My family stood in his jail cell on Robben Island. We witnessed first-hand the devastation of Apartheid. We saw what racism, oppression, greed, and anger can do to a nation. In post-Apartheid South Africa we saw the church rise up to join and often lead the restoration movement toward reconciliation among black, colored and white.
Thank you Nelson Mandela, for forgiving those who recklessly and intentionally destroyed your country. Thank you for being creative and winsome and shrewd in the face of those who had been abusive, evil and offensive.
I made four trips to South Africa, teaching, serving, learning, listening, praying and crying. It was heartbreaking and hope-building at the same time. In South Africa can sometimes smell the poverty before you ever see it. It is raw and toxic and visceral. Admittedly I had but a brief look through a tiny window into the suffering of a people we have abused, neglected and exploited for centuries.
I felt ashamed. To feel anything less is an injustice. Repentance is the only response.
Sadly, I knew I had played a role in their demise. Every American did – by our ignorance or by our compliance. We stood by and watched corporations get richer as a people got poorer and sicker and lonelier on the world stage. Meanwhile, we took their wealth, their land and their heritage.
But thank God we could not take their faith, their dignity and their hope.
Nelson Mandela was an iconic symbol of these treasures. Of course he was a complex man, sometimes despised…sometimes revered. Yes, his work as a young, angry man was often brutal and dangerous. No one – including Mandela himself –blindly condoned this. He wanted to hurt those who hurt them.
But can we understand why? Are we so self-righteous we cannot imagine ourselves making similar error? Let’s be clear; most of us have never had our homes bulldozed into oblivion, our livelihoods take from us, our land corrupted and our leaders imprisoned. Angry young men do foolish things when they cry for freedom and justice in a world that cannot and will not hear. Like a rebellious teenager his actions cried, “Help! Look! Listen!”
Yes, Nelson Mandela’s early means were wrong. People like King and Ghandi chose different paths. And eventually so did Mandela.
But I must remember how hard it was. I have never begged for my freedom. I have never watched my friends and their sons beaten to death by a racist mob. I do not have to see my daughter raped by the very police who are supposed to protect her innocence. I was not sentenced to work a patch of limestone for decades that would virtually blind my eyes and break my back. But South Africans – like WW2 Jews in Germany and “dissidents” in North Korea today –endured this kind of suffering.
And many of us just watched. I know I did.
In 1976 I was a freshman at Princeton University. There were almost daily protests against Apartheid. I mocked them. These mostly long-haired hippie types were shouting and demanding for corporations to divest from SA to create economic pressure to topple Apartheid. I thought to myself, “Go to class…do something productive…get a job you losers!”
I was an ignorant fool. I had no idea what Apartheid was, how it crippled a culture and raped a nation.
Thank you Nelson Mandela, for becoming a changed man. Thank you for not letting your anger and suffering become a weapon to inflict injury upon your oppressors. Thank you for “leading from the back” as described in the book “Mandel’s Way.”
And thank you for forgiving me. It reminds me of another great leader. The greatest leader, who had an even longer walk to freedom. He came to earth, lived for justice and truth, but was abused, misjudged, beaten, imprisoned and killed by the oppressive elites of His day. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps Mandela gave us a contemporary example of this kind of forgiveness. I need that forgiveness. Because like I naively mocked those justice-seeking protestors, I took part in the mocking and death of righteous Jesus.
So today I say, “Thank You, Jesus—for forgiving us, saving us, loving us and now walking with us.”
Where are the Mandelas of today? You generally won’t find them ranting on FOX or MSNBC. There are few in congress or business or education. Thankfully, there are more rising up in the church. Men and women – great leaders, many of them quiet yet powerful – who care about the really big questions. But they are still a minority.
We need more people who are not caught up in so many petty debates discussed today by weak people with small minds. I know, because I can easily become one of them. Why? Because sometimes, instead of being a courageous leader I am a contented follower. No, not a follower of the radical, freedom-fighting, passionate Jesus. Rather, a follower of those who believe the fight is about our “brand” or a “model” or a “tribe” or a “theological viewpoint” or a “Bible version” or a “political system” or a hundred other distractions.
How lame and trivial. I hate when I get caught up in all that banter.
Mandela reminds me – reminds us – that there are longer walks and bigger issues and greater causes. I want to be more like him. Of course, ultimately, I want to be more like Jesus of Nazareth. A man of humility, justice, self-sacrifice, truth, beauty, forgive and, of course…LOVE. Mandela, a leader today we admire and celebrate today, was a world changer but only a shadow of what Jesus fully and perfectly embodied. And so are you and I. So we fix our eyes on Jesus as we become more of the leader, and follower, we long to become.
Can you help me be more like Jesus today? We need to remind one another of what is at stake, to call out the best in each other and set our sights on things above not on the things of the earth. In our ignorance or laziness we can never again allow another group of people to imprison and mock and oppress a rising generation of “Mandelas” who will courageously and humbly stand for freedom. For real freedom – Christ-centered freedom. Transforming freedom, inside and out.
It required a long walk for Nelson Mandela to get there, but he eventually got it right. I hope to get it right someday as well – hopefully sooner, but who knows. And I desperately need Jesus of Nazareth to walk the long road with me.
After all, He understands the long walk to freedom…all the way to the cross.
I struggle to hold 3 aspects of the Church in tension – the Community, the Cause and the Corporation. These 3 C’s (I was first exposed to this triad in the 1990’s) each reflect some aspect of church life in the western world.
We love the Community – the people of God, the called out ones, the ekklesia, the family of God. Relationships matter and our triune God is first and foremost a relational God. Many people think of this “community” when the word “Church” comes to mind.
Then there is the Cause – the Kingdom-building mission of God for which we give our treasure and talent, our very lives. This cause – often described by the great commission and great commandment – frames all that we do and how we express it in the world. We love the cause, we sacrifice for the cause, and many have spilled their blood for the cause (and Christ himself led the way for us).
Then there is the Corporation – the structure, resources, strategies and leadership responsibilities. Depending on church models and approaches this can include everything from policies and governance to strategic planning to fundraising. It can involve management and HR issues, office space allocation, rental costs, equipment and technology, real estate, classrooms, parking lots and playgrounds.
While the Community and the Cause can present challenging issues and concerns (some of them massive), I believe that the hardest part can be this “Corporate” aspect. And when you add money to the mix (salaries, budgets, campaigns, benevolence, stewardship, perspectives on debt, and so on) it can get downright oppressive!
Corruption can creep in to any church that misunderstands the complex nature of the “Corporate” aspect of Church. Yes, some very small, simpler group-based models where 30-40 people are the church may offer some exceptions. (Though I have seen churches this size split over what I would call the “Corporate” aspect of what they did — or did not — pay attention to, namely $$).
Mismanagement of staff and volunteers, well-meaning but ill-conceived funding strategies, wide ranges in compensation packages among staff, personal and biblical misunderstandings about debt, and hierarchical leadership models that oppress rather than empower others are some of the big problems.
Every leader must pay attention to this aspect of “Church” and must wisely enlist a team of people who can, in community and for the cause, address this with integrity, humility and authenticity.
Where do you see challenges here? How can we handle this well without inadvertently damaging the community and abandoning the cause?
I sat in on a meeting at Willow Creek last week while Bill Hybels was casting some vision for the church’s new connection strategy…helping people find a place of friendship based on where they sit on weekends, then inviting them to connection events and gatherings.
It is not a new strategy; many of you have used this for decades with a twist or two in the method. And some of you will remember we taught this for years to group life to point leaders, encouraging them to “Leverage Your Auditorium” as a strategic step for connection. But some churches are still missing an opportunity to connect people at weekend services.
While this remains an “attractional” strategy (connecting people who come to the campus versus going into the community), it is a ripe opportunity each church has to connect with people who are already sitting there.
As I listened to the talk (1 of 4 vision Bill is doing for core leader teams) I had a flashback to my arrival to Willow in 1992. We were laser-focused on making disciples as the central part of our mission at that time. There was much fruit in those days that came from the hard work of hundreds of disciple-makers led by Mark Weinert, Don Cousins (http://www.doncousins.org) , Judson Poling (http://www.thecrucibleproject.org/leadership.html#judson) , and many others using a group-based discipleship model. It was a whole-team effort with a clear strategy to support it.
Our challenge was how to get more people into the process and make group life more accessible for those who had trouble finding a group. So we focused on the one thing you absolutely must do in disciple-making; connection. As we wrestled with the right wording for building a church filled with group life, our team leader asked: “What is our infinitive? To grow…to disciple…to reach…to develop? What is it? How will you being your mission focus. Because it will become the central purpose of our mission in the first phase.”
What is your infinitive? What a great question!
After much discussion we made a decision. Our infinitive would be…
Why? Because you cannot make committed disciples without connection. You can certainly try. Especially if you have a definition of “connection” that is less than personal and relational. Yes, there are non-relational strategies used in closed or persecuted countries, but you can bet there is not one follower in these countries who thrives by being alone. Discipleship requires People-ship. (A word from the Donahue Lectionary of Community-building!).
Our mission for the group life ministry at Willow in 1992:
To connect people relationally in groups of 4-10 people for the purpose of growing in Christlikeness, loving one another, and contributing to the work of the church, in order to glorify God and make disciples of all nations.
I did not hunt through old folders to look that up. I did not need to…I have it memorized, ingrained in my head from the beginning. TO CONNECT.
If you do not connect people, you cannot disciple people. Period.
…and he chose the 12 that they might be WITH HIM and that he might send them out to preach… (Mark 3:14)
So today…21 years later…Willow Creek is re-focused on a workable connection strategy so that people who arrive unconnected can find a relationship. Such a strategy must be about more than just filling seats at services. There must be an overall disciple-making strategy, equipped leadership, empowered people based on gifts (not just ministry slots to fill on campus), and movement beyond a come-and-see outreach focus to a missional go-and-serve/love/gather strategy off-campus.
You need a comprehensive approach, and I can help you process that change if you want to chat about that.
Remember: You cannot stop at connection…but you cannot start without connection.
To reach out to the many disconnected, pass-through people (visiting a couple weeks and out the door a few weeks later), it will provide an essential first step along the path.
What are you doing to leverage your auditorium or worship center for connection? Do people feel welcome, known, and cared for during their weekend experience at a service?
Early this morning I received a very sad email. I sat wondering, “Where is God in all this mess. Why? Why now? Why this man? Hasn’t he suffered enough with his cancer and his many trials?”
It has been said, “All true community begins at the edge of suffering”
Before me sits a Bible, filled with stories of pain and suffering and redemption. These stories unnerve us, encourage us, and then remind us of things eternal. We become sober to the realities of life in a broken world. Still I ask, “Where is God when it hurts?” The answer should not surprise us. It is embedded in this email.
Here it is, edited and with names changed, but you will get the idea. This man is suffering with cancer that is rare and hard to treat. And then this email from his wife…
Yesterday, at about 4:45 p.m., Mike was rear ended, spun into oncoming traffic and then T-boned. He was in a small rental car that was totaled. He was taken to the hospital and into surgery just after 7. He remained conscious and calm. He was very cold – not in much pain, not scared. He kept telling me he wasn’t scared, that he was ready, that he knew he was forgiven, saved by grace, and loved by his Father. We prayed a lot. He was mostly calm, always conscious, very well aware of what had happened.
The nurses were crying and rushing and more and more doctors and machines and nurses came. He had some deep lacerations to his head; he was bleeding. He was on a backboard, coughing, having difficulty breathing, frustrated with being strapped down and held in place. His spleen needed to come out and he had many breaks and fractures. His heart rate was too fast and his blood pressure too low. They gave him several units of blood.
They took him into surgery. He was brave! Our family and close friends joined us.
Tony, Sarah, Matt, Rachael, Mike’s family, Ashton, Tammy, and Susan came and joined the wait. (His Pain Partners.) We were all able to go in, briefly, and see him last night. He was somewhat conscious and on a respirator to help with his breathing and had some staples on the back of his head. His color was good; he rested.
It is likely that his cancer treatment will be suspended while they address these issues. It’s a lot to take in. He needs a whole lot of prayer and love and hope. His long road seems mighty long right now. Blessings and love, Karen.
Here is my edited reply to my friend who forwarded “Karen’s” email to me.
Ug …this is very hard to hear at this point, Dave, but his life is being a witness to so many who are serving him right now in the hospitals – they are seeing Jesus in him and that is remarkable…Mike’s broken life, and the community that surround him, is being used in powerful ways … I know that does not feel good to you and me right now, or especially to him or Karen, but it is true. A hard but real truth.
I lost my best friend at age 15 after he suffered for 3 years and died of spinal cancer. He was a Philadelphia Phillies fan so players would come visit him, as did others who, at the time, would never go to a church or read a Bible. But he had a strong faith for just a young teen. He talked to them about Christ, his future, salvation, etc. When he died, many remembered his short life but also his great faith. We were devastated, but I know it started me on a journey toward God, and helped others to strengthen their faith.
A young man in a class I teach has Cystic Fibrosis. He is being hospitalized (again) this weekend to treat lung infections with IV antibiotics. He is the same age as my son, and is aware of the degenerative nature of his disease. I could not imagine my son in that condition knowing his life will be a short one filled with suffering. It punches me in the gut every time I walk into the room.
But it has also driven me to prayer. And I have wept over this student, remembering that sin has broken this world and it took the death of Jesus himself to defeat its misery. So I have hope, and I am humbled, and I sit at God’s feet and find strength. But I do not do it alone. In community we share the pain.
I am at a loss for answers as to why these things happen. I can only cling to what I know to be true. And that is what Mike and my student are doing. And I think I can guarantee that their many sufferings (which I would never wish on anyone) are being transformed into something beautiful for God’s glory. So I pray and I weep. But I also hope… for a new world one day when all the “Mikes” of this world are dancing and singing. It is what I cling to in the brokenness.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” - Revelation 21: 1-5
Yes, make it new! For all of us. So that our partnership in pain will be transformed into a reunion of joy and gladness with the One who brings us home.
I recommend Phil Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?
Look at leadership development and you see the focus of most conferences and materials is on leaders at the top, or leaders on the front line. This is great – I love to work with senior-level teams and leaders, and have spent decades training volunteer group and team leaders for churches and businesses.
But many groups – especially Non-profits – really need to develop the middle, and the opportunities are endless!
So what about development for the MIDDLE? People have skills and experience beyond entry-level leadership and yet do not desire, are not ready for, or not gifted for – top-level posts. Where are the development strategies for these emerging leaders?
My “Leaders at Every Level” process is designed to I develop and support leaders at every level of your church, non-profit or small business.
Here is why it is so important to DEVELOP THE MIDDLE layer of your organization:
1) This is the pool from which you will draw many of your inner circle leaders in the next 4-5 years
2) An investment here has a huge trickle-down effect, as these leaders become better at passing along the DNA of your organization
3) You can see whether these leaders can reproduce the investment you have made in them. Can they, and will they, shape the people below them the way you are investing in them?
4) It is a testing ground for greater responsibility. You can takes risks here and let leaders fail without causing too much pain in them or the organization. Yet they have time to learn and recover from failure before advancement to higher levels.
5) Turnover drops dramatically and is directly proportional to the investment you make in people. After a few years people wonder if they are stuck, so they either level off (and just hand on to a job) or move on to better opportunities for growth. If you want turnover, ignore the middle. Here is some great info from The Wharton School that validates this point in business…but I think it is even MORE essential for churches and Non-profits.
6) When top leaders move on or die or retire, there is no “crisis” because you have a built-in secession plan!
So what is your strategy? Share your ideas for development in the middle and I will forward them along. This is a great challenge!
“Your Arms Too Short to Box With God” was a gospel music theatre production in the late 70’s based on the Gospel of Matthew.
In its gritty, direct way the phrase captures the tense drama in a scene from the book of Acts.
After hearing the good news of forgiveness and joy in the life, death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus, people found faith, hope and freedom. But the religious elites and power brokers of the day became jealous (Acts 5:17), and put the whole thing on lockdown, attacking the apostles.
Why? What’s wrong with good news?
Bad news sells. Look at the first 10 minutes of your evening news. Fires, murders, rapes, gang violence, and political corruption (vote early, vote often, as we say in Chicago!) flood the screen.
Bad news stirs up fear…Good News serves up freedom.
Currently, our government leaders are debating and haggling about what services to fund. It’s a political wrestling match as we are well aware. Someone said, “When are these losers going to get their act together?” Sadly, regardless of your political affiliation, the real “losers” are needy people. Meanwhile many who are not dependent on government assistance or investment can laugh and throw stones. But a slowdown or a shutdown is a real letdown for so many. A government shutdown is indeed a crisis.
But today I realize I have avoided an even greater crisis in my life.
A Small Group Shutdown!
That’s right. I cannot imagine the impact of such a thing if it ever happened. As I look at the small groups I have been a part of over the years, shutdown would have been devastating for me and many others I know – at least from the human side of things.
Here’s what a Small Group Shutdown would have meant for me…
- No connection with Jesus a leader, lover and friend
- A disastrous marriage to someone who did not follow God
- A misfire on God’s moving me into a new career
- I would have never learned the real power of the gospel
- I might not have many real, lifelong friends – deep, genuine and “for me”
- An undiscovered teaching gift
- Participation in a weak church that had drifted from the truth
- I might never have attended graduate school for theology
- I would have missed seeing real prayer and real healing
- My own prayers and gifts would lay dormant or underutilized for years
- Serving opportunities would have passed me by
- International ministry and service would have likely evaded me
- I would have missed the support I needed for my marriage
- Raising kids would have been a disaster
- My personal pain and suffering would have had much less support
- My 2nd and 3rd career moves would have been made without wise counsel
- Might not have had close friends in the group become believers
- Would have missed tons of personal growth, love, and truth-telling I needed to hear
And I could go on for pages…A Small Group Shutdown would have led to a personal Breakdown.
It is sad that some critics believe that “small groups don’t work” and are not focused on making disciples.
I guess I was just lucky to be in the only group on the planet that is an exception. I am sure the rest are just hokey little gatherings of bubble Christians hiding from the world and ignoring their communities.
Sure, like parts of the government, some need to be shutdown. But most, as far as I can see (and I have looked at these around the globe), are lifelines for people of all stripes and backgrounds. These little bands of spiritual transformation form the foundation for communal life and service. Maybe that is why Jesus spent so much time with His.
So today my headline reads, “SMALL GROUP SHUTDOWN AVERTED!”
A Common Leadership Mistake You Must Avoid!!
I see it almost everywhere I work with leadership teams. Let me tell you what it is and what you should be doing differently. And I will cite two great HBR articles that are helpful. (For more about HBR go here http://hbr.org )
Before I name the mistake, let me describe how it pops up.
You want to move ahead so you brainstorm a bit, read the latest books, review all the models, attend a conference or watch some videos. Then draft the new strategy., delegate responsibilities, and launch the new plan.
And in six months you are…
Two areas drive my passion and practice. They “need” one another. And in my work with churches, businesses, educational institutions and start-up operations, these 2 THINGS really matter. At the end of this post you can see how I help leaders of quality organizations in these 2 areas. See if you can spot them on this list below.
- Clear Mission
- Competent Leadership
- A Great Team
- Essential Funding
- Creative Workplace
- A Visionary Person
- Strong Community
- Recognition for Work
- Ownership by All
- Enjoy My Work
I chose Competent Leadership and Strong Community – and here is why.
I develop leaders.
I speak at conferences.
I attend conferences.
This week, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Lot’s of enthusiasm and inspiration, great talks and encouraging moments. I took my family and 5 of my honors students. We found the experience exciting and energizing. Like many others, that is why we go. It is an emotional thrill, and leaders need a leadership lift whenever we can get one.
Many of the speakers acknowledged this kind of event is a REMINDER event. We need to hear what we already know, and be inspired again to plug away, stay the course, and lead well. And often we gain a new insight or have an “aha!” moment. These are truly valuable.
But what happens after the thrill is gone? It is the age-old conference dilemma. In a few days the buzz is gone, the notebook goes on the shelf, the twitter frenzy dies down and people return to the same challenges, problems, lousy bosses, fundraising shortfalls and HR headaches.
Am I being pessimistic? Should we stop going to conferences? NO! Let me be clear. I love conferences! I love speaking at them and going to them! I love hanging with other leaders and getting to know their stories, successes and challenges. This is essential for every leader!