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Archive for Leadership


A Disturbing Trend Among Churches

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Check out this article from Reuters that discusses the increased number of bank foreclosures on churches in America. You can find the article here from Reuters.com. In the past, banks have exhibited a great deal of leniency with struggling churches, in part I believe, because they didn’t want the negative public relations reaction from communities and because church buildings, frankly, are hard to re-sell. What does this say to you about the economy? How does this article inform church leaders today about how they approach debt?

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Need Stats on the Millennials?

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Art Rainer has posted a handy infographic on the Millennials, the generation between 18-29 years old. Notice that this generation is the most irreligious generation in America today. Check it out by clicking here.


Meet the Real Hero:: 3

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If I’m going to pick a “don’t miss this” lesson from Joshua 5, it’s going to be that before we can lead we must be led. Christian leaders are followers first. So why is this so important? Am I just trying to pay lip service to God? Chapter 6 gives us the reason.

After his introduction to the commander of the Lord’s army, the commander gave Joshua the battle plan for Jericho. The people were to march around the walls once a day in silence for six days. On the seventh day they were to march around the walls seven times and then shout when the priests blew their trumpets. Then, the walls would fall down.

I don’t know how Joshua felt when he heard those instructions, but if it would have been me, I think my response would have been, “Seriously? You’ve got to be kidding!”

You see, the land would be conquered by faith, not by fighting. God never asked Joshua to assume responsibility for conquering the land for He had already given Joshua and the people the land. All they had to do was follow, even when following didn’t make sense or meet their standards of logic and reason.

Are you a leader? Is God calling you to lead? Before you dive into that opportunity of service, remember the most important lesson about leadership you’ll ever learn: leaders are followers first.

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Meet The Real Hero:: 2

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When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the LORD’s army.” At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. (Joshua 5:13-15, NLT)

Put yourself in Joshua’s shoes for a moment. What would you do if you came face to face with the commander of the Lord’s army? We can learn several things from Joshua’s experience. His first response was to fall prostrate before the figure in worship. The second thing he did was surrender to him, confessing his submission. Notice that Joshua did not bother to reference his own command and the resources he had at his disposal. When you come face to face with ultimate power, who you are and what you have is of little importance.

When he submitted himself to the divine authority, he was then ready for God’s self disclosure. God disclosed himself as holy. I think one of the mistakes we make in our theology is to try to define God by our own units of measure. In other words, we try to see ways in which God is like us. Here’s an important reminder we each need to hear: God is not like you and me. God is God and we are not, for He is holy.

Finally, we see Joshua’s obedience. Upon God’s self disclosure of himself as the holy one and the request for Joshua to remove his sandals, the text tells the reader that Joshua simply did what he was told. He obeyed.

The point of this important passage is that Joshua had to learn to follow before he could learn to lead. Great leaders are followers first. We see that principal on the battle field as well as the field of play. We also see it affirmed in the New Testament. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul encouraged those believers to “imitate” him in the same fashion he “imitated” Christ. We also see this principle occur during the ministry of Jesus in his conversation with the centurion. In Luke 7:8, the centurion told Jesus that “he too was a man UNDER authority.” At first glance you might suspect that the centurion misspoke, or perhaps your Bible has a typo. But the centurion did not make a mistake. He realized the truth that any authority we possess to lead is rooted in one’s ability to follow first.

I think a lot of people, even in Christian circles, misunderstand leadership at this point. The Bible is filled with men and women who expressed leadership and made invaluable contributions to the work of the Kingdom of God. But they did so as followers first. When leaders forget to follow first, trouble is not far.

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this week’s series from Joshua 5 by briefly describing the importance of following first.

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Meet The Real Hero

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My guess is that you had a hero when you were growing up. Maybe it was an athlete or a musician. Or an actor or some other entertainer. Perhaps it was a teacher or a coach. Your hero could have been a parent or an older sibling. I think those influences served us well, helping to shape us into the persons we are today.

Without question, Joshua was the recognized human leader of the Israelites. He was the person out in front, providing direction to the multitude. Even the book that contains his story bears his name as the title. So one could make the case that as the leader he was also the hero of the narrative. But is that really the case?

Up to this point in the story, we have read how the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River. As they prepared for their first objective, the entire male population underwent the ceremony of circumcision. The nation then observed Passover for the first time since leaving the Egyptian border. One interesting side bar that should be noted is that the manna that had faithfully fallen from the skies for forty years unceremoniously stopped as the people began to eat freely of the produce in Canaan.

The next event is very interesting.

“When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, ‘Are you friend or foe?’ ‘Neither one,’ he replied. ‘I am the commander of the LORD’s army.’ At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. ‘I am at your command,’ Joshua said. ‘What do you want your servant to do?’ The commander of the LORD’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did as he was told” (Joshua 5:13-15, NLT).

The text pictures Joshua near objective one, Jericho, possibly surveying the fortified walls of the city and the surrounding terrain. His concentration was broken when he came face to face with a man with a drawn sword. Who was this person? Many Old Testament scholars suggest that this was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. It would be hard to determine with any degree of certainty that that was the case here, although the text that follows supports the idea, given Joshua’s reverential response to him.

Joshua’s first concern with the person was where he stood in relationship to himself. “Are you friend or foe?” The response he received from the character is strong. He replied, “Neither.” In essence he said, “I’ve not come to take sides, I’ve come to take over.”

Now to my point. Yes, to a degree Joshua was the hero of the book. But the real hero of the story was God. The same is true today. God calls special people to specific places to accomplish His sovereign purposes. But no human character ever upstages God. Unfortunately, leaders can sometime assume the posture of the hero, insisting that God “join their team” and support their heroic behaviors. But Kingdom economics don’t work that way. God is the hero, and human leaders are always the supporting cast.

Tomorrow I’ll post a few more thoughts regarding the conversation between Joshua and the armed commander of the Lord’s army.


The Value of Deborah

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One of the blogs I follow on a daily basis is Scot McKnight’s page at patheos.com titled Jesus Creed. Today McKnight has offered an excellent post on Deborah and the value she brings to the ongoing conversation regarding women in leadership and women in ministry. You can find the post here.

For the past several days I’ve been re-reading the book of Exodus. I’ve always been fascinated by Moses, and thought I would read Exodus through the particular lens of Moses as leader. His story is famous, beginning with the thrilling narrative of his narrow escape from persecution by the bold rescue of the persecutor’s own daughter. Those first four decades would be lived in the comforts of the palace, learning all of the protocol of government and high society. But something is missing in Moses life, chiefly his own God given purpose. As Moses set out on his own quest to find himself, he finds himself on the run from everything he had known. Everything, that is, except his own mother’s faith.

Moses would spend the second four decades of his life in the Midian desert, tending sheep and starting his own family. Everything seemed to be comfortable until one day when God interrupted his life. There was nothing spectacular about a bush spontaneously bursting into flame in the desert. There was something remarkable, however, about a blazing bush that wasn’t consumed. The purpose that seemingly eluded Moses now became evident. He was called by God to emancipate the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Moses was 80 years old.

Deliverance would be no easy task, for Egypt was a formidable foe. God promised Moses that He would bring the deliverance about. After all, God himself had heard the cries of his children, desperate for freedom.

Now the irony of the story is Israel itself. They had cried out to God and pleaded to Him for deliverance from their oppressive bondage. They said they wanted to be free. They had prayed for their freedom. God even provided them a leader. Yet in the story of Exodus, with each and every challenge they immediately defaulted to thinking like slaves, and yes, actually preferring slavery. With each obstacle the chorus rang out, “Were there no graves in Egypt??”

Maybe we’re a lot more like Israel than we’d like to admit. Yes, we say we want to be free…free from sin…from self-destructive patterns of behavior…from codependent relationships…from toxic power structures… you name it. We say we want to be free, but freedom comes with a price. Freedom requires us to be strong individuals, eschewing group think and consensus which values the power of “we” over the power of “right.” Freedom requires us to be willing to take risks, to be open to change, and to let character guide our decisions. Israel illustrates a lesson that we continue to learn throughout history: it’s hard to leave the plantation. One of my favorite quotations comes from John Maxwell, who nearly 30 years ago wrote, “People change when they learn enough they want to, they grow enough they need to, or they hurt enough they have to.” Even though Israel had suffered greatly for four centuries, they remind us how hard it is to actually follow through.

Categories : Exodus, Leadership, Moses
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Yesterday I posted some introductory comments from the book Out of Our Minds by Sir Kenneth Robinson. Today I want to delve into some of the fragments that Robinson offered regarding creativity.

In Chapter 9, titled “Being a Creative Leader,” the author offers nine principles to help develop a culture of creativity and innovation. Robinson’s understanding of creativity is based on three definitions:

1. Imagination: the ability to bring to mind events and ideas that are not present in our senses.
2. Creativity: the process of having original ideas that have value.
3. Innovation: the process of putting original ideas into practice.

The principle role of a creative leader, according to Robinson, is not to have all of the ideas. Rather, it is to develop a culture where everyone can offer new ideas. This process begins with the individual, then expands to work teams, and eventually shifts the culture of the organization.

1. Everyone has the potential to be creative.
2. Innovation is the child of imagination where playing with ideas, making fresh connections and breaking with convention are valued.
3. Everyone can learn to be more creative.
4. Creativity thrives on diversity within the framework of teams.
5. Creativity loves collaboration where individual distinctiveness among team members is respected.
6. Creativity takes time.
7. Creative cultures are supple.
8. Creative cultures are inquiring, balancing chaos and risk with honest evaluation and risk management.
9. Creative cultures need creative spaces.

Robinson’s insights from chapter 9 are helpful to leaders who are envisioning and designed brighter futures and better tomorrows for their organizations. This chapter alone makes the book a valuable resource and well worth the purchase price.

Categories : Books, Creativity, Leadership
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Winning on Purpose

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One of the books on my summer reading list was Winning on Purpose by John Edmund Kaiser. Kaiser has spent his ministry career as a pastor, denominational executive, and church health consultant. His book is the product of his discoveries about how churches can transition from maintenance models to more productive missional models.

Using a clever sports analogy, Kaiser presents four critical questions that every congregation needs to ask: Do We Really Want to Win? Do We Understand the Game? Do We Know What Position to Play? and Do We Have the Right Equipment?

In part one, Kaiser suggests that in order for congregations to “win” they have to understand their purpose. This includes understanding the object of the game, knowing the rules of the game, and knowing how to keep score. These basic principles will help congregations stop defeating themselves and free them to function as Christ intended.

Part two focuses on the three basics that make a game worth playing. According to the author, the object of the game defines the responsibility of Christ in relationship to his disciples. It is Christ who provides the mission of the Church and the divine resources to accomplish that mission. Clarifying Christ’s relationship to the church is a liberating step and prevents churches from assuming responsibility for things she is not. The rules of the game create authority. Kaiser wisely points out that boundaries inform the church what is not right but creates a field of fair play where there is liberty. Good rules are not merely prohibitions, they serve to foster creativity and freedom. Accountability is the means by which the church keeps score. This section was particularly helpful because the writer helped clarify the difference between scoring goals and winning the game. Many of our church’s goals focus on padding statistics rather than winning the game. While scoring points is good, scoring is not the object. Scoring is the means to a larger end: winning. I believe that this distinction alone could revolutionize the way pastors, staff members, and churches think about goal setting.

Part three was also helpful. In this section, Kaiser clarified the four positions that are played within winning congregations. He did so as follows:
The Board Plays Governance
The Pastor Plays Leadership
The Staff Plays Management
The Congregation Plays Ministry.
While these chapters were clear and simple, pastors of churches that maintain a congregational form of polity may find them to be frustrating. In traditional Baptist churches, pastors face multiple committees that play governance. In addition, each month (or quarter, as the case may be) the congregation comes together to provide even more governance. These structures may be designed for support but quickly can be reduced to a culture of permission giving. Congregational churches as a whole need to evaluate their structure with the basic question, “Are we supporting? Or are we permission giving?” Supporting the ministry and the ministers is a function of management while the permission giving culture is the function of governance.

The fourth and final section is more technical, advancing the analogy even further to discuss the role of organizational documents, the church calendar, and denominational affiliations.

Overall this has been a good book. It’s written simply and clearly, and while it may not provide any new truth to an experienced pastor it certainly receives high marks for providing a different way to think about doing church. I’ve already highlighted the two most helpful sections. If I were to offer any constructive criticism it would be that at times the book comes across as more prescriptive than descriptive. But that’s a minor offering.

This book would be best used for training church leadership and membership about the organization and function of the congregation. The simplicity and clarity of this book will foster valuable conversations that cannot but help propel the church forward and to win on purpose.


Finding Potential Leaders

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Every day we make difficult decisions that involve trusting others with the things and the people we value the most. We select banks based on our trust that our deposits will be secure. We select preschools and daycare centers that we trust will keep our children as safe as possible. We select doctors and medical professionals based on our trust that they will thoroughly care for our physical health and accurately detect, diagnose and treat any issues as early as possible.

The apostle Paul gave Timothy a process for developing emerging leaders. From 2 Timothy 2:1-2, he had already suggested that Timothy be strong in and through the grace of Christ; that he maintain the disposition of a learner; and that he make wise investments in reliable people who would take the “deposit” and pass it along to the next generation. Timothy was strongly admonished to make wise selections concerning who he was to develop as future leaders. So how does one go about qualifying those who can be developed as leaders?

The next four verses of 2 Timothy 2 provide three metaphors that help Timothy’s then and now discern future leaders who need to be developed.

1. Allegiance to Christ

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. To please the recruiter, no one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the everyday concerns of life” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, HCSB)

By the time Paul wrote this letter he had spent ample time chained to soldiers in prison cells. He would have been familiar with what soldiers did and how they functioned. The word “entangled” in verse four literally means, “looking back.” It refers to one who is unable to focus or concentrate because they are easily distracted. Paul uses the metaphor of the soldier’s allegiance to describe the kind of allegiance Timothy should look for in a potential leader. Timothy was to base his selection upon this single minded allegiance.

Being crystal clear on matters of allegiance is important because your allegiance to Christ will always be challenged by all other allegiances. Jesus spoke of this often, reminding his disciples with sayings such as “No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of my Kingdom” and “let the dead bury the dead.” When evaluating potential leaders, question one evaluates their allegiance to Christ.

2. Faithfulness in Preparation and Performance

“Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5, HCSB).

Paul is probably referring to the Isthmian Games, a first century forerunner to our modern day Olympic Games. Those who competed were required to commit to a strict training regiment of 10 months, followed by the actual competition. There were rules that governed preparation for the games and rules that governed participation in the games. Each competitor was expected to play by all of the rules all of the time and to not take any shortcuts. Preparation was as valued as the competition itself.

Every potential leader needs to have allegiance to Christ that is beyond question. But each potential leader also needs to have a reputation for being faithful in all things, whether it is their private preparation or their public participation in ministry. Like many things in life, there are no shortcuts on the path to spiritual leadership.

3. An Outstanding Work Ethic

“It is the hardworking farmer who ought to be the first to get a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6, HCSB).

Paul’s final metaphor is the hard working farmer. If you grew up on a farm or worked on a farm you know from experience that farming is hard work. Not only is it hard work, it is hard work without immediate gratification. Whether its corn or cows, farmers continually work hard in anticipation of a later reward.

Timothy was to look for potential leaders who were willing to put some sweat equity into their development. They had to have a work ethic that was mixed with a generous dose of patience because in the economy of God’s kingdom both are required to change the world.

These three metaphors were given to Timothy to help him gain perspective on what “reliable” or “trustworthy” people looked like. I think its important that we learn something from these metaphors when we prepare to invest in potential leaders. I admit that these are pretty high standards. As a reader you may think that the expectations are a little too high. But let me close with a couple of questions about standards and expectations.

First, are you looking for spiritual leadership or someone to fill a position? If all you’re looking for someone to fill a position in a program or to sit on some committee, then your standards can be somewhat lessened I suppose. But is church really about completing an organizational chart? Is it really reduced to staffing programs? Or is the church something more?

Second, whose church is it anyway? Who really has established the standards and expectations? If it is the church of Jesus Christ, then He certainly has the right to establish high expectations and to set high standards. Sometimes I’m concerned that churches are afraid to set high expectations because we’re afraid that someone might become upset or even leave. But if Jesus is the head of the church, then church is worth doing. And if Jesus’ church is worth doing, its worth doing right. At the end of the day, someone in your community is counting on it.