Ownership is a good thing.

Leadership poses many challenges.  This reality is indisputable.  The question is how do we respond to those challenges when we face them.  Oftentimes, it involves rationalization.  “Work-life balance is impossible especially when you lead an organization or ministry.”  “Choices have to be made.  My family and personal life will have to wait.”  Or, “once I get through this season, I will enjoy some downtime.”  “It is the choice I made when I became a leader,” a.k.a. rationalization.

At other times, challenges are responded to with misdirection.  “The pressures of the position caused my poor decisions.”  My emotional unhealthiness is a result of my work conditions – “if only I had better workers, coworkers or boss.”  “The board would not understand if I scaled back a bit in order to recover.”  “What would my peers think if I carved out some time to process a difficulty?”  In each of these statements is misdirection – it is someone else’s fault for my frustration and exasperation.

We live in a culture where ownership is averted.  It takes very little time on social media to see the full extent by which we can easily rationalize and misdirect our difficulties.  In fact, empathy is oftentimes present when we do as everyone has a story to share.

Leadership is not immune to this toxic disease.  Yet, in doing so, we resolve nothing.  It does not fill our soul; it takes from it.  Our leadership does not grow; it pushes people away.  Our leadership is not maximized; it is minimized.

The remedy is ownership.  Jesus masterfully challenged people to own issues.  Like a spiritual surgeon, he posed questions to individuals about their true state.  Whether it was the rich man or the woman at the well, he responded to rationalization and misdirection with poignant challenges to own our spiritual and emotional state.  When it came to those in authority, he was less gentle by calling out the religious leaders.

Ownership is a good thing.

The challenge is how to accomplish it.

  1. Reflection: Take time throughout the day to reflect and pray about your spiritual and emotional state.  It is tempting to delay that reflective process for the weekend or a vacation.  Yet, in reality, those times simply become escapes.  Rest is best accomplished when we fully process life, in the moment and in the midst of it.
  2. Avoid the “ifs and buts”. Rather than look out the window at the problems that pound at our day, embrace Jim Collin’s level five leadership by looking in the mirror.  What do I need to own today?  How am I responsible for my own heart and soul?
  3. Listen to the most important people in your life, not those that demand to be viewed as the most important. There is always someone who will want your attention; the task is to give an ear to those that are worth your attention.
  4. Deal with issues straight up. Don’t dance around them.  Address them.  Be honest in the midst of them.  And, last of all, own them.

Are my emotions only self-centered?

I attended a leadership conference this past week.  During one of the sessions, one of the presenters discussed the propensity for emotions to be primarily self-centered.  In some respects, I am not surprised by this statement.  However, in other respects, it struck me.  I oftentimes do not see myself as radically self-centered.  Yes, there are common tendencies where I become self-absorbed as I seek to get my way or engage in self-pity if something doesn’t go quite right.  Yet, overall, I wish to believe that I consider others.

But, as I reflect on the presenter’s statement, it caused me to reflect.  Emotions are typically self-centered.  Anger arises over being the recipient of some injustice.  Frustration grabs hold of my heart because of an inconvenience.  Even joy involves moments of happiness in my life where I experienced something good.  It is true that emotions are oftentimes self-centered.  Granted, it is not bad, if not natural, to experience emotions because of something that happened to me.  As humans, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” with emotions that typically flow out of some issue in our life.  In other words, we emote because we have experienced something.

However, the presenter prompted me to become self-aware.

  1. Are my emotions natural or a deeper indication of something more self-centered? It is possible that my emotions can serve as an indication of an area in my life that is selfish.  Possibly my anger is more of a reflection of an entitlement mentality than a momentary frustration.  Possibly I get easily irked because I believe I deserve to be comfortable.  In this sense, emotions can lead to a need for deeper transformation by highlighting areas of growth.
  2. Are my emotions in balance between self and others? While it is natural to have emotions that relate to personal issues, even inconveniences, emotions should not solely be self-focused.  It is not healthy.  It is not mature.  I should get angry when I hear of the plight of children in a refugee camp.  Frustration should be visible if a leader has abused one’s position for personal gain.  My heart should rejoice when someone receives a promotion or achievement even if it does not impact me.  Our self-focused emotions should be balanced by other-focused emotions.  And, if is not, our emotional intelligence is out-of-balance.
  3. Do I recognize that my heart as well as my mind require renewal? It is a common mantra in evangelical churches that we need to engage in the “renewal of our minds.”  It frames a bulk of discipleship material.  Yet, do I ever pause and consider the necessity equally so of the renewal of my affections?  Am I feeling the right things?  Am I surrendering my emotions to Christ?  I believe that decisions are oftentimes made in response to emotions.  “I am frustrated at someone therefore I am not going to talk to them.”  If this is the case, our actions will never be aligned with Christ’s will if we first do not address our emotions.
  4. Is there sufficient margin in my life to reflect on my emotions? I believe it is easier to reflect on my thought life.  It is at the forefront or our minds.  Yet, my emotions are deeply entangled, oftentimes buried in the subconscious.  As a result, it requires substantial space where I can reflect on those emotions – to uncover, to identify, to surrender.  It requires gradually unraveling the issues and reactions somewhat like loosening a shoestring that has been tightly knotted.

Leaders live in high-paced environments.  Oftentimes, decisions have to be made on the fly.  Each day presses in on leaders with a sense of emergency.  In such settings, it is easy to respond emotionally in a way that is not only counter-productive but harmful.  To be effective, it requires Christ-centered reflection and self-awareness so that our emotions are profitable for the reputation of the position and the good of those we serve.  It involves leveraging not simply our leadership opportunities but emotions in ways that are God-honoring.  Effective leadership is present when our minds and our hearts are properly aligned for the glory of God.

Christ-Centered Authenticity

Authenticity is a popular notion in today’s culture.  “I just want to be real.”  “I say it like it is.”  In many cases, it is couched in terms of integrity.  “I would not be telling the truth if I wasn’t authentic.  It is the true me.”  Social media has encouraged this posture of communication.  It is easy to share and post whatever is in one’s mind.  If someone likes it, great.  If not, it is not my problem.  Leadership has been influenced by this perspective as well.  One does not have to hunt for very long before finding high level leader, e.g. CEO, politician, industry leader, who shoots from the hip regardless of the implications.

First of all, I am in favor of authenticity, in some sense.  I believe it is important to be real.  A person should not be fake.  It is not good to be a people-pleaser to the point that you say whatever the other person wants to hear.  Nor should you be double-minded saying one thing one day and then changing your opinion the next day.  Our words should flow from our true beliefs and actions.  With those close to us, namely spouses and dear friends, it is important to share our true thoughts and feelings so that those around us do not have to guess.

Yes, I support authenticity but more specifically Christ-centered authenticity.  When I read Scripture, I do not see permission to be authentic in the way the world adopts it.  Rather, I see the concept of purposeful honesty.  Christ displayed it with those that approached him.  He was not shy in identifying the true need of an individual and saying it exactly as it needed to be said whether it is challenging the rich man regarding his possessions or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Yet, it was purposeful – for their own spiritual benefit.

Paul equally exhibited this quality.  He openly acknowledged his needs in his letters.  He did not hide behind a superhuman complex that affirms no weakness.  Nor did he publicly blast people simply because he was in a bad mood (although there are times where it seems like Paul is in a snarky mood, aka towards the church of Corinth).  His authenticity was for the sake of the gospel.

Leaders would do well to embrace a purposeful honesty.  Truth be told, I am at the front of the line when it comes to moments of failure in this regard.  I am grumpy thus I blurt out some comment.  Tiredness overcomes me resulting in a moment of venting.  Leadership demands restraint.  It necessitates discernment, thoughtfulness, and measure.  There needs to be an awareness of the implications of a comment – to myself and the people I lead.  Restraint is most certainly biblical as we are instructed to hold our tongue, if the words would be unprofitable.

As I reflect on leadership and purposeful honesty, a few questions come to mind that frame some guidelines.

  • Do my words bring spiritual benefit to the other person and me? It should be both.  Unrestrained authenticity benefits the speaker as it serves as an emotional release (e.g. venting) but does not grow the other person.
  • Am I taking the extra few seconds to filter my thoughts and emotions through Scripture? Are my words in line with truth?  Is the tone of my comment honoring to God?  Is my comment prompted by the spirit or the flesh?
  • Am I self-aware of unprocessed frustrations? Oftentimes, authenticity is a vehicle for pent-up angst.  Being attune to such issues aides in appropriate, Christ-centered authenticity.
  • Is there margin in my life? Without some space, it becomes difficult to restrain our thoughts.  Allowing time for minds to declutter enables us to filter our thoughts and emotions prior to communication.

Leadership is a privilege.  With privilege, there comes responsibility.  And responsibility encompasses not only our actions, but our thoughts and words.

Spiritual White Space

I recently attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Conference.  It was an excellent gathering, providing a great deal of mental fodder for me to mull over.  At times, I walked away feeling as if I drank from a fire hose.  The challenge at such conferences is to boil the messages down to some manageable takeaways.  For me, it typically becomes clear what those are – those God nudges (or strong pokes in some cases) in an area of weakness or deficiency.  This year the gnawing message was the need to cultivate white space in my life.

Not to oversimplify but the speaker, Juliet Funt, defined white space as “a strategic pause taken between activities.”  Length of time does not matter as much as the purpose of those moments – to intentionally recover or frame your perspective in a particular direction.  Oftentimes, it involves reflection and introspection as you strive to strategize or simply breathe.

For me, my life is currently void of much white space.  Rather it is more often than not filled with the tasks related to my family transition to a new community, new schools, new jobs, and new friends.  While invigorating, it nonetheless squeezes out breathable moments.  Thus, I felt God strongly nudging me to incorporate “spiritual white space.”  I’ll be honest it has been a month since the conference.  How am I doing on this?   Some days I am OK; others not so much.

The notion of spiritual white space is not new.  Jesus frequently encouraged and modeled the necessity of peeling away from the busyness of life in order to reflect and prayer.  It is necessary.  It provides moments of reminders in the midst of my day as to what is important – God’s purposes and will in my life.  It serves as a corrective to my humanistic tendency to believe productivity is defined by the quantity of the work rather than the quality of the work.  It stimulates Christ-centered thinking as it creates openness for God to speak into my thought-processes, decision-making, and emotional reactions.  In other words, they are critical means of spiritual transformation.

Spiritual white space is necessary for leaders because it creates room for God’s voice to speak into our leadership.  Many voices whisper at a leader.  It can be external in the form of those around us, e.g. colleagues, supervisors, or clients.  But, the real voices that oftentimes sway us are internal cloaked in ambition, people-pleasing, and insecurity.  Without the constant presence of God’s voice, our minds become overtaken by far inferior messages.

Strategic pauses are also necessary as a means of buffer.  Life is busy.   When decisions pile on top of decisions or tasks slide into other tasks, our thought-processes and decision-making become sloppy.  Expediency drives our work day; reaction defines our emotions.  Healthy leaders recognize the need for times of buffer where our souls can breathe and our minds can rest.  Sadly, these moments are viewed as non-productive.  On the contrary, they are means to full, spiritual productivity.

Lastly, these pauses remind us that God uses us but ultimately does not need us.  A pause is simply that a pause.  Yet, in those moments, God continues to preserve His creation.  Life is still sustained by His providence.  Grace and forgiveness are freely offered and given.  None of this is dependent upon us.  God works when we stop.  Pauses reminds us of this truth.

Relational capital is a widely-used concept these days.  It involves the need to invest in relationships for the purposes of team-building and vision-casting.  It is important.  But, so is spiritual capital – the investment in the health of our soul so that God can most fully use us for His kingdom.  Yes, most certainly, I need spiritual white space.

Leadership in the Midst of Tragedy

National catastrophes are unexpected and difficult.  The images and stories from Texas are heart-wrenching and depressing.  The devastation and the ensuing human toil pull at your heart as you desire to do something, anything to alleviate a small bit of suffering.  Certainly the country is praying for those experiencing shock and loss.  In the midst of this tragedy, it is equally beautiful to read stories of deep compassion and love for one another.  The strength of the human spirit is fully on display as neighbors help neighbors, strangers are welcomed into homes, and companies give generously to those in need.  Tragedy brings out the worst and best in people.

This beauty is oftentimes unleased through courageous leadership – ordinary men and women responding to tragedy with hope and sacrifice.  Rather than complain, they corral others to come together and rise above the catastrophe.  In Texas, individuals are embodying this leadership in extraordinary ways through mobilization, comfort, and commitment.  Persons who never would have been seen as leaders because they did not have an “official title” are now exhibiting profound leadership through their actions and attitudes in the midst of tragedy.  Difficulties not only develop leadership; they unleash it.

These events cause me to reflect on leadership, specifically as it relates to difficulties.  What truly makes a leader?  How do we see a leader in the midst of difficulties?

Leaders provide hope.   It is easy to see the obstacles.  But, leaders see beyond the obstacles to the possibilities either through the difficulty or on the other side of it.  Furthermore, they instill this hope in others who are paralyzed by the pain.  Hope is oftentimes an elusive reality, especially when there is loss.  Yet, genuine leaders grab ahold of hope and will it to reality.  Titles don’t accomplish this; human spirit does.  In this sense, leadership is available to anyone regardless of background or opportunity.

Leaders produce action.  Rather than point fingers at the inactions of others, leaders pull up their sleeves, step into life, and get dirty.  They formulate a plan to achieve that hope.  They do not sit on the sidelines hoping for change to action; they implement it.  It is not dependent on education or money but rather the willingness to sacrificially commit to rebuilding and restoring.  It is easy in the midst of difficulty to look around waiting for someone to step up.  Leaders, on the other hand, look in the mirror then do something.  It is humbling and praiseworthy to see ordinary individuals displaying extraordinary acts of leadership.

Leaders are empathetic.  The human temptation in the face of catastrophe is to go inward.  We tend to think about ourselves.  We become protective, self-interested, and narcissistic.  “I don’t have time for others because I have so much to do and process myself.”  On the contrary, leaders naturally consider others.  They rise above their emotions and empathize with the pain of others.  There becomes a collective purpose in the mist of the difficulty rather than a “take care of myself” retreat.

In this sense, leadership is available to anyone.  It is not educated, bought, or promoted.  It is made in the midst of tragedy.

Reconciliation: Received and Extended

Reconciliation is not external; it is internal.

The political and social events surrounding our country this past week have certainly been agonizing.  My heart has been broken in realizing that the racial discord in our country is more heightened and raw than it has been in years.  The debate has moved passed policy to deep-seated emotions.  Social media is aflame with opinions, some brash while others more measured.  Above all, it is simply sad.

This is not a political blog nor is it a social issue one.  My intent is to spotlight a few nuances of reconciliation that have been kicking around in my mind.  In its essence, this is a spiritual blog as there are internal factors that drive reconciliation or the lack thereof.  I also write on leadership.  Therefore, leadership, particularly Christ-centered ones, have an obligation not simply to discuss reconciliation but to incarnate it and model it.  Thus, I present some musings…

Reconciliation necessitates humility.  Quite simply, a proud person is not able to reconcile.  Rather they stand in judgment over another person.  Or, they enjoy the conflict so much they have no desire to reconcile.  A proud person is not able to extend forgiveness or receive it.  Humility lies at the core of reconciliation.  It drives an embrace for our shared brokenness.  It is willing to be the first to move towards peace.  It sees the relationship as something that transcends slights and pain.  For someone who has experienced deep pain, humility is not a cavalier exercise but requires deep reflection and gradual movement towards another person with the hope that reconciliation might one day be possible.

Reconciliation is potently released through redemption.  I believe it is possible for a non-Christian to be reconciled; it is a gift available through common grace.  However, there is something unique about the redemption experience.  It is grounded in the affirmation that we are completely at-fault.  Yet, God extends forgiveness.  In the divine-human relationship, it is completely one-sided.  There is no shared fault.  It does not involve dissecting motives.  Reconciliation with Christ is merely a matter of extension and receiving.  God extends it; we receive it.  Ok, this is powerful.  It reinforces humility in that we do not deserve it.  But practically, it is a template for our human relationships.  We extend forgiveness; it is up to the person to receive it.  It is not an option.  Our receiving from Christ mandates our extending grace to others.  Does this mean that reconciliation will occur?  No.  But, it does lay the seed for it to happen.  It becomes possible.  In contrast, withholding forgiveness will most certainly eliminate the possibility of reconciliation.  It becomes impossible.

Reconciliation involves risk.  This is a primary reason reconciliation does not occur.  I have to put my emotions and identity on the table.  I leave it open for another person to either accept or reject it.  It is far easier to hold my emotions and identity to my chest, guarded by my control.  By doing so, I will not get hurt (so I think as lack of forgiveness usually begins to feed on self in the form of bitterness and resentment).  God took a risk on us; He expects us to do the same towards others.  But, be assured, when reconciliation does not occur, God’s grace will remain present, freeing us from the bondage of pain.

Encouragements (and challenges) for leaders:

  • Healthy leaders process hurt because it leads to (and models) reconciliation.
  • Healthy leaders create mechanisms and space for reconciliation because they are stewards of the relationships around them.
  • Leaders who intentionally stoke unhealthy conflict are abusing their authority. When this occurs, followers should cry foul.
  • Followers energized by unhealthy conflict are not only misguided, they themselves typically have unresolved hurt in their lives. Conflict becomes an outlet for their pain.
  • Christian leaders do not have a choice when it comes to reconciliation. Receiving redemption from Christ mandates it.


Providence is a gift.

Providence is a gift.  Providence involves responsibility.

I am deeply reminded of the uncontrollable blessings in life.  At times, it is easy to blur the line between God’s blessings and our achievements.  I work hard therefore I am successful.  Is it God’s blessings or my effort?  In good moments, of course, we affirm God’s good gifts.  In our bad moments, we grab hold of our efforts taking pride in what we have accomplished.

Yet, there are aspects of life where no blurring should occur, one being the providence of birth.  I did not have control over my birth.  God determined my family.  He providentially placed me in a particular culture and country.  I did not choose to be raised in America.  Therefore, I should not boast in the blessings that accompany such a gift.  Nor should I feel entitled by the privilege of having a U.S. passport.  Truly, the only appropriate response is one of thankfulness, that God in His goodness placed me in such a context.

I have been deeply reminded of God’s providence as of late.  My wife is currently teaching ESL to refugees in Lancaster.  Two of her students are new to the United States.  When asked how long they spent in a refugee camp, they respectively stated 18 and 19 years.  Ok, let that sink in for a moment.  Last night, she shared how their children were born and raised in a refugee camp.  They ended up creating jobs in the camps simply to survive.  For a bulk of their life thus far has been spent in the desperate, unstable, and poor conditions of a refugee camp.  Did they choose to be born in such conditions?  No.  Are the grateful to be in a home?  Absolutely.  In fact, my wife describes the most beautiful smile that appears on the woman.  I want to believe that her joy is stirred in part by the gift of being in a place more stable, free from the destitute conditions of a camp.

It easily could have been me in that camp.  It most certainly could have been my kids raised in such conditions.  As I wake to a beautiful home, writing in a comfortable office, and enjoy the opportunities afforded by higher education, my only appropriate response should be one of thankfulness.  These blessings, while in part enjoyed by hard work and perseverance, ultimately flow from the gift of providence.  Ok, it is human to feel accomplished.  In fact, it is good to take pride in oneself.  Yet, it should be fully tempered by the realization that blessings are undeserved.  Thus, I reflect today on how God has been so good to me, so good to my family.

Flowing from this gift should be a willingness to share those blessings.  One remedy to entitlement is the extension of generosity towards others.  The political climate is protectionist.  Honestly, I understand it as I want my family to be safe.  However, it also cultivates nationalistic entitlement, as if we own this country and deserve the blessings afforded by it.  If God providentially placed us in this context, then it is not ours to horde.  Rather, it should be shared.  One of my doctoral professors mused that our country is blessed due to its extension of hospitality to the refugee and immigrant throughout our history.  Certainly, this is a biblical principle.  God blesses those who care for the disenfranchised.  The two are connected and should remain so.  To receive mandates that we extend to others the blessings we enjoy to no effort of our own.

Leadership is connected.  It is a gift of providence that I have a PhD.  It is expected.  No, it is required that I use that education and the position obtained from that education for the good of the kingdom.  I should leverage my position not for my own gain or reputation but the cultivation of kingdom values and the promotion of Christ.  With regards to providence, it means I advocate for those who do not enjoy the same opportunities, with the hope that I can help, in God’s providence, open doors for them. At the end of the day, providence should ultimately lead to service.  And in serving we express thankfulness for the blessings received from our good and gracious Father.