Janice Ellen Wheeler, May 27, 1935 – March 14, 2022.
My brother called on March 14, I answered, he paused, then slowly enunciated, mom has died. He shared the few details he had, she hadn’t shown up for their weekly breakfast meeting, he asked her apartment to do a wellness check and that’s when they found she had died. Mom is no longer here.
The announcement of death is, in my experience, always a gut punch. My brothers and I all live a vibrant faith in Jesus, we revel in the hope of the resurrection. Mom was a model of faith, love, and hope. Still, death creates a void in the present. We knew mom’s health was fragile. We knew the two years of COVID isolation and restrictions were wearing on her. We were working to get her more help in cleaning and monitoring her health. We were calling more, picking her up for visits, and talking with one another to ensure she was not isolated from us. And that is part of the void of death – she is not here anymore. Faith never exempts one from experiencing life. Faith provides that anchor and stamina needed to engage, endure, survive, and thrive. Faith moves us toward healing in the face of pain, deliverance in the face of oppression, and hope and comfort in the face of loss and cynicism. Mom is no longer here.
I saw in my mom’s eyes the reflection of hopes and dreams for a family. I saw patience and a commitment to Christ that is personal and real. I saw sensitivity to others and commitment to excellence and a job well done.
Mom’s eyes shone with the reflection of generations living out the hope, faith, and love that have carried and sustained her in trial and triumph, conquest and defeat, and contentment and loss.
These things made her special to me. She was a woman of many talents. She was excellent in her pursuits and vibrant as a woman of faith and ministry. She was a wife of commitment and deep abiding love. She was a co-laborer of many and a healer of broken lives. She set captives free with her warmth and belief that Christ liberates any who will come to him.
But for me, she was my first healer of wounds, comfort in trauma, model of grace and strength. When you see me, I hope I reflect these characteristics of my mom. I love you mom and I am proud to call you this dearest and cherished of names – my mom. I miss you.
I said in Part 1 that the assumptions we carry into exegetical work influence how we frame our understanding of Scripture. When the assumed model of prophetic ministry articulates its metaphors from Israel’s kingdom period, one’s language and demeanor may trend to dominionist illustrations and proclamations. Conversely, framing prophetic ministry from the premise of being aliens and strangers tends to use differences as a starting point for dialogue and the demonstration of God’s intervening love.
I am intrigued by seeing how prophetic ministry works holistically for the well-being of the context. In reading through the life of Elisha this week, the diversity of social settings and situations he addressed caught my attention. The categories of influence may correlate to the seven social spheres of power, but the record provides its own, and at times, more compelling, classifications of prophetic ministry.
Defining reliable and valid prophetic ministry requires defining what I mean by prophetic. Often the word, prophetic brings to mind fortune-telling or magical incantations. In contrast, what I mean by prophetic are actions and statements that give insight into God’s nature and intention. Bobby Clinton’s definition of prophecy is a helpful starting point.
Prophecy is the capacity to deliver truth (in a public way) either of a predictive nature or as a situational word from God to correct by exhorting, edifying, or consoling people or to convince non-believers of God’s truth. The central thrust is to provide correction or perspective on a situation.
In my view, the impact of valid and reliable prophetic ministry is critically needed today, which is why the function requires a model. Modeled behaviors are mentoring and discerning behaviors. Models help us recognize patterns and scope. Models are like a road sign encouraging us on the path of discovery and practice.
I find Elisha to be a compelling and holistic model of prophetic ministry. What are the traits of an effective and holistic prophetic ministry? As I outline these characteristics, it occurs to me that some do not make much sense to us who live in privilege in the west. However, these characteristics are profoundly relevant and comforting for friends of mine who live under corrupt regimes,or in the middle of war zones, or in neighborhoods under the thumb of oppressive gangs.
Healed the environment. I’m intrigued by this. The men of Jerico expressed their concern to Elisha about the bad water in the area. It limited the potential of their otherwise pleasant situation. Elisha prophesied healing to the water. (2 Kings 2:19-22) Environmental issues about today. Entire neighborhoods languish with both pollution and crumbling infrastructure. God cares about ecological issues recognizing that cities cannot thrive in environmental hindrances. Prophetic ministry understands that one impediment to hearing the good news of Jesus is the struggle to survive.
Castigated intimidation, violence, and incivility. This text exposes our frame of reference in a unique way. The text is troubling for the severity of its consequences if, like me, you grew up in the relative safety of the suburbs here in the United States. My initial picture of these children accosting Elisha with name-calling is that of a group of cub scouts who escaped the supervision of their den mother. If on the other hand you have grown up in neighborhoods ruled by gang violence this text is profoundly comforting. These children and youth accosted Elisha with intimidating insults (translations don’t give it justice). They followed Elisha out of the city to a more remote part of the road to intimidate and bully him with jeering threats. (2 Kings 2:23-25) That he responds by acknowledging their insignificance to him (a possible understanding of the word “small” in the text) is the prelude to his dismissing their threats by an appeal to the power of God. Their incivility and intimidation met with the harshest consequences. In his response, Elisha elevated the value of others who exist in the image of God. Prophetic ministry stands opposed to the tyranny of threats and intimidation that seek to rob people of their dignity and freedom.
Spoke truth to power. Speaking truth to power has two aspects; encouragement and dissent. In the ministry of Elisha we see both. When the King of Israel faced the insurrection of a vassal state, he enlisted the King of Judah to help him squelch the rebellion. Jehosaphat, King of Judah, asked the council of Elisha before entering the battle. Elijah affirmed that the combined armies would gain victory. (2 Kings 3:12-27) Elisha’s encouragement of Jehosaphat points to the need leaders have for an outside voice in the face of threats and challenges for perspective. However, the story ends in the devastation of the enemy’s land and a child sacrifice made by the enemies of Israel to thwart their attack. The disgust engendered by this desperate act sent the armies of Israel packing. I take the story as a warning – even good council may bring about unintended results with devastating consequences. The text doesn’t take these consequences up. The political arena’s power, ambition, and compromise predictably distort outcomes. Before his death, Elisha was visited by king Joash. Elisha challenged Joash to act out the victory God intended to give him over the Syrian threat he faced. Joash met with Elisha’s dissent when Joash failed to carry through on the exercise. (2 Kings 13:14-19) Elisha also demonstrates dissent in obeying God in sending an envoy to anoint Jehu king – an act that God used to complete the judgment on the house of Ahab for his rebellion to God. (2Kings9:1-13). It seems obvious, but what Elisha predicted in each of these encounters happened – fulfilled predictions also validate prophetic ministry.
Meet physical needs. Food, health, and housing were all addressed by Elisha in the power of God. Elisha decontaminated a poisoned stew in 2 Kings 4:38-41. He meets a widow’s housing needs by providing her with a miraculous means of revenue in 2 Kings 4:1-7. He healed a leprous foreigner in 2 Kings 5:1-16. As a result of these actions of divine provision, people experienced the reality of God’s presence and love. Valid prophetic ministry often works among the poor and marginalized. Note that the subject of these miraculous acts included a single-parent family, foreigners, and a religious community, groups often unseen by social power.
Acted on emotional needs. One of the most touching stories from the life of Elisha to me is the Shunammite woman who, with her husband, served as a recurring host to Elisha’s visits. When he asked her what she would like in return for her hospitality Elisha’s servant pointed out that the couple was childless. 2Kings 4:1-17. Elisha prophesied she would have a son. She did have a son who then died in his preadolescent years. The woman was devasted and called for Elisha to come to raise her son from the dead – Elisha did. (2Kings 4:18-37) The event touches me because I have sat with numerous couples as they lamented their inability to have children. The grief is profound. Elisha saw God’s great compassion for this woman and acted on it. Later, Elisha warned her to flee the area about to enter a time of famine. She did, and her family survived the famine and later had all their property restored. (2 Kings 8:1-6)
Affirmed healthy social interaction. Elisha was with a group of prophets gathering lumber to expand their facility. One of the men used a borrowed ax. In work, the ax head loosened from the handle and flew into the Jordon River. The young man became distraught at losing a borrowed ax. As a result of Elisha’s intervention, the iron head floated back to the man on the water. (2 Kings 6:1-7) The respect for property ownership and the relationship that allowed the young man to borrow the ax resulted in a miraculous encounter. We aren’t told what the relationship of the ax owner was to the sons of the prophets. But we see that the relationship was meaningful enough for God to act through Elisha to save it.
Confronted conflicts of interest. Following the healing of Naaman, the leper Elisha turned down Naaman’s offer for a reward. This didn’t keep Gehazi (Elisha’s valet) from pursuing Naaman to take the reward for himself in the false premise that Elisha had sent him for the tip to give it to two needy prophets. (2 Kings 5:20-27) Gehazi violated his position of trust by manipulating the power of Elisha’s reputation. Elisha confronted Gehazi for his action, and as a consequence of Gehazi’s abuse of power, he fell ill with leprosy. Elisha made his ethical stand clear and refused to tolerate any compromise or receive gratuitous rewards due to God’s work.
Exposed maleficent intentions. The king of Syria intended to defeat Israel. (2 Kings 6:8-14) However, every strategy the king of Syria formed with his servant was revealed to Elisha by God. Elisha then forewarned the king of Israel, who escaped more than one entrapment. Politics and posturing exist in every group of people and make for strange bedfellows. In this case, prophetic ministry exposed such posturing and made way for the king of Israel to escape disaster.
Reinforced the humanity of enemies. The Syrian invasion forestalled by Elisha’s prophetic insight into Syria’s strategies angered the Syrian king to the point he repositioned his strategy to capture Elisha. The king sent troops to Dothan to surround the city and eliminate Elisha. (2 Kings 6:11-23) When Elisha’s servant Gehazi saw the Syrian troops, he panicked, Elisha prayed, and Gehazi could then see the armies of God surrounding the Syrian forces. Elisha then asked God to blind the Syrian troops. Blind and unable to fight, Elisha led the Syrians to Samaria and then prayed God would open their eyes. The Syrians saw that they were defenseless in the capital of their enemy. Elisha fed them and sent them home rather than kill them, as the king of Israel wanted to do. What does this unique event suggest about prophetic ministry? Prophetic ministry does not minimize threat but exercises mercy on the defenseless, forgiveness toward enemies, and reinforces the humanity of others.
If the characteristics of Elisha’s ministry are generalizable, which I think they are, then behaviors that contradict these traits are susceptible to censure. To illustrate contradictions, I reviewed news stories and websites that express the opposite of Elisha’s work. I reject those claims to prophetic ministry that behaviorally contradict the traits of valid and reliable prophetic ministry.
What does give one pause, however, is the unwillingness on the part of so many evangelical Christians to condemn abuse when it does occur. (cf., https://reformedjournal.com/evangelicals-lets-talk-about-violence-against-women/). When Evangelicals ignore gang violence or excuse it as an inherent trait of minority populations a contradiction emerges.
Everything you feel in evangelical circles must be filtered through the right words and expressions. For example, you can talk about your feelings, but can’t show them. You can admit you’ve been going through “struggles,” but can’t break down and sob or have a panic attack or say, “life sucks.” (cf., https://www.theodysseyonline.com/evangelicals-emotional-labor).
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners defines fraud as “any intentional or deliberate act to deprive another of property or money by guile, deception or other unfair means.” Many Christians would be surprised and disappointed to learn that such behavior was occurring in their church or favorite ministry. (cf., https://www.ecfa.org/Content/Fraud-in-Ministries-Real-Examples-and-Red-Flags).
Rhetoric that stereotypes to incite fear and reaction, e.g., language referring to liberals, LGBTQ community, Islam, the poor, etc. Christians have too often opted for a harsh approach to interacting with public communities. How can we get back to the concept of honoring everyone, regardless of their status or religious and cultural perspectives? (cf., https://cct.biola.edu/church-incivility-happened-honoring-everyone/).
To conclude, I love the longing of Moses when told two of the 70 elders he appointed were not present at the commissioning meeting but were nonetheless prophesying. Joshua wanted Moses to stop them. However, Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
 Dr. J. Robert Clinton and Dr. Richard W. Clinton. Unlocking Your Giftedness: what leaders need to know to develop themselves and others. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1998.
If you are unfamiliar with the current “prophetic” trends in Charismatic/Pentecostal churches and nonprofit organizations, this article may not register as relevant. Thank you for checking in, and please watch for future articles about leadership if that is the case.
However, if you are part of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement, I’d like to observe the work of Biblical prophets as a model for seeking the well-being of our cities. Suppose you have been troubled by prophets in the news, predicting, prognosticating, backtracking, and doubling down about the last presidential election. In that case, I may confirm your concerns and offer a practical model to serve our broken world. This article may not sit well if you follow the latest “prophetic” assertions. But, I ask that you give me a chance to spell out valid and reliable prophetic ministry characteristics.
My thesis is that the work of Elisha the prophet provides a compelling and holistic compendium of a valid and reliable prophetic ministry. Elisha’s ministry focused on the well-being of others and reconciliation with God. He functioned within the covenant community of Israel and operated in what Ralph Winter called a centripetal mission focus, meaning God drew the nations to Israel to encounter God. In contrast, our centrifugal mission is sent to the nations to bring an encounter with the redeeming work of God. So, the holistic approach of Elisha is all the more significant as we move into new contexts.
Corollary 1, Jesus and the New Testament define their relationship to the world around metaphorically them from the context of the exilic period using descriptors such as pilgrims and strangers (cf., Jeremiah 29:7 and Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11). Jesus never assumes a socially dominant strategy. He employs a servant strategy rooted in seeking the welfare of others. He talks about dominion applied to exercising authority over the demonic and disease (cf., Luke 10:19). In contrast, today’s “prophetic movement” among Pentecostals/Charismatics found their definitions of social interaction on the word “dominion” from the context of Genesis 1:27. Their metaphorical imagery draws from Israel’s kingdom period. In the context of Israel’s kingdom period, dominion equates to subjugating those outside the “kingdom” and inviting them to conform to godliness.
Corollary 2, using imagery from Israel’s exilic period, focuses on the city’s welfare (Jeremiah 29:7), resulting in a definitively different agenda for action than seeking to control (dominate) the city and its systems of religion, governance, education, media and entertainment, healthcare, family, and business. The focus on the city’s welfare is an extrapolation of the Abrahamic covenant of blessing.
Because in today’s Charismatic/Pentecostal movement it is vogue to talk about dominion theology, I feel compelled to set out my contrary assumptions. Dominion theology undergirds the suppositions of some individuals covered in the media. “Seven Mountains of Influence” also undergird the assumptions of some individuals covered in the media. The two perspectives sometimes conflate into one frame of reference. What are they?
Dominion theology asserts that the first coming of Christ has restored dominion over every area of life. Therefore it is the task of the church to reclaim the rule of Christ on planet earth. For the Reconstructionist branch of dominion theology, this is accomplished through the ethical means of obeying the Word (Biblical law). The Charismatic branch teaches that dominion is achieved through the metaphysical means of confessing the Word. Thomas D. Ice of Liberty University notes that both branches believe that Christians take dominion over all humanity before Christ physically returns to planet earth.
Dominion theology founds its views the commission God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis (Genesis 1:27). However, Dominion theology misstates the Genesis commission in its focus on dominion over people and their systems—Genesis limited human dominion to the planet and animal kingdoms as stewardship of care. In what is the most overt twist of the meaning of dominion, George Grant (1987) wrote in Changing the Guard,
Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ-to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less. If Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, as the Bible says, and if our commission is to bring the land into subjection to His Lordship, as the Bible says, then all our activities, all our witnessing, all our preaching, all our craftsmanship, all our stewardship, and all our political action will aim at nothing short of that sacred purpose.
Grant’s assertions are inaccurate. Our obligation is not dominion over people or the public square through the force of asserted prominence. Our obligation is to love others and to be the metaphorical salt that influences others. Jesus was clear in his discussion with Pilot that political dominance fell far short of the work he initiated – Jesus did not initiate a revolutionary political action in his death and resurrection but something far more reaching, cf., John 18:36. In advancing Jesus’ mission, Peter was clear that leaders must serve not to dominate, cf., 1 Peter 5:3. We possess authority and power over the demonic and diseases, cf., Luke 9:1. Our task is not conquest; our task is to deliver people from sin’s grasp and make disciples.
The concept of Seven Mountains or Spheres of social influence was framed in 1975 when Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission(YWAM), developed a strategy to reach the world for Christ. Their mandate: Bring Godly change to a nation by reaching its seven spheres, or mountains, of societal influence. They concluded that to transform any nation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these seven facets of society must be reached: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business. On its own, the Seven Mountain perspectives recognize those centers of influence in which the love of Christ makes a difference. It is an inspiring recognition that the church exists in and is called from every aspect of society.
However, popular practitioners of Seven Mountain thinking vilify their target audience and reframe shaping these centers of influence to dominating them. For example, one group writes,
The Christian Church is described in the Greek language as the ecclesia. Literally translated, the word ecclesia means “governing body.” Although we don’t condone theocracies, this translation suggests that the church should have great influence in all other spheres that make up a society.
Here too, I take issue with definitions. The rendering of the Greek word ecclesia above is suspect. The lexicon definition isn’t governance; instead, it is a gathering of citizens to deliberate. Deliberation denotes thinking about or discussing something very carefully to make a decision. Discussions are a discovery process, not an imposition process. Specifically, it is used in the New Testament to denote a meeting of Christians for worship. To infer governance stretches the definition to fit a dominionist perspective.
On its own, the observations of Bright and Cunningham can help Christians get out of the bubble of their Sunday services to see the work God is doing in the lives of people around them at work. But when the Seven Mountain perspective marries Dominion Theology, the message of good news about God’s love for humankind devolves to ugly sectarianism that is indistinguishable from any other form of sectarianism.
Christians who promote domination need to hear themselves. They decry the existence of dissenting voices. Decrying diversity isn’t limited to just other religious agents but every voice that doesn’t align with the speaker’s assumptions. It is impossible to differentiate Christian dominionist or fundamentalist speech from any other type of toxic fundamentalist speech that aims to conform society to sectarian norms.
Using the Seven Mountain perspective constructively recognizes that Christians already work in these areas and can use their social networks as a platform to share and demonstrate the love and power of God. Even seemingly inconsequential voices in these seven areas can make a significant and long-lasting change, as is illustrated in the impact a little girl enslaved in the house of Naaman had when she told him of the prophet in Israel who could heal his leprosy. (2 Kings 5:1-14)
Here again, I refer us back to the starting assumptions. Suppose the model of prophetic ministry frames its metaphors from Israel’s kingdom period. In that case, one’s language and demeanor may trend to dominionist illustrations and proclamations. Conversely, suppose prophetic ministry starts from the premise of being aliens and strangers. In that case, it tends to use differences as a starting point for dialogue and the demonstration of God’s intervening love. In Part 2, I discuss the significance of Elisha’s holistic ministry and what it may mean for prophets in the church today.
 Jeremiah’s strategy for survival and influence is surprisingly useful for the majority of Christians in the world who are minority populations, “But seekthewelfareofthecity where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7 ESV)
Leaders who face and embrace challenges grow in their capacity to handle complexity. Conversely, leaders who avoid challenges tend to become cynical power mongers.
I met with a couple of younger leaders the other day whose presence on the Zoom call was stunningly different than it was at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. I’d have characterized their presence as tentative at best two years ago. They had just bought a successful but stagnant insurance agency and stepped into the challenges of owning a business. In the transition, employees challenged their authority, questioned their decisions, and tempted themselves to second guess. The pandemic blew up their sales, threw them into a tailspin trying to figure out how to keep serving clients and engaging new clients.
Last week’s meeting was different. We scheduled the most recent session to go over their Q3 performance. When they logged on, I noticed a new sense of calm, not rooted in naivete but a growing experience. They defined the challenges in front of them and reflected on accomplished goals. They were ready to engage in a creative exercise of future perfect thinking rather than handwringing anxiety about an uncertain future.
Leaders who embrace the challenges of their context grow their capacity. But challenges don’t automatically develop leadership capacity. One of my graduate professors was fond of saying that development as a leader depended on several variables, one of which was the leader’s response. How a leader responds to pressure determines whether that pressure shapes additional skill and capacity or warps the leader’s assumptions and perception. One question that helps reframe a leader’s perspective from panic to learning is, what assumptions do I need to let go of to grow rather than rage?
When I hear a leader rage about their challenges (including blaming others and self-pity), I anticipate a failed learning opportunity. Anger covers the fear of failure and exposes the leader’s unspoken (and frequently unrealistic) expectations of others. Rage blinds a leader to the possibilities of challenge. Seething anger bends the leader toward a reliance on power and threats and essentially turns a leader into a complete ass.
So, I encourage leaders who sense a loss of control to ask the reframing question. How do you handle the challenges of your role? Do you rage or reframe?
I step into 2021 gingerly. After the unfolding events of 2020, I feel a little gunshy. Yet, traversing 2020 has given me a commitment to the power of being present, a drive to listen before I speak, a dedication to addressing racism, an obligation to be generous, and a renewed vibrancy in my faith.
I find my perspective on world events or domestic events to be more complex than some of my friends. They have not had the international exposure and interactions that I have had the privilege of engaging. I monitor social media from almost every continent because of my international friends and have come to appreciate their non-western take on global events. The perspective of my international friends has ruined me for simplistic slogans and culturally bound perspectives that are bandied about under the guise of patriotism here in the United States. The world is so interconnected that I cannot simply hide from the challenges my friends face. I struggle to find the means to respond as a friend to their financial, material, spiritual, and emotional needs. I think this is why faith has taken up a new vibrancy.
The economic impact of COVID-19 or the political upheaval experienced in 2020 on friends in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Nigeria, or Uganda, or Kenya, or Israel, or Thailand, or Cambodia, or Singapore, or China, or Korea, or Brazil, or Chile, or Germany, or Pakistan, or India is not a distant news item to me. I have conversations with these men and women and hear their laments, their cry for help, and their frustrations. I regularly get Facebook Messenger updates about the great things God is up to in each of these places and the struggles that are unique to each. If I had millions of US dollars I could respond to each of the needs. Instead, I send gifts where I can and spend time each morning praying for these needs.
Meanwhile, here in the United States I hear certain friends and acquaintances whin about trampled personal rights and persecution – I hear these statements through the grid of having international friends. I can’t hear from a parochial filter anymore. I hear some evangelical pastors announce on social media that they will stand for their first amendment rights by exercising their second amendment rights and I groan at the distortion of faith such statements represent. I pray for these friends too, friends who march in open rallies against the imperfect attempts for public health imposed by state governors. Admittedly I am not always sure what to pray when talking with God about these. So, I pray a lot in the Spirit.
I mentioned to another friend the other day that I was looking for ways to practically address the systemic racism that haunts so many of my friends in the United States. He turned toward me and launched into a tirade about liberals and their “bullshit.”
“Racism doesn’t exist in the United States,” he announced, “it is a construct of the liberal machine designed to rob us of our rights and oppress us.” My jaw dropped.
“Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in the experience of many of my friends,” I replied. “So, you may want to investigate the stories of others before announcing a universal solution has been met in the constitution.”
The conversation just stopped.
2020 has been a strange companion, a presence of diametrically opposing assertions, conversations filled with rage and reaction, and loads of uncertainty. Somehow through all the haze, and I haven’t listed the personal tragedies we went through in our family this year, I come out of 2020 stronger. I enter 2021 with both reticence and assurance. I have a heightened sense of caution and a feeling of deeper peace. I have the disappointments of 2020 mixed with an expectation of God’s work in 2021.
So, happy new year! May this be a year you find the faithfulness and love of God in a deeper and more personal experience. May you know the comfort of friends, the joy of forgiveness, and the power of reconciliation. May your days be undergirded with songs of deliverance and peace. May you see God’s provision and power in ways you have not seen before. I’ll stay in touch. Bye 2020, I won’t miss you, but I do appreciate the shaping work you have done in my life.
A recent article in Forbes reiterated an MIT study that shows only 12% of employees strongly agree that their leaders have the right mindsets to lead them into the future. The article asked, “What kind of leaders do people want? They want leaders who can navigate the speed and complexity of the digital workplace. They want leaders who explain the why of the work, who connect with empathy, who communicate with authenticity, and who collaborate with openness.”
Dunkin’s point in the Forbes article is that we must do better in how we lead in business. I couldn’t agree more. That is the point behind my book, Lift: Five Practices Great Managers Do Consistently. Engendering trust, establishing a positive environment, giving employees the tools and the empowerment they need to thrive are not optional actions. They are essential actions.
As business resets in the uncertainties around a Covid-19 environment positive leadership becomes even more important. Great practices are not just good for business they are essential for good mental health.
A right mindset builds high-performance teams by consistently building ownership, working facts, knowing their people and themselves, managing activities, and building a climate of hope. The right mindset is one that loves people. Dr. Mick Bates, Associate Professor of Marketing, Taylor University, Upland, Indiana affirms this, “In his book, Lift, Dr. Wheeler expertly and succinctly gives managers in nearly any type of organization tools to love people towards personal and organizational success. He distills decades of organizational behavior and development research, case studies, and his personal experiences into a simple 5-point model for loving people to success.”
Now is the time to develop the right mindset and the actions that mindset engenders.
Purchase Dr. Wheeler’s book Lift in a Kindle e-format or print format at:
Lift: Five Practices Great Managers do Consistently is now available on Amazon! Why another book on management? Because managers have a difficult job and need support and encouragement. The skills great managers engage to lift the morale and performance of their teams are within the reach of anyone who applies these five practices. I am inspired by what great managers accomplish in their teams. I have worked as a manager in the private and non-profit sectors. Managing can be rewarding.
I set out to determine what made great managers great. I saw that great managers help their employees thrive and increase performance – but I wanted to know what they did to get there. So, I interviewed, observed, and researched the activities of great managers. My quest resulting in identifying five practices all great managers employ. Great managers develop high-performance employees by instilling a sense of ownership instead of being a dictator, working facts rather than emotion, getting to know their people and themselves, managing activities instead of harping on results, and building a climate of hope, not cynicism.
I ask hard questions about management practices and provide insights with real-world examples. This isn’t just a feel-good nod to management, it is a collection of easy to use tools and exercises designed to instill the five practices all great managers have in common.
I wrote this book to give managers a way forward to improve the way they manage their teams. LIFE: Five Practices Great Managers Do Consistently is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Buy it today and start on a journey of discovery and change!
Learn more about Lift, read the case studies, and see the Press Release here.
One of the most poignant experiences I had with the interaction of culture and organizational culture occurred in my third pastorate. In the mid-nineties, California was abuzz with debate on a bill that sat before the United States Congress designating English as the federal government’s sole language of official business. There was talk of an initiative to make English the official language of the state and to cease production of state documents in all other languages.
The “English only” campaign caught on in many white evangelical churches as a popular way to deal with their own cultural disequilibrium. People promoting the campaign felt infringed upon culturally and supplanted from their familiar social landmarks. They were uncomfortable in encounters with ethnicities, languages, and cultures they did not understand. In a time of disequilibrium a culture suffers a loss or diminished capacity to psychologically reinforce its members. Its ability to interpret and explain reality or maintain its adaptation capability then diminishes.
I was new in my third pastorate during this time. I had arrived in my city after leading our denomination’s short-term missions department. I wanted to see a congregation emerge as a multiethnic and multicultural church. The cultural changes in our neighborhood in the ten years preceding my arrival had been rapid. The old neighborhoods suffered from white-flight (or economic flight as the case may be) as people moved to escape having to cope with change.
Because the demographics of our community had changed so radically, I suggested that we purchase Bibles for use on Sunday mornings that contained Spanish and English. Uproar of objection and anxiety to my suggestion brought out the less-loving parts of my congregation. People are not fully rational when they experience a situation that causes cultural disequilibrium—they are angry, fearful, and suspicious. My suggestion had undermined the trust that I had built up to that point with a significant part of the congregation. These emotions threatened to undo the work that we had accomplished in reaching the neighborhood around us.
The majority culture group in the congregation openly expressed disgust at smells, food, clothing, work habits that were not classic 1950s, white suburban America. I watched the other half of my congregation begin to pull back in their participation.
One of the most active and evangelistic leaders we had told me he was afraid of what was occurring socially and was disheartened that the wider social unrest had made its way into his family’s daily experience. His children had overheard disparaging and biased social commentary about their family’s cultural background at church. This professional and his family had recently bought a new home in one of the new subdivisions. He told me that one day he pulled into the driveway of his new home to inspect the progress of the landscaping.
One of his neighbors yelled from across the street, “Hey, you can’t park there.”
“What,” he said, “not in my driveway? Why?”
“Gardeners are required to park down the street at the guest parking,” the neighbor reportedly said with disgust.
“Great,” my friend replied, “I will let my gardener know. It’s good to meet you I am Juan Garcia your new neighbor.” At that, Juan reported that his neighbor turned his back and hastily retreated into his house.
“Pastor Ray,” Juan said, “this is not right.” I agreed. I called together some of our house church leaders. By that point, we had started house churches in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic, and Mandarin—the languages of the neighborhood. I asked them to pray with me about how to address this issue with the congregation. I felt that I needed to make a commitment to a direction that reflected the servant approach to cultural differences and knew that it would not be universally accepted.
The house church pastors agreed and committed themselves to pray. We talked potential strategies and how we planned to follow up the direction I was to frame. A few Sundays later, I determined to address the “English only” proposition.
“Church,” I began, “I know you are aware of the controversy that the English-only proposition has generated. I am concerned that it has the potential of warping our presentation of who God is. We are a multicultural and multiethnic church, and it is this identity that presents the work and love of God to all of our neighbors. Let me remind you of several realities about our faith and the faith of our fathers that I think are important to make explicit.”
“First, we who are white, Anglo-Saxons are the foreigners to the faith. We are the Goyim whom the first century church hesitated to approach because we were considered unclean. Our food had strange aromas, our clothing was odd and unfamiliar, and our religious views were alien and odd. Yet through God’s grace, they loved us and ultimately, over the centuries of outreach, many of our ancestors finally heard the gospel in their own languages all of which were foreign to the church: English, German, French, and Spanish.”
“Second, the Jesus we know as Lord was not white or European. He was Israeli, a Middle Easterner. Our pride in our respective European heritages is fine. Like you, I share a rich heritage in my family from our European background. Our pride however becomes a problem when it becomes exclusive. We make Jesus look like us, and then we are shocked with other cultures or ethnicities when they do the same.”
“Third, and perhaps most shocking—the Jesus you know as Lord and Savior never learned English. If these things are true about us, white European believers, then we can offer understanding and support to those who are different than us and invite them into the kingdom of God, not on the basis of our cultural norms or language but on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ just as they are and in the languages, customs, foods, and clothing that they bring.”
Grins of relief and comfort slowly grew across the faces of part of the congregation that day. The other part of the congregation grew somber—some thoughtfully and others angrily. Some left the congregation that day and never returned. In their minds I had ruined and destroyed their church, and in many ways they were correct.
The new perspective I introduced altered the way the congregation was culturally defined. I was saddened by the departure of some of these people. However, I knew we were on the way to establishing the kind of organizational culture we needed to remain effective in our culturally diverse city.
Organizational culture is manifest at three levels: artifacts, values, and basic assumptions. Understanding these levels of organizational culture gives the servant leader the ability to quickly assess whether or not their conviction regarding servant leadership is evidenced in the behavior of their organization.”
— Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World by Raymond L. Wheeler https://a.co/9rdI76F
The COVID-19 virus intrusion is what Nicholas Taleb called a black swan event. Black swan events are a rare and unpredictable shock to a system with extensive consequences throughout the system. For example, the COVID-19 virus has already changed the way churches meet, the way food is secured, the way social interaction occurs, and has had a growing negative economic impact as businesses close and scale back their cost structures. Black swan events are defined by periods of high uncertainty and volatility. It is the uncertainty of a black swan event that makes the recovery of “normal” a difficult target. This black swan event has imposed the social distancing strategy designed to limit the transfer of the COVID-19 virus from person to person. This has imposed a time of isolation for many people.
I have wondered about how to leverage the disruption and the isolation and what my horizon should be as a leader looking forward. Should I take a short view assuming the current disruptions are short term and the propensity toward stasis will nudge our experience back to a known sense of normal? Or do I take a long view and look at the current disruption and isolation as a push toward innovation? In my reflection, I was reminded of the work of Dr. Bobby Clinton, one of my mentors, on the way leaders develop. Specifically, how leaders mature. He identified several maturation processes one of which was isolation processing.
By maturation, Bobby meant the deep process that forces leaders to evaluate life and ministry for its deeper meaning. This evaluation reflects on what life is about and what ministry accomplishes. The purpose seems to be to shape one’s focus toward a whole lifetime of effect around what is ultimately important.
Bobby recognized that isolation is the process by which a leader is set aside from normal activity so that the leader has an extended time in which to experience God in a new or deeper way. The isolation process in Bobby’s heuristic may be initiated voluntarily or involuntarily. Regardless of the way an isolation period is initiated the potential for experiencing a call to a deeper relationship and experience of God is possible. The lessons a person may experience in isolation times include dependence on God, learning about the supernatural, an urgency to accomplish their life purpose, deepening of one’s inner life, especially intercessory prayer, and lessons on spiritual authority.
The benefits of isolation are not automatic. They are dependent upon two variables, the amount of time spent in isolation and the response of the person in isolation.
Among other things, this time of isolation exposes what Bolsinger describes as being imaginatively gridlocked in a pattern of trying harder at things that are not making an impact. The challenge presented by the COVID-19 virus is an opportunity but to see the opportunity we must develop an adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity starts with the recognition that we don’t know and forces us to reevaluate what our core values are i.e., to strip away the traditions that have developed initially as support but now impediments to our mission or purpose. Are you willing to let go of “expertise” and learn as you go? Many of us conceptually recognize the need for adaptive capacity, now we are forced to step into it.
So, what is the time horizon you are using to evaluate the new normal? Is it just getting through the immediate crisis to go back to business as usual? Or, are you using the isolation to ask God to help you completely rethink how we do things, how to get at our real contribution of the truly important things? According to Bobby time and your response are the two variables that will determine whether you enter a new adaptive innovation or simply fall back into whatever normal was before the crisis.