brigitte kathleen

rediscovering my heart


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An Open Letter to Jon Acuff and #StartEXP Participants

Dear STARTers,

Where do I even begin? First of all, Jon Acuff, thank you for the courage you’ve shown over the past few months, taking on this experiment and getting us involved in something great! So many great relationships have been born. So many inside jokes, so many hashtags… It’s  been a whirlwind three months of constant phone charging, and fear punching.  Jon, because of what you started, I went to Nashville for the first time (and saw some naked statues). Jon, because of your powerful words of encouragement, I wrote a Time Magazine article that described what I pictured my life being like in a way I never thought before. Jon, because of your dream, I made 200 new friends. And though we are very different, there’s an incredible amount of magic going on in that #StartSingles group that no one can really explain. Jon, thank you for involving your 2,000+ new friends on this journey you began. It’s been a joy to see it transform, grow, and morph it something no one expected.

Now, for all you #STARTers. I’ve never seen a more tenacious, determined, faithful, dedicated, loyal, supportive group of people in my entire life. And I don’t mean just the ones who post the most, or ninja-like the most, or were a part of FrankenSTART. I mean everyone. To see how each person contributed was truly amazing. I’ll be 100% honest, at the beginning of the second round, I went on a trip out of the country, and I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things when I returned. I lost touch of the main group and spent most of my time in the #StartSingles group, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t pop my head in every now and again to see what kinds of great things were being brewed up in there.  Thank you for being a constant shining light.

But now what? Yesterday, the #StartEXP as we once knew it came to an end. I see there’s a new group called “Dreamers and Builders,” and bravo for taking the initiative to keep the community alive. But… I want you to start thinking about life in terms of chapters, or seasons. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Jon’s exit from the Dave Ramsey group. We don’t know the reason, and Jon doesn’t owe us one, but it’s obvious that his season there was over. Just like the season for the #StartEXP is now over, and has transformed.

But here’s what I want to challenge you with.

I don’t think Jon’s intent was for us to become dependent on him or this community for a feeling of purpose or contribution. I think community is really important, but I’ve noticed how some of us react when something changes- like yesterday, or like when Jon announced his resignation. People seem to get easily flustered. But you know what, guys? Jon is not the source of your power. Jon was simply someone who gave you the keys to unlock what you already had! If Jon completely disappeared from this, you would still go on being brilliant, and creative, and powerful.

I’m not saying the season for change starts now, but I want you think about what happens next. In Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, he talks about how in order for things to change and become new, some things need to end. This is very similar to the idea of death and resurrection. Eventually, death will come to everything we know as #StartEXP, and it’ll be in our hands to move forward embracing the resurrection of something new and exciting. For Christians, I believe that is where we’ll see the Holy Spirit’s action start up again. When we allow death to bring in resurrection, we are offering an opportunity for new birth. If you don’t believe in the Holy Spirit, think about it in this way- a gardener must prune back roses in a bush that might be beautiful, but not necessarily buds that help the entire plant reach is fullest, brightest, and most beautiful potential.

Change is usually difficult. And some of us are not ready for that change to happen to the #StartEXP yet. But I can tell you that change is coming, and eventually we’ll have to embrace the pain of death so that we can allow our brilliance, our creativity, and our mind power bring to life something new and exciting.

Jon is just a guy who had an idea. All of us had our own ideas also, or we wouldn’t have replied to the tweet/post/every other social media medium out there that Jon uses. Jon is not the one supporting you. Even your fellow #STARTers aren’t supporting you. You are using your own mind, your own ideas, your own ideation to create and discover. Don’t let go of that. Don’t forget about the magic you had before you met Jon.

I have the utmost respect for all of you, and I’m excited to see what awesome things you continue to do.

Love,

Brigitte K. Leininger

#STARTAlum

P.S. #allthethings


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It’s OK to Hope for a KitchenAid Mixer

This past Christmas, I did something I probably shouldn’t have: I asked for a 5-quart KitchenAid mixer (with accessories) in the iconic Empire Red color. It might not be every little girl’s fantasy to someday own a KitchenAid mixer, but I feel like once you  hit a certain age, it’s OK to start wanting some of those “adult” things (and actually be excited about them). Here’s the problem- Everyone I know who has one of these wonderful contraptions is married. The KitchenAid mixer is traditionally known to be a wonderful wedding gift from a wealthy family member who is just close enough to want to spend that kind of money on you, but not close enough to want to help with the wedding (like a rich uncle).

kitchen aid mixer

 

It’s no secret that I’m in my mid late 20’s and as single as I’ve ever been. That’s why I had a difficult time adding my KitchenAid mixer to my Amazon.com wish list. In my mind, the Empire Red KitchenAid mixer is a “coming of age” item. To me, it means you’ve arrived- you’re officially the domestic queen that your grandma has always hoped you be. I even thought that actually receiving, purchasing, or owning this kind of item would mean I’ve given up all hope in my future and become settled with being single for the rest of my life (it’s a symbolism thing…).  This whole life of limbo I’m living in really got me thinking about one HUGE question: How do we realistically plan for the future without having a clue what the future might even look like?

This question has been in the back of my mind since I started grad school. When I started seminary, I was toying with the idea of becoming ordained and everything that entailed. At that point, I was single and fine with being sent wherever they were going to want to send me, and I knew that would be a strength I had going into my interviews. After that idea went out the window, I considered moving to New York (you might remember that post from September). I remember people being so concerned with the idea of moving to somewhere new by myself, but my excuse was that I had nothing holding me down here.

Skipping ahead, I’m now 27 and I’m trying to figure out what the latest versions of my 1, 5, and 10 year plans are. When you’re recently graduated with a lot of components in your life that keep changing, your own idea of the future ends up morphing and it can be difficult to keep up. When you’re from the heartland, people are getting married young, and beginning their lives together, meaning they can make a 1, 5, and 10 year plan together. Now, don’t get me wrong- this is not a “poor me, I’m single,” story. This is simply a discovery of what life for 20/30-somethings who are ready to make a game plan looks like when they make that game plan without knowing who they’ve got on their roster.

As cynical as I may be becoming, I still believe in the power of hope and faith for the future. Though your present may either be really great, or really not-so-great, you still have a future waiting for you. The beauty is that your future is just as unknown to you as it is to people who spend their whole lives planning for theirs. So dream. Dream big. What do you want your future to look like? Think about it in terms of painting a picture. The thing that I think a lot of us take for granted in planning without knowing is that our canvas is blank and waiting to be painted on. People who are planning with and around others in their life already have brushstrokes they need to work into their artwork. I’m not saying that people who are married, dating, have kids or family responsibilities, or anything tying them down can’t dream, and more often than not, the art that they’re having to incorporate into their painting is beautiful. I just know that, although I’m a terrible visual artist, I have a huge sense of hope and imagination when I’m staring at a blank canvas.

Another thing that I think we forget, especially when we get deep into “planning mode,” is that plans rarely work out the way we envision them. If you would have asked me 10 years ago what I’d be doing now, I can say with 150% certainty that THIS would not be it. I pictured myself married, maybe with a child, living in a house, and successful in whatever career I may have landed in. Grad school was never on my radar, and I wanted to get done and start life as soon as possible. I’m 27, single, childless, and a recent graduate who feels clueless more than anything. My future, your future, his future, her future… our futures are not static. It’s not a situation of, “Let it be said, let it be done.” Our lives are fluid and we have to make changes and recalibrate when things happen all the time. Some people believe that God has a very precise plan for them (I don’t know if I’m one of those people or not), and if that is the case, then guess what? We still don’t know the plan, and we have to prayerfully accept the dance God has invited us into, and let him lead.

I think there’s a huge leadership lesson in this for us. Leaders are people who can not only anticipate their own needs and the needs of those around them, but they are also people who can adapt to changes, including ones they weren’t expecting. Leaders are also people who are self-aware, know who they are, and what they can offer. I think there’s a big difference in knowing what you can offer and knowing what you want to offer. When we make plans for the future, we’re already limiting ourselves to what we think we’ll want to offer instead of letting opportunities present themselves. When you don’t have your piece of art completed before you begin, life gives you new colors, shapes, and brushstrokes to make it a masterpiece you didn’t know you were capable of.

In closing, I want to swing this back around to my lustful desire for a KitchenAid mixer. I’m not married. I’m not dating anyone. I’m not really even close. But I also know I’m not getting any younger, and that owning a KitchenAid mixer shouldn’t be contingent on weather or not I’m getting married. What’s important is that I’m allowing my canvas to be painted one brushstroke at a time, and when I’m ready for my Empire Red brushstroke that represents my KitchenAid mixer to finally find its home amongst the other colors that make up who I am, I think it’s going to be an excellent addition to the magnificent piece of art my life is turning out to be. And when I’m ready to merge my masterpiece with another person’s, it’s going to be more lovely and intricate that I could have ever imagined.  So go on, dream big, and get yourself a KitchenAid mixer.


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Guess & Check & Guess Again

When I was in sixth grade, we had a large mason jar in our math class. Every week, it would be filled with something- buttons, gummy bears, leggos, etc., and every week we had an estimation contest. I never, ever won. Want to know why? Because I’m terrible at estimation. I don’t guess right on anything- distance, time, numbers of people, how many miles I’ve got left in my gas tank… you get the idea.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that my journey to April 8th, 2013 has been nothing less than unconventional. In fact, if I’ve ever been in a situation where there are guidelines and rules, I’ve probably danced outside of them. I took six years for my undergraduate degree (a B.A. in Business for Religious Organizations– what??). I went to seminary and took two and a half years to finish what is traditionally a two year program. I drove a pick-up truck with 250,000 miles on it. I was a flight attendant. I’m 27 years old and have never dated. I LOVE Twitter. I got to hold an Emmy. What I’m trying to say is this– Although I have many stories to tell, my life has been a collage of experiences and blind moves on my own little chess board.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not complaining, nor do I regret anything (for the most part). But what I’ve learned in my 9,952 days on this lovely planet is that life is nothing more than a series of games of “Guess and Check.” Maybe you believe in a God has some grand plan or maybe you don’t believe in God, or maybe you believe in fate– No matter your beliefs, the decisions you make are up to you, and realistically, you never know if you’ve made the right one or not.

I don’t know about you, but this sends me into a frenzy. On one hand, I’m really glad to know that everyone else is potentially making life-altering mistakes like I am. On the other hand, it’s terrifying to think I could be making life-altering mistakes! Although believe in the beauty of grace and that my mistakes will eventually work themselves out, it’s hard to move forward not knowing what potential risks you’re facing.

There’s a movie out there called “Love Happens,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart. At one point in the movie, Jennifer Aniston’s character, Eloise, addresses a mistake that Burke (played by Mr. Eckhart) made in not going to his wife’s funeral. During this little “Come-to-Jesus” meeting she says, “My life is a day to day experiment in really bad decisions.” As much as I want to respect and admire Eloise’s humility in addressing the fact that she’s not good at life choices, isn’t this a sentiment that everyone can relate to? Whether it’s picking a wrong restaurant for lunch or marrying the wrong person, each of us has a history of poor decision making.

Up till now, I’ve been preaching a lot of law, and I apologize, and while I’m the last person on earth qualified to give you a dose of gospel in this area, I’m going to try. I know I addressed this in an earlier blog post, but this is what it comes down to: You cannot live life with regret. You’re going to make decisions. With those decisions come mistakes. But at the same time, with decisions come GIGANTIC victories. Risk is scary, but where would anyone be if we didn’t risk something (at least once in a while)?

I get risk, trust me. I totally get it. I happen to be completely afraid of vulnerability- ANY kind of vulnerability. This means I end up living a very guarded life. Meanwhile, I’m cheering for everyone else, encouraging people to take great leaps of faith, and take risks, and not to fear failure. I have a master’s degree in this, for crying out loud. But for some reason, my own fears and vulnerabilities get in the way when I try to apply what I want for other people to my own life. I think if we all take a second to think about it for a second, we come to the conclusion that VULNERABILITY SUCKS. The only way to get around it, though, is to get over it– unless, of course, you don’t mind living your life alone and with very little to show. Because, you know what? Sure, taking risks involves being completely vulnerable, but the only way to succeed is if you embrace it, and take that leap into a great unknown.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m terrible at estimation. The only thing I’m somewhat good at estimation is the price of things (mostly because I spent the better portion of my childhood watching Supermarket Sweep). But, major life decisions? I can’t even handle it. And let me tell you, most of my decisions are in the “guess” category. I’m never sure of anything. I could pray, and pray, and pray till the cows come home, but are we ever REALLY sure? I mean… really…. are we ever REALLY sure of anything? And sometimes, I make really bad guesses. However, I don’t believe in a God that’s going to hang me out to dry if I make a wrong turn. Instead, I believe in a God who loves me enough to work through any situation, and get me turned in the right direction.

I hate guessing because I hate being wrong. But I’ve realized that while you may be wrong (and you may be wrong a lot), you also might get it right. Embrace the guessing. Embrace the estimation. The only way to move forward is to guess which way to step. But also know that the reality of the “check” is there too. Life is full of “Guess and Check,” I just wish they would have told us they were teaching us a major life lesson in 6th grade math when we were guessing how many paper clips were in the jar.

As much as I hate guessing and hate vulnerability, I can’t help but come back to this final thought: The beauty of the “Guess and Check” game of life is that if “check” comes back and says “wrong guess,” you get to guess again. Eventually, you’ll guess right.


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The Art of Not Giving Yourself Enough Credit

I’m just beginning to write this post, but I already know it’s going to be a difficult one. Why do I know that? Because I know that I’m one of the most self-critical people I’ve ever known. So really, this could be the equivalent of dog writing about how hard it is to be a cat. While it may seem a little hypocritical, I’m going to go for it anyway. This will either prove to be a therapeutic experience, or it’ll prove that, while I’m not great at acknowledging my strengths and talents, I’m good at recognizing those traits in other people, and this is more for them than it is for me. I suppose this writing is going to come from a sense of first hand experience, but also being open and watching those around me experience the pain of self-criticism as well.

As a part of my Master’s Degree, I did a lot of intensive work on individual leadership development. In fact, my 100+ page thesis was a three-part work on the idea that everyone contains the capacity to be a leader. The first part of my thesis (which I’m referencing for this discussion) can be found here. Since it’s a little long, you might not want to read the whole thing, so I’ll sum it up: I believe that everyone possesses five characteristics that they channel into effective and quality leadership: Passion, Initiative, Courage, Creativity, and Humility. It’s when these five things come together (in a Captain Planet sort of way) that a person emerges as the leader they are meant to be.

In my thesis (and probably in a future work like a dissertation or other post-graduate study), I talk about how passion is truly the catalyst to help the other characteristics fall into place. If you’re passionate, you’ll want to take initiative, you’ll want to have courage, you’ll want to be creative in your problem solving, etc. The tricky part of this equation is finding that passion and clinging to it, knowing that making it into something great is going to take work– but work you’ll be willing and excited to do.

Just like we all have some kind of passion burning inside of us, we all have gifts, too. Some of our gifts are greater or more prominent than others (i.e. I’d consider myself a decent chef, but a good baker), but that doesn’t mean any are invaluable. How you use and develop them is up to you. Unfortunately for us, American society hasn’t done us many favors in the whole ‘developing and discovering your gifts’ department. Here’s why I think this:

1. The most accessible gifts inventory in most high schools is the ASVAB test. I don’t know about you, but I answered questions to get a specific outcome.  I was supposed to be some kind of performing artist…. and look at me now.

2. Colleges and the higher education system are expecting students to choose a career path at the ripe age of 18. Then they’re charging an arm and a leg for school, basically threatening students with the impending doom of life-long student loan debt if they can’t get their degree done in timely fashion.

3. American society glorifies both the celebrity lifestyle, and the participation award. How many times have we asked ourselves, “Why is Kim Kardashian famous?” And, don’t get me wrong, I loved getting participation awards, but no– I should have never received a medal for being on the turquoise soccer team. I was TERRIBLE at soccer. They should have given me a hand-written note (to show sincerity) saying that I should never don a pair of shin guards ever again. Tough love, people. Let’s try to recapture that.

While there may be a lot of things you’re not exceptionally talented at, keep in mind that in order to embrace the gifts you DO have, you have to trust that God had a least a little bit of an idea when he was creating you. To forgo your gifts and constantly wish for someone else’s gifts is not only doing yourself a disservice, but dishonoring the work that the Holy Spirit is continuously doing in you. Have a little faith (albeit, sometimes easier said than done) in the work that God is doing in and through you.

So what? Here’s what- I think too many people count themselves out because they’ve tried things that haven’t worked. This shouldn’t be our mentality at all. With hesitation, I use the failure (I have a love/hate relationship with this beautifully terrible word). Failure brings with it opportunities for greatness (I blogged about that, too). The best thing about failure is that it points me away from things that are wrong for me and opens up a thousand more opportunities. Don’t look at failure as an end, embrace it as a new beginning.

What else? This means that you can’t sit around moping about your inadequacies and expect to be successful. You have to try in order to fail or succeed. You’ll never know which one it’ll be until you get off your couch. If you don’t know where to start, ask your friends (who you can be candid with, and who you trust) what they think some of your strengths and talents are. Ask them what they think you might be good at, or if they can think of things for you to try. Your friends (who love you) will give you honest and worthwhile feedback.

You have some incredible gifts, whether or not you know it. Just because you don’t think you’ve found them yet, whether your 7 years old or 107 years old, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The beauty in waking up every day is the uncertainty of what you’ll discover about the world, God, life, but even more exciting, yourself. And if you’re still looking for that ONE thing to cling to, that ONE thing to be passionate about, go look for it, but be patient in the search. And realize that you do have other gifts- cling to those things that give you hope and joy and realize that you are a gift to people around you.

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Social Responsibility and the American Dream

So, here I am on my way to New York City for the 2012 Social Good Summit where I’ll spend three days hearing about how social media can and should impact out global culture. I’m also excited to be able to experience something with thousands of other people around the world who are just as concerned about the future of social responsibility in a world that is changing faster than most of us can keep up.

In the midst of getting ready for this event, my mind has been a little preoccupied with the upcoming election. Not only are we voting for the presidential office, but Minnesota also has two important issues on the ballot: the Voter ID law, and the MN constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my thoughts on one of these issues, from both a social and Christian responsibility perspective.

Marriage Amendment

It’s no surprise that the biggest and most vocal group supporting the passing of this amendment is the church grounded in the Evangelical (note: capital E) practice. This group tends to be very conservative and fundamentalist, which means reading and interpreting scripture as it is written, in any given translation. They claim their support for this amendment is based on the biblical view of marriage, and what God intended for marriage to be. This argument would be valid, if they weren’t looking at only a few scriptures to make their point. What the supporters of the amendment are failing to realize is that the relationship we refer to as marriage has been changing since its birth in the Garden of Eden. From everything to polygamy, to forced marriage due to death of a spouse or a man taking a woman as his wife because he has raped her and now claims ownership, marriage has continued to evolve. How can this group both claim that the Bible-in its entirety- is true and God-breathed, and wanting to uphold the biblical understanding of marriage without attempting to uphold every kind of marriage that has ever taken place?

My next argument against the amendment is similar- marriage is a state-sanctioned union. I believe that by attempting to use the Bible as a measuring tool for issues that aren’t unique to the church, you’re now on a slippery to integrating church and state. Also, we live in America, where one of the greatest blessings we have is the freedom to practice or not practice any religion we choose. Why, then, should we be forcing people to live by ideals that everyone might not possess? This is an unfair expectation, especially when Christians are a becoming more of a minority every year.

Yesterday, I posted something on my Facebook page that said, “I’m Lutheran, and I’m voting NO.” I did this for a couple reasons. One, I am really proud of the steps my church (The ELCA) is taking to promote equality and human rights. Second, I want to be a voice for those who feel they don’t have one. But most importantly, for those who are not in the weeds of the religious circles everyday like I am, they may not understand that there are religious groups that are fighting for equality for Americans. This brings me to my final point on this- equality. I’m proud to say that I live in a country that recognizes the value of human life, and individual thinkers. I live in a country where the ideas that something could be a reality have led to the first air-flight by the Wright brothers, and the birth of the automobile. I also live in a country whose Declaration of Independence clearly states that we believe all men are created equal, and have access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Have these sentiments always been upheld? Absolutely not. We’ve seen the degradation of African Americans in things like slavery and the 3/5 law. We’ve seen women have to fight for equal pay and the right to vote. We claim these beautiful words as our own but are obviously a work in progress. Although those eras were far from perfect and we still fight some of these old ideals, many of us look back and realize how big of a mistake they were. America is progressive, and the issue of same-sex-marriage is just another’s elf those things weave to fight through. The overall issue we’re facing is the right to equality. For some reason, supporters of the amendment don’t see this as discrimination, but that’s exactly what it is. Right now, a particular group of people are being denied rights of their fellow citizens based on their inherent nature as a human. Just like the African Americans were discriminated against because of the color of their skin, anyone who isn’t heterosexual is being discriminated against because of their own nature of being. This is contradictory to what I believe America is supposed to stand for. And if America isn’t going to stand for the equality of her citizens, then it is time to draft a new Declaration of Independence.

Social responsibility is not just a “social” issue, but an issue for Christians to take under their wing. Many people think that the ELCA taking a stance on the two issues on the ballot is politicizing the church. I have two responses to that- first of all, if the evangelical church is going to try to bring their religion into the government by trying to ban something, than we should have the opportunity to bring religion into the government to do the opposite- however, I believe that having a religious reason to be involved is unconstitutional. However, from my own personal belief, I’m taking a stand because it’s a social and human right issue- nothing to do with my religious beliefs. It just so happens that my religious beliefs fall in line with my social beliefs.

My goal or wish is to be a voice for those who don’t think they are able to use theirs. I want to put out a call to my brothers and sisters to do the same.

I also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to VOTE. If you have a voice, USE IT. Please get out there and vote on November 6th, no matter your beliefs, although I hope you find courage to continue conversations that are important to the future of America, and the impact we, as Americans, can have on the social responsibility culture in the coming years. If you have moved since the 2008 election and/or are not registered to vote, you can do that at gottavote.org (sponsored by the Obama 2012 campaign) or rockthevote.org (no party affiliation).

Until next time, don’t forget to dream big.


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Failure: Opportunity, or Human Brokenness?

Failure. Defeat. Catastrophe. Inadequacy. These are all words that, as humans, scare us into being determined to succeed. When working towards a goal, think about what it is you’re really afraid of- success and praise? A promotion? Pride? No. Humans are wired to be afraid of failing at something and disappointing the people around us. Sometimes, we get so caught up in this fear of failure, and the repercussions, it paralyzes us and we are unable to function. Our society has taught us that we must always be pushing for success and perfection. Whether it’s the perfect job, successful salary, perfect body, desirable lifestyle, we are convinced that unless we have success, we will be unhappy.

What would the world be like if we changed this mentality- what if failure was considered a positive outcome? This is hard to wrap our minds around, but in some circles, failure is praised, and embraced. It’s time to give failure a new purpose in life, and determine the consequences of what that might mean. One question that we need to be asking ourselves, though, is how should the idea of failure be dealt with in the church world as opposed to how it’s encountered in the corporate or entrepreneurial realm. This article will uncover some of the mentality shifts on failure, mostly in the corporate sector, and then translate that into what it means for the church in this pivotal time of change and transformation. What does it mean to be the church, and how does sin affect our ideas of failure? Should the church and the secular world accept failure in the same way?

It’s important to begin by looking at the place failure has in our society, and the shift in mindset the business world is currently experiencing. In “Poke the Box”, a book by Seth Godin, he discusses the important role risk plays in success. In order to succeed, especially if you’re working on something new and exciting, you have to embrace risk-taking. If you’re not taking risks, you’re essentially not attempting to get anywhere new. By attempting anything new, you have to risk something. What makes it a risk? Knowing that failure is a possible outcome, and unfortunately, most initiatives fail.[1] True risk-taking knows failure is a possibility, and not being afraid of it.

Godin is very enthusiastic in his writing, with ideas like “Don’t start- Leap!” and “What would you do in a world with no rules? Go and do it!”[2] These are zealous statements, especially knowing that most of the times you’ll leap, you’ll fall flat on your face. But, if you go into an endeavor attempting to avoid failure, you’re being counterproductive. Recognition of failure is at the core of risk-taking. If failure isn’t a possibility, it’s not a risk. Try to remember that the goal has never been to succeed, but instead to continue taking initiative and taking risks.[3] By doing this, failure will take on a new character in our lives.

Dr. Henry Cloud, a leadership consultant, wrote an entire book about the importance of endings. “Necessary Endings” covers everything from personal relationships to professional endeavors. Dr. Cloud uses this book to explain that although endings are always eventually necessary, these endings don’t mean that anything has been a failure, although it might be hard to see it as anything but defeat.  His main theme throughout the book is that an ending is not a failure, but simply an open door for other opportunities. This is a very optimistic (some may say naïve) view of failure and how we let failure function in our lives. But who has ever said optimism is bad? What would the world look like if we weren’t terrified of failure, and really embraced it as a jumping off point for something new?

In “Necessary Endings”, Cloud uses the imagery of a rose bush. He discusses how it’s necessary to prune and cut back the rose bush to let it blossom to its full ability. This means getting rid of buds that won’t bloom, or branches that are hindering a full blossom, and even those buds that have blossomed, but not as full and rich as the others. This image encourages us to get rid of anything that is holding the bush back from being 100% of what its supposed to be. Take, for example, a blossom that hasn’t produced a perfect flower. If the gardener were to leave that blossom in tact, the rose bush as a whole would not be able to fulfill its purpose, and be the most beautiful rose bush in the garden.[4] But, if the gardener were to take a risk by getting rid of that one rose blossom that seems to be holding the integrity of the bush in itself, what could eventually come of that? Could the bush produce something more beautiful than he could have imagined? Would the bush all of a sudden be lacking a integral piece of its beauty? This is a risk the gardener would have to take, hoping for the best, but recognizing the possibility for the worst.

What does this mean for the church? So many of these ideas are heavily entrepreneurial, and for young hotshots, looking to make the move on that next big idea, and make a lot of money. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and even our good friend Seth Godin are all examples of what this looks like in the public, secular, business world. But the church is a different place. The church embraces same goals, same mission, and same gospel, and lets those things be the driving force of the wider church, so how do we use this new mentality of failure, knowing what we know from scripture, including the idea of sinfulness, and the work of evil in the world?

Is the church held to different standards than a run-of-the-mill Fortune 500 company? This was the first question I asked myself when I started thinking about failure as a whole. The answer I came up with was: no. However, there are other factors that we recognize as acting agents. We call it sin. That’s not to say sin isn’t present in business practices, but in the church we have a name for it.  As a church, we claim to constantly being focused on God’s mission, and how we, either as individuals or congregations, can work together to work within that missiology. But how do we tell if an idea we have is God-centered?

The power of discernment has become central to our transforming church culture. Prayer and listening have become the first step of many congregations’ “move forward” strategies. They listen to those around them, their communities, and hopefully they’re listening to God. What does it mean if we engage in these intense listening, praying, and discernment practices, but our ideas either never seem to take off, or simply just fall apart?

Bill Hybles, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois is very well known for his work at Willow Creek, and has also written numerous books on leadership. One of his recent works, “Axiom”, is a collection of leadership proverbs, touching on everything from communication to personal integrity. His tenth proverb is entitled, “The Value of a Good Idea.” In this short chapter, Hybles is very clear on how he feels about ideas: allow them to happen[5].  Bill encourages people to constantly be coming up with ideas, even ones they are completely unsure about. His strategy is simple: “In order to land one good idea—one breakthrough idea that will kick your organization’s activity into high gear—you have to allow for hundreds or even thousands of mediocre ideas.”[6] Even with this hopeful mentality about developing ideas, there’s still a possibility that you take an idea, and let it soar, and gets absolutely nowhere. The first question people will ask is, “Whose fault is it?” Is it fair to say that God is not involved in the discernment around those mediocre ideas?

In the past couple of years, my home church has been attempting to start a young adults (20-to-30-somethings) ministry. In order to do this, the point person on this project talked to all the young adults he knew and could think of. He put up announcements before church, in the bulletins, on the website, and all over social media. The group started with an average attendance of five to six people every week, some weeks more, most weeks less. He tried to jumpstart this ministry twice, and both attempts flopped. He tried for weeks, and months to figure out where he had gone wrong. Eventually, I told him that what he’s been doing wrong was attempting to market to a demographic that wasn’t present at the church. Our church has a fairly vibrant aging community, and the rest are young families. There are very few newlywed couples without children, and even fewer single, post-college adults. Essentially, he was hitting all the right marketing outlets, but there was no one there to care about them.

His idea was strong, and he was passionate about it, which made it harder to admit defeat. To look at this situation from a slightly cynical perspective, one could say that he probably wasn’t seeking after what God wanted him to do, and instead was giving into his own selfish desires. He had an idea, but how God-centered was his idea if God allowed it to fail? To look at it from the other, more optimistic or naïve perspective, you could say that this wasn’t a failure at all. This was simply an opportunity to realize that the group he was trying to reach were not currently in the church, and so now he’s been given the chance to get outside the church doors and see what he, with God’s help, can make happen out there.

The problem with this situation in particular is the focus on the ministry, and its purpose. The focus was purely internal- he was trying to get people involved in this programming, without considering anything outside the walls of the church. His intentions were great on a human level- he wanted to create a program for a group that hadn’t been tapped into in our congregation. But he didn’t use his resources efficiently. In “Missional Renaissance”, Reggie McNeal talks about refocusing resources. First of all, the man attempting to start this ministry used what was easy for him to grab hold of- marketing tools inside the church, people who hung out at church, social networking followed by mostly only people who attend the church. What he failed to do was take the extra step to reach outward.

I believe the biggest mistake he made was in his discernment process. He saw something he wanted, and he went after it without consulting God. McNeal says that prayer is the most “untapped and underused resource available”[7]. In the case of my home congregation, this was very clear as we saw what could have been a booming ministry wilt without ever really reaching a peak. But what about those churches that are spending time praying, and in discernment? How should they react when something they’re passionate about never takes off, or does take off, but then goes belly up?

These two situations are very different, the key factor being the place of prayer and discernment. If a church is truly willing to enter into a time of exploration, growth, and missional renewal, and they are intentional about seeking God’s direction for them. Somewhere along the line, they may hit a bump but God never said, “Go out, and create the perfect ministry model, and do everything perfectly without a hiccup.” Instead, God sent Jesus to send us out, making disciples, with a to-do list of two things: Love God, and love your neighbor.  This has contributed multiple shapes of ministry in different settings, and cultures. Of course we’re going to make mistakes, and experience problems. That’s what makes it fun! We are human, and we are bound to do things wrong. We can’t do anything without our sinful nature getting in the way. But if we earnestly seek out the Holy Spirit’s guidance and prayerfully discern where the Spirit is leading us, I can’t help but think that eventually God’s will can and will be accomplished.

Is failure the same, overall? I believe so. I also believe that failure isn’t always negative. Just as if an executive were to make a selfish move, causing the collapse of a program within a business, if a pastor begins preaching based on selfish intentions, something will fall short. Intentionality is a major piece to this failure puzzle, and deciding how to approach it in our given communities.  Churches can still find opportunities in failed attempts at ministry, programming, discipleship- you name it, and we’ve failed at it at least once. The important thing for the church to remember is this overall concept of “failure equals opportunity” is not solely designated to the goings on outside of the church. We, as the church, can still take a failure, and turn it into a thriving, blossoming rose bush. In order to do that, we need to trust that God will guide us through that process of discernment, failure, and recovery, and not lose hope in the mission we’re here to take part in.


[1] Godin, Seth. Poke the Box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? United States of America: Do you Zoom, Inc., 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cloud, Henry. Necessary Endings. New York, NY: HarperCollins Books, 2010.

[5] Hybels, Bill. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. (p.43)

[6] Ibid.

[7] McNeal, Reggie. Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. (p. 67-70)


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Essential Characteristics of Effective Leaders: A Leadership Framework

Leadership takes many forms. From a CEO of a Fortune 500 company to a Little League coach, leaders are among us taking all shapes and sizes. Although we might not see each particular person in an environment that allows their true abilities to shine, we cannot dismiss them as gifted or talented leaders.

Does contemporary leadership look similar to ancient biblical leadership? I’ve developed a basic framework for what lies at the core of effective leadership while trying to answer that very question. It is my belief that leadership is comprised of five essential elements. This framework consists of five components, and these five components are: passion, initiative, creativity, courage, and humility.

This paper will look at the importance of each quality, and how they all meld together and make up the essence of a quality leader. In addition, I will look at how these gifts being used in diverse settings to help prove that leadership may look different in diverse settings, but is made of the same essential elements.

Passion

I believe passion is, undoubtedly, the most crucial element of quality leadership. Passion manifests itself differently in differently people, so it is crucial to not judge one person’s appearance of passion compared to your own. However, when it is a passion that makes a difference, you will be sure to recognize it.

Passion can present itself in everything from joy to suffering. A leader will use this passion to motivate them, and help motivate those around them. John Dickson, in his book Humilitas, defines leadership as “the art of inspiring”[1]. If someone is truly passionate about something, this will be obvious to those around them, and will inspire them to make strides toward their goal. For example, the 1972 Miami Dolphins did something that had never been accomplished in the National Football League to date- they finished the regular and post seasons with a perfect record of 17-0, including an impressive win at Superbowl VII[2]. This triumphant feat was led by head coach, Don Shula, with an impressive coaching staff working under him. Coach Shula, in order to coast through the season without a loss, had a perfect storm of gifts and talents in his midst, to be sure. But one thing that Coach Shula could do better than any other coach in the NFL that year was inspire his 49-man roster and his coaching staff to play and coach to the best of their ability. He embraced John Dickson’s definition of what leadership is, and ingrained a winning mentality into his players and staff, so much so that his players were inspired to overcome all odds, injuries, and set backs, and finish the football season undefeated.

Coach Shula had many other factors contributing to that 17-0 record, but passion lay at the core of his motivation. When a leader can share a love and care for something so deeply that it is feeding those around them with the same fire for success, the sky is the limit of what can be accomplished.

Using the New Testament example of Paul, many of the letters he had written to numerous and diverse communities were filled with this passion for the Gospel. He wrote to encourage and strengthen the communities that were seeking quality leadership in times of need. People translated his passion into applicable inspiration, and worked to share and love the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many people have different words for this passion that we experience. I use a communal “we” because everyone is passionate about something. Depending on who you talk to, this passion could be discussed in terms of fire or spirit. Many Christians may claim that their passion comes from the Holy Spirit, who gives them strength, and guides them towards vocations that they are gifted for. Many non-Christians may claim that things in their past, family history, or other external factors trigger their passions. Being the person I am, and coming from a Christian perspective, I believe the Holy Spirit is in everyone, whether they are able to name it or not. It is when we are able to embrace this passion, and use it to inspire those around us that, together we are capable of doing great things.

Initiative

“Great artists ship.”  This quote by Steve Jobs has become a building block for many entrepreneurs, and used fiercely by Seth Godin in Poke the Box[3]. People of any shape, size, age, or capacity are capable of coming up with ideas, but it’s those who take the initiative to ship their ideas who truly mark themselves as an effective leader. And sometimes, the simple act of taking initiative to move an idea forward is all you need to start a revolution, whether you intend it or not.

A little initiative can go a long way. In his book Axiom, Bill Hybles emphasizes the importance two things: first, having the right people around the table. Second, “hiring 10’s” (Note: Both of these ideas will be covered more in-depth in the “Humility” section of this paper)[4]. Being a productive and effective leader is not something one person can do on their own. They must be able to surround themselves with a diverse group of people with different talents, gifts, and skills. At the same time, this group of people must be dedicated to their craft to the extent that they will be an asset to the table, and not a distraction. By doing these two things, making you sure you have the best group of diversified talent, you’re setting yourself up for success. Effective leaders are able to do this at the start of a project to encourage progress.

One person who shows the characteristic of initiative in scripture is Jairus, who we know as the synagogue leader whose daughter is gravely ill. Knowing his daughter hasn’t much time, he journeys to find Jesus, and begs him to come heal his daughter. In an attempt to get away from an argument of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, the fact that we are told that Jairus is a leader in the Jewish community is very important to realizing the power of initiative. Knowing Jairus went to Jesus as a church leader helps us create a lens through which to read this story.  Is it easier to read the story knowing Jairus is a leader, and seeing his initiative playing out, or would it be more effective to watch Jairus take steps towards getting his daughter healed, and then finding out he’s an established leader? Both of these points are irrelevant to this fact: Jairus is a prominent community member, who has been entrusted to a leadership position. Because of this small step in the direction of solving a problem, he is able to reach Jesus, and his daughter is healed.

Initiative doesn’t always come directly from the will of the person who is taking ownership of it. Initiative can also be the effect of God speaking to someone. For instance, the prophets were called to go to God’s people and share a message with them. This happened at the urgency and direct word of God (“And the word of the Lord came to Elijah…”). The same can be said for those who are working in transforming congregations. By undergoing a discernment process, and being open and listening to where God is leading the church, we can be safe in assuming that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide, shape, and form church leaders into who the church and God need them to be.

Leaders come in different shapes and sizes, but one thing that unites them is their initiative. Having initiative doesn’t always mean that one person is going to take the reigns of a project, but it shows they have the means to get it started, and that they value their own input enough to know they are valuable. Good artists create, but as our friend Steve Jobs said, “Great artists ship.”

 

Creativity

Although a fairly relative term, creativity is the third crucial characteristic quality and effective leaders posses. Creativity doesn’t necessarily come in one form. Many times, we think creativity is only something artistic, and we quickly count ourselves out, when in reality, creativity is something the is seen in everything from God’s act of creation to developing a strategic plan for a business or church in decline.

Up to this point, we’ve discussed the crucial elements of leadership being passion and initiative. Let’s say that you have been in your place of work for three years. You enjoy your job, and are constantly looking for ways to become more involved in some of the changes going on. You’ve heard water-cooler chat about the fact that the smoking area outside of the building is troublesome for the people in your company. But that’s it- you’ve heard complaining, and no action is being taken. This issue of second hand smoke is very close to you because your brother was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, after being a bartender for 25 years in an establishment that allowed smoking; he has never smoked a cigarette. You now use this passion on the subject to think of ways you can help a change be made. Once you come up with an ideal plan of forging ahead, you now take the initiative to create a “Workplace Environment Committee” made up of your co-workers to tackle issues such as this one. What happens next? You and your team need to be creative in thinking of ways to implement your plan. This is where the gift of creativity will benefit you, and everyone you are in contact with. Most of all, your gift of creativity will effect the hundreds, maybe thousands of people you work with.

Creativity can sometimes experience pushback from the practical people we encounter. The thing about creativity is that it colors outside of the lines in shades of red, green, orange, blue while many times, practicality is about black and white, and remaining in the boundaries that have already been established. Creativity isn’t there to break the rules, but test those boundaries.

When God embarked on the miracle of creation, the first boundary God met was the existence of nothingness. Talk about a boundary! But God tested that boundary, and chaos of nothingness, and the first step he took was to create something. He created light out of darkness. Land and water. Fish and land creatures. Male and female. God’s creativity kept coloring outside of the lines that had been placed by none other than God himself. Then God did the unthinkable- he let us be creators with him. The beauty of this is that God had given us something to work with, but has let us continue to push those boundaries. God will let us know when we’ve pushed too far.

Nadia Bolz-Webber, the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado once preached a sermon at Luther Seminary where she said that God created something out of nothing, so we need to allow ourselves to be nothing in order to let God do something. If we continue to allow God to create something in us out of our nothingness, we will be able to use his something to create more somethings. The one requirement is that we open ourselves up to as much chaotic beauty as possible in order to let ourselves create in the ways God has equipped us.

 

Courage

While compiling the pieces of this leadership framework, I had debated putting courage in this position on my list. Eventually, I became ok with it, and now I know why. Courage is something that doesn’t come easily. For example, if I were to trade places with an avid rock climber, and that avid rock climber would have to go sing in front of 500 people at King of Kings Lutheran Church for a Sunday morning worship service, each of us would tell the other, “Don’t worry about it! It’s so easy!” However, I can almost guarantee that neither of us would feel that way when the time came to execute each of the projects we’d been given. What this illustration is meant to portray is that courage is going to look different to everyone. However, when put into a situation where you’ve been given leadership of a project, if the task is to play out to its fullest potential, chances will have to be taken, risks will have to be made, and risk taking requires courage.

The biggest thing people are afraid of when taking on a new challenge is failure. This is why courage is a part of this discussion at all. The reality of failure hangs in our faces, and sometimes the fear of failure can be crippling to us in whatever it is we’re doing. In Poke the Box, by Seth Godin, he is not too timid to make the claim that most initiatives fail[5]. If they didn’t, the world would be a chaotic mess of options, programs, skydivers, and a new “Worlds Largest Ball of Twine” ever other week. Accepting failure as a possible result, and in most cases, a reality, is not being pessimistic, but instead encountering the possibilities. Fearing failure, instead, is counterproductive. Imagine what we wouldn’t have if Bill Gates was afraid Microsoft was going to fail. What would we do on Sundays in the fall and winter if Robert Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, was afraid people would stop watching football. Instead, the world has been given one of the richest men in the world, and a sports league worth nearly $30 billion.

Moses was given a gigantic task from God. God said, “Go get the people out of there!” Moses said, “Yeah, I’m tired today. Can I think about it in a week, or …never?” (This may be paraphrased, but I’m pretty sure it happened just like that). Moses was afraid at multiple points during this adventure of freeing God’s people from Egypt. Being courageous does not mean you’re not afraid. It means you’re willing to overcome that fear for the good of a greater purpose. Moses was afraid the first time God spoke to him in the bush. I’m sure he was afraid the first time he had an encounter with Pharaoh. I’m sure he was scared witless when he came to the Red Sea, only to see that a large army was close behind. The key to this Exodus story is that he took the time to dig in deep, and find the will to be courageous enough to God to help him. Courage doesn’t come for free. Courage comes with faith, experience, and a belief that what you’re going to do is better than what you’re already doing.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” This quote from Ambrose Redmoon is the quintessential summary of what courage looks like for someone who is a leader. You don’t have passion, initiative, or creativity unless you see that there is something better than the reality of right now. The will to overcome the self and stare the better in the eye with a realization that failure could be immanent is what courage of a leader looks like.

 

Humility

When John Dickson opened up his keynote speech at the Willow Creek Association 2011 Global Leadership Summit, he explained that he had been chosen to speak on humility. Next, he voiced that usually the person chosen to speak on humility is the one who is the least qualified. Everyone had a good laugh, but he had point. Although, after hearing him speak, and reading his book, I could think of no one else to attack this topic with more humility, patience, and grace.

In his book Humilitas, Dickson defines humility as, “the choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.”[6] Let me be clear- humility does not mean becoming a doormat for people to treat you however they please, or use you for their own advancement. Instead of humility, that would be considered utter humiliation and there is a difference. Humiliation involves lowering yourself, dehumanizing yourself, and underestimating your gifts, talents and contributions. Humility, instead, involves the lifting up of your gifts, but empowering those around you with those gifts.

Bill Hybles touches on a couple key ways effective leaders allow this to manifest in his leadership book Axiom. Bill is the senior pastor and chairman of the board at the Willow Creek Association. First of all, Hybles says that a good leader will get the right people around the table. What he means is to make sure, when you are in a leadership role, that you have not only a diverse group of people in your circle, but also that you’re entrusting tasks to people with gifts that will benefit your cause. For example, if you’re looking to jumpstart an ailing children’s ministry program, make sure you have someone knowledgeable in children’s ministry, and all ages that entails. Be sure you have someone who can manage that group, and handle administrative issues. Make sure you’ve gotten someone who is good at rallying volunteers for teaching. Then make sure that your teachers are well equipped. If instead you use the same group of people that you’d see on an adult education, or music ministry team, these people might not have the right gifts for the task at hand. That’s not to say these people are not gifted, it means that their gifts lie somewhere elsewhere, and there they can be used[7].

The counterpart to this idea of having the right people is to, in Hybles’ words, “hire 10’s”[8]. This idea of hiring tens simply means that if you’re going to hire an accountant, make sure he or she is the best accountant you can find. If you’re going to hire a barista for your church’s cafe, make sure it’s the best barista you can find. Many people are good at many things, but not many people are great at many things. Make sure you’re finding out who you have that is great, and that they are are being placed where they can be doing great work. One of the most humble steps you’ll ever take is to realize that you’re not great at everything, but everyone is great at something, and you’re taking the initiative to find those who can do certain things, and getting them plugged into where they are needed. Ability demands respect. Although you might be sitting at the head of the table, to recognize that you have a table full of ability and to honor that is a trademark of a remarkable leader.

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” No one can do an entire job alone. Looking back at Jesus’ ministry, even he didn’t rely on himself to get everything done. He surrounded himself with a very unlikely, but qualified (or so he thought) team. Each of the twelve disciples was equipped with different tools and gifts that Jesus needed in order to make his ministry complete. Granted, Jesus is a special case, being the Son of God, and in all reality could have done it alone if he wanted to. But Christ called numerous men and women into community with him in order to minister to the public for three years. Then, Jesus did what many of us would be afraid to do, and left the work up to this relatively unfit group to go out into all the world and make disciples of all men. That call still stands for the church today, so they must have done something right.

 

Conclusion

I will never claim that effective leadership is equal to positive or morally upstanding leadership. Looking at examples of negative leadership, I would claim that these same five foundational ideas lie at the core of that leader’s ability. Unfortunately, my ideas of “effective” leadership are not synonymous with “positive” or “uplifting” leadership. Leadership will continue to change from situation to situation. A president will lead differently than the chair of a hospitality committee at the small church down the road. A high school band director will lead differently than the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. But what lies at the core of each of these people are passion, initiative, creativity, courage, and humility.

God sent the Holy Spirit to work among us and develop and teach us how to use our gifts. While we use these gifts to embark on a journey to find where we are called to serve and to lead, being able to name those things we first feel passionate about, and then wish to take courageous and creative initiative with, the Holy Spirit works in us and moves us to that place of humility.

No leadership quality is more important than the others, but it is when they meld together that it creates the essence of what true and quality leadership stands for. They will always manifest differently, but it is when God has moved us to the place we can finally let ourselves be the people he’s created that they shine brighter than ever before.


[1] Dickson, John. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

[2] “1972 Miami Dolphins: The Perfect Season”, http://www.72dolphins.com/default.php (April 2012)

[3] Godin, Seth. Poke the Box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? United States of America: Do you Zoom, Inc., 2011

[4] Hybels, Bill. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

[5] Godin, Poke the Box: When was the last time you did something for the first time (Footnote 3)

[6] Dickson, John. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership (Footnote 1)

[7] Hybels, Bill. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Footnote 2)

[8] Ibid