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Leadership Insights From The East--Demythologized

Thomas F. Fischer

Number 88

Pastors and church leaders of virtually every generation have been faced with various "How To" ministry books. Para-church ministries parade their secrets for successful leadership, outreach, church growth, administration, fund raising, et al. before all of our eyes. Even a brief walk through the local bookstore will display book titles of the nature of "Seven Habits for...," "Ten Ways To...," "The Fail-Safe Ways of..." etc.
 
All these are typical of our modern, high-tech Western world. It's a world of high expectations for success, statistics, control and manipulation governed, it seems, by two major factors: ego and the bottom line.
 
The Problem With "The Bottom Line"
 
Unfortunately, it's often the ego that suffers when the bottom line isn't good enough. Regardless of the level of success or the enormity of the failure, this western approach to associating our mental health with the outcomes of our outputs is, perhaps, one of the key factors to burnout, frustration, anger, dissatisfaction and delusion in the lives ministries of many pastors.
 
Unfortunately, the pressure may come not only from within ourselves and from our culture, but also from members and other brothers in the ministry. We can see their success and, by a rash, inaccurate act of judgment declare our ministries, lives, perspectives and abilities as being somehow inferior to theirs. Unfortunately, the result of all this is often a loss of faith and confidence in God.
What's Needed
 
What's needed is a change of perspective, a different approach to leadership, ministry, and to life. Of course, we read and follow the Bible. But sometimes we really don't understand the insights until we've faced failure, difficulty or trauma. Sometimes in our searching we look for answers and insight.
 
Of course, there are many different sources of insight.  The Bible, with which we are all familiar, is certainly the most important and only inerrant guide for our lives. Special insights for our lives are found throughout the Bible. The Book of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Jesus' teachings are but a small sampling of places where Biblical insights for living can be found. .
 
"Recovery" literature such as that for addictions and family and individual dysfunction also has proven to be very helpful to many individuals in recovery. Other literatures from Western and Oriental cultures also provide valuable insights, many of which are worthy of consideration for (dare I say) Christian pastors and leaders.
 
What They Have In Common
 
What all these insightful writings have in common is the element of paradox. As M. Scott Peck has repeatedly written in his Road Less Traveled book series, the greatest insights in life are paradoxes. Such paradoxes might include insights such as these: We learn from the profound from the simple. It is from those events in life which seem so meaningless that we find our meaning. It is in blindness that we finally see. It is through the experience of hate that we see love. It is in our weakness that we find strength. And it's only when we give up our life that we find it.
 
When we recognize that our lives are based on paradox, we finally begin to understand God's way of working through us. Of course, the greatest paradox is that sinners deserving of judgment are made forgiven children of God by a God who, for all reasonable purposes, should have rejected them. Instead, in His paradoxical fashion, the God who should--and could--have rightfully cast sinners to judgment was the one who gave the greatest sacrifice for sinners in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
 
The recognition of paradox enlightens, encourages, and helps to provide us insight regarding ourselves, our world, and our God. Such insights will then work to shape our lifestyles, our leadership, and our ministries with a perspective much different than that of the "world.":
 
Insights From The East
 
The following selections have been edited from the Tao and are not presented with the
intent of promoting Eastern theology. Nor are they presented without the author's awareness that there are enormous irreconcilable differences and fundamental theological contradictions between the Tao and Christianity. Having said that, if we're willing to strip the Tao of its theological content, perhaps we might gain helpful paradoxical insights for your ministry--and your self.
 
These selected insights will challenge you. Some of them you may question, others may raise disagreement. You will find some of these insights are reflections of Scriptural teachings.
 
Whatever your reaction, it is hoped that having reflected on these insights and compared them to various related teachings in Scripture, that you might be driven to consider how God might lead you to a greater, healthier, and more profound understanding of His will for your ministry. Wouldn't that be the greatest paradox--that God might use literature from what Luther called "The [secular] Kingdom of the Left Hand" to illuminate and strengthen our understanding for "The [religious] Kingdom Of The Right Hand."
 
 
Insights From The Tao*
 
Tao 1
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

When you can separate yourself from the situation, you can see it more clearly.
 
Tao 2

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other...

Things arise and he lets them come;
things disappear and he lets them go.
he has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When his work is done, he forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Tao 3

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.

Tao 8

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Tao 9

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Tao 10

Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

Tao 13

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

Have faith in the way things are...
then you can care for all things.

Tao 14

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

Tao 17

When the master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"

Tao 22

If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

Tao 23

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can't know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can't empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures....
just do your job, then let go.

Tao 27

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Tao 29

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
he lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

Tao 30

For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.

The master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn't try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn't need others' approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

Tao 33

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

Tao 36

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.

Tao 38

When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower....
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

Tao 41

The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest are seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

Tao 43

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.

Tao 44

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

Tao 46

There is no greater illusion than fear...
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

Tao 48

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering.

Tao 53

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Tao 57

If you want to be a great leader...
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

Tao 58

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Tao 59

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.

Tao 60

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

Tao 61

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

Tao 63

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

Tao 64

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist....

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.

Tao 65

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don't know,
people can find their own way.

Tao 66

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

Tao 67

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

Tao 68

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

Tao 69

The generals have a saying:
"Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard...."

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

Tao 74

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can't achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.
When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
chances are that you'll cut your hand.

Tao 76

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

Tao 77

The master can keep giving...
he acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn't think that he is better
than anyone else.

Tao 78

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.

Tao  79

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the master
fulfills his own obligations
and corrects his own mistakes.
he does what he needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

Tao 81

True words aren't eloquent;
eloquent words aren't true.
Wise men don't need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren't wise.

Thomas F. Fischer

*Selections adapted and edited without indication of deletions from  S. Mitchell's translation of Tao Te Ching (http://rhino.harvard.edu/elwin/pJoy/taotext.html)

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:00 PM