Put your money where your mouth is

Since the board of Wycliffe Canada selected me as the next president of Wycliffe Canada, the most common comment I’ve heard is “Wow!” followed by “Congratulations!” And then “Thank you for stepping up.” It’s that sentiment that hits most closely to my heart as I contemplate this jump in responsibilities.

For several years I’ve waxed, pontificated, prodded and urged through this blog and in leadership development events. In the latter, I’ve often closed by challenging those God has gifted to “Step up.” Now it’s time to put my leadership philosophies into practice, and I recognize that I will no doubt have to eat some of my words in this blog.

On Thursday, as I headed to a Wycliffe Canada conference where I would be publicly introduced, a member of the board read me the following personal note from Oswald Chambers:

If Jesus ever commanded us to do something that He was unable to equip us to accomplish, He would be a liar. And if we make our own inability a stumbling block or an excuse not to be obedient, it means that we are telling God that there is something which He has not yet taken into account.

I believe God has asked me to take this position at this moment in time. I’m not willing to say that He is not enough, that He can’t equip me for it. Chambers goes on:

Every element of our own self-reliance must be put to death by the power of God. The moment we recognize our complete weakness and our dependence upon Him will be the very moment that the Spirit of God will exhibit His power.

Wow. It’s going to be quite a ride.

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Invictus: a study in leadership

Invictus movie posterI really enjoyed watching Invictus this week. If you haven’t seen the film, it chronicles the first days and months of Nelson Mandela’s rise to leadership in South Africa. Rest assured it is not a sports movie as much as a leadership movie. It portrays several forms of leadership and one leader’s attempts to influence another leader to bring about a desired result.

I was fascinated first by Mandela’s use of symbols. He seemed to bet his presidency on a decision — against the advice of his chief of staff — to focus on rugby as a symbol that would accomplish his desire to bring a divided nation together. It’s true that sports are one of the few things that can create unlikely alliances. Sports success not only unites; it inspires and ignites dreams.

The biggest challenge Mandela takes on in his use of symbols was one of prejudice. Rugby was seen as a white sport, and the Springboks a symbol of everything black South Africans fought against. If the whites cheered for it, the blacks cheered against it. Mandela took a major risk in attempting to reclaim a national symbol. Most leadership gurus would fall on the side of his chief of staff; the associations of most symbols are too powerful to redefine.

Let me try to suggest a parallel. I don’t think we appreciate how crazy it is that the cross has become a piece of jewelry. In the first century, the cross symbolized everything that was hated about the Romans. How many redefinitions has that symbol gone through in the two millennia since Christ stole it from his captors? Of course, that’s 2,000 years. Mandela redefines the rugby team in less than a year. Can you think of another symbol that changed meaning so quickly?

Symbols are a powerful tool for leaders to use to advance their cause. That’s a topic worth another post down the road.

The second thing that struck me was that Mandela staked his influence over the rugby team on someone other than the coach. In fact, I can’t recall the coach appearing in the film. Instead, Mandela challenges the captain of the team. As a player, François Pienaar has the greater influence over the resolve of the team.

Mandela’s conversations with Pienaar are alone worth seeing the movie again. The bi-generational leadership model they employ is celebrated at the end, when each thanks the other for service to the nation. I think what struck me was their two very different styles and roles. Mandela has to lead a nation. His influence comes from incredible personal authority burnished from 27 years in prison. His job is to inspire, make tough choices and sacrifice for the good of the country. He does that in several cases by challenging his people — black South Africans — in essence to do to whites what they wish the whites would have done to them.

On the other hand, Pienaar begins with very little personal authority, seemingly barely surviving a purge of team leadership. In some ways, he is a symbol of the Springboks’ losing ways and racist heritage. Inspired by Mandela, he determines to bring change. He prods and challenges the team to break their self-made molds. He puts in the effort, comes up with the strategy and forces the team to dig as deep as he himself does. He also uses symbol. There’s a great moment when he hands out cans of beer that nobody likes and forcefully associates the taste with losing. At times, like Mandela, he looks very lonely in his leadership. By sheer determination, he carries his team to victory, but then shares the credit 43 million ways.

By the end of the movie, Pienaar shares the stage as equals with Mandela. I’m intrigued by his journey — how a young leader can build a reputation and gain the personal authority needed to influence a nation. The movie’s worth watching, and probably watching again. Give me your thoughts. What stood out for you?

Resolve to do nothing

Here’s an unpopular idea for a New Years Resolution: resolve to do nothing in 2011.

That’s not the same as resolving not to make a resolution. My general pattern is to avoid them, as so many resolutions fall by the wayside before January expires, let alone survive the whole year. Rather, I’m proposing you resolve to be intentional about doing nothing. Let me explain.

There are two great Scriptures I’ve been chewing on in 2010. Both talk about the virtues of doing nothing. First, the words of Christ:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Last October, Paul McKaughan of The Mission Exchange dusted off John 15:5 in his devotional thoughts at a conference in St. Louis. He reminded us that the verse doesn’t say that we will only produce some fruit. It doesn’t say we won’t be able to do much. It says we can do nothing. I want to have a productive, effective 2011. So I resolve to remain, to abide, in Christ.

After Moses brings the two tablets down from Mount Sinai to find all Israel worshiping a golden calf, he’s not the only one who is angry. In Exodus 33, God tells them he won’t travel with them on their journey, lest he destroy them. Moses pushes back: “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.” I’d rather dwell with Christ where he is than try to go anywhere or do anything in 2011. Even better if I can join him where’s he’s at work.

Secondly, in Philippians 2:3,4 Paul admonishes:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The point isn’t that I hold back from ambitious acts. The kingdom of God and his glory are of too much value to hold back. What it’s saying is that if my motives are bad, God would rather I do nothing. The HOW is important. So I need to clothe myself in humility, seeking others’ interests in a way that shows I value them over myself and over my plans. That is the way we advance God’s kingdom — by doing his work his way.

I have high hopes for 2011. We’ll see if I can carry out this resolution past January.

Mutuality

I’ve always seen servant leadership as one-way service. Not sure why, but I suspect it’s a western, individualistic interpretation of service. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had a vague uneasiness with the servant leadership concept. In In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen picks up on some of the shepherding themes I’ve been ruminating on in my studies over the last few weeks. He caught my attention with his thoughts on John 10, about Jesus laying down his life for the sheep.

Nouwen would say my interpretation of servanthood stems from my experience with the professional “civil servants.” For instance, I was watching my flight attendant a week ago as she served passengers, realizing that she was paid to meet the passengers’ needs. But it’s one-directional. It would be very strange for a passenger to try to serve her in return. You just wouldn’t see someone stand up and take her cart and ask her to sit down while they served her — though that would be fun to try sometime!

There is no dependence among nurses, doctors, police or firefighters. No mutuality. Follow Nouwen’s logic here: “Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles!” That leads to the conclusion that “mutuality can only be seen as weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion.” Therefore servanthood “quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others.”

How on earth can something as humble as servanthood break down into paternalism and authoritarianism? When it doesn’t allow reciprocation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nouwen says that we are to be a radically different kind of servant:

The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership being offered by the world. It is a true servant leadership — to use Robert Greenleaf’s term — in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her….

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for…. The mystery is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love now the gateway for both the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

How difficult is it for you to become indebted? How difficult is it for you to receive love back again? How difficult is it for you to allow someone to serve you? These are questions that those who enter another culture face on a regular basis. Over and over again, I hear people who return from mission trips say how they thought they were going to bless the people “over there” and they ended up being blessed far more themselves. There’s real power in the “servant” allowing one who has little to give them whatever they do have to offer. To deny that is to begin to slide toward an unhealthy view of oneself.

How much do you open up about your brokenness to those you serve/lead and let them minister to you? Servant leadership is about mutuality.

Transformation

As I mull over Jesus’ death and resurrection this Good Friday, I’ve been thinking about Peter’s transformation. I would put the change in his life up against Paul’s for scale of impact of the gospel.

Peter is the kind of guy who thinks out loud, who says what everyone else is thinking. He acts first and thinks later. He’s an uneducated fisherman who learned his trade from his father. For me, the following events sum up his nature.

When he sees Jesus walking on water, he makes the jump of logic that if Jesus can defy rules of nature, he should be able to as well. What incredible, uninformed passion he shows as he climbs out of the boat and tests the surface tension of the undulating waters! It’s amazing to me that, in front of the eleven disciples who never left the boat, Jesus remarks on his lack of faith.

No other chapter sums up Peter’s complexity better than Matthew 16. When Jesus asks who the disciples believe he is, Peter declares his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah and the son of God. It’s on this confession that Jesus will build his church. Yet, a few verses later, Peter reprimands Jesus for talking about his upcoming death, and Jesus puts him in his place: “Get behind me, Satan.” Now, that’s a rebuke! I picture Peter like a dog. When he goes in the wrong direction, you give him a smack or yank on his leash. He sits there stunned for a minute, then shakes it off and sets off again in a different direction. He doesn’t take rebukes personally.

John 13 shows that he’s a long way from getting it. He refuses to let Jesus do such a menial job as wash his feet. Then he pledges loyalty, denying that he would ever deny Jesus. Couple this with his swordwork at the olive grove a few chapters later, and you begin to see that it’s an issue of expectations. I think Peter believes Jesus is preparing to lead an earthly insurrection. Servanthood, arrest and death don’t fit his view of Jesus’ destiny and goals.

Then there’s the lowpoint. While the other disciples flee, Peter sticks around and follows from a distance, only to try to protect himself from the same fate by distancing himself and then flatly lying about his connections to Jesus. His anguish over his denial turns to flight. He heads back home to comfort, the life that comes naturally to him, trying to move on from his failure. He goes back to fishing.

So, when Jesus steps out of the picture, his successor is not at all ready. Is this really the man you want to turn the church over to? Jesus puts a lot of stock in the fact that Peter will rebound from the harsh lessons he learned out of betraying his rabbi and disappointing himself. Jesus turns Peter’s focus from a spiral of dispair with a brief and direct conversation on the beach. Then he’s gone, and Peter is on his own.

Along comes Acts, and Peter is a different man. His hotheaded, impulsive, speak-first ways have morphed into a boldness with a lot of maturity. Maybe you could call the upper room his coccoon. The first words from Peter include a number of quotes from Scripture. I believe he spent the silent days after Jesus left, immersing himself in the Scriptures and in prayer — the qualities the apostles will become known for.

From there, we see a Peter in full command of himself and his followers. He preaches to thousands. He looks lame beggars in the eye and heals them. He faces down Pharisees and Jewish leaders, who can only marvel at his transformation, noting only that he had been with Jesus. Sure, he does some things wrong. I think some of his early decisions are a bit suspect, and Paul later calls him on some hypocrisy. But no one can deny Acts portrays a different Peter than the gospels depicted.

In Leading With a Limp, Dan Allender says that a leader cannot have true humility without being humiliated. And he can’t be truly successful without acknowledging his brokenness. Peter became the leader of the early church because he went through such a deep valley. He came out motivated, compelled by grace and love to follow this Jesus who had done so much for such an undeserving failure.

That’s what Easter is all about.

Lending your influence

Those who have authority can bestow it on others.

There are a few verses that talk about this kind of loaned authority. In John 10:18, Jesus says he has the authority to lay down his life or pick it up again at will. In John 17:2, he points out that the Father has granted Jesus the authority to then give eternal life to anyone the Father has given him. In John 19, Pilate tells Jesus he has the power to release or crucify him. Jesus quietly responds that he wouldn’t have that power if God (Jesus) didn’t give it to him. So, who is the one really in charge of that situation?

Those who have power have the ability to give their power to others. The Roman Centurion certainly understood this. The reason he believed Jesus could heal with just a word was because of his own context and ability to exert authority over those subject to him. But the way he says it is not, “I too have great authority.” Instead, he says, “I myself am a man under authority.” In other words, being under authority gives you authority. Who you represent or speak for makes a difference. When I was a project manager for a senior VP a few years ago, I understood that I was a peon in a room full of VPs. But occasionally, I would enter that room with a message from the senior VP. I had huge authority at those times.

Established leaders have authority. With their position, experience and networks, established leaders have a great amount of power. But, with power comes great responsibility. I believe one of the primary responsibilities for established leaders is to  use their authority on behalf of young, emerging leaders.

Consider the story of Jesus at a Pharisee’s dinner party. He’s interacting with a crowd of power brokers when suddenly a hysterical prostitute crashes the party. She debases herself, crying at Jesus’ feet and then using her hair to dry the tears and then anoint his feet with expensive perfume. The guests begin to murmur. At this point, Jesus has a choice. He can recognize her and give her status in the group. Or he can ignore her, protecting his own status. Of course, he chooses the former and even elevates her at the expense of his host. He lends her credibility.

Another example from my own life. I know my 3-year-old daughter’s personality very well. When we host a community group in our house, she’ll often break away from the kids in a back bedroom and run into the middle of our meeting, interrupting the discussion. As the leader of the group, I have the power to crush her by telling her to go away, in which she will become very shy and hurt. She’ll leave, but she’ll be inconsolable for ten minutes. Or I can look at her and acknowledge her, in which case she gets a big smile and runs to me. That’s what Jesus did. That’s loaned influence.

A reluctant leader is like my daughter. When she takes a careful step forward, established leaders have the ability to snuff out that flame or fan it by loaning their influence.