“Trust Leadership If You Can”

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series designed to help us overcome our trust issues.

We all have bosses, professors, leaders in our life who let us down, how do we respond when those we trust to lead us well, do the very opposite? Even if they may not have our best interest at heart, God can use difficult people in our lives to make us better.  

Discussion Questions:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“Trust Leadership If You Can” – Next Steps

Message from Gateway North Austin:

Message Notes:

Our staff at Gateway are people too! We are broken and messy people with some really odd habits who are loved by God and being transformed by God! I love our team, and I am genuinely grateful to be part of a team that loves each other, enjoys each other, and seeks to become all God wants us to be.

But we have to be honest. Some of us have wounds from church leadership. It’s what Reba Riley calls, PTCS [post-traumatic church syndrome] which presents as a severe, negative—almost allergic—reaction to inflexible doctrine, outright abuse of spiritual power, dogma and (often) praise bands and preachers. Internal symptoms include but are not limited to: withdrawal from all things religious, failure to believe in anything, depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loss of identity, despair, moral confusion, and, most notably, the loss of desire/inability to darken the door of a place of worship.

  • Some of us walked away from God because of the dishonest, illegal, immoral, or just plain evil things people entrusted with leadership did.
  • For some of us, our issues with God stem from people who had authority over us who claimed to be Christians, but there was nothing Christ-like about how they lived or treated us.
  • When we suffer because of unhealthy leadership, we may even start to blame God. We wonder: Doesn’t God want me to be happy? If he does, then how could he let this happen?

We all have bosses, professors, parents, pastors, leaders in our life who let us down.

So how do we respond when those we trust to lead us well, do the very opposite?

Now some of us bristle at the idea of authority in our lives. At an early age, we live by the mantra: “You’re not the boss of me!”
I mean, we are Texans, and no one gets to tell us what to do or say!

Some of us have trauma and trust issues because of bad leadership.
Some of us have trauma and trust issues because we have been in leadership.
Leadership is lonely and difficult.

But what is leadership?
What does being a leader mean?
Is it an identity?

Leadership is a role or function that one can choose to perform or not.

See Leader, pastor, husband, father is NOT WHO I am.

If you are a follower of Jesus, then your identity is found in Christ. This phrase “in Christ” is used over 200 times in the New Testament. Being “in Christ” means you find your value, your worth, your purpose, and all the love you need from your relationship with God. This means you and I are to reflect the image of Jesus back to the world to our spouses, our families, our workplace, our church family, and so on.

We need to separate the role of leader from the person. When we can do this, we will begin to see that leadership is not personal. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. But whatever the outcome, your leadership decisions no longer have to be taken as personal victories or personal attacks. This helps us not determine that ALL people who fulfill the role of leadership as “toxic” or “damaging.”

Do leaders make poor choices? Absolutely…Many horrific things have been done by leaders, and it affects us.

See, leadership is about power and influence through decision making. And most if not all “leading” creates chaos. It disrupts the waters so to speak. Some decisions are welcomed, and some are vehemently opposed.

Leaders who are good from the inside out, are leaders who are not dependent upon their leadership to define them. So with that, there can never really be good or bad leaders – just good or bad people who fulfill the role of a leader.

In an article titled: “Here’s How to Tell Within 5 Minutes If Someone Will Be a Good Leader” listen to how important trust is in our work relationships. The article said: answering these ten questions (honestly) with “often” or “almost always” would certainly indicate that you may be fit to lead at a high level:

1. I trust my workers
2. I create an environment that encourages learning & growth.
3. I allow my workers to help determine where our team is headed.
4. I am trustworthy.
5. I work to maintain positive working relationships.
6. I don’t hesitate to provide the leadership that is needed.
7. I give my workers the power to make important decisions.
8. I provide the support and resources needed to help my workers meet their goals.
9. I am open to receiving criticism & challenge from others.
10. I use my power and authority to benefit my workers.

So much of that could be summarized with this elusive five letter word we are exploring this month: TRUST.

Am I trusted? Am I trustworthy? Are the people I work with and work for trusting and trustworthy?

I want us to turn things upside down a little bit. Often we can quickly find what is wrong with the leaders in our lives (or with the employees in our lives), but what I want you to do is try to see things from a spiritual perspective.

Have you ever considered that God will use difficult people in our life to make us better people?

We are going to look at one of my favorite stories in the Bible.

The Story of Joseph

Joseph was one of Jacob’s 12 sons. His father loved him more than any of the others and gave him a coat of many colors. His brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. He was taken to Egypt and eventually worked as a slave to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. He became one of those Potiphar trusted with many responsibilities. Apparently, Joseph was also handsome. Potiphar’s wife tried unsuccessfully to seduce him and after false accusations were levelled at Joseph he was imprisoned.

Joseph gives us a good example of how to handle sexual temptation—run!

Even in jail, Joseph was again blessed by God. Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners. Both interpretations proved to be true, and one of the men was later released from jail and restored to his position as the king’s cupbearer. But the cupbearer forgot about Joseph and failed to speak to Pharaoh about him.

Two years later, the king himself had some troubling dreams, and the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s gift of interpretation. The king summoned Joseph and related his dreams. Based on Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He encouraged the Pharaoh to begin storing grain in preparation for the coming famine. Due to his ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream he was made ruler of Egypt. He wisely saved the grain in preparation for the coming famine.

During the famine Jacob’s sons came to Egypt to plead with Joseph for supplies. They did not recognize him, but after testing them he identified himself. Joseph invited his father and brothers to come and settle in Egypt. The story is recounted in Genesis 37, 39-50.

So if we are in challenging situation with leadership or as a leader, what can we apply from this?

5 Principles for Overcoming Trust Issues With Leadership

1. Remember why you are there.

Joseph had a vivid dream that anchored his life and future. When he found himself in a difficult situation, I cannot help but think he would remember the dream he had as a child when he saw a future when he was the hero of the story. He would rescue his family. His brothers would bow down before him.

What is God showing you that can anchor you in the midst of challenges?

Whatever your position may be – from temp to CEO and everything in between, if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are actually working for God.

Certainly, we are working so we can give provide for ourselves and our family. As we looked in our last series, healthy financial stewardship means giving the first 10% to God, the next 10% towards your future self, and then to live off the other 80%. As we grow, we can learn to live on a smaller percentage while giving more and saving more for the future.

Even still, there is more to work than the paycheck.

To improve the effects that workplaces have on employee health and well-being, Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote in his book Dying for a Paycheck says this. “What is measured gets attention. What is not measured often gets ignored.”

This begs the question: Do we measure our work in terms of God? Are we honoring him in the way we treat others at work?

Paul, the church planter who started multiethnic churches all across the Roman world wrote to one of the churches he started in Colossae and said this:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24

It’s important to understand context. This is not about accepting injustice.

The Bible is not pro slavery. It just so happened that 80% of the Roman world and probably even a higher percentage of the early church were slaves so the authors of the New Testament were writing to let these slaves know how to live in that environment even as they advocated for freedom like in the book of Philemon. Remarkably, in the letter to the churches, Paul is writing to slaves directly. This shows he sees those who are enslaved as people and not as just property. You might think that Paul should call those who were slaves to rise up and rebel (and we know there are times when this would be absolutely the right thing), but the plight of slaves in Paul’s day was different than what we think of when we think of the early history of the United States of America which was race-based chattel slavery. Many of those enslaved 2,000 years ago were paying off a debt. They chose servitude as a way to get out of their difficult circumstances. The Bible calls for those who were enslaved to be free on the 7th day for Sabbath and freed every 7 years (very different than forced slavery).

The early church leaders knew that as people were freed from spiritual slavery, then the end of physical enslavement was soon to follow. This is revolutionary!!

In that culture, Paul was saying, even if you have the worst situation in the world, you can trust God. You can work for Him, and He sees your efforts. He will reward you based on how you treat those in your life.

2. Redefine success.

Joseph was the victim of jealous brothers and a false accusation from his boss’ wife. Even still, the Scriptures reminded us that 

“The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” – Genesis 39:23

Now that sounds like the kind of person we want to be! How amazing would it be if when describing your life in a book they wrote about you: 
“he was successful in whatever he tried” 
“she was successful in whatever she tried” 

This makes no sense when we consider success according to the world! Joseph was enslaved! And then Joseph was imprisoned!

So there is more going on than what we think of as success.

Many of us get disappointed in God because we think:  “if I just promise God I will do better, then he will give me success.” 

We should aspire towards a life described as successful in all that we do, but we have to remember what success in the Scriptures really means.

We think of success as the opposite of failure or the absence of hardship. We define success in our dictionary as “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.”

The Hebrew word used to describe Joseph means “to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper.”

In other words… Success means making wise choices regardless of circumstances.

No matter what challenges he faced, Joseph did not give up on his faith in God. His mission – our mission – is to discover the life and freedom God offers and bring that life and freedom to others. This can happen regardless of our circumstances. Joseph chose to commit himself and his decisions to God. In doing so, he experienced the full blessing of God. The blessing of God does not mean everything worked out the way he wanted. It meant he knew God was with him and would guide him in every situation.

3. Seek to find the good.

God is doing something in your life.
Can you sense it? Are you aware of His protection? His blessing? His good gifts? Can you sense He is allowing some things to refine you and build you up for something more in the future?

When you face challenges, look for the good that can come from it.

Several years ago, I had a really challenging co-worker, and we had lots of conflict. In fact, I considered quitting several times. One time we sat down with an executive trying to help us patch things up between us. He got me so mad, I started yelling at him! I totally lost it! I was yelling at him like I would have yelled at my little brother when I was a teenager! I finally stopped my little temper tantrum, and even before I had a chance to feel embarrassed he said: “Finally, now I know you care!”
How messed up is that? He wanted to me to lose my temper?! He was provoking me!
Sharing with one of my friends in my life group, he asked me: “why does he trigger you so much?”
There were wounds from my childhood and other leaders in my life that this co-worker kept hitting. It was like an open wound that could never heal because it kept getting poked by different people in my life. 
So I switched my mindset. I began to ask myself: “What am I supposed to be learning from this situation?”
If I don’t learn it now, I am going to keep finding myself in a similar situation even if it was with a different person.
This experience helped me take going through Recovery at Gateway seriously. Recovery is not just for those with alcohol or drug addictions. We all need recovery to help us heal from wounds and to overcome habits and hang ups that haunt us.

Reminds me of Victor Frankl who suffered through the evils of the Holocaust and remarkably survived. Frankl was a neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning

A remarkable thing to discover and to advocate in light of all he experienced.

In a more recent book dealing with corporate life called Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink writes about leading up the chain which he says is about obtaining the decisions and support necessary to enable you to accomplish your mission and ultimately win. To do this, a leader must push situational awareness up the chain of command. As a retired Navy seal, he puts it bluntly:

“If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner, or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame the boss – first blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decisions to be made and support allocated.”

– Jocko Willink in Extreme Ownership

Assume the best in the people with whom you work. Assume the best in bad leaders and bad employees. More than likely they are just doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. It’s very possible that you are the one they need to speak openly and honestly about what is needed. You could be illuminating their blind spots.

There may be many distressing circumstances we find ourselves in, and some of them may even be unjust, as were those in Joseph’s life. However, as we learn from the account of Joseph’s life, by remaining faithful and accepting that God is ultimately in charge, we can be confident that God will reward our faithfulness over time. Who would blame Joseph if he had turned his brothers when they came to him all those years later? Yet Joseph showed them mercy, and God desires that we exercise mercy above all other sacrifices.

Joseph’s story also presents amazing insight into how God sovereignly works to overcome evil and bring about His plan. After all his ordeals, Joseph was able to see God’s hand at work.

As Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, Joseph spoke of their sin this way:

“Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you… It was not you who sent me here, but God” – Genesis 45:5, 8

Later, Joseph again reassured his brothers, offering forgiveness and saying:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” – Genesis 50:20

There are some people intending to harm you, but God can use it to bring good.

4. Choose to Forgive.

Forgiveness is a powerful choice we can make. When we choose forgiveness, we can then move towards healing and reconciliation but NOT until then.

What does it mean to forgive?

I found this list from Tim Mackie’s podcast called Exploring My Strange Bible very helpful. He describes what forgiveness is not.

In Matthew 18, Jesus describes a process of approaching those who have hurt us to give them a chance to reconcile. If that doesn’t work then we are to go with another person. If that doesn’t work, then we are to involve leadership in the situation.

Now let me just acknowledge something very important. Some of us have been a victim of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. This was evil. This was not what God wanted for you. God mourns with those who mourns. God weeps with those who are hurting.

If you are currently in an abusive situation, you need to ask for help. Our prayer team, our pastoral staff has resources to help if you are in that situation. If this is happening at work, go to human resources. Go to your boss’ boss. Your courage may be rescuing others from the same pain you’ve been experiencing.

Now, some of you are saying, but the people in my life who have hurt me don’t deserve to be forgiven.

Not forgiving them only hurts you.
Forgiving them does not mean you become a doormat.
Forgiving them does not mean there are not consequences for bad behavior.
If you hear nothing else today, forgiveness is not for them, it’s for you.

A modern day Joseph who went from prison to president said this:

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it poisons the person who hurt you.”

– Nelson Mandela

You are entrusting God with that person. God will bring justice. And for you, God can remove any shame or pain or false guilt that you may carry around because of what’s been done to you. Forgiveness helps us no longer blame ourselves for what’s been done to us.

Forgiveness is not just for the most evil things that happen in life. One of the things that makes followers of Jesus so counter cultural is that forgiveness becomes a way of life. We don’t allow bitterness into our hearts in our marriages, with our parents, with our siblings, with our bosses, with our co-workers, and on and on. We give grace (undeserved kindness and love) because we have received grace (the undeserved kindness and love of God).

Bitterness in our hearts creates doubts in our minds.

A couple of years ago, my daughter Trevi and I were talking about a friend of hers who seemed to keep taking shots at her. She was tired of forgiving her and was ready to move on. So I reminded her of the time when Jesus had a similar conversation with Peter. I asked her: “Do you know how many times Jesus said we should forgive those who hurt us?”
She said: “I know. I know. To infinity and beyond.”
Actually that was Buzz Lightyear rather than Jesus.

Here’s the actual conversation between Peter and Jesus:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22

Some people hurt us repeatedly. We need to forgive.
Others have hurt us deeply enough, that just a reminder of what happened brings back the pain. We need to forgive.
As a newlywed years ago, I heard something that really helped me.
“The goal of marriage is not to avoid fights. The goal is to learn to fight fairly.”
What was meant by that is this: we need to learn to work through our differences and come to an agreement without hurting each other or harboring bitterness.

This is true of all relationships – including those who lead us and those we lead.

Some of us have carried broken relationships and painful moments from relationship to relationship, from church to church, from job to job, and from city to city.  

“As we long we hang onto bitterness against anyone, it affects others close to us who had nothing to do with the pain.”

– Neil Anderson, author of Victory Over the Darkness

We build a wall around our heart to protect ourselves not realizing that the same wall will keep us from experiencing the love our hearts need.

The more we grow to trust God, the more we will be able to trust in life because we know even if we deal with people who are not trustworthy – God can bring good out of all of our challenging circumstances.

5. Work towards reconciliation.

As followers of Jesus, how we treat others is one of the greatest witnesses that there is something different about us. If forgiveness is a spiritual activity, reconciliation is a supernatural activity.

“If it is possible, as far is it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18
In all of our relationships, when in doubt, we need to assume the best. When there is hurt or confusion or miscommunication, lean in. Don’t run away. Too often, we run away from the very thing we need!

“To love someone means to assume their pain, to embrace their story, to invite them into your family so much that it costs you something, even though there is hostility. Only love can defeat hate.”

– Derwin Gray in Building a Multiethnic Church

We can extend the life-giving love of Jesus wherever we work – to those over us and to those working for us.

When we are suffering we need to remember God does not forsake His children Even in the midst of extreme suffering the Scriptures says: “The Lord was with Joseph” – Genesis 39:3, 5, 21, 23

Bring God with you into every situation. Let Him show you His perspective on your current situation.
Absorb what God may be doing in the midst of the adversities that seem to be never ending.
Maybe what you feel is persecution is actually pruning – something God is allowing to strengthen you for the bigger things He has for you in the future.

God can heal your heart. He can help bind up your brokenness, but you have to surrender your pain, your fears, your frustrations, and your situation to Him. 

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