Imagine a scenario in which two widely known and well respected ministerial leaders have a serious conflict over which associate to hire, so serious in fact that they end their professional association and go their separate ways. Each then hires his own associate and they never work together again. Imagining such a story hardly stretches one's creativity. It reads exactly like the petty conflicts that rupture ministries and make for sad headlines in the modern Christian press.
However, that particular story of ministerial conflict is NOT modern. Two thousand years ago, Paul the Apostle and his sponsor and mentor, Barnabas, differed on whether to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. Both Paul and Barnabas had seen John Mark's pitiful failure on a previous journey. The young man had left the team in the lurch and gone home. Barnabas, the aptly-named encourager, wanted to scoop the youngster up off the sidewalk and give him a chance to redeem himself. Paul, however, was a type A choleric with NEVER GIVE AN INCH tattooed on his bicep.
Paul maintained that mollycoddling quitters was no way to do the dangerous and demanding work of first-century church building. Barnabas insisted that giving up on talented and anointed young people because of a failure was no way to do the difficult task of believer building. The conflict was beyond resolving and what had been designed as one mission team became two. Paul hired Silas and formed his own missionary team. Barnabas elected to "mollycoddle" John Mark.
Great leaders can have insurmountable differences of opinion and viewpoint. Both may still be great. Both may even be "right," and for that matter, both may be "wrong." The story of Paul and Barnabas is more than a cautionary tale about church squabbles. It affords some important insights.
In an article in The Mississippian Magazine (March 1922), William Faulkner lambasted Mark Twain as a "hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven surefire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy."
Notwithstanding his own undeniable literary prowess, why in the world Faulkner would have felt obliged to demean Twain's is beyond comprehension. Such smug dismissiveness of the talents of another is unbecoming to say the least. Beyond that our mean spirited criticisms of others do not make them look bad. They make us look bad. One must wonder what was going on inside Faulkner to make him write such a thing. I suspect it was a projected fear of being compared with Mark Twain's formidable place in the pantheon of American writers. Perhaps I should say, enviable place, for envy is at the back of most such petty attacks on the accomplishments of others.
Being measured against the greats who have gone before us may not be the pleasantest sensation in the world, but if we approach it with humility and a sense of humor it can actually make for an opportunity to shine. For some years I preached at Mt. Paran Church of God in tandem with one of the pulpit greats of all time, Dr. Paul Walker. Intimidating? You betcha!
One day another minister asked me in what I felt was a conspiratorial tone, "Do you think Walker is as great a preacher as they say?"
I believe in fasting. I also believe in feasting! Thanksgiving is all about the latter. A feast is a sacred gathering of joy, abundance and relationships. The Judeo-Christian culture recognizes that fasting, the discipline of self denial, is an important part of seeking and serving God at a deeper and more intimate level. Likewise our culture also embraces celebration as a real part of worshipful living.
This year at Thanksgiving I intend to celebrate. I mean it. CELEBRATE! I am going to rejoice with my family and enjoy a great feast and remember God's goodness and grace. I urge you to do the same. Feasting is a statement of faith because it slaps down hoarding which is a factor of fear. If I'm afraid that what I have, is all I'll ever have I tend to grasp it, parsimoniously doling out crumbs to make it last. If I can trust God for more, if I truly believe He will provide tomorrow as abundantly as He has for today, I can feast with joy. Of course, one cannot feast every day any more than one can fast every day. To everything there is a season. There is a time to fast. There is also a time to feast.
Forgetting, for the moment, the two principals in the 2016 presidential election and laying aside their politics, are there any leadership lessons to be learned in the conduct of the campaign? In other words, was the outcome informed by the differing leadership practices of the two campaigns as well as by the political realities such as platform, policies and the "like-ability" of the candidates? I believe the answer is a resounding YES. Here are leadership lessons from the 2016 Presidential Election.
We have just seen history made at a level I never imagined, at a level few, if any, imagined. A highly controversial businessman, a true political dark horse given no chance by the "experts" has won the American presidency. Donald Trump is the first person ever elected to the presidency with no political or military experience. Its an incredible moment. Donald Trump defeated an entrenched political class in both parties and the most ruthless, powerful Democrat machine since the Tammany Hall gang, and a press corps that was biased against him and united in the conviction that his candidacy was a joke. Trump's is the most amazing election in American history.
I will be brief in this post. I want write more later but here are some preliminary reflections on this astonishing and historical political story.
Not since the first election of Abraham Lincoln has a presidential election so bitterly divided the American electorate. One the one side is the deep and angry distrust of the Democrat/Clinton political machine. This has been fueled in no small part by the actions of Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades. Many Americans are frustrated that no one can seem to hold the Clintons accountable. This feeling that they (The Clintons and the Democrat party) can "get away with murder," figuratively at least, runs contrary to a deeply held American value that no one is above the law.
The most recent, but by no means final, chapter in the Hillary Clinton email scandal is absolutely cinematic in both its dramatic timing and in the inclusion of the absurd figure of Anthony Weiner in the story. This ludicrous comedy would be funny were not national security at stake. Furthermore the FBI's announcement that her email scandal was open yet again was hardly designed to buttress Hillary Clinton's already terrible score on the trustworthiness scale.
Up against Hillary Clinton in this astonishing election is the human lighting rod of Donald Trump, himself a figure straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. His rough-and-tumble, hard-nosed, tough-talking NY businessman demeanor was a sudden and shocking jolt to traditional career politicians. To this brazen "I don't care what you think about me" attitude he mixed in a flair for showmanship that would make Harry Houdini jealous. The recipe was nothing American voters had ever seen before.
Some liked it. Some liked it a lot. Some hated it with an incendiary zeal. His haters labeled Trump a vulgar bigot among other even less flattering descriptions. Trump won the Republican primary, which hardly anyone predicted, upsetting the Establishment Republican apple cart. Said establishment responded with a dog-in-the-manger, corporate pout that sounded like nothing more than elitist bad sportsmanship to the growing hoards of Trump supporters. Some of Trump's defeated opponents' petulant thumb sucking response may well have aborted their future presidential aspirations. Forgetting defeated Republicans, Trump's victory in the primaries enflamed the Democrats. All this toxicity unleashed perhaps the nastiest, most vitriolic presidential campaign in American history.
Now we are at the end of it. On November 8, 2016, America will decide its own future. Probably not since the Civil War has so much been on the line in a single presidential election. My attorney advised me that as the president of a Christian non-profit, in the current atmosphere, I should probably not announce my support for either candidate. Ok, I won't.
What I will do is offer some thoughts for you to consider while making up your mind for whom YOU should vote.
Sheep are so nervous and timid they will hardly lie down unless the shepherd is visible and on guard. And they will not drink from live water. Evidently flowing rivers and rapid brooks are terrifying to them. Sheep will only drink from standing water such as a pool or a pond. Some have claimed that this is because of their thick wool. If they fell in, it would be like trying to swim in a heavy overcoat. Be that as it may, sheep need a shepherd sympathetic to their fears and insecurities, one who will guide them to still water.
“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15 nkjv).
First of all, I'm not opposed to mission statements. There. I've said that. However, having said it, I hasten to add there is little energy in a mission statement.
"Loving God, Loving People"
"Empowering People To Serve People"
"Worshipping A Caring God In A Caring Community"
Nothing wrong with those or a million others like them. VERY like them. The problem with such mission statements is their absolute lack of energy. Mission statements keep a church from jumping the track. Vision drives the train. Vision is the engine. Absent vision, the greatest mission statement in the world will gradually devolve into hardly more than a plaque on the wall or a banner hanging in the church auditorium.
In the light of Hurricane Matthew I want to offer some thoughts on: Leadership in a Storm
The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.
Until then, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and after which "normality" will return. Inexperienced leaders spend useless energy trying to figure out why this particular storm has come. The bottom line is storms happen. Winds blow, and they toss good boats and bad the same.
Some storms are self-inflicted and they are the hardest to endure. I’ve caused some of those storms myself. Others are just part of living in a fallen universe. Things break, fall apart, go south and prove more fragile than we imagined. That is life, real life, and real life is not always smooth sailing. The night before the annual July Fourth city-wide celebration in your auditorium, the air conditioning goes out. Does God hate you? Of course not. Perhaps He just doesn't like patriotic music and indoor fireworks. Again, of course not. Air conditioners just sometimes break. It's that simple. It always seems that they break at the worst of times. On the other hand, when would it be convenient?
Here are some thoughts on leadership in a storm.
I read someplace that upon completing the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said that writing it had been the worst struggle of his career. There are statements like that which one blithely reads, makes casual not of, and promptly ignores, only to realize later that they were pregnant with caution.
Writing this book has been a terrifying experience. In order to catch a bear, hunters say one must think like a bear. I grossly underestimated how wrenching it is to intentionally think like hell. That is not to say that my mind is unaccustomed to hellish thoughts. Quite the contrary. But I am now convinced that even the most devilish thoughts can parade through our minds quite without analysis. That is to say, we may think them but refuse to look at them for what they are, refuse to recognize the clear stamp of Satan upon them. To deliberately descend into the abyss is quite another thing altogether.
When, after a long recess in missions, I came back to pastor again in America, I was asked not infrequently if I was ever afraid in Africa. My answer was always, “Not so desperately or so often as I am now.” If you want to be really afraid, pastor an American megachurch. In Africa, all the witches wear feathers. It is in church where you can’t tell the players without a program.
There are equal and opposite errors with respect to the Valley of Baca. On the one hand are those particularly irritating “faith” preachers, so called, who claim that a true saint has no business in the Valley of Baca. They are not only boorish but shallow and superficial. David saw it differently.
“Blessed is the man whose strength its in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley Baca …” (Ps. 84:5-6)
David wrote that a person who passes through the Valley of Tears is blessed! That remarkable idea flies in the face of modern, comfort obsessed cultural religion, but it is definitely a New Testament view.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” ( 1 Pt 1:6-7)
No modern Christian has more graphically demonstrated a faith purified by fire than Corrie ten Boom. Can anyone imagine a valley of tears more horrifying than the Ranvensbruck concentration camp? To the Nazis she lost all her possessions, her dignity, and her entire family. Was it lack faith that put her in Ravensbruck? What an absurd thought! Or perhaps sin? Nonsense. The sins of others? To be sure. But why did she have to suffer? Why do any of us?
Imagine if it rained not cats and dogs but catfish. Imagine that you are walking in Philadelphia when suddenly a wet, slimy blow to the side of your face and neck knocks you to the ground. Now try to imagine realizing that the unexpected knock down was delivered not by a fist but by a falling fish, a catfish to be precise, a foot-long, five-pound catfish. Unlikely, you say. I could not agree more. Yet that is exactly what happened to Lisa Loree. She was out for a morning stroll in the park when a catfish fell from the sky and hit her hard enough to knock her down. A five-pound weight, fish or fowl, dropped from any height at all is likely to deliver a wallop. Just ask Lisa Loree.
The assumption is that a bird, perhaps an eagle, accidentally dropped the fish. That is the most likely explanation. In fact, I cannot think of another. That the catfish had somehow taken flight stretches one's imagination. On the other hand, if the fish had thus taken flight, what would cause it to suddenly lose altitude and so dramatically abort the mission?
Here is the leadership question: What to do when it rains fish?
The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America defends her citizens from a governmental restriction on the freedom of religion, free speech and a free press, among others. It needs to be remembered that the constitution does not even claim to grant Americans these rights. The Constitution says these rights are ours already by God's grace. The Bill of Rights rather prohibits the government from infringing on them.
We are currently seeing a dark and frightening place where a blatant new wave of racism and anti-Semitism intersects with these very rights; speech, religion and the press. We are at a sad place when racist and anti-Semitic speech, protected by the constitution, is not reported, called what it is and denounced in the strongest possible terms by a free press, a press which is likewise protected by the constitution.
A tragic percentage of the main line news organizations, while claiming not to be anti-Semitic, are so limp in reporting anti-Jewish, anti-Israel speech as to be complicit. I know that is a strong accusation, but it needs to be made.
There are words which can be, and frequently are, used as a manipulative fulcrum and lever device to gain the upper hand in a relationship, company or a ministry. It is a commonly employed linguistic device which left unaddressed will bring unrelenting pressure to bear. The problem is that such words seem totally innocent, yet they camouflage a cruelly manipulative power play.
"More," is one. "Enough," is another. But these are just two examples. The issue is an open-ended "complaint" or "need" for which there is no specific answer, no real resolution. Such words are manipulative because they dig a bottomless pit. There is not, in all the world, enough efficient management, salary, love, affection, sympathy or whatever to fill it. Hence digging such a verbal and emotional pit keeps the other party constantly on the defensive, ever striving to meet an unmeetable need. That is manipulative.
Here is how it works and what to do about it.
Patton pins the Silver Star on Private Ernest A. Jenkins, a soldier under his command, in October 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)
On The Leader's Notebook this week I am featuring a guest post. I may not do this often but every now and again, I may find something (or someone) I want to introduce to the Notebook's readers.
This week's guest is not only a business/leadership/marketing/management expert; he is also a personal friend and former colleague. Dr. Steve Greene has extensive experience in business and in business education. Dr. Greene was the dean of the college of business at ORU while I was the president of that university. Before his highly successful years at ORU, he provided excellent leadership at a multi-million dollar television company and a major restaurant chain. Today he is a blogger, publisher, speaker and a business consultant with an extensive clientele. Dr. Greene is also a member of the Board of Directors of Global Servants Inc.
Don't Tell People How to Do Things - Really?
Guest blog by Dr. Steve Greene
I read Bill O'Reilly's latest book, Killing Patton. Bad reviews aside, the book reminded me of a classic quote from General George Patton ...
"Don't tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with results."
Well, the good general has one thing right in his thinking: There is a surprise coming.
Nothing is more important to a turnaround than rolling up small, quick victories that build positive momentum and give everybody the feeling that things are indeed looking up. That change in attitude lays the foundation for bigger victories later on.
Financial advisers, when helping their clients get out of debt, often encourage them to start by aggressively attacking the smallest debt, paying only the minimum on the larger debts, even if the smallest debt has a lower interest rate than some of the large debts. Now from a strictly mathematical, financial perspective, you should always start with the debt that has the highest interest rate. In terms of pure finance, paying off a high-interest credit card balance is more important than paying off a twelve-month same-as-cash television purchase. But we don’t live as strictly mathematical or financial beings. We are also driven by emotional and psychological forces, and there is something very motivating about making that last payment on the television and applying that payment to the next-biggest debt, and snowballing up from there. A similar psychological momentum is important in organizational change as well.
In a seminary in Peru I saw a terrifying poster. A nun in a traditional habit wore a bandoleer of bullets from which dangled several hand grenades. In a holster on her hip was a massive .44 Magnum. With one arm she cradled an Uzi and in the other gripped a 9mm automatic. Underneath, in Spanish, the words said, “A new theology for a new world.”
It is not a new theology, of course. The words are couched in terms of the popular Latin heresy of Marxist liberation theology, but the lie is as old as Adam. If God will not give us power, we will seize it. If He will not redeem institutions with His power, we will do it with ours.
There is no difference between a Marxist guerrilla with a Molotov cocktail in her hand and a church rebel with a phone in hers. Refusing to wait on God and denying His sovereignty - both act to rally the troops, foment rebellion, oust authority, and seize control. A nun with a hand grenade and a church member rounding up votes and spreading gossip to remove the pastor are Siamese twins sharing a twisted soul. Both use religious terminology to cover their grab for control. Both believe themselves to be right. Both are demoniacally dangerous. Both are witches, and neither of them knows it. Hallelujahs and hand grenades are a witch brew.
After the Resurrection, Jesus promised his followers power. He also promised them peace. In the temporal domain, in the realm ruled by time, the followers of Jesus have had precious little of peace or power. The reason, of course, is that Jesus was speaking of an entirely different kind of peace and power.
God is always I AM, always who He is. Still the question remains, is He a moral God? In other words, if holiness means to be consistent in nature, could a holy God by consistently bad? It may seem like a silly question to many, but, in fact, the question would make a great deal of sense to some non-Christians.
Consider these two philosophical propositions:
Both contain not only the same number of words, but exactly the same eight words, only slightly rearranged. Can such a minor reordering really change the meaning all that much? Into the narrow gap between these two statements, all human hope, can plunge into the bottomless pit.
For some years now I have included that "law" in a lecture at The National Institute of Christian Leadership. I have also lectured on its balancing reality, called "outrunning your market," but that is for another column. There are two questions you should be asking yourself right about now. What does the law mean, and how does it relate to me and my leadership?
It means that cornering the market on some product or service is not a business advantage if that market is disappearing.
Imagine the Acme Scroll company's 1445 board meeting. What I know about entrenched thinking makes me believe that the largest scroll manufacturing company in Europe read about Gutenberg's invention and the stir it was causing and said, “Well, they may sell a few, or even a lot of these printing machines, but there always be a need for scrolls.” Then some years later, the president proudly announced to the board that in the previous year every scroll sold in the all of Europe was an Acme scroll. The next year, Acme went out of business.
Kodak serves as a cautionary non-fictional example. When they were the last film company standing, were they gloating or were they terrified? I was not in the board room, but one must ask, did the disappearance of film catch Kodak's executives by surprise? Was the board prepared and fore-warned or were they shocked and dismayed?
One wants to believe visionaries at Kodak saw it coming from way back and had a plan in place. However, when I recently drove past the vast but nearly empty Kodak plant in Rochester, NY, I saw very little sign of a plan B.
A shift is what causes a market to change or even disappear. There may be many such shifts. Here are three to which leaders must pay attention.