Nate filled in for me last week. He’s 22 years old, but this message is timeless.
Nelson Mandela. He is referred to as the “Father of a Nation”. He lived a life of inspiration. He is mourned around the world. His life was long, and varied. He had plenty of highs and lows. Married and divorced three times. Prison. Labeled a terrorist. I don’t know all his story. Probably neither do most of you, but, from what. I know, I’m impressed how he ended. He finished well.
A man of peace – Pictures of Mandela can be found with leaders from all political spectrums. He brought peace to a nation and inspired peace in others. He fought for peace. (I think one key here too is that he was a person of humor. Countless reports mentioned that he made people laugh frequently. I love that.) Mandella once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy,”
A man of suffering – Mandela spent 27 years in prison because of his stand for equality. Eighteen of those years were spent sleeping in an 8 foot long cell. He was willing to suffer for a greater cause. He understood suffering as a part of achievement. One or his more famous quotes, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
A man of courage - Mandela was willing to stand against bigotry, tyranny and injustice, even at personal risk. Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
A man of conviction – And he inspired others with that conviction. He once said, “If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.”
A man of triumph – Much of what the world admires about Mandela is the man he became after his years in prison. Bishop Desmond Tutu said that prison shaped him into the man he was in his final years. He once said, “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.
A man of humility – I love this quote of Mandela, “Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” It’s amazing that he gave up the presidency after one term. He most likely could have held the power position even longer. It’s reported he lived modestly, even giving away a third of his income as president.
A man of faith – My favorite trivia about Mandela isn’t trivial. Apparently, he was a believer. I loved THIS ARTICLE from Christian Today. Read some of Mandela’s quotes. It’s hard to deny his faith. As an example, consider this statement of Mandella. “Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Saviour over the torture of the cross and the grave.”
Nelson Mandela wasn’t perfect. None of us are. Politically speaking we may have even disagreed on some issues. But, what a great life! What an inspiration! What a great legacy! Rest in the peace you fought to realize.
What do you do with pain? You’ve been injured. It wasn’t fatal, but it hurt. In this post, I’m talking about emotional pain. The fact is emotional pain often hurts more than physical pain. It certainly can last longer. All of us have experienced emotional pain. Some more than others.
What do you do with emotional pain?
Rehearse – You can keep reminding yourself how much it hurt. You can go over and over again in your mind the people to blame. You can live the hurt repeatedly in your mind. The longer you do the longer it seems to hurt.
Repress – You can pretend it doesn’t hurt. With the right performance you can even convince people you’re okay…even yourself…for a while. But, deep inside, when the fake smile goes away and the pretend laugh goes away, it still hurts.
Resent – You can build a grudge. You can increase your anger towards others. But the depth of the grudge will be directly proportional to the depth of the pain and the time of recovery.
Repeat – You can hurt others because you were hurt. Get even at your next opportunity. Take out your hurts on another. But the emotional pain remains. It does.
Release – You can let go, admit it stinks, ask God to begin to restore your heart and allow you to begin again. Emotional healing is almost always a process that takes time. It may require outside help. It won’t be easy, but it begins with the intentionality to release the pain and move forward.
Which will you choose?
Obviously this is a simplistic approach to a very complex issue. But the principles are true. If you have serious emotional injury, get help. Don’t struggle alone. See your physician. See a counselor. Talk to a minister. (As a word of counsel, if it is serious emotional issues most ministers aren’t equipped to counsel through this. But, most can refer you to someone trained to help you.)
Someone asked me recently, “Who has been the most difficult person you’ve had to lead?” That’s a great question. As a leader for over a quarter of a century (wow, that sounds old), I’ve experienced just about everything you can imagine in leading people.
I once had an employee call in sick because her snake was peeling. And the snake got depressed when he shed. She needed to be home to comfort the snake. That was a new one…and a story for another time…but I’ve learned not to be surprised at what people you are trying to lead may say or do.
I’ve also learned some people are easier to lead than others. Often personalities, experiences and preferences negatively impact a person’s ability to be led effectively.
Know it all – It’s difficult to lead someone who won’t listen, because they don’t think they have a need for what you have to say. They think they know more than you…and everyone else. They may or may not, but it makes them very hard to lead.
Gifted leaders - Don’t misunderstand this one. I don’t mean they try to be difficult. They just bring higher expectations for those who try to lead them. I have had some very successful retired pastors in my churches. I love having them…but they keep me on my toes! (And, that’s a good thing.)
Hyper-critical – When someone is always negative it becomes difficult to lead them, mostly because they zap the motivation from you to do so. They never have anything positive to add to the team, the glass is always have empty, and the sky is always about to fall. Draining.
Wounded – Wounded people are more resistant to being led to something new until they heal. I’ve had staff members who came to our church injured. I knew before I could effectively lead them I had to help them heal from their past.
Insecure – Those who lack self-confidence are harder to lead, because they are hesitant to take a risk. The best leadership involves delegation. It’s people who assume responsibility for a task. Insecure people will usually only move when they are given specific tasks to complete. And, while good leaders encourage followers, insecure people need constant feedback and assurance, which can be exceptionally time demanding for leaders.
Traditionalist – This may not be the right word, perhaps risk-averse would be better, but leadership always involve change. Always. Without change there is no need for leadership. So, those who cling so tightly to the past are harder to lead to something new. There is nothing wrong with tradition or with enjoying the memories of the past. It’s when someone’s love of our history prevents them from embracing their future that it becomes difficult leading them.
Myself – The hardest person to lead is almost always the leaders. If leaders could always perform as we’d have others perform, we’d be better leaders. In fact, most of us would be excellent leaders.
I’m sure I missed some. The fact is everyone can be difficult to lead at times and during seasons. It’s what makes leadership fun, right? Seriously, all of these scenarios and types of people serve a role. Whether or not they prove to be a good fit for your team, they sharpen our skills of leadership.
What type person have you found hardest for you to lead?
I receive emails everyday from staff members of other churches or non-profit organizations. There is usually a question they have about leadership, but along with the question often comes a complaint about their leader. And there are many.
I’ve been in a leadership position for over 25 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints. Period. You will be misunderstood. Period.
But, leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints.
Several months ago I began compiling a list of some of the common complaints I hear. I grouped some of them together for brevity and went with the top 10, most repeated. I personally believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. This was an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.
Controlling – All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input.
Defensive – The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)
Stuck – Some leaders love routines and structure so much that they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense…never offense.
Fearful – Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.
Lazy – It’s not do as I do…it’s do as I say…because I’m not going to do anything.
Unpredictable – There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.
Never satisfied – It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”
Unclear – When they give direction or cast a vision it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration.
Prideful – They take all the glory. Enough said.
Indecisive – These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.
Distracted – Sometimes leaders appear so busy that those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention.
Phony – This leader’s personal life, and the one seen by those closest to the leader, doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.
You may be wondering, which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times. If I had to guess, however, if you surveyed the people I’m attempting to lead, they would probably point to three intially.
Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.
Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.
I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership. It’s an ongoing process.
Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say that many of these complaints are often false assumptions. As I have observed in my own leadership, many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.
Leaders, the word for us is that we must work to become more aware of what is being preceived that usually isn’t being spoken. It might not be reality, but perceived reality is often just as damaging. (Some of the complaints I listed about me would fall into the perception category…not the reality. But, perception is someone else’s reality.)
If you are uncertain…ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain…just to give you honest, helpful feedback.
What are some other complaints you’ve seen waged against a leader…fair or unfair?
I meet with a group of Christian senior level leaders in my community every couple of months. They lead large organizations in government, business, non- profit and, represented by me, the church. They are all experienced and successful leaders, who happen to also love Jesus. I learn great things from them each time we meet and feel privileged to call them friends.
Recently, I opened our discussion by sharing 7 examples of leadership tensions found in the Bible. It provided for a great discussion. My question was simple, of which of these stories can you most identify with currently? It was interesting that all of us had experienced each of these at some time, but could specifically identify with one or two of them currently.
I decided it was a blog worthy topic…but especially if you participate. Which of these are most representative of your current leadership tension? (Add a quick comment to this post, if you will, as I’d be interested to see which are the most common among my readers.)
David – Fighting a giant.
Joseph – Preparing for the future. (Maybe a bleak future)
Paul – Addressing a changing culture.
Gideon – In over your head.
Moses – Overwhelmed with responsibility.
Abraham – Leading into an unknown.
Noah – Standing alone in obedience.
There are a few possible takeaways you could get from this post.
But, now, it’s your turn to participate here…add a comment…it can be short or long answer:
Which of these would you like to see me expand into a future blog post?
What other Biblical leadership tensions would you add?
Part of my ministry involves working with other churches. Sometimes when I hear from a church they have been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.
I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation. I do know, however, that if a local church never adds new people…eventually it will cease to exist. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is not what they should do…but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again. The purpose of this post is to help churches who may find themselves in a declining period avoid mistakes I’ve seen some churches make.
Blame others – It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor…or one the deacons…or one the seniors…or even on the culture. But, the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. And, as long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.
Make excuses – There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover…many of them true…of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point, excuses only cloud our ability to move forward. We tend to live in them rather than move past them.
Pretend – I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem…when everyone knows there is one. (Or many.) If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem that needs addressing. (And, this is the subject of another post…but…in full disclosure…just so you know…that may involve implementing some change. No…that’s not full disclosure. It WILL involve some change.)
Lower expectations – It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but that never works. You are trying to attract new people. You need more excellence, not more mediocrity to do that. You may need to lower some of the programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.
Cut expenses – This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut the things that got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. Don’t cut promotional or community investment dollars, for example, just because they are intangibles or an easy decisions to make. The fact here is that many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult decisions…unpopular decisions. So we often avoid them and cut the things that we should be doing to spur growth.
Overreact – Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to…set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward, and then trust that God will see you through this period.
Give up – There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. That promise isn’t made to every local church. Local churches close every year. But, before you give up, or before you resolve that church growth is for other churches…but not this one…make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.
In THIS POST, I share 7 suggestions a church should do in a period of decline.
(Let me address the pushback I often receive on posts like this…many times from well-meaning people who think I’m too strategic to be Biblical. God is in charge. He sets the rules and adds the increase. But, that does not leave us without responsibility. Read the parable of the talents…or the story of Nehemiah…or multiple others. God has given us minds to be used for His glory.)
Have you pastored a church in decline? What mistakes did you make?
My boy’s can “fondly” remember the time we drove from our driveway heading to an undisclosed location on vacation. I decided in advance not to tell them where we were going, but to let it be a surprise. We were actually heading to St. Louis, but to complicate the situation, I decided to drive all side roads. We went through what seemed to be every back road between our house and the hotel. What should have been a four and half hour trip ended up being an eight-hour trip. The boys complained frequently, which I expected, but when the trip was over, they realized we had experienced a great time just being together.
Why did I put my boys through such misery? Am I a bad dad? Well, the jury may still be out on that answer, but my logic was simple. I wanted us to enjoy the day together as a family and I knew if I told them in advance what I planned for us to do and how we would do it, there would have been no cooperation on their part. As it turned out, we had a great trip, saw things we wouldn’t have seen on the main roads, and enjoyed the time together. In addition, it gave us a lasting memory and joke of a time when they were “miserable”.
How many times as parents do we wish our children would just go along with the plan? Are there days we simply wish they would cooperate, because we know in advance that if they will, everything will be so much better? Do we want our children to cooperate with others, maybe even others with whom they do not agree on every issue?
We are each born with natural tendencies towards selfishness and independence, but families work better when everyone gets along and cooperates. Teaching your children to cooperate should begin at an early age, as they first begin to play with other children. Once a child reaches elementary school there is a certain expectation, that he or she knows how to cooperate with other children. Learning to cooperate with others, however, is something in which each of us continues to mature throughout our life.
If you are struggling with instilling the value of cooperation in your children, here are some suggestions:
Do not make your children think they are the center of the world. Sometimes we mistakenly give our children everything they want, refuse to see their faults, and never allow them to fail. The danger is that when they become adults they expect equal treatment from the world. How is that working for you as an adult?
Model cooperation with others. Let your children see you getting along with other people, including people different from you. Be kind to the waitress who serves you. Don’t always have to have your way or prove your point. If you are constantly complaining or arguing with your spouse or other family or friends, your children will be more inclined not to cooperate with you or others and they will have learned it from you. Do you need to reconsider how you talk to people around you?
Do not provoke your children. Ephesians 6:4 is our encouragement here, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children”. I was probably pushing that limit with the illustration above, but I kept it light-hearted and I knew my limits. Don’t make your expectations for them be so high they can’t live up to them. Don’t set unrealistic goals for them that are really your goals and not theirs. Remember they are children you are teaching how to be mature adults. Are you placing too high of expectations on your children for their age?
Be a giver. Let your children see and participate in opportunities to give to others. Find ways they can observe you being generous with others and look for family activities where they can help you bless other people. Do a service project together. Be a giver. What is a way you could lead your family in a project to give back to others?
Live life with other people. One of the benefits of being in a healthy church or playing on a local sports team is your children get to be around other people and are often forced to figure out how to get along with each other. Find ways to allow your children to experience different cultures. Take a family mission trip. How have you exposed your children to people different from them?
What ways have you taught your children to cooperate?
When our boys were in middle school, we did not allow them to roam the mall on their own without an adult in the building. I know, call us bad parents, but we believed their safety was more important than their coolness with other children.
Once when our school system was closed because of snow, one of our boys spent the night with another boy his age. He told us they were going to a gym and would be home afterwards, but before he returned home, we received a call from another friend that had seen him at the mall. He was BUSTED! What was worse for him was when he found out that we would have been fine with him going to the mall, because the parent was going also. That was a huge lesson for him in honesty. Years later, when this same son had another situation that required honesty, he told the whole truth and nothing but the truths…so help him, God. As an adult now, I would “honestly” say that honesty is one of his best qualities.
Scripture is very clear for the believer about how we are to approach honesty. We are told to “let your yes be yes and your no be no”. Honesty is a value, however, that is shared by believers and non-believers. It’s sort of a baseline moral standard of expectation of society. Raising our children to be honest, therefore, is an important part of our parenting.
With that desire in mind, that is the purpose of this post.
Model it – If your children see you being dishonest, even on the telephone with the telemarketer or with your employer as to why you are not going to work, they are learning bad habits. Be honest with your words and your time.
Teach it – The Bible is full of great stories about honesty. Spend time reading and discussing them with your children. A few suggestions are stories such as Joseph and his brothers, Esther and her situation with Haman, and the story of Jacob and Esau. Obviously, you will need to study them first so you can discuss them with your children. Ask questions to see if they understand and what their values are towards the issue of honesty.
Enforce it – There are some issues that should be handled more strongly than others in parenting. Enforcing honesty is one of them. If you allow even little actions of dishonesty to go unchecked, you are building a negative principle into your child’s life that you will one day see again and regret. Of course, the punishment should always fit the age and the severity of the wrong, but the issue of honesty is one area where zero tolerance should be a part of your disciple plan.
Encourage it – Honesty should become an aspired value in your home. Find examples of honesty around you and talk about them with your children. When you see good news of this value being demonstrated, whether in the news, the church or community, make sure your children are made aware of the positive effects of honesty. Again, ask questions to make sure they understand the importance of being honest.
Reward it – When your children are found being honest, reward them. Our boys were told consistently that if they told us the truth we would respond much differently than if we had to figure out the truth on our own. Make being honest a big deal to them, even something to celebrate.
Working to establish honesty in your children early will help ensure they live honest lives as adults. Even though honesty is a shared value, most of us would agree, our level of trust in others has diminished in recent years. As parents, we play a large role in raising the level of honesty in our society, one family at a time.
What tips do you have for teaching children honesty?