Lead or Be Liked

Let me start this blog by clarifying that I think you can be a good leader and be likable as well. I don’t think a good leader has to be someone who simply commands respect and charges forward; head down, furrowed brow, elbows out. In fact, I think that kind of a posture is probably indicative of a leader (dynamic or not) who has a short shelf-life. I think you can be a kind and likable person and a solid, visionary, shepherd-leader at the same time.

That being said…

There is a certain aspect of leadership that I think leaders sometimes neglect to recognize. I know I have seen this in myself at times over the years, and I’m sure it is in many other leaders as well.

There is a dangerous temptation that every leader faces. It is the temptation to lose sight of three very important things: 1) the end-goal, 2) those you’re leading, and 3) what it takes to get them there. As human beings our vision of these three things can get obscured by one dirty little factor: we all want to be liked.

I don’t know when you first noticed this about yourself, but there comes a point in every one of our lives when we realize that the opinions of other people matter to us. And they often matter more than they should. Even for those with a “tough exterior,” who don’t mind playing the jerk, other people’s opinions still matter. As much as we may want to ignore it, the feeling is real, and the feeling is mutual.

The difficultly comes when we are put in a position where we need to make decisions that affect other people. This is leadership. If you play a role on a team or in an organization where you have oversight of other people and you are charged with making decisions that affect their lives, you are functioning in a leadership capacity.

All leadership isn’t good leadership. Good leadership is marked by a resolve to make (and follow-through) with the decisions necessary to lead the organization forward. Great leadership is exhibited when tough decisions are made with wisdom and determination, particularly in the face of resistance.

Unfortunately, tough decisions are tough based upon the fact that the people they influence don’t always prefer the outcome. It is at this point that every single leader faces the temptation to lead or be liked.

It’s a fork in the road.

Turn right and you’ll lead.
Turn left and you’ll be liked.

You have to choose. Lead or be liked.

The crossroads between leading and being liked is the place upon which all leadership pivots. You are defined as a leader by what you do when you come to this intersection. Leaders who simply maintain the status quo most often turn left. They take a poll, read the room, and base their decisions on what is going to receive the least amount of push-back.

Leaders who change the world almost always turn right. They’re not lone-rangers. They seek wisdom from those around them, weigh the decision carefully in thought and prayer, and make informed decisions. But when they turn right, they keep going. Great leaders expect push-back, and when they receive it they take it in stride. They know resistance comes with the territory, and that friction and heat are the result of movement and energy.

It is easier to focus on being liked than to be driven by the conviction to lead.
It is easier to “keep the peace” than it is to make tough decisions and stick by them.

Jim Collins defines the characteristic resolve that is present in next-level leaders in his book Good to Great:

Level 5 leadership…is about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great…Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great.[1]

Implicit in this understanding of leadership is the reality that when you sell the mills or fire your brother, it may not always be the most popular decision. Every time you fire your brother, you have to face moment when you see your sister-in-law for the first time.

True leaders aren’t swayed by popular opinion, they’re driven by a resolve to position the team, organization, company, church, or entity that they are leading to reach its fullest potential.

I doubt leadership has ever been easy. But in the technological climate we currently inhabit, with peanut-gallery experts shouting their opinions in a news feed near you, it takes massive resolve. But the principles remain the same. Every leader who makes a lasting impact on their world must stay focused on the destination they’re headed to, those they’re called to lead, and what it is going to take to get them there.

[1] Collins, Good to Great, p. 30.

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The Means and the Ends (by Sam Cassese)

To my fellow pastors and ministry leaders. I have a question for you…

Do you love connecting people to new serving opportunities?

Obviously. You wouldn’t be very good at your job if you didn’t.

Here’s a better question for you…

Why?

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Often we look forward to having new volunteers sign up for our teams because that means we can accomplish more, we have less holes to fill, we get the job done, etc. But I think that sometimes in our endeavor to accomplish the mission of our teams, it can become all too easy for us to confuse something that is very important: Which one is the means and which one is the end?

We all need the friendly and Biblical reminder that volunteers are not simply the means we use to accomplish an end, such as taking care of the children in our nursery, having a band for the weekend gatherings, or having enough LifeGroup leaders.  The job we are trying to accomplish is not simply the task at hand, but it’s the growth of the people with whom God has entrusted us. And so our very ministry teams become the means to an even greater end, namely, seeing the people of God grow into maturity and equipped to use their gifts, so that other Christians around them may be built up into maturity.

Our people have been gifted by God.  They have been graced with a beautiful variety of talents.  And God’s purpose in doing that is not that our teams would be staffed.  Rather our teams are an opportunity for them to grow in their gifts, to learn how to exercise them in humility (Romans 12:3)), to have love (1 Cor 13), to learn discipline and hard work (Colossians 3:23), and as a result minister to one another, helping each other grow into unity and maturity (Eph. 4:12-13).

As ministry team leaders, let us remember that our job is more than managing schedules and plugging in volunteers.  Our job is to equip believers, empower them, and see them growing and causing others to grow.

Soli Deo Gloria
1 Peter 4:11

 

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Broken Toys (by Brent Kimball)


Stretch armstrong
When we were boys my brother and I received two amazing toys. His was Stretch Armstrong and mine was Stretch Monster.

stretchmonsterfront

These were corn syrup filled action figures that stretched when you pulled on their limbs. We absolutely loved these toys, but like most toys they ended up victims of boyhood abuse. After getting stretched way farther than they were intended to stretch and enduring various BB gun wars and the like, they ended up in the garbage. Our mom wouldn’t let us keep them once the corn syrup started leaking onto the carpet. We were brokenhearted.

Though I once cared deeply for my stretch monster, presently, I don’t miss him or care about him in the least. What I once cared about and grieved over losing I now don’t care a bit about and can chuckle over.

This makes me wonder if much of the broken-heartedness that we endure in our lives presently is the equivalent of broken toys from our past. Is it possible that those things that grieve us now won’t really matter in the future?

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

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Church People, Take Responsibility

I’m currently studying the book of Philemon, in preparation to preach it over the next 3 weeks at LifePoint. It’s a funny little book, the shortest authored by the Apostle Paul in the Bible. It’s also a great book to study if you want to get a little snapshot into the DNA and culture of the early church.

It has me thinking about this question:

How do you recognize or describe the identity of a local church?

Think of a church you have attended, or perhaps currently attend.
How do you describe it?
What is the reputation of that church among church people and non-church people?
What would you say defines the identity of that church?

Here are some common ways I hear people identify specific churches:

1) Facilities: Where the church meets.
This seems to be the most common way people in culture (particularly those who don’t attend church) identify local churches. A church is recognized by the physical mailing address. People say “that church over by Costco with the nice auditorium” or “that church with the big cross on it that you can see from the highway,” or “that church with the baseball fields behind it,” or “that church that meets in the old K-Mart building,” etc.

2) Programs: What the church does.
While most ‘outsiders’ may identify a church as its building, most ‘insiders’ recognize a church by ministry programs it offers. People say, “that church with the big homeless outreach,” or “that church with the daycare and preschool,” or “that church that runs the huge missions conference,” or “that church with the massive youth program,” or “that church that hosts the big concerts.”

3) Product: When/how the church gathers.
If the “program” category is one that insiders recognize, the “product” category is one observed closely by uber-insiders. Church people who know the landscape of the local Christian scene tend to identify their church as well as other local churches by three key factors related to the Sunday morning “product.” I’m sorry to use the word “product” to classify this category, but in a consumer-driven Christian culture, right or wrong (wrong, in my opinion), this tends to be how people think. The three major things people identify are (in random order) the preaching, the music, and the kids programs. These three things are in high gear when the church gathers week to week, and they tend to be how most people identify the DNA and culture of a local church. This is why some Christians hop from church to church within the same town when a new preacher arrives or a new music leader emerges or a new kid’s program launches.

As we look at the church in the New Testament, I think identity goes deeper than any of these three categories. All of these things were present: the church gathered in certain places, the church did things we could call “ministry,” and the church certainly had biblical preaching and sang songs together and cared for children.

But what was the church?

It was (and still is) a community of people following Jesus, learning the gospel, living it out, and leading others to it. The church was (and still is) a people of God, not a facility, not a program, and not a product…a people.

My goal here is not to lay out a holistic ecclesiology in a single blog. There are certainly parameters that must be met for a church to be defined as a biblical church (biblical preaching, discipline, baptism, communion, etc.). My purpose here is to remind Christians that although we often think of a local church (or our local church) in the terms above, in reality it is the people who make up the church (you and me) who will define and exemplify the church culture.

It isn’t your church facility that defines your culture. It isn’t the programs you offer. It isn’t your pastor’s personality, and it isn’t the style of your music. Church culture is defined by church people. This means there is a responsibility here that each Christian must recognize. People are going to learn the gospel, live the gospel, and lead others to the gospel in the context (and under major influence) of the actual community of people who make up a local church.

Every Christian must take responsibility for this reality.

Once you get past the outer shell of a church, what really defines the culture is the people who make it up. You and I define the local church of which we are a part. This means if you and I are petty, we’ll have a petty church. If we are shallow, we’ll have a shallow church. If we are selfish, we’ll have a selfish church.

Conversely, if we are quick to forgive, we’ll have a forgiving church. If we are faithful to the Bible, we’ll have a faithful church. If we are selfless, we’ll have a selfless church. If we are loving, we’ll have a loving church. If we are are passionate about engaging the mission of the gospel, we’ll have a church on mission.

We (in the church world) tend to spend a lot of time trying to get people to identity WITH our church (meaning attend and give), but a church that is making disciples should be marked by more and more people identifying AS the church (local and global), not simply WITH the church.

I think when individual Christians begin to recognize these things and start taking personal responsibility, a local church moves forward. A facility, a program, or a product won’t reach our community with the gospel of Jesus. It takes a people.

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Pastor, be a Christian First

When I was 21, about to enter my senior year of college, I came home to Oregon for the summer to work construction and save money for my final year. My undergraduate major was biblical studies, with an emphasis in biblical languages, and my career track was pretty set in my mind. I sensed a strong call to be a preacher, and I had been receiving escalating affirmation from those around me toward that end. I figured it would be a good idea to seek some sort of ministerial credentialing, so I applied for a “license to preach” from the church network with which my home church was affiliated.

The process was pretty straight-forward. I took a few tests, filled out paperwork, and submitted recommendation forms from a number of people who could attest to my character and sense of calling. The final aspect of the process was a credentialing interview. I was told I needed to travel to Dallas to interview with a semi-retired pastor who was now a leader in the church network. I was kind of excited at the prospect of checking out the home city of the Mavericks and Cowboys, but then I found out that my interview was in Dallas, Oregon not Dallas, Texas.

The interview was pretty basic. He asked me a number of questions about my personal life, my sense of calling, and my education. He grilled me a bit on a few technical questions that I missed on the test, in the area related to church and denominational governance. It was a good dialogue, and my respect for this wise and experienced pastor grew the longer we talked. I began to feel confident that I would make it through unscathed when he asked me a question I had no idea how to answer.

“So Andrew, we’re almost through here, but I want to ask you something about preaching.”

He could probably see me shift in my chair, as I grew more attentive and my heart rate picked up.

“You like to preach?”

“Yes sir. I love it. I really believe I’m called to preach.”

“That’s great Andrew. I just have one question for you. Do you think it is necessary to read and study your Bible outside of preparing to preach it? And if so, why?”

…….[blank look]……[furrowed brow]……[tilted head]…..[squinted eyes]……

“Uhhhhh……Yeah?”

When answering an interview question that you have no clue about, always move your head in what could either be a nod of approval or a shake of disapproval, and then phrase positive or negative responses (vaguely) as interrogatives. Don’t make it obvious, but once you see your interviewer give away his/her desired answer, commit!

I really had no idea what he wanted to hear. And frankly, I didn’t have the life experience to know there was a difference between studying the Bible to preach it and just plain studying it. After a few seconds that felt like a few minutes I recovered:

“Well, I haven’t really had a ton of opportunities to preach yet, and I’ve never been in a full-time pastoral role in that regard, but I read and study my Bible everyday, and I would think that the necessity of that wouldn’t change once I regularly preach.”

Over the course of this answer his quizzical gaze gradually softened into approval. I thought, “Phew…nailed it.”

Although it didn’t take long to figure out the appropriate answer to that question in an interview process, it has taken a number of years to see how important this topic is.

You see, I think the reason he asked me this question was because he saw a young guy who loved to preach. His concern wasn’t that I’d make it as a preacher, but that I would make it as a Christian preacher. He wanted to be assured that I would live my life as a faithful Christian.

What that wise old pastor knew is something I have been learning every day since. I must be a Christian first. I must be growing more disciplined in reading my Bible, prayer, giving, loving others, and serving, not as a means to an end but as a response to the grace of Jesus in my life. The life-long lessons that every Christian learns, pastors must learn as well.

Pastor, be a Christian first.

[This post is a part of a larger series titled For You Know That We Who Preach. If you would like, you can catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.]

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For You Know That We Who Preach… (Part 2)

Part 1 is here.

This Sunday I’ll be preaching Romans 4:1-8. As I was studying this text yesterday I came upon some great content from John Stott, in his book The Message of Romans, regarding a short phrase in the text. I won’t be able to go into detail on this phrase on Sunday, hence this blog.

At the beginning of verse 3, as Paul is proving his point about salvation coming by faith (as opposed to works), he says “For what does Scripture say?”

He is making an argument here, and he does so by calling the attention of his readers to the voice of Scripture.

The implications of this are huge. He says “What does Scripture say?”

He could have said:

“What did Scripture say?”
“What is written down in Scripture?”
“What do the Scriptures teach?”
“What does God say as taught in the Scriptures?”

But instead he phrased it: “What does Scripture say?”

Here are four reasons why this is important. These reasons motivate us to preach expositionally at LifePoint week to week.

1) God inspired Scripture to speak to us through it.

Stott says:
“First, the singular form (‘the Scripture’), like our ‘the Bible’, indicates that Paul recognizes the existence of this entity, not just a library of books but a unified body of inspired writings.”[1]

So, the Bible is unified. The Bible is complete. The Bible exists as a whole and integrated witness to us of the truth of God.

2) The words of Scripture are God’s words.

Notice that Paul didn’t say, “What does God say through Scripture?” The way this is phrased shows us that Paul considered the words of Scripture to be God’s words, totally and legitimately. Think about it: he says “What does Scripture say?” Can a book really talk? He is using personification here; ascribing personal attributes to the collection of writings we call “the Bible” or “the Scriptures.” He is clearly showing that the words of Scripture are literally God’s words. When the Scriptures speak, God speaks.

3) The words of Scripture are alive, the means through which we hear God’s word today.

Paul didn’t phrase this question in the past tense. He didn’t say “What was written” or “what did the Scriptures state.” He said, “What does it say?” Stott concludes: “In asking what it ‘says’, the apostle indicates that through the written text the living voice of God may be heard.”[2]

4) The words of Scripture are the supreme and final authority on the matter.

Remember the context here. Paul is talking about an issue of indomitable importance to his readers (including us). This passage concerns the issue of salvation. Where does Paul turn for the authoritative word on how we are saved? The Scripture. The issue is put to rest when the words of God speak to it. This is why he says “What does Scripture say?”

Since God inspired Scripture to speak through it to us,
Since the words of Scripture are God’s words,
Since the words of Scripture are alive, the means through which we hear God speak today,
Since Scripture is the supreme and final authority on all matters that pertain to life and truth,
We must preach Scripture.

[1] The Message of Romans, pg. 112.

[2] Ibid

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All Sons and Daughters @ LifePoint

We are 6 days away from hosting one of my favorite bands, All Sons and Daughters, for a night of worship at LifePoint. The live event is next Tuesday, July 22, @ 7pm. You can purchase tickets here. If you attend church in 21st century America you are probably familiar with many of their songs. Here’s a sample:

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