Chaos!

It was a tough week. I can’t point to a lot of specific incidents or situations that made the week so difficult, but the overall tone of the past few days had been a low rumble.

Everything felt chaotic. Nothing made sense. Things that should be simple and straight-forward seemed cloudy and difficult. All I could see was disorganization and gaps and question marks.

Like many people, I can be my worst critic and that I was, relentlessly so, this past week.

My temperament makes me particularly appreciative of predictability and order and routine. A bit ironic considering I am the executive pastor at a young, Pentecostal church! (Regardless of vocation though, in my experience, a life following Jesus is never predictable, amen?) As I head into my sophomore year of leading leaders, I am more certain than ever before that the chaos isn’t going anywhere!

A degree of chaos is a thing to be anticipated, not to be surprised by so much. (Someone remind me of this point in about 48 hrs. My short-term memory is less than impressive.)

Therefore, the name of the game is not eradicating the chaos, but learning how to manage it. Chaos has taken up permanent residence in my life to some extent. However, what I’m coming to believe and remind myself of on a daily basis is that its presence in my life, in my church, in my staff, isn’t necessarily always a reflection of my leadership skills or lack there of.

Its presence can’t change the unchangeable.

Chaos is not always a bi-product of poor planning or bad decisions.

Sometimes it’s just flat chaotic. Sometimes no amount of planning would have prepared you for that phone call. No pros & cons list would have warned you of the results you just got. You can read all the leadership blogs and attend all the conferences you want- they can’t teach you to banish the chaos. (At least not in a way that doesn’t make your system your god.)

Even ‘managing’ the chaos might be more ambitious than is reasonable or possible. Perhaps a better way to say it is making peace with the chaos. I’ve decided it’s a bit like bull-riding (which I clearly know a lot about?!). The goal isn’t to domesticate the bull or teach it how to sit or roll over. The goal is to stay on that angry cow for eight seconds!

(That’s hilarious. Angry cow of chaos. That’s my new name for it.)

Weather, traffic, power outages, sleep deprivation, hunger, a flat tire, a lack of leadership, selfishness, incompetency, mistakes– the number of things that contribute to the angry cow of chaos we found ourselves riding are a bit irrelevant sometimes.

Hang on. The round will end. A reprieve will come. It won’t last for nearly as long as you’d like, but it will be enough.

Enough to rise to the next occasion.

Enough to keep you dependent on your Maker.

Enough to remind you that grace is the only thing that keeps you from being trampled to death by the ever-present wild beasts of chaos.

the wonderment of baptism

Every baptism service we have at Renovatus is extraordinary. We’ve baptized in a borrowed Baptist church, a hundred year-old elementary school auditorium, a shopping mall headed into foreclosure, the Atlantic, and now years later in a traditional sanctuary of our very own.

Let me be clear: the scenery isn’t what makes it extraordinary. The baptismal we most commonly use is a glorified bathtub wrapped in wood and on casters! The time slot isn’t what does it-we’ve baptized on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. (Though last year we baptized by candlelight at Midnight on Easter and that actually was a pretty memorable timeslot!)

Pastor Jonathan baptized me at our first baptismal service over five years ago. Since then, each time I help baptismal candidates line up with their towels and their nervousness to wade in deeper with the Lord, my heart races a bit. I smile really big as they are brought before the congregation. I hold back the tears as they share a bit of their story with us, and then I cheer like no one’s business when they come up out of the water and hug their pastor.

The old being put to death and the new coming to life in such a clear, demonstrative way is nothing less than remarkable. The bodies are as unique as the stories embedded in them—diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status. But the baptismal water is no respecter of persons; it is the great equalizer. Neither male nor female, slave nor free, rich nor poor—the old markers and old stories are now submerged into one story: the story of death and resurrection.

While we encourage people to sign up in advance and to bring friends and family to witness this mysterious sacrament, we also leave room for the Spirit to move in real time during service. If someone wants to be baptized on the spot, we are always ready & willing! Much like the eunuch in Acts 8 who said to Phillip, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” In other words, why not here? Why not now?

I certainly don’t want a lack of preparation on our part to hinder anyone from being baptized! That’s why we stock up each time on t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and underwear and ponytail holders and towels a plenty. (It’s a really awkward trip to Target, let me tell you!)

A missionary from our church who works in a part of the world that is closed to the gospel just shared with us about a friend of hers becoming a believer and the subsequent baptism in the bathtub that came with it. How beautiful is that?

Baptism is brave and weird and awkward and messy and breathtakingly beautiful.

It is the mystery of death and life summed up in single moment that changes everything.

From my vantage point, I can account for all the logistical elements that go into a baptismal service. There is nothing mystical about the mechanics of filling the pool or buying the shorts or folding the towels. But what I can’t see, what I cannot account for, is the enchantment of deeper and holier things that take place in the water. I cannot account for the sense of awe that lingers long after the moment is passed.

What I can testify to is the baptism by-proxy into wonderment I receive time and time again.

The Reluctant Pioneer

When I’m old and wise and have life stories to tell, I think I’ll call my memoir The Reluctant Pioneer.

Until then, I’ll just use it for a blog post.

I think I was born to pioneer.

(To be clear, not in the traditional “settler” or “frontier woman” way- I don’t know how to sew or ring a chicken or mill wheat or milk a cow or anything.  But in the ever-exploring, “building something new” kind of way.  Hopefully you see the distinction.)

And I say ‘reluctant’ because pioneering is not something that I seek out.  It’s not even something I particularly feel gifted in.  I am not the fearless, risk-taking type. By nature, I love order and predictability.  I love knowing what to expect and I like rules!  I also really hate to fail.

My idea of a pioneer is a daring dreamer who thrives on chance and defying odds.  No part of that sentence describes me.

Even so, despite my very precise picture of a pioneer, it seems I am eternally curious and like a good challenge more than I care to admit. Thus, I always seem to find myself somewhere new, working on something new– creating, establishing, shaping.

I’m not a true pioneer, but I apparently get pretty inspired by them and can’t seem to resist joining the team!  How else could I explain how I ended up as the Executive Pastor at Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC?!

My husband Nathan and I moved from Columbus, GA to Charlotte, NC in 2006.  We had some dear friends who we deeply believed in that felt called to plant a church. Years prior we promised that when that time came, we would pack our bags and follow them wherever they started this new work.  We began our plans to move with no idea where we’d live once we got here or what jobs we’d find to support ourselves, but we were up for the adventure.

Renovatus was officially commissioned that year and there was a lot to do.  Pastor Jonathan asked me to be his administrative assistant and run the church office on a part-time basis.  I was his first hire.

So, here we were a new church with 2 employees; the Lead Pastor who has never been a lead pastor before and an admin assistant who had never assisted before.  Oh, and a host of volunteer staff who also had no prior direct experience in the areas they were serving.  It was QUITE a learning curve.  It was a long season of pioneering on every front.  We were making it up as we went as best as we could.  As my friend Mat likes to say, we were building the boat while out at sea.  And that’s not the easiest way to build a boat, my friend!

Since then, every season of growth thereafter for the church has brought about new endeavors to pioneer.

Some we receive with joy and exuberance.  Others with more reluctance and discomfort than you can know.

In some we soar.  In others we flail about just trying to get off the ground.  In all of them we learn.  (As an aside: Sometimes I think learning is enough.  But in more than one of those occasions I’d maintain that learning is overrated!)

Planting a church, growing a church, being the church is non-stop pioneering.  Almost 6 years in, I’m still learning to embrace it.  I’m still learning to lean into the adventure and walk by faith.

Here are a few beautiful things I’ve reluctantly learned about pioneering along the way:

1.  Pioneering is quite the crucible!  New challenges are refining and developing.  Character is revealed.  Leaders and ideas emerge from unlikely places.

2.  Pioneering keeps you open.  Keeps you expectant.  Keeps you curious. Every idea is worth exploring and every option is entertained. Everything has potential and possibility when you are a pioneer.  In this way, pioneering can often foster humility & imagination.  It can also help keep cynicism & close-mindedness at bay.

3.  Pioneering keeps you dependent.  I once heard Dallas Willard speaking on the subject of dependence upon the Lord.  Someone attempted to challenge him and said, “We can’t always live at the end of our rope, though, right?”  His reply was simply, “I don’t know where else you’d live.”

Pioneering is the perfect means by which you reluctantly take up permanent residence at the end of your rope and hang on for dear Life.

The Discipline of Becoming All Things

We have a document called the Renovatus Manifesto. It’s our code, our culture in written form. It hangs on our walls, it’s on our website, it’s part of our language. One of the themes throughout is the emphasis we place on diversity. It’s really important to us that we honor people of all kinds.

The difficulty in doing that well is that each of us sees the world through our own eyes. We lead from our perspective, our strengths, our convictions. And while I fundamentally believe that to be good and wise, I’m starting to realize the potential blindspots we create by only leading from our own perspective, our strength.

We lose a lot by not disciplining ourselves to consider the perspective of others.

How do you learn? What engages you? What is distracting to you? What do you notice? What do you value? How do you see it?

It is only natural that we gravitate to those who see things the way we do. It is perfectly understandable why we resonate with those who share our opinions and inclinations. But gravity is quite a force and before you know it, our perspective can begin to feel authoritative and superior, as it becomes the only one we acknowledge in ourselves and our like-minded company we keep. We’d never say it that way- no, we’d dress it up in some humble language and explain ourselves using our education, our degrees, our training, our experience, our position.

In the name of protecting the vision or not diluting the mission, we can easily justify our pride, our elitism and close-mindedness, our insecurities and our comfort zones.

We have to see the entire field, consider other vantage points. What is ministry if it’s not a willingness to come alongside someone and walk with them, trying to see from their perspective?

Our worship, our preaching, our programs, our art, our curriculum– all of the church must be built with all of the church in mind. 

Let me be clear: I am not advocating a myriad of ministries to cater to any and every demographic, phase of life, and interest represented in the church.  What I am saying is that the ministries we do have need to stay accessible to the very people for which they were created.

I am also not advocating a futile attempt at trying to please all of the people all of the time. But I’m begging that we are considerate and mindful of them all whenever we can be. I do think we have a responsibility, just as the Apostle Paul did, to become all things to all people in order that we might save some. (I Cor. 9.19-22)

We cannot afford to hold our own inclinations and preferences so tightly that we cannot embrace another’s.

Ministry is messy and self-sacrificing. It requires learning how to speak someone else’s language.  It is incredibly inventive, no matter the “type” of ministry being done.
People worship differently. Children learn differently. We all experience the Lord in a multitude of ways.

For that reason, it is incredibly important that we fight our own personal defaults so that we can be free to think creatively of how we can become all things to all people.  May we cultivate the discipline to pray, learn and try whatever ways we can that lead to effective ministry and the honoring of complex, diverse people made in the image of God.

Many Are the Plans

I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 16.9.  It’s burned into my soul by now, but in case you aren’t as familiar with it yet, it goes like this:

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”

You can see where this is going now, huh?

I learned it as a new believer over a decade ago.  It resonated with me as a college student, full of plans and timelines.  And every time those plans blew up or the timeline came to a screeching halt, it was the one thing I could hear in the silence.

As I’ve grown a bit and made some significant life changes along the way, the Lord and I have a playful relationship when it comes to me and my plans.  I Google things and ask lots of questions and research options A, B, and C.  And most of the time I even have a contingency for each, just to be sure.  But the irony in it all is that the Lord RARELY sees fit to go with my plan.  He humors me as I scheme and strategize. But inevitably, at some point when I’m finally willing (or sometimes forced) to submit my plans to Him, He responds by kindly messing up my deal.  Yep. I’m aware this is not the most articulate way to express it, but that is exactly what is happening.  I throw my hands up and say “AGH! There You go again, messing up my deal!”  and then He proceeds to order my steps with the most loving and gracious and good plans.  Every single time.

I honestly hoped that I’d outgrow or outrun Proverbs 16.9 eventually, but it always seems to know how to find me.  And most days I can be found at Renovatus, where I am inevitably reminded of this particular truth!  Nevertheless, the proverb is a good one to own when you are a Spirit-led church, desperate to go where He sends you, resolved to faithfully do whatever He puts in your hands to do.   But MAN it can be frustrating sometimes and is not altogether unlike trying to hit an ever-moving target!  Because while the church is a living, breathing organism, dynamic and organic, she is also an organization that needs some semblance of structure and a plan!  Amen?

In 2009 Renovatus began renovating a movie theater inside a shopping mall in great decline on the east side of Charlotte.  It would become our offices and worship space.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We had big dreams about what God could do through us in the community.  We had big plans.  We worked really hard on those plans.  And 9 months after we moved in, the landlord filed bankruptcy and the entire mall went into foreclosure.  We had 60 days to come up with a new plan.

Now on the one hand, we were heartbroken.  We poured so much sweat and time and resource into upfitting the space and developing relationships in the area.  We had persevered through some serious challenges to be there and it felt like we had just begun to dig in when our notice was delivered.  (Quick aside: There is nothing quite like calling your lead pastor while he’s out of town to inform him that his congregation is being displaced in less than 2 months.)

On the other hand, no one panicked.  No one plummeted into despair.  There was no sackcloth and ashes.  There was a deep peace and confidence surrounding us.  Ultimately, we all knew there was no doubt that the Lord would give us somewhere new to go, something else to do.  And He did.

The “plan” is never the end game anyway, just the means.  And the Lord is infinitely creative with the means.

The lesson in all of this for me, for Renovatus, for anyone is simply to surrender.  It is right and good and biblical to plan.  It is God-honoring to steward resources well and to organize work effectively.  But all of it must constantly be laid on the altar before the Lord.  It must always be offered up in open hands raised high before the King.  We do this so we don’t end up worshiping the strategy & systems we’ve created.  We do this to avoid the subtle drift that leads us to bowing down before man-made 5 year plans that make us feel accomplished and productive but leave no room for obedience in a moment’s notice.

We surrender.

God, in His wisdom and by his grace, equipped us with minds and hearts by which we can make some truly amazing plans.  But the minds, the hearts, and the plans–it’s all His for the taking.  And no matter how frustrating or disappointing or confusing it can be in the moment when it feels like He’s once again “messing up your deal,” you cling to the knowledge that the Father is incapable of being anything but good and loving toward you.

You recognize that “deal” He is supposedly messing up was never yours to begin with and that His ordering of your steps is ultimately the only plan worth following anyway.

Good Leaders Are…

I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.

Good leaders are good learners.

I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own.  Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all.  While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.

What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within.  Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing.  It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.

I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.”  What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation?  I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness.  The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success.  Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.

Good leaders are good followers.

The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers.  And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them.  I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be.  Followership could never be overrated.  In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership.  Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.

Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life.   If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another.  I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?  If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind.  But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”

Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us.  Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly.  If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?

Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.

Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate.  I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness.  And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well.  Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye.  It’s a most unattractive quality.  Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!

Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making.  And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them.  It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well.  It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.

Good leaders are good at delegating.

I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE!  She was pretty genius at it, too.  Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others.  Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.

Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders.  If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well.  This can be an intimidating practice at first.  Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.

“What if he does it better than I do?”

“What if they like her better?”

“What if I work myself out of a job?”

Good leaders are always looking ahead.  If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.

Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges.  But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement.  You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself.  If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure.  You have every reason to be really proud.  And you now have other things you need to go do!

Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration.  People want to be noticed.  People want to be challenged.  People want to be a part.  Give them a part!  (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)

It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small.  It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.

Friendship is not optional.

I have a rare gift.  4 of them actually.

I have 4 best friends from college.  We have been a part of each other’s lives for well over a decade.  Nearly every major event of my adult life includes them.  It doesn’t matter how much time passes between our conversations or trips.  We usually have 1-2 weekends together each year, which is no small feat considering our schedules, careers, families and geography!  And if you were to ask what we do when together, the locale may change from time to time, but the content is the same:  thorough updates from each of us with Q&A to follow, an obscene amount of junk food, retelling the same stories we’ve been telling for the last 12-15 years, laughing until we cry, and sometimes a little crying until we can laugh again.

I don’t get excited about much, generally speaking, but the 4-5 days that precede a girls’ weekend, I am positively giddy. The moment I set eyes on those girls, I am home.

We’ve grown a lot over the years.  We are different women now than the college girls we were at the turn of the century.  Our interests, opinions, theology, and politics are not the common ground.  (Which is really fortunate for me, otherwise I’d be quite the black sheep, I think!)  I’m honestly not sure that there is a lot of “common ground” these days outside of a deep love for Jesus and for each other.  Somehow, that makes the friendship that much sweeter to me.  It is not out of convenience or proximity or hobbies that our friendship endures.  It is the faithfulness, investment and simple joy of each other’s company that bounds us together.

A few years ago I stumbled upon this Henri J.M. Nouwen quote: ““When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

I immediately sent it to those 4 women.  We have walked together through death and through new life; through moments of absolute celebration and seasons of complete devastation and everything in between.  They embody all that I know to be true and beautiful about friendship and faithfulness.

I say all of this to simply say:  Friendship is really important.  It can be tempting to consider friendship as optional, as luxury.  Many of us have healthy familial relationships and would say our spouse or our parents are our dearest friends.  That is a rich blessing, indeed.  However, the very definition of friend is:  “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”  We need a handful of people who aren’t bound by blood or covenant to love us, but who do so really well anyway.

Who knows you?  Whose advice do you value more than others? Who do you want by your side when you receive the best and the worst of news? Who is going to sit in the silence of a difficult moment with you?  Who is going to say the hard thing you don’t want to hear, but desperately need to hear?  Who’s company leaves you encouraged and hopeful?  Who are the people that make you feel most like yourself, but inspire you to be all the more so?  Who keeps you sane?

Those are your friends, or at least your potential friends.  You may not have a childhood best friend or someone who has known you for a dozen years and could anticipate your every thought or inclination before you could.  That’s ok!  New friendships bring a joy of their own.  You might be in a new season of life and some old friendships aren’t enduring and it feels like starting from scratch.  You may not know who you’d call or who would come running with no questions asked.   In those times, instead of busying yourself with another distraction, think and pray about who you would want to answer your call.  Who would you like to be sitting next to you on the couch? Pursue her. Pursue him. (Yes, friendship is essential for men, too!)  If you are in a relationship and friendship can be found in another couple, pursue them! Pursuit is the point here!

My 4 aren’t my only 4.  Moving to Charlotte six years ago created a need for community and friendship that could be found within at least a 30-45 minute radius!  And while it’s rarely “easy” to me to reach out, I have to remind myself that it’s good for me. It’s worth it.  It’s worth the risk; it’s worth the investment.  It’s worth pushing past the awkwardness, digging deeper than the casual conversation.  The discovery of a treasured friend far outweighs the effort it took to get there.

I consider my dearest friends among my richest blessings as I feel completely undeserving of each of them.  I do not call as often as I should.  I rarely remember birthdays or anniversaries.  (And if I do, the card sits on my desk for months and never gets mailed!) I am full of good intentions and execute only a fraction of them.  I feel like I fail them more than I life them up most of the time.  Yet, by God’s grace, they remain.

True friendship is not optional, if for no other reason than we need the constant reminder of our most gracious and loving Friend that is found in the face of another.

Shades of Grey

I have a love-hate relationship with “grey.”  The color, the concept, any and every expression of the word, really.

It feels at times indecisive, complex, mysterious, ambiguous, indefinable, unaccountable to me.  Somehow, “grey” can’t be judged on any grounds.  It gets a pass.  It is as if there exists no filters or rules outside of black and white.  I like black.  I like white.  I know what to do with them.  I like the contrast, I like the clarity.

I am surrounded by some really brilliant, beautiful people.  Many of them are gifted artists and creative minds.  They, unlike me, love grey.  They find it inspiring and textured and nuanced and interesting.

I do not.  I want to wrestle it down and make it decide what it will be.  Black or White.  Take your pick, but those are your choices.

My way seems like a much simpler way to live, right?  Except the longer I try to live seeing only in black & white, the more blind I become.  Blind to a world full of complicated, broken people.  Blind to my own nuanced thoughts and emotions.  We are filled with great intentions and mixed motivations.  We are selfish and ambitious and generous and noble.  Nothing stays entirely black or white for long, it would seem.

It is naive and overly simplistic not to acknowledge shades of grey.  Sure, the resolution or decision or action step might be quite clear, but to acknowledge the grey in a given situation, at least for me, is to practice empathy.  It is choosing to enter in to a subjective perspective, often one very different than my own.  It is to affirm the heart of another, even when it might be misguided and camoflaged in hurt or deception. It is to see the world with eyes of redemption rather than judgement.

And I’m no good at any of it.  Empathy is decidedly not my strong suit.  Ask any family member of mine.  Actually, please don’t!  Just take my word on it!  I do not naturally empathize.  I am quite impressive at judging.  I have to work really hard to perceive grayscale at all!  I score almost a perfect zero in gifts of mercy on  a spiritual gifts test.  I am not kidding!  You do not want me making hospital visits, you do not want me as a counselor.  And while it’d be easy for me to leave the “grey” to others better suited for it, to do so would be disobedience.  I am called to see the world as it was intended to be and as it one day will be again.  To settle for anything less would be flatly reductionistic.  And no one, not even I, like to be reduced to the confines of black or white.  There’s a lot of life happening and ministry to be done in all these shades of grey.  And I don’t want to be blind to any of it.

It Doesn’t Go Without Saying

I’ve adopted a new mantra this latter part of 2011: It doesn’t go without saying.

How did this come to be a mantra of mine you ask? Let me give you a few examples from my life (and surely yours as well):

“I just thought that went without saying.”

“I thought that’s what I was implying…”

“I assumed that was a given.”

“I thought you knew.”

Me: “AGH!!!! YOU THOUGHT WRONG!”

My experience is hardly unique in any of this, but it’s the only experience I’ve got, so that’s what you’re getting.

I am an external processor. I need a sounding board. I love brainstorming. I prefer dialogical communication. Q&A is like candy to me. It is far more unsettling to think about what a person might have on their mind and isn’t sharing vs. anything that might come out of their mouth. (Thus, it makes all the sense in the world why I not only started a blog, but also felt the need to write about talking! How much more external could my processing be?!)

I am fully aware of this mantra’s limits and am definitely not advocating verbalizing every thought that enters one’s mind. It is true that you cannot retract words spoken. Self-control is crucial. We all need to be discerning enough to know when to listen, when to choose words carefully, when to bite our tongues. But we also need to be discerning enough to know when regret or confusion or resentment or sin or all of the above will be the direct result of keeping quiet.

Logistically, I nearly lose my mind when something falls through the cracks or gets royally fumbled when it’s 100% preventable and due to a lack of communication. I’m not interested in watching the buck get passed or blame shifted. I want people to talk a thing through before it happens. YES, this can get painstakingly laborious. YES, this can border on nagging at times. YES, we all have different personalities. (Some prefer all the details in an Excel spreadsheet with a timeline attached and others pass out at the mere sight of bullet points.) However, when doing anything collaboratively, there is no getting around my mantra. Well, there is, but it’s not pretty!

Sometimes we severely underestimate what our thoughts mean to others. The voice, the perspective, the wisdom, the concern, the love within you needs to be heard more than you might realize. And it’s not always a hard conversation with a co-worker or an angsty 2 hour phone call with your sister. It’s not just a heart-to-heart with your spouse or your friend. The mantra is multi-purpose!! Everyone needs affirmation. Everyone is moved when told that their gifts are appreciated and that their work doesn’t go unnoticed. There are people around you that you admire and respect who have no idea. Who continually impresses you and would be floored to hear you say so? Who makes your life a little easier and how would they know the impact they make? Then, for the love, say so!

Say what you need to say.
(Go ahead, queue John Mayer. It’s ok. It’s a good song and is quite appropriate for this post!)

Because saying (rightly) what needs to be said is a good way to live.

Great Unmet Expectations

DISCLAIMER: To avoid a few potential unmet expectations about this post, let me say that these are thoughts I have largely regarding interpersonal communication in leadership. While I hope all this translates beyond the context I put it in, this is not so much about expectations you have of the Lord or even those that you have of yourself. For either of those 2 categories, I would much rather direct you to Pastor Jonathan Martin’s blog and/or podcasts!

Us leaders, we can get really frustrated (quite frequently) when those on our teams, whom we love and have invested a great deal of time, energy, prayer and resource into, seem to be falling short on a regular basis. Maybe it’s in the same areas, maybe not. Maybe it’s the same people, maybe not. Maybe it’s just not a “good fit” for them. Maybe you are hitting some spiritual resistance. Maybe they need more discipline or accountability or maturity. Maybe.

But maybe YOU, leader, are the problem. Or at least, part of it.

Because in my experience (and in Scripture, I should add) a good leader is always self-reflecting and looking for the conspicuous plank before becoming consumed with the irritating speck. When I do that, take a look at what I could do differently to facilitate change or growth in someone, 1 of 2 things is more often than not the case for me:

1. Either the expectation given wasn’t clear or wasn’t clearly communicated in ways that he or she could receive it.

OR

2. The expectation was unrealistic to begin with.

Either way, adjustment is required and must start with the leader.

When my husband, Nathan, and I were doing our pre-marital counseling 8+ years ago, our pastor at the time taught us the invaluable practice of repeating back to each other what we heard the other say. The point of the practice is to reveal discrepancies in what is actually being said versus what is being received. Doing this can be quite an enlightening experience! Even to this day we do this from time to time and it quickly clarifies the conversation. In leading people, we have to be sure that how & what we are communicating is actually computing the way we need it to! We ensure accuracy of the reception by speaking as plainly and directly as possible, by providing concrete examples, by giving written feedback and not relying solely on your verbal communication. We give plenty of room for dialogue and question asking. We define the “win” for them so they know what success looks like and how they know when they are moving toward it. We keep the expectation always in sight and revisit it from time to time.

But sometimes, no matter how clear a thing can be, it’s just not realistic. Clarity is no longer in question. It happens to all of us from time to time. We misjudge people’s abilities, underestimate the time & energy that is required to execute a particular assignment, or oversimplify the scope of a project. And in those times, we have to lead honestly enough to know when the disappointment or frustration we’re experiencing is of our own making.

Its never a fun thing to realize when you’ve set the bar too high or set it so ambiguously that you’re the only one who could see it. But remember that it’s certainly frustrating being the one trying to clear said bar and coming up short at every attempt. No one likes failing.

Do yourself and your team a favor by doing your part in limiting the potential for unmet expectations. For some of us that starts with committing not to create them in the first place!

Oh, and do me a favor and remind me of this post the next time you see me banging my head against the wall!