Milestones are important in life.

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Electricity was in the air.  Smiles radiated on every student as they proudly displayed their robes.  Faculty adorned their regalia with excitement and fulfillment.  Parents peered through the crowds with fingers firmly fixed ready to take a dozen pictures of their pride and joy.  A sense of accomplished filled the room.  Hopes.  Dreams.  New Beginnings.  May is the month for graduations.

I had the privilege to participate in two of Lancaster Bible College graduations recently, one in Lancaster, PA and one in Greenbelt, Maryland.  In both commencements, no student casually approached the event.  Parents were not asleep.  I did not see one person texting on their phone as they received their diploma.  Rather, there was focus and celebration.

Milestones are important in life.  They represent the culmination of hard work – a sense of satisfaction for pouring one’s life into something.  They symbolize a changing season as a person becomes a teenager, gets married, or gets a job.  Milestones embody hope as a person dreams of the next phase in life – the possibilities, the adventure.  It is important to celebrate milestones.

Sadly, we live in an age where milestones are oftentimes overlooked.  Life is too busy to find space to gush over a person.  Or, if we do recognize a milestone, it is casually done with a short applause or brief note.  There are simply too many tasks and obligations to stop and enjoy the moment.  In some cases, we take time to celebrate but our minds are distracted by the responsibilities we could be doing.  When this happens, a life marker is missed in the haste of life.  In other cases, milestones are overlooked because our culture has minimized their significance.  Becoming a teenager is simply the continuation of pre-adolescence.  Oftentimes, weddings, the establishments of a covenant, are lightly attended for the real event – the reception.  It is not uncommon for a person to have five different jobs in as many years.  Or, a person graduates early and begins their career opting to have one’s diploma mailed to them.  In doing so, life becomes one long ride without stops to enjoy the scenery.

It is important to celebrate milestones.  Leaders are in a unique position to create space for such moments.  At our disposal is the work schedule where we can pause the day-to-day responsibilities and recognize those having achieved something noteworthy.  People listen when we speak.  Therefore, it is important to command attention towards an event, a person’s retirement, birthday, or accomplishments, and in such a way that validates the significance of such an event.  Unfortunately, such opportunities are oftentimes missed for the pressing demands of the company or institution.  And, in doing so, we miss a moment where we can leverage our leadership platform to instill hope and fulfillment in another person.  The biblical narrative is full of milestones on a grand scale of the Israelites entering the Promised Land to individual recognitions of circumcision and baptism.  God understands the significance of milestones thus incorporating them into the covenant community.  They have meaning and purpose.  They are acts of obedience.  They are gatherings for celebration by the community.  And, they honor the One who delights in them.

Yes, milestones are important in life.

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It is good to be uncomfortable.

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It is human to place people in categories.  There is comfort in defining other people as “similar to us” or “different from us.”  It then becomes easier to identify and associate with a particular group.  Security arises when we surround ourselves with individuals like us.  It breeds the familiar, the known.  Equally so, it then becomes natural, if not comforting, to critique those different from us.  It reinforces our beliefs and perspectives, as well as give rise to a sense of superiority.

Yet it also stunts our growth.  It narrows our perspectives by interacting with individuals who only agree with us, not challenge our ideas and worldviews.  Superficiality is created because we go through our daily lives inoculated from dissenting opinions or uncomfortable realities.  For example, I have lived for years in the suburbs of Chicago with its white-collar problems.  By limiting exposure to urban life, I avoid racial tension, gang violence, and declining school performance.

As believers, this tendency is visibly evident in our Christian fellowship.  It is comfortable to worship with men and women who share identical beliefs, worship in predictable patterns, and understand the sermon in a specific light.  Granted, it is important to settle into a local Christian community.  Growth is not found in jumping from place-to-place.  Furthermore, a spiritual nomadic life does not foster deep relationships.  Yet, at times, it would benefit our souls if we mixed it up.

Our family has been in church transition for the past few months.  In January, we stepped down from a church we served for close to two decades but we have yet to move to Lancaster, PA.  This time created a unique challenge for us with respect to church attendance.  Since we have been connected to one body for so many years, we decided to stretch our categories by intentionally visiting different traditions.  Over the past couple of months, we have attended an Anglican, Presbyterian, Independent, African-American, Christian Reformed, and Charismatic Catholic church.  Each worship style was uniquely different.  Some experiences encouraged liturgical routine whereas others were open to spontaneous clapping, even dancing.  While each church was evangelical, the sermons were diverse with some being theological-focused, others bent towards application.  We enjoyed each worship experience.  Most of all, we embraced the challenges to our preconceived frameworks for what worship is, what preaching is, what church is.  It was good to worship as a minority.  Quiet reflection in the service was at times refreshing; other times the ability to jump off our feet proved liberating.  Our categories were disrupted, I believe for the better.  It was good to be uncomfortable, even it was only for a season.  In a month, we will settle into a church for an extended period of time.  But, I will not forget these few months where we were stretched.

As leaders, we too become comfortable in our routines, perspectives, networks, and ideology.  It is easy to associate only with those that think like us or read books on themes or beliefs comfortable to us.  In doing so, we fossilize; we do not grow.  Growth occurs when we break out of our routines, reflect on our boxes and for a moment step outside of them.  Or we choose to lead in a different fashion, exercising creativity and stretching our leadership.  And, in doing so, we continue to learn.  And learning occurs best when we are uncomfortable.