Avoidance Coping by Leaders (or when leaders refuse to deal with problems)

design11There are some pretty heavy psychological observances that can be employed when studying leadership. At the risk of overanalyzing, we are considering what causes some leaders to refuse to deal with failure. I define failure in this instance as the lack of taking a group or organization where God wants it to go. While I certainly am not the ultimate judge of the leadership effectiveness of anyone, I do have the responsibility of helping some leaders be as efficacious as possible.

Diversion may be defined as something that takes attention away from what is happening. When leaders are diverted from their primary task, the organization under their care suffers. We have all witnessed this. It’s interesting to observe leaders who are serving organizations that are failing, but the leaders don’t focus on the solutions. A tendency of some leaders is to concentrate on something else and, thereby, deflect the attention that may reveal that they are neglecting their duty. The focus that is required in order to solve the issue is lost.

We leaders may be like the bird dog described by Aldo Leopold:

“I had a bird dog names Gus. When Gus couldn’t find pheasants, he worked up an enthusiasm for Sora rails and meadowlarks. This whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes masked his failure to find the real thing. It assuaged his inner frustration.” (A Sand County Almanac, p. 200)

Another example may be (hypothetically, of course!) a pastor of a shrinking church that chooses to spend his or her time debating politics or bemoaning the decline of the culture or criticizing the church members. In the few precious hours of leadership influence they have available, they point out the faults of others. I do not think that these leaders are necessarily malicious. I believe that diversion is a tactic that some leaders employ because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are frustrated by their failed efforts to fix their organization and they are compelled to do something. So, blaming others, attacking others who are having success, minding the business of others and conflicting with team members becomes their default response.

To refer again to a psychological term, rumination “refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991)” (psychologytoday.com). When people engage in rumination (overthinking) they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions. This is in the place of focusing on solutions to the problems. It can be easier for a leader to come up with reasons rather than answers. There have been times in my experience when I have spent more time blaming my predecessor, analyzing the dysfunctions of the organization and justifying my lethargy rather than working toward resolutions for the problems at hand.

Avoidance coping is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. (mentalhelp.net) A distraction or a non-essential issue can steal the attention of a leader, especially when she is under stress. It can be relieving to think about another topic rather than to continue to wrestle with one’s own problems.

Then there is the more diabolical diversion tactics. If a leader under duress can create a diversion that will focus the attention of followers on someone or something else, the pressure can be alleviated. We’ve seen this personified in blaming/projecting (pointing at others as the problem), distracting (changing the subject or avoiding confrontation) and procrastinating (putting off the inevitable).

Some unscrupulous leaders are masters at clouding the issue or offering a “red herring” – misleading or distracting from a relevant or important issue. Slight of hand or misdirection is useful in magic tricks and sports but it has no place in the leadership of an organization.

A railroad engineer is at the helm of the train, which is speeding out-of-control down the track. As it heads toward the train station where, short of preventive maneuvers, lives will be lost, the engineer discusses the poor condition of the tracks, the outdated equipment of the engine, the bad attitudes of the passengers and the lack of wisdom of those who chose to build the train station in that location. What he needs to do is hit the brakes; but instead, he focuses on things that are out of his control. The result is devastation.

Leaders, we are the engineers. The train is our organization. Let’s take ownership. People are desperate for leaders who can identify the solutions to problems and to lead the organization through the crises.

Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church

Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!

A Culture of Conflict

img_0290Not unlike the culture of the iconic Wild West, America is currently enthralled with fighting. From political elections to reality TV to road rage, we love our conflict. It is not uncommon to witness a verbal altercation on the subway or in the boardroom. Metaphorical “shootouts at the OK Corral” happen every day in the classrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms of the U.S.

This is a culture of violence. It is a culture of disrespect. It is a culture of conflict.

Even something as simple as sports teams rivalries are steeped in conflict. Good-natured trash-talk goes, in my opinion, way too far to the point of dividing friends and family.

Let’s not confuse debate, confrontation and conflict.

We need to be able to discuss matters of difference and do so in a civil manner. When we are wrong, those who care about us must possess the responsibility to lovingly confront us. Conflict, however, is a collision, a war, a clash. The Latin conflictus means “a striking together, to contend, to fight; combat.” According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, a conflict is a turning point during which an individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. (https://www.verywell.com/what-is-conflict-2794976) One researcher defines conflict as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.” (ohrd.wisc.edu) I would add that conflict often includes a response to those perceptions; and many times the response is ugly.

It is one thing to fight for one’s family or freedom. But many in today’s culture thrive on conflict. Some people just love a good argument. I literally had a women tell me last week that she was a Hatfield of Hatfield and McCoy fame; and she proceeded to explain that this was the reason for her position of quarreling in her church.

We have become so accustomed to conflict, it feels normal. But it should not be normative for Bible believing Christians. Church fights have been known to be bloody, vicious and eternally destructive.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Lucado says: when those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.


I am of the opinion that the foundational issue behind our propensity to conflict with one another is spiritual. There is a deep-seeded discomfort or irritation that, when fueled, becomes a source of contention. Many times, those who fight with others are also fighting with themselves as well as with God. The enemy of our souls wants to make us miserable. An effective way to accomplish this goal is to cause us to turn on one another.

It is a matter focus. When we don’t focus on what we are called by God to do (the mission), we focus on one another. When we focus on one another, we fight. I love the writings of Max Lucado when he said:

   When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

   When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive.

   Instead of casting nets, we cast stones.

   Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers.

   Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved.

   Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers. 


We can concentrate on minutia or we can concentrate on mission, but we can’t do both.

When we are not fulfilling what God called us to do.

We are frustrated. We know there is more to life.

We have a divine purpose and we are not fulfilling it.

They are focused, on the wrong things. Other people.

And when this happens, we are failing.

So, the question really isn’t, “why do we have so much conflict?” but “how can we get back on mission?”

We must get good at conflict resolution. However, we must get even better at conflict prevention. Let’s embrace the responsibility we have to do what God told us to do so we won’t fight with each other. More importantly, let’s do what God wants so we can honor Him.

It’s not the “What” but the “How” (when your approach to leadership damages your leadership)

IMG_0279Most great leaders expend a lot of energy studying the nuances of leadership. We focus on improving our skills, growing in our capacities and becoming more effective as influencers. We are taught to zero in on mission and vision and goal setting. Our coaches stress topics such as authenticity, character and integrity. All of these are great and necessary parts of being a leader.

But there is something more that we may want to consider: How a topic is addressed may be as important as the topic itself.

How you approach and are perceived by the people you lead can make or break your leadership effectiveness. The best leadership strategy in the world can be shipwrecked by a lack of effective communication.

We know what we are thinking. We are sometimes task-driven and we expect everyone to be on the same page. In moments of pressure, we may cut some corners in regard to treating people with dignity and respect. And when this happens, it matters little what your intentions were. How you engage people overshadows what you hope to accomplish with them. Whether or not you intend it to be this way, people will perceive that the task is more important that the team.

How can this happen?

Am I inadvertently sending an unintended message?

Am I accidentally sabotaging organizational progress?

In what ways may a leader push the “how” rather than the “what”?

  • Disengaging from conversations before they are finished. A lack of patience is obvious to people and it sends a message – one that speak very loudly.
  • Allowing the emotions of the moment to drive the conversation. A raised voice, swear words, threats…these have no place in a mutually respectful leadership setting.
  • A cold shoulder. The silent treatment is for Jr. High. Professionals don’t behave in such immature ways.
  • Misleading followers. Your word is your most valuable asset. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Verbal game-playing destroys trust.
  • Practice what you preach. When you make a commitment to a team member or colleague, please fulfill it.
  • Building people up just to let them down. A common strategy for leaders who have to censure someone is to “sandwich” praise/rebuke/praise. While this may work with children, most adults simply want to know the truth. If you choose this method, expect people to think you are disingenuous.
  • Communicate only when you need something. I attempted to connect with a colleague for some time. He ignored me until he started consulting and needing clients. I then heard from him quite often. Message sent and received.
  • Using the wrong pronouns. Lewis B. Ergen said, “The ratio of We’s to I’s is the best indicator of the development of a team. “ If it’s always I, the how crushes the what.
  • Sitting behind a desk rather than sitting at a table. It may not seem like a big deal but people may interpret the barrier of furniture as protection or insulation. Even if they don’t, sitting at a table or in side chairs communicates togetherness and equality. Don’t derail your leadership by unintentionally communicating aloofness or, even worse, arrogance. I don’t want a desk to hide behind; I want a table to share.

These and many others are examples of how leaders can limit their effectiveness by getting the “how” wrong. When this happens, the “what” is never realized.

Let’s work as much on the “how” as we do the “what.” Our relationships will improve, our constituents will trust us more, and we will be more effective leaders.

Agree? What would you add to the list?

Healthy Pastor Healthy Church

13557721_10154376814459214_6871678460088746686_nIn order for churches and ministries to be healthy and productive, their leaders (pastors) must be healthy. When we think of health, we usually think only in terms of physical health; but a more holistic approach is needed. Too many of us limit our definition of health, and possibly limit our effectiveness in the ministry.

Let’s focus on our wellbeing in regard to a spiritual, relational, emotional, mental and physical point of view. Balance is needed in order for us to remain productive for the long term. The demands placed upon an individual by modern ministry are significant. We’ve all seen friends who did not survive the rigors of church leadership. It takes a strong person to remain active in ministry for many years. While we all agree that we must be spiritually healthy, let’s not ignore things like our physical condition. In today’s world of authenticity and transparency, we can appear hypocritical if we preach a Gospel that doesn’t include every aspect of our lives. If we are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous, our ministries will suffer. If we are not growing intellectually, if our relationships are unhealthy, if we are unstable emotionally, our message will be hindered. Let’s fast and pray but let’s also gain education and work out.

Here is an idea to consider: these things are all connected. When we are healthy spiritually, our emotions, our health, our relationships and our mental capacities are impacted. We can’t truly say that we are healthy spiritually if we are ignoring vital aspects of our being. We can’t segregate the elements of our health. If the pastor is out of balance, the church will be out of balance. That’s what we call leadership.

Pastors, let’s take care of ourselves so that we can lead healthy and productive ministries but let’s also take care of ourselves so we can enjoy the benefits that God provides for healthy people.

Does Servant Leadership Create Entitlement?

Does Servant Leadership Create Entitlement carterNo one can argue with the insistence that leaders be servants. Jesus modeled it and Greenleaf made a million writing about it. But there may be an issue.

Is there a connection between the rampant entitlement mentality that we see in our culture and leaders who humble themselves to serve others? I think maybe so.

Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It is unthinkable that the Creator of all things stops to wash the crusty smelly feet of 1st Century fishermen. Unless you fast-forward a few days and observe Jesus hanging by nails on a cross. He did all of this for the purpose of serving the people He loved. They needed a Savior and He volunteered. Notice, He did not volunteer to do something they didn’t need. It would have been pointless for Jesus to offer to stay on earth to keep walking on the water or turning water into wine. They didn’t need that. But they sure needed a Savior.

We may have some indicators of the issue we are facing.

  • I believe that some servant leaders are serving in ways that are not really needed. Leaders who show themselves to be willing to do anything for the people they love are an inspiration. People are impressed when leaders sacrifice their own good for the good of those they lead. But if this sacrifice makes no difference, what’s the point? Example: The pastor of a church may refuse to be paid a salary in the interest of the financial constraints of the church. I have seen this happen. It may be a good thing. But it may result in people who renege on their financial responsibilities. By serving in a way that is not needed, the servant leader may be doing more damage than good.
  • I believe that some servant leaders are serving themselves. It’s tough to admit but some of us like the attention we get when we “serve.” People are beholden to a leader who is in the trenches, on the frontline. Independent people who can carry the load alone are heroes to many. But there are two problems here: the focus is on the leader and the people are taught to become dependent – they aren’t needed in the process. Healthy organizations involve multiple people. A servant-leadership approach that has ulterior motives is damaging to everyone involved. True servant leaders serve with pure motives.
  • I believe that some servant leaders are doing more harm than good. Mono-personality leadership is unscriptural. Lone leaders who do all of the work choke out the operation of Spiritual Gifts. Leaders who spend all of their time waiting on people while never moving them forward do God’s people a disservice. It is possible that a wrong perspective of servant leadership can severely damage an organization.
  • Some “servant leadership” is a veil for a leader’s weaknesses. Because of my introversion, I sometimes find it easier to mop the floors after an event than to speak face to face with people. Real servant leadership is sometimes just to be with people.

The goal of servant leadership must be to create more servant leaders. The goal is not for people to feel sorry for us or for people to talk about how noble we are. Leaders serve like Jesus because people need it.

Now, back to the original question: Is entitlement connected to servant leadership? Possibly. Many people feel they deserve something for nothing. The world owes them. We’ve got to combat this ideology. The best way to do so is to serve like Jesus served. Wash their feet; but teach them to wash the feet of one another. Otherwise, they think your job is to keep their feet from stinking. While someone needs to do that, it’s not on the leader.