8 Ugly Outcomes of Insecure Leadership

8 Ugly Outcomes of Insecure Leadership

What is Insecurity?

Insecurity is an overall sense of uncertainty or anxiety about your worth, abilities, skills, and even value as a person.

It is often marked by things like an overriding feeling of inadequacy. A lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. People feeling like they are unable or ill-equipped to cope with stressors and anxious about their interactions and relationships with others. I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing evidence of rising levels of insecurity in people all around me. More of my co-workers, teammates, family members, and friends are dealing with the effects of insecurity. There can be a number of reasons.

Insecurity can be the result of some trauma or crisis from the past. Something happened in childhood that a person has never really gotten over. Some rejection back there, or failure, or dysfunction from a past event or a past relationship that still echoes and reverberates into the present day.

But even leaders who didn’t come through a traumatic childhood can deal with insecurity. I think because of your unique role as a leader, having to make decisions that affect people, having to set a course for the future that not everyone may agree with, or having to keep a company going so that workers can continue to get a paycheck, the stakes are high for leaders. Insecurity is a normal emotion that comes about when we’re exposed to something new or something that seems beyond us.

How does insecurity show up in the life of leaders?

Insecurity can easily creep into a person’s leadership. I think about where we are after a global pandemic that none of us were prepared for. It seems to have upended reality in ways that we are still coming to understand. How do people work or not work, remote vs in-person meetings and services, is there a normal that we’re going back to or is that long gone?

Every leader I know felt like they were in over their head – and many may still be dealing with the insecurity that was born out of this season. Everything felt destabilizing and some haven’t recovered. So, insecurity has run rampant in leaders. And especially in Christian circles I think insecurity can act as the evil twin of humility. Sometimes they disguise as each other.

I’ve had recent conversations asking someone to consider stepping into a new role. It happens every time with new elders in my church / I would expect the first response to be humility – I’m honored, I don’t feel worthy, I’m humbled to be asked / but that humility can disguise the insecurity – if the person is thinking – I’m uncertain, or inadequate, or unable. Once you are in a new role that’s intimidating, if you’re not careful, you’ll start faking it. And this vicious cycle starts playing like a recording in your head. You feel like an imposter and if people only knew…  Insecurity starts to grow like a cancer and eventually will undermine every bold decision you try to make.

And I’ve worked with insecure leaders before – and it’s not great. They tend to create drama, they can even unintentionally cause pain in the lives of those they lead. Because that insecurity eventually start coming out in all kinds of ways. Leaders have to guard against insecurity.

8 Ugly Outcomes of Insecure Leadership

1. Defensiveness

When ideas or decisions are challenged in any way they become instantly defensive. They begin to put down the person who challenged them. Thinking of all the reasons that person isn’t qualified to push back. Insecure leaders interpret disagreement as disloyalty. They stop seeing people as people with something to contribute and they start seeing them as either for me or against me.

2. Control freak tendencies

Because they are insecure, they have to be involved in every conversation. Any conversations or decisions that are made without their consent or approval are viewed as insubordination. And even if an idea is a good one, it gets shot down because it didn’t go through the proper channels.

3. Unhealthy comparisons

When a leader is insecure they start sizing up everyone else, and tearing them down to try to make the other person smaller so they can feel bigger. Instead of celebrating the victories of colleagues and co-workers – insecure leaders always find something to critique. Instead of learning from other similar churches or organizations or companies who are succeeding, they explain away their successes and are gleeful at setbacks.

4. Blame-shifting

When mistakes are made insecure leaders refuse to own their responsibility. They are concerned more with coming out clean and protecting their own reputation instead of improving the culture of the organization as a whole.

5. Paralysis of analysis

Making a hard decision means committing to something and being on the hook for the results. They need to seek advice from one more consultant or have one more meeting or gather a new round of data all in an effort to stall the decision because of their own insecurity.

6. Mishandling conflicts

Insecure leaders either avoid conflict altogether through passive aggressive means like resorting to sarcasm or gossip, or they look at every situation as a potential conflict. They tend to be either too soft in times of disagreement or harsh. By contrast, secure leaders handle conflict with both truth and grace working together.

7. Craving the spotlight

The problems are someone else’s fault but the successes are all mine. Insecure leaders are careful not to give others the spotlight. They’ll let people do work behind the scenes but when it comes to presenting or preaching or prognosticating – it all needs to flow through them. They use words like “I” and “My” more than “We” or “Our”. It’s my team that did this, it was my idea that got us to where we are, I have been the catalyst for change in this organization.

8. Limiting and belittling others

Threatened by strong or up-and-coming leaders – Always leery or suspicious of other leaders – constantly coming up with things to critique about others as a reason that they shouldn’t advance or have additional responsibilities. They don’t attract the best people, but those who are not as good as they are who can be controlled mentally or emotionally

Sources of Insecurity and God’s Response

So we all know that insecurity can be ugly. But what are some sources of insecurity and how does God provide some solutions.

To help us explore the sources of insecurity, there’s an amazing section of the Old Testament where Moses, one of the great leaders of all time, who led the Israelites out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, faced down some of his insecurities. And it’s a really great little study in Exodus 3 and 4 where there’s a kind of back and forth between Moses and God. Moses expressing his insecurities and God answering him. And I think we can see clearly some of the sources of where insecurity comes from. So the first source of insecurity is

Self-Doubt.  Moses says “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Who am I? Some of you with imposter syndrome resonate with this. Who am I? If people really knew me they would never… It happens to me almost every time I stand up to preach even after 27 years – who the heck am I? And God’s response and I quote, he said, “I will be with you.” This is God’s most oft repeated promise in the bible. Not I will forgive you, not I will love you, or I will save you. It is I will be with you. It emboldens us, it straightens our spine to know that God is with us. I’ve heard it said this way, security comes with proximity. The closer you get to God the more secure you will be in your own skin.

Lack of knowledge. After God says I will be with you. Moses comes right back with, what will I say to them? If the people start asking questions – I’m not going to know what to say. I haven’t been trained, I haven’t been prepared, I’m not qualified. Some of you feel that. God’s response was “I’ll fill in the blanks” he basically tells Moses when the people start asking about who sent you and what your qualifications are, tell them I AM sent you. This is the first time God has ever revealed his name. He’s saying – I’ll give you what you need – I’ll provide the answers. you don’t need to be a control freak – because I’m in control. Moses comes right back with another source of insecurity.

Fear of failure. He says but they won’t believe me. what if the results aren’t there? What if I fail? What if I put myself out there and no one follows? God’s response? Use what you have and let me worry about the results. God says, what’s that in your hand. Moses says a staff. God says throw it down. He does and it turns into a snake. God says pick it up and it turns back into a staff. What’s happening here? God demonstrated His power- He’s saying – I’ll do stuff that you could never do anyway – just use what’s in your hand. This takes all the pressure off. We just need to be faithful with our gifts – our stuff – our ordinary – God will do extraordinary. We like results – but we have to remember that God has enough to accomplish through us what He pleases.

Lack of skills. Moses says I’m not eloquent. I’m not a speaker. I’m not good in front of people. I get stage fright. You got the wrong guy God. This is my favorite come back from God – God just says, who made your mouth? He’s telling Moses I’ll enable you. This is a very powerful leadership principle. God’s calling is God’s enabling. God’s will is God’s bill. If he gives you an assignment, he won’t leave you hanging.

Comparison. Finally Moses gets frustrated with all the comebacks and just say- please send someone else. He looks around and he says – there’s a bunch of people who could do this better than me. God responds, I’ll bring you good people, but you have to use them. He says I’ll send your brother Aaron. He’s coming to meet you – he’ll encourage you – And God says I’ll teach you both what to do.

Is there anywhere in your leadership where you’re feeling insecure? Maybe from self-doubt, or lack of knowledge or fear of failure, how about lack of skills or comparing yourself with all the people you assume could do it better than you. That’s not humility – that’s insecurity. Step into your calling. Not only does God have the answer for every one of those insecurities – he is the answer. Lead well.

How to Become a More Secure and Confident Leader

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During Lead Up, we’ll watch a quick video replay of favorite Global Leadership Summit topics from the past 5 years and have meaningful discussions, all while networking with other leaders in our region. It’s a great way to prioritize becoming a more secure and confident leader every month. Click here to view upcoming Lead Up sessions! 

You Are a Theologian! [Will You Be a Good One or a Bad One?]

You Are a Theologian! [Will You Be a Good One or a Bad One?]

“Wait,” you say, “how dare you accuse me of such a thing? I’m not a minister, I never went to seminary, heck, I barely even read my bible.” All those things may be true, but you are still a theologian. Let me explain. First, let’s establish what theology is.

What is Theology?

The word “theology” is an ancient Greek term that’s a combination of two words: “Theos” (God) and “logos” (word or study). So, theology literally means “the study of God.”

The Greeks used the word to refer to musings of philosophers and poets about divine matters. Paul used theology during his encounter with the philosophers at Athens in Acts 17 as he painted a picture of the God of the bible and compared and contrasted him with the Greek ideas of gods.

Theology was critical in Paul’s New Testament letters as he tried to keep new churches on the right track. His letters are filled with passages like the following:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 

In the 12-13th Centuries, theology took on a slightly different meaning. With the rise of higher education and universities, theology became an academic discipline. More like a science of focusing on God. A famous phrase was coined by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) that emerged as an early definition of theology. He called it, “faith seeking understanding.” This definition assumes that our faith is not a place we arrive at. Instead, true faith prompts inquiry, asks questions, and seeks to understand more deeply. Understanding God more deeply is a quest that will never end.

In modern times, theology has been often used with a narrower definition. It is viewed as an equivalent to what we would refer to as “doctrines.” The formal beliefs of faith. But no matter what era or how narrow or broad the definition, theology has to do with the “intellectual reflection on matters related to God.” So you are doing theology when you ponder questions like:

  • What is God like?
  • What are humans like? Why do we act the way we act?
  • How did we get here? How did the world get here?
  • Who is Jesus and what did he accomplish?
  • How do humans connect with God?
  • How are humans saved by God?
  • What is the nature and purpose of the church?
  • How will history end?

It’s easy to get lost or frustrated when considering the depth of questions like that. But here’s the good news. At the foundation of theological inquiry lies one encouraging truth. God wants to be known. He has revealed himself through both General Revelation (knowing God through the order, intimacy, and wonder of creation) and Special Revelation (knowing God through the scriptures and through Jesus Christ). So, we don’t ask these questions without hope of answers; God has revealed himself to us.

You ARE a Theologian

Let me come back to my original assertion. You ARE a theologian. The question isn’t, “are you or aren’t you?” It’s, “Are you a good one or a bad one?” Everyone has beliefs about who God is, who Jesus is, what salvation is, where we came from, and how we should live our lives. We’re all synthesizing those beliefs together all the time. So, if you’re a Christian, you’re doing theology, whether you’re aware of it or not. If you’re not aware of it, then your theology is probably not very well organized. Here are some examples of times you are doing theology:

  • When you are in worship.
  • When something bad happens to you and how you respond.
  • When you’re facing a decision. Is it God’s will, and is he distant or close?
  • When you plan for the future.
  • When you reflect on God or your faith.
  • When you read the bible.
  • When you’re making a purchase.
  • When you form an opinion about a sin in your life or someone else’s.
  • When you vote.

In all of these instances, you are bringing your theology (your beliefs about God) to bear whether intentionally or not. Because of this, I would argue that it is critically important for Christians to practice good theology. The problem is bad theology is rampant. We, as human beings, tend to get bored with “old” ideas and are easily swayed by exciting new ideas, or a new leader’s latest fad, or new experiences that tantalize us. But we must never substitute the newest and latest ideas for God’s original ideas! Jesus went after the Pharisees for bad theology. Paul warned against the bad theology of false teachers regularly in his letters. There has never been a shortage of groups of people pushing a wrong understanding of who God is. So, we must always be on guard against bad theology. Let’s break it down: every person does theology at one of five levels.

The 5 Levels of Theology

1. Tabloid Theology

This pop-culture theology has no basis in fact. These ideas, shared widely on social media and the modern equivalent of old National Inquirer articles, may seem cutting-edge, but are not grounded in truth or historical credibility. When I was younger, I heard many versions of the “hitchhiking angel” story. It was always a friend of a friend who picked up a hitchhiker along the road. The hitchhiker turned out to be an angel, and he always delivered apocalyptic warnings like “Gabriel’s mouth is on the trumpet!” And as soon as the message was delivered, the friend of a friend looked in the rear-view mirror, and the hitchhiker had vanished. There is a lot of tabloid theology around the dates of Jesus’ return, the old DaVinci Code, or even peoples’ vague concept of “the man upstairs” coming through at just the right time in their life when all the chips were stacked against them.

People who engage in tabloid theology generally don’t have a personal faith in God but more of a cultural religion that believes in someone out there who’s looking out for us. So, they tend to uncritically accept spiritual-sounding things without applying any scrutiny. What’s the problem? If you are attracted to tabloid theology, your faith requires these sensational things. When this sensational God doesn’t show up, any semblance of true faith crumbles.

2. Folk Theology

Unlike tabloid theology, which is based on new fantastical phenomena, folk theology is often rooted in traditions like old family wives’ tales and religious folklore. Passed down from generation to generation but never really confirmed. Folk theology often involves ideas you believe, but we’re not sure why you believe them. However, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into the truth of these claims so they’re hard to give up. If upon further reflection, you don’t know exactly what a belief means, or you can’t explain why it is true and have a hard time defending it… it might be folk theology.

Let’s test this category. If I were to ask you, “When you die, who will meet you at heaven’s gates holding the Book of Life?” Are you imagining St Peter standing in front of those pearly gates? This belief is not supported by scripture. But it is a good example of folk theology. How about these… “Does every person have a guardian angel? Is Grandpa looking down from heaven and helping you win your football game? If you read your bible in the morning, is your day destined to go better than if you forget to have your quiet time? Does God help those who help themselves?” These are all examples of folk theology with no basis in the bible. But they are beliefs deeply held by many Christians because their religious grandma told them they were true!

3. Church-Goer Theology

This is the theology of your average Jesus-follower committed to actively learning and reflecting on their spiritual beliefs and how they apply to real life. These theologians tend to be more discerning of unfounded traditions. They are willing to use study tools to supplement their own ideas and feelings. For example, their view of heaven is informed by the scripture and carefully researched instead of being based on folklore and family traditions.

They also tend to be able to distinguish between essential doctrines and non-essential convictions and preferences. Essential doctrines are those non-negotiables like the trinity, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and return, the authority of the Bible, etc. Convictions are those beliefs you are willing to fight pretty hard over but, in the end, would maintain Christian fellowship with someone who disagrees. Beliefs around specifics of the end times, the interpretation of Genesis 1-2, and the role of women in ministry would fall into this category. Non-essential preferences include ideas around worship style, what you should wear to church, and what version of the bible you read. True Jesus followers should be able to discern their way through the importance levels of these varying beliefs.

4. Church Leader Theology

Some of the paid and volunteer leaders in a church have had some training in theological methodology. They know how to use study tools and resources and are able to critique their personal theological ideas against competing models openly. They can read books, articles, and social posts with a critical eye, knowing that not all “Christian” material has equal worth. They generally know which publishing companies, authors, and subject matter experts are more trustworthy than others.

Critiquing one’s own theological beliefs against other valid options, interpretations, and perspectives is invaluable to the continued construction of theology.

5. Academic Theology

This category is reserved for the person who constructs his or her theology and makes a living doing so. They conduct original research on theological subjects and write about them. They can critically evaluate common theological trends and instruct others on the implications.

It’s important to say in an article like this, that for all of us, theology has never been just about the knowledge. I’ve met people over the years who know the bible 10 times better than me and are also the angriest, grumpiest people I know. James said if you’re only a hearer and not a doer of the word, you deceive yourself and your religion is worthless. Proper theology must always lead to a proper lifestyle. Orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy. That is, the right knowledge must lead to the right behaviors. Otherwise, our theology is worthless.

At the Grace Leadership Institute, we’ve set our sights on building up the Church Goer and the Church Leader theological categories. We want to bring in courses and subjects that will help the average church goer and church leader to be more confident in their faith. To give some umph to their theological expression. And to generally raise the level of biblical literacy in churches all over our region.

I’ll close with this quote from Charles Ryrie in his Basic Theology. “In reality, everyone is a theologian of one sort or another. And therein lies the problem. There is nothing wrong with being an amateur theologian or a professional theologian, but there is everything wrong with being an ignorant or sloppy theologian.”

I pray that we will all get better in our theology because, after all, you ARE a theologian!

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The Church Must Not Give Away Our Intellectual Ground

The Church Must Not Give Away Our Intellectual Ground

We have entered a cultural moment where the church must recommit to intellectual development. Our society is in need of clear-headed, common sense worldview conversations. And unless the church has something compelling to contribute, we will be left in the rear view… if we haven’t been already.

The Rise of Anti-Intellectualism in the American Church

Starting with the Pilgrims, American Christians prized the intellectual life for its contribution to the Christian journey. The Puritans were highly educated people – founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before age 6, studied art, science, philosophy and other fields as a way of loving God with the mind.

In the middle of the 1800’s things began to change dramatically. With the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings there came an overemphasis on immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction. Many converted to Christianity during these revivals but had no real grasp of Christian teaching.

At the same time, an intellectual assault on Christianity was brewing across the ocean. This offensive against historic Christian belief reached its full force in the late 1800s with the impact of the European Enlightenment. David Hume came to prominence in the field of philosophy, Julius Wellhausen in higher criticism and biblical interpretation, and Charles Darwin in the sciences eventually leading to the theory of macro-Evolution. Instead of responding to these advancements with a rigorous intellectual counterpunch, many believers grew suspicious of intellectual issues altogether.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Christian fundamentalists withdrew from broader intellectual culture and essentially removed themselves from public discourse. This escapist approach has been embedded in the foundations of the modern American church. We’ve allowed secular narratives to dominate the world of higher education and have conceded ground in the worldview of our nation.

This modern retreat from the cultural conversation is neither biblical nor consistent with the bulk of Church history. JP Mooreland, in his great book Love Your God with All Your Mind, says it this way:

“Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn’t matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart, and that’s all that really matters to me. So, we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether.”

An Important Response

I believe it’s time for the church to respond. To re-engage with the larger conversation. The Christian worldview is the corrective measure our culture needs. But how do we go about it? Many have chosen the way of fighting a culture war. Enter the fray of yelling voices on media outlets and social media platforms and attempt to double down in a full frontal attack.

I propose a different strategy.

I believe we need to train up the existing ranks of church leaders, including staff members, volunteers, small group leaders, youth leaders, and anyone else in the church who is eager to sharpen their understanding of a biblical worldview. We must train people in the basics of theology, of bible study and interpretation, and biblical leadership principles.

It’s why I’m passionate about our mission at the Grace Leadership Institute. We are committed to bringing accessible world-class instruction to our little school of ministry in Erie, PA. Starting right here in our little triangle from Cleveland, to Buffalo, to Pittsburgh, to see everyday church leaders strengthened in their knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith, and how it gets walked out in real life. The church needs it, and our culture needs it. We need to stop the bleeding. We need to stop conceding intellectual ground to the enemy.

This Must be Stronger than That

In his important book Beautiful Resistance, Jon Tyson tells the story of a small seminary Dietrich Bonhoeffer started at the beginning of the Nazi rise to power. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who lived in the early 1900s and was killed at age 39 by the Third Reich as an anti-Nazi dissident.

In 1933, Nazi power was growing in Germany. Hitler didn’t want just political power but the hearts and minds of people. This was a spiritual fight, and the church was being threatened. There was widespread apathy and lack of obedience among Christians. Christians were compromising their faith and were putting all their faith in the state. In 1935 Bonhoeffoer was gifted a historic old manor house on a little piece of land and was asked to start an underground seminary in a town called Finkenwalde. One of Bonhoeffer’s friends Wilhelm Niesel caught wind of this little seminary. Niesel had become concerned that Dietrich was going off the deep end. Bonhoeffer seemed to be getting a little too intense about his faith, so Niesel made a visit to Finkenwalde to try to settle down Bonhoeffer’s Christian zeal. To tell him, “Just take it easy, dial it back, blend in a little. You’re becoming a little extreme in your views.”

When Niesel arrived, Bonhoeffer took him out in a boat on the Oder River, they pulled up on the far shore and walked up a small hill to a clearing from which they could see both the little seminary on one side and in the distance on the other side stood the vast runways and airfields of the growing Nazi regime. They watched planes taking off and landing and young well-trained soldiers moving in purposeful patterns like ants. Bonhoeffer turned to Niesel and said, there is a whole generation “training for a kingdom of hardness and cruelty.” They are being groomed and shaped and formed with ideologies and practices that are meant for great harm. Then Bonhoeffer pointed back to his little seminary across the river and said, “this (pointing at his school) must be stronger than that (pointing at the Nazi training center).”

The training he was doing at Finkenwalde with young church leaders, had to outpace what Hitler was doing with his young troops. The work of the church must be stronger than the work of the world. People, you, me, our churches, and everybody in our country, are being formed and shaped by all kinds of forces and voices. This must be stronger than that. To quote Tyson:

“Discipleship must be stronger than cultural formation. Loyalty must be stronger than compromise. This must be stronger than that. The times called for a beautiful resistance. Bonhoeffer’s little seminary was closed down by the Gestapo in 1937 with only a few dozen graduates. But the image of this little school was a prophetic seed for a faithful church… I believe that what was true in the 1930s is true now. We live in a time when the church is compromising with the culture left, right, and center, and we’re losing our influence. Though there is no specific “Hitler” pressuring us, we face myriad forces seeking to sabotage our faith. Because of the tectonic shift in sexuality, ethics, technology, secular ideologies, religion, and globalization, much of the familiar landscape has been swept away. In many areas, our culture is almost unrecognizable compared with a generation ago. The spiritual devastation from much of this cultural change and the failure of the church to respond well have been almost unthinkable. So, we must call our generation to loyalty to Christ. We must live with devotion and conviction regardless of what they cost us. This must be stronger than that.”

Imagine the church fully trained. Spiritually and intellectually equipped for the challenges of the day. Imagine church leaders, ministry teams, and group leaders confident in their ministry because of the investment of skillful instructors and coaches. Imagine churches coming together across racial lines, denominational lines, and cultural lines to prioritize what’s most important, our ability to stand for Christ and lead well in our generation. This is the dream of the Grace Leadership Institute. Make it so Lord.

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