Every once in a while, we have to sit down and balance our checkbook. We take the time to assess what we’ve spent and how we are doing financially.
In a similar way, from time to time we need to take a spiritual inventory and a full audit of our theology. As leaders, it is easy to get in the performance habit—living our faith so publicly—that we forget the deeper parts of life that really comprise our foundation.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the basics.
"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it.— 1 Timothy 4:8-9
Each year, people from around the globe compete for the title of world's strongest man. Held in exotic locales, these competitions feature events involving the placing of heavy stone spheres atop pillars, lifting large numbers of children on one's back, and pulling double-decker buses down a street. The strength and determination of the contestants are second to none. But for them to get to the world championships, they have to be disciplined in the way they train, the foods they eat, and the way they recover from injuries. If any one of these three aspects is neglected, the results could be disastrous.
Christians are not typically known for carrying 300-pound weights long distances, but their feats of strength are equally remarkable. People are healed of sickness and disease, families are reunited, and individuals surrender their lives to the Lord God for eternity. For the leader, there has to be a constant regimen of spiritual training. The apostle Paul understood this and made sure Timothy got the message.
The routine is pretty straightforward: Talk to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, daily. Tell him your needs and the needs of others, thank him for his answers, and let him know how wonderful he is. Get to know him and his son Jesus better by reading about them in the Bible. Learn what your spiritual talents are and begin to use them. Spend time with other followers, encouraging and challenging them to become more like Christ. As opportunities arise, tell those who don't know Jesus as Forgiver and Leader about him and his love for them. Repeat daily.
If properly followed, this regimen will provide a lifetime's worth of challenge and excitement. It's time to get serious about the faith. It's time to become truly strong.
I am one of those people who believes the best about other people.
In my career as a junior guy working his way up and as a CEO, I have met all sorts of leaders in the marketplace and, now, in the church world. I have noticed over the years that both leaders and managers in Christian settings (like churches or ministries) are engaged with much less cynicism by their junior people at the beginning of a relationship because there is this perception that a common set of spiritual rules are shared and believed.
I love simple, effective strategies. And the strategy Jesus used to multiply leaders before email, texts, iPads and even printed books was incredibly effective! He did it old school.
1. Educate (face to face). Jesus often took the disciples away to solitary places and taught them the mysteries of the kingdom.
We have to give those we lead the right information. They need to know things like job descriptions, goals, expectations, communication routes, vision and direction. As we look to equip leaders, communicating with them face to face lets them know how valuable they are to us.
There is a pervasive stereotype that leaders are the ones in the limelight, the ones on stage, the extroverts with big personalities whose faces are on the front page. Like many stereotypes, I think this one is often unfair.
Some of the best leaders I know don’t demand up-front attention, but their leadership is powerful because of the fruit it brings.
Their teams or organizations or the individuals who come in contact with them are grown and propelled forward by the vision they have and by their strength, even if their vision and strength are quiet and unassuming.
One of the reasons I think quiet leadership like this is so powerful is because the burden of responsibility is taken off one person and transferred to many.
A group of people living up to their full potential is truly more capable than a single person living up to his full potential. This is easy to admit. Which is better—one person who is living out the gospel or a group of people with unified vision and purpose, all contributing equally to the community in his or her own unique way?
The answer is obvious.
So a leader, then, might sometimes be the person from stage, teaching and explaining and casting vision, but a leader might just as often be the one who is discipling, training or just living a life worth mimicking behind the scenes.
Chances are, this is happening over coffee or lunch or at home or in an office. No stage (or lights) needed.
The other thing I love about this view of leadership is that it acts as an important reminder that we are all leaders, if we’ll accept the job title.
We are leaders in our homes, with our families, in our marriages, at our work. We all have the opportunity to be someone who sets the tone for the year or the week or the day.
We can choose to not just respond to what life hands us but to set the pace, to cast vision, to inspire change.
When we do this, we suddenly start to impact people around us without even realizing we’re doing it. Their lives will change as our lives change. We can make an impact without asking for any credit.
The final reason I love this view of leadership is that my favorite leaders are humble people.
Some of those very humble people are “limelight” people, in the sense that they are well-known and sometimes on stage. But none of them are begging for the attention or asking for praise. In fact, each of them are willing to work hard and live their life in an honest, congruent way.
Their main objectives are to do what God has called them to do and to help others discover and do the same. They’re contributing to the kingdom in their unique way, and they’re doing it to the very best of their ability. I know up-front people who are doing this, and I know behind-the-scenes people who are doing it. But all of them are humble.
And people are noticing and changing.
It doesn’t take fame or notoriety to live this way. In fact, it doesn’t take anything other than just a willingness to work hard, be humble and welcome the grace of Jesus.
With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the kingdom. He is the founder of Helpstaff.me (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and MinistryCoach.tv, all while staying involved in the local church. Justin serves as a consultant in the area of strategic relations predominantly working with the Assemblies of God, helping to build bridges with people and ministries to more effectively reach more people.
The conversation took place recently. A young man told me his dad, a pastor, recently committed suicide. He talked about the pain his father experienced in ministry as well as the intense loneliness.
Though suicide is not an inevitable outcome, I do know the number of pastors experiencing loneliness is high—very high. I hurt for these pastors, and I want to help in any way I can. Perhaps my nine observations can be a starting point for a healthy discussion on this important matter.
It’s common knowledge that men are far less likely to go to the doctor than women. While that may not be very shocking, one of the justifications for their reluctance to schedule a check-up is intriguing. Many men don’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to find out something is wrong.
This idea of “what I don’t know can’t hurt me” is part of the reason women’s life expectancy has long outpaced men. The average U.S. woman lives to be 81.3, while a man’s average life span is 76.2 years.
Churches that value and welcome assessments can expect health and growth.
Pastors and leaders, I’m going to give you a sneak peek at your final exam. You’re going to stand before God one day, and He’s going to evaluate your faithfulness. He’s going to look at seven different aspects of your life to judge your faithfulness, and you should be highly interested in developing these areas of your life and leadership.
1. Do you possess the right values? A faithful person knows what’s important in life and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person knows how to invest his or her life. A faithful person makes their life count. A faithful person knows the significant apart from the trivial.
While experiences like Legh's show us humans have physical limits to their endurance, the same can also be said about their spiritual lives. Thankfully, there are warning signs that exist before it becomes too late. When people don't want to read their Bible or pray, if they decide to shut people out of their lives, or if church becomes just a ritual, something deeper may be going on. They may be suffering from spiritual dehydration.
Just as a "Low Fuel" light tells us to fill up the car with gas, it's time to ask God for a renewed spirit when we see these warning signs. Consider that Jesus had crowds following him everywhere, but he knew his spiritual limits so well that he consistently took time to recharge, even when death was near (see Luke 22:39-43).
When your life's "Low Fuel" light comes on, don't ignore it. God wants to recharge and renew your life. Allow him to do just that. Make sure you accept his help to cross the finish line.
Courage is not just a personal trait. It’s an organizational trait as well.
And we all want, in some way, to be part of an organization and team that demonstrates courage. That is willing to push up the hill, against the odds, beyond all doubts to achieve results and impact what most thought not possible.
So here are a few points about creating a courageous organizational culture:
This week, in Lynne Olson’s Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, I found this interesting depiction of Harold Ickes, a member of FDR’s cabinet during the Second World War:
“According to T. H. Watkins, Ickes’ biographer, ‘a world without something in it to make him angry would have been incomprehensible to him.’ A disgruntled Republican senator who had been the target of one of Ickes’ verbal assaults called him ‘a common scold puffed up by high office.’ To one cabinet colleague, Ickes was ‘Washington’s tough guy.’ To another, he was the ‘president’s attack dog.’”
"Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. ... Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ. ... And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. ... And there was great joy in that city" (Acts 8:4-8)
I’ve been thinking on this passage for a couple of days, and the more I read it, the more I see.
My faith is being challenged and my vision is being expanded.
Are you willing to believe God by actually beginning to act in faith on these three components of kingdom domination displayed by the first church in the book of Acts?
I spent most of my 20s floundering around, trying to figure out what I was “supposed” to do with my life. Actually, from the outside, it probably didn’t look much like floundering (I went to college, graduate school and got a great job). But on the inside, I felt lost. Chaotic. Confused. And really curious as to what it meant to find my “true calling.”
So by the time I was in my mid-20s, I had followed all the rules of adult life and had many of the things a “grown-up” was supposed to have, but I still didn’t feel like my life had deep meaning.
I still didn’t know what I was here for.
What was my calling? Did God give everyone a calling? How was I supposed to find mine?
Inspired by the story of the Rich Young Ruler and encouragement from a friend, I quit my job, sold everything I owned, moved out of my apartment and set off on a road trip to discover my true calling. I learned so much while I traveled, but perhaps the most important thing I learned was what it means to discover a deep and meaningful purpose for your life.
Based on that experience, here are two questions I think you can ask yourself if you want to discover what God has called you to do.
1. What am I passionate about? I was always so scared to ask this question—or to answer it—because although I would call myself a passionate person, my passions sort of scared me. If I were to follow my passions—really follow them—where would they lead me?
I wasn’t sure.
And besides, weren’t passions kind of selfish and frivolous? Wasn’t I supposed to chase what God wanted for my life instead of what I wanted? Wasn’t that what being a Christian was all about?
What I discovered when I started to uncover my passions—and admit them—was that my desires and dreams could actually act like a window to what God wanted for me. Talking about my passions helped to unlock my purpose in life.
For me, this looked like quitting my job to chase my lifelong dream of traveling across the country and writing a book about it. And yes, in the beginning, the “passion” was a little bit crazy and unbridled and even a tiny bit selfish.
But as I submitted my passion to God and invited Him into the journey with me, the passion has grown and matured to be something deep and beautiful and lasting. And it continues to grow in this way, as long as I allow him to be part of it.
2. Where do I see my passion changing others? This is important because if I ask the first question without asking the second question, I might end up chasing my “dream” of becoming a singer/songwriter.
And why not? I love to sing in the shower and the car and into my bedroom mirror with my brush as a microphone.
I assure you, if I were to chase that passion, the world would not be a better place. I mean, I love to sing, but I love to sing far more than other people love to listen to me sing, if you know what I mean.
Maybe you love to golf, but you have to ask yourself: How is the world being changed by your golf game? Maybe you love drinking coffee, but how can you help people and serve people and reach people with that passion?
It’s certainly possible. Callings come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to ask the question.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect formula. I’m not pretending like it’s failproof or that callings are cut and dry or that they don’t sometimes flux and change in different seasons.
Right now, I’m called to write. But I believe later in life I will be called to be a mom, and maybe even a grandma, and probably a whole host of other things too. I believe we have more than one calling in a lifetime and that our callings are constantly unfolding.
But I guess the biggest tragedy would be if we didn’t believe we had a calling at all or we didn’t believe that it mattered so we ignored our passions altogether or ignored our capacity for serving and connecting to others.
Please don’t let that happen. The world will be a better place when more of us wake up to what we were put on this earth to do.
Allison Vesterfelt is a Christian author. Her book Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life With Less Baggage was recently released.
Have you ever noticed how ideas seem to flow when you don’t need them? Throughout the year, you might have a dozen great ideas for a weekend getaway; but when a weekend is finally available for a trip, you can’t think of anything to do. Or maybe you’ve had a million “when I get around to it” moments only to find that on a rare day off, you can’t remember any of them!
Being a pastor is much the same way. For years you may have thought, “If I was a pastor, the first thing I would do is …” And then, when that moment finally comes—a church calls you to pastor—you can’t figure out where to start. Being chosen to pastor a church is a great honor. Much like the first moment holding your newborn, you are overcome with one thought: “I want to do this right!”
Have you ever had to lead change when no one knew for sure what change was needed, when there wasn’t clear agreement on where the organization needed to go, when some players on the team were uncommitted or complacent, or when the leadership pipeline—who is supposed to be leading—wasn’t clearly defined? Have you ever had to lead change when the season of decline has been so long no one remembers what success looks like, or when ... you get the idea.
It’s like navigating through muddy water. Have you ever been there?
Lakeside Wesleyan Church, in Lakeside, Calif., was the first church I served as a staff member. It was a small church, and I learned much!
Rich Lauby was the pastor then, and the church accomplished significant life-changing ministry. For more on that story, see the previous article in this series (Part 1), which includes “6 Words for Small Churches.”
The first church I “officially” consulted was a small church in Ruston, La. Ever been there? The pastor’s name was Mark, and we hit it off immediately.
It’s no secret that almost 90 percent of those who come to Christ do so before the age of 20. Youth ministries are built upon the premise that the younger years are when the harvest fields are richest.
But time and again, I hear senior pastors and church members express the same frustration: “I just don’t know what to do to get through to these kids!”
The good news is that “getting through” is easier than you may think. Put simply: Just feed them! (And I don’t mean just feed them pizza, though that may be a good start.)