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Leadership Weekly

A Credible Identity

For I know where I came from and where I am going . . . I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. — John 8:14, 16

There is nothing more attractive than a confident leader. "I know who I am, I know where I'm going, and I know how to get there," are statements that exude certainty and vision. But the most critical issue for confident leaders is whether or not they have the right to be confident. Do they have credibility? Credibility is related not to the amount of confidence one exudes but to one's past résumé of achievements. Credibility answers the question, "What is the caliber of the people who have already placed their trust in you?"

By the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus had fed thousands, healed multitudes, taught the scholars, and forgiven sinners. Still the Pharisees were compelled to challenge the credibility of Jesus. Fully aware of the agenda of the lawyers he was facing, Jesus nevertheless stated that he was sent by the Father and that the Father stood with him in his claims. He used language that forced them to make a choice about him.

The words Jesus spoke resonated with some and offended others. But they all understood him. Jesus knew that regardless of his resume, regardless of his Father's support, some would be dead set on opposing him.

Interestingly, Jesus did not focus long on those who rejected his call to redemption. Instead, he turned to those who did believe and encouraged them: "Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (v. 31).

Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees served not simply to defend his credibility, though he was impressively successful in doing so. His statements primarily called some to saving faith. He then encouraged them to press on toward the freedom that comes from being pulled out from under the condemnation of the law that they knew so well. Jesus never allowed personal pride to interfere with the redemption of one heart. He never allowed the defense of his reputation to take precedence over his overall purpose: to bring sinners home.

Confidence and credibility are useful tools to have in carrying out leadership functions. They certainly affect our effectiveness in guiding people to Jesus. But they must be driven by a passion for others to experience spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to be completely available for his service in this grand purpose.

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Distractions

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. — Mark 8:11-13

When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign." So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.

"I can't seem to get anything done. I spend most of my day just putting out fires."

Do those words sound familiar? Those little "fires" can distract us from accomplishing our major goals. They seem to take up all our time, and in the end, we realize that we haven't made any significant progress all day.

Jesus was familiar with distractions. The disciples sought him out while he was in the desert praying to his Father. The multitudes hunted him down and begged for healings or bread. His family dropped in unannounced. Often Jesus consented to the requests of the people. Indeed, much of Jesus' ministry centered on meeting the real needs of people. He willingly provided food, healing, or forgiveness. What may have appeared to be distractions were, in fact, vital parts of Jesus' ministry.

Still, there were times when Jesus flatly refused to be interrupted. When the Pharisees demanded signs after they had witnessed countless miracles, Jesus simply said no. Certainly the powers of Jesus were boundless. He could have complied with the requests of the Pharisees. But Jesus had set boundaries to his ministry. He came for the sick and the imprisoned. He came for the poor and the weak. He came for those who would believe. Knowing that his ministry on earth had limited time, he focused on those activities that proved fruitful.

Do we have the resolve to stay focused on the big picture? Are we able to say no to activities that will prove fruitless or people who are simply distracters? At the same time, are we sensitive to the little interruptions of the day that are really part of our calling? The choices before us require wisdom that only comes from God.

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Dark Valleys

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. — Psalm 23:4

Life in general is filled with highs and lows, but it can especially be apparent for those in Christian ministry leadership positions. Just look at how many pastors, youth ministers, and worship directors eventually leave ministry. The work wears on a person. The constant complaints of doing too little of this or too much of that can drain anyone. As a leader, you are expected to be there for everyone at every moment of the day. No one is able to be there at all times. Still, guilt fills the mind and causes you to doubt your ministry and your effectiveness.

Yet, we are not left alone in this world. Through the darkest valleys of life, through the most difficult times of ministry, God is with us. As we lead his people, we can rest knowing that God leads us. When things get tight, the problems don't seem to go away, and we struggle with guilt--the false guilt of not being able to be there for everyone--God will comfort us. He shields us even during the assaults of bitter people and harsh words. He will always lead us in a path meant to protect us and keep us strong.

When the road is dark and tough, God will guide and protect you. When you feel overwhelmed with loneliness, the Lord is close beside you. When your heart is asking hard questions and you feel beaten down, God will sustain you. We don't need to live in fear, for God is always with you. He is willing to comfort and protect you. He guides you through every mountain and valley of life. He is your true Leader/Shepherd. And the more you trust him as Lord, the more you will experience the wonder of having a Shepherd.

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A Child Shall Lead

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. — Isaiah 11:6

This is a captivating image--a wolf and a lamb, a leopard and goat, a calf and lion. All of them together, sharing one location. But, the most amazing part of all is that a little child will lead them. Not the strong adult. Not the eloquent speaker or elegant host--a little child. Sit and think about that for a while. A little child will lead them.

Why a little child? Wouldn't it be better to have someone with more experience and strength? After all, there are a lot of animals to deal with and guard. How would a little child be able to handle everything? Why a little child?

Children provide something that adults lost long ago: innocence. They aren't tarnished by the criticisms of the world. They delight in the simple things and possess a peace that we can only dream about. They also trust wholeheartedly that they are cared for and loved. There is no doubt. Children are important to God. In Matthew 18:3 we read: "[Jesus] said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.'" In order to enter the kingdom, a person needs to be like a child--pure, innocent, humble, and trusting. Only a little child has the trust and innocence to lead them all.

Take a look at your life. Are you like a little child? Do you humbly trust God for your every need? Are you in a leadership role? How do you lead? Do you lead trusting that people are able to handle tasks? Are you humble enough to admit when you are wrong? Humility is one of the toughest aspects of good leadership. It's hard to admit when we don't know something--we don't want people to think less of us. God tells us to put those fears behind and trust him. Only a true leader will emerge, if she becomes like a child and allows God to use her.

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Leadership Rest

Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." — Matthew 11:28

Being in any type of leadership role is a difficult task, and it can really take a toll on you. Unfortunately, I have found that it is incredibly common in ministry roles. I have the wonderful privilege of working with the high school youth group at my church. I am blessed to lead a wonderful small group of freshman and sophomore girls. But, it's not easy being a leader. It can be both energizing and draining. I'm energized when I see that my girls "get it." I'm energized when I see the relationships they develop with each other. Wondering if I am making a positive impact on their lives can be draining--emotionally and mentally. I care for these girls, and I want them to grow in their faith.

Jesus says that we can come to him and find rest. The rest Jesus is talking about is not just physical rest but emotional, mental, and spiritual rest. It's rest for your soul. I long for that type of rest.

In order to find that rest, I need to acknowledge my burdens and hand them over to Jesus. That's the difficult part. I want to have rest, but it is so hard to let go of the things that mean so much to me. I want to be in control--as if the more I do, the more I can influence the outcome. I can never be the leader that God desires me to be unless I remember his role in all of it. I must trust that he will take care of things. The outcome of my small group is ultimately up to God and not me. He just calls me to be involved in ministering to his people.

Are you in a ministry role? Do you feel as if you constantly have to work harder to impress people and to have your ministry grow? Have you really let go and handed the ministry over to God, allowing him to work in your life? Give it over to him. It won't be easy, but only God can allow it to thrive. Spend time alone with him, give him your burdens, and he will give you rest.

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Spotting a Fake

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. — Luke 6:44-45

The British Museum in London received an ancient artifact, a painted rock, in 2005. Titled "Early man venturing towards the out-of-town hunting grounds," it featured animals, a man, and a curious tool. After being on display for three days, the museum removed the artifact from its exhibit. It turned out that the "curious tool" painted on the rock was a shopping cart! A notorious hoax artist was responsible for getting it into the museum, where it remained until experts realized the piece was a fake.

People have the ability to show a certain personality on the outside while being something different internally. And just like the museum's "artifact," one's outward personality can be seen as legitimate if concealed well enough. However, there will come a time when something--a phone call, a speeding driver, a crisis--will expose the person's true identity. The hoax-life will be revealed. Unless our outward appearance matches our inward appearance, we will be exposed for who we are inwardly.

Jesus said, "A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit" (Luke 6:43).

Likewise, a person claiming to know Jesus as Forgiver and Leader should not go around berating or threatening his or her coworkers. These attitudes diminish one's potential witness for the Lord, giving those who don't know Jesus "valid" reasons not to believe him. Sooner or later our outward appearances will drown out our inward claims. We should be doing our best to exhibit Christ in the most positive light we can. Otherwise, our words and actions will be revealed as hypocritical.

Let's be real--to ourselves, to others, and to God--and help others to be the same. That way, the only inward thing that will be exposed is the Lord we love and follow.

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Cart Pushing

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. — John 13:15

The qualifications for being a leader do not consist solely of sitting behind a desk and barking out orders for others to accomplish. If that were the case, life as we know it would come to a standstill, with lots of talk but no action. Successful leaders are able to delegate duties to others but are also willing to perform them if necessary.

I know of one grocery store chain where the CEO and his team of vice-presidents attend the grand opening of each new location. Instead of simply basking in the spotlight of another success, they get to work, helping the new staff. They can be seen stocking shelves, performing price checks, helping customers, and bagging groceries. They even gather shopping carts from the parking lot. Talk about setting an example for the new employees to follow!

Jesus set the perfect example on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. As the evening meal was being served, he got up from the table, grabbed a towel and basin of water, and proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples. Such a task was supposed to be done by a servant, but Jesus was willing to take on that role. Peter wasn't sure what to think of this, rejecting the foot washing at first. He had to be convinced. Later, Jesus informed Peter and the other disciples that leadership equals servanthood. It's not an easy truth for many leaders to apply to life, but Christ's example that night makes an eloquent case.

So the next time you're ready to tell someone what to do, think back to that evening meal when the Lord, on his knees, washed the dirty, smelly feet of those he loved--and for whom he later died. That's leadership in its highest form. How can you follow that example?

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Food for Thought

"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." — Isaiah 55:8-9

At once. Now. Immediately. Deadlines.

These are words that come to mind regarding the fast-paced lifestyle many of us find ourselves in. We expect our newspaper to be on the front porch when we wake up. We expect traffic signals to turn green the instant we approach them. We expect a bag of popcorn to explode into light, fluffy goodness in exactly three-and-a-half minutes. But what happens when our desires don't materialize in what we consider to be a timely fashion? We may experience frustration, grumpiness, possibly even anger.

As one of the fruits of the Spirit, patience is a character trait God desires to produce in us (see Galatians 5:22-23). Yet the only way to really learn what it means to be patient is to experience it firsthand. Patience is an oh-so-gradually unveiled gift.

Noah lived in a time when lawlessness and sin were the rule, not the exception. Imagine his reaction when God told him about his plan to destroy humanity! Picture Noah's reaction when God told him to build a boat, giving him specific dimensions and directions! Imagine having to wait 120 years to see it happen! I wonder if Noah ever said to himself, "Okay Lord, things are getting worse instead of better. Aren't you going to execute your plan? After all, it's already been fifteen years!" Thankfully, Noah learned the lesson of patience, trusted God's timing, and was spared from the flood as a result.

Our response when something doesn't happen on schedule speaks to how well we have learned to be patient. Maybe God has something better just around the corner. He will let you know when he's ready--or perhaps when you're ready. That's something to consider the next time you throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

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