Why I’m Thankful

design-54My wife will tell you, very often, as we are traveling about, I openly express my sincere thanks to God for His goodness to me. It is one of the most humbling thoughts to realize that God freely provides His gracious love to us. When I am in a healthy spiritual place, gratitude is one of my most common emotions. There are a few reasons for this.

I know what should have been. Only the Lord and I know what I was, and at times, still am. It is perfectly logical to think that I should have been destroyed. If I had reaped what I had sown, I would not be here. This is in no way a glorification of a dramatically bad boy life; far from it. I simply was a rotten person, and should God have chosen to give me my dues, I would have been done long ago. I am thankful that I am not yet done.

I know what could have been. Because of my early foundation, it is not beyond comprehension that I could have been destroyed. I could have gotten trapped in a miserable, desolate life. I could have spent my days in frustration and failure. I could have easily lived out my life in uselessness. I could have been consumed with pain, grief, addiction, despair and destruction. I am thankful that what could have been did not become reality.

 I know what wasn’t. My wife and I know the pain of losing a child. For the last many years, we have been impacted by our loss. Every holiday, every day we feel the pain.  This influences us at Thanksgiving because we are grateful for what we had, and then lost. It makes us treasure what we have. I am thankful for what we have, and for what we have lost.

I know what won’t be. I’m not getting any younger. My current situation is fleeting. My family is growing, the babies are getting big. My experience is fast, time is passing quickly. What I see now won’t last much longer. I am thankful that I have what I have now, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest. I am grateful that, although passing quickly, life is very good for me.

So, I’m thankful. So very, very thankful for all that God has done and is doing for me.

I never want to lose that. Thank you, God.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching

design-26While it should be intuitive, I think it needs to be said: people follow their leaders. Leaders influence and impact. Those who lead others must understand their responsibility. Those we lead watch our behaviors. They listen to us talk. Whether intentional or not, followers pick up traits and characteristics from their leaders.

But some of the influence wielded by leaders morphs into, perhaps, unanticipated results. It may be assumed that a happy leader produces happy followers, but it’s not that simple.

At the risk of over simplification and generalizations, I think…

Angry shepherds lead wounded sheep.
Critical shepherds lead insecure sheep.
Disconnected shepherds lead wandering sheep.
Shallow shepherds lead vulnerable sheep.
Arrogant shepherds lead cynical sheep.
Manipulating shepherds lead confused sheep.
Selfish shepherds lead hungry sheep.
Doting shepherds lead entitled sheep.
Cowardly shepherds lead endangered sheep.                                                                                                                                            Rebel leaders lead rebellious sheep.

And

Compassionate shepherds lead recovering sheep.
Gracious shepherds lead transparent sheep.
Patient shepherds lead confident sheep.
Courageous shepherds lead secure sheep.
Consistent shepherds lead stable sheep.
Kind shepherds lead trusting sheep.
Nurturing shepherds lead healthy sheep.
Engaging shepherds lead connected sheep.
Serving shepherds lead committed sheep.                                                                                                                   Empowering shepherds lead growing sheep.

Of course, these are not written in stone, but you get the concept.

Leaders carry the heavy load of being influencers. If you are a leader, lead well. The wellbeing of the people you lead is dependent upon you.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching.

The Sword

There is a beautiful and powerful scripture verse in I Samuel 21:9. At a point of desperation, David is in need of a sword. The only one available is the sword that he took from Goliath when he had killed the giant some time earlier (see I Samuel 17). When offered the valuable and rare sword, David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

This verse is powerful for us because it indicates the value of victories won. When God brings us through a potentially destructive time and we overcome, something significant happens within us. We have seen God do the impossible. A standard for impossible victories is established. From this time forward, we have no need to fear battles. We are able to return again and again to the time of miraculous deliverance, and we trust God, regardless of the challenges at hand.

From time to time, I need to go back and recall the specifics of when God came through on my behalf. There are some swords that are very valuable to me; the swords that decapitated some of the giants I was facing. These swords are proven, trusted. And they provide the confidence I need to slay another giant.

While every battle requires its own strategy, there is nothing like the proven, trusted and effective Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

When in peril, my response will be: “There is none like it; give it to me!”

Let’s Own the Problem

design-1We frequently complain about the condition of the world. I often hear pastors and leaders grumble about the condition of the church they serve. Family members freely voice their disappointments with their family. Employees criticize their supervisors. It seems to be the way of the world.

But here is a thought: Let’s own the problem.

By “owning”, I am referring to the opportunity we have to accept responsibility, perhaps not for creating the problem (although at times we are guilty), but rather, for discovering the solution to the problem.

Sometimes, we like to remove ourselves from the work. We observe a big dilemma and the only answer is a lot of hard work – so we stand on the sidelines and shrug our shoulders. Or, we inherit a bad situation and it’s frustrating to see what a mess someone else has made. In these cases, it is easy to exonerate ourselves from responsibility.

I want to make 2 points very clear here:

  1. Leaders must be willing to clean up messes they did not make

and

  1. If you refuse to be the solution to problem, you are part of the problem.

Pastor, if you’ve been at your current church for more than 3 years, you own the problems, whether or not you created them. No more blaming your predecessor or the church members. If the church has a bad reputation in the community, repair it. If the leaders have no vision, train them. Politicians cannot continue to point fingers at the other party. We didn’t elect you to blame; we elected you to lead. If your neighborhood park is rundown, you can fuss about it on Facebook, or you can organize the community, raise some money, and go to work. Own the problem!

Keep in mind that God has a strategic plan for your life and if you are living in obedience to Him, He has you right where He wants you. Did He place you where you are only to be an observer? In His infinite wisdom, did He create you to be a complaining bystander? No, He put you in your current role so you can bring solutions to problems around you. You can no longer afford to be one who only points out problems – you must now be a solutions-oriented leader!

Moses didn’t enslave the people but God asked him to lead them out of slavery.

Joseph didn’t create the famine but God sent him ahead so he could rescue the entire nation.

Paul didn’t create the storm in Malta but God used him to save all 276 on board the boat.

Please notice that, in the cases above, owning the problem was painful. It cost the problem solvers a great deal. They suffered. But each of them accepted their role. And countless people were eternally indebted to them.

Let’s not minimize the cost of owning today’s problems. Let’s also not mistake this concept for becoming a “fixer.” You are not the Messiah; it is easy to get out of balance in your quest to bring answers. But within the proper parameters, one person can have an incredible positive impact on the dilemmas of this world.

One of the biggest responses we will hear from this proposition is: “the problem is too big for me. I don’t know what to do. It’s out of my scope of capabilities…” Keep this in mind: God can do anything. If you are on His side, if you are working on His team, He can bring the solution. But many times, YOU ARE THE SOLUTION! By this statement, I mean that God has placed the person with the perfect gift mix in the critical place to have the greatest impact in the process of removing of the obstacles that hold people back. You are that person. Let’s accept our role as problem solvers.

Problem solving is an art form. It requires great faith, vision and people skills. Not everyone possesses these gifts, so those that do must exploit them. Until we engage, develop and deploy these problem-solving skills, the problems will persist, and increase.

Keep this in mind: if you can’t or won’t engage the trouble, if you refuse to take ownership, perhaps God will appoint someone else who will.

Until we see ourselves as “owning” the issue, unless we take the reins to lead our way out of a problem, we will continue to make excuses – and the problems will plague us as well as the people we love. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s own it.

Can you Play the Theme Song from Charlie Brown?

Several years ago, I knew a guy who could play the song on the piano, and he could play it very well. At many church social events, he would find his way to a nearby piano and begin to play the song. People would stop and listen and laugh along and talk about how awesome he was. He kept doing this for a while, until people got used to it.

This happy little song brings about warm feelings for many. They think of holidays as a kid. The title of the song is “Linus and Lucy” and it was released in 1964 by jazz pianist, Vince Guaraldi. I’m guessing the song will stay in your head the rest of the day.

At one event, I talked to the guy at our church about his remarkable talent to play the piano. And he told me something unusual. This was the only song he knew how to play. He never took lessons, he didn’t study music. He explained that, as a kid, he spent a lot of time alone. His parents had a piano, so he taught himself how to play that song – only that song. So, apart from the occasional show off session at church social functions, his talent was useless. It served no productive purpose. In addition to being really unusual, it always seemed like such a waste to me. Obviously he had some natural ability. If he had honed those skills and invested his time and energy in something in addition to that one song, who knows what he could’ve done?

Many leaders are “one song leaders.” They have one skill; one talent. Maybe they can sing well or preach powerfully or perhaps they are a good-looking person with a magnetic personality. They ride this talent as often and as far as they can. But much like the guy who could play only one song, they are limited in their effectiveness because they never develop anything more than their “go to” skill. They are able to put on a show, and initially attract a crowd, but eventually people get used to the same old offering and begin to ignore him or her.

Here is the sad part. That guy kept playing that song although people were no longer impressed. This was the only way he knew to get attention, and it no longer worked. I wonder how many of us are still doing the same thing that used to work – but it no longer works? Listen, sometimes, what was effective 10 years ago may no longer be effective today. That is why good leaders grow. They develop new abilities. They are smart enough to recognize when the same old song isn’t cutting it anymore.

Leaders, this is no time for pride or stubbornness. If what you are doing is not working, you need to adjust. If you find fewer people willing to follow, learn a new song. Even better, learn how to “play the piano”, not just one song.

Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!

5 Quick (and Easy) Things You Can Do to Improve Your Leadership Skills

design1. Strategic Reading. No one who leads has a lot of extra time to read everything. And so much of what is available is redundant or shallow. Find your theme, do your research and read. Read less but read deep. Don’t try to retain everything or read too much, but read, and do so strategically.

2. Network with Similar Souls. You need to know you’re not alone. Isolation is dangerous. You need to be encouraged and you need to encourage another leader. Find a friend with whom you can commiserate. Make one another better.

3. Network with Someone who is Different. Don’t sleep with the enemy but find someone who opposes you, stands for the “other side” of things. Don’t argue; dialogue. Don’t seek to change them, seek to gain info, understand more deeply, and learn.

4. Commit to Grow (until you die). When you stop improving, you start failing. Keep learning new things; stay challenged. This requires humility and passion.

5. Serve someone. Don’t look for someone who can pay you back. Don’t serve to be seen. Find someone who doesn’t deserve it. Serve them. Keep quiet about it. Service is the core of leadership.

Ok, I misled you. I said in the title that these things are quick and easy. They are neither. In actuality, these things are hard, sometimes very hard. However, the more you practice them, the quicker and easier they will become. And the impact they will have on your leadership skills makes them well worth the effort. Put them into practice, you and those you lead will be glad you did.