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January 30, 2014

Emotional Health Should Be Required for Leaders

It’s one way to avoid toxic situations in your church

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Because of a lifetime battling depression, Johanna’s mom had difficulty coping with the challenges of raising a child. Spending hours in bed, she became detached from her daughter. The depression began a chain reaction in the family—Johanna’s dad worked long hours so he didn’t have to engage the painful situation at home. Consequently, Johanna grew up with parents who were emotionally unavailable for her.

With no encouragement and little interest from her parents in her day-to-day activities, Johanna felt invisible. Her self-worth plummeted and she began acting out, mostly for attention. Unable to verbalize her feelings to her family, classmates, or teachers, she began having angry outbursts in elementary school. The attention she received—though from negative behaviors—fed a hole in her soul, and she persisted in negative attention-seeking behaviors.

Finally in high school she found socially acceptable outlets for her emotions: drawing and writing. She found success and positive attention from the performing arts. If she received A’s on her artistic assignments, she felt proud and felt she was worth something, but if she didn’t hit her self-imposed mark of high A’s, she felt defeated and worthless. Perfectionism had set into her soul.

Relationships were difficult for Johanna. After all, she had no role model for healthy relationships. The two people put into her life to teach her about healthy relationships didn’t fulfill their God-given opportunity to develop their daughter’s potential by intentionally loving and caring for her. She developed early maladaptive thought processes birthed out of rejection, detachment, and lack of predictable care from her parents. The maladaptive thought patterns resulted in mistrust of others, an absence of ability to listen and mutually share feelings and thoughts, a sense of defectiveness, perfectionism, an inability to develop healthy relationships, defensiveness, hypersensitivity to criticism, and performance-based behavior rooted in an unhealthy need to gain attention.

For friendships to work for Johanna, her friends had to serve her goals and become consumed with her; otherwise she didn’t know how to function. Her lack of self-awareness kept her focused on herself. Asking others about themselves was not a social skill she learned or valued. She became consumed with achieving her goals, and her world did not hold room for others. When she reached adulthood, romantic relationships involving both physical and emotional intimacy were unsuccessful, resulting in two failed marriages. She chose emotionally distant men because she didn’t know how to have emotionally healthy relationships. Johanna had become narcissistic and self-serving.

She found her way to Christ and had a significant conversion, finding the unconditional love she had always craved from her parents. She got plugged into a local church, and because of her ability to focus and execute goals she quickly rose to the position of women’s ministry leader. In the limelight, she received the adulation from others that she had longed for since childhood. Unfortunately, the church leaders did not understand her history and her inability to have healthy relationships.

After she served in her position for several months, the holes in her emotional development began to show and people began to notice her superficial charm and perfectionist tendencies. Her own agenda rather than the church’s overall vision became her constant quest. Conflicts ensued with her ministry colleagues and the people she led—these included irrational outbursts of anger. Without the emotional resources or skills to work through challenging relational issues, she dropped relationships that were uncomfortable for her. Eventually the lead pastor felt the collateral damage to the overall ministry and she was released from her position.

If you want to avoid the kind of the turmoil caused by the leadership of someone like Johanna—not to mention the heartbreak she felt from underperformance—it is of utmost importance to screen potential leaders for emotional health. If I had to choose, I personally would rather have an emotionally healthy new Christian in a leadership position than a seasoned Christian with emotionally debilitating issues. But how can church leaders determine someone’s emotional and relational health prior to placing that person in leadership?

Here are a few basic steps to take to ensure healthy leadership.

1. Provide volunteer opportunities—If you see leadership potential in a person, give her time in the saddle to prove herself. Give her a project or event to execute. Observe how she interacts with others. How do people respond to her? Is she having healthy interactions with her ministry peers? Several months of volunteering will give you time to see her through a variety of situations.

2. Inspect what you expect—Let your potential leader know that you will be checking on her progress by speaking with her peers, with intention to determine if she is a fit for your ministry. Doing due diligence with help you set her up for success and protect the health of the ministry. The last thing you want is to place her in a position of leadership if she is not ready or able to lead.

3. Meet one-on-one—Set up regular meetings with her so you can get to know her heart and her character. Here are some key questions that will help you determine her emotional health: “Do you feel you are worthy to be loved?” “Are you competent to get the love you need?” “Are others reliable and trustworthy?” “Are others accessible and willing to respond when you need them?” If she answers yes to each question and you have observed healthy interactions with others, move forward in placing her in leadership.

If you still have reservations, perhaps leadership is not the next step in her journey to become a more fully devoted follower of Christ. Certainly she could continue serving others through outreach to the community, such as feeding the homeless, or through a role like greeting others before and after service. After a reasonable amount of time and growth, you certainly could revisit the opportunity for her to lead. Remember, Jesus never gave up on anyone and neither should the church. She needs to know that church is a safe and loving place for her but leadership may not be her next step in ministry.

Julia Mateer is a writer, speaker, therapist, and director of women’s small groups at Bayside Community Church. You can connect with Julia on her website.

January 27, 2014

Stop to Breathe

Leadership demands we make a commitment to rest

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Busy leader, do yourself a favor. Stop to breathe.

Before reading past this paragraph, take three slow, deep breaths. Notice the sensation in your body each time you inhale, then exhale. Notice what happens in your inner being as you pause to take those breaths. Now…breathe.

Busy leader, did something within you resist stopping to breathe? Even if you did it, did something in you fight against it? Did something insist, “I don’t have time”?

Value

In our culture, busyness is considered a status symbol, a mark of a true leader. We highly value it.

We do not value rest. We treat “downtime” as a necessary evil. If we absolutely cannot go a step further, we “crash” for a few moments—and feel guilty for the duration. To our way of thinking, rest equals laziness. In our psyche, rest is sin.

Yet it’s hard to dismiss the compelling testimony within us: Nonstop busyness kills. It reduces our minds to mush. It opens our bodies to disease. It replaces vitality with stupor and a crazed, mechanical running to keep up.

It’s harder still to dismiss the testimony of the God who created us and breathed life into us. He established rest as a blessing and a sign of right relationship with him. He named it Sabbath (see Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12,20; Isaiah 56:2; 58:13). From the beginning, he designated significantly more time for work than for Sabbath rest. Ah, but he taught rest first.

Creating people on the sixth day, the Lord God gave man and woman a huge, seemingly impossible assignment: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it” (Genesis 1:28).

Then “on the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2). He stopped and breathed. He inaugurated and modeled Sabbath.

You think you have way too much to do to take time out? Adam and Eve had an entire world to subdue. The God who gave them the assignment knew it would seem they’d have to work till they dropped to make any progress at all. So from the start, he showed them the rhythm they would need to establish in order to do the task, a rhythm of work punctuated by pauses to stop and breathe. He created Adam and Eve one day, taught them rest the next day—and then set them to work.

Centuries later, God included the charge to keep Sabbath when he gave the Ten Commandments—words that he declared “are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

Lest we think Sabbath strictly an Old Testament proposition, Hebrews 4:9, 11 declares, “There still remains for God’s people a rest like God’s resting on the seventh day…Let us, then, do our best to receive that rest” (GNT).

Under the Old Covenant, people entered Sabbath rest by heeding God’s command for everyone to stop and breathe on the same day each week. Under the New Covenant, we keep Sabbath as we enter and live from the place of rest Jesus purchased for us with his own blood. Positionally, we enter rest by refusing to work for salvation but rather trusting in the finished work of Christ’s death and resurrection. Experientially, we enjoy the rhythm of rest God has established for us as we heed the voice of the Spirit of Christ within: “Today when you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

Reorient

In a culture that values busyness so highly, actively seeking rest hinges on our embracing two verses of Scripture—one we often misunderstand and one we don’t believe.

The verse we don’t believe is Matthew 11:28: “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’”

We’d say we believe these words. Yet we’re not experiencing what Jesus promised. As Christian leaders, we try to model the act and practice of coming to Jesus. Yet we’re not rested at all.

Something’s very wrong. But what?

If what you’re getting isn’t rest, where you’re going isn’t to Jesus.

If in seeking to serve Christ, you’re exhausted and overloaded, dare to ask him what it is you’re confusing with coming to him. Give him permission and time to show you. Respond with a contrite heart when he does.

The verse we misunderstand is Ephesians 5:16, which urges us to make “the most of your time” (NAS). How many of us take such an admonition to mean “Do the most things in the least time”?

It’s what our culture urges. It’s what our time-management courses teach. It’s what we’ve been told brings promotion and success.

But kairos, the Greek word translated “opportunity” or “time” in Ephesians 5:16, means “the appointed time.” God says: “Do the right thing at the right time.” Any moment we’re not doing what our Lord appointed to be done in that moment, we’re not making the most of our time.

In particular, it’s crucial to honor and delight in the moments God has appointed for you to rest, for his Word promises: “Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

How do you recognize those moments? How do you know what to do in them? How do you delight in rest?

Ah, busy leader, you come to Jesus. As you keep coming to him, Spirit-to-spirit, he teaches you to stop and breathe.

Trust

If that sounds easy, it’s not. Entering rest requires pressing in to go where you haven’t believed it possible to go. By grace, you learn to reject the lie “I just can’t stop.” Intentionally, regularly, you punctuate periods of purposeful labor with a short pause, an interval of silence, a real rest.

If that sounds counterproductive, it’s not. Sabbath rest is crucial for health, for stamina, for sanity and clarity, for overcoming setbacks, for relating deeply and well and for fully living life.

For us who follow Christ, Sabbath rest is crucial for another reason. It declares to a frantic, exhausted world that the Lord we serve is a God of love, who has our best interests at heart. It attests to our confidence that his ways truly are the ways of life. Far more loudly than words, keeping Sabbath reveals our faith in him.

Recognizing our human frailty and limitations, we know the tasks God has given us are way too big for us. Tuning out the clamor of urgency, we hear God’s voice when he says to pause. Trusting our Lord to accomplish in our behalf while we rest in him, we stop to breathe.

Deborah Brunt has discovered the priceless treasure of recognizing and delighting in God’s rhythm of rest. Her newest e-book, Return to Your Rest: A Spirit-to-Spirit Journey, will be released in early 2014. More at http://www.keytruths.com/.

January 23, 2014

Word of the Year: Healthy

Is it time to take care of yourself?

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Before a new year begins, I choose a one-word focus for the year to come. For me, the chosen word serves as a declaration of sorts: “In the new year, no matter what, I will be/will have ___.” For example, my word for 2014 is “bold.” In 2014, no matter what I am facing, I will be bold.

A few years ago in 2011, my word for the year was “healthy.” I had just completed a three-month sabbatical from my pastoral leadership role at my church. My life in leadership had led me to a pretty unhealthy place emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.

While I was on sabbatical, God did significant restorative work in all areas of my life. On January 1, 2011, I was staring down re-entry into my demanding job with all kinds of new challenges and old triggers. I was scared that it wouldn’t be long before I was completely unhealthy again: stressed, exhausted, overweight, and overworked.

I’ll be the first to admit I was far from perfectly healthy in the year that followed. However, I was able to maintain a certain level of my healthy habits along with a healthy fear of the alternative. Here’s what staying healthy in life and ministry leadership looked like for me:

Emotional: I had finally accepted my limitations of time and energy as God-given, not weaknesses I needed to overcome. This helped me not walk around feeling guilty all the time for not doing more. I also learned to recognize when I needed to slow down to feel the feelings instead of numb them through “comfort” foods or an extra glass of wine. These tools would serve me well to maintain a level of emotional health in the stressful year to come.

Physical: A year prior, I realized I had a long list of diseases, medications, and lifestyle restrictions in my future if I didn’t make some changes. I envisioned the kind of leader I wanted to be in 30 years—strong, healthy, and physically able to go on a long hike on a whim. I started focusing on the factors I could control in the equation: healthy fuel going in, plenty of sleep, and moving my body every day, just to name a few.

Relational: My counselor helped me come to a new perspective on several unhealthy relationships. She gave me tools to replace my old relational habits (like taking on responsibility for problems that weren’t mine) with wise boundaries. She also helped me see the buttons people pushed in my life, and how to diffuse them in order to maintain healthy relationships moving forward.

Spiritual: Through my time away from the demands of my job, I reconnected with my Creator by establishing new rhythms (for me) like spiritual direction, Sabbath, and silence and solitude. I knew maintaining these rhythms would be critical to my long-term spiritual health.

How do you take care of your health? What helps you lead in a healthy way?

Julie Pierce empowers leaders to change the world through coaching, consulting teams, and communicating with groups. You can follow her on Twitter at @julie_pierce or read her leadership blog at www.empoweredbypierce.com.

January 20, 2014

3 Temptations of Leadership: Envy

It’s just one of the respectable sins we find easy to hide while it poisons us

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Christian leaders struggle with all sorts of temptations. We fool ourselves if we think otherwise. It’s how we handle those temptations that determine whether or not lives will be destroyed.

Often when we think of Christian leaders and their temptations, we think about the so-called “big” sins, those usually having to do with sexual immorality. But there are many more temptations than meet the eye—temptations to commit respectable sins, or sins we’re prone tolerate, as Jerry Bridges notes. These are often sins that are easier to hide, at least initially. One not talked about nearly enough is envy.

When we envy people, we believe something they possess, or something we think they possess, makes them superior to us. Not only do we want what they have, we want to outshine them. Maybe it’s…

• a bigger church
• a particular ministry
• lots of influence
• a dream job
• a relationship
• youth and beauty
• gifts and talents
• a particular virtue
• a bevy of opportunities

It need not be one thing; it could be a combination of traits and characteristics that we envy. In her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung says envy is the sin of the “have-nots,” that is, people who feel like they are lacking whether or not they actually are. The issue here is not poverty; rather, it’s a matter of so badly yearning for what others have that without it, we feel inferior. Their success, or perceived success, makes us miserable.

Perhaps we believe they’re undeserving of these gifts and we’re the deserving ones. We’re the ones who’ve been faithful to God and who are more competent. We’re the ones who’ve had to scrape by, working hard just to get what little we have. We put in so much effort with little payoff. They, on the other hand, they’ve had it easy. Why are they prospering when they’ve done very little, they haven’t been good stewards, and they have wrong-headed theology? Why are they the favored ones? Doesn’t God see the good work we are doing for him? “It isn’t fair! It isn’t fair!” we cry.

Envy has us acting the part of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son—even if no one around us has a clue. We cross arms. We sulk. We throw a pity party for ourselves, refusing to rejoice with those who rejoice. We feel as though God has kicked us to the curb. We may even attempt to underhandedly sabotage the objects of our envy. What we are doing is refusing to listen to the Father’s voice telling us, “Everything I have is yours” (see Luke 15:31).

Unrepentant envy leads to hatred.

According to New Advent, one definition of ‘hatred’ is a hostility toward another person that…

indulges a propensity to see what is evil and unlovable in him, feels a fierce satisfaction at anything tending to his discredit, and is keenly desirous that his lot may be an unmixedly hard one, either in general or in this or that specified way.

Envy fuels hatred, which in turns fuels strife. For example, think about the cat and dogfights online between Christians.

Recently I sat aghast as I scrolled through my Twitter feed. Earlier that day, a few guys had beat up on a well-known female Christian blogger. Thankfully, I saw that many had come to her defense. I couldn’t help wondering if the offenders’ vitriol had more to do with their envy over her widespread influence than opposing theological viewpoints. What is so warped about envy is that our sense of well-being is so fragile that it can sometimes hinge on the demise of others—our rivals. We feel confident and successful if and only if we’ve one-upped them. Are our blessings really blessings if they’re contingent on other people being cursed?

Not only do we envy those who have what we desire, we tend to be envious of those with similar interests and gifts. I deeply appreciate the skills and talents of musicians. Growing up, I never had the chance to learn an instrument (though I’d like to someday). So at this point at least, I don’t struggle with envy toward musicians. But, I’ve certainly been envious of other writers. Similarly, pastors tend to envy pastors and worship leaders other worship leaders.

As Christian leaders, what do we do with our envy?

First we own up to it, we confess it. We confess to God and trusted others. There is a communal aspect to dealing with our envy; exposing our struggle in a beloved community of trusted others will help keep us accountable. It is especially important that Christian leaders regularly practice the discipline of confession. It may even be necessary to confess it to, and seek the forgiveness of, the one we’ve wronged through our hateful words and actions. Perhaps we will even have to make restitution.

In addition to confession, we need to practice the discipline of regularly fasting. For some that means fasting from Facebook and other social media in to order starve the envy inside. Pastor Daniel Darling noted that he had to stop going to popular conferences and heed the advice of another pastor who told him to stop reading church growth books. Fasting from these things would reign in his envy. It would stave off his proclivity to compare his ministry to others whose ministries appear to him as more successful—it’d stave off discouragement.

Third, we ask God to reveal and remind us of his unconditional love for us. Borrowing a phrase from Father Greg Boyle, when a “soul knows its worth,” it won’t envy. Konyndyk DeYoung writes:

A self secure in its unconditional worth, a worth based on God’s love, is a self free to affirm others’ gifts without feeling threatened or thereby made inferior. It is a self free to love without anxiety that its own contributions will be compared to another’s and found wanting. It’s a self that is able to take joy in its own good and the good of others.

Envy is a sin that seeks to sink its claws into the souls of Christian leaders, thereby agitating their souls and poisoning their ministry. Some of us walk around miserable because we have our eyes on everything and everyone but Jesus. It is critically important that we regularly take time to reflect to see if envy might be fueling our misery. And if so, we can take the steps to be rid of it.


Marlena Graves is a regular contributor to Gifted for Leadership and Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Relevant, the Clergy Journal, and other venues. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness is forthcoming from Brazos Press.

January 16, 2014

Her Homiletics Professor Didn’t Think Women Should Preach

An interview with Dr. Marguerite Shuster, Professor of Preaching and Theology at Fuller Seminary

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Here at GFL we’re interested in the unique journeys of women who are called into leadership. That Dr. Marguerite Shuster, Professor of Preaching and Theology at Fuller Seminary has remarked, “I would never recommend that anyone proceed as I have if she wants to get anywhere,” has really only made us more curious.

When did you notice your first sense of calling to the ministry? Were there other voices, at the time, that confirmed it? Was that sense of call particular to either the parish or the academy?

My call to ministry was sudden and altogether unexpected. When I came to Fuller in 1971, I had applied only to the doctoral program in clinical psychology. However, I began in the M.Div. program because, in the interests of getting requisite theology courses paid for, I had applied for and received what was then called a Rockefeller Trial Year in Seminary Fellowship. A homiletics course was required, and I approached it with a bad attitude, thinking it the height, or depth, of wasted endeavors in my circumstances.

I sat down to write my first sermon, on an assigned text, with the same lack of enthusiasm. As I worked on that sermon, the only way I can describe what happened is that it was as if the heavens opened and I knew with a sort of certainty that it was the M.Div. and pastoral ministry, not the Ph.D. and clinical work, that was my real goal. However, when I considered on a couple of occasions simply quitting the Ph.D., there seemed to be guidance not to do so—a matter that would prove key to the possibility of the academic side of my service, since I needed a Ph.D. in something (exactly what was less important!) in order to teach.

Somewhat later in my seminary program, I asked my homiletics professor, who didn’t believe women should preach but who was always completely fair to me and became a good friend, what he thought about a woman with a call to preach. He said, “It’s not my job to define you; that’s God’s job.” I never looked back. I continue to see my identity as being first and foremost that of a pastor.

When you began your pastoral ministry as an associate pastor, do you remember what surprised you the most? Anything you’d not anticipated?

I should perhaps have anticipated, but didn’t, that it would be primarily women in about my own age group who would be most opposed to women in ministry in general and thus to me in particular. I came to suspect that many of these women, often very able ones, really couldn’t manage the threat of contemplating wider potential for themselves, lest the very traditional and somewhat constricted lives they had been living come altogether off the rails.

I should note that in the early 80s, women in ministry comprised only 2-3 percent of the clergy in the mainline Presbyterian Church, though the denomination had been ordaining women since 1954, so most people had never heard a woman preach or conduct a funeral. Older women in the rather conservative church I served, many of whom had been missionaries, and most of the men, were fine.

I love that you’ve remarked, “I would never recommend that anyone proceed as I have if she wants to get anywhere.” Fill that out for us!

I have worked hard, but I don’t think I have ever quite intended anything important that has happened to me: witness my call. I have set no career goals and have done none of the networking one is supposed to do in order to make progress in one’s professional life.

When a new pastor at the church I first served announced to the entire staff that he didn’t think he could work with any of us, I returned to my office and found a request from a nearby congregation for my résumé on my desk. I wrote the résumé and sent it only to that one church—not quite the way one is supposed to conduct a job search. (Yes, I got the position.)

My Ph.D. is in clinical psychology; I was hired at Fuller to teach preaching; my writing and research interests are in systematic theology; so I often comment that I have a right to be confused. I have attended exactly one professional guild meeting in my entire academic career. When I had opportunity to move to a more prestigious and much better paying academic position, I turned it down. I have mostly responded to requests to write this or that, which means what I have done is all over the map—with a theological undercurrent, to be sure, but sometimes with homiletical, psychological, or even biblical studies aspects. Talk about being a generalist! It’s nice to understand what these various conversations are about, but it would also be nice to feel as if there were some realm of knowledge one actually controlled!

In all of this, I can only say that the Lord has mercifully provided in the midst of the realities of my own psychology and circumstances. I regret none of the decisions, but they hardly constitute a strategy.

Today, can you describe the particular ways that the gifts God has given you are being used in your research, writing and teaching?

Not easily! Of course psychological training has in fact been useful to an extreme introvert like me on both the pastoral and the preaching and teaching side of things: much as I would have liked a degree in systematic theology, I see the Lord’s wisdom here. At the end of my formal career—I am “retiring,” though not altogether disappearing—I am glad to have continuing opportunities to preach and teach, along with a long-term book contract for a volume on the doctrine of creation that taps into my environmentalist concerns as well as my theological predilections. I am fortunate to be in superior health, so I am curious to see what I shall be when I grow up.

If a student came to you for advice, because she was torn between the complementary callings to the parish and the academy, what wisdom might you want to share with her?

Both of these are hard callings—intrinsically so, but all the more given the state of the church today and the increasing economic pressures on the academy: it will be harder and harder to get full-time positions either in the church or in higher education. More and more people will be tentmakers, or will serve as adjuncts for whom tenure track positions are simply not available. Neither of these callings should be approached simply as a job one could do, even if one has appropriate gifts at the objective level. One really does need a deep sense of commitment to the preparation and the task, along with the knowledge that there are no guarantees that one’s efforts will pan out as hoped and expected. One shouldn’t, for instance, go for a Ph.D. if one doesn’t really like studying and find value in it for its own sake.

Beyond that, I hardly know what to say. Obviously, my own history demonstrates that God can make a way where there is no way, but presumption is always unsafe. Even so, I believe that God does both guide and redirect according to his own wisdom and purposes. “It’s not my job to define you; that’s God’s job.”


Margot Starbuck is a frequent contributor and editorial advisor to Gifted for Leadership, an author, a speaker, and a volunteer among friends with disabilities. Her most recent book is Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously among Sinners and Saints. More at www.MargotStarbuck.com.

January 13, 2014

3 Temptations of Leadership: Pride

Watch out for the many faces of this destructive sin

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In an op-ed column in the New York Times, Frank Bruni had these admiring words to say about Pope Francis on the heels of the pontiff’s interview with Fr. Anthony Spadaro, S.J.: “It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings…Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper. What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it. And what a refreshing example of humility in a world with too little of it.”

Bruni speaks well of Pope Francis even though he opposes the Holy Father and Roman Catholic Church on several key issues. It’s the pope’s kindness and humility that have drawn Bruni, and so many others, to him. Those who were previously unwilling to listen to what the Roman Catholic Church had to say find themselves waiting in anticipation for whatever proceeds out of Pope Francis’s mouth. It would behoove more protestant leaders to take the pope’s humble posture instead of vainglorious and prideful ones.

“Vainglory” is an old word, old-fashioned—seldom used these days. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung notes that vainglory is “the excessive and disordered desire of recognition and approval from others.” According to Father Luke Dysinger, the sins of vainglory and pride tend to overlap.

The Holman Bible Dictionary provides these synonyms for pride: “arrogance, presumption, conceit, self-satisfaction, boasting, and high-mindedness.” Pride eschews humility. It’s the opposite of humility.

How do these sins manifest themselves within Christian leaders? Here are a few ways:

We think there are very few people around us who can teach us anything new. Oh of course, we’d never dream of saying that. We wouldn’t say, “Who are you, to teach me about the ways of God and of the church?” We wouldn’t say, “Who are you to teach me about politics?” But we can often find these sentiments dwelling within us.

Perhaps we assume that because we have more theological education than most, or are more experienced than most, that we are indeed wiser. If we are honest with ourselves, we might discover that within us lies an air of superiority.

On the flip side there’s a different kind of pride.

We’re glad that we haven’t been corrupted by a “cemetery” education. I mean, a seminary education. We presume that seminary educated leaders, or those leaders who are better educated than we are, are book smart but not street smart. We presume that we are full of the Spirit and that they are not. After all, they’re the frozen chosen.

Forget education. What about the size of our ministries?

We’ve got million-dollar buildings, satellite campuses, and thousands flocking to our churches. Publishers are tripping over themselves to offer us book deals. Consequently, people listen to what we have to say. They treat us as if everything that comes out of our mouths is gospel truth. And to tell the truth, we like it. We’ve grown used to people making much of us. We feed on praise and adulation (vainglory). We’ve started to look down on others with smaller churches and ministries—considering them inferior.

Something sinister has happened to us: ministry has become a form of self-aggrandizement. We’ve begun peddling Jesus for ourselves—for the fame and recognition he brings to us. That’s vainglory.

And then there’s theological and political hubris.

Some of us consider anyone a hair’s breadth to the left of us liberal and thus apostate. “Pssst,” we whisper. “You see that church down the street? We’re not like them. We believe the Bible is the Word of God!” We blame more liberal believers for the demise of our world, country, and churches. We find it near impossible to entertain the notion that they could be right about any of their theological or political views. For fear that their ideas will rub off on us or on those associated with us, we refuse to fellowship with the likes of them.

Then there are those of us who roll our eyes at the fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, and Roman Catholics. We deem them “small-minded, anti-intellectual, unthinking legalists” and can barely stand to admit that they’re our brothers and sisters. We’ll do whatever is in our power to make sure others know we aren’t associated with them. They embarrass us.

A Christian leader full of vainglory, pride, and prejudice may prove to be more destructive than a believer who does not hold an official leadership position. That’s because the amount of influence a Christian leader has allows him or her to further scatter abroad, or broadcast, death and destruction in the world. No wonder the Apostle James admonished, “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

What can be done to cure us of vainglory and of the pride that comes with prejudice? Father Luke Dysinger offers this advice: “Thus virtues and concepts particularly important for the cure of these vices include: community (koinonia), where gifts can be experienced as the expression and result of our interactions with one another; and humility…understood especially as truthful, honest acknowledgement of our indebtedness to one another and above all to the grace (charis) of God.”

Confessing these sins to mature others in our community and rubbing shoulders with one another in community will remind us that we are all indebted to one another and to God. We must be ruthless in putting to death any pride or vainglory within. Mortifying the sinful flesh within us will allow us to flourish and those around us to flourish. Like Pope Francis, we’ll win the respect of those outside the faith and our purview—and insiders, too!


Marlena Graves is a regular contributor to Gifted for Leadership and Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Relevant, the Clergy Journal, and other venues. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness is forthcoming from Brazos Press.

January 9, 2014

3 Temptations of Leadership: Abuse of Power

Often masked as something else, the sin of leaders can hide in plain sight

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I remember sitting at the lunch table with one of my friends in college when he dropped a bomb on me: “I’d say that at least 50 percent of the Bible majors are addicted to porn.”

“What? You mean to tell me that half of those seeking to be pastors are addicted to porn?”

“Yes,” he said.

I was thoroughly upset and demoralized. “Well, they’d better not enter the ministry until they’ve detoxed from porn. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a porn-addicted pastor,” I declared.

We get horribly upset and up in arms whenever we discover one of our church leaders has engaged in sexual sin. And rightly so. We want to trust that our pastors and other church leaders (whether men or women) are striving to follow Jesus in their hidden lives as well as their public lives. The discovery that a church leader has been engaging in sexual sin, whatever form it takes, is disillusioning and damaging to many. His or her sin leaves behind a trail of destruction.

Of all people, church leaders are the ones who should be modeling a pure and chaste life for the sake of Jesus and his church. If they cannot, they need to step away from their leadership positions. Of course, we cannot abandon or shun these leaders who step down because their lives aren’t right. Even in our hurt over their sin, we must prayerfully and lovingly offer them the help they need to get better. After all, they are our brothers and sisters. Their well-being, our well-being, and the church’s well-being are inextricably linked.

But are sexual sins, or other sins like embezzlement, the only sins for which a church leader should be held accountable and for which a leader should be disqualified from church leadership? I’ve spent lots of time with Christian leaders in seminary, on the pastoral staffs of two churches, and on staff at a Christian organization. My experiences have allowed me to meet the most beautiful and life-giving people. I owe much of the good in me to their devotion to Christ; I am who I am because of them. However, even in the best of Christian places, I’ve found that while most often we don’t turn a blind eye to sexual sin or sins like embezzlement, we often excuse or gloss over leaders’ abuse of power.

At a Christian organization I worked for, I watched two ambitious, power-hungry, agenda-driven leaders lie and manipulate information. They were intent on ridding the organization of those who weren’t like them. Those who were on board with their policies could stay. If one crossed them, one could expect to lose one’s job. Within a year they found stealthy ways to eliminate dozens of those who spoke up against what they were doing. The leaders’ scare tactics frightened many into silence. These people were in the upper echelons of leadership with little accountability; the ruling board was far removed from the everyday goings on and heard only these leaders’ version of the story. It was by far the most appalling and alarming thing I’ve witnessed firsthand.

Until this experience, I hadn’t thought much about stewardship of power. But now I think about it all the time. It’s not just corporate executives and government officials who abuse power. Church leaders do too. Why aren’t we talking more about it? I’ve had friends tell me of pastors and other church leaders who throw temper tantrums and walk out the door when they don’t get their way. Parishioners and members of Christian organizations have no way of knowing about what transpires unless they personally experience these behaviors or someone present tells on the offender. Maybe we give these leaders a pass because they are charismatic or good at what they do—successful fundraisers, dynamic preachers, savvy at PR, talented musicians, engaging youth leaders, or nurturing children’s ministers. Or perhaps it’s because we fear (for good reason) what’ll happen to our churches and organizations, and to us, if we dare to speak up.

The Temptation of Power and Prestige

Hoping to arouse greed for power in Jesus, and to trip Jesus up with what John Calvin identified as the root of all sin—idolatry—the devil offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world, replete with their splendor, if Jesus would but bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:8-9). If our Lord Jesus was tempted in these ways, we will be too. Consequently, it is essential that Christian leaders, those close to them, and those whom they lead be aware of the ways in which all of us are tempted to misuse power (our influence is part of our power). Abuse of power and influence can lead to untold disillusionment and damage in Christ’s body. Those who abuse their power leave a trail of destruction behind them.

How do we know if leaders are abusing their power? Here are a few questions we might ask: How do they treat those closest to them? Are they bullies? Are they secretive? Are they servants or self-serving? Is it their way or “the highway”? Do they present one face to the public and another in private? Are they humble?

In one of his most insightful books, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri Nouwen observed, “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people.”

I think Nouwen gets it exactly right. It is easier to control people than to love people. Loving others requires that we die to ourselves. And not one of us likes that very much. We’d rather call the shots. But dying to ourselves is the Jesus way.

The people I admire most never try to usurp power or lord it over others (see Matthew 20:25-28). They are humble in their giftedness and others-centered. I believe these and others like them are the greatest leaders in the kingdom of God. Let us be vigilant to guard against misuse of power, to flee the temptation to abuse power—in our churches, organizations, and Christian institutions—that the kingdom of God might flourish and not be hindered.

Marlena Graves is a regular contributor to Gifted for Leadership and Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Relevant, the Clergy Journal, and other venues. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness is forthcoming from Brazos Press.

January 6, 2014

If Your Heart is Right, Ignore the Critics

We have no reason to apologize for using our gifts

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Ambition is complicated. When related to material things it sounds like greed, so we often take the idea of “bigger and more” in our lives and boil it all down to sin. We sit in the back like my friend Jamie, who aches to dream, but says, “It always seems easier to sit on the back row and kill my dreams than to fight the sin that may be attached to those dreams.”

We are afraid of big dreams because we are afraid of ourselves.

We are afraid of greatness because we are afraid of our arrogance.

And yet Jesus said of us, “Whoever believes in me . . . they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12). It almost sounds blasphemous to do even greater things. We rarely say it, but when we start to have hints of great thoughts or visions, we often quickly dismiss them, afraid that we may be vain. Arrogant. Prideful. Or worse, simply that we would appear prideful.

I fight these wars in my soul nearly every day. For so long I just sat in the back, my dreams spilling out on the floor. But a few months ago I found myself in a room with a woman who did not seem to know how to dream small. She is a giant in the world of ministry, and we had the afternoon with her to ask any questions of her that we wanted. With a big vision growing in my heart, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask: “How do you know if a vision is from God?”

She looked down, and then very directly and simply said, “At some point you look at the motives of your heart, and if they are for God, then just do it.”

It was simple and difficult all at the same time, because a con¬voluted mixture of motives undergirds every pursuit in life.

As Zac and I prayed, “God, we will do anything,” I knew the reason I had not been using my gifts in any great capacity was because I was afraid of appearing arrogant. When I was an 18-year-old, I knew I had the gift of teaching and I knew how to lead. For years I taught younger women in my living room. I looked around our community and saw so many women who needed more God. Though I knew I had visions of how to give him to them, I was paralyzed with this fear. Beginning a small Bible study in our church seems like no big deal now, but it was a painfully scary thought then.

I remember telling myself things like, I will humbly sit in the back and give other people the chance to lead. It sounds good. But I was completely disobeying God, and I wasn’t playing the part in the body of Christ that God had designed me to play. Because by using my gifts, others would be released to use their gifts, and so on.

We need to quit apologizing for using our gifts and start apologizing for not using them. I would say to myself, I am ministering to younger girls in my living room. That is enough. Greatness isn’t in size.

Of course it would have been enough, if God wasn’t calling me to something more. Some people charge mountains with no fear of themselves, and they need to check their motives. Some never take a mountain because of too much fear of themselves, and checking those motives is just as important.

God exposed my false humility. Nervously, with the support of our church leaders, I offered my first public study, Stuck, to our small church plant. Somehow 150 women found their way to a little cafeteria, and I taught them how God designed the spaces within us to be full of only him. Christians’ lives were turning upside down; some even wondered if they had ever truly been saved. Unbelievers found safety, and a dozen people received Christ in the months that followed. God had been wanting to move through me, and I had never let him because I was worried I would appear arrogant.

Near the end of the study, after watching God work in the most unbelievable ways, two people in the study voiced criticism about the very fears that had paralyzed me before: my motives. As I pro¬cessed their criticism, I began to spin. Yes, the thing I most feared was happening. I had stepped out and led in our community, and I was potentially coming off as arrogant to people I cared about. I craved a return to the safety of the back row and the anonymity it once had given me.

As I shared the hurt from this with my friend Karen, rather than comfort me with all the good things that God had done, she simply asked me, “Is God pleased with you in this?”

Everything in me quit spinning, and with 100 percent certainty I answered, “Yes, he is.”

I knew how difficult the last few months had been. In faith I had acted in obedience, pushing through my fears of approval to lead for his name’s sake and for people’s healing and freedom. I knew that God was pleased. I could not say that my motives were in the right place other times in my life, but this time I had complete peace.

Then Karen said, “Then what else is there?”

At the core of our souls lie our volitions, our wills, our deepest desires. Karen asked me a question she could not know the answer to. She asked me to reveal something that mere results and criti¬cism or visible greatness or failure cannot reveal. She asked me if my motives were pure. She asked me if my heart was right before my God.

Every one of us was made to do great things, and it is why something in us feels restless and discontent. Because deep down, we know we were created for some great purpose. And these great things we were built to do are for God, through God, and in God.


Excerpted from Restless: Because You Were Made For More by Jennie Allen (www.JennieAllen.com). Used with permission. Published by Thomas Nelson, © 2013 by Jennie Allen.

January 1, 2014

Top 10 in 2013

A list of our most popular reads last year

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Happy New Year!

Let me be among the first to welcome you to 2014. This year, God has plans and purposes for you, works he has long planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). I trust you will dedicate this new year to God and resolve to do life and ministry in his name, through the expected and the unexpected.

As I look ahead to a fresh year, I pause as usual to tell you which of our blog posts and downloads were most popular in 2013. If it’s been a while since you read these resources, or if you haven’t seen them yet, follow the links to check them out. These are the ones this community of women read and downloaded most frequently during the last year¬—so they must be worth a look, right?

Top 10 Blog Posts

1. Ideas for Women's Ministry
By Amy Simpson

2. When Clergy Fashion Goes Wrong
By Margot Starbuck

3. Does the Bible Really Say I Can’t Teach Men?
By Jill Briscoe

4. Women Leaders Are Tempted by Adultery
By Connie Jakab

5. How Should the Church Handle Adultery?
By Domeniek L. Harris

6. Are You Wearing the Wrong Clothes?
By Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

7. Be Still, Ailing Minister
By Angie Mabry-Nauta

8. The Ministry of Passion in Marriage
By Saleama A. Ruvalcaba

9. Who’s Holding up Your Arms?
By Halee Gray Scott

10. Banishing Spiritual Loneliness
By Keri Wyatt Kent


Top 10 Downloads

1. Fresh Ideas for Women's Ministry
2. The Theology of Women in Leadership
3. How to Mentor Millennials
4. Connecting Women
5. Staying in Community When You Are an Introvert
6. Are You Living Your Calling?
7. Using Social Media in Women’s Ministry
8. Loneliness in Women Leaders
9. How to Help a Family in Grief
10. How to Help Those with Addictions

As we’re making plans for 2014, we’d love to hear from you. If you have ideas for how we can serve you better, please drop us a line by email.

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