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Confidence Influence Leadership

In good hands

Confidence is a necessary item, especially in young people. Looking over a few of the press clippings from when I was an undergraduate at Penn State University, I found my response to a newspaper editorial when I was only twenty years old and freshly appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania to serve on a University Board of Trustees with 31 Trustees who were highly successful adults in their fifties and sixties – CEOs of banks and pharmaceutical companies, politicians, and leaders of labor unions.

Newspaper clipping of letter to the editor

My response to an editorial addressing whether or not I was ready for such a position included the following phrase, “The question is not whether I am ready for the “big wigs” mentioned in the editorial, but rather are they ready for me.” Pure confidence that I find myself admiring as a person now approaching the age of some of those other 31 Trustees.

What our world needs now, and what the church world needs as well, is young people with confidence. Sure, they have a lot to learn, as I did (and still do). However, our world is not going to get better without confident young people in every field of endeavor. Confidence is no sin. Of course, our confidence must go beyond the limits of our human abilities, to a faith beyond ourselves (Hebrews 11:1).

However, my concern is that young people would not lose hope, would not turn away from the desire to take the reins of leadership and create a better world than the generation who came before them. I remain grateful for the 31 older, wiser adults that created a genuine seat at the table of leadership for a young woman and taught her how to think through issues, formulate workable solutions, and create policies that result in lasting organizational change.

When young people aspire to lead and believe in a better tomorrow, we are all in good hands.

Categories
Community Expectations Leadership Perceptions

Tailoring Ministry to the Individual

In this day of megachurches and churches spread across multiple campuses, is it really possible or even practical to care about the individual? Yet ministry is based on the model of a shepherd  willing to leave a flock of ninety-nine sheep in an open field while searching for one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

In Chapter 4 of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I share a philosophy of ministry based on a sensitivity to the needs of individuals that requires we avoid assumptions while remaining pragmatic.

The basics of this philosophy:

  1. Show people respect. Ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions. Trying to force a person into a certain ministry mold may not help a person although our intentions may be admirable. A widower may prefer joining the men’s ministry on a fishing trip to taking a class that requires him to discuss his grief in a small group. Let people select the ministry resources best suited to their needs and respect their choice.
  2. Do not project your needs onto someone else. What ministered to you in a particular circumstance in your life may not minister to your friend. Listen to what your friend is communicating to you instead of planning ministry based on your own preferences. For example, not all new mothers feel depressed after childbirth, so ministry in a mom’s group should validate different responses to a similar life event.
  3. Beware false assumptions. Not all childless young couples feel called to work in the children’s ministry in your church, no matter how badly you desire to staff the nursery and toddler room. Perhaps a woman with a career in finance would rather serve on a church committee that allows her to bless the church with her professionals skills instead of a more traditional role in a woman’s ministry. Simply asking people about their passions and interests can prevent misplaced and disheartened volunteers. The church will prosper when people find fulfilling ministry roles.

Large or small, a church can be sensitive to the needs of individuals while still meeting the goals of the group as a whole. Whether in your church life or in your friendships, what approaches do you take to tailor your response to the needs of the individual?

Categories
Influence Leadership

The Gift of Presence

Scroll through the newsfeed on any platform and you will find people sharing happy moments in their lives as well as people facing tragedies and loss. On any given day, a pastor may go from celebrating the birth of a new child in the congregation to visiting a church member in a hospice. Whether in ministry or in a friendship, how should you response when someone faces hardship?

In Chapter 6 of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I share some ideas on how to comfort a friend experiencing loss and tragedy. The thoughts are not my own, but wisdom gleaned from the story of Job in the Bible.

In the book of Job, we find a prosperous man who lived in ancient times. He had a large family, a vast number of livestock and many servants. In fact, he was described in the Bible as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).

Job was righteous as well as prosperous. He tried his best to follow all of God’s laws. However, a day came when Job’s faith was tested. He lost his possessions, his servants, and his seven sons and three daughters to multiple tragedies. Next, Job lost his good health, and his body was covered in painful sores.

Along came three friends to bring him comfort him in his troubles. Here is what we can learn from their responses to Job:

    1. Show up. Job’s three friends initially did what all good friends should do when someone is hurting. Be present. Care enough to join your friend in the difficult moments in life. You do not need to bring answers. Simply bring yourself.
    2. Listen. Job’s three friends sat in silence and gave him the gift of presence without the clamor of words. Do not force a conversation with a grieving friend. Provide company. When your friend is ready to talk, listen attentively without rushing to reply.
    3. Speak carefully and sparingly. Job’s friends were doing a great job providing comfort until they opened their mouths. They did what many of us have done in similar circumstances – offer advice where none was needed. Resist the urge to offer solutions to what you assume is someone’s problem. Eliphaz failed Job by providing unnecessary counsel that only caused Job more pain. Bildad failed Job by offering a simple answer to a complicated problem. Zophar failed Job by speaking without compassion. Do not feel that you have to fill silence with words. Better to say a few restrained and wise words than increase someone’s suffering through insensitive speech.

Be present in times of celebration as well as suffering. Do not feel that you must provide answers to the why questions, but help your friend explore the possibilities in the now-what questions. Move beyond seeking to explain the purpose of times of sorrow to bringing healing and compassion to your friend.

The story of Job also teaches us that God is faithful, and the future after sorrow can hold greater blessings than a person can imagine. However, life cannot be rushed from sorrow to happy ending, and a true friend respects the timetable in another person’s life.

What lessons have you learned when responding to someone facing hardship?