An Unpopular Proposal

In my last post, I made the observation that great leaders love to learn. They read, attend conferences, and keep growing as a leader.

I was talking with a friend recently.  He’s a professional counselor and works hard to be able to give his best to his clients.  In fact, he has to prove that he’s investing in his professional skills with something he referred to as CEUs (Continuing Education Units).  He explained to me that this is a common requirement in the fields of counseling and medicine.

This makes perfect sense!  Think about it.  If your doctor graduated from medical school twenty years ago but hasn’t picked up a medical journal or continued to learn new and better methods since then, would you have a whole lot of confidence in him or her?  I know I wouldn’t!  I want to know that the guy treating me or my children is prepared with information and methods that are more effective than the ones used twenty years ago.

So if it’s so important for people who work with temporary things (our bodies) to keep educating themselves, then why shouldn’t those working with eternal things (our spirits) be required to keep learning?  Honestly, I don’t understand how someone can obtain a minister’s license and never even have to pick up a book from that day forward!

So that’s my proposal to credentialing bodies and denominations: make ministers have to prove that they are investing in their growth as a minister and leader. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complicated.  Submitting a list of books they’ve read each year would be better than the current system.  Hold them accountable to grow or lose their license.

I know that proposal might make me unpopular.  That’s OK with me.  As a credential holder, I’d be held to the same standard.  I just feel that the people we minister to are worth it.  Don’t you?

Let me know what you think.  Should this type of accountability be in place?

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A Common Leadership Thread

“Have you ever read this book?” I asked with way too much enthusiasm.  He just looked at me with an expression that said, “Yeah, right.”  He was a youth pastor that already knew all the answers.  His youth ministry was slightly above average in size and he was very comfortable in his position.  Normally something like that wouldn’t phase me but, at the time, I’d always been around leaders who loved to read.  It was unthinkable to me that someone in church leadership would frown on books (other than the Bible).  He was fired a few months later.  His pastor’s threshold for arrogant leadership found its limit.

In sharp contrast, I had a conversation once that went like this: “Can you recommend any good books?”  I began to list some of my favorites on leadership and ministry.  “Where can I get those?”  I listed a couple of my favorite places to get books cheap.  I had the pleasure of watching this guy take his ministry to great places.

I know, you’re thinking, “Thanks for the cheesy replay of your mentoring conversation Lee.”  But it really is that simpleThe one common thread I’ve found among leaders that make a sustainable difference, who know how to lead and inspire, who can stick it out for the long haul is a continued commitment to keep learning.  They never stop reading, studying, or growing.  They don’t rest on what they learned back in the day or what worked for them 10 years ago.  In fact, they don’t rest on what they learned only 3 years ago.

This tends to be an even greater problem for someone who has been in the ministry for many years.  They believe that tenure equals wisdom, but just because you’ve been doing a mediocre job for the last 20 years doesn’t mean you know a whole lot.  In my opinion experience is highly overrated unless you’re learning from it and should never be a substitute for continuing your education as a leader.

So that’s the common thread I find among great leaders.  They keep learning.  Like an old friend of mine used to say, “Leaders are readers and readers lead.”

What are some other threads you find in good leadership?

What Didn’t You Do?

“I’m not worried about what I’ve done.  It’s what I could have done that troubles me.” – A.W. Tozer

I’ll admit it.  Between the ages of 15 and 30 I put off a lot of things.  Somehow I thought, “I have a long time to accomplish that.” and that line of thinking brought on a certain passiveness that today I regret.  Now, here I am, almost halfway through my life with such an urgency to do something great for God that it’s almost paralyzing.  My greatest fear?  That I’ll reach the end of my life having made little to no impact on the world around me; that somehow I will have missed it and I’ll be full of woulda shoulda couldas.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the 15+ years I’ve been in ministry.  It’s just that somehow I believe that there’s something… more.  More than Western church work.  More than preaching, more than music, more than programs.  I mean, if that was what we’re supposed to do, then why are so many going to hell? Why are there starving?  Why are people still being sold as slaves?  Why do 80% of young people leave the church?  Why is the divorce rate just as high in the church as it is outside?  Why are 1,500 pastors leaving the ministry every month?

I really do love the local church.  I don’t know where I’d be without it.  It’s through the local church that I found an awesome relationship with Jesus.  That’s where I learned how to pray, found community, and received blessing after blessing from the Father.  My question is, “What aren’t we doing?”

Notice, I didn’t ask, “What isn’t the church doing?”  After all, WE are the local church.  Remember when that missionary came and said he needed help in South Africa?  Remember when the Holy Spirit pulled on your heart to go and you didn’t?  Do you recall the many times you felt a tug to give to help those in need?  You made a mental note to write a check when you got home, but the check was never written.  How about that calling to work with the teenagers at your church, but life got in the way and you never got any further than just mentioning it to the youth pastor?  I know I’ve been there.  My whole family would have been to Africa, I would have had a book written, and thousands of my hard earned dollars would be poured into hundreds of projects by now if I would have just done what I’d meant to do.  It’s too bad we don’t get points for good intentions.

Here are a few things we can all do to shorten our list of things we didn’t do:

Start writing down the things you felt you were supposed to do, then start doing them.  Sounds overly simplistic, I know, but sometimes the mere act of writing a thing down gets it out of the realm of whims and into a greater sense of reality.  Why not?  We write down goals like the car we want to buy and the vacation we want to take.  Why not write down the things we want to do for God?  We’re always looking for God to tell us what to do.  Maybe He’s been quiet because we haven’t done the last 20 things he told us to.

Tell somebodyHave someone in your life who will hold you accountable to your dreams.  It’s too easy to blow things off when the emotion dies down and it’s all just a big idea rolling around in your head.

Take a small step.  Put a couple dollars in an envelope marked “Missions Trip”, commit to serving at only one youth event, or pray five minutes a week for your pastor.  Remember, a very small thing is better than no thing and you’ll be surprised at how several baby steps can add up quickly.

So how about you?  What are some things you felt called to do but didn’t?  What are the things you haven’t done?  You can post some things here and have a bunch of people praying for you.  Let a life of no regrets be your goal!

* My apologies to all those who commented on this post.  I lost it during maintenance and had to repost it.  Feel free to comment again!

The Discipline of Discipline

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Discipline is freedom.” Wrap your brain around that! I read through Foster’s book with an equal amount of conviction and excitement about a disciplined life. I’ve always considered myself a relatively disciplined person (at least in a few areas) but I know I could use an adjustment here and there. I learned a long time ago that praying for God to help me be disciplined was crazy talk like praying for longer hair or bigger muscles. Discipline is a choice and a daily decision. It’s not just going to come over you by supernatural influence.

The thing I’ve found though, is that it really DOES bring freedom! I meet with people all the time that are struggling. They struggle with their commitment to Christ, they struggle with their weight, they struggle with their marriage, they struggle with… everything! It astounds me how many times the answer just comes back to discipline. To the struggling believer, I ask, “How’s your prayer life?” The answer is usually a long list of activities that are taking priority over prayer. I see friends struggling with their weight that just can’t seem to establish a discipline of exercise and restraint, pastors with declining churches that won’t discipline themselves to read, grow, and learn a better way, and families falling apart that fail to discipline themselves to say no to all the things that compete for their time together.

I know that’s a pretty general approach to many of the problems that we face. My intention is not to come off as insensitive and all “Drill Sargent-y”. But isn’t it much easier to wish than it is to take practical steps to do? I turned my life over to Christ 25 years ago. I’ve seen many wonderful people turn away from the faith during that time, and I have the pleasure of worshiping alongside others who were with me when I made the most important decision ever. When I look at the lives of those who fell away, gave up the fight, and abandoned their relationship with God, I find only one common thread, only one difference between them and those who are still serving Him today, and it’s a lack of discipline to seek God. That’s it! We all had similar problems, obstacles, and issues. It’s just that the disciplined ones stayed. Hence the old saying, “He who prays stays, and he who fasts lasts“.

There’s an old man in his 90s that I know from the YMCA. His name is Ernie. He swims six days a week! Because of his discipline, he has energy, he’s strong, mobile, and sharp as can be. He didn’t start swimming when he turned 90. He’s been doing it for decades, and now he experiences a great deal of freedom for a man his age. Many men, younger than him, come into the gym feeble, sickly, and tired because they they spent so many years without discipline and now they’re there under doctor’s orders. I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Ernie!

Being disciplined helps you to last. It brings freedom from bondage. It conditions you to serve better. It creates a condition in you that allows God to transform you!

If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Pick a discipline, like prayer or reading, and stick to it every day for six weeks.  You WILL notice a difference!  Your desires change.  You start to long for the good stuff.  Your capacity for achievement increases because you’re growing and expanding.  Your mind even starts to sharpen because you’re forcing yourself to develop new habits (a side effect to counter-intuitiveness).

I believe so strongly in the power of discipline that, if it doesn’t help you, I’ll refund the money I charged you for reading this blog 😉

One last thing.  If you do decide to give it a try, think about posting your benefits on this blog.  You never know who you’ll encourage!