Twenty years ago John Barton and I would have discussions about the importance of “tensions” and this has been part of our shared vocabulary since. We even thought together about other words, such as balance. Occasionally we’d say “it’s a balance” between two things we were talking about. Then we’d think again and someone would say “it’s more like a healthy tension.”
Recently Andy Stanley brought this idea of tension back to my mind in a way that has me so enthusiastic about it that I’m ready to write a book–or at least an article about it. Well, maybe Andy wrote an article somewhere, but I know his teaching on it was excellent.
Stanley spoke at the recent Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit on “The Upside of Tension.” The coolest thing he said was this:
Every organization has problems that shouldn’t be solved and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved.
OK, that got my attention. He continued to say that if you “resolve” some tensions, you will create new and sometimes worse tensions. For example, what if we solved the 2,000-year-old tension between the idea of sin’s effects to deprave (Augustine/Calvin) and our choice to enter God’s love (Pelagius/Arminius)? Or, what’s more important, spiritual formation of those who are already Christians or sharing the gospel with those who do not know Jesus? Quick, resolve the tension and just decide.
Well, you may decide, but in a church, that one is not easily decided and some focus here and some there. Sure, we can lean one way or the other, but these are necessary tensions. My wife and I do not resolve all the tensions between us. Healthy tensions need to exist because if we “solve” them, we become less because one of us gets our way all the time or we settle for a faux-peace but take ourselves out of the need to always learn more, keep deciding to do the right thing every day.
For example, we tithe our income but we have not sold all we possess to give to the poor. We live in a tension of being generous but also caring for our family. If we “solved” that by simply saying “we tithe” and no longer think of how we can be even more generous, then we “solve” things with a law like the pharisees did. If we take Jesus words and give everything way and then have to sleep on our mother-in-law’s couch as a result, then I’m not sure our mother-in-laws would think much of Jesus’ words to sell all we possess (and come sleep on the in-law’s couch!).
Another example, what if we decided to only focus on families of the church and neglected to reach out to families outside the church? Sure, families in the church are highly valued, but “solving” the tension by saying we value one over the other can lead to worse tensions or problems. These are healthy tensions.
Stanley says progress in a church or organization depends on leaders not resolving tensions but leveraging those tensions. Helpful is his list of ways to distinguish between “solvable” and “healthy tension” problems:
- Does this problem or tension keep resurfacing?
- Are there mature advocates on both sides?
- Are the two sides really interdependent?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are probably dealing with a healthy tension to manage, not a problem to solve.
Sometimes as leaders we want to just go in and tear through a problem and solve it once and for all, but here is the thing: there are certain arguments that we as leaders just can’t afford to win. Instead, the great leader might say, “I guess that’s just a tension we’ll have to manage.” The leader manages by giving value to both sides and not weighing in too heavily based on personal biases.
A great leader understands the upside of the opposite side and the downside of his or her own side. Stanley concludes like this:
As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization is differentiate between tensions your organization will always need to manage vs. problems that need to be solved.
Some of you have this poster on your wall like I do, a regular reminder that . . .
He Shall Be Called . . .
Advocate, Lamb of God, The Resurrection and Life, Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, Judge, Lord of Lords, Man of sorrows, Head of the church, Master, Faithful and true witness, Rock, Brother, Son, High Priest, The Door, Living Water, Bread of Life, Rose of Sharon, Alpha & Omega, True Vine, Messiah, Teacher, Holy One, Mediator, The Beloved, Branch, Carpenter, Good Shepherd, Light of the World, Image of the Invisible God, the Word, Chief Cornerstone, Savior, Servant, Author and Finisher of our faith, The Almighty, Everlasting Father, Shiloh, Lion of the tribe of Judah, I AM, King of kings, Prince of Peace, Bridegroom, Only Son of God, Wonderful counselor, Immanuel, Dayspring, The Amen, King of the Jews, Prophet, Redeemer, Anchor for our souls, Bright and morning star, The Way, The Truth, The Life.
The hole in our gospel. Richard Stearns. Thomas Nelson.
2010 ECPA Christian Book of the Year Award
CEO of World Vision says Christians have a huge hole in their lives.
The hole is an emptiness that comes from rich followers of Jesus ignoring the plight of the poor locally and globally.
Stearns details his own journey toward filling this hole by becoming aware of the world and the teachings of Jesus to serve the poor. The former head of Parker Bros. and Lenox Inc. left the for profit business world to run a not-for-profit that helps feed, clothe, and educate children worldwide.
Says Americans must highly engage lives, money, and talent in fighting the “horsemen of the apocalypse”: hunger, disease, exploitation, armed conflict. Unlike many Evangelicals, Stearns believes poverty is explained by something more complex than choices. He says systemic injustice, deficit of education and knowledge also lead to poverty, and lifting cultures from these injustices requires a multi-pronged approach, such as Millennium Development Goals, advocated by UNICEF, Bill Gates, Jeffery D. Sachs, and Bono.
I would inject here, however, that William Easterly’s book, White Man’s Burden, should be read and digested along with the discussion of Millennium Goals and Jeffery’s Sachs’s book, The End of Poverty. Easterly’s work challenges he “planners” who think they can develop huge world goals and ignore the local “on the ground” element of culture and micro-economies within countries and regions.
Back to Stearns’s book: It’s an accessible book that will make it in the hands of Evangelical Christians who may not pick up one of the many ABA books on the world hunger, water, malaria, and AIDS crisis. This is a magnum opus for the leader of the most recognized aid organizations in the world.
The writing style is both passionate and motivating, and readers of Rick Warren, Jim Wallis, N.T. Wright will find Stearns synthesizing thought from these theologians as well as economists and missionaries. The book is biographical, motivational, journalistic, but in trying to be all those things, the impact can be less forceful than a single genre approach.
But for a leader of an international organization, the book is surprisingly no holds barred with an edge of prophetic voice in the wilderness, crying out to rich Americans, “Repent and help your world neighbors.”
At the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this year the book and small group guides were being passed out, so I asked for 8 of them, so we’ll be ready to provide this resource to small groups at Garnett Church whenever a group is ready to work through the study. In fact, I’d like for one group to go for it and “pilot” the study and lead the other groups in doing the book and activities. Let me know if you’d like to do that in your group.
Read this issue of Wineskins edited by my friend Sara Barton along with Editor Keith Brenton. I’ve stepped down from Wineskins but continue to love what the magazine is and does for Christ-followers and those who want to follow Christ.
Sara has collected essays by twentysomethings who write about what matters.
Rubel Shelly’s “Fax of Life” this week is about Anne Rice’s announcement that she’s quitting Christianity. Rubel says,
Announcing on her Facebook page that she was doing it “in the name of Christ,” author Anne Rice told fans last week that she was giving up Christianity.
If you are a Christian, take offense at her public remark, and are prepared to write her off as either someone who must not have been a believer in the first place or just another angry celebrity denouncing Jesus, hold on for a moment.
I didn’t quote the whole article because I want you to get to know Rubel’s Fax of Life and sign up if you’d like.
Remembering Oneka Charles today. Oneka Charles died August 5 in his home area of Gulu, Uganda.
Oneka was a friend of many of us who lived Uganda from mid-90s till now. He was a tailor and it was well-known that he could sew anything, including clothes for our children, couch covers, drapes . . . anything. He was good at what he did.
Oneka did not hide the fact that he was HIV-positive. He spoke guardedly about his past but confidently and faithfully about the future. He wanted God to change his test to HIV-negative, and he at times became discouraged with yet another positive test. We talked one day about how God has spared his life for a purpose–to glorify God in so many ways on this earth–and Charles fulfilled that purpose. God spared him for more than a decade, regardless of what tests said.
Brent Abney said, “I’ll never forget him . . . his amazing faith, his kindness, his guarded stories of his past, his enthusiastic worship leading and singing. He was a man of God.”
On our summer 2010 trip to Uganda, my family was honored to visit Oneka and enjoy moments of prayer and his leading two songs we always remembered him leading in “Jinja Church” years ago. When we visited him, he was living in a small room with rent paid by exchanging sewing work for an orphanage on the same property. Charles was always kind to our children, and wanted specially to have a photo of him with the children.
May he receive from God the blessing of reward for a faithful life and as Abney said, “I hope God hugged him.”
A friend of mine mentioned Henry Cho the other day, so I watched and laughed out loud quite a bit at this routine.