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 leader knows this truth – change is inevitable. If our organizations don’t change, then they will become irrelevant and eventually die. I’ve watched too many churches in my city close their doors recently. I’ve talked to several pastors who know that because their board or church was unwilling to change that they now face insurmountable challenges resulting in people leaving and giving in decline. Healthy change is a necessity, not just for survival, but to actually thrive. 

The changes could be the need to move to a more community-based discipleship process or even just creating a discipleship process. It might mean changing the music style. It might mean changing the preaching style. It could be changing the types of meetings offered or the times they meet. The hardest kinds of change require changing leaders who refuse to move forward for the good of the church. 

Here’s what I’ve come to view as a classic formula regarding change. Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. Change is painful. A wise and thoughtful leader knows they can’t eliminate any part of that formula. So the question is – are you going to face the inevitable and necessary pain of change?

Part of the problem is that we allow our churches, our leaders, our congregation, our staff, and our stakeholders to focus on the change! I know the irony of that statement. But the focus shouldn’t actually be on the change(s), but on the reasons WHY we need to change. 

Change is not the point. It’s a huge mistake to verbally focus on the need to change and the change itself. We tend to start, focus on, harp on, and end with what is changing. So we focus on changing the music style, the meeting times, starting or stopping a beloved program. But that actually gets us off track. The why of the change almost always gets too little attention and time when we need to look at change. What’s the point of the change? Why is it inevitable and necessary? If you don’t remember anything else, remember this – If you need to make a change, focus on the why.

During the time I became the Lead Pastor at our church, our growth had stagnated, meaning that for every new person who came someone else left. There was lots of talk about “closing the back door.” The focus was that if we just the bucket from leaking, then the bucket would get full. It makes total logical sense. But I was convinced the issue was that our front door wasn’t wide enough or attractive enough. People will always leave (move, get distracted, fall away or get mad and leave). What we needed to do was to be more intentional about reaching more of the emerging generations who were not connected to God or a church community. That meant we had to change a lot of things including the worship style, preaching style, have a robust guest service system, add a distinct discipleship pathway and much more. Those are the “whats” that people see, experience, have personal preferences about and get invested in. People get upset and frustrated over changing the whats! So I focused early on the why of change.

I started preaching on the why – we have to do whatever we can do to reach people not connected to God or a faith community. I spoke to our leaders and had them read books about the why like Andy Stanely’s Deep and Wide. I met groups that I thought would struggle most with the changes and talked about the why and how it directly would address what they actually valued the most. For example, I met with our seniors’ group a couple of times a year and remind them that the changes we were making were not ones they would like personally, but were changes that would bring and keep their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Over time, that was in fact the case and our wonderful seniors have been my greatest cheerleaders. 

So we can’t just focus on the what. We have to focus on the why…first, continually, always. But we can’t stop there either. We also have to focus on the process. 

The very nature of change is messy. We need to plan and prepare the best we can for change. But too many leaders get bogged down in trying to get it right and make it perfect so that they don’t actually make the necessary changes. You’ve heard of the paralysis of analysis. Change gets lost in board and committee approvals. Here’s the honest truth about change: We must approach change as responsibly as we can with good planning and communication, but in the end, I love the “philosophy” of Indiana Jones. As he was facing an unexpected crisis he declared:  “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” Bold, brave leaders often, in the midst of change, figure it out as he or she goes.

We live in a world that is accelerating change in every way. So it is foolish to think we can plan out the change in every detail. The fact is that most of us who innovate change do just like Indiana Jones, we make it up as we go! If we waited to figure out everything we need to know, plan every detail and get every single person on board, then we’ll be stuck and the lack of change will keep doing its damage. 

This actually drives us back to the One we need to go to. We start by praying because we don’t know. We seek wisdom and advice from others as we are trying to figure things out. But once we are clear and convicted on the changes that need to happen, we make sure we overcommunicate the why. You can’t overcommunicate the why. You’ll get tired of telling the why long before you have actually over-communicated it. Then you take the first reasonable steps and keep figuring it out as you go.

Next, remember that change is a work in progress. Celebrate the progress, not the change!

Finally, create a culture of change for the future. One of the greatest compliments I got was from a local pastor that I’m good friends with. When I started actually making the changes I mentioned earlier, a number of really good folks left our church to go to his church. He told me that one of the reasons they gave him for changing churches was that our church changes all the time. That was a compliment in my mind. That’s exactly what we want. You see, I want to create a culture that gets used to change and even learns to welcome change. That makes staying current, relevant and ahead of the change curve so much easier for everyone. 
By the way, I host a group called Pastors’ Edge. It’s a monthly group for lead pastors, senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, co-pastors, and campus pastors (pastors who have responsibility for leading the whole church). We meet the first Thursday of the month from 11am-1pm with a free lunch at Journey Church in Tucson, AZ. On October 3rd our topic is Leading the Charge for Change with Bud Brown. Bud will be speaking about how the message of the Gospel never changes, yet every church must continually change and adapt, or it will stagnate and become irrelevant or ineffective. There are key understandings and skills that must be used to lead healthy necessary change. Change will always be hard and painful and there are ways to ensure that the change is worth the pain. If you are in the Tucson area, join us.

This blog is an admission of my struggle. I don’t write this as one who is consistently victorious over this frustration. It’s a daily challenge for me. I’m pretty sure it is for you too. What’s this difficulty? It’s ministry, which is really ironic for those of us who feel called to it.

You see, for any of us called to ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the what and forget the who. The “what” I’m talking about is the ministry itself. It is always in our face. It demands our attention 24/7/365. There is always the urgent…emails, calls, texts, hospital calls, counseling appointments, people crisis, an unhappy church attender, staff and volunteers who need attention. Oh, and Sunday is coming! Then add to that the car that needs attention, the room that needs painted and more importantly, our spouse and family who really needs some of our time and attention. The “what” is overwhelming and it can’t be ignored for very long.

In the midst of the urgency of all the ministry stuff, we easily miss who it is centered around. The “who” is Jesus. We get so busy working for Jesus we forget how important it is to just be with Jesus. We assume we can get with him later. We want to spend time with him. But we also know he’ll wait, and he will.

The challenge we face is whether, on a consistent basis, we make the Ministry or the Master our priority. You already know which gets most of your attention. What I’m writing is nothing new to you if you’ve been in ministry for any length of time.

I love the story in John 21. When I was in college, I did a major paper on this chapter in my Gospel of John class. It has always captivated me. You know how it goes. Peter denied Jesus three times. Then after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he finds Peter and his buddies fishing and invites them to breakfast on the shore. During breakfast Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. There’s no missing what’s going on here. Jesus is restoring his relationship with Peter. In a powerful way he allows Peter to reaffirm his love and Jesus is telling Peter that he forgives him and loves him in spite of his failures. What grace!

After each time Peter says that he loves Jesus, the Lord invites him to do ministry. “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” He’s telling Peter to be a shepherd of the church. Jesus has things for Peter to do! You see, a restored relationship with Jesus will restore real and effective ministry. But notice what comes first! The relationship. It never works the other way. It’s not who or what, but who over what.

Then after the failures are put behind and the relationship is restored, Jesus reminds Peter what is perpetual focus is to be. While he’s to do ministry, his focus is not to be on the ministry. He is to follow Jesus. In fact, he made this emphasis twice (John 21:19, 22). Our focus, our first priority, our only priority is to follow Jesus…day in and day out. We follow where he leads us. Wherever!

Is ministry the master or is Jesus the Master? Does the ministry direct your life or is Jesus directing what you do and where you go? Does he direct you to spend time with your family and for yourself along with ministry, or does ministry dictate your how you use your time and effort?

It’s hard to distinguish when we are following Jesus or ministry. I think it’s possible that if we were really following Jesus and not the ministry, we might leave our church ministry and do something Jesus wants us to do. Or, if we are really following Jesus, we might stay in our church ministry even though we’d rather quit! If we were really following Jesus, we might take a risk that could get us fired or for sure would get some folks upset at us. If we really followed Jesus, we’d find that every day would be a life giving adventure, not a taxing one that drains us. If the who comes before the what then we’ll ask Jesus what following him looks like today…and we might be surprised!

I’m convinced from experience and from the Word that if we made Jesus the priority in our life over the ministry, we’d be healthy and full…no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Don’t get so enamored and engaged in the what that you forget the who. Let the who form and shape what the what looks like (What a sentence!). Let the who set the pace of the what. Let the who fill you when the what tries to drain you.

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!

Speaking Well Matters!

A key part of all Pastors’ work and even for most business and nonprofit leaders is the need to communicate well. There are so many reasons why we have to get this right. For Pastors, you might have heard the old adage – “As the weekend goes, so goes the church.” There’s truth in that. There is way more to a church than the Sunday experience, but that hour plus does set the tone for everything else. Our speaking (in the church, nonprofit or business world) will either motivate, or cause staff and clients to disengage. In the church context, the effectiveness of our speaking takes on eternal consequences. It will help folks listen to the truth, take another step toward following Jesus, or convict someone of the need to make a change. Our speaking matters! So how can speak in the most effective way possible?

 

Speaking Well is Learned

I’ve used a teaching team for the last twelve years, and I believe that is the number one reason why my own teaching/preaching has improved significantly. I share the teaching and speaking opportunities with other men and women. The only way we grow our speaking ability is to speak! This same team also helps whoever is speaking to refine and make each message better. The speaker gets three specific times of feedback in preparation in the two weeks before presenting. We also do an evaluation after the message is given. I’m a much better speaker because of the feedback the team gives me. It is absolutely essential if you want to improve and grow your speaking ability.

To do this well, we’ve created a checklist of things the teacher and teaching team want to look for as we review and evaluate the written preparation and live presentations. These key things we’ve discovered are making a difference. We’ve been growing as a church over 8 percent the last three years. The most consistent feedback we get from folks who are new to our church is that they love the teaching and how moving, understandable and practical it is.

So, I’ve been researching, examining, experimenting and practicing these key things that make for an consistently effective message. Here’s the results of twelve years of work we’ve done with our teaching team. They will help you to say it well, whatever your “it” is!

 

What we Look for in Every Message

  • Is there a strong opening?
  • Is there a strong ending? Is there an emotional connection?
  • Have we given a clear practical application? Is the audience compelled to take relevant action?
  • Have we helped people imagine a better future? Have we inspired them to action, change or growth? Will this message bring about transformation? Do they know the “Why?” of the challenge?
  • Are there good transitions from one idea or point to the next one?
  • Is there one clear main point or main idea? Can you put it in one sentence? What’s the main thing you have to get across?
  • Have we used one main scripture that is clearly explained and applied?
  • Are there sufficient stories and illustrations, including live and video stories of people?
  • Because less is more, what is good but not needed that can be taken out to focus on the main point better? Too much “good” gets in the way of what’s most important.

 

What We Look for in Most Messages

  • Is there or can there be an organizing metaphor – a theme or phrase the runs through the entire message?
  • How can we use appropriate props to enhance the message?
  • Have we shared the gospel or part of the gospel?

 

Delivery of the Message:

  • Did the listeners “feel” the passion, conviction, and boldness of the speaker? Was the pace, tempo and animation able to present the message with passion?
  • Did the teacher engage the listeners emotionally and personally?
  • Is the teacher well prepared in his/her own soul? Was the message well prepared? Was the teacher free and not tied to his/her notes?
  • Did the teacher use good humor? Was there some “fun” at appropriate times?
  • Did the teacher look into the camera sufficiently and address the audiences online and not just in the auditorium? (If applicable)

 

Do the hard work to say it well. What and how you say it matters!

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!

Here’s what you rarely hear leaders admit: We doubt ourselves, especially when we are betrayed or face hostile opposition. We doubt ourselves when things are not going well, results are lacking, and when we face new challenges that we have never faced before. There are times we don’t have the answers. It is in these times we need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is to admit that we need help. It’s admitting we are an incomplete broken person and leader. But you don’t hear leaders talk that way. There’s a stupid “rule” out there that says leaders must present a facade of strength that is impervious to weakness. The rule says that leaders never admit failure.

A few years ago I hit one of those seasons when I began to doubt myself. I was facing strong opposition. Our growth, energy, passion and vision was flat. How would I respond? Shame? Fear? Quit? Fight? I did all of these to some extent. But what got me through that season was a better and harder choice. I chose to be vulnerable! The key to being able to move through the feeling stuck and doubt was a willingness to move past shame for the lack of “success” and be vulnerable to admit that I needed help. All leaders, at times, need help from a counselor, mentor, peer or other wise godly people.

During that time I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. She says we all have the formula “I’m not ___ enough.” inside our heads. You fill in the blank. We are not smart enough, creative enough, energetic or passionate enough, young enough, old enough, etc. We live in fear and doubt that we don’t have or can’t do what others expect of us. All leaders at times ask: “Do I have what it takes?” We all have a fear that lurks under the surface that we’ll be found coming up short. And if you come up short as a leader, we might hear “Shame on you!” So we choose to hide our fear rather than be vulnerable, open, transparent and honest with ourselves and others.

There is a hidden cost to shame. We learn to try and numb the pain, fear and doubt that shame (I’m not enough) creates. We manage our life so it won’t be too disappointing. We try to control others, life and the risks. Our shame often not only keeps us from taking risks, but at the same time we kill the real life that God has in store for us. We don’t lead ourselves and our organization to take the adventures God wants us to take. We don’t live by faith, but by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We learn to manage our lives rather than really trust the living God who is able to do more than we can imagine or think.

I choose to be vulnerable as I share my struggles and weaknesses in conversations, meetings, messages, in my small group and whenever I need it or others need it. Leadership requires being vulnerable to engage and risk and be all in. It’s about doing what needs to be done at the moment for the good of those we serve. You cannot lead well without being vulnerable. We choose to enter into risk and uncertainty knowing that some of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exposed and even used against us. And that is what courage is. For centuries soldiers have taught us this truth – courage is just going into battle… long before it is about winning the battle. What’s the “battle” you need to step into?

Maybe the best church leader of all time is the Apostle Paul. He wrote a very vulnerable letter we call 2 Corinthians. He was being attacked but he chooses to lean into vulnerability. He wrote; 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 – NIV). So, before the very people who are looking to exploit Paul’s weaknesses; he chooses to admit his weakness. Wow! When we are vulnerable we embrace our weakness to allow God to show up. So make the life changing decision to stop denying your weakness, hiding in shame and fearing vulnerability. Lean into God and walk by faith not sight. That’s how great leaders like Paul lead.

In observing really good leaders, one of the traits that is almost always present is great self-awareness. Here’s why self-awareness is important in leadership: We need to continually become aware of ourselves so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt others and damage our ability to lead well. The fact is we all have blind spots and a blind spot can damage our influence and hurt those we are trying to lead.

Years ago my mentor told me he was going to go to counseling. I asked him what problem or challenge he was facing. He said he didn’t know. I was confused and kept pressing him what the “issue” was. He said he didn’t know of anything that was wrong. But it was what he didn’t know that he was concerned about. He went to counseling to discover his blind spots.

Good self-awareness allows us to have an accurate view of ourselves. Why is this important and valuable in leadership? As leaders we have influence in the lives of people – that’s what leadership is. Who we are affects how we lead. And all leaders are sinners. All leaders are flawed. All leaders are broken in some way. All leaders have strengths which should be maximized and weaknesses, that if unchecked, can trip them up and hurt those he or she is leading. Self-awareness is essential if we are going to be able to understand ourselves, which affects how well we interact and serve those we are leading. Leaders who are poor at self-awareness hurt people and don’t even know it. Without good self-awareness, we won’t be able to grow and lead better.

Here’s where we start: You have to want to be more self-aware. It doesn’t just happen. I want to be the best leader I can. I don’t want to hurt the people I lead. We have to really look for clues from others that might be telling us there is something not quite right. You have to choose to develop a self-awareness antenna. Frankly, few leaders get past this point. They don’t want to know their flaws, weaknesses, blind spots or the things hiding in the shadows.

We almost never become more aware on our own. We need others to give us feedback. But it isn’t enough to ask for feedback. We actually have to create a culture or an environment where others know we welcome feedback. Folks need to know we really do want to know ourselves better and that we will act on the feedback given to us. So when we ask for feedback, we can’t become defensive or in any way punish the person giving us feedback. Want to become aware of your blind spots or weaknesses? Ask! Others will see things long before you will. Over the years I’ve learned that I can even learn things in poorly delivered feedback. Even “bad” feedback likely has a kernel of truth in it.

Most of our blind spots are connected to our past. We bury stuff. We cover over the pain. We are good at the denial project. There is stuff that lurks in the shadow that we are not fully aware of. The “shadow” is most dangerous to our personhood and leadership. The past and things that are in the shadow has a way of living in the present, especially without good self-awareness. Past events and our conclusions about those past events become triggers in our present and we as well as those we lead are surprised by what shows up or erupts. We almost always need help, often professional help, to discover and unpack the stuff in the shadows.

There’s a another aspect to self-awareness. We all sin and there are things we are more likely to be tempted by. No one is exempt from powerful temptations. Good self-awareness notices when the conditions in or around us are forming where we might be more vulnerable to temptation. Things like tiredness, certain toxic personalities, or various kinds of stressors might make us more likely to give into temptation and sin. Self-awareness learns to recognize the danger zones so we can make more positive choices.

How do you start? Spend some honest time with God asking him to prepare your heart to be open to feedback. Then ask some trusted friends, other than your spouse, to give you feedback. Pick a specific area or let it be general. Start on surface level or go deeper. This is invaluable to living well and leading well. The more self-aware we become, the more God can shape and mold us to be more like Jesus and lead like Jesus.

Personal worth in many ways has become a worn out idea that mainly ends up being a part of middle school or high school conversations. And we seldom connect personal worth to effective leadership. But I’ve seen it over and over. I’ve heard the painfully true horror stories of leaders who frustrate almost everyone around them. Maybe you work for or have on your team someone who doesn’t perform well or surprises you with behaviors that just are not appropriate. Dig deep enough and I’ll bet you you’ve hit the issue of personal worth. Leaders with lots of charisma, knowledge, skill and experience can lead poorly and even hurt people and the organization if they don’t have a strong sense of personal worth.

Leaders who lack a healthy personal worth not only do bad things, they also diminish others, don’t listen, react in anger, or refuse to take responsibility for failures while being quick to take the credit for successes. Fact is, effective leaders must have a healthy personal worth.

All our lives we try to develop and even create our own personal worth. We do it by trial and error. We end up with a list of “rules” that fall into two categories. Larry Crabb (Effective Biblical Counseling –1977) rightfully observed that all worth is based on two main sets of things we believe about: what makes us secure and what makes us significant. I’m secure when…fill in the blank. I’m significant when…fill in the blank. Personal worth, or being “okay”, happens when we are both secure and significant. I strongly encourage you to take some time to reflect and honestly write out your list of each. I think you’ll be surprised at how long your list is. I was!

The problem is that most of our “rules” for security and significance are often attacked and easily violated, and seldom hold up over the long run. If I’m secure when people like me, well, you know where that is going. If I’m significant when people tell me of my accomplishments, I’ll always be waiting for the encouragement that may never come.

Let me cut to the point. No circumstance or person can provide me or you with consistent, guaranteed significance and security, hence personal worth (that was a huge statement to reflect on!). Only God can. Only God can give you personal worth. Only God can provide you with true security and true significance.

Look at Jesus. In Matthew 3:17 after he was baptized God said to Jesus – “You are loved. You are good.” (my paraphrase). The NIV says: “This is my Son, who I love; with him I am well pleased.” Did you notice that God gave Jesus the basis of his personal worth – he is loved (secure) and God is pleased with him (significance). It is God who gives us significance, security, and thus worth.

As a leader, it is essential that we develop our personal worth on the one source that is unshakeable. We WILL lead out of our personal worth, whether good or bad – guaranteed. If our personal worth is shaky, so will our reactions when it is hurt, damaged or diminished. But when our worth is based on God, we’ll not only weather the storms, but we’ll thrive as leaders.

I’ve prepared a 15 minute video on personal worth that is part of our Next Level leadership development training. Click here to watch if you’d like to go a bit deeper and feel free to share it.

One last thing. The Global Leadership Summit is coming August 9, 10. The cost is $109 through our partner 4Tucson. Click here for information. I’ve attended 13 years in a row and gained so much that has shaped my life and leadership. It’s the best leadership conference for the money!