Raymond L. Wheeler

Musings about leadership

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Friendships – Traveling through Past and Future

With the father of the bride.

With the father of the bride.

I recently traveled with Janice to the Great Pacific Northwest to attend the wedding of one of our friend’s children. We have known Rick and Sue for years as co-laborers, friends, prayer partners, and fellow pilgrims in a strange land looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.

It is interesting to me that seeing long time friends is like traveling back in time and into the future concurrently. We have so many reference points in our shared history we pick up conversations as though the gap of 5 to 10 to 20 years between each simply hasn’t happened and yet…we traverse new ground each time we are together because our lives are not static but growing. We have new leadership experiences to share, new questions to explore, new victories to rejoice in and new grief to shoulder together. Life is not static and neither is our friendship.

An occasion like a wedding offers a myriad of opportunities to engage this simultaneous time travel of past and future. We saw friends and acquaintances we have not seen for years. We caught up, we shared perspectives on the past that illuminated the future and explained things we did not understand when we experienced them together. One encounter was particularly moving.

“Steve,” I said to one friend who was so significant in my first pastorate, “we have missed you.” Steve and I picked up conversations past and future.

“Ray,” he inquired, “why didn’t you return to visit?” His eyes were penetrating, looking for explanation, testing my response, and expressing pain.

“We were prohibited from returning to our first pastorate to visit by the pastor who took our place. We repeatedly asked for permission to visit and were repeatedly prohibited. It was his prerogative in the governance structure of the denomination.”

Steve’s eyes began to fill with tears, “I didn’t know that,” he said. “Dave was so insecure….” his voice trailed off and his hug said he had always wondered why we had just disappeared from the scene when our assignment wooed us out of the Northwest to Southern California.  I don’t know why Steve thought we made our selves scarce, but in our conversation and in our shared bear hugs whatever questions and pain from the past melted into oblivion and our shared past shed light on a shared future. We talked about future opportunities and support of one another in networking and prayer.

What a joy to have friends across time. Some friends are constant companions in the journey, we connect every time we can, like Rick and Sue. We meet up in the UK, the Northwest, the Southwest, or any other place our paths cross. Other friends are like beacons along the path we see on occasion. Our contacts are episodic, spaced by time, but no less precious when the connection occurs. There is something encouraging about seeing each other like distance runners at a turn in the course we cheer each other on and take courage from the fact we are still in the race.

And of course, there are those acquaintances we saw who caused us great pain, friends who betrayed our friendship. What about these?  We had a couple of these encounters. Were they awkward?  No, surprisingly. They were filled with grace. Forgiveness has long ago released us from the want of revenge and the pain of betrayal. And they apparently also extended forgiveness and like us have grown and changed. The past and the future collided in these encounters with healing and an uncertain future. It is possible to be free of the pain of the past yet remain unreconciled – no longer enemies filled with suspicion but also no longer close. There is a grace in this as well, to embrace with a love that forgives and offers a future that if taken may result in a new friendship.

The longer I am around, the more intrigued I am by this time travel of past and future connection. Friends are a comfort, they are teachers, they are counselors, they are examples, and they are a reminder of what is most significant in life. Nurture your friendships they pull out your best, show you your worst, and offer you a path to a different future.

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Make a Difference! Lead Like a Servant

web versionHave you ever had something you wanted to say that you knew had the potential of changing the game? Have you been so convinced of its significance that you were willing to put it to the test of review, the discipline of systematic research and reflection, and the vulnerability of distribution?  Then you understand the passion of writing a book with the hope that it will amplify your message and your communication capacity. I have a message for market place and non-profit leaders who want to integrate their faith and leadership best practices.

There are some very strong books on leading like Jesus. Why did I write another book? I saw something missing. The way Jesus led not only transforms the way a leader acts; it also transforms the way an organization behaves for the better. Changing the way we think about leaders and their organizations is the intent of Change the Paradigm.

Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World is a clarion call to apply the concept of servant leadership to every organizational context. It is a handbook that demonstrates how the concept of Servant Leadership goes to work in the leader and in the organization. It investigates Servant Leadership through five perspectives: (1) the lens of Jesus’ call to serve; (2) the Missional impetus of the church and its foundation in a future hope made present in experience; (3) the latest insights from research into effective leadership; (4) the influence of an organization’s development on leadership practices and (5) leadership development. Servant Leadership is fundamentally a transforming perspective and composite of personal motivations that impact how the act of leading is expressed. It alters the way leaders view and value followers and stakeholders. Servant Leadership engages a personal relationship with God that changes a person’s definition of: self, ambition, values, situation, and the development of other leaders.

Change the Paradigm is available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a paper back or an e-book. We are working on agreements to get it into book stores everywhere in 2016. Get a jump on the crowd and order it today. It will show you how to think differently about the act of leadership.


It’s Not About Gender!

downloadIn a literature review on mentoring for a graduate course I ran across a table outlining gender differences.  I was struck by the caricature inherent in the gender definitions offered by the author. One author illustrated the differences between how men and women approach life in a the table of traits, one representing men and the other representing women. As is typical of lists like this it seemed to reflect biases rather than insights. I find such caricatures unhelpful in illuminating what it means to be a man or woman. Bifurcated and stiff gender caricatures trouble me because I observe that typical gender differences are not at all helpful in guiding the development of men and women or of describing their capabilities (which exercises designed to define gender differences seem to perennially attempt). Rather attempts at identifying gender differences often have a toxic consequence relationally and developmentally in people’s thinking.  I described the problem elsewhere,

The social mores by which the concept of male or female is defined often create a bigger barrier to growth than a help.  The failure to differentiate between the idea of sex (the biology of what makes men different from women) and gender (the social constructs that outline what it means to be a man or woman) has led to faulty conclusions and stereotypes about what defines the ideal man or women. When stereotypes are uncritically accepted as “biblical” models of maleness or femaleness, important distinctions between men and women are lost amid either/or descriptions that fail to account for basic humanness.  The challenge to approaches that formalize radical stereo types of gender is that the rich diversity of the calling of God in individual lives is lost to the many that simply don’t fit the mold.  In other words, confident women, sensitive men don’t make the gender cut.[1]

So, what did the author propose as predictable gender differences?

Table 1: Differing Emphases of Gender[2]

Gender v Human_Page_1

Elmore declares his table to be “the primary differences between men and women in the practice of mentoring.”[3] Before I go on I should note that I am not targeting Elmore specifically rather I use Elmore as an example of an error that Fine points toward when it comes to identifying gender differences.  In Fine’s view the role of culture and socialization has a far greater impact on how we define gender than our genetic makeup. It is this impact that Fine emphasizes and the fact that research or observations like those of Elmore, start with biases about gender so that popular writing seems to use neuro-research or one’s own observations as a way to reinforce sexism and not uncover deeper insights into the male and female mind.[4]

The question that arose in my mind is do we regularly interpret data about male and female behavior with a biased lens that inhibits us from seeing any results outside our expected stereotypes?  To address the question I put together a questionnaire that asked men and women to idenfity which of the characteristics named by Elmore they felt best described themselves. The questionnaire simply listed Elmore’s traits and asked people to decide which traits they were most like using a five point Likert scale. The survey is non-scientific.  I did not validate the traits nor did I have a valid sample group. The participants were self selecting based on an open invitation which did not assure that the sample group I used was random. I had 25 participants (9 male and 16 female). The ages of the participants ranged from 30 to over 60 years of age.

Having provided the disclaimer which simply is to say what results I record are interesting but may not reflect the general population – I will never-the-less question the observations characterized in Elmore’s work.

When reading the following charts it is important to know the scale respondents used. The Likert scale I used was: 1, very much like me; 2, somewhat like me; 3, neutral; 4, not much like me; and 5, not at all like me.

Chart 1: Female Respondents

Chart 1

Chart 1 record the gender roles assigned by Elmore to women (the red line) and the self selected characteristic of the women who responded to the survey (the blue line). Notice in Chart 1 that Elmore’s contention that women are more feeler than they are thinkers was not at all supported by what the women in the survey said about themselves. The median score on the “thinker” characteristic for women was 1 (i.e., very much like me). The raw scores ranged from 1 to 4 (i.e., not much like me).

Similarly results contrasting relational focus to results focus were not as distinct as Elmore observed but much more nuanced. Women agreed that they are relationally focused (mean score of 1, very much like me) but also claim to be definitely results focused (mean score of 2 i.e., somewhat like me). The high individual score on results focused was 4 (i.e., not much like me).  On the empathetic versus problem solving descriptors Elmore’s observations were flatly wrong to the small sample I surveyed. The margin of error for the holistic v categorical items was significant as well among the women who responded to the survey. So, how did the men do?

Chart 2: Male Respondents

Chart 2

The male respondents demonstrated that they were much more feeler oriented than Elmore implied and much less categorical. The median scores show a fairly inclusive set of character traits with median scores of 2 (i.e., somewhat like me) on the: relational focused, results focused, communicator, doer, detail oriented and empathetic scores. Like the women, the men simply did not correspond to the holistic versus categorical score in any significant way.

Chart 3: Male and Female Respondents

Chart 3

The differences highlighted in Chart 3 between men and women are extremely nuanced in this sample and do not correspond with Elmore’s ideals.

Here’s my point, trying to decide who you are by the use of gender differentials is about as futile an exercise as can be engaged. What may be more helpful is to use characteristics like those identified by Elmore as simply personality characteristics that may be exhibited by men or women. Viewing oneself as a unique person with unique capabilities and unique perspectives and characteristics gets rid of the nuisance created when we try to make the differences between men and women something other than differences in sexual identity. Does this mean that unique perspectives or ways of seeing are not evident between men and women?  No. Fine contributes two important observations:

If hormones determine the roles, one would expect to find the same sex occupying the same roles in all societies. This is patently not the case.[5]

…Genes don’t determine our brains (or our bodies), but they do constrain them. The developmental possibilities for an individual are neither infinitely malleable nor solely in the hands of the environment. But the insight that thinking, behavior, and experiences change the brain, directly, or through changes in genetic activity, seems to strip the word ‘hardwiring’ of much useful meaning….we should ‘view biology as potential, as capacity and not as static entity.[6]

We simply cannot force people into a stereotypical behaviors that make them men or women. We cannot make whether a person is a man or women the criteria for ability. It is far more a matter of personality and inherent cognitive ability. I illustrate the challenge of trying to define set gender roles in the following:

I often ask students in my leadership courses to make two lists. On one side of a sheet of paper I ask them to write out descriptions of what it means to be a man.  On another side of the paper I ask them to write out what it means to be a woman. Typically they describe men with adjectives such as: strong, confident, firm, forceful, carefree, aggressive, bossy, sarcastic, rude, feeling superior. They describe women as: patient, sensitive, devoted, responsible, appreciative, timid, weak, needing approval, dependent, or nervous. After we discuss the observations they have made I ask them to return to their lists to identify adjectives that apply to Christ.  To the astonishment of my students they highlight all the positive traits they identified as male and female i.e., Jesus is patient, strong, sensitive, confident, devoted, firm, responsible, forceful, appreciative, and carefree.  What does this mean? Was Jesus confused about his gender identity or are our categories fluid and inaccurate?  Since there is nothing in the gospel record to suggest Jesus ever demonstrated any question about his sexual identity it is safe to assume that our ideas of appropriate gender behavior are more fluid than they are rigid. When gender stereotypes are interpreted as rigid and worse when this rigidity is described as “biblically” rooted both men and women suffer in their sense of identity.[7]


Men and women both can find a new sense of identity and confidence in being themselves, unique, gifted, wired like Jesus. Understand your own emotional being to exercise self-awareness and a sense of the impact you have on others. This is a far better path to self-definition and understanding than charts like those illustrated in Elmore’s work. Again, it’s not about gender it’s about personality.

[1] Raymond L. Wheeler. Change the Paradigm: How to Lead Like Jesus in Today’s World. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2015, 115.

[2] Tim Elmore. Mentoring: How to Invest your life in Others.  Atlanta, GA: Equip, 1998, 42.

[3] Elmore, 42.

[4] Cordelia Fine. Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010.

[5] Fine, 127.

[6] Fine, 177-178.

[7] Wheeler, 118.

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Define Your Ambition!

Ray at summitWhat is it that you want to accomplish? How clearly can you state your ambition? Ambition defined is as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

Ambition has a bad rap with many and for good reason. There are those whose ambition for power, prestige, or pleasure has made them into users and abusers of people.

But does the abuse of a trait by some make it negative in every instance? Can ambition be good? I argue that ambition is imperative. It helps people clarify their goals and purpose and live/work with focus and impact. Jesus, the master leader understood the power of ambition and its potential for abuse. Consider for a moment that Jesus often asked people directly and indirectly to clarify their ambition.

Jesus’ questions intended to elicit honesty about what his listeners really wanted. In addressing the crowds about John the Baptist Jesus asked, “What did you go out to see?” He queried their deepest desire – people didn’t go to see John because he was eccentric, they went because he offered hope for change. In confronting religious leaders on the tyranny that resulted from their dishonest ambition Jesus told a story about two debtors both forgiven their debts. Then he asked, “Which of [the two debtors] will love him [the creditor] more?” The answer exposed these leader’s warped self-centered ambition. When approached by James and John who requested positions of prominence in Jesus’ kingdom Jesus asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”

Jesus’ response refocused the ambition of James and John. Jesus did not rebuke their ambition – he shaped it and showed it to be misdirected. The question any leader faces is whether they will come out from inside themselves to be as honest as James and John about what they are really after. Ambition exposed can be shaped, challenged, encouraged, or redirected. Ambition hidden only warps, deceives, tyrannize, and suppresses others. Have you been honest about your ambition? Are you willing to allow God to reshape and redirect it? Like James and John honesty will result in a much larger commission than their original ambition was able to conceive. God will “blow you mind.” Go ahead, expose and submit your ambition to God and see what God does in you.

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How Do you Measure the Health of Your Christian Organization?

10931217_10205220733576419_4977262972998137073_nHow do you measure the overall health of your Christian organization? In this presentation I discuss the correlation between spiritual awakening and mission. Inevitably understanding spiritual vibrancy leads to a different way of assessing organizational health. This presentation was made at the Great Commission Mobilizer Summit for the Student Volunteer Movement 2 (SVM2). For more of the speakers and for the power point that corresponds to my presentation below go to http://www.svm2.net/special-events/gcsummit/gcsummitresources/. Cut and past the following link into your browser to access the mp3 file.  http://www.svm2.net/Correlation_between_Spiritual_


Change the Paradigm

51Pv2jzHD3L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The title is ambitious I admit. But, the way we think about leadership and express it in the church and in business needs a change in my view. I wrote this book because I see the possibility of unleashing something radically life changing by altering the way we lead. Why? Uncritically adopted leadership styles often promise efficiency and effectiveness but they just as often fail to address the challenge – congregations and businesses feel compressed, threatened, and lost in the radical shifts occurring all around them.  At worst churches and Christian organizations act no different from any other corporation in how they relate to their employees and their members.

Jesus changed the formula of leadership – he initiated a hope that is transforming and healing and not oppressive and disillusioning. This book is a blue print for how to lead like Jesus and produce extraordinary results. I am committed to being a part of a changing paradigm of leadership. Its my hope that writing a handbook on how to put a new perspective to work encourage a new conversation and a different way of leading.

Here is what those who reviewed the manuscript had to say about.

“…well written, organized, and amazingly detailed…Ray writes in an intellectual tone that doesn’t come off as arrogant or stiff, but rather uplifting and humble.” Editorial Team, Xulon Press.

“…challenges my paradigms on being a leader…. I wish I had read earlier on in my leadership experiences.” Steve MorganGlobal Leadership Development, CRU

“…elegant and powerful.  I don’t read Christian books on leadership. They just don’t have the content. But your manuscript is new and needed I could not put it down.”  Mark Simmonsbusiness entrepreneur,Seattle, Washington.

“…a must read for anyone seeking increased effectiveness leading an organization through a holistic approach aligned with Scriptural principles.”  Jim J. Adams, President, LIFE Pacific College

“…profound, practical and prophetic in its impact. I believe it can shape a culture that can change the world!” Glenn C. Burris, Jr., President, The Foursquare Church

“…will transform how you engage others. Dare to apply Ray’s assertions…they will change your life…from the inside out.” Dennis Bachman,Executive Pastor. NewSong Church, San Dimas, California

“This Book will take you to a place you were not expecting to go – the transformation of your own heart.” Casey Cox, Pastor, Living Faith Fellowship, San Dimas, California

Pick up a copy today at:

Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Change-Paradigm-Raymond-L-Wheeler/dp/1498440169/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1436281607

Barnes & Noble, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/change-the-paradigm-raymond-l-wheeler/1122227562?ean=9781498440165


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