Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When Sons Become Fathers

It's hard to believe that 16 weeks have past since I started this semester. This has been my second semester at NOVA, and my first time blogging consistently. It's certainly been an interesting experience and the consistency has been, at times, challenging. I had started this semester thinking that while I was not an expert leader, I was fairly experienced. It's funny how you realize how little you know about something by learning more about it. I learned quite a few new aspects of leadership this semester, I've also relearned some essential truths of leadership. I think I'd like to highlight two that really stood out to me this semester that I've written on, and then one truth about leadership that I've been learning these past two weeks. The end goal of Christian leadership is not to lead the people to a goal, it's to lead people to lead. 

Get back to the basics. 
I'm so glad that for the first few weeks of blogging I did. I examined my motivation, and my vision. Examining my motivation has been a huge factor in my life as a leader this semester. In February, I was forced to examine why I was leading a certain bible study. I had let my pride and insecurity lead the group, and had to reevaluate the reason I was coming to the bible study. Recently, I had been praying for numerical growth for the same bible study, and had to examine my motivation again. Am I praying for growth because I want to be leading more people? Am I praying for growth so that more people can draw closer to God? In the campus bible study, I had to ask myself several times what the vision of the group was, and where we needed to be going. The vision I was given was of a place where Christians from all over the campus can gather and be family to one another. I'm happy to report that it's precisely what we're doing. Motivation and vision are fundamental in leadership. Without regular evaluation, leaders fall into unhealthy and sometimes harmful patterns of leadership.

Treat it seriously
I'm kinda ashamed to admit it, but I really did not take my leadership role at the campus bible study very seriously for the first few weeks. I was tired, juggling classes, and dealing with other issues. Because of that, the Christian Student Union (CSU) slipped to the wayside. Because of that, we had inconsistent vision, confusion who we were supposed to be, and worse, drove some people away. If a leader is given responsibility, they must commit to it as they are able. I agreed to lead the group, and for as long as I am needed as a leader, I must serve in the capacity that I am able. Leadership is a big responsibility, and I need to treat it as such.

Lead them to Leave
More often than not, most Christian leadership takes place in church. What is this vague entity, the church? I think the best definition I can give is that the church is the community of Christians committed to Christ on mission in the world. In the bible, the church is referred to as a bride (2 Cor. 11:2). The imagery of a bride has a twofold meaning. Firstly, it refers to the total commitment of the church to Jesus, just as an engaged couple are committed to one another. Secondly, I believe it uses this imagery to paint the picture of a living entity. The church in it's truest form is not a building, idea or a specific group of people. Rather, the church is the living active representative of God on the earth. An organism that is constantly on the move. This is important for every church leader to understand. Why? Because the living aspect of the church changes the way that Christians lead.

This past week, I encountered an opossum in my backyard. The opossum seemed rather bloated, and my mother made an acute observation. The opossum was pregnant. Like everything we consider alive, it reproduces. Soon, I hope to see little opossum pups running around the yard. (Hopefully not in the house!) In the same way, a church should reproduce and create more churches. In turn, those churches will plant more churches, and ultimately fulfill the Great Commission given by Jesus, that is, to go and make disciples of all people (or ethic) groups (Mat. 28:18-20). The bible study that I lead on Monday nights should not remain a solitary bible study, but rather, should spread across the world. That means that Christian leaders have a specific job: to train your followers to be leaders.

It’s a bittersweet job, to know that the more that come in, the more will be sent out. This summer, I am going to be saying goodbye to a great number of my friends as they go off to other universities, cities, and seasons of life. My goal is to equip them to be the church wherever they go. Out of this, good news will spread to every campus, town, city, people group, and to the world. The calling of a leader is hardly an easy one, not always a comfortable one, but without question a wonderful and honorable call.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Responding to Tragedy

Monday, a horrible bombing took place in Boston. With three people dead and over a hundred wounded, it's a grim week in America. As I thought on this atrocity, I wondered what my response ought to be. Certainly one of grief in the face of death of destruction. As a Christian, I should also be praying. However, as a leader, what am I supposed to do? I think I have three reflections on the Christian leader's response.

1. Acknowledge Evil
I think culture enjoys moral relativity. That is, we like to think that what's "bad" for one person isn't "bad" for another, and the same with "good". Christians hold to objective morality, where good and evil aren't matters of opinion, rather absolute truth. When horrific events like this occur, we can say with confidence that the bombing was an evil event that produced evil things, such as death, loss, and suffering. Christian leaders must declare the evil nature of tragedies, and mourn with others over the tyrannical reign of evil.

2. Preach Hope
As leaders mourn with others, they should ask what hope they can offer. From a naturalistic worldview, (the view that the natural world is all that is, and was, and will be), there is little hope to offer. There is some hope that the bombers will caught and held accountable for their actions, some hope that the injured will get better, but, what else can leaders really offer people? It seems that, no matter how hard we try, everyone eventually dies, sickness and evil seems to win. Christian leaders know something the world doesn't. Death has been defeated. Christian leaders must proclaim the victory of God over evil, and preach the hope that death and sickness are not the end.

3. Pray
The past few days, the #prayforboston hashtag has been trending on twitter. It's good to see that the entire nation sees the importance of prayer. Certainly every Christian should be praying, but I believe the prayers of leaders are of special importance. In the book of Nehemiah, a young leader named Nehemiah hears that his people are living in ruins, constantly in danger and under oppression. What is his response? Prayer. He spends days fasting and pleading with God for his people. God responds to his prayer, and gives Nehemiah a chance to return to his people, and help rebuild their city. Christian leaders have the great opportunity to pray on behalf of those who they lead, and should petition God on behalf of the people of Boston.

In the midst of my grieving and brokenheartedness over the events in Boston, I was convicted of some hypocrisy in my prayer. I claim to be a person who follows the bible, but I don't like taking Jesus' command to "love your enemies" (Mat. 5:43) literally. In my prayers, I was happy to ask for healing and justice for the victims, but nothing good for the bomber(s). The hard truth is that Christian leaders have the responsibility to plead for mercy on behalf of the bomber(s), for their healing, and for hope for them too. I was once in a place of loneliness and desperation, and I had a sort of self-hatred, and if I had stayed that way, I very well could have been the Boston bomber. Jesus saved me out of that place. I believe that Jesus saves despicable people, even murders and terrorists. My job as a leader is to pray for them, and set that example of unconditional love for other Christians under me. I can think of no better way to lead, then in love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sometimes You're the "Bad Guy"

I had some trouble today finding what I wanted to talk about. I was rather busy with other schoolwork, and with a particular situation with a bible study I lead. A young gentlemen from this group had asked if he could lead the discussion for the next meeting, and I was happy to let him. Although, because of my responsibilities as a leader, I asked that he could send me an overview of his lesson, just so I'd get a better idea of what he was saying. I ask this of anyone in my groups who hopes to lead a discussion, just a formality to ensure that the group is not led astray. I had never had a problem with this, before today. When this young man sent me a summary of what he'd be teaching on, not only was it a rather obscure and unimportant topic, but he claimed some complete myths. So, I did the hard thing: I told him that he could not teach the lesson. I haven't heard back from him, and he didn't show up to the meeting. As I considered all of this, I occurred to me that it'd be a great blog post. Christian leaders have to be the "bad guys" sometimes in order to protect the people God's given to them.  

Why do they need to be protected? Well, can I let you in on a secret? The church isn't perfect. We have debates, we get petty, we get selfish, and we do stupid things. Don't get me wrong; the church is a beautiful thing. A group of screwed up people all being made less screwed up by a perfect God, and then sharing that God with the rest of the world.  The problem is, we do still have those issues, and someone has to deal with them. Enter: the leader. The leader acts as the mediator, a teacher, and when necessary, the protector of the people from danger.

Paul, writing to a young leader Timothy, charges him to "Proclaim the message, persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 HCSB). The idea of rebuking, correcting, and encouraging form the three ways that a leader goes about resolving these conflicts within churches.

On occasion, I work with the kindergarden age kids at my church. Generally, these are nice kids, but sometimes, there aren't enough firetrucks to go around, and a disagreement starts. When one child is being selfish and refusing to share their toy, in my best attempt at a loving manner, I tell the little boy or girl that he or she needs to share, and that being selfish is wrong. Though Webster would define it as "to criticize sharply", to rebuke in the context of the Christian community is focused on locating sin or a major spiritual or physical health issue, and pleading with an individual to change. Practically, it means telling one's porn addicted Christian friend that what they're doing isn't right, and they cannot keep living in sin. The leader’s rebuke must be motivated by love for the health of the Christian.  

Correction is different from rebuking in a less than obvious way. While rebuke requires someone to turn away from an action and turn to something else, correction is about the way that action takes place. A young man who was a part of a bible study I led was passionate about sharing the news about Jesus, but didn't always do it gracefully. He had a habit of using "Christianese," which led to some confusion with the non-Christian people he was talking to. I brought this up to him, and offered a suggestion on how to communicate the gospel using everyday language. He certainly wasn't doing anything wrong, but there was a better way to do what he was doing.

Sometimes overlooked, encouragement is universally understood by Christians and non-Christians alike. When a leader is encouraging, they are focused on building up the good that someone is doing, and calling attention to the gifts and abilities that the individual has. My pastor is constantly encouraging me in the work that I'm doing, both in my musical giftings, and in the leadership I have been given. A leader cannot forget to encourage alongside of correction and rebuking. Our job is not to tear the individual down, rather it's to lead them to the fullness of the future that God has for them.

So, what's with the "bad guy" talk in the beginning? Because sometimes, people aren't open to rebuke, or correction, or even encouragement. Like I shared before, the people who go to church aren't perfect, and some become extremely unhealthy to the rest of the group. Much like a teacher would kick out a problem causing student, Church leaders sometimes have to kick out problem causing people. I don't like it. I hate conflict and the idea of not including someone. Thankfully, the issue with the gentlemen today probably won't come to that. However, sometimes, a leader needs to step in the authority given them by God to protect the people from danger. Being a leader isn’t always a glorious job, and sometimes, it means hurting people’s feelings. How wonderful it is to know that God brings healing to hurt people.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Superman of the Soul

"I'm nothing more than a charity case to you!" The words hit me like a pile of bricks. My face went pale as the words sunk in. I had no response for her, only silence. I simply didn't know what to say. I had known this young woman for a while, and she had let me in on some of the inner struggles she had been facing. God put me in a place where I could recognize some of the problem causers in her life, and I thought I knew how to handle them. I had been talking to her, giving advice, and trying to fix the problem. Everything seemed to be going great until she expressed her frustration, and explained the flaw in what I was doing. In the midst of trying to lead her out of some very dark times, I was trying to be the hero. Looking back on it, I realize I was doing it wrong, in three specific ways.

1. I was trying to do it for her, not with her:
I believe leaders, Christian leaders in particular, have fallen into the "do it for them" mentality. In my house, my mother is completely computer illiterate. Every time that something doesn't work, I have to come in and troubleshoot the problem. (Usually fixed by the I.T. crowd answer.) Unfortunately, my mother isn't learning how to fix things, I'm the one fixing them. Some leaders tend to fix the problem, without teaching anyone what was wrong, or how they fixed it. Christian leaders are especially guilty of this, giving one-way sermons and lectures that give an answer to a problem, (like why Christians believe sex outside of marriage is wrong), but never explaining why. Real development, both spiritual and physical, happens when the learner is a part of the fixing process.  

2. I was technical support, not a friend:
It's hard for me to make friends. I am not a psychologist, and so I am not entirely sure why, but I can guess it has something to do with my dislike of trusting people. What I see myself, and other leaders doing is a whole lot of involving themselves in other peoples lives, but not letting people into theirs. Many Christian leaders are seeing leadership like airdropping supplies into Haiti. We give them food, clothes, and medicine, and we don’t have to meet the people in their poverty and discomfort. Leaders who write books, offer counsel, and get involved in the lives of others, all whilst never letting people into theirs. Tragically, I see this in my own life, and have tried to lead that way. However, as Jo Saxton points out - it doesn't work. Leaders need to have a two-way relationship with those they lead.

3. I was the solution:
As I've shared before, I'm a comic book nerd. Every comic's story differs in small details, but usually follows the same flow. As the three act trope dictates: We are introduced to the good guys and bad guy in act one.  The heroes run into some difficulty in the second act, but in the third act, defeat the bad guys and save the day. There is a certain degree of comfort with this model, the heroes are always the solution to the problem. In a way, the bible teaches the same three act story, with one major difference: we aren't the heroes. Some politicians, business strategists, and pastors go into their respective fields with the idea that they are the solution to the problems of the world. As we've seen with this recent debt crisis, more politicians are probably not the answer. Pastors are not the solution to the problems of the people, rather they only point to the solution.  

When this friend of mine brought this up to me, I was shell-shocked. I wish I could say that the above account was a single isolated event, but it wasn't. This has been a consistent problem with the way that I've been leading. Thankfully, I’m recognizing it quicker. I'm learning to lead others to the answer, instead of just giving it to them. I'm trying to let people into my lives, despite my dislike of it. Finally, as God has been repeatedly showing me: I'm not the hero. I'm convinced more and more every day that Jesus is the hero, and my job as a leader is to assist Him in what He's doing. I’m not doing it perfectly, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it totally right; but the hero, my hero, always saves the people in the end.