Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Tangible Kingdom

Not long ago I had an opportunity to hang out a bit with Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, authors of “The Tangible Kingdom”. I love being challenged from guys who live their faith out of the box. I love it when I’m forced to ask questions I might not normally ask. It’s good to increase our exposure. Many times it can open our eyes and take us places we wouldn’t have gone on our own.

Hugh was sharing from Jesus’ instruction to Peter in Matthew 16:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will NOT overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

His thought was that as we think about the Kingdom of Heaven, many times we think of it as standing in opposition to the Kingdom of Hell. But that is not what Jesus called it. He didn’t call Hell a Kingdom. Jesus said that instead we should see it as a gate. He said the “gates” will not overcome the church. He drew light to the fact that the gates were keeping us from passing through and experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not something we should just “avoid” and stay clear of. He reminded us that they are a serious threat to our advancement. Our typical response is to “Defend” our faith, our ways, our church, our tradition, our methods… but what we need to be doing instead is seeing the threat for what it is and go on the offense.

I guess what he is saying is that the “best offense” isn’t always a great defense… sometimes it really is a great offense.

“When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!” So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers.” 1 Samuel 4:6-10

Okay, this is going to be a weird twist of thought. But here it goes: We should learn from our enemies (The Philistines). What was the lesson to be learned in 1 Samuel 4? They saw a serious threat, they acknowledged how serious it was, and they attacked it with all they had. They didn’t dig in and create a stronger defense, instead in their fear, they “strapped it on” and attacked.

I love it that the Philistines realized the magnitude of their threat. They were legitimately scared. So many times we are overtaken because we underestimate the strength and cause of our strife. Especially in leadership, we at times deceive ourselves. It’s too easy to pretend everything is okay. Julia Duin, religion writer for the Washington post in her book “Quitting Church”, said that

in all my research the most baffling thing to me is the fact that Pastors are in denial of what’s going on in the American church culture. If the pastors are in denial, their flock will be too.

It’s too easy to get tunnel vision and defend our path. I heard once that the greatest threats to the church is when we don’t think we are in crisis, when we pretend everything is going great and it’s not. When in fact the church thrives in crisis. Just look at countries where church is “underground”. They hold some of the largest churches and are experiencing some of the greatest revivals in the world.

But let’s look at us for a moment. Forget the stats that say many are leaving church. Let’s take a moment to look at those who remain. Since I can remember the typical thought is that 20% of the church is doing 80% of everything, not just the giving, but the leading, the serving, living on mission, etc… in some churches it’s 10% doing 90% (and it’s been this way for a long time). Guess what? If our main goal is to make disciples and to equip the body for works of service, then what we’re doing is not working. To 80% of our people, what we say is really irrelevant to their lives. Hearts are not increasingly changing and compassion is not increasingly growing. We’ve lost ground for those who leave, for those who stay, we’re simply maintaining 20%. Are we okay with that? If any of my kids came home with a 20% on their report card, I’d have a cow. That’s not even close to being acceptable. We’re only perpetuating it if we don’t address it. It’s a fact that people are leaving the organized church in droves… let’s start looking deeper at the why. Let’s start asking some tough questions. And let’s start listening to the answers.

I believe we need to look at the big picture of what God is doing in the Kingdom, and fight. We already know the answer to who wins. Jesus said the Gates of Hell will not prevail. So let’s attack them.

How? How about with the methods Jesus mandated we live. How about starting with love and compassion. How about putting people before process and keeping them there. What if we took the time to evaluate where the greatest physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs are in our city and make a plan of attack to both meet needs and make disciples. How about we make the sacrifices to show genuine concern for others. How about a concern for the least of the least, those without hope. How about we pour into people as if we truly loved them as we love ourselves. How about we give of ourselves for others and not just our personal agendas. We’ll have to consciously fight for that, because of our selfish nature. How about we listen to the other part of Matthew 16 where Jesus reminded us that on this rock, if we trust His ways, HE not us, will build His church. He gave us the keys to the Kingdom not to “our” church.

Jesus knows this goes against our fleshly nature. This is a battle we all struggle with daily, but as leaders we must work diligently to lead people towards this. It’s not only worthy of our efforts, it’s biblical, and it will work. This is a battle I find myself in the middle of, and I’m not going to stop fighting.

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Leadership 501

That’s right, I just jumped to 501. I don’t think I ever wrote on 201, 301, or 401… they’ve always scared me. But since I’m going to keep it to quoting one of the most highly thought of leaders of our day, and we’ll also see it played out in scripture (1 Samuel 9), I’ll claim this insight for a moment. What we’ll find is that just as history repeats itself, and just as “keep it simple stupid” (K.I.S.S.) seems to work, leadership has a path that actually comes full circle. At it’s highest level comes a simple key: Humility. An amazingly difficult thing for most leaders (including pastors) to have, much less maintain.

I outlined earlier some of what Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great) shared in a recent speech on his thoughts on leadership success and failure. Behind these successes and declines are not only the strategy of a leader, but also the capacity of a leader. The focus of Jim’s thoughts, are essentially about leadership capability. He questions the thought we typically have that either leadership exists or it doesn’t. Instead he offers the idea that leadership has levels.

Here’s what Collins said:

“In general I have had a bias against a CEO-centric view of the world. Leadership answers often strike me as over simplistic and in danger of covering up too many variables. If a company does really well we say it was great leadership; if it doesn’t do well we say the leadership wasn’t as great as we thought.”

“That eventually led to the idea that leadership is an evolving series of capabilities and levels of maturity. So it’s not a leadership or not question, it’s a “what stage of leadership” question – and what level of maturity are you.”

So what is a level 5 leader? Glad you asked. First of all, a level 5 is to be thought of as the highest level of leadership possible (at least for today). It’s characterized by a humble “concern for the organization and for IT’S success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”

It almost seems counter-intuitive that humility would be the key trait for such high capacity leadership, and that’s exactly what Jim thought during his team’s research. “The Level 5 Leadership finding, which came out in Good to Great, was not what I expected to find. But it’s what he found.

Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming organizations from good to great requires larger-than-life-leaders. The findings appear to signal a shift of emphasis away from the hero to the anti-hero. Humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. Humility + Will = Level 5. “Level 5 leaders are a study in duality”, notes Collins, “modest and willful, shy and fearless.”

Essentially he’s saying a level 5 leader finishes strong and with a legacy of humility.

So let’s go to the Bible and take a look at Saul for a moment. Scripture tells us he was built for the role of leader. In fact 1 Samuel 9:2 says Saul was “an impressive young man without equal.” Yet there was something special about Saul. He had everything going for him and every right to be prideful, yet when he was called out by Samuel, he struck a posture of humility. Look how he responded:

Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Sam 9:21)

This posture wasn’t new to Saul. Earlier in the story when he was about to give up, he gave ear to the counsel of his servant who not only encouraged him (vs. 6-8), but also gave him direction (led upward). This highlights another key benefit from humility, a willingness to listen to those around you. Collins said recently that great leaders constantly ask what our “question to answer” ratio is, and is constantly seeking ways to ask more questions. The reason? So we can hear the answers we might not normally come up with.

I have a friend who has seen some amazing professional success in the business world who said that the trend in companies unable to make it to the next level is the CEO or key leadership team’s attitude toward everyone else in the company or their competitors. He said, “When you find yourself in a position where you feel constantly that you’re surrounded by idiots and you’re the only one who knows what to do, beware. You’re about to take the fall. You’ll find soon that you’re the idiot. And you think too highly of yourself.”

Bottom line, in the beginning, Saul had an amazing personal mixture of humility and confidence. From level 1 through level 5, Humility is the key in keeping confidence from becoming arrogance and pride. And confidence is key. It’s the fuel for the “Will” in the “Humility + Will = Level 5” equation.

Another friend of mine who is a West Point grad, ex-Special Operations officer, and now owns a management consulting company in Denver wrote the following about this confidence in leadership as seen through 1 Samuel:

“Confidence is a tricky character trait for a leader. Too much can make them prone to rash and arrogant decisions. Too little can leave them timid and passive. In either case, too much or too little, the end result can be a leader who is too selfish to lead effectively. They are so focused on their own strengths or inadequacies that they miss the power of their team and God’s hand in their work. In recent chapters we saw the Israelites with too much confidence when they carried the ark into battle against the Philistines. And we also saw them with too little confidence in believing they needed a king to be like the nations around them. Both results were due to having poor relationships with God, and thus, a poor understanding of their power and security with Him. When we truly know God we know who WE are in Him. This appropriately sets our confidence. We understand that we can “do all things through Him who gives me strength”, but we counter that with knowing that He has to be a part of any venture for us to succeed, no matter how small. So, while we can do all things through God, we can’t do anything we want through God. Confirming that God is leading gives us all the confidence we need.”

So why use the example of Saul? While he started as an excellent candidate for a level 5 leader, he ended up being an excellent example of someone who failed to reach it.

The problem is that power corrupts. That’s in the bible. Look it up. So humility at this level of success and influence is not only rare, but possibly our greatest mountain to climb.

As church leaders, we must all be aware and beware. We know how the story of Saul ends. After leading as King for 42 years, Saul ends up going crazy and chasing David all over the place. This is a huge reminder to me at any level of leading that might lead to seasons of “success”: We must constantly check ourselves, our motives, and how they fit with God’s true vision. We must maintain the correct posture, create the right processes, and place the right people in right positions to help us keep focused on His calling. We have to protect ourselves from ourselves as we remember that this is not about us.

This is getting long. Officially, the BLOG ends here.

Unless you want to keep reading for part #2… in that case, here is a furthering thought on Saul’s humility and the tragedy that follows. It comes from an email I got from a friend this morning (at 5:15am) that sits on my board at Austin New Church. He’s an incredibly insightful leader whose current role is Executive VP of Global Services for a company headquartered here in Austin. The only thing bigger than his insight is his track record and professional accomplishments… check out what he said about Saul.

“Saul starts with the admirable trait of humility which leaves him as he becomes king. He has all the traits that Israel wants in a king, he is taller than most, good looking and strong and comes from a prominent family. Saul is like some of the men and women in this world that we see attain fame, fortune and glamour only to fall from grace with a character flaw. In some ways Saul is a tragic hero, the main character in a tragedy who makes an error in his actions that leads to his downfall. Some characteristics about a tragic hero include:

– The hero is led to his downfall due to hubris, or excessive pride.
– The hero discovers his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.
– The hero sees and understands his doom, and that his fate was revealed by his own actions.
– The hero is physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.
– The hero is often a king or leader of men, so that his people experience his fall with him.
– The hero learns something from his mistake.
– The hero is faced with a serious decision.
– The suffering of the hero is meaningful.

God why use Saul? Why use a tragic hero and not raise up another more deserving more righteous man? God raised up many to distinction who were less deserving than others were. We cannot figure out all of God’s reasons for raising one over another in this world. Many of these reasons are contained in the unsearchable wisdom of God. What we should never do is assume that just because God is using a man, that he deserves it. And more importantly we should not somehow see ourselves as less than one who God chooses to raise up by the scorecard of this world. Once we do this, we start imitating the characteristics that make these people tragic heroes. For all are human, and all have a flaw, the more the spotlight of the world pierces us, the more our flaw becomes known. The only hero who is not tragic (in the literary definition) is the Son.”

Wow. How ‘bout that with your morning coffee?