Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leadership in Proverbs

Leadership is a hot topic these days in many spheres of life. In business, in politics, in churches, in schools--essentially anywhere that people are joined together--there is a recognition that there seems to be a real dearth of quality leadership in our world today. Everyone has their own ideas of what a leader is or what a leader does, what qualifies one to be a leader, and how leaders ought to lead. But one thing is clear--people are crying out for effective leaders.

Leadership books continue to be published by the hundreds every year (currently over 2000 leadership titles are available from Amazon). They mostly say the same thing all the other books have said, but people are still clamoring to read them.

My own personal opinion is that for every organization, its fate rises and falls on leadership. When I examine the Bible and human history, I observe that there has never been any mighty move of God that did not occur without human leadership in place for God to use. That's not to say that God can't operate some other way, but my observation is that he never does. No company, no government, no school, no family, no church has ever been successful without effective leadership in place at the top.

And here's why: The foundational choices about charting the course for an organization are always made by leaders. The choices that other people make in an organization can only enhance or hinder the decisions of the leader, but they can never fundamentally change them. If the leader is not a capable leader and has chosen a disasterous direction in which to lead, no amount of hindering will produce success--it will only blunt the damage.

That sobering reality has caused me to consider what I can do to become more effective in my own leadership, and how I can help develop the other leaders in our church as well. If we are to be effective as a church, the responsibility for that falls primarily to me, as the principal human leader under the direction of Jesus Christ.

For the last little while, I've been personally studying the book of Proverbs, looking especially to see how its instructions might relate to my understanding of how to lead effectively, and it's proving to be a very fruitful study. I just want to share with you some insights from the first seven verses, which serve as a Prologue to the book:

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young--
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--
6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

These verses tell us why the book of Proverbs was written, and these all just happen to be necessary traits of a godly leader--wisdom, discipline, understanding, insight, prudence, righteousness, justice, knowledge, discretion, and guidance. Now the acquisition of some of these traits will enhance a leader's skills, but all of them redound primarily to character.

It is personal character that God is most concerned with, and which will ultimately determine whether an enterprise succeeds or not. Ultimately, all real deficiencies of a leader are, at their heart, character deficiencies.

  • Unwillingness to make hard decisions;
  • Compromising core principles for some other perceived benefit;
  • Contempt for the people they are leading;
  • Allowing competing priorities to eclipse the central mission;
  • A lack of prayer to seek God's direction;
  • A cavalier attitude that fails to take seriously the importance of the mission;
  • A refusal to listen to advice;
  • Placing personal benefits above the good of the organization;
  • An inability to admit mistakes;
  • Hypocrisy, corruption, deceit, etc.
A leader can overcome a number of challenges related to competency. They can ask for help from those who have abilities that compensate for their weaknesses. They can acquire the abilities that they need through practice, reading, or coaching. Or they can simply find coping mechanisms that offset the consequences of their weaknesses.

But if their character fails, there are no coping mechanisms, there is no help that can be given, there is no solution to the problem. A leader can never delegate character. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Humility and submission before God is the first requirement. If we will not first bow to him, everything else is hopeless.

I believe people are ok with a leader who needs to work on communication, organization, delegation, advance planning, or strategic thinking. But they are absolutely crying out for the chance to follow people they can respect, people of character.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Movies and Metaphors

Today, we kicked off our series, "Building Your Dream Home," and we said that the Bible teaches that building a life is like building a house. I didn't exactly try to prove that point, but that is what the Bible teaches; that metaphor is repeated over and over throughout scripture:

We always do our teaching in series, and there are several reasons for that. For one, it allows us to explore issues more in-depth and with more thoroughness than simply trying to skim over everything in one week. Secondly, it provides some sense of comfort for people checking out the church that they'll have some idea what is coming--they'll know that it will at least be related in a clear way to what they observed today. Finally, it gives us the opportunity to explore biblical themes from more than one angle.

It's that last point I'd like to explore further. I'm often told by those members of our church who are more comfortable with a traditional worship service that they just don't "get" the video clips and the secular music and the skits that we incorporate into our services. For some, they get so distracted that they lose their train of thought; others just patiently sit and wait for me to start preaching again so that they can experience their preferred communication style.

Now, I sympathize with these individuals; I understand where they're coming from. What we do on a Sunday is very different than what they're used to experiencing in church all their lives, and it's a big change for them to adjust to. Not only that, they're sticking it out at PCC not because they personally enjoy the changes but because they believe in the church's mission, vision, and values, and understand that these changes are going to help us be more effective in communicating to the people of our community the message of Christ. So kudos to them--I think they deserve a lot of credit for being flexible and willing to change for the benefit of others whom they haven't even met yet.

Having said that, I'm still amazed at all the things that people fail to "get." When we show a video clip of a coach challenging his football player to keep going, don't quit, don't be satisfied with just what he thinks he's capable of, but keep pressing on and giving everything he's got, and we relate that to the Christian life (where God is calling us to keep going, don't quit, don't be satisfied with just what we think we're capable of, but keep pressing on and giving everything we've got), I don't get it when people say, "I don't get it." What better illustration is there for us to inspire us and cause us to want to become unstoppable?

I understand that there's a generation gap, that our society is transitioning from a modern mentality to a postmodern one. The modern mind is linear, concrete, logical, scientific, concerned with facts, and ruled by rationality, while the postmodern mind is connectional, abstract, experiential, emotive, concerned with relationships, and ruled by subjectivity. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

But regardless of what generation one belongs to, the Bible is a book that is filled with metaphor, word pictures, and the meaningful connection of dissimilar ideas. Just look at some of the sayings of Jesus:

  • I am the door.
  • I am the bread of life.
  • No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment.
  • Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
  • Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.
  • The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
  • I am the Good Shepherd.

In fact, if you just read through the gospels, you'll find that almost nothing Jesus said was literal--he was constantly speaking figuratively, metaphorically. But it's not just Jesus--the psalms, the prophets, the proverbs and the other wisdom literature--are all full of symbolism and metaphor. And if we don't have the ability to think in pictures, we really can't understand in any meaningful way what the Bible is about.

So I want to issue an invitation to all of you who don't get it--keep trying, don't give up. There's something to be gained and grasped by linking these things together. This thing that we're talking about now--building your dream home--it's not my idea, it's not my metaphor. I got the idea from the Bible. So the skits about building, the video clips, the songs--they all reinforce the same biblical theme. If you don't get them, you're not getting what it is the Bible is teaching--you're missing God's word and the opportunity to understand it, to apply it and to live it in your life.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Worth Celebrating

Yesterday, we held our Annual Church Meeting & Celebration. A lot of what I had to say about being a church that wins was actually a reiteration of the retreat we held for our leaders in the fall. You can find a summary of the fall leadership retreat here.

But in celebrating, we focused on the wins that we've experienced and are experiencing as a congregation:
  • Individuals like Lon Hayes and Julie Klavon who a year ago were unconnected with any church family, and who have now found a family and a growing relationship with God at our church;
  • Leaders who have set clear goals for 2009 of what they believe God wants to accomplish through their ministries, and a path to see those goals realized;
  • The Outreach Support Groups, which will serve as a training tool, a fellowship, a motivational system, a support team, and a re-focusing agent to help us as PCC people to reach out to the unchurched people within our sphere of influence.
  • The birth of our new Immediate Vision to trigger a dramatic reaction between our neighbors and Christ in a fusion of real needs and real love, and what that is going to look like as we move forward.

In my mind, those are things worth celebrating. It was so much fun being able to talk about those things, to share those things, to celebrate those things that God is doing among us. These are the great things that are happening, but we can experience much, much more of God's blessing and power. I believe that a major part of us being able to become a more dynamically successful congregation has to do with our expectations.

I relayed the story of Sean McHugh. McHugh was part of the 2009 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, but he didn't start out the year at Pittsburgh. In training camp, McHugh was a Detroit Lion, serving as a backup fullback. Before the first snap of the season, however, he got called into the General Manager's office and was told that his services were no longer required. A few days later he signed with Pittsburgh. But as the season went on, Detroit eventually amassed the worst record that any team had ever produced--the first 0-16 season in NFL history. McHugh went on with the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. You can read the whole article if you wish. But I thought the most important line was this one related to the Steelers' "culture of success" that the organization has established within itself:

“There is an expectation when you become a Pittsburgh Steeler that you’re going to win. And anything less than that is not acceptable. In Detroit it was like you were hoping to win.”

I think that as a church we've been hoping to win. But that's not good enough anymore. The only reason we exist is to succeed at our mission. The stakes are too high, the price is too steep, the consequences are too great for us to fail. This is God's church--we don't own it, we just manage it for him--and we represent him. He's a winner, and it's our job to win too.

So we're not just doing one thing that's going to be the magic bullet. We’re working with leaders, we’re working with ministries, we’re working with individual people, we’re talking about it church-wide in forums. We’re launching a full frontal assault on losing in this church. And I’m anticipating 2009 as the year that we look back and say, “We were here. We got to see this.” I believe this is the year that God does big stuff at PCC.

And that is worth celebrating!