7 Leadership Principles Life Has Taught Me

Happy for you to learn from my experience

I love principles. Perhaps this is one reason I spend so much time reading Proverbs. Principles aren’t always “guaranteed”, but they are often proven by time and experience.

Principles can help us learn from one another. We can benefit from another person’s experience.

Here are a few principles of ministry I’ve experienced:

Just because you can do something better, doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. We shouldn’t be afraid of critical thinking or observations. Granted, some people are terrible at suggesting ideas. They always come across as being negative. Filter through personalities for nuggets of insight which can help you improve.

It’s not about you. This is huge for leaders to grapple with and will keep your ego from injuring your reputation. Leadership is about something bigger than you. People follow visions which carry them to something of value beyond what they can see today. People will have a hard time developing loyalty and buying in if the vision is no bigger than your personality.

Don’t try to handle a problem or make important decisions when you are angry or highly emotional. This is true whether the emotion is bad – or even if its a really good emotion. This means, as leaders, we must develop the discipline of waiting to respond. We must think things through before we speak them. We must guard our tongues “in the moment”. It’s better to make people wait for an answer than to give an answer you will later regret. We often make the wrong decisions and move too quickly when we act out of an emotional response to immediate circumstances.

Not everyone will agree with you or even like you, because you are the leader. Even if it is the right thing to do is no indication that everyone is going to love it. There’s no need for leadership apart from change and so all leaders are change agents. Change is hard and always produces some emotional response – good or bad. If you’re making good change (and you’ve been open to the insight of wiser people) don’t let the negative emotions curtail your leadership.
People only know what they know. People naturally resist what they can’t understand. This makes continual vision-casting a premier function of leadership. Some of a pastor’s “best” sermons will need to be ones where change is introduced or conflict is challenged.

You limit what you control. Period. The more people with real authority, empowered to make decisions, the greater opportunity you’ll have for Kingdom impact.

Your greatest fear will likely be in an area where God can most use you. We tend to prefer safe zones, but God tends to call us into the places where faith is challenged, character is built, and His glory is most magnified.

Have you seen some of these in your leadership? Feel free to add some of your own in the comments.

In Faith Leadership, Some Days We Walk Blindly

A personal experience

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005.

I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal.

I wrote, “God, at 41 years of age, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party”. Yes, even pastors have those.

The reason I’m certain it was, is because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and, even today, is accomplishing more than we ever dreamed possible for them as a church.

I don’t share this to bring attention to myself or our accomplishments. And, I wouldn’t suggest a church needs to grow at that pace to be successful. God may use you, as leader, in completely different ways than He has ever used me. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share my story because it points to an important principle in ministry which is true for all of us. I’ve seen it so many times. I wish I had a journal entry for each season.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

In fact, sometimes it can be months or years after our obedience before we realize the good God was allowing us to be a part of leading.

And, I’m not sure we’d be as successful – in God’s eyes – if we did.

Walking in the unknown keeps us humble. It keeps us in prayer.
And, best of all, it keeps us desperate for God’s hand to be upon us. It truly becomes His work and not our own.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

I’m not suggesting you may not need some people speaking into your life. You may not be able to see the good you’re doing, but don’t falsely assume the silence of God is the approval of God either. Allow others to speak into your life. Remain teachable. Make sure you’re solid on God’s plan, but hold your own plans loosely. Others may have better ideas than you.

But, if you are striving to be obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm. I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit – soon – from your labor, as you continue to trust Him. But, until then don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is always up to things we can’t even imagine.

God is using you, Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

You simply are having to walk by faith. Faith walking is never for sissies, but always rewarded by God!

Leadership Development for Dummies

Here's all there is to it.

Sorry if the title is crude. No implication about anyone here. But leadership development may not be as difficult as we often make it out to be. So why not share the oversimplified version?  The dummy version. 

One of the number one questions I get about leadership is how to develop new leaders within an organization. The task can often seem overwhelming. Few organizations or churches I know are viewed as experts in the field. Ours certainly isn’t. 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Perhaps all of us can figure this out. 

Leadership development begins with an underlying understanding that the success of any organization depends greatly on the leader’s willingness to delegate responsibility to others in the organization. This attitude – especially among top leadership – is vitally important to developing new leaders. 

The more a leader tries to control, the less likely others will be to help him or her accomplish the vision. Of course, without people willing to follow a leader, there is no leadership development.

(For pastors who reject this idea, please read Exodus 18 or Acts 6 – or just follow Jesus through the Gospels.)

Here is my simple formula. I believe the best leadership development is accomplished by allowing others to gain experience by doing. Basically, this means we must find ways to allow others to lead.

In fact, delegation can be simplified into two words.

INVEST and RELEASE

Invest

Personally spend time with and mentor others so they understand the vision of the organization and have the resources, skills and authority to accomplish their assignment. Allow them to ask questions, to take risks, fail, and begin again. 

Release

Let people lead. Allow them to add their strengths, creativity and energy to accomplishing the vision. Give them real responsibility and authority. Don’t micromanage.

I realize this is a very simplified answer to a very complicated process, but perhaps simplifying leadership development is needed to ensure we tackle this necessary part of growing a healthy organization.

And, you can easily monitor whether leadership development is occurring in your church or organization with my simple model. Simply ask yourself – look around – is anyone being invested in on a regular basis. Then, more important, is anyone being released to lead? 

If you have any questions, or need a model to follow, simply pay more attention to Jesus. It’s exactly how He did His leadership development.

Are you holding other potential leaders back because you will not release them to lead?

Great Leaders Develop a Leadership Vocabulary

I’ll never forget in my first church when a very Christlike deacon pulled me aside and offer me some advice in leading a church. I had been a leader in the business world a long time, but this was new for me. He helped me in ways which are being realized even today in how I lead in the church.

The best leaders I know are always learning.

Recently, I sat in on a leadership meeting for another organization. I didn’t feel I had the relationship to do so, but I left sincerely hoping someone would speak into this leader’s life – and he would be willing to learn.

The problem?

This leader had a terrible leadership vocabulary.

Part of maturing as a leader is developing a language which will help the organization and it’s team members achieve greatest success.

Here are some examples of what great leaders learn to say:

“Yes” (to other people’s ideas) more than “No”

“Why not?” more than “I don’t think so”

“Our” more than “My”

“We” more than “I”

“Thank you” more than “You’re welcome”

“Let’s do it” more than “We’ve never done it that way before”

“I believe in you” more than “Prove yourself”

“Here’s something to think about” more than “I command you to”

“What do you think?” more than “Let me think about it”

“How can we?” more than “This is the way”

“I take full responsibility” more than “I’m not responsible”

“They work with me” more than “They work for me”

Great leaders understand the power of their words. The things they say develop the culture of the organization, team member’s perceptions of their individual roles, and the overall health and direction of the organization. Great leaders, therefore, choose their words carefully.

How is your leadership vocabulary? What would you add to my list?

4 Ways to Start Memorizing Scripture

Our oldest son texted me New Year’s Day this year. He wanted to practice memorizing Scripture again this year. He’s been out of college for several years and fell out of the habit. He used to do it regularly when he was in high school. he wanted to know if I have any tips.

Of course, he already knew I’m fairly simple-minded, so my response may be overly simplistic, but I think it may have been what he was seeking.

Here’s what I shared with him.

Four ways to start memorizing Scripture:

Find a verse you like, which speaks to you.

One way to find them might be to look at YouVersion’s verse of the day and pick one of those each week – perhaps for the next week so you’ll have it for the whole week. I usually find them as I’m reading the Bible and something jumps out at me.

For these purposes, especially as you are getting started in memorization, I would tend to pick shorter verses. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 was an early memory verse for me years ago. It simply says, “The God who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” I can remember that. Here’s another, 1 John 5:21 says, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” I understand it, easy to remember, and it’s a huge truth to place in my heart daily.

I think it is important that you really glean something from the verse – it speaks to you. Make sure you know what it is teaching. Scripture may have multiple of applications, but it is only one truth – whether we understand it fully or not.

Try only one a week.

If you’re an expert at memorization you can move faster – and you will get better with practice, but don’t try to impress anyone with your skills. You shouldn’t be doing it for that reason anyway. You want to do something which will help you grow spiritually and you will maintain it as an ongoing spiritual discipline.

Write it down (not type) and place it somewhere I see frequently.

Educators will tell you we are far more likely to remember something if we write it down rather than simply try to remember it – or even if we type it. Something happens between your hand and your brain, which helps lock the words into your memory bank.

You may be like me and hate your handwriting. You may be like me and can’t even read your handwriting at times. But, take your time and practice the best penmanship you have. The more times you write it the better chance you’ll have of remembering the verse.

Remember how the teachers used to make you write out a statement as discipline? I will not choose gum in class. If you write that 100 times, it may seem cruel, but you won’t soon forget those words. Works here too.

Rehearse it over and over again throughout the week.

Place the verse somewhere you will easily see – perhaps in a couple places. You could put them on your mirror where you get ready in the morning. Put one on your dashboard and another on your desk at work. Carry one in your front pocket. The more you see it and recite it the more likely it is to stick long-term.

I hope this helps.

And, I have another suggestion. You could always buy Steve Green’s Hide ‘me In Your Heart CD’s! They are children singing Scripture verses. Our boys learned lots of verses that way. We learned with them.

7 Things To Do in the Spiritually Dry Times of Life

Recently I wrote about what to do during the times God is silent. It seemed there was more to be said. As I read the Scriptures – and consider my own journey with God – those times are frequent for God’s children. Sometimes it is even more than the silence of God. Sometimes I am silent in my own spiritual life. I’m not growing. I’m not as passionate about my walk as I once was. Spiritually speaking, I am stagnated.

We should not be surprised when those times come. In fact, I even believe God works through those times to prepare us for times of great spiritual growth. But, what do in those seasons where we don’t wake up every morning anxious to dive into God’s word or join Him in prayer.

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I have learned my sermon messages people love most are when I cover a sin someone else struggles with (other than the one who loved the message) or when I address a felt need of the person who loved the message. I don’t seem to hear compliments as much from the messages which challenge someone directly about the sin in their life.

I can only imagine the stress Elijah experienced during those years. Something strikes me, however, which seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1 “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was nearly four years long. For over three years, the people apparently continued to sin, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive, not speaking, even to His great servant Elijah.

Now, I can only speculate here because the Bible doesn’t say anything about Elijah’s own spiritual condition. Obviously, he obeyed when a word from the Lord came, but I also don’t read he was crying out to God for a word either. We certainly read accounts of people of God who did in many of the Psalms.

Was Elijah just as quiet in his crying out to God as God was in speaking to Elijah? Could Elijah been spiritually dry? Again, I don’t know – and, I’m not suggesting I have any special insight here nor trying to make the passage say what I want it to say to make a point. But, I do know how it feels in my life when the fervor of faith isn’t what it used to be.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily loud in your life? (You know, sometimes silence is so severe it’s almost loud.) And, maybe the silence isn’t just on God’s side of the communication. Maybe you are quieter than you once were in the relationship also. Have you been there?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving – God is using you – you are in constant communication with Him – and then suddenly everything is quiet.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah was disliked and unpopular. He was a social outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent. God would soon do a miracle through Elijah, but during this period, all Elijah could do was wait. And, how he waited during these days or how he responded to God – we simply are left to our imagination and personal experience to evaluate.

If you have been believer for very long at all, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. And, you’ve had other periods where you weren’t looking very hard to find Him. Be honest. We often call these periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

(Of course, I must remind us, every breath we take is actually a miracle – and the grace – of God.)

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You know how to deal with the spiritual highs. You don’t need much help doing those things. The tough part of our spiritual journey is figuring out what to do during the years of silence – during the years when miracles are nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritual dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God – and maybe we aren’t listening very passionately?

Here are 7 actions I encourage you to consider:

Don’t ignore the silence.

Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness – when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. And, maybe I didn’t even think I was growing. God almost always has a purpose in the quietness. Stay very close to God, even when you don’t feel like it. Go through the motions if you have to in your daily disciplines. Read the Bible – yes, even as a discipline. Attend church and fellowship with other believers. God’s power may be displayed when you least expect it. Look at the story of Elijah again. It doesn’t appear he was expecting God to speak when He did.

Confess any sin in your life.

This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, as far as we know, but the problem for the Israelites was they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now. But, just like in every relationship, if there is something you’ve done to injure it there will be a break in closeness. If repetitive and unrepentant sin is in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

It’s never a bad exercise simply to ask forgiveness. Don’t be a martyr about it. You are saved by grace, not works, so live freely in His favor. Rest in the sufficiency of what Christ has done, but be humble enough to admit you are helpless apart from His grace.

Go back to what you know.

Get back to the basics of the faith which saved you. You’ll do it hundreds of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith – the promises of God’s word. God is in control. He really is. Even when it doesn’t seem He is anywhere to be found – God is on His throne.

This is where I love to have some favorite verses in my memory to draw from when needed most. In these times I might listen to songs which were important during stronger times in my walk. Music has a way of drawing us back to another time. If I’m especially dry, I’m going to be reading in the Gospels, or some of Paul’s letters such as Ephesians or Galatians, everyday. It’s where my freedom in Christ is most clearly stated.

Choose sides again – if you need to.

You can’t adequately serve God and the world. Something happens in life, often sin, or busyness, or boredom, or a tragedy, but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God due to the circumstances in our life at the time. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your loyalty to God and the place He holds in your heart, get back securely on the His side. (Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? The Father was waiting with open arms and ready to run at the moment of the son’s attempt to return.)

I find sometimes I need to rearrange my schedule to prioritize my time with God. I may need to get up earlier or spend a few lunch breaks fasting with Him. I may need to say no to some seemingly good opportunities because they are distracting me from what is most important in my life.

Trust more – Not less.

Times of silence may be filled with fear, but these times will definitely require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. This is not an indication to quit – it may be God is using this time for something bigger than you could have imagined. But it will require a deeper level of trust.

Again, this is where we need to focus on the foundational issues of our faith. I have a few sermons which ministered to me at the time and periodically I will bring them out and listen again. I want to rekindle and strengthen my faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6)

Listen and watch closely.

Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. And, you don’t want to miss! Do you think Elijah would have wanted to miss what happened to him in 1 Kings 18? Go back and read the story if you need a refresher. When God does break the silence it will be good! You will want to hear what He has to say!

Keep in mind, God may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know God is moving.

Prepare your heart and attitude to receive.

If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. I see people (and I’m just as guilty) who view the world so negatively it would take a burning bush for God to get their attention. They’ve already decided in their heart and mind everything hopeless. I’m not sure they are reading the same New Testament I’m reading!

Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence. Know that what you’re experiencing is a normal part of the Christian experience. It’s a normal part of being an emotional being in a fallen world. But, our response to the spiritual dry times may help determine how long they last and how devastating they are on us – and the people around us. Consider to these words of Jesus – and apply as necessary. “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (‭John‬ ‭15:11‭)

Are you in one of those periods of silence today? How do you handle these periods of time?

7 Things To Do While You are Waiting on God

I’ve spent much of my walk with God waiting.

  • Waiting for Him to give direction.
  • Waiting on Him to open doors.
  • Waiting on Him to make things clearer.
  • Waiting on Him to supply the needed resources.

Throughout the stories of the Bible we often find God’s people waiting. Think of Abraham who had to wait years for God to provide the promised son. Think of Noah and the many days he must have worked on the ark, yet he had apparently never seen rain. Think of the anointed David who had to wait to actually assume the position of king. Think of the disciples, taking Jesus at His word by following Him, but having to wait until they were released to do ministry. What about the followers of God who waited 400 years in silence between the Old Testament and the arrival of Jesus?

Waiting is a part of the Christian experience.

The waiting times are difficult to endure, especially if you are like me and generally struggle in the area of patience. Show me someone who has grown in their maturity in Christ and I can almost guarantee you they have had seasons where they were waiting.

I’ve learned, however, there are things I can be doing during the wait, which help me prepare when God chooses to act in my life.

Are you in a time of waiting? Perhaps some of these suggestions may help.

Here are 7 things we can do while we wait on God.:

Prepare my heart.

The ultimate goal of God in my life is to transform me into the image of His Son. He wants my heart and character more than even some of the great activities I could do for Him. The silent times are the some of the best times to be seeking the heart of God. During the waiting period, I find I need to increase my prayer and study time, preparing my heart to receive God’s instructions.

Learn all I can.

I learn more from the struggles of life than I do from the easy times of life. The same can be true through the times of waiting for God to move. God reveals His character to us as we wait. (I find myself reading more of the Psalms during times of waiting. They remind me of God’s presence even during days of silence.)

Watch for His activity.

Just because God is silent does not mean He’s being still. God is always doing something, even when I can’t tell what it is. I’ve learned to be watchful for the hidden activity of God.

Stay active with what I know to be doing.

The Bible is clear on some things I can always be doing – love my neighbor, look out for “the least of these”, make disciples – just to name a few. Waiting times do not mean doing nothing. It may be in the doing something we discover that for which God has been waiting to bless us.

Listen for His voice or the voice of others He sends.

Isaiah 30:20-21 talks about a “voice” saying “this is the way – walk in it” during the “days of adversity“. This is an important reminder. I’ve learned to listen for His voice, knowing the more I know Him personally, the more I’ll hear even His softest whisper. Many times God is trying to speak to us, whether through His written word (which seems to be the dominant way He speaks), or through other people in my life, or through the circumstances of my life. Often there are consistent themes I keep “hearing”, but it takes me a while to actually process them. (Reading 1 Samuel may help here.)

Heal from past hurts – if needed.

Many times the silent periods in my walk with God come after very difficult periods. At times, I’ve learned, I can’t hear God because my emotions are clouded with the pain of my past. In those days, what I most need is to heal my emotions so I can think clearly, discern His voice, and prepare for His next assignment. This may take processing hurts with others, extending forgiveness, or admitting sin to renew my closeness with God.

Pray without ceasing.

Prayer is my personal connection to the God upon whom I am waiting. As long as I’m praying, I’m less likely to worry and more likely to walk by faith. Praying without ceasing doesn’t mean I do nothing except pray, but it means I carry an attitude – a heart of prayer – into everything I do. I remain keenly aware of His presence through the Spirit of God, so when He speaks I have the best possible opportunity to hear.

Are you in a period of waiting? Have you been there before? I’m voicing a prayer now that you would soon hear from God – that God would make Himself known.

5 Ways Leaders Can’t Be “Normal” Today

Leading outside the norm

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading almost 35 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside some things once considered normal in leadership.

And, hopefully “normal” is a play on words for most leaders now. 

When I was first in leadership as a retail manager, I could set the schedule for people, tell them what to do, hold them accountable for routine tasks with high expectations, and then evaluate them by whether or not they did the job. This was called a job – and, if you wanted a paycheck you worked for it.

It doesn’t work quiet like that anymore. It hasn’t for some time, and, to be honest, I tried to do more with leadership even then, but some of those still in leadership still haven’t caught on that “normal” leadership isn’t normal anymore. 

For example, in today’s leadership, the informal aspects of leadership are as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to systems and structures – for a leader to be successful today – leaders must engage a team on personal levels. 

We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, they have always been important, but in today’s leadership it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapt leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

Cookie-cutter leadership doesn’t work as well among today’s workforce. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, culture and individualism of team members. It makes really getting to know the people you lead even more important. Leaders must ask lots of questions to understand personal values of others. It helps us lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities and helps them perform at their greatest effectiveness.

Raise up new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. This is no longer an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team. Those entering the field of leadership today – or desiring to – will want a seat at the table of decision. They want to make a difference. This can be a great things for our churches and organizations if we will welcome it. 

Balance kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian or controlling leadership is not well received by today’s workforce. Following orders from the “boss” has been replaced with a desire for servant leaders.

Give others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stakeholders – knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do this means they must have ownership in the creation of vision. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission. Letting people help write their job description gets people in places where they can bring their best contributions to a team.

Create what’s “next” for a community’s greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves – even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play one part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The world around us is watching – as are the people we have on our team. The way an organization treats it’s employees, supports the community and how it interacts with the people the organization encounters daily is important. We can’t sit back, make a profit or fulfill our individual goals (even as churches) and ignore the myriad of social needs all around us. If it’s not done well the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership – where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow with a carefully created structure – and an informal style – where a team helps to shape the course of action – is critical to an organization’s success.

With my 35 plus years of leadership experience, I realize I’m from an “old school”, but I’m still learning – and re-learning.

I have learned this: Leaders today must continually strive to find the balance between formal and informal structures.