Back in January, Steve Moore posted a great vlog about busyness. He quotes Dallas Willard, from his book The Great Omission:

“God never gives anyone too much to do. We do that to ourselves. We allow other people to do it to us.”

Steve follows up that quote by asking,

“Do you have too much to do? Did God do that to you? Or who gave you too much to do?”

That’s a great point. If God didn’t intend for us to be overly busy, where is the fault? Is it our own inability to say “no” to opportunities and requests? Or is it some kind of subconscious motivation that forces us to work harder and perform? In Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, McIntosh and Rima point out that many people come to leadership out of past wounds that fuel a desire to perform and seek approval to an obsessive level. No amount of work, and no amount of recognition is enough because of their deep-seated need. Nonprofits and ministries are not immune to this kind of leader.

How about you? What motivates you to do too much?

2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

This verse has been covered in relation to the Church engaging culture, so I’m not going to go there today. Instead, I want to focus on what it says to leaders — more of a personal application. I want to hit two areas of conformity that I think a lot of leaders struggle with, particularly those working in ministry.

It’s very easy for churches and non-profit ministries to embrace secular management and business philosophies. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of good, helpful advice that can be applied to our settings. I remember hearing Jim Collins describe his astonishment at how many non-profit leaders were reading his books. He cautioned “social sector” leaders to discriminate, noting that non-profits shouldn’t necessarily embrace business practices. Just because businesses do it doesn’t make it worth copying, because most businesses are average at best. Instead, he noted that the same principles that make a business great can make a non-profit great. Copy the greatness principles, he urged.

Too many ministry leaders spend time reading the latest leadership techniques when greatness is found in more ancient texts. The Bible’s principles are still applicable today. I remember Dave Ramsey noting one time, “Who knew you could make so much money teaching people what the Bible says?” He’s not the only guru making money repackaging biblical concepts. Consider Collins’ Level 5 leader idea. Humility and a deep passion for the work are not new ideas.

The second thing leaders struggle with is the desire for easy success. A simple way to do that is to see what works for others in ministry — Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, you name it — and copy that in your context. By now, you know that I think leadership is contextual. I’m sorry, but there are only so many of Hybels’ strategies that work in my church of 350. Different scale, different world. I think a desire to copy the behavior of others — be it the world or even other ministries — comes down to laziness.

Instead, Paul calls leaders to transformation built around an experience with God. God’s will for me is personal, and it involves my mind and will. God has gifted me differently than any other leader, and he has a plan for my ministry and my part in my ministry. When I’m transformed by God’s work in me, I don’t look to others as a measure of my success, but work for an audience of One. I don’t measure myself by the expectations and requirements of others. And I don’t look at what God is doing in others’ ministry, but I look at my context and my situation.

When I’m transformed, I can freely exercise my leadership gifts and do my thing where God has called me, in my context.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: a leader talking about what once was and lamenting change. I’m not sure you can fully take advantage of the situation you’re in if you start from that vantage point. Young leaders don’t have a lot of patience for that sentimentality. They aren’t concerned with the way things used to be or how much easier it was in the past. Instead, they’re willing to take what they get and work toward solutions.

Is it lack of experience? Granted, their institutional history is much less than an established leader, but some of them have been around long enough to see some of the downward trends. Is it that they don’t value history? Many are well versed in history, especially the period predating the Enlightenment. It’s basically realism. They don’t find it constructive to worry about where we’ve come from when there are so many opportunities in front of them. Each period in time demands a different set of tools and resources. They want to use fresh eyes to figure out what works today, and then get moving. Let me give you a few examples.

1. Post-Christian. Whether or not America was founded on Christian principles as a “Christian nation” is irrelevant. Our purpose as the Church and non-profit parachurch ministries is to engage the culture as it is now. We work with young people  that don’t generally attend church, don’t read the Bible and don’t have much personal exposure to either. On the other hand, the people around us are open to spiritual discussions, interested in our personal stories and keen observers of our lives. They respond well when they see believers open about their failings and active about their faith, especially to the point that they care about the world we live in and its inequality and injustice.

While we can’t assume context or cultural support for the Bible and Jesus Christ, we shouldn’t necessarily assume bias against either, other than the negative associations young people have made between hypocritical Christians they know. As at least one has said, “I’d be a Christian if it weren’t for all the Christians.” There’s opportunity there to put Jesus Christ front and center. Redemption is always relevant — just ask Hollywood.

2. Postmodernity. This is certainly a controversial issue, but frankly, while you may argue whether postmodernity is bad or good, my response is that it is. Postmodernity is not going to cease to exist just because someone doesn’t like it. And while I try not to make predictions about the future, I wouldn’t advise trying to hold your breath until postmodernity passes like a fad. It looks to be multi-generational. Instead, young leaders prefer to jump in and work with what we’ve got. The Bible says the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. The Church will be relevant to postmodernity; it will translate itself into the new context sooner or later. And in Wycliffe’s case, that last Bible translation project that we long to see started by the year 2025 will be started by postmoderns.

There’s so much more I could write about postmodernity, but that’s another topic for another day.

3. Biblical literacy. No doubt, this is a big concern: a Church separated from the Bible is prone to drifting.  The young leader responds in two ways. First, how do we operate in a post-literate world? Our culture doesn’t value reading, especially dusty old things like books, so how do we engage people through story, through podcasts and through web 2.0? How do we make the gospel active and alive and relevant?

Second, what are the challenges and opportunities related to using the Bible? How do we teach the principles of the Bible through other means? How do we make relevant a book that’s lost its power through years of abuses: verses used to support pet causes or scientific theories; “biblical principles” reinterpreted to build a moralistic society; and extreme views of the Bible, such as “guidebook for life” or “textbook” or even “love letter” (it’s all of those and none of those). How do we give an ancient book hands and feet so it becomes alive?

The only real thing that matters to young leaders today is today. They want to understand the times and develop strategies that address today’s issues and opportunities. Last week’s strategies might not even be relevant today.

I wanted to call this blog The Reluctant Leader. But Steve Murrell already has a very good blog by that name. In fact, if you’re only going to read one blog, read that one. In fact, he even has a better reason for the name than I do.

I’m not a reluctant leader. In fact, ever since I was identified as a leader by my second grade teacher, I’ve been trying to live up to that label. (I hope I didn’t mishear him; maybe he said I was a “cheater” or a “reader.”)

I have a passion for leadership, and I love seeing others grow in their own awareness of leadership gifts. I find a lot of people in my generation have suppressed and latent leadership gifts. Some are interested in the idea of leadership but have failed gloriously when they tried it. Others are so skeptical of the leaders they know that they’d rather take potshots from the back row. And others have just never tried it or had it drawn out of them.

I remember in college when one of the quietest girls I ever met was asked to lead a small group Bible study. She was phenomenal and knew how to draw the introverts out. Leadership can be hiding anywhere, because leadership is influence. Everyone influences someone.

My passion and calling right now is to study what makes a good leader, how to draw out the best in the people I touch and to be a bridge to established leadership for these latent and emerging leaders.

I came across a newspaper article the other day by this name. I think it was referring to a group of Senators who sat in the back row of the House to observe some controversial vote or debate. But it got me thinking.

Who are the Senators who sit on the back row of the Senate? How would someone come to have a position like that but sit on the back row? Are they politicians who really don’t want to be there? Or who don’t belong? Seems to me they need a club or a caucus or something.

This blog is an exploration of the dynamics of a generation with a fear and suspicion of leadership. What are the issues that hold leaders back and keep people from stepping out to use their gifts? I’m intensely curious about those issues, and as I explore them, I invite others to join the conversation.

After some very helpful feedback from well meaning friends and my wife, I agreed to change the name of my blog. I’m really much more interested in exploring leadership than politics on this site. Senators in the Back Row, while offering an interesting word picture, created confusion. Meanwhile, I’ve received good feedback on this name.

I have a theory that you can’t always tell who’s leading a group by the person standing at the front. One of Wycliffe’s senior VPs shared an interesting story with a group of young leaders at Wycliffe. Reflecting back on her years of teaching, she recounted the first day of class one year when she faced an unruly mob that wouldn’t listen. Observing the dynamics, she realized that everyone gravitated toward one particular student.

After class that day, she asked that student to stay afterward. She noted that he was clearly the leader in that classroom, and she could either work with him or they would butt heads all year. If the latter was the case, she was going to make sure that was not a pleasant experience for him. He did not see himself as a leader, but he agreed to try an experiment: when she needed the class’s attention, she would give him a sign and let him call the class to order.

The next day, the class started out with the same mayhem. After a few minutes, the teacher caught the student’s eye and nodded. He turned to his fellow students and said, “Hey, let’s all sit down. Class is starting.” When they all immediately did what he said, he turned to her with eyes as side as saucers — wide in surprise but also some thought to the possibilities of the power he now had. The class went well the rest of the year because the teacher had realized that she wasn’t really the leader in that setting. The student was the power broker. He led from the back row.