Archive for February, 2013

Masters and Servants

25 Feb

In 1802, Bowdoin College President Joseph McKeen made this exhortation:

“It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions (colleges/universities) are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be able to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society. If it be true no man should live for himself alone, we may safely assert that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good.”

His belief, and the belief of all educators of that time, was that learned men were both masters and servants of society. All colleges in early nineteenth-century America were committed to social needs rather than to individual preference and self-indulgence. It was not society’s obligation to the students but the students’ obligation to society that took precedence.

As such, as early as the turn of the nineteenth century, masters (or leaders) were exhorted to be servant leaders, though the leadership model was not introduces until much later. Unfortunately, this sense of social obligation was lost to a narcissistic individualism of self-gratification, greed, and pursuit of celebrity.

Not until the 1960’s was this obligation re-birthed during President J.F. Kennedy’s exhortation to Americans when he said, “Ask not what your countrycan do for you but what you can do for your country.” This call ignited youth by the thousands to join service organizations, such as the Peace Corps, in order to bring much needed service to millions.

And, in the mid 1970’s, Robert Greenleaf reintroduced the concept of servant leadership. This birthed the notion that those called to lead are first called to serve. This style/theory of leadership should be expressed at every level of every organization whether situational leadership is employed. Thus, leading by serving requires these attributes: agapao love, humility, altruism, and trust. Service towards others engenders empowerment and an exponential outflow of benefit.

The ideology of the master – worker relationship emulated by most throughout the industrial age (and even today) will never produce the ‘good’ to society that is achieved by leading through service.

 

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Leadership and Fiscal Responsibility

15 Feb

For years, the rhetoric has been flying back and forth in local, state, and federal governments about the excessive tax and spending policies being implemented. Not only has the rhetoric included policies involving the size and influence of ‘government,’ but it has included the irresponsible overspending practices that have resulted in government agencies being billions, if not trillions, of dollars in debt; a result of spending far more money than taxes and other revenues can generate.

We who lead organizations understand this overspending practice will end in the collapse of the organization. For individuals, overspending can result in the loss of personal properties, bankruptcy, and even result in homeless and the loss of family. If the failure is serious enough, criminal charges could be filed and we could end up ‘behind bars.’

Our responsibility is to lead our organization (and families) in a way that enables sustainability (and hopefully growth), positively affects its employees, other stakeholders, and the recipients of our goods and services. This requires a clear continual articulation of a compelling vision, holding the organization to its mission, and keeping the organization fiscally responsible.

Fiscal responsibility? Yes, fiscal responsibility IS a critical component of leadership.

So, how could all this affect you and me? How could this affect the organizations we lead? . . . our local churches? . . . other charitable organizations?

In 2008, I led a strategic foresight presentation for a local church congregation. The major change event presented to the leadership group was this: How will the government’s action of eliminating the charitable giving deduction from federal and state tax returns affect this non-profit? The church’s leaders were asked how this could affect contributions, the dedication to the church’s mission and vision, the ability to maintain the facilities, the ability to pay vocational ministers and supporting staff, the ability to meet as they currently meet?

The exercise was intended to heighten awareness of how change events can positively and negatively affect an organization. It is also intended to help the organization leaders consider strategies needed to ensure a preferred future for the organization.

During the exercise, the congregation leaders considered the serious implications of such a ‘change event’ and what strategies would be necessary to keep the congregation working to achieve its mission and vision. They believed this event was possible but that it would not occur for quite some time, possibly decades, far after they were involved in leading the congregation.

Today, I listened to a report that our federal government is seriously considering eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction. The government’s primary concern seemed to be for the potential $34 billion in additional federal tax revenue this action would generate. It did not appear they were adequately considering the negative affect this action could have on thousands of charitable organizations that are the first point of help for millions of Americans, directly or indirectly.

If such a law passes, how will this affect your church congregation? How will it affect other local charitable organizations that provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and other life-sustaining goods and services to the millions in our country and around the world who receive those goods and services? How will it affect organizations who use these contributions for medical research and treatment?

Will contributions decline? . . . Will they stop all together?

Will your organization loose its current building/s, properties?

Will your organization cease to exist as it currently does or will it cease to exist all together?

 Will the vision and mission of your organization continue?

I believe many organizations who rely on charitable contributions will close. This will not only negatively affect those who work for these organization but will negatively affect the thousands, if not millions, who received benefit from these organization. This will affect medical research and treatment, support for the poor and disenfranchised. The negative impact this will have on individuals, families, and the American society as a whole, will be incalculable.

However, for us who are ‘the Church,’ the organizational structures and designs we currently embrace will indeed be affected. How we organize, how we gather to worship, and how we work to further the mission and vision of Jesus Christ may look different, but IT WILL GO ON!

 

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What is TRUTH?

06 Feb

A number of years ago, a young man was on trial for his life because he claimed to be who he really was. It appeared a group of influential men in the community wanted this young man killed because he was disrupting their culture and challenging their positions of prestige, power, and authority.

When brought before the local ‘judge,’ nothing could be found that warranted a death sentence or any other type of punishment, for that matter. When the judge asked a question, the young man would respond by saying he was telling the truth. In frustration over the volatility of the situation and possibly of continuing conflict, the judge asked the young man, “WHAT IS TRUTH?”

Good question . . .

What is truth?

Is it our own individual opinion?

Is it our perception of a situation or an idea or an ideal?

Is there really TRUTH that does not change?

Or, does truth change with new experiences or new decisions?

Is truth relative?

Do we choose to disregard the truth when it conflicts with what we want to believe?

While working with a non-profit organization, some members sued the organization because they were at odds with the new CEO. The charges filed in the lawsuit were baseless (supported by a court’s ruling), just intended to force the CEO’s resignation. Although their ‘unwritten’ complaints had merit, when asked about the lawsuit, this response was significant to me:

“Perception is truth.”

Perception is truth? Really?

So, what is truth? Is there really TRUTH that is unchangeable? And does it matter? Is perception all we need? If we ‘feel good’ about what we believe is it good enough?

Truth . . . are there any answers?

Truth, as defined in dictionary.com, is,

  1. the true  or actual state of a matter
  2. conformity with fact or reality; verity
  3. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like
  4. the state or character of being true.
  5. actuality or actual existence.

 

In Funk and Wagnall’s College Standard Dictionary dated 1992, truth is defined as “the state of character of being true in relation to being, knowledge, or speech.” And, true is defined as “faithful to fact or reality; not false or erroneous . . . faithful to the truth.”

So, there must be truth somewhere. There must be facts, figures, events, etc. that are true, some that are indisputable. Some even try to dispute that 1 + 1 = 2!

If we accept the classical philosophical approach, we would be inclined towards rationalization. Plato said that we can know truth if we “sublimate our minds to their original purity.” Arcesilaus said that our understanding is not capable of knowing what truth is. Carneades stated that we can never comprehend truth; and, not only that, but even our senses are inadequate in assisting us in the investigation of truth. Gorgias chimes in with the following, “What is right but what we prove to be right? And, what is truth but what we believe to be truth?”

More recently (1996), University of Oxford professor Peter B. Lloyd (1996) stated . . . “Truth is a very simple and handy concept. It is the correspondence of a pictorial or symbolic representation to the thing being represented. In the case of a symbolic representation, the correspondence may be massively complicated, but it is nonetheless similar in kind to a simple pictorial representation.”

Confused yet?

Truth appears, at best, to be a very hazy concept if you agree with classical philosophy or adhere to Lloyd’s statement. It seems to be a philosopher’s subjective interpretation or, perhaps, just an illusive notion.

I will admit . . . I am pretty black-and-white when it comes to things being true or false. There are simply truths and non-truths. And, if there is a non-truth purported, I’m more than willing to point it out, especially when I know I’m right (or am convinced I am right). And, sometimes I’m damn right – doing neither the person I’m in disagreement with or myself any good.  And, sometimes I am wrong . . . and, hopefully, willing to accept my error (though reluctantly at times). Thus the contention I make is that there is truth and there is untruth. Can this, however, be substantiated?

The question still shouts loudly to us, “What is TRUTH?”

If we surmise, “truth is that which conforms to reality, fact, or actuality,” this definition is incomplete because it remains open to interpretation. Furthermore, additional questions surface; what is fact? What is Reality? What is actuality? And, how does perception affect truth?

Matthew Slick, an apologist, offers a great response:

We could offer answers for each of these questions, but then we could again ask similar questions of those answers.  I am reminded of the paradox of throwing a ball against a wall.  It must get half way there, and then half way of the remaining distance, and then half of that distance, and so on. But, an infinite number of halves in this scenario never constitutes a whole.  Therefore, it would seem that the ball would never reach the wall if we applied the conceptual truths of halves.

The ball-against-the-wall scenario simply illustrates that defining and redefining things as we try to approach a goal actually prevents us from getting to that goal.  This is what philosophy does sometimes as it seeks to examine truth.  It sometimes clouds issues so much, that nothing can be known for sure.

But, even though it is true that an infinite number of halves (1/2 of “a” + 1/2 of the remainder + 1/2 of the remainder of that, etc.) does not equal a whole, we can “prove” that it does by simply throwing a ball at a wall and watching it bounce off.  Actually, the “1/2” equation above does not equal a whole — mathematically.  The problem is not in the truth but in its application, as is often the case with philosophical verbal gymnastics.

In order for truth to be defined properly, it would have to be a factually and logically correct statement.  In other words, it would have to be true.  But, perhaps we could look further at truth by determining what it is not.  Truth is not error.  Truth is not self-contradictory.  Truth is not deception.  Of course, it could be true that someone is being deceptive, but the deception itself isn’t truth.

The debate can continue to include a discussion of relativism, but it too can be interpreted depending upon cultural and personal preferences and experiences.

So, again, we seem to have a conundrum. Or do we?

For us who are followers of Jesus Christ – Christians – the ultimate expression of truth is anchored in a short statement made by Jesus, as recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life . . .”

Skeptics and philosophers will dismiss this claim, but the Apostle Paul warns us when he writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world (emphasis added), rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

The young man standing before the judge was Jesus. The judge, Pilot. The influential men who wanted Jesus killed (and succeeded) were the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – the Jewish rulers of that day. The men who were eyewitnesses to the things Jesus did wrote what they saw. They were some of his followers, his disciples: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are credible witnesses!

We quickly affirm and embrace writings of philosophers, historians, and scholars but are skeptical and disbelieving of writings by witnesses who experienced first-hand the events surrounding this man called Jesus. We readily accept the writings of a man who, at the conclusion of his book, stated his claim is false if no scientific support is provided. The man, Charles Darwin. His book, The Origin of Species. His claims have never been scientifically substantiated yet thousands choose to believe his hypothesis regarding evolution.

If TRUTH does conform to reality and Jesus did what was written, this reality would compel us to accept his claim and we are then confronted with what to do with him.

If Jesus is TRUTH, truth must begin with him, his claims, and what he accomplished. And we are also confronted with the questions, “Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?”

As leaders, we are compelled to seek truth and act upon that truth responsibly. Truly authentic transformational servant leaders need this foundation.

 

This article is neither all-inclusive or the final word. It is a starting point, meant to engage you in further dialogue. I challenge you to join the discussion and journey to discover TRUTH.

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.