Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

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On my flight to Chicago last week, I sat next to a young woman and her boyfriend. We introduced ourselves and exchanged some social niceties. Then she turned toward her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in conversation, while I began to read a book. Within a few minutes the couple’s discussion became quite robust. The noise in the cabin drowned out their words, but their body language spoke loudly. I prayed under my breath for the Lord to help them, and wondered if I should intervened.

The young man’s arms made exaggerated gestured. The young woman wiped tears from her cheeks and her body quaked as she tried to stifle her cries. I could hold back no longer.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about, but you’re clearly involved in an intense discussion.”

They looked at me in surprise, sheepish expressions on their faces. The young man explained.

“We just spent the weekend with some really good friends. We’re from Chicago and are very liberal. Our friends are very conservative. We had some arguments with them. Now my girlfriend and I are talking about what happened. It’s really hard.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had imagined several scenarios, but I hadn’t imagined this.

My heart went out to them. A dear friendship was threatened by differences in political ideology. Sadly in our nation, this is becoming increasingly common. Belief in a cause or the adherence to a particular faith takes precedence over decency, even when those closest to us are involved. This great divide can be excruciating.

Too many people are choosing their beliefs over kindness, respect, and love. This shouldn’t be, especially for Christ followers.

We can believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of Jesus and still treat unbelievers with kindness. Cruel and rude words must have no place in our lives.

We can adhere to moral standards and still respect those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Caring for them does not equal moral compromise.

Followers of Jesus are called to love people. Period. In fact, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, those who stand in opposition to our beliefs or wish for our demise. Lest we forget what love looks like, take a stroll through 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 5 where our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek, give your shirt to someone demanding your coat, and bless those who curse you.

Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man looked beyond religious and racial differences, and treated an injured human being with compassion. He tended to the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn, paid for his room and board, and offered to provide for other expenses if needed. The Samaritan was a neighbor to one who was culturally an enemy. Shouldn’t we do the same? It may not be as dramatic as saving someone’s life but we can certainly treat others with decency and respect.

And what about those who are closest to us? If love transcends political affiliation and religious beliefs (and it does) and if every human being is priceless because they are created in God’s image (and they are), how much more should we love our family and friends without strings attached? Differences must not be divisive. We can take a stand for our beliefs and do what we know to be right without rejecting others for thinking differently. We can hold tightly to our faith and convictions, while still holding tightly to our loved ones.

I have recently adopted a phrase from my granddaughters’ story book:

“I love you, because I love you.”

I try to say and show that often.

As I got ready to exit the plane, I offered encouragement to the young woman and her boyfriend. “Don’t let go of your friendship. Listen to what your friends say. Try to understand where they are coming from. Make it a learning opportunity. And hopefully they will do the same.”

Will we do the same? Let’s approach our relationships with grace, committed to extend kindness, respect, and love no matter what. Let’s love them simply because we love them. After all, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does with us?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me when I struggle and do not honor You with my choices. Thank You for walking with me, as I live imperfectly and try to figure things out. Help me to treat others with the same grace You give me. Teach me how to balance my zeal for You and Your ways with loving others who believe differently than myself. Empower me to love others unconditionally. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

No Short Cuts to Love

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Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was born to parents who did not love each other. Her father was driven to get ahead. She longed to know her father loved her, but he was seldom home. She and her mother did not connect emotionally either. As she grew up, the girl felt that she could never be good enough to love.

Divorce, dysfunction, pain, and confusion entered the scene. Depression became a constant companion; however, the girl learned to cover it up by excelling in academics and the arts. She was compelled to discover true love, but relationships always disappointed and fell short.

As a teenager, the young woman heard the good news of God’s love. She realized for the first time that the love she longed for did not originate from human beings. True love flowed directly from the Lord and was offered to her. She opened her heart to the loving Savior and started an amazing journey with Jesus Christ.

I was that young woman. Thirty-five years later I continue to be on a mission to understand the love of God and to share His love with others.

The love of God is so vast. The longer I walk with Him, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. The need to grow in love shows up most in my relationships with others.

How convenient it would be to place love for God and love for others in separate arenas. After all, loving God seems simple. I can do that well enough. Loving others, not so much. People can be annoying. They can cause difficulties and disruptions. Nothing can inflict heartache like people. But Jesus taught that the two are intertwined. When asked to identify the greatest commandment by the religious leaders of the day, Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

Without giving pause, he continued…

And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus said that every Old Testament law (613 of them) and all the teachings of the Prophets hinged on love for God and others.

What does that mean for us as we answer God’s call to leadership?

We must seek intimacy with Jesus and rely on His Spirit to be a leader of impact. Guard against “professional” Christianity, merely following the proper routines and giving religious answers. It is imperative to continually invest in our relationship with Jesus and commune with Him, being willing to be transformed into His likeness.

As servant leaders, love of our followers is our primary concern. When leading, there are many important things to tend to. However, don’t allow tasks and goals to become more important than the well being of the people you lead.

The ability to thrive in life and leadership comes from loving God and people. There is simply no other way. There are no short cuts to love.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge You as the Lord of love. Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, and mind. Help me to love others as myself. I am powerless to love without You. With You, I have what I need to be Your ambassador and love the people You place in my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

The Battle of Heart and Mind

I started my new job last summer as Executive Director of a pregnancy center ministry with great excitement. Not only did I sense the Lord had opened a door to His will and was fulfilling some specific promises He had spoken to my heart, I now had an opportunity to live out my convictions about servant leadership. My project for my Masters degree had been centered on servant leadership in the workplace. This position would be the testing ground to explore my ideas more fully.

Within a few weeks, however, I was faced with a challenge I had not expected—How do I effectively balance leading from the heart and leading from the mind? Interacting with others requires a blend of empathy and logic, depending on the needs of the moment. Leading an organization requires a similar blend.

True servant leadership prioritizes people as first and the organization as second. When people are equipped to do their jobs and thrive, the organization thrives. This model resonates strongly with my pastoral heart. (Pastoring can happen in any setting. It is not just reserved for church ministry.) I love the paid and volunteer staff at work and am committed to helping them develop God’s call. I also know that walking with others can be messy business and requires large doses of patience and grace. It takes time for people to develop their skills and God-given strengths.

It is beautiful to see servant leadership in operation. Unfortunately, there are times when despite the best efforts to love and lead others, someone will be detrimental to the mission. When this occurs, we will be required to engage in a battle of the heart and mind.

The heart says

  • I want the best for her.
  • I believe in his potential.
  • I don’t want to cause pain.
  • I care deeply about him.
  • She is incredibly valued by God.
  • I should give him one more chance. He’ll get the hang of it.

The mind says…

  • His performance is affecting our business.
  • She is making too many mistakes.
  • Her behavior is damaging relationships.
  • It’s time for him to move on.
  • He isn’t a good fit for this position.
  • She doesn’t really care about our mission.

In this battle of the heart and mind, who do we listen to? How do we balance love and logic in servant leadership?

Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to let the mind lead the charge. When the facts show that it is time for someone to move on, it does the person and the rest of the organization a disservice to hold on. Keeping someone that is a poor fit in a position is frustrating to everyone. Keeping someone that isn’t doing the job well sends a message that work ethic and performance don’t really matter. In spite of the heart screaming in protest, it is better to say “goodbye.”

In the letters to the Corinthians there is an interesting story. One of the members of the church was involved in an illicit relationship with his stepmother. The Apostle Paul rebuked this behavior, and the behavior of the congregation for tolerating it. The same man who penned the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) instructed the congregation to remove the offender from their midst (1 Corinthians 5). Later forgiveness was offered and he was welcomed back to fellowship (2 Corinthians 2).

At my workplace, among the four paid staff members, I said “goodbye” to two of them the first three months. Not my favorite way to start off a position. But I learned some valuable lessons about servant leadership in difficult situations.

Which is easier for you—to lead from the heart or to lead from the mind?

Are you currently facing a difficult situation in your sphere of leadership? What is your heart saying? What is your mind saying?

The Lord has the wisdom you need to balance the interactions of heart and mind.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You that You are “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:3). You also reign with justice and make decisions that build Your Kingdom. Grant me Your wisdom. Help me to reflect You in character, and that, as a leader, my actions are motivated by love. In Jesus’ name.

Posted in Servant Leadership

On Leadership and Love

Should leaders love the people they lead? Conventional wisdom says, “NO! Leaders should maintain professional distance and focus on the business at hand. Success of the organization and personal advancement should be the primary concerns.” Thankfully, there is another approach. Servant leadership has been gaining credence since it was introduced by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, especially in the church and non-profit sectors. Today many for-profit organizations, such as those listed in the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” support the servant leadership philosophy.

Love for others is what sets servant leadership apart from other leadership approaches. In fact, servant leadership involves more than engaging in the correct set of behaviors. It requires authentic character and genuine care for your followers. As Christians we are called to practice a higher type of leadership, modeled after the ministry of Jesus and marked by love.

What does this type of love look like?

  • Having a heart to serve others.
  • Putting others’ best interests above your own.
  • Caring about the welfare of the people working with you, and taking an interest in their personal lives.
  • Promoting kindness, respect, and honesty in the workplace.
  • Recognizing when others are feeling down without being told.
  • Having courage to speak into other people’s lives, even when it is difficult.
  • Investing in the holistic development of your followers.

Not to be mistaken with a warm, emotional feeling, servant leadership love is a moral love described by Bruce Winston as “Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.” It can be expressed as the Platinum Rule: Do to others as they would like you to do them. In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul discussed the supremacy of love over the greatest possible exploits. No matter what amazing leadership feats we may accomplish, without love we are nothing and we gain nothing. One of the most popular verses in the Bible, John 3:16, portrays love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Simply put…Love gives.

However, servant leadership is more about “being” and less about “doing.” At its best, servant leadership flows from the heart devoted to God. It is founded on a strong identity as being a child of the King. Servant leaders value what God values, and place priority on what God places priority–PEOPLE! Servant leaders view themselves as servants first rather than leaders first. They are servants and stewards rather than leaders and owners. They recognize leadership as a gift from God through which they can effectively serve others. Empowering followers and inspiring vision are expressed through love.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, servant leadership is not for the weak of heart. Rather, it takes great courage and conviction to take the posture of a servant and to love those entrusted to your care.

Leadership is influence; the foundation of influence must be love.

“Fortune: 100 Best Companies to Work For.” CNN Money. com
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/

Bruce Winston, Be a Leader For God’s Sake. (Virginia Beach, VA: School of Leadership Studies, 2002).