How to Make Sure You’ll Never Lead

I’m pretty fortunate.  Many years ago, when I was working my first full-time church staff position, my pastor made sure to invest lots of leadership training in me.  We watched leadership videos together, had lengthy discussions about leadership, and he was willing to send me to any conference that would grow me as a leader.  It’s an investment I’m incredibly grateful for and it fostered a desire in me to keep on growing.  To this day, there’s almost always a leadership book in my reading queue, I subscribe to several leadership podcasts, and I’ll snatch up one on one time with great leaders whenever I can get it.  (Side note: if I know I’m going to have an opportunity to shake a great leader’s hand, but no opportunity to really talk, I’ll ask him/her what the most important book they’ve ever read was.  If it helped shape them, it will help shape me too!)

I’ve noticed, over the years, that many leaders share similar qualities: lots of vision, a strong work ethic, the ability to inspire, generosity, passion, and the continuing pursuit of leadership knowledge.

Being in ministry for so many years, I’ve had the honor of investing in many young leaders.  It’s such a privilege to speak into their lives and give them opportunities to cut their leadership teeth and watch them grow.

There’s been a lot of rough, ragged, inexperienced, ragamuffin guys and girls that I’ve gotten to work with and I’ve loved working with almost every one of them.  They come with lots of different issues: insecurity, lack of discipline, poor communication skills, and more.  In fact, I’ve even received criticism a time or two for not having higher standards for those I’m willing to invest in.

Truth be told, there’s really only one thing that will make me hit the brakes and say, “No!”  Only one thing that will make me immediately deny leadership roles, influence, promotion, or investment.  It’s when the potential leader seems to feel entitled to it.  When they feel they deserve that role, it’s a sure sign that they don’t.  These position jockeys can be toxic to an organization leaving the leader and themselves frustrated and exhausted.  Here’s why:

They won’t receive instruction.  Ask them what their growth plan looks like (or even recommend a good book) and they’ll probably tell you about a program they went through a few years ago and how they’ve been too busy to read.

They won’t take direction because they think they know better.  You couldn’t possibly provide relevant guidance because of your age and context.  After all, they did it a particular way at their old church and it worked so it’s practically sinning to do it any other way.

They contribute very little.  There’s an appearance of serving there (especially when opportunities come to be on the platform), but they’re suddenly unavailable when it comes time to do the dirty work.  Don’t expect them to contribute financially either.

They love the spotlight. (See above.)  They can even be very good from the platform.  Their giftedness and talents are often great, but those talents can be a major contribution to their feelings of entitlement.  When given the choice, choose humility and teachability over talent every time!

If you’re in a place where you’re bringing up leaders, let me encourage you to have a deliberate process in place to deal with this character trait or keep it from coming into your programs altogether.  Have an application process that will identify it.

If you think that you may have a spirit of entitlement (hint: if it seems like church leadership keeps you at arms length when you’re trying to get close so you can help, you probably do) then humble yourself.  God opposes the proud but favors the humble (James 4:6).  NEVER STOP LEARNING.  Repent of your pride and show that you’d be just as happy scrubbing toilets as you would be leading worship or teaching.

I’ve found God to be an incredible contrarian.  When we really want it, He asks us to lay it down.  When we’re content without it, He gives it to us.  Lay it down and let God decide when your ready for service.

Blood from a Turnip

“You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”

I heard that phrase lots while I was growing up and, to be honest with you, I had no idea what it meant until well into adulthood (along with many other colloquialisms, I’m a slow learner).

The thing that really brought this alive to me was ministry, and dealing with such a variety of people.  I remember praying for a young man one night at the tail end of a church service.  He came asking for prayer because he was struggling with thoughts of violence.  He claimed he would drive the streets at night looking for a fight to pick.  He said he couldn’t help himself and really wanted God to intervene.  Out of the blue (or by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) I asked him what kind of movies he liked to watch.  He proceeded to give me a list of the most violent, agro-filled, angry films on the market.  What surprised me was that he really didn’t know why he felt so violent all the time!  He was clueless to the fact that all the garbage he was taking in was making its way out.

What we fill our souls with doesn’t end with our subconscious reactions to entertainment though.  One lesson I’m constantly reminding myself of, as a minister, is that I can’t give away what I don’t have.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to be filling up.  If we’re going to give others more than pithy sayings, trite answers, and fake smiles, then we MUST be filling ourselves up!  We must be on our knees before Jesus, we must be filling up on His word, and we must be gleaning from the faith generals that have gone before us.

So many leaders are running on an empty tank and they’re useless.  They’ve exchanged refueling for the sense of accomplishment they get from working ridiculous hours.

OK, I’m going down a rabbit trail so I’ll end.

You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, you can’t get salt water from a fresh water stream, and you can’t get depth, wisdom, and anointing from a leader who isn’t deliberately being filled with the Spirit and wisdom of God.

Take time to be filled up.  Read, pray, rest, and grow.  The people you are leading need you to.

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Really? Solitaire?!

Before I saw the light… er… switched to Mac, I used to build my own computers.  Yep, I loved to pick all the right components and put together a rig that was raw power.  One that could edit videos without a hiccup or play any game I could throw at it.  Sure it was time consuming and frustrating at times but the satisfaction of putting together a real hot rod of a machine was worth it.

Consequently, when you’re the guy in the family with the nerd skills, your phone often rings with questions from family members about which computer to buy.  Usually my computer shopping relative would already have a machine in mind that was a ripper, a real Cadillac of a PC and they just wanted to know what I thought about it.  100% of the time I would ask the question, “What are you going to do with it?” and, most of the time, the answer would be, “You know, play Solitaire, check my email.”

That would be where I had to fight back that queasy feeling in my stomach.  You know, that feeling that makes me want to yell, “Are you kidding me?!  You want to fork over a thousand bucks so you can play Solitaire? Why don’t you just buy a deck of cards?!  Don’t you know all the cool things you can do with that computer?  What a waste!”

PCs aren’t the only thing suffering from the syndrome of massively unused potential.  One trip to the iPhone app store and you’ll find that the top selling apps are simple games like Tetris and Angry Birds.  You can run a business, edit video, and explore earth from satellites in space on the iPhone but people prefer to play “Plants Vs. Zombies”.

It makes me wonder if this phenomena isn’t spilling into our faith. The life Jesus says he came to give us (John 10:10) is life, abundantly, to the fullness, rich and satisfyingSo why does “abundant life” seem to be the exception rather than the rule? Why do so many believers I know still struggle with the same baggage they did before they were saved?  Why is Christianity for so many just a list of things they shouldn’t do and a series of weekly meetings they must attend?  It’s no wonder countless Christians eventually give up, coast, or drop out.  What’s the deal?  If God is making this awesome life available to us, then why are so many satisfied with just playing Solitaire?

I have a couple ideas about this.  In Philippians 3:8 Paul calls knowing Christ his “infinite value”.  Some translations read “surpassing greatness”, “best thing of all”, and my favorite “nothing is as wonderful“!  Allow me to give you the Lee Bezotte translation to this, “Abundant life comes from knowing Christ.”  But wait, there’s more!  “knowing Christ comes through prayer.”  There, I said it and now I feel better!  Christianity without prayer is like playing Solitaire on a 12-Core Power Mac. You’re wasting all the good stuff!

It’s prayer that brings us into relationship with Jesus!  It’s not a homework assignment or another thing to check off our discipline list.  It’s an invitation to connect with our creator!  Who wouldn’t want that?!

OK, I’m about to wrap up but I just want to add one more thing.  Many times, when my relative’s computer would arrive, I’d go over to their house and help them get all set up.  When I did, I’d take a few minutes to show them all the cool things their new computer would do.  Their eyes would get bigger and I could see the light bulbs going on over their heads.  They never knew!  But when I showed them, it got them excited about using their new computer to it’s full potential.  I think most believers never get to that “life abundantly” because no one ever shows them it can be so incredible.  If we’re going to have praying churches, then we have to have praying pastors. If believers are to know what a “rich and satisfying life” looks like, it needs to be modeled for them.

So where are you?  Have you discovered the “best thing of all”?  or are you just playing Solitaire?

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One Thing (Part 2)

One Bad Apple

Last week I asked the question “If your church only did one thing really well, what would you want that thing to be?” (You can check out that post here.) There were some great (even passionate) responses.

Today I want to flip that question on its head.  If your church did everything great, except for one thing, and missing the mark on that one thing would actually cause you to leave your church, what would that one thing be?  Would poor worship make you leave?  Lousy hospitality?  Rotten preaching?

It must be a pretty big deal to you if everything else is done really well.  What is it?

OK go.

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One Thing?

I have a quick question for you.

If your church only did one thing really well, what would you want that thing to be?

Even if everything else really stunk, you’d still stay because this one thing was done superbly.

Would it be the worship?  How about the speaking/ministry?  What if the children’s ministry was off the hook but everything else was a turd?  What if everything was lame but they did a fantastic job of making you feel welcome?

What would be that one thing for you?  Let me know!

OK go.

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