3 of the Most Common Leadership Weaknesses

  1. Lack of Trust…which manifests itself through (1) micromanagement; (2) lack of transparency; (3) lack of risk; (4) lack of creativity/spontaneity.
  2. The need to be liked…which manifests itself through (1) making popular decisions instead of right ones; (2) surrounding yourself with people who only say yes; (3) over avoidance of conflict; (4) indeciciveness; (5) emotional decision-making.
  3. Stagnancy…which manifests itself through (1) seldom seeking out constructive improvement; (2) asking for constructive improvement without any intention to act upon suggestions; (3) risk avoidance; (4) fear of the new.

These weaknesses can all be traced back to pride or fear. When pride is in the way we’ll have “greater than” thoughts about ourselves and when fear is manifesting itself we will display “lesser than” thoughts. It’s when we understand the WHY behind our weaknesses and commit to dealing with their root causes that we’ll be able to overcome it by God’s grace.

Criticism is not a Spiritual Gift

Criticism is a two-edged sword in the life of a leader. On the one hand, a leader who only surrounds himself with “yes men” limits his perspective. On the other hand, the voice of too many critics will leave a pastor wanting to bail on ministry and find a new vocation.

James 3:17 says,

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure: then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

There are eight characteristics given in this verse. If someone comes with a pure heart and no ulterior motive, is peaceful and not hostile, is considerate in word choice, has a history of being submissive and not rebellious, speaks with mercy and is not accusatory, has good fruit in their life, is impartial in the sense that they aren’t going to profit from the decision, and they speak with sincerity, then we should be all ears. As you can imagine, few pass this test. Does this mean everything they said was wrong? No. However, the lack of these characteristics raises red flags as I’m listening.

Many times, when a person criticizes a leader, there can be a kernel of truth in what’s spoken. Some people just don’t have tact. If you can get past the anger and rudeness, there may be something for leaders to learn. This is not easy to do. It’s nearly impossible to gain that kernel of truth from only one comment even if they say, “There’s a group of us concerned….” I always ask for each person in the “group” to come talk to me but that has never materialized which even erodes that person’s credibility more. Yet, if a leader hears the same criticism repeatedly, even if the messenger can’t communicate in a loving way, good leaders try to sift through the chaff to find the kernel of truth.

Chronic complainers don’t stop complaining with explanation; they simply look for something else to complain about. Argumentative people are always looking for arguments.

It is unhealthy for pastors to listen to continual negativity. This wears pastors down and eventually leads many ministers to abandon the ministry. So pastor, surround yourself with people who believe in you, who believe in what God has called you to do, and who are loyal to you as a leader, but also value honesty. If a criticism has merit, it will make its way through the ranks and get to the appropriate channels. If not, then those with the “gift of criticism” may have to find another church.

My Current Thoughts on Racial Justice and Reconciliation

Over the past week, we have seen some disturbing and unforgettable images. First, we saw the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a black man, literally killed by a police officer who used illegal means to control him by forcing him to remain on the ground with his knee on his neck for 9 minutes while other officers watched without stopping it. Floyd’s crime? Passing a $20 counterfeit bill. If I had been in his shoes there is little doubt that I would still be alive.

As the country was brought to the attention of this evil, many people began demanding justice, as they should. See, this isn’t the first time in recent history that a black man died at the hands of white policemen. And while the circumstances or legitimization of each preceding case may be in question, it’s undeniable that there has been a history of targeted enforcement on people of color. 

Let me be clear: racism throws away the biblical principle of imago dei, the image of God in ALL of us. Racism is a sin against all God’s people and God himself.

So over the past week, people have demanded that something has to change. And they took to the streets so their voices could be heard. Non-violent protesting has a long history in the Christian faith and in this country. Many martyrs of our faith in have been persecuted and then murdered, without raising a hand of defense. Ghandi, and then MLK Jr., took up non-violent protest to call out injustices in both India and the U.S. It became known as civil disobedience. In this country, in the 60s, it became a powerful tool to change the hearts and minds of Americans about the evils of racism and segregation in this country. 

Some are arguing during this time that things have never been better for POC in this country in regards to many metrics. And yet, we still see the effects of racism in many areas of our country. Like my friend, Dr. Stout, likes to say, “In the old days, you could tell who the white supremacists were by the white hoods on their heads. Now, they just hide in the larger public.” I think there’s no doubt that “Things are better!” But better. Isn’t. Good. Enough.

We have to remember where this sense of right and wrong is coming from. The outrage and cries of injustice arise out of our God-given, moral compass that’s found in being made in the image of God. Look, I know sin has marred all of creation and our culture has drifted far away from many Christian values. But the cry and awareness for racial justice isn’t one of those areas. That should encourage us.   

So what’s the solution? That’s a complex answer. That’s why I am often hesitant to speak on these subjects. I’m processing all of the information. I’m receiving and the information keeps changing and the images keep getting worse. We see thousands of peaceful protestors…& it just takes a few to ruin the message.

What we’ve been seeing most recently on the news is rioting and looting. The message of justice and racial reconciliation is getting drowned out by those who seek the opportunity to foment further division through violence. That’s not civil disobedience and it often causes a reflexive reaction that provokes white people into discounting the original reasons for protest and the questioning of the motives of those who seek change.

Let’s not conflate the peaceful protestors with the rioters. These are different groups with different agendas–one righteous and the other perverse. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. While righteous anger is of the Lord, uncontrolled fury is a tool of Satan. Rioting and looting have no place in the cause for justice. BUT, while we are quick to condemn looting and rioting, we also have to check our own attitude towards looting and rioting. How angry does that make US? Are we more angry about the original injustice of murder or of the destruction of property? Which makes us more uncomfortable?

Here’s the truth: 1) Our longing for justice and racial reconciliation is from God’s image in us. We cry out for a world that looks different and where Love reigns because we are not of this world.

2) The uncomfortable truth: it will never be perfect. As long as we live on earth there will be racism and other sins that confound us, especially those in our own lives. Maybe that’s why there is so much anger. We realize that we have been working on this as a nation for hundreds of years and we still aren’t there. So our reaction is heightened and when we aren’t guided by God’s spirit we say and do things that multiply the hurt, and injustice is paid with further injustice. The violence of the few drowns out the message of the many and ultimately mocks the principles of justice. It will never be perfect in this life. That’s why our souls long for a new earth and heaven.

3) There is hope. The Christian message of redemption isn’t simply about our salvation and getting to heaven. We believe that through the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we are in the middle of a reclamation project. Through the blood of Jesus, God has reconciled to us through grace and by faith. The Holy Spirit is in the process, if we let Him, of changing us each day more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ act on the cross of redemption was the beginning of this reclamation project. Maybe a better word than reclamation is renovation. God has reclaimed us and this whole world. He’s renovating it heart by heart, to look more like his perfect son, Jesus. This renovation project has been going on for two thousand years! Demonstrably, there has been immense progress with much more to go. And one day it will end, and all things will be brought to its proper place.

But during this time it means that all of us are called to participate in this renovation project. It’s our job, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to change the way the world works. It will be painful and full of heartache as dealing with sin always is. But it’s also full of joy as we celebrate victories, small and large. We will be frustrated by those who think we are wrong and we will be hurt by those who seem to agree with us but then use means of change that we can’t agree with. But we must never stop trying. 

What’s the solution? I don’t have ALL the answers to that question. There are a few political things that should happen but I won’t comment on those here. The one thing in our immediate control, as people of faith, and the one thing God has commanded us to do, is to love our neighbor. Seek racial justice and reconciliation in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your school, on your team. My white friends, we simply have no idea what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those who are different from us. We just can’t. But because Jesus is our Lord, we must love all people in word and in deed. When we hear about acts of violence or discrimination or racial epithets, we can let them know we stand with them. When we witness those things, we must call out and seek to stop people from doing those things. 

Would you take time to pray today and this week, for our brothers and sisters in the African-American community? Pray that God would help them FEEL safe and that God would actually protect them from the effects of racism. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restrain sin against people, simply because of their color. Pray for justice to be done in both the George Floyd case, and other cases of violence in this country. Pray for our police officers, most of whom are trying to do their job to the best of their ability, that they would be protected during this time and would conduct themselves in ways that are honorable and protective of our wider communities. Pray that Jesus Christ would be honored and praised, for He is our Lord and Savior, conqueror of sin and death, and from whom we receive this divine inheritance as his adopted children, regardless of color.

Change is Painful! Or Smart Pain Vs. Dumb Pain

Change is painful! You already knew that…but there is such thing as “smart pain” and “dumb pain.” Let me explain…

After my mom quit smoking she decided to get in shape. She wasn’t obese but she hadn’t exercised in a long time. So she got up one morning and said, “I’m getting in shape.” She got down to do some sit ups. “Uhhh…”  She could not do 1! No joke. Nor a push-up. She walked around the block and about died.

I laughed. What a supportive son I was!

I didn’t pay attention after that to her attempt to get in shape, but about a year later she asked me to go with her to a 5K race walk. I was cocky and said, “I’m not just going with you. I’m entering and I’m going to beat you!” So I did…enter, that is. I got an early lead on her and many others (after getting a tutorial on what race walking was precisely).  After about 2 or 3K my shins were killing me. I wanted to quit. But I’m too competitive to quit.  So I just slowed down…to a crawl. Everyone was passing me. Some 80 year-old lady passed me.  My mom passed me (laughing at me). I finished the race and I didn’t come in last but I was in pain. I hadn’t trained for it so I paid a stiffer price than most of the other racers.

What’s my point? My mom trained for that day. And over the year she went through muscle fatigue but now she was in shape! I hadn’t done anything to prepare but I wish I had.  My shins ached for a week and I finished at the back of the pack.

Change in any church or organization is like that. It’s going to hurt either way, but there is “smart pain” and “dumb pain.” If you prepare, do your homework, survey the landscape, take things slow, help the “middle adopters” understand the changes you propose then the changes will still hurt. Some people will still complain, maybe leave, but you laid the groundwork for success. Most people will understand it and eventually embrace it. But if you ignore the proper process of change in your organization, refuse to listen to others’ opinions, never compromise, and say, “To heck with those who disagree,” then the changes will hurt .  People you love (and who love you) will leave because they don’t understand the need for those changes because you didn’t explain it. And you’ll look stupid.

The 20/60/20 Principle

I am told by reliable people that the 20/60/20 principle as it relates to church life is true.

  • 20% of people will readily adapt to change.
  • 60% will eventually adapt with support and encouragement.
  • 20% NEVER WILL.

So let the 20% that won’t adapt go gracefully as possible.  They aren’t “bad” people but don’t expect them to “come around.”  Don’t spend all your energy trying to win them over.  Build on islands of health and strength.  Go with the people who want to go with you.

Character is…

Character is the sum total of our:

  • self-discipline (the ability to do what’s right even if you don’t feel like it).
  • core values (principles you live by that empower you to make a moral stand).
  • sense of identity (a realistic self-image based on your gifts and personality and most importantly for Christians, who you are in Christ).
  • emotional security (the capacity to be emotionally stable and consistent).

Your skill may get you to the top, but it’s your character that will keep you there.

While leadership skills are good to have, it does no good to develop your skills at the expense of your character and integrity.

So lead yourself well before you try leading others.

Strong character will hold you up strong and long enough to use your skills.

10 Traits of Jesus, the Leader

Jesus was more than a leader. As the Son of God, we see in Christ every trait perfected and the only One who can purchase redemption by His sinless life sacrificed in our place.  Therefore we look to Him as our primary example of Christian leadership. As you read over the descriptions, take time to assess your own life and activity as a leader.

  1. Jesus invested in people. Jesus demonstrated incredible confidence in the potential of people to let Him use them for a higher purpose. He doesn’t just want us to “believe” in Him. He believes in us!
  2. Jesus saw long and far. In John 17:20 Jesus was living beyond the moment.With the pressures of NOW, it is possible for us to shorten our sight. But we must think the long term.
  3. Jesus sent people away from Him on mission. The environment around Jesus was like an airport terminal.  Disciples were constantly coming and going to practice what they had learned and to serve others.
  4. Jesus grieved for communities. Jesus could look over a city (Luke 19:41-42) and be heartbroken over the rebellious nature of its’ inhabitants. Jesus wept over a community and calls us to love ours.
  5. Jesus led a balanced life. By “balance,” I mean that he invested perfectly into multiple environments. Jesus knew the value of time away from crowds to spend time with His Father.
  6. Jesus embraced other cultures. He was not afraid or offended by Samaritans. He went out of his way to talk with them and refused to give up when they rejected Him.  The heard of Jesus is for people, all people.
  7. Jesus surrendered His will to the Father. True Christian leaders are in tune with the heart of God. We must resolve to do WHATEVER the Father requires. Jesus gave up His human will for God’s higher purpose. So must we.
  8. Jesus surrounded Himself with lost people. By offering grace and truth, Jesus was attractive to lost people.
  9. Jesus’ harvest vision was leveraged by prayer. We have no ability to transform anything without God’s power. Matthew 9:37-38. The source for harvest workers is not in recruitment strategies, but in prayer. Prayer recognizes God as externally focused.
  10. Jesus felt the needs of people. Why did Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus?  Jesus was a man who deeply loved others. He cared for people who were hungry and afraid.  He cared for the physically sick and the spiritually oppressed.

What Really Makes a Church Great?

Is a great church one that does great things like have excellent programs, preaching or praying?  Is it great because of its size?  I don’t think so.

Ed Stetzer’s and Thom Rainer’s book Transformational Church reminds me of some things I already knew but haven’t talked about in a while.  A great church is one in which LIFE CHANGE is happening at the individual and corporate level.  How does a church begin to do that?

  1. They must rely more on God’s empowered mission and biblical mandate than the personal preferences of the congregation.  Sadly, Christians are often more in love with the way they do church than they are in love with people in their community.  The church must develop a “missionary mentality.”  That means that the church understands the community and will minister in contextually appropriate ways to reach local people with the gospel.  Moving to an external focus pushes the church from “doing missions” as part of some program into being “on mission as a way of life.”
  2. Vibrant leadership.  Change starts with the leaders of the church.  Vibrant leaders lead their people to worship, live in community, and live on mission.  They are leaders who are being transformed in the presence of the people they lead.  When the church assumes the role of missionary, a radical shift in the view of leadership must take place.  The old model was to hoard and retain control. Vibrant leaders seek to empower and multiply.  Leadership is the stewardship to help others exercise their gifts.  We must move away from “How may I serve you?” to “How can I help you serve?”
  3. Relational intentionality.  The church was designed by Christ as a collection of people participating in one another’s lives.  So the church must provide platforms for new people to engage in significant relationships with one another and with people in need.  A challenge today is that most people find themselves too busy.  So we must teach people how to create relational space.  But first we’ll have to teach why.  Another challenge is to produce familial relationships without creating a closed group.  This includes providing space for difficult people.
  4. Prayerful dependence.  Prayer is the engine of truly great churches.  Characteristics of praying churches?  They have praying leaders.  They commonly experience answers to prayer.  They value corporate prayer.  They engage their communities with prayer.
  5. A sense of anticipation and expectancy surrounds their worship services. While they may count attendance, a better barometer is how many encountered the transforming presence of God through worship.  This means that people have to actively participating in worship, not just listening to a talking head or following along in their bulletin.

Is there anything you would add or subtract from this list?  How have you seen these in your church?