Ain’t Going Out Like That

abandoned-churchI’ve been asked before whether I hate Christians, which is kind of a funny question to be asked when you’re a pastor. Digging deeper down, I think the genesis of the question was because I have a tendency to speak my mind with a combination of my New York and New England roots.

Growing up in the church, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the local church. I’ve seen people who claim the love of Christ but rarely show it. I’ve seen people who have been forgiven for much be stingy in offering forgiveness to others. I’ve seen the hypocrisy that flows freely behind closed doors, a stark contrast from the public face that some wear. And, if I’m totally honest, I’ve probably seen all of these and more in the mirror as much as I’ve seen it in other people.

The place of the local church in society has changed dramatically over the last fifty or sixty years. Once upon a time, the local church, regardless of denomination, was afforded a place of respect within our culture, but things have changed. People have run from God. They generally want him to care when their lives are a mess, even criticizing him and asking where he is in the midst of trials and difficulties. At the same time, when things are going well, they have no issue taking credit for how they’ve made themselves who they are and how far they’ve advance their own causes, giving no credit to God for the blessings they’ve received.

Within the church, it seems that many of us have been licking our wounds and lamenting this fall from grace for the church. How did we get here? Why did we get here? Why can’t things be the way that they used to be? Instead of adapting to this new normal, we’ve allowed panic and fear to drive us to find ways to regain the church’s place in society, mostly by thinking (like Israel) that politics is the way to make that happen, especially if we can just get the “king” (or president) to lead us to glory.

But the place of Christians in our society is not much different than the place of Christians in many of the societies where Paul planted churches in the first century. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. Colossae. The Roman empire was not a “Christian” culture. Regardless of Constantine’s move centuries later (which I believe instilled a false sense of security into the Church universal), Roman culture was pagan.

Fifty years ago, the place that the church occupied within culture and society in America fostered an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. I call it the “Field of Dreams” mentality. People respected the church and pastors enough that just being there and offering opportunities was enough. You could draw people in with your programs if you made them attractive enough. Even if you made no concerted efforts to reach out to your community, people would inevitably find their way back to the church, right?

But those days are gone, and I can’t say that I lament them at all. As difficult as life can become without certain things at times, using crutches can give us a false sense of security that also removes our reliance on the muscles that we were supposed to be leaning on. But now that the crutches of false security have been removed, we need some major physical therapy in the church to begin to strengthen those muscles that we haven’t been using for so long.

Primarily, those are the muscles of outreach and evangelism. Because those things were so programmatic back in the day, we are dumbfounded in the church to realize that there is no magic formula or secret sauce that allows us to bring people into the church in droves.

Instead, it takes one conversation at a time, one relationship at a time, over a long period of time. It take intentional investment, not a one-time event that we can throw money at in hopes that it will somehow translate into a growth boom in the local church.

But, we just ain’t going out like that. Churches continue to struggle to do this.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is our diminished ability to connect and relate well to other people. Our culture will generally respond to crisis, but when the crisis is gone, where do we go? Where do the relationships go?

I’ve seen some messy situations both inside and outside of the church. I’ve only seen few of those engaged by some very brave people who understand the messiness into which they are venturing. It’s not easy. There will be hurt. There will be pain. There will be joy. There will be celebration. There will be life.

Somehow, the Church needs to figure out a way to relate well to the world once again. It’s not done with picket signs and boycotts, it’s done through relationships, especially relationships with those we would consider to be the “other,” people who don’t look like us, act like us, or even think like us. Jesus’ instructions about the greatest commandment were twofold: love God, love your neighbor.

Unfortunately, we’ve diminished our definition of the word “neighbor.” Instead of defining the word from Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, anyone who comes across our path, those who are like us or not, we’ve limited it to those who we enjoy spending time with or who we can tolerate. I can tell you, Samaritans and Jews weren’t particularly chummy back in the day, yet that was the definition that Jesus gave of showing love to a neighbor.

This is a big ship to turn, one that takes time and patience. I’m running out of both. I’ve never been a patient person and when I feel urgency, my patience becomes even more limited.

Ultimately, reaching out to a world in need of hope and in need of a Savior can’t be about building a Christian empire or nation, it needs to be about building a kingdom. But this kingdom isn’t of this world and it certainly doesn’t have values that look like the values of this world either. When we lose sight of what we’re building, we become like those inhabitants of Babel, building a tower for our own glory rather than the glory of God.

I’m on this journey, learning more every day, becoming a little bit more willing to take risks every day. I want to see the Church succeed in her mission, but it’s going to take some momentum and synergy to move things forward. I’m hoping I find some others who are willing to take this ride with me, not for our sake or even the sake of our local church, but for the sake of a King and Kingdom that will reign forever.

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Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders – A Book Review

Developing Emotionally Mature LeadersAubrey Malphurs introduces the concept of emotional maturity for Christians by claiming that emotionally maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. He writes, “And to be emotionally mature is to be spiritually mature.” Christians who claim to be spiritually mature yet lack emotional maturity are mistaken, Malphurs says.

This book is divided into four sections. The first section, Introduction to Emotional Intelligence, feels like an apologetic for the subject. Why is emotional intelligence important? That’s the question that Malphurs seems to be answering in Part 1. He gives a brief history, introducing some of the key influential figures in the study of emotional intelligence.

In Part 2, Malphurs seems to be answering the question, “Why does this matter to Christians?” He goes so far as to give a Biblical theology of emotions and why they are important. To be honest, this also seems like an apologetic section, as if he is trying to convince Christians why this subject is so important. To be honest, if someone has picked up this book, I would be hard pressed to believe that they wouldn’t see value in the subject to begin with.

Halfway through the book, Malphurs begins to get into the nuts and bolts of emotional intelligence and maturity. Part 3 is about becoming an emotionally mature leader. Malphurs introduces four different emotional maturity models and briefly walks through them.

Part 4 is the appendices, which are dedicated to the building of various skills such as networking, risk-taking, decision-making. confrontation,  encouragement, and various other practical skills for emotional health and leadership. Most of what is shared here is fairly practical. Nothing earth-shattering, at least to me.

Overall, every time that I opened this book and was reminded of its title, I felt a little disappointed that so much time was taken to convince the reader why the subject was important. I would rather have seen more space in the book dedicated to the models and the methods for growing and building emotionally healthy leaders. The book was far more elementary than its title indicates. I was expecting much deeper and more helpful.

For those who are already familiar with the subject of emotional health and maturity, you can probably pass on this book. I don’t think you will learn anything new. While the appendices have some helpful information, it certainly isn’t worth the price of the book as the information is most likely available elsewhere.

If you are just wading into this subject, this book may be helpful to convince you of the importance of the subject. It’s more of a primer for beginners than a handbook for the already familiar.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Be Who You Are

I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago by the organization from whom I received my StrengthsFinders training. The main topic of discussion was team values.

As the hosts talked, I felt myself nodding my head over and over again like a bobblehead doll as they talked about looking at their organization and having this sneaky suspicion deep inside that what they said were and what they really were did not agree. The head of the organization said that as they looked at their values, at least their stated values, they began to realize that that was all that they were, stated values. They weren’t bad or wrong, but they weren’t who they really were. Deep inside he could tell that there was a discrepancy and the stated values did not necessarily represent reality.

In other words, the things that they said they valued were not necessarily the things that they really valued. What they said they valued may have represented the best of intentions, what they wished that they were, but they were not reality and it was that which had caused the unsettled feeling within the head of the organization. It evoked a discussion about what the organization valued based on observation rather than desire or intentions.

It resonated with me because I can relate. There are times that I may claim one thing or another about myself, but those claims are false, not representing reality. Instead of claiming what is real, I sometimes claim what I WISH to be real. For instance, someone may say that they are charitable, giving when not asked, being generous always, and rarely being selfish in what they have, but the reality may be that they are patronizing at best, reluctantly giving when asked, self-serving at worst.

I don’t suspect that I am the only one who deals with this. If we are all honest, I wonder how many of us would say that the values we claim are actual reality. Is there good alignment between what we say we are and what we wish we were?

Within the church, I feel like this is a major point to ponder. Churches may put forth their vision and mission statements, they may tote values that align with the teachings of Jesus, but how many times are the values that are trumpeted the actual values that are exhibited? Are we being consistent in our language or are we simply saying that we are something that we are not?

It lends itself to a thorough questioning and soul searching if we truly want to get to the heart of this issue. The church aligns itself with the teachings of Jesus, in theory, but I think that there are times when we are selective about to which teachings of Jesus we adhere, often casting out the difficult or problematic ones. If we lack consistency between what we say we are and how we actually behave, then we are really guilty of false advertising, saying we hold to the teachings of Jesus but only embracing them in theory rather than in practice.

I fully understand that a vision is something to which we aspire. We set up visions in order that we would progress towards them, promoting forward movement towards something. A vision is something that gives us a picture of the future, of what could be. But what happens when our pursuit of vision seems endless? Is that the purpose?

As followers of Christ, we are constantly being reformed and transformed, at least we should be. We will not reach full perfection or Christlikeness (to use a recurrent term) until we meet Jesus face to face. So where do we set our vision? Should vision be constantly changing?

I am growing weary of the self-realization that what I say I am ends up being more like what I wish I were than what I really am. The journey of self-awareness will lead us to this reality if things are off. My hope and prayer is that I will constantly be asking myself how aligned I am with what I say I am and what I really am. If I can’t get this right myself, I certainly can’t expect those whom I lead to follow suit.

 

The Gray of Growth

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Challenge and Change.jpg

For anyone who has spent any amount of time in the church, the idea and topic of spiritual formation has most likely come up at one time or another. As is the case with many words and phrases in Western Christianity, some words and phrases have been emptied of their meaning because of the frivolous ways we’ve used them. Spiritual Formation may have become a buzz word in some circles, but it’s an important concept for all of those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ and who desire to continue to grow.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my own life and in our culture is that we really like “Color By Numbers” types of things. We like to have a script laid out before us, clear instructions that will give us a step by step approach towards completing the desired task. But rarely is the path of growth as linear, formulaic, and structured as we think it is.

If you’ve ever gone through any kind of training, you know that there comes a time when the muscles that you are trying to grow and train need to be tricked and challenged. While regular workouts with the same exercises can still be beneficial, in order to experience growth, changing things up becomes necessary to progress and not plateau.

The Apostle Paul understood the need to discipline the body in order to grow and be trained. There needs to be an order and a structure in what we are doing in our training and spiritual formation, but we may have found that we’ve done the same exercises for such a long time that we need to change things up in order to avoid the plateau of growth that can come when we continue to do the same thing over and over again.

As I get older and grow, I am seeing the benefit of growth not only on an individual basic, but on a communal basis. Like so much of life, we need to maintain some kind of balance. We may find ourselves emphasizing more individual growth rather than communal growth, or vice versa, but finding the balance can be a challenge. While the balance may wane and sway at times, we always need to be mindful of the multi-faceted aspect of growth that happens when we learn individually and corporately.

I sometimes wish that I could simply read a book that would give me all the steps that I need to be perfect in my growth, but that’s far too simplistic to think that it can be effective. While there are helpful methods and books that outline these methods, change is important in our growth and challenge will be part of that. Like the sign in my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Facing It

I’ve got a workout buddy that I meet at the gym twice a week. He’s far more experienced (and in way better shape) than I am, so he leads our workouts. I just sit back and pray that I’ll make it through them. He knows some of the things that I want to work on, so he includes workouts that will be best for getting done what needs to get done.

Our gym isn’t the most up-to-date facility, the equipment works fine, but it sure could use an update. There are free weights and a few machines. There are exercise balls, spinning bikes, floor mats, and other things that enable us to do what we need to do.

But there’s one thing in the gym that makes me cringe every time my buddy goes to get it…..

THE WHEEL OF DEATH

 ab-wheel

Maybe you’ve seen it before. Maybe you’ve used it before. Maybe you have the same look of shock and horror on your face every time that you come across it.

I remember seeing these things when I was a kid four hundred years ago. I guess you can’t improve upon greatness…….or pain.

As much as I hope that the ab wheel would just disappear from our gym, I also know what it does to me when I use it. It works my core and if I push myself, it should flatten out that 40+ tummy of mine (operative word there is “should”).

When we met at the gym the other day and we pulled out the wheel of death, I couldn’t help but think about the things that we try to avoid. Most of us will try to avoid some things that aren’t good for us or that will harm us. Some of us will avoid things that we know might be good for us but for which we find ourselves with a great aversion towards.

The fact is, there are some things, regardless of how we might react to them, that are good for us, at least in the long run. They might cause pain and agony in the short term, but the long term benefits will far outweigh that pain and agony.

Nope, we can hardly ever see it at the time. Who really likes to subject themselves to such pain?

I’ve been astounded at my observations of how this mindset extends so much further than the gym. When we face things that we don’t like, we simply run away. Let’s find a safe place where we can go so as to avoid the things that we don’t like. Let’s find a way to create a safe zone where nothing distasteful can enter.

But what happens to the growth that might have occurred in us had we had to face what we didn’t want to face? What happens to our resolve? To our sense of conviction? To our ability to hear opposing viewpoints? Do we really grow if we only surround ourselves with the things that we like?

This isn’t a recommendation for everyone to go hang out with the complete opposite of yourself, but it is a pondering of just what this does to us. I imagine that if we run every single time that we are faced with some kind of offense or opposition, we’re probably not moving much further from the space which we are already occupying. We’re not going to grow, to mature, to develop. We will be destined for mediocrity.

Sure, this breaks down at some point, I’m sure it does. There are certain topics and ideas which I want to avoid extreme opposition. I’ve wrestled with them and think I’ve come to rest on a good conclusion. But if my conclusions are really as sure-footed as I think they are, shouldn’t I be okay with a little wrestling now and then?

When I go back to the gym and that Wheel of Death is lurking in the closet, waiting to inflict pain upon me, I hope I don’t run. I hope I give it a try, because ultimately, what it will do to me will be far more significant and beneficial than if I simply were to tuck my tail and run away. 

Strengths Based Marriage

The Clifton StrengthsFinders assessment is used to assess the top five strengths of an individual. While everyone has all of the 34 signature strengths themes in the assessment, everyone is unique in the combination of those strengths that make up their top five. While there may be others in the world with the same combination of strengths as you, the probability is fairly small. Understanding your strengths is key to growth and development.strengths-based-marriage

StrengthsFinders’ emphasis is to focus your energy and efforts on the strengths that are your top five, the strengths where you have the most capacity for growth and development. Focusing on your bottom five strengths is actually an exercise in futility as you not only focus on areas where your capacity is at the least but it also takes the focus away from the areas where you have the greatest capacity.

As a certified Strengths Communicator, I was very interested to read “Strengths Based Marriage” by Jimmy Evans and Allan Kelsey. As I’ve studied strengths, I have been curious to know how those strengths affect and impact our relationships with one another as well as the various roles which we fill in our lives. Evans and Kelsey look at marriage from their areas of expertise as marriage counselor and strengths expert, respectively.

They begin their book with an introduction to strengths, which is helpful for those who have not had significant experience with StrengthsFinders. I imagine that most people who pick up this book will have had some experience with StrengthsFinders to even open the book. The standard assessment for StrengthsFinders simply gives one their top five strengths yet Evans and Kelsey talk about the top ten and bottom five strengths. In order to get the full assessment with all thirty-four themes, the price is significantly more than just the standard assessment. Many books that talk of StrengthsFinders include an assessment code, something that this book does not include. It would be helpful to at least include an assessment code for the basic assessment and give the reader an understanding of the cost of the full assessment, even possibly offering a discount code for the full assessment.

Evans and Kelsey tackle each subject from their respective expertise, dividing each chapter into two parts, from a marriage counselor perspective and then from a strengths expert perspective. They share out of their own experience and give some practical examples of how strengths play out in their own marriages. They also share from their experience with various individuals and couples that they have worked with in the past. For those who are unfamiliar with the language of strengths, they use the language simply enough to be understood, in my opinion.

While there are times when they seem to repeat themselves, I think that “Strengths Based Marriage” was a good book. The authors offer practical steps toward improving communication, bringing healing, and strengthening a marriage. If nothing else, this book could help couples become more self-aware and more intentional and observant in their relationships.

The authors are realistic in their use of strengths as well, never claiming that the language and application of strengths can act like a “magic bullet” of sorts to bring complete healing and restoration to broken marriages. As Kelsey writes, “What I am trying to point out is that our strengths act like lenses, coloring the various activities of our lives and making us choose one thing over another.” StrengthsFinders is simply one more tool to help communicate and possibly improve relationships. The relationships that this book addresses are marriages. Whether your marriage is on the rocks or doing well, “Strengths Based Marriage” can be a helpful resource for improvements.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Always Someone Smarter

As I’ve gotten older and become more comfortable in my own skin, I’ve seen the benefits of team. I’ve seen just how important it is to build trust in a team setting. I’ve also seen just how important it is to put aside any jealousy and animosity if the team is going to be healthy and succeed.

I’ve worked with StrengthsFinders over the years, but over the last 6 months, I have been diving in deeper as I have become a Strengths Communicator. It’s given me the chance to work with people on teams in order for them to better know their place with the talents and strengths that they have. When we come to understand our strengths as well as the strengths of those with whom we are on the team, we can grow much more effective and efficient.

I remember playing on sports teams in high school. There was always the inevitable “showboater” who wanted to make sure that it always became about him. Most coaches wouldn’t fall for it, and were usually turned off by that kind of behavior. But as I moved to the business world and even the church world, I began to see that same mentality play out among people. People wanted to make sure that they always got the glory for things and were never satisfied until they had achieved it.

But I’ve experienced something so much greater when humility penetrates that team and makes its way through all of the team members. People begin to look beyond themselves to see the bigger picture. Instead of trying to attain things for themselves, they’re looking at what will benefit the team. How can I ensure that the team will experience success? What can I do to make sure that we are all moving in the same direction?

Within the church, the motivation for the bigger picture should be even greater. It’s not about ourselves or even our individual churches, it’s about the Kingdom of God. Jesus laid out the bigger picture in Matthew 28 and when we miss it, we take the focus off of growing the Kingdom and plant it firmly on ourselves.

If we’re smart, we come to the realization that there is always someone smarter than us, stronger than us, better at something than us. IF we aren’t careful, that can rock our world and plant a root of jealousy among us. But if we look at it as being part of the bigger picture and serving together on a team, we can move much faster towards achieving our goals.

I used to be intimidated by others on the same team who had different gifts than I have, but then I realized that there were gifts that I had that were specific to me which they didn’t possess. It’s about knowing your place in the big picture, knowing what you’re good at, and knowing how best to use those gifts which you’ve been given.

Some people think that holding onto things and monopolizing information or functions actually affords them job security. I’ve grown to realize that the opposite is true. If there is something that I am doing and someone else comes along who does it better, how willing am I to give that task up? If I hang on to it because I am afraid that I will no longer be necessary, than I’m not really confident in my own abilities. But, if I realize the potential of someone else and can lead them to doing something better, I actually prove my worth by encouraging them, leading and coaching them, and allowing them to live into a potential that someone else might not have seen.

It’s amazing the opportunities that I’ve had which have helped me grow. I hope and pray that I will always look at people on my team as assets rather than threats. When I’ve had leaders who have known their own limitations, I’ve been much more productive. I hope that my leadership can flourish in grow in the same way.

Why Am I Talking?

don't talkI’ve always considered myself a fairly decent listener and have even been told that in the past, but as I get older and gaze at the list of responsibilities that lie before me, I find myself rushing through things and multi-tasking to get everything done. Sometimes I’ve made cursory reads of emails and missed key and important points in them. Sometimes I’ve read through things with action items and proceeded to forget all about those items. Sometimes I’ve had a conversation with someone and as soon as I hang up the phone or walk away from the table, I’ve left whatever meaningful pieces were to go with me right there on the table or hanging on the telephone line.

Now, this isn’t an every day, all the time thing. It’s happened enough for me to see it as unacceptable. I haven’t found myself in trouble because of my lack of attentiveness to things, but I don’t ever want that to be the case. As I’ve assessed the situation, I’ve realized my own need to be mentally present wherever I am. If I am reading an email, be present. If I am on the phone, be present. If I am talking over a meal, be present.

During my sabbatical, I went through some training to become a Strengths Communicator. If you aren’t familiar with StrengthsFinders, I would highly recommend checking it out. It has been a very helpful tool for me and for others to find out the areas in which strengths lie so as to focus energy on those areas. Like any assessment, it’s not foolproof or perfect, but I have seen its impact on many people, not the least of whom is myself.

One of the principles that we talked about during my training had to do with listening. The instructor said a good acronym to remember is “W.A.I.T.” which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” It’s hard to say just how many times that has popped into my head since the first time I heard it nearly two months ago. Over and over again, as I find myself in conversations, the urge within me is to start talking, to fix a problem, to fill the space, but sometimes, that space doesn’t need to be filled, sometimes that problem doesn’t need to be fixed, at least at that moment. Sometimes, all someone really wants you to do is listen.

It’s too easy for me to be in the midst of a conversation and be thinking about what’s next. I can too easily find myself planning out the rest of my day and slowly tuning out the person sitting across from me. But the act of listening is not just about physical presence, it’s about mental awareness and intuitiveness as well. Listening is an act of the ears and act of the brain, we need to process what we hear, which is virtually impossible when we’re moving on to other things in our minds.

I’m a talker too. One of my strengths is communication and part of the way that I process information is by communicating. But I am finding that there are other ways to communicate than simply speaking. I’ve kept a handwritten journal during my sabbatical and have filled nearly the entire thing in those three months that I was away. It’s proving a training ground for me, a mental gym, if you will, where I can practice my thinking and communicating without having to burden anyone else.

I’m not there, I haven’t arrived, this is still an area of growth for me, but I’m conscious of it and I’m working on it. I need to do a better job of listening, to my friends, to my wife, to my children, to the people in my church, to all of those with whom I connect. I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for this insight to set my eyes on and move forward.

Grace

I’m two weeks into my sabbatical and I feel like so much has happened in that short amount of time. Some of my days have felt like two or three days combined into one. I’ve had some great conversations, some great experiences, some great rest.

My wife and I spent nearly four years in a place not too long after we got married. My wife had married an engineer and then I was called to be a pastor. It was a big shift for both of us. That call involved a move far away from our family and all that was familiar to us. I was green and inexperienced in the new world in which I found myself. I made mistakes, I spoke too quickly, I offended, I probably thought that I knew way more than I really did.

When things ended in that place, there was hurt, there was anger, there was confusion, there was uncertainty. We didn’t know for sure where we would end up, but God did. He opened the door for us to a new place. We left behind many great friends and I felt like I was leaving a bit of my heart there as well. We had made an investment and to leave it all behind was hard for me to do.

This past week, I spent some time with some of the people who were part of our experience there in that place. I’m not even sure what words to use to best describe the meaningfulness of that time. Healing. Growing. Learning. Moving on. Grace.

Grace.

It’s a word that came up in our conversations and a word that I continue to go back to. If we are truly growing in our faith journey and in our spiritual depth, grace should be something that naturally pours from us. We shouldn’t tout that we have grown up in the church and been Christians for 40 years and then fail to exhibit grace. We shouldn’t expect grace to be given to us and then refuse to extend it to others. Grace has been given to us and to whom much has been given, much is expected.

Grace.

I feel like I experienced an immersion of grace over the last week. As conversations took place and we shared, I felt that grace and I was so grateful for it.

I still have many weeks to go as I move through this sabbatical. It’s always hard to come hard out of the gates, it can easily set your expectations high for what else is to come. But I don’t think I should worry. Much of what I have experienced over the last week was not planned, at least by me, but I know that God orchestrated it, he made it happen, he gave me the privilege of experiencing it.

This is going to be a fun ride!

Room to Grow

I sat down with a friend after a Bible study the other day. Although we hadn’t planned on a conversation, this friend is one who I am always willing to engage because of the wisdom and insight that I get from him every single time that we talk. My constant prayer is that I can live my life similar to his in the ability to never leave any person the same as when I met them. I know that the work that is done is the work of the Holy Spirit, but to be used and available and willing is a huge part of that.

As we sat and talked about some of the things that we are experiencing in our lives, I had an epiphany. We were talking about people development and watching people flourish and grow or remain stagnant and plateau. God has grown me an awful lot over the years in that my automatic response when I would see someone who would remain stagnant and plateau was to blame them for their laziness or lack of initiative. I’ve come to realize that there’s another side to the story.

While there is a responsibility on all of us as individuals, leadership plays a key and important role in helping others develop into who they were created to be. Sometimes, people find themselves in environments where they are not able to develop for one reason or another. It could be that those who are supervising them are lacking in self-confidence and keep things close to their chest, not freely doling out responsibilities for fear of losing their own self-worth and identity.

As I thought about it more, what stood out to me was that there are times when there are people that we lead who need to have their boundaries and limits expanded far beyond what they would normally expand them to themselves, if we don’t recognize the need to expand these boundaries and limits, we may be stifling growth.

It’s easy to see this from the perspective of parenting, at least to me it is. As children grow older, responsibilities need to increase and as those responsibilities increase, the amount of freedom that is given to them should increase as they show their ability to fulfill those responsibilities. If there is an imbalance at all, there are a variety of scenarios that can play out.

1) Increased freedom with no increased responsibility

I feel like I see this all the time. Parents will constantly give out freedom to their children without requiring more responsibility for that freedom. When this happens, we perpetuate the entitlement that has become endemic to our culture. If we don’t increase responsibility when we increase freedom, then we will end up with lots of children (and people) walking around who expect things coming their way without them giving anything in return.

2) No increased freedom with increased responsibility

Here is the recipe for stunted growth. When children (or people) are asked to do more and increase their responsibility while not being given increased freedom, they will become frustrated and will most likely stagnate. Everyone is knit together differently, so there’s no magic formula to see at what point someone stagnates, but it will happen eventually. I would hazard a guess that there might be a very small segment of the population that might still flourish despite the lack of freedom that they are given, but the overwhelming majority would end up becoming complacent and remaining the same.

3) Increased freedom with increased responsibility

This is the “Win” of all the scenarios. As responsibility is doled out and given, so is freedom. As someone proves themselves capable, so they are given an increased amount of freedom. That increased amount of freedom will (hopefully) spur them on to better things and to become better themselves. Growth should take place, in theory, as they begin to see the progression and the relationship between responsibility and freedom.

This realization is a huge thing for me. As I raise my own children and as I lead people whom I lead, it is essential for me to realize this relationship between responsibility and freedom. Having three children of my own, I have already seen the vast difference in their personalities, so it’s also essential that I not embrace a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy towards them. They are different, the process may need to be changed and tweaked accordingly. It takes energy, it takes investment, it takes time. I am not a patient man.

I’m curious as to whether this theory resonates with others. Like I said, my own experience with children is only nine and a half short years in the making. My experience in leadership is longer, but it’s only been the last few years that I have looked more intently at it. So, what do you think? Do you see the connection and relationship between responsibility and freedom? Are you tracking with this? Does it make sense?