LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 44–“Train Your People to Be Faithful Followers”

This principle is a twin to the previous one on training your people to become leaders. The fact is that no one is a leader all the time in every situation. When the biggest corporate head in America goes to church, the pastor is the leader and he is a member of the flock. When he attends his club, someone else is the executive and he is a dues-paying member.

Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

In their book, “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee wondered what goes into making a good follower.

One aspect of that issue was to find out what leaders expect from members of their teams. They came up with four answers.

1) “I expect my people to speak up and tell me what they really think.”

We get the impression from the inside tales of companies that failed scandalously such as Enron and WorldCom that this quality was missing in the executive offices. No one was telling Kenneth Lay or Bernie Evers that the company was in trouble, that his decisions were faulty, and that disaster was looming. They told the boss what he wanted to hear, and everyone paid dearly for this failure.

It takes courage. I’ve been there. The others in the room are either agreeing with the boss or keeping their mouths shut. And yet, you know that they all know the boss’ plans are wrong. They’re just not willing to lay their jobs on the line. Better to be quiet and still have a paycheck coming in. Enron’s and WorldCom’s executives kept their mouths shut and everyone lost their paychecks.

Bible students will recall that in Genesis 35, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Not a lot is made of that at the time, but anyone knowing the origins of those names sees a powerful point. The name “Jacob”–which comes out to something like Ya-a-cov in Hebrew–literally means “a heel-holder,” one who takes advantage of others, who gets a ride at their expense. “Israel,” something like Yitz-rael in Hebrew, means “one who wrestles with God.”

God was saying, “I would rather have you wrestling with me than taking advantage of your brother.” And don’t we appreciate that about our wonderful Lord!

It’s a trait of a good leader that he welcomes dissent. Not dissension, but dissent. If you think I’m about to make a mistake, tell me. If I hear you and then overrule you, you’ve done your part. If I am wise, I will value you highly for what you did—unless you are the dissenter on everything I suggest. In that case, I might suggest you find another place to work.

2) “I expect you to do your job well.”

Continue reading

LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 43–“Train Your People to Become Leaders”

I once asked Pastor Mark Corts about his family. “I’ve never known such a group of overachievers. Your brother Tom is the president of Samford University; Paul is president of Wingate University. John Corts is the executive who runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And you pastor one of the greatest Southern Baptist Churches in the country.” (That would be Calvary Baptist in Winston-Salem. If you know these institutions, you will recognize that this conversation happened a few years back. Mark is in Heaven now, and his brothers have retired.)

Mark said, “And our sister is a missionary; don’t leave her out.”

I said, “You had to have incredible parents. Tell me about them. What did they do to bring this about?”

As I recall, Mark Corts said, “They were simple, salt-of-the-earth people. They gave us responsibilities and expected us to meet them. In our teens, we all held part-time jobs. They simply expected us to do well.”

That probably was not the dramatic answer I was expecting. Surely, I had thought, the parents had a plan for raising bright high-achieving children. I could just see a sermon series or at least some great illustrations resulting from the insights from this son of such illustrious parents. But that’s all I got.

Reflecting on that conversation, I realize now that Mr. and Mrs. Corts were doing something that was indeed every bit as dramatic as I had hoped: they were bringing up their children to be effective leaders. They did that by assigning them responsibilities that increased in size and scope as they grew, and by holding them accountable.

“Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” is the title of a book by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. They wanted to know why leaders were in such short supply, particularly since every strata of this society claims to place a high premium on leadership.

The writers came up with two answers. First, organizations say they want leaders but structure themselves so as to destroy budding leadership and to discourage initiative. They reward blind obedience and promote those who know how to play the corporate game.

The second reason there are so few leaders is that we simply do not know much about leadership and how to produce it.

We will grant the second point, but I’d like to comment on the first, that organizations and businesses often stifle leadership.

Continue reading

“Throw Me Somethin’ Mister!”

Mardi Gras comes early this year, Tuesday February 5. That’s the earliest I remember it and locals are complaining about the shortness of the season and the poor weather for the parades. Today, Monday, turned off beautifully though and several parades that were cancelled Friday are being made up tonight.

No, I’ll not be going. This is not my thing. If it’s yours, fine. Have fun and stay safe.

Driving down Metairie’s Veteran’s Highway today, all the signs of Mardi Gras surrounded me. The viewing stands have been in place for weeks. Temporary hurricane fences have been erected by some businesses that do not want parade-goers trampling down their grass or littering their parking lot. If you would like some beads without having to attend a parade, walk down the median–what locals call “neutral ground”–and pick them up; they’re lying everywhere.

A recent article in the Times-Picayune told of the Chinese factories that turn out boxcarsful of beads for us to throw and catch. An executive from that country urged our people not to tell his factory workers that we throw them at each other and that a large percentage will end up on the ground. They take a lot of pride in their work, he said, and this would be insulting to them.

In case you’re wondering, riders on the various floats purchase their own “throws,” as the beads and paraphernalia are called. Each one will spend from $700 to $1,000 on the large bags filled with items to be tossed into the crowds. Parade-watchers will compete to catch them and deposit them in their own bags. They’ll take them home, then try to figure out what to do with them now.

At the shipyards where my son Neil works, a colleague was sporting a bruise across her nose. She explained that a float rider had thrown not a strand of beads but an entire pack of beads in her direction. She was not watching and as she turned, the pack caught her in the face, causing the bruise. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. The riders are supposed to open a pack and toss the string of beads one at a time, but sometimes they grab a handful.

The Zulu Krewe always has interesting throws. This year again they are tossing some 7,000 painted and decorated coconuts into the stands. Neil says they don’t actually toss them however, that they are required to “hand” them. I hope so; these could be deadly weapons.

Continue reading

Tipping Point?

Somewhere I read where a cancer researcher predicted that when the cure for that dreaded disease is found, it will not be in one “Eureka!” moment, but in small increments.

The rebuilding of New Orleans and its re-creation into whatever plan the Father has for it is coming about in the same way: in small victories.

A mission in the Ninth Ward–New Christian Life Baptist–is rebuilt by Florida Baptists and reopens its doors on Saturday. It’s one of the few houses of worship to be rebuilt and reopened in that devastated neighborhood, thanks to the leadership of Pastor Will Mack and the dedicated labors of Florida Baptists.

Sunday, the First Baptist Church of Luling burned the note on a loan for the construction of their educational building. Pastor Todd Hallman challenged his people to build on the faith of the past generations to meet today’s changing culture.

Down in Lower St. Bernard, the Delacroix-Hope Baptist Church worshiped for the first time Sunday in their “new” building, previously the Creedmore Presbyterian Church. The plant was given to them by the Presbytery of South Louisiana. Pastor Boogie Melerine and his little congregation have done extensive renovations and will be having a grand opening soon.

A church welcomes a new pastor. Someone prays with his neighbor as he gives his heart to Christ. A displaced resident decides to move back to the city. Someone completes the renovation of his flooded house and moves back into the neighborhood. The city paves a street. Someone gets serious about prayer. An offering is dropped into the offering plate at church. A business owner decides to take a chance and reopen his store.

Little by little, one step at the time.

No one knows at what point the tipping will occur.

Continue reading

What the Call of God Looks Like

Today, Saturday, “New Christian Life Baptist Mission” reopened its doors for the first time since Katrina. Under the leadership of Pastor Will Mack, Jr., this mission of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church sits smack dab in the middle of the Ninth Ward, surrounded by houses in every shape and of every description.

Many houses still bear the huge X of the National Guardsmen who combed the neighborhoods in the days following our hurricane, searching for the stranded in need of rescue. Fully fifty-percent of the houses are still not occupied and most probably untouched since the August 29, 2005, storm. The streets are broken and potholed and warped. You wouldn’t want to be caught in that neighborhood after dark. And yet, this is where New Christian Life located itself and where they rebuilt after the storm.

Representatives of the Florida Baptist Convention were present, several members of the First Baptist Church of Marianna, and at least two directors of missions. Pastor Will Mack welcomed everyone, then introduced his choir of perhaps five ladies. “This will be their first time to wear these robes since Katrina,” he said to cheers and applause. “The water ruined the zippers, so they’re leaving them open.”

The choir, accompanied by a keyboard and set of drums, rocked that little building as the praise lofted heavenward. People kept coming in throughout the service until an equal number of black and white were present. “How many are here for the first time?” Several lifted their hands, including a man in front of me who looked like he might be homeless.

Coba Beasley is the Director of Missions for the Chipola Baptist Association in Marianna, Florida. He brought greetings and told of the work of their teams over the last year or more, as they worked to redo this building. The keyboard was a gift of a gentleman in Marianna, he said. We all surmised that it had never sounded in Marianna the way it sounded in New Orleans!

Michael Petty is the Director of Missions for the Gulfstream Baptist Association in Fort Lauderdale. His text was Psalm 67, that “we are blessed to be a blessing.” He said, “We had thought we could restore this building in a few months, but it has taken us a year and a half.” At the time he and Pastor Mack began to make plans for the rebuilding, Michael was pastor of the FBC of Marianna. Some of his members were present today, and at least one staffer. In October, he moved to lead the association in Fort Lauderdale.

Continue reading

What Drains Your Energies?

In the previous blog, I mentioned that rebellious children sap the energies of parents, leaving them with no will, no time, and no strength for outside interests or ministries. Some of our readers have experienced this personally.

The question before the class today, students, is: “What depletes your energies for God?”

As usual, I’ll get us started. At the end, leave your own contributions to the list. Our hope is that someone will see himself in this and learn that a certain practice has been robbing them of their service to the Lord and will return to the Father. Luke 15:18 comes to mind. “I will arise and go to my Father.”

Here are my top ten energy-depleters:

10. Compromise.

You’re doing something displeasing to the Lord and you know it. The guilt lingers and weighs you down. When you try to read your Bible, pray, or worship, the fog is so thick you could cut it. God seems far away, and you know without being told it’s because you moved. You’re being torn down the middle and it’s a miserable feeling.

Isaiah 59:1-2 comes to mind. “Your sins have separated you.” Confess them and move back closer.

9. Nay-sayers.

The discouragers around you are constantly pointing out that you cannot do this, you are not the Christian you ought to be, the Bible cannot be understood, your prayers never go beyond the ceiling, and your pitiful offering amounts to nothing. To make matters worse, sometimes that negative voice hounding us is our own. You lose heart and want to give up.

Psalm 103:1-5 comes to mind. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Speak to yourself words of faith. Believe your faith and doubt your doubts.

8. Nit-pickers.

Continue reading

A Word About a Certain Movie Star

Reading the paper this Saturday morning and checking the television schedule for tonight, I began laughing. My favorite channel–that would be TCM, Turner Classic Movies–is showing a string of Greer Garson movies tonight. No, it’s not her birthday. That would be September 29 (and the year 1904). I think I know what happened.

TCM found out that I just last night finished reading a biography of Greer Garson. “A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson” by Michael Troyan was pure fun. It’s a $22 paperback, so don’t tell my wife. In fact, I picked it up twice over several months at the local World War II Museum bookshop before deciding to spring for it. Glad I did.

What started this for me was seeing the 1941 movie, “Mrs. Miniver,” some years ago. Thereafter, like a few million others, I was smitten. First, it’s about the most fascinating moment of the 20th century, that period when England stood virtually alone against Hitler. (There might be something else going on in my choice of that period; it’s basically 1940, the year I arrived on the planet.)

Secondly, there’s a historical angle: the movie aroused the American public as nothing else had to understand the British situation and get off the fence of neutrality. Queen Elizabeth was to tell Greer Garson later that her film had rallied worldwide support for Britain more than any other one thing.

The movie won a handful of Academy Awards the next year, and that has always perplexed the professional critics who do not understand the emotional impact a movie can make when it connects with a critical moment in history.

Mostly, however, when I saw “Mrs. Miniver,” I fell in love. And who would not? What a woman.

Continue reading

LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 42–“Take Your Lumps.”

No one wants to hear you gripe about how unfairly the church members are treating you. You’re the pastor, the leader, the one out front. Take the heat. Be a man.

The morning paper tells how the basketball coach at our largest state university is receiving jeers from the fans. His team has just lost its seventh consecutive game in the young season and they’ve been blown out in contests against weak opponents. The fact that he has taken his teams to the NCAA Final Four in previous years looks good in the history books, but does nothing–nil, nada–to placate the fans. They want a winner now.

That’s how fans are. Ask any coach on the planet.

Is it unfair? Sure. Are they being unreasonable? Absolutely. Does that protect the coach’s job? Not in the least.

The coach knew it would be like this when he signed on. When his teams were doing well, he was a hero and could do no wrong. Fans held up signs suggesting he run for governor. The trustees voted him a contract extension with a sizeable raise. Season-ticket holders called in to talk shows praising his decisions.

These days, that coach is experiencing the dark side of his profession: the fans can turn on you in a heartbeat.

At a community prayer breakfast, I spotted the head coach (at the time) of the New Orleans Saints, Jim Mora. I hastily sketched out a cartoon for him, I forget what it was, and presented it to him. While he was chuckling at it, I said, “Pastors understand what coaches go through. You give your all on Sunday and some people pick it apart during the week.”

Mora said, “Yeah, but do they call in to the radio shows and criticize your sermons in the newspaper?” I had to admit they didn’t.

Later I thought of an answer: “This is why they pay you the big bucks, coach.”

Lately, I’ve been reading through Exodus and seeing again the trials of Moses as he tried to lead a vast multitude of impatient, unspiritual people from Egypt’s slavery into Canaan’s glories. Like the chorus of a bad tune, we keep finding this refrain: “And the congregation of Israel murmured against Moses in the wilderness.”

Now, the first time that happened–that would be Exodus 14:10-12–Moses responded well. “Don’t be afraid. Stand here and you will see the salvation of the Lord.”

A few days later, the murmurs rose from the crowd again. “Oh, what’s going to happen to us? It would have been better to have died in Egypt where at least we had food to eat! You’ve brought us out here to perish of starvation!” (Exodus 16:3)

They needed food; was that so hard for Moses to understand? The babies were crying, everyone was growing weak, people were falling out. And–as every leader learns sooner or later and usually the hard way–if you do not give them a legitimate means of registering their complaints, the people will meet in clusters and feed off one another’s misery.

By this time, a tired Moses was losing his patience. “Who are we that you murmur against us? Your griping is not against us, but against the Lord!” Then he said, “Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your murmurings.” That was the day God gave them the manna from Heaven.

Who are you, Moses, that they complain against you? You are the leader, sir. It’s true you were drafted for this position and did not volunteer for it, but every leader of God’s people since has been able to say the same thing. God calls His leaders; we don’t run for the office. And having become the leader, we share in the glories and successes but we also bear the pain of the failures and needs.

It’s the price of leadership.

Continue reading

My Preaching Schedule

Sometimes friends email to ask, “Where will you be preaching? Maybe it will be in my area so I can come.”

Being a director of missions means I work for and with all the Baptist churches in our association, which in this case includes the 5 parishes that make up Greater New Orleans. Many Sundays I’m not preaching at all, and at those times I enjoy dropping in on a church and worshiping with them.

This Sunday, January 20, I’ll be teaching “Paul’s Epistle to the Romans” at Rocky Creek Baptist Church near Lucedale, Mississippi, where Greg Harper is pastor. The schedule calls for four sessions on Sunday–10 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 6 pm. Then we’ll continue Monday night at 6:30 and Wednesday night at 6:30.

In between, on Tuesday night, I’ll be speaking at the annual men’s banquet for the Baptist churches of George and Greene Counties, which will also be held at Rocky Creek Church.

Saturday morning, January 26, I’ll do another two-hour preview of Romans for our local pastors. We’ll meet in the conference room of FBC-Kenner from 8 am to 10 am. Anyone is invited of course, particularly pastors from anywhere.

Continue reading

Ethics Reform: A Popular Idea Which Everyone Hates

New Governor Bobby Jindal may be the youngest governor in the land, but at 36, he has lots of experience in state government and had a clear understanding of what he wanted to do in his first day on the job. Tuesday–like the cross-eyed javelin thrower–when he stood up, he had everyone’s undivided attention, and he made the most of it.

Jindal had appointed a committee of 17 to advise him on ethics reform in Louisiana. They took him seriously, and he is taking their recommendations for all they’re worth. Here are some of the contents of Jindal’s program as announced yesterday.

1) State legislators will be prohibited from receiving free tickets to concerts and sporting events. They will be allowed to purchase them at face value, though.

2) Everyone from the governor’s office to the legislature, from judges to local officials, should be required to file annual financial disclosures. The governor is requiring that his cabinet members comply with the same financial disclosure which candidates for governor must meet.

Officials in towns or parishes of more than 5,000 residents will be covered in this requirement.

Continue reading