Some things I have learned about leadership–and have the scars to prove

“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

People do not want to follow.

Sorry about that.

Ask anyone clamoring for high political office.  They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as your followers.

So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.

Better to become their servant.  Everyone loves to be served.

However, not everyone wants to serve.  Only the best and the strongest can serve.

Serving is hard work.  Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness.  Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summons.

That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society.

Continue reading

“I’m very good at what I do,” she said.

This is all about excellence.  Not perfection, but giving your best, leaving nothing in the locker room, cutting no corners.  Whether we are the janitor in the school, the yardman at the church, or serving the President of the United States. 

She was telling me how she came to make the hard decision to change jobs.

“I was working in the fraud division of a financial company,” she said. “They trained me for the position and I was working hard at it.  But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting it.  And that felt bad.”

“I’m very good at what I do,” she explained.

“So this was a new thing for me.  I went to work feeling uncomfortable, like I was not doing what they had brought me there for.”

“Then, a former co-worker who knew me and worked for a bank, recommended me to her boss.  I interviewed and felt quickly this was where I needed to be.”

Continue reading

Ten hard lessons I’ve learned about leading the Lord’s church

This is not the final list. I’m still learning.

Most of what follows about leading God’s church is counter-intuitive. Which is to say, it’s not what one might expect.

In no particular order….

One. Bigness is overrated.

“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or the many” (I Samuel 14:6).

Most pastors, it would appear, have wanted to lead big churches, wanted to grow their church to be huge, or wanted to move to a large church.  Their motives may be pure; judging motives is outside my skill set. But pastoring a big church can be the hardest thing you will ever try, and far less satisfying than you would ever think.

Small churches can be healthy too; behold the hummingbird or the honeybee.

Continue reading

Reluctant leadership is better than nothing

“Somebody ought to do something!”

I was second in line at the traffic light. My lane and the one to my right were all turning left onto Dauphin Street in Mobile. The third lane was turning right.

We sat through through three sequences of lights. Meanwhile, the line of cars behind us grew longer and longer.

Clearly, the light was malfunctioning, but only on our side. Traffic from the other directions was receiving the correct sequence of lights. Our light stayed red.

I was traveling home from a revival in Selma, Alabama, and had stopped for a late-morning breakfast at the Cracker Barrel.  After a fairly demanding week with 1500 miles of driving, I was relaxed now and willing to sit there in the traffic without getting impatient.

But not all day.

Finally, I had had enough. The light was not working and the cars in front of me were showing no inclination to move.

So, I got out.

Continue reading

How to say ‘no’ to a wonderful opportunity

“They said to Him, ‘Lord! Everyone is looking for you.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:35-38).

Turning down a lousy request is no problem.

–“Hey Joe! Wanna go bungee jumping?” Ha. Not in this lifetime.

–“Hey preacher! How about a night of bar-hopping on Bourbon Street!” You talking to me, Leroy?

–“Pastor, would you write a book on the superiority of your theological system over all others?”  Uh, no.  But have a nice day.

Saying ‘no’ to something you hate to do, do not want to do, cannot do, and would not be caught dead doing–piece of cake.

No one has to counsel you on how to do that.

It’s all those other requests that you find difficult to turn down.

Continue reading

The best leadership verse in the Bible?

“That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord” (Judges 5:2).

Scripture gems show up in the unlikeliest of places.

Deborah became a hero by default.  She describes herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).  Earlier, she was identified as “a prophetess” and one who “judged Israel at that time” (4:4). She was thus a woman of great spirituality, excellent understanding, and keen insight. People trusted her.

Deborah summoned Barak to her location.  She had a disturbing question for this leader of Israel.  “Hasn’t God called you to lead His army against these oppressive Canaanites?”

For over two decades, the murderous Canaanites had run over Israel and God’s people had been praying for Him to intervene.

Now the Lord told Deborah that He had called Barak, but he was reluctant to obey. He was not the first and certainly not the last to need prodding to obey God’s instruction, to answer His call.

The sheepish Barak told the woman of God, “I’ll go–but only if you’ll go with me”  (4:8).  Is he saying “I’ll go if you will hold my hand?”  Like the great warrior needs his mama along?  It appears that way.

Continue reading

Sloppiness in ministry: Not allowed

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord–you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23).

Last night, sometime along about 3 or 4 am, unable to sleep, I did something I rarely do: turned on the television. After channel-surfing for a while, I ended up watching one of those true-crime re-enactments.

Law enforcement investigators had painstakingly built their case against this fellow in Jacksonville, Florida, who reported his wife missing on a trip to Miami.

The man told investigators they had checked into a Miami hotel and he went to a fast-food place for take-out. Police were able to check that out.  He had indeed bought a sandwich and fries at that restaurant, they found, but only one order.  Nothing for his wife.

Continue reading

Delegating upward: Why we should not let it happen

“Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:7).  “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13).  “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:43).

Sometimes when we say “He must increase; I must decrease,” it’s not Jesus we’re referring to, but a brother or sister of ours.

Early in my seminary pastorate, I looked around for quick ways to make a difference in our little bayou church.  Since I had been a secretary for several years and typing and running printing machines were second nature to me, I decided the church bulletin would receive my attention.

I asked Mrs. Porter, the lovely senior lady who had the weekly responsibility of gathering the information, typing it into the form, and printing it as a handout bulletin for Sunday services, if I could take it over.  To her credit, she was not offended, but delighted to get rid of that task. (She had plenty of other responsibilities. As I say, it was a small church.)

The bulletin I produced was sharper than hers.  The typing was clearer, the English was classier, and the overall appearance was better.

I had made a serious mistake.

Continue reading

The irony of strong leadership

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

My immediate concern is always with the Lord’s church, but this principles applies everywhere.

I am pro-pastor. Always and forever. Anyone who reads the blog and knows me will agree that I honor the pastor.  God made me a pastor at the age of 22, and I’ve been one ever since.

However, we have a problem.

In churches across our land tyrants can be found who call themselves pastors and demand to be obeyed. Such men are unqualified to do anything in the kingdom and must be dealt with by courageous men and women in the pews.

Otherwise, they will corrupt the gospel, destroy the church, wound the weak, and drive away many who need Christ.

In the Kingdom of God, leaders are required to be servants.

Many a pastor misses this, and if he learns it at all, not before he has made many a bone-headed mistake and left a lot of good people bleeding in his wake.

We lead by serving.

We do not lead by dominating.

That’s it.

Scripture says the Holy Spirit has made the pastor the “overseer” (episcopos) of the church (Acts 20:28).  Scripture says church members are to “obey their leaders” as those who will give account for their souls (Hebrews 13:17).  However….

Continue reading

When a leader is a non-leader

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his work was done and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

Throughout his life, Joshua had never taken the initiative in anything, but had followed orders.  In Exodus 17:9, the first mention of Joshua in Scripture, he leads a rag-tag army of ex-slaves against the Amalekites. However, on a distant hill, Moses was overseeing everything and giving guidance.

No one wants to follow a non-leader.  Readers will want to check out the final chapters of Deuteronomy and the early chapters of Joshua and count the number of times Moses, God, and the Israelites urged this surprised newly chosen leader to “be strong and of good courage.”

A leader must be strong to forge a path and take the heat and must be of good courage to endure the problems, headaches, and backstabbings.

It goes with the territory. As the saying goes, it’s why they pay the leader the big bucks.

Continue reading