Monday, December 8, 2014

Most Overlooked Resource for Healthy Leadership

It was during the year of our 25th wedding anniversary. Seventeen years ago Sabrina and I planted a church.
We planted in a city 1 1/2 hours drive from where we were then living. We assumed our home would sell within a month or two so we could move to our new found community.
As it turned out, we commuted back and forth several times a week for eighteen months before our house eventually sold. In that first year we experienced two deaths in our immediate family. We had exhausted our retirement savings fund to stay afloat. (We were bi-vocational without a vocation). And, when our house didn’t sell as soon as expected, we had more than a few people question our decision to plant a church. When our house finally sold, there was still plenty of drama surrounding the event of finding a new place to live.
All to say, at the end of that first year my wife and I were drained on many levels….even though the new church seemed to be getting off to a good start.
Within two weeks of moving to our new home a friend called. “Wayne, my wife and I are taking you guys away for 5 days. Get someone else to preach next weekend and be at our place next Friday night with your sleeping bags and your pillows. We will look after the rest”. That was it.
We showed up at their home the following Friday night not knowing exactly what it was that we are saying yes to. Now that is trust. Both of their vehicles were in their driveway and a canoe was on top of each car. Early the next morning our friends loaded their cars with all the gear and food needed for an ‘off-the-grid canoe trip’. (They didn’t even want us to drive our own vehicle on the trip that followed). Five hours later we were canoeing into the remote lakes of Northern Ontario.
The next five days were the perfect counter point to the crazed life we had been living. Sabrina and I received a generous space from our friends to grieve the deaths of two special people in our lives. They encouraged us to recount all the wonderful things God was doing in our lives. And our friends reminded us of how valuable we were to God and to them. We returned home encouraged, refreshed, strengthened, and so thankful.

Healthy Leadership Has Generous Friendships

This is only one of many stores that we experienced with our friends. And there have been others in our life since then that have become life giving friends for me through the generosity of their love.
Here is what I have noticed in my life and in the lives of many of the leaders that I coach. The deepest friendships do not occur with the people we are in active ministry with. I think it is too difficult for people to allow you to be yourself when they primarily see you through the lens of what you do (or think you should do).
I assume you already know that to remain healthy in ministry you need a life giving relationship with Jesus. You also have heard that you need to keep your ministry responsibilities second in priority to your relationship with your spouse and family.
But I want to focus this article on friendships. The most overlooked resource for remaining healthy as a ministry leader is friendship.
The kind of friendship where the person generously provides space for you to live in God’s freedom and love. They provide the kind of space for you to honestly process your life. A place for you to be you. A place where you can share your moments of incredible joy along with your experiences of life draining losses. A friendship marked with laughter and tears. A friendship where you not only receive but you are welcomed to bless this person in return. The healing and transformation that occurs in such friendships is GOLD.
I speak from my experience as a Leadership Coach and as a Spiritual Director when I say. “Your health as a ministry leader will be short term without one or two friends. People, who generously provide space for you to experience God’s love and freedom”. Often times they are people who are outside of your ministry, and even your denomination or tribe.
I believe that generous friendships are born out of our attention to John 13:34. “Love one another as I have loved you”. To be a life giving friend you need to first receive the life giving friendship offered you by Jesus.
A couple of chapters later Jesus says this about friendship. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13 E.S.V.)
This is exactly what it seemed like to Sabrina and I during those five days in Algonquin Park. Our friends set aside their own priorities and needs to pour themselves into our lives.
Perhaps you are reading this article and now realize that you don’t have this kind of friendship in your life.
You can change that, beginning today.

Here is God’s heart for you.

God desires you to remain a healthy leader. He will lead you into mutually self-giving relationships with a few others.
I find it helpful to remember that every friend you have begins in the same way. You and your friend were once strangers. Then a relationship began and it grew and took shape over time.
If you realize you have overlooked the resource of ‘friendship’, three thoughts come to mind.
1. Abide in Christ. He alone meets all our needs. Friends are like the hands and feet of Jesus. Realize that no matter how awesome your friends are, they can never supply what Christ supplies.
2. Just as Christ is generous to you, be generous in your kindness towards others, including strangers.
3. Expect God to be faithful to bring someone into your life who will bless you by exceeding your ability to bless them. It is just another display of God’s awesome Kingdom. You can’t outgive the giver (Christ Jesus).
God will give you all you need to remain healthy and finish well. This includes friendship.

Wayne MacQueen - London Vineyard
Wayne and Sabrina are amazing pastoral care givers to the pastors and leaders of the Ontario Vineyards. Wayne does leadership coaching and spiritual direction and can be reached through this website here. (FE)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Minority Christianity

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Sometimes I hear followers of Jesus bemoan the fact that we don't have more influence in our culture. Society seems to be getting further and further away from our Christian values instead of adopting them, we lament. This is taken as a very bad sign and possibly an indication that we are nearing the end of the age. While Christians may find it troublesome to live in an increasingly secular society, it is nothing new. A hostile culture was the birthplace of the church and the seedbed in which the disciples of Jesus grew to become confident and vibrant evangelists spreading the good news everywhere they went. 

When we look at church history, we observe that there were times when Christians were in the minority and times when the church had great political power and influence. I once had a debate in a class I was teaching about which served the church better: being persecuted or being aligned with power. There were supporters on both sides, but a clear majority of students believed that political power should never be mixed with religion. Being a minority, it seems, can foster certain desirable characteristics which are usually absent in those who have society's favour on their side.

Living as a fringe group and being a minority with limited power and influence gives you several options. 1) You can accommodate yourself to the culture, trying to fit in and gain influence, 2) you can separate yourself from society and its values, retreating from the world to a large degree, 3) you can push back, being vocal and visible in drawing definitive lines between yourself and the culture, or 4) you can re-interpret everything in society through your own meta-narrative, making it fit into an ultimately victorious story where your values win out. As you can probably tell, I believe that none of these options are ideal, the major reason being that this is not how Jesus modeled life for his disciples.

Instead of overthrowing the dominance of the Romans (political change) or firing the religious leaders of the time (religious reformation), Jesus engaged with people wherever he found them. What Jesus taught was not so much an external re-ordering of priorities as the importance of internal transformation - a new birth. This meant that change had to work from the inside out instead of from the outside in. That's hard to accept (it doesn't look very impressive) and even more difficult to practice. Unless you are a minority. Then inside-out becomes much easier, because it is one of the few viable options on the table.

Being in a minority means that you have no way of enforcing the ten commandments, no way to make people listen to the gospel, and no way to insist on biblical values. And oddly enough, Jesus didn't seem to find this a big problem. Instead of waving a holy wand and changing the entire culture, he lived and worked in an environment which was unfriendly to his people group and doubtful about his message. What he did in this environment was rather astounding: he loved people one at a time, called people to follow him one by one or two by two, and healed people through personal encounter and intimate touch. So much slower than political decrees or in today's world, mass media, but gaining a voice of influence seemed to be the last thing on his mind, evidenced by the directive he gave to certain ones not to tell anyone about their healing.

Please understand that I am not endorsing imprisonment, slavery, torture, or any form of violent or repressive treatment of Christians. Those things aside, perhaps being in the minority as a follower of Jesus is not such a bad thing. Perhaps it is a good idea to let go of our sense of entitlement, especially in Western society, to a pervasive adoption of Christian values. Because what being a minority does is offer us the opportunity to trust God with the results. It offers us a chance to become better listeners instead of constantly spouting off our views. It provides us with occasions to embrace those who are different than we are, to see the good in unlikely places, and to focus on loving relationships instead of spending so much time trying to increase our circles of influence. If Jesus did it, perhaps we can too.

Some of these ideas are taken from Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Baker Publishing Group, 2012. Having lived in Croatia during repressive times, Volf has some wisdom and hard-won experience in this area,