Wartime leadership

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.

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What’s your WHY?

Six months ago, goosemedia suggested I read Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It’s a book that analyzes the success of companies like Southwest Airlines and Apple and the success of leaders like Martin Luther King. All of them started with their WHY — the cause or reason for their existence — before figuring out their HOW or WHAT.

Let me use one of Sinek’s examples to illustrate his point. In the early parts of the 20th century, a small handful of companies dominated the railroad industry. They seemed invincible. But they defined themselves by WHAT they did rather than WHY. If they had defined themselves as being in the mass transportation business, Sinek says, those big railroad companies might own all the airlines today. Instead, someone else stole the opportunity while they became irrelevant. I was just reading last week that both United Airlines and Continental Airlines had their roots in postal transportation. I suspect that those early aviation companies articulated their WHY in terms of fast and reliable delivery, so they were able to easily make the jump to flying people instead of packages. I would argue that those two companies have now defined themselves by their WHAT, but I’m watching their potential merger with interest.

In contrast, take this statement from Colleen Barrett, former CEO of Southwest Airlines: “We’re a customer service company that just happens to fly airplanes.” The way Sinek puts it is: “Southwest was not built to be an airline. It was built to champion a cause. They just happened to use an airline to do it.”

I recently heard Wycliffe USA’s president observe with amusement that our partners view SIL, Wycliffe and The Seed Company as leaders in orality. Remarkable considering where we were only a few years ago. Our WHAT has long been printed Bibles. That’s what people picture when they hear “Bible translation.” But Wycliffe has a clear WHY: to give this generation access to God’s Word, and to do it because we desire God to be glorified among the nations and because the last, the lost and the least deserve just as much as we do to know the God who created them speaks their language. We’re also about the transformation that happens as a result of God’s Word. As long as we’re about WHY, then we’ll embrace new media and new methods quickly and effectively in our hunger to accomplish that purpose.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know it on an organizational level? Do you know it on a personal level?

Let’s hear it for the other guy!

I heard an interesting description of a leader a while ago: leaders create heroes. Now, there’s no sense in creating heroes out of celebrities. Too many people already do that, to their detriment. Instead, leaders notice the little guy and elevate him to heroic status.

I’ve been fascinated recently with the fact that breakthroughs don’t usually happen to individuals alone. There’s often another person involved, and it’s the synergy of their giftings that creates the breakthrough. Some get headlines together. Hewlett and Packard go together like peanut butter and jelly. Paul and Barnabas are like love and marriage. But they are the exceptions. Most often, one gets all the headlines while the other’s contribution goes unnoticed. Following with my last post on acknowledging those who make silent contributions, I want to spend a few minutes heralding “the other guy.”

The other Steve

A 25-year-old engineer at Hewlett-Packard, Steve Wozniak was using his spare time to design a language interpreter for a new 8-bit microprocessor called the MOS 6502. But even though the motherboard he created was smaller and less complex than other kits on the market, and even though Wozniak gave away the schematics for free, hobbyists still found the board difficult to build. So Woz and his high school pal Steve Jobs, who was working at Atari, decided to sell preassembled boards—which they dubbed the Apple I. They built them at night in Jobs’ parents’ garage, paying Jobs’ sister $1 a board to insert chips. In 1976, they produced 200 units and sold 150 of them for $500 apiece. (From WIRED magazine, courtesy of Creative Leadership by Tony Kim)

The Bible translation promoter

L.L. Legters was a Presbyterian minister who served among Comanche Indians, then on the east coast, and then as an itinerant speaker at church mission conferences. He made trips throughout South America in order to document the spiritual needs of language groups, challenging churches back home to pray and to act on their behalf. In 1921, he spoke to a Cakchiquel Indian audience at a Bible conference in Guatemala. Translating for him was Cameron Townsend. The two men got along well. Townsend told Legters of his passion for Guatemala’s distinct language groups. Legters, in turn, amazed Townsend by reporting about the hundreds of unevangelized language groups which he had seen and heard about in South and Central America alone — none of whom had a single page of God’s Word. He also mentioned the countless unreached groups reportedly living in other parts of the world. The two men talked and prayed about the obvious need for thousands of new Bible translations. By faith, they determined to do something about this pressing need.

Townsend agreed to work on a Cakchiquel translation of the New Testament, keenly aware that he lacked academic preparation for work in the field of linguistics. Legters agreed to promote the cause of unreached peoples and to raise money for Townsend’s Cakchiquel translation project at church mission conferences back in the United States. In the process of keeping his part of the bargain, Legters set up a new organization called the “Pioneer Mission Agency,” the roots of Wycliffe Bible Translators. (From The Network for Strategic Missions)

Both Wozniak and Legters fell to the side as their charasmatic, innovative partners grew in renown. But Apple and Wycliffe could not have become what they’ve become without their solid contribution. So, here’s to the small people!

Young leaders aren’t into credit

In March and April, I did a series on young leaders. Another characteristic came to surface recently that I wanted to add to the list: young leaders don’t care who gets the credit.

You’ve heard the saying, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” (Interestingly, I just looked it up and no one really knows who said that!) Well, it’s certainly true in an open source, viral  world like ours.

If you’re not interested in hierarchy and moving up the ladder, but rather in being part of a team, then ideas tend to flow more freely. If you’re not into self-promotion and defending your territory, but rather in seeing your ends successful through any means available, then you’re free to celebrate when movements ignite and move faster and farther than your reach.

Let me point out a concrete example. Wycliffe is celebrating the fact that 109 Bible translation projects were started this past year. That’s the highest number in history! Who started them? A lot of different people. In fact, the only thing I can tell you with confidence is that only a very few were started by Wycliffe. And only a handful working on the projects even know that they’re working on a Wycliffe project. They’re working for organizations like SIL, Translation Association of the Philippines and Ghana Institute for Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation. The fact is that Wycliffe doesn’t really translate Bibles. Someone came to me yesterday and pointed out that a recent CBN video claimed that Wycliffe translators were working on Luke 2 — the Christmas story — for nine languages in Tanzania, pointing out that it just wasn’t true.

I say, “Who cares?” As Paul said to the Philippians when he heard some preachers were preaching Christ from selfish motives,

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

The important thing is that 109 translation projects were started! Let’s continue to work in a way that gives the statisticians headaches trying to figure out how to assign the credit. For instance, African nationals doing translation, trained by SIL, funded by the Orthodox Church, their finished product paid for by the Bible League and cheered on and supported by Wycliffe?

The fact is that issues of control and credit have crippled many initiatives before they ever got off the ground. God will hold many people and many organizations accountable one day for that incredible waste of resources.

Here’s my question: How can we make this happen faster? What about open source translation? What are your ideas?