Tag Archives: Marginalization

The Right Stuff

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Future of Cru


Who are the right people to build around?

What potential leaders have “the right stuff” and what informs your assessment of what makes for “right stuff” in the first place?

The world I serve in has had a nice strategic sounding phrase that has succinctly defined much of the leadership selection mindset as well as some of the general ministry philosophy in the history of our ministry.  That phrase is “Move with the movers.”

Move with the movers. Influence the influencers. Win the winners. Align the aligners. Lead the leaders…and you get the picture.

I don’t think such a commitment to the movers and influencers is a bad thing because everyone needs Jesus and it is important to be strategic about mobilizing people with capacity to shape culture.  But doing college ministry (or any other kind) where you primarily relate to a certain class of people with certain capacities can impact whether or not we see the broader formational consequences of putting so much emphasis on who we see as the movers and shakers. Strategic thinking is important and well…strategic, but what happens when one day we wake up and realize that we’ve built our entire philosophy of leadership or ministry around who we see as the beautiful people?

I’ve done college ministry at a church, I’ve served at an Ivy League level university, and I’ve worked in organizational leadership capacities in different ways.  I know what it’s like to want to build Sunday morning or a weekly meeting or a conference around people who will draw people in, who will impress, and essentially who are….”cool.”  Conventional wisdom is to get the coolest, most popular, and most impressive people to draw in others  “strategically” all the while subconsciously communicating in some way that this is the picture of who we think we are or who what we want to be like.

Athletes? Fraternity men? Sorority women? Wealthy? Charismatic? Funny? Tall? Well Dressed? Powerful?  All can represent “Above” and tap into people’s subconscious desires to elevate their own sense of worth and significance through association.   Is it wrong to “target” or focus on such people?  Not necessarily. But how often do we even think about it? Has it ever crossed our minds that “coolness” is a power and status endorsed label for what’s desirable and ideal?  It comes back to the question of how do we assess who has the “right stuff” to build around and platform as representative of who you’re called to be as a community and what you’re called to as a community.

I liked this tongue in cheek thought from Pastor Jonathan Martin in his recently published book Prototype:

“I wish Jesus had read Jim Collins’s Good to Great so He could have gotten the right people on the bus and then the right people in the right seats on the bus. At the very least, He should have run the Myers-Briggs profile on them to ensure that everyone had the right gift mix and He wasn’t accidentally putting an ESTJ together with an INFP and causing a personality conflict.”

I have a strategic orientation. It’s one of my strengthfinders themes so I can get with the right people on the bus philosophy.  I still think it holds.  It may be more of a question of what kind of bus we’re all on so we understand who the right people really are.  Though the bus analogy may get old, think about this.  If all the “right people on the bus” look a certain way, are impressive in the same ways, or are at a certain “status” or “above” then one of the realities will be that in no time at all there’s going to be a lot of people who look at the bus and realize that there’s either no room on that bus for them or worse, believe that they aren’t enough in who they are to be on the bus in the first place.  And maybe the “right people in the right seats” is more a reflection of what’s most comfortable for leaders and those with power than a true reflection of who should be sitting where (Luke 12:12-14).

So winning winners and moving with movers ends up reproducing winners and movers who in turn move with more movers and win more winners.  Sounds strategic right?  What’s the problem?

Most of us aren’t winners.  Not that most people are losers.  But most of us aren’t winners in the sense that we can’t be the package of charisma, ideal physical presence, looks, and whatever other status builders exist today.  Sometimes it’s social limitations, sometimes it’s marginalization based on gender, sometimes it’s marginalization based on ethnicity, sometimes it’s financial, and sometimes it’s character or life capacity – frankly few people can consistently claim they aren’t a mess in one way or another.

Jonathan Martin finishes his “Good to Great” thought saying,

Yet is seems as if everywhere Jesus went, the same people show up: those who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do. In the Gospels, Jesus is called to be the light of the world. Apparently, whores and thieves and the sick and demon-possessed are the moths He attracts.”

Prototype, page 69

Why did these people flock to Jesus? The Scriptures are clear that there wasn’t “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isaiah 53:2)  The light of the world evoked this response from Simon Peter when asked if he would leave others after a hard teaching, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

They didn’t follow Jesus because he had “the right stuff” but because they saw the source of life, the power of God, and the fulfillment of Scripture clearly in Jesus and the community He was mobilizing and shaping.   When I think about the calling of the disciples I think of the great line from the movie Armaggedon when the trained and polished Astronaught played by William Fichtner sees Bruce Willis and his rag tag group of oil drillers and says condescendingly, “Talk about the wrong the stuff!”

I wonder how frequently we make “wrong stuff” assessments or the thoughts come across our minds.  I know I’ve been more than guilty over the course of my ministry years. My criteria, while strategic, has often primarily been about what it  takes to “grow” and I’ve been slow at points to realize that I’m skipping the questions about what it takes to “be” the type of place where people when asked if they would leave would say, “To whom shall we go?”

The thing about building things around “buzz” and entertainment or beautiful people or “coolness” is that it’s hard to sustain. Do our ministries reflect older celebrities or the many older women I see in this wonderful land of Orange County, California fighting what’s real and what’s authentic in favor of sustaining image and youth through botox and God knows what else in the effort of maintaining status as one of the “beautiful” people?  Some ministries and church services seem to be relying on “botox” metaphorically to keep drawing people and “growing” while failing to move deeper into what type of place and community reflects “the light of the world” and “the words of life.” That’s not a call towards just “right doctrine” though it helps to be theologically sound!  It’s a call to make sure that the words of Jesus and ministry of the Holy Spirit are concretely displayed in and through community.

It’s a “wrong stuff” judgment of condescension to believe that if you just focus on the cool and beautiful people then “everybody else” will just fall in line. It betrays the fundamental assumption, “Don’t you know that influence is all about power and status?” “Don’t you know that influence is earned through having superficial beauty and majesty to attract people to us?”

If you’ve read this and your thought at this point is, “Well then who am I supposed to have as my emcee at my weekly meeting or youth group?” or “Then how are we going to make our community the place to be?” then you haven’t connected with what I’m getting at.  Meetings need capable people to make them work and I’m a fan of gifted people serving out of their gifts and this is a way.  The question is about our assumptions about how we see power as a vehicle for achieving ministry results and the impact of that on who we reach and who we don’t reach with our message.  It affects who feels welcome and who feels unwelcome…or worse, invisible.  Power and status are only assets for the Kingdom through God’s sovereignty and when they are being used in “power-giving” types of ways. Yet we find a lot of ways to justify “strategic” ways to grow our ministries or even “brands” without taking hard and consistent inventory about what we are growing and who we are including or excluding in that process.

Visible and platformed individuals in community contexts can be quite charismatic, but Jesus himself and His mission calls us to at least think about how to ensure that Jesus’ accessibility and significance to the marginalized and powerless is platformed somehow even more so that people experience the light of the world…and also grow in their ability to recognize just what the “right stuff” for the Kingdom really is.

There’s times, because I work almost exclusively with college graduates and highly capable people – leaders, all the time, that when I find myself in other environments I end up with a wake up call that I’ve slowly developed an elitist paradigm of “the right stuff” because I’ve worked so often with “the best of the best” as it relates to skills and motivation. And even within that “class” there is often a more narrow class that is more closely associated with the “ideal.”   Those wake up calls are important for me to stay in reality of what it means to be part of a larger, global Church.  Kingdom leadership doesn’t get to be defined just by the best and the brightest. That’s what happens time and time again, yet the words and example of Jesus subvert that system every time.

In God’s economy He can make winners losers, and losers winners. So as I dream and envision the future, if there is to be a thriving future of any ministry and especially my own, I believe there will necessarily be greater focus on being people and movements that are both accessible to and powerful sources of life through Christ for those whom power and status has passed by in this world.

Frankly, we’ll have to become a movement that is known for that accessibility and the honoring of those that “coolness” labels the wrong stuff.  And maybe we’ll discover what the first century Christians discovered – that maybe the rejects of society, the low status and low “buzz” people can be the ones with “the right stuff” after all when transformed by and infused with the power and love of Christ.

So whether you’ve been viewed as “the wrong stuff” or “the right stuff” in your life (or both!), what are you reproducing in your own leadership and ministry?  Are you on a trajectory to only honor and include the beautiful people because it’s the fastest way to relevance and ‘growth?’ Are average men and women, or who you may see as “below average”, afterthoughts in your “strategy?”  How do you keep the vision and ethics of the Kingdom and the person of Jesus central to your community when the temptations are there to primarily build around “cool?”

It seems truly a counter cultural perspective that a sign that we are on the right track is perhaps reaching the point that we can celebrate as a community that fact that we “have no beauty or majesty to attract” others to us.  But is that too hard too stomach for us?  Maybe “dying to self” means dying to “cool” or “image” in ways we are too afraid to face.  Because at the end of the day, in our first world church context we seem to rely heavily on power and status for legitimacy – and maybe that’s why some ministries still fail to include others outside their “status” and thus fail to give proper and powerful witness to the One who sent them.

At the end of the day if we’re thinking we need to build around and focus on people with status and power for “growth” then maybe we have to face the hard truth that maybe we ourselves are not the right people to have Kingdom ministry built around.

Bad Blurbs, Diversity,&Conflict Resolution

Have you thought about the “right” way to handle conflict in your relationships lately?I’ve been thinking about conflict in the midst of cross-cultural dynamics lately as I’ve been privy to hear some people processing through some of the ways they’ve struggled to find a voice in the midst of conflict and tension because their preferred communication styles or other values end up taking a back seat to majority culture norms – most notably direct communication and I’ll add open expression of anger and other negative emotions.There’s a well known conflict resolution book that really is very, very good. But in recent versions of the book it has one of the most foolish book endorsements on the back I’ve ever seen. Not only does it reveal significant cultural ignorance, but it betrays such narrow and limited thinking and perspective. Here’s the gist of the endorsement. “This book is an amazing treatment of this topic that draws out what the Scriptures have to say. Nothing else ever needs to be written about this topic now that we have this book!”It’s a great book. I agree with that. But it doesn’t involve thorough discussions about conflict and culture. Those dynamics alone merit dozens more if not hundreds more books.I was reminded of the significance of this in my own team recently as we navigated some tension and I would say conflict – even though perhaps all of us ultimately shared similar values on things, there were things that were set in motion that upset the apple cart a bit.One of those things was authority. Have you ever thought about how power influences conflict resolution?One of those things was direct versus indirect communication? People can talk about what’s “biblical” all day long, but when you look at people who are literally silenced by overly direct or maybe even blunt communication then you might have to rethink your assumptions. I’m in the direct and often blunt category and it’s a challenge to work through some of this. But the question I have to come back to is – do I want my own voice more or do I want to draw out other voices for the sake of community and unity?Another thing is emotion. I’ve been thinking about this because when there is injustice, I have the mentality of a middle linebacker. I am somewhat phlegmatic by nature so I’m not going to physically get wild, but I can get intense and have no problem expressing anger – whether it’s for myself or on behalf of others who may not be able to do it for themselves. I do believe someone has to give voice to the injustice and I’ve got no problem doing that. I’ll get much more angry for others than I would for myself. However – not all people are empowered by someone getting fired up and expressing that kind of honest or raw emotion, even when it’s in the realm of holy discontent. It doesn’t mean I should be silent, but if I care about community that there is dialogue to enter into. Rather than taking the posture of Elijah and start calling down fire from heaven, maybe I take a more calculated approach to giving a voice to what is being experienced.I’m comfortable being fired up. I actually like it. It’s part of my wiring to feel alive when I advocate and fight for others or even to just fight unethical uses of power in general. But I saw first hand what happened when I expressed the passion within me to some people on my team and it might have qualified as a stumbling block in some ways because the emotion carried with in some power even though I wasn’t angry with anyone on my team or in a bad space personally. My emotions paralyzed others because of the strength and intensity in which I shared them. It felt good to me to fight for others, but it set things in motion that silenced others and we had to work through what happened. I’m thinking, “Why aren’t you all getting fired up too!” But that wasn’t the way some of them are wired to engage the issues on table.Being part of community means submitting preferences and styles at times to make sure others are learning to have their own voice. I appreciate having a team that I get to work with that have the kind of people that value that and create space for dialogue even though many of us function in very different ways. That’s true community in my mind.But if you have a “take” on conflict resolution or on Matthew 18 and think it’s black and white or you think there’s nothing more that needs to be taught but the things that you have learned or grown to like, then you’re walking in a myopic wonderland….and chances are you’re marginalizing people in ways and unintentionally silencing others while you’re at it.What thought do you have on this area? Have you had experiences that have helped you learn how to navigate some of these differences when conflict is in the air?

Anxiety as Teacher

I’ve enjoyed some of the discussion that has stemmed from the post “Are You Better Off Being Cross-Culturally Clueless” and wanted to take it another step.Tom commented about how there is a inherent servanthood in entering into the anxiety that comes from being and living in a different world and different context. He made some helpful connections to the Beatitudes and how Jesus aimed to prepare his followers to be able to handle the internal anxiety as well as external suffering that comes with the mission.JAnderson made an extremely helpful point that it’s important to remember in the discussion that not everybody has a choice as to whether or not they live the life of cross-cultural anxiety.  Ethnic minorities have lived it.  It’s part of the experience of marginalization.  The clueless are not always majority culture/Caucasian, but there’s a higher percentage because it’s far easier to live most of life without having to experience cross-cultural anxiety.   She also pointed out that it’s important to somehow help the clueless gain awareness of the anxiety that is going on around them, particularly when it comes to developing awareness related to the ethnic minorities around them.That got me thinking.  Anxiety is not just a challenge.Anxiety is our teacher too, our educator.How can the clueless empathize or begin to gain awareness into the world of so many who have to struggle and battle to deal with the anxiety of living in two or more worlds EVERY day?I don’t know – there are probably tons of options.  But the only viable ones would have a key developmental feature of helping the clueless EXPERIENCE anxiety for themselves.Can you connect with cross-cultural anxiety or the  marginalization of anxiety without having experienced it?  Can you learn to see from another’s perspective until you’ve been in their shoes to some degree?Anxiety can and MUST be our teacher if we are going to serve people different from ourselves, but many of us leaders in organizations and ministries still try to shield people from it and control critical learning and development by relying on happy talk, policies, and minimizing communication.If you are going to help the clueless clue in, then you are going to have to help the clueless see and feel the anxiety that is going on around them.  They need to see and feel the effects of their own cluelessness on other people’s experiences.Do you enter into anxiety for the sake of loving and learning?  Or do you hide, protecting yourself from the anxiety of living with multiple forces in tension?We are called not to be anxious people, but to cross-cultures and have a servant posture in general, we are called to enter into anxiety for the sake of others.  Only then can we learn in order to serve.In this way, could anxiety is the greatest teacher and developmental tool we have?What do you think?  How has anxiety been your teacher?

Thoughts on Making Room for Leadership – Review

I finally finished Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence by MaryKate Morse.  I’ve been working on this for about 4 months now.  It was a slow process not because it was a struggle to read the book, but because my reading margin for things I want to read has been very minimal.

This is one of the only books I’ve come across that begins to attempt to lay out the issues pertaining to power in ministry and group dynamics.   There are chapters that are very helpful.  From my reading, I can tell the author has read in some of the arenas that I have dabbled in – congregational systems and she’s done some helpful cross-cultural work.I’ve spent a fair amount of time the last few years thinking about power in systems – whether it relates to positional leadership, gender issues, cross-cultural dynamics, or other forms of marginalization.  This book brings a lot of ideas of I’ve gleaned in many places and synthesizes many of them into a fairly easy read.   There’s some helpful new insights I picked up from some of this as well.

This book doesn’t get into some of the nuances of power that I’m chasing down now when I have the time, but I really appreciated the read and it’s a great resource for various things that I’m working on.

I’ve been reminded this week how foreign thinking about power dynamics in groups is for those that haven’t been exposed to it.  This is a great intro book for people who want to take some steps to consider how to understand power in their environments and to gain insights to how to steward their own individual power for the greater good.

This will be a resource for me for years to come.

Jesus and the Disinherited

Jesus and the Disinherited

As I’ve just started my sabbatical, 8 years in the waiting, I’m shooting to read at least 10 books in the next 4-5 weeks. I might be able to read more, but 10’s probably reasonable. The first book I finished was one for a seminary class by Howard Thurman – Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman was a pioneer of the civil rights movement prior to its actual inception in the 50’s. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. studied under him and learned from him.

Thurman captures much of the Christ-centered love ethic that is required to follow Christ amidst social, economic, and racial injustice. At one point he writes,

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life. It lifts that mere man to a place of pre-eminence that belongs to God and to God alone. He who fears is literally delivered to destruction. To the child of God, a scale of values becomes available by which men are measured and their true significance determined. Even the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, is recognized for what it is–merely the threat of violence with a death potential. Such a man recognizes that death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death. To deny one’s own integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things. ‘Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do,’ says Jesus.” pg. 52-53

Part of his thesis is that the oppressed or “disinherited” actually can contribute to their own dehumanization by succumbing to the temptations of fear, deception, and hatred. Only living, loving, and serving out of the identity that comes through being a son of God through Christ can free one from those temptations so that one might truly live and reflect God’s glory whatever their station in life is.

One of Thurman’s concluding thoughts is as follows:

“The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central. This is no ordinary achievement. It seems clear that Jesus started out with the simple teaching concerning love embodied in the timeless words of Israel: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy might,” and “thy neighbor as thyself.” Once the neighbor is defined, then one’s moral obligation is clear. In a memorable story Jesus defined the neighbor by telling of the Good Samaritan. With sure artistry and great power he depicted what happens when a man responds directly to human need across the barriers of class, race, and condition. Every man is potentially every other man’s neighbor. Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitiative. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers between.”

Thurman’s ideology and theology was developed through an era where he himself experienced great suffering and racism. He found in Christ the power and strength to respond to injustice and oppression without violence, hatred, fear, and deception. Today the powers of oppression still abound, yet the calling of believers is the same – to love out of humility. Regarding the power of authentic humility, Thurman on page 27 poignantly quotes Simkovitch in referencing the means of oppression in the civil rights era who writes, “Natural humiliation was hurting and burning. The balm for that burning humiliation was humility. For humility cannot be humiliated.”1

What a great reminder that as we encounter situations where fear, anger, or hurt may tempt us to compromise our integrity or true identity, true humility cannot be humiliated. Christ himself humbled himself beyond compare by dying the death of a criminal on a tree, but indeed his humility cannot be humiliated as his victory, power, and love conquers free, anger, hatred, and deception. I take away from Thurman that authentic humility anchored in the life of Christ is of central importance for the victorious Christian life in this world.

1. Simkhovitch. Toward the Understanding of Jesus. Macmillan Co. pg. 60-61, 1947.