Foundation for Leadership

I wanted to share a paper I wrote tonight for a class.  We were to write about 5-7 things that serve as our foundation for leadership and expound on how these core items serve to increase our influence with peers and subordinates.  Some background info:  we have been studying the life of Gandhi as one example of exemplary leadership, which is why he is mentioned in this paper.

My Foundation for Leadership
1.      My faith in Jesus Christ.
2.      My belief that all men and women are created in the image of God.
3.      My desire to learn from others and to always be growing.
4.      My understanding that despite who I may be leading, I am always following God.  My purpose in this life is to seek to advance the Kingdom of God.
5.      My pursuit to embody love and courage.
6.      My transparency and determination to “be the change [I] want to see in the world”. (Gandhi)  I will model all that I require of those who follow me.
7.      My passion to serve others.
1.      My faith in Jesus Christ.
a.       At the center of everything I do and everything that I aspire to be is Jesus.  There is truth that never changes, and there is One who is the only Way.  In this society where relativism reigns and individualism is valued, I will follow a higher standard.  I believe that it is possible to be open-minded while being firmly-grounded.
2.      My belief that all men and women are created in the image of God.
a.       Every person that I encounter both casually and professionally reflects an aspect of God, whether he or she believes in Him or not.  Every human was fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator, and because of that I never have a right to treat anyone as less than a child of God.  I will not tolerate it in myself nor will I allow it from those in my sphere of influence.
b.      In the area of the commercial sex trade, it is important for me to remember this not only for the victims involved, but also for the abusers.  It is easy to hate the men and women who operate the supply and demand for the industry.  It is hard to imagine the image of God being anywhere in the lives of those who participate in such evil.  However, if I am to love the world as Christ did and if I am to seek to see everyone through His eyes, then I cannot deny how His heart breaks for all humanity and the various paths that it has chosen away from Him.  As I lead in these dangerous waters, I pray that God would keep my heart tender and humble to His unrelenting pursuit of every heart.
3.      My desire to learn from others and to always be growing.
a.       I believe that the Holy Spirit is actively involved in every aspect of life and in every place in the world.  In every religion that has been discovered, whether deep in the jungle or in the middle of a popular city, there is an element of truth and a foundation of spiritual understanding.  This gives me comfort, even in the face of violent opposition to Christ, that we are not the only force at work in drawing others to God.  We serve as witnesses to His cause.  Some of the most profound and Biblical truths I have learned from those who do not follow Him.
b.      There is something to be learned from everyone.  Everyone has a story, and everyone has a journey with God, whether they are aware of it or not.  This does not necessarily mean that they know the salvation of God, but He has been pursing their hearts since the beginning of their lives.  My responsibility as a leader and eventually as an aftercare provider is to tap into the work that God has already been doing in their hearts.  Only He can heal brokenness.  I will never be an expert on the ways that He works in peoples’ lives, but I can offer my life as a means for God to love and renew others.  Every person that I serve teaches me more about Christ than I knew before.  I want to always be growing.
4.      My understanding that despite who I may be leading, I am following God.  My purpose in this life is to seek to advance the Kingdom of God.
a.       It is true that one cannot lead without knowing how to be led.  Learning how to follow God is a lifelong process, and one that we are on together.  Because of this, my leadership can never take on an “us and them” mentality.  I may be the organizer, decision-maker, and spokesperson for a cause.  I may be the face that others attribute to a group of people or an organization.  However, I never simply lead; I also follow. 
b.      I do not stand alone; I am a part of something much bigger than myself.  I am called to join the hundreds of thousands of others throughout history and the world today that are seeking to advance the Kingdom of God.  On the day I decided to follow God, I surrendered my rights, my ambitions, and my desires.  My life is no longer mine, nor is anything about me.  It is all about Him and His Kingdom.
5.      My pursuit to embody love and courage.
a.       Everyday life takes a lot more courage than they told me in third grade Sunday School.  Living a passionate life centered around Someone that the world either does not understand or is hostile to takes even more courage.  Loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me is a command of Jesus.  As a leader, I will never have the support of everyone around me, and for someone who longs to please everyone, this is a challenging truth to swallow.  Often times (and I would say especially when I am doing things the right way), there will be constant criticism and people that are not open to the methods that I exhibit.  I will choose to embrace courage and love as inseparable in my response toward those who oppose me, and I will handle the natural struggles of life that way as well.  As a leader, my life will be watched closely by those around me.  I pray that even in the most difficult of times, God would give me sufficient strength to choose courage and love.
6.      My transparency and determination to “be the change [I] want to see in the world”. (Gandhi)  I will model all that I require of those who follow me.
a.       So many people spend their lives complaining that the world is not as it should be.  Other people, like Gandhi simply live the way they think that it should be.  It is not difficult to pinpoint who has had the greater influence in history.  The complainer is ordinary.  In fact, there are so many of them that it really is not worth naming one of them.  However, when we encounter or read about someone who lives out their values first before they preach them, we have a deep admiration for that individual, even when we don’t necessarily agree with everything they stand for.  That person can challenge the status quo without even saying a word.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel to all the world, and if necessary, use words.”  This is part of my foundation for leadership, because “modeling the way” is the most effective way to lead.  One could argue there is no true and lasting leadership unless the leader embodies all that he/she asks of followers.  I desire to live a transparent life in order that those who know me well and those who hardly know me will both see the same person.  In everything, I desire that my character will be genuine.
7.      My passion to serve others.
a.       The term “servant leadership” has perhaps been overused, but the premise behind the phrase is timeless.  No matter what road that God will lead me down, I pray that I will have a servant’s heart toward those I am leading as well as those I am reaching out to help.  Because I have surrendered my rights to Christ, I cannot live my life with entitlement or spend time wallowing that I have been robbed of the things I wanted.  If I truly believe in my core values that God will provide everything that I need, then I must trust Him to take away the things I thought I needed in exchange for His grace.  It is those moments in humility before Him that my leadership can take on its purest form.  Matthew 20:25-26 says, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads.  It’s not going to be that way with you.  Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.  Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.  That is what the Son of Man has done:  He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”  May it be that my life is a perfect reflection of that scripture.

Tears, Fears, and Three Musketeers

Tonight I went to the meeting at my church discussing dreams and ideas for the future in how our church can be involved in addressing the reality of human trafficking in our community.  The director of End Slavery in Tennessee was also there, as well as the director for the Center for Social Justice at Trevecca Nazarene University.  It was a great night of education and the sharing of talents.  I walked away feeling pretty good about what took place, but I had a lot of mixed feelings.  In fact, on the way home I found myself crying, and I was trying to figure out why.
For one thing, I often feel very alone even though I have a lot of friends here in Nashville.  However, the kind of connection with someone that I really need is something that takes time and the right people coming together.  I just haven’t had that yet.  I realized tonight the enormity of God’s calling on my life and how little I really know about it or understand it.  I also realized that I can’t live the life that God is asking me to live alone.  I’m good at doing things myself and I am a very independent person.  However, this is something I simply can’t handle.  Tonight is almost too much to bear.
I am finding myself stuck between the lies I have always believed and having the courage to step out and believe the truth that God tells me.  It’s much safer and more comfortable to believe, “I can’t do this,” and not do this than to step out and say, “I can’t do this, but God can,” and continue on in doing it.  I’m so overwhelmed by this whole step that I took in moving to Nashville that I feel no one else really understands and I am not sure that I do, but I know it is exactly what God wanted.  I have tried to be obedient in every aspect of this move and in networking with people here.  I think I am still in this emotional floating state where I can’t believe I’m working at a bank, in a Masters program, pursing an internship with a social justice organization…etc.  My life has literally been turned upside down and shaken like a wooden rollercoaster ride.  Now I’m lying on the ground waiting for the world to stop spinning.
I think what I needed most tonight was someone just to come up to me and give me a big long hug.  However, I don’t really know anyone here in Nashville well enough for someone to do that without being a little creepy.  I’m not one to let someone into my own little world, and I’ll hang out with people, but heaven forbid they ever step in the door of my heart and really find out what my life is all about.  The truth is, I can’t even handle my passions.  They overwhelm me.  I live life in a constant fear, and I desperately need help grasping some sort of sanity, but I can’t let anyone close enough for that.  Not many if anyone in the world can handle the intensity of my life.  I’ve seen it time and time again when people want to get to know me and when they get close enough they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into and quickly find the exit door.  Those that try to tell me otherwise simply haven’t been close enough yet. 
Tonight I have been plagued with demeaning voices going on in my head and spirit.  By the time I reached my apartment from leaving the meeting, I felt like I had just been stoned and left for dead.  All the voices that I had once been enslaved to came back to visit me tonight.  It didn’t take long for me to recognize Satan’s all too familiar voice.  I entered a whole new realm tonight of warfare, and I know that this is going to be a difficult night.  Lord, please give me courage.  This darkness is too much for me to handle.  I was enjoying the reprieve that God had given me for the past few months from the oppression.  However, He has lifted His hand once again and is allowing this for a time.  As a kid, nighttime was a nightmare as demons came out to play.  As a high school and college student, I was physically attacked.  During that time and since, my health has suffered tremendous strains.  The past couple days I have been in a lot of pain, and I am starting to understand why.  This is where the rubber meets the road; this is where my faith meets its test.
I have known since I was young that God has a big plan for my life.  Others in my life have tried to downplay that, and I have struggled immensely with loneliness in my calling.  It seems to me that a lot of the people in my life have very low expectations of me.  However, I intuitively understand God’s expectations of me, and they are much higher than I ever believe I can achieve.  It has been a struggle living in Nashville so far in the sense that everyone still sees me as the new girl.  People think I have great ideas, but there is a level of disbelief in their eyes that this crazy girl will ever do anything she talks about.  I feel the natural need to prove myself to them, but I also have come to know that I should not see it that way.  However, in the search for someone who might truly believe in me, I have struggled to give myself wholly to only seeking the ultimate approval of God. 
I guess the feeling I have is severe loneliness.  I want so desperately to have friends that I can not only stand behind, but who also stand behind me.  I think my Sunday School class is definitely a group that could become that in the future, but so many people in this world are only seeking to get their own needs met.  I have tried to live a life that seeks to meet others’ needs above my own, but in the process have no tools or ability to meet my own needs.  I often marvel at my apartment.  I have a couple scattered pictures hanging on walls in my living room.  The rest of the walls in my entire apartment are empty and blank.  I have junk scattered around in various places and every time I attempt to clean, things just pile up again.  I realized tonight, I have virtually no food and this is entirely my own fault.  I have money.  I have a grocery store.  For some reason that I have yet to identify, I have not yet put those two together to solve my problem.  There is something inside of me that is broken.  I am fully convinced.  I have recently discovered that it is ok to put ketchup on french fries, and the very concept still leaves me dumbfounded.  I have no idea how to see my own needs.  I don’t even know what those needs are.  However, I do know that it’s not normal for a girl in her mid-twenties to be living in an apartment with no decoration and visible chaos.  Sometimes I wonder what a profiler would diagnose me with if he were to walk in my place right now.  I wear makeup now and I style my hair.  That’s a step in the right direction.  However, I need to take further steps to get rid of this apathy that has become so routine.
I don’t really know what I expected life to be like, and I don’t really understand what all is happening in my life right now.  I feel like a leaf perpetually tumbling through the air and never lands.  I am at the mercy of something too big to control and I feel helpless.  I feel completely inadequate for everything that I am doing with my life right now:  my job, school, internship, social life.  When it comes down to it, all I really want to do is spend a day in bed, because I know I can handle that.  When I was in Indiana last weekend, I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep in my own bed.  It’s like my source of comfort.  Now watch, my apartment will burn down tonight just because I said that.
I don’t even know if any of these ramblings make sense.  I think I just needed to talk to someone about it.  I don’t know who I can talk to, so I talked to my blog.  It’s late, but I have to make a dessert for tomorrow night’s party, so I’m off to the grocery store to get some ingredients and probably a great big Three Musketeers.  Maybe I’ll get a bag of them.  That’s what I want pretty badly right now.  Thanks for listening, if anyone reads this. 

Dear Friend

This letter is written with several specific friends in mind, but is ultimately meant for all my friends to read.  I hope that in these words you will hear my heart, because I am sharing what is most important to me.
Dear friend,
You know who you are.  We’ve had so much fun together, don’t you agree?  I hope that years down the road when you remember me, it will make you smile.  I hope that you remember me as a friend that you could count on and someone who was always willing to listen.  In fact, there are a lot of things that I hope that you remember about me, but I fear that in many ways I let the days and years of our friendship go by without sharing with you what I have always wanted to say.  If you have a few moments, I want to share my heart with you before another day in this all too brief life goes by.
I want you to know that I love you.  I hope you knew that already, but in case you have any doubts, here is the cold hard truth.  You matter so much to me, and I haven’t always been the best person at expressing that.  There are some feelings that I wear on my sleeve, but that is one sentiment that I hold too closely inside.  Sometimes I am afraid that if I outright said those words, I would probably start crying because they are exactly how I deeply feel about you.  I wish you knew how special you are.
I’ve always made no bones about my faith.  You know what I believe.  In fact, everyone knows what I believe.  I know that in many ways you didn’t understand my passion, and you couldn’t resolve the doubts and questions in your mind.  I fear that I may have added to your disbelief and gave you a reason to question God because I approached you with a hard-headed theology and left out the most important thing I wanted you to know:  I love you.  I could say that I was young and stupid, but I am not sure that is a sufficient answer for you.  I’m sorry if I made you feel that in order to be a part of my life you had to agree with my beliefs.  I never wanted you to change for me.  I love you just the way you are.
You see, facts and morals are easy for me to talk about, because in those conversations I don’t have to be vulnerable.  However, the days for theological arguments are long past in our friendship.  Today I choose to be vulnerable with you, because when it comes down to it, some things are just not that important.  So many of the things that I have “preached” about really don’t matter at all.  If you were to ask me, “What is the most important thing in the world to you?”, this is how I would respond.
I want you to know that no matter what you do, say, or believe that my love is unconditional toward you.  I will never see you as anything less because we disagree.  I will never hate you if you hurt me.  I may not agree with your lifestyle or the choices you have made but that will never affect my love for you or how I respect you.  I hope that I have never given you reason to think otherwise.
The most important thing in the world to me is my faith.  I can’t stand religious people either, but I don’t follow a religion and I certainly hope that I’m not religious.  I follow a God who loved you and me so much that He gave His life to show it.  Now I give my life to show it to you.  I want you to know Him so badly that it hurts.  You see, He found me in the depths of my despair.  He found me when I had nothing left and He gave me everything to live for.  I am not talking about a list of facts and rules that I live my life by.  It’s more than that.  I have fallen in love with the One who has truly romanced my heart, and I just can’t keep it to myself.
More than anything I long for you to fall in love with Jesus.  I want you to know how incredible it is to know Him.  It’s not about church, and it never was.  It’s about a God who created you, who knows everything about you and is absolutely crazy about you.  Knowing Him has completely changed my life.  I don’t want to do the things that I did before.  My life was so empty and meaningless before I knew Him.  I spent years knowing about Him and doing the church thing, but I missed the completely transforming truth about the whole thing:  God loves us and He has a straight up amazing purpose for our lives.
Sometimes I think it’s hardest for us kids who grew up in church.  Almost everyone that I have known who looks at this Christian thing and doesn’t get it grew up in the church.  I understand that.  It took a really long time for me to get it.  I may not have walked away from God or explored other options openly, but I had my doubts.  When it came down to it, I had a hard time connecting with it.  I was indoctrinated a certain way and I resented it, and then suddenly it dawned on me that the rest of the world wasn’t like that.  I’d be lying if I said that I did not question too.
I got so sick of church.  I think I mostly couldn’t stand it because it seemed that almost everything that happened there was meaningless and a complete waste of time.  Surely if everything they say about God is true, then He wouldn’t be spending 30 hours a week bouncing continuously from activity to activity and program to program.  And what about the people there?  They don’t even like each other and they fight over the stupidest things.  Growing up in the church, I had a front row seat to hypocrisy and disillusionment and it really made me question what the point of it all was.  They talked about a God who so loved the world, yada yada yada, and then in the next breath tore each other apart.  For goodness sake, I don’t want to be a part of that.
I had to take a step away from the drama to clear my head.  In many ways, I don’t think I’ll be a part of church like I used to be, and I don’t really want to go back.  So many Christians have lost their focus and ultimately their faith.  It became all about them and how they wanted things to be.  What a pointless and empty way to live.  I read the Bible and thought about the life that Jesus lived and wondered why in the world I didn’t know people like that.  I was surrounded by those who claimed to follow Him, but they didn’t live what they preached and they made excuses for it.  They focused their theology around the things they wanted to hear, and they would talk about things like caring for the poor and helping the needy, but when it happened, it was the exception rather than the norm.  Often it was done in such a way that through advertisement it seemed more like they wanted to be praised for their humanitarian efforts rather than simply doing it because that’s what Jesus said to do.  I was a part of this.  At the end of the day, I’d feel good about helping people, but in the big picture I wondered if anything I did really mattered.
What’s the point?  I could live my entire life doing good things and sacrificing my health and sanity in my attempts to make the world a better place.  But in the end, I have to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?”  I could say, “because that’s what the Bible says to do” or “that’s what a Christian is supposed to be like”, but is being a Christian about living a good life and sacrificing everything?  That’s what I thought for a long time.  I should be this way or I should be that way.  Yeah, I heard God loves us and that He loves the whole world, but it seemed that the people who talked about God loving the world were the ones who acted like they wanted to attack people with Bibles and march like an army through the nations until “everyone believed”.  I didn’t really understand the concept of love, but that sure isn’t the way I wanted someone to love me.  And ultimately, all if it left me feeling pretty empty inside, like I was missing something.  Indeed, I was.
Jesus said a lot of crazy things in His life on earth that don’t seem to make much sense.  He was never in Rome, but He definitely rocked the boat.  In fact, He continues to rock the boat.  The problem is, most people aren’t in the boat so they’re missing it all.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I am drawn to this crazy guy who claimed to be the Son of God.  There’s something about Him that’s different.  There’s something about the way He loved.  He lived every moment in life and death pouring His love into everyone who saw Him.  He touched the untouchables, spent His time caring for prostitutes and despised people, and confided His heart and His mission to a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors.  If you were on a mission to save the world, would you have done it that way?  I think not.
Jesus knew that the church leaders and influential people of the day had a hard time getting it.  He also knew that when His love truly touches the heart of someone, the world around them is never the same.  So He went to the ones whom everyone considered to be nobodies, who didn’t know their left hand from their right hand and certainly couldn’t change the world.  Through His life, Jesus showed everyone that love is what He came to give, and that a life overflowing in love is worth living.  It cost Him everything, and anyone who has lived like that since has given everything as well (not to mention everyone thought they were crazy too).  However, time after time when reading the Bible and the stories of the martyrs who have stood in unwavering testimony to its cause, I am convinced of the truth proclaimed in Scripture.  I have tested God, and He has proven Himself above and beyond what I asked of Him.  Now He asks me to give Him my life, and I pray that He would give me sufficient courage to do so.
Why am I telling you this?  I am telling you this because I want you to understand why I have chosen to live the kind of life I am living.  I want you to know what really matters to me.  If you asked me what the passion of my heart is, I would tell you that it is loving God and loving others.  It’s not that I want to go out and do away with all the evil on the planet.  I am giving my life to caring for the broken, but it’s not the desire to live a good life that motivates me to do that.  It’s the love that God has shown to me that changed my life.  It’s the memory of the pit that He rescued me from and the challenging but fantastic journey that we have taken from that point to where I am today that overwhelms me.  I can’t believe that someone would love me and want me, but God has showed me in so many ways that He does.  If it seems that I am being “preachy” right now, it is because I have found something so wonderful and I want you to have it too.  I want you to know what life can be like when lived in the presence of a God who loves us extravagantly.  Because I love you so much, I don’t want you to miss it.  I don’t want you to live in the emptiness that you have been living in.  There’s so much more to life than that.
I don’t ever want to be the kind of friend that pressures you or makes you feel like I am imposing my beliefs on you.  I hate it when people do that to me.  I just want you to know.  In all our times together, we’ve talked about everything from our favorite color to the boys we like, and I’m not saying that’s not important.  What is important to you is important to me as well.  I’m just not very good about communicating to you what’s in my heart.  My faith isn’t just a thing I do or believe; it’s everything to me.  If you want to know me, you’ll have to know how much my relationship with God matters to me.  It is the driving force of my life.
I hope I didn’t drive you away from me by sharing with you the deepest part of me.  Not everyone can handle that.  I just wanted to tell you these things before another day goes by.  None of us knows when a certain day will be our last.  Heaven forbid that this is my last day, I want you to know how much I love you.  I want you to know what matters to me.  I want you to know me, and I hope that by knowing me that you will come to know Christ.  However, even if you don’t, that will never change who you are to me and how much I care about you.  You have made such a difference in my life.
Your friend,
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