The Value of Sacrifice

Twice during my recent trip to Romania I had the same fascinating conversation. However, it happened two different times with two different ministry leaders. While asking about the changes that have taken place since the revolution in 1989, everyone I spoke with described the dizzying speed and substance of change that has taken place throughout Romania. However, two of the pastors I was with described a downside of these changes you won’t hear much of in America.

One of them, Valentin, told me about growing up in extreme poverty. There were many times he and his family had no food to eat at all. He and his brother shared the very same set of clothes and thus could only go out in public one at a time. Then Valentin told me about his concern for his own children these days. He said, “my children have no idea what it means to go without food. Sometimes they complain when we didn’t serve bread during a meal. I look at them and worry, they have no idea what it is to have no food at all.”

Another one of these leaders expressed it this way, “my children and their generation have it so good, they have no idea what it is to suffer. I am worried that because they haven’t suffered they don’t how to sacrifice. They don’t know about the privilege and power and life-shaping impact of sacrifice. I worry we might have a generation of leaders in the church that doesn’t know how to make sacrifices.”

They speak of a life and a value system that sounds foreign to a western ear. We are busy worrying about how to provide everything our children need. They are worried about the downside of having all your needs met. We worry about how to keep our children and families safe and comfortable. They are concerned that without knowing how to sacrifice your soul is somehow short-changed.

Sacrifice is not the pathway to less, it is the way to fulfillment, meaning, impact and more. In many situations, the path to healing and wholeness runs right through the valley of sacrifice. These leaders have lived there and they see in the eyes of their children the downsides of the very comfort we seek.

Maybe the path to healing of our culturally reinforced addiction to acquisition, to a life of meaning and mission, travels through the very suffering and sacrifice we typically avoid.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Scazzero - Emotionally Healthy SpiritualityEmotionally Healthy Spirituality
Peter Scazzero

“It is impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature. [But,] something is missing…the spirituality of most current discipleship models often adds a protective layer against people growing up emotionally.” (pg. 15)

I grew up in a Christian culture that functionally reduced following Jesus to a list of obligations and daily duties. Do daily devotions–or “have a daily quiet time,” memorize scripture, tithe, attend services and Bible studies, acquire knowledge about the Scriptures, and avoid the obviously sinful stuff. I heard very little of the mystery and dynamic nature of following Jesus into a life of deeper mission and intimacy.

Biblical and theological facts, not to mention ecclesiological tradition, were the substance of our Church conversations. Absent was anything of the radical invitation to engage God with the fullness of my emotions. Missing was any notion of the depth of God’s nature as an emotional being in who’s image I was created. Even further off the radar was the notion that my sanctification and my emotions could be connected.

Here is a profoundly different look at discipleship. It is freeing and enticing. It might give new meaning to what Jesus meant by, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And it is different from the way most of us “do” the Christian life.

Scazerro’s honesty about his own journey, the way he led his church, the frustrations of his wife Geri, and his redemption into a new way of life make the book human. It is written with an honesty and a connection to the daily stuff of life and leadership that is as compelling as it is convicting.

In a sentence, the summary of his prescription, is this: “the pathway to unleashing the transformative power of Jesus to heal our spiritual lives can be found in the joining of emotional health and contemplative spirituality.” (pg. 37)

The book is not only helpful, I think it is profoundly significant and recommend it highly. At the same time I need to be forthright. You should know that I was a fan of this book before reading it. Pete won me over with his earlier book, The Emotionally Healthy Church and, because a few of CRM staff have attended his church in Queens, I have followed the stories of his leadership for some time. I think so highly of what God has shown him that I have invited he and his wife Geri to be the keynote speakers at our staff conference in Portland this coming August.

Leadership Radar

It’s a simple concept really: Wise leaders consciously pay attention to and sharpen their radar.

Everyone knows what radar does. It creates a picture of what is out there on the horizon that a pilot should be paying attention too. In my pathetically non-technical version, radar systems pick up signals from a wide variety of stuff out there and then through sophisticated programming software sorts through all the signals to determine which are truly important.

Some radar signals are welcome and some function as a warning.

Wise leaders rely on their radar as well. On the positive side, leaders utilize their radar to watch for the “blips” of potential new leaders, for new opportunities, for trends to be seized upon, chances to position their ministry or organization for expanded influence, and more. On the negative side, they are always alert for troubling trends, for financial challenges, for approaching conflicts, etc. etc. You get the idea.

The question is: how does a leader sharpen the programming and sensitivity of her or his radar?

The answer is found in the habits of life-long learners. Life-long learners are intentional about their own growth through mentoring, reading, training, and by putting themselves into stretching experiences. These kinds of activities literally program the software of your radar. They enable you to sort through all the incoming signals of a demanding life to spot the ‘radar blips’ that you need to respond to.

The question is not simple are you a life-long learner, but what are you doing as a learner to increase the capacity of your leadership radar?

Life is Long……and fragile

watchLife is long and paradoxically fragile.

In spite of the fact that we blaze through the demands of our daily lives at an impatient pace, the truth is, life is long. It takes time to accomplish anything great. It takes time to build deep relationships. Nothing happens as quickly as we would like. It takes time.

At the same time, it can be threatened in a heartbeat.
A few weeks ago, I led a ceremony for a married couple renewing their vows on their tenth anniversary. The day before the ceremony, the ‘grooms’ brother said to me, “this really is an accomplishment. I don’t have any friends who are still married and happy about it after ten years.”

A cruel word, a careless decision, a selfish choice, and a host of easy missteps and you do long-term damage to any relationship. Yet in contrast, the stuff that strengthens a relationship tends to be small, daily, non-dramatic, easy to dismiss. What takes a long time to build can be damaged with amazing speed.

It’s the same with your health. Right eating and exercise generally builds a healthier body. But a random DNA flaw, a weak heart valve or a rogue cancer cell and that temple of health is undone. A careless driver or mechanical flaw and a traffic accident can change your future forever.

I think this is part of what God meant when he spoke through the Psalmist telling us to number our days.(Psalm 90) Today is the only day we will ever have within our grasp. Tomorrow is unknown and yesterday is a memory. Today is sacred. Holy. So, seize opportunities to influence others. Celebrate more. Relax more. Choose to love the people who populate the fabric of your life. Laugh. Enjoy. Take God and his mission in the world seriously, but lighten up on most of the other stuff. Learn all there is about all you can. Today is the only moment of eternity you can touch, so drink it in as a gift. And do those things today that will make tomorrow better.

Kite Runner

Kite Runner (Book Cover)

Beautifully painful. Harsh. Irresistable. Honest. A rare look into the complexity and tensions of hope and suffering. And, simultaneously, a frank reminder that the results of many choices can never be undone. I found myself moved by the images of sacrifice by parents for their children. I am moved by the work ethic of immigrant families who do everything within their power to build a life. In the anesthetic world of suburban comfort and western affluence Kite Runner is a compelling reminder of what real life tastes like for the two-thirds world.

Endurance and Success

Good leaders with good ideas and good plans still fail on a regular basis. Sure, sometimes they fail because of inadequate resources, sometimes they fail because of flawed implementation plans, and sometimes failure is the result of character weakness.

But as often as not, the reason a new project or initiative fails is nothing less than a lack of endurance–when the going got tough they stopped going.

For the last couple years my wife, Margaret, and I have discovered that we love cycling together. Our favorite weekend ride is a 25 mile loop to Huntington Beach. We ride to the beach, have coffee on the patio at the Main St. Starbucks, and then ride back home. However, somewhere along in our cycling journey we decided to try something much more ambitious.

102 miles in Palm Springs

February 9th we accomplished our goal of completing a full “century” — 100 miles in one day. (It was our second attempt.) Crossing the finish line in Palm Springs with energy to spare was a victorious moment, but, it wasn’t a bed of roses. It was a long hard, demanding day on our bikes.

Along the way, I recognized that the physiological-psychological journey I was experiencing had significant leadership parallels. Maybe someday I will write on some of the others, but the biggest lesson of all was that the key to success was simply to not stop. Even though we were making great progress, even though we had trained, even though we were experiencing success, there were lots of times when quitting felt like a sensible, even desirable idea.

Between mile 40 and 60, after the initial fun of the adventure had long since been exhausted, when we were barely halfway, when physical and mental fatigue were growing, I had the big “Aha!” of the day. The key to successfully completing 100 miles is simple: Just don’t stop! If you don’t stop pedaling, you will succeed.

Sure, I have heard and even said that the key to success is to keep going. However, in many endeavors it actually makes more sense to say to yourself, just don’t stop. Since today is the only day you can control, just don’t stop today. If you take that approach every day at every step, before long, you will have succeeded.

Anyone who has tried to lead change or tried to launch some new enterprise knows that there are long seasons in the middle zone of your initiative when the hard work ahead is still as great as what you have already done. Those are discouraging, dark, non-glamorous days. Those are days when the return on your sacrifice is still far off, when fatigue is palpable, and when there are still enough variables in play that success can not be guaranteed.

Whether you are leading change, starting a business, planting a new church, trying to lose weight, spearheading a new program in your company/ church/ or community you will face days plagued by logical reasons you should quit. Don’t. Solicit help to assess the effectiveness of your methodologies, but don’t stop. Trust yourself and all the preparation you have done.

You see, on a daily basis, endurance simply means that today I just won’t quit.

Somewhere about mile 85 or 90 we could taste victory. Our speeds increased, our enthusiasm returned, and with a great deal of excitement we leaned into the final corners heading to the finish line. 102 miles after we had started, the pain and fatigue of those difficult earlier miles evaporated. Success has that effect.

So, what are you working on these days that calls for extraordinary endurance?

What reasons are you giving yourself for quitting?

Is what got you started still valid?

Whatever you are telling yourself in this moment, it’s time to do the most important thing. DON’T STOP.

About Gary

Gary Mayes - B+W HeadshotGary Mayes serves as Vice President of U.S. Ministries for Church Resource Ministries. He has served with CRM in the area of Church Revitalization since 1997, giving leadership to the expansion and enhancement of the ReFocusing Network Ministry worldwide for five of those years.

Prior to joining CRM Gary spent twenty years in local pastoral ministry and finds that this experience assists him as he works in the trenches with pastors, churches and their leaders across the country. In addition to local pastoral ministry, Gary has been speaking to and training church leaders since 1983. He has authored and co-authored three books and given leadership to the development of numerous resources and training processes used by CRM staff worldwide.

Gary Mayes - Candid

In recent years, Gary has served leaders and churches on every continent but one and has developed a unique relationship in Africa. In addition to U.S. based responsibilities, Gary is mentoring the development of CRM-Africa as an African-led movement to develop pastors and leaders for a church that will transform Africa. He also serves as adjunct faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he teaches the Church Revitalization courses in their Doctor of Ministry program.

He received his B.A. in Christian Education from Biola University in California, his M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, and D.Min. in Organizational Systems from Bethel Seminary.

Gary and Margaret Mayes

Married to Margaret for 30 years, they are the parents of two adult children. Margaret is a Middle School teacher with Santa Ana Unified School District.

Gary is currently working on a book that connects the journey of the first century church to the challenges of the 21st century. The working title is: “Finding Our Way: the power of 1st century courage and imagination to guide the church in the 21st century.