Leadership Weekly

Looking Ahead

The prudent understand where they are going, but fools deceive themselves. — Proverbs 14:8

Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was thought eccentric because of how extensively he planned his plays in advance of each game. Most coaches would wait to see how the game unfolded, then respond with plays that seemed appropriate. Walsh wanted the game to respond to him. Walsh won several Super Bowls with his "eccentric" proactive approach. He was a coach who looked into the future.

Looking ahead is the process of creating the future before it happens. People who learn to do it "understand where they are going." Like Bill Walsh, it involves deciding your actions in advance so that your life will respond to you. What are the benefits of such a proactive pursuit?

Looking ahead gives direction. It's like using a highlighter on a roadmap to indicate where you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. The highlighted roadmap not only provides information for where you are going; it also suggests where you are not going.

Looking ahead helps us to create rather than react. With each step along our journey, we are faced with a choice either to create or to react. Many people spend their entire days reacting. Like goalies in hockey, with pucks flying at us all day, we react. We react to news, cars in traffic, people, events, challenges, and obstacles. A better way involves making choices and following plans.

Looking ahead saves time. "One hour of planning saves three hours of execution." Planning yields a savings return. We only have twenty-four hours in a day and 365 days in a year. If we don't use them wisely by looking ahead, we will forever forfeit those gifts.

Looking ahead reduces crisis. Our daily lives have two controlling influences: plans and pressures. When we look ahead and choose to plan, we take charge and control of our days. If we fail to look ahead, we will spend our days in crisis mode. We will fall into a trap of panic planning--planning on the fly with no time to effectively map out a strategy.

Looking ahead maximizes energy. Failing to look ahead, we dissipate our energy on less important matters, improper agendas, and lost crusades. We waste our time on the trivial many. But preparation often energizes us!

Be wise. Look ahead. It's eccentric but well worth the effort.

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What Lights Do

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. — Romans 12:8

Remember the song "This Little Light of Mine?" "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine . . ." As children, it spoke to the fact that we should show that we love Jesus. As adults, I think it has even more meaning--I think it applies to our spiritual gifts.

It's easy to run away from our spiritual gifts--as the song says, to "hide it under a bushel." It's not necessarily because of the gifts themselves but because of the risk involved. What if I mess up? Will God be disappointed with me? What will people think about me? But, it's not about me. God's Word clearly tells us that God has given us these gifts for a purpose, and if we have them, we need to use them.

I know that one of my spiritual gifts is worship. I have seen God use my music in many ways. But recently, I have realized that although I was using my gift, I still struggled with taking risks. My main instrument is my voice, but I also play the piano. I felt convicted that I needed to add playing the piano to my worship ministry. This move was a risk for me. Why? Because I was afraid of disappointing people. I'm a musician--what would they think if I failed at the piano?

I've had to remind myself that it doesn't matter what people may think but what God thinks. I've found that using my piano skills has added to my ministry, has changed my heart, and hasn't changed what people think of me. Yes, it feels risky--but who wants to live under a bushel, really!

So, if God has blessed you with the ability to encourage others or show kindness, look for the extra step you can take to help someone. If God has blessed you financially, then use your money for his purposes. And if God has given you the gift of leadership, get up, start moving, and find ways that you can lead others. Stop following and start leading. God has gifted you for a reason. Avoid bushels. Trust him to use you.

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The Low Rank

But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. — Luke 22:26

This verse states a view that is so different than what the world practices. According to the world, a leader is to have special privileges and to be treated better than everyone else. A former employee of mine thought that she didn't need to do as much work because she had "paid her dues." It only caused dissent with the rest of the employees. Wouldn't you love to arrive at work someday and find your boss cleaning? Or how about the husband who doesn't feel like he needs to help around the house because he is the "king of his castle?" Wouldn't you love to have your husband cook you dinner after you've spent a long day with the kids? And what if he did that often? Now that's serving up love!

Why are these scenarios so unusual? I think that it's because we have a messed up idea of leadership--and a messed up idea about service. The world seems to see service as a form of weakness. Jesus tells us and shows us that service is a sign of strength--it takes inner strength to serve those around us. It's a very humbling experience. Leaders who think they are above serving are simply afraid of their weaknesses.

Christ tells us that our leadership should be different than what the world expects. We shouldn't gloat over being above anyone else but use our place in life to help others. The best leaders or teachers are the ones who can admit when they are wrong or they don't know the answer. Then, because they are leaders, they work to find the correct answers and lead people down the right path.

Look at the leadership examples around you. Do they tend to be humble or haughty? Take a look at your own leadership style. If you're a parent, how do you lead your children? As a wife, how do you serve your husband? Husbands, how do you serve your wives? Service isn't just a sign of humility but of love as well. Good leadership requires love. It's a love outside of us--God's love. Ask God for his love to empower and guide your leadership and relationships with people. Follow him, for he is our ultimate servant-leader.

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Full of Holes

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. — 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Every Christian is a vessel God has uniquely created for sharing a treasure with others. This treasure, referred to as the gospel of Jesus, is contained in "fragile clay jars" so it's "clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." Paul uses the phrase "fragile clay jars" because as humans we are easily broken and we struggle with the most basic details of life. Yet we are called to pour out our treasure so that the world comes into contact with God.

God's works flow naturally from a person whose life has been totally committed to him. The key is to give liberally of what we've received, knowing that the Lord will continue to fill us so that we are never totally empty nor constantly overflowing. Instead, our container will be full of holes that continuously pour out the love of Jesus. As long as we are being filled by God daily, we will never have a problem serving those he wants us to serve (see Galatians 6:10).

However, these clay jars can eventually become empty from lack of use. Empty vessels serve little purpose other than taking up space. And the Lord does not want us to simply exist. As pastor Rick Warren has correctly noted, each person has been made for a purpose. When a follower of Christ is not connected to the source of these gifts, his or her desire for serving God and other people diminishes.

Think about your life-vessel today. How has it been used to store the goodness of God? Has that goodness flowed into other lives? Has God's measure of goodness in you evaporated from days and months of non-use? Or is your life a container full of holes, leaking the goodness of God continuously because you are continuously filled by the source that never runs dry?

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Pears, Pears, Everywhere

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. — John 15:5

My family had a tree in our backyard that provided two things: shade and countless jars of pear preserves. One day, I asked my mother why she made so many jars every year. Her response was, "If I don't, they will start falling off the tree and go bad." With that, I went outside to take a look for myself. There were pears everywhere--so many, in fact, that the tree branches were beginning to sag and snap under the immense weight of their fruit. It looked to me like my mother's faithful picking was encouraging the tree to produce even more!

Jesus told his disciples that God acts as a gardener in the lives of those who claim him as Lord. He wants his followers to be abundant producers of good fruit, showing the world that they are children of God (see John 15:8). But this is not enough. Instead of simply harvesting the fruit that is produced, the Lord grabs a pair of pruning shears and begins to trim the branches. A little here, a little there, until he is satisfied with the end result.

This process of subtraction is a good thing. For it is in these times that God rids us of attitudes and actions that limit our effectiveness for the kingdom. In their place, he grants new opportunities to exhibit love, patience, kindness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). As these values are acted upon, what started out as subtraction becomes addition, and more fruit is produced than before the pruning.

If the branches are not pruned they may become weakened or stressed, and they will eventually snap. Once that occurs, the branches will wither and die because they are not attached to the tree, leaving wasted fruit behind. But the result of a life lived wholeheartedly for Christ will be an abundance of fruit--fruit that will last.

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Bottom Line

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, "What were you discussing out on the road?" But they didn't answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. — Mark 9:33-34

It's embarrassing when someone demonstrates he or she can read your mind. Most of us would rather not have our thoughts exposed. We're not proud of our motives. We don't want our intentions broadcast. The disciples had a problem--Jesus understood them. Just as he understands us.

Every tactic we use in human relationships to avoid the truth is absolutely transparent to God. The fact that God knows us that well isn't amazing. After all, he is God. The fact that we still try to work our magic on him isn't all that surprising either. After all, we are human. It is amazing though that God knows us as he does and still draws near to help us be better than we instinctively are.

The disciples were arguing about leadership. They were mind-wrestling over who could claim the top of the heap. They were all poised on the ladder to greatness, and thankfully we are not given the details on how ready they were to step on each other on the way up. Apparently the discussion ended in a draw.

Jesus' question caught them by surprise. The subject of greatness suddenly didn't feel right. Jesus broke the strained silence with a challenge. He gave them the ultimate measure of leadership: "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else" (Mark 9:35). Apparently the silence resumed. The disciples neither argued with him nor asked any questions. We don't know how long this went on, but Mark records that Jesus spotted a little child in the vicinity and decided to make an additional point while holding the child. "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me" (Mark 9:37). Are the two points connected? Perhaps Jesus was saying, "Do you really want to be first? Then start small."

As you go about your day, think about whom you serve. How aware are you of people who are not being served? Can you see those who are overlooked? In the end, what do you find most important: being called a leader or doing what a real leader does?

If our thoughts and intentions are to serve Christ, we don't have to worry about someone reading our minds.

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Pedestals

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. — 1 Corinthians 10:12

Have you built any pedestals lately? In the last couple of decades, newspapers and newscasts have been filled with reports of sin in high places. Television evangelists have fallen with embarrassing regularity. Today's righteous finger pointer often turns into tomorrow's suspect of impropriety. Only the exposures of political leaders vie with the revelations of religious scandals for front-page coverage.

I'm not sure how the average American views these scandals. Certainly the news media seem to delight in their revelations. And comedians have grist for hundreds of new routines. But as a person who also claims to be a born again Christian and a follower of the same Jesus about whom these men have preached, I am dismayed and angered. When these high profile Christians are impugned, I feel as if the barbs are being hurled at me. Their proven or alleged wrongdoings seem to indict all of us. Maybe you can identify with those feelings.

If we the evangelical Christian community are honest, however, we would have to admit that we are part of the problem. You see, by putting these men on pedestals, we have made them larger than life and we have made them susceptible to the temptations of power and pride.

In reality, they are fallible and sinful human beings, just like you and me. Think of how you would fare if your inconsistencies and secrets were exposed--those angry words, gossip, lust for things, murdeous thoughts. But we elevate those with special gifts. We treat celebrity converts with almost worship status.

Years ago, as a college freshman and aspiring athlete, I went to college football camp. It was a Christian institution, staffed with excellent role models. I admired these upper classmen "superstars" as athletes and as great examples of the Christian life. But during one of our team meetings, a massive All-American tackle said something that I have never forgotten. "Don't put your faith in us or in any human being. If you watch us long enough or close enough, we'll let you down," he said. "Instead, keep your eyes on Christ. He will never fail."

Who are your Christian "superstars?" A pastor, a musician, a parent, a close friend? By "overrating" you hurt them and yourself. Instead, let us put our Christian leaders in their proper place as fellow strugglers who are striving to be Christ-like and who are using their gifts to serve him. And let's uphold in prayer our Christian leaders and those in the spotlight.

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Heroes

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. — Matthew 6:33

In a column, reporter Bob Greene once opined on "How to Become a Hero." He described a Texas gem dealer who went to a mineral show in Arizona. There he met a man who wandered creek beds, looking for interesting stones. This man was displaying some of his finds in plastic containers.

Among the smaller stones the dealer saw a large rock, and that's all the displayer thought it was--a big rock. But this gem dealer knew otherwise. He recognized it as the biggest star sapphire he had ever seen.

Knowing that the owner had no idea of the true worth of the stone, the gem dealer bargained with him and paid $10 for the rock. Later he reported that it was worth $2.5 million.

And, noted Greene, this gem dealer has become a sort of folk hero because he found something of value and purchased it at the lowest possible price, without hinting to the original owner what was going on. Greene went on to say, "This is just a particularly dramatic example of the way so many people are getting rich these days. They don't do anything of importance or value; they just manipulate and sidestep and feint and parry. They make people think they are going to do one thing, and then they do another. The lesson seems to be that only suckers believe in putting in a day's work for a day's pay. The smart boys are the tricksters."

Unfortunately, Bob Greene is right. People's lives today seem consumed with lotteries, long shots, and insider trading . . . and a continuing saga of greed, bribery, extortion, and embezzlement.

As Christians, however, we shouldn't be too surprised. Jesus said that his values are the opposite of the world's and that people who follow him will be misunderstood. True followers of Christ won't fit into society.

The Bible says that who we are on the inside is infinitely more important than our outward appearance, the way we achieve our goals is as important as the goals themselves, and that seeking Christ and his kingdom is more important than being the richest person on earth.

Greene concludes his column with these thoughts: "Let's imagine that the gem dealer sees the star sapphire and instead of purchasing it for $10, he tells the man of its real worth and urges him to get some advice about what a fair asking price is before selling it. I know, I know; that's not the way the world works. Maybe, though, he could have at least cut the poor rock-hunter in on his profits. But then he wouldn't have been a hero for these days, would he?"

"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?" (Matt 16:26).

Don't worry about making it in today's world. Focus your attention on being a "hero" where it counts . . . in God's eyes.

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