Its budget season…. the inevitable period of time a few months before the budget is due when we’re forced to look at the cold hard facts of the “business” of doing ministry. Resource comparisons abound, perceptions of fairness and unfairness abound. And scrutiny over paper and ink use is common.
This is the season my mind fractures with internal arguments like these:
“of course income must equal or exceed expenses, don’t be daft!”
“My calling, and the world’s greatest need (dare I say), is Godly leadership development for those that have the least access to it. And I don’t give a rat’s patoot how it gets paid for”
“how can we be held accountable for revenue when we have no authority over the revenue drivers”?
If it seems that my internal dialogue is contradicting, then welcome to my schizo world at 2am in the morning. But fret not, dear friend… I’m sharing my survival tips to get us both through this season…
Offer it up: The praise, that is… Having a long tenure in an organization gives you the memory of other times “we’ve passed this way before” and God’s faithfulness in them. The New Era scandal fall out of the late ‘90’s, the Post-9-11 donor fund shortages in 2002 and 2003. We’ve been here before… ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. I have seen first hand how God has taken our five loaves and two fish and turned them into …. well, 15 years of ministry and 3500+ alumni serving Him around the world. Faithful is the One who calls you to it, for He shall also do it (1 Thes 5:24).
Lay it down: The burdens, that is… lay your burdens at the foot of the cross and leave them there… no, don’t wander back in 3 hours and pick them back up again… lay them down and walk away… now! Hey, don’t even glance back there and consider picking them back up! Keep walking buster! (1 Peter 5:7)
Time on your knees: I’ve often felt that God has used the financially challenging times to keep us “on our knees” in prayer. During the financially flush times (though I don’t remember when those have ever been)… we tend to forget the source of the blessings and maybe get a bit too self-congratulatory over ministry accomplishments. It’s the lean years that are the good reminder that everything we have comes from God for His purposes.
Remember the birds: Every time I have to do budgets, personal or otherwise, this verse comes to mind (absolutely no idea why)… 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:25 & 26). So to “remember the birds” I’ve hung bird feeders all over my yard where I can watch them daily and meditate on these verses. Granted, this act seems to contradict the verse, now that I’m buying them two bags of bird feed each week… but you get my drift.
Take snapshots: I can get pretty bad tunnel vision with an intense project like budgets. And when those numbers are challenging, it can become all I see. Every day I have to remind myself to “take a mental picture” of a blessing happening, often it has something to do with dogs, nature, or dogs. At least four times a day I hear the words in my head… “This moment of blessing is brought to you by the One from whom all blessings flow”. Its usually James Earl Jones’ voice and if nothing else, it makes me chuckle.
Retreat… for a little while: The challenging budget season begs the question: are we doing the right things, are we staying Mission True (thanks Peter Greer!)? And are we enjoying the journey? Too much time looking at spreadsheets can make you forget the joy of the work. Whenever Jesus had significant decisions to ponder, He took time away, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Off to the desert, off to a garden…or off to a farm in the middle of nowhere to go sledding if the snow agrees. Grab your colleagues, go to lunch, go on retreat, remind yourselves of why you’re in it and get recharged for the work ahead.
Trust Him for a new thing. There’s economic theory that posits that during times of downturn and destruction, our greatest innovations bloom. It is during these challenging times when the call for doing more with less may be the time to really look at what we’re doing at all, is all of it towards the mission? Is all of it essential for the fulfillment of mission? Is there a new direction we should seek to go? Be on the lookout, dramatic shake-ups can be something shaking us loose from inertia.
Stewardship not ownership. I am a steward, not an owner, for such a time as this. My theology of money is such that for any dollar of a ministry I might waste, when I get to the Gates of Glory, the first thing I will be asked is “can we have that back, please?”. Granted, its not likely to be the FIRST question I’ll be asked… but its somewhere on the list… “were you faithful with what I entrusted to you?”. I like this because it reminds me that though my title today is a leadership one, it’s not an ownership one…. Leadership is all about stewardship, not ownership. I am the steward of the mission, I am the steward of its resources. I do not own it, I do not have autonomous control. And that’s a very, very good thing. Stewards, not owners.
There will be more sleepless nights before this season is over, and then I am rewarded… with a summer filled with the most blessed time with the dear ones we serve. And that is the last survival lesson…. Always keep before you the mission of what you’re doing this for… the faces, the voices of the dear ones you have been called to serve, be faithful to that service. And the One who called you to it, will be faithful too.
I don’t make resolutions, but of course new years always bring a new hope of some sort. I have one… I hope to be surprised by something this year. I think I am at an age and have done enough stuff that it starts to look like the same loop repeating…. Work, travel, scenery, news… sometimes feels like “ain’t nothin’ new under the sun”… to the extreme. So my hope for this year is to be surprised by something… in a good way. So where does a professor start? With books of course! (actually, this could be my problem –ha!)….
Here’s my reading/re-reading/deeper reading list for 2014:
My day gig requires me to read quite a bit of leadership and organizational behavior literature (mostly journals… sometimes a yawn). However, in February, Peter Greer’s new book “Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crises facing Leaders, Charities and Churches” (Greer/Horst) is coming out. Because I’m special ☺ I read an advance copy in November. It’s a good read on a critical issue. I will likely blog some more on some of his points when it’s available for purchase (Amazon, Feb 8). In addition to the “day job” reading list… I’m hoping to read the following:
“The Idea of Justice” by Amartya Sen…. Because he’s Amartya Sen and I’ve had it on my shelf for too long…
“Pursuing Justice” (read deeper) by Ken Wytsma, because he sent me a copy after Justice conference and because he seems to walk his talk… I like that.
“Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South” by Nicholas Wolterstorff…. Met him recently at Micah Network gathering and was quite taken by his brain.
– My interest has been piqued in the area of justice and the organizational sphere and see research emerging in the difference that it makes to “lead justly”.
Its mid-term election year in America… all together now say “blach”… yes, yes, it is a privilege to have the right to vote and I am more than aware of the many, many places where a fair election is still out of reach of the masses. What I find distasteful about American elections is the massive amounts of untraceable money spent, the amount of half-truths pedaled and with very little change in the status quo of how the machinery works. The system is broken and needs a major overhaul.
“Left, Right and Christ” by Lisa Harper and D. C. Innes because I liked what Lisa Sharon Harper had to say at Justice Conference
“On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics hasn’t learned about serving the common good” by Jim Wallice (on its way thanks to Sojourners renewal ☺)
“Radical” by David Platt… because it comes from numerous recommendations
“I am not a social activist: Making Jesus the Agenda” (reread) by Ron Sider…. Because its Ron Sider!
After all this, I think I’m going to need a good dose of inspiration….
“I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai, …. courage, conviction, change leadership
“Love Does” by Bob Goff, because my friend Chelsie Frank sent it to me and my friend Shanna McClarnon was photographed with this gent… I’m intrigued…
“Stories of Transformation: experiences of transformation from development work” by Ravi Jayakaran because he gave it to me at Accord and asked for feedback. And because he’s one of the long-serving brothers in the field of transformational development and a delightful gent.
Lastly…. Some re-reads as a reminder of why I love education…
“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire
“We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change” by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire
“Teaching Defiance: Stories and Strategies for Activist Educators” by Michael Newman
I’m sure the list will grow as I discover (remember) others I’ve wanted to read. If you come across a good one, send it along, you see the general themes of where my brain is going this year!
Happy New Year and keep your eyes open for pleasant surprises in 2014!
Nelson Mandela passed away today. Its been coming for a few months, so the experts say. It doesn’t make it any easier. I now live in a world without the model of so many of my leadership lectures.
Let’s be clear. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and He is the only One I worship. But Nelson Mandela’s leadership legacy gave me so many Christ-like characteristics to reference in a world where there seem to be fewer and fewer models to point to at a national and international level. And there are so many points in his leadership journey that leave the rest of us mere mortals wondering…. “would I have reacted that way?”
He was a black South African in a country that ordained brutal institutional racism against the black and coloured South African (two different racial categories). God forgive us for the use of Your holy word in ever supporting the oppression of one man over another based on race, gender… He, among others, chose to fight this oppression, first with violence (matching only the violence he and his comrades experienced) but for the majority of his life, with non-violence.
In 1964 he was imprisoned for life (not his first turn in prison thanks to oppressive laws). There he remained for 27 years until he was freed, at age 72, and within a few years, elected The Republic of South Africa’s first black president (1994).
OK, there’s the VERY brief overview of some of the facts…. Now, the stuff that has always amazed me….. and the points of transcendent leadership:
1. A leadership that transcends current circumstances. During his 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela continued to encourage and support those freedom fighters continuing the fight on the outside. He also used that time to continue his education, completing his degree at University of South Africa (UNISA) via correspondence courses (that needed to be smuggled in and out of the prison). I heard this story recounted many times by Robben Island (prison) inmates that serve as the tour guides now. As an educator and one who has visited UNISA, this fascinated me. And it aligns with this quote of his that is one of my all time favorites:
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
2. Leadership that transcends personal affliction – the healing in forgiveness. After 27 straight years in prison, plus a few more, he emerged from prison, not ready for retaliation or revenge, which any human would understand, but extending a hand of forgiveness to the people and the government that had imprisoned him. Why? Because his vision for the new South Africa would not happen without unity and without uniting the gifts and talents of all South Africans. His long walk to freedom was but a precursor to the nation’s long walk to recovery. And he lead the way.
3. Leadership that recognizes that power must be limited… the counter-cultural and counter-continental choice to limit his presidential years. He ran for one presidential term – 5 years, and chose not to run for re-election, despite his assured victory. Its been said that Nelson Mandela recognized the problems inherent in so many African leaders that “stay too long” in the job. You’ve heard me speak on this many times. The longer one stays in a leadership position, we move from “steward” of this responsibility to “owner” of this organization, this country, etc. This may sound like an easy feat, but you mustn’t forget, leaders are never solitary beings. They are surrounded by people who benefit from having them in their leadership role. So it is with country presidents, many, many cabinet members, aids, family members and others benefit from having that person in power. And yet he chose to not listen to those self-serving voices and step down after one term.
I know many a US congressional leader who could take a lesson from this.
4. Leadership that is willing to embrace and include the dissenting / opposing voice. I have an exercise my leadership students do when creating their leadership development plan. “Interview someone that regularly disagrees with you about your leadership style”. They hate this assignment. Tough. I love it. Why? Because all too often when you get into supervisory roles, leadership roles, you surround yourself with what I call the “bobble head cabinet”… a team of those around you who only ever agree with you. Please don’t ever mistake compliance and apathetic agreement with support. If you don’t have alternative viewpoints on your team, and those willing to share them… get a new team! Nelson Mandela recognized that in order to rebuild the country after the apartheid (segregation) that had existed for so long, he would have to work shoulder to shoulder with people he did not like, that did not like him, that did not agree with him, that probably wished his failure… but for the good of the country, they had to transcend those differences.
And again, I can think of a few political parties closer to home that should pay attention to this part of the lesson!
5. A leadership willing to transcend political party affiliation. There were many, many big and small decisions Nelson Mandela made in his presidency that went against the party to which he belonged (African National Congress – ANC). From choosing not to remove white South African farmers off their land (land rights issues are significant in Africa) to not disbanding a sports team beloved by the Afrikaans (white) citizenry. There was a line in a Harry Potter film that always made me think of this… “it takes great courage to stand up to your enemies, but even greater courage to stand up to your friends” to do what is right. (stop laughing at my source!).
These are just a few of the many reasons why Nelson Mandela has become one of the leadership models I teach. And this blog is so insufficient in expressing the significance of Nelson Mandela to South Africa, my adopted home. Having traveled there yearly since 1999 and living there in the middle part of last decade, his legacy influenced everything, including the comparison of those leaders (using the term loosely) that would follow. So tonight his long walk has ended, his spirit joins his comrades Stephen Biko, Walter Sisulu and the thousands of others who fought for a better South Africa. The work, however, continues as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mamphela Ramphele and other contemporaries continue that labor.
Where do I put my hope for South Africa?… First and foremost in the Spirit of the Lord that seems to be sweeping through the South African church and bringing it to its repentant knee for its part in the racial strife of the country the past 60 years. But when I think of hope for South Africa… I see faces… I see Craig Stewart, I see Lloyd Williams and Mark Slessenger, I see Debbi, and Bryne and Bafo and Joy… and on and on. My South African students who taught me so much… and for whom I have great confidence in the future of this beloved country.
Rest in peace Madiba… your legacy continues on.
I just finished reading an e-mail from my friend Reeta. It’s her version of a ministry newsletter.
Reeta is a 60+ year old medical doctor, native of her foreign country, body riddled with rheumatoid arthritis, who I met over 20 years ago after hearing her present her tiny start-up ministry. She left her medical practice in the major city to move to a dump to start a medical clinic. Low and behold, that wasn’t all that was needed, so she started a school, one grade at a time, adding one each year, a small loan program for women to start businesses, small business training, its grown quite a bit over the years.
And without a web site, facebook page or even consistent newsletter. In fact, until 2 years ago, she hand wrote these update letters.
She presents her work so matter-of-factly. “Women needed loans, so we gave loans, one wanted to learn how to sew, so we started a class for her and others”. When I first heard her present her school and her ideas for future ministries, I remember thinking, I could have saved myself some grad school tuition and gone to sit at her feet for 3 years and learned everything about what the textbook says “is the right way”.
Over these years, I’ve continued to support her and the ministry, probably more because of the substance of her and the substance of what they are doing, its certainly not for the “style” of how its being communicated. Today, that’s a one page e-mail of prayer requests about what each kid is struggling with at home, what health training she’s going to do to stop the outbreak of this or that. Stories and substance.
In this world full of expensive branding consultants, expensive web site overhauls, 24-hour tweets, making rock stars out of ministry leaders, I’m wondering if we’ve completely confused style for substance. The One we claim to follow could have achieved “rock star” status during His, instead He chose a peculiar way, He chose the substance of deep relationship with a small group…. And THEY told His story. And the world was forever changed.
For me, I’ve learned to tune out the glossy newsletter, the latest “buzz words”, the overly hyped stats about how a community would shrivel up and die without us, or even what great leader our program produced (gasp). In our effort to tell our story, in such a way that this media noisy world will take notice and buy our product / give to our agency, are we missing His story, embedded in that small, handwritten prayer request letter?
One story at a time, focused on substance, told with integrity. And trust God to put the ears that need to hear it in the vicinity.
A Leadership Lesson from the Late Dr. Paul Hiebert
I had the honor of getting to know Dr. Hiebert through his daughter, Dr. Eloise Hiebert-Meneses, a brilliant anthropology professor at Eastern, my dear friend and YaYa sister. I had a number of delightful conversations with Dr. Hiebert over many years. Anthropology, international development, his family, his missionary years in India, concerns over short-term missions were just some the subjects we covered… I cannot recall, however, ever having a conversation on the topic of leadership, funny eh?
Eloise recently reminded me of one of his favorite leadership lessons. The anniversary of his passing to Glory is coming up in March and I can’t think of a better way to start this blog about Peculiar Leadership.
The Banyan Tree and the Banana Tree – what type of leader are you?
The Banyan Tree grows tall and strong by putting down roots from its branches… (http://static.neatorama.com/images/2007-03/banyan-tree-aerial-root.jpg) The trees’ appearance definitely commands attention but by its very presence, nothing can grow underneath. Its greatness eclipses the necessary elements getting to those around it.
The Banana Tree doesn’t achieve the grand heights of other trees, but achieves a greater reach by spreading seeds for the growth of lots of other banana trees around it. Its very nature is to replicate itself as much as possible. (http://www.samishisland.com/Banana_Grove.jpg) My students know how much I love metaphors, particularly around leadership and these two provide great lessons.
Are you a leader, like the Banyan tree, whose presence commands great attention, but who remains the center of a rather empty forest, where few, if any, other leaders are able to rise up around you?
Or are you a leader whose very existence is about planting and growing many other leaders? Many of us would consider that the very essence of what good leadership is… raising up other leaders.
Banana Tree Leadership:
1. Know the Source of your leadership – you are a steward, not an owner, for such a time as this. Matthew 20:25-26
2. Realize that the people you are called to serve, the ones you’ll have to give an account for some day, may be the ones that co-labor with you in the day-to-day ministry.
3. See your team’s unique gifts and foster an environment where they get to use them, allowing for risks, allowing for mistakes – they become teachable moments.
4. Recognize everyone, including you, has the ability and responsibility to lead and to follow and should exercise both roles regularly.
5. Make sure that the leadership of everyone around you gets recognized as such – and watch the banana grove spread.
Leadership development does not happen by mere observation or osmosis, it happens through intentionality which first comes from a desire to see others around you for their leadership potential, help them see it themselves, and, like the Banana tree, live and act in such a way to cultivate that potential into something strong and flourishing… and spreading leadership even further.
Thanks, Dr. Hiebert for living a life that has spouted a thousand Banana Trees, and for being a most peculiar leader (1Peter 2:9).
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9, American King James
Next up: Leadership and Hope
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9, American King James
Thanks for visiting my blog. Why such a blog as this? Three reasons:
1. I teach leadership to NGO and ministry leaders, and I see many wonderful examples of “peculiar leadership”… that which is set apart from how the world operates and I wanted a place to think out loud about what I see and hear in my students and NGO colleagues on a daily basis.
2. I run a lot. And while on my daily runs, I get very funny perspectives that come to mind that I needed a place to flesh out further. Here is that space to amuse myself.
3. Too often we hold up secular business or other transactional forms of leadership as “best practices”…. in the church, in ministry. I would like a place to challenge some of that thinking and here is my place.
The beauty of a blog is that it is optional reading. Sometimes you will love what I’m writing, sometimes you won’t. Click the little “x” button on your screen and “poof”, you don’t have to read it any longer
At the end of the day, I hope this is a space that makes you think or chuckle and makes you want to be a “peculiar leader” as scripture calls us to it.
Together we serve,