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.

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!

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.