Tag Archives: leadership

From here to there: The right people in the right seats on the bus

No, not the next t-shirt.
No, not the next t-shirt.

First of all, are there any wrong people on the Lord’s bus?

The answer is emphatically “NO!”

We’re all Bozos on this bus. God is not accepting us because we eradicated all of our bozo-like attributes. Much the contrary: “one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (Romans 5:18), bozos included — even those who don’t admit what a clown they are. “All people” includes anyone reading this. So don’t worry, you are the right person on the bus.

I wanted to start there, since this bus analogy could take the wrong off ramp rather easily. We have been talking about how to apply one idea from Jim Collins to our dialogue about how to get down the road as a church. When Collins talks about deploying leaders and staffing strategically, he talks about getting the right people  on the bus and getting them into the right seats. He’s one of the business gurus that everyone listens to — partly because he comes up with good metaphors to help us get his points. Since Circle of Hope is a unique family business, in our own way, we listen to business gurus who might have some good ideas for us.

The idea we’re listening to has to do with how to lead and how to staff for meeting the goals God gives us: We get somewhere when we have the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats. Here’s the idea:

You are a bus driver. The bus (your church, in this case) needs to go further and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re being led, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going to lead the expedition.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: pastors and other church leaders, including cell leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where the bus is going—by setting a new, improved direction (something like we do when we publish our yearly Map).

In fact, good strategists do not start with where but with who. They start by getting the right people on the leadership bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances. If Jesus is not doing this when he chooses his first disciples, I don’t know what he is doing. He told them, “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

Here is an example from Collins’ business research. When David Maxwell became the bus driver (CEO) of Fannie Mae in 1981, the company was losing $1 million every business day, with $56 billion worth of mortgage loans underwater. The board desperately wanted to know what Maxwell was going to do to rescue the company. Maxwell responded to the what question the same way that all good bus drivers who want to get somewhere respond. He told them, “That’s the wrong first question. To decide where to drive the bus before you have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, is absolutely the wrong approach.” He was a great bus driver for ten years. As you might know, his successors almost drove the bus off a cliff.

When it comes to getting started on getting somewhere next, we need to understand three simple truths:

First, if you begin with who, you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get ten miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus and, of course, because of the One person riding with all of us, you’ll be much faster and smarter at responding to changing conditions. Like Jesus says, “Good trees bear good fruit” wherever they are planted.

Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated. They want to do it. It is fun to do it with them. Nothing beats being part of a team that expects to produce great results. Like Jesus says: “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things.” It will be an “abundant life.”

And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with apathetic or preoccupied people still produces mediocre results. Like Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Great Christians are bozos moved by Jesus; they discover what they have been given and find the best way to give it. Their passion makes them transforming transformers.

So why get all corporate-sounding about Circle of Hope?

matches-flame1) We have a lot of leaders and we want them to be happy and passionate

We deploy a lot of leaders to drive our rather large bus. They have a lot of space to be creative and everyone is personally responsible for the success of our ‘business” in all its permutations. At least that is how we set it all up to work.

As we think about staffing and as we engage people who don’t get paid for serving (the precious “volunteer” – or as one might name them: “the people who have a life in Christ”) we sometimes run into the complaint that we are not providing “career level” staff position or well-delimited volunteer positions, so we don’t get the people we need to lead.

I wonder what people are talking about. Do people really just give what they are paid for? We are relying on more than that. Will our staff really reduce their “job” down to something that is commensurate with their pay? Will volunteers really prioritize the paying side of their time and be left with not time to serve our cause in Christ? The fear that people might do such things seems like a negative view of people! —  are they doomed to be that subordinate and “slavish?” I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think we have found a lot of people who are called — the kind of people who would make tents to be able to be an apostle. It’s true, we want to pay our staff well and we aren’t looking for people who only work and never rest; but we know leading and serving with passion is also rest for our souls, not just a job.

2) We want to make sure people are in the right seats on the bus.

I think we are amazing. The fact that we survive, adapt, inspire, serve, grow and make new disciples is great. I’m happy. We have done well and we are doing well.

However, basic to our goal is also to make many new disciples and grow in number and capacity for transformation. It is hard to be satisfied in the middle of a burgeoning mission field! Our main “product” is new faith and deeper capacity to cause transformation. We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake, but we didn’t get called to be a Circle of Hope to end up as an island of faith in a post-Christian world! Our bus door is open.

The quality and discipline of our leaders (paid and not) are the keys to getting from here to there. We want to get the right leaders in the right seats: hiring who we need to hire and training and encouraging the many more servants who give their lives to follow Jesus. Being in the wrong seat wears people down; being where you belong makes momentum happen. When people are exercising their gifts, their passion revs up the bus; when they are feeding the institution because they are dutiful or kind, things get stale. When we’re well-deployed we don’t need to be tightly managed or constantly fired up; we are self-motivated by our inner drive to fulfill our calling, make a difference and be our part of creating something great.

We obviously want to create something great. We did it — and we are doing it all the time. What now? Change is on the horizon. The world certainly does not stay still! We need to do what it takes to keep doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. When we map this year, let’s expand our vision, ask the right questions and even have any healthy conflicts we need to have in order to express who we are and imagine the possibilities in store. Like Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

Shave off some workweek hours that could be better used elsewhere

We want to get a lot done. Not only are we responsible workers doing good things at our money-making jobs, we have a family business to tend, now that Jesus has called us into the Kingdom of God! Our limited time is organized around the big project of redemption that comes with being our true selves in Christ; our daily jobs, our human family requirements and our sense of mission are all defined by the good work we are assigned by our Leader. We all need to be adept time managers, since the time is short and the days are evil. The people called out to lead the church have a big challenge when it comes to managing the workweek, so this is especially for them.

clock eyeThe pastors are always struggling with managing time, as are all the church’s leaders, since their project is so large and the demands are so variable. So we often appreciate advice from people who give advice on these things. One of the blogs we often run into is by Michael Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a Sunday school teacher in Nashville. I decided to re-do one of his posts today to offer some basic help with managing time so we can feel less breathless about the big things we want to do together. Here we go:

Are there ten hours of unnecessary work sucking the life out of your week? Here are seven suggestions Michael Hyatt thinks might work for you if you applied a little thought and effort. How can we shave off some workweek hours that could be better used elsewhere?

Continue reading Shave off some workweek hours that could be better used elsewhere

The despised leader: Why be one?

Jesus “was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.” Why wouldn’t you be the very same?

The Lord pointedly told his disciples that they would be treated like he was treated if they tried to disrupt the perverse homeostasis of sin and destruction in the world. Why are we so appalled when it happens?

The prophet Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would be a suffering servant, not a mighty, political King who would save the family business. The Savior will not appear in his glorious might until the end of days — until that time he appears in his glorious weakness, undoing the sin of the world with suffering love. We’re still fighting with Him about this.

Do we think being despised is just too hard?

It is no wonder we fight Him. Who really wants to be like Jesus? It always get us into trouble. Being dishonored like Jesus was and is dishonored is the regular experience of lonely path of the despised leaderanyone who tries to lead sinners into redemption, or just tries to lead anybody into something better. If you are a Christian and don’t hide it, you are too holy. If you try to improve the neighborhood, you are too pushy. If you are a woman leader, you are too womany. If you are a man leader and you aren’t man enough. If you are a Christian leader, you aren’t spiritual enough or don’t love people well enough. It is no wonder people are scared to lead, even among this circle of hope, where we try to make it plain that the people love their leader into greatness, not vice versa.

To hear some people tell it, leaders get into leadership because they are mostly narcissistic, power-hungry dominators who just want to satisfy their hunger and enjoy being number one. Those kind of leaders are definitely out there, but I don’t meet them in our church too often. Most of our leaders respond to a call when others note their obvious gifts. We tell them we need them to use their gifts to help us to live into our ambitious vision. We usually have to talk people into leading. That’s OK, because we don’t need too many leaders, just enough. They are like an enzyme that keeps our digestion going; we’re the stomach receiving the bread of life.

Leadership everywhere  is tough

Maybe more so, people might not be clamoring to lead because being a leader in our whole society is very difficult right now. In many ways leaders are despised, at least subconsciously. School teachers will tell you stories about that from their classrooms full of anxious, unruly kids in schools overseen by anxious, demanding, random bosses. Small business owners talk about strangely entitled entry level workers. Listen to the memories of the Occupy movement and how their leaders derailed it. The Atlantic Conference of the BIC can’t even find a person who will be their bishop! Everywhere you try to be a leader you get nailed by people who are just one way and don’t listen to others, you’re hounded by people who have a self-interested point to push, or you’re surrounded by people who are so anxious and disoriented that they have a tough time being led!

Let’s face it, intelligent people do not always clamor to get into leadership because they are leery of being despised, being isolated and perpetually dealing with conflict. They look around at the world and say, “I don’t know if I have the stuff to deal with that!” Some of us can’t even have a healthy conflict with a toddler, much less have one with a sinful adult! We can’t stand being despised while our child is screaming in time out, much less can we risk experiencing whatever an adult might do to us.

But we really need people to take the risk

a leader laying out the way
by Erik Johansson

Even if it is hard, whether it is in our families or in our neighborhoods, in the church or in our whole society, we need people who risk going first, who are a trustworthy presence, who take the lead. Some of us need to be a leader all the time, because we have the God-given calling and gifts to do it. You know you are — you are called and people follow. Thank you. We need you.

But we only need enough of those gifted, called leaders. Most of us just need to be ready when we are called on to supply some leadership and not be afraid to face the inevitable issues of going somewhere everyone needs to go and asking us to follow. In the process, we are going to fear that people will be mad at us, since someone will inevitably be mad. Especially if you want to go God’s way, people will oppose you like they opposed your Lord.

That’s the rub; we need to be ready to be despised. Since you know leading is hard and invites conflict, and since people are all-too-ready to tell you to back off, and since it seems impolite, if not illegal, to question anyone’s direction, what would possess you to stick your neck out and get us from here to there? Leading can be painfully isolating. Leading often makes one feel like they are not one of the gang. If you actually cause trouble by leading, someone will despise you. So why do it?

Reasons to take the risk

For one thing, it is very satisfying to follow Jesus. It is deeply satisfying to rally people to trust God. When you obey the Lord’s call to step out in trust, it feels like you are really living. Plus, standing up against the forces of evil is a lot better than the enemy running all over your people, that’s for sure. If any of those phrases rang a bell in you, thanks for letting it. You’re probably a cell leader or a team leader, already. You’re probably leading a healthy family, office or crew. We need more people like you who will be empowered by the Spirit to take their stand for Jesus in a difficult world and build a vibrant, authentic church, the alternative to it’s deadly power.

Jesus reveals the secret of how to take that stand. Being scorned and refusing to compete to be king of the world is the way to eternal life. Humbly doing what needs to be done, going first, taking the direction that needs to be taken and asking people to come along is following Jesus. For some of us, that is a full-time job. For all of us, that is everyday life. Like Paul wrote: God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Because boasting before God is what makes us despised in eternity. Gaining the whole world at the loss of our true selves is the greatest loss of all.

If you are leading all the time, follow your Leader; it is the best you can do. Your trust in God is better than any technique you will apply or any power you will exercise. For all of us, in a leadership position or not, we need to stop cooperating with what holds us back. Let’s talk each other out of reacting fearfully or avoidantly when we might be despised — or mocked, or ignored, or isolated. Our lowliness and anxiety-bucking obedience is what makes us so appreciated in heaven. Let’s not allows the feelings we might have about ourselves or the ill-feelings others seem to have about us make us withdraw and isolate when we are called to go somewhere better and take people with us.

Remember, no matter who despises you, (even when you despise yourself!), you will never be stolen from the kingdom of grace in which you live. The corruption of your heart is restrained by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The world is passing by under your feet and cannot hold you in its chains. The enemies of God have been bound and cannot permanently harm you. Even if you are despised by yourself and humanity, in Christ you are the beloved of God.

Patrick had nerve

St_-Patrick2Why aren’t we spiritual ancestors of St. Patrick more like St. Patrick? Unlike him, we are often stuck on a treadmill of trying harder at things that aren’t working. We keep looking for answers to questions that no longer need to be answered. We get stuck in endless either/or arguments when the dichotomies were false to begin with. We undermine the leaders we so desperately need to help us off our treadmill and out of our arguing. We need the kind of nerve Patrick had.

Continue reading Patrick had nerve

How an organism becomes a mere organization

One of the crises of being a thirtysomething (or a precocious twentysomething) is answering this important question when it comes up: “Now that I can do something, do I have the courage to do it with integrity and conviction? Will I keep faith or will I shrink back when the challenges hit me?”

Circle of Hope is not only full of thirtysomethings (as well as many precocious twentysomethings), we, as a network, probably resemble a maturing person who has managed to accumulate some wisdom and capacity (such as our PM skills, many cell leading experts, compassion team ingenuity, money, buildings, structures and strategies, and well-developed relationships and marriages). We are definitely hearing the challenge from scripture:

“Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised….We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-9)

Stifled by our own organization?

Many churches begin as lively organisms with great ideas and spirit. They are kind of like energetic, inspired twentysomethings. Once they survive for a few years and gain their confidence, they have the challenge the writer talks about. They need to persevere. Can you keep being the wild, receptive organism that made you great, or will you become a mere organization? A thirtysomething church like Circle of Hope could definitely “shrink back” from its wild inspired, organic beginnings and become a mere organization like all the rest in the world and, essentially, be destroyed — or at least see its genius be neutered.

an organism in a kettleHow do fertile organisms get neutered into organizations that just keep doing the same kind of things the world has always done? No one would likely choose to have that happen! Maybe it is like the proverbial frog in the kettle. Supposedly a frog will not jump out of a pot of water that is slowly being heated up until it is so hot they are cooked! Likewise an organism like us could slowly acclimate to organizational habits that stifle what made it great to begin with. How’s the water?

Here are five ways our organism might become a mere organization:

1. People fit the ministry into their time schedule

An organism can become a mere organization if people tame it to fit into their personal schedule. If people could reduce their faith down to a meeting, they would probably do it – not on purpose, of course, but just to be practical. It is easier to do one’s faith than to be faithful. No one consciously chooses this, it just happens as soon as you can put the Sunday meeting into your calendar.

The disciplines of our time schedule are crucial to having faith. But they are designed change our false self into our true one. When the schedule becomes the essence of our new self, an organized schedule can become more of a jail than a liberating tool. If adopting a schedule of meetings did not make you a person who helps liberate others who come to your meetings, you must have missed the point of the meetings. If the meetings did not make you a 24/7 Christian who uses meetings to grow and help others grow, there is a problem. If you have managed to fit the church as an “extra” into your already hectic life, then there is really a problem.

2. Leaders argue about who is in charge of what

An organism can become a mere organization if the leaders spend more time worrying about their power than they do working together for the common good.

Organizations specialize in setting boundaries and defining structures; this is crucial. You need a structure to finish a project; you need a map to get from here to there. Disorganized organisms die, or are eaten by more organized organisms. Figuring out how be an organized organism can be hard. Most people just give into “organization” and end up like a spiritualized version of the government or a corporation. Unhealthy or uninspired leaders can spend a lot of time figuring out their territories and wondering about who violated their protocols rather than imagining how to do the project together or how to get the church from here to there as we follow Jesus.

3. The structures can’t adapt quickly enough.

An organism can become a mere organization if the structures become sacred rather than tools in the hands of an inspired community. If they can’t change and grow, they shrink back to the level for which they were effective.

As the Apostle Paul keeps saying in his letters, a main problem with humans is that they love law and despise the grace that sets them free. Rather than live by the law of love, they make rules to save themselves from having to do that. Once a useful rule is in place in a church, it takes courage to change it. Changes require dialogue and healthy dialogue requires love – and a commitment to having healthy conflict. What if we needed to change how we do things in order to do what God gave us to do now? Could we do it? Or would we just tell each other to try harder at what no longer works?

an organism needs adaptability
Infographic du jour
4. Love becomes sacred, not strategic

An organism can become a mere organization if people don’t have the freedom to cause trouble. In our era people often throw a “trump card” in a conversation: “You are offending me.” Love means you are supposed to have the sense to never offend someone by violating their opinion or sensibility.

Autonomy and personal freedom are the greatest goods in the world right now. Christians are nice enough to go with that. So some of the most loving organizations stopped doing anything Jesus wants to do a long time ago — but they never have a fight! At least they are not fighting to become world-changing disciples. If they are fighting it is because they are offended!  God’s love is creative and purposeful, not self-protective and easily provoked.

5. We get conformed by approaches from the world that don’t know Jesus but which can run an organization.

An organism can become a mere organization if it imports techniques from the world without putting them through “faith check.” Many techniques work for getting something done, but not all techniques work for nurturing the body of Christ.

We need to be trained for life in the Spirit and that means we can’t import everything we learned from the world in which Jesus found us. Some techniques from the world will conform us to themselves more than become a tool for transformation in our hands. Even our yearly mapping process, based, as it is, on a common “business plan” and subject as it can be to “investigative inquiry,” needs to be watched.

Don’t shrink

The only way to avoid these pitfalls, it seems to me, is to not “shrink” but persevere in faith, hope and love. Being inspired by the Spirit is a whole-life work. Perhaps being a twentysomething lends itself to the wildness necessary to be a Jesus-follower. Being a thirtysomething, or more, is naturally dangerous to faith. The organism called the church has the same kind of maturation challenges. Do you think we will succeed in tackling them?

Winter is coming. Share your umbrella. — Leaders and led loving one another.

I like sharing an umbrella with someone. Maybe I need to like it, since I so often forget to carry an umbrella! (It is hard being a native of California). But I consciously like sharing an umbrella because it gives me an excuse to get close to someone in our special safe place and to feel like I am being taken care of. I like that.

I equally don’t like walking in the rain by someone who I don’t think wants to share their umbrella while they are drier than I am. And I don’t much care for sharing a tiny umbrella that deposits run off down my collar. (You can tell I have experience with this).

A leader’s “umbrella”

The other day at the Cell Leader Coordinators review for Jonny Rashid on the occasion of completing his term as our pastor, the topic of who is under a leader’s “umbrella” came up. Someone referenced this post from three years ago. I doubt that too many people read it in the summer of 2010, so here’s an update. It is still an interesting topic for people who care about how the church works and who care about how they work in the church.

We can start with the Apostle John, the master teacher on community in the early church. He might relate to Jon Snow.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

John’s three letters provide a lot of guidance for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ, especially relationships with leaders. The leaders have a limited but crucial function in keeping the church together and moving ahead while it faces all the opposition it always faces. As a leader, John seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love, and more. It looks like things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

under one umbrellaAn image that helps do some sorting is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms, being under his umbrella, would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” and showing that one “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his authority and love. When you have someone sharing your spiritual umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them. Some of John’s friends used to be under his umbrella as he is under Christ’s umbrella. He is pained that they are now out in the rain. What pains him even more is that they call the rain sunshine. The whole point of his umbrella was to keep people dry and they are all wet.

When under a leader’s umbrella seems too special

One time we had an intense discussion among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buds with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment. When they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that. It can make a person wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — that means it is not including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, people turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others — that’s OK until it’s not. It is a blessing that we all care for one another — and we have many leaders, not just one pastor. So having a special place with the pastor is not the main marker of one’s value.

Umbrellas take some discernment

As I thought about the conversation some more, I felt a lot of sympathy for people who feel “out in the rain” and for leaders with an umbrella strapped to them:

1) I feel for people who innocently enter the church with hope and trepidation and become subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends. If they don’t even know that they turn a blind eye to an influential friend’s weaknesses, the whole church can feel dangerous.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should probably have someone under their umbrella themselves! John called people “dear children”  — the people he had nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available to all from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves in the last ten years. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it takes the anointing of the Holy Spirit to persevere and truly walk in love.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined. We are so not antichrist. Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the places God is making us so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love and keep sharing our umbrellas.

Loving Women Leaders

Lately, we have been having an interesting discussion about women in leadership among the Circle of Hope. It centers around our drive to have a woman pastor someday. And what people mean by a “woman pastor” is like the four congregational pastors, I think — the person who is the Christian equivalent of the CEO, COO, CFO, something C with an O.

I have been sharing two main responses to our dialogue:

1) We have women leaders, two of them are named “pastor,” many of them are cell leaders whose job is pastor. Why are they so invisible?

2) Women face the same roadblocks among us that they face in other institutions. We need to become conscious of those obstacles to leadership and stay conscious. Women please don’t stay invisible.

First, let’s celebrate the women leaders we have.

Hild Day was last Saturday. It gives me an excuse every year to focus on women in leadership. Hild was a great leader of the church during the 600s. In a day when women rarely led men, she did.

Below is a composite picture of some of the “Hilds” of Circle of Hope. These are just the women who are either named a pastor (Gwen and Rachel), who are leaders of the core teams that make up our network Leadership Team — all three are presently women (Vanessa, Megan, Alison), or who lead cells, the basic building blocks of  our church.

women leaders

There are further women who lead mission teams and compassion teams, too! We are blessed with a lot of dedicated people. (There are probably some better pictures, too — sorry).

Second let’s keep thinking about how to get the roadblocks out of the way of our women!

I still think our recently-vinted proverb makes sense: “We are diverse in many ways and we will cross boundaries to become more so. Don’t bean count us.” Merely having a discussion of the rights and identity of women is not up to Jesus’ standards. Our equality is not measured by the world’s measure. We are growing up gifted people of both genders to be leaders and we are growing everyone down so we don’t think leaders are the most important people in the room.

But while we hope to decrease the sense of competition for power among us, acting like there is no assertion necessary to lead will likely just leave the leadership to the men, who already dominate it throughout our society. I think we all need to pay attention to what it takes to lead as a woman among us and help people succeed at it when Jesus calls them forward.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is stored on youtube  giving a TED talk about why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions. She offers three good pieces of advice for women who aspire to leadership that I think apply in our setting, too.

1) Sit at the table. Women tend to underestimate their capabilities. They are more collegial in their assessment of how they became successful. They defer instead of reach. If you need data to back up these facts, she has it – but you can usually see how we relate at a meeting and it will give you enough evidence for the same conclusions, I think.

2) Make your partner a real partner. If a woman is going to do more than make her husband’s career succeed, he is going to have to be a partner at home in a significant, mutually-agreed-upon way. This has to be true for a woman who leads the church, too. Her husband will have to help make that work.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg mainly talks about the tendency women have: they consider what it will be like to have children and a job and then mentally opt out of working hard. We don’t hire the vast majority of our leaders among Circle of Hope, so she is not thinking about our context. But I think women react in a similar way when given the opportunity to serve or lead in the church in some significant way. They are committed to their parenting in a way that makes them feel ineligible.

Being the leader of a congregation, cell or team is not what most people are going to do. But I think we should all be ready to take on the challenge to lead when given the opportunity if we are given the grace to do so — since, as our proverb says, “Women and men are co-bearers of the image of God and therefore fully gifted and responsible to lead, teach and serve.” Most of us are not leading, we are being catalyzed, equipped and steered by leaders, and we only need a few of these crucial people. There is a lot to do; and most of us are doing it.

Women have significant roadblocks to leading us to do it. Sheryl Sandberg implies that many of the roadblocks are self-imposed. But we know that no one gets where they are going alone. If we hope for women to live and give according to the fullness that is in Jesus; we can all contribute to the success of each woman we recognize as gifted and called to serve us as a leader. If there are roadblocks, inside or out, let’s lovingly knock them out of the way.

So the Next Generation Would Know

We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
the marvelous things he has done.

He planted a witness in Jacob,
set his Word firmly in Israel,
Then commanded our parents
to teach it to their children
So the next generation would know,
and all the generations to come—
Know the truth and tell the stories
so their children can trust in God,

Psalm 78 (The Message paraphrase)

Family businesses tend to crash at the third generation [link to Business Week article]. This is a little unnerving for Circle of Hope. We are a family business devoted to the proposition that the body of Christ multiplies as it grows and the descendants of the original cells or congregations do not diminish in character, but reflect the DNA of their parents. We look for maturation, not deterioration. I suppose I could take heart that we are not a mere “business,” we are an organism. And I do take heart to see how we have matured. But, to be honest, we are something like a business, too. We have plans, structures, meetings, representations like a website, a speech or a mailing, that take the kind of oversight that businesses use to keep their enterprise moving along. The leaders who follow the leaders before them need to be as astute and capable as their mentors. Will we crash someday?

Our first ever congregation “hive-off” called Northwest lasted, fitfully, for seven years (!).

DNA replicating

But it eventfully died. One of the main reasons it died was that it was never a fully-connected part of the network and did not replicate the DNA that made the original viable; until we installed Bryan Robinson, the leadership did not fully “feel” Circle of Hope. Our most recent church planting called 19G is an actual third generation congregation; BW begat FN begat 19G. They don’t seem to be in any danger of crashing, but will they be able to create and adapt, or will the network be able to keep up and adapt to what they bring? Will their new school do in our version of old school?

Similar questions apply to cells. Cell multiplication is all about making it to the third generation and onward. Our whole church is about not diminishing in character as we multiply. We are always going through a process of adapting to our neighborhood changes, adapting to changes in the congregation, adapting to growth in number, and adapting to people coming into their fullness as leaders. We hope to reproduce a good replica of what God hopes as a new cell is born and goes through the process of growing and multiplying. Sometimes our oldest and should-be-wisest leaders stop adapting and just give up. Sometimes our youngest leaders don’t even bother finding out what we already know and invent something that isn’t nearly as brilliant as what we have already proven to be effective. The process can deteriorate.

Last week, I wrote a little “psalm” for the cell leaders based on Psalm 78. It is a psalm that calls us to be a “good business” that beats the odds by being God’s business. So far, we have beaten the odds magnificently. But we are always bumping up against our weaknesses, our lack of imagination and our lethargy. What’s more, the world changes so rapidly it challenges our capacity to meet people where they are at. The Church, in general, seems so messed up (and the BIC is no exception), it is doing more crashing than building, so it doesn’t help much.

I think it is an exciting time. I feel like I was born for it. I think Circle of Hope was made for it; and in our small, unique way, we are meeting the challenges. But we could crash if we don’t pay attention and don’t give our hearts to the cause. I think we could use a little Psalm 78. Here’s an attempt to bring some. Those listening in can apply their own name and listen with us:

Listen Circle of Hope;
listen to your own proverbs
the stories of your past, distant and recent.
We have a wonder to speak.
We have wisdom to relay to the next generation.

God planted a witness in us.
We are charged, like parents loving their children,
to tell the truth we are given
to generation after generation of what God generates,
lest they be left prey to the faithlessness
that surrounds them.

We’ve Got to Keep Building

I’ve been reading a book about the Byzantine Empire. I’m afraid the people to whom I have been talking about it are ready to have me finish it! I keep learning lessons from it that I keep sharing. For a leader, meditating on the history gives some great cautionary tales; not least among them is: humankind is adept at lying, not least of all to themselves.

I saw this remant in Istanbul last summer

As I have been reading this pared-down history, which focuses on the emperors, I’ve been interested to see that one way I can categorize them is as builders and spenders. Some emperors built up the territory, built up the treasury, built up the walls, built alliances and trade and then their successors lived off what they did. Their successors let the navy deteriorate and lost territory, they spent the treasury on luxury and useless living, they neglected the walls and roads and insulted the allies. Often a new emperor who was a builder would arrive just in time to stave off total disaster and rebuild the place.

Building something is hard. You can see how hard it is when you live in the United States. In our lifetimes, the United States is the Byzantine Empire on steroids. I had one of those “aha” moments about how wealthy we are when I was driving up 95 by the airport (after seeing one of the weirdest “Christian” musicals I’ve ever seen) and I realized what an amazing road I was on, next to this huge airport! We are rich. We are screaming because unemployment is at 9% and making it uncomfortable for the 1% who are adept at gathering their huge share of the spoils. Maybe the whole empire is dying. But we are rich. It will take a long time to squander everything the country has created and stolen.

I think it is hard to build in the United States because it has become customary to train people to assume there is going to be a lot of wealth for them to manage. We train people to perform Christian musicals, but we don’t train them to build practical things (and you know I like my musicals!). I run into this as the leader of the church all the time. People come to Jesus like he is another emperor and they are going to manage the wealth he provides. They are trained for that. Jesus is, to them, like the founder of the empire and they are the successors, living behind the walls he built, protected from enemies, privileged to have the glory and riches of his kingdom. On one hand that metaphor works.  On the other hand, it can be a disaster, since the attitude often means that no one is building anything. And the land is not fat enough for everyone to just live off it.

We’ve got to build something. We usually need to rebuild what has been torn down or gone to ruin. But most of all, we need to build something new with the ever-fresh inspiration of God as Jesus becomes incarnate in us in our era. For instance, as Circle of Hope we have built, by God’s grace, something I am happy to live in. I could probably travel happily on one alley of Circle of Hope — and here we have a freeway (maybe no airport, yet). Even if none of us ever did another creative thing, it might take years to kill us. We’ve been that creative and diligent. But, of course, we need to build something now. Unlike bad Byzantine emperors, we need to scan the horizon, see what’s coming, seize opportunities, care for the big picture, and make the most of what we’ve been given.

There are many practical ways to build something. Today, five:

1)     Be a friend. Probably foremost and the most everyday discipline of being a builder: Build a new relationship and be yourself in Christ in it. This is the crucial building activity that makes or breaks the kingdom. If you already have enough love, enough friends behind your walls, the walls of the kingdom are crumbling.

2)     Start the project. Build the next church, don’t just make cosmetic changes and tell yourself you’ll get to the real project when the rest of life settles down. For some reason, practically serving Jesus is easy to put off. He often takes second place to the latest lover or the newest employer.

3)     Pitch in. Add your capacity to the work. Don’t assume someone else is going to do it, just because someone else has provided what you presently enjoy. Yes, that means all of us, not just the leaders. It is not the leaders’ church; Jesus resides in each and all of us.

I am certainly not saying we never do anything, of course. At 19G, everyone is involved in building something new and are doing it well. At MC we are building a new location and building up a congregation to fill it with action. At FN we are rebuilding and using our advantageous location to relate to hundreds of new people every month (and don’t forget that FN is the motherland of Circle Thrift!). At BW we are in the most danger of not building because we have been around the longest and often feel the most secure (or maybe “settled” is more accurate). But BW is awash in new ideas, not least among them is incarnational evangelism and building the church from the ground up again.

As far as attitudes that ground the action go:

4)     Own the whole thing. You may be a barista in someone else’s store, but in the church, you are an owner. Don’t let the subjugation you experience in the world leak over into the church. Don’t be a mere spender of what someone else has collected.

5)     Spend on the future. The walls are not just the “government’s” responsibility. I’m talking metaphorically, here, not because we should build walls or we care what the government does. The walls were symbolic of Byzantium’s strength. When they were in good order it was because a builder cared and spent time and money to repair them. Jesus does not do the work of the church by himself. If we are living off whatever is there, the walls are crumbling. The church is an expression of whatever life in Christ we have; it is not a hobby we enjoy when “life” isn’t too busy. What is worth our lives right now and tomorrow?

Five lessons are enough for now. But I hope there is some small inspiration here to build the church with Jesus. I think most of the leaders in the government and elsewhere have been living off the spoils of the empire and don’t care much about building the future. The attitude has trickled down to us regular Joes and Janes until a lot of us never even think of building something. We just get ours and assume there will be more to get later. That doesn’t work in the church, either.

Under the Umbrella or Not

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.( 2 John 1:6)

John’s letters are great for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ. He seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love. Things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

An image I have ben pondering is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms that would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” of course, and showing that one “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his authority and love. When you have someone sharing your umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them.

 The other night we had an intense discussion (that is not code for “argument”) among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buds with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment — when they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that and one has to wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, they turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others. It is a blessing that we all care for one another, and we have many leaders, not just one pastor.

As I thought about the conversations some more, I felt more sympathy:

1) I really feel for people who feel subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should have someone under their umbrella. John called people “dear children”  — the people he has nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves in the last ten years. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it take the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do that.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined. Our quarterly Love Feast encouraged me even more. It was such a celebration of what John names belonging and remaining! It was so not antichrist. Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the place we get so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love.

Fighting a Good Fight

The instinct for leadership is necessary on a lot of levels. Classroom teachers need it. Parents of toddlers need it. Neighborhood organizers need it. Our cell leaders, team leaders and leadership team among Circle of Hope are working it out constantly. It is not that easy to lead.

Lately we have been having a series of discussions about an interesting conflict of mentality when it comes to leading. Here are questions that get the discussion going:

How does one organize a new team (like a cleaning team or a mission to prisoners)? Do they get all their thoughts in order, gather all their resources, imagine all the difficulties, have a solid team that has met and discussed everything about their organization and action before they get going? That would certainly be a nice business plan – and as you can see by our yearly Map, we have more than a little business plan about us.

OR. Do they get an inspiration, see a need, sense a movement and gather a few common friends to tackle the issue, having a good idea of where God is leading them, but leaving quite a few details to sort out in action, learning as they are going along and coming up with organizational solutions that meet the needs they discover along the way? That would be a nice demonstration of flexibility and discernment – and as you can see by our commitment to organic and diverse leadership, we have a lot of flexibility.

As you can predict, the organized ones are sometimes suspicious of the flexible ones and get upset that they have to put up with their disorderly ways. The flexible ones are sometimes suspicious of the organized ones and get upset that they have to put up with so much preparation and dialogue instead of getting into action. The organized ones call the flexible “unprepared.” The flexible call the organized “bureaucrats.” But, in reality, the organized provide a lot of the context in which the flexible can flex, and the flexible provide a lot of the activity the organized can organize. They are crucial to each other. Neither “identity” is whole without the other. One is more orderly and one is more prophetic, but neither is able to fulfill the mission without the other.

My solution in most discussions that end up in the false dichotomy between the organized and flexible is to turn to the metaphor of warfare and contest that Jesus and the rest often use in the Bible.

When Paul is describing the main reason to organize the church – “winning” people to the gospel, he demonstrates how flexible he is.

To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Cor 9:21-22

When Paul is talking about the most “flexible” of activities – speaking in tongues, he tries to get some organization in the Corinthian church:

“If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” 1 Cor 14:8-9

I think the war sorts out the differences. If we are all trying to win the contest, then the different gifts we bring to it sort themselves out. If all we are doing is living in a static system, then some people will get their satisfaction by controlling it (calling that organizing) and others with get their satisfaction by rebelling against it (calling that flexible).

In this highly organized age, in which so many of us have been trained to manage large systems (even a retail store is pretty complex, I think!), we tend to bring a lot of organization to the church. In an era in which our wars are fought by drones (from the U.S. side, at least) we do not know much about the flexibility it requires to have a large goal that is being incrementally fought for day by day, decision by decision, moment by moment. So we might be stronger on the organized side (even though we seem so disorganized!) We are certainly strong enough on the controlling/rebelling axis! I think we could all become more secure on the flexible side.

When your child is learning, one can’t always consult the book before acting. We need to trust God and trust the Spirit at work in us and on behalf of the child so we can do what we can do best in the moment and move on with confidence. Likewise, when we are forming a team or a cell, we need to resist the perfectionism that our professional orientation demands and move to meet the need and give our gifts with whatever skill or opportunity we have. I often say that we are an army on the move; we will undoubtedly need to improvise. If we wait until we can do everything well, we may have already lost the battle before we get there. We don’t control the outcomes, anyway, so we have the blessed assurance to move into territory we have never even seen with the confidence that God goes before us.

I feel so grateful to be personally surrounded by so many people who work out their faith in such a deep way! They even entertain the thought that they not only exist, they lead! Their faith is not in some secret compartment in them, it is making a difference! They are not an aspiration, they already have value. They are fighting a good fight.

On Hild Day — in praise of women leaders

[In honor of Hild Day, Nov. 17, and in honor of the good women leaders among the Circle of Hope, I thought I’d re-do a piece written in 2008 and share it with you]

Leadership makes a difference

When I say that, a good 90% of us probably automatically tune out. As far as the organizations we understand and the church as it is, we already have a lot of leaders over us and we don’t see room for many more, certainly not ME.

We don’t imagine Jesus calling us to lead any time soon, either.

When Jesus talks about his claim to lead the people of God he pictures himself as a good shepherd, as opposed to all those false shepherds that lead everyone into misery. Very few of us would sign up to be a shepherd like that, good or false.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30.

Most of us don’t feel like we need to be in the shepherd role. I call that leadership on the “macro level,” sometimes. Not everyone is given that role. And I think that makes sense, since we don’t really need that many of those catalysts and guides.

But all of us are leading, in one way or another on what we might call the “micro level.” God has given each of us the capacity to make a difference. You count. You are in the father’s hand. You are carrying eternal life. So what you do means something. What you do leads me. You are like an undershepherd looking out for my interests.

I was arguing this out with a person the other day and telling him that his immoral life was leading me. He was presenting me a direction for how I should follow Jesus. I had to think, “Should I do it his way, or another way?”  He wasn’t happy to hear me thinking about this. He wanted to make no difference. He said, “I live my life and you live yours.” But I told him that was impossible. We get a common life from Jesus, that doesn’t belong to either of us exclusively. We are tied together —  if you just live whatever you think your life is, doesn’t that lead me to exercise the same illusion? Besides, we are tied by love. I love you. I cannot make you not make a difference to me. Where you are going, in some way, is where I am going too. The question is, “Where are you leading me?”

In some major ways you can tell where a people is going by where their macro leaders are going. But that is not the whole story. Especially in the church, you can tell where the church is going by what the preponderance of the individuals are doing, where the microleaders are going. If we are mostly passionate, visionary, loving, faithful people, things will go that direction. If we are not responsive to the Spirit of God’s leadership, nothing I or another macroleader tries to catalyze will get too far.

I know this is not true of quite a few people who read this blog, but I would say that many of us probably take ourselves much too lightly. You are not leading us where you think we should be going. As a result, you are more like one of the thieves or hired hands that Jesus is fighting than you might like to think.

Hild can help us think this through. In the era in which the New Testament was written, and in the era that saw the flowering of the Celtic Church, our spiritual ancestors had the very same challenges we do. The work of Jesus always faces challenges to find its place and find a voice in every culture. And it always takes Spirit-empowered people to lead the way. Leadership makes a difference. There are always the thieves and the hired hands, and we pray that there are always the undershepherds listening to Jesus, the good shepherd, and following.

So I want to re-tell the story about how it worked out a long time ago with Hild. I think this makes sense because we are a lot like the Celtic church. They were planting the church in a place like Center City Philadelphia, where so many people do not have faith and do not have a clear picture of Jesus at all. Our cells and our congregations are remarkably like the communities that the Celts formed to help people work out a way to live the abundant life Jesus promises and be a part of calling people who can hear the voice of Jesus into the fold to share that life.

Hild’s story center’s on Whitby, on the East coast of Northumbria. She became the famous leader of the Whitby Community about the year 650. That’s nearly 300 years after Patrick’s pioneering work in Ireland. A vibrant faith had spread from there to Scotland and down to Northumbria, and it had also moved up from Kent in the south. At this point the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northern England were the most vibrant on the islands. And Hilda was in the middle of it.

The story of Hilda’s leadership in the church begins with King Oswald, who became a follower of Jesus. King Oswald decided to help his people know the Lord so he sent off to the great community on Iona, where he had once lived in exile, to recruit a person who could help people come to faith.

The history of Oswald’s recruiting looks a bit like the  last U.S. presidential election. The first man Iona sent was too hot and people did not like him. Oswald sent him back. The next man sent was Aidan, who was gentler and more politically savvy. Aidan found a lot of success.

It was Aidan who spotted Hilda. Hilda was a distant member of a royal family who decided to become part of an intentional community at age 33. There were no communities exclusively for women in Northumbria at the time, so she was about ready to leave for France to join one there when Aidan persuaded her to stay. He trained her himself and gave her leadership of a household. She eventually moved to Whitby and founded a community where she was the leader for the last 23 years of her life. Unlike many of the Christian communities at the time, there were men and women at Whitby — Hild lead them all. They began what became a famous school. The community had a lot of influence in the surrounding area for hundreds of years. Hilda became so well-known that many people came to her for practical counsel and spiritual direction. If you have recently gotten close to the age when Jesus began his ministry and are feeling a little nervous about what is next, Hild demonstrates that the best is probably yet to come. If forty was the new thirty for you, don’t fret.

hild at tableUnlike many of the women of her time, Hilda ended up a macroleader. Aidan noticed her gifts and she responded to the call. There is a great picture of her at a present-day community near Whitby where she is seated at a round table leading, as she did in the tense and foundational discussion that happened at the Council of Whitby. We are still feeling the after-effects of that meeting.

I think Hilda followed the example of Jesus well. A good macroleader sees herself as a gate – an opportunity for people to enter into life, a way in to the community of faith. They are also a protector — they lay their lives down for the people and the cause. They are the servants lifting up the enterprise. They see the wolves circling. The also see who and what is next — like how Jesus talks about the sheep not of the present fold. The macroleader works at maintaining a vision that is beyond the present to help us get where we are going.

Our Cell Leaders, Cell Leader Coordinators, team leaders, and pastors are all doing their best to exercise this kind of transforming leadership. We are blessed with an astounding number of sincere, teachable and faithful leaders! Either they gain and exercise the audacity of Jesus and Hilda, or we make less of a difference, as a people, than we hope to make.  When I made a speech at a conference of the BIC last year, I was surprised to find out that they look to us, as a body, to provide some leadership for the whole denomination! They asked, “What have you learned in Philly that we could all apply? How do we live out the gospel these days?” I think I felt a bit like Hilda might have felt when she was being recruited by Aidan — I had a much smaller idea of who I was. We have something to bring; we need to bring it.

Hilda was also a notable microleader. Not that all women do this, but they are often better at not missing the trees for the forest. So many men cut down all the trees and pave things over so they can build something new in the name of their domination which they then call “safety!” Women can often lead with better empathy that starts with the trees there are and nurtures the true forest out of them.

This is well represented in the most famous story about Hilda that has to do with the cowherd named Caedmon, one of the workmen on Whitby’s large landholdings. Caedmon was at the opposite end of the social scale from Hilda. He was an illiterate farmhand. He seems to have been content with his lot except for one thing. Whenever the guys passed around the harp at the end of the day before bed, Caedmon headed for the door if he saw it coming his way. Songs and stories were valued and he was a tone-deaf guy. He wanted to get into the mix but soon everyone knew how embarrassed he was about his lack of ability.

One night he felt especially ashamed of himself and went back out to the cows, lonely and miserable. He ended up sleeping in the barn. There he had a dream. A man came to him and called him by name,

“Caedmon, sing me a song.”

“I can’t.” he said. “It is because I can’t sing that I am out here instead of with everyone else at table.“

”Can’t sing?” the voice said. “You can and you must.” ‘

“What must I sing about?”

“Sing about the creation of all things.” And Caedmon composed and song, right there in his dream —  a poem of praise of Creation. When he woke up, he discovered the dream was true. He sang his song to the cows.  In the morning, he told his boss what happened. The boss thought the story was weird enough to tell Hilda. .

Hilda got excited. She and the senior brothers and sisters gave Caedmon a little test. They chose a passage from the Bible and read it to him. He was to go make it a song. He took a whole day, but came back with an excellent song. At that Hilda invited him into the community. They didn’t bother to teach him to read Latin, they wanted him to make songs in English for people to sing as they ploughed and did their spinning. Caedmon is the first known English Christian poet.

In this Hilda was encouraging microleadership like Jesus also describes in the passage about being the good shepherd. Obviously Caedmon becomes the good cowherd in a whole new way.  Each of us are encouraged, I think, to see ourselves as someone with something to give. We get fed in the fold so we can grow into who we are meant to be. We count. Jesus knows us, Hilda knows Caedmon. We are not inconsequential. As it often goes, the least are often given the most because God loves using the least. He likes being the least.

Again, what you do good or bad, is going to cause something. It is sort of a sin to think of yourself as having no responsibility and leaving it all to Hilda. It is not Hilda’s job to be you! Caedmon heard God’s call directly. The leaders didn’t even know who he was. The sheep hear the voice of Jesus and follow. The following makes a difference. The one flock is people of all sorts following Jesus, and that gives it its beauty and power.

Hilda was ready to go to France. She ended up at home leading a community. Before long she was engaged in one of the leading communities of her area, hosting a synod that included people from Ireland, Scotland, and the South of England. Jesus is always looking for leaders like that who expand his fold and nurture and protect those in it. I’m not sure how Hilda felt about her responsibility. I know our president wondered how he got into his responsibility. Someone was testing him when he got started and asked him if he felt ready to be the leader of the free world. He said, “Who would?” I think many of us feel the same awe, like we just got an unusual song to sing, when Jesus calls us to make a difference.

Every one of us, whether we just entered the circle or not, has an opportunity to make a difference by what God has made us and given us to do. I don’t care if you are a big sinner right now, or if you are a women, or if you can sing or not. What you do starts good things and unlocks God’s capacity to transform.

We need our macro leaders to have energy, or like Oswald, we’ll have to go looking for someone who has some.

We need our microleaders to listen to their dreams. Sometimes the movement of God starts with your disappointment about what you can’t do. Please don’t give in to the disappointment and think you are useless. Please don’t let the wolf get you. The Good Shepherd is on our side and will keep working for us to have an abundant life – each of us and all of us.

Posers

Foolish people should not be proud
And rulers should not be liars!
(Proverbs 17:7, International Children’s Bible)

Paul told me, the other night during a marathon and often-hilarious Coordinators meeting, that Peter Weir imported Croatian fishermen to be the ship’s crew when he filmed Master and Commander because Americans cannot look natural on film. The Croatians would actually ignore being filmed and look like real people, whereas Americans are always aware of the camera and visbily change when they sense one. We have apparently bred “posing” into our children. It is instinctual now.

Therefore, conforming to the wisdom of the proverb above can be tough. We’re unconfortable with who we are. Turn on the camera and we lie. We are not ourselves, we are an image. One of the first things we learn as a baby is to pose. By the time we enter college we have mastered being a resume. If we drop out of that nonsense we form a band or an emergent church and strike an anti-pose pose.

One would think that Christians would rejoice in being saved from the damnation of living as a piece of imagination and be real. One would think that we would be content with being exposed as foolish and would stop being proud as a means to cover up our emptiness. Jesus, the great I AM, graced us with the freedom to be who we truly are, just like he IS.

We are not always that happy. We think life is like God, the great parent, pointing a heavenly camera at us all day and we are uncomfortably trying to smile. We bring a friend up the stairs to worship and we can’t help warning them that what we do is “kind of weird,” since we’re sure it probably won’t look right.

Maybe this goes double for the leaders. Like the proverb says, they should not be the chief liars: posing for their audience and performing Christianity for them, acting like the paparazzi are looking for them all the time so they’d better keep their clothes on. If the leaders lie like that, they teach everyone else to lie, and the whole church is less an incarnation of the Spirit of truth and just another film clip.

I know this is on my mind because I watched Bosnian and Serbian TV last week. Their airwaves were filled with American TV or knock-offs. (The knock-offs were the best). I didn’t realize that our country’s main export is probably brilliantly-produced images: Mickey Mouse, CSI (and every other crime show), John Wayne films (they have TCM). And I even ran into the Gaithers beaming themselves into Sarajevo.

Let’s be real. We may be foolish people, but we are saved foolish people. Tell them, “Yes, our meetings might seem weird to you; talk to Jesus about it — he’s OK with what we’ve got, honestly shared.”

What Holds this Church Together?

I’ve come to love the “how” questions. But for whole segments of the population, I answer them rather poorly. The other night at “rabbi time” one of my favorite people (Jeff not only thinks and sings well, he plays the accordion!) asked one of my favorite questions about the church. “How does it hold together?” I didn’t get all of the back story, but I think he’s seen a few places fall apart. It took him a while to join in, since he was skeptical about Circle of Hope’s staying power! It does not seem to have enough mechanisms for survival; it just kind of is.

My answer received a funny response that I have been pondering since. “Every time you talk about this, you use the words relational, love, incarnational, but I end up not knowing a lot more.” (I felt a bit like Jimmy Carter being humored by Ronald Reagan). That reply echoed a much more incoherent protest by a blogger who objected to the chart I was explaining on the Circle of Hope blog a week ago. (Just how did you come across that blog, Courtney?).

So I thought I would try again.

Most of what I think is better summed up by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
        Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of [people] in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

What holds us together? Here are five applications of the scripture we are trying to make, with just one example each that demonstrate how we are trying. (Want to comment with more?)

1) We assume people are not infants (or at least are not destined to be so). They are gifted and relevant. Jesus is in them to bring fullness and unity.

We expect our Cell Leaders to work out our agreements and follow our very general plan. We do not tell them what to do each week; they are not given a curriculum.

2)  The pastors and other leaders are relentless about contrasting the deceitfulness of the philosophies of the age with Jesus. We know we are a “ship of fools” as far as the deluded world is concerned.

You may have noticed that we are not an “emerging church,” we are not “postmodern.” We tend to rail against modernism, too and a couple of weeks ago I took a swipe at Facebook and the immortality of the soul in the space of a few minutes.

3) Dialogue is practiced. Speaking the truth in love is an organizing discipline; not just a personal aspiration.

Our yearly Map-making is an extravagant exercise in taking what people say seriously and encouraging them to say it.

4) We think of ourselves as a body with Jesus as the head, not a mechanism with a set of instructions for “how it works.”

The hardest think to understand is being an organism. Right now we have planted the seeds of another congregation and we are watching to see if it will grow. We also have a congregation in Camden that is stretching out roots. We have methods, but they won’t replace Jesus causing the growth.

5) We assume that we will fall apart if people do not love each other, and promote such dissolution.

Some astute historian told me that such an idea is so 70’s — well, 90’s, too. I think it is central to what Jesus is giving is. As Paul says elsewhere, “Nothing matters but faith working itself out through love.” People come to the leaders quite often with a great idea for mission (and I mean often and great). We send them back to create a mission team. If you can’t team, your idea can’t matter. Sometimes teams don’t have the devotion and want the “church” to take over their idea, we let them die.

My dear friend was in wonder that we do not fall apart. Now that I have sketched out why we don’t, so am I. Jesus must be behind it. On a human level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Today is St. Brigid’s Day

We were in St. Brigid’s home place, Kildare, on the first day we left Dublin last summer. It is a beautiful, green, country town where people go to see the horse races. But there is definitely a sense of spiritual mystery about the place, whose name means “the church of the oak.” When Brigid became a Christian in the 400’s the ancient earth-religion had a watch-fire keeping spring alive on the special hill and a feeling for the spirit in the oak tree. Brigid claimed it all for Jesus and identified the fire’s true source. 1600 years later I could still feel her influence.

I am happy to honor the memory of a great leader among the faithful today — especially because she is a woman. I have three reasons.

1) Some flame keepers will be in my dining room in a little while planning the women’s retreat. Circle of Hope is blessed with some strong leaders who, like Brigid, don’t mind taking responsibility for their gifts.

2) At our spectacular Love Feast last night (265 attending! 30 making a covenant!), I had to murmur a bit when “Holy Holy Holy” had us sing “though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.” I tried to get “sinful ones” in the archive a long time ago, and the original keeps getting back in. This is not the most egregious example of patriarchal language, since it obviously means “humankind,” and it might be just as well to sing “sinful men” if you were a woman. Nevertheless, I think not making the women (and men) who are sensitive to language-that-doesn’t-include-everyone sing things that leave people out is the leader’s responsibility (and it is just the right thing to do).

3) The prayer book I use (Celtic Daily Prayer) included a great poem about Brigid, today, which matches the spirit of our own great feast, last night. Perhaps we should have acknowledged her as our spiritual host when we met, since she was so famous for her hospitality and it was St. Brigid’s Eve!

I should like a great lake of the finest ale
for the King of Kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
for the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith
and the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast
for they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast
for they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus in the highest place
and the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
God bless the human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink;
All homes, O God, embrace.

(Yes, I know it is Superbowl Sunday, too. Please do not kick me out of mankind).