Tag Archives: leadership

Language and Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to overhear a conversation that warmed my heart. It made me hopeful for the future. It reminded me that truth will always find a way out, no matter who tries to lock it up. It reminds me that in every generation, God gifts some with special talents and extra intellect. It reminds me that we must never stop praying for the upcoming generations. When we look at those in leadership in our nation and our states and our cities, we may be very tempted to wonder if he skipped a generation or two.

The conversation that encouraged me took place between a thirteen-year-old boy and a fifty-year-old man. The man asked about something the boy had recently done for a club at school. The boy had made a speech on the subject of global warming as a project for a debate in the club. When asked what side he took, the boy replied that he spoke about man-made global warming as a hoax.

The older man was surprised. “A hoax?” he asked. “What made you think it was a hoax?” The boy replied that he went to the library and found a great deal of information about weather and climate that refuted the allegations of people who support the claims for man-made global warming.

“Well,” the man said, “What led you to choose this subject?” The boy replied that he overheard two people in a drug store talking about the weather. Both were concerned because of the severe winter and the lingering cold weather after the first day of spring. “They couldn’t understand why it was cold,” he said, “but they both said it didn’t prove that there was no global warming.”

“What did you think?” the man asked. “I decided I would just look for whatever I could find, and then I would know,” the boy replied.

Lest you think this boy was coached, I must assure you that he was not. This boy spoke without any help from anyone. He had no notes. His mother did not interrupt to correct things. He did not even have a teleprompter. He never stopped to say “uh … uh … uh….” He also did not use the words “like” or “awesome.” He spoke in complete, grammatically correct sentences.

It was a pleasure to listen to this conversation for a variety of reasons.

First, the boy was coherent and confident. At the age of thirteen, he knows when he knows something, and he is able to communicate what he knows in clear language. His communication skills are not only exceptional by comparison with many young people his own age. His communication skills exceed those of the President of the United States. It makes me sad when I hear a young person who is not able to say what he means. It is like watching someone trapped in a net. It is a crying shame to hear an adolescent who is unable to say what he means or to tell a story in language that permits the hearer to enjoy the experience. Children who want to describe a magnificent sight struggle saying “It’s like you know awesome! Amazing!” and nobody really knows what they are talking about.

Second, the boy thought for himself. He didn’t say that his teacher told him that man-made global warming is a myth. He also did not say that his teacher told him that man-made global warming is the coming Armageddon. In fact, it was quite impressive that he used the term “man-made global warming” rather than simply “global warming.” He knew the difference in the meaning of the two phrases. He recognized that the real subject of the political debate is whether the world is getting warmer because of human use of fossil fuel. He did not confuse that proposition with any observations of the natural geology, astronomy and meteorology of the earth.

Finally, he was humble. Matter-of-fact. He never even referred to the proponents of man-made global warming at all. He talked about the ideas, but he did not talk about advocates for any viewpoint. No argumentum ad hominem. He did not refer to his feelings about either side of the argument. He simply discussed the issue and his research methods. I could not tell if he felt proud of his work or validated by winning an argument. He did not seem to care what anyone else thought or felt about what he believed to be truth.

To hear this conversation made me feel something. Peace. Sometimes I wonder what will become of the world when the last thinker dies. When I listen to commentators on television who are unable to distinguish fact from opinion or who believe they have performed astute analysis when they dream up a label that scornfully dismisses and belittles the opposition. Sometimes I despair of the future. Every so often I hear someone speak with the coherence and confidence of this young man, and then, no matter the age of the speaker, I relax. Recently speeches by Dr. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have had that sort of effect on me. They speak of the world around us in terms that make sense, and they speak of ideas that fit with reality. They know the difference between facts, ideas, and wishful thinking. They do not need to destroy someone else’s reputation in order to build up their own.

This young boy spoke in that manner. It was refreshing and comforting and inspiring. This is what God hoped for when he gave human beings, alone among all the animals, the gift of speech. It is God’s gift of speech that allows him to communicate with us in the Bible. Yet people who are unable to communicate with other people will never get the message of the Bible. Someone whose vocabulary is limited to “whatever” and “weird” will not absorb the passion which shapes the psalms or the lofty rhetoric of Paul’s writings. God is able to communicate in the language of spirit, and people can, too, but the fact is that most of us find comfort in meaningful language. To hear a young person who is comfortable in his native language is encouraging. All great leaders have the gift of language, the lack of which is one of the reasons our President flounders in communicating his agenda. Whether or not one agrees with his agenda, it is painful to wait while he labors to find his way to a complete sentence on the subject.

I am probably too easily impressed. Maybe you hear gifted young children every day. I don’t. I know there are some. I have grandchildren among whom there are a couple of talented speakers. Still, it is a treasure like the pearl of great price Jesus spoke of.

Pray for the leaders we have today. Pray that they will have the gift to see truth and to speak truth. Pray for the children and their teachers. Pray that they, too, will have the gift to see truth and to speak truth. Pray that they will learn to use the gift of language with skill and integrity. Then there will be hope for the future.

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Everybody’s Son Looks Like Trayvon

We all pray for justice as a nation waits for the outcome of law enforcement investigations into the death of a Florida teen shot by a man who claims he was under attack. Responding to national concerns, our president has weighed in. You would expect our president to speak words that heal and help. Ordinarily, presidents do not comment on local police work, but the pain of people whose emotions have been played like accordions by media from coast to coast is boiling up over a perception that justice will not be done in Trayvon’s case. This year there has been more usage of the terms “race” and “racist” than I ever heard during the sixties, and the civil rights work of the sixties supposedly ended the need to identify people by race. As the parents of Trayvon Martin grieve the loss of their child, political leaders and the national media are in a feeding frenzy to make this event into an example of racial warfare. Our president had a perfect opportunity to heal and help in this situation, but he failed.

Healing and helping is what the people need. As Christians, we believe this is a chronic need of the whole human race, but we recognize that there are specific events where the need becomes critical. The death of Trayvon Williams is one of those events. When the president felt compassion and empathy with the parents of this teenage boy, he expressed that compassion, and that was the right thing to do. However, the words he chose were not healing and helping; they were divisive. The president focused on the color of his own skin, and identified with the color of Trayvon’s skin. As a nation, we have seen way too much color identification. The president needed to speak words that demonstrate the compassion any parent feels at the death of a child. If he had simply said, “Everybody’s son looks like Trayvon,” a nation of parents would immediately have recognized the common bond of all parents who love their children. Instead, everyone immediately thought, “Oh yes, the president is black, and so was Trayvon.” The tragedy of Trayvon’s death is not that he was black; the tragedy is that he is dead. A child. A mother will never again hold that beloved son in her arms. A father will never again see the dream of a better future for his son. Every parent knows that feeling, and every parent shares the pain when a son dies. If our president wants us all to pull together, then he needs to help by leadership that focuses on the things that pull us together.

One can forgive a father for lashing out, speaking from within his grief to say that he wants an arrest, a conviction and an execution. It is easy to believe that a grieving parent would speak such words. It is shameful, however, for political leaders and media spokespersons to agitate people to join in the same cry. Our president, as the chief executive, as the chief law enforcement official in the federal government, is uniquely positioned to bring healing in the face of a father’s anguish. The father is grieving, and people in his neighborhood are fearful. They all wonder if they can trust the local and state law enforcement officials to bring justice to bear on this situation. They wonder if justice will be done. The president could have spoken words to build up trust in law enforcement. He could have said that he trusts that the local law enforcement officials and the state law enforcement officials will do what it takes to discover all the facts and bring the situation to a just conclusion. If the president said words with that message, a lot of people would have taken comfort and found some peace to await the outcome with greater confidence that justice will prevail.

Two elements complicate people’s reactions to this death. First, there is a state law in Florida that allows a person who feels threatened to respond in kind. The law was passed as a response to legal cases where people were deemed to be criminals when they simply defended themselves. Second, the person who shot Trayvon was licensed to carry a gun. The outcry over the way law enforcement officials are managing the investigation says that the law is an outrage and should be repealed and that all guns should be taken away from private citizens. It is a classic example of the way agitators can turn the discussion of a problem away from the problem to something that is on their agenda. Neither the law that allows self-defense nor the right of citizens to bear arms killed Trayvon. A man killed Trayvon, and the law determines what happens as a consequence of that act. As Christians, we all have opinions about the law authorizing self-defense, and we all have opinions about the right to bear arms. There is a place for these discussions. However, as Christians, we have a pre-eminent concern for truth. Arguing about these two subjects does not further the investigation to find the truth. What is the truth in this situation? We do not yet know. Arguing about the law and the gun take everyone off the real question: Was the death of Trayvon Martin a murder or an act of self-defense? What we need most of all is the truth that will answer that question.

The president also missed a golden opportunity to guide people to patience. If he had spoken words to build trust in law enforcement, he could have counseled patience for the process of investigation to work. Already we have seen that despite initial evidence that looked one way, additional evidence from a different perspective on the story is coming to light. Real investigation takes time. If the people who grieve Trayvon’s death really want justice, then they need to make time for the thorough investigation required for real justice.

Finally, the president failed to do anything to calm the streets. People want to march and shout and demand, and they have a right to do that, but sadly, that kind of behavior is irrelevant to the investigation of Trayvon’s death. The investigation to get the facts will not be assisted or made more professional by the marchers. They need to understand that while they have a right to grieve and they have a right to their opinions, justice is not about opinions. Justice is about truth. What is needed for real justice is the time and effort to get the truth. Our president could have said words that would help people understand that it takes time, but he did not do that.

Our president, to whom people look for leadership in times of crisis, failed to lead. Instead, he practiced identity politics (Trayvon and he have the same color skin) instead of unifying the nation and specifically all parents. Our president failed the country in general and law enforcement in particular by failing to build people’s trust in the process. Finally, he failed to reassure Trayvon’s parents and all the people who grieve with them that justice will indeed be achieved by doing the work it takes to find the truth. They can march if they need to, but they don’t have to march to obtain justice.

As Christians, we need to pray for our president daily, even hourly if that is possible. We need to pray for him to be a strong, effective leader. We need to pray that, if he is tempted to use a situation like this to practice politics, God will give him the wisdom to resist that temptation. We need to pray that he will use his power and influence to calm the people who are agitating citizens to doubt that justice will be done. Even more, we need to pray for Trayvon Martin’s parents, who will never get their son back, whether justice is done or not. If the shooter were arrested and tried and executed in the next twenty-four hours as a response to their grief, without regard for truth or justice, Trayvon would not rise from the dead.

I am praying for the president, and I am praying for all the people involved in investigating this crime. But I am praying most fervently for Trayvon Martin’s parents. This time next year, and this time in 2022, Trayvon’s parents will still miss him. Everybody’s son looks just like Trayvon, especially if he is dead.

The Need is not the Call

I receive a daily newsletter from Michael Hyatt. I’m not an executive of anything, but I think anybody can learn from leaders. Those of us who simply want to be more intentional when we write or speak are actually leading when we refuse to follow. So I mine his daily newsletter for guidance and inspiration.

Today’s topic could easily have led me to skip the newsletter. I’m glad I didn’t. The topic is coaching for pastors. I’m not a pastor, and I can’t afford coaching. I read the newsletter anyway. For the same reason I always read it. I never know what little gem will be embedded in there somewhere.

Today’s gem is this: the need is not the call. In an interview with Michael Hyatt, Dick Savidge gave an example of the value of coaching for a pastor, explaining how one pastor improved his work and his life after learning this important principle. I do believe that every Christian could benefit by learning this truth.

Among the many problems every person faces in our busy 21st century lives is the pressure to do good. We all are solicited by NGOs, by our churches and by our neighbors with causes to do good things. The television bombards us with requests for money for the hungry, the abused, and the enslaved. Our children need us. Our communities need us. There are so many needs.

The need is not the call.

You might think that a pastor would easily distinguish among the many needs that knock on his door and readily discern which ones God wanted him to give priority to. It isn’t easy even for pastors. And it isn’t easy for you and me. But we need to learn how to do it. None of us can effectively do what God created us to do unless we know how to discern what he is actually calling us to do.

Jesus gave us a terrific example of the right way to solve this problem in the gospel of Mark. After being tempted by Satan, and after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching. He called the first four disciples as he was traveling around, and he went to Capernaum where Peter and Andrew lived. In the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus was invited to speak, and we know what his message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14) He was interrupted by a needy man. The demon who possessed the man shouted and interrupted the teaching and distracted the listeners from the wonderful message. Jesus loved the tormented man. He cast the demon out, thereby setting the man free. He met a need that people understood, and they were in awe.

The Bible tells us that the rest of the day was filled up with needy people. If Mary, the sister of Martha, had been there, she would no doubt have run up to Jesus after he got to Peter’s house and said, “Master, tell us more. Tell us about the kingdom of God.” But there is no record that anybody asked him that question. They were all caught up in the spectacle of the exorcism in the synagogue, and the excitement only increased when news got out that he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, too. By the time Sabbath was over, the house was surrounded by needy people – the sick, the crippled, and the demon-possessed.

According to Mark, Jesus gently took care of all those needs. He helped people, because he loved people. The next morning, when another crowd began to gather, there were more needy people. Jesus, however, was nowhere to be found. When Peter and Andrew did find him, he was all alone somewhere praying. Praying. When all these people needed him. And when Peter and Andrew told Jesus that everyone was looking for him, Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38) It must have shocked these two who were very new disciples that Jesus was going to ignore all these needy people.

Jesus knew that the need was not the call. Jesus, however, had been out there in that lonely place, wherever it was, praying. It is not hard to guess what he was praying about. He had spent the previous evening taking care of needs. Starting at sunset, and going into the night, he had healed and helped many people. After what must have been a short night, Jesus had left the house before sunrise in order to pray. He had found an isolated spot and there he spent time in prayer. Because he turned to his father for guidance, he was able to finally discern that the need was not the call. By the time his disciples found him, he was confirmed through prayer in the central focus of his call. His call was to take his real message to many more people. Healing a few people and casting out a few demons was not going to transform the world.

There is a bigger question here, of course, than simply discerning the call. A lot of people will ask in an accusing tone, “Well then, what is God going to do for all those needy people? Are we just supposed to leave them in their need?” They might even feel so bold as to say that to Jesus. The disciples almost certainly asked that question, although their tone was probably more respectful. If I have an opportunity to help needy people and I pass it up because I am focused on the work God is calling me to do, I am subject to be asked the same questions. A pastor will absolutely be judged and criticized when he delegates any need to another staff member or to some other agency altogether. The world is watching us. The watchers will pounce on us when we say that somebody’s need is not our call.

The only way to make that decision is the way Jesus did it. He went to God in prayer. We don’t know how long before sunrise Jesus left the house for this purpose, but it was considerably after sunrise, after the crowd had started to gather, after the house had been searched and the neighbors had looked here and there, after people had had time to engage in all sorts of speculation that Peter and Andrew finally ranged far enough afield to find Jesus. There was a good deal of time for Jesus to pray through his conflicting demands and come to the conclusion that all these needs were not his call. His call was to take his message throughout Galilee, the message that would transform many people and eventually take him to the cross.

I don’t equate myself with Jesus. I don’t even equate myself with anyone called to be a pastor. But I have a calling. In order to fulfill my call, there are things I cannot do. I cannot do all the good things that need to be done. I cannot help every good cause. Because if I did, I would never be able to fulfill the purpose for which God called me. This work would go undone. Like Jesus in Capernaum, I need to pray daily for wisdom and discernment, because I am certainly not more wise than Jesus. I absolutely must pray in order to have any certainty that I am choosing to do the work God actually wants me to do. I struggle constantly with the fear that I am wasting my time, anyway, and that feeling certainly undercuts my willingness to assert that any particular need is not my call. That concern takes a lot of prayer. I don’t even know that I have it right yet.

Still I am comforted to be reminded that the need is not the call. It is important to remember that God did create me for a reason. I am not an accident. He has important and fulfilling work for me to do. It is quite worthwhile for me to spend the time it takes to discern between needs and calls. I thank God for his call to me, and I pray to be a faithful servant to complete the call I have received.