Friday, October 10, 2014

Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders - Book Review

When choosing a book to review, I was caught by the title Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders. I am finding that leadership is one subject which stirs up quite a bit of debate these days, especially in the circles where it is most valued. Yet, it is the wrong type of leadership which has given it such a bad name. We tend to equate leadership with people who are driven and who get things done, often while lashing a whip on the backs of those below them in rank. Yet, Joe Stowell, as I have often heard the author referred as, has a view based on biblical truth which sets those notions on their heads.

I have known of the author, Dr. Joseph Stowell, for many years. He became the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago not long before I began listening to a Moody radio station in our area when our children were small. Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, without a phone or a car, and having a husband who commuted an hour one way, I had little interaction on a daily basis with adults for the four and a half years we lived there. But, I had the radio, Christian radio, and I had it on all day long.

What I remember about the author is that he always seemed to be on level with everyone involved in the ministry at Moody and interacted with other ministers, guests, radio personalities, students, and listeners all with the same respect. I have to be honest here: I sometimes wondered if he was really cut out for the position he held there. But, after reading this book, I understand that he was leading from a position of service. In fact, I have come away with a whole different view of this man. I love his heart and am excited to commend his book to you.

My ideas of leadership, especially in the Church, were formed from years of being under men who wore power suits and knew how to use them, usually to their own advantage. It was a numbers game to many of my pastors and their peers. And we were the ones they had to get motivated to move the Gospel product, often door-to-door like a Kirby sweeper. Building a church was the main focus of these church leaders, but seldom were their people built up in the faith.

This is where Joseph Stowell wants to make a difference, by redefining leadership both in priorities and identity. From the very first chapter, Dr. Stowell sets the record straight about the type of leadership which is truly successful in the Kingdom of God. It's not the outcome-driven leaders I was brought up under but what he refers to as the character-driven leaders who make all the difference. Listen to his definition of a character-driven leader:

There are Character-Driven Leaders, whose exemplary lives influence and empower those within the sphere of their authority to achieve great outcomes personally, spiritually, communally, and organizationally. The breadth and depth of their positive influence distinguishes them as maximum leaders. The power behind their leadership is leveraged by their moral authority that comes from the credibility of their lives. And, among other things, character-driven leaders use their organization to build stellar people, who in turn build a thriving culture that produces maximum corporate outcome to the fame and glory of God.[1]
Isn't that beautiful? So inspiring! It's like a breath of fresh air in the stifled room of get-ahead Christianity. I believe this definition is spot-on as it includes the building up of the saints, making a social cultural difference, and bringing glory to God, all without stripping away what the Bible teaches about authority in the church context.

In contrast, he also includes the description of those who take advantage of positional authority:
Leaders who rely on their positional authority tend to be highly pragmatic. Character demands that we live and lead with integrity, but when character is not the driving force, it's hard to resist temptations to cheat around the edges. Lack of transparency, dishonesty, and violation of basic ethics when it serves them well are all a part of the positional leader's arsenal.

Positional leaders value image as a tool to leverage their power. They flaunt the title on their business card, the special parking space, and the nice office and use the power to reward or punish those who serve them. Positional leaders find no value in developing the character needed to command genuine respect and loyalty. Instead, they earn loyalty by promoting and paying their followers well. They motivate them with praise or manipulate them with anger and the threat of withholding approval. They make retaliation a public spectacle so that others learn to stay in line. Lacking a moral compass to guide them, they are free to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired result. Often organizational insecurity and fear mark the environment of enterprises run by positional authority.
This makes me shutter to my very core when I think how this describes some in leadership (in the home school movement in particular) who have recently left trails of destruction in the wakes of their falls. Perhaps if there had been more accurate instruction on what the Bible really teaches about authority, such as is found in Redefining Leadership, there would not have been so many following what these leaders said the Bible taught about authority.

However, it is also a huge mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to leadership authority. Dr. Stowell clarifies this when he says, "...Positional authority is still an important form of authority, yet one that must be exercised with wisdom." He then goes on to describe how Christ who maintained His positional authority as the Son of God never used it to leverage power for His own benefit but rather to serve those under Him and to advance His Father's kingdom.[3] It is this type of servant leadership which Dr. Stowell encourages those in authority to practice, to lead by being a servant.

And, yet, the things taught in Redefining Leadership are not only helpful for pastors and corporate leaders, but also for fathers and mothers who have perhaps gotten the wrong idea of their purpose in parenting. What a difference it would make in every family if parents took their positions before God as servant leaders in their homes. I believe this is the missing element in most teaching on parenting, and it is where many authoritarian parents go terribly wrong.

Therefore, I would encourage not only reading Redefining Leadership for yourself, but would also suggest giving it as a gift to new parents as well as those going into ministry or being promoted in their company. There is so much here for all of us to learn.

[1] Joseph M. Stowell, Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014), 24.
[2] Ibid., 75.
[3] Ibid., 76, 77.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Discouragement in the Parenting Journey

While cleaning out some storage yesterday, I happened across my old journals. I got caught up for two hours just pouring over their contents, reminiscing about those early days of rearing our children.

One entry told of how sick I was, how sick the children were, how I just wanted to curl up and die. I had just gotten a nasty upper respiratory virus, the three toddlers were also coming down with it, and looking back at the date of that entry, I realize I was probably three weeks pregnant with our youngest son. NO WONDER I WAS EXHAUSTED!

A later entry told of when I was homeschooling four children in four different grades, running them to co-op meetings and activities all during the week, leading a ladies' Bible study, and working a part-time job. I lamented how the house was a wreck, how I couldn't lose weight, and what a disappointment I was to my poor husband (though he NEVER even hinted such a thing). It was also during that time I began to have signs of endometrial cancer which included 44 straight days of heavy menstrual flow, mood swings from the depths of Hades to the heights of Heaven, and extreme fatigue. NO WONDER I WAS DISCOURAGED!

Like many young mothers, I first felt self pity and then beat up on myself for being such a failure. I have to confess I spent many years of parenting in deep depression. I never cut myself the slack I should have. I was driven by some delusion that my kids would turn their backs on God, my husband would leave me, and God was going to rain His wrath down on my head if I didn't straighten up and fly right.

Then this verse came to mind today as I thought on all those weary years: 
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18
As I mulled this verse over and over in my mind, I began to wonder about what key words in it meant: love, fear, torment, perfect.

Love ~ Love seemed pretty easy to define, but then I realized it meant more than just a feeling. It meant actively seeking the ultimate good of the object of affection. If God is love and He says He loves me, then I may be assured He will do all in His power ~ and how awesome is His power! ~ to bring about my good. This led me to Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
What a beautiful promise.

Fear and Torment ~ I put these together because they go together. This type of fear accompanies the type of torment received by being punished for something. This type of fear does not trust in the revealed love of God. This type of fear literally beats us up emotionally. Instead of resting in the knowledge that He is lovingly working His will and way in us, we continually slip back into that servile fear that we will be punished at any given moment for not being perfect. But, there's a remedy for that...

Perfect ~ Interestingly enough, perfect is often misunderstood as meaning the ultimate end itself, while its true meaning is both the process and the outcome. It is better seen in James 1:4
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 
This verse is speaking about the sanctifying of the believer comparable to the growth process of our own children. You can only learn so much from reading books and hearing of others' experiences; it's the on-the-job training which brings about a more mature parent. Therefore, for us to condemn ourselves for not being perfect mothers as our children are first coming along is like a five-year-old condemning herself for not being able to drive a car let alone see over the dashboard. We often set up impossible standards for ourselves, then flail our backs when we fail. It's time to put down the whip.

God's not out to get us. He has proclaimed His love in the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. Everything we are learning and doing while resting in that love is made perfect (mature) over time by His Spirit working in us. Therefore, we can trust that these overwhelming days are only part of the process, and each day is a new beginning. 
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14
There is a work Christ intends to do in us. Putting away those balls and chains of past sins and failures, we must have patience WITH OURSELVES.

However, at this point, I think it is important to have discernment. Immediately following the reminder to be patient with our growth in Christ, James says:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. ~ James 1:5
Sometimes we set up standards for parenting, marriage, housekeeping, and health which are either impossible to ever attain or which are not appropriate for our own situation. Every person is different -- both children and their parents -- and every marriage and family works on a different dynamic than the next. Though mature parents can give out helpful advice from what they have learned over the years, everything they say must be discerned whether or not it is appropriate for your given situation and children.

Yet, finding what doesn't work is like coming upon a closed road. It isn't the end of the journey; it's only an indication you need to find a different route to your destination. Turning around and going back (dwelling on what you "shoulda-woulda-coulda" done), sitting on the side of the road (laying around in depression while your home goes to pot), or giving the wheel to someone else (making your husband or someone else be your kids' mother) will never lead to successful parenting. 

That's where prayer and discernment come in. You pray trusting God to give the answer, and you try different things until the Lord reveals the path of peace. 

If you find yourself struggling in your parenting, let me encourage you to not give up hope. Constantly look to God for His mercy, grace, and peace in the knowledge that He loves you and your family and has a wonderful purpose for you all according to His perfect plan in His perfect timing. May you find joy in your journey knowing this.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dancing On the Head of a Pen -- Book Review

Robert Benson's Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life was not what I expected but was indeed a pleasant surprise. What I thought would be a dry "to do" instruction book turned out to be somewhat of a devotional, a thought-provoking insight into making writing a daily practical living. Though there are some very good tips for writing, Benson never comes across as the instructor but, rather, the mentor.

I love how the author is candid about his own misgivings and gives honor to whom honor is due in respect to those who have been the most influential during his writing career. His easy manner as being still a learner himself makes one feel as though becoming a genuine writer is attainable for anyone with a heart desire to do so.

Yet, though Benson comes across as if I can do this, anyone can, he is actually a very accomplished writer. His heart's desire is to motivate the reluctant writer to move out of her comfort zone, and it works. In fact, after reading this book, I finally began journaling again every morning, something I had neglected for many years.   

However, Dancing on the Head of a Pen is not only for the writing novice, but also for those who have been writing for many years. Each will find the encouragement to either launch out into the deep or hoist the sails into the wind, whichever the case may be.