Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Leadership Conundrum: People

Yeah, you read that right.

People are weird, broken, messy sinners, of whom leaders are the chief. So when leadership involves progress or journeying toward a goal or vision, what to do about people in the journey who may not share the goal or agree with the vision?

Shouldn't people be the goal? Shouldn't people be the vision?

In Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Mark Driscoll talks about identifying your dogs -- which he defines as systems, programs, or people that prevent or run counter to your mission -- and shooting them. He says to identify problem people as dogs. And shoot them.
This strikes me as clearly logical and productive. Particularly when the "dogs" are evil, divisive people, like the few who are making the lives of a couple of pastor friends of mine a living hell. Those people need to be rebuked, and if they do not repent, kicked out.

But "shoot your dogs" also strikes me as terrifyingly insensitive. Particularly when the "dogs" are great, well-meaning people who, for whatever reason, just don't get the mission/vision of a ministry.

What happens when the "dog" is your friend? What if you don't want to shoot them?
What if you don't want to leave anyone behind? What if your goal entails everybody arriving together?

I like to ask myself, "How would Jesus lead?"
Clearly I cannot achieve this. This is my standard, but it is one I fail to live up to every single day, as some people would be very quick to attest.

In the formative stages of Element, I was very unnerved whenever I heard talk about what sort of people we wanted there. There was worry by some people that in targeting a broad demo (the fuzzy range 18 to 30something) we'd end up with "weird" older single people. I understand the concern. It also sort of irked me that they were so clearly encouraging leadership to concern ourselves with making sure only "cool" people came. Holy cow, what would we do if someone -- gasp! -- uncool came to Element. That would just ruin everything! :-)

I was teaching a small group at the time made up mainly of 40-50something year old ladies. A few of them liked my teaching and wondered if they could visit Element from time to time. I said sure. I relayed this to one of my co-leaders and he about had a heart attack. "We can't just let anyone come!"

I totally understand this approach. We are a ministry/community for the younger generation in our community. I understand that college students and young professionals may not feel "at home" in a room with, um, "old people."
But in trying to invite as Jesus would invite, generational ministry or not, I couldn't see him saying to someone who wanted to hear from Scripture, "Nope, not for you." I couldn't see him turning anyone away who wanted to hear from Him.

Yet Jesus did send people away frustrated. His mission clearly wasn't for everyone. It frustrated, it confounded, it disturbed. There were people who wanted in who were left behind because they didn't share his values.

Where do you draw this line? How do you approach this?
What if you love someone very much, very much want them to be a part of the journey of discipleship, very much do not want to shoot them like a dog, and yet they are committed to a different mission, have in mind a very different vision? There is a point at which working on changing their heart and mind detracts from changing the hearts and minds of others. Doesn't it?

I don't know. That's why I'm asking.
I see the obvious need to jettison that which is counterproductive to the spread of the gospel, to dismiss that which is hindering the progress toward a vision for gospel community. I also see that the spread of the gospel and the progress toward a vision for gospel community involves seeing people -- all people -- as people for whom Jesus died.

I guess I'm asking why can't "problem people" you are tempted to cut loose be included as an aspect of the mission field you are trying to focus on?

It is an awkward, sensitive tension between practical concerns for ministry progress and personal concerns for ministry shepherding, one which takes amazing discernment to navigate with honesty and sensitivity.

The Leadership Conundrum series is the place for you seasoned leaders, pastors, and ministry directors to weigh in with your advice and tips and practical ideology!

Previously in this series:
Leadership Conundrum: Challenging Apathy
Leadership Conundrum: Rescuing the Trampled On
Leadership Conundrum: Transitioning Generational Ministries


Milton Stanley said...

Your comment about the church not being only for cool people cuts to the heart of the issue. Maybe it was tongue-in-cheek, but if not, your co-leader's comment of "We can't just let anyone come" sounds like church building technique at its worst. I understand the value of targeting a specific demographic, but like it or not, Jesus calls all varieties and flavors of men and women into his church.

As preachers and teachers, we must present the Word of God to those in our congregation. Members are called to submit to church leaders, which means not everyone's likes and preferences t become policy, if you will. But leaders certainly ought to listen to members, because God has enlightened the heart of each saint in a slightly different way. Those differences cross gender, ethnic, and generational lines.

The only people we ought ever to boot out of the church are those who refuse to submit to Christ (by sinning) or to the leaders he has put over the congregation (by being truly divisive).

I'm sympathetic to the desire for a given congregation to aim its evangelism to young adults. But to put it bluntly, the idea of a demographically homogeneous congregation is not the church Christ died for. Think about Jewish-only churches during the first century or all-white churches in South Africa during the twentieth. How is a cool-young church today any different at all?

Jared said...

Milton, you and I probably agree.

I'd only clarify that Element is not a church, but a ministry of our church to college and young professionals.

I firmly believe the church should be multi-generational and minister cross-generationally (and ideally multi-ethnicnally, as well).

Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the clarification; the distinction between a church and a ministry is a significant and substantial difference. There's nothing wrong with a congregation reaching out to a particular demographic or trying more or less to limit participation in a particular ministry.

If I may share an anecdote, God used a small-group Bible study aimed only at college students to bring me to faith in Christ. At that point in my life I wouldn't have been interested in a Bible study with people my parents' age. But a ministry to a very narrow demographic brought me into the universal body of Christ.

Also, I was one of those people the Bible study leaders would probably have liked to get rid of. I openly expressed my doubts, asked hard questions to stump the leaders, and generally made everyone in the group uncomfortable. But the leaders kept inviting me back week after week. It decided that if they wanted me back after the trouble I was causing them, then they must really love me and believe in what they proclaimed. Their refusal to take the easy path brought me into the loving arms of Christ.

Praise God.


Many churches teach members that being a good member means staying part of a local body even when troubled by the vision and route of the minister. There is value in this. But members might also be taught that if the time comes when the discomfort becomes so great that it intereferes in one's ability to gloriy God, then moving to another local church body might be okay for everybody.

Rick Shott said...

It is very easy to start and grow a monocultural group. Of course, great care must be taken that the group does not seal itself into its own narcissism. Having a variety and real population dynamics is part of being a Christian community. While churches may exist that only represent a slice of their community, I would charge that they are not being fully obedient to God's call. We are to share the gospel with those who are the same and with those who are different. Jesus' prayer was that we would show unity (John 17:11). If that unity cannot tolerate a little dissension then what unity is it really?

People may have left Jesus being truly frustrated, however, Jesus did not frustrate them himself. Each one chose to leave. When Peter rebukes Jesus for saying he was going to be crucified, Peter stayed and Jesus continued his work. Jesus did not say, "get out of my sight" or "go home." Rather Jesus said "get behind me." Jesus was not going to be slowed by Peter, but Peter can still be there to learn and grow.

Practically, discouraging people from coming because of their age, is discriminatory and does not match the Biblical commands to respect those older than you. I have some real problems with such a philosophy of ministry. My philosophy says let all come, but not all lead. As for the idea of discipling someone who has a different vision, is the different vision a bad thing? Why do they need to have your vision? Can God not use them with the vision they have? Even if their vision is wrong what is to say that God grants them a vision like yours? Are you willing to accept that?

Jared said...

Rick, do you believe all visions/missions are created equal?
I don't.

A different vision is not a bad thing. But it can become one if two leaders want to go different places.

Why do people need to share the leader's vision? I guess because it cultivates growth and progress. If one is constantly trying to convert people to the vision, one spends less time actually achieving it.

I'm willing to accept that God gives different people different goals. I think we all need to accept that sometimes our goals are not those of the communities/ministries we are looking to for leadership or authority.

You say that your philosophy is not to let all lead. I guess I'd ask why? Are you wiling to accept that their vision might be different from yours? Why can't God use them too?
By not letting all lead, aren't you deciding that not all visions/directions are created equal? That sometimes people have contrary or counterproductive goals?

Rick Shott said...


Neither do I believe all visions are created equal. (Indeed, there is a clause in my comment allowing for bad visions.) However, this does not mean that my vision is correct. It does not mean that everyone else must have the same vision. There may even be compatibility in somewhat divergent visions. However, it is not my responsibility to alter everyone's view to match mine. We must be willing to accept that there are more than just one vision. Sometimes we may need to revise visions. These revisions will come from a competing vision.

About not letting all lead, I would think this is obvious from a previous post of yours on Bible study. God gifts everyone differently. Sometimes people think they are gifted and they are simply not gifted. Sometimes they are gifted in a small area and are trying to step beyond what they are capable of doing. How do you deal with someone with "contrary or counterproductive goals?" First understand what they are saying, which is often more difficult than we realize. Second, explain why not and then move on with ministry. You see this time and again in the Bible. Sometimes it involves separation as in Paul & Barnabas in Acts 15. Other times in involves compromise as in the Jerusalem council in same chapter.

The key question is what is your goal in pushing someone aside (much better way of putting it than "shoot your dogs"). Is it to have a group of people who all agree? Where do you truly find that in life? I guess the real question becomes what do you believe is the discipleship that you want them to be part of?

Jared said...

Rick, this is difficult, because it appears you are reading things that I'm not saying/meaning, and in fact the point of the post is asking how to get everyone on the same page.

I'm not in favor of pushing someone aside. I'm in favor of everyone getting on board.

Let me give you an example, and you tell me what you think is ideal:

The pastor of a church believes the church's worship service should include worship music that is explicitly about God and directed to God and teaching that is directly from Scripture delivered in a "monologue" preaching style. The majority of his fellow leaders agree and support this vision for corporate worship.

One leader, say the student minister, disagrees. He thinks what is best is "spiritual music," perhaps drawn from the world of popular music that creates a comfort zone for people who don't know God. So instead of worship music, he'd like the band to play U2, Coldplay, whatever. And instead of preaching, he'd prefer a very brief time in which the pastor tells stories with spiritual themes and then asks reflective questions at the end.

Two different visions.
The youth minister really feels strongly about his. He is not budging. He brings it up at meetings, talks to others about it, tries to "campaign" for his alternative view.
He is well-meaning. But it is sowing the seeds for division.

What are the pastor's options?

I'm unclear as to what you'd suggest. You say sometimes you tell them "no" and move on. Assuming the person doesn't take no for an answer . . .

Respectfully: Please read what I wrote. It is not my desire to shoot a dog. It is not my desire to push anyone aside.
Shouldn't that at least tell you the particular vision I have in mind isn't selfish, narrowly personalized, and inappropriately exclusive?

I'm finding myself agreeing with you that sometimes we move on without people and sometimes we compromise, but then you lose me when you infer I'm somehow in favor of shutting people out and disregarding them.

I'm asking: When moving on without someone is the appropriate choice, how do you do that?
Because my goal is not to set someone aside, but to take everyone on the journey.

Rick Shott said...

I am sorry I was not clear in parts of that last comment. The "shoot your dogs" part was me also expressing a dislike for Driscoll's wording. I did not mean to imply that you believed it, only that this is how I would rephrase that statement.

As I read your post you seemed to be mixing vision casting and disciple making. I see that this was an attempt to keep certain confidences or to avoid external publicity of internal problems. It has contributed to my misunderstanding. Do not misunderstand this you did a decent job with that. It is not an easy thing to do, I can think of a post or two I might have written but did not for that reason. To note as I read the post I thought what you had in mind were congregants not ministers, which changes dynamics.

I believe unity is very important and at times division within unity can be good. When Paul & Barnabas split over John Mark, it did not create a massive schism in the church. However, it also was simply put a division, a separation of ways. Ultimately, it provided greater unity.

Perhaps this youth pastor needs to leave. This runs deeper than a vision it involves a fundamental understanding of the church. It is deep theology, is the church service supposed to attract the unchurched, or is it supposed to be a spiritual renewal and encouragement. I believe it is the later, but there are churches and people who disagree. However, if you mix the two you will fail at both.

The another option is to teach this pastor what worship is all about. Hopefully he understands the Biblical message an changes his opinion.

The third option is to send him out to plant this church of his. This means that you need to believe that this will do sufficient good for you to support him in some way. These are the three options I see, there may be more.

Frankly, the question few people ask is how do I fit in this church? It sounds to me like this youth pastor does not understand how he fits into this church. But then again I am a couple hundred miles away, so I could be totally wrong.

Jared said...

Rick, thanks for hearing me out. I think we understand each other better now.

In the interest of further clarification, given that you've equated my posting with what may or may not be going on in my real life, I would like to say that the youth minister in the example I provided is purely hypothetical.

I am not a pastor at my church; I'm not even on staff. And while the illustration I provided may be born out of things I'm thinking through in my current ministry, the "characters" do not correspond to any real life pastors or ministers at my church.

I want to make that clear, b/c I know people from BCC read my blog.

Rick Shott said...

"Rick, thanks for hearing me out. I think we understand each other better now."

No problem, I would hope others give me the same as I gave you. Moreover, I hope my ministry is noted for its understanding.

God Bless