Significance is Not Found in the Number of Church Chairs

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. The significance of ministry is neither found in the number of church chairs occupied by bodies on a Sunday morning nor in the capacity of your building to hold larger numbers. A friend of mine recently posted a statement on Facebook that captures the essence of significance;

I measure the significance of any church, any denomination, by its leader-production. Growing congregations, erecting buildings or staging impressive productions aren’t really the point of church. Whole congregations rarely, if ever, accomplish anything lasting. Buildings usually end up either too small or too big; big events almost never feed or sustain the day after.

I agree with the notion that the measure of significance is the development of leaders (which also infers the development of disciples). However, there are those who infer something my friend did not intend to communicate. Some see in his statement that any thought of buildings or aesthetics is an inherent contradiction of disciple-making and leadership development. Such an inference misses the incarnational reality of living as a demonstration of God’s reality in time and space. Instead some interpret spirituality to be a false dichotomy that pits the material and the spiritual in opposition to one another.

There is a theological tension of course between two realities i.e., the “flesh” and the “spirit” that every first year Greek student begins to grasp while analyzing how the Pauline epistles utilize the vocabulary “sarx” and “soma”. For those who register the nuances of Paul’s arguments regarding worldview there is little danger of engaging the false dichotomy. The book of Galatians focuses on understanding what an integrated Christian life looks like in contrast to a disintegrated or artificial one. For example Paul notes:

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?[a] 4 Have you experienced[b] so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[c (Galatians 3:1-6 NIV)

Paul makes clear that there are two opposing mindsets i.e., spirit and flesh. But the assumption that the words refer to incorporeal and material aspects of life is a false dichotomy inherited from ancient Greek dualism. Dualism is a view that assumes material things are inherently evil and spiritual and incorporeal things are inherently good. Dualism creates a tension. Instead of addressing evil in actions and perspective a dualistic approach finds people living a tension in trying to live life free from corrupt material things while still having to engage such mundane activities as eating, finding shelter, mowing the lawn providing for one’s family, building a church facility or purchasing church chairs. The issue is that a dualistic perspective contributes to guilt for simply caring for ones self or ones family e.g., “I could be out preaching to the masses rather than slaving away at my ‘secular’ job.”

The error of dualistic thinking is clear in the example. Why not be the message of the good news of Jesus Christ to those at work? Why not demonstrate the love of God to your neighbors by loving your spouse and children by being truly present with them. I recall a short term mission team that returned from their travels with enthusiasm for the response they saw to God’s love overseas and lament the lack of response to the gospel in their own neighborhood. So I asked what they did overseas. They described engaging people in the coffee shops, holding a rally in the city square and inviting people on the streets to a bible study. So I asked what they did in their neighborhood and they replied, “Well we pray and pray for people to come and no one does.”

I asked, “Why don’t you do the same things you did on the mission field in your neighborhood?”

“Because it doesn’t work,” they replied.

“How do you know?” I retorted, “Have you tried reaching out to your neighbors or talking to strangers at Starbucks?”

— Awkward silence. —

The redeeming act of Christ energizes the integration of spirit, soul and body not the disintegration of human identity. The mission team in the discussion above unwittingly illustrated the assumptions of dualism inherited from their western worldview that exists in tension with God’s working. This kind of unseen tension is behind the admonition of Paul;

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

Eschewing buildings or aesthetics in the design and furnishing of buildings does not de facto result in authenticity or significance. There are plenty of inauthentic Christians who eschew buildings or aesthetically pleasing surroundings under the guise of spirituality who are no more loving, patient, merciful, peaceful, longsuffering, good, and meek than any other person.

The authentic people I know live holistic lives that exhibit a deep care for others’ physical and spiritual needs. They nurture their own existence in body, soul and spirit and invest in others. They understand the inconvenient aspect of being a servant leader and make room in their busy schedules to invest in the development of others.

My friend’s Facebook comment is a reminder about the priority of what we do in ministry. If buildings become the end rather than a means they are horrifically draining of emotional resilience, spiritual vitality and financial resource. When buildings are the end rather than a means; they become a mausoleum holding the memory of long past vitality. If on the other hand they are simply a means of nurturing the ongoing development of others they become a canvass on which the image of Christ is reflected and interpreted for all to see and engage.

Working with churches from all over the globe who need church chairs is a daily reminder of this to us. We hear exciting stories of how God is at work in real people. And, we hear the tensions of trying to live an integrated life i.e., to manage the need for such mundane things as church chairs while simultaneously helping others become disciples and leaders. So, if one were to measure the significance of your congregation by the standard my friend set out how would you fair? If the answer is positive then how will you maintain spiritual vitality? If the answer is negative then what must change? Let me know I am still learning how to live as a canvass on which Christ is represented my self.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Are There Mentors Sitting in those Church Chairs?

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. Finding a mentor challenges most emerging leaders – the emergence of the Millennials in leadership brings the subject of mentors to the fore in a fresh way. It is not that Millennials don’t have mentors; in fact according to demographic researchers Millennials maintain some of the healthiest relationships to their parents and older leaders of any current generation. In fact relationship is one the significant differentiators of the millennial generation.

This focus on relationship gives a particular boost to finding mentors. Mentors offer significant insight, encouragement and discipline to a leader’s development. Like other generations before them Millennials experience development patterns impacted by both career stage and life stage. This insight is important because the patterns of development scholars observe in leaders can be used to predict developmental boundaries in skill and personality in leaders. This means that finding the right mentor for the context in which the emerging leader works is not only desirable it is also a foundation for accelerated career development.

How Does a Mentor Help?

So just how does a mentor help one’s career development? Talking about career development in the past was often done as though it stood in isolation from the rest of life. People talked about their careers and people talked about their personal lives – the two very rarely came together. For the emerging generation however the mood appears to be significantly different. According to the Pew research center Millennials are significantly more concerned with being good parents than they are having a successful career. It isn’t that the need for having a good career and good pay escapes the emerging generation of Millennials. Instead (according to LifeWay research) the millennial generation sees a career and its pay as a way to facilitate the real goal of time with family and friends. Mentors then can help in two ways.

First they provide important life lessons. The term “mentor” includes a variety of activities that help people develop. Activities such as discipline/accountability, role modeling, acceptance/confirmation, counseling, friendship, or serving as a spiritual guide all focus on helping people develop in their personal lives. These activities answer such questions as, “who am I?” “What is my potential?” “How do I fully develop my potential?” “How can I make a difference?” “Where do I fit in?” “How do I best approach this challenge or opportunity?” “How can I survive this set back or tragedy?” “How do I develop healthy relationships (especially with the opposite gender)?” Successfully negotiating marriage, career and parenthood is easier when a person has input from those who have been down this road ahead of them. But remember, personal life and career are nearly inseparable. How do mentors help with career?

Second mentors provide coaching i.e., insight about the work place (how to survive caustic leaders, political intrigue or downsizing in harsh economic times). Mentors train in applied knowledge or skills needed to excel in the work place. Mentors also sponsor emerging leaders giving them exposure to the “higher ups.” This exposure often opens doors of advancement. Mentors can also protect their protégés from organizational intrigue or infighting that they are not yet prepared to face. Mentors provide exposure and visibility giving a chance for a person’s true abilities/potential to be seen by key decision makers. Mentors help shape leadership skills and perceptions by giving their protégés challenging assignments that develop and showcase a protégé’s knowledge, skill and ability.

There are Mentors in Those Church Chairs

Ok, so mentors are really helpful in life and at work. Where does a person look for mentors? Mentors are found everywhere. One great place to find mentors is by looking at the people who sit in church chairs every week. Why look there? Highly effective leaders have among other things a clear understanding of their spirituality and with it a larger sense of personal mission and moral foundation. These are the kinds of leaders who build enduring greatness through what Jim Collins called a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Additionally these leaders also demonstrate stability and vibrancy in their marriages and personal relationships. It is not hard to understand why. The greatest single challenge of any leader who has significant organizational responsibility is how to establish and maintain strong and healthy interpersonal relationships.

I found one mentor in a Chamber of Commerce meeting. He gave a presentation on how he changed the hospital he lead as CEO from loosing money to being one of the top 100 acute care facilities in the United States. I found another mentor in a chance meeting at Starbucks. We were standing in line next to each other and just started talking. I found another mentor on LinkedIn she looked like an interesting person so I asked for an introduction. Mentors are everywhere. If you keep your eyes open for people who exhibit the skill, ability, connections, integrity and moral fortitude needed for sustained success you have found a potential mentor. The formula for finding mentors then is pretty simple. Look for someone you would like to hang out with and ask them for a meeting or an introduction. In my experience I am turned down eight out of ten times for some very good reasons. I still ask and I still have some great mentors.

Great leaders are busy. Hence the biggest objection I face when asking someone for an introduction or asking for a meeting is that their schedules are already full. This brings up another aspect about mentoring that is important. I already described the fact that mentors provide different kinds of input (i.e., some coach men, others train me or protect me in organizational settings, provide challenging assignments, or give me exposure to new people, or act as a role model, or act as a friend I confide in or a spiritual guide or even a divine contact). The variety of input suggests different kinds of time commitments.

Roy was one of my mentors until he suddenly died in a plane crash. I met him in college and he was influential in my life for the next 25 years. In my early career Roy served as a coach, sponsor, disciplinarian, counselor and divine contact. I never spent more than thirty minutes with him in any one meeting and we only met one or two times a year. In my later career Roy became a friend, in addition to a sponsor etc. He recruited me to work for him directly in an international context. In that context we met every week for an hour. Sometimes we met for breakfast. I cherish those times and the impact they had on my own development as a leader. Another mentor, Jerry and I met only one time and that for a dinner meeting. However, the insight Jerry gave me still lasts today some 30 years after that evening over steak!

Set Clear Expectations for Mentoring

Here is the point, ask for the time the mentor can afford. Don’t expect the mentor to fulfill every mentoring need. It isn’t hard for experienced leaders to read someone who will drain their energy and time with little return because of their imbalanced expectations. If leaders consistently turn you down when you ask to be mentored then (1) check your time expectations and (2) review what you are asking for.

I had a student ask if I could meet with them routinely every week. They wanted me to be their primary counselor about the crises in their family and personal life. I had to tell them no. If they were willing to meet every six months and talk about how to develop their interpersonal skills in conversation and problem solving I would say, “Yes”. Why? Because my schedule is already full on the one hand and on the other hand there are much more qualified mentors when it comes to the type of personal problems this young man was facing – I simply would not serve him well.

What happens if a mentor wants to meet with you? Take advantage of the opportunity. If a mentor sees potential in you by all means agree to meet and learn as much as you can.

Mentoring Relationships Grow through Stages

Mentoring relationships possess a lifecycle. A good mentoring relationship typically includes the following stages:

1. Attraction: a mutual respect or recognition of potential in another’s skills or abilities. This usually occurs in a period of six months to a year when the relationship becomes important to both participants. All mentoring begins with some degree of attraction to be effective. If no element of attraction exists then the relationship simply won’t develop.

2. Initiation: approaching a mentor or mentee with a plan for development or a request for assistance. Mentoring relationships may span a period of 3 months to 5 years (depending on the depth of empowerment provided). Successful initiation of relationship provides both individuals benefit in the mentoring relationship.

3. Cultivation: the relationship is defined in functional terms. Both individuals continue to benefit from the relationship. Opportunities for more frequent and meaningful interaction increases. At this point emotional bonds (loyalty, respect etc.) and intimacy (the degree of disclosure and openness) increase.

a. Responsiveness: determines whether reciprocity (give and take) exists in the relationship.

b. Accountability: determines whether follow-through on insight and training will occur. This definition must be mutual even if the empowerment is defined from a mentor who imposes a development plan aimed at improving productivity or building some character quality or insight.

4. Empowerment: outcomes in the mentoring process are defined. The full impact of the mentoring process becomes evident. The mentor may develop a reputation as an effective mentor or effective trainer or desirable sponsor. The Mentee experiences greater effectiveness and gathers respect by association with the mentor but also by virtue of his or her growing effectiveness and productivity. Empowerment may be evidenced in as short a period as several weeks (as with skill development inherent in coaching and teaching functions) or may take months or years to become fully evident (as with sponsorship functions).

5. Separation: may be a deliberate strategy for moving the mentoring relationship from an active to an occasional to a passive role or an involuntary event that significantly alters the structural role of the relationship. It may also be initiated in the emotional experience of the relationship for example the Mentee may no longer want guidance but the opportunity to work autonomously. The mentor must demonstrate the emotional intelligence and the awareness of the developmental level of his or her Mentee to respond positively to this change in the relationship.

6. Redefinition: an indefinite period after the separation phase when the relationship ends or assumes a significantly different character. Separation strategy is built on the development level evidenced in the behavior of the Mentee(s) as response is made in the mentoring relationship. It simply recognizes that the mentoring relationship is dynamic not static.

Not All Mentors are Living

I have assumed so far that mentoring is an active relationship between a mentor and a mentee. However, mentoring that occurs for example by watching a role model may have little or no active interaction between the mentor and mentee. A role model may be a passive form of mentoring. One of my favorite mentors is Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States. No, we don’t talk. However, I read over his correspondence during the civil with his generals. These letters are a gold mine of leadership concepts and modeling that I have used successfully in a variety of situations. One of my mentors calls this kind of mentoring historical mentoring.

Look for Mentors – Be a Mentor

It is not hard to find mentors although it does take persistence at times. Finding mentors makes a significant difference in the quality of life and quality of work-life a person will experience. People who have mentors tend to experience faster rates of advancement and greater resilience in life. What I hope to demonstrate in this short article is that finding mentors is simply a matter of looking and asking. On the other hand I hope to remind experienced leaders that they have a lot to offer through mentoring others.

I like the values around family and friends that the millennial generation seems to possess. I like the desire Millennials express to make a difference in life. I look for mentees I can invest in who will in turn invest in their future. What drives me to make this investment? I think it is the sheer joy of watching people discover life changing insights and develop career changing skills. It is also the satisfaction of watching emerging leaders become better leaders – many of them will surpass me. Are there mentors in those church chairs? Yes, many like me are actively looking for emerging leaders to influence because we never lost the desire to make a difference in our world. It is pretty exciting to find an emerging generation that hold to the same hope. Have you found the mentors you need? Are you looking? How is mentoring working for you? Let me know, I want to hear your story.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Bikers, Church Chairs, Community and Diversity

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. The unmistakable rumble of three dozen Harley Davidson choppers rolling into the church parking lot sent a shiver down my spine and resonated over the church chairs in the sanctuary – it had only been three weeks since the leader of an outlaw gang had threatened to show up on a Sunday morning and kill me because his girl friend had accepted Christ. I was still the new guy in town and new to my first congregational assignment.

My pastoral experience up to that point consisted of four years in campus ministry. In those four years working with youth and their parents I had framed a clear view of what I thought a congregation could become. I envisioned a cross-generational, cross-cultural community that expressed contagious love for their neighbor because of the deep transformation they experienced by engaging Christ. I assumed that transformation would lead to a contagious love and growth in the character and numbers of people who would connect to Christ and to one another. However, the realities of stepping into leadership of a congregation forty years past its prime were jolting.

I may as well have used Greek in my sermons – as much as I tried to explain my vision I felt I was making zero progress. I asked the congregation one Sunday to kneel and pray together for the community only to discover in the lukewarm response and angry visitors that marched through my office the following week that such “radical” expressions of religion were unappreciated and cause for the congregation to reconsider acceptance of my appointment as their pastor! It did not take long for me to understand that what I assumed was normal Christianity was a radical divergence from the pattern of my congregation’s nearly fifty year existence. The gap between my vision and reality felt like the distance from wall to wall of the Grand Canyon.

So what lead up to the day I watched three dozen choppers pull into the church parking lot causing me to calculate escape routes to the nearest phone if things became uncomfortable? It was discouragement with the status quo I could not break in the early months of being the new guy. So one day I left the church office to walk around the downtown area of our small western Washington city. I had noticed a Harley Davidson motorcycle shop downtown and decided that I would browse around as an escape from the discouragement of the church office.

Shorty, the proprietor of the shop offered a lukewarm greeting (apparently my khaki slacks, golf shirt and flip-flops failed to exude the right look for a Harley Davidson shop). I told Shorty I had seen the sign on the shop and was curious about motor cycles. When Shorty found out I was a local pastor the conversation turned surly. I wasn’t put off, four years in campus ministry on high school and college campuses had given me plenty of experience conversing with surly individuals who had both suspicions of religion and open hostilities toward any one associated with religion. I still love to converse with people suspicious of religion. I too tend to be suspicious of religion. I would rather spend time talking about knowing Jesus Christ at a deep personal level.

Shorty and I became friends and my wife and I ended up meeting many of Shorty’s friends. That series of introductions and time spent together is how the girlfriend of the club leader ended up receiving Christ. About that same time we discovered that the bike shop was a suspected cover for an outlaw gang – the club was actually an outlaw gang and conduit of illegal drugs into the state. So, we had been in the community by this point for several years. I had succeeded in offending the congregation resulting in an exodus of a dozen families, leading a few people to Christ and ticking off one of the most notorious outlaw leaders in the state. The usher team was not thrilled with the prospect of having to deal with a mad outlaw on a Sunday morning.

But this was a Tuesday morning and no one was around. My part time secretary did not work on Tuesdays. Most the neighbors around the church property had gone to work for the day. I stood face to face with three dozen gnarly looking Harley Davidson riders and I was still dressed in khakis, a golf shirt and flip flops. I decided I had a better chance in the open than in the building if things became uncivil. I walked out the front door of the church office.

“Hey man, we are looking for pastor Ray is he here?” The spokesman for the group in front of me threw out the query with a voice that boomed with intimidating firmness.

“Why do you ask?” I answered still calculating the nearest escape route.

“We heard he had a ministry to bikers and was working with the outlaw gang in this area, we came to help him.”

“I am pastor Ray” I said nearly giddy with relief. I was jubilant to have Christians in front of me rather than outlaws.

The next exclamation surprised me and taught me a deep lesson about ministry.

“You can’t have a ministry to bikers man…look at you…you don’t even look like a biker.” The warmth I initially felt for this man cooled a bit. My jubilation melted to astonishment and humor.

After convincing the group that there was no other pastor Ray in the area we talked about what God was doing in them and through them in the biker community and how I had become involved in that community. They decided to visit that Sunday. When I looked out on the church chairs that weekend I saw more diversity than I had ever seen in that congregation – uncomfortable diversity yet undeniable unity in the Holy Spirit. We had two significant breakthroughs that day.

The first was that I realized that being a leader and a catalyst to a church movement could only happen if I was simply and authentically myself knowing God through Jesus Christ. I still don’t look like a biker. I could never pull off trying to look like a biker – I am too…well I leave the descriptors to others who know me. But, the relief of knowing that all I had to be was myself…that was huge. God called and summoned me to be myself not a farce. God asked me to follow God with my own warts and all. That is why and when ministry is more fun than wearying. I still don’t look like all the people I reach, but there is something about being authentic and a learner that works to bridge differences.

The second was that the congregation saw what I had been trying to describe. It made more sense to them to see the gospel in action than to hear me describe the action. No wonder Jesus first asked people to follow then explained what was happening. Explanations of God’s love and power doesn’t make much sense until people experience God’s love and power in their context. For example; when the 6 foot 2 inch 280 pound leather clad bearded spokesman for bike club walked over to the chairman of the board and smothered him in a bear hug that lifted him right out of his church chair and expressed deep appreciation for what the congregation was doing to minister to bikers in the area – the chairman began to grasp what transformation felt and looked like. He changed after that and became as “radical” as he accused me of being.

It has been almost thirty years since those three dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles rumbled into the church parking lot. But the lessons for me are just as poignant today as they were then. When I hear Thom Rainer talk about the diversity represented in the Millennials, when I look at the changing demographics of my community, when I encounter customs and languages I don’t comprehend at the local neighborhood gas-mart I take comfort in the fact that authentic love that engages people in the context in which they live still reduces suspicion and hostility. Authenticity still opens the door to see God do powerful things in the lives of others. I am still learning. To hear some people I am still radical. I still wear flip flops although the rest of my wardrobe has morphed. I still go exploring when I am discouraged…only now there is an expectation in the wandering. I expect God to bring people across my path who will deepen my understanding of grace like Shorty and the outlaws did by their own encounter with the grace of God.

The expectation makes me wonder – what is the next great rumble I will hear resonate across the church chairs in the sanctuary? I can’t wait to find out.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

When Selling Church Chairs Introduces the Power of Forgiveness

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. It does not happen often but when it does it is awkward and heart-rending. It may be surprising to some that we encounter it at all – most of the stories we hear when we are working with congregations about their seating needs are exciting times of growth or revitalization or new starts. But sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of more difficult conversations filled with accusations and counter accusations, angry words, hurt feelings and painful betrayals. We are not the subject of these conversations we are the witness – they occur when congregations split apart in bitter and acrimonious hostility.

There are tangible offenses and real pain behind the stories. The distress is not artificial. What happens when the church behaves in a way that contradicts and distorts the message of the scriptures? Is there hope for restoring Christ-likeness in the midst of bitter rivalry and hurt?

Facing Conflict with Honesty

There are times customers need to vent their pain and we find ourselves in the midst of ministry in the workplace. We see the same emergent theme others also see in today’s society. Knowing how to work through conflict is not a common skill. Two alternatives manifest themselves when our customers talk about conflict they face at church.

On the one hand the how to have a tumultuous conversation is often a lost skill. Somehow it seems that a mis-belief has entered common thinking that to be Christian is to be nice in a Pollyanna sense rather than in the true definition of the word. To be truly nice is to be courteous and polite; of good character and reputation; characterized by great precision and sensitive discernment. Tumultuous conversations don’t avoid the issues or behaviors at hand they address them with respect and forthrightness. Paul reminded the Romans that being nice (i.e., full of goodness, filled with knowledge) renders the capability to admonish one another. Or said another way to be truly nice means that one has the capability and responsibility to engage in the kind of conversations that are honest about behavior or attitudes that contradict the nature of Christ in us. (Romans 15:14)

On the other hand it is easier in our mobile society to simply disengage the source of discomfort or pain and simply move on to a “new church”. The question I ponder is how does a person conclude that there is such a clear bifurcation of the body of Christ so as to assume that the attitudes and behaviors that person exhibits in one context are miraculously altered by simply changing locations? The fact is that unresolved conflict and pain follows us to every new context and creates a lens or bias in how we view the actions of everyone. Soon even the “new church” exhibits the failings of the original experience. Does this mean that deep violations in relationships are always reconcilable? No. However, running from the discomfort won’t work potential reconciliation or emotional healing either. Consider how Paul models tumultuous conversations. In his follow up to the strong words of his first letter to the Corinthian church Paul wrote:

1 So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. (2 Corinthians 2: 1-4, NIV)

Paul stayed in the conversation with the Corinthian church even when it was painful to do so. He called out their incongruous behaviors and asked them to respond to God’s discipline in their lives. Avoiding tumultuous conversations is simply not a biblical strategy – a person can pretend there is no offense or they simply escape the offence by moving locations but the real problem remains. At this point I have heard myself say, “Hey wait a minute I am the victim here, why am I being called to account?”

Let’s Talk about Accountability for a Moment

I am not implying bad (evil) things don’t happen to people in the church. Conversely, wherever people are involved the choice to do good or evil exists and the choice is not always for the good. I have experienced the pain of betrayal by leaders, I have ministered to those who experienced the trauma of a sexual abuse, I have sat in the hospital with women beaten by their boy friends or spouses, I have cried with children whose father killed their mother, I have wept with spouses betrayed by the affairs of their partner and I have stood in the grief and pain of my students in Africa whose entire families were massacred in political rivalry. As I noted above, we talk with churches in trauma at times. There are victims of evil. There are victims of poor choices.

So, what does accountability look like? Does it look like a quest for justice? Does it look like a quest for admission of guilt? Does it look like a quest for apology? I affirm all of these as desirable. But each of these quests for justice or righteousness or an admission of guilt will not occur when one is silent or simply slinks away. The strongest confrontation of evil or poor behavior is to call it for what it is. Look again at Paul’s encouragement to the Romans;

14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. (Romans 15:14, NIV)

So who is accountable to make the first move toward change? Paul simply leaves it in the second person, “you” and lets the reader feel the full force of responsibility to act differently. Regardless of whether you are the victim or the perpetrator, you are responsible to make the first move toward actions that look more like Christ.

I get the pain we sometimes hear about when talking to our customers. I was once caught in the court case and needed to secure my own attorney to protect myself from a third party and my denomination. They were engaged in legal action over an insurance claim on property damage I had initiated. When the denomination refused to pay the full insurance claim and told me to secure my own attorney my rage and sense of betrayal festered into bitterness. I figured that if a fight was what was desired that I would oblige and adopted a scorched earth policy toward my denomination. I met with an attorney who listened to my story of betrayal and mismanaged insurance funds. She agreed that I had been horribly aggrieved then said she would take my case if I could answer one question. It was nice to be affirmed in my pain and my sense of revenge was encouraged by her expressed willingness to take up my cause. “What is the question?” I asked.

“What is God doing in this situation?”

The attorney may as well have hit me between the eyes with a bat – the response would have been the same. I was stunned. I sat there in silence. I was a spiritual leader of a national program, a professor of pastoral ministry, a trusted friend and mentor of other leaders and all I could think in that moment was how I wanted revenge. Since I had no answer the attorney suggested we meet again when I could answer the question and then we would map out a legal strategy together.

I was still reeling from the meeting with the attorney when I met with one of my seminary mentors. I repeated the painful details of my experience and Bobby listened attentively. He interrupted before I could complete the saga and said, “I have seen this before Ray. Leaders work in imperfect organizations. That is why we need godly leaders. You have a choice as a leader – you are at a boundary time. You can choose to grow or to plateau. If you are going to grow you must choose to identify the boundary and then forgive those who have injured you.”

“I need to forgive? They need to repent!” I respected Bobby but I was a little miffed at his suggestion that my response to others actions was the critical key to identifying what God was doing. Bobby didn’t flinch at my intensity.

“I am not suggesting you forget or ignore the pain of what has occurred Ray.”

“Well what are you suggesting?” I asked.

“I am suggesting that in your present state you won’t see how this event can positively shape your future and your effectiveness as a leader until you choose to forgive and begin to see things from God’s perspective.”

As we talked I discovered that I did not understand either the process of forgiveness or its power.

What Forgiveness Is Not and What it Is

Craig Johnson, professor of leadership studies at George Fox University notes that forgiveness is not:

• Forgetting past wrongs to move on

• Excusing or condoning bad, damaging behavior

• Reconciliation or coming together again (forgiveness opens the way to reconciliation, but the other person much change or desire to reconcile)

• Reducing the severity of the offenses

• Offering legal pardon

• Pretending to forgive in order to wield power over another person

• Ignoring the offender

• Dropping our anger and becoming emotionally neutral

I wrestled with these misconceptions about forgiveness and I see others wrestle with them as well. Johnson quotes Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin to define forgiveness as;

…a willingness to abandon one’s resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her.

The definition carries all the biblical aspects of real forgiveness including the recognition that the victim has suffered a real injustice; that forgiveness is a choice that involves emotions, thoughts and behaviors and that forgiveness can be offered regardless of the offender’s response. The fact is that forgiveness is a process that identifies a real problem, recognizes the high price of carrying resentment and bitterness, works to understand (not condone) the actions of the offender in order to break the cycle of evil rather than pass it on. Finally forgiveness renders the outcome of seeing a deeper meaning in the events that have occurred and the realization on the part of the victim of their own need for forgiveness in life.

Working at a Crossroad

We work at the crossroad of decision for leaders and congregations at war with one another at times. We listen, we empathize and we try to point leaders in the direction of Christ. How powerful would it be if more and more churches caught in the painful throes of church or interpersonal conflict would exercise the power of forgiveness? How relevant would the church become in today’s social context if we lay hold of the dynamic of staying in tumultuous conversations rather than running from them? We are encouraged by the possibility and we will continue to live this out in our daily business and encourage the church to do the same. Are you in the middle of your own pain? What is God doing?

[1] Webster’s II New College Dictionary 3rd ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005).
[2] Craig E. Johnson. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing, 2009), 116.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

When is Leadership like a Church Chair?

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. It is apparent by the volumes written on leadership that people want to know what authentic and effective leadership looks like. Defining leadership is difficult because definitions of leadership are profoundly impacted by (1) the personality of the leader; (2) the context in which the leader works; (3) the culture in which the leader lives and (4) the social status in which the leader was raised. In the words of one of my favorite mentors (Bobby Clinton) leadership is complex – which is why we need leadership.

Given the complexity and diversity inherent in definitions of leadership a figurative description of leadership provides an easy way to reflect on what leadership entails. Illustrating leadership figuratively allows for the greatest degree of application across the socio-economic, cultural, personality and gender differences in which the act of leadership actually occurs. So, I offer the following leadership simile.

Leadership is like a church chair. I was sitting in a meeting thinking about what I saw demonstrated by the leaders in the room. The conversation was intense and passionate. We had not yet come to a consensus about how to respond to the situation in front of us. The leaders in the room represented the functional departments of the company and each had a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities they saw in the situation. As we wrestled through our differences I noted that we were making progress because none of us approached the discussion off balance. We each brought our whole selves to the discussion. That is when I thought about the balance or stability inherent in the legs of a church chair.

The Legs of Leadership: Vision, Compassion, Organic Structure and Discipline

If leadership is like a church chair then what do the legs of the chair illustrate about leadership? The foundational behavior of highly effective leadership in any context consists of four primary activities: compassion, organic structure, vision and discipline.

Compassion. Early academic studies of leadership (Ohio State and Michigan State Studies) identified two universal leadership behaviors i.e., benevolence and structure. By benevolence these researchers meant that effective leaders consistently care for those they lead. Another way to say this is that leaders express compassion for people. For example most of Jesus’ miracles were preceded by descriptions of his compassion for the crowd. Compassion is a fundamental motivator in effective leaders – they care. Compassion is one of the legs on which leaders stand.

Organic Structure. Structure was the other behavior identified as a universal capability of leadership. Effective leaders enable people to act toward specific goals by organizing resources in a way that helps the group achieve specific objectives. Building appropriate structure is an organic rather than a mechanistic activity. By organic I mean that structure is a living and dynamic rather than static aspect of organization. Because living organizations are also growing organizations they consistently outstrip the ability of structure to remain supportive. If structure does not change with the organization then it becomes an impediment to growth rather than a support of growth. Read also that inflexible structures constrict the life of an organization and lead to a slow stifling death. Effective leaders consistently assess and morph structures to new demands and opportunities that allow the organization to achieve its maximum potential. Structure is another of the four legs of leadership capability and stability.

Vision. The importance of vision is not lost on either the Scripture or leadership research. Wisdom as old as Solomon notes: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” (Proverbs 29:18) Vision casting is also a universal capability of effective leaders. Why is this? Organizations depend on shared meanings and interpretations of reality to facilitate coordinated action. If there is no vision, as Proverbs says, then the ability to coordinate action dissipates in competing priorities and urgencies. Leaders must realize three things. Leadership vision actually reframes situations demonstrating new perspectives that call others to action. Leadership articulates and defines what had previously remained implicit or unsaid thereby clarifying the need for action. Leadership consolidates and/or challenges prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions. Leadership isn’t always about the novel, sometimes the most radical actions are those that consolidate prevailing wisdom and simply act on it – this too is visionary. Vision is an essential leg of leadership.

Discipline. Some researchers grasp this very biblical concept i.e., leadership brings the discipline needed for organizations to maintain effective performance. The author of Hebrews said it this way,

[1]Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked

out for us, [2] fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of

God. [3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

Jim Collins noted that great companies identify their key drivers and practice them with discipline over time in a culture of discipline while expressing: vision clarity, consistent action, and clear criteria. Discipline is the oft forgotten leg of leadership. Many leaders need the reminder Paul gave to Timothy,

[6] For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on

of my hands. [7] For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1: 6-7, NIV)

As I participated in the interaction that day with the other leaders of the company it was obvious that if any of us engaged that kind of spirited discussion without all four legs of leadership the discussion would wobble out of control like a chair with a missing or broken leg see Figure 1. On the other hand, if we fail to engage in spirited discussions about how to meet the real needs of our customers we fail in our primary business.

Figure 1: Leadership’s Four Legs and Three Characteristics

Three Character Qualities of Highly Effective Leaders

The meeting finally did define a creative resolution to the situation we faced as leaders in the company. I left the meeting still thinking about leadership and chairs. I returned to my office and pulled out one of our catalogues and looked at a picture of our best sanctuary chair, the EverFlex 77025 (sketched in Figure 1). As I looked at the material I thought about three characteristics that the legs of leadership support. Leaders that provide vision, compassion, organic structure and discipline possess three unique character qualities: resilience, flexibility/rigidity and support. In a chair these characteristics do not exist without the platform provided by the legs (see Figure 1). The same is true in leadership.

Resilient. Defining resilience in a chair is a function of the quality of materials we put into manufacturing a chair. Foam has a resilience measure for example that rates how much pressure it takes to compress the foam to 25% of its thickness. This affects the feel of the sit. The idea is that foam not only offers support under pressure but also returns to its original position after pressure and does not collapse completely under pressure. If the foam collapses then the person sitting in the chair bottoms out on the seat pan or platform. Here is the first characteristic of highly effective leaders – they do not bottom out under pressure.

The ability to engage pressure successfully is a core characteristic of leadership. The oft quoted Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong it will) is not pessimism. It is simply a definition of the reality in which we work as leaders – and it is a call to faith in action.

Chairs also illustrate leadership resilience in fabric ratings. Every fabric has an abrasion rating measured in double rubs. A machine with a wire brush moves back and forth across a sample fabric over and over to test whether or not the fabric can withstand the abrasion of normal use. Leaders also face such tests often in their relationships with people who are most unlike them or who are in need of leadership.

Abrasive personalities offer a test on the resilience of a leader. If the leader fails this test the result is often a diminished stature or loss of trust in those who observe the leader’s behavior. In facing abrasive tension leaders do not have to be super human they simply have to be resilient or hardy. This is not the same as passive or being a victim. The idea behind resilience is that leaders resist abuse or abrasiveness on the part of others helping others see the impact of their behavior. Resilience requires an ability to engage in what Susan Scott calls “fierce conversations” i.e., conversations that interrogate reality, provoke learning, tackle a tough challenge and enrich a relationship. She calls such conversations the gift of giving another our attention. [1] How do leaders maintain their engagement in resilience and fierce conversations? One thing that helps is for leaders to have people they talk to about the challenges they face. Outside perspective helps significantly in maintaining perspective and resilience as a normal part of leadership.

Flexible and Rigid. Our EverFlex seat is amazingly comfortable. Besides having all the characteristics of our Impression Series chairs our designers added a flexible back. I have sat in the chair for day long conferences without tiring of sitting. The EverFlex back got me thinking about another characteristic of highly effective leaders; they are simultaneously flexible and rigid. This is not a form of capricious unpredictability but rather an ability to adjust to unique situational demands for different kinds of leadership behavior without loosing one’s core values or violating ethical/moral centers. Researchers Katherine A. Lawrence, Peter Lenk and Robert E. Quinn describe this as the work of leadership within organizations that often requires that a manager/leader adopt complementary and even contradictory roles needed to stimulate new efforts while also maintaining existing routines.

Organizations are dynamic and complex settings. Leaders and managers have long felt the tension inherent in the diverse roles they are required to assume in addressing the various constituencies that they encounter. Effectiveness in a managerial/leadership capacity actually requires integrating competing roles. Effective leaders overcome the tendency to see leadership behaviors in an either/or fashion and engage competing or contradictory roles as part of a tool kit of behavior that enables them to address the multiple and competing demands of the organization. [2] For example, managing the work of the congregation often requires rigid compliance to best practices (e.g., accounting, human resource management, etc) while simultaneously requiring pastors to lead change.

How do leaders engage this kind of leadership behavior? Raising a leader or manager’s awareness of competing values helps validate the tensions a manager or leader feels in the routine demands of their role and provides a means for determining the source of internal tension and possible strategies in assuming a different point of view and acting in a different set of appropriate behaviors. It also provides feedback on how to leverage behaviors already familiar to the leader while also practicing behaviors with which the leader may not be as familiar. If this is really new to you then find a coach who can help you identify the divergent behaviors and how to employ them in your leadership situation.

Supportive. At one point in our meeting tension got a little high. That is when one of the leaders in the discussion offered their observation of the difficulty faced by one of the other functional leaders and described the skills they had to meet the challenge in front of them. An offer of supportive feedback like that expressed in the meeting is a critical leadership skill. I imagine support being like the ergonomic design of our Impression Series chair backs. They cradle the back and offer the right kind of lumbar support. I am always amazed at tradeshows when tall, short, skinny and wide people sit in the chair and all of them talk about the comfort of the lumbar support and the ergo back. Highly effective leaders demonstrate a similar capability of offering unique support to many different kinds of people because they have taken the time and effort needed to observe each person’s strengths.

One of the most frequently cited reasons leaders give for excelling in their careers and callings is that they received critical support by other key leaders and mentors. Given how frequently effective leaders describe support as part of their own success it makes sense to develop the ability to offer unique support to a wide variety of people. In my experience highly effective leaders often make me feel like a champion (offer support) while they simultaneously tell me things that are hard to hear. I walk away from such conversations with a clear plan for developing my skills and a sense that I just endured major surgery but am not a bloody mess. My prayer is, “God help me be as loving and clear in my work with others.”


So is leadership like a church chair? I think the answer is yes. When you stand in your sanctuary looking at your church chairs think about this simile of leadership. Leaders who remained engaged through successes and challenges exhibit the stability and dynamism inherent in possessing a clear vision, compassion, ability to set up organic structures and discipline to get things done consistently. These four legs of leadership are non-negotiable.

When I consider the resilience, flexibility/rigidity, and support highly effective leaders exhibit I am reminded that the development of character as a leader is non-optional. These characteristics in a chair are critical to how the chair feels and its durability. These characteristics in a leader are critical to whether they relate successfully to the diversity of people their career and calling bring across their path.

Do you have other insights on leadership? Let me know. Do you have illustrations of these principles? Pass them along. We are still learning.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

[1] Susan Scott. Fierce Conversations (New York, NY: Berkley Publishing, 2002), 249.
[2] Katherine A. Lawrence, Peter Lenk and Robert E. Quinn. “Behavioral Complexity in Leadership: The Psychometric Properties of a New Instrument to Measure Behavioral Repertoire” (The Leadership Quarterly, 20:2, April 2009), 88.

Pews to Pens – Church Chairs and Change

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. We hear some great stories about change in congregational life. These stories of change always center on the role church chairs have in how the congregation intends to refocus its ministry efforts. Church chairs are not primary catalysts to developing a missional congregation or engaging in organizational change. However they are often a factor that highlights the opportunities and tensions of change.

I cannot claim that if you purchase church chairs your congregation will change into a more dynamic or missionally focused congregation. I can say that we frequently see that the purchase of chairs follows decisions made to revitalize a congregation’s mission. The simple fact is that what a congregation purchases correlates to its thinking about what it is doing in mission. The way a congregation thinks about mission is reflected in the type of building it uses, the type of furniture it uses, the language it uses to describe its reason for existence, the way people dress etc. This correlation is not always positive.

We have learned that churches coming to us to buy chairs share two significant characteristics: (1) they are in a change process that (2) results from thinking about how they serve their community. We see this so frequently that it seemed like a good idea to identify some of the patterns and pitfalls we see.

Purchases Reflect Change

It may be obvious that churches that come to us to buy chairs are changing something. But the obvious fact they are changing their seating masks a deeper and important shift in assumptions. For example: churches change seating from pews to stackable chairs; or purchase seating for a new building; or replace worn seating; or desire greater flexibility in facility use. Each of these statements is an outcome resulting from a change in thinking about how the congregation affects its community. Some of our customers explicitly define their reason for buying. Some are more implicit in their reasons for buying. Let me describe what I mean in a story:

Three churches buy chairs. The first is asked what they are doing. “I am buying chairs.” The second is asked the same question. “I am building a sanctuary.” The third is asked. “We are preparing a place for people to encounter and worship God.” The third church understood the interdependence of the congregation and its mission. It expressed a greater clarity of its purpose and a sense of interdependence between people needed to fulfill a mission. When that happens, no one is indispensable – the mission becomes clear. It makes the congregation efficient in the long run. [1]

Notice that each of the three churches in the story expresses a different level of understanding behind their purchase. We see an inverse relationship between clarity in mission and tension in change i.e., the degree to which a congregation explicitly describes its mission as the catalyst to a purchase reduces the tension of change. We also see the reverse i.e., to the degree a church attempts to purchase chairs without a clear sense of mission tension intensifies.

Successful Change is a Process

Every church that comes to us to buy chairs has thought about what they are trying to accomplish. However, not every church has made their thinking explicit. For example, one pastor called to cancel his chair order explaining that he resigned from his pastorate as a result of insisting that the congregation purchase chairs and replace their pews. This unfortunate situation resulted from the fact that the pastor attempted to force change without a process for managing change. Apparently he assumed that if chairs replace the existing pews then some of the unhealthy patterns of relationship within the church could be broken to allow for something new. The bad news is that the pastor had never talked about the unhealthy relational patterns he saw in his congregation. So, the congregation did not see a change in mission or the need for change they only saw a threat to the way they did things. They responded to the threat by neutralizing it – they fired the pastor.

Contrast this to another congregation that purchased chairs to replace their pews. The pews were old and limited the ability of the congregation to use their sanctuary in a flexible way. As they talked about reaching their community and the limitations presented by the fixed position of the pews they agreed a change in seating would help them use their facility more creatively. The congregation agreed on the mission. However part of them grieved the loss inherent in the change. They had seen a lot of powerful events occur in those pews. One of them got an idea. He suggested that they use the wood from their pews to make pens. The pens provided the congregation with a way to remember the great things that had happened in the past without impeding the change needed for the future. Additional pen sold as a fund raiser to offset the purchase of the chairs. The congregation loved the idea. They sent us one of the pens as a celebration of their mission.

So how does successful change occur? It is important to start with a premise offered by Shawchuck and Heuser;

Change has the ability to thrust even the strongest organizations into decline. But this need not happen. The decline is not due to change but to the organization’s response to it. On the other hand, change creates fresh opportunities for new enterprise…. The only congregations that will thrive in the coming decades will be those whose leaders have learned to respond to change, not resist or ignore it.[2]

So what steps are needed to effectively walk through change? Congregations like the one that turned their pews into pens walk through change in eight characteristic stages. Kotter describes these stages;

(1) Establish a sense of Urgency; (2) form a powerful guiding coalition; (3) create a vision; (4) communicate the vision; (5) empower others to act on the vision; (6) plan for and create short-term wins; (7) consolidate improvements and produce still more change; (8) institutionalize new approaches and then start all over again.[3]

While Kotter speaks to companies that must respond to fickle consumer habits his insights resonate with my pastoral experience in that creating urgency and empowering others to act on a dynamic vision is the crux of congregational leadership. People need inspiration to change but they also need a plan and some wins along the way to reassure them that change is possible. If leaders do not know how to introduce change then they are doomed to a cycle of inspired ideas, frustrated implementation, discouragement and back to inspired ideas. Without a clear change process leaders and congregations weary of change and simply yield to the status quo. Clearly change is unavoidable. A good shepherd knows how to nurture and discipline people in a process of change as they themselves are nurtured and disciplined along by the Good Shepherd.

So congregations purchase stackable church chairs as part of a change process. In the process of change they determine that there are benefits to seating that can be rearranged to meet specific needs. What are some of the benefits?

Seating Impacts Participation

Allan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways points out that the way a sanctuary is arranged actually signals the kind of participation expected by the congregation. This impacts the nature of interaction in the Sunday morning service. He illustrates his experience in pastoral ministry in the following diagram.[4]

Hirsch makes the impact of facilities on a congregation’s mission explicit. The impact of facility design and furnishing is not typically understood. The fact is church chairs allow for multiple seating arrangements that can help facilitate specific outcomes in ministry. Yes, the humble chair can make a difference in whether a congregation accomplishes what it intends to do. To put is less romantically, seating (or furniture, facility design, color, lighting etc.) is either neutral or an impediment to ministry. Ambiance does matter in that facility design must reflect the philosophy of ministry and to the degree it does not it sets up a dissonance of expectation. Don’t arrange seating in a semi-circle if you expect the congregation to simply observe rather than participate. I remember the gasp that swept across one congregation when I raised my hand to ask a question during the sermon. The immediate non-verbal social pressure alerted me to the difference between a lecture hall and a sanctuary. (I like the exchange of a lecture hall much better than the muted silence of a sanctuary personally.)

Conclusion – Think about Outcomes and How to Get There

Reflecting on what happens when congregations buy chairs yields important insights that can make a big difference in (1) the effectiveness of a congregation’s mission and (2) the health of a congregation’s relationships with each other and with their community. Sitting where we do in the purchase process we see a lot of interesting behavior. We are sometimes in the unenviable position of a mirror that reflects behavior (positive and negative). We could sell and run i.e., act like peddlers of a commodity. But we think adding some reflection to the process so many churches engage in purchasing chairs may prove to be far more powerful. We would rather participate in some small way with the changes God is working in those congregations that come to us for church chairs. What do you think?

[1] Ichak Adizes. Corporate Life Cycles (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 127. Adizes tells a similar story that inspired my version of the story so he should receive credit for inspiring me.

[2] Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser. Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving the People (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1993), 165, 167.

[3] John P. Kotter. “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” in Harvard Business Review on Change (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1998), 7.

[4] Alan Hirsch. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 23-24. [1] Ichak Adizes. Corporate Life Cycles (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 127. Adizes tells a similar story that inspired my version of the story so he should receive credit for inspiring me.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

When Developing Church Chairs Taught a Lesson on Feedback

By Ray Wheeler, DMin. It wasn’t what we expected. We started a product development cycle to answer a problem that occurs over time in some card pockets on the back of church chairs. We designed three new card pocket prototypes for our church chairs based on feedback we had received from our customers. Once the prototypes were completed we showed them around the factory and reached a consensus about which one our customers would like best.
Then, we schedule some focus groups with area pastors looking for support that we had the right idea. We asked the pastors in our focus group to evaluate each of the card pocket designs and tell us which one they would most like buy and why.
That is when the surprises started. The pastors all gravitated to the one choice we thought was the most boring. When we tabulated the results the product designer challenged the outcome. Did we ask the right questions? Did we tabulate the results accurately? Why did this prototype seem better to the pastors than the two factory favorites?
Feedback is always important in product development. Our customers often give us the best ideas! But this got me thinking about feedback I receive as a leader. How important do I consider this to be? What did our experience with the card pocket teach me about leadership generally? As I thought about it I came up with three feedback pitfalls that I have experienced and seen leaders commit when it comes to feedback.
Pitfall 1: assuming a solution is the same as listening
The card pocket experience illustrates this pitfall in seeking feedback. We set up the focus group as a way to affirm a predisposition rather than explore possibilities. We did not see our bias until it contrasted to unexpected input. Leaders must remain aware of their biases. When leaders ask for feedback that feedback does not render the anticipated results its time to stop and evaluate the biases i.e., the assumptions. Obviously we wanted to know what would sell best but we had inadvertently committed ourselves in the wrong direction – we committed to a particular solution rather than really listening to advice. What is the difference and why is it important to remember not just in product development but also in leadership?
Presumably the request for feedback assumes that the solution has not yet identified. The mistake we made was that we assumed we knew the real problem and had the only commercially viable solution. We owned a solution before we really defined the problem from the customer’s point of view. I see leaders making the same mistake i.e., rushing to a solution before they really hear the problem. Leaders who fail to identify their own biases spend time and energy on actions that little impact or the opposite impact the action intended.
The lesson is to change the focus of attention. Rather than enter conversations seeking to own (define, promote or insist on) a solution leaders should spend more time helping define the problem and the outcome that is preferred. When others are engaged in helping to define the problem then several great solutions will present themselves.
Pitfall 2: equating emotional awkwardness with loss of authority/respect
The internal tension I felt during the focus group was just that – internal. I faced a decision to be defensive or to spend time asking questions to understand why I received the feedback I was getting. The ability to stop in mid-emotion and think about what I wanted to really accomplish has been a hard earned skill. Unidentified biases make it possible to project one emotion on what others are thinking. The result is never pretty. When leaders react defensively or punitively they loose credibility and trust.
The lesson is to embrace the reality that emotionally awkward situations do not need to be avoided. Awkwardness is a sign that new information has risen. When that twinge of embarrassment or anger lurks below the surface ask what internal assumption just got challenged. Then embrace the emotion and ask for more clarification. Step into the process of discovery don’t run from it and don’t react to it in attempts to shut it down.
Pitfall 3: failing to recognize that we all tend to hear selectively and act on belief not facts
Feedback is simply information that helps to determine whether actions are moving closer to an objective or farther away. As Christians we are promised that feedback will be a constant companion to help us move closer to Christ. Jesus said it this way,
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
Notice the verbs; teach and remind. The Holy Spirit is in the business of providing feedback. Effective leaders embrace feedback and create a culture in which feedback is encouraged and leveraged to engage actions that grow consistency between their impact and their intention. In other words feedback helps close the gap between behavior and the vision of the organization. So what is it that causes feedback to go awry?
The lesson is that all of us have past experiences, relationships, beliefs and assumptions that serve as filters to what we hear. Chris Argyris calls this the ladder of inference and he describes it in seven steps:
1. All observable data and experience
2. I select “data” from what I observe
3. I add meanings
4. I make assumptions
5. I draw conclusions
6. I adopt beliefs
7. I take action based on beliefs
It is important for individuals and leaders to be aware of this process of inference (assumptions). When providing feedback it is important to listen for the beliefs behind the responses. When listening to feedback it is just as important to stop to think about one’s own beliefs are they supported by the data or do they distort the data?
We listened to the focus group and in the process I think we landed on the right card pocket design for our church chairs. But the greater win may be that we learned something about how we respond to feedback that will make us more effective leaders and better friends in the days ahead.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Church Chairs and the Shape of Things to Come – Three Essential Commitments

I was thinking about the future. What is the shape of the church tomorrow? What is important to remember every day when taking single steps into the future? There is, I am sure, more than one answer to these questions. The variety of cultural and geographic situations of the local church guarantees an assortment of answers. One thing seems persistently true in every culture – thinking about the future has a dual character of release (freedom from the ineffective and imprisoning) and rebirth (an entrance into trauma that makes new). Release and rebirth reflect the nature of God’s promise and leads me to think about the future in two ways.

First, I think about the local church. I have served in the church as a campus pastor, pastor, church planting supervisor, executive pastor, missions director, board member, and 2 and 3 year old teacher for over forty years…it does not seem that long! Time has reinforced my appreciation for the fact that new generations must wrestle with how to be the authentic and vibrant church. New insights and forms consistently disrupt and encourage how I think about faith.

Second, I think about the business stewardship with which I am entrusted i.e., how Bertolini Sanctuary® Seating creates, communicates and delivers value to churches through the church chairs we design and manufacture. We can not ignore the social changes facing the local church and our own business any more than other leaders can. The reality is that the church by nature is a catalyst to change (transformation) and not just a victim of social change. We have to embrace the disruption of our thinking because the promise of God woos and summons us to a new future. I like the way Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer put it in their new book:

The alternative to this biblically-mandated transformation is to pick a rut and make it deeper. And this is just what many churches have done, preferring, even if not consciously, repetition or even stagnation. As leaders we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that just managing the status quo is good enough…Rather than missionary disciples for Christ going out into the world, we have a group of people content to go in circles. Some manufacturers of church chairs have dug a rut that looks too much like a grave – they have either gone out of business or gone bankrupt. The only way I see to avoid following in a similar path is to engage the sometimes uncomfortable and always exciting vision about what the future holds. Isn’t it strange that the promise of God is both so comforting and so disconcerting? In my experience facing an unknown yet promising future requires three basic commitments.

Commitment 1: Conversation about how the church relates to the culture around us is perennial, and it needs to be.

Paul S. Minear in his book on the images of the church reinforces the necessity of thinking about how to reach the world in which we live. Conversations about how to relate to the culture we live in necessarily start with a commitment to Jesus as Lord. Minear’s insight is sobering:

Yet we know enough concerning God’s design for the church to be haunted by the accusation of the church’s lord: “I never knew you.” So there is much about the character of the church to which the church itself is blind. Our self-understanding is never complete, never uncorrupted, never deep enough, never wholly transparent. In every generation the use and reuse of the Biblical images has been one path by which the church has tried to learn what the church truly is….

Commitment to Jesus as Lord results in a devotion to learning that is characteristic of a close friendship. Friends become attentive to each other, discover preferences and share dreams and fears. It is disappointing to find church leaders who are more self-assured than humble learner – who sometimes act like they don’t know Christ. By learning I don’t mean academic learning. In stead I mean a willingness to face themselves and their context with the realization that what they know they know only in part. The most effective leaders I know live transparently as learners – they constantly work on relating to their world authentically. Their congregations don’t run into ruts but race toward a powerful vision. In our world of manufacturing this means we constantly look and listen for what the church needs to fulfill its vision – we are still learning.

Commitment 2: Conviction that is undiluted and transparent is essential to saying anything important. In a day when pluralism is emphasized as a social necessity (respect for people who hold opposing views or differing cultural perspectives is essential for a civil society) it also unfortunately acts as a barrier to real communication.

Pluralism can mean several different things. In common terms it describes the reality that ethnic, religious, political differences identify groups of people as distinct from one another. Sociologically it defines a policy or theory that minority groups within a society should maintain their cultural differences and share overall political and economic power. Philosophically the term describes the theory that reality is made up of many kinds of being or substance and (1) may not be definable or (2) that a plurality of realities actually exists. Each of these nuances is used in various ways when people talk about pluralism.

For this discussion pluralism can be categorized in two schools of thought identist (all religions are oriented toward the same religious object) and differential (religions promote different ends – different salvations). In this definition it is safe to say that evangelicals generally define pluralism differentially i.e., we recognize that different ideas of salvation or the need of salvation exist but that Jesus claimed a unique status and a single reality in the midst of these differences.

Here is the challenge. There are those who consider any unique conviction to be a denial of pluralism (a loss of respect for any other view). My contention is that without clear convictions communication cannot take place because without clearly stated convictions there is no opportunity to agree or disagree there is simply an artificial truce that goes nowhere. Luther, who was not known to hold back on his convictions and opinions, describes a Christian’s basic conviction this way:

The chief article and foundation of the gospel is given you …when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend…to have a proper grasp of the gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God….This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content. This is what preaching the Christian faith means. This is why such preaching is called gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting “message”…. The good news of God’s great love and goodness as revealed in Jesus Christ is at odds with certain religious and social views. This does not reduce its universal application – it affirms humankind’s universal dilemma i.e., the quest for meaning and the diagnosis that the lack of meaning stems from separation from God. In the biblical view there is no exception to this diagnosis (Rom. 3:23 and 6:23).

This clear conviction does not need to be reduced to unbending bias, cultural/ethnic hegemony or squashy acquiescence of one’s deep convictions. If the church is going to say anything important today it has to be honest and transparent about its assumptions and beliefs and to allow for the scrutiny of its convictions with the confidence that God really is at work in the world around us. An example of this kind of conviction occurs in Paul’s defense before Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26 (see vs. 24-28).

Hans Küng carries the idea of conviction further. The way the church lives out its attributes determines its credibility and authenticity. There is a point at which the clarity of difference summons a decision to believe or disbelieve.

“That the world may believe” (Jn. 17:21) depends entirely upon whether the Church presents her unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity credibly in accordance with this prayer of our Lord. Credible here does not mean without any shadows; this is impossible in the Church composed of human beings and indeed sinful human beings. Credible does mean, however, that the light must be so bright and strong that darkness appears as something secondary, inessential, not as the authentic nature….

One implication I find in Küng’s statement is that authentic living does not need “spin”. If being credible means that the light need to be stronger than the darkness then I understand this to mean that being credible is not only living out one’s conviction but admitting when one’s behavior does not align with one’s convictions. In our experience in business admitting mistakes or errors and working with our customers to find a solution creates far more credibility and customer loyalty than trying to cover things up. Isn’t the same true for the church?

Commitment 3: Contribution to the world around us in measurable meaningful actions is the earmark of grace.

The church father Cyprian summarized what is sometimes missing in more esoteric theological reflection on the nature of the church. The third commitment may be framed as a question, how does the behavior of a congregation impact its neighbors?

In conclusion, my dear brothers, the divine admonition never rests, is never silent; in the holy Scriptures both old and new, the people of God at all times and in all place are stirred up to works of mercy…’Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house. When you see the naked, clothe him; and do not neglect the household of your own family. Then shall your light break forth in due season and…the glory of God will encompass you.

I love Cyprian’s insistence that the impulse to contribute to the world around us is divinely motivated and never at rest. When I look at the unknown future I find courage in the fact that if our company continues to be stirred up to works of mercy i.e., to contribute to real needs we will never end up in ruts that look like graves and lead to demise. The same is true for the church.

There may well be other important aspects of facing the future but it seems to me that if we engage in conversation with those around us and do it with honest convictions with the goal to make a real contribution then the future does not present itself as a threat but as an opportunity. Will there be such a thing as church chairs in 20 years? Perhaps – I am more confident to assert that if we maintain a commitment to conversation, conviction and contribution we will be here in 20 years and we will offer just as quality and vital a product as we do today. Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Resilience – A Lesson on Leadership from Manufacturing Church Chairs

By Ray Wheeler, DMin.

Resilience is a process of adapting in the face of difficulty, hardships, trauma, tragedy, or set backs. As manufacturers of quality church chairs we think about resilience. For example the resilience of our foam or proprietary blow molded seat foundation. We design and test church chairs to endure the stresses of routine use and maintain the comfort and durability that is our quality trademark. We go to great lengths to engineer our product to serve the unique demands of the local church.

Product design and testing made me think about resilience as an adaptive response needed by leaders who face the stressors of routine activity. No one thinks about a chair failing. A chair used week in and week out does not suddenly change in how it feels, how it performs and how it looks. Similarly no one thinks about a leader failing. People expect leaders to be consistent week in and week out (i.e., compassionate, authoritative, certain, open, knowledgeable, inquisitive, courageous etc.).

Leaders unlike church chairs actually experience stress inducing events and circumstances. Unlike church chairs one cannot engineer leaders to be resilient and durable. The act of leading is more complex. So, how are leaders tested and proven so that they grow in resilience? Allow me to stretch my church chair analogy to illustrate my observations on leadership resilience.

Start with Purpose
When we think about new products the first question we ask is always how will a church chair be used e.g., for a “3rd place”, a training room, a sanctuary – each application places different demands on a church chair. We look at design trends in facilities. We look at aesthetic trends. Why? Manufacturing a top selling church chair means it has to serve the customer’s purpose with distinction.

Developing resilience in leaders requires a similar intentionality. Leaders who have a sense of purpose define the present based on where they are going in the future. Think about what you want your leadership life to look like in the future. Imaging for a moment what it would feel like to experience that future – to be there and enjoying the outcomes. How do you feel – empowered, encouraged, confident, energized? Leaders always start at the future and work backwards. This propensity to live “future forward” creates hope and a sense of purpose and lays a foundation for resilience.

Resilience doesn’t mean an absence of difficulty or emotional pain. Resilience develops in leaders who practice “future forward” thinking in the midst of difficulty and emotional pain and exhibit a specific set of characteristics:
• The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• A positive view of oneself and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities
• Skills in communication and problem solving
• The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
• Accept that change is part of living.

Individuals or leaders who move through life without a sense of purpose typically share an opposite set of characteristics.
• Lack the capacity to make realistic plans usually supplanting plans with “pipe dreams” that are disconnected from their context
• Exhibit a victim mentality and lack of confidence offering the evidence of how life and circumstances have stolen their opportunity to make it big
• No problem solving skills instead they shift responsibility for action to others
• Demonstrate a lack of self-discipline as seen in impulsive actions and inappropriate and accentuated emotions (e.g., rage, fear, self-loathing)
• See change as a threat to well being.
Great leaders like a great chair exhibit a structure in life that absorbs impact and returns to its design parameters. For example, sit on a chair and stand up – the foam in the seat returns to its original shape after being compressed. Great leaders exhibit the same consistency in character – their sense of purpose helps them keep their emotional and intellectual shape as they live “future forward”.

Define the Cost
Once we understand the purpose of a church chair and determine a design that meets the use requirements and aesthetic sensibilities of the greatest number of customers we define the materials needed to manufacture the new church chair. The process of finding quality material at the best cost helps us determine whether future customers will be able to afford the price of the chair.

Jesus’ parable about the tower builder affirms the importance of cost awareness. (Luke 14:28-30) Leaders recognize the cost of their actions and routinely reassess this cost. What costs are associated with leadership decisions? The costs of living “future forward” include more than financial costs. In a leadership context cost include factors such as:
• Impact on relationships
• Ethical challenges
• Follower’s emotional capacity for change
• Unexpected impact on facilities, regulations, and organizational structures

Even in successful leadership initiatives that propel an organization to a new level of prosperity and influence hidden costs arise because change has occurred.

The question we face in manufacturing is whether the value to the customer makes up for the cost of producing the product – the question of price. If we design ingenious church chairs but the associated costs cannot be offset by the value added to the customer the price would be too high. If we design ingenious church chairs and use substandard materials then the chairs fail in meeting their purpose.

Leaders routinely face similar dilemmas. What is the best solution or direction for the organization and its people? If grand plans use substandard processes and inadequate resources because a leader did not count the cost then resilience fails and the leader and the followers loose.

At Bertolini Inc our design process involves people from every function in the company as well as customer focus groups. In order to understand purpose and cost we gather input from as many sources as possible to anticipate as many potential problems as possible and see opportunity we would otherwise miss.

Leaders who count the cost are only as effective as the feedback they receive. Make connections with family members, friends, and others who are important and who care about you and listen to you – listen to them. Solicit their feedback. This strengthens resilience by clarifying opportunity and identifying potential problems.

Be Persistent
Persistence is an outcome of resilience and a factor in developing resilience. By persistence I do not mean meanness, spite, vindictiveness or ruthlessness. I mean determination, perseverance, diligence and resolution. Why must leaders exercise persistence? Persistence is the practice that refines the leader’s vision and grows capacity for resilience.

Leadership vision is always incomplete. This is one of the most important leadership principles affecting resilience. The single greatest relational mistake leaders make is the assumption that they know best because they see a future or an opportunity clearly. A leader may see a clear future. However the leader also must see the challenges, resistance, threats, opportunities and insights that have the potential of shaping or derailing a leader’s vision. Leaders need to listen to feedback to gather intelligence about the path to the vision.

A leader’s level of resilience is a result of persisting in a purpose over time. Persistence accepts help from others, looks for multiple break-out opportunities that set the stage for the future and spends very little time with entrenched opposition to the vision. This does not mean leaders can ignore feedback. Leaders who persist recognize the difference between a naysayer (resister) and an early adapter or a neutral (who will ultimately contribute to the vision when they see it works) and choose to spend their relational currency strategically.

When we design a new product we persist in getting feedback all the way through the development process. Persistence is like the actions of a great football running back like Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Tony Dorsett or Willie Gallimore. Like running backs leaders bounce off tacklers, look for blockers, see the opportunities in the open field and always orient to the goal. Like a running back persistent leaders get up after being knocked down. Persistent leaders look for new means when their planned strategy collapses. Persistent leaders listen for the encouragement of their team mates. Leaders who exercise persistence are individuals who:
• Meet obstacles as learning opportunities
• Learn from set backs to refine communication and clarity
• Ask questions to look for insights and correlations they did not see before
• Interpret setbacks as an opportunity to test the validity of their strategy
• Incorporate feedback into their tactical responses to new situations

Watching a leader under pressure says a lot about the leader’s future potential. Leaders who possess a sense of purpose, exercise cost awareness and practice persistence are leaders whose resilience grows over time thus enlarging their capacity to deal with complexity, ambiguity, resistance, setbacks, and challenges. More importantly leaders who are resilient see opportunities others miss because they keep looking and learning while others quit.

Resilience is a mindset that practices specific actions over time and adjusts those actions based on lessons learned along the way. The combination of practice, learning and agility increases a leader’s resilience and enhances the value the leader brings to an organization.

How is your resilience? Look at each of the factors I describe above (purpose, cost and persistence) if any of these are weak set aside some time to think about what you see in yourself. Ask those closest to you for their input. Resilience is learned and is therefore a trait that can increase or decrease.

Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.

Church Chairs are Often the Setting of Defining Moments

By Ray Wheeler, DMin.
I was thinking about all the defining moments I have experienced while sitting in church chairs. A defining moment is a point at which life takes a new turn because of some deep or penetrating insight, experience or expanded awareness. Defining moments come in many unique ways and when they come they deeply alter perspective and action. The church has deeply shaped my life, but sitting in church services is not the only way I have been defined as a leader. I think of four specific ways defining moments enter the life of a leader.

Defining Moment of Reflection
While sitting in a church chair in my office I thought about a statement one of my students made the other night in class. “I cannot truly know myself by seeing myself just from the inside, I know myself more fully by hearing what others see on the outside.” This student faced a defining moment that will impact the rest of his life. He understood his connection to others in a way that he never had before. The defining moment came as an involuntary insight resulting from the rigor of academic study. He was struggling with new ideas that challenged deeply held assumptions about himself, his context and his faith. Thinking theologically about what he realized I turn to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where Paul wrote:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
My student understood himself in a new way. His new insight sent him on a quest of attentiveness to the voices of those who reflect the impact of his behavior. My student’s insight demonstrates that possessing a sense of belonging in relationship to others does not diminish a sense of self identity it amplifies it.
If I reflect on this student’s statement psychologically then I turn to the work of Kegan and see that this young man has emerged from a time of differentiation to a new understanding of his interdependence on others. His new self awareness has provided a new confidence and sense of contribution in life. If my student did not pay attention to this defining moment he would have become a fearful leader isolated from the input and help of others.

The Defining Moment of Success
The most effective leaders I know recognize defining moments when they face them and they pay attention to them. The April edition of Harvard Business Review was devoted to how people deal with failure and success. One article noted that people and organizations don’t learn as much from success as they do failure. It is not that success doesn’t have something to teach us but that we don’t really investigate success. The result of not thinking about why we are successful or what we should learn from success allows blind spots to occur.

In light of this observation about success I was delighted to read about a defining moment that came as a result of success in the life of a pastoral leader. Mindi Caliguire writing in Christianity Today described a defining moment rooted in success:
Not long ago a pastor told me: “Mindy, we have a lot of young leaders. Most of our staff is under 40. We’ve launched two new campuses, finished a building campaign, and are making inroads into serving the marginalized in our community. The staff has been running hard and fast for a long time. I’m wondering what the trajectory of our ministry will be two years from now if we don’t intentionally focus on the well-being of our souls. Which marriages are likely to collapse by then? Which young leaders will be run over and left for dead?”
Consider the power of this pastor’s reflection on his own success in ministry. What would have happened if this pastor ignored the defining moment success brought about? Defining moments can be unsettling at any point but I have found that defining moments that center success are deeply challenging in part because I am moved to consider the frailty of success and the reality that success is not an end it is a door way into a far greater challenge. If this pastoral leader had not allowed the discomfort of this defining moment to challenge his success he would become a toxic leader – a reality evident in his own question.

The Defining Moment of Change
Times of change also provide opportunity for defining moments to sneak up on leaders. Jack Connell wrote about his process of change moving from a familiar house and community to a new place. Packing up his library lead him to reflect on what he would do differently in the future. He wrote and article titled, “Ministry Mulligans – if I had it to do all over again.” He gave five:
• More collaboration, less competition
• More pastor, less CEO
• More rest, less rush
• More friendships, less isolation

When I review the insights provided by Jack Connell I find a leader who has chosen to allow the exposure of his own limited perspectives to become a leader of greater capacity. If this leader had not allowed the exposure of his limited perspective and skill while packing his office he would devolve into a leader dependent on habits and blinded to the opportunities change put in front of him. Leaders blinded to opportunity ultimately become hopeless and cynical.

The Defining Moment of Prayer
In each of the situations above, reflection, success and change, defining moments emerge that altered the course of a leader’s life. But there is another situation that opens up deep processing and new defining moments – it is prayer. The defining moments initiated by prayer are often realized over time and in hindsight. King David wrote:
 1 I waited patiently for the LORD; 
   he turned to me and heard my cry. 
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, 
   out of the mud and mire; 
he set my feet on a rock 
   and gave me a firm place to stand. 
3 He put a new song in my mouth, 
   a hymn of praise to our God. 
Many will see and fear the LORD 
   and put their trust in him.

For David patient and persistent prayer turned into a profound realization – God hears our cry. There is something about a leader who prays that affirms the reality of God and the acute insight that the Almighty’s attention encompasses personal struggles and turmoil – God knows me. Leaders who are defined by prayer are leaders who know what it means to be present in the here and now. These leaders see people not just big plans. Leaders who are not defined by prayer often leave their footprints over the backs of those they trod to success. Leaders who are not defined by prayer can fall prey to the illusion that leadership is all about them. David understood that leadership was all about living the kind of life that ultimately draws people to the perception they can trust God.

There are no doubt other contexts in which defining moments occur. The outcomes however are similar. Leaders who embrace rather than run from defining moments are leaders who: grow in confidence about their contribution (rather than stagnate in fear and isolation); see success as a door way to greater challenges (rather than becoming a toxic leader characterized by a lust for more); see opportunity (rather than barriers that leave them hopeless and cynical) and see people (rather than raw ambition alone). What defining moment has entered your life? Did you embrace it or run from it? Are you the kind of person or leader you hoped to be? Take a moment and reengage your most recent defining moment – let its lessons sink deep and bring about transformation.