Leadership Archive, 2021

11/24  On Psychological Sickness in Pentecostal-Charismatic Leadership:

The growing crisis surfacing in the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, projected to reach some type of critical mass in 7-10 years, is that of hidden psychological sickness among its leadership. While the movement has restored precious blessings and needed dimensions to the global ekklesia--a fuller worship experience, a redeployment of all the spiritual gifts, a celebration of women in ministry, a revival of supernatural Christianity, and others--it has also brought new problems and crises into the ekklesia. One of those crises is unaddressed mental illness within its leadership, hiding under the cover of revelations, visions, dreams, "feeling in the Spirit", manifestations, and sociopathic leadership structures.
    JDM believes, unapologetically, that God speaks today in a variety of ways. We absolutely reject cessationism. We absolutely reject the idea that God took a power nap after the New Testament was written and compiled. The crisis is not whether God still speaks today or whether God still acts miraculously today. Of course He does.
    Rather, the crisis is that an astonishing lack of wisdom has created a shelter for psychological sickness in Pentecostal-Charismatic leadership, a shelter that takes the form of spiritual language and themes. For example, what is often imagination and hallucination is called a vision. What is often a dream rising from the subconscious, and its unresolved wishes, hopes, concerns, fears, and traumas, is called a prophetic dream (see Ecclesiastes 5:3 and Isaiah 29:7,8 for two great scriptures on self-dreams). What is often natural intuition (which is often wrong) or simply strong emotion (which is often wrong) is called feeling in the Spirit. What is often a psychotic break, a fit of mania, or unhealed trauma expressing itself psychosomatically is called a divine manifestation. What is often raw control and congregational stranglehold is called spiritual authority and "touch not mine anointed" (read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen). What is often malignant narcissism, and varying levels of sociopathy or psychopathy, is called being "a king and priest upon the earth".
    Once again, I reiterate, the referred-to spiritual concepts and practices have New Testament support. Does God occasionally speak in a vision or dream? Of course. Do our spiritual senses sometimes present themselves as an impression or hunch or felt disposition? Sometimes, yes. Does God occasionally manifest in great power upon our being, leading to intense emotional or physical reactions? Sometimes, yes. The issue, then, is not in these and other concepts and practices the New Testament strongly supports. Rather, the issue is in how they are being manipulated to hide, suppress, ignore, or fully deny serious mental conditions in leadership.
    In many Pentecostal-Charismatic groups, the psychological sickness in leadership is so well-hidden from the people, so well-suppressed even from themselves, so well-ignored under the constant distraction of endless ministry, so well-denied to anyone with a suspicious or trained eye, that such leaders can go many years on end without getting the professional help they need. The most heartbreaking layer of this crisis, however, is the fate of the common people within such churches and ministries. They sense something is significantly unhealthy and broken with the leader(s), but they cannot pinpoint it for a variety of reasons. Without enough knowledge and maturity of their own, without enough spiritual skills and psychological skills and life skills to uncover what is actual reality, they are swept away in the zeitgeist these deeply unwell leaders cast upon them.
    What does one do? As I have said for many years, born-again individuals in the Pentecostal-Charismatic zone have to do brutally honest soul-searching. Uncomfortably honest soul-searching. Ask yourself questions with God that you really do not want to ask. Why, really, are you involved with the groups you are involved with? Is it because God truly called you there (the typical knee-jerk answer)...or is it your own deeper issues attracting you to such groups? In those groups, are you finding cover and false shelter for areas deep inside where you need outside help and unusual growth? Are you following this or that leader because your own issues match that of your leader? Be honest. Your emotion and imagination are masquerading as revelation.
    You cannot outrun the light and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. A disastrous crisis is looming and metastasizing in the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. The crisis is emanating from leaders who are significantly unwell psychologically, unwell enough to need professional help spiritually, practically, and possibly medically. Have the wisdom, self-awareness, and maturity to see this now and seek out healthier pastures with healthier shepherds.

 

9/29  On The Eye Candy of Illegitimate Growth:

If it is living, it is supposed to grow! That is how our Intelligent Designer designed life. The Word opens by telling us Elohim commanded all things in nature to "bring forth" and "bear fruit" and "teem" (Gen 1). As the divine narrative develops, this same mandate is extended to individuals (Ps 112), families (127:3-5, 128:1-4), the entire people of God (Deu 28, 3Jn 1:2), even entire nations (Jer 18:7-10). It would be quite the non-sequitur to think New Testament ministry does not have the same underlying growth concept and precept that permeates all things. If it is living, it is supposed to grow.
    What does it mean, then, to grow and be fruitful in ministry? If you watch certain ministries on television, you are led (subtly or brazenly) to the idea that a lot of money, a splendid facility, and swarming crowds equal growth and fruitfulness. None of these things are inherently wrong or unBiblical, but they are not the essential definition of ministerial growth. When those ministries send the message (subtly or brazenly) that fruitfulness equals superficial expansion, they are sinning gravely and will be held accountable by the Lord (Jas 3:1, Eze 34). Do not be fooled by the eye candy of illegitimate growth. Money, facilities, and visibility can be gotten in many ways, not all of which are spiritually or socially healthy, not all of which are truly centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, not all of which are true to New Testament absolutes.
    Our mental model of ministerial growth in the New Covenant era must come from New Covenant inspired writings, i.e., the New Testament. The Old Testament gives us timeless growth tips here and there, however, growth in the Mosaic era was intrinsically different. Old Covenant Israel was a geopolitical militant theocracy, and consequently, "growth" meant increase commensurate to a geopolitical militant theocracy. The New Covenant ekklesia is a spiritually transformational theocracy, a Christ-led community specializing in the spiritual, attitudinal, and behavioral transformation of human beings (Mt 28:19,20, 2Co 3:17,18, Gal 4:19, 1Jn 3:5-10). Ministerial growth, therefore, means increase commensurate to that.
    If we have affluence and influence, but individuals are not regularly being transformed in a verifiable way through our ministry, to God we are not growing. If we do not have affluence and influence, but individuals are regularly being transformed in a verifiable way through our ministry, to God we are growing. Read Luke's numerical growth notes in Acts: Acts 2:41,47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7, 16:5. His language emphasizes that these increases were transformations. Never once, from Acts to Revelation, is ministerial growth presented in the Old Testament way: indiscriminate head counts, the constant tallying of militaristically-acquired or politically-acquired wealth, possessions, and real estate. From Acts to Revelation the definition of ministerial growth is the regularity and increasing number of transformed individuals.
    Peter had no money to give the lame man at Beautiful, but he gave him what money could never buy: the ability to walk again. Paul had no air-conditioned facility with velvety pews, so he used a muddy riverbank to launch the church at Philippi. At Ephesus he used a secular school building to launch the hugely important Ephesian church. Lydia and the precious women at Philippi had zero recognition or visibility in the Christian world, but their wrestling and persevering in prayer brought the great apostle Paul right to their prayer meeting! Church, enough whining and idolatry of money, facilities, and visibility. Get supernatural power from rigorous spiritual growth, fasting, and new levels of prayer.
    There is nothing inherently wrong or unBiblical with affluence or influence. These simply cannot be authoritative metrics of ministerial growth. They can certainly have a pragmatic role, depending on the nature and goals of your ministry. However, there is nothing more confusing than a gigantic or glamorous ministry that does not consistently shift and develop people spiritually with supernatural power and the responsible proclamation of Scripture.

 

8/14  On The Heart & The Brain of Leadership:

Perhaps the simplest and clearest scripture summarizing leadership is Psalm 78:72 (NKJV):

                                           So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

    Asaph is referring here to King David. He summarizes and pinpoints for us what could be called "the heart" and "the brain" of David's exceptional leadership: (1) inner health and (2) leadership skill. The concept of inner health is captured by the phrase, "…he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart" (italics mine). The concept of leadership skill is captured by the phrase, "…guided them with skillful hands" (italics mine). David was inwardly healthy in his personal life and had high-level techniques in his leadership life.
    Asaph's message is so very critical and seemingly unappreciated by many: a leader is a person first, leader second. A holy, healthy, happy personhood is the heart and blood center of skillful leadership.
    But personal wholeness and fullness is not the end for us leaders. There is a second level Asaph called "skillful hands". From that heart of personal health we then execute a leadership brain in our realm of responsibility. You can see, then, that a leader can have one (personal health, but not leadership skill) or the other (leadership skill, but not personal health) or neither (little personal health and little leadership skill) or both (good personal health and good leadership skill). Without both a heart and a brain the human body is dead. Perceive and receive the metaphor.

 

7/26  On Intelligence, Spiritually & Practically:

Leadership in the ekklesia requires ever-expanding spiritual and practical intelligence, what Scripture calls wisdom. Proverbs 4:7 says wisdom is "the principal thing" (NKJV) or "the first thing" (YLT).
    How can wisdom be the principal thing? Is it above God's own glory? Above worship? Above "my house shall be called a house of prayer"? Above "and the greatest of these is love"? Above personal sanctification? Above snatching the lost from a real Gehenna?
    Solomon is not saying wisdom is first qualitatively, he is saying wisdom is first chronologically. Nothing is greater or more important qualitatively than God's own glory, but we cannot understand or act on that glory properly without wisdom about that glory. Just ask Uzzah, who mishandled the glory (the ark) and was killed because of it (2Sam 6:6-9). See how wisdom comes first? Neither is wisdom greater than prayer (our direct lifeline to God), nor is wisdom greater than love (God's very nature), but both prayer and love will not work right without wisdom first. Have you ever prayed wrongly and your prayer life got nowhere? Have you ever loved wrongly and your so-called "love" only created more problems or loneliness or emptiness? See how wisdom comes first? Wisdom gives us prerequisite understanding and technique about any course of action. Wisdom is not the principal thing qualitatively, but chronologically. It should, ideally, precede all action. Proverbs 8:22,23 corroborate this wisdom first chronology.
    Can you see how spiritual and practical intelligence is foundational to leadership? Can you see how many leaders (and Christians in general) run in a hamster wheel for God and not really get anywhere? Without wisdom, without prerequisite understanding and technique on any matter, we spend a mind-boggling amount of time, energy, and pain only to see frustrating results. For this reason David's leadership was celebrated as "skillful hands" (Ps 78:72), i.e., he led with understanding and technique. For this reason Jesus said, "But wisdom is justified by all her children" (Lk 7:35 NKJV), i.e., wisdom is proven as truly wisdom by the results it produces.

 

7/4  On Sacrificing the Pawn:

Leadership is just as much demolition as it is creation. Weeds have to be pulled up to free up groundspace and nutrients for good seed. Leadership is just as much cutting things loose as it is roping things in. The minnow you let go today frees up your line for the grouper tomorrow. Leadership is just as much walking away from Saul to nurture and develop David. The weed, the minnow, the Saul, the disappointing headache, the passion drainer, the unfruitful department...is just as much a test of your leadership maturity (and overall maturity) as the glowing successes. And how do you pass that test, creating new positional and tactical advantage? Sacrifice the pawn.
 

6/7  On Shepherding in Change, Uncertainty, or Trauma:

Many Christians, even sincere and serious ones, do not know what to do in times of significant change, uncertainty, or trauma. They might know the rudimentary go-tos, like praying about it or talking to someone trusted, but they often do not know the fundamental tactical responses that can repurpose a season of dark fog into personal metamorphosis. In other words, change, uncertainty, or trauma are the surgical tools for me to change Me permanently. This is basic New Testament Christianity. Suffering repurposed into personal evolution.
    As a kingdom leader, you cannot be annoyed by change, uncertainty, or trauma--the valley of the shadow of death--in the lives of those you shepherd. Rather, it is your golden window to paraclete them to green pastures, still waters, the restoration of soul, and more righteous paths. Job 36:15 speaks of this golden window and the revelatory opportunity therein (NASB): He rescues the afflicted in their misery, and opens their ears in time of oppression. If the Lord is willing to both rescue and reveal in times of dark fog, your task is to coach and position the sufferer to dig into His presence and Word themselves--and invoke the actualization of Job 36:15 and new spiritual growth.
    The first fundamental in the born-again life is the command to grow spiritually and keep growing spiritually until the work is perfected and finished on the Day of Christ Jesus (Php 1:6). The dilemma of reaching nice plateaus in your spiritual life is that your mind can misinterpret those plateaus as if they are the final level of all spiritual maturity. We start thinking--at first subconsciously, then consciously--that we do not need to change all that much now that we have reached such-n-such plateau. Secular psychology actually has research and a name for this: end of history illusion.
    In 2013, psychologists Jordi Quoidbach, Daniel Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson discovered, in subjects as young as 18 and as old as 68, that people pervasively believe that they have changed a lot in the past, but would change very little or not at all in the future. We put Christian language on this ubiquitous psychological phenomenon and reword it like this: "God has changed me so much to get me to this level, but I don't need to change all that much from here forward." The end of history illusion in Christianese.
    How could we ever think that, feel that, say that...when the God who is making us into His image is an infinity being? How could we ever reason that we have reached the end of our personal transformation history, when the God who is transforming us is literally omni-everything? Do we see how astonishingly dumb that is? As a shepherd, times of change, uncertainty, or trauma are your golden window to break through people's end of history illusion and coach them towards divine rescue, revelation, and new spiritual growth.
    The following scripture may be the most important verse on spiritual growth. Ephesians 4:15 (NASB) says, But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ.
    Paul says we are to grow spiritually "in all aspects". That means we cannot grow only in the parts of the kingdom we like or prefer or that fit our movement or background or culture or family or emotional issues. We have to cooperate with His spiritual growth projects in every single aspect of our personality and life, with zero hangups and zero excuses. I know Christians who want to grow in the Spirit's voice but not sound theology, or sound theology but not the Spirit's voice. We are to grow up in all aspects. I know Christians who want to grow more in their spiritual gifts but not humility and patience, or humility and patience but not spiritual gifts. We are to grow up in all aspects. The parts of the Bible you avoid, the parts you have not read in fifteen years (or ever), are the very areas you need to grow up in.
    In shepherding members of the ekklesia through the valley of dark fog, you will need to sense, with the Spirit's help and intuitive listening skills, exactly how the Lord wants to rescue them and exactly how the Lord wants to open their ears, i.e., how He wants to grow them spiritually. You cannot merely assume this or that based on the go-to answers of your pet movement or denomination or personality type; you will have to discern this with the Spirit's help and razor-sharp listening skills. When you have perceived these insights correctly, the sufferer will have a visceral reaction to your words (even if they are uncomfortable, even if they are resistant, and many will be, especially the self-sufficient high ego types). That visceral response is the Spirit agreeing deep inside them. With great patience and careful instruction, shepherd them towards green pastures, still waters, the restoration of soul, and more righteous paths.

 

4/13  On Meaning Maps, Lower & Higher Stories:

To help someone truly and permanently change, what we might call depth transformation, you must first discern and pinpoint their meaning map. This map is their internal value architecture that pushes them toward the same types of people, the same types of situations, the same types of behaviors. For example, a person who craves meaning in power or control will repeatedly tune in to other individuals who seem to have high degrees of environmental or emotional control (a form of coveting), or, they seek out (consciously or unconsciously) situations in which they appear strong and regal and got-it-all-together. A person who craves meaning in taking care of others will repeatedly scan the environment for victims, the needy, the weak, dependents, minors, i.e., those who will need them. A person who craves meaning in acceptance and group identity will repeatedly conform and agree to ongoing social martyrdom, i.e., the sacrifice of individuality.
    These are only a few of the more obvious examples of one road driving towards an emotional destination on a person’s meaning map. That map, however, has multiple roads with multiple destinations, making most people complex contradictions of winding, crisscrossing roads, each with its own feelgood endpoint. To help someone in personal metamorphosis, therefore, you will have to pinpoint and intentionally disrupt their meaning map with Spirit-empowered truth on God’s values. A clashing of swords must happen. Their spearhead values (those 2-3 big ones shaping their entire life) must be desecrated, exposed for its futility and idolatry, exposed for its nagging inability to deliver the life they imagine. And, on the heels of you desecrating their lower story you must articulate a higher story. You must hold up a new meaning map with new destinations based on promise land theology in God’s Word--a diligent daily relationship with Him and the teleological nature of that relationship towards good and expected ends (Jer 29:11, Heb 4:1-11). In the language of Isaiah 62:10, we must clear out the stumblingstones (their lower story) and raise a banner over them (a higher and better story, God's).
    We are not dependent on words alone, anointed as they may be, to help people with metamorphosis. God Himself—working in the lives of those He has queued for depth transformation—brings about providential circumstances that disrupt, desecrate, and negatively expose a person’s meaning map, usually with some degree of pain or embarrassment if they have resisted His earlier overtures to transformation. It is there, in the disillusioned valley of the lower stories they tried to live out, that our anointed explanations can facilitate practical transformations. We see, then, transformational ministry is the Lord co-opting us before and after He has judged a person’s idolatrous meaning map. It is us putting language to His destabilizing activity with anointed counsel, teaching, correction, instruction, and prayer.
    Many (most) people are open and supple to major changes only when their lower stories have disillusioned them, have been exposed as an inferior form of living, have been proven to be unsustainable longterm. Job 36:15 (NASB) says, He rescues the afflicted in their misery, and opens their ears in time of oppression. Elihu says here that God grants a special revelatory blessing during times of pain. He "opens their ears". He speaks with louder volume and more specificity when our wrongly-built value structure comes back to bite us. One reason for this is, most people are simply more open to Him and personal metamorphosis during those times.
    You are not laboring alone, nor are you laboring with words only, in bringing major change to people’s lives. If you are a diligent intercessor and stay very close the presence of the Lord daily, He will move in your social biome in significant ways to destabilize and disillusion those individuals setting their meaning maps above His, those playacting like their lower stories are actually higher stories. When He does, recognize it, draw near to those individuals in love and boldness, and add your transformational voice to the lifechanging window.

 

3/8  On Renaissance, Italian vs Northern:

The Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance highlight for leaders the struggle to balance equally-important, yet seemingly competing, values in a group or organization. The balance and multidimensionality is not easy, and yet the healthiest and greatest leaders develop the elastic aptitudes necessary to do it well and do it well consistently.
    The Italian rebirth zeroed in on pragmatic, effective leadership, captured most strikingly (and sometimes disturbingly) in Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. The Northern rebirth zeroed in on just, fair, cooperative, and functional societies, i.e. social reform and idealism, captured in Thomas More's Utopia. Both books are extreme and feel hyperbolic, however, the core ideas illuminate the timeless paradoxes and balancing acts leaders and groups face. How much organizational success depends on the personality, pragmatic abilities, and reality-creations of the leader, and how much depends on leadership with a lighter touch that can nurture or facilitate just, fair, cooperative, and functional group dynamics? The former is leader-focused, the latter is group-focused. The former requires a leader with visceral strength and realism, the latter requires a leader with community-building finesse and sophistication.
    The truth is, there are seasons and moments for both. This situation today might call for leadership strength and starkly pragmatic decision-making, while that situation tomorrow might call for a lighter, more faciliatory presence that gives the group space to interact, collaborate, problem-solve, and coalesce. The greatest leadership tragedies and group failures come not from selfless healthy leaders who can read the moment and stay agile in the best interest of all involved, but from self-serving unhealthy leaders who entrench themselves in extreme Machiavellian realism (Hitler) or extreme utopian idealism (Stalin) to their own end and the end of their group.

 

1/21  On Proactive & Reactive Realms of Leadership:

Leadership is both a proactive and reactive endeavor, and a skilled leader will move gracefully and creatively between both realms. Leaders are often lectured (and rightly so) to lead with vision and deliberate activity, and yet, the reality on the ground is that life and people occasionally present threats and opportunities that demand attention. Some threats are simply too big or too defining to ignore or intentionally postpone, and similarly, some unexpected opportunities are simply too promising. With deep and creative wisdom the skilled leader can repurpose the threat or opportunity and reinsert it back into the proactive vision. The threat does not have to be a frustrating distraction; the opportunity does not have to mean a new overall direction.  
    A leader who is entrenched at the goal-oriented extreme will undermine or sabotage his/her own influence by failing to account for real life's vicissitudes and idiosyncrasies. Granted, this type of end-product tunnel vision is easy to narrow into. It is easier to fossilize oneself in routines and processes that require less and less improvisation and creative critical thinking. Skilled leadership will always be a controlled vacillation between working aggressively on a purpose and working adaptively to repurpose threats and opportunities. To use a traffic metaphor, we could say one realm is linear and one realm is a detour, with the destination remaining the same.
    Staying flexible means self-awareness and being present in every moment. Resist drifting off into goal-oriented lala land, such that you miss shifting variables in front of you that could have strategic consequences.
    Do not overschedule and overbusy yourself. It is almost impossible to be creatively strategic if your mind and body are waterboarded with to-do's.
    Set aside time everyday, sometimes more than once, to be alone for deep prayer mixed with deep contemplation. 2Timothy 2:7 (NIV): Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Upper-tier faculties like surgical discernment, truly unique creativity, and winning moves most often illuminate in quiet, unrushed, spiritual solitude.

 

12/4/20  On Sharpening & Polishing the Blade:

In the ancient world, bladesmiths sharpened and polished a dull or rough blade into a flashy, mirror-finished, whistling sharp, battle-ready sword using stones such as a whetstone, waterstone, oilstone, and/or diamond sharpening stone. A fine metal file might also be used, hence the illustration in Proverbs 27:17, "as iron sharpens iron". The bladesmiths achieved this finish by attentively and patiently grinding down the sword's edges until its sharpness was maximal--able to whistle and shave off arm hair.
    This is an illuminating parable for those of us in communicational ministry in the ekklesia. God's grinding down of our dull and rough edges, if we cooperate with Him, will produce rhemas--sharp two-edged swords. It is those dull and rough edges that cause you to misread Bible verses and misread the Holy Spirit. Think about it: if any part of your personality, your attitudinal-behavioral complex, is dull or rough, you will read those dullnesses and roughnesses into Scripture and into the Spirit. They will taint, mix, and misinterpret information from both. Let God grind those down as only He can and suddenly you become remarkably clear and sharp, and rhemas become remarkably clear and sharp. Suddenly, constantly, Isaiah 49:2 will be true of you (NASB): He has made my mouth like a sharp sword... Suddenly, constantly, you will take (perceive) the sword of the Spirit, which is the word (rhema) of God (Eph 6:17).
    You do not need more words and you do not need more emotional words. Scripture ridicules and judges verbal diarrhea, saying "a fool multiplies words" (Ecc 10:14) and "a fool's voice is known by his many words" (5:3 NKJV) and "in the multitude of words sin is not lacking" (Pr 10:19 NKJV). Scripture also warns against trying too hard with your words through overdone emotion, melodrama, and histrionics. This is nothing more than having a dull and rough blade, and therefore, needing more force to achieve the desired interpersonal effect. Ecclesiastes 10:10 (NASB) describes this, saying, "If the axe [or sword] is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength."
    You do not need more words or more emotional words, you need sharper and clearer words. Become a blade that has been sharpened and polished, and is constantly sharpened and polished. Give patient attention and cooperation to God grinding down where you are dull and rough.

 

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