Oh My Goodness!

A day or two a week I ride my bike about a mile to the end of a paved road.  Then, if I’m in the mood, I ride eight steep switchbacks a thousand feet up to the top of the hill.  Going up it’s hard on the legs and coming down it’s hard on the brakes.

About two years ago I was riding to those switchbacks on an extremely windy day when I watched a little drama play out at one of the houses along my route.  There was what I assumed to be a man with long hair and his wife struggling to get their camper off its four spindly legs and back onto the truck bed. Things were not going well.  The man kept barking orders to his increasingly frustrated wife, who finally threw up her hands and said, “I’m choosing not to die today!”  Then she walked away.

She was my hero. I could not get her off my mind for the remainder of the day.  I loved her chutzpah, and the calm self-assured manner in which she made her declaration.  For two years I have been waiting to tell that woman how much I admire her for what she did on that windy day.  I see her occasionally while I’m riding, but she’s always getting into or out of her car, or talking with someone.  Today she had come to the road to bring her trash containers back inside.  I stopped my bike and said, “If you have a minute, I’d like to tell you a story.”

She looked on rather amused as I talked.  She readily remembered the day and said she was afraid the whole camper was going to fall.  Then she thanked me genuinely, before asking, “Do you mind if I ask your name?”  I told her and mentioned that I live across town in Stone Canyon.  Then we both went on our way.

I rode several miles toward Estes Park on Highway 7 before returning to town.  As I got back into town, she happened to be headed into town in her truck.  She got out and said, “I need to tell you something.  I think what happened today was a God thing.”

“You see, I watched your TED talk last night.  As you were talking with me today, it began to dawn on me that you might be the same person.  I had no idea the TED talk had been given in Denver, and I had no idea where the woman who gave it lived.”  “So when I asked your name, I went inside and confirmed that sure enough, yours was the TED talk I watched.”  She went on, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear those words of affirmation today – no idea!”

“You see, a long time ago my husband transitioned to become a female, and it was her you saw that day in the yard with me.  But she still treated me like men often treat women.  She had a lot of opinions.  That was one of those days. The wind was blowing fiercely and I thought the whole camper was going to tumble, but she wouldn’t listen.  In that way, she was still a man. She always knew better.  I finally got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore and left.  As I watched you last night, I thought, ‘Wow, she’s getting it.  She’s really getting it.  I wish my spouse could have gotten it.”

I started crying and told her how much I still struggle with my male privilege and entitlement, and how often it still affects the people I love.  She said, “But you are trying, and your words of encouragement were just what I needed.  Like I said, this was a God thing.”  She got back in her truck and headed on into town.  Through tears, I finished my ride.

I had really been struggling that morning with exactly the subject she was talking about.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and couldn’t pull it together.  I texted back and forth with one of my close friends, telling her of my struggles.  I mindlessly opened my email and dispatched the emails I could deal with quickly.  One escaped my junk file.  It was a new song released by the Gaither Vocal Band.  I’ve always loved their tight harmonies, but can’t take the theology of their music anymore.  But my friend enjoys tight harmonies as much as I do, and I thought I’d click on the track to see if she’d like it.

The song was entitled, This Is The Place. It is a new anthem written by Bill and Gloria Gaither about the church’s central place in our lives.  I thought of Left Hand Church and what it means to me, and finally released the sobs that had been reluctant to come for two full days.  I sent a link for the song to my friend and then headed out on my ride, my spirit much lighter than it had been early in the morning.

Had I not had that emotional release, prompted by that song, which I was listening to because of the gentle support of my friend, I still would have ridden, but I never would have stopped to speak to the woman.  I would not have had the emotional strength to stop and speak with anyone.

But I did stop to speak with her, and the story has been with me all day.  The picture above is of the view I am looking at right now as I write this post.  I can see the road on which her house stands.  I say a little prayer as I look at it.

We are never alone on this journey.  If we reach out to trusted friends, take a chance on a song, and find the strength to speak to a stranger, the Spirit shows up, reminding us She is always there, even if unseen.  Today, She was seen.  I do not want to share the woman’s name, or the name of the street on which she lives. I want her to remain what we were to each other today – a gift from the God whose love is never far away, if only we have eyes to see.

The Result of My Convictions

Speaker Community Castle Tour and High Tea at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 21-25, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

I’ve just returned home from the TED Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The summit was comprised of about 100 past speakers, including seven of us who spoke at TEDWomen 2018, and about 800 other TEDsters, including TED Fellows, TED Translators, TEDx Coordinators, and TED staff.  Jonathan was there too, which was wonderful!  The Summit was one of the most inspiring events in which I have ever taken part.

It took a couple days before I was not completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the people I was with.  It will be several more before I come down from the high.  Since the Summit ended, there has been a steady stream of comments on the TEDConnect app from those of us in the Speaker Community.  We are all feeling grateful.

The preconference began on the 20th with a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle, followed by afternoon tea.  That evening all the speakers gathered at the Playfair Library at the University of Edinburgh for a delightful evening meal, followed by a full morning and afternoon of activities for the speakers on Sunday.  The full summit began on Sunday evening and concluded Thursday afternoon.

The first session was at 9:00 every morning and the formal program ended at 10:00 each evening.  We were busy!  I did a short talk for the speakers on Sunday morning, led a Discovery Session for speakers on Sunday afternoon, and two Discovery Sessions with Jonathan on Monday and Wednesday.

The TED Summit was comprised of a diverse crowd of 900 people from over 80 countries representing a plethora of fascinating professions.  At one point I was in a conversation with an astrophysicist and a stem cell researcher, then literally turned around and had a conversation with an improvisational comedian and a well-known musician.  I talked with movie producers, filmmakers, government officials, political cartoonists, Broadway actors, and choreographers.  More than once during the week I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?  I’m a pastor from Colorado.”  I had to think about that.  A lot.

The attendees reminded me that I am a pastor, and more.  They see me as a refugee from religious intolerance and a champion for the rights of women and LGBTQ people.  The affirmation was humbling.  I always say the people of Left Hand Church are my grounding.  But I discovered something important at the Summit. The servants of humanity at the Summit are also my grounding.  They ground me in the other half of my calling, reminding me I have been given an international platform from which to fight for equity for women and minorities. I sometimes want to minimize that part of my work.  I suppose that is the universally experienced (well, except for narcissists) imposter syndrome.  How did I become a voice for so many people?  I was reminded time and again that my international platform is an important part of my calling.

I never saw any of this coming.  Not in the slightest.  In the first year after my transition I interacted with a handful of people.  Jen Jepsen, Mark Tidd and Highlands Church started me down the path I travel today.  Jeremy and Helena and Briar and Nicole at TEDxMileHigh catapulted me onto the international scene and TED brought me to the Summit.  All I knew was that living authentically was sacred and holy and for the greater good. The rest is the result of that conviction.

I loved being with Jonathan at the Summit.  He also left a life of comfort to sail uncharted waters.  I listened Wednesday as he talked with Anthony Veneziale and Amanda Palmer.  Anthony is co-creating the Broadway show Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin- Manuel Miranda.  Amanda is an amazing musician with an international following who has a powerful commitment to social justice.  Jonathan appeared to be completely comfortable with the two of them. He seems to accept that he belongs in this territory, with the other risk takers and change makers.

I loved the evangelical world I inhabited.  Edinburgh is the birthplace of the Enlightenment, and Scotland was the early home to so many of the pioneers of the Restoration Movement, the Enlightenment-inspired religious community in which my roots run deep.  I would have been content to remain in that world for the remainder of my days.  It is filled with good people.  But that world decided I was no longer good company and I was forced to leave.  The world I now inhabit is broader, deeper, richer and more diverse.  It is also filled with good people.

Before the conference began, I spent an evening and morning with friends who remain quasi-connected to the religious movement of my past.  We talked of the world from which we came, and the people we love who remain within it.  They are able to move back and forth freely in that world. I cannot.  But I have found a new world.

My new world is the pilgrims at Left Hand Church who have joined together to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.  It is the people at the Summit who love me well and encourage me to keep up the good work. It is my agents at the Outspoken Agency, who help me spread my message throughout the world.  It is my family who remain by my side, doing the hard work of redemption and reconciliation.

I am profoundly blessed.  I thank God I found the courage to live authentically.  I chose the road less traveled by, and therein lies the difference.

Yeah, But What Am I Supposed to Wear

I’ve only been posting every other week this summer.  I’ve been preaching a lot and I’m headed to the TEDSummit in a couple of weeks.  Those two things have gotten most of my attention. At the TEDSummit I’m doing a short talk and leading a discussion for the speaker’s pre-summit on the 21st, then Jonathan and I are leading a discussion for the full summit later in the week. Plus, oh yeah, I have to write another speech for a women’s event in Manhattan on July 18, right before I leave for Edinburgh.  I’m feeling good about the speeches.  I’m not feeling so good about what I am going to wear.

It feels like I’ve been here before, like maybe right before TEDWomen last fall.  Then I tried the personal shopper at Nordstrom’s and a couple of expensive boutiques for tall women, but ended up with stuff I ordered from Amazon.  I never order clothes from Amazon.

Half of the clothes I own are from Stitch Fix.  The speech I’ll be doing in NYC will be delivered right after the CEO of Stitch Fix delivers her keynote.  So there’s that.  And then I leave for Edinburgh, where the high is going to be about 62 degrees each day.  I don’t think sleeveless tops are gonna work in Edinburgh.

You know, there are people who say we choose to be transgender, because it’s so much easier than life as a man.  Uh, sure, right, yeah.  I can tell you what I’d be wearing if I were still a guy.  I’d be wearing jeans, khakis, a blue sport coat, and a few button-down collar shirts.  That’s all I’d be taking to New York and Edinburgh.  But no.  Life is not that simple anymore.

Everything I own is tailored for life in laid back Colorado.  Semi-formal here means a sleeveless summer dress and sandals. Every time I go to New York City, I feel like most women on the streets are thinking, “Honey, you can’t wear that here, or anywhere east of the Hudson River.”

I am extremely fortunate I can buy clothes online from major retailers.  To be honest, there is something wrong with that, because that means those retailers are making clothes that fit the frame of a 6’1” person with no hips, waste or curves.  In other words, they are making clothes for tall thin men.  I can buy 10-tall jeans from just about anybody and they’ll fit perfectly.  I don’t tell women that.  They get angry.

I did wear size 10-tall Old Navy jeans and an Old Navy sweater for my first TED talk, the one that’s been viewed over two million times.  The people who comment on YouTube can be cruel, but nobody criticizes those clothes.  They cost me about 45 dollars total, including tax and shipping.

I do wear expensive Tieks shoes because most women’s shoes are designed to be worn by manikins, not humans.  So when you find something that works, you stick with it.  I have lots of pairs of Tieks.  I mean, lots.  Women come up to me in the airport and say, “So, how many pairs do you have?”  It’s like a confessional for Tieks wearers. When I tell them how many pairs I have, I can always tell they feel better.  They go home and tell their partners, “You think I’m bad!  I met a woman with xx pairs of Tieks.” (Nope, I’m not telling you how many pairs I actually have.)

I am surprised at my style.  Before I transitioned, I had an idea about how I might dress.  I don’t dress that way.  I dress comfortably and if I could, I’d live in workout leggings.  But as my friend Kristie says, “Leggings are not pants.”

But back to the people who think we actually choose to be transgender.  Yeah, right.  You’re going to choose to switch to a metabolism that causes you to eat one potato chip and gain three pounds.  You’re going to choose to add 15 minutes to your morning routine just to do your makeup, you know, the stuff that cost you a thousand dollars at Sephora.  And don’t even get me started on skin products and the price of a haircut.

I’ll probably end up speaking to the CEO of Stitch Fix in jeans I got from Old Navy, and to all of those swells at the TEDSummit in an outfit I buy at the last minute from Amazon. This female stuff is not easy.

It’s All Holy Ground

Monday morning, while I was drinking my first cup of tea, tears filled my eyes.  I was appreciating a picture I had taken the night before.  I had texted the picture to one of my friends, along with the message, “Grateful I found the courage to live authentically, and grateful to have found you, on the same journey.”  And here’s the thing.  As I sat drinking my tea, I realized I could have sent that picture and those words to any one of a number of friends, because those are the kinds of friends I have.

It had been a busy weekend.  Saturday evening I preached at Left Hand Church. Sunday morning I preached three times at Denver Community Church.  I was shuttled between DCC’s two locations, and twice had to walk through the middle of the Denver Pride parade to get to my ride waiting on the other side.  Two full church buildings and a wonderful parade, traversed twice, all on Father’s Day morning.

After church I had lunch with Rachael McClair, one of my favorite pastors, then spent the afternoon with Cathy.  We talked about our wonderful life together, raising our three amazing children.  Earlier in the day, I had heard from all three, my little Father’s Day gift.  I returned home shortly before sunset, tired but grateful.  That’s when I took the picture of the sunset.

I am blessed to have a former wife who remains my close friend, and three children I greatly admire who have chosen to remain by my side.  I am blessed to have dear friends who are there for me all day, every day, having joined me on the journey of authenticity.

Five years ago I thought I would never preach again.  Evangelical churches would not let me through their doors, and mainline Protestant churches were afraid of my evangelical background.  I was without a spiritual country, with only a handful of friends.  Today, I have an abundance of friends, and I get to preach from sea to shining sea.  This land is my land, and I do not take it for granted.

Every close friend who has joined me on this journey has paid a price, and we remain diligent in defense of our freedom.  There are many who would do everything in their power to take it away.  Unfortunately, I hear from them on a regular basis.  But in the presence of the amazing love with which I am surrounded, their attacks are nothing more than sounding brass and clanging symbols.

I hold on to these good days, for as sure as I enjoyed last night’s sunset, I will come upon another day in which I can barely put one foot in front of the other. Finding balance is never easy. Long trail runs through the sage, juniper and piñon pine keep me grounded. On days I need a distraction, a difficult mountain biking trail does the trick.

But mostly, I am grounded by my fellow travelers.  I need my companions.  Life is like the fourth and fifth stanza’s of the William Butler Yeats poem, Vacillation.  At the end of the fourth stanza he writes, “My body of a sudden blazed, and 20 minutes more or less it seemed, so great my happiness, that I was blessed and could bless.” Yesterday and today were those kinds of days.  But in the very next stanza, Yeats writes, “And not a day but something is recalled, my conscience or my vanity appalled.”  Yeah, I have plenty of those days too.

This is a wild ride, and should not be undertaken without companions who know the boulders and branches, mountains and valleys.  You need those who have gone before, and others coming behind.  I am grateful for the perfect sunset, and the friend I wrote, and the other friends I could have written, and my perfect cup of tea.  All of it, holy.

I’m thinking before he died, Moses finally figured out all the ground was holy, every last inch of it.  This is a sacred and holy journey, undertaken for the greater good.  I am blessed to have so many fellow travelers who also understand the holiness of every last inch of the ground on which we walk.

Sometimes, It’s Even Your Own Son

This past weekend my son and I spoke at the Emerge Festival in Las Vegas.  The festival was a combination of contemporary music, art and spoken word.  We did a modified version of the TED talk we gave at TEDWomen last November. We will be giving a similar talk as part of a discussion next month at the TEDSummit in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I arrived in Las Vegas before Jonathan and took a Lyft to the Hard Rock Hotel.  When I arrived, I remembered how much I dislike Las Vegas.  The casino was dark, confusing, and to me, depressing.  When I finally got to my room, I did not leave.  I ordered room service for dinner, and again for breakfast the next morning.

Jonathan came to the room Saturday morning and we went over our talk.  We had each written our portions without knowing the details of the other’s talk.  They dovetailed perfectly.  We practiced the talk four times while I ate a piece of bacon or toast here and there.

The audience was not large, which I imagine was a disappointment to the promoters, but they were enthusiastic.  Jonathan and I had so much fun.  I also loved speaking with him three weeks ago, when we were at the City Club of Cleveland.  I watched that interview on public television.  It was obvious we were enjoying ourselves.  I felt the same in Las Vegas. We hugged tightly when we finished, and I headed back to the airport.

Other than the fact that I got to speak with my son, the trip to Las Vegas was just another speaking trip among the many I have done since my first TED talk a year and a half ago. (As of last week, that talk has been viewed over two million times.)

But last weekend did remind me of the courage it has taken to travel this road.  I suppose the reminder was the juxtaposition of this trip and my last trip to Vegas.  This time I was speaking in a marquee venue in a gigantic Vegas casino, and my last trip I was preaching at the largest church in the State of Nevada, Central Christian.  The two could not have been more dissimilar, and I thought of how far I’ve traveled since those halcyon days in the upper echelons of evangelicalism.

I came to believe the truth does set you free, and I chose to stake my life on it.  I sometimes joke that when I came out, I was either courageous or stupid. When I say that, it is only because I feel awkward acknowledging what I know is true.  I was courageous, period.

Pretty much my entire world rejected me.  Nevertheless, I persisted.  Though the road of trials turned into an even more nightmarish deep dark cave, I lived to find the Holy Grail, and I returned with it, an offering to those from whom I took my leave.

The Holy Grail was my discovery that the truth does set you free, and the authentic life is worth living.  It is holy, and sacred, and for the greater good.  On the other side of darkness is hope, burning like a beacon, drawing you deeper and deeper into the world.  And you are not alone.  There, beside you, are other courageous fellow travelers bent on living authentically.  There is Jen, Christy and Kristie, whose own authenticity has cost them greatly.  Yet they always find the strength to comfort and strengthen me.  There is Cathy, Jael, Kijana, Jana and Jubi, and those like Aaron and Eric and David, who are always ready to encourage.

As I sat in the hotel room, listening to my son’s passionate speech, I caught the full truth of what he was saying.  Jonathan has given up his comfortable life among the evangelical elite to strike out on his own courageous journey. Giving up his privilege, he has gone from being a skeptic to an ally, to an accomplice, traveling the world with me challenging the status quo, fighting for gender and racial equity.  And he has done all of that with transparency and authenticity, owning his own stuff in ways I never could have done when I was his age.

Here Jonathan and I were on stage in Las Vegas, boldly speaking about our faith, and it’s ability to transform not just the two of us, but anyone willing to take the road less traveled by.  I’ve been on this journey long enough to be certain of an important truth.  David Whyte captured it in these lines from his wonderful poem, Sweet Darkness:

The world was made to be free in

You must give up all the other worlds

Except the one to which you belong

Sometimes it takes darkness

And the sweet confinement of your aloneness

To learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

Is too small for you.

As we finished our talk, we both stood in the staircase, between the stage and the green room of the theater.   Jonathan and I congratulated each other on a job well done, and tears filled my eyes, so great my happiness that when we choose to live courageously and authentically, we are never alone.  The brave, they come alongside and travel with us.  Sometimes, it’s even your own son.

Measure of a Good Leader

Last week I talked about the problem of undifferentiated leaders and the havoc they create.  I did not answer the question of what a differentiated leader looks like.  This week we’ll talk about differentiation, the process of looking at a situation objectively and separating feelings from thoughts.  There are several signs of a differentiated leader.

First, when you are able to set aside your positional power and truly listen to criticism, there is a good chance you are a differentiated leader.  To truly listen to criticism, however, means listening without conscious or subconscious manipulation.

I have always had a burning desire to get it right.  That might seem like a virtue, but it does have its shadow side.  When a co-worker tells me I have gotten it wrong, and my response is to fall apart, that falling apart is an unintentional form of manipulation.  After watching me fall apart, my co-worker will be less inclined to let me know the next time I get it wrong.  The co-worker does not want to deal with my emotional meltdown.

That is not fair to the person who found the courage to confront you.  They ought to be able to confront you without worrying about your response. Truly listening to criticism means listening without comment or immediate emotional response. It means taking in the information and thanking the person. You can let yourself feel the pain later, when your emotional response can be private.

When you stay in close touch with your leadership team and key volunteers, and you are willing to hear bad news without retaliation, that is another sign of differentiation. I’ve known leaders who sat stoically while a co-worker told them of a problem.  Afterward, the co-worker thought things went well. What they did not realize was that the leader was going to extract a pound of flesh because of the criticism.  It might be tomorrow, or it might be next month, but the undifferentiated leader retaliates.  The differentiated leader never retaliates.

Another sign of differentiation is when you lead by neither a strong hand nor consensus. Strong-handed leaders undermine morale. Co-workers are terrified of taking initiative, because it is never exactly what the boss wants.  With a strong frame of reference and clear objectives, you get order for free.  But strong-handed leaders do not provide a clear frame of reference or clear objectives.  They micro-manage based on whatever happens to get their attention on that particular day.

Consensus leadership is also a problem.  Demanding that everyone be on the same page before a decision is enacted creates environments in which the group stifles imagination and ends up being controlled by one or two people at the extremes.

Differentiated leaders operate in the middle, between dictatorship and democracy.  They provide a clear frame of reference, articulating core values and the big giant idea that drives the corporate engine.  They also clarify objectives, so co-workers can understand milestones that must be met. With those firmly in place, the differentiated leader provides a flexible framework for employees to exercise their creativity within their areas of expertise.

Differentiated leaders take clearly and non-reactively defined positions.  It is important to identify exactly what job needs to be done, but then the differentiated leader works from the perspective, “I have been called to this specific job, but my life does not depend on being successful in it.”

Differentiated leaders do not triangulate by bringing a third person into a two-person conversation. So many problems could be solved if we would take our concerns directly to the person involved instead of bringing a third person into the conversation.  Sometimes the third person is brought in to do the bidding of the first person, because he or she does not want to address the concern directly. Sometimes the third person is brought in to confirm whether or not your concerns with the second person are legitimate.  Either way, it is bringing a third person into a two-person conversation.

Differentiated leaders identify the maps from which they navigate, and are open to changing those maps when they are no longer effective.  For instance, leaders who only measure quantitatively will sometimes discover their organization is a mile wide and an inch deep.  They will only increase the depth of the organization if they begin to measure qualitatively.  But if they are not willing to identify the maps from which they operate, and be open to changing those maps, the organization will suffer.

In the case of a church pastor, a rigid map can make it difficult to move from asking, “What is our attendance?” to asking, “How well do we love?”  It is difficult because the pastor’s ego need is too tied up in measuring numbers, quantative measurement.  She does not want to give up her old map that equates church size with church health.  Her ego resists shifting to the more important task of measuring the quality of relationships.

These are just a few examples of what a differentiated leader looks like.  You might think older leaders are more likely than younger leaders to be well-differentiated. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Differentiation does not have a lot to do with age, other than realizing that pretty much no one in their 20s or early 30s has lived long enough to be well-differentiated.  After that, your level of differentiation will correspond to how much you have been willing to grow, how well you understand the forces that shaped you in the past, and how determined you are to move honestly and openly into the future.

It Is a Job and a Calling. It Is Not Your Life

Some of the most polarizing messages delivered in the United States over the past 20 years have been delivered in the name of God.  How did we get where we are today, when Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr.  and a plethora of others can spew the kind of incendiary rhetoric that divides a nation.

While there are a host of reasons we have arrived at this moment in history, I believe one of the biggest problems among our current religious leaders is their lack of ability to differentiate themselves from their work.

Murray Bowen, the founder of Family Systems Theory, identified eight areas in which humans function in family or family-like environments.  Edwin Friedman in Generation to Generation-Family Process in Church and Synagogue, shows how these play out in the life of a religious community.

One of the most important elements of Family Systems Theory is the concept of Differentiation of Self, which is our ability to look at a situation with some level of objectivity and separate our feelings from our thoughts.  We usually begin the differentiation process from our family of origin when we are in our teens, and often do not finish it until we are well into our 40s or even 50s.  Differentiating yourself from your family of origin does not happen overnight.  But it is critical to reaching our potential on life’s journey.

However, it is not just differentiation from our family of origin that is important.  We also must differentiate from our work. If we don’t, there is a fair chance we will eventually go off the rails.  What are some of the signs of an undifferentiated religious leader?

A pastor or religious leader who finds his or her primary identity through their position in their church or ministry is not differentiated.  That individual would be well advised to learn that their position in the church is a job and a calling.  It is not their life.

Religious leaders with a lot of charisma are more likely to be undifferentiated.  Their ability to charm others extends to an ability to deceive themselves.  This lack of honesty causes them to exert too much control of their environment. Therefore, success of the church or ministry tends to end when the charismatic leader departs, because they have created loyalty to themselves, not to the church.

Lead pastors who hire a lot of family are rarely differentiated.  Hiring family for leadership positions is a sign the leader does not differentiate between work and family.  The person often exercises the same level of control in their families that they exercise in their churches.

If you haven’t noticed, a lot of megachurch lead pastors hire their own sons or sons-in-law to serve as the second teaching pastor and heir apparent at their church. This is particularly true of founding pastors.  Those outside the church think, “Surely not!  How can a system that large be run like a family corporation?”  But it happens all the time.

My son and I are both pastors.  I had several opportunities to serve as the lead pastor of a megachurch, but in those days my son was a schoolteacher, not a pastor.  Had he been preaching, and had I taken one of those jobs, I imagine I would have been tempted to hire him as my preaching associate.  I mean, he is a great preacher and all. Hopefully, someone, ideally me, or my son or the church leadership, would have derailed that notion before it was seriously considered.

Unfortunately, the power held by large church lead pastors is considerable, and a lot of them have hired their own family members for high profile positions without any pushback from the church elders.  That is a sign of a church leadership structure too weak to create adequate safeguards for the church.

When a pastor sees the church as an extension of his own being, it is another sure sign of a lack of differentiation.  Over the years I have seen a plethora of pastors who would rather take their church down than relinquish control.  This particular problem is acute with narcissistic leaders.  Narcissists never give up control and are fully capable of destroying the ministries they serve, or for that matter, the nations they serve.

The problem today is that undifferentiated pastors are often the ones taking the strongest political positions and preaching the most inflammatory messages.  They are the ones who revel in culture wars and relish the thought that their words might be capable of swaying an entire nation.

Of course, the problem with our current culture wars is multi-faceted.  The damage being done by undifferentiated religious leaders pales in comparison to that being done by politicians, or even to that being done by one of the most culturally infuential corporations in the world, the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.

Through Fox News and the media outlets he owns in Europe, Murdoch arguably swayed the 2016 US election and the UK Brexit vote.  One single family-owned business with a strong-willed undifferentiated patriarch has wreaked havoc on two of the strongest democracies in the world.  That a family battle has emerged among his offspring over who will control the empire upon Murdoch’s death is no surprise.  Undifferentiated leaders create undifferentiated leaders.

So, how would a pastor (or any leader) know if he or she is differentiated from their work?  That is a good question, and one that will have to wait until next week’s blog post.  Sorry, but I just hate when a blog post goes over 1,000 words, and this particular post is getting awfully close…