A few weeks ago, a little phrase from Luke 9:51 (ESV) jumped out at me, and I’ve been reflecting on it this Easter week:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Jesus set his face, resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem. Of course, this was no vacation trip he was planning. He spoke often to his disciples in those days about how the Son of Man was going to be lifted up, the shepherd was going to be struck down and the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of sinners. He fully knew the pain and sacrifice that was going to be required of him; he’d known it since he came to earth. But as the moment grew closer, both his anxiety and his courage grew. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the moment close at hand, Matthew described Jesus as anguished and distressed, his soul crushed with grief to the point of death.

In that moment, I see the distinct humanness of Jesus. As Hebrews says, he was tempted in all ways as we are. Can’t you relate to a moment like that? Perhaps not to the same degree, but a time when you absolutely dreaded what you were going to have to do? As the moment grows close, your steps get heavy, your breathing laboured as if you’re carrying a huge weight. At some point, you face a moment of decision. Will you shrink from your responsibility or set your face and move forward?

I remember the first time I needed to speak in public. I was a grade 4 student in Atlanta, and we were in the middle of a mock election. As campaign chair for a candidate, I had to give a speech to a group of students. I dreaded that thought. If I absolutely had to, I resolved to only do it in front of people I knew. Instead, I was selected to speak to a group of students in another class. I remember waiting in a little room between the classrooms, balling because I didn’t want to do it and looking desperately for someone else to appeal to. Embarrassed by my tears. Wanting to quit. Finally I screwed up my courage and summoned enough resolve to do it. It seems funny now, given the role I’m in today, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had run away from that decision point.

I’ve never faced a situation bad enough to create a physiological reaction like sweating blood, but in some small way, I can relate to Jesus’ Gethsemane moment. It’s worth looking at how he approached it.

First, he begged God for a way out, three times. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask if there can be some other way. The point is that Jesus didn’t go in the direction of defiance and refusal. When I face a difficult decision or task, I find incredible strength in sharing it with God, even if my prayers are repetitive or lack words.

Second, he sought companionship. Though he knew they would soon abandon him, he brought his closest friends along to pray with him. Like the disciples, our friends may not be able to relate to our crisis, but even having them near is some level of comfort. I often think of Job’s friends in moments like that. To their huge credit, they got together and sat with him during his misery. Seven days they sat in silence. The only mistake they made was in opening their mouths.

Then Jesus surrendered to a greater authority. He knew he’d been heard, and he gave himself up to the greater plan. Having made his decision, he didn’t shrink or pull back from it; he turned to face it. I love the way he collected himself, pulled his disciples to their feet and faced his betrayer. “The time has come,” he said. No longer did he have any doubt about what he needed to do. He found tremendous courage once he got up from his knees.

Isaiah described this “Good Friday” hundreds of years before that moment (Isaiah 50:5-7 NLT):

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
and I have listened.
I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
determined to do his will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame.

That’s my Saviour, Redeemer, Rescuer and Passover Lamb! And that’s my model for leadership.

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Let’s continue mining the leadership development principles found in Acts 6. When the apostles made the decision to remove their fingers from day-to-day program management, who did they turn to? First, they opened the problem to “all the believers,” inviting their input. Second, they went local. The problem was a Greek-speaking versus Hebrew-speaking issue. The apostles were Hebrew-speaking, and when accused of some latent racism, they selected Greek believers to address the problem. They found a local solution. Third, they turned to the next generation. There’s no indication of age, so I don’t want to imply that they handed over responsibility to young leaders, but they clearly handed responsibility to the recipients of the gospel message.

That’s the mark of a movement: those who bring a new idea or message and hand it off to the recipients of that message to take it where they didn’t imagine it could go. We’re experiencing that within Wycliffe. There’s a movement exploding in many parts of the world, carrying forth Bible translation in ways and to places our founders never dreamed of. For instance, I just spent a few days with leaders of 25 non-Wycliffe organizations birthed in Central and South America who are just as passionate about advancing Bible translation in their countries and from their areas of the world as we are. We’re joining together in an alliance to figure this new world out together. It’s a world where language groups are setting up their own Facebook pages, beginning work before we ever get there and becoming evangelists to neighbouring people groups.

Here’s the ugly side, though: the one who can most easily suppress a movement is the original messenger. We westerners do this all the time. To give us the benefit of the doubt, most oppression by a majority is unintentional. We simply don’t realize where we shut down innovation, fail to hand over ownership or fail to see potential. A friend of mine calls it “institutional racism.” In older organizations, it can be a historical colonial viewpoint that has long been eradicated in the obvious places but has become institutionalized in policies, procedures and practices that have never been challenged. It’s time for some audits of the deep, dark corners of the organization.

Since this blog is about leaders, let’s not let ourselves off the hook. Let’s make it personal. Have you audited the deep, dark corners of your own core beliefs for inconsistencies in what you say and practice in terms of holding onto authority or ownership? I remember reading a passage in Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Cross Cultural Leadership about a missionary who had to return to the United States. He successfully found and prepared a national worker to assume responsibilities for preaching in the local church while he was gone. By the time he returned, this local pastor was thriving in his role over a growing church. What a tremendous success! That’s our dream, right? Imagine what happened next. This missionary thanked his brother and took over preaching responsibilities again. I wanted to throw the book down! I wanted to throw some stones!

Until I realized I probably do the same thing all the time. I take back a role I empowered my kids to do, because it’s part of my identity. I delegate an assignment to a subordinate and begin meddling again without thinking. How often have I done that? I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll bet my subordinates and the minorities who have worked with me could tell me… if I created a setting where they could speak openly. I won’t be throwing any stones.

In response, here’s a better way: Let’s lay hands on “the next generation, pray for them and posture ourselves behind them. Let’s lay aside our feeble visions for the capacity of the next generation and allow God’s vision for them to prevail. He may well have a movement in mind.

Sample’s second rule for decision-making:

2. Never make a decision today that can reasonably be put off to tomorrow.

But isn’t that procrastination? First, let me say that our western, negative view of that word is not necessarily universal. Procrastination is negative when it stems from a lack of courage. Instead, Sample espouses conscious and even courageous “artful procrastination.” Certainly, postponing a decision has its consequences: in our busy workplaces, with full inboxes, a strategy to leave more on your plate for tomorrow is contrarian.

I borrowed the question above from president Harry Truman, who always sought clarity on the timing for a decision as his first response. To misunderstand the timing required for a decision is to choose the wrong method of decision-making. For instance, a snap decision in a case that should have involved consultation with experts could be disastrous. A collaborative process in a fight or flight scenario could be deadly. It might be worthwhile researching how Truman applied this methodology to as grave a decision as dropping atomic bombs on another sovereign nation, but that’s another topic for another day. Sample’s point is that “the timing of a decision could be just as important as the decision itself.”

Now, Sample isn’t talking about simply putting things off or failing to make a decision. A non-decision is a decision (and leaders have consciously used that method to great success in a variety of arenas). Knowing the timing allows a leader to wait strategically. It can often open up more options for a leader, providing a beautiful solution that wasn’t available at the time the question was posed. However, it comes with a risk: it can slam the door on decent solutions. Simply put, circumstances will often make a decision for you, and there’s a fine line between a wise leader who reads the timing well and a foolish one who misses an opportunity. The point is to make a decision “and get on with it” when the time is appropriate to choose, whether the conditions improved or not.

I’ve heard CEOs say before that they pretty much expect to be 50% right on their decisions. That’s not comforting! But leadership and decision-making are arts, not sciences. Experience teaches when to listen and when to make a judgment, when to wait and when to conclude a matter. This question is a great place to start, because it puts a leader in position to follow the best road to a decision. Whether she’s right or wrong, perhaps the real question is what she does next, after the decision is made.

Sample’s final thought on the matter:

It is one thing for a leader to delegate a decision to a lieutenant, but an entirely different (and unacceptable) thing for him to surrender a decision to fate or to his adversaries. Therein lies the difference between artful and cowardly procrastination.

Agree? Disagree? Does this spur a question or reaction? Give me your thoughts!

I love Steven Sample’s The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. He points out that while the conventional view of leaders is that they’re decisive and bold, most situations don’t necessarily call for snap decisions. Instead, he offers two rules for decision making:

1. Never make a decision yourself that can reasonably be delegated to a lieutenant.

So the first question he proposes that a leader ask is whether he’s the one to make the decision. A colleague of mine often reminds me that budget decisions are better made by the local manager. That’s true for more than just budgets, and it’s a good reminder to figure out who is best-qualified to make a decision. But I believe Sample is going a step further with his contrarian advice. He’s saying that a leader should deliberately delegate a decision he has the right to make as an act of empowerment to his team. Of course, he qualifies it by saying “reasonably,” but he’s talking about a bent, a tendency to defer on decisions whenever possible.

When all decisions have to pass through the top, we generally refer to that style of leadership as “autocratic.” But not all autocrats are despots. In Servant Empowered Leadership, Don Page says there’s a subsidiary of the autocratic model that he calls the “benevolent dictator.” These paternalistic leaders thrive in Christian organizations.

In its simplest form, it means that the leader alone knows what is best for the organization, either because of their direct connection to God or because of their superior God-given abilities.

Ouch. I know a few of these… in other organizations, of course. I pray that if I ever take that viewpoint, I’ll have given someone enough room at some more sane point in my tenure to be able to call me out on it. Far better to empower your managers at every level to make decisions. And to consciously push a decision down to build the capacity of your team.

11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Ah, the workaholic’s life verse. At Willow Creek Leadership Summit in 2006, I remember Andy Stanley sharing about the toughest decision he’d ever made. He compared two verses and realized that it was his job to love his wife while it was God’s job to love His church. He came to the conclusion then that he was going to give God 45 hours a week to build whatever church God wanted to build, and he was going to focus on loving his wife — specifically by being home for what my wife calls “the witching hour,” when she’s trying to cook dinner while the kids are hungry and cranky.

He dealt with all kinds of flack as he left his staff working in the office as he walked out and as he skipped hospital visits. But the results have been incredible. The church has moved away from being staff-driven. He said a volunteer told him as she mobilized dozens to help her, “Well, someone has to provide congregational care.” They’ve made very intentional decisions for the church, including shutting their doors the last Sunday of every year, as a gift to the staff. Over time, he has attracted a healthy, motivated staff who work hard… and then go home. He tells each one on their first day of work that they can cheat the church, but never cheat their family.

Here’s the thing that caught me by surprise. The very next speaker got up and talked as if he hadn’t heard a thing Andy said. This boomer pastor — who has had some fairly public battles with workaholism and burnout — started talking about the many hours you have to put in as a leader. The juxtaposition was stark.

So, who was right? Everything in me wants to scream, “Andy!” Like many of my colleagues under 45, I want it all. I want to help support my wife, help raise my kids and go to every event with them. I also want to be successful at my job and continue to get opportunities to advance and grow. But is it possible to do both? I think it is possible to have both, but neither to the extent you want it. I’m constantly torn: when I’m at work, I feel like that’s the most important thing I can be doing. And when I’m spending time with my family, I feel like that’s the most important thing. I wish I could spend more time doing both, but God in his wisdom decided on 24 hours in a day. I’m okay with both/and, and I’m okay with healthy tension. I pray that I make the right choices with my compromises so that neither side pays too much when I can’t be there.

Here’s my theory on busyness, based purely on my own life experiences. When I was single, I thought I was busy. I had lots of social engagements and often wished I could pull back a bit from my commitments. When I got married, I added a whole new set of commitments and found I didn’t have as much freedom with my time. Then along came baby #1 and a whole new layer of busyness. Some things I thought were critical to my life had to fall away. Babies #2 and 3 repeated the pattern. Increases in responsibility at work and church have only added more busyness to my life than I could have ever imagined even three years ago, let alone when I was 22 and single.

The trick is to be busy and still serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Here’s my question for all you readers out there: Is work-life balance a generational thing, or does every generation switch to workaholism as their naivite and idealism fade?

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” — Matthew 10:28

What a crazy verse. It stuck in my mind since the first time I noticed it. Funny how you can read the Bible many times and not see something. Anyway, there’s a lot I can say about this verse, but let me put it in a leadership context, starting with a look in the mirror.

Like many leaders, I’m a people-pleaser. Frankly, approval is my idol. I’m far too concerned with what other people think of me most of the time. I therefore make decisions out of fear — maybe not fear of bodily harm, but certainly fear of falling out of favor or losing face.

So when Jesus asks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” it convicts me of my idolatry. I recall Lincoln’s reminder that you can only please some of the people all of the time. But maybe he missed the point. I shouldn’t be concerned with pleasing anyone ever. I resonate with Sara Groves’ song about an Audience of One. There’s only One who I need to please. And only One I need to be afraid of. After all, what’s the worst that anyone else can do to me? Hurt me? Kill me? Where I come from, neither of those is even likely.

It takes courage to lead. Courage to make a decision and stick with it even if no one else thinks it’s the right thing to do. If my fear of anyone else’s opinion guides my decision-making, then I’m taking a great risk, especially if I’m not honest about my priorities.

I guess that’s why they call it bowing to public opinion.