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Hope & Courage Drive Transformational Leadership

Hope and Courage! They’re the fundamental octane for leading through disruptive change and adversity. New Hope leads to New Courage! They drive transformational leadership.

You need it as a leader!

You need to deliver on it as a leader in your congregation.

For Gail and me, this is so deeply embedded in us. It’s how we lead. It’s PLI. In many ways, it’s how we survived enormously trying, sometimes deeply discouraging times in church leadership. 

So, this week, allow me to do a little remembering, and you can decide if it’s helpful or not.

The first assignment for us out of seminary was to an urban area outside of Chicago as an assistant pastor. A few short months later, “assistant” turned into “senior.” (Their spoken, not so spiritual, assessment: Things are bad here. We’ll never be able to get a “good one.” Let’s call him.) 

Our church had a great storied past in the Fox Valley when we arrived! 

  • After 20 years of watching attendance skid and then plummet, once packed sanctuaries of 1000+ barely assembled 400 “on a good Sunday.” 
  • The ministry was sustained with a $100,000 annual operating deficit (25% of our budget) funded by a generous woman who had died 20 years earlier, and her gift was about to be exhausted. 
  • Old Dutch town was a changing neighborhood about to become riddled with gang violence that further magnified the sense of loss and fear.
  • Sweet, wonderful, committed members remembered the “good old days,” but were mostly hurting and angry and generally displeased with the difficult lot our church had been dealt…or we had created for ourselves.

It’s a simplistic description of a complex situation, but I offer it simply to credential what comes next. Hope and courage were not in great supply in our church back then, just like they’re most likely challenged in your church in 2021. A fruitful next 25 years was not on the horizon.

Fortunately, our 125-year-old church had resolved that “something” needed to change or it would die. We couldn’t stay “here” and pretend things would get better. We needed transformational leadership.

From there, they were free to discover the vision for “there.”

So, before I address hope and courage, let me encourage you to pass this around to your leaders and ask them: 

  • How is our resolve to not stay “here” and pretend a better future will emerge?
  • How hopeful are we about the future? And how much courage do we have to risk and pioneer? 
I lift up my eyes to the hills…where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord… (Psalm 121:1-2)

As I look back, hope and its companion courage poured in from a variety of places. (Make no mistake, as sweet as our folks were, they cycled between blaming me, blaming each other, lamenting their difficult lot, waiting to be served, complaining they weren’t served better, not particularly generous, etc.) 

So, what contributed to the New Hope that led to New Courage?

  • EZEKIEL 37 – We asked God to breathe new life where everything seemed dead and hopeless. We prayed for the dawning of a new spirit. 
  • THE LEADER – I was new and young and seemed hopeful. (I was mostly clueless and naïve and had no idea how to chart a different future.) Clueless, but confident that together we could figure it out. AND…because I pastored well, they slowly trusted me to lead. 
  • THE FEW – In those early years there were a few who could imagine something better! And, throughout the years with new obstacles and fresh visions, there were always those few! They invested themselves in championing a future vision. The “few” had deep relational capital and they invited their peers to dare and risk and venture forward. To this day, I have deep gratitude for “the few.” I can remember them by name…some sainted, some still wisely in the Kingdom game. 
  • THE GOSPEL – It sounds simple. Our people repeatedly marveled at the depth of God’s love for them and sacrifice of a Savior who gave His life for them. They legitimately wrestled with how to respond, how to follow. 

Where else did hope come from?

  • Gail and I were always partners. She had different roles as we raised a family. Eventually she led an enormous small group ministry and life-transforming women’s ministry. But, we dreamed together. We sacrificed together.
  • I always looked for the leaders and churches just ahead…for fellow pioneers. Sometimes I was too timid to ask for help (a fault!) but I would try to get close enough to listen.
  • An accepting community. I could always count on some folks inside the church and some outside to remind me that my identity did not depend on what I produced. As amazing as our church was during our 25 years there, we never fully escaped a quick-to-criticize spirit among a few.
  • Mentors. I have always looked for and been blessed with mentors for every “I’ve never been here before” season. Even to this day I can capture wisdom from what they possess.
  • Eagerness to learn. Eventually our church saw the value in this and developed a sabbatical program that most likely allowed transformation and growth for a 25-year journey.
  • Celebrations. When we reached a milestone, we celebrated and gave thanks to God. We reminded each other that our hope in the Lord had not been misplaced.
Now, take a step towards transformational leadership…
  • Pick a point above. What do you need to do?
  • Pick five leaders to forward the blog and ask them:
    • Are we contenting ourselves to stay “here” and pretend?
    • How’s our collective hope that we can invest in a different future?
    • How’s our collective courage to act?

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Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,
and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

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