Grace-Based Leadership

I am far from the first person to write about this topic, but I have just been reminded of the need for grace in my own leadership.

Recently a change of plans at work impacted me directly.  I wasted no time in putting out a response and making my opinion known.

Later, after mulling over my choice of words and approach, I realized I had not been as graceful as I could have been.  I felt much better after I called the person who had received my response and apologized.

In retrospect I realize we all have unexpected changes in our lives.  When those inevitable moments come we want to know we can share them with our leaders without fear of being rebuffed.

We want grace.  We want a safe place to serve and communicate and do ministry together.  As artists we already feel like we are undressing in front of an audience every time we share our art with the public or our leaders.  We need to know our leaders will not take advantage of us in those vulnerable moments.

Christ modeled this graceful leadership throughout his ministry and continues even today by offering grace for us in our most ungraceful moments.  Even at the last supper, when Judas was to go out and betray Jesus, Jesus simply told him to do what he needed to do.  Jesus did not lash out at the man who would assist in his death; Jesus showed grace.

We as leaders have a responsibility to shepherd those we lead in a way that would follow Christ’s example, so grace must always be part of the equation.

In summary, here are a few things I learned from my encounter:

  1. Be truthful.  As a leader I have a responsibility to communicate the truth of a situation; even painful truth is better than a half-truth.
  2. Be graceful.  That truth, however, must be paired with grace.  Grace means giving room for someone to grow.  Grace means acknowledging that I have probably done the same thing at some point.
  3. Be patient.   Instead of cramming my response in before a meeting, I should have waited to respond until after I had time to think and process.
  4. Be compassionate.  In responding quickly I blasted right past the opportunity to ask good questions.  The answer to those questions may have proved invaluable in growing my understanding of the situation.

How do you need to be more graceful in your leadership?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

No one has had a greater impact on me than my father.

I have had great professors, teachers, pastors, mentors, and even friends, but none of them will ever come close to matching the impact my father has had on me.

Even though my father is a flawed human being, he still has made a lasting impression on me, and this gives me hope.  Some of the most impressive messages my dad preached had to do with his failings and how he dealt with them.

I want to be like that.  I want to make a lasting impression on my two boys.

I get the feeling that time is slipping through my fingers and soon my boys will be all grown up.  Am I really making the most of these young years?

Then I look at dad and remember that even though I have flaws and even though I have had failures, I can still make a difference.  I will make mistakes in the future, but I know I can still have a positive impact on my two precious boys.

Here are a few things my dad has modeled for me.

Integrity.  If dad says he will do something, he will do it.  Every time.  When we are doing masonry, dad will never cut corners.  If a customer is not happy, dad will work with them until they are, even if he has to eat the cost.

Work ethic.  Life has not been easy financially for mom and dad, so they have had to work long hard hours.  Dad never complains; he just chooses to enjoy his work.  He works holidays and Saturdays if necessary to get the bills covered.

Grace.  I remember slamming the door in front of my mom and hearing her talk later about how dad would tell her to give me space, that I was just in a stage.  I have had the door slammed in my face a time or two by my boys, and I now appreciate how hard it must have been for them to make that choice.

Humor.  When I was in junior high my dad and I were working on a house and the drywall workers had their radio cranked way up on some country station.  After hours of this dad walked over and lightly asked, “Could we listen to the birds chirp for a while?”  I don’t think it made a difference, but I give him serious credit for being willing to inject a little fun into a potentially stressful situation.

Passion for God.  Dad’s favorite topic of discussion is how God is working in his life or in the lives of others. Dad celebrates God every day.

If I grow up to be half the man my dad has been, I will be happy.  Very happy.

How about you?  How has your father impacted you?

getting help, for those in ministry

Too often leaders, particularly in ministry settings, fail to get help when they need it and end up burning out their lives and hurting their families.  That’s what happened to me, and I do not want it to happen to anyone else.  While those tough times made me a much better person, I believe I improved by God’s grace and not because he likes things like divorce.

Here are a few things I learned the hard way.

1.  You are not unique.  Sorry to break it to you, but your problems are not new to humanity.  Someone somewhere, and more likely many people, are experiencing or have experienced the same thing you are experiencing.  So avoid the martyr syndrome.  Been there, done that, not good.

2.  God accepts you and can use you right where you are just as you are.  God’s grace is unfathomable.  We will never grasp how wide and deep and long and high his love and grace extend to us.  He accepts you as you are, with the sins you are fighting, or the burnout, or the failing marriage.  He does not accept you because of who you will be or because of who you were.  The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV – Romans 5:8)

3.  Pray for guidance.  Prayer is always first.  “‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (ESV – James 4:6-7a, 8a)

4.  Get advice from a trusted friend.  If you do not have a trusted friend, pray for one.  While I was going through my divorce I had a friend come alongside me and meet me every week for lunch.  He gave advice if I asked for it, but mostly he listened, asked questions, and prayed for me.  He also bought me lunch a lot, which was very cool!  You need good friends.

5.  Consider a ministry coach.  Coaches are not counselors.  Coaches come alongside a leader to help him or her figure out their life plan, ministry goals, and how to get there.  Here is an excellent post by Michael Hyatt highlighting a new coaching service tailored specifically for ministry leaders, both in content and in pricing.

6.  Get a personal counselor.  Find a person of the same sex with whom you can go through all of the emotions and difficulties you are experiencing.  Once you find someone which whom you can relate, you will not feel alone in dealing with your problems.

If you have been through a difficult time or experience, what helped you get back on your feet?

Life: the Greatest Editor

Life has a way of editing your writing.  Case in point.  Two years ago I read the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (a must read about the radical grace of God, written by a recovering alcoholic and former priest) and was moved to write a song based on how the message of the Gospel of grace really sunk in with me.  I was impressed with the way God releases us from our humanity because of his grace when we ask him for forgiveness, regardless of what we are asking forgiveness for.  Manning’s example of outrageous grace is a beautiful one.

The lyrics of “Grace” then showed a stark depravity against the unflinching and progressing grace of God.  I also used Desert Song by Brooke Fraser and Hillsong United as a model because I am thoroughly impressed by the song, both musically and technically.  Here are the lyrics:

Broken we come before you now
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence stained with sin
dead and decaying deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
passing the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Restored we claim no inner gift
Healed we seek to share the grace you give
knowing there’s no greater praise
than a life redeemed by faith in you
we believe you

Now, two years later, my perspective has changed.  I am still confident in the radical grace of God and thoroughly dependent on it because of all the mistakes I make and sins I commit on a daily basis, although I am making progress, again by God’s grace.  That said, I look at the first verse and I find it not quite theologically sound.

Before Christ we stood before God stained by sing, dead and decaying deep within.   We could not worship because we had not been transformed.  We could not be viewed another way because we were not under the mercy and saving grace of God.  Because, however, we have received Christ and asked him for his grace and mercy in our lives, God no longer views us that way.  yes, we sin, but because of Christ’s blood he sees us as complete and whole and beautiful.  We are alive and growing, not dead and decaying.  As the old hymn says, “The Lord has promised good to me; his Word my hope secures.  He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”  We cling to this promise that God remembers our sin no more and shows us mercy by giving us grace in our most dire times of need.

My theology has changed, or perhaps my writing has caught up to my theology.  Time has allowed me to look back at these lyrics and say, “No, that’s wrong.  There is no hope in the original lyric.”

I have also noticed that my ending stanza is stilted and not in line with the rest of the song, so I am scratching that stanza and replacing it with a reprise of the first half of the first verse, still ending on the “V” chord.  Here are the lyrics now, edited to reflect these changes.  I am also going the change the title to either “Your Grace” or “Broken.”

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence free from sin
holding your promise deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
giving the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship

How are you allowing your life to edit your writing?