For these past 5 blog posts I have presented here axioms that paint a perspective that most of us would agree on, but rarely do we live our lives in this way. We have been trained by our societies to think in a way that is contrary to what we would agree to if we stopped and thought about it.
These axioms relate to leadership and discipleship, but they also apply to our closest deepest relationships. They apply to how we relate to ourselves, how we relate to our spouses and our children, and to other friends.
This is not a program or a system that you would apply in just one context, such as at church or at school. These have more to do with the grounding constructs by which we make sense of our world. They have implications for how we lead, and how we inhabit all our relationships around us.
Our fifth axiom is, as St Augustine said, “The fire you want to ignite in others, must first burn within you.”
I remember when leading a men’s group; I was leaning all of these new things about missional theology. I was reading about how the church lives to be on mission and what it means to imitate Jesus. I was learning tons of stuff, and it was good stuff, but I was frustrated that the people that I was leading in this group weren’t more excited about it, they weren’t doing it more.
I was saying “come on guys go live on mission, you have permission, it’s good. Here’s an idea, you can do this.”
I had this realization fairly early on, that I was sharing good ideas but I was not sure myself how to live it out. What I had done was to describe what the optimal picture of life looked like, and we all even agreed, but I had no idea how to make it happen.
In the midst of all my teaching, I was still frustrated and angry. I was not being transformed myself. But I thought it would happen if I simply gave them ideas and told them to do it. This is characteristic of the modern discipleship movement.
I think this is also fairly typical in our modern societies as well. We as parents often describe the outcome we desire from out children, to share their toys or be kind to each other, and we send them off to do it. We fill them up with all our rules and instructions as to how they are to behave.
I think there are two reasons we give instructions.
The first is we think the immature have the capacity to be mature if we simply give them instruction.
In our schools we are becoming aware of all the bullying that is happening, so we think to fix the problem we have to make the children responsible for their own actions. What we don’t know is there has always been bullying in schools. This always happens when immature people are left to fend for themselves without supervision. It’s a “Lord of the Flies” scenario.
It is adults that are needed. Adults who are mature to orchestrate the interactions, to show an example, to compensate for the immaturity until the children have a chance to grown up and become adults themselves. This takes time and we are in too much of a rush these days to allow this unfolding to occur.
Secondly, we don’t think it is our job to be an example.
One way we got here is we believe because we are not morally perfect, because we don’t have all the answers, it is not right to ask others to follow us. It just doesn’t feel right to say “follow me” in this independent society. There is something ingenuine about that idea.
A Christian might believe God is perfect, so we say imitate Jesus because I am imperfect, saved by grace yes, but I am not perfect so don’t use me as your reference. But the people that Jesus trained, who are building the church and leading out had the audacity to say you need an example of what this looks like. Paul says you have 10,000 instructors, but you don’t have many fathers. I have been and example for you, and I send Timothy as an example as well, watch him, imitate him.
We are to be an example.
I used to have trouble with that. It did not feel humble enough to say imitate me. But what I was thinking was “I can’t make mistakes otherwise you would imitate my mistakes as well”. But others are not imitating my mistakes, they are imitating how I deal with my mistakes.
I now know that’s part of my leadership, to show how I restore my relationships, how I again invite a connection when perhaps I make a mistake. If there is something else that could divide, what do I do? This is my example.
It’s my leadership to demonstrate what one does when one blew it.
Being a leader then means we are becoming aware of what is moving us. We might call this confession.
Then the next step is to invite that relationship where the separation has occurred. The more we live with this intent, the more we are letting something happen in us and through us.
The doorway to leadership is a softening of our heart.
A soft heart releases our defensiveness, and moves us back towards a posture of attachment. We all need defenses to exist in this wounding world. We also need a soft enough heart, and it is this balance to move us to lead, and invite others into our presence.
We might call this softening of the heart, repentance, and it takes maturation for us to lead in this way. We have to experience our own growing up first, at least a little.
Leading within community.
There’s a tangible quality to a community where repentance, or a softening of hearts is honored.
Repentanceis the last thing I want to do as a leader. It is the most vulnerable we can be, so I will defend, deflect, justify, rationalize, marginalize, and blame others for any defensiveness in me.
There’s a lot of energy from leaders in the church these days to protect their reputation. Many leaders think the worst thing I could do, is give the impression of impropriety to people who are onlooking. Yet Jesus eats with sinners, and had His reputation dragged through the mud because of His scandalous love and grace for people on the margins.
If we create a community where the leaders are the first to soften their heart, the first to own their own mistakes and make amends, then we disabuse ourselves of needing to protect and defend our image. This dismantles the systems of oppression.
People get hurt in systems where repentance isn’t a good idea. Where we are not safe to own our mistakes, because these mistakes are used as leverage to eliminate you from the community.
And it is always the leader who sets this value.
The leader is the most transformed.
If any community goes through a transformation, the leader or leaders of that community are always the most transformed out of anybody. They have to have soft hearts themselves before anyone else can have permission to also do so.
This doesn’t mean that they are the most broken, or have the most miraculous story of transformation. It just means that they are setting the pattern for how to receive and respond to grace. They do it in a way that invites us all to soften our hearts to others.
Our defensiveness is our meeting place with God rather than the thing we have to fix or hide, so we can meet with God in that place.
That’s precisely what the people that were leading need. They need a leader who can fiercely face with them, the reality about themselves.
So rather than a crossing guard who says “keep walking, dodge the traffic you will make it”. We need leaders who will say “walk with me through this and we together will find a way forward, I will walk alongside you”.
Even Jesus, we are told in the book of Hebrews, learns to accept truth through what he suffers. He walked through hardships and trials. He did this in the context of a secure relationship, dependent on that relationship, so that from a place of rest He had the freedom to accept the truth of things He could not change. This is how we all learn we are resilient when facing adversity; that we can recover from loss; that we are resourceful to transcend handicaps and disabilities.
A leader cares about our character, they provide the invitation to exist in their presence and make space for our growth. We all need this. They are not looking to use us for what we can do for them, but rather they are looking for how we are growing as a human being.
We learn how to do it as we lead people in it.
For us to lead in this way, that same growth must be happening in us, we must first have a heart that is softening to others we are leading.
If as a leader, I continue to respond in anger to my son’s lack of contentment. I will train him to respond in anger to things that trigger him.
I can preach tons of good sermons; I can make him watch videos about kindness and compassion. But if he learns from me, my model that “anger is the appropriate response when reality doesn’t go our way”, I have fathered him into how to trust his anger, how to trust that response.
If I am going to reproduced children, I have to deal with my own anger.
Our training at families 2 families doesn’t focus on getting other people to do things, but it always focuses directly on our own hearts, our own transformation. As leaders we have to deal with those things first.