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Beware the yeast of the mother-in-law: Unless she compliments your leadership

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Recently my malevolent mother-in-law uttered a profundity that surprised me. She was spending a couple days at our house (what sin have I committed to displease you, oh Lord?) and I was vacuuming the floor of all the dog hair shed by our fell beasts when I overheard her say to my wife: “It must be nice to have a husband who does housework.” Granted, my mother-in-law is in her eighties and hails from a bygone era (think Jurassic period) when male and female roles in the home were more strictly segregated. But things have changed since then, right? It depends.

When I was a lad, almost fifty years ago, it was a regular occurrence around our house to see my father engaged in domestic labor such as washing the dishes (by hand) and doing the laundry, in addition to his other duties around the yard and his full-time job as a professional logger. Apparently he was ahead of his time as the feminist movement had just begun to gather steam in America. Fast forward to today when I hear many professional women bemoan how they have achieved greater equality with men but not greater equity of job distribution in the home. In other words, many women today are married to men who still expect their wife to take care of all the domestic duties in the home, raise the children, and have a career . . . oh, and be a seductress in the bedroom, as well. Unfortunately many Christian men still embrace this nonsense as somehow biblical.

Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT suggesting that men need be more feminine or women more masculine. God clearly made men and women different in many ways. For instance, I like to hunt, but my wife, Cindy, is unlikely to join me in the woods, shoot a buck, gut it, butcher it, and serve it for dinner. And I am unlikely to join her at a women’s retreat where the ladies and I sit around the table and do arts and crafts. Even so I think a lot of Christian men have misused verses like Ephesians 5:23 where men are told that we are the head of our wife; a verse which establishes a system of authority in the home. But what type of authority? Authority and work are two different things, right? Certainly there are verses in the Bible that describe labor responsibilities along conventional gender roles almost two thousand years ago. But since when was Christ and his followers conventional? Take for instance the washing of feet. Jesus clearly acknowledges his own authority. His disciples recognized his authority. But Jesus also got down on his hands and knees and served his disciples by washing their feet. This was much more than a symbolic act. It was both practical (their feet were filthy from walking long distances in sandals on dirt roads) and it demonstrated God’s definition of what leadership looks like—leadership serves, often in menial ways.

Guys, if you want to receive the blessing and responsibility of leadership in your homes, do the dishes, do the laundry, iron your own shirts, pick up after yourself, clean the toilet, parent your children, get the kids ready for bed, and learn to cook. These are the ways you wash the feet of the precious people in your home. This principle also applies to leadership in your occupation, as well. If you can’t humble yourself to do these things, you risk becoming one of those guys who can only get your family to do your bidding by barking orders because you have the unholy attitude that your word is final. Period. End of discussion. That’s called lording it over others and it has no place in God’s plan for leadership in the home. Many guys want to be leaders, but they don’t lead by example. It is counter to the Kingdom of God leadership model to demand that family members under your authority do things you are unwilling to do. I’m just saying.

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Where you lead . . . I don’t want to go!

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Admitting you are not a leader and have no aspirations to become a leader in the world of Christianity is like admitting you hog two parking spaces at the grocery store on senior citizen discount day . . . and you don’t care if they ARE handicap spaces. Apparently it’s considered bad mojo to follow rather than lead in church culture. But the attitude that every Christian should aspire to leadership belies one obvious flaw: Who will follow if everyone thinks they are a leader?

In my almost three score years on the planet, I’ve come to the profound conclusion that I am not a leader. Sure, I can manage people. A manager recruits people, writes schedules, assigns projects and keeps workers on task through a variety of practical mechanisms (think progressive discipline . . . or my favorite management technique of stomping your foot and throwing a tantrum when subordinates ignore you). A leader, on the other hand, must inspire people to make personal sacrifices and go above and beyond expectations. Few people possess the magic formula required for leadership (probably because personality is a large portion of the formula). If the leadership formula could be bottled and sold, it would fetch millions. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who think they are leaders, but they do not possess the complete formula. Faux leaders encounter much frustration because people do not cooperate under their leadership. This can lead to dissatisfaction, bitterness, anger and hurts felt by all parties involved.

You see, people with the gift of leadership possess the almost superhuman ability to demand high productivity from subordinates while at the same time caring deeply about their subordinates. In other words, people with innate leadership skills have the backs of their staff. They offer praise and reward abundantly, and criticize sparingly . . . and even then in a constructive way.

From my humble position as an armchair observer, quite a few people occupy leadership roles because they believe they don’t have it in their DNA to take orders from others. Newsflash: Just because a person loathes following the orders of other people does not necessarily mean they have the juice required for leadership. The corporate landscape is littered with the wreckage of failed businesses and ministries run into the ground by people who wanted to be the boss, but lacked the leadership mojo to make it work.

Here’s the thing: It’s okay to be something other than a leader. There are plenty of alternative roles in the church and in your community that are equally fulfilling, as long as we correctly identify our skills and gifts. The church, and American culture in general, idolizes leadership to the point of pathosis. Leaders, as much as we admire them, can’t do diddly squat without support from the rest of us using our God-given gifts. Don’t fear the un-leader within you.

Penn State Statement

Something went wrong at Penn State (I know, duh!). If you don’t know what happened, Google “Penn State Scandal” for an update. Warning! It is not family friendly reading. Anyhow, I’m not excusing the leadership at Penn State, but most managers, supervisors, executives and human resources professionals simply do not deal very often with criminal issues, with the exception of the occasional case of substance abuse on the job or embezzlement. If someone had walked onto the Penn State campus carrying a rifle, somebody would have called the police. I wonder if our culture thinks of the police as the option we only go to when things get deadly violent, requiring a response from an authority-figure with a badge and gun. I doubt it. I hope most people understand the police handle a variety of criminal issues. So why did Penn State leaders apparently try to handle the scandal within?

If you read the Grand Jury report (and it’s extremely difficult to read because of the graphic depictions of the alleged criminal acts with children) it appears that the leadership at Penn State either didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation or were minimizing it to protect the University’s esteemed brand. Or there may have been some presently unknown reason that kept them from escalating their response to the police.

I know it’s easy to arm-chair quarterback. Still, one thing kept jumping out at me in some of the news reports on this incident: Penn State is located in, or part of, a close-knit community. The community around Penn State, the Borough of State College, is small, with a population of about 42,000. In my past experience living in a small close-knit community, you bump into friends, relatives, co-workers and your boss in the supermarket, at restaurants, at the movies and in church. How would you react if you witnessed one of these people you know doing something that looked like sexual abuse of a child? Would you be too shocked to react? I hope most people would intervene or at least call the police. But after the Catholic Church scandal and now Penn State, I’m not so sure. Something evil is at work corroding our once venerable old institutions. I think it likely an entire generation will grow up with little faith that leaders of our institutions have our best interest at heart. This could be devastating for our society.

It’s possible child predators are becoming aware that workers in organizations that serve children (such as elementary schools, child care centers, and youth programs) are keenly aware of what constitutes inappropriate behavior and mandatory reporting responsibilities. But what about businesses and organizations where children are not present that often? If you are the leader of an organization where it is possible your employees and volunteers might come into contact with children, you must understand that the children and your organization could likely be at risk. Here are some basic things to consider that your organization can do to protect children and avoid a Penn State fiasco: finger-printing and criminal background checks on employees and volunteers who have contact with children on the job; training all employees and volunteers on child sexual abuse prevention and mandatory reporting procedures; train employees and volunteers that if they witness an incident or become aware of an allegation of child sexual abuse, it becomes the priority and reporting it to a supervisor cannot be postponed, even if it’s late a night; designate a point-person with training in procedures dealing with child sexual abuse prevention and reporting (this should be someone with authority to notify the police); establish a policy prohibiting nepotism (employees and volunteers should not be in positions where a family member is their supervisor).

Of course these are just a few ideas and counsel from a professional who understands the law and child sexual abuse issues must be consulted before implementation. Here’s a source of more information on the subject: http://www.reducingtherisk.com/

(I am not connected to reducingtherisk.com, I found them on Christianitytoday.com.)

Yesterday I heard a Penn State alumni say that many alumni plan to increase their giving to get the football program back to normal as soon as possible. The reality is that the lawsuits this scandal could spawn will drag on for years and the cost will be . . . extensive and crippling. Aside from that, many people associated with Penn State and the local community will be licking their wounds for years, possibly decades. Bitterness, resentment and anger will linger indefinitely.

In Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT) King Lemuel says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Haunting words! And yet King Lemuel says nothing about the cost of speaking up for the helpless. Yes, there is often a cost. It might cost a job or a friendship or draw scorn and ridicule. Nobody really knows how they will respond until the moment is upon them. It helps if we live by the rule that those with power are not given that power to be self-serving or fearful; they are given that power by God to speak up for those without a voice. And that’s more important than any football program on the planet.