Monthly Archives: April 2013

Conversations continued…..”Relational Integrity”

The whole conversation thing seems to continue for me, and lately, everything has been about leadership. The big buzz topic at Luther Seminary these days is leadership: “How do we shape, form, and provide leaders for Christian communities/churches/congregations?” Everyone’s got their ideas on what’s essential to be a Christian public leader in today’s world.


I attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD for my undergraduate education. The Naval Academy’s mission, culture, and curriculum is built around its Honor Concept. The Naval Academy expresses this rather simply:

“Midshipmen are persons of integrity: they stand for that which is right. These Naval Academy ‘words to live by’ are based on respect for human dignity, respect for honesty and respect for the property of others.”

I call it “relational integrity.” It is doing the right thing always, considering the dignity, worth, and respect of the other. Integrity is the most important thing…if you lose it, compromise it, or never have it in the first place, you will essentially fail as a leader. What it boils down to is trust. Persons of integrity can be trusted. They will make mistakes, say the wrong thing at times, but persons of integrity will always take full accountability for their words and actions, and the subsequent consequences. They do the right thing simply, because it’s the right thing to do, and they do the right thing in all situations. It means doing the hard thing, making the tough decision, even if it is painful; even at personal cost to you, whether it be loss of job, title, privilege, or even relationships.

Let me clarify that last one: relationships. That can be a tricky thing to navigate – as leaders in ministry, everything we do is relational, or for the sake of relationship, in one way or another. One has to be very careful not to sacrifice another’s human worth and dignity for the sake of preserving one’s ideologies. Integrity is always balanced by relationships….however, it is a relationship of mutuality.

I remember during a lecture during my time at the Naval Academy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps (highest ranking officer in the Marine Corps) came and spoke. He spoke of integrity, and gave this example: “When I was a student here, as seniors, we had the privilege to go out in town, but had to be back by midnight. They checked to make sure everyone had made curfew. As the watch officer came to take roll, I knew my roommate was still out in town. When asked where my roommate was, I could’ve simply said I don’t know…I wouldn’t have been lying. But I knew where he was, so I told the watch officer he was still out in town. It was the right thing to do.”

I struggled with this example (perhaps you did too). There’s the moral/ethical dimension to this: loyalty to person or to ideology? The Commandant went on to say the consequence was he lost that friendship. I would go on to say he probably lost trust as well, and that proves my point about the relational aspect of integrity: one considers the dignity and worth of another, but if it is a true relationship, one has to acknowledge the same for you. The Commandant’s roommate compromised his integrity by placing him in that position. However, was there another way to maintain his integrity while maintaining the relationship as well? That may not always be possible, but the challenge is: how do we live with integrity in relationship with others?

All this holds true for Christian public leaders as well: how do I live with integrity while leading others relationally? How do I garner a true sense of trust, for the sake of preserving the integrity of the Gospel? And that last question is important too, because one’s compromise and loss of integrity and trust as a leader doesn’t just affect them, it affects the integrity of the Church and the Gospel as well.

In my life, I’ve had both good friends as Navy and Marine Corps officers – good, intelligent people – sacrifice their integrity, and they never regained the same trust. And, they couldn’t lead effectively anymore. It wasn’t that they couldn’t reconcile, move on and weren’t good people, but the loss of trust meant they could never hold that privilege to lead again. And, I’ve also known pastors and other leaders in the church as well. You likely can recall a situation where integrity was compromised, and trust was lost. And, you can probably recall a situation where trust was lost because relationships were sacrificed at the alter of personal ideology as well.

Here’s my thing: relational integrity isn’t just a skill leaders in the church should simply acknowledge with lukewarm feelings. It IS the essential thing of leadership. Is it hard and complex? Yes. Will it cost you something? Definitely.

Here’s the thing: most leadership skills and concepts can be learned: from a book, lectures, discussions, etc. However, character is formed and developed only through a culture… has to be a way of life. However, as one considers the challenges facing the church in this day an age, can we afford not to be about this? And as future leaders are trained for service and work in the church, can we afford not to form a learning community that values a culture of character development above all else, especially in light of so many breaches of integrity and trust in the whole Church?



Filed under Leadership


Well, I’m in uncharted territory in my life: I have an abundance of time on my hands. I graduate from seminary in 4 weeks, and all of my coursework is finished. I’m preparing for life as a pastor, with a move back out to Virginia on the horizon. Wrestling season is over & my coaching tenure with Augsburg College is done. My last four weeks of internship will be busy with goodbyes rather than starting new ministries and ventures.

So, what the heck am I doing?

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately. Conversations that range all over the map: different people, different places. I figured I’d share a couple of the better ones with you:

– Been talking with a good Pastor-friend of mine about long-term leadership in the church (he’s got 12+ years parish experience, I think?). Stuff like leading through change, visionary leadership, and models of leadership.

– I talked with another pastor at a day-long meeting for pastoral interns and their supervisors. She got asking me about wrestling culture, what so particular about it, and why it seems to be so important to the people who are a part of it. As I answered her questions, and then talked a bit about how I understand faith through the sport, she remarked, “You should write and say more about that. You might be on to something.”

– I talked with a guy in his 70’s in the sauna at the YMCA I go to about wrestling, and taking care of our bodies into that last third of life. (I had an Augsburg sweatshirt on) Then it came up I worked in a church in a pastoral role. Pretty darn good conversation….learned a lot from each other.

– I got to sit down with my internship supervisor for about 90 minutes yesterday and talk about leadership. As I asked questions, and he talked about things he’s learned from 25+ years of experience, I learned two things: one, things have changed a lot from the time he was in seminary and entered ministry to where I’m at now. There’s some things they did we should probably adopt. Two, most leadership and management tasks are NOT unique to the church….it’s stuff that applies across all walks of life. It’s stuff I learned growing up on the farm, at the US Naval Academy, and as a Naval Officer.

I got a couple things out of all these conversations. The first, we need to be able to talk about what we do and who we are with people in all walks of life. It’s one thing I think people in wrestling and in the church don’t do a great job of: getting the word out, sharing what’s great about what we do and believe in, and doing it in a way that’s confident, but not arrogant. Some of my best conversations about wrestling and faith have happened in that YMCA sauna, and in other places with people who wouldn’t ever talk about either otherwise.

Second, leadership and management is learned and tested out in a world where it means something: where you have to put your ass on the line for things you believe, and you’re held accountable for what you do or don’t do. Leadership is something that really happens when you’re working out differences and conflict; learning compromise and understanding; and where you have to consider what you do or say, because people will react to them, positively or negatively. Leadership requires you to acknowledge and accept that it’s gonna cost you something; it’s not a safe or secure role, if it’s done well, I think.

So I think this is what’s gonna guide my blogging for the time being. I’m gonna talk about some leadership issues and fleshing out the sport of wrestling more communally, individually, theologically, etc. I’m gonna hold myself to the fire and well, start putting myself out there on some of these things. Because I have to admit, I’m a bit pissed off these days…in a good way. A little “righteous” anger, perhaps. And, since my wife is probably tired of hearing me talk about this stuff over and over, I’ll throw it out to all of you.

I hope you’ll continue to read….and respond. Wrestle with me a bit…hopefully we can both learn something.


Filed under Leadership, Missional Thinking & The Church

Actions are louder than Words….always.

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing…in fact, I’ve been slaving away at a 20+ page thesis, my final assignment in my seminary coursework, and prior to graduation in May. Four years later, I’ve finally reached the end!

Anyway, yesterday’s events have blown me away….as an athlete, for something to happen at the Boston Marathon, it feels like a direct attack on my own soul. To be blunt, I just don’t have any words right now…….

And maybe, that’s a good thing. My Facebook news feed and email have been blowing up with all sorts of responses to the events in Boston. Considering my line of work, a lot of it is theological, religious, and pastoral. Some of it is good, some of it I’m neutral on, and some of it just down right disgusts me.

I wonder, if at this time, actions don’t speak louder than words. As church leaders, and maybe as people of faith in general, we call people to all sorts of action, but don’t actually do anything ourselves. We just talk….and our inaction is deafening, especially in light of such actions like the Westboro Baptists have planned.

In my world, actions always speak louder than words. I’m tired of words. So I’ll stop now….I’m off to love, live, work, play….you name it, in ways that place faith in and witness to God’s hope and redemption in such a crazy world as this, where stuff like this happens all over the world.

There’s no time for talk. I hope you’ll join me.


Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics