It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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you think your pastor is bad, you should see mine

Someone would have to be slightly out of their mind to ever want to lead a church. Within a few years of living in Ireland I began to see how people changed in their attitude and behaviour towards a friend as soon as they took on a role that might have leadership connotations. Suddenly that person became suspicious. How would they have ever made it into that role or accepted it unless they were hungry for power? They must think themselves better than they actually are. Then there is the whole issue with authority in general. Who actually has the right to tell me what to do? There is an assumption that they are in leadership to control and abuse for their own selfish purposes. In reality, what is actually going on in us is more likely to be jealousy, insecurity or pride. We might just be projecting our own weaknesses onto them.

I want control of this situation. I would have made a much better leader. If people would just listen to me and do things the way I think they should we wouldn’t have any of the issues these leaders are causing.

And yet, if offered leadership most of us would turn it down because we really don’t want to be the person that so many people throw rotten eggs at. We should know, we’ve thrown them ourselves for years.

As people who put our faith in Jesus (a.k.a. Christians) we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In other words – we have a lot of thoughts that are just untrue and unhelpful about God, ourselves and others. Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) What does this mean when thinking about leadership?

Sometimes our original assumptions are true about leaders. They might be power hungry. It is quite possible that they are just wanting control. When we assume a leader wants these things without any proof, then we are in the wrong. I have found that most church leaders start with the best of intentions. They have a clear nudge from God and enough conviction that makes them risk the gauntlet and train for a position that will get them nowhere if they quit that “profession”. My brother recently told me that he doesn’t think that pastor’s kids will ever be able to have a pastor. I think he is right. We know that they are human and we often see more of the inner struggles and challenges than others might have a chance to see. By the way, I was a strong-willed child so didn’t make life easy either! So, with the personal insight of living in a pastor’s home and participating in churches for most of my life, let me present a few things that can often distract and play on the weaknesses of church leadership.

Over spiritualising differences of opinion – I don’t agree with you so one of us must not be walking close enough with God or really get his truth. Since I know I am on track, it must be you. Therefore, God is unhappy with you … and your leadership … and your family … and everything you touch. Actually, who do you think you are that you are leading God’s people? Continue reading