Tag Archives: leadership

Mind your own business

Did you ever stop to notice how much of the conversation that goes on around you every day consists of judgment and criticism of other people?

Consider a very common scenario.  You’re hanging out with friends, workmates or schoolmates, and the focus of the conversation shifts to someone who is not present.  Everyone has something to say, and very little of it is constructive, positive or complimentary.  On the contrary, most of what is said consists of putdowns, mocking humour, and complaints.  This tendency is especially common when the person we are talking about is a recognized figure who has attained some success in business, sports or entertainment, or who has some influence or control over our lives – a boss, manager, teacher, parent, spiritual leader or politician.

I grew up in what was in many respects a wonderful family.  However, we certainly weren’t immune from this very common tendency to find fault with others; in fact it was part of the daily bread on which I grew up.  We were a very opinionated bunch, and somehow it seemed we always knew what was wrong with everyone.  On Sunday afternoons after church we would often have roast pastor for lunch.  So, when I surrendered my life to the Lord at age 34 and the Holy Spirit began putting his finger on the areas in which my thinking and behaviour needed radical surgery, one of the first areas to go under the knife was my well-developed tendency towards sarcasm, criticism and judgment.  I’m very grateful to God that before long I was introduced to a form of prayer ministry that helped me to go to the root of these issues, looking deeper than the outward behaviour and addressing the hidden motivations and reasonings of the heart.

Prayer ministry taught me much about my own heart and much about God’s wisdom.  I learned that this tendency to be critical of others may be fuelled by bitterness, resentment, insecurity, inferiority, superiority, or a toxic mix of all of these and more, but the core issue is always the same.  At the root, it is a form of rebellion against God.  Whatever our reasoning, we assign ourselves the right to judge someone who is not accountable to us.  This is always an illegitimate exercise and can never lead to any good.  In the words of the Apostle Paul, Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. In other words, mind your own business.  You and I have enough to do looking after the areas that God has assigned to us, without troubling ourselves with someone else’s failings – perceived or real.

One factor that probably feeds our tendency to be critical of leaders is the fact that we live in a democracy.   We are raised on the idea that public criticism of leaders is part of how we protect ourselves from bad government.  Well, democracy is not actually a Biblical idea, but like all political systems it can be used by God.  One of the keys to making democracy serve God’s purposes is the recognition that all leaders are appointed by God.  Even if He is simply allowing us to have the government we have chosen, in the end our leaders are accountable to God, not to us, and our role is not simply to push for our preferences but to seek leadership that will further God’s Kingdom.   We do this, in part, by honouring and praying for the leaders that God has either caused or allowed to be put in place, even if we don’t always agree with them.  There is, of course, a place for constructive criticism, but one of the keys to keeping it constructive is humility and submission to God.  Even in extreme situations (Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe) where a monster rules and must be actively resisted, we still need to guard our hearts.  Ultimately God, not you or I, is qualified to judge.  If we forget this, we become monsters ourselves.

But what about the areas closer to home – work, family, church?  The more experience I have of being in leadership, the easier I find it to forgive the failings of the leaders in my life.  Admittedly, even the best leaders have faults; and I’m not suggesting we should simply turn a totally blind eye to these things.   At times we may be called by God to make an appeal to one of the people who gives leadership in our lives.  If we are given the opportunity to do this, and we can do it with grace and humility, we may be used by God to help the leader be more effective.  A wise leader will welcome open discussion of issues in a constructive spirit.  However, I’m far more likely to be trusted by a leader who can see that I haven’t got an axe to grind or a point to prove.   If at all possible, I need to make it my aim to work with the leaders in my life to help them succeed.  In the process, I too will be blessed, and so will all those around me.

In the end, the remedy is simple.  Guard your tongue, and guard your heart.  Why complicate your life by making it your job to identify and address everyone else’s failings?  If you want to do this, the Devil will give you lots of ammunition, but you won’t be giving glory to God and your relationships will be stormy at best.  If I can learn to mind my own business – keeping my gaze focussed on trusting and obeying God, recognizing that He has assigned a sphere of responsibility to me, doing the best job I can to be a good steward of what He’s put into my hands, and recognizing that everyone around me will answer to Him just as I will – life becomes a lot simpler, less aggravating, and much more satisfying and productive.  Who wouldn’t want that?


Gift-based ministry

Are you good at everything?  I’m not.   Like everyone, I have strengths and weaknesses.

I spent many of my years in ministry trying to fulfil a role for which I was not really all that well-suited.  I was like a square peg in a round hole.  There are many reasons for this, but one reason is that there was no-one to help me recognize my true calling and learn to function in it.   That’s why I am so excited about the opportunity to work with small group leaders on how to identify and cultivate the natural and spiritual gifts of the people in their small groups.

As a leader, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that what comes naturally to you should come naturally to everyone.   When you are flowing in your gifts, ministry is a pleasure, but when you are trying to imitate what someone else is good at, and operating in their gifts instead of your own, you have a recipe for frustration.  Of course, there’s a learning process in developing your natural gifts, and a somewhat different sort of learning process in learning to cultivate the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In both cases, a certain amount of trial and error is inevitable.  But when you are learning to develop your gifts, along with the trial and error there is the joy of discovery.   By contrast, when you’re trying to do something that you just aren’t “wired” for, it can be very discouraging.

We all want our small groups to succeed.  Usually you will have a mix of people in your group with a variety of gifts.  Some of those gifts will be latent, undeveloped and perhaps even unrecognized.  Others will be in various stages of development.  My dream is to see small groups that have an appropriately challenging vision, faith for that vision, and a team that is functioning well together, where each member has something to contribute and is operating in his or her gifts.  Can we get there?  I believe we can, or at least take steps in that direction.  I’m excited about the possibilities!


Can you trust this man?

The huge and enthusiastic turnout for the inauguration of US President Barack Obama shows us how hungry people are for hope and inspiration.  In troubled and uncertain times, we instinctively gravitate towards leaders who seem to be able to offer the promise of a better tomorrow.

Whatever else we may say about him, Barack Obama is clearly a man of considerable skill in many areas.  He is a powerfully effective speaker who has a remarkable gift of inspiring crowds and filling them with confidence.  He also seems to work well with people, earning the trust and loyalty of those close to him.  He is apparently a very intelligent man – someone who can absorb a great deal of information on a variety of topics and quickly grasp the essential features.  He seems to have the ability to understand and analyze issues quickly and accurately.

All these abilities and many more are needed for effective leadership of a nation.   But there’s another set of qualities that are ultimately even more important.  These are not skills or abilities, but qualities of character – integrity, humility, wisdom, compassion, faith.

I don’t know how Barack Obama’s presidency will ultimately turn out, but the level of adulation being heaped on Obama gives me cause for concern.   Will he be a leader who encourages his people to trust in themselves, in him, or in the God who alone is worthy of ultimate trust?   Embedded in the midst of Obama’s inaugural address, in reference to the challenges of renewing the US economy, putting technology to work for positive purposes, and cleaning up the environment, we find these telling words :  “All this we can do. And all this we will do.”   Really?  All by ourselves, we’ll fix all the problems that past generations have created?

It is true enough that people need to be encouraged to dream big dreams and to believe in the abilities that God has put within them. Without a vision the people perish.  But what is our vision?  On what, ultimately, does our hope rest?  Positive thinking and a “can-do” attitude are not enough – our reliance needs to be on more than ourselves.  One of my favourite Psalms  puts it this way,

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

In ancient Israel, the kings who were remembered with affection were the ones who humbled themselves and placed their reliance on God.  The ones who were impressed with themselves and didn’t think they needed to pay attention to God caused no end of grief to the nation and brought about its eventual doom.   Things aren’t so different today.  Humility, faith, and dependence on God are still the core determinants of a leader’s character.  By that standard, how will Barack Obama measure up?


Hope in tough times

We are in tough times.  As economic giants like General Motors appear close to collapse, fear continues to spread, and many wonder if there is any hope.

None of this should be a surprise to those who understand God’s ways.   The Bible shows us that the same thing has happened over and over again throughout history.   When times are good, we tend to get cocky and we think we can do anything.  But God has a way of humbling the proud and self-sufficient, and raising up those who humbly depend on Him.

When the angel Gabriel came to the village of Nazareth to tell a young teen-aged girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she responded with amazing faith and offered her body to be the Lord’s vessel.   Later, reviewing these wondrous events with her cousin Elizabeth, she burst into song and uttered these memorable words about God’s ways :

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.

Jesus’ birth was announced both to the poor – the shepherds in the fields – and to the wealthy and powerful – the Wise Men from the East.  The thing they had in common was humiliity and faith.  They were willing to place their hope, not in themselves but in God’s promise.

In tough times people often look for a strong leader to rescue them.  But ultimately, no human leader can save us – not Michael Ignatieff, not Stephen Harper, not Barack Obama.  The best leaders are those who humbly recognize their own fallibility and their dependency on God.   Ultimately that’s where our hope lies.

The birth of Jesus is only good news for those who know they need hope from beyond themselves.  As long as we persist in the delusion that we have it made,  Jesus has nothing to offer us.  But if we humble themselves and put our trust in the Saviour’s unfailing love, no matter how tough the times, there is good news of great joy.  Merry Christmas !


What our country needs

Most of my friends seem to have firmly fixed views on who is right and who is wrong in Canada’s current political crisis.  Those of my friends who are evangelical Christians seem especially sure of their convictions.  Sometimes their absolute certainty on such at best uncertain matters reminds me of a humourous comment by Mark Lowry regarding the preachers of his childhood, to the effect that they were “sometimes wrong but never in doubt”.

Well, I confess it – I’m an evangelical Christian too.  But despite that fact, I seem to have this curious propensity to want to see all sides of an issue.

Yes, I do have my preferences as to who should govern our country.  On balance, I prefer Mr. Harper’s leadership to the other available options, despite his evident weaknesses (all leaders have weaknesses, even though it isn’t considered politically wise to admit that fact – and therein lies part of the problem).  I am relieved that the Governor General agreed to prorogue Parliament and thus save the government from defeat at the hands of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition, because I believe the newly-elected government should have a chance to govern.

But I also hope that the government and the opposition parties profit from their 7-week recess to take stock of their attitudes and come back with a determination to actually work together for the good of the country.  That, after all, is why they were elected.  I would like to see our Parliamentarians – especially the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the leaders of the Bloc and the NDP – grow up and learn to behave with humility, dignity, civility, integrity, statesmanship and grace.   Our country needs real leaders – not just people who are good at outwitting one another in backroom deals, and coming up with effective put-downs and sound bites to make themselves look good and the opponent look bad.

Our Prime Minister did not win a majority government, no matter how much he might regret that fact.  He can only win the support of the House if he is able to convince at least one other party that his government has worthy policies to offer.  That task will require him to overcome his legendary stubbornness enough to actually follow up on his recent offer to receive constructive policy suggestions from the other parties.  And the opposition parties, who haven’t been very convincing in their claim that their coalition was born out of the purest and noblest of motives, need to make up their minds to treat the resumption of Parliament as a chance to make a  positive contribution, not just as another opportunity to grab power.  If they play the same game again when Parliament resumes in January, they may find that they pay a heavy price at the polls in the election that is almost certain to follow.  Canadians seem to be saying pretty clearly that they are tired of all the game-playing.

Well, that’s my take, anyway.  I think it’s time to move beyond partisan approaches and seek a more collegial approach.  We are in a crisis, and no other approach will do.   In closing, I’d like to encourage you to read this excellent article by Bruce Clemmenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  Feel free to post your comments.