In January of 2007, I assumed the role of Lead Pastor at Pantano Christian Church. In preparation for the transition, my wife and I attended a rigorous intensive leadership assessment and development event. It was an intense three days. 

When we arrived at the bed and breakfast, the team wasted no time and jumped in. They quickly drilled down to some issues. They gave me a label that was very helpful – “stormtrooper.” I actually liked it! I’m a take-charge kind of guy. I want to take the hill. The mission is all-important. I love challenges and risks. We all agreed that the label was accurate. But they also said the label was not complete. There was something missing. That something hurt my ability to lead well.

What was the missing piece?  My guides started to give me direction. One of the guides talked about what he called “leader’s disease.” He suggested that the root of the dangerous disease of leaders is position, power and blind self-confidence.  He referred to Mark 8:33 when Peter rebuked Jesus who suggested that spiritual victory would come through perceived “weakness” found in suffering and death. Jesus makes it clear that Peter did not have God’s interests, but man’s interests as foremost. 

The first day they asked me to write a cohesive and comprehensive model of leadership heavily dependent on biblical elements. I spent hours that night, after everyone else went to bed, reflecting and searching the New Testament again about leadership. I began to notice some patterns that I had somehow missed. Then it hit me hard. The part I was missing was the brokenness piece. I saw it over and over in the Bible. I saw it in Jesus and in Paul. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:3 – “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.”  Again in 2 Corinthians 12:9, he said; “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.” You never hear leaders to that! God’s powerful and effective leaders were broken folks.

I made a list of the words that the New Testament leaders (particularly Paul) used in a leadership context. The list contained: humbled, broken, nothing, weak, inadequate, foolish, lowly, “not”, not equal to task, suffering, persecution, hard work, tears.  This was not how I had lived out leadership or even my personhood.

Like most leaders, I want to control life. I’ve been hurt and wounded (some of us will do anything to not admit that). As an Enneagram 8, I don’t want anyone to control me. Control is a way to deal with and protect ourselves from pain. We choose different means of control – self-medicating, running over people, using anger, and staying busy – a million ways.  That control becomes our identity, but it doesn’t work. And our leadership is diminished.

As I sat there in the dark of night at the bed and breakfast, I realized I had to confess that I have resisted being broken all my life. I liked being independent and self-sufficient. I was a stormtrooper after all. I had resisted being broken by God. I had been unwilling to admit that I’m weak at times. I compensated by being strong, impervious, competent. That last one – competence – that was my firm foundation. I made sure no one would ever call me incompetent, which for me was the ultimate sign of weakness! 

So the label “stormtrooper” was accurate of the get-it-done leader that God had created me to be. I’m addicted to results and love tasks. While I was admired, I didn’t allow others to love me. Ouch! Some good friends over the years had tried to say that to me, but I didn’t get it. I probably even assumed that God admired me – but had I let him really love me? I had left God out of the deepest parts of my heart where there is real pain and aloneness. That’s the way stormtroopers are, you know.  

That day I began a new journey. It’s a journey that is never finished. It is a journey that allows Jesus to be with me in my weakness, inadequacy, and brokenness that moves me toward interdependence.  

But what really hit me was what Brennan Manning said in Abba’s Child – “The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi.” That’s the whole goal of life – to be like Jesus. Maybe the greatest tragedy in life is not dying before we die. Without a broken heart, we miss the real power of God that changes us and make us really useful to advance his kingdom. It is only through a broken heart that God can and will reveal his character and power. That was missing in my life and leadership.

The team at the bed and breakfast decided I was in fact ready for a new title – “wounded stormtrooper.” I’m still a stormtrooper. But I don’t fight hiding the wounds like I once did. I don’t mind leaning on others who fill my missing pieces in leadership. More and more, I like being a limping stormtrooper. There are even times when I’m a tearful stormtrooper.  

Broken leaders can understand the pain of others and connect in powerful ways.  Limping leaders need others and create an environment for real collaboration. Broken leaders become fertile ground for true discipleship (learners) as God can shape and form them as pliable clay.  Yet, they still lead and with others take the hill. I’ve discovered that others really like following a wounded stormtrooper.

I continue to learn that leaders are relational influencers. We influence not by taking the hill but by leading others to take the hill through transparent, vulnerable relationships. Amazing collaboration can’t happen without authentic connections with the team. Leaders will never really empower and free others on the team to soar if they live in independence and on their strength alone.

Great leaders are broken. Yet, I’ve come to see over and over again that strong leaders, like me, fight brokenness. To be broken just feels like weakness and thus failure as a leader. But “broken” and “leader” are not antithetical concepts in leadership. They are not only complementary, they are essential partners. Jesus needs wounded stormtroopers to join him, the consummate wounded stormtrooper, to bring the kingdom that is in heaven to earth.

Here is my astonishing conclusion:  I must do what I cannot do with what I don’t have for the rest of my life. How? Trust in God and others. Identity, significance, position, recognition, competence, and success can actually block what God can do through me. When I remain strong, ministry becomes as small as I am. When I am weak and broken, ministry can be as big as God is.

Every person, every leader and every organization has blind spots. No one gets a pass on this. We are blind to these things because, well, we don’t see them! The only way we’ll discover the blind spots is to create a culture and regular systems that give us feedback. The fact is that others see problems in us or in our organization long before we do. However, for the majority of people, feedback is hard to give unless there are safe ways to give it and a culture that truly values the input.

Really good and consistent feedback is rare in any church, business or organization. Yes, fast food restaurants, hotels, and other businesses regularly ask us to fill out surveys, but none of us really believe that our feedback will make any real difference. We just want the free taco or hamburger for taking the time to fill the survey out. 

I believe feedback is vital to become and remain a great leader and to lead a healthy organization. Receiving good, helpful, and consistent feedback requires both a culture that values that and has systems to actually allow it to happen. I can’t repeat that enough! I believe it takes intentional effort to create a culture of feedback in our organizations. 

For example, we utilize a teaching team at our church. This team isn’t just a pool of people who can teach, but it is a team that evaluates and gives feedback to the person who teaches the “sermon” on a given Sunday. The teacher gets feedback for their written message two weeks out. Then after making adjustments, they get more feedback early in the week before the message is delivered. Then a few days before that actual teaching is given, they do a live run through with the team and get more feedback. That’s three times! Finally, the week after they gave the message, the team gives a final evaluation. That’s a lot of feedback, and it is invaluable. I believe I am doing my best teaching because of the great feedback I get from this group. I will never preach without this valuable feedback. We are all so much better because of it.

Recently, we’ve added some new teachers to our teaching team. The process was very challenging and intimidating for these “newbies” at first. However, just a few months into the process, each will tell you that they too would never want to take on the responsibility of teaching without a well-developed feedback process. 

We intentionally seek feedback in other ways, too. After folks who are new hires to our church do their orientation and have some time to actually work at our church, I do a new hire lunch. I do some sharing of my heart regarding our vision, but I spend most of the time asking them for feedback. I tell them they have fresh eyes and will see things that those of us who have been here a while just don’t see. I let them know that I know I (we) have blind spots. They might see things that seem to be inconsistent with our values, beliefs or purpose. So I ask them for feedback in terms of what they like and appreciate as well as what or how we might make improvements. Not only is the feedback valuable, but it also lets them know that I, as the senior leader, want feedback. It’s another way to introduce them to our culture of feedback.

We also gather the appropriate folks to evaluate and give feedback after every big event. We record it so we can review what we learned before we plan that event again. Every other year, I do an anonymous online 360 review that the staff and board of elders do of me. The results and the open-ended comments have been invaluable to help me continue to grow as a leader. These are just a few of the components of our feedback system. 

It takes years of consistent effort to create a culture of feedback. It starts with the leader – the CEO, the “boss,” the lead pastor or whoever has ultimate oversight of the company, church or group. That person has to authentically model the desire for feedback. Here’s what that means for me: I have to listen way more than I talk! I have to ask for feedback and not assume people will give it. When I get it, others have to see that I not only listen to but act on the feedback. If I don’t acknowledge and act on feedback, no one will ever really believe I want it. True humility has to be in place to want, listen to and accept feedback. Then you have to create ways and systems to actually get feedback at all levels of your organization. It takes time but it is so worth it. 

All of us want to grow and learn to give feedback well. It’s both an art and a science (meaning we can learn some proven skills). More important than that, the feedback has to be received well. I highly recommend the book – Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Stone and Heen. They share how one can receive badly timed, poorly delivered or even hurtful feedback well. If you want to create a culture of feedback, as a leader, you have to learn to receive it well in addition to giving it well.

Where do you start? Start by asking for feedback – for you and for your organization. Then really listen and act on it. Look for ways to create a safe culture for feedback. Reward those who give feedback (people repeat what’s rewarded)! For yourself, keep looking for your own blind spots. You may have to ask and you might need professional help. Once my mentor told me he was going to go to a counselor. I asked what issue he was concerned about. He said he didn’t have any that he knew of and that was his concern. He was going to try to discover some of his blind spots! A few years ago I was stuck and knew I had a blind spot that was hindering me from being an effective leader. I went for intensive counseling and spiritual direction. It was the best week and money I’ve spent on myself!

How often do you seek feedback? Do you have a culture that accepts and gives feedback regularly? Is feedback important to you and your organization? How you answer these questions will correlate or parallel your own health as a leader and that of those you lead.

In 2001 Jim Collins came out with his landmark book – Good to Great. In 2005 he came out with a follow up for churches and nonprofits called Good to Great and the Social Sector. There’s so many great applications from these two books. We’ve used many of the concepts in our church over the years. The one that has actually stood out the most to me was Collins’s view of the five levels of leadership. Here’s a summary of the five levels. As you read these, consider where you actually live today and where you want to be in the future. Try to be honest with yourself.

Level 1: The Highly Capable Individual
This is the kind of person who has a lot to offer. They make a contribution because they have knowledge, talent, and skills needed to do a really good job.

Level 2: The Contributing Team Member
This person not only has skills and knowledge, but is a good team member who works well with others to help the team to be effective, productive, and successful.

Level 3: The Competent Manager
This person is able to organize a group of people to execute specific projects, programs, and goals.

Level 4:  Effective Leader
This person leads a department or organization to accomplish a vision by executing key goals. There are lots of top leaders who are able to do this.

Level 5: The Great Leader
This kind of leader can take a good church or organization and make it a great one. This leader has all the knowledge, capabilities and skills of the other four levels but they have one more key asset. They have the unique blend of HUMILITY and WILL that is essential for the greatness of the organization.

Humility and will! This is ingenious. I’ve observed a special and critical connection between these two traits in leadership. I’ve written often about the importance of humility. My third blog was about humility and I called it “The Greatest Trait.” It is the first and most important of my Seven Non-negotiable Traits of a Leader (you can access the videos here – register to get a login permission). Most leaders primarily rely on a strong persona and a strong will to be a great leader. They can view this as being large and in charge. I often remind leaders that they can’t be very successful without humility. A strong will gets things done for sure. No leader will be great without humility.

Humility and a strong will seem to be contradictory at first, but together, they make for a great leader. They are the core of what it means to care for people and get things done. Both are essential for greatness in a church, non-profit, business or any organization.

Think about the greatest leader ever – Jesus. What humility! The very fact that he left the privilege of heaven and came to earth was an act of humility. His willingness to sacrifice his life for those he created was an act of humility (see Philippians 2:6-8). He used all his resources, knowledge, character, his very life, for our benefit.

What strong will, too. Jesus was no wimp. He knew his purpose and didn’t let friend or foe distract him from his mission. In three years he got out his message and trained eleven guys who started a movement that changed the world. Against overwhelming odds, he endured more than any of us will ever experience and overcame every obstacle and challenge to offer humanity a living hope.

What does a level 5 leader really look like and do? How do we lead like Jesus? It takes intentional effort to become a person of strong will and an observable humility. Here are some specific descriptions, attitudes, actions and skills that help us develop and grow our humility and will. What specific things might you add?

Traits of Humility

  • Genuine – you are authentic. There’s no pretense. You are the same person when standing in front of your staff or congregation as you are when you are standing beside an entry level worker.
  • Servant attitude – your focus is not to make yourself successful but to help everyone else be successful. You’re willing to make the costly investments in others to help them grow and develop. You consistently are thinking about others and putting them first. You are about setting up others up for success.
  • Team player – you value and practice collaboration. You know that the best comes from a team with all their unique perspectives and gifts. You work to create not just unity in your team, but you go the extra mile to make sure each team member is appropriately challenged and supported. You model and help each team member be a contributor and to support the contributions of each other. A humble leader channels their ambition into the team rather than himself or herself. Humble leaders hire great people, often who are better than they are, and empower them to lead well.
  • Celebrity adverse – you don’t talk about yourself. You’re not seeking to be the celebrity or be in the spotlight. In fact, you are intentional to put the spotlight on others. Rather than looking for praise, appreciation and affirmation, you work hard to give those same things to others. You look for literally every opportunity to recognize great character, a job well done, an insightful contribution or whatever in others. You look for ways to express and show appreciation. This kind of leader is compelling, but modest. They are never boastful. By the way, in Collin’s research, he found that many of the best leaders never wrote a book.
  • Looking out the window – I love this picture Jim Collins gives. He says as a humble leader you look out the window to others, rather than in the mirror to yourself. You give credit to others when things go well and take the blame when things go wrong.
  • Common words used to describe a humble leader: quiet, modest, reserved, gracious, calm, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated.

Here’s the bottom line question of being humble. Do you lead to make others and the organization successful or do you lead others to make you successful?

Traits of a Strong Will

  • Intense resolve and resilience – you will do whatever needs to be done to make the organization great. No challenge, hindrance or obstacle will dissuade you. While modest and humble, a level 5 leader is anything but weak. They experience fear, but act for the good of others in spite of the fear (hence they are seen as fearless). They are so sold out to their cause that they will endure the lows and hard times.
  • Clear catalyst in achieving results – you are fanatically driven with an incurable need to produce sustainable results. You excel in great ideas and vision, but what makes you great is your ability to consistently execute those ideas.
  • Dedication to the organization – you will do anything that’s legal, moral and God honoring to make your organization great. You are devoted to your work while maintaining your own balance, equilibrium, health and important relationships.
  • Strong work ethic – you model self-sacrifice and others see that you are more “workhorse” than “show horse.” Key to this quality is that you are self-motivated. You set your own goals and standards and do your best to live by them. You have a passion that shapes how invested you are in your team and the organization. Finally, you live by a “whatever it takes” attitude.

So great leaders, or level 5 leaders, have this unusual combination of a very strong will and a humble character. This allows them to aim not for their success, but for the success of the organization, however that success is defined.

If you got this far in reading, let me tell you that this will be my final blog until early July. I take the month of June off as my annual “sabbath.” I use this month to unplug from work and the daily stress of the continual production cycles. I’ve found it is an essential part in keeping me healthy by providing rest and renewal. So, I’ll be back in July!

Leadership, consciously or unconsciously, is often thought in terms of the leader as a kind of hero! The leader must win the day. When he or she does, they are recognized as the hero.  

This heroic view of leadership adds huge pressure to the already challenging task of leadership. Heroes must win! It also leads to the temptation for a pastor to be seen as a celebrity or superhero. Celebrity status comes along with being a hero. Heroes love to hear people say; “We couldn’t have done it without you.” There’s so much pressure on the hero – just watch any superhero movie!

I was recently listening to a podcast by Donald Miller and Andy Stanley (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – 1/2/19). You might know Donald Miller as an author (Blue Like Jazz, Building a Story Brand, etc.) and the founder of Story Brand. Miller has created his ministry and writings around the idea of stories. In the podcast, Miller talked about the basics of all stories and the key main characters in a story. Let me share some of his insights and thoughts on the story motif:

In any great story there is a hero, villain and guide. Think of the original Star Wars movies – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda. Test it out on the newer superhero movies or just about any story. The villain is the worst in the story. The hero is the second “worst!” Why would we even think that? He’s the hero and that means he’s should be thought of as, well…. the hero! But the hero creates the story because it’s a story of the hero’s failings, doubts, struggles, and temptations. The hero almost always hurts good people on their journey to a rebound and final victory.

But there’s no rebound or victory without the guide who helps the hero overcome his shortcomings and “win.” Think Yoda! There’s no mistaking that Yoda is a kind of spiritual master guide who understands the light and dark sides of the Force.

I’ve discovered in myself at times and in many leaders the mistaken idea that we are to be the hero in the story that God is writing through us. It’s one of the greatest temptations of being a leader. If we do well, we are tempted to see ourselves as a hero. Others will see us as the hero. That offers the temptation to be the celebrity. It all feels good!

Some leaders, right from the start, seek to be the hero and will manipulate life to fit that. For others, the hero role sneaks up on them. The hero role shows up in various forms of pride. The hero-leader is often the first and last to speak. The hero-leader thinks they have to have all the answers and solutions to all the problems. Hero-leaders tends to be focused on how they are performing and struggles to read the room well. Heroes always are looking for validation, attention and position. Heroes are often over-extended, worn out, tired, and empty because the hero has to save the day for everyone and in the end, they think it all falls on their shoulders. Pride is always the greatest temptation and downfall of the hero-leader.

True leaders are more of a guide than a hero (but don’t call yourself Yoda!). The very nature of leadership according to Jesus and the whole New Testament is that of being a servant leaders. A servant leader is about one thing – the success and well being of those they are serving! A leader who is servant first is looking at how he or she can help everyone else be successful. Servants are more in the background than always being in the foreground. Behind the scenes, they want to make others the heroes who, in fact, win the day!

There were people in Jesus’ day that wanted him to be the hero. They wanted to make him king (John 6:15). They wanted a human Messiah-king to heroically overthrow the Romans (The Triumphal Entry). Except he does everything to keep from being the traditional human hero. Yes, he is God. He was present at the creation of the universe. He knows all, is not hindered by time, space, or anything. He has all the abilities of being the super superhero! Yet, he humbles himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:6-8). He goes from sitting as king of the universe to take on the position of a lowly human being. He is a leader, he’s just not looking to be made king or hero. He was never about status or honor.

Jesus practiced his leadership by preparing twelve apostles to change the world. Jesus was more a guide than being one trying to be the hero. He gave his life to launch a movement to save and change the world. He even told his disciples that they would do greater things than himself (John 14:12-14 – this idea always blows me away). He promised to send back the Holy Spirit to do what?…guide us! At the end he gave us the great commission because it was others who would do that work with and through him.

Be honest with yourself. What are you seeking? What’s your view of being a leader? Who are you really in your leadership role? Are you seeking to be the hero or intentionally choosing to be the servant who guides others to success? Who, right now, are you investing in to be better, successful and effective? Who are you guiding and mentoring? These are foundational and sobering questions. Hero or guide?

As leaders, we focus on what we do and how we do it. We are looking for results, especially in the form of seeing God change lives. We are absorbed by strategy, planning, making decisions, dealing with conflict, helping and caring for people and so much more. However, far too many leaders neglect their inner life. I could fill a page with the names of famous people who were doing amazing things, were loved and respected by many; but neglected their soul, their motivations, compulsions, passions, needs and their character. Even pastors, who talk all the time about the inner life, are well known to have neglected what’s going on inside! Jesus’ harshest words were toward the hypocrites (Matthew 23) who focused on the outward and neglected the inner life.

So leaders concentrate on the whats and hows, but too seldom do we address the why; especially the whys inside us (see Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle). What causes me to do something or not? What is my passion and purpose for what I do? What motivates me is often unconscious and thus a blind spot. Yet, the most powerful parts of our personality, and thus leadership style, are tied not to what we actually say or do, or how we act; rather, it’s tied to why we say or do or act the way we do. Motivations are so powerful and left unaware or unchecked, they can be disastrous. Knowing what motivates us is critical to good self-awareness, which is a critical part of being a healthy person and leader. Self-awareness is essential if we want to avoid personal disaster and want to change.

Maybe there is an aspect of your personality or leadership style you are aware of that you want to change. How do you change it? How do you become a better leader or parent? Most of us opt for “behavioral modification.” That’s when we focus on changing a behavior. In the realm of faith, we often call this “sin management.” That rarely works for very long. Why? Because behind the behavior is a motivation. The motivation, or compulsion, is more powerful than the behavior. So you can sincerely desire to eliminate the habit, sin or behavior; but if the passion is still there, it trumps the effort to control the behavior. If you want to change the behavior, change the motivation that’s inside.

So we invite God to help us change the inside motivation or passion, which leads to outer change. Real lasting change is an inside-out job. It needs to be in that order. God’s truth and God’s Spirit together are the best inside-out change agents ever. We have to be willing to cooperate and collaborate with God to bring about inner and thus outer change.

I could write a book on how we cooperate and collaborate with God to experience growth and change. In fact, such books have been written. But let me address a starting point: What I’ve observed is that most inner issues stay unconscious. They are a part of our blind spots. That’s why I try to mentor and help our leaders grow in their self-awareness. I did a 12 minute video on self-awareness that you can watch to learn more.

Creating self-awareness to discover the inner dangers that lurk below the surface takes intentional effort. Asking for feedback in humility is a basic and standard way to grow your self-awareness. Really listening to others helps us discover our own blind spots. Prayerfully asking God to reveal your less than ideal motivations is vital. I’ve also found for myself that one of the things that is so helpful for me is to use some effective tools that help identify who I am.

There are a bunch of quality tools available. I’ve used the Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) for almost 40 years. I love the Leading from Your Strengths, RightPath, Clifton Strengths (formerly Strengthsfinder) and DISC assessments. All are helpful.

There is one tool that is extremely helpful at getting to the level of motivation and the interior issues of passions, fears and needs. This tool is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram helps you identify your blind spots, since it is so hard to see your own compulsions that create your false self which in turn can hinder you and trip you up. Over time, this tool helps you to grow spiritually and reconnect with the voice of God and his grace that can lead you back to your true self, your “home space” or true type. This tool helps you see that you are not your “gifts”, rather that your identity is that you are first a child of God with unique gift sets. It can help you rediscover the way of Jesus based on godly motivations in your unique personality.

The Enneagram is a valuable tool for your own self-awareness. The process of becoming aware can help you to disbelieve and discard the false self illusions and rediscover your true self based on godly motivations. But beware! The Enneagram will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge you in very vulnerable ways as it helps you uncover the motivations behind our behaviors.

There are tons of resources online to help you explore your Enneagram type. There are many free and for fee Enneagram tests on the internet (see below). Don’t rely only on the tests alone. Because we are influenced by our false self, we can mis-represent ourselves and our motivations when answering the questions. Use the tests to narrow down your basic or main type to a few. Remember, you have a main type, but there are other types that might in fact reflect key aspects of your unique personality.

Take your time to discover your true type. As Alice Fyling suggests: “Date the Enneagram.” Do the work and take the time by taking the tests, reading the reports, and using some of the books and resources below. Ask someone who knows you and loves you to give you feedback. The discovery of your true self is a spiritual journey, not a one-stop event. If you’d like to explore more on the Enneagram, here’s the link to a 16 page Enneagram Overview that I’ve written and developed from some of the sources below:

Enneagram Tests:

My Top Four Favorite Books:

Other Resources:

Less is more

Focus multiplies the power of everything. Take light and focus it and you get the power of the laser. But if you try to focus on too many things you experience the law of diminishing return (see below) and you actually accomplish less. This is true in ministry and business as well as our personal and spiritual lives. As 2018 ends and we begin to look toward a new year, let me challenge you to embrace the discipline of focus.

Here’s a truth that I believe powerfully affects every aspect of life – Less is more! Focus provides maximum impact. If everything is important, then nothing is important.

I’ve seen the power of focus work over and over in my ministry work. My best messages are focused. In fact, for every message I develop a short sentence that captures my one main idea. Then, I make sure every scripture and illustration aims at that main idea. After numerous reviews, I find I keep cutting out good material that was not critical to my focused point. Folks will more likely remember a focused message with one main point rather than a message with eight or ten good ideas.

The most effective churches that are discipling people have focused ministries and don’t try to do everything or be everything to all people. They are great as saying “no” to good programs in order to focus on what’s critical. The best parents know how to focus on a few things rather than live scattered lives of non-stop activity. The best businesses know their “hedge hog” or their focused strategy (a term developed by Jim Collins in Good to Great) and live by a few key values.

Here’s what we know from research and from observing life: If you focus on two or three goals you’ll have a reasonable chance at accomplishing two or three goals. But if you try to accomplish from four to six goals, you’ll actually only likely accomplish one or two. And if you try to accomplish from eleven to twenty goals, you’ll likely achieve none of them. That’s the law of diminishing return. There is power in focusing on fewer things at a time. Remember, less is more.

 

WIN – What’s Important Now

At our church, we focus on one key goal that everyone on staff can engage in. We use the acronym WIN which stands for What’s Important Now. A WIN is the single top priority over given period of time that will make a difference for the whole church. It requires the collaboration of all. It becomes our rallying cry. A WIN is a goal that can be accomplished in 3-12 months.

To discover our WIN for a particular season, we ask, “If we accomplish one thing during the next X months, what would it be? What must be true X months from now to be able to look back and say with any credibility that we had a good season?”

 

4X4

We personalize the power of focus by utilizing the 4X4 principle (or 1X1, 2X2, 3X3 or 6X6, etc.). We use this simple goal setting idea with our staff of focusing on a few key things that would make a big difference that are not a part of our normal daily job description or routine. A 4X4 would be focusing on four things over a quarter. Recently, I used a 1X6 where I had one very big goal that I needed to focus on for a six month time period. This is a flexible principle that allows you adjust the number of goals over a variety of time frames. But the key idea is to focus on less because less is more!

 

One Word

About six years ago, I found a new way to apply the less is more principle. It came from a short book titled One Word. The idea is to choose one word to focus on for a whole year. I decided to help our church use this principle and connected it to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Over half of all Americans will make a bunch of New Year’s resolutions. What percentage of people who make resolutions are actually fulfilling them? 8%! And over half of those who make resolutions have failed or forgotten them by the end of January. That’s not a good track record. Now, there’s many reasons why that happens. Sometimes the goals are too big or not specific enough. But one factor for sure is that we have too many resolutions. How can we increase our shot at experiencing real life change and have maximum impact? The answer again is focus!

Here’s how the one word idea works. First, you think about something that you want to change in you or about you this year. Maybe it is an area you want to grow in or become more like. Prayerfully, reflectfully and boldly ask God for one word that will help you accomplish that. Identify one word that will best capture the one thing that would bring hope, change, renewal and newness to you in the new year. It can be a habit to overcome or a discipline to embrace. It can be a character quality you want to adopt or develop more deeply. It can be an action that you want to become more a part of your life. We’ve heard so many stories of real life change because of the power of focus practiced in the one word exercise. Try it! It has became an annual experience that our church looks forward to each year.

Embrace the “less is more” life. Discover that focus provides maximum impact. Say “no” to more and “yes” to less. May your 2019 be a year of powerful God-infused focus.

This blog is directed primarily to church leaders, though there are applications to the non-profit and business world for sure. I believe without a doubt that Jesus’ passion was to reach the lost. That’s why he came. That’s what he said in Luke 19:10 – For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. He told three powerful parables about finding those who are lost in Luke 15. The Great Commission sends us to those yet to be a part of his kingdom (Matthew 28:19,20). But this blog isn’t about trying to convince you of that. If that is not your passion, then you have business to do with the Holy Spirit. What I want to do is talk about how we do that well.

I’m not interested in growing a big church. I hope you’re not either. But I am passionate about reaching lost people and when we do the result is growth! But growth is NOT the goal. People are. There is nothing more important that reaching those who are not really living in God and for God by walking with Jesus. That is my main focus as I lead our church.

Unfortunately that is not the main focus of most pastors, most churches, most church boards and for sure, most church attenders. If we are to keep Jesus’ main thing front and center, then we have to face the fact that we are swimming upstream every day of the year! It take strong courageous leadership making the hard decisions that result in real programs and a culture to consistently reach lost people.

Here’s what I’ve focused on that has helped our church reach people who are new to faith. I’m just going to bullet point them because each bullet point could fill its own blog.

  • Our main filter for every decision we make is how will this help us reach lost people.
  • Our Sunday teaching (both series and messages) is designed for unchurched people to understand. The teaching is biblical, but avoids using churchy words or ideas. It is always relevant, practical and applicable to every person. There are clear powerful actionable takeaways for both believers and nonbelievers in every service.
  • Following that, while the Bible is central to all our teaching on Sunday, we don’t try to go deep into the Bible. The Sunday teaching is intentionally designed to lead people into discipleship and deeper Bible study individually or through our classes and small groups – where it happens best. Our Sunday worship (music, stage, environment) is designed to attract and make sense to unchurched people. When some of our older folks complained about the music, lights and haze, I reminded them it wasn’t for them, but for their kids, grandkids and great grandkids who were not coming to church. Now that their families are coming, they love the music! Our focus isn’t to just please the veteran church attenders – hence the hard decisions we have to make. Rather, we always assume we’ll have first time guests and we want to make sure the experience is understandable and good for them as we want to keep moving them on the path toward becoming a disciple.
  • We are intentional to provide a warm welcome to all guests. We make sure our signs are clear to direct people (guests don’t know the routine or where things happen). We want to greet people multiple times before they get to the auditorium. I try to personally greet as many guests as I can. We have a clear, obvious, simple way for folks to move from visiting to looking deeper to becoming engaged. You have to have a clear “pathway” from the time someone enters the parking lot to the time they become a follower of Jesus. That doesn’t just happen.

Those are the basics. There is much more for sure. And let’s be honest and fair, it was costly for me to introduce and continue to do these things. People left and leave our church when I consistently make the lost a focus in how we do things. I am personally attacked for this focus as folks will say that “I’m not deep enough,” “I’m not biblical enough,” “I don’t care enough about members,” and so on. But when I hear the stories of transformation from some of the 326 new believers that we baptized last year, I have no regrets. Everyone will spend eternity somewhere. I want to use my 1 hour and 10 minutes in a Sunday to help people find God and have an eternal home in heaven, while helping the godly deepen their faith. It is not an either/or deal.

Finally, we are entering the Christmas season. Christmas and Easter are the two times of the year we get the most visitors. Most churches spend a lot of time and resources to celebrate Christmas, as we should. But are your Christmas programs designed to reach lost people? Have you designed your Sunday morning Christmas series and messages and especially the Christmas Eve message to speak to those not walking with Jesus? Don’t miss this opportunity. Jesus came that first Christmas for one reason – to reach the lost!

Leading is Hard

Can I try to encourage you today? I’ve been a pastor for 41 years. Yea, I’m old! Or to spin it positively, I’ve got lots of experience! And what I know for sure, is that you and I as leaders always face challenges. Peter Drucker, the management guru, once said that being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs, period. He’s right. Leading a church has challenges at every proverbial corner. Leading a non-profit or business has many challenges as well. What has worked before doesn’t work today. Our culture is going through reconstruction. Life is becoming more complex! All people, including you and I, are broken in some way. Hurting people hurt people. Members or clients are never satisfied. If I go on any longer, I won’t have any hope of encouraging you!

Resilient

So how do we respond to the challenge of pastoring and leading? If you’re reading this, you are likely not ready to throw up your hands…yet! I think the Bible has a clear answer. The answer shows up in a slew of words, but my summary word for all of them is resilience.

Before I define or describe resilience, let’s look at all the Bible synonyms or parallels for resilience:

  • Persevere
  • Endure
  • Patient
  • Long-suffering
  • Steadfast
  • Bear with, Forebear
  • Be strong
  • Don’t grow weary or lose heart

Now, let’s be honest. If we were to try to come up with a list of the 5 character qualities that make for a great pastor or leader, it is unlikely that many of these words would make the list. We’d rather prefer to say a great pastor or leader is competent, skilled, bold, courageous, confident, creative, or trustworthy.  Or we might choose words like integrity, humility, empowering, or great communicator. All these are great attributes. But it would be rare for the word resilient or any of its synonyms to show up on the list. But may I suggest, that the most effective leaders, in the long run, are resilient leaders.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I get that idea from an amazing passage found in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV). I’m going to quote it here and underline those key resilient words: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The passage starts by reminding us that there is a cloud of witnesses watching us. Who are these people? They were listed and described in the previous chapter, Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter is sometimes called the Hall of Faith chapter. If you read chapter 11 carefully you’ll notice these famous men and women of faith who did amazing things didn’t get to see the full promises that God offered them while they were alive. But even though they didn’t see all the results they wanted, they stayed faithful. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you won’t get to see all the results of your hard work and sacrifice. But if you’ll remain faithful and resilient, God will use you to make a real difference, often in ways we can’t see.

The passage challenges us to run our race with perseverance. That means we just keep running and finish the race. It is NOT about being first, but finishing. It’s great to be first when every condition is perfect and we are in top shape. But that is not always going to be the case. Finishing is about faithfulness. We are called to be faithful and let God work through our faithfulness.

How do we keep running and finish well? We fix our eyes on Jesus. We don’t fixate on what good or success has happened. We don’t focus on the failures either. We don’t get caught up in what’s happening in our culture. We don’t compare ourselves to other pastors or leaders or churches or businesses. We don’t even look too long at ourselves. We focus on Jesus! He’s the model in every aspect of life. He’s the one we want to be like. We finish the race following him across the finish line.

And how did Jesus live? He lived with the joy set before him. Here’s what’s surprising: The joy that Jesus experienced happened as he endured the cross. How could enduring a horrible painful execution bring joy? Because Jesus knew that was his purpose. He knew that was what God wanted of him. His obedience unto death was his great joy because of what his sacrifice accomplished. His joy was in his faithfulness!

So the point of those three verses? Do not grow weary or lose heart. What is needed in our difficult job of pastoring and leading? To be strong or to be resilient?

Strong, Impressive or Resilient?

Let me finish with an illustration I read in a book produced by the Barna organization called The State of Pastors. The book makes a case for how important the quality of resilience is for pastors. The book reminds us that the Pyramids at Giza are as strong as we can imagine. They have survived for some 4000 years. They are big, robust, immovable, and basically unchangeable. But if a MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) was dropped on them (may it not be so), the bomb could easily destroy them today. You see, it is strong and impressive, but not really resilient!

Now let’s consider a forest. The west has experienced years of drought and forests are susceptible to fire. If a wildfire burns a forest, it looks devastated at first. But if you go back in a decade or two, you see how resilient the forest is. It starts to grow back. And, as it grows back, it actually becomes a better and healthier forest! That’s resilience.

You and I are not called to be strong or impressive, but resilient. So let me leave you with one more scripture that is one of my favorites. May it encourage you… Galatians 6:9, 10 (NIV) – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

We just hosted our tenth Global Leadership Summit at our church (my fourteenth attending). It was outstanding again. We spent a couple years developing what we call Next Level Leadership – a leadership development system to help leaders grow to the next level. I am constantly reading and looking for what’s new out there in our culture, business, technology and the church world. Why? Great leaders must be lifelong learners.

Here’s why. Everything changes. And everything is changing faster than ever. The maps we used in the past to navigate have changed. The tools (it is called technology) we use change faster than ever. Any leader who gets stuck in the past will hurt his or her organization. And what breaks my heart is that there are so many unhealthy and dying churches and businesses because leadership refuses to learn or try new ways. The message of the Bible never changes. But our methods of sharing that message must change.

Leaders lead by setting the example. Leaders must create a culture of learning and change. Will you allow your team, ministry or church be open to appropriate change or will you be stuck and find it difficult to reach lost people or the “new” client in our changing culture? We must be lifelong learners. We don’t throw out our knowledge and experience of the past, but we hold it lightly knowing that in fact there may be better ways that we have not yet learned or tried.  

I’m not an alarmist, but the alternative to being a fanatical learner-leader is a slow march to irrelevance. If you are not actively learning, then you are stuck and will move toward decline both for you personally and for the group you lead. You have moved from being a pioneer (an idea the Bible uses) to being a settler. You have a fixed mindset when a flexible one is needed. Your focus is on maintaining comfort, ease and safety. You resist change and keep things heading toward a slow but steady death – including your own. You are or will become protective, defensive, reactive and backward looking. Leadership must be forward looking. That’s what leaders do. And to be forward looking we have to assume we don’t have the future all figured out. We look forward to see the future. As Craig Groeschel said at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit – “Change or die!”

A learning leader in humility wants to be a leader that gets better and better. What does a learner look like? Here are some of the things that help me continue to grow as a lifelong learner:

  • Keep your curiosity and the joy of discovery alive. Keep asking good questions.
  • Stay humble and even admit to what you don’t know.
  • Keep pushing yourself in areas of discomfort. Take risks. It is in the unknown that we learn the best and it forces us to learn.
  • Read and listen lots! Listen to podcasts and read books that you know you won’t fully agree with and challenge your thinking. Commit to attending the Global Leadership Summit in August 8-9, 2019.
  • Hang around with people of different backgrounds who think, act and believe differently.
  • Ask for feedback on how you can do better or become better.
  • Get a mentor. Go to counseling. Join an online mentoring group. Take an annual or regular retreat to reflect, think and explore new ideas and practices.

My personal commitment is to keep learning and growing right up until I quit breathing. And in case you didn’t realize it, if you are an authentic disciple of Jesus, then you are a lifelong student and learner – that’s what “disciple” means. We are not done until we live like Jesus and lead like Jesus!

You’ve heard it said: “We are better together.” Do you buy that? Leadership is about helping others to excel in accomplishing what is needed for a larger cause. Therefore, leadership requires that we connect well with others. Too many leaders do not connect with people, they just direct people. Too many leaders have never learned good connecting or people skills.

A New Command
Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus said he was giving us a new commandment in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The context of this statement is vital. He just announced he would be leaving. He had been preparing his disciples to lead after he departs. They would face persecution as they launched the kingdom of God revolution. They would need each other. They needed to love each other well. While the commandment wasn’t totally new (see Leviticus 19:18), it came with a new standard – they were to love each other “as I have loved you.” If they would love each other as Jesus had loved them, they would have a super strong connection to lead well!

Connection
Leaders must excel in joining with people where love and belonging are experienced. I call this connection. Leading isn’t just about tasks, projects, results and programs. It isn’t just about setting vision and executing new ideas. It must include all of these. Real leadership is about connecting at the human level and leading from that place. Leadership requires a close proximity to those we lead. Jesus again is the supreme example. He didn’t claim Lordship from a distant heaven. He came and lived among us. He loved in a personal incarnational way. He mentored or discipled a group of leaders who changed the world. They loved him and died for him because he first loved them. Jesus connected!

Real leadership might at times have some “command and control” aspects to it, especially in a fire, firefight or crisis. But real leadership, effective leadership, is connected leadership. It is doing Jesus’ new commandment – loving others as Jesus loves us.

What is Connectivity?
Connectivity is a relational place where trust and respect allow two or more people to have an authentic, imperfect, relationship. Vulnerability creates the connection. Trust and respect keeps the connection going. Connectivity requires communication where each person is given grace rather than judgement, trust rather than suspicion. Each person is valued and thus they are heard, even if there are disagreements. In the end, people are built up, nurtured and encouraged by the connection.

How do we Connect?
Let me share the one skill that is critical for connection – listening that leads to empathy. Let me be blunt. There are very few leaders who really listen. It is tempting for leaders to think they have the answers because they are the experienced leader. But there will never be true connection apart from active listening. Just listening is making a connection.

Listening allows a leader to have empathy. In empathy, you feel with someone. You seek to understand what they are feeling and connect to them in that feeling in the present. Empathy is pictured in Stephen Covey’s principle: “Understand before being understood.” It is expressed in the idiom – “Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”

I could add a few more to our list of connectivity behaviors and attitudes such as how to encourage, handling differences, offering grace rather judgement, vulnerability and more. But if you want to lead well and lead your church or organization to a better place, then you have to connect with people. Leadership is about leading people, not leading ministries, groups, projects, events, programs or tasks. Leading requires healthy connectivity within good boundaries. We are better together so connect with others and lead like Jesus!