- He is the most difficult elder in the group. Time after time, the other elders have attempted to appease their fellow elder. Yet, no matter what they do, he remains unhappy and demands other concessions.
- She is the drama queen in the family. She has two other sisters and a brother but at family gatherings she clearly dominates the conversations. She drains energy from others as she talks on and on about herself and her situation.
- He is immature and married. A few years ago, his wife told a friend that she felt like she had four children – her husband, their two daughters, and their son. She loves her husband but often feels as if she is the only adult in the family.
- She is known as a possessive friend. She regularly loses friendships because she demands so much from them. Yet, in her mind, all of these former friends lacked commitment to the relationship.
- This preacher has recently clashed with the elders of his congregation. He says they need to love the community and allow him to try out his ideas. The elders believe this isn’t really the issue. Rather they are troubled by his behind the scenes manipulation. They have lost some of their trust in him.
What holds you back?
What holds you back from being the kind of person that God has called you to be either as a single or as a married person?
What holds some of us back is our own immaturity. We get stuck in particular patterns of immature behavior. Some of these patterns include:
1. Seeing the problems in my life as someone else’s responsibility.
Immature people spend a lot of energy blaming, reacting, and projecting.
“This is your fault.”
“If it wasn’t for _________, I would be really doing well.”
“It’s not my fault, if you had been through everything I’ve experienced in this marriage, you would have done the same thing.”
“This is my wife’s fault. If she would just act the way she should, we would not have these problems.”
2. Using manipulation to make things happen.
Perhaps you have heard someone say “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I once heard a minister brag at a conference that he lived by this mantra. Now think about the implication of this. This person doesn’t want to go through the process of getting permission, so he does what he wants, assuming that the other party will forgive. This is nothing less than raw manipulation.
Do we want our children to live like this in our home? “It is easier to ask Dad’s forgiveness than his permission so I took his car once he began his nap.” Or, “It is easier to ask mom’s forgiveness than her permission, so I took some money from her purse and later on apologized.” Is this the way we want our children to behave?
3. Saying whatever might enable me to get what I want.
Some people will say whatever is convenient in order to get what they want. They decide what they will say on the basis of convenience rather than truth. “No, I just made up that story about last week’s sale. I thought it might help my presentation.” Consider these examples:
“Just call in sick.” (When you are not sick.)
“Just tell them that you have to go to a funeral.” (When there is no funeral.)
“Just tell them that you don’t have any money.” (When you have $20 in your wallet.)
“Just pad the numbers on your presentation. Then they will really want to buy it.” (Not being entirely honest.)
“Just tell her that you had to work late.” (While you do something that will only damage any future honesty within your marriage.)
Our own immaturity often reflects our self-centeredness and our stubborn refusal to take responsibility for our lives. Some of us are stuck in patterns of immaturity. Instead of growing as authentic, godly men and women, we waste valuable energy trying to maintain control and avoid responsibility.
What is one sign of immaturity that you sometimes see in others? Do you have an example of how you have addressed an issue of immaturity in your own life?
(The following is a post by my friend, Jordan Hubbard, Senior Minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, Texas. Jordan is a good friend, an excellent preacher, and a good thinker. Enjoy!)
The church in Philippi had issues. Something was happening in this congregation of believers that caused division and discord. The joy of the Philippian jailer and the enthusiasm of Lydia had been replaced by tension and anxiety. This tension centered around Euodia and Syntyche, two women who were key figures in the Philippian church. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in this anxious situation. Paul helped to found this church and so had some authority with the congregation. As an apostle, Paul had the mandate to address the issue and command a solution to the division affecting this small faith-community.
What is remarkable is that Paul’s letter to the Philippians never mentions the issue. Paul constantly avoids the issue in the congregation in order to address a deeper concern. Paul exposes his agenda for this church in the following words:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Paul’s concern for the Philippians is not to address the issue. In fact, we don’t know what the issue in Philippi is! Instead, Paul pushes an agenda that the Philippians mature and learn to empty themselves for one another, just as Jesus emptied himself for them. The deepest concern is not to provide an easy answer for a problem, but rather for the church to grow to be more like Jesus in denying themselves for the sake of others.
Ronald Heifeitz in his book, Leadership on the Line, identifies two different kinds of leadership challenges. There are technical concerns and adaptive challenges. A technical solution provides easy and fast answers to present issues, while adaptive solutions address deeper concerns and require real leadership. Most congregations expect their leaders to provide technical solutions rather than adaptive challenges that cause real growth.
I have two small children. I spend much of my time as a dad being a referee between them in their squabbles. But I have hope. I have hope that these children will grow and a day is coming when they will not need me to intervene. I expect that my children will mature, and I do everything I can to support that agenda.
What if Paul’s agenda for the Philippian church is God’s agenda for your life? What if the real task of spiritual leadership is not to solve problems but to equip believers to be mature, loving and self-emptying? How comforting is the thought of living beyond easy answers to growing to be more like the self-emptying Christ? In your experience, how much does church leadership center in on the technical solutions versus. the adaptive challenges that lead to maturity?
This morning I readSeth Godin’s blog and really liked what he said.
He asks a very important question:
What story do you tell yourself about yourself?
I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.
But what about the story you tell yourself?
(Read the rest of the post here.)
After reading this post, I continued to think about this. What story do I tell myself about myself? How about you? What story do you tell yourself about yourself? The stories we tell ourselves will impact what we conclude about ourselves. For instance, because of these stories some of us conclude:
- “I can’t.”
- “It can’t be done”
- “I know something bad is about to happen.”
- “I never get a break. You wouldn’t do any better if you had been through what I’ve been through”
- “You can’t expect much from me. I am a victim.”
- “If it wasn’t for ______, I would have done much better.”
What is your experience with this? What has been the impact of the stories that you have told yourself?
This Sunday is Father’s Day.
This is a time in which many men will be thinking about their own roles as fathers.
I am also thinking this week about what it means to be a man.
So let me raise this question: What concerns you most about men today?
For example, here are a few of my concerns:
1. Some men can not be counted on. They do not support their wives or their children. They avoid dealing with matters in their lives that really need their attention. They avoid, neglect, and dodge. Meanwhile, the various situations often just continue to deteriorate.
2. Some men say the right things but then seem to forget that reality is shaped not just by what they say but what they do. Some men talk but then rarely follow through.
3. Some men manipulate. They have learned how to get what they want but at any cost. They have gone through life manipulating women and men. Now, they manipulate their wives and children. For example, a man may want a new car. In fact, he might make the decision to buy that car. Yet, instead of just telling his wife this, he begins to manipulate her until she gives in. Then he tells everyone that they both thought this was best. “I found the car but she was the one who said, ‘Let’s get it!’ You know how she is when she makes up her mind.” Hmmm.
4. Some men recognize characteristics in their own fathers that they don’t want to repeat. However, some of these same men are so lacking in self-awareness that they continue to behave in other undesirable ways (often like their dads). For example, a man may say that he does not want to be self-absorbed like his dad even while he continues to impulsively spend money like his dad.
5. Some men have no passion for the things that matter most to Jesus. Consequently, a family may only see a man’s passion as it relates to his favorite football team, fishing, hunting, or some other interest. Meanwhile, this same man may almost yawn when opportunities surface that could make a real difference in someone’s life.
6. Some men are passive. They spend hour after hour sitting in their recliners watching television. They sit by passively and wait for their wives to take action with their children. They passively watch life go by not really investing in their marriages. They take no action and no initiative. Rather, they wait for someone else to make the first move. Do they ever show any passion? Sure. Just watch what happens when something gets in the way of being able to see the big game or their favorite program!
These are a few of my concerns. Yet, I could also tell you about some of the wonderful qualities of a number of men with whom I continue to be impressed. In fact, within the last few days, Charlotte and I have talked about several men (a variety of ages) who continue to impress us both. I think of men who take action, who want to make a real difference, and who stand up for their wives and children. I think of men who I know are trustworthy. They are loyal to their wives. I know men who have backbone and who will stand up for what is right. I could go on.
I am interested in hearing from you regarding this.
What concerns you as you observe some men?
Yesterday, my youngest daughter called to tell us that her street had just been in a severe hail storm.
I didn’t know how severe this storm was until she sent pictures. Wow! Her car was in the driveway and was just about destroyed. The windshield was shattered as well as the back glass. Hail and broken glass were all over her back seat. There were lots of dents all over this car. Not good.
It doesn’t take the smartest person to realize that this hailstorm will be a major theme for the people in this area today as they deal with broken windows and destroyed vehicles.
If I were traveling to this area to do business today, I would want to get information about this storm and realize that this will be the talk of the city today. I would need to realize that these people may be dealing with some difficult problems regarding their damaged or destroyed property.
I once had a conversation with a Christian leader who I knew to be a very gifted person. He had great organizational skills and is a good people person. In the course of this conversation, he said to me regarding a mutual friend, “He doesn’t do people very well.” I asked him what he meant. “He said that this friend just didn’t read people very well. The person did not have a good sense of timing, appropriateness, or emotional connection with others.
I have learned how important it is to be a student of people.
The following are five realities regarding people that I did not realize when I was fresh out of college and starting my work:
- I did not realize how difficult life really is for some people. Some people find it difficult to just get out of bed in the morning. Some people put out great effort just to function in their jobs. Still others find that being with people is difficult and exhausting.
- I did not realize the pain that some people live with. I know people who have adult children who are a constant source of stress to their parents. Others have a parent or sibling who is very difficult. Still others live with the memories of a painful childhood, perhaps memories connected with an abusive father or mother.
- I did not realize the great personal sacrifice that many parents are willing to make for their children. It is just amazing what parents will do for their children! Some have even put their careers on hold because they thought it was in the best interest of their children.
- I did not realize how complicated some problems really are. Not long ago I heard a person make this statement about a particular person: “Well what she needs to do is . . .” It seemed so obvious to this person what the other needed to do. Yet, he had no idea just how complex and difficult the situation had become at this point.
- I did not realize how many people are really lonely. Many, many people simply want a friend. A person who is safe. A person who they can experience life with. I have heard this one from both men and women. Yet, many find it difficult to find or be such a person.
1. I wish I had not wasted energy wanting to become important and instead choosing to focus on my significance in Christ. When I first became a minister, I noticed that some ministers seemed to be more important than others. (Yes, I know they are not. I’m just telling you that is the way it felt.) I would hear certain ministers talk about the larger public gatherings in which they spoke. I noticed that people referred to some ministers and how they had “preached in some of our most influential churches.” So for awhile, I wanted to be important. No, I would have never admitted this nor did I see the conflict between this desire and simply being a “servant.”) Eventually, I realized that such a longing appealed to my flesh more than it did my desire to become Christ-like.
2. I wish I had wasted less time thinking “if only” and more time really being present in the moment. This was true especially during my early adult years. At times, I found it difficult to really enjoy and experience the present, because I was thinking, “If only.”
“If I could just get that Doctor of Ministry degree.”
“If I could just move to a better church.”
“If I could just teach part-time.”
“If I could just be at a church that had better worship experiences, better elders, better staff, better location, etc.”
Consequently, with this mindset, it was almost impossible for me to enjoy the moment.
3. I wish I had known how little I really knew about life (and ministry) and how much I needed to learn. Rookie preachers are a lot like some rookie husbands/wives and rookie parents. We can be so overconfident and not have a clue as to how much we still have to learn. Some new parents read one book or take a class at church and think they now know how to rear a child. In fact, one mother even said, “I’ve recently read a very helpful book and that is all I need. I won’t be making the same mistakes that others have made.” Her children were all under the age of 8. Hmmm.
Ministers can have this same kind of overconfidence. If I could do it over, I would be more intentional about learning from several different people. I wish I had really opened up my life to a few who were wise, who had good marriages, and who were godly. Now I did have very good teachers and mentors. Yet, I wish that I had known just how helpful it could be to surround myself with a few people who had permission to speak words into my life. At times I needed lots of affirmation. However, there were also times when I needed guidance and even correction.
4. I wish I had wasted less time listening to fearful and anxious people and more time listening to Jesus. Fearful and anxious people often live with the illusion that it is possible to somehow be a church that is pain free. Fearful and anxious people are all for moving ahead with a kingdom agenda, they just don’t want to upset anyone in the process. Consequently, when leaders gather who are fearful and anxious, they spend little or no time talking about the victories of the previous Sunday morning assembly. Instead, they focus on who was pleased or not pleased. When parents are fearful and anxious, the often will do anything to make their children “happy.” When men and women live in a state of fear and anxiety, joy is absent.
5. I wish I had spent less time trying to get my needs met through others and more time valuing the relationships I did have. One of the big issues through much of my early years in particular was wanting to feel valued by those who were in my life. Not a bad desire. Right? Yet, I think this became so important to me that stayed in constant frustration and discontent. I wanted this from my parents. I wanted this from my family. I wanted this from groups of elders who I worked with. In my adolescence, I felt a void in this area of my life. Consequently, as a young husband, father, minister, I was responding to this emptiness.
As a result, I probably put too much pressure on my immediate family to help me feel valued. I was overly sensitive to certain remarks that I should have ignored. I suspect this accounts for the frustration that I have sometimes felt with the church. I eventually began to realize that I was wanting something that I may never get. Either I could live in constant frustration or I could adjust my expectations to something that were more realistic.
What about you? What do you wish you had done differently? Can you identify with any of these that I have mentioned?
Tuesday, I met with some of the finest ministers I know.
Each month, our mentoring group meets. Typically, we meet in my home for most of a day. We have contracted with one another to meet together one day, each month for one year. These ministers set aside their work and their responsibilities one day in order to be together and grow. I love to meet with these guys! What great encouragement I receive.
Each month we do the following:
- We tell our stories.
- We share what is happening in our ministries (I mean the personal part.)
- We talk about what we need to learn to be more effective.
- We encourage one another toward godliness.
Two days ago, at this month’s meeting, we reflected on Margaret Marcuson’s fine book: Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry . This is an outstanding book that could help many ministers learn to manage themselves better. In our gathering, each person lead a discussion through a chapter. We took a chapter and then the person responsible for leading us through that chapter pointed out significant quotes and made application to ministry. We discussed about half of the book. For some, it was their first exposure to looking at ministry from a systems perspective. Others had read Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke. All of these books contribute toward helping one understand how to manage himself or herself in whatever role that person might be in.
We talked about the ministry situations of several members of the group as these situations related to the principles discussed in Marcuson’s book. For example, we talked about one person who managed himself as a “non-anxious presence” in an environment that could have been anxiety producing. We talked about how one person in our group handled himself in a situation involving an attempt to get him tangled in a some relationships that were less than healthy. We especially talked about how it was possible to manage oneself in a way that might bring energy and and clarity instead of more anxiety.
That afternoon, we watched, then discussed a portion of the Peter Steinke video “The Balancing Act: The Congregation as an Emotional System.“
- There is something to be said for being a part of a safe group in which each member of the group is committed to growth and maturing.
- In a safe group, where members are committed to the group, there will be confession and significant conversation.
- Commitment to the group is critical. Some people are interested in such a group but not committed to being a part of such a group. Interest without commitment doesn’t foster trust.
- There is only so much that a person can learn in seminary (or any other school). There is something to be said for regularly being with a group of people who can help you process your work and life.
- Much growth of life and ministry only takes place when a person is street level, right in the middle of these difficult situations, but not alone. I can tell a seminary class about the pressure and stress that takes place in congregational ministry. There is great value in thinking through that issue in class when you are not in the middle of conflict. However, there is a level of learning and maturing that can only take place when one is right in the middle of it all.
(Does this sound like something that might be helpful to you? Now maybe someone has asked you to become a part of such a group. Maybe not. Could it be that you could be the person to help make such a group a reality?)
How could such a group (whether ministers, Christian men, mothers, etc.) be helpful to you?
Some people seem to specialize in passing on their anxiety to others.
Years ago, my dad had a heart attack and was admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas. His doctor did a coronary angioplasty on his heart, which is a procedure used to open blocked coronary (heart) arteries. The procedure greatly improves blood flow to the heart. The procedure had been done that morning. That evening, about 6 pm, a friend of his came into the hospital room. My mom and I were in the room. This friend was from their church and evidently had come by to encourage my dad.
The friend leaned up against the wall. He was talking to my dad, who looked rather weak after having had surgery that morning. The guy then said, “Oh I see you had the balloon surgery. Well I sure hope yours goes better than my brother-in-law’s did.” My dad said, “What happened to him?” The friend replied, “Oh his procedure didn’t hold. He’s DEAD!” My dad looked pale as he lay in the bed. At that point, the guy said, “Well I had better go.” He then left the room.
What a visit!
Encouragement? Not really. In fact, this friend dumped a load of anxiety in that hospital room and then walked away. Some people are like that. They have a way of leaving their anxiety behind.
- Perhaps it is the minister who is always upset about something in the church. Yet this minister never goes to the person involved in order to deal with these issues. The minister typically goes to the office and bad mouths the church member.
- Perhaps it is the mother who is always complaining to her best friend about her teenage daughter’s behavior. Yet, she never deals directly with this daughter.
- Maybe it is the husband who is frustrated with his wife over her spending habits. Yet, he never deals with his wife. Instead, he constantly and anxiously talks to anyone who will listen about how little money they have.
Meanwhile, some people dump a load of their anxiety on those nearby, other people have a way of magnifying even the smallest anxiety. Perhaps you know these people. Maybe there is a discussion in a group or in a meeting. They have a way of magnifying and exaggerating the smallest anxiety, until it becomes huge. Consequently, they typically bring anxiety to a group instead of calmness.
The following has helped me with these kinds of people (those who pass on the anxiety and those who magnify it):
1. I have chosen to limit time with those who regularly want to dump their anxiety as well as those who seem to magnify and exaggerate anxiety. It just wears me out to hear someone go on and on about some person (not present in the room) and then gripe for a while about someone else. I can’t spend a lot of time with someone who has a way of blowing up the smallest anxiety into something large and overwhelming. Suppose someone makes a comment in a meeting. Later, a person who was in that meeting begins to rant and rave about how stupid the remark was. He tells the story again and again. Every time he tells the story, you can just see the anxiety in the faces of others.
I choose to limit my time with such a person. Yes, I want to love the individual and will spend some time with that person. However, I choose to not spend an extended amount of time with someone like this. When I have been around this kind of person too much, I become anxious and begin to process life through the same kind of filter as that person.
2. I have chosen to focus on managing myself. I want to bring to any group a sense of calmness and focus. For me, this means that I try to prepare myself early in the morning (See “Learning to Dodge the Anxiety Traps.“) This calmness is important in one-to-one conversations, meetings, and even in preaching. A long time preacher heard a person preach on the grace of God one evening. He said that by the time the sermon was over, he was a nervous wreck. Why? The preacher’s manner was so anxious. In fact, my friend said that he felt as if the preacher was looking for a fight. Yet, he was preaching on the grace of God.
I can’t overstate the importance of managing myself because to not do so, impacts not only myself but others as well.
Do you have someone in your life who tends to dump their anxiety? Do you know someone who magnifies their anxiety? What helps you in dealing with such people?
- Someone in your church is upset. “Isn’t it awful about what they are doing in that ministry! Oh it is terrible! What are we going to do? (Then here comes the kicker.) You need to do something. You must do something. If you don’t fix this, things will be even more awful than they are now.”
- A parent from your children’s school approaches you. “Can you believe what they are doing? That administration doesn’t know anything. Some of us are really upset. You need to help us deal with them.”
- A family member wants you to share her anxiety. “I can’t believe that my sister wants to cancel our July 4 trip. What is wrong with everyone? We have just got to take this trip. Mother and Daddy will be so disappointed if we don’t do what we planned to do. You are the only one who can fix this. You have got to do something!”
The challenge is to recognize others’ anxiety without getting sucked into that anxiety. Others may be anxious. In fact, they may be very anxious and their fears may spill over into your conversations. That does not mean, however, that you and I have to take on their anxiety. I can recognize their anxiety and even acknowledge it. However, I don’t have to make what belongs to them, a part of my life.
What has been helpful to me:
1. Keeping on top of my daily devotional time in the mornings. Such a time each day helps me maintain clarity about who I am and what my purpose in life really is. Sometimes I read through the Psalms. At other times, I have worked through a fine prayer-book such as Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours . Right now, I am working through Mindy Caliguire’s, Discovering Soul Care . I am working through a chapter a day, journaling through the questions that are raised in each chapter.
2. Being aware of where I am emotionally. Some days I feel really great! There are other days, however, when I just don’t feel on top of things. I may even feel a little down. I want to be aware of what I am feeling and some of the factors that may contribute to such feelings.
3. Attempting to stay aware of my environment. Are there certain people who are bringing lots of anxiety into our conversations? Do I sense these people want me to take on their anxiety? As I talk with them, I want to create enough emotional space that I can see what is happening (emotionally) instead of just falling into a black hole of emotional anxiety that really belongs to someone else.
4. Trying to manage myself in relationships so that I stay connected with people without losing a sense of what I am thinking and feeling. The challenge here is that there are others that might really want me to be anxious like they are. “I can’t believe that you don’t feel any stronger than this over the way these people are acting.”
What has been helpful to you so that you avoid taking on someone else’s anxiety?