i choose tension, thank you very much

July 7, 2009


This weekend I floated in the lake behind my parent’s home north of Bemidji, MN.  Sunshine.  Waves lapping against the boat.  Kids splashing.  Very little stress.  Very little tension.

Those “unplugged” moments are priceless – not just because they bring us pleasure, but because we are wired to NEED rest.  But today, I’m back in real life.  And it’s full of healthy tension.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s what I’m saying…  Living in the difficult middle ground is often the BEST and MOST REWARDING choice.  Anything that deeply matters requires diligence, discipline, effort… and usually a healthy dose of tension.  This is true in life, in leadership, and in worship.  Examples:

(1) In PARENTING: there are two “easy” roads.  You can be a Dictator, or a Buddy.  As I’ve often said (more than once to my own kids), a dictatorship is the most efficient form of government.  There’s no time wasted on frivolous discussion.  Quick, easy, and authoritarian.  (click here to see my last blog post)  On the other hand, many parents treat their tantrum-throwing pint-sized narcissists in training as little buddies.  Rules-shmules.  What matters is that they are happy. Read “coddled” or “spoiled…” (I know, I’m revealing my inner Kim Jong Il.)

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = Attempting to raise kids who respect your authority whether they like your decisions or not, while being flexible enough to really listen, make nuanced judgements, and build rewarding relationships with them.  That’s hard.  But good.

(2) With TIME management: there is often tension between the demands of family-life and work-life.  In ministry, this tension is especially difficult to manage, because the nature of our jobs often allows significant flexibility.  On the one hand, it would be easy to abuse this freedom because of a love for family time, and the ministry needs right in our own household.  On the other hand, many pastors and ministry leaders suffer from the opposite problem: workaholism.  The truth is, for anyone who loves their job, workaholism is a danger.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = Working out and sticking to healthy BOUNDARIES between the pull of home and the pull of the office.  Is there anything you are willing to say “no” to your boss for?  Is there any regular time in your schedule where you are just home, not on call, and not plugged in?  That’s hard.  But good.

(3) In a local CHURCH: there often seems to be either a gravitational pull toward “Social Club” status (it’s all about the church family, bible study, and being “fed”) -or- a leadership driven push for “Social Justice” (being hands-on Jesus to hurting people, without much regard for “doctrine,” and a hunger to be “used” by God in the best sense of the word.)  This divide breaks my heart.  (click here for an earlier post on this stuff…)  One side stands their ground as righteous defenders of the fort, looking over the walls at the dangers of our culture, hoping to keep everyone on the inside happy and protected.  On the other side, passionate people who put their faith into action serving the poor and underpriviledged, but may be skeptical (or even critical) of anyone who declares Biblical truth in absolute terms.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = I long to be a part of a local church that is equally passionate about FEEDING our flock -and- about SERVING those on the outside.  About WINNING the lost -and- about BUILDING UP the believers.  We are struggling, trying hard to embrace this spilt-personality at Living Hope.   That’s hard.  But good.

(4) When it comes to WORSHIP LEADING: there are alone-with-God, come-with-me-if you-want-but-I’m-in-the-zone, God-and-God-alone “lead worshippers” who abdicate their responsibility as LEADERS.  And there are “faster-louder-higher,” listen-to-my-awesomeness, cheerleader-for-Jesus type “music leaders” who abdicate their responsibility to model WORSHIP.  The cheerleaders have always driven me a little crazy, but my temptaion is to go whole-hog the other way.  I think I spent a couple of years in my younger worship leading days with an “I’m worshipping here, all y’all church people, and whether you join me or not is up to you” attitude.  That’s not leading.  That’s self absorbed.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = I want to model AND lead.  “God, You are awesome.  Isn’t He awesome?  I love You Jesus, and everything in my life is for You alone.  Are you with me, church?”  Back and forth.  Pointing to Jesus and singing to Him.  “Spurring on the saints…”  That’s hard.  But good.

(5)  In MENTORING other leaders:  If you are a manager (in church work or otherwise) of other leaders, there is TENSION in letting leaders lead while guiding their leadership decisions.  One one hand, you can hire/recruit someone who is unproven but shows potential and give them all the leash in the world.  “Here’s your budget!  Go play!  Do stuff!”  On the other hand, managers by position are often “micro-managers” by nature.  This can kill confidence and stuff creativity in a young or new leader.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = As Executive Pastor I operate under the principal of EARNED TRUST with our staff and ministry leaders at Living Hope.  That means that I try to stay in close contact and give frequent guidance to our new ministry leaders, but as soon as they demonstrate leadership skills and consistent decision-making that furthers our church’s core mission, I want to let out the reigns.  Let them lead.  Earned trust.  That’s hard.  But good.

Think about your life – your areas of influence – your church family.  Do you need to embrace TENSION on purpose?  Is there somewhere you have been taking the easy road?  Anything that deeply matters requires diligence, discipline, effort… and usually a healthy dose of tension.

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“i choose tension, thank you very much” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

3 responses to i choose tension, thank you very much

  1. many thanks !!! incredibly valuable post!

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