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 my first Leading Edge blog post! Thanks for subscribing! I thought I would start my blog with the 4 books I recommend to every church leader. We all learn to lead in different ways. Conferences are great. Mentoring is essential. Experience is invaluable. But reading is one of the key ways I learn and most leaders learn. I can’t encourage you enough to make the discipline of reading a priority.

The books I share below are books that I actually took our leadership team through and we used to develop our ministry. These books prompted hours of prayer and reflection on my part which led to leadership retreats, meetings, and eventually new ways of doing church. I especially recommend these books for anyone who has recently become a lead pastor or started a church or is ready to turn their church around. I believe these books, though some have a church focus, have many applications to non-profits and businesses as well.

#1 Church Unique – How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini. You can see by the title and subtitle how critical this book is. When I first became the Lead Pastor of Pantano I took my executive team through this book and we develop our “vision frame.” The vision frame is the clarity of your vision surrounded by a frame that covers your mission mandate, your values and motives, your key strategies and the mark or measurements of success. This has provided us a guide and blueprint for moving our church toward truly impacting our culture.

See the Church Unique Visual Summary pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#2 The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. In 2012, God made it clear to me that the health of our staff and church was to be a priority. That same year The Advantage was published – thank God! Lencioni maintains that organizational health is dependent on a cohesive leadership team that has and communicates clarity. I took our executive team through the book and we developed our playbook from the 6 questions that create clarity.  

Click here and go to “Free Tools and Resources” for a summary of the principles or disciplines of The Advantage. See our Pantano Christian Church Playbook 2.0 pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#3  Deep and Wide – Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley. This is a must read book if you want to reach unchurched people while serving those who already follow Jesus. This book provides inspiration as well as practical strategies to help people find God and a church community. I’ve had all my key leaders read and discuss this book!

#4 The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by McChesney, Covey and Huling. Our entire leadership now focuses on one big WIG (Wildly Important Goal) at a given moment. That’s the first discipline. But big important goals don’t just happen. Execution is actually rare in most organizations. The other three disciplines help you execute: acting on lead measures, developing a scorecard and then creating accountability. We practice this for every WIG and the results have been stellar. See the overview video here, the content overview here and the summary of The Four Disciplines of Execution pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

I would read the books in the order I listed them. But make the commitment to actually do the work each requires. And honestly, it will take you a long time, likely years, to actually do what these books suggest. But the results are so worth it.

And please share with us some of your “must read” books and why they are a must read!