Saturday, July 03, 2010

Advice to Young Leaders #6 of 10 - Offend the right people.

This is the sixth post of ten in my series of advice for younger leaders. Here's the working list:

6. Decide whom you will offend before offending them.
7. Get serious about a hobby.
8. Influence.
9. Be part of your own church.
10. Don't let people need you too much.

Advice #6: Decide whom you will offend before offending them.

This series is written for leaders and future leaders. If you are a real leader, there is one truth that you will be unable to avoid: you will offend people. Jesus offended people. It is impossible to read his story any other way. It was his offensive words and practices that ultimately brought about his arrest and death on the cross. To lead is to offend, but that doesn't mean that to offend is to lead. Whom you choose to offend and not offend will determine the kind of church or ministry you lead. It will set the tone.

Here are three guidelines that I try to follow in this matter:

1. Try not to offend people accidentally.

Be smart about what you say, when you say it and to whom you say it to. I use a lot of humor when I teach, but I try to not go for a joke that will meaninglessly offend someone to the point where they cannot hear my message. Sometimes I do use humor to purposely make a segment of my audience uncomfortable, but that is not what I am talking about here.  For example, I don't make jokes about the Cincinnati Bengals when they play badly because we have had some of them visit VCC on occasion. Would you want to go to a place to learn about God only to have the spokesperson make fun of your performance at work? Probably not. As leaders, every word we say matters. That may not seem fair, but it is the reality of leadership. I know a few leaders who consistently say things they dislike are "gay" or "retarded." When I have asked them to consider choosing their words more carefully, they tend to say I am "too PC." I would wager a pretty penny that they don't have many homosexuals or adults with special needs in their ministry. Here's the deal, leaders: You aren't allowed to say whatever you want anymore. Use your head. Think before you speak. Ruthlessly disallow yourself to mindlessly offend people...because you are going to have to purposely offend some others and you can use all the advocates you can get.

2. Don't offend people over your unimportant opinions.

If you are a leader, you probably have strong opinions on everything from politics to economics to the lack of salary cap in Major League Baseball. You have lots of opinions because you are wired to bring change. The problem is that your opinions can screw up everything if you let them. Nothing will derail a leader quite like caring (or talking) too much about things that do not really matter. You have a simple leadership mandate - to proclaim the availability of the Kingdom of God through Jesus. When you state your opinion as clear fact, your followers will marry it with the good news of the Kingdom - possibly for the rest of their lives. You are adding your opinion to the gospel. Similarly, when you state your opinion as opinion you are still letting those who follow you know that you believe that opinion has great Kingdom significance. When you refuse to state your opinion on a subject, you are saying that you cannot yet be trusted to make a Kingdom-centered verdict on the matter - that it, effectively, "doesn't really matter."

I live my life with a 10-20-70 mindset on my opinions. 10% of my opinions are foundational. I will allow myself to fearlessly state them as fact to anyone who asks. 20% of my opinions are personally important convictions that I will publicly discuss, but only as my opinion. 70% of the conclusions I have come to will never be publicly expressed. Maybe if we are "real world" friends I'll tell you what I think about something after a few brews, but only after I trust that my sharing that particular opinion with you will not influence you toward or away from it. In other words, most of what I believe isn't that important compared to the gospel of the Kingdom. I think most Christian leaders invert this formula, in part because people love to follow leaders who have strong opinions. Just because people want a leader who is a know-it-all doesn't give you and me the right to pretend to know it all so that they will follow us. In the long run, that's a tried and tested formula for hypocrisy and deceit.

This is how it all works for me: Examples of "10%" non-negotiable opinions would be things like a confessional creedal faith, Jesus as King and Kingdom-bringer, community as foundational to life, and the hope of the resurrection of the dead. The "20%" category of my stated and voiced opinions include a call to non-violence, the primacy of storytelling in Christianity, and the danger of patriotism for Kingdom people. (It's July 4th, so that is on my mind today.) I also have "70%" opinions on universal heathcare, gay marriage, Calvinism, creation vs. evolution, legalizing marijuana, and a host of other hot button topics. I have opinions on them...but I'm keeping my mouth shut. (And don't try to'd just be half-right and half-wrong anyway.) If I make any of those issues too important then I would lose my Kingdom mandate and authority. There may be a day when one of those issues moves up into the 20% category of my stated opinions, but that day is not today. I would rather spend any influence equity a person is willing to give me on showing them the Kingdom vs. trying to get them to share some religious or political opinion with me.

3. Purposefully offend the right people.

This is actually the part I hate about leadership. I have never once in my life woke up and thought, "I'd really enjoy doing something today to hurt or anger someone." I hate being hated. I like to be liked and I like even more to be anonymous. I'm an introvert with a relatively fragile psyche. I also loathe creating pain in others. That's worse than anything. Nothing in me wants to stir the pot...

Except that I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus clearly taught us that some people deserve to be offended. In my "20% level" opinion, it is normally the blindly religious who should be forced to endure a verbal jab now and again. If you are leading at your church or ministry for your own worth, ego or fame then you are sinning and should quit your ministry tomorrow. Your sin is worse than the other sinners in your church because you have taken the Bride of Christ for your own mistress. Basically, you're raping Jesus' soulmate in broad daylight in front of everyone you lead. And if that is true of you...and my voicing it causes you pain or anger, then I've done my job. You deserve to be offended.

It also seems appropriate for us to offend what Paul calls "the powers of this world." The role of the church and her leaders is to be a faithful witness of the Kingdom in the face of these very real and dangerous powers. Our very presence will frustrate the powers of politics, religion, violence and economics. Again, in my "20% level" opinion, we do this best not by our many words or actions, but by living within the reality of our own countercultural economy and politic. Our stubborn existence under the realm (kingdom) of YHWH combined with the strategy of The Cross (death-to-self) offends them because it shows the cracks on their armor. Our power is simply more real than theirs...and the fact that we are still here believing ourselves to have life apart from all they think they give us offends them.

That said, we should desire peace above all. As much as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone - even the religious nuts in your church. But if you lead, you will certainly offend people. If you offend someone accidentally or for the wrong reasons, be quick to humbly apologize and make it right. But offend those who need to be offended for the sake of the Kingdom unapologetically. It's part of leadership.

Hang in there, leaders. Our series will continue on a brighter note in the next post. I'll explain why you should be having more fun than you are now...and what you should do to get there.

1 comment:

Reverb said...

I loved reading this post. A couple of people came to mind who I am afraid to offend even though they truly deserve it. I'm going to choose my words slowly as I figure out how to remove my own self from the offense to allow the Kingdom to do that offending. I think you know what I'm saying.