Pronoun Posturing (for leaders)

It’s been told to me, and I’ve said it. It’s a leadership principle that’s been touted. It’s this, we need to earn our right to lead.

We have to go out and do the hard work, the behind the scenes work, the work that involves leading a couple of people before a couple hundred people. And while there’s some truth in that, the Bible calls us to a different posture.

It’s still about working hard. But what it’s not about is “us”, “me”, or even, “we”.

2 Chronicles records Solomon’s establishment as king and the remarkable conversation where Solomon’s request to God was a request for “wisdom and knowledge.”

But recently, something else stood out to me in that exchange. It’s in the last half of verse eleven. God is speaking and grants Solomon wisdom and knowledge, and then says, “But you have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king.”

Notice the “my” and then “I”?

Whose people will Solomon govern? God’s people.

Who made Solomon king? God did.

It’s as if God was saying, “Look, I’m going to provide you with some exceptional gifts. But remember, I gave those gifts of wisdom and knowledge, and I’m putting you in a place of leadership. And yes, I’m allowing you to lead my people.”

Do we need this same kind of reminder that emphasizes pronouns?

You see, God knows what leader-types are like. We get the opportunity to do something for God’s kingdom and we’re honored. But then all the sudden we either forgot who put us there and/or we begin to think about our newly established leadership opportunity as our own little personal fiefdom.

The church we serve is not ours. The people are not ours. We’re a short-term steward of people and leadership opportunities.

As leaders, our choice of words when describing the who, how and why we lead is important. But even more important, is the heart behind the words. Are we really in a posture that reflects the proper (God-honoring) pronouns?

Here’s to proper pronouns.

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Ministry Magic

Have you ever felt the expectation to create “ministry magic?”

Sometimes this expectation comes from others. And sometimes we’ve talked ourselves into thinking we have to create ministry magic.

After a recent talk at my church, an intern on staff found a picture of me presenting and decided to dress up it a bit. While I thought it was funny, it also reminded me this unspoken expectation I’ve felt before…to create ministry magic.

“You’re paid,” or “You’re called,” and then they say, “You can make this happen, right?” They/us want kids to magically appear in the preschool. They/us want to have a trendy stage area like so and so church. They/us want to be as a large as the church across town. They/us want the financial debt to go away, overnight. And while seminary provided lots of things for me, it didn’t provide magical outcomes.

But the temptation is still there. The temptation to make ministry magic happen. Yet, there’s dangers in pursuing magical mans, and if you actually do have an “Abra cadabra” moment, well, that can be dangerous too (for your ministry).

Dangers of a ministry magic mentality

You spend too much time looking for a silver bullet (I blogged last week about that bullet not existing). At the chance of offending readers…magic isn’t real. It’s sleight of hand. It’s perception. It’s creating a distraction. I’ve been guilty of this in ministry programming before and I’ve blogged about the “dust of perpetual ministry.” Magic is looking to woo people. Ministry is rarely that. And one or two magical moments may woo you into believing it’s something you can repeat. Magical silver bullets rob you of the hard and spiritual discerning work that will create the best long term pathway for effective ministry.

Even if you do create magic, it’s short lived and shallow. Sure, we all stumble on some magical moments (they’re actually probably Holy Spirit moments). But like the smoke in a magic trick or the bunny in the hat, they do go away, and go quickly. And then there’s an expectation you’ll do it again. You’ll have an encore problem. And when you can’t repeat it, you get booed.

It perpetuates a consumer mentality. Who goes to magic shows? That’s right, people who want to be entertained. That is not our job as church and ministry leaders.

You become the center of attention and applause. If you’re good at creating magical ministry moments, you’ll be the one getting all the attention. It won’t be your fellow staff members or the faithful volunteers, and may even takeaway the attention of the actual miracle Worker.

What magic have you been forced into for your ministry lately? What are you doing that isn’t sustainable, but just short-lived magic? What are you doing that’s making you the magician and therefore always in the spotlight?

If your ministry is one big magic show—incrementalize change. Determine one thing you’ll begin to adjust so that ministry becomes sustainable and is substantial to the Gospel message?

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Micro Shifts for Macro Ministry

Despite writing there were “no silver bullets” for churches, he still had me with the offering that there are “Micro-shifts that have the potential to produce macro-change in your church.”

Even for a guy that struggled through his micro and macro-economic courses, the idea intrigued me. Daniel Im has written a new book titled, No Silver Bullets and I wanted to explore one of his ideas here and I recommend you digging deeper with a full read of his book. For this blog, I try to write “Practical takeaways for everyday church leadership” and I think Daniel does the same in No Silver Bullets. It comes from a place via Daniel of deep experience in the local church and deep love for the local church.

In Im’s first chapter, “From Destination to Direction” he begins to build a case for how churches go about the maturing of disciples. He provides a practical influence matrix and as a part of working through this idea Im describes four different church personas…

  1. The Copy Cat Church
  2. The Silver Bullet Church
  3. The Hippie Church
  4. And the Intentional Church

Just from these persona titles, most of us have already identified which one our church is and which one we’d like to be. As you’d imagine, Im aptly provides habits and cultural ethos for each of these church personas. And truth be told, I see parts of each of these personas in the one I serve. In fact, there were part of Im’s descriptions that were uncomfortable for me to read.

Because Im’s writing is better than mine, and because to fully understand the content, you need the full context (his book). Here, I’m going to simply poach one idea in hopes it will cause you to reflect. Perhaps reflection that leads to a deeper dive of No Silver Bullets.

The Copy Cat Church

While not my proudest season of life, there was a time I “copy catted.” Better said, I cheated. Bottom line, I was convinced others were smarter than me; and there was no reason to have command of content myself when someone smarter already had it and I could just “borrow” it.

I had pretty complex systems for attaining this borrowed content. It involved money, people, dark cafeterias and code words (HBO is considering making a show based on my adolescent enterprise). And you know what, my system allowed me to make the passing grade I needed to begin my baseball season. But when the teacher decided to create two varying tests, well, my enterprise ended, and so did my baseball season.

In churches, our motives are probably not sinful. And in most cases our intentions are to just take our churches further, faster. One justification…we don’t know when Christ will return, and we don’t want to be found investigating or learning our own way when there’s an already developed and proven idea at the church across the city.

“Borrowing” in Church

In fact, our digital world allows us to view and understand content in new ways and this world allows a collaborative approach. Sharing is the new normal and there’s some great benefits to the collaboration and borrowing.

Yet, for churches, we must proceed carefully. No doubt, using the copycat method for your church allows for speed. Which is efficient, but it won’t always be better. It takes away the discovery and discernment that we need to walk through as church leaders when considering shifts in our ministries.

The other church’s version may be prettier and quicker, but what you don’t know is what it took to build their model. You don’t know what shortfalls they’ve experienced. If you pray, ask the hard questions and seek alignment with decision makers, and it still make sense to copy some, or all of another church’s way, then go for it (but no breaking of copyright laws).

But once a copycat, always a copycat? A new borrowed concept works for a while, but then it stalls or we get bored, so we look for the next thing to copycat. We feel we need a new way to provide an injection of growth into our church. Im writes, “They [copycat churches] move from one model to the next…and is convinced they are only one model away from breakthrough.”

So, if you’re tempted to “borrow,” I suggest slowing down and doing your due diligence. And if you need help with some questions and framework to tackle the larger issues of the church, then Im’s book can help, but remember, there’s no silver bullet.

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