Leadership Lessons on Courage

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When young Joshua was handed over the reins to the wandering people of God, God gave him this word three times: courage.

Be strong and courageous.

God’s repetitive message to the new leader who would take his people into a new land was courage. I have often wondered why God felt the need to say it three times. My best guess is that it was the most important thing that Joshua needed to hear. He was told some really important things: God will never leave him; obey the law; keep God’s word on his lips. But three times, God said to be courageous. It was something God could give, something God could do in Joshua.

In fact, God gives a similar message all throughout the story of God’s people. Dozens of times God or someone speaking for God says, “Do not fear.” In the scriptures, when we read each Advent about the message of Jesus’s arrival in the world, we hear it over and over again. Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds were all told, “Do not be afraid.” As we realize that God is going to use us to bring Jesus into our world, our first reaction will be fear.

Take courage. Do not be afraid. The work is too important. Here are three keys to courageous leadership. . .

Make the hard decisions early.

In the beginning stages of starting Providence Church there began talk of making our new ministry a second campus of another church. Multiple campuses are a beautiful model for ministry. There would have been advantages to us doing it. But it wasn’t what I felt called to do, and our vision and the vision of the supporting church didn’t match. One of my mentors advised me to have hard conversations now to avoid certain misery later. We did. It was painful. I made some people mad. I lost friends that I’d had for years. But I’m convinced that had we not made the hard decision early, it would have cost many months of time and energy. When we lack courage, we often delay decisions that we know should be made now. Be strong and courageous.

Don’t avoid conflict.

Most of us have an aversion to conflict. It seems natural to want to avoid conflict to some extent. Others of us, though, and many in ministry, exhibit an unhealthy avoidance of disagreement that can lead to huge roadblocks in doing adaptive work in the church. Several years into starting the new church I realized that one of my biggest weaknesses, the avoidance of conflict, had led to a culture of it. One of the things we often forget as leaders is that our strengths and our weaknesses get passed down and through the organizations or teams we lead. In an effort to maintain unity and peace, I had built a system where people didn’t know how to have healthy conflict. Because I didn’t know how. Well, I think I knew how, but I often lacked the courage to do so. Ironically, though, as conflict avoiders seek to maintain peace and unity, we actually create more tension. Patrick Lencioni writes about this in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He says that when we “do not openly debate and disagree about important ideas, they often turn to back-channel personal attacks, which are far nastier and more harmful than any heated argument over issues” (p. 203). He also notes that “so many people avoid conflict in the name of efficiency” when healthy conflict is actually a time saver. As we take the courage to engage in healthy conflict we are actually more honest and open with our people and can more quickly move toward where God wants us to go.

Remember that criticism is often not about you.

Okay, sometimes it’s all about you. But more often, criticism is a function of something happening in the critic and has little to do with you. The sooner we begin to see criticism as something less personal and more systematic, the quicker we can resolve problems and avoid the wounds that often go with criticism. In my first appointment as an associate pastor at a large county seat congregation, I was approached by a lady in the narthex (lobby) who had something on her mind. Moments before in worship, upon the suggestion of my senior pastor, I had read from a different version of the Bible than we usually used in that church. To this woman, it was an abomination and she let me have it. She yelled at me and even made personal attacks because I had not used whatever version of the Bible she considered divine. While she was yelling, I heard God speak in my spirit, Jacob, this is not about you. It freed me to care for the woman who was upset. It released me from insecurities brought upon by her criticism. It released me from retaliating in an unfaithful way. She finished, and I went to lunch. Now this is, of course, easier said than done. Being accosted for not reading the King James Version of the Bible is different than getting a letter from a church member that calls your integrity into question. I only recommend that you listen for the parts of the criticism that are true, and let the rest fall away. It takes courage to do that. Not to ignore criticism, which is really hard, but to realize it will always be there and especially will be there if you are seeking to lead people to a new land. In fact, it is worth asking yourself if you are willing to endure some scrapes and bruises for the cause of the mission. I’m guessing you are.

This article is an except from The New Adapters by Jacob Armstrong and is used by permission of the author. The book is available for purchase here.

Jacob Armstrong is a native of Nashville, TN. The son of a librarian and singer-songwriter led him to a love of reading and rocking it out. In seminary, Jacob began dreaming of a church where people who feel disconnected from God and the church could find hope, healing, and wholeness in Jesus. In 2008, Jacob and Rachel moved to Mt Juliet, TN to start Providence Church. In that time Providence has grown into a thriving congregation with mission partnerships in East Nashville, Clinton, Oklahoma and Los Cerritos, Nicaragua. Jacob enjoys running, canoeing, and playing with his dog Zeke. Jacob and Rachel have three daughters, Mary, Lydia, and Phoebe.

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