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Archive for Leadership Development


Canoeing the Mountains

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The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.

The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.

What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.

Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.

Tod Bolsinger shared this anecdotal story to form the motif of his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He uses this historical event to describe the type of adaptive leadership that is needed in the 21st century. It was written prior to the global pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic is more timely than ever.

Bolsinger suggests five characteristics every leader must possess in order to lead a congregation or organization in unchartered territory:

  1. Recognize you are in uncharted territory, and that the world in front of you is nothing like the world before you.
  2. No one will follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. Competence and credibility on the map is required to develop the necessary trust to advance into the unknown.
  3. Adaptation is the key to leading in uncharted territory. Adaptation is the process of learning and loss. Once we realize the losses won’t kill us, we can embrace a growth mindset and learn.
  4. Adaptive leadership requires both collaborative relationships and navigating resistance. Today’s leader can no longer go it alone. Successful change is not achieved until the leader has survived the inevitable sabotage.
  5. Finally, everyone will be changed, especially the leader. Survival comes when the leader is willing to allow people to speak into his or her life that previously have gone unheard.

If Bolsinger’s book was important in 2015, it is invaluable in 2021. If you’re an organizational leader who is looking to lead into the dynamic future instead of being content with the static present, this book is a must read.

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5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders

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Here’s a great blog post from Michael Hyatt on 5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders. It’s worth 5 minutes of your time.

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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.

I think its unfortunate that many churches have turned to business models to find the “best practices” for developing leaders. I’m not against business or the practice of business. But I firmly believe that when church leaders start adopting business models instead of biblical models they become misguided and off point. If our churches are going to become serious about developing leaders for the next generation the beginning point is the New Testament. One such enlightening passage is found in 2 Timothy 2:1-6. Today I want to deal with the key elements for developing leaders and tomorrow I’ll post Paul’s words on the kind of people to pursue as potential leaders.

“You, therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, HCSB).

The first thing Paul told Timothy is that leadership development is the work of God’s grace. Some translations like the HCSB read “be strong IN the grace” of Christ, and others like the NLT have “be strong THROUGH the grace” of Christ. Which is right? Technically, either translation is viable and acceptable. I personally think that its both. Grace is the environment of all of God’s good work. And, grace is the means by which we do all of God’s good work. This subtle reminder eschews all external models that are applied to churches and church leadership. The church is to be as dependent upon God for its work of developing leaders for the next generation as it is for fulfilling the great commission. Leadership development begins when we recognize our humble dependence upon God’s grace.

Next, Paul told Timothy the be a student. I believe the best teachers are first and foremost learners. When I was in seminary I was blessed to be associated with some outstanding professors, the best of whom stated that classroom teaching was what they had to do to support their research habit! The most engaging teachers are those who are engaged in learning. Timothy needed to realize that he had not arrived and that he couldn’t take people where he himself had not been. So Paul emphasized that Timothy remain teachable before he became concerned with the stuff that is transferrable.

How do you know if you’ve grown stagnant in your learning? I think the easiest way to identify stagnation is to see if you’re simply running the same play year in and year out. John Maxwell used to talk about the difference between growing leaders and stagnant leaders this way: you can either have ten years of ministry or one year of ministry ten times. If you desire to aspire to develop leaders in ministry, you have to begin with yourself and your commitment to learning.

The final element is to be a steward of what you’ve learned by investing that deposit into others who are trustworthy and reliable. In 2 Timothy Paul described the process like this:
Christ made a deposit in Paul;
Paul made a deposit in Timothy;
Timothy was to make a deposit in reliable people; and
Those reliable people were to pay it forward and pass the baton.
I know it sounds cheesy, but let’s be honest. We’re having this discussion today (2,000 years later) because Paul’s strategy worked.

So who do you trust with what you value? That’s the content of the next four verses that I’ll deal with tomorrow. Until then, be strong in grace; be a student; and be a steward of what has been entrusted to you.


Developing Leaders

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What is church supposed to be about anyway? That question has fostered everything from constructive dialogue to fistfights in church parking lots. An ocean of ink has been spilled on books published with the intent to provide “the” angle that resolves all debate and ends all discussion.

Some would say the purpose of the church is to care for the sheep. After all, the church is led by shepherds who are to feed and care for the flock. Others would say that the church exists to spread the gospel through evangelism. Jesus first words were “repent” and his last words were “go.” That translates into making converts for Jesus! Or was it disciples? You know what I mean. Then there is the group that suggests that the church needs to meet the needs of the poor and the disadvantaged. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, providing shelter for those with no roof is what Jesus said the final judgment would consist of. Another group would say that the church exists to teach people the Scriptures. Strong Bible teaching and preaching is what the church should focus on. The church should produce people who know the Bible and how to defend the truth.

So which is it?

I think all of these suggestions are beneficial and contain some element of truth, but ultimately each one falls short of Jesus’ vision of the church. This weekend I spoke on this topic from 2 Timothy 2:1-6. In short, the New Testament advocates a church that develops and releases spiritual leaders who minister to those in need, are actively sharing their faith, who strive to seek justice in their communities and world, and who are able to feed themselves from the Bible and in turn, teach others.

To use a simple analogy, the church is not a hospital for sinners and saints. The church is more akin to a medical school that trains and equips doctors to be the presence of Christ. If we can get that distinction down, we can become the church as Jesus intended.