Archives For Leadership

I enjoy taking personality profiles and strength assessments. I find that they reenergize and refocus me. They clarify for me the things that I should invest my energy in, and they help me say no to other things. This is quick post to introduce you to a new book and to highlight a helpful point that brings some clarity to pursuing your personal uniqueness while fulfilling Jesus’ call to die to self.

I recently read Stand Out: Find Your Edge, Win at Work by Marcus Buckingham. Buckingham became well known in the business community with the publication of his book Now, Discover Your Strengths and the accompanying StrengthsFinder assessment. His goal in that work was to help people find out what they are good at and learn to operate in those areas of strength. Instead of fighting to overcome your weaknesses (which you will always struggle to do), you should focus on developing your strengths. His main idea is that you will work harder at things you do well than at things you do poorly.

Buckingham describes StandOut in this 2 minute video.

His new book extends that focus by helping you figure out how to put your strengths to work. It includes an access code to the online StandOut Strengths Assessment. The Assessment reveals your “strengthsroles” – the roles where you can best leverage your strengths for impact. He offers the following nine strengths roles:

  1. Advisor
  2. Connector
  3. Creator
  4. Equalizer
  5. Influencer
  6. Pioneer
  7. Provider
  8. Stimulator
  9. Teacher

For example, my results showed that I am a Connector – Pioneer. That means that I’m good at launching things. I love to imagine a better world and get a group of gifted people together to try and do something to make a difference. While I’m struggling a bit to understand how it connects with my creative endeavors, I think that the description is about right. These things happen naturally for me, and I find myself doing this visioning/connecting/engaging work in whatever group I’m working in.

If you are new to assessments, this isn’t a bad place to start. If you’ve taken multiple assessments, StandOut will help refresh or refine your understanding of who God made you to be. Nothing radical or revolutionary here, but a helpful tool to put in your toolbox.

I sometimes hear Christians shun personality or strengths tests because they feel they focus too much on us and our happiness. While I understand what they are getting at, I think that they are missing the point. Buckingham makes a statement in the book that I think is important for us to consider:

To be truly your best, it isn’t sufficient merely to understand that you’re unique or even to understand what makes you unique. Sustained success come only when you take what’s unique about you and figure out how to make it useful… Your strengths, in essence, are value neutral. They can be put to good use, or they can…be put to bad use.

I think this statement points us in the right direction. Our uniqueness is undeniable. I think we know this practically, but I think it’s true biblically as well. The God who fit us together in the womb, who ordained our arrival in this world, who meticulously counts the numbers of our brown, blond or greying hairs, who gives us gifts and talents, who redeems our hurts and brokenness, who calls us friends certainly knows that I am not exactly like you. We are each one of us unique.

Spiritually-minded leaders will recognize that our uniqueness can be used for our personal glory or for God’s glory. When Jesus calls us to die to self, he’s not saying “stop being who you were created to be.” He’s saying something more like “Stop using who you are for selfish purposes and learn to use who you are for kingdom purposes.” This is the redemptive and transformative work of the gospel in us. We are saved from our self-focused life and saved for a God-directed life.

One of the guiding rules of my life is the belief that our deep and forever joy comes from leveraging all of who we are to honor God and extend his glory in the world. Because of this, I enjoy learning from all kind of resources that help me to develop as a person and as a leader. StandOut is another resource to help me along that path.

Do you know your greatest gifts, strengths, and roles? How has this knowledge helped you be more effective?

-jdl

If your life is like mine, the Easter season is very busy. Our days are consumed by an all-hands-on-deck time of planning special worship services and additional outreach efforts. You stack this on top of the probable heavy load of family responsibilities, counseling needs, leadership issues and other burdens that are typical for pastors. This is Superbowl week for churches, and we want to make the most of our opportunity. I don’t know of any pastor that is spending this week melting into the sofa watching lacrosse on ESPN12, playing Angry Birds and downing multiple bags of 1st Degree Burn Blazin Jalapeno Flavored Doritos.

As busy as we are, we need to remember, especially at Easter, that we have a holy calling for which we need holy preparation. It is easy to devote more energy to preparing song lists and sermon slides than we devote to preparing our souls. But before we can pour ourselves out in service, we must fill ourselves up with the love of God.

I find a good reminder of both our call and our preparation in the short letter of Jude.

The pastors’ call (what a daunting task!): “have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy w/ fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude vs22-23).

The pastors’ preparation (what a blessed provision!): “build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude vs20-21).

We need both. To enjoy the benefits of holy preparation w/out faithfulness to your holy calling is selfishness. To attempt your holy calling without holy preparation is foolishness. You cannot have one without the other.

So, I’m preparing my soul for Easter. In the hurried days, I’m trying to be still at different times throughout the day to preach to myself, or just to let the beauty of Jesus death and resurrection sink a little deeper into my heart. And I’m trying to find one elongated time of silence and prayer so that I can feel the pain of the bloody cross and experience the joy of the empty tomb.

As I walk into the greatest event of the year, here is my prayer: may I feel the passion and weight of holy calling more fully than ever before, and may I experience the blessing and encouragement of holy preparation more deeply than I imagined possible. I need both.

Pastor, do you feel like you get lost in all the planning for Easter? What do you do to help nourish your soul in this season?

-jdl

How Important are YOU?

February 22, 2011 — Leave a comment

One of the great and humbling realities that followers of Jesus experience is this: God uses you. In his sovereign and eternal plan, God decided to bring about divine good in the world through broken people.

As a pastor, I see many people (myself included) who drift in one of two wrong-headed directions related to their importance to God’s plan. I recently ran across this passage from J.R.R.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which powerfully captures this tension:

h-1-0126-bilbo-baggins“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself.”

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
(quoted in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy)

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE  YOUR IMPORTANCE

We, like Bilbo, may underestimate our importance. Bilbo was obviously aware of all that had happened on his journey, but he had a difficult time believing that he was the one being used to carry out ancient prophecies. Some of us need to comprehend the great honor we have to continue the noble fight of faith and further the long-promised mission of Jesus’ kingdom. You are a part of something greater than your life.

DON’T OVERESTIMATE YOUR IMPORTANCE

On the other hand, we may overestimate our importance. Bilbo had taken on each adventure and survived to tell his story, and he found it tempting to think that the story was his own. Gandalf’s reminder is good for all of us: in the grand adventure, you are very small and you had magical and mysterious help along the way.

The Gospel keeps us from either extreme. We cannot doubt our personal value: Jesus died for us and sent us on a mission. Neither can we depend upon our personal value: it is a generous grace that we get to play a part at all, and the story is certainly about someone of much greater worth.

Live courageously, serve humbly. And never under- or overestimate your importance.

What’s your story? Are you more tempted to overestimate your importance or underestimate it? What helps keep you balanced between the two?

-jdl

When the Apostle Paul was planting churches in the first century, he wrote a letter to a church-planting partner named Titus. He wanted to make sure Titus had not been distracted from first-order business in the church. In the letter, he wrote, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”

Global-mission-of-GodThree quick observations help us learn something about the appointment of elders in church plants.

First, there was something that remained undone in the preparation of the church until elders had been put in place. This was not optional, supplemental or secondary. The local churches were incomplete until they had God-ordained leaders.

Second, there was period of time that passed from when these churches were launched and when the elders were in place. Presumably, this allowed time for church health, spiritual growth, character evaluation, doctrinal training, and missional living to develop within the people. We are not told what period of time passed before the establishment of elders in each church, but it is clear that a period of leadership transition is normal for most church plants.

Third, Paul (the visionary leader for the church planting movement) designated a trusted leader named Titus (a regional pastor) to appoint elders for the churches. Paul writes to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete…” It was a priority for Paul and for Titus in the launching of new churches. Most church plants follow the pattern of a leader or leaders, often from outside the core group, who oversee the church until elders have been raised up from within the new church.

The Global Movement of God

When you step back and look at the big picture, this pattern makes sense. A church is not a stand-alone organization designed for its own good. A church is a part of The Church, a global movement of God to replicate the life and mission of Jesus in people of every tribe. The movement strategy is to launch new local churches that will reproduce authentic Christ-followers in every people group. For the movement to reach its full potential, each new church must join in the global multiplication of churches.

If a new church is indeed part of this global movement, it is clear that establishing healthy leadership in each church is essential to success of the movement as a whole. It is also clear that the elders of the local church should see themselves as leaders in a movement that extends far beyond their local community. They are a team of leaders on assignment in a local church to further reproduce the life and mission of Jesus in a specific place, with the purpose of furthering the global mission of God.

Churches often lose sight of their role in the global mission of God, and a new church struggling to reach the lost, update the website, pay the bills, and survive the next Sunday is especially vulnerable at this point. It takes just a few people to distract or derail a church in its early years. This is why transitional leaders must guard the gate closely and prioritize the training and appointing of elders in a church plant. This is also why the initial elders must understand and embrace their role in God’s movement called The Church. The first elders in a church bear a great burden to keep a rapidly-changing and often immature church on course so that it can maximize its redemptive potential in the world.

-jdl

We launched our church because of the great need in our area for churches with both deep belief in the gospel of Jesus and deep love for the people in our area. Rather than retreating from our world, we wanted to be a church that engaged our world for good. It is hard to deny that the South is littered with the bones of dead or dying churches that are failing to positively and significantly impact our world for Jesus. That’s not to say that every church is a bad church, but it does point to some major issues at play in many churches. Two years into our church plant, I am more convinced than ever of the need for new and renewed churches to meet the challange of a rapidly changing culture. Statistics also bear this out (see the map below). For the first time in 200 years, the church in the South is on the decline by attendance.

April 26-27, I will be attending a conference that will address these issues and call us to make a difference at this critical time. I want to invite you to join me at the conference. It would be a blast to have a bunch of us dreaming and praying together about how God might use us to engage our world with the gospel. If you are interested, you can register at www.advancethechurch.com. Please let me know, and we’ll plan to connect.

     ———————

The following was posted on Pastor J. D. Greear’s blog (jdgreear.com) and is reprinted by permission.
Guest Blogger:
Mike McDaniel, Director of SendRDU
Map Source: American Church in Crisis by Dave Olsen

That’s the title for this year’s Advance Conference, April 26-27 in RDU. Last year we called for a resurgence of the local church. This year we’re focusing on the major issues that are standing in the way of that happening here in the South.

The South is changing. Urbanization and the vibrant growth of our cities have transformed the cultural landscape. Cities like RDU have become new centers of business and education, places where culture is being formed and made. And yet as our cities are advancing, the church is shrinking. For the first time in its history, the church in the South is declining at a rate faster than anywhere else in the country.

See for yourself. This map shows you where evangelical Christianity is growing in the U.S. (Pink indicates growth. Blue indicates decline).

Serviceu_header

And this isn’t just a problem in the cities, either. These changes are felt in small towns, where small town southern values are clashing with new urban postmodernity, and religion is often more prevalent than the gospel. There may be churches on every corner, but most are plateaued or declining to the point where they will be empty in 20 years.

As we stand at this critical turning point, we must be prepared to respond. We believe that the decline of the church is not due to external factors, but internal failures of the church to faithfully communicate the Gospel and engage the changing culture around us. That is the vision behind the title Contextualizing the Gospel in the New South. We want to equip pastors, lay leaders, and members to respond by engaging the changing culture of the South with the unchanging message of the gospel.

This year we’ve moved the conference to the Summit to be able to offer it the cheapest price possible. Right NOW you can get tickets for a ridiculously cheap early bird rate of $50.

Speakers include: Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer, Johnny Hunt, David Platt, Tullian Tchividjian, Matt Carter

You can register at www.advancethechurch.com.

I wanted to share with you three reminders that justice is worth the fight. I can’t listen to these recordings without having my soul profoundly stirred. Where justice demands our presence, may we love deeply, live boldly, pray constantly, hope vividly, act relentlessly.

The most haunting song I’ve ever heard – “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday.

One of the greatest speeches ever delivered – “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.


 

In the fight against injustice, God must be real – “A Knock at Midnight” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seek justice ’til Jesus comes.

– jdl

masked_rider

As with most of the sports world, I’ve been sucked into the drama that has surrounded the Texas Tech football program over the last week. I won’t drift into sports reporting here, as everyone from the NY to LA is covering it, but as I’ve read several articles over the last few days, I’ve seen some things that made me want to offer a few observations that, though somewhat obvious, are still important reminders.

Leach_PirateOf course, there are the humorous and obvious lessons: Pirates like gold and have authority issues; never get involved in a West Texas turf war with people that idolize a mask-wearing rider of a black horse. Resisting the temptation to comment on coaches who are also lawyers or players with famous daddies, I’ll move on.

Five rambling observations on some things that matter in working relationships…

Trust Matters
Where trust is absent, speculation swirls. Too often, people focus on the external conflict and neglect the internal reality of a relationship. There is a presenting problem: a conflict, a review, a decision, a disagreement. It’s easier to resolve the situation of the presenting problem than it is to reconcile the relationship. However, if the relationship is not restored, there will always be another issue waiting to drive a wedge between those involved. It is important to remember that you must work harder at rebuilding trust than you do at creating formal agreements, structures and contracts.

Culture Matters
Different regions approach life in different ways. If you are going to mix it up, you’d better be willing to deal with the differences. These differences are not insurmountable, but they do require an extra commitment to be flexible and overcome the differences. This is why so many organizations are run by “good ol’ boy” networks – it’s just easier (well, that and the whole power/control thing). Diversity is a good thing and worth pursuing, but it will mean dealing with some misunderstanding and longer conversations to sort things out.

Communication Matters
Email is a bad form of communication. Sure, it serves a great purpose for transferring information in a technological world, but it often leads to misunderstanding. Unless your last name is King, Wolfe, or Rushdie, I’d assume your email won’t communicate what you want it to. If you need to discuss something that deals with emotion, humor, crisis, conflict, or people, don’t lead out with email. That piece of technology to the right of your computer is called a phone. Use it. Try the phone or a personal visit, and then send an email with details or other info as a follow-up.

Humility Matters
Pride isolates and anger divides, but humility connects and unites. Humility has a unique power to overcome differences in opinion, personality and approach. Many people think of humility as a benefit at church but a hindrance in the “real world.” Thoughtful people will recognize that humility and backbone can go together. When they do, strength emerges in a person that can work through differences and not just around them.

Timing Matters
Know when it’s time to go. We don’t like to admit it when things are no longer a good fit. I’m not sure why. Maybe we are still hurt by the sixth grade break-up with blue-eyed Susie. Maybe it feels like weakness when we can’t make things work. Usually, there is enough agreement on the goals that you feel like you ought to be able to work things out, but when things are swirling for months or even years without improvement, you are almost never going to turn the corner. When that’s the case, seek wise counsel to make sure you are seeing things accurately, and then look for an exit ramp that will allow for a healthy and graceful transition.

-jdl

I was reading in David McCullough’s fantastic biography of John Adams recently, and I ran across a section that I thought had relevance to all leaders. McCullough wrote:

At the start of every new venture of importance in his life, John Adams was invariably assailed by great doubts. It was a life pattern as distinct as any. The boy of fifteen, riding away from home to be examined for admission to Harvard, suffered a foreboding as bleak as the rain clouds overhead. The delegate to the first Continental Congress, preparing to depart for Philadelphia, felt “unalterable anxiety”; the envoy sailing for France wrote of “great diffidence in myself.” That he always succeeded in conquering these doubts did not seem to matter. In advance of each large, new challenge, the painful waves rolled in upon him once again.

Part of this was stage fright, part the consequence of an honest reckoning of his own inadequacies. Mainly it was the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they were: he was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.

Three Kinds of Fear that Leaders Face

McCullough mentions three fears with which Adams wrestled: (1) stage fright, (2) personal inadequacy, and (3) realistic assessment of his current leadership situation. All leaders face these same fears. While all three are present in our leadership worlds, each fear requires a different response. The first two, we need to discard; the third is something we carry with us.

Fear 1 – Stage Fright

When McCullough speaks of stage fright, he’s not talking about being “on stage.” He means the fear of the leadership mantle that must be worn as a leader in any setting. This fear comes from knowing that your leadership mettle is about to be put to the test by a new challenge, likely one which you have never faced before.

You see plenty of examples of stage fright in the Bible. I liken this fear to that of Moses. He first responded to God’s call by saying, “Who am I that I should go that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He clearly preferred hiding out in the comfort (wink wink) of being a shepherd to taking the stage of leadership. He was determined to dodge the frontman role.

God’s response to Moses was more or less, “Get over it.” God was gracious to him and sent Aaron to help, but which of the two had a lead role played by Charleton Heston in the movie “The Ten Commandments”? Moses. God didn’t allow Moses to skip out just because of his stage fright.

When we experience this fear, we need the same advice: get over it. God almost always gives us someone to help shoulder the weight, but a leader must repeatedly let go of fear, and move in the direction God has called him or her to go.

Fear 2 – Personal Inadequacy

The second kind of fear has more to do with “an honest reckoning of [our] own inadequacies.” Many of us are performance-based people who feel a need to succeed. We struggle against our weaknesses all the time, so we are very aware of what they are. Knowing we don’t have it all together, we spook easily.

In Jeremiah 1, we read of God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah. God makes it clear that He planned to make Jeremiah a prophet before his daddy’s sperm had a first date with mommy’s egg. Since God decided this before his DNA was set, one would think Jeremiah could be confident that God knew what He was doing. Instead, Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Do you see the list of personal inadequacies he just pulled out? I can’t speak. I’m too young. God replies something along these lines, “Shut up, but speak clearly when I tell you to speak.”

This fear must be faced head on and discarded as an enemy. I know this fear well. When I battle feelings of inadequacy, I have developed the spiritual discipline of praying through Jeremiah 1 as a reminder that success is determined by a lot more than my performance. God calls us, and He will use us as he chooses.

Sometimes, this argument for God’s sovereign will is used as an excuse for laziness or cowardice. This may happen if a person is placed into a leadership role but lacks the gift or the heart of a leader. If that’s the case, then there are other issues that must be dealt with. Most of the time, however, this isn’t the case. I find that most natural leaders tend to strive for excellence, usually placing too much of their significance in their success. For these leaders, casting off the fear of personal inadequacy is a call to abandon self-importance and depend on God.

Fear 3 – Leadership Situations

The third fear that every leader faces is a different kind of fear. McCullough describes this as “the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they [are].” Every good leader is able to look out into the days ahead and know what’s coming. He may not see everything perfectly, but he has a sense of what is coming down the road. John Adams “was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.”

Seasoned leaders are not afraid because they are uncertain of the future; they are afraid because they know what will happen in the days ahead. They know how the trials will beat them up. They know the battles that must be won. They know the pain it will cause people they care about. These are not matters to dismiss. These are realistic concerns that must be dealt with honestly and diligently and prayerfully.

We should not be shocked by difficulty, since we are instructed, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). A primary task of a leader is to make an accurate appraisal of the challenges ahead. Jesus himself tells us that we should count the cost before we enter the work God has called us to:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

You might quibble over my use of the word fear here, but the point remains: we are called to take a realistic look at the leadership situations we are entering. These may deal with an inwardly-focused church, a division in a church family, a financial crisis, a spiritual stronghold of the enemy, group injustice such as racism, callousness to sin, pride in religious service, or some other struggle. It is healthy to have a reasonable level of fear based on the challenges ahead. These “healthy” fears can drive us to seek God in our work as nothing else can.

When these fears show up, our response should be three-fold:

  1. Make a realistic assessment of the situation, and make your assessment known to your leadership team. You should not oversell the danger, but neither should you undercut the real challenges you will face. Seek input from key leaders, and adjust your conclusions as you learn new things.
  2. Do the difficult work of knowing the issues inside and out. Where I’ve made mistakes in the past, they have typically involved my emotional withdrawal from a difficult task which led to inadequate preparation—basically, I got tired, and I didn’t complete my homework.
  3. Pray. A lot. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you (Psalm 55:22).” God may not quickly remove the situation, but He will help us to bear the weight of it. He will also guide us as we navigate the road we are travelling: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

– jdl

goingsolo(web)In a recent blog posted on the Gospel Coalition site (here’s a link), Tim Keller wrote about the benefits of being a solo pastor in a small church. Two years into a church plant, my experience tells me that he’s onto something.

When I worked in a large church, I learned a certain set of ministry functions, mostly focused on the specific area in which I worked. I dabbled in other areas, but never really “owned” any of them.  There were lots of things I had never done before and never would have done in a large church.

When I decided to move on to a lead pastorate, I had the opportunity to go to another good-sized church as my first “lead pastor” position. Instead, I chose to come to North Carolina and plant a new church in a rural area that was rapidly changing to incorporate new growth. Of course, the economic recession had something to say about the rapid growth and that has modified our timeline. We are still more rural than anyone would have guessed when we launched the church. In time, that will change, but for now, I’m learning a lot in our current situation.

Why Pastor a Church Plant or a Smaller Church?

Well, the first reason is the call of God. When we began exploring options, my wife, Nan, and I sensed that God was calling us to launch a new ministry here in the largely hyper-educated region known as the research triangle. There was a sense that we had the opportunity to do something for the kingdom that no one else was doing in our target area.

Another reason I chose to plant a church was that I believed it would force me to learn new things and become more well-rounded as a pastor. Keller writes about this:   

You can’t teach a younger pastor much about things they aren’t actually doing. And in a large church they aren’t a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching.

In a church plant setting, I’m forced to learn the full breadth of ministry. There isn’t any place to hide. If something needs to be done, I am usually involved in one way or another. We have a second pastor on the team now, and we’ve got a great group of volunteers that make ministry happen. We wouldn’t be a church without them. But when something goes wrong, I almost always get the call.

Along the way, I’m learning to counsel marriages, share the gospel, wade through personality conflicts, mobilize servants, build a leadership team, work through communication issues, encourage generosity, confront sin, nurture spiritual renewal, comfort those who are hurting, and so many other things. If I were in a larger church, I could delegate, program, or hire to avoid personally doing any one of these important parts of ministry.

I’ll love it when we have more people on the team, but I’m glad that I’m not missing out on this step in the journey God has for me.

-jdl