Five Ministry Landmines to Avoid

Moral and spiritual landmines are a dangerous reality in ministry. The list that follows is developed from my personal ministry and life experience. I encourage you to read them first as a human being fully aware of your own personal sin nature and patterns of human frailty, rather than strictly as a busy minister who does not wish to waste time over something which does not appear relevant to your life. It is relevant. In your heart of hearts you know this. So slow down, forget about the distractions, and allow Jesus to speak to your heart. See if this list rings true for you. Perhaps you would add something different. You will have that opportunity. But for now read slowly and thoughtfully, asking God what he is saying to you.

    1. Isolation: You know that saying, “It’s lonely at the top”? It’s usually true. It doesn’t have to be true, but it typically is. There are many reasons for this. I won’t attempt a list. You know what they are for you. Seek community in which you can be real, able to confess your sins and weaknesses, able to weep and laugh, able to love and be loved without fear of manipulation. Seasons of solitude are fine; isolation is poisonous.
    2. Alone with member of opposite gender: Unless it is your spouse, don’t do this. Why give an opportunity for temptation or the possible hint of impropriety and even immorality? Not worth it. If you must meet with a parishioner or staff member who is the opposite gender, invite your spouse or another ministry colleague to join the conversation, at least as a quiet listener, if not an active participant.
    3. Alone with minors: Again, do not do this. Have a parent or fellow staff member with you if a meeting or counseling session is required. Never, ever be alone with a child. For their protection and for yours.
    4. Thin Skin: Let’s get real here. Many in ministry leadership love to be loved. I do. I suspect many of you do as well. So it hurts when we receive criticism, especially when it’s mean-spirited or unjustified. But it’s time for us to grow up and realize that being a leader means being a target. Some people will shoot cruel or disruptive criticism at anyone that is moving forward. They do so usually because of their own issues rather than any legitimate feedback they may offer. Get used to it. It will always be a reality.
    5.  Lack of a life outside of ministry: Love your family. Be with them. Put God first with your family right alongside of you. Love your spouse as God’s special gift to you. Show your children how real godly men and women treat their spouses. Enjoy hobbies. Do the work of the ministry, but don’t worship it or it will eat you up, spit you out, and then kick you to the curb. Single ministers? God has not forgotten you. Be faithful. You are not defined by your marital status, but by whom God says you are, his beloved child. Church? Take special care to become family to both single and married ministers. They need you as family probably more than you need their unique skills.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? How do you deal with these and other potential landmines in ministry?

the power of kindness

As a truck driver, I am limited to using a specific brand of gasoline stations in order to purchase fuel with the company fleet card. I have tried several stations within this brand throughout the metro region. One of them has emerged as my favorite. A couple of its counterparts boast a similar price point and reasonable convenience, but I keep returning to this station primarily because it is the friendliest. No attitudes. Just quick service with a kind word or two. In and out with a smile every time.

The same principle holds true for the grocery stores I frequent. I know which stores in my area to avoid. A couple of stores, however, have earned my frequent business. Not because I could save 3 cents a gallon on milk, or buy bread far more cheaply. It is the people factor. Sure, price is important. I want the best deal I can get. But it is the people who are instrumental in causing me to remember my experience. A smile is worth far more than an extra dime or two in my pocket, especially if the alternatives are rudeness or being ignored when service is needed.

Kindness is powerful. It costs nothing financially to businesses, unless they choose to abandon it. Its absence is a similarly potent detriment to faith communities in their many varied iterations. Its presence starts with leadership. Do you know how your local church is perceived by newcomers? Are you sure? If not, you may want to find out.

Whether you are a house church, a brick and mortar church, a homeless church, or a cyber church, it all boils down to how you treat people. They will remember their initial experience with you far longer than they will be able to recite your doctrinal statement. If you want to enable people to encounter the living God through worship in your setting, begin by representing him as his Ambassador through kindness and real community.

 

crumbling soil: reflections on leadership

Although the Oregon summer is presently hitting its highest temperatures of 2011, it has been an unusually cool and wet year. This has created precarious situations for roads and homes set on over-burdened water tables. The result? Crumbling top soil. Unstable hillsides. Landslides with broken roadways, homes, and even dreams.

Every metaphor risks its own literary landslide due to breakdowns in pertinent meaning. However, I posit that crumbling soil is an apt device to describe an undercurrent of change in the sphere of leadership.

Most of the published books on the topic bear little resemblance to reality. They perfected styles and philosophies of leadership which were relevant twenty to forty years ago, or more. The world is changing. It cares little that it now defies principles once touted as indisputable, highly effective, and foundational to leadership success. The former leadership lexicon is now found in the humor section of the local bookstore (Honest, it is. I would post the title here but I keep this blog rated G. It is probably for the best. Why promote bad and irrelevant ideas with their incomprehensible jargon, even if it is in the name of comedy?). That is, if you can find a book store which has not yet yielded to the pressures of this dynamically changing era.

It is a new day. We have an opportunity to give voice to alternative ways of viewing the world, and leading others into the challenges that lay ahead. By we, I mean you, me, anyone who may be on the margins of the culture. No titles. No high profile platforms. Just an idea or two, and enough gumption to speak both to the powerful and the weak with  persuasive voices of hope. In the book Tribes, a notable exception to much of the available business literature, Seth Godin writes, “We need you to lead us.” He was not speaking to the powerful; he was appealing to the masses, particularly those individuals in our midst with untapped creative potential to inspire the culture in beneficial ways.

When I resigned as a children’s pastor and dropped my ministry ordination with my former denomination, it seemed like a major part of my life had been shut down. It felt like crumbling soil. It has been surreal. In painful ways, risking disillusionment. Old dreams were laid to rest. Through it all, however, there has been a thread of hope.

So now, I feel like I am navigating a high canyon ridge. It also has its crumbling soil and rock. To the left is the deconstructionist despair which eventually leads to unabated theological, social, and political liberalism. To the right is the positivism of foundationalism and fundamentalism (and often arrogance and abuse of power, particularly in hierarchical ecclesial entities), whatever its theological or political stripe. Add to that the singular American trait of rugged individualism and entreprenuership which has infected denominations and local churches. Of course, they take many of their cues from outdated business literature (or recent publications which propagate newly packaged ideas which are contrary to biblical Christianity).

It’s hard to know where to turn. Negativism is not an option, to be sure. Nor is despair. So, I remind myself to turn to Christ in prayer and the reading of Scripture.

The world is changing. So am I. But Jesus Christ never changes (Hebrews 13:8).

He asks me how I will be obedient in stewarding the gifts he has given me. Me. A truck driver. He waits, a knowing smile on his face.

He is smiling at you, too. How will you respond, despite the crumbling soil in your life? How will you lead us?

where have all the shepherds gone?

The sheep are grazing on the sloping prairie. The late evening sun wanes in intensity while casting the last remnants of its warmth across the grassland. The shepherd keeps watch. Despite the long day and varied demands of his task, he is careful not to relax his vigilance. Although the scene he surveys is serene, he knows that dangers lurk. Wolves and other predators prowl the margins of his domain. Poachers ply their trade as well. But perhaps most dangerous of all is the hapless neediness of the sheep themselves. Always getting themselves into ridiculous predicaments requiring his intervention. And worse, beating each other up through vicious head butting. Fortunately he keeps an ample supply of anointing oil on hand to salve their wounds. It is a hard life. But he loves it. And he loves his sheep. He knows each of them. And they know his voice.

There was a time when this kind of posture was common in pastoral ministry. Continue reading

Inspiring Leadership

What is it about great leaders that inspire you? Is it the confidence? Determination? The can-do attitude? To be sure, all of those characteristics have a part to play in the relational discourse between leaders and those that follow them. As I think about what inspires me to come alongside a leader in a support role, a few key traits come to mind.

Competence

Most leaders have some degree of confidence. But are they competent? Competence is critically important to me. The lack of competence is a deal-breaker. Sorry, I am not going to spend time following people who do not know what they are doing as they lead their organizations off a cliff. Been there, done that. More than once. I am over it.

This does not mean I expect the leader to have specialized skills for every required task in the organization. It does mean I expect that person to lead with wisdom so that the varied skillsets of employees help to ensure the organization’s success. Arrogant leaders barely tolerate highly skilled subordinates because of the perceived threat to their power. Competent leaders embrace, affirm, and reward skilled specialists, understanding their unique contributions to the company’s business goals.

Vision

Much is said about vision, mission, and the corresponding statements companies  typically write to define their identities. Unfortunately, those statements usually are worthless because they are written in board rooms, shielded from the sweat equity of the labor force which must execute the plan. Also, they are written in bland predictable language which the average reader skips over to look for content exuding some sign of authenticity and life.

It goes back to the relational discourse to which I referred above. If the labor force participates at some level in crafting their specialized contributions to the overall vision, there will be greater buy-in. The leader must set the direction. And as he casts that vision, the labor force should then be encouraged to add their specialized contributions.

Unfortunately, this does not work very well in centralized control systems where there is a CEO, senior management, middle-management, and a host of hirelings. It also does not work very well in most churches, especially in those ecclesial settings where there is a senior leader, a governing board, a pastoral/director staff, and volunteer leaders and support workers. Some examples of where it does work well include Google, Facebook and other similar businesses which deploy decentralized systems using teams, cross-pollenization of work groups, and so on. There are no strict silos like those found in many churches. To be fair, there are congregations, particularly some of the large evangelical churches which are intentionally breaking out of the silo model, and also some grassroots start-ups which intentionally are inserting a decentralized ethos into their DNA.

The bottom line is that an inspiring leader will find ways to cast vision which grab the hearts of the people and encourage them to work together with the leadership toward shared passionate goals.

Encouragement

Encouragement is the foundational currency any visionary and competent leader must utilize in order to inspire his colleagues. From simple but sincere phrases like “thank you” and “good job” to more tangible expressions of encouragement, the leader who intends to sustain a long-term workforce is wise to invest in the encouragement of her staff. If it is done in the context of consistent respect, kindness, and high expectations for excellence, the leader can be assured that her staff will perceive the real value of the encouragement, whatever the form it may take.

Conclusion

Competence, vision, and encouragement are three foundational components to inspiring leadership. There are other observations which could be added to nuance these three broad skillsets. Likewise, there are additional core skills to be considered. However, I maintain that with this foundation, leaders will be optimally postured to lead their teams with excellence.

just be yourself

Sometimes I feel like ranting. This is such a moment. I observe so many people running around trying to be who they are not. It makes me want to do something drastic, like, like, like…..write a poem! But not to worry. I already did that back in 2007. So ease into your chair, turn on soothing instrumental music, and allow this poem to speak to the issue of learning to be yourself, rather than what everyone else would have you to be.

Expectations

I’m just me, not anyone else. I can’t be what they expect of me,
caped and hooded as a masked wonder of unrealistic expectations,
commissioned to wield influence, work mysteries and lead.
Better to remain in simplicity, as I am.

Caped and hooded as a masked wonder of unrealistic expectations,
is what others would have me be; its what they expect of me.
Better to remain in simplicity, as I am,
than desire to achieve the heights of notoriety, which

is what others would have me be; its what they expect of me,
commissioned to wield influence, work mysteries and lead,
rather than desire to achieve the heights of notoriety, which–
I’m just me, not anyone else. I can’t be what they expect of me.

5 April 2007 by Glen Alan Woods
Source

Rise With Us: A Case Study in Irony

Photo by Glen Alan Woods

Facing the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon there is a banner which hangs proudly. Rise with us. It expresses the vision which the Trail blazers have cast for their team. If you expand the photo you should be able to see the smaller words spread across the banner. The Trail Blazers have done much to bring this vision to reality by procuring high quality young men who have character (albeit, with room for growth in maturity, shades of Oden and the regrettable photograph of himself floating about the internet), modest talent in most respects, and a strong work ethic. Sure they have an all-star in Brandon Roy, but as you will see in a moment, there is a problem. It’s name is irony. Continue reading