Quirky Leadership: Permission Granted

Quirky Leadership: Permission Granted

by John Voelz


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Quirky Leadership: Permission Granted by John Voelz

Pastors and ministry leaders too often play the comparison game, looking to church leadership rockstars and curtailing idiosyncrasies to be like them. But it’s a losing game. Leaders end up trying vainly to lead their churches from a lack of gifts and a place of emptiness.

What is the solution? Quirkiness. Leaders need permission to lead not like someone else, but as the best possible version of themselves—embracing idiosyncrasies, personalities, and personal tastes. When church leaders name their quirks, they are free to discover a unique leadership philosophy and find unique missional opportunities.

Quirky Leadership raises the bar for ministry—not by jumping through more hoops or focusing on gift deficits but rather by identifying, communicating, and celebrating the individual truths about identities and for ministry environments. John Voelz is quickly becoming a source for practical leadership perspective as a voice that questions the status quo, calls out mediocrity, and gives permission to view things differently and watch crazy ideas come to fruition for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426754913
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 04/15/2013
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John Voelz is a tamed rebel, writer, artist, songwriter, painter, musician, aggravator, and pastor. His love of all things creative in tandem with a severe angst towards mediocrity and religiosity has given him a unique platform as a voice in the church—local and worldwide. He is the lead pastor known as The Curator at Westwinds in Jackson, Michigan where he lives with his wife and kids.

Read an Excerpt

Quirky Leadership

Permission Granted

By John Voelz

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2013 John Voelz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-5491-3




I have ideas. Good ones. As a matter of fact, part of what makes me good at what I do is that I think I can do most things better than other people can. I have just enough humility to know I am not perfect and just enough pride to believe I can do most things better than you. I know this is shocking, and you might not know me, so let me assure you I am being a bit sarcastic while exhibiting some self-disclosure at the risk of sounding like a self-righteous idiot.

All leaders have a bit of healthy confidence. Sometimes mine gets out of whack. This is why I have removed myself from the leader pool in the past or at least doubted my ability. After all, aren't leaders always supposed to be perfectly humble?

I've always been taught to believe that Christian leaders don't have that degree of confidence (pride) in themselves. They are big fans of creative collaboration and believe all God's children have a place in the choir—even (maybe especially) the ones who sing incredibly flat. But I don't necessarily believe that. This is one of the reasons I've never really fancied myself a leader.

This leads me to another observation about myself. Leaders use words like "fancied" in sentences. But I don't. Except for that time in the last paragraph where I thought I'd try it on for size. I didn't like it. I like to think I'm smart, but really, I think I'm pretty average (maybe a little above) on the smart scale. I've always been taught to believe leaders speak and write well, but I have never considered myself a natural scholar or orator. The times I sound good come with a ton of practice and hard work.

I have tattoos, a crazy beard, and earrings, and I like them all. Sometimes I wax and curl my mustache because it's fun. I even pretend my wife enjoys it too. I tried to wear Dockers slacks for a while, but I felt like I was being punished—like that time I had to write "I will not say that word" 1,000 times after I cussed out my cousin's dog in front of my mother. I tried the slacks (or trousers, as my grandpa called them) because I thought it was expected of a leader.

This is probably a really good time to tell you I think sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts. Sarcasm is a powerful tool for communication, and it sometimes gets me in trouble (often). The nature of sarcasm is that it speaks for itself—you don't always have to point it out. Until you put it in print form and serve it up to people who don't know you. Sarcasm comes from a word that literally means "the tearing of the flesh." When it goes bad, it goes horribly wrong. I pray that doesn't happen here. You'll get sarcasm in small doses throughout this book. This penchant for sarcasm has been a point of contention for me in my leadership, and sometimes it has been sin on my part. This is another reason I have second-guessed my calling at times.

I have a library full of leadership books. These books have much in common. They all have lists of things I am supposed to aspire to be as a leader. Some of the advice has shaped me. Some has enlightened me. Much has discouraged me.

I have been to leadership conferences. I have listened to countless leadership CDs (I started with cassettes), podcasts, and seminars. I've gleaned much from them. And yet, I have often come away thinking, "Who am I kidding?"


I once thought a leader spoke a certain way, dressed for the part, always paid for lunch, enjoyed patent leather, and couldn't wait to get on the golf course.

This year, I finally decided I don't like golf. Sure, I like driving the cart, I like a beer after the game, I enjoy the conversation, and I occasionally hit something straight and feel the thrill. But I don't want to get any better. I don't dream about it. And it's kind of boring. Now, what kind of a pastor or leader does not like golf?

I'm not even joking about my leader perceptions. For years, I carried this burden of not measuring up. Then, one day some things turned around for me. One of the leaders I look up to (who tucks in his shirt) told me he wished he could lead like me.

Like me? I asked him what he saw in me that he wanted to aspire to. He told me he appreciated that I could speak my mind without being a jerk (most of the time), that people wanted to hear what I had to say, that people genuinely wanted to be on my team, that I exuded an incredible freedom and daring optimism, and that I got stuff done.

I think he just wanted me to buy dinner.

I do know this: I have ideas, creativity, opinions, and tastes that have been forged through opportunities and stepping in where things have been left undone. Most of the leadership positions I have held have been given to me in the wake of a disaster, a church split, or a major upset of some other variety. I've always been the next guy. In many cases, I've been forced to clean up the mess and forge a new way while mending wounds.

As such, I have a style and a leadership personality that has emerged through trying stuff on for size. I think what my friend really saw in me (because I am most definitely not all those things, even in my own mind) was freedom. Freedom to try. Freedom to fail. Freedom to do my best without a blueprint. Freedom to ask, "Who said we can't do that?"

I blow it all the time. People get mad at me often. But people do like to watch a fire burn. Freedom in a leader is a fire people want to be around.

I realize now I am a leader. Just not that kind. Or that kind. Or your kind. Or her kind. My kind. The kind God made (and is making) me to be and has shaped (and is shaping) me to be by his influence, life situations, people, experience, choices, education, and a myriad of other influences.

I have also realized something I wish every person in my position could realize, because it has been a gift: I may not fit the mold, I may not engage in the same water cooler conversations, and I may not frequent the same establishments as other leaders, but I have been entrusted with a group of more than 1,000 people in this particular franchise of the kingdom in Jackson, Michigan. That is important. That is unique. That is who I lead. Not your church. Not his or hers. This one.

They are my people. This city is my home. I can't separate who I am from where I live. All leadership rules don't universally apply. All places are not my place, and all people are not my people. I'm not only a leader; I am this leader. Their leader. Now.


If you are reading this book, you probably consider yourself a leader. Or you want to be one. Or you think you might be one. Or someone told you that you are.

Leadership can be an invigorating and fulfilling experience and call. It can also be maddening and lonely. It's hard to know if you are doing it right if you think you may be doing it wrong. And someone always wants to tell you how to do it better.

Usually, doing "better" in other people's minds means they have a good idea of how you need to change. Adapt. Become something else.

But how about becoming the best "you" you can possibly be?

What if those crazy ideas in your head are supposed to be acted upon? What if making that outrageous decision to do that thing people laugh at is one of the most important things you can do for your church at this time? What do you do when the proverbial wisdom is "there's safety in a multitude of counsel," but you and your leadership partner/team think everyone else is all wet?

This is not a book about what deficiencies you need to sharpen in order to lead better. This is not a book about discovering your holes and how to patch them. This book will not give you a diagram of the perfect leader who is someone other than you.

This book is about discovering who you are as a leader, remembering who and what you are called to lead in your specific situation, identifying the things that make you a unique leader in your context and culture, celebrating those things, and communicating them well.

This book is also not about building other leaders. It's a little self-centered. This was a choice on my part because I believe there is a myth in Christian circles that the best leaders spend most of their time building other leaders. While building other leaders is a stellar, worthy goal, this book is designed to be a path of discovery in order to give you permission and confidence to lead all those people by first understanding what the heck you believe about leadership.


"So, you want to be a leader? Just look at Jesus." That's what someone once told me. Quite frankly, I don't know that I necessarily like the advice. I mean, Jesus was mistreated, misunderstood, and homeless, and they killed him.

Often, people will want to use the Jesus card to help you determine whether you are making the right leadership decision based on a similar thing Jesus did. These are things I have heard regarding decisions I've made and what Jesus would have me do instead:

* Jesus never gave up on someone. You shouldn't stop counseling that person.

* Jesus had a group of 12 disciples. We should have small groups with no more than 12 people in them.

* Jesus drove out the moneychangers, so we should not have any money transactions in the church.

Did Jesus have the perfect size for a small group? I'm sure he knew what he was doing and 12 seemed the best number based on the people he selected and invited, but I'm pretty sure he could have gone with 11 or 13 if it suited him, and if he had picked 17, it still wouldn't have been prescriptive for us.

These silly out-of-context connections about what Jesus would do in our scenario based on what he did back then in his are ridiculous. All leadership scenarios require their own exegesis and innovation. Jesus certainly made good leadership decisions, but he wasn't giving us a leadership blueprint—at least not in these very specific ways.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus was perfect. He was perfect in the sense that he was everything the Father intended and spoke of from the beginning. He was perfect in his work on the cross, his victory of death and sin, lacking nothing. Complete. Fulfilled. The end.

But can we say he was born the perfect leader? The best communicator who ever lived? Was he innately the best at everything he touched?

This is where it gets tricky. And harder to prove.

Jesus was a carpenter (most likely a stone mason). Did he build the best custom homes?

When Jesus sang as he walked down the road, did people marvel at his angelic voice and call him the songbird of his generation?

Was Jesus always picked first for the basketball team because of his killer dunk shot and his ability to sink the three-pointer?

Jesus was human. Jesus had to learn things. He wasn't born talking. He filled his diapers, and he had to be taught how to tie his sandals.

If we say Jesus was the perfect leader, should we make that claim about his whole life, or just about his life at the end? If he was the perfect leader at 33, what can we say about 25? Or as a teenager?

Jesus must have had spiritual gifts like all of us. Jesus must have stunk at something, or at least have been mediocre at something. If this isn't true, we should stop telling people the church body is made of different parts and so they shouldn't feel bad about not being good at one thing over another. We should tell people they should become good at everything as Jesus was. See how weird that is?

If Jesus was innately good at everything, he wasn't human. He was a robot. A perfectly programmed robot with an operating system that never failed or had to be rebooted. The absence of sin should not be equated with the ability to excel at everything.

Jesus is perfectly God. But this doesn't mean he always won the foot race, made a perfect lamb meatloaf, or would win American Idol, The Voice, or Chopped hands down. I'm sure they would vote him off the island on Survivor no matter how well we think he could "Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast." They killed him, for crying out loud.

He, like the men of Issachar in the oft-quoted 1 Chronicles 12:32, understood the times and knew what he should do. He read the signs. He paid attention. He made decisions based on the context he was in and observed. He surrendered his will to the Father.

Knowing that Jesus read the signs, interpreted the times, exegeted his culture, and made the decisions he felt necessary to his context, as opposed to giving us a perfect blueprint for all kinds of leadership, should give us a new kind of freedom and permission to lead through all the unknowns.


The first time I asked this, it was in the context of universal schematics and diagrams. Systems and blueprints. Prescriptive methodologies without context.

This time, I want to ask the question based on character. Attitude. Perspective. Mission. And this time, my answer is a resounding "yes."

Jesus. The servant leader. Perfect.

Of course, the concept of servant leadership—attributed to Jesus—is not new to us. Libraries of leadership books have been dedicated to the concept of servant leadership, and I don't know that there are many books on "Christian" leadership that leave out this concept. It is good. It is Jesus' idea.

However, practically speaking, I don't know that we understand what he meant by it. Servant leadership is often bastardized and ghettoized to mean:

Having a sympathetic ear. Always. At the drop of a hat.

Being fully present. When anyone demands it. Any time.

Valuing other opinions. By assigning them equal worth.

Profit sharing.

Christmas bonuses.

A good human resource department.

Processing together. Until everyone agrees.

Brainstorming. Everything.

Seeking to understand. Until we change our mind.

Listening twice as much as we speak.

Speaking in soft tones.

A staff footwashing.

If these things are true of servant leadership, Jesus had some learning to do as a servant leader. Jesus should have a talking to in regard to calling people names, overturning tables, asking his mom why she was bothering him at a wedding, telling other leaders they were wrong, and going off to be alone when everybody wanted a piece of him.

He still had an opinion (John 5:44; Luke 16:13).

He still set boundaries (Luke 5:15–16; Luke 4:28–30).

He didn't allow people to manipulate him (Matt 12:46–50; Luke 23:8–9).

He sometimes put people in their place (Matt 21:23–27).

He preserved his mission (Mark 1:38).

He didn't let the power brokers have the upper hand (Matt 22:15–22).

He broke the social and cultural rules (John 4).

Being a servant does not mean surrendering opinions and tastes at all times (though it might at some). Being a servant does not mean being wishy-washy to make sure everyone's voice is heard. We have other descriptions for these traits, like indecisive, neutral, un-opinionated, and having no backbone—things that don't sound like leader qualities at all.

No one wants a team captain who lets everyone brainstorm and decide the game plan at half-court. No one wants a coach to poll the crowd. No one wants a president whose platform is "I'm not here to cause waves."

No matter where you are in the leadership hierarchy of your church, there can really be only one vision. This is not a book about defying your senior leaders or getting forgiveness as opposed to permission. Quite the contrary.

Servant leadership in Jesus' case led to his death. Laying his life down was ultimately what he was called to do, and nothing kept him from accomplishing that vision and mission. Competing visions were cast aside.

If you lead a team of people who really want ABC vision, but there is a leader who oversees you who clearly has XYZ vision, the answer is XYZ. It's not necessarily XYC (partly the leader's and partly yours sneaked in). It's definitely not XY and maybe they won't notice Z is missing (the leader's minus the part you omitted).

A leader certainly can and should value those they lead by entertaining other opinions. But he or she doesn't have to feel bad about XYZness—especially if XYZ is a clearer reflection of the vision the leader is called to protect. For the leader of leaders, death does not look like the surrender of XYZ when the vision is at stake. Death often comes in the course of defending XYZ.

Defending the vision is a full-contact sport. While vision "leaks" according to many leadership professionals, the leaking requires communicating "clearly, creatively, and continually," according to guru John Maxwell (p. 67). His book The 360° Leader discusses the many ways vision is challenged, from criticism and sabotage, to ignoring and abandoning vision (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005). How does Maxwell suggest we "successfully navigate the vision challenge?" "The more you invest in the vision, the more it becomes your own" (p. 64). "Participation increases ownership" (p. 65).

Adapting to vision, championing vision, and adding value to vision (Maxwell's list of preferred responses to "The Vision Challenge") come with investment andparticipation. But never does Maxwell suggest surrendering the vision to others when you are the one called to champion it. Who would? Participation and investment require people to change. Not the vision.


Excerpted from Quirky Leadership by John Voelz. Copyright © 2013 John Voelz. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Shout Outs vii

Preface ix

1 Necessity Is the Mother of Permission 1

2 You're So Quirky (You Probably Think This Chapter's about You) 21

3 I Know What I Know If You Know What I Mean 38

4 Whooooo Are You? 79

5 Will The Real [ Leader's Name Here] Please Stand Up? 106

6 I'll Have What She's Having 133

7 Life in Real Life 159

8 Unique, Unpredictable, and Memorable 188

9 Dénouement 203

Quirky Leadership Exercises 209

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Quirky Leadership: Permission Granted 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
patamo More than 1 year ago
I was recently given a copy of a book by author, artist, musician, and fellow rebel John Voelz. The book was Quirky Leadership from Abingdon Press. I was intrigued by the title and, knowing JVo, I was looking forward to his particular slant on the broad subject of leadership. The first thing you’ll notice is the chapter titles. Actually, that’s not probably first thing you notice. You’ll probably see the cover first. It’s quirky. But after you open the book, you may run into the chapter titles. Many of JVo’s chapter titles are nods to classic songs – one is even a line from a movie (perhaps the best one-liner ever written for and delivered on the silver screen): You’re So Quirky (I Bet You Think This Chapter’s About You) I Know What I Know If You Know What I Mean Whooooo Are You? Will the Real [Leader's Name Here] Please Stand Up? I’ll Have What She’s Having With titles like that you expect/hope that you’re going to at least have a little fun while learning about leadership. And who doesn’t like a little fun? I don’t often say of any book – much less a leadership book – that I couldn’t put it down. The truth is I couldn’t put Quirky Leadership down. I read the entire book in two sittings. Quirky Leadership is a breath of fresh air. It is permission-giving. Rather than trying to fit you into a particular “leadership mold,” Voelz allows you to celebrate your individuality as a leader, recognizing that you were created by God with a unique mix of gifts, talents, and yes, quirks. Those uniquenesses make you who you are and allow you to lead uniquely and creatively. Voelz puts it best in Chapter 1: This is not a book about what deficiencies you need to sharpen in order to lead better. This is not a book about discovering your holes and how to patch them. This book will not give you a diagram of the perfect leader who is someone other than you. This book is about discovering who you are as a leader, remembering who and what you are called to lead in your specific situation, identifying the things that make you a unique leader in your context and culture, celebrating those things, and communicating them well. This book is also not about building other leaders. It’s a little self-centered. This was a choice on my part because I believe there is a myth in Christian circles that the best leaders spend most of their time building other leaders. While building other leaders is a stellar, worthy goal, this book is designed to be a path of discovery in order to give you permission and confidence to lead all those people by first understanding what the heck you believe about leadership. Voelz then goes on to lay out a grid for understanding your particular brand of quirkiness and using it to lead well. I especially liked his use of “plumblines” and the way they help define the leadership grid of Coriolis (the leadership team) at his church (Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI). In addition, I really resonated with this quote: To lead effectively in the specific ways God has shaped you in your specific culture and circumstances, there is a necessary process of discovery in determining what you already believe about leadership, ministry, church, and mission: 1. Know Your Story 2. List Your Labels 3. Identify Your Quirks 4. Publish Your Plumblines 5. Celebrate It All There are a lot of books on leadership out there. Heck, just the books by John Maxwell would fill the leadership section at most bookstores. Quirky Leadership is different… in a good way. If you are a solo leader, this would be a great book for you to read. If you lead a team, I would highly recommend you take your team through this book. Also, make sure you check out the companion website to the book for more great thinking on and exercises for your quirky leadership. Quirky Leadership was everything I expected from the mind of John Voelz. And a whole lot more. Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Additionally, I received this book free from the author to review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”