Every leader has a bias, and this is good… BUT

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It’s getting to that time when leaders and teams start to take stock of the year that’s been and plan for the year to come. It’s a hugely important part of the rhythm of a year and therefore deserves a leaders time and attention. Lots of leaders and teams go through the process of asking:

What do I stop?

What do I start?

What do I sustain?

These questions are crucial as they relate to projects, programs, budgets, and strategic plans. Each of these items are tactile and controllable enough to be changed and shaped as needed. However, the most influential factor related to the success of any ministry is the team of people deployed to do the work. If we’re going to assess the actions of our team as it relates to the vision we’re pursuing, it’s crucial that we also assess the balance, gift mix and cohesion of the team of people working together.

My leadership context has mostly been youth and young adult ministry and whilst I have struggled with the tension of different personalities and priorities within teams, a slight shift in perspective has taught me to embrace the enormous opportunities such challenges afford. Allow me to elaborate with an example.

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The leadership meeting went something like this…

“I don’t care what we do, as long as these students are cared for and are experiencing genuine love and acceptance nothing else matters!”

Then someone else said,

“It’s all well and good that we care for them but if they aren’t learning anything about Jesus and the word of God then we are not really building the foundations of their faith.”

Then someone else said,

“We might be teaching the kids we have but if we’re not reaching out to young people who don’t know Jesus then we won’t have any kids to teach!”

Then someone else said,

“We need to think strategically about how we will develop the youth ministry and make sure that our planning allows for growth and multiplication, that’s what’s really important.”

Yet another said,

“You’re all wrong, the way we’re doing things now needs to change, and if we don’t do it soon, there’ll be nothing to multiply!”

Sound familiar? Most youth leaders and ministers have all been involved in a meeting or two like that. It is frustrating, and can leave you asking ‘How on earth can I get this team to agree on a direction let alone work together?!’ But when we look more closely this is not an issue of disunity or a lack of shared vision. It is more just a reality that every leadership team will face, especially if the team has a diverse mix of gifts and leadership styles.

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A P E S T

Through a seemingly conflicted moment we are actually seeing the five fold ministry gifts expressed as described in Ephesians 4:11-13, and if it is understood and embraced rather than resisted, it can serve your ministry in ways that might not otherwise occur. The Apostle Paul said…

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 TNIV)

Leadership should be diverse in approach and practice. It should have a different emphasis and focus depending on the person, their leadership bias and the season of the ministry. Teams that embrace the difference understand that different leadership styles will be elevated to prominence depending on what is necessary for the time. They will not elevate one gift over another for the sake of the leader and their need to exercise the gift. But they will demand an approach that helps their young people to

‘…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’

And from time to time, for each young person the leadership approach will be different. This is why we need to have different leaders with different gifts avoiding uniformity and apparent conflicts. None of us can become ‘all things to all people’; we need each other and our young people need us to know this.

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W H A T ‘ S  Y O U R  B I A S ?

So… the question is, do you know your leadership bias? Are you an apostle charged with the responsibility to see new kingdom works established and multiplied? If so, then you will need the prophets to question your decisions. You will need the evangelists to reach out to and embrace the lost. You will need the shepherds to care for and protect them. And you will need the teachers to help them learn and grow. You get my point… whatever your gift-mix you NEED the others so that,

“…the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (vv12-13)

And surely we can agree that is what we want for our young people.

I regularly meet with many teams that are not well balanced which inevitably hinders their ability to get the job done. Indeed it is completely possible to have too much of a good thing! So take stock of your activity AND be brave enough to assess your team.

So tell me… How do you asses the balance of your team’s gift-mix? What tools or framework do you use? How have you managed the tension between different leaders bias? Let’s hear it!

BK

**If you want explore further your own gifts and how they might fit in a team context you can go to http://www.apesttest.com (not sponsored).


 

How great thou aren’t…

“If less people were concerned about attaining greatness, we might actually see more truly great leaders.”

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I frequently speak with extraordinary young leaders that are genuinely capable of setting the world alight, and are well on their way to doing so. It always leaves me hope-filled when I have the privilege of listening to their dream for a better world and what they are doing to take some serious steps toward that possibility. Inevitably we’ll talk about their goals and what it is that motivates them, we’ll discuss their vision, their strategy, their short term and long term plans and then marvel at how, if it all comes together, they’ll get to the end of their life and be receiving the nobel peace prize in their chosen field!

There are few things more exhilarating than dreaming with another how the impossible can become possible. But the more time I spend with incredibly gifted and talented leaders I am increasingly aware of the potential for their shadow-side to dominate their motivation. Leaders are ambitious by nature and for the most part this is how they get (good) things done.

“There is however a fine line between noble ambition and the pursuit of personal acclaim.”

It is not uncommon for me to discover that a carefully articulated dream with seemingly good intention turns out to be a catalyst motivated more by an individuals desire for personal greatness. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT anti-personal-achievement. But this desire for notoriety is a game changer, and not in a good way. Here’s some reasons why I think the pursuit of greatness can work against you.

1 – The pursuit of personal greatness is perversely counterintuitive

In his book Humilitas John Dickson unpacks the virtue of humility (check out the clip below). He articulates, brilliantly I might add, the sentiment that the most influential leaders are those who understand that it is not ALL about them, and with genuine humility live as though this is true. I tend to agree with him. A genuine focus toward the other communicates that the leader is motivated beyond personal gain making them and their dream incredibly attractive. The opposite to this is of course equally true, no one wants to be led by a self obsessed glory seeking monster, and the quickest pathway to becoming that is the pursuit of personal glory.

A leader cannot achieve their goals without the support and contribution of others. If they are to accomplish a desired outcome they need followers who will buy into their dream and be a loyal to them in pursuit of that. This requires high trust between the leader and follower/s and a clear understanding that ALL are integral to the success of the mission. It also helps if they stand to benefit from the success of the dream (or their version of it) as much as anyone else does. The quickest way for a leader to lose that support is to communicate either in word or deed that the goal is actually for the personal gain of the leader and the leader alone.

2 – Greatness is a bi-product of ones actions, it cannot be strategically attained.

When I think of some of the greatest people to have lived I immediately think of those that were committed to a bigger and better dream for all of humanity. People like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Einstein, Mandela, Sir Douglas Nicholls. Some might argue this is also true for some of the greatest business leaders of the modern era like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for example… neither list is exhaustive nor any of them perfect, but they are certainly people that can be described as having achieved greatness in their time. They simply lived in a way that would bring about their dream for humanity – and others followed suit as a result.

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There is however a common thread to each of their stories. Each life demonstrates the common theme of sacrifice.

Extreme.

Personal.

Cost.

They did not set out to be great. They did not plan to attain riches and royalty as a result of their greatness. In fact history records many truly great leaders refused to embrace the accolades thrust upon them as a result of their achievement. They did however count the cost, lay down their lives and decide each day to live their vision into reality.

The best example of this in my humble opinion is Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of your religious persuasion it cannot be ignored that that his sacrificial life modelled what it means to be truly great. Two thousand years later and billions of followers over time… History would suggest that he probably knew what he was talking about. I’ll let his words alone speak:

Jesus called them together and said,‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

3 – Personal acclaim requires self-preservation, greatness demands risk

Truly great leaders will try new things and be prepared to fail. There is a hint of insanity to this. It goes against mainstream culture to try things that are not yet tested, proven, and accepted as fact. And why? Often because leaders view failure as the antithesis of greatness and with risk comes the possibility of failure. As a result RISK has become a four letter word (check out my previous post on RISK avoidance and its effect on creativity for more on this).

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Yet those that have done truly great things have been prepared to take risks, be they small or large risks, there is an acceptance that it will require attempting the untried and believing there will be a positive impact for the greater good. They’ll risk failure, they’ll risk reputation, they’ll even risk their freedom. But they do it with the greater good in mind. They know that there is an alternative reality to attain and they put it all on the line in the hope that it will come to be.

Perhaps greatness does afford certain privileges but it can certainly be argued that the truly great were not enamoured by such things. I resonate with the words of William Arthur Ward to describe the key attributes of greatness:

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I am convinced that more leaders must prioritise these attributes. Goodness, humility, service and character are evident in ones everyday small decisions. One must choose these virtues over immediate pleasures and more convenient options. To live this way requires faithfulness to the cause and a decisive intentionality.

“We can indeed choose to live this way today, but whether or not we choose these attributes will surely determine whether greatness chooses us.”

Over to you. How have you seen greatness in others? What do you think it takes to be truly great? Feel free to comment below… I’m keen to know you thoughts.

BK

Now that you are free…

Many a time I have told the story of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. After serving twenty seven years for daring to stand against apartheid, he was finally released. February 11, 1990. It was a remarkable day. A day where a man walked into freedom and the world was there to greet him. Even more remarkable though was the freedom his nation would inevitably experience as a result of his release. On that day chains were broken, eyes were opened, wrongs were acknowledged and lives were set free. Whilst it would take another four years before apartheid was officially over turned, his release was indeed a catalytic moment in the future redemption of his people. Nelson Mandela walked the path into freedom and he carried the freedom of his country with him.

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He was beaten, but not defeated.

He was muted, but never silenced.

He was isolated, but never alone.

He was abused, but not beyond repair.

He was imprisoned, but has been and will forever be… FREE.

I dreamed of one day meeting him, shaking his hand and thanking him for leading one of the most significant human rights movements of the modern era. Not that my thanks as a white Australian is as warranted as one of his fellow countrymen, but as one committed to the betterment of humanity through the restoration of of the world I have always been inspired by Mandela. I would have given anything to look him in the face, to see the lines on his skin caused by years of faithfulness, to listen to the stories of his life, and to look into the eyes that stared adversity in the face; and won. It just seems right that I would say ‘thank you’. Mandela is a hero of mine, a beacon of light who reminds us that it is possible to make a significant difference in the world even when our enemy has us backed-up against the wall.

As the world mourns the death of Mandela, I’m fascinated by the many articles and media reports that are circulating regarding his extraordinary life. Some are honouring of him and his cause, some are indifferent, and many simply reporting his death as another piece of news because he is a world leader. I have to wonder, does this typify the opinion of the average person and the general population toward Mandela? Is it possible that someone as remarkable as he can become simply another news item to be reported? Surely not. Surely the life of Mandela is worth far more than that.

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Nelson Mandela has taught me many things, but probably the single greatest lesson I have learned from this great leader and spiritual giant is that

Freedom is determined by our state of mind as much as it determined by a physical space…

You see it is possible to be free yet live as one imprisoned, Mandela knew this well. The day he was released from prison he was confronted with this reality. Mandela had every shade of human dignity removed from him over the course of his twenty seven years in prison. It was recorded on his day of release that he emerged an angry and bitter person. There was however a ‘moment’. As history records it, Mandela was informed by thirteen words that would forever change his life, his nation, and the world as we know it. Those words?

‘Nelson… now that you are free, do not let them make you their prisoner!

The life of Mandela serves as a constant reminder that imprisonment is not just about physical restriction and isolation, his life demonstrates the power of a person that is prepared to pursue an alternative future motivated by hope. And this is freedom.

Freedom from a system that would otherwise continue to control him.

Freedom from his own demons that would otherwise continue to torment him.

Freedom from vengeance that would otherwise thwart his cause.

And freedom from evil that will triumph when good people are not free to live different!

It seems our culture is somewhat confused about freedom. Many are afforded freedom yet frequently make choices that cause them to live as though they are imprisoned. Others seem more concerned with their right to be free, than they are concerned for actually living free. Either way, the outcome is the same. A distorted view of freedom that will not breathe life into the lifeless and bring light into the darkness. And then there is Mandela… A man who knew what it meant to live free and to be a giver of light and life in order that others would also be free.

Vale Nelson Mandela. In my mind you were not just a freedom-fighter, you were freedom-giver.  May your dream live strong, and may your legacy be found in our freedom.

BK

My big little secret

It might shock you, but I have been foolish enough to carry a big little secret (or two) in my life.

  • There was the time that I accidentally vacuumed up part of a deceased persons ashes and then proceeded to do my best to cover it up.
  • Then there was the time I stole a friends watch and pretended that someone gave me one just like it.
  • Then there was the time that I hurt someone dear to me through a dishonest and deceitful act.
  • Then there was the time I had lied to others around me regarding a significant personal character issue.

All. Embarrassingly. True.

It would be easy for me to write this post and focus on all the public figures that have been caught out living a lie in recent times. Who would blame me? Celebrities are often very easy prey. Their lives are out there for the world to see feeding our insatiable appetite for peering into the private lives of others, and indeed we feast when they appear to be failing.

This need to see others at their most broken has always intrigued me. I mean, if I want to look deep into a life that has a history of wrong doing, deception, and foolishness I need look no further than my own life. I suspect many of us could say the same. Why look to others? The answer to this is rather simple,

focussing on the foolishness of others takes the focus away from my own failings and insecurities, and for that moment I am deceived into thinking that I am somehow better, especially better than the likes of (insert latest celebrity failure here…).

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It is amazing though how secrets seem to make a way out, even after a VERY long time in hiding. And the ramifications are usually dire. It would seem the longer one prolongs the inevitable uncovering of the truth, the greater the impact and long term effect. Little secrets have big consequences. One thing we can be sure of however, is that everyone has a secret. Whether it is a secret the size of a giant squid lurking beneath the surface of our lie ladened ocean with consequences stretching like tentacles into multiple areas of our life, OR, whether a simple personal and private faux-pa, it is fair to say that most people have a skeleton or two in the closet.

‘Big deal’ you might say…

‘So people have a few skeletons in the closet, what business is it of mine? If someone is stupid enough to take performance enhancing drugs, lie about it, and then get caught, they deserve everything that’s coming… why waste time on this? why does this matter?’

If only it were that simple. Whether we like it or not our actions have far reaching consequences – good or bad. They have a direct effect on ourselves, on those closest to us, on that which we represent, and also on the culture we form.

1.  Every culture is formed by the collective stories of the people that make up that culture.

Think about it… when your life and experiences combine with the lives and experiences of others, a bigger experience (or story) is formed. Whilst it is possible to live a totally isolated and disconnected life, when we do participate in life with others we develop common threads and common points of connection. For example, in the early days of Australian settlement convicts would support each other as they faced mistreatment and discipline by the authorities. the Aussie spirit of supporting the underdog began and today we still take great pride in supporting the ‘Aussie-battler’, those who are fighting against the odds. How we understand and experience each other (and ultimately ourselves) completely informs the culture we develop. So it stands to reason that;

When the stories of the individuals don’t represent the truth of their existence, our collective story becomes distorted. This means that (culturally speaking) we become influenced by things that just aren’t real.The result of this is that cultures develop patterns of operating, systems, expectations, and social norms that inevitably encourage others to become distorted images of their true selves as well.

Think about the effects of this on our families, our society, our organisations, our businesses, our churches and our communities. In the case of Lance Armstrong people the world over celebrated a man who had ‘achieved the impossible’, who had overcome great odds and who then earned millions of dollars telling that story. And many aspired to do the same. Of course this actually was impossible – even for the one who had supposedly done these things!

2.  It’s never just the wrong-doer that is affected by their poor behaviour, the action becomes another reason to not trust what it is they represent.

Many have said they can never trust another champion cyclist – in their mind the sport of cycling has been forever tarnished as a result of Armstrong’s dishonesty. The same can be said for anyone that has knowingly misrepresented themselves.

  • For the politicians who do a backflip on policy promises – yet again it proves that politicians and political systems can’t be trusted…
  • the minister that is stood down for moral failings – another reason for people to never trust the church…
  • the CEO that didn’t pay their taxes – another name on the list of greedy business owners…
  • the wife that cheats on her husband – further proof that the institution of marriage is doomed. You get my point.

On the other hand, people and cultures that practice honesty and truthfulness, are freed of the shame of their failings and can cultivate a future based on possibility. Their personal (and collective) story is usually one of humility, openness, grace, acceptance and healing. Such cultures have a more accepting view of people and society, and therefore they’re better equipped and better placed to develop forward (rather than simply trying to maintain that which is not real). Consider for a moment the incredible healing that has begun for Australia as a nation and our indigenous people after the Prime Ministers ‘sorry speech’. On this particular issue there is a long way to go, but that moment which acknowledged all that was wrong, covered up, and misrepresented marked the beginning of restoration for many individuals (some would say a whole country) affected through the events of the stolen generation.

3.  It may be cliche but I still believe that ‘honesty is the best policy’

Admitting we have done the wrong thing and then living as though we mean it is not only better for individuals, it is better for relationships, families, communities, cultures and humanity at large! In old school terms we call it confession and repentance – not simply a discipline for the Christian, it is just good plain and simple common sense. There is healing in the sharing of secrets. That shame, that embarrassment, that pain… it can be dealt with – I’m living proof of that. The writer of James put it this way…

“…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16 (TNIV)

I happen to believe that God wants us to be free of our secrets, what ever it is. This is not a free pass form the consequences of our actions, but it is a promise of freedom from a God that is first and foremost about grace. There is healing in sharing our secrets. So… before we jump to pointing the finger at the likes of Lance Armstrong, Peter Slipper, Arnold Schwarzenegger or whoever else you might like to add, we would do well to pause and remember the time we made a mess of things. It is for times such as these that these words were penned…

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (TNIV)

So… What’s your big little secret? Might I suggest that now is the time to fess up and begin the work of healing? If you’re brave enough, start right now. Tell someone. If you’re really brave, you can tell us right here, right now and comment below.

BK

my favourite four-letter word…

When was the last time you did something different? I mean truly different? I’m not talking about a tweak on the status quo or a slight adjustment on a pre-existing thing, I mean a brand new idea that you dreamed up and then committed time to implement it.

I often ask leaders and teams that exact question, and you might be surprised to know that most of the time the answer to that question is ‘never’. Even more interesting is that many don’t actually see this as a problem. I hear leaders regularly tout the words of Solomon ‘there is nothing new under the sun…’ as if to find some kind of comfort or solace in the realisation they are void of the responsibility to dream the impossible and initiate a unique and alternative response to the myriad of issues people face today. It would appear that our culture’s ‘cookie cutter’ approach to living has informed the way we do ministry, that we have forgotten the place of innovation and creativity in our work. Personally I find this really disconcerting.

It leaves me pondering ‘what happened?’ When I consider the early church and the creativity and innovation they had to employ (for the sake of the gospel and the survival of the church), I can only wonder why we are so reticent to do the same. As I read through the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles I am constantly confronted with the incredible risks people were prepared to take in response to the Creator, His work through Jesus and those who would be brave enough to follow. There are countless stories in scripture of people pursuing the impossible, displaying incredible innovation and creativity for their time, and seeing extraordinary outcomes as a result. So again I ask… what has happened?

It would seem that our image conscious age has impacted our ability to innovate and take creative risks. For many people in today’s context and culture, RISK has simply become another four-letter word! The worth of an idea is measured by the maxim ‘will it work?’. An important question, granted. However such a question does not allow for the possibility that the dreams and desires that well up within us (on the rare occasion we allow them to) could actually have something more to offer than that which simply ‘works’. Unfortunately,

we have replaced our creative yearning with market research, popular opinion, and projections of estimated outcomes. Innovation is deemed too risky if this holy-trinity of marketing is not in alignment therefore willing us to continue.

Furthermore, feeding this image conscious psyche is our incessant pursuit of perfection. Creativity and innovation on the other hand are usually far from perfect. It can be a messy and sometimes un-measurable process. As a result the average person finds it very difficult to put themselves out-there and attempt something that might come off as less than perfect. And who can blame them? After all, we are constantly bombarded by high quality creativity. Think about it… The music aired on commercial radio has been designed rehearsed recorded edited produced market-tested and refined… TO PERFECTION. Only then is it shared with others. And so it goes for most creative endeavours in our society. The art on display, the fashion we buy, the movies on show, the technology we use – it is all manufactured to perfection long before it becomes available to the public.

The effects of this is that we have come to believe that something with humble, less than perfect beginnings, is simply not worth pursuing. Of course the flow on effect for those of us in leadership is obvious. We pick and choose from the seemingly perfect range of products and apply them to our situation at will. Do we consider the possibility that there might be a better way? An original response? One that serves the need and inspires others by its own merit?

The influence of the must-fit-in culture of our age demands we take on a persona that is tried, tested and current.  We may well desire the creative but in actual fact we have settled for conformity. This is a shame, because very few things in life begin as ‘perfect’. But who is to say that perfect is the goal anyway?

If we are looking for perfection in creativity (by the worlds standards) we are missing the point. Creativity is meant to be experienced first hand as much as it is observed. We are meant to create because within this process the creator is offering something truly original, and this is a reflection of the beauty and imagination of The Creator. This unique expression of the true self is in essence innovative. No one has done it before, it is inspired and it cannot be replicated as it is first experienced.

The ministry we are entrusted with invites us to enter the creative mind of God and partner to see The Kingdom come. It is important to learn to think this way because all ministries will be faced with future challenges that current forms of thinking are simply inadequate to address. The core values and ministry priorities may not change, but the method will change in response to our rapidly changing context and culture. Indeed one cannot solve a problem with the same mode of thinking that helped to create the problem in the first place! It will require a new set of eyes, a new way of thinking, and a different approach altogether.

One of the best ways to begin the process of creative expression is to spend time with fellow imagineers. As the adage goes ‘when the elements are right, a spark ignites into a flame’. It’s vitally important to have people who will dream with you and encourage you to take risks for His sake. There are many places this can happen. I am particularly thankful for the support and encouragement I receive through the Youth Vision network, and the inspiration shared as I spend time with like-minded people at events like The Road, AND festival, and The National Youth Ministry Convention. These are great places to connect with others on similar journeys and be inspired with creative thinking and innovative practice.

So… when was the last time you did something new? Maybe it is time you for you to put aside time and energy to explore some new possibilities? Maybe it’s time you tapped your creative well? Maybe it’s time you inserted this four-letter word into your vocabulary? Maybe it’s time to put your good (albeit risky) ideas into practice? It’s time to get started… This short clip might help you.

**This is a rework of an article I wrote for YV.Q published October 2011