When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important. But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development.
I talked about reading last week. Christian biographies, the works of Christian leaders, other aspects of the Christian life, and issues facing the church today are important. But so is reading the Classics, history, science, and other academic disciplines. It broadens our minds and sharpens our thinking.
So, also, is the habit of listening and engaging with those who disagree with us. I find that most Christians today are comfortable only with reading or talking with those whom we agree. We, actually, are better when we seek out, spend time with, and befriend those not like us.
My neighbor of some 15 years voted for the other guy in every election that I’ve known him. His views and values differ from mine. He reads and gets his input from different sources than I do. We don’t shy away from those areas of disagreement, nor do they define our relationship. I consider John one of my very best friends. We run together. We watch each other’s dogs when they are out of town. We share meals together. His friendship is most important to me.
But that hasn’t always been the case. I made some mistakes years ago in thinking I could change his mind and have him see things my way. But I had to learn not to focus on the differences but on those things that bind us together. Family is incredibly important to him. John and his wife are great parents. They take pride in our neighborhood and are respectful of others. They attend a different church and have involved themselves in mission and community development.
All that to say, the differences have sharpened and expanded each of us, but don’t define our friendship.
The ability to befriend those who think differently is not all that is at stake. It’s also how we actually discuss those differences that will either deepen a friendship or lead to one fractured. Listening without responding, hearing the position and the heart behind it without being defensive, and acknowledging the unspoken feelings and perceptions without posturing are all critical to building the relationship.
We naturally want to win. And by the time we arrive at a place of leadership, we’ve usually been right a good part of the time. But in my reading the Gospels, I find that Jesus usually answers a question with a question; and especially, the challenging ones.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wishing to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life was answered with a question. He gave the right answer and Jesus commended him for it. But the lawyer seeking to justify himself asked another, and that’s when he told this now familiar parable. Jesus ends with another question, which one was his neighbor? Then finally our Lord says, “Go and do likewise.”
I’m struck by what Jesus did not do. He didn’t argue. He didn’t “one up” or blister him with a zinger. He wasn’t cutting or defensive.
How do others receive us? Do we have an edge? Do we need to be right? Can we be charitable with those whom we differ? Do we immerse ourselves in groupthink? Are we afraid of being tainted, or losing control?
At the same time we don’t roll over and play dead. Being confident with our own thoughts and actions while comfortably engaging with those who live and believe differently is a habit of an effective leader.
Spring Coaching Tips
- All good things start (again) with Jesus.
- A Staff Team Pioneering a New Campus Together.
- Select Next Year’s Leadership Now.
- A new 31 Day Experiment.
- Natural mode launching.
- Top Ten Myths About Sharing Your Faith.
- 25 Ways to Keep the World Before Your Students.
- Balancing Relationships.
- Noticing Your Way Into Spiritual Conversations.
- Understanding Change.
- Hove and Holleman’s “A Grander Story.”
- First, prayer.
- Where we’re seeing both fast starts and fast growth.
- “Better than my dreams.”
- Becoming not ashamed of the Gospel.
- The First Two Weeks in the Fall.
- Summer Survival.
- Another use for an effective tool.
- Keys to establishing new believers.
- The mindset of Generation Z.
- Off and Running in the Fall.