Archives For Leadership

I recently posted at the For the Church site. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

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Nobody wants to hear a boy band play the blues. Whatever the polished pretty boys might know of hurt and heartbreak, they surely can’t dive deeply into the hardship of life. Even if they sang the words and notes all right, the feeling would be all wrong.

Sadly, I feel that too many preachers are like a boy band trying to play the blues. We find a nice melody, locate a catchy hook, and auto-tune our voices so that we sound pitch perfect. People nod along in pleasant agreement, enjoying themselves, and maybe even remembering a line or two for the drive home. The song (or the sermon) was entertaining but never really engaged their hearts.

It’s time to give up the boy band and start singing the blues. Blues music has a rawness and authenticity that is birthed out of real struggle. The blues are honest about hard times, but in a hopeful way that also convinces us that a time of trial is not the end of the story…

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Read the full article at


I recently posted at For the Church, a new site that exists to engage, encourage, and equip the Church with gospel-centered resources that are pastoral, practical, and devotional. I am a regular contributor to the site, and I will try to post links here whenever I post something there. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

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Given the title, you probably expect this post to scold the young, brash church planter, telling them it’s time to grow up. This post is nothing like that. (As a side note, I don’t find this stereotype of church planters to be accurate in my experience, but that’s another topic.) This post is about something entirely different—it’s less “grow up” and more “slow down.”

In our church plant, we are constantly reminding ourselves to “act our age.” We are an infant church, about one year into our existence. We are just entering the toddler season. Toddlers trying to act like adults look pretty silly. Toddlers have different needs than adults, and we recognize that young churches have different needs than established churches. So, we try to enjoy the stage we are in, trusting that the developmental progress of our church body is what it needs to be in this life-stage.

The Temptation of the Fast-Forward Button

One of the temptations church planters face is pretending the church is further along than it is…

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Read the full article at




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?


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?


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.


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