Let’s say, for whatever reason, you need to create or update your resume. You do some online research and discover how to give it a modern look. You see that some resumes utilize a tagline under the person’s name. If Thomas Edison were to create a resume today, he might put as a tagline – The World’s Most Prolific Inventor. If the former NFL player Antonio Brown were updating his tagline he might be tempted to put – I’m Great Even If No One Likes Me. If I were to choose an honest tagline, it would look like this:

Glen A. Elliott

The Incomplete Package

No potential employer would read further. They might laugh thinking it is a joke. Well, the fact is that I’m actually not the complete package. There are things I’m just not good at. There are things I don’t know how to do. And you are not the complete package either. While I don’t suggest that you put this on your resume, it is nonetheless a reality that every leader, employee, and human has to face. No husband or wife is the complete package. No parent is the complete package. And every pastor must know this about himself or herself. 

But it’s funny how we isolate this reality and try to believe that we are the complete package. Or maybe we think, given enough time, we can become the complete package. We want to have the knowledge, skills, experience, and wisdom to be able to tackle any problem, any challenge and be able to lead as the complete package. It’s a myth! No one is the complete package, in any context.

In my last blog, I spoke about brokenness. Here was how I ended that blog – “I must do what I cannot do with what I don’t have for the rest of my life.” If you’ll take a few minutes and reflect on that sentence, you’ll see how profound it really is. I know that God has called me to lead, and I must lead as well as I can. But I have to lead knowing that I’m broken, incomplete, and limited. How is that possible to lead knowing that we are not complete, that we are broken and have weaknesses? What does that do to our leadership if we embrace that reality? How will others see us if we own that?

It starts with humility (see The Greatest Trait and Level 5 Leaders blogs). In humility, we are able to look honestly at ourselves and see that we can’t do it all well. Humility allows us not only to recognize but to publicly admit, that we have weaknesses. Then, in humility, we empower and allow others to do what they do well that compliments our weaknesses. I’m a leader. I lead best when I invite, empower and collaborate with others who have knowledge, personality traits and skill sets that I don’t have to accomplish what I could never do alone. Humility uses what resources and power I have to empower and celebrate what others have that I don’t. Humility knows that we are better together.

With good self-awareness, we identify our weaknesses. Some of those weaknesses are in our personality. The reason why we have so many different personalities (Thank God!) is that every person has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. I’m very strong at logic and being objective. I’m weaker when it comes to focusing on the power of feelings in different contexts… and that’s a huge weakness. So with that awareness in humility, I choose to surround myself with people who are strong where I’m weak. 

For example, I’ve developed a teaching team at our church. We review and give feedback and input to each other’s Sunday messages. I have been intentional to invite people on that team that have strengths in areas of my weakness. I need their perspective and help. By the way, that’s touching the deepest kinds of diversity. Not only do I seek gender, generational and racial diversity, but also the diversity of personality, skills, knowledge, and experience.

Because none of us is the complete package, we have to surround ourselves with folks who can and want to do things in a far better way than we can. Then we have to trust them and empower them to live out their giftedness to balance our weaknesses. 

Leader, it’s okay to not be the complete package. Don’t beat yourself up over what you don’t have and don’t do well. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to another leader that does it better than you. Don’t be tempted to try to make your weaknesses into strengths. Research and experience tell us that doesn’t work. Just make sure you don’t let your weaknesses trip you up and hurt your organization. That’s why you bring others into the picture who can help fill the places where you lack. That helps you and honors them. Surround yourself with people who can fill in the crack in your leadership, abilities, and knowledge. You have to be intentional and purposeful in this.

Remember – We must do what we cannot do with what we don’t have for the rest of our life. We just don’t have to do it alone. That’s why I want to be yoked to Jesus and walk with him (See Matthew 11:28-30). That’s why I want to walk with others. 

We are broken. There’s nothing that sounds good about that. I AM broken.  I’m weak. I fail. There is sin in my life. My temptation is to resent it or run from it. But brokenness is a part of me that God can use to draw me to Himself. In my weakness, I make room for God to work in changing my heart.  Let me share a scripture and a testimony that crystallizes this for me.

2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 (May I encourage you to really meditate on these verses)

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. 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.

Mike Yaconelli – “Finally, I accepted my brokenness… I had never come to terms with that.  Let me explain. I knew I was broken. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I continually disappointed God, but I could never accept that part of me.  It was a part of me that embarrassed me. I continually felt the need to apologize, to run from my weaknesses, to deny who I was and concentrate on what I should be.  I was broken, yes, but I was continually trying never to be broken again – or at least to get to the place where I was seldom broken…

“… it became very clear to me that I had totally misunderstood the Christian faith.  I came to see that it was in my brokenness, in my powerlessness, in my weakness that Jesus was made strong.  It was in the acceptance of my lack of faith that God could give me faith. It was in the embracing of my brokenness that I could identify with others’ pain, not relieve it.  Ministry was sharing, not dominating; understanding, not theologizing; caring, not fixing.” [pg 54 of Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning]

What is brokenness? – “Roof off to God and walls down before others.” 

Interdependent

No comparisons

You are you.

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!

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?

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!

One of the absolutely vital components of a healthy church, business or organization is focus. Back in 2001, Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, shares how focus is a secret to a great company in an idea called “The Hedgehog.” Here’s what Collins says about this idea:

Are you a hedgehog or a fox? In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.

Foxes try to be clever and know and try lots of ways to catch a hedgehog. But the hedgehog has one and only one defense that works every time. It rolls itself up in a ball with its quills outward and its soft inner body protected when danger comes.

Too many churches and organizations try to know and do too many things. The question for you as you lead is simple. What is and what can your group be the best at? What must you be the best at? These are questions of focus. You see, there is no church or group that can be “all things to all people” (Those are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and they have a very different context and purpose).

Some of the best and most effective churches and organizations focus on a few things. Life.Church is an example of focus. They focus on excellent worship, kids and youth, and small groups. That means they say “no” to things others want them to do like concerts or men’s or women’s ministry. Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix has always had a targeted focus or “customer.” They seek to reach unchurched men. If they can win the man, they believe they’ll reach the whole family. Continuing to use the church as an example, your focus might be discipleship, teaching, spiritual formation, targeting a specific type of group, a specific type of community transformation or recovery ministry.

Back about 10 years ago I decided our church needed to offer a traditional style worship service with hymns, piano, choir, etc. It’s a valid style of worship and I was sure there were people who liked this style. Other churches do “traditional” very well. But we were pretty bad at it. And it took tons of works, time, volunteers, and resources away from what we do really well. I made the decision after a year to stop that service. Some people left disappointed and unhappy. But that decision helped us to focus on what God has called us to focus on.

One of my favorite quotes says; “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Jesus knew his main thing. His focus dominated what he did and how he lived his life. Jesus actually told us his main thing; For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lostLuke 19:10. That’s the one thing that really matters to Jesus – reaching lost people. That’s where he spent a significant amount of his time. It was lost people he sought out and hung out with. He had a reputation of focusing on the people the religious folks said were lost. That’s why he told three specific parables about the lost in Luke 15. Jesus was focused.

As leader you need to figure out, with other key leaders in prayerful connection with God, what your “hedgehog” is. You need to figure out what you are best at and what is most important for you to focus on. As I lead our church, I know the things that are non-negotiable to accomplish our vision and mission. Focusing on too many things will sabotage excellence and dilute effectiveness.

And yes, a clear focus has both ups and downs. A clear focus will mean some folks and clients will decide they want something different and go elsewhere. That’s okay. But a clear focus will also attract quality leaders and allow you to leverage your people, finances and other resources to make a clear difference. When you are focused you know exactly who you are trying to reach as new clients or who you want to serve. You learn to say no to the good things that in fact are the enemy of what’s best.

Great leaders have a focus and are tenacious in keeping the main thing the main thing. The attacks on focus will never end. You’ll be tempted over and over to weaken your grip on your hedgehog concept. Resist! You can’t and don’t want to be the answer to every problem in your sphere of influence. Figure out the problem that God is calling you to address and stick to it with all you have.

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!

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.