Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Five Secrets of Celebrating Christmas

I love Christmas. I know that our consumer and secular age has put the "hum-bug" on recognizing that December 25th has been the traditional celebration of the birth of Our Savior. But I've learned the secularist have little to offer in this life or the next. So I love Christmas because it is a celebration of the greatest gift the earth has ever received: the Christ Child. Let me share with you five secrets you must discover before this season is over to really enjoy Christmas:

1. Go to Church on Christmas Eve. Enjoy the atmosphere, breathe in the holy moment, see the Christ Candle lit, sing songs of praise and adoration.
2. Spend time with your family and friends. This is the time to enjoy and not judge. To be kind, not hurtful. To see hope, not doubt. To touch and hold, not withdraw.
3. Eat and laugh a lot. Yes, enjoy the food and the fellowship. Put that scale away. Don't eat until you hurt, but eat until your sleepy. I hope my wife is reading this blog!
4. Give your time, talent, or treasure to someone that cannot pay you back. You will be enriched by the experience!
5. Be in Wonder as Once Were as a Child. Look around you and see this wonderful world, look at the colors, the trees, the smiles, and a God who cares.

Have a Merry Christmas! God bless my friends,

Tony Baron, Ph.D.
President, Servant Leadeship Institute

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What is God Saying to You?

Oswald Chambers is a follower of Jesus and a servant-leader among men. He writes, "God never speaks to us in startling ways, but in ways that are easy to understand, and we say, 'I wonder if that is God's voice? . . . Get into the habit of saying, 'Speak Lord', and life will become a romance. Every time circumstances press you say, 'Speak Lord' and make time to listen.

It is amazing how blind we can be in not seeing what God sees and not hearing what God hears. God is committed to truth, reality, honesty, and authenticity. He sees us as we truly are and loves us to see what we can truly be. But are we willing to surrender to the moment? Are we willing to hear the whispers from our Father in Heaven? Or do we react without listening, pausing, and praying? The Kingdom of God, according to Jesus, is at hand. It is fully present if we are willing to step into His kingdom. But we have to be intentional to enter His Kingdom and the only way that happens is to "repent." That is, change the way we think about ourselves, about others, about God, and about our life. If not, we simply drift automatically toward being a victim of life instead of taking responsibility for our lives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Honest to God

This past weekend, during an important seminar, I noticed how many times I wanted to look good, feel good, be right, or be in control during my external conversations with others and the internal conversations with myself. It reminds me how the noted psychiatrist, Dr. William Glasser, described the lack of insight concerning our human condition. He said that there were only two kinds of people in this world: those that have an inflated view of themselves; and those who are totally delusional! Transformation is difficult work for anyone and it never can be done without complete honesty about ourselves. It is hard work because we are more invested in short term gain even if it means long term pain. We see it with corporate leaders interested in quarterly earnings more than the long term health of an organization. We see it in churches producing a consumer type of Christianity not doing the hard work of genuine discipleship. I want to stop, but how? Here is one suggestion for those who truly desire to be a servant leader?
1. The Biblical teaching about "Reaping and Sowing" is a universal truth that everyone must understand and apply to have a successful life (Job 4:8; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7). If you would use corporate language, you would call this the "Contribution and Results" law of life. Everything (yes, everything) you think, feel, and do determines your future. It means that your internal conversations drive your beliefs, provokes your feelings, and orchestrates your behavior. In other words, we do nothing by accident. Or put it another way, everything we do has an intent by it even if we are not consciously aware of it. God created us in his image. That image means "choice." But so many of us live lying to ourselves, trying to feel good, look good, being in control, or being right that we cannot be open to the truth. Yet, Jesus said, "The truth will set us free." So we live imprisoned, many in despair, and others simply willing to settle. Living safe simply means surviving, not thriving. And God wants us to live fully! Over the next several blogs, I will share some of the things I learned about myself during the Conference on Christian Character Development.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Part 1: The Problem of Leadership in the Church:
Embracing the Sword and the Shield

Chapter One: Adopting Secular Symbols of Leadership
(Excerpts from Chapter One)

I am a first generation American. My parents were Polish prisoners of war; Mom was held in a Siberian gulag and Dad in a German war camp. They didn’t know each other in Poland but they certainly had in common the pain and heartache of lost family and friends. When Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin made an agreement to evenly partition Poland in 1939, everyone in that wonderful historic country feared for their lives. My Jewish mother, twenty years of age and newly married, awakened one morning to the sound of barrage of rifles banging on the front door for entry. My mother, all 4’11” of her, opened the door to six Soviet soldiers screaming obscenities at her and wanting to find her husband. Before she could answer, they knocked her down and began their search through the farm house. Not finding her husband at home, the soldiers divided into groups; some stayed to interrogate my mother, others searched the barn and fields.

Beaten and violated, Maria Klimczuk honestly did not know where her husband was hiding. Their marriage had been arranged. Josef Klimczuk, twice my mom’s age and a widower, was not inclined to share his business or schedule with her. Confident that my mother knew nothing, the Russian soldiers left her body bruised and spirit broken. Her tear-stained face was only one symbol of the humiliation that she suffered that morning.

Josef was a wealthy landowner and a person of influence in the tiny village surrounding Torczyn. Within minutes of the Russian soldiers leaving their home, my mother heard screams. The shouting was first in Polish, then in Russian; and then, there was silence. My mother was barely able to lift herself to the window to see her husband leave in the custody of the Soviet soldiers. She would never see him again. One week later, there came another knock on the front door by the Soviets soldiers. This time, it was my mother that they seized; they gave her a one-way cattle train ticket to Siberia.


The two symbols of Soviet leadership were similar to those of the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus - the sword and the shield. They acquired power (the sword) through the brutal means of their military might and protected their power (the shield) through their Gestapo equivalent, the NKVD. In between the acquiring and the protecting of power, the propaganda of the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin was in full force to justify their actions. Stalin used his governmental internal security, the NKVD, to eliminate all the real and perceived enemies in Poland. The Soviets arrested, deported, and executed hundreds of thousands of Poles simply because they had the power to do so. The sword and the shield always come with false promises of peace and safety. The Roman Empire promised the first century Palestinian PAX ROMANA if they complied; the Soviets justified their actions with a summons and a statement to the Polish Ambassador to the U.S.S.R.
On September 17, 1939, at 2:15 a.m., Ambassador Waclaw Grzybowski was told by Kremlin officials that they believed the Polish government had disintegrated due to the Nazi invasion of western Poland sixteen days earlier. In essence, according to the Russians, the Polish government no longer existed. According to the Soviets, the Polish people were without leadership and they, the Soviets, were there to help them live a peaceful life (Polish White Book, pp. 189-190). The Polish government and their people saw it as a betrayal of the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Republic and Poland that was made in 1932 (ibid, -. 187). Over the course of the War, the bloodiest battles were held in eastern Poland between the two aggressors. Using a sharper sword and a stronger shield, Nazi Germany eventually made significant inroads into the Soviet held territory of Poland. The Nazi “acts of protection and words of peace” killed three million Polish Jews and tens of thousands more Catholics by the end of World War II.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Difference between the Sword/Shield & the Cross/Towel in Leadership

I was asked recently what is the difference between the Sword and the Shield & the Cross and the Towel in leadership. This was my simple reply.

  • The Sword and the Shield: Positional power; For the Sake of Self; Followers follow out of fear; Deeds of Flesh used to manipulate results; End justifies the means; Insiders and Outsiders; Kingdoms of this world; Leaders who serve; and Entitlement.
  • The Cross and the Towel: Personhood power; For the Sake of Others; Followers follow out of love; Fruit of Spirit to Model; Means as important as the End; Love Neighbor as Yourself; Kingdom of God; Servants Who Lead; Humility

The Cross and the Towel is a leadership style that reflects our Lord and Savior and results in abundant living (zoe) for us. The Sword and the Shield reflects our willfulness and results in survival living (bios) and eventual self-destruction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Cross and the Towel: Aligning Our Church to His Church

By Tony Baron, Ph.D.


When I was a child, I would dress up as King Arthur bearing the plastic-made Excalibur sword and carrying the sparkling tin shield, pretending to slay the dangerous dragons in my backyard. Hours would go by in youthful exuberance as I would slash and stab, jump away and glide to the side, avoiding the hateful heat of my enemy. Occasionally, I would get wounded. Falling to the ground, holding my ribs in great pain because of the terrible tearing bite from the dragon, I would flay my sword toward the beast, directing my aim at his torso and finally, plunging the double-edged dagger into the very heart of my adversary.

I was a hero. My kingdom was safe. Now, at that pre-adolescent age, I had little interest in Guinevere’s affections. My love was to conquer, not be conquered. My Round Table was a kitchen table. And it only came to life when my mother would place before this weary warrior some cookies and a glass of milk. But at eight years of age, I had the power. All would bow down and acknowledge me as a commanding leader, heroic king, and omnipotent protector.
All would bow down except Ann Berry. The lady with the curly brown hair didn’t really care for my gallantry. Ann thought I let all that power go to my head, and she would tell me that as she watched my fantastic feats of heroism. Well . . .what did she know? I mean, when she lived in her fantasy world all she wanted to be was a horse! In my book, hero beats horse anytime!


As I got older, I put away the plastic sword and the tin shield but not the idea of power. Playing football in high school, I knew that it was the fastest and the strongest that received the most public praise and adoration. Although shy and still a bit awkward with the opposite sex, a Guinevere admiring my athletic skills didn’t sound like a bad deal anymore. If you can make the opponent fear you on the football field simply based on the pre-game observations of your size, skill, and speed, you’ve already won - even before the opening kickoff.


In college, several knee surgeries put an end to my future Hall of Fame NFL career. Yes, I still do have a vivid imagination! So I became a spectator of professional football while always still believing in the power of the sword and the shield. The move away from football propelled me toward a development of my spiritual life, eventually leading to seminary and graduate school. What was fascinating to me was that most of the church leaders were also practitioners of the sword and the shield. Leadership in the Church was defined in the same way as leadership in the world: size, skill, and speed. Whereas today the prime ideological conversation among theologians and clergy practitioners is the relationship of the church to postmodernity, the chief topic in seminary was church growth. Peter Wagner, Win Arn, and the esteemed church growth gurus at Fuller Theological Seminary had a wide audience in the evangelical world convincing future pastors about the importance of “homogeneity” and that “location, location, location” was as significant to the local church growth scene as it was to the business world. Now, don’t think I’m acting superior. I bought in 100%! Success meant size, and size meant souls. So I attended every conference I could afford and heard every church leader I admired so that I too could have the same success for my parish in reaching people for Jesus Christ.


Looking back now, I see that much of my wonderful theological education at three of most significant evangelical seminaries on the American landscape, and my advanced psychological education were inadvertently based upon similar leadership precepts of the sword and the shield. Yet, when I took away the secular symbols of leadership as a template in reading the pages of sacred scripture, and in particular, the life of Jesus Christ and his followers, I found the intentional leadership strategies were about the cross and the towel, not the sword and the shield. To be fair, there were some significant voices in seminary that spoke of the cross and the towel as a model for Christ-like leadership. Unfortunately, what was often modeled by prominent preachers in chapel, demonstrated by lay and ordained leadership in churches, and written about by theologians – topics such as inerrancy/infallibility debates or eschatological timetables in my formative seminary years - were highly combative, easily combustible, and uncomfortably conflicted with the servant leadership style of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ style of leadership seemed liberating and life-giving. The church’ style of leadership seemed eerily similar to the business or political definitions of leadership, except with religious jargon in order to create positional leverage.


Both have power, purpose, and followers. But one will liberate life, and the other will limit life. This book is designed to identify the roadblocks to liberating leadership in the contemporary church, inspire us to see God’s vision for leadership in the church, and instruct us on the key practices of Jesus Christ as a servant leader that we need to incarnate in our lives as pastors within our parish setting.


I need to tell you up front my bias. I love the Church and I love pastors. One cannot study God’s Word without realizing that the Church is significant to God. The Church is called the “bride of Christ.” In another place, the Church is described as the “Body of Christ.” Both words would suggest that the Church’s identity is found in Jesus Christ and her intimacy is deeply enriched by her relationship to Jesus Christ. Whether it is a house church or a mega-church, an emerging church or a traditional church, a denominational church or an independent church, I love these communities that seek to live by faith, endure in hope, and walk in love to the glory of God.

I also love their pastors. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are priests or preachers, male or female, young or old, they are a special breed anointed by God to “shepherd God’s flock” and “equip His saints for the work of ministry.” Several years ago, the noted author and scholar Dallas Willard told me in one of my discouraging times in the ministry that the pastorate “is the greatest calling in life.” I believe him to this day! You can influence more people, without limitation to age, status, or gender, to the Kingdom of God than in any other calling. This book is dedicated to all pastors.

The Rev’d Dr. Tony Baron, President
Servant Leadership Institute

November 24, 2009

For the Sake of Others

Although the concept is a wise and ancient one, the act of serving others is an idea whose time has come today in our troubled times. This blog will explore the many joys and benefits of working and living for the sake of others.

Welcome to For the Sake of Others, a blog by Tony Baron, Ph.D., President of Datron's Servant Leadership Institute. We hope you will visit us often and share your thoughts.