5 Leadership Tensions Seen in Jesus’ Leadership

Some time back I delivered a message on how Jesus modeled masculinity. As I reflected on that talk, I realized similar parallels apply to leadership. Jesus lived within these leadership tensions during the three years He established our Faith. Although fully God in every way, He lived as a human in every way as well, yet was without sin. He perfectly balanced each of these qualities below that appear as opposites. As you read these five tensions, ask yourself which ones reflect your strengths and which ones need strengthening.

Power and Compassion

  • Jesus showed great power and guts when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (Matt 21). He also showed his commanding power when He called the religious leaders whitewashed tombs. (Matt 23.37)
  • Yet he touched the lepers, showed tenderness to the woman with an issue of blood, and showed compassion to the rich young ruler who wouldn’t give up his riches.

Head (intellect) and Heart (emotion)

  • He amazed the people with his grasp of the Scriptures at age 12 while in the Temple. His arguments and logic silenced even the most brilliant of his day. He even tongue-tied the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. He created ingenious intellectual dilemmas for his adversaries. He masterfully used Scripture in the context of life with allusions and questions that made others think.
  • Yet Jesus deeply loved people at levels they emotionally felt. The shortest verse in the Bible even says that, “Jesus wept.” (John 11.35)

Present and Future

  • Jesus approached people where they were. He didn’t ask broken people questions like, “How in the world did you let yourself get into such a jam?” He was a realist about human frailty.
  • Yet, he didn’t want people to stay where they were. He told Zacchaeus the tax collector to make restitution. He accepted him where he was, but He urged him to move forward into the future in a God honoring way. Jesus lived with a perfect blend of experiencing the present with an eye toward His future and toward helping others move into their best future.

Purpose and Freedom

  • Jesus knew why he had come, to do His father’s will. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4.34) He was bothered when the disciples didn’t take his mission seriously. He was passionate about his work. He knew what needed to be done and did it. He worked hard.
  • Yet he lived with an amazing sense of balance. He was never in a hurry, compulsive, and never forced people to do what He wanted them to do. He gave them freedom to choose. He said followership was voluntary, no arm-twisting or guilt motivation. He didn’t force his agenda on others. He knew his purpose and knew if others would embrace His purpose for them it would be best for them. Yet he released them to make their own choices.

Strength and Sensitivity (especially toward women)

  • On the sensitivity side, Jesus elevated the status of woman so high that he even praised a woman for what was a purely a masculine role, sitting at the feet of a Rabbi (when Mary sat at his feet). Jesus accepted financial support from women. He even defended a woman caught in adultery, not to approve her adultery, but to expose the injustice of her accusers.
  • Yet he was forceful. He was blunt with his mother when she was out of line to ask Him to do some things not a part of His messianic plan. He affirmed Mary’s role when he indirectly confronted Martha’s compulsiveness. In John 4 He candidly pointed out to the woman at the well that she had 5 husbands. Jesus knew when to be sensitive with women and when He needed to be strong and not back down.

I believe pastors and leaders, too, must live within these tensions.

  • Which of these is your greatest strength?
  • Which is your greatest weakness?
  • What would you add to this list?

“I just learned 5 leadership tensions in Jesus’ life that apply to spiritual leadership.”(click here to tweet this quote)


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7 Ways Leaders can Navigate the Pain of Rejection

Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.

How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection… 

  1. Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
  2. When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
  3. Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
  4. Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
  5. Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
  6. Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
  7. If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.

Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.

What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?

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Are you a People Pleasing Pastor? Take this Assessment and Find Out

I based my third book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership on significant research around people pleasing. As a scripturally based book, it incorporated fascinating insight about how our brain influences our leadership and our tendencies to appease and please others in unhealthy ways. To discover how pervasive people-pleasing is in the ministry I gathered research from two sources. I contracted Lifeway Research to survey over 1,000 pastors about people pleasing and I added to this research the results of a similar on-line survey of 1200 pastors I did for a total of over 2200 pastoral responses. In this post I’ve created a simple self-evaluation for pastors to determine how much people pleasing affects them.

My research revealed that 70% of pastors agreed that people-pleasing affects their lives and ministries at some level. In the on-line survey I included an option for pastors to anonymously tell their people pleasing stories. I got 100 pages of heart wrenching stories, single-spaced!

Here’s one pastor’s sad story.

In a church that I pastored, there was a major power struggle with several members who remained very close friends with the previous pastor who actively worked to wield control through these members. I often felt unable to measure up, always trying to ‘minister’ to these folks in hopes that I could win them over, and yet being angry that I couldn’t. After two years I left the church and left the ministry. And I felt like a failure as a pastor and as a husband/father.

Is people-pleasing affecting your ministry?

Take this short assessment to see if it is. Mentally check which statements are true of you.

  1. In my church’s board or leadership meetings, sometimes I don’t speak up on an issue for fear of creating tension.
  2. Too easily I say yes to someone’s request for me to do something. Later I regret having put that on my plate.
  3. I will go out of my way to attempt to change someone’s mind who wants to leave my church or ministry.
  4. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not having stood up or spoken up for what I believe.
  5. I have kept on a non-performing staff person or volunteer leader too long before making a change.
  6. When I need to be firm with someone else, I inordinately delay the conversation and/or after I do have the conversation, I realize I didn’t say everything I should have said.
  7. Sometimes I try too hard to be nice.
  8. It bothers me when I upset someone. I tend to blame myself for his or her distress.
  9. I tread lightly around some people in the church because of their moodiness.
  10. When those around me are angry, I become the peacemaker by trying to get them “un-angry.”

How many did you check? If you checked…

  • 1-3: People-pleasing could become a growing issue in your leadership unless you do something soon.
    • Keep this issue in prayer and stay vigilant of your tendency in the area(s) you checked.
  • 4-6: People pleasing is most likely hindering your leadership and may get worse.
    • Find a safe, wise leader in your church or a local pastor with whom you can confidentially share your struggle. Become accountable to him so you can stop unhealthy people-pleasing before it gets out of hand. See my blog here on what to look for in a safe person.
  • 7-10: You’re probably angry, anxious, and fearful most of the time and people-pleasing is clearly hurting your leadership.
    • Consider seeing a good counselor who can help you ferret out the cause and help you lead less from an approval motivation.

As you deal with your pleaser tendencies, consider this verse.

The fear of human opinion disables . . . (Prov 29.25, The Message)

How have you seen people-pleasing tendencies affect your or other’s ministries?

You can learn more about the book here and view a cool animated video trailer of the book.


“People-pleasing in the ministry: I just took an interesting assessment on people-pleasing.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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14 Questions Pastors should Avoid if they Fear Vulnerability

Some time back I read an incredible book – Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown. I highly recommend it. Her TED talk on this subject has garnered over 30,000,000 views. She strikes a chord for leaders about risking vulnerability. As a pastor vulnerability is scary and carries risks with which we must practice care when being vulnerable. As risky as it is, Dr. Brown says it’s a key to what she calls wholehearted living, what I’d called a Spirit-filled life. She says we live in a culture of scarcity and poses 14 questions in her book (p. 27) in three categories that caused me to reflect deeply about my family, my ministry, and my world. I’ve quoted some here and paraphrased others.

14 really scary questions about vulnerability…

As you read them, what is God saying to you about your family, your life, and your ministry?

SHAME

  • Is my self worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?
  • Do I use the threat of belittling or ridicule to keep people in line?
  • Are put-downs and name-calling rampant?
  • Are blaming and finger pointing norms?
  • Am I guilty of favoritism?
  • Am I a perfectionist?

COMPARISON

  • Has my creativity been suffocated?
  • Do I constantly compare and rank myself against others?
  • Are people in my family or church held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions?
  • Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used to measure everyone else’s worth?

DISENGAGEMENT

  • Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?
  • Are people afraid to take risks or try new things?
  • Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening?
  • Is it easier to stay quiet than share stories, experiences, and ideas?

As you read these, what question really resonated with you?

What question would you add to this list?

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5 Signs that you Need to Quit Something

Quitters never win and winners never quit was drilled into my mind at an early age. I believed it. I practiced it. I lived it. I only quit one thing in my life before age 18, my high school football team. I quit because I sat on the bench 99.976% of the time. Since, then, however, I’ve questioned the veracity of that phrase, as catchy as it may sound. And recently I heard a concept that further spurred my thinking about quitting – strategic quitting. What is strategic quitting and why should pastors and leaders practice it? In this post I define strategic quitting and suggest 5 signs that you need to quit something.

First, a definition of strategic quitting. Strategic quitting is thoughtfully and carefully quitting a program, ministry, or initiative that simply is not working, has become staid, is disproportionately  sucking up resources, or simply needs to go. In contrast to reactive quitting, quitting when things simply get harder, strategic quitting is not a spur of the moment knee-jerk reaction to difficulty. Rather it is a measured decision carefully made.

It’s a concept so essential that leadership expert Seth Godin even wrote a book about about it, The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to QuitHe says, “Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.”

Unfortunately, strategic quitting isn’t easy because of a phenomenon called the ‘sunk-cost bias.’ The ‘sunk cost bias’ is a mental trap we can easily fall into. Because we have invested so much time and energy into a project, we would feel like a failure if we nixed it. In reality, many such projects need to go. Read more about this bias here.

So what are some benefits of strategic quitting?

4 benefits of strategic quitting…

  1. It can release resources (your time, staff or volunteer time, and money) for other projects and initiatives with greater potential for material, spiritual, or organizational payoff.
  2. It can remove the perpetual drip, drip, drip of regret that has nagged your soul and emotions for months (or even years).
  3. It can boost your leadership in the eyes of others when they see you muster the courage to nix that ‘elephant’ that most everybody felt should have gone long ago.
  4. It can develop a key quality great leaders embody, humility. It’s humbling to admit that a project you may have started just doesn’t work anymore, or never did.

If you think you may need to strategically quite something, how do you know?

5 signs that indicate you need to strategically quit something…

  1. When in your soul you know it needs to go. Perhaps you’ve often wrestled with this ‘thing’ in your mind and you never can seem to get peace about it. Is God saying, “Now’s the time?”
  2. When those you trust hint that it needs to go. Have influencers in your circle raised the issue from time to time? Have they suggested that the ‘thing’ needs to go?
  3. When in your mind’s eye as you envision it gone you sense deep relief. As you’ve thought about it and imagined it no longer a burden, do you feel like a weight is off your shoulders? How much influence should you allow this subjectivity play in your decision?
  4. When you sense the Lord prompting you to strategically quit. In your quiet moments with the Lord, do you sense Him releasing you from it? Have you spent time praying about it?
  5. When you begin to really dislike the ‘thing.’ Perhaps your attitude has soured on it and constantly confessing your attitude doesn’t change it. Maybe this is God’s way of saying, “It needs to go.”

Knowing when to strategically quit can be tricky. Our emotions can powerfully influence decisions, sometimes in the wrong direction. But when your heart, your influencers, and the Lord seem to all say, “Stop the thing,” maybe it’s time to.

As you read this post, what ‘thing’ in your ministry or organization came to mind that you potentially need to strategically quit?

If some program or initiative did come to mind, what steps do you need to take to discern if you need to quit it?

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