Monday, November 2, 2015

The Struggle Is Real

I recently presented a proposal to my management team (think leadership board) to make the case to them that I could use a sabbatical. Apparently church planting takes a particular toll on you. Pepper in the unexpected loss of a parent and the prolonged unstable state of a daughter and there is reason to think that a breather might be a wise move.

The Chair of the board rejected my proposal.

Not what you think.

Ironically my proposal for a sabbatical rest had six objectives that I planned to accomplish while I was on break, one of which included the small, insignificant feat of writing a book. It might go down as one of the most ambitious, non-rejuvenating, task-driven sabbatical proposals in the history of the world.

And this is the curse of the apostolic (think pioneering/innovative starter type) leader. Even when I intentionally try to build in rest, I fill it with unrest. For years, every relationship I've had has been tagged with an agenda. How can I help them? How can they help me?

The exact personality type that makes me an effective church planter will cause me to gain the world and lose my soul.

But the world we live in doesn't celebrate or highlight pace or steadiness. It tends to celebrate hustle. It features ambition. It extols achievement. Church world is often no different. Have you hit this growth goal? Have you had breakthrough here? Have you created a leadership pipeline? How's your generosity as a church?

There is a nagging tension between who I am and what I do.

I meet someone new at Celebration on a Sunday morning. I ask them what they do or what their major is. Even the way we communicate about our Missional Communities...we say "they are groups of 15-40 folks who DO Life together and serve together in an intentional, relational way."

I mentor/tutor three 4th graders. And the goal in my mind is to help them up their game academically so that they can discover opportunities they may not be able to ACHIEVE without growing academically.

We have people over for dinner all the time and there is virtually always a check on a encourage the challenge the invite people into a better story than the one they are living currently. To pray for the defeated, the sick, the anxious and depressed. All those things are good and necessary things but they aren't the only thing. I'm addicted to activity. I see pawns where God sees people.

This more than any other battle is trying to steal my life.

The rhythm and balance between REST and WORK.

It's the story of Mary and Martha.

God is equally concerned with what I am doing as He is with who I am becoming.

I see so many friends who are built and wired to hustle going for it and then running out of steam...stumbling into depression or marriage counseling...or quitting one thing to start hustling after the next, big, new thing and its in large part because rest is not a large part of their story. When I say rest, I don't mean vacation, though if you don't use all of your allotted vacation days in a year, you are probably consumed by Doing. Nor do I equate rest with 72 hour Netflix binges.

If Work is about the hustle and the strive. Then, rest is about the peace and the delight.

I think hustle is a good and necessary thing. Some people will have regret at the end of their life because did little to make the world better.

I think rest is a good and necessary thing. Some people will have regret at the end of their life because they didn't invest in real relationships and they never drank deeply from the well of the Divine.

Those who live abundantly find the rhythmic sweet spot of being changed and being change, of resting and working, of abiding and bearing fruit, of inhaling God's Spirit and exhaling God's will.

Confessions of a driven-goal oriented-ambitious workaholic:

I believe that this rest thing is a lot of work.

And I believe that to be good at this work thing requires a lot of rest.

What do words like rhythm and cadence and balance look like for you?

For me, I've had to create a space to remind me that the struggle is real.

Every day I spend time in both sides of my office. And every week, I post a Scripture or quote that applies to each side of the room to keep me continually focused.

Workaholics, what does it look like to catch your breath, listen to God in solitude and find rejuvenating rest?

Those who default to being/resting, what does it look like to go and live with purpose in a world that is desperate for good news?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who's Waiting on Who?

Shaina and I have begun the process of being certified to foster parent and adopt. We have gone through moments with Chaia where we weren't sure if she would make it, we weren't sure if we would make it and in some ways we are likely signing up to do much of that all over again.

Here's the long and short of it. I think many well intentioned Christians sit in prayer waiting on God. They want to know what God wants from them. They want to get the Burning Bush experience so that they can know for sure. They want to get the neon sign and then they will gladly commit to obedience.

Sometimes this is exactly the right move. It is right and good to wait on the Father to silence our voices and thoughts long enough for the still small voice of God to thunderously speak. It is good to wait on God.

But sometimes God's waiting on us.

Sometimes it is so obviously clear what is close to God's heart, that to sit and wait is absolute defiance to the one we claim to want to obey.

Friends, the Foster Care system is hard and in many ways broken. This is not anything new. There are kids who have been through months and years of being told through word, action and inaction that they are not worth being part of a forever family. That they are unwanted and unloved. They've been orphaned.

And then there is this theme of adoption in the biblical narrative.

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:5-8)

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:18-20)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-16)

The good news is that God has adopted us...the ones who were unlovable and unwanted...the ones who were undeserving and unwelcome...It was His GOOD PLEASURE to LAVISH HIS LOVE on US, His ORPHANED KIDS.

So, what better message is there than that in the world?

I'll tell you.

It's taking that message and actually showing it tangibly to others.

If one family from every church in Ohio were to foster/adopt, the foster care system as we know it would be eradicated.

Some are waiting on the government to do something about this. I think God's waiting on us.

I'm not saying everyone who is a Christian is called to offer a forever family (or at least a temporary, stable family) to kids who have been deemed unwanted or unlovely. But I am saying that way more are called to it than are currently considering it.

I don't think the world will take Christians seriously until Christians take Christ seriously (and I don't mean in the "Does God love gay people" or "Which doctrines do we believe" kinds of ways we've wasted too much of our lives on).

I'm not saying it will be fun or easy or that it wouldn't cause immense heartache and frustration. I'm just saying most often the better things are the more costly things. The good things are the more complicated things. The beautiful things stem from the inconvenient things.

Maybe we aren't supposed to wait until we get the green light to go...maybe the green light's already there and we go until there's a No.

You think all kids matter and should have a shot at a forever family? So does God. (mic dropped, soapbox put away).

Here we go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Not-So-Sexy Nature of Leadership

I've been involved in leadership for about 15 years now and I've got a love hate relationship with it. I used to be enamored by it because I'd go to conferences where leaders who had been deemed 'successful' would be paraded in front of the audience and would drop some recipe of why their leadership has worked and how if you'd just change to this approach, you'd see the breakthrough they'd experienced. Then they would go out to their merch table to sell their latest book. I wanted that limelight. I liked the allure of being a successful, innovative voice in the world of leadership.

But a few different attempts at implementing the "brand new, surefire, leadership innovation to change the entire organization" and finding that it rarely led to lasting culture change, I think I learned a few leadership lessons that won't get published in a NY Times Bestseller, by and large because they aren't sexy or instant, the two things that our culture demands. But I believe them to be true and hope that they will spur you on to stay the course.

1. Think Predictable. Not Spontaneous.

Often the charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip, innovative dynamo is the one who is championed as the successful leader. They overhauled everything, scrapped it all in one meeting and revitalized an organization or launched a new thing that just took off in spectacular ways. I see far more failure derived from impulse than I do victory. Successful leaders are the ones who embrace what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction". While many early adopters and pioneers will be drawn to the brand new thing with all the bells and whistles, the reality is that when the bells and whistles aren't new any more, many of these folks will lose interest. You can't keep creating a one-up culture that constantly puts pressure to upgrade from the impressive thing you did last time. That leads to exhaustion.

Instead, do the work. Hustle. Bust your butt to lay a credible foundation. Dig deep and make sure what you're doing can withstand adversity. Once you've laid a foundation, that is right, strong and true, then it is time to do the building. Day after day, brick after brick. It's work. It's not based on charisma, but on substance. And that is good because charisma runs out. Substance runs deep.

The more predictable patterns that I have put in place the more the people who are truly following my lead have dug in. Predictability breeds trust. If people know what they are going to get from a leader, they will go farther and deeper than the ones who are jumping on with the next, new and best thing. This doesn't mean "don't create new things". It means make new things that matter and are thoroughly thought through and laid out. I meet with those I lead with consistency. I ask the same types of questions. I hold them accountable for the same types of things. I love them and give them access in ways that are unconditional and consistent. They know what they are getting. And simultaneously they are seeing what they should give to those they lead.

2. Think Painful. Not Easy.

The one constant companion of a good leader is pain. Most folks have a weird type of A.D.D. when it comes to pain. They'll do everything they can to AVOID, DELAY, and DENY the circumstances and decisions that are difficult or may hurt feelings. Too often the primary wedge between where leaders are and where God wants them to be is the pain they are unwilling to endure. The hard conversation. The removal of that program or that person. The personal changes that have to be implemented. Leaders who are desperate to be loved by everyone will sacrifice purpose to keep people pleased. Leveraging leadership necessitates pain. And I'm convinced that leadership is a thousand deaths.

While we avoid conflict and pain, we embrace complacency and arm's length transparency, both of which stagnate and infect the organization. The short term pain for the long term gain seems like a no brainer in the abstract, yet time and time again, I avoid having the heart to heart, holding to account the actions and behaviors that have been clearly laid out as expectations, and removing the person or the program that is proving detrimental to the organization's health and momentum. What is the painful thing you've been putting off that is limiting your effectiveness as a leader/organization?

3. Think Relational Equity. Not Brand Equity.

I feel as though I speak for a growing number of folks who are growing increasingly weary and wary of brand hype. Polish the image. Update your style! I'd much rather have relational loyalty than brand loyalty. The problem with relational equity is that it requires transparency, time, trust, interaction, investment, love. Some have deemed these words as inefficient. But Jesus had it right. Give me 12 who will give it a go in the trenches of the battle over 12,000 who believe their own hype and I guarantee we will change at least a small corner of the world. Brand loyalty is all about trying to hype the thing so that you can find the market. Commitment to community (particularly community centered around mission) focuses on doing the right things long enough that the market finds you. Relationships change the world. Brands don't.