How Do You Deal with Criticism?

Has anyone every met you at the door with criticism of your sermon? My friend and colleague Meg Hess has a terrific article in the current issue of the Christian Century called “High Anxiety: Dealing with Critics.” Read it today (it’s short!). You won’t be sorry.

How Can We Disagree?

Do you despair at the disagreements in church life? Well, the food world is no different. I came across a story told by Graham Kerr (formerly the Galloping Gourmet, now Christian convert and apostle of healthy eating) in his book Charting a Course to Wellness, pp. 36-37). He began low-fat eating and cooking for the sake of his wife’s health. At a food professional conference in 1993, Julia Child was speaking, and said, “I don’t believe that anyone can eat a diet with only 10% of calories from fat..In fact, If anyone here is doing that I’d like to see him STAND UP!” Kerr stood up, alone among the hundreds of people. Julia Child didn’t even look up from her notes. After the lunch the reporters swarmed around Kerr, wondering if he was leading a rebellion. He assured them he was not, but it was out of his own practice of support for his wife.

Kerr had dinner with Julia that night, and they discussed their differences. He says, “It wasn’t until Julia that I learned that you could fully respect the position of others without relinquishing your own place.” Many in the food world — and the church — do not understand this truth.

Is there someone whose position you need to respect more fully?

How Can You Learn Leadership?

How did you learn to be a leader? Most of us have people we learned from, teachers and mentors. These key people in our lives offer help to us both as we begin to lead, and along the way. I’ve been thinking about two important aspects of leadership: skill and self. How do these get communicated to people who are learning to lead?

The first aspect, skill, is the technique of leadership. It may be more rightly called the technique of management. In fact, we could talk about a number of skills involved in leading. If you supervise people, you need to learn to carry out a performance review. Most leaders need to know how to get up in front of a group and speak effectively. You need to know how to run a meeting. You can work on any of these skills for a lifetime. I’m part of a Toastmasters club, where I keep working on developing my speaking skills, even though I’ve been speaking for over 25 years.

Still, skill in the nuts and bolts of leadership is not enough. “Ten Ways to Be an Effective Leader” will not make you an effective leader. There’s another important aspect, one that is harder to teach and harder to learn. This is about self: leading out of who you are. Having a self is not selfish, because the gift you give to others comes out of the deepest part of who you are.

Other leaders can show the way by being themselves. Yet no one can teach you how to be yourself. You can learn, over time, but no one else really knows you. Having a self means you can resist pressure to conform while still being flexible. You can take a stand without shooting yourself in the foot, because you respect others while you do so. You can manage your own emotional life, since you are mature enough to recognize your feelings without being controlled by them. Perhaps it is better to say “self” in leaders can be cultivated but not taught. My best mentors have asked me great questions to help me discern who I am as a leader. They have helped me think through my own most important beliefs and principles. They have often shared their own wisdom and experience. Still, they haven’t assumed their approach would work for me. They have seen more in me than I saw in myself.

Skill means knowing how to do certain things. Self means knowing how to be yourself when you do them. One of my ministerial colleagues also coached high school football. And he led his congregation like a coach: tough and challenging. They responded, and the church was thriving. Another leader I know is quiet and mild-mannered. He effectively leads an organization with a multi-million-dollar budget. Both of these leaders lead out of themselves. They have led their organizations for years.

I’ve found it takes less energy to lead out of myself, out of the core of who I am, rather than trying to become something I’m not. Plenty of models for leadership exist, and volumes have been written suggesting, “lead like me.” We can learn important leadership skills from others. Still, we learn how to be ourselves not by imitating others but by discovering, over time, our unique identity.

Songs for Church Leaders

Do you have a song which inspires and encourages you in your leadership? Here are a few of my favorites:

“We’ve Come This Far by Faith”
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (a comforting song from my childhood)
“Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” (by Sting)
“Be Thou My Vision” (I’m preparing to perform this next month.)

What are the songs that keep you going?

Does Football Have Anything to Do with Leadership?

In between finishing my book, Leaders Who Last, I’m cleaning out my files. I found this great quote from Sonny Jurgensen who quarterbacked for the Redskins under the great football coach Vince Lombardi for one season in 1969: “Coach Lombardi called me into his office once he got settled in, and his first words to me were, ‘I’ve heard a lot of things about you as a person and as a player, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of things about me. Well, that’s got nothing to do with our relationship. I just ask one thing of you: I want you to be yourself. Don’t emulate anyone else. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Just be yourself.’’ (Winning Is the Only Thing, ed. Jerry Kramer, p. 251.)

I know it’s not even football season, and I’m not really a football fan. Still, this comment from a coach known to be hard-driving struck me a decade ago when I filed it away, and again last week.

Can Women Lead Churches?

Can women lead churches? It’s still a question for many Christians. Several things are on my mind in this regard. First, the Anglican General Synod voted to allow women bishops in the Church of England. Second, I watched on DVD the conclusion to the British comedy, The Vicar of Dibley, a wildly funny series about a woman priest in a small English village. Third, this month is the 20th anniversary of my call to be pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts.

I grew up believing that women were not allowed to be pastors. I experienced my call to pastoral ministry and applied to seminary before I ever met a woman minister. I had to move across the country to find a church to serve as pastor. Ironically, that church had a gifted woman pastor, Rev. Ruth E. Thompson, for over 20 years. For many in the church, it was a relief to have a woman in the pulpit again! I spent thirteen years as their pastor, and I am grateful for the many blessings I received from them.

Where Do You Get Energy?

I’ve signed up for a CSA farm again this year. Every week through the season we get a supply of produce from a local farm. I’ve noticed how my energy for cooking has come back. Somehow the bag full of strawberries, rhubarb, lettuce, herbs, zucchini and even fava beans has inspired me. Last Saturday it was a record-breaking 100 degrees, and I still made a fabulous vegetable-and-herb frittata in the morning to serve later in the day. It never fails to amaze me how I can feel too exhausted for one task and completely energized for another. Or too much on the introverted side of my personality to talk with one person, and right out there on my extraverted edge with another. One thing I’m sure of: it’s important to engage in activities which give you energy regularly. Daily is not too often.

What are you doing to renew your energy?

By the way, if it’s hot at your house, take a look at this post from Israel Galindo’s blog.

You Mean It’s Not All About Me?

I just finished a delightful novel, The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. It’s a first novel, which I often avoid, but I was grabbed from the first page.

As in the best of fiction, the experience of the characters rings true. One of the characters, Vida Winter, says this: “Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born….Yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch on part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.” Worth remembering as we make summer trips to visit family.