Tag Archives: Leadership

Surrounded

A few weeks ago we took our staff on a road trip for a conference and it was a great day.  While I learned a lot, my biggest takeaway had nothing to do with the workshops or sermons I heard.  It had everything to do with the company I was in.

I sat at the conference and looked around at our team.  I thought about each of their journeys, each of their giftings, each of their callings.  I was overwhelmed– at the faithfulness of the Lord in each of their own lives and His faithfulness to our church in bringing them to us.

I stood silent before Him thinking about the great lengths He’s gone through to raise each of them up for such a time as this.  I am proud simply to be counted among them.  When I consider it’s my job and honor to lead them, it’s completely mind-blowing to me in a way that I will never be able to describe and will likely never be comfortable with!

Don’t get me wrong.  Many days I bang my head on my desk and shout, “WHAT IS THIS DAY??!!”

I get crazy emails and annoying requests.  I have meetings I don’t want to be in to discuss problems that should have already been solved.  It is not easy being a leader and certainly not any easier being a leader of leaders in ministry.  What is easy is seeing all the cracks and blemishes and mistakes and gaps and balls being dropped.  If there were a degree to be had in scrutinizing, I’d have a doctorate by now.

But it’s a beautiful, I dare say holy, moment when the Lord allows you to see things the way He sees them.  When He enables you to see people the way He sees them.  When He delivers you from walking by sight.  When He lends you His perspective.

That was the kind of moment I had that Thursday.

I am surrounded by sons and daughters of God who desperately long to see His Kingdom come and His will be done.  I am surrounded by their compassion, their faith, and their perseverance.  Our church and our city testify to their labor and creativity.  Today I testify to all of those things, as well.

I have watched each of them stretch and grow.  We’ve prayed together and laughed together, and Lord knows we’ve eaten a lot together.  We’ve car danced together, cried together, and played together.

Sadly, we’ve hurt each other at times but we’ve certainly helped each other, too.  We are the better for all of it.  Perhaps much like Flannery O’Connor, we “can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

I am surrounded and I am kept by these leaders.  They inspire me and give me courage.  They share their faith with me when mine seems to be in short supply.  Each of them is a gift to me and a reminder of God’s goodness, day in and day out.  Even the days when my inner monologue would make a sailor blush and even in the moments that make me find something hard to bang my head against.  Even then.

Advertisements

Find the yes.

I am not an overly optimistic person.  I am pragmatic and rational.  But I am a firm believer in the value of finding the “yes.”

I do not say “yes” because it’s easy or because it’s always possible.  I say “yes” because I believe good followers need to be able to find the “yes” in what their leader is asking.  Let me be clear:  I do not think good leaders need “yes men” in the traditional sense of the phrase.  Emperors need to know when they are naked!  It is not loving nor following well to allow our leaders to be blindsided or shamed or fail because we neglected to muster the courage to speak truth.  HOWEVER, I do believe that finding the yes communicates a number of important things:

“Yes” publicly affirms our leaders.

“Yes” acknowledges your position as a man or woman under authority.

“Yes” creates a culture of humility and hard work on your team.

“Yes” demonstrates loyalty and honor.
Romans 12.10 says “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
What better way to demonstrate honor than finding a way to do what is being asked of you?

As a follower, I always want to be able to find the yes for my leaders.

As a leader, I greatly value those on my team who are able to be resourceful and creative enough to find me the yes.  More often than not when someone on my team tells me “no” it isn’t because they can’t do what is being asked.  It isn’t even out of defiance or pride or stubbornness.  It’s almost always because they either aren’t trying or thinking hard enough.

It doesn’t take much discernment or intelligence to find the problems or list the challenges in any given situation.  Anyone and everyone does that.  People who can identify the problem AND execute a solution?  Those people are invaluable to me.  They are the ones I want in every meeting with me, the ones I put more weight down on, the ones I look to invest in and develop.

For those of you who are more like me- that is, off the charts in SENSING on a Myers Briggs and nowhere near INTUITIVE- and are working for a dreamer, big picture visionary, which many ministry leaders and pastors are,  it is critical to be able to find the yes.  Dreamers do not appreciate your wet blanket or excuses or Eeyore spirit.  They might be able to understand your hesitation or concern IF you can communicate those things with honor AND if you can create an alternate path to the same destination.  Those who can find the “yes” more often than not prove themselves trustworthy and capable.  So when they need to come back with a “Plan B” for consideration because “Plan A” isn’t going to work, good leaders will listen.

Finding the yes doesn’t mean throwing caution and discernment to the wind.  It certainly doesn’t mean violating your conscience.  What it does mean is effort, investment, and ingenuity.

Find the yes for your leaders because the time will come when you will be counting on others to be able to find it for you.

A Leader & A Woman

Being a woman ain’t easy.  Being a woman in church leadership, well that is a whole other thing.  However, this is no pity-post.  Because while there are significant challenges to talk about, there are also significant opportunities to be seized, as well.

Here are some thoughts on both the problems & possibilities I encounter most regularly being a woman in ministry, and specifically in leading leaders:

Leading Other Women

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” -Madeleine Albright

Challenge:  This one is probably really shocking to everyone.  At first pass, we’d all think that women would be the biggest supporters and fans of other women in leadership.  Sisterhood and all that.  But we can get awfully territorial and jealous and insecure and threatened by each other at times, unfortunately.  And even in the best of cases where there is no suspicion or mistrust, there are relational sensitivities that plague us, especially in the face of conflict.

Opportunity:  Women can get a lot of stuff done once we are on the same page and committed to the cause/person.  It can just take some work to overcome initial roadblocks (see Challenge A above).  Women can be very protective of each other and care for each other really well.  Because many of us do invest emotionally and relationally in everything that we do, there is an all-in mentality that makes working with women really fulfilling and highly productive.

Facing condescension  and hypocrisy with grace

Challenge:  I work in one of the most egalitarian and supportive church environments a woman could hope for.  Still, not everyone in ministry and if I’m honest with myself, probably not everyone within my own church, has acclimated to women in church leadership.

My favorite is when my Pastor introduces me to other ministry leaders outside of our community.  They are all very kind and warm when he starts with “This is Tracey Rouse, my Executive” and then he finishes his sentence, “Pastor” which they immediately translate into “Assistant” until they realize those 2 words don’t sound anything alike and that they heard him incorrectly.  They quickly try to either mask their shock that a woman would have the second highest seat of authority in our church and play it cool OR they play up their shock in an attempt to provide some levity in the awkwardness.  Sometimes there is a bit of “girl power” rhetoric like women’s suffrage happened 5 minutes ago and we are so radical.

Pastor Jonathan: “This is Tracey Rouse, my executive pastor.”

Traveling evangelist:  “Executive PASTOR?! WHAT?! You go, girl!”

Me to myself:  “If he tries to fist bump me I might punch him.”

___

Me:  “Hi, I’m Tracey Rouse.  I’m the Executive Pastor here at Renovatus.”

Visitor: “So, you and your husband do that?”

Me:  “Nope, just me.  He stays home with our 2 daughters and also runs a theater & film company.”

Visitor:  Blank stare.  Long pause.   Does not compute.  “Oh… that’s great!”

___

Opportunity:  What an enormous exercise of grace & faith!  Grace for the ignorant- some people have honestly never conceived of women in pastoral roles, let alone met & worked or cared for one!  Grace for the close-minded- I wasn’t the one to close it and am not responsible for opening it either.  Grace to believe the best in others.  Sure, sometimes the condescension is overt.  But most of the time it is unintentional.  People don’t usually recognize their own preconceived notions of gender roles and while women in leadership isn’t novel or new for the corporate world, it is for the Church, which is typically a few decades behind the broader culture anyway.  There will always be generational hurdles to jump, theological minefields to cross, and social expectations to handle.  In those times, I want my response, both in my heart and in my speech, to be full of grace.

I walk by faith in my calling because I know and trust the One who called me.  I am convinced that the Lord alone is my Justifier.  Each time I face condescension I have a choice to make.  I can either attempt to defend and explain myself OR I can trust that the Lord alone qualifies me and let that be more than sufficient.  I will believe that I am included in the “we” referenced in 2 Peter 1.3 and that I have been granted all things that pertain to life and godliness by my gracious Father.  What else do I need?

On a bad day, all of these things, all of these scenarios can make me see red.  They can make me question my gifts and vocation.  Luckily, those days usually happen in the company of the most amazing staff who encourage me and follow me faithfully.  On good days those stories become good laughs.  I wrote a post a few months ago called Reluctant Pioneer.  It’s my actual life title.  Some people get to end their signatures with things like MD or PhD or Esq or DMin.  I’m going to try out Tracey M. Rouse, RP.  I’m not the first woman to be in church leadership and there are godly women in ministry facing far more daunting circumstances than anything that I will ever come across.  But nevertheless, it still feels like pioneering out here and the wild west doesn’t know quite what to do with us “little ladies” who are leading with strength and conviction.

A leader and a woman.  It’s intimidating, I know.  But you’ll see soon enough that the proof is in our work and our worth is not found in the hands of man, but in the face of Christ.

Amen?

 


Executing

The other day I determined that the biggest challenge for me about being an Executive Pastor (or any leader really, I suppose) is in the executing.  It’s much easier to talk about executing; to sketch out gameplans and org charts about what the execution would look like; to troubleshoot said hypothetical execution; to mull it over, consider all options & angles.

But alas, at some point a trigger has to be pulled.  At some point the calculated risk becomes actual risk.

The hard part is in the execution, is in making the call, in owning the call you’ve made–come what may.  And you’ll make some bad ones.  And you’ll have to take responsibility for those.  The good ones won’t move you nearly as far up the field as you hoped and it won’t be nearly long enough before something or someone else needs you to make another important decision you feel underqualified or unprepared to make.  Such is the nature of leadership.

Analysis is incredibly important.  Thoughtful decision making is an art.  I can roll it around in my brain for weeks and come to a conclusion too late.  A good decision that is no longer needed or valuable or relevant is pointless.

I don’t like being wrong.  I strongly dislike learning lessons the hard way.  I LOATHE preventable mistakes.  You can see how difficult this is when your job is making decisions- big and small- every day.

“What if that flops?”

“What if there’s a better way I’m not thinking of?”

“What if people don’t respond the way I think they will?”

Some days the “what ifs” get the best of me and paralysis and worry sets in.  Other days I muster up the courage I need to lead with some semblance of strength & confidence.

Those days I can usually find some courage in a few faithful places:

My pastor (and boss)

…who believes in me enough to entrust this really big, important job to really little, often indecisive me.  I trust that he isn’t maliciously setting me up for failure, throwing me in the deep end to watch me flail about. (Though some days I’m still not so sure!)  I trust that he won’t let me make too big of a mess and that he will support my calls publicly and correct me privately.  I trust that he is for me.

My smallness in a big, big world.  

That same pastor once shared with our team this quote from Tolkien’s The Hobbit

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

At Renovatus we talk a lot about the gift of smallness, the gift of obscurity.  In our culture, obscurity is often seen as punishment and a thing to be escaped.  But a lot of good and important stuff happens in obscurity.  Character is developed, skills are sharpened, faith is built, a solid foundation is poured.  Here in obscurity I can learn a lot even while leading.

It’s a gift to recognize I am just one person amidst billions of others.  I am one pastor among millions around the world.  I run an organization that is one of millions.  I am not nearly as unique, my circumstances & challenges not nearly as unique, as I’d like to think.  Recognizing my smallness ironically gives me confidence to embrace the new adventures that the Lord brings.

My God Who is able.

I take an awful lot of comfort in knowing that the Lord is infinitely more concerned about His church than I ever can be.  He will honor my humility and sincerity.  His plans and purposes cannot be thwarted…even when I make a bad call.  The Lord managed long before I came along and He will do just fine long after I’m gone.  I choose to believe that the Lord is sovereign and good.

______________________________

Leaders, by all means, let’s do our homework.  Let’s think critically and prayerfully and be prepared.

Let’s just not get stuck there.  Let’s execute.

Own it.

Friday Night Lights is one of my all-time favorite TV shows.  In fact, I’ll go ahead and declare it second only to The West Wing for me.

I recently recalled a scene from season 1 where one of the players (“Smash” Williams)  during practice is shouting to one of his slacker teammates (Tim Riggins):

“You’re making us look weak.  If one person fumbles the ball, we all fumble the ball.  If one of us shows up half drunk, we all show up half drunk. We ain’t got time for your games.  We’ve got a game to win.”

Now if you aren’t a Friday Nights Lights fan yet, you can’t appreciate this to the extent that I wish you could, as Smash and Riggins have quite a bit of animosity toward one another, both are talented players, but one is driven and invested and the other is not (at least not yet).

In leadership we talk a lot about the importance of teamwork and recruiting “team players.”  If I have a soapbox about anything, it’s followership.  I’m a big believer in playing well with others and submitting to authority.  However, I realized sitting on an airplane a few days ago that I want more than that out of my team and I think you should, too.

You can get along and help each other out and be supportive all you want, but until you fully commit (that is, until you realize that whether it’s your “job” or not, whether it’s your responsibility or not is fairly inconsequential) simply being a “team player” isn’t enough.

I want a team full of committed, creative, responsible, smart people.

People who realize that our own successes and failures are felt beyond our own individual “portfolios” 

People who realize that we are only as successful individually as we are corporately

People who realize that our failures and our choices aren’t made in a vacuum

People who realize that when one of us fumbles, we all fumble

People who are in it to win it

I want owners, not just players.  Owners know what is at stake.  Owners are personally, emotionally, and financially invested in the success of the endeavor.  Owners don’t blame shift or pass the buck.  They are less interested in how the ball got dropped as much as how we can ensure it doesn’t get dropped again.  Owners are builders and not maintainers.  Owners are a bit restless and a bit hungry.  They have a “what’s next?” attitude that sets them apart.  If we are sticking with the football analogy, these are the ones who keep moving the ball down the field.

Sure, training and experience matter.  But a person who demonstrates a capacity for ownership  and responsibility will distinguish themselves far and away from any lengthy resume.  I’d much prefer to teach someone a skill set than try to cultivate a passion or sense of ownership.  That’s infinitely more difficult to do.

If you find yourself in a position of leadership and are looking to staff a team, look for owners.  We don’t necessarily need teams full of leaders and visionaries so much as we need teams full of owners on every level, in every position.

The work to be done is challenging enough without the added unnecessary task of motivating people to care.  Owners come with care built in already.

If you are looking for a place to serve, applying for a job, joining a team, make the decision to own what you are spending your time and energy on. It will make the work more rewarding and the sacrifices worth it.

I know I’ve mixed metaphors here a bit between sports and business, but I hope the through line is clear enough:

We’ve got a game to win.

And in the words of the best football coach of all time, Coach Eric Taylor:

CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

I’ve Got a Question.

There is an ongoing joke with the people nearest me about my “spiritual gift” of asking questions.  I love asking questions and the learning that comes along with it.

I am curious.  About everything.  All of the time.

I have way more questions than you have answers for or time to entertain.

If you are around me long enough you’ll be subject to my random questions and come to either find it endearing or annoying, or perhaps both!

If you were to drop into a Renovatus staff meeting on a Tuesday morning, you’d likely witness our team with index cards in front of them answering 5 questions I just threw out to them related to the topic I’m speaking from.

There are many things about leading a team and running a church that do not come naturally to me.  I’m not very strategic.  I’m not process driven. I’m not task-minded.  I like helping.  I like keeping the peace.  Nevertheless, here I am responsible for a lot of people and resources on a daily basis.  Thankfully, the one thing that is instinctive for me is asking questions.

This got me thinking about how asking questions is a really valuable practice.

And because I like lists almost as much as I like questions, I decided to write down a few reasons why I think asking questions is incredibly important and healthy:

1.  Shows honor & concern– When someone asks you a question about yourself or for your perspective, it’s validating.  It communicates respect, interest, and care.  We live in a wildly individualistic, egocentric world.  It is counter cultural and perhaps even counter intuitive to take the time to look someone in the eyes and ask them a meaningful question.

2.  Fosters humility– We often feel the need to know everything (which is silly and another rant for another time) and asking questions reminds us that we can’t and don’t have all the answers.  It acknowledges our need for people and things outside of ourselves, which incidentally, is really helpful at keeping our pride in check.

3.  Creates space for vulnerability, trust and intimacy to formPeople are open to people who are open to them.  It’s amazing the relationships and opportunities that are birthed by curiosity or a well-timed question.  We all appreciate the opportunity to explain ourselves and take ownership of our responses.  Asking questions (as opposed to speaking in the declarative all of the time) often lowers defenses and increases our receptivity to what another person is trying to communicate.

4.  Challenges mindsets and ruts– My dear friend Amanda once said “it’s a spiritual discipline to break your routine.”  I think about that a lot in a number of different contexts.  In this particular one I’d simply say that asking questions breaks us out of our routines, out of our box.  This is a very, very good thing.  We can all think of a time when we were challenged, for better or for worse, by having to answer the question “why?” for doing something the way we do.

5.  Produces good leaders– Your effectiveness as a leader (and maybe more broadly, as a human being?) is correlative to your desire and discipline to learn.  Whether this is in personal relationships or developing new skills at work or picking up a new hobby at home, asking questions is a great way to learn and an easy place to start.  Additionally, asking questions is a great way to help develop leaders around you!

6.  Keeps us open to wonder & gratitude– This is more abstract, but just as important.  Asking questions keeps our eyes open to new ideas, to see beauty in the world, to dream new dreams, to recognize the gifts around us and to be grateful for it all.

Are you seeing all the potential & possibilities wrapped up in questions?!

I know none of this is novel or earth shattering, but hopefully it’s a good reminder of how we can communicate and lead and love one another really well.

Start with a question and see where it takes you.

Recovering People Pleaser

Hi. My name is Tracey and I’m a people pleaser.

I don’t need everyone to like me, I just need everyone to be alright.

I don’t need to be popular or at the center of a conversation, I just need everyone to keep the peace and get along.

I want people to be well and free.  I want to be well and free!

The difficulty with being a recovering people pleaser is that there is some rightness wrapped up in there that can’t be altogether abandoned.  There is some good that comes with wanting people to be well.

However, what I know is that the desire for wanting everyone to be alright can become an idol.  I (all too willingly) sacrifice my own emotional health and the health & development of others on its altars in the name of keeping the peace.

The irony of worshipping this idol is that I also know (all too well) that just because there is no commotion, no crap hitting the fan, doesn’t mean everything and everyone is alright!

Furthermore, I’m coming to see the value in the tension, in the conflict, in the disruption.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like it at all.  I’d rather avoid the awkward conversation or swerve to miss the punch to the gut.  BUT I recognize that there’s a lot of learning and growing that happens in the confrontation and the disruptions.  No one chooses to have their plans hijacked or their lives thrown into a tailspin.  But for better or for worse, we learn by doing.  And if I have any hope of learning and growing in any capacity in my life, I’ve got to be okay with people not being pleased sometimes.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve landed a job that is THE crucible for me and my people pleasing ways.  When you are a leader of leaders, next to never is everyone alright.  Next to never is everyone keeping the peace.  There is always a conflict to manage.  There is always a sensitive relationship to be mindful of.  (Being an executive pastor is practically People Pleasing Rehab for me!)

People pleasing can dress itself up like compassion.  It also does a pretty good peacemaker impression.

But at the end of the day, our motivation tells us the truth of the matter.  Am I avoiding the hard, but right thing?  What could be gained by letting this conflict play out?  What’s really at stake here?

I don’t want to miss the opportunity to invest in someone because it’s easier or more comfortable not to.  I don’t want to hinder ministry and discipleship in order to keep the (faux) peace.

I don’t want to worship a god who keeps me as anxious as a sheepdog always trying to count the flock and keep them all peaceably moving in the same direction with their heads down.

That’s not leadership and it certainly isn’t love.

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 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.