Living Servant-leadership

I don’t know a more nebulous term than servant-leader. It is almost a paradox that we don’t easily live in. Is it more servant or more leadership. Often, I feel we throw around this adjective ahead of leadership to help soften leaders that run roughshod over those they lead.

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You know the type, more boss than leader. They use the phrases, “too many chefs in the kitchen” or “too many chiefs for the tribe”.  These leaders throw around their weight and ask us to listen not because of their ideas or vision but because they are the leader. For them authority flows out of position and not personhood.

What do we do with leaders like that? We add an adjective and hope that makes them think more like Jesus. You know, more servant and less tyrant. We have all worked for bad leaders. I don’t have to name names. And yet, we still want to write more and more books on leadership.

Why?

The Bible talks far more about being servant than about being leader. Yes, leadership is a gift of the Spirit, so why don’t we trust the Spirit to move through those he has gifted to lead? Well, that is a question that moves away from my story.

My story illustrates the servant side of leadership. You know, the side that sees serving as primacy to leading. The part of leadership that says, I have the best interests of those entrusted to me. The kind that Jesus talked about in Mark 10:45 in serving and laying down his life for them.

Jesus always turned things upside down. As King, the subjects are supposed to give their life for him and the kingdom. But as king, Jesus gave his life for his people and the kingdom. How often, does a leader say, not my way or vision, but yours? These are true tests of a leader who says he is servant.

But I have a living picture of servant leader. Recently, I was in some high-level meetings with our movement, The Foursquare Church. I spent time hanging out in and out of the meetings with dozens of servant-leaders. I did not expect to have any meaningful interaction with our President as I am way down the totem pole or hierarchy. Yet, I was surpised. Our President, Glenn Burris came alongside of me in service like I never anticipated.

Who am I? I am just a young guy with no position. I was one of the strategic thinkers in the room, sure. But the room was chalk full of bright, brilliant people with more gravitas than I. I am known by our president, but he is supremely gifted in relational intelligence and knows everyone. And everyone wants to push back on our meetings and grab the ear of our leader. They have a greater need than I to have time with the president of our church.

Well, one of our last breaks, I happened to have a sidebar with the President. As we talked, he asked if I wanted snacks. (You see, as the blind pastor who writes this blog, I do need serving from time to time, more than the average guy). I nicely said it is okay, I can get another leader here to help me out. But he insisted. So I insisted further that he did not need to spend his valuable time on getting me a plate of snacks.  But how much can you insist against a good leader?  So after a little back-and-forth, I acquiesced.

Glenn not only got me a plate of yummy snacks, he asked me what I wanted and listened to what I said. He served me with a gift of hospitality often not exercised by leaders of such high capacity. He grabbed me all the good veggies I wanted and dobbed loads of hummus dip on another plate. He carried the two plates and a bottle of water back into the room. He even found my seat and moved my computer to insure I could snack with ease.

I was so touched, I turned to say to him and those around me, we can talk about servant-leadership all day, but I just experienced it.

Wow!

As long and intense meetings came to a conclusion, our leader paused to help serve a guy that had plenty of other gracious people all around willing to help. Our President grew in my eyes not for his vision or capacity, but for my trust and relationship. I go to bat for a guy like that. Why, because I know he has my best interests in mind. Not to say I agree with everything a leader does or says, but that is part of being a strategic thinker and in the room. I will say, I have grown in respect for our leadership, and this is just one little reason why.

I have been impacted on this topic by Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood.   Grab and ransack it for practical helps even in your own community.

Fearless Worship: Worship As Mission 3

When I lost my eyesight, I did a lot of things differently, including worship. That is until I learned a bit more how to live as a blind person.

 

One time, I was visiting a friend and his youth group when I really stood out in the worship service. Maybe you could say I left an impression. The story got told at our wedding when this friend (the youth pastor) performed the ceremony.

 

The day went down in infamy, because I had fearless worship. During this painful season in my life, I simply wanted to connect with God as passionately as I could. I had yet to learn mobility and orientation, so I often made mistakes as I aimed forward with all my heart.

In this case, I couldn’t orient myself by sound to the front of the room, so I kept slowly turning and turning until I began facing backwards. With my arms raised and singing (if you could call what I do singing) loud enough for heaven to hear, I gave praise to the Lord.

 

The image left a comic and indelible mark.  But that is okay. It reminds me that too many people are looking at what we are doing as we keep the corner of our eye peeled to see who is watching during worship. We like to have worship safely in the walls of the church building or worship center. Beyond that, we barely want to get out of step or even backwards from what everyone else is doing. Is that how worship was conducted Biblically?

 

This brings me to my next case study in worship as mission. In this story, I look at Abraham to draw out the understanding of worship and its missiological implications

 

In Genesis 12, as Abraham follows God’s call to set up a new people, he modeled something that Isaac, and Jacob followed in setting up altars in the places he settled and the places where God spoke to him. The altar became a marker for God’s people to indicate remembrance and thanksgiving from his people. As God’s people developed around the way of God, YHWH gave detailed instructions to the use of the altar by his people. Even still Joshua set up altars in the way Moses instructed. After Joshua led the people to a victory over the city of Ai on their second try, he set up an altar for worship and remembrance in the sight of all Israel and those foreigners sojourning with them (Josh 8:30-35). The altar as a place or center for worship stood erect at all times in plain view of anyone. The altar was hardly invisible much less private as God’s people presented their worship in authentic yet public forums.

Now let us unpack this precedent the father of the faith started through setting up altars to worship God. Abraham entered into a covenant relationship with God when he was called by God to move from his home in Ur to a land he did not know (Gen. 12:1-3). In his senior years (75), Abraham gathered his belongings and took some of his family with him and set out on a new journey with God. He entered a geographic region, the land God would promise to his descendants. On his southward journey, Abraham arrived in Heron moving towards the Negev when God stopped him to declare this land one day will belong to his offspring. I can only imagine the faith Abraham had at this time as he pondered the idea of his offspring. Nonetheless, Abraham pauses at this place when God says he will give the land to his descendants. At this place, Abraham erects an altar before God (Gen 12:7. But this is not the last time that this faithful wanderer still struggling with working out his call, stopped to establish a place of worship.

 

The altars continued. As he journeys toward the Negev, Abraham builds another altar between Bethel and Ai. Again he set up an altar before God. Without getting into every place and purpose that Abraham built an altar, I again observe the open air nature of these altars. I cannot help but wonder if people like Abimelech who marvel at Abraham’s life with its remarkable blessings flows out of him observing an ongoing worship relationship between Abraham and God (Gen 21:22-23). When we sanitize our worship to allow others a comfortable approach to God, maybe we miss out on allowing them to see the genuine article of a worshipper caught up in real worship with God. I wonder if there is something missing in our worship that someone from ancient times like Abraham can offer us. We don’t merely offer a message or a deed to people but we reflect our God to them in all aspects of our life, including worship.

 

I bet we’ll have a hard time getting to the fearless place of worship that Abraham exhibited if we can’t stop worrying about how the people around us worship, or how they view our own worship. We must get less inhibited while still not distracting others as we press into worship.

 

What can Abraham teach us about worship in the 21st Century?

 

Communication Learning from a Toddler

Often, we find communicating across cultural barriers crippling. Fear, hesitation, or simple uncomfortability paralyzes us. Most of us have the desire but lack the boldness to communicate the story of God’s love to strangers, especially strangers who are different than us. Will they understand, will I be clear, will they think I am weird, or will I even make sense to them are simple questions we have that prevent us from stepping out and sharing Jesus with someone. This someone can live across the world in another culture altogether like what we experienced by living in Thailand for six years. Or this person can live across the street as an increasing immigration population moves into the US. How do we help people draw near to Jesus?

My observations come from parenting a toddler. As a blind father, I worry how she will communicate with me her wants and desires. Her words are few at two-years-old. She uses nonverbal communication to the best of her ability to let us know what she needs or to explain what happened.

My daughter learned that gestures don’t work the same with me. When she was younger, she tried to show me she was hungry and point to the food she wanted. Now, she takes me by the hand to the refrigerator. Then I ask her if she wants milk. She says, no. I point to another food, she says no. I point to the Goldfish. She says, yeah!! With pure excitement. She is thrilled that her daddy figured out what she was saying.

When she gets a new toy, she loves to come and take my hand, so she can lead me to the toy. She puts my hand on the toy. She loves when I get to enjoy her toys in my own way.

Still another example comes when she hears one of her favorite songs come onto the Itunes playlist. She grabs me by the hand and runs to the middle of the room. She starts moving my hand to say she wants to dance.

When she really wants to get her point across, she knows exactly what to do. As she is held in my arms, she will put both hands on my cheeks to turn my face to hers. She wants me to look her in the eye, so to speak. This way, she knows I am listening straight to her plea for ice cream, playing games, watching a movie, going to Nana’s house, or whatever she determinedly lets me know she wants.

When we want to communicate God’s love across cultural lines, our best approach is to be humble and find people where they are. Come to them, ask about their story, and start to learn their culture. We can show them Jesus better when we approach them in humble love, than if we expect them to come to where we are. My daughter doesn’t keep using nonverbal gestures to me hoping one day I will figure it out. No, she finds what way best communicates to me as quickly and naturally as possible. This is what we must do with our neighbors. What speaks to them? What can we do to build friendships, and thus create space for us to share about Jesus?

What do you find difficult in communicating with people from another culture?

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In

Last week I shared the story of my mom’s perseverance that shaped my world as my mom dealt with the circumstances of life. Life knocked her down plenty, but she kept getting up and marching forward.  Even as she battled severe depression, she never gave in as she always wanted all of God’s best for her and her family.

I wanted to come back to how my mom’s life shaped my story of getting up again. I wanted to flesh out more of what I touched on in the last post when I broke the news to my mom about my eyesight beginning to fail.

I caught her one morning and matter of factly told her what was happening to my eyes when she burst out in tears, tears of compassion and heartache.

Compassion for her son, but heartache to God, almost asking God please no more for my family. My two older sisters had passed away at an early age, and one of my older brothers, George already went through the same genetic condition that I was now facing with Leber’s Optic Neuropathy.  Of seven children, four came down with severe physical maladies, I was the last.

Perhaps at the moment when my mom cried out in front of me, I was in denial of what was going to happen, or perhaps I watched a family model toughness in the face of difficulty. My mom’s dogged perseverance to never give in when life knocked her down, helped me mentally prepare for what laid ahead. The matter of fact way in which I told her what was happening probably belied a bit of denial mixed in with my assuredness that nothing was too difficult for our family. God would help us make a way.

Now with 15 years of hindsight in the rear view mirror, I know the denial existed, but the lessons learned from watching my mom handle adversity also prepared me to overcome any of the obstacles that would come ahead.

  • I went through rehabilitation school to learn independent living skills in three months, when usually two terms were the minimum necessary.
  • I entered the school within a year of losing my sight, when all of my classmates had dealt with their struggles for years before facing the reality that they needed to learn skills to survive. Not one other classmate had lost their sight as recent as four years.
  • I went back to school, attending Life Pacific College http://www.lifepacific.edu and graduating in four years.
  • Now, I am serving as a missionary in Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is not known for their handicapped accessible sidewalks and public transportation.

But before any of this, I remember my mom advocating for me. She went to people unsolicited by me to let them know I could do anything. She did not want me to be left out just because I could not see. I was given an opportunity to be a youth camp intern that first summer of blindness. The camp director did not know what to expect from me, but took my mom’s advice to heart. He did not hold back from asking me to participate in all the duties of an intern. Maybe I couldn’t do the cool stuff like drive the riding lawnmower, but I cut back weeds in the woods, cleaned bathrooms, washed dishes, prayed for students, led Bible studies, and fully participated with everything, even as each week of camp, my eyes went from bad to worse.

I learned a spirit of overcoming from my mom. I knew my problem was tough, but my mom had been through a bunch more already. The life she lived illustrated the humanity in all of us with a yearning to never accept our circumstances. How did she overcome? She kept a clear view of who God was in her life. She knew the goodness of God always came present to us in our pain. My mom taught me a lot, but she really taught me most of all how to climb over those barriers that life throws at you.

Who helped prepare you to overcome life’s difficulties? How did they do that?

What I Learned From My Mom

It is Mother’s Day in Thailand today. As I prepared for the special sermon for today, I got to thinking about how special my mom was, and what I learned from her.

First and foremost, the perseverance of my mom jumps to mind. I learned how to overcome obstacles and barriers in life from watching my mom’s dogged determination. I can remember hearing her say to friends, “some call it stubborn, but I like to think of it as determined.” She just wouldn’t give up or give in when life knocked her down. And she got knocked down plenty.

A single mother for a few years, she found a second chance with my dad. Well, years before he was my dad. Their love story is well worth another blog series. But as young people serving in ministry, their marriage got rocked, not once, not twice, but many times. Their tragic circumstances started when their first daughter, Angela came down with severe brain damage as a baby. Around eight month-old, Angela no longer could do anything for herself. She lived in this state until she was six when mercifully, God took her to heaven. I still hold faint memories of playing with her when I was around Ellie’s age, 1-2 years-old.

While their world was still upside-down, my parents were graced with their second daughter, Melinda. But, the celebration lasted only a short time as she was born with a heart defect. The doctors did what they could with the medicine of the day, but she only lived about 40 days. Who would blame this family for crying out and cursing God? They were serving in ministry, and this is what reward they get. It just is not right. But they did none of that. They clung to God through it all. Rather than running from God, they rallied their faith and pressed closer to him. Sometimes numb to the world, they knew the only place they needed to be was in the church with God’s people. Here they were touched as they worshipped. The clung to each other as they held onto God with all them had. One memory pops out to me from when I was a teenager running the sound board at the church we attended. The other guy up there with me looked down at my mom and dad, arm-in-arm with their opposite arms raised high in worship, and told me how fortunate I was to have parents that loved Jesus like that. My mom knew how to love God, because he met her through so much.

So much that seemingly never let up. Now a few years after Angela passed away, George, her second son, came down with Leber’s Optic Neuropathy which led to him losing his sight at the age of 17. How much calamity can one family take? It makes me think of John Wesley’s mother who had 19 children, but only 9 who reached adulthood. Yet my mom kept loving her family and giving each of these circumstances to God.

When I went to my mom at 19 years-old to tell her that my eyesight was going the same as George’s did, she burst out in tears. Tears of love and compassion. I still contend to this day that my mom took it harder than I did. She loved so much and cared so deeply.

She always wanted the best for her family, and never gave up on that. She kept putting her obstacles before God. I learned from my mom to persevere and push on.

A Special Bond Between Father and Daughter

My wife blogged about the connection my daughter, Ellie, has with me, her Daddy. Here is the story:

Ellie knows that Daddy responds differently to her than other people. When she smiles, he doesn’t immediately smile back. He doesn’t know she is smiling because he can’t see her. But if Ellie giggles or laughs, he responds. When she calls Daddy over with a quick hand gesture, he doesn’t know what she wants. This might sound discouraging to you, but to Ellie it just is. It doesn’t bother her. Instead, she is continually learning new ways to communicate with her daddy.

Let me illustrate this with a short story of their interaction. To continue reading, click here.

Blind Vs. Deaf

Some things just do not mix, water and oil, cats and dogs, and the list goes on…but I have a brand new example for this list.

A deaf taxi driver with a blind passenger.

The other day, in the midst of heavy rains and potential flooding, I entered a taxi heading to the church building for an evening meeting. The driver agreed to take me where I wanted to go, and that was the end of our ability to communicate.

I knew something was wrong when I tried to give clear directions as to the way I wanted to travel. He started responding to my Thai with English, broken English. Uh oh…I thought. Something was not right. My first thought was that my driver came from another country and couldn’t understand English or Thai. I just hoped that I would still get to the place I wanted. My hope began to wane when I felt the car taking unexpected turns. Uggg, now what?…I cannot confirm where I am, much less where I am going…

What could I do? If he didn’t understand me, how could he understand my Thai friends any better?

With the pouring rain beating down on the car, I had no inclination to get out and attempt to grab another taxi. When it rains, the taxis fill up fast, leaving me with a slim to slimmest chance of getting another taxi. In addition to this, I had been suffering all day the foul affects of eating something wrong the night before. All I could stomach eating was 2 pieces of toast, for the entire day. I felt weak and trapped in a taxi with a driver I could not communicate with. He kept telling me to write the road and street number down, and I kept trying to tell him that I cannot write…that is I cannot see to write what you want me to write.

At that point, I called one of my Thai friends at the meeting to let them know I was coming but slowly with the rain, traffic and a confused driver. I tried to get him to talk with my friend, but he handed me his phone instead. My friend called back, and this time the driver answered on the speaker phone. I hid the shock on my face as well as I could when I heard him speaking Thai to my friend. He didn’t listen for a response but just kept blasting out what he wanted from my friend along with his difficulty of having a blind foreigner in his taxi. He wanted my friend to send him an SMS with what I wanted. Click, the light bulb went on in my head as I realized he couldn’t hear anything, no matter how loud and clear I spoke. Well, I think he could hear a little, little itsy bit, but he didn’t expect for me to speak in Thai, so he didn’t try to listen to me.

Now he knew where to go, but the rain and confusion sent him a long way around to my destination made for an expensive taxi ride, but a hilarious story I will never forget.

What do you do when something ordinary seems to be going completely wrong?