The Sin of Subversion

We all hit our heads against a glass ceiling at some point. You came up with the perfect strategy, a more efficient means of doing something, or a more profitable venture. And in your enthusiasm for what could be, you’ve brought it to your boss only to have them poke holes in it and say “No, it’ll never work.” Worse, they might simply say, “I’ll think about it.” Read: “I hate it, but don’t want to tell you no, so…”

This happens to me consistently. And even more so, I’ve been the leader who has done this to other people on my team. Roadblocks and ceilings might be the biggest source of frustration in any organization. I would hazard a guess that this juncture has more power to solidify or destroy a non-profit team. Whatever you decide to do at this important juncture will reveal your heart.

There are three options that people take when they think they’ve hit the ceiling: quit, sour, or subvert. Quitting might be a valid option, while souring is surefire way to becoming a deadly toxin in your organization. And even worse is to commit the sin of subversion.

The Sin of Subversion

“I know I’m right, I just need to prove it to them. They’ll see its worth once I prove it to them.” The Sin of Subversion is the Millennial’s calling card. It’s a subtle way of flipping the win-lose situation where you turn the tables to win at the expense of the team. The Sin of Subversion is being told plainly, “No, that’s not how we want to move forward,” and yet pressing on quietly, behind the scenes, often justifying it by saying something like, “I’ll ask for forgiveness later.”

Nothing good comes from operating this way. If your team is struggling, chances are someone is acting with this mindset.

Subversion is the first step in hijacking vision.

Vision doesn’t have to be top-down, but it has to be agreed upon. If you launch the team into a new priority without the team’s buy-in, you’ve just hijacked the vision. You’ve jumped into a moving organization, thrown out the person in the drivers seat, and raced off with their car, taking it where you want it to go. But if you’re the only one to cross the finish line of your vision, you still lose.

Subversion is a surefire way to more policies and procedures, not less.

You were trying to avoid this in the first place, weren’t you? But rest assured, at the end of the road there will be a company-wide policy instated that reads something like, “Executive approval is required for any x …” Instead of creating a pathway for freedom, you’re walking into chains. 

Subversion undermines your standing with your coworkers and your bosses. 

You may feel like you’re getting things done, but really your co-workers are seeing you make autonomous decisions that go against the expressed desires of your leader. And they see you for what you are… a renegade. They may admire your drive, but they detest the way you’re willing to make your boss look like a fool at your own gain. Surely you’ll do this to them at some point. And while you’re demonstrating how foolish your leader is, you’re actually damaging your own reputation. 

Subversion destroys trust. 

Every organization’s main goal ought to be the development and protection of trust. Trust enables you to apologize for messing up. Trust allows you to take big risks together when the future isn’t clear. Trust allows the team to communicate without having to decipher any code in your words. Trust helps you make decisions faster, recruit better talent, and in for-profit businesses, it increases your profit margin exponentially. Subversion is a shotgun to the soul of trust.

There is a better option for what to do when you hit a ceiling, one which I hope all next generation leaders who are sitting in the second or third chairs in their organizations would learn to do well. It’s to simply recognize that your great idea is worth executing, but only if it doesn’t make your leader look like a fool, and you look like a renegade, and make your fellow team members pay with added policies once its all done. And when you come to these simple convictions, it allows you to take a step back, get creative, and lead your leader.

I’ve always found the ceiling to get a few feet taller, too.

Poor Man's Preaching: Why The Richest You'll Sound is When You Sound Like Yourself

I remember the first moment I ever heard Rob Bell preach. I was seventeen and just committed to studying pastoral ministry in college, and I was enchanted by his teaching. His church was skyrocketing. He just started these video teachings that were super hip. And deep within me was a desire growing to hear more about God. It was the blissful moment when you’re the first of your friends to discover a new band.

But I showed up to bible college only to find that I wasn’t the only one listening to Rob Bell. Everyone was oozing pathos during chapel. Practice sermons were punctuated with rhetorical questions just like Bell’s. Even tough guys were caught inflecting their voice to sound just like his raspy plea. Everywhere I went I met the poor man’s Rob Bell.

If Bell himself could have observed this, there’s no way he would have denied the existence of Hell, because that’s exactly what the culture of preaching had become… a preaching hell. 

I’ve noticed since his departure from pastoral ministry, nobody is trying to reproduce Bell. Instead, this ghetto is filled today with thousands of copy-cat preachers who don’t have enough assurance in their own style and their own voice so they parrot top podcasting preachers.

So, to the Stanley-Driscoll-Judah-Chandler-Levi-Furticks out there… try preaching your message as if you were trying to copy you. You actually might connect well with yourself.

And that's what will connect well with everyone else. 

The Indispensible Quality of a Campus Pastor

If church members think the Senior Pastor only works on Sundays, they’re clueless as to what I do as a Campus Pastor. About half the time at my church we stream the sermon to our campuses, leaving me to do some announcing, praying, and general cheerleading. My congregation sometimes looks at me and asks, “You don’t preach? What did we hire you to do?” But the role of a campus pastor is much more than being a glorified host. And as thousands of churches each year are becoming multi-site, this new pastoral niche is rising in prominence. Anyone can read announcements. Not everyone can flex into the position of a campus pastor. Here are five reasons flexibility is an essential trait of a great campus pastor. 

You are the grease in the machinery of the church.
Multi-site churches have exponentially more moving parts, and therefore exponentially more problems. The need for staff communication is ratcheted up, the ability for church members to feel connected to the entire pastoral staff is hampered. The possibility for colossal failure is high. Most of my job is making sure the gears of campus staff and central staff are playing nicely, as well as communication from our leaders to the congregation is effective. When I do my job well, misunderstandings are cleared up quickly, and misaligned teams and projects are put back in sync with the church’s overall objectives.

You are the voice of encouragement to your leaders.
One of the blessings of the role of a Campus Pastor is that it is relatively free from the burden of overall leadership in the church, and also free from the scrutiny of senior leaders. Because of this, I’m sure I could easily fall into the trap of throwing stones at my elder board or leadership team. But instead, I’ve made it my mission to love my Senior Pastor well by listening to him, learning from him, and highlighting the positives in ministry for him. A well timed note, an honest reflection, a forwarded message of appreciation from a congregation member, and an above and beyond appreciation when he comes to preach live at the campus… these all go a long way in making his job a joy instead of a pain.

You are the champion of the city.
One of the greatest blessings of the multi-site experiment is the ability for large churches to have local impact across a broad region. Since I’m focused on a smaller area, I’ve been able to develop personal relationships with school superintendents, principals, mayors and other city officials, as well as local business owners and pastors. Because of this, it’s easy for me to lead the gospel charge in our local community because my scope is smaller than most autonomous churches. We’re not trying to reach the world, we’re trying to reach our community. 

You are still the shepherd.
No matter how the sermon is delivered on Sunday, people still need a pastor. Because I have about 26 weeks a year where I’m not preparing a sermon, I try to spend ample time over coffee with members, calling visitors, praying over new babies, sitting in my office with couples in counseling, and developing the leaders in the congregation to multiply the ministry. This is my time to learn the lives of my people, and help them know my life as well. I’m sure some in my congregation wished I preached more often, but I hope they know how grateful I am to have the freedom to spend so much time on these critical pastoral functions without the stress of study. 

You are a leader under authority.
I’m convinced that the most obvious “under-shepherd” is the campus pastor. Because my role is to align our congregation with the church at large, I don’t feel the temptation to move the church in the direction of my own preferences. In fact, submission and deference are needed in large doses. Our budgets, programs and philosophies have to be highly aligned across the board. At the end of the day, to build a Christ-exulting church means I often need to give on some of my soapbox issues and remember that we’re all in this together for the glory of the Good Shepherd.