Tag Archives: humility

The Problem with Stars

Every team has its “star.” The naturally gifted athlete. The incredibly imaginative artist. The achingly effortless musician. The amazingly smart student.

One of the challenges for any leader is what to do with a star.

In many sports, they build teams around them. The Angels and Mike Trout. The New England Patriots and Tom Brady. The LA Lakers and Magic Johnson.

But still, on a day to day basis, what do you do with a star? Do you encourage them “be a good team member” (often meaning, share the time, resources, attention with everyone else)? Do you just let the star be the star?

When I was in high school, my best friend’s twin brother played basketball, so when the season ended and post-season, championship play began, we went to the games. His team won the Catholic league championship which was the ticket to the state finals against East Lansing High School.

During warm-ups, we noticed something sort of odd. This sort of short East Lansing player (like maybe 5’2″ or 5’3″) never took a shot. All he did was pass the ball to this other, much taller player whose every shot dropped perfectly through the hoop.

When the game got under way, it was clear that the short East Lansing player was running the show. With different numbered fingers in the air, he set up and ran the play. The odd thing was that during almost every play, the ball ended up in that same tall player’s hands — and in the basket.

By halftime, we sat their amazed, jaws dropping, eyes pealed, categorically amazed. During the break, we asked who that player was, and her older brother said, “Earvin Johnson.”

By the end of the game, Earvin “Magic” Johnson had scored 44 points (I recall) and single-handedly beat their opponent.

By the end of the game, I learned something about how to handle a star. Let them be one when the situation dictates it. For his high school team, the state championship led to college careers that some of their probably had never dreamed were possible. And they had ridden to the championship on his abilities.

When Magic became a pro (and I actually watched pro basketball because I was living in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years), I learned something else about how to handle a star. When you surround them with gifted players, those stars who have learned to be humble about who and what they are will play well with others and share the ball, sacrifice the body, make the other look better than they think they are.

Ministry stars are much the same. Sometimes you give them the stage and let them lead 20,000+ people in prayer, song, and praise (thank you, Jesse Manibusan.) Sometimes you give them silence and a piano, and let them inspire (thanks, Sarah Hart.) And sometimes you give them an idea and just let them go (thank you, Meredith and Mark.)

Other times, you surround them with other faith-filled leaders, and let them struggle to serve those who hunger for peace, justice, compassion, and knowledge.

The problem with stars isn’t that that they are stars. It’s that we sometimes don’t know how to direct their light and shine it on others as well as on them. That’s what Jesus did for us, now it’s our turn to do it for others.

 

6 Reasons It’s Important to Fail in Ministry

One of the most humbling things that happened during the week that my Mom and I spent walking sections of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela was realizing I couldn’t walk it all. When I thought I could go 16 miles, it turned out my feet were crying out at 10. After deciding to do the downhill that came after the hundreds of steps up to St. Tecla’s chapel, it became very clear that I was riding in the bus to the hotel, and not walking any further that afternoon.

Every day I failed to meet my own expectation of myself. Five days with lots of time to think about it, too.

During the last day’s walk into the city, we met a woman who had started with her husband. Her husband made it a mile or two before health reasons prevented him from going further. So, she walked alone. When we asked if she was going to go the full 20 kilometers that day, she laughed in our face! “It might take me 3 days to get that far,” she said, “but my husband is meeting me in the next town, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

In the business world, there is a lot of emphasis on failing. It’s the only way to innovate and move forward. Not so much emphasis on it in the ministry world. So, why is it important to be willing to fail in our ministry?

#1. To cultivate a sense of humility. Remember, St. Paul was struck blind before he was able to see the path for the rest of his life.

#2. To push and be pushed. We are supposed to be like the mustard seed, and grow. Remember that all of us have to push through the weeds to grab the sunlight.

#3. To test the limits of our creativity. When the door was blocked, the lame man and his companions went on the roof and lowered him down to Jesus. Pretty crafty! Like them, try things a different way, and if they fail the first time, identify the positives and build on those for the next attempt.

#4. To stumble a little, let go of your focus, and start seeing what other solutions present themselves. I often wonder what the adulterous woman saw in the dirt that Jesus had written in. Was it possibly just a message for her? Sometimes it’s better to land on the ground so that we can see things from a different perspective.

#5. To remind ourselves–and those we minister with–that we are only human. Not God. Nuff said.

#6. And that the best way to fail is not alone, but with others. The majority of the time I walked, it was from the back of the pack (which is very unusual for me!) with my Mom. We faced the aches and pains and discomforts together, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Next time you hear or read about pilgrims, remember that they usually travel in groups. They are there to pick themselves and each other up to continue the journey. That’s what we are called to do in our ministry, too.

 

Do Your Homework

crownThis leadership tidbit comes courtesy of Netflix’s original series, “The Crown,” which I binge-watched this weekend. (Very good show; John Lithgow is particularly impressive as a very aged Winston Churchill.)

Here it is. Do your homework. Always.

Twice in 10 episodes, we saw Queen Elizabeth as portrayed by Claire Foy struggle with situations in which her lack of knowledge created an obstacle to making a good decision for her country.

In the first, we see her trying to be both monarch and sister as she searches for solutions that will allow the Princess Margaret to marry the divorced man she loves. Her advisors tell her only the first part of a law which would allow the Princess to marry anyone she chooses once she turns 25. And so she waits.

Surprisingly (at least, to me), the Queen accepts the advice without any further questions or research. Only to find out that when her sister turns 25 that there is a second part to the law.

In another episode, the Queen faces head-on the fact that she received an education that seriously lacked any of the content of a normal course of studies for a normal child, teen, or young adult. So, as a young woman, she feels like she is at a disadvantage when speaking with other very knowledgeable men in her cabinet and commonwealth. She employs a tutor to fix that problem. In the end, her encyclopedic knowledge of the constitution of the Britain is all she has and all she needs.

In the first example, a lack of curiosity and an abundance of trust led down an ugly road to a decision that was a lose-lose between sisters. Would the decision have been any easier had she explored in more depth the law that was governing this situation more fully? Possibly not, but it would have meant dealing with the implications earlier when less pain might have been inflicted on everyone involved.

The second example illustrates the kind of humility it takes for any of us as leaders to see what we lack and address it.

I remember an older person I know telling me that the older he got, the more he realized how little he knew. That shouldn’t be a self-aware statement for the elderly, but for all of us. Whatever we think we know, we probably don’t know. And whatever we want to know, we need to take action to find it.

Lose What You Got to Lose

bridgeAs a middle-aged adult, I learned how to play bridge.

In a game that is very competitive, it is hard to believe that the “first rule” of bridge (at least, the first and best rule that I have learned) is lose what you have to lose first.

Last weekend, my partner and I bid a hand, and when she laid down her cards, we had a perfect fit . . . except that we did not hold 3 of the Aces and 1 King. Four tricks that we had to lose in order to take the other nine. It was clear what I had to do, force the opponents into playing all of those four cards before I could capture what we were capable of winning.

Not all bridge hands are like that . . .  that clear, that easy, that straightforward. At least, not for me. But I’m barely more than a novice.

But what a paradox–lose in order to win. It took the first 3 years of playing before I was able to accept that sometimes I had to lose in order to eventually win the game. Three years of being obstinate, frightened, and stupid.

I can identify with the prodigal son in all of this. Foolishly taking everything that is mine (i.e., all of the winning tricks) at the cost of eventually losing the most important thing (e.g., self-love, father’s love, the game.)

The paradox. Lose in order to win. Be exalted, and you will be humbled. First shall be last. Sinner welcomed home.

None of us is perfect, especially in the ways that we negotiate our leadership. There are always points, discussions, issues, and actions that we are going to face that we’re just going to lose.

These losses don’t necessarily mean we are going to lose the “game” or the goal toward which our ministry and leadership is directed. But we need to know when to lose, when to agree to disagree, when to concede, and when to ask for forgiveness. It’s only then that we can truly move forward.

 

 

 

 

Sitting in the Back Seat Means You’re Only a Rider

seatsI always know when I’m in the midst of a Catholic crowd.

The seats in the back are full, and the ones in the front are empty.

There is a more layered message in Sunday’s readings than just that of the virtue of humility.

For me, sitting in the back of the room is like keeping my faith private, my own, quietly settled. No loud shouts of acclamation or extended arms in praise. It’s “mine.” Or it’s “me and God.” But no one else needs to know or be part of it.

From the time I was a middle-schooler, I’ve watched televangelists on TV, and admired the energy and even euphoria that they inspire in their followers, so much so that their congregations are unafraid to embody what they believe in ways that might look very foreign in some Catholic churches.

The reading from Hebrews captured that for me.

No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
— Hebrews 12:22-24A

In the presence of Glory, we should feel compelled to praise God with all our heart, mind, and body.

Sitting in the back of the room has no place in this faith of ours. Sitting in the back of the room is not being humble, but being cautious or private or scared. Or, as our associate pastor put it, selfish.

As leaders, we do not need to be at the head of the table in the seat of glory. But we need to be fully in the room, not on the periphery blending in with the wallpaper.

We should be and are compelled to approach the city of God with humility, recognizing that it is God’s action in us that began this relationship, and we cannot help but respond.

We need to be okay with sharing the highs and lows of our faith journey. We need to be comfortable talking about our prayer life. We need to engage with joy in conversations about Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

So the next time you aim for that back seat, think again, and move forward. Maybe not to the front (Jesus is pretty clear about the consequences there!) But forward. Be in the midst of the faithful and the pilgrim people on their way to city of God in the New Jerusalem.

Handling Success

humilityShortly after my very exhausted husband walked through the door yesterday, he told me about a conversation that he had with his peer leaders at the high school about humility and leadership.

He’d been struck by how the USA swimmers who medaled in the first few days responded to questions about their success–thanking their families, their coaches, the team–recognizing that the end result could have been something very different if they hadn’t given it their best.

Within the last few days, we’ve seen the value of humility illustrated on many stages. Katie Ledecky, proud of her medals, but oozing gratitude to her family and friends. As opposed to Chad de Clos, strutting in front of Michael Phelps, trying to psych him out before their semi-final. (Yes, he was indeed strutting!)

Daniel Boudia and Steele Johnson thanked Jesus Christ for inspiring them to work so hard that they were able to win silver in men’s synchronized diving.

And Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits without the fanfare and over-analyzed attention of the Alex Rodriquez retirement press conference.

What we have seen and heard is that humility does not ask for attention. It proves its value by actions we take. It recognizes that “I” am always part of the “we” that is bigger and greater than me.

In what other realms have you heard or seen humility at work recently? How do you strive to imitate Christ’s humility in your daily work?

What Do You Look for in a Leader?

presidentMovies often propose and “try on” the paradigms for leaders that we see and seek in our world.

Last Thursday, PR Web reported on the ten most and worst respected presidents as depicted by Hollywood.

Harrison Ford in “Air Force One” was the #1 best — a president threatened by foreign terror, defending both his family and his country, unwillingly to concede defeat and willing to sacrifice himself for both. A hero in the best sense of the word.

I confess: I love that movie, and I love the Ford’s character in it. As a leader, I aspire to the kind of dedication and willingness to sacrifice that his character embraces.

I’ve seen most of the most respected ones–Michael Douglas (The American President), Robin Williams (Man of the Year), Kevin Kline (Dave–a personal favorite!), and Michael Keaton (First Daughter.)

While these and the others in the top 10 had Ford’s heroic qualities in common, what I truly admire most about these other four is their humanity–a leader who can listen, admit when he is wrong, and stand for what is right; two men who come to see that the office is more important than the man who fills it; a poseur who truly can walk in the shoes of those he is supposedly leading; and a father who learns the hard way what it means to be a father and leader at the same time.

Who do you respect most? Why? Which of these qualities to you try to cultivate in yourself? In others?