and worry. 

I don’t need to continue down that negative path. You already know that stress keeps you up at night and irritable during the day. You already know the symptoms of being tired, sad, and disinterested, as well as poor eating habits and the general dislike of certain people. 

Not all Stress is Bad

But with all of that, not all stress is bad. 

There is healthy stress. When you are healthy as a leader, you search for answers to problems, connect with others, effectively use resources, and creatively use your strengths, talents, and skills. Keep that in mind, because when stress is not healthy, it overwhelms, isolates, and paralyzes. 

As a leader, you will feel pressure from all sides. Whether it is to meet certain expectations from supervisors or to address the needs and wants of the people entrusted to your care, there is pressure. The question is, how do you transform the pressure or stress into effective and courageous leadership? 

There are respected physicians and consultants who can and do provide effective plans for dealing with stress. I’m not attempting to take anyone’s place. I simply want you to consider how you can name your stress, face it, and transform it as a healthy leader. Below are four things to consider:   

Be True To Yourself

The greatest internal cause of stress is trying to be someone you aren’t. Knowing yourself frees you from living inconsistently and enables you to live within your values. It strengthens your ability to withstand pressure from others. 

It is not unusual to give up personal time and to work as many hours as needed to get the job done. But to be an effective leader, you must know your limits, set your boundaries, and care for your emotional, mental, and physical health. 

Take time to exercise, to pursue a hobby, to be with the people you love. You know what energizes you and what brings you joy. You can and will transform the stress you experience into effective and courageous leadership when you are healthy and in sync with yourself. 

Focus On Your Purpose

Another cause of stress is saying yes when you should say no. One of the causes of stress is that you do not keep your purpose clearly in focus. You are out of focus when you fear saying “no” will cause people not to like you. As an effective and courageous leader, you learn to prioritize both people and work. You don’t have to say “yes” to have people like you. 

A common mistake leaders make is trying to do it all. When you lose focus, you invite more stress, and when you are more stressed, you are counterproductive. Learn the strengths and abilities of the people with whom you work. Delegate tasks. Set people free to be who God has created them to be. Trust that they can do their jobs well and avoid being a micromanager. 

Keeping your focus allows you to get more done in less time. It transforms your stress into effective and courageous leadership. 

Adapt To Changing Contexts

Another cause of stress is trying to control things you can’t control. You can control what you do. You can influence what others do. But you can’t control the situations or the circumstances in which you and others interact.

Being true to yourself and focusing on your purpose is essential in keeping what you cannot control in check. So, keep yourself focused on what you can control. When you need help, ask for it. Effective and courageous leaders know what they need to get the job done. Working collaboratively is what makes a good leader a great leader. It is shortsighted to think that you can do it all without support. Knowing what you can and can’t control takes the pressure off you and helps develop the strengths and skills of the people with whom you work.

This might come across as stating the obvious, but you cannot control what is happening in Ukraine. You might not be able to influence the Ohio State legislature regarding concealed weapons or voter redistricting. You might feel helpless in what is happening in the United Methodist Church. But you do have control over how you will lead in the midst of what you cannot control, and you have influence over how the church responds.

Adapting to what you can control leads to effective and courageous leadership. You can transform stress into effective leadership by being true to yourself, keeping your purpose in focus, and leading through the chaos and confusion of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.

Surround Yourself With Trusted Leaders 

Another cause of stress is a lack of trust in the people with whom you work. You can and will relieve yourself of stress when you develop and trust the strengths, talents, and skills of the people entrusted to your care.

Effective leadership is not a matter of authority or position, it is a matter of emulation. The people with whom you work want a leader they can trust. When you cultivate an atmosphere of trust, you find yourself in the midst of highly productive and hope-filled leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders are content to see the honors and rewards of hard work go to their followers. When people know that you trust and respect them, they trust and respect you.

Effective and courageous leaders are loyal to those entrusted to them. When people know that you have their backs, they are free to live into their full potential as leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders live by the words of Jesus, “The greatest among you shall be the servant of all.” This is a truth that followers respect the most. 

There is so much more that can be said, but you get the point. Stress is a real and important issue in relation to effective and courageous leadership. As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your stress levels do not impact the people with whom you work, as well ensure that their stress levels are kept in check. 

Stress and Christ-Centered Leadership

Allow me to conclude by reminding you of a familiar passage from Scripture and the pattern of read, reflect, respond and return. 

Read Matthew 11:28 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

Reflect 

Jesus is speaking to all who are stressed. The words are spoken to people who are burdened with obligations that keep them from being in communion with God. In the case of stress, people who are burdened with situations that keep them from being who God created them to be. 

The invitation to rest is not an invitation to a selfish life of ease, but of deliverance from the artificial burdens that cause stress. 

Jesus is offering true Sabbath rest or the invitation to be true to yourself and to God’s love and care. 

Respond 

Where will I experience stress today? How will I address it? With whom will I share my stress? 

Return 

Where was I weary today? How did I respond to my weariness? What would I do differently? For whom am I grateful? 

O God, I give you thanks for what I have learned today and for the people who have helped me through my stress. Thank you for the rest you have provided.  Amen 

So, how are you dealing with your stress these days? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

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

Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for Restraint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect on Your Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

Remembering Hope

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

You can remember the past. 

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

You can remember the present. 

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

You can remember the future. 

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

Revelation

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

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

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

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

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

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

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

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

REFLECT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESPOND 

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

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

RETURN

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

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.