Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Hard & Soft Side of Leadership

Various titles have developed historically to describe the leadership of a local church; Minister, Priest, Vicar, Reverend, Padre and Pastor to name a few. Some of these titles are associated with particular denominations. Priest is most often associated with Catholics and high Anglicans while Pastor is usually associated with free church leaders, like the Baptists.

Whilst I have no problem per se with these titles some difficulties do emerge with there use. The first is that they tend to privilege the pastoral function of leadership at the neglect of the other ascension ministries like apostle, prophet, evangelist and teacher, Eph 4.11. Not only that, the pastoral function has been primarily reduced to one of providing care for the flock. Whilst this motif is strong throughout the scripture like in Psalm 23; it is not the exclusive function of the shepherd. The care is always in the context of leading and feeding.

The second issue I have observed, after thirty years of ministry, is that those ascension ministries that are not pastors or teachers tend to be pushed into a pastoral role. This is because it is the way we have structured our denominations. It's the only way to get a salary! And so evangelists have to form their own associations separate from the local church in order to get money. The gift is removed from the very context it should be most active, the local church. Not only that, Evangelists and prophets don't make very good pastors. They are wired differently.

So, until recently, we have emphasised the soft side of leadership, the pastoral qualities of ministry. We need this. It is the side that broken people will most easily identify with and be attracted to. But it's not enough to grow the church and lead it into its destiny. We need the hard side too. I have more to say on this but for now let's focus on the soft side of leadership. I see this expressed in three ways:

1. Compassion. Over and over again in the Gospels we see that Jesus was 'moved with compassion'. It is the ability to feel the pain of others and to act towards their welfare and best interest. When Jesus fed the multitude He was 'moved with compassion', Matt 15.32. When He healed the sick He was 'moved with compassion',Matt 14.14; 20.34; Mark 1.41; 5.19. When he saw the people leaderless His exhortation to pray to the Lord of the Harvest was because He was, 'moved with compassion',Matt 9.36-38. We forgive others because we are 'moved with compassion', Matt 18.27-33. The Good Samaritan was 'moved with compassion' to care for the injured man, Luke10.33.

Compassion is the feeling side of God's love. Without it we can come across as cold and unfeeling. The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 shows a group of men wanting to apply the law to her sin. They come across as cold, judgemental and self-righteous. Jesus on the other hand takes a different approach. He chooses not to judge and offers her a new beginning. The pain of others touched Him. It is part of the soft side of leadership that gives value and meaning to our encounters with people. It is one of the most attractive qualities a human being can display to another person in pain or need. Without it the love of God is not present, 1John 3.17. Peter exhorts believers to have compassion towards one another, 1Pet 3.8.

2. Contrition. The word contrite is close to the word humility but scripture uses them slightly differently. Humility is usually expressed in our relationships with each other. It is the posture of heart expressed before another person. But in scripture the word contrite is usually reserved to show our attitude of heart before God. David said; "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise", Psalm 51.17. The Hebrew word literally means 'crushed'.

In Isaiah 66.2 we read, "For all those things my hand has made, and all those things exist, says the LORD: but to this one will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word". This is a different Hebrew word that means 'smitten'. Both words convey the idea of someone who had been dealt with by God. Like Jacob who wrestled with the Angel until the break of day we have been touched by God. Self will is broken and crushed. The heart is tender, open and receptive. This kind of posture allows us to hear from God. It's the kind of person He looks to; the kind of person He uses. And He gets the glory.

3. Connection. I love this word. Whilst contrition is about our humble posture before God and compassion is about our motivation for ministry towards others connection is the ability to form and sustain meaningful relationships. Think of David and Jonathan in 1Sam 18.1. The souls of these two men were knit together, joined. They became lifelong friends. Years later David would pen these words in a beautiful tribute poem to Jonathan and Saul, "Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women", 2Sam 1.24. Such was the impact that this friendship had on David.

I would argue that Jonathan was the older brother David always wanted. From the account in 1Sam 17 it is clear that Eliab,(David's oldest brother), saw David as nothing more than a nuisance, 1Sam 17.28. But Jonathan saw something in David after his victory over Goliath and he offered him one of the greatest gifts any human being can offer another person; the gift of friendship. Think about it for a moment. Jonathan was meant to be the next King of Israel, but through his fathers disobedience that destiny was lost and through no fault of his own. Now he sees David, the young teenager who will replace him as the King. How will he react?

Jonathan could have been jealous, resentful even bitter. There was no obligation on him to offer David anything. At best he could have kept his distance. But Jonathan is made of better stuff. He aligns himself with David and gives him all the things that are tokens of his status as the son of the King; his sword, his belt, his armour, his robe. He is the first to publicly recognise the kingship of David and they became connected for life. He championed David and spoke up for him when Saul assassinated his character and conspired to kill him. What a friend! What a connection!

That kind of connection is special. I see this as part of the soft side of leadership. Through it we allow people into our inner world. They get to know what we truly think and feel about things. Barriers are dropped, guards are let down and we share ourselves. This is the kind of connection God is looking for in ministry. We simply won't be able to handle the pressures of life and ministry if we don't have these kinds of connections. They sustain us through the difficult times and complete our joy in the good times. We need them more than we are prepared to admit.

I've spoken to leaders who went through Seminary where they were told not to open themselves up to others. The were encouraged to stay aloof and distant. It's a protective measure that has led to loneliness and isolation in ministry. I don't recommend it. Now, to be sure, we need to use wisdom about who we choose to open up to, but God gives us connection as a gift. It helps us through the journey of life and ministry. Even Jesus had this. He chose twelve to be 'with Him'; to go on the journey together, and He valued them. The betrayal of Judas carried real pain for Jesus because He allowed him into His world.

Most of us can relate to this side of leadership. It's attractive, open, tender, feeling, human. It has heart. But that is one side. There is another side; a hard side. When I say hard I mean it appears hard from the outside. In fact it carries the same soft side but is more complete, more whole, more rounded. Let me give you some examples in the life of Jesus. We know He was pure, spotless and undefiled. He did no wrong. So we can learn from Him. Take Matt 12.50 The mother of Jesus along with His brothers (three are listed in Mark 6.3; James, Jude and Simon). They want to see Him. He is right in the middle of a teaching session and they send someone in to interrupt Him. How will He respond?

Jesus asks a question. "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" It's not really PC (politically correct). It seems hard, indifferent, even rude towards His family. But Jesus is making a point. Those who obey God have more of a claim on Him than blood relatives. He is redefining the nature of relationships in the Kingdom. And for His family it feels hard. It doesn't end there either.

One day a Syrophonecian woman came to Jesus seeking help for her demonised daughter. Jesus begins by ignoring her, but she is persistent. Eventually He tells her; "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs". Yet another non PC statement. It seems hard, cold, unfeeling. But Jesus is clear about one thing; He is sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This woman is not a Jew. He is just focused on His mission. But again she persists and her answer thrills Jesus. "Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters' table", Matt 15.27.

I like that. We sing a song in church, "Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes!" That's how she begins. No disagreement. But then she reminds Jesus that the little dogs get the crumbs and that is all she wants. She believes it will be enough. She shows faith and Jesus always responds to faith. But at first we see the hard side of leadership; focused, resolute, clear about where to go and what to do. Think of Jesus in Luke 9. A man wants to follow Him but first wants to say goodbye to his family. Listen to Jesus response; "Let the dead bury the dead, go and preach the Kingdom".

How about this one. A young man wants to know how to have eternal life. He asks Jesus what to do. So Jesus outlines the commandments. "All these I have kept from my youth up" is his proud response. Now we see the hard side of leadership. The side that is not afraid to call it as it is. The side that hones in on the real issues in a persons life. "Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven and come, follow Me", Mat 19.21. Wow. Could you say that to someone? It's just not PC.

I see the hard side of leadership as made up of three essential qualities.

1. Courage. You only need courage in the face of some perceived danger. Fear makes us want to run. Courage enables us to stay and face the issue. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the presence of faith that enables us to rise above our fear. Five times Joshua received the encouragement; "Be strong and courageous". The first was from Moses in Deut 31.7, just before his death - the man Joshua would have to succeed. Then, three times from the Lord, at the beginning of taking up the task of leadership; Josh 1.6,7,9. Finally he receives the same encouragement from the people he will actually lead, Josh 1.18.

This shows us how important this dimension of leadership is. The man who appointed him to take over said it; the people he would lead said it and three times God Himself said it. Leadership involves facing real dangers. It's risky business. Sometimes the shepherd must pay the ultimate price, laying down his life for the sheep. In the mean time there needs to be an inner resolve that manifests itself as courage. Paul told Timothy not to give in to a 'spirit of fear', 2Tim 1.7. It didn't come from the Lord; He gives us power; power to overcome; power to press ahead; power to fulfill the task appointed by Him.

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the demands of ministry. Moses felt this way when God called him in Ex 4.10. God had to take him through a process that took his focus off himself and on to God's greatness and God's purpose. He needed courage. Paul contrasts the actions of Phygellus and Hermogenes who forsook him with those of Onesiphorus who was not afraid to search him out and visit him in prison, 1Tim 1.15-18. It took guts. Jesus went into the temple and turned out the money changers. That took guts. The apostles refused to keep silent about the name of Jesus when threatened by the religious leaders, Acts 4.13-20. It took guts.

Proverbs tells us, "The fear of man brings a snare....", Prov 29.25. I see leaders paralysed by the fear of man. They try not to offend those who like to be in control and easily share their opinions. It's a snare, a trap. Courageous obedience will always provoke a reaction from those who are not ready or willing to take the next step. Leaders are meant to look ahead, not over their own shoulder. According to Jesus that behaviour makes us 'unfit' for the Kingdom, Luke 9.62.

Courageous leaders dare to ask the hard questions; they dare to embrace the difficult challenges; they dare to confront ungodly behaviour with a heart that seeks restoration and an awareness that only the grace of God keeps them from the same mistakes. They don't judge hastily, but take time to find out the facts and hear both sides of a story. They value friendship, but surrender all relationships to the claims of truth.

Courageous leaders have a healthy fear of the Lord. They live with a sense of eternity in their hearts. God is their judge and they will give an account for their life and ministry; how they have influenced God's people and how they have fulfilled their calling. They tremble before God which gives them boldness before men. Many misjudge them as arrogant but history will show they were not self-serving by the countless numbers of men and women they have influenced to be more obedient to Jesus. They live, misunderstood by many, because they are secure in who they are.

Those who focus only on the soft side of leadership can't handle this. They hate being misunderstood. They want to explain everything. Have you noticed how many times Jesus said difficult things that people misunderstood and He didn't clarify or justify Himself. In John 2.19, after Jesus had cleansed the Temple, He was challenged to give them a sign to justify His actions. Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up". They thought He was speaking of the temple He was standing in, that was the context after all. But Jesus was speaking about Himself. They misunderstood Him and He kept silent. No justification, no explanation, no answer. That took guts.

But Courage alone is insufficient. There are two more qualities that I believe augment the indisputable need for courage.

2. Conviction. Western culture, dominated as it is by democracy, has given voice to many. Sometimes this has been good. Those who are marginalised, oppressed and exploited need to be given a voice. The unborn children who are about to be aborted cannot speak for themselves. Someone must speak on their behalf. The teenager now caught up in the sex trade is trapped, frightened and scared to speak. Someone must tell her story and stir us to action .

But there is another side to our democratised society that is less helpful. I see it on talk shows and hear it daily on Radio programs. It is the incessant need many have to share their opinion about everything. Often they have no real learning or expertise in the area of life, commerce, politics, religion or art they wish to comment on. That doesn't seem to matter. It's what they think. This has crept into the church. We get upset when we don't get the chance to share our opinion. "Let's take a vote". "Why wasn't I consulted?"

Conviction is different. Everyone can have an opinion, not everyone has a conviction. For leaders conviction is vital. There are always many 'voices' and we must learn to discern the voice of conviction. When we hold a conviction we will find, in time, the conviction begins to hold us. Paul had a conviction about the gospel, "It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes", Rom 1.16. He was prepared to die for this conviction. He was prepared to live for this conviction! He gave everything to see it become a reality in his ministry. People don't do that for opinions. Opinions are like toilet paper; they get flushed away with the sewerage.

Conviction creates the moral boundaries through which courage can find expression. Mercenaries are courageous but many sell their courage to the highest bidder. They are a 'gun for hire'. Soldiers are different. They serve 'King and Country'. This conviction gives honour to what they do. When they pay the ultimate price we esteem them and value their sacrifice. We too need more than courage; we need an understanding of why we fight, why we lead, why we serve, why we give. All these thing come from our convictions; birthed in the study of God's word and proved in the crucible of life.

3. Clarity. I've known leaders who are courageous and have Godly convictions but are not clear about where they are going. They have integrity and character but lack vision. Foresight is probably the leaders greatest asset. It enables him to see ahead and set the direction and focus of ministry. This is what I mean by clarity. Habakkuk was told; "Write the vision and make it plain that he may run who reads it", Hab 3.2. Habakkuk had to wait for clarity. It wasn't automatic. It involved prayer, listening prayer. Asking God questions, waiting for His answers. And when He spoke it meant writing it down.

Vision can never be communicated if it cannot be articulated. John the apostle was left on the Island of Patmos. There he had a vision of Jesus. He was told to, "Write the things which you have seen..." Rev 1.19. He then went on to write to the seven churches in Asia Minor, Rev 2-3. His writings are a vivid description of what he saw. Writing it down forced him to crystallise what he saw. Leaders can learn from this example. Vision statements help us to focus on the right things. They become the goal that carries our courage and conviction. Joshua saw the land before him. He overlooked the city of Jericho and received God's strategy for bringing it down.

Clarity enabled Jesus to walk away from a successful ministry outreach because He knew there were other towns who needed to hear His message. Listen to Mark tell it; "Everyone is looking for You. But He said to them, 'Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'", Mark 1.37-38. He knew His purpose. It was clear. He wasn't driven by the needs of people or success of ministry; He was purpose driven and Spirit led.

From the moment Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet He knew who He was and what He had to do. I find many leaders who lack this clarity, good men, honest men, honourable men, courageous men but they don't really know where they are going. And perhaps this touches on the problem. Not everyone is an eye, 1Cor 12.16-17; not everyone sees. It is part of the gifting God gives to some leaders.

Those with this kind of clarity seem harsh at times. It's the hard side. Listen to Jesus; "Do not go into the way of the gentiles and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", Matt 10.5-6. Clarity is not just about saying yes to something. Every yes means a no to other things. Jesus is clear. The gospel is to the Jew first. That's where they had to start. Today we would accuse Him of racism or favouritism. But Jesus is being obedient, unapologetically.

In leadership we tell people what to do and where to go. We give direction. We don't vote. We do pray. We do listen. We are open to prophetic input. We search for greater clarity all the time. But when we know, when we see, we move ahead in faith. We dare to say, "This is the way, follow me". And we trust God to vindicate our obedience. Every leader needs to take time to hear and get clarity. And if that's not your gift, join yourself to some who has it.

Moses appointed men to lead Israel; leaders of 1000's, 100's, 50's and 10's. They served within his vision - God's vision. He had clarity about the building of the tabernacle, Ex 25.9; but others were called to build it. God gave him the blueprint but others the skill. (In fact they were the first men in the Bible to be filled with the Spirit, Ex 31.6). This is the hard side of leadership. When David had it in his heart to build God a house, Nathan responded in typical shepherd heart fashion - the soft side, "Go do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you", 2Sam 7.3.

What a great prophetic word. David slept well that night, but not Nathan. The Lord came to him with a different agenda. Nathan had to return to the King and admit he got it wrong. The new prophecy ends well, but it starts hard. It puts David in his place. It reminds him that God doesn't need any favours. At the end of the day it won't be David's house that stands but God's house. The house God will build for David; that will stand, that will endure and God will build it, not David.

And I love David's response. He doesn't pout. He doesn't blame Nathan; "But you said go and do all that is in your heart". He sat before God and wrote a beautiful psalm of thanksgiving. He allowed himself to get caught up with God's vision and God's purpose. He surrendered his vision to a greater vision and God blessed him.

Apostolic and prophetic leaders carry this hard side of leadership. They are often misunderstood and misjudged by those who only serve from the soft side of leadership. But these ministries keep the church on track. They keep the church true to its calling to be missional. And they bring a sharpness to the churches ministry in the world. We need both sides; hard and soft. We need a fivefold ministry if we are to bring the church into maturity.

Finally here some questions to provoke your thinking. Can you think of a time when a leader said or did something you considered 'hard' but later proved to be the right thing? Did you tell them to encourage them? Do you speak up on behalf of leaders who are criticised by others as being 'hard' when you know them to be telling the truth from a servant heart, or do you just keep silent and say nothing? Think of one of the areas from the soft side and the hard side that you need to develop. Seek to be more intentional about growing in this area. Ask someone to help you evaluate where you are and develop a strategy for change. How did you do?