May 2015


Let’s start our study of wartime leadership by examining our defenses. In 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, Paul gives instructions to the Corinthian church for dealing with a specific case, then adds these critical words: “…so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.”

Are we familiar? What do we know about Satan’s attacking style? The Bible offers us a few helpful metaphors.

  • A prowling lion: Satan is seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8).
  • Thief: Like thieves, Satan doesn’t come in through the front door. He sneaks in to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:1-10).
  • Masquerade: Satan disguises himself in an attempt to resemble an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), and he sows weeds to blend in among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30).
  • Footholds: Satan uses slow erosion and any opportunities offered him (Eph 4:27).

What do we know from the Scriptures about Satan’s specific tactics? His primary tools are:

  • Division: He sows discord and goes after the unity of fellow believers (Rom 16:17). The Corinthian church is a great example (1 Cor 1:10, 3:3, 11:18)
  • Distraction: He attempts to entangle us in “civilian pursuits” (2 Tim 2:4) and get us busy doing good things, rather than remain alert and sober-minded (1 Pet 5:8).
  • Lies: Satan is identified as the “father of lies.” Lies are his mother tongue (John 8:44). He twists truth and speaks half truths to deceive those who don’t know the truth well (Gen 3:1-4, Rom 16:18).
  • Deception: Jesus referred to false prophets as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt 7:15). Even Peter became a false prophet and attempted to subvert the plans of God. Jesus quickly exposed Satan hiding in his words (Matt 16:23). The tricky part is that Peter thought he was carrying truth.
  • Betrayal: I think of this as weaponizing people. Those who are close to us know our weak points. When Satan can turn one of us against the organization or the community, he or she knows how to hit where it hurts. For instance: Judas with a kiss, knowing Jesus’ hangout (John 18:2); Peter’s denial (Luke 22:61); Demas’ desertion because he loved this world (2 Tim 4:10).
  • Accusation: Satan is identified as the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10).
  • Picking off the unprotected: While lions may have the power for a frontal attack, they seldom come straight on. They hunt for the weak, the young, the old or the outliers rather than a full-out attack on the strong or the main group itself. Therefore Peter is saying that Satan pokes around the edges of the Church, looking for weak points. He targets the proud, who don’t believe they could fall (1 Cor 10:12). He pursues the exhausted and burned out. He picks off the isolated, including those who are traveling and alone.

I could go on and list doubt, discouragement, fear, the desires of our eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Instead of trying for comprehensiveness, let’s bring it right down to ground level and make it applicable. Take a step back and review the last couple of years.
1. How does Satan usually attack you? What is your weak point?
2. Where have you seen Satan’s tactics at work within your organization?
3. Where have you seen them in your church?
4. Where have we seen them in the broader Canadian and U.S. Church?

Now, consider the future.
5. What can we expect that we haven’t seen yet?
If there’s a specific form of attack you haven’t seen as much as you might expect, it’s likely an indication of what might be just around the corner. How can you prepare for it?

We know more than we think about how Satan operates. We need to be vigilant for ourselves and our brothers and sisters so that we don’t fall and so we don’t unwittingly help the opposition by causing another to fall. Denial only plays into our enemy’s hands.

In my next post, we’ll consider what we can do to protect ourselves.

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A different kind of leadership is going to be needed in North America in the next decade.

The Church in Canada is moving into a different phase, with less overt impact on the government and society. If it recognizes and embraces this minority status, it can have even greater impact on the culture as a minority voice. This will require a different kind of leadership than we’ve needed in past decades where leaders struggled to engage a Church that enjoyed its comfort and fell into complacency. Now the culture, societal pressures and even government regulations are forcing the Church to be fully engaged, standing for religious freedom and expression, “exclusionary” truths and marginalized people. The gospel needs to be lived out clearly by the institutional Church and the people of God. Leadership will be critical in guiding the Church through this change of approach.

In the Bible translation world, leadership is going to get increasingly difficult. We’ve weathered storms over the years that threatened to destroy us, and some of those storms have intensified in the last couple of years. If I’m correct, the clouds will continue to build. Why? Because of Vision 2025. We don’t often look at it this way, but how would Satan view a vision to empower a sustainable worldwide Bible translation movement, with the specific goal of starting translation in the remaining languages that need it by 2025? What else is that vision but an all-out offensive on the kingdom of darkness? Before 1999, we poked and prodded, slowly advancing the kingdom. This vision plans to expose every dark corner of this planet to the light of God’s Word within this decade. Many of the places we will be going in the next ten years are longtime strongholds. These changes call for bold, courageous leadership.

In short, our tactics and our leadership must be fashioned for wartime, not peacetime. The problem is that we’ve always been at war, as much of the rest of Church outside the West could have told us. The greatest victory our enemy has accomplished is in convincing such a large part of the Western Church that we were at peace. The enemy has taken vast tracts of territory while we slept.

Fortunately, there’s some good news. The Bible has plenty to say about how to live and lead in wartime. In fact, little of the Bible concerns itself with how the Church should operate in peacetime. Peace is something spoken of as hope for the future, not something we’ll attain on this earth.

Second, this context is very familiar to the Church around the world. That means we can learn leadership skills from our brothers and sisters outside the West.

Over the next few posts, we’ll examine the leadership implications of what the Bible says about wartime leadership.

In my chronological reading through the Bible, I’ve arrived at the book of Nehemiah—a remarkable study of leadership. Many others have preached, blogged and written on the leadership principles gleaned from this case study. Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to draw out some fresh points. As you will recall, Nehemiah was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, the Persian King. In spite of his status as a Jewish exile, he earned a position as part of the bodyguard protecting the ruler of one of the world’s two greatest powers at the time.

From the very first moment we meet Nehemiah, we sense a calling. As he serves the king in Persia, the news reaches him that Jerusalem is still lying in ruins after almost a century. It wrecks him. He weeps, he mourns and he prays day and night—for four months. Nehemiah doesn’t just pray with objectivity; he prays himself into the solution: “let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man,” the king (Nehemiah 1:11).

In other words, Nehemiah does something Moses and Gideon would never have dared. While they said, “send somebody else,” Nehemiah says, “send me.” God honours his request, and it starts him on a promotion path. First King Artaxerxes appoints him as foreman of the rebuilding effort. Then, after some early success in Jerusalem, the king promotes him to governor. When my pastor Glen Nudd preached on Nehemiah recently, he summarized it neatly:

At the end of it all, Nehemiah is given a job, a position, an assignment, a mission. He invites it, he receives it, he accepts it, he embraces it.

Can you do that? Is it okay for believers to show such ambition? Aren’t we supposed to resist the temptations of advancement and the lure of power? Isn’t it Christian to be content and to suppress ambition? Doesn’t Nehemiah’s action show complete lack of humility? As Pastor Glen put it:

Sometimes, as believers, we think that to be spiritual and godly we should always refuse advancement, promotion, or any kind of upward mobility and just go play in the shadows quietly, unnoticed and not expecting to influence anything very much. Maybe we think it’s the humble thing to do.

Were Moses and Gideon more godly than this young upstart, Nehemiah? After all, wasn’t Moses described in Numbers 12:3 as the most humble person on earth? Yet a careful reading reveals that Moses and Gideon were paralyzed by fear. I think many believers today have the same problem. While Pastor Glen allowed that there are valid reasons to turn down promotion, he pointed out that sometimes humility is a mask for the real issues for reluctance: fear of responsibility, fear of commitment, or fear of having our faith and abilities tested.

Pastor Glen asked us to consider promotion in a different light:

What if God wants to promote you so that He can use you in an even greater way to be salt and light in a dark world? What if your “no” is actually refusing the potential for great influence and ministry and impact for the Kingdom of God?

Proverbs 29:2 says, ‘When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.’

It’s a good thing, a God-honoring thing, when God’s people are promoted and the salt gets better distributed and the light shines farther. When the gospel and the glory of God are advanced, that’s a good thing.

There’s no Biblical prohibition on ambition for a cause, and that’s why Nehemiah willingly accepts position. The question is how you lead in whatever position God gives you. Jim Collins will tell you that a great leader engaged in a cause should lead with humility. I met a few Proverbs 29 Members of Parliament a couple of weeks ago in Ottawa. I was impressed at their quiet competence, but also their fire when it came to causes like human trafficking. Like Nehemiah, they embraced high positions and the voice it gave them. Through years of faithful witness, each has earned respect for the way they handled the challenges of federal politics.

So, is the act of stepping up in leadership antithetical to humility? Not at all. The answer, as we’ll see in Nehemiah 5, is servant leadership.

If I had a nickel for every time someone referred to me as “our fearless leader,” I’d be a wealthy man. I realize people are trying to honour me, and I accept that, but the label rubs me the wrong way because it suggests that I’m cut from different cloth. It suggests I must be among the fearless ones, when most people have fears, and many are debilitated by fears.

It puts a leader on a pedestal that places leadership safely out of reach for the normal person.

But leading isn’t about being fearless. It’s about overcoming fear. Think about some of these Old Testament characters. We remember that all three boldly approached a foreign king, asking for favour:

  • Esther seems to have tried to dodge the pending annihilation of her people, keeping her heritage hidden beneath the robes of a queen. But then she accepted her cousin’s charge that she was God’s woman on the scene “for such a time as this.” She asked her people in the city to fast for three days while she summoned courage to visit the king and make her request. She concluded, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:12-17). After winning the king’s favour, she still took two days to make her request, easing into it by filling the king’s stomach with feasting. Was it continued nerves or a strategic approach?
  • Ezra’s burden to teach the returning exiles God’s Word led him to approach the king and ask for favour to return to Jerusalem. He had more faith than strategy, because he kicks himself for failing to ask for protection. This became an extra burden when the king was so taken with this scribe’s request that he appointed him governor and overloaded him with donations. God’s hand and love had been so clearly extended to Ezra that he “took courage” (Ezra 7:28), but he admitted a few verses later that he had been “ashamed to ask the king” for protection after boasting in God’s power (Ezra 8:22). Desperate, he proclaimed a fast “and implored our God” to come through for them.
  • Nehemiah prayed four months before slipping up and allowing the king to see the burden he carried. When asked why he was so glum, he was “very much afraid.” He gulped and offered a teaser. When the king took the bait and asked his request, this cupbearer prayed a desperate plea before illogically seeking an appointment as construction foreman for a city wall (Neh 2:1-5).

My point is that we usually remember the outcome, not the struggle. Often the perception is self-inflicted, as leaders reinforce the hero myth. If followers only see the outcome, they put leaders on the pedestal. Leaders need to be clear about the burden we couldn’t shake, the wrestling with God, the dark nights of the soul that led us to make a bold decision.

Worse yet, sometimes leaders convince themselves that they were fearless. Perhaps it’s delusion, believing the headlines. Perhaps it’s forgetfulness. Perhaps it’s poor self awareness. Both Ezra and Nehemiah refer often to “the hand of God” being on them to the point of compulsion. They never claimed credit for their own courage.

Followers can also play a role in overcoming fear. In a later scene after Ezra gets to Jerusalem and exposes a pattern of sin among the clergy, he faces a horrendous decision. The king had given Ezra incredible authority to back up his teaching with strict judgment: death, exile, bankruptcy or prison (7:26). Still, Ezra struggled with the decision until his followers—the ones caught in sin—told him he must follow-through. “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it” (10:4). What an amazing verse of followership! Clearly God’s hand was on Ezra to have followers ready to face their punishment.

So how do you overcome fear? As I was putting this blog together, a friend referred me to the blog of Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Seminary. In July 2012, he wrote three powerful and practical blogs on the subject of overcoming fear. They’re a worthy follow-up to this blog post.

Not sure how many of my readers are from Alberta, so let me quickly summarize the “Orange Crush” that happened while I was out of town this week. For my American readers, skip to the end quickly for an abbreviated primer in parliamentary government.

Bottom line: the Progressive Conservative party that had ruled Alberta for 44 years lost an election Tuesday that seemed a sure thing when called a mere 30 days before. They lost so soundly they came in third, and their party leader and incumbent premier resigned on the spot. For the first time, the NDP, which has been largely irrelevant in Alberta politics, has won a majority, their leader Rachel Notley premier-elect. The Wildrose Party came in second, returning to its familiar role as “the official opposition,” but in a much stronger position than it was before then-leader Danielle Smith tried to merge it with the Conservatives in December.

I was in Ottawa meeting with leaders on Parliament Hill as the results came through, and my views were challenged and inspired as MPs reacted to and tried to interpret what had happened. I’m going to attempt to avoid political bias while steering our attention to the leadership lessons we can learn from this week in politics.

Hubris

Premier Jim Prentice wanted it all. In the Calgary Herald, Graham Thompson theorized,

Prentice thought he had it figured out — undermine the Wildrose with a mass floor-crossing, appoint his favourites as candidates, call an early election — but it all backfired.

He goes on to call it “hubris.” That’s an excellent description of the overreaching we saw in the last six months. Prentice wasn’t the only one. Danielle Smith could have been premier today if she hadn’t reached too far. I suspect both felt they could do something historical, uniting the right, squashing the opposition and winning an unprecedented mandate. Such a move could perhaps launch at least one of them on to federal prominence.

In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins offers 5 stages of decline:

  1. Hubris Born of Success
  2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More
  3. Denial of Risk and Peril
  4. Grasping for Salvation
  5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

Sometimes, Collins says, you can be well into decline when you appear to be at the top of your game. The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party demonstrated the incredible speed with which everything can fall apart. As the Amazon review of that book says, “By understanding these stages of decline, leaders can substantially reduce their chances of falling all the way to the bottom.” All leaders can learn from this week’s object lesson, but the first warning sign is hubris. The solution is contentment, as I’ve blogged about before.

The bird in the bush

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But Thompson’s analysis suggests that, though many didn’t know much about “Notley’s Crue,” they preferred a bunch of rookies to the current set of politicians.

Change theory says for change to be successful, a leader has to explain why a group needs to move from “here” to “there.” It’s not enough to paint a picture of what could be; you also have to create what some call the “burning platform,” the rationale behind leaving what’s known and comfortable. Leaders like Bill Hybels have argued that many change initiatives fail because a leader failed to establish why we can’t stay “here.”

But what happens when an entire group decides they can’t stay “here” without really knowing what “there” looks like? Alberta apparently reached the tipping point, where the pain of sticking with the party of 44 years was higher than the pain of change. They moved en masse into the unknown. Change theorists will be paying attention to the outcome.

But can she lead?

At the beginning of the Invictus film, Mandela’s security detail are offended by a headline that reads, “He can win, but can he lead?” Mandela dryly responds that it’s a fair question. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a lack of leadership from Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice. Smith admitted this week that she had been “very very naive.” The void created an opening for leaders like Brian Jean and Rachel Notley. The latter rallied the vote of frustration and anger. She proved she can win an election. But can she provide leadership in a province that’s looking for it?

Notley’s stunning NDP-orange victory reminds me of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s “Purple Revolution”  in 2010. He rallied the young vote and the frustrated vote into a winning combination. He turned out to be a competent leader who became a bit of a superstar after the flooding of 2013, leading to February’s over-the-top selection as the world’s top mayor. I suspect that’s overstating it, but it’s a demonstration of the  combination of popularity and leadership rare in today’s politicians.

All eyes in Ottawa were on Alberta this week, and few politicians are making plans beyond this October. It’s too early to see how it will all turn out, so I won’t join in any prognostications. But this week wasn’t just about politics. The earthquake of Alberta was also about leadership, and it is a case study on a number of fronts. Let me know your thoughts about the leadership lessons and implications.


An abbreviated primer in parliamentary government
(Canadians, if I get any of this wrong, I’m sure you’ll correct me in the comments.)

For my American readers, this will help you understand both our elections and the British election that just happened this week. On the federal level, the prime minister functions like your president, but he is actually within the legislative branch and first among cabinet members (aka “ministers”), therefore “prime minister.” As a legislator, the prime minister is also a member of parliament (MP) representing a specific district, called a “riding.” On the provincial level (kind of like states), this same function is called a “premier” rather than a governor, and he or she is a member of the legislative assembly (MLA).

Incidentally, as in the US, there are two legislative bodies. The prime minister comes from the House of Commons, made up of “commoners,” who represent the people of Canada. The second body is the Senate, made up of appointees who are not elected and have no terms. Unlike the UK, senators are not nobility. No earls and dukes in Canada’s Senate.

In Canada, the premier or prime minister is the leader of his or her party, and there are numerous parties. The potential swings from an irrelevant party with very few seats to an upset win (and vice versa) are astounding. I’ve quickly learned that you can never count out a party. The premier or prime minister has a 4-year window to call the next election, and it makes sense to choose the most optimal time rather than wait for the deadline. Once that election is called, the vote will happen 30 days later. It’s refreshingly quick! Even better, the candidates have 24 hours to take down all their signs or face fines.

For a more complete primer, try this guide to the Canadian Parliamentary System.