(at the 2017 Willow Creek GLS to learn more about leading for Operation Christmas Child)
Gary Haugen – CEO of International Justice Mission
I have a sense of tremendous drama in this last moment and I hope you will stay here 100% with me. As we prepare to leave there is a force that has a power to render everything you’ve learned completely useless.
I think Jesus had a similar feeling on his last night with His disciples. Jesus knows there is one thing that stands between all they’ve learned and what they will actually do and that one thing is fear.
All the finest leadership training in the world can be rendered useless by fear and Jesus gets this which is why on His last night He says to them, “Do not be afraid.” This is the most common command in the gospels because He knows it stands between them doing what they are prepared to do.
Why is fear the fundamental challenge? Fear is the silent destroyer of dreams. All great leadership flows from great dreams. The most iconic scene in our history is the “I Have A Dream” speech where MLK spoke as the last speaker at the end of a long day of speeches. He had been up since 4:30 in the morning trying to get the speech right. When he got up to deliver the speech there was not a mention of a dream in his speech. As he began to speak someone yelled out, “Tell him about the dream,” and he set his text aside and leaned into the moment and rolled out his dream without a note and history has never been the same. Leadership begins with a dream.
You can have an 8-point plan to lead your dream but it will be the lurking fear that will render it all useless and threaten the dream. Fear removes the love that drives the dream and replaces it with a preoccupation with self. We care deeply about something but then the fear begins to creep in.
At the IJM we have a dream to protect people from violence. We have seen people rescued from abuse but every day fear goes to work trying to destroy the dream. Violence fights back. Fear begins to undermine the love you had to try to protect people and replaces it with preoccupation with self.
Fear has a devastating effect on the love that undergirds our dreams, but I’ve seen far more dreams destroyed by a leader’s everyday anxieties that lead us to abandon our dreams without putting up a fight.
You and I are actually not likely to even know what scares us most deeply. I almost didn’t start IJM 20 years ago because of fear. I wasn’t scared of leaving my career or of taking care of my family. When I got quiet I found I was scared of being a failure or even looking like a failure. I was afraid of trying something hairy and audacious and turning out to be a public failure. That picture of being a loser became almost unbearable, but once I exposed the real fear I could ask, “Is that the fear I want to kill my dream?” And the dream won. But if I’d taken up the façade of the respectable dream I think the dream would have died and I would have been applauded as wise and respectable.
Being brave is going to be hard because we’re unlikely to know what we’re afraid of.
1) You must relentlessly inventory your own fears – take the time to examine your fear and see what you’re really anxious about. Without this you are driven not by your conscious, hopeful dreams but by your unconscious fears. At IJM, every day everybody gets paid to sit still for ½ hour in silence to ask God to check what’s going on inside them. It’s called 8:30 silence. When you sit in silence what bubbles up in worry, insecurity. But if you practice it and are attentive to God there is a strength of insight that develops for every working day. Is God in a panic about how all this will get done? He offers a way, a way of hope and peace and love with joy. You can lead every day like that on the strength of a regular inventory of your own fears.
2) Switch from playing defense to playing offense. No great dream of love has ever been built on the fear of what might go wrong but on the hope of what might go right. Today at your core are you more impressed with what human beings are getting wrong or with what God is making right? You cannot lead forward in pursuit of a great dream of love while you’re leading a retreat to a bunker of safety. God is inviting His people and His leaders to stop living in the joy-killing fear of playing defense in the world and to join Him in playing offense. God is building His Kingdom in the earth and Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Gates don’t move around taking territory. Hell is desperately playing defense and cannot prevail against God’s offense. As the leader of IJM, I know loss and evil is real in the world. But on the night before He died Jesus said, “Take courage; in this world you will have trouble but I have overcome the world.” This means we switch to offense and charge the darkness—to advance into what is hurting and broken and bring His healing and redemption. Example: modern day slavery—millions of the poorest held illegally—nearly 46 million people enslaved today—more than any other time in history. Over 15 years ago Cambodia was ground zero for this. I could find hundreds of children for open sale there. This is unspeakably ugly stuff so how should the people of God respond? The Christians in Cambodia joined with local authorities and began to rescue children and churches around the world helped make good facilities for after-care for these children. A decade ago Cambodia was the darkest example but now experts have documented the collapse of child sex-trafficking in that country. This is the people of God playing offense in the world. Write down two words: Freedom Sunday – join a mass movement in the fight against slavery.
3) Successful leaders of great dreams do one more decisive thing. They forge a community of courage around them. Lone Rangers do not make great dreams come true ever. This Summit is about doing things that matter that are real in the world. Jesus was God almighty and if anyone was entitled to be a Lone Ranger it was Him. But he gathered a community around Him and on His last night with them called them to courage. What was his strategy for securing that courage? – forging a community—a team humbly serving one another. He says “Love each other as I have loved you.” He told them to secure their courage with the humble service with which you care for one another.
Strategy and planning are critical but will be undone if leaders are afraid. A loving community is the protection against this. When I got the call that three of our workers had been murdered I knew our ministry would be assaulted by fear. As I sat on the plane as I rode to Kenya I knew our survival against fear would depend on how well we were loving each other. A police gang had declared war against us and now they had come for us. How would we respond? Would we scatter in fear or dissolve into frightened infighting or just quietly abandon the dream? When I arrived I found a team holding each other tight through grief, a team staring down their own honest fears and choosing to trust God and each other, a team rigorously retracing their steps, asking hard questions, counting the cost, but in the end they have chosen to double down on the fight. We have grown by 20%. Kill us and we will grow by 20%. It turns out that courage, like fear, is contagious. Five of the murder suspects have been arrested and the fight against police violence has been launched as is not going to stop because they forged a community of courage and not fear.
The memorial service for the workers was broadcast live across the country. At the end of the service I felt the weight of the uncertainty but I also felt a gentle hand and looked up to see a familiar face in David who had a decade earlier in Nairobi been rescued from abusive police. Now he was the face of serious courage and joy that met me at that memorial service. He wanted me to know he had graduated from law school and was continuing the fight. He looked me in the eye and said, “Brother, we will never stop fighting. Don’t worry; we will win.” He is a leader forging a community of courage. On the day he celebrated his admission to the high court he wrote me a note, “Brother, may we always remember that we are nothing but servants in the battlefield. The real soldier is Christ Himself.”
As a leader you have a dream in your heart. A dream of love. A dream of what might be so much better. You have a yearning of great goodness—a love of irrepressible transforming power that comes from the God that made you. The make or break truth to hold onto is this: the real soldier is God Himself. If we can hold onto that truth, that is what will allow us to lead without fear.
Five years after MLK gave that “I have a dream” speech he stood before his followers. He’d been receiving constant death threats. He wanted them to know that God had allowed him to go to the mountain top and to see that the dream was secure, “I’m so happy. I’m not fearing any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. " You have been given everything you need to lead this struggle God has placed in your heart. What could God do if you could trust Him to lead without fear? What if you could be transfixed by the glory of the coming of the Lord? Lead without fear out there to the glory of God and the transformation of His world.