According to Michael McKinney, today's children are exposed to too much information before they are ready for it. On the other hand, their exposure to life experiences come too late. The result is a type of artificial maturity. In his book, Artificial Maturity, Tim Elmore says children seem to know a lot, but that it is, in fact, a false impression because they have experienced so little. He says:
“Today, because information is so prevalent, our kids assume they have [experiential knowledge] when they only have [informational knowledge]. With an abundance of knowledge, their confidence can soar, but it’s based on a virtual foundation. Without experience, it’s easier for knowledge to produce judgmental attitudes, bullying, and arrogance.”
With all this information, children – and adults – think they are mature. Intelligence and maturity are not the same. Elmore says that to change this artificial maturity into real maturity, we should focus on four aspects:
— Emotional intelligence. Mature individuals manage their emotions. This means they develop self-consciousness, self-management, social consciousness and they can manage relationships.
— Character and a sense of ethics. Mature individuals live according to a set of values and principles. They don't merely react to what is happening around them. They show self-discipline and have a clear sense of identity.
— Discover your strengths. Mature individuals no longer try to do everything, but rather focus on what they do well. They develop their natural abilities and talents, their passion and their skills.
— Leadership perspective. Mature individuals' lives don't centre around themselves – they invest in something outside themselves. A leadership perspective includes a personal vision, responsibility, compassion and initiative.
Real maturity is a question of leadership. Elmore's conclusion is:
“Our kids have what it takes inside of them if we’ll just take them seriously and equip them for the future. As they enter adolescence, we must begin to treat them as young adults and train them to be both autonomous and responsible. Then, I dare you to stand back and watch them amaze you.”
There is so much food for thought here.
The Joshua Tree
We (naturally) find this tree in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. The park is mostly desert. The day temperature rises above 50 degrees almost every day. Why is this tree so special that a park was named after it? Although the environment is harsh, the tree found a way to adapt and survive.
In some areas, the environment in which congregations should survive is also tough. The soil is hard and not very conducive to congregational life. Congregations don't grow easily in these conditions. Those that want to grow there must adapt and learn how to survive under difficult circumstances.
What are the lessons we can learn from such churches?
— Look at the roots. Plants need roots to grow – congregations too. Most congregations measure concrete things: service attendance, contributions, the number of volunteers, etc. These things are all above the surface. What about the less visible, but still vital, aspects of our ministry? Here we think of, for example, the minister's personal and family life. Ministers should set clear boundaries to protect their family life and personal health – if you don't, the congregation will gobble up all your time. Sometimes it is hard for a church leader to realise that he is not irreplaceable. There is a bamboo species that does nothing but develop their roots for the first decade. After that, they grow up to a metre per day. The fact that we can't see growth doesn't mean there isn't any growth.
— Understand your climate. For many of us, the climate in our midst seems strange, and even hostile. We might believe it would be impossible to grow a congregation there. Of course, a congregation can grow there! However, you will have to spend as much time with the people as possible. Accept the differences. People know you are new, but all people appreciate honesty. You will have to work hard if you want to succeed.
— Find support systems. Especially young leaders need the support of experienced leaders. In the plant world, individuals compete, but in God's kingdom they help each other.
— Handle the storms. This often happens when a key person in the leadership team leaves. You may sometimes feel demotivated but hang in there.
And the Joshua tree? Not the most impressive tree on earth, but it has very deep roots, and it grows in the desert.
Make sound decisions
Good decision-making is a prerequisite for good leadership. What is the secret to good decision-making?
1. What are my options?
Put all the options on the table – also those that don't immediately seem viable. Robert McNamara, the former president of the Ford Motor Company, asked all employees who approached him about a decision: 'What did you decide not to do?' He wanted to know whether this man considered other possibilities as well. These options should be developed early on – there might not be time later. The more options on the table, the bigger the possibility of choosing the correct one.
2. Is everyone a winner?
Don't drive a wedge between people. Relationships are important. If you drive in a wedge, someone has to lose, and that can lead to revenge. It isn't always possible – sometimes you even have to fire someone. No leader enjoys this. Harvard University conducted a study of successful leaders in the business word. One common feature to these successful leaders was: 'I give before I receive.' This attitude lead to more favourable – and better – decisions for all.
3. What is the risk?
We can win the whole world, and lose our souls. What advantages does that hold for us? Beware temporary benefits that lead to permanent loss. To measure the risk accurately, we should know when enough is enough. It is not only about money, but also prestige, power, etc.
Don't make hasty decisions. While you decide, always think of the people who will be affected by the decision.