learning to lead

An unbelievably large amount of material has been produced in the last few years on the topic of becoming a better leader. Some people are tired of the subject and others think they are excluded from the conversation because they don’t perceive themselves to be in a leadership position. Neither of these approaches are good because both of them will prevent us from accomplishing what really needs to get done in life. We cannot afford to get tired of studying leadership principles because they are ever-evolving. And yes, you are a leader! That simply means that someone is looking up to you, following you, watching you as an example.

So how do we learn leadership?

Most of us learn by reading. Good leaders are good readers. I think that if you are not perpetually working your way through some type of leadership material, you probably aren’t very serious about improving as a leader. Don’t know where to start? Try your public library. Walmart, amazon.com, and a thousand websites and blogs will provide a lifetime worth of decent material. Just start reading.

Leadership conferences are all the rage these days. I receive invitations to dozens of leadership conferences every month. Many of these meetings are great and offer world-class training. Others aren’t, in my opinion, worth the price of admission.  And I think the trap for some has become, being conference-active and leadership-weak. Eventually we have to stop running around the country listening to Chan and Hybels and Maxwell and we have to get to work. If you’ve been privileged to attend conferences, stay home for a while and use what you’ve learned.

Most people learn by experience. In every one of my leadership appointments, I wasn’t adequately prepared for the challenges that were ahead of me – I had to learn on the fly. There is nothing like trial and error to teach us what to do and what not to do.  This can be a painful experience for both the leader and the followers but it is a necessary element in individual and corporate growth. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool – just be sure you are in a culture that provides life preservers (systems and safety nets for a growing leader).

I learn most by watching a leader in action. Yesterday I was able to be in a lengthy meeting with a leader that I admire. We were wrestling with some tough issues, decisions that had to be made that required strength and courage and wisdom. A few times throughout the day, I watched his facial expressions and his body language.  I listened to the way he addressed his fellow leaders around the table. And I took note. We all observed how he worked his way through a difficult agenda. I think I left the meeting as a better leader.

I learn the most by watching a leader lead. I learn when I follow. Come to think of it, that is how the greatest leader of all time did His best leadership training. Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him. As they spent 3 plus years shadowing Jesus, the disciples learned how to lead, how to respond to critics, how to care for the hurting, how to make decisions. They learned how to live and how to die.

No matter what you are reading, regardless of the latest conference you’ve attended, no matter in what capacity you find yourself leading, my question is: from whom are you learning leadership? Who are you following, observing close enough to learn from? Watch them. If they are a good leader, get closer and emulate them. Lean in. If they are a bad leader, learn what not to do and keep on looking for a good leader to follow.

That’s how we learn to lead.

a missional pooper scooper

Our church has a problem. We seem to be serving as the designated dog-walking park for our neighbors. We are blessed with some nice acreage. It is a park-like atmosphere. And since we are not a public park, many people think they can walk their dogs without cleaning up after them.

I complain regularly about this. It bugs me to look out my office window and see dogs running free, fertilizing our lawn. Most mornings when I come to the church and usually in the evenings when I leave, I see cars parked on our back property with dogs running wild. One night on the way to my small group meeting, I saw a guy allowing his dog to defecate on our front lawn. I actually stopped my car in the street and yelled out at him, “Hey! You are going to pick up after your dog aren’t you?!”. He sheepishly said, “yea”. I think he might have been lying. The whole thing just feels disrespectful to me.

We have a problem. But the problem may not be pooping dogs.  The problem may be our attitude. No doubt, we do not exist to provide a public potty for neighborhood pets. But maybe we should be more engaging of our neighbors. It may be a compliment that they feel at home enough to visit us so frequently. Maybe we should view this as an opportunity to serve, to fill a need. These people love their dogs. Maybe there isn’t another place nearby that is suitable for this use. Could this be a chance to show our neighbors that we care more about them than we do our lawn? Is it feasible that we could better fulfill our mission to change lives for Christ if we engage people right where they are? I am trying to look at this from another angle.

Because it is not an option for our kids to step in doo doo, maybe I need to make a part of my weekly responsibilities the picking up of dog waste. Is it possible that one of our most effective missional activities could be poop scooping?

If this is what is required, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes to see lives changed!

why Easter is bigger than Christmas

Without launching into a theological debate, I want to address a little thought I’ve been having. I think Easter is a bigger deal than Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ while Easter commemorates his death and resurrection from the dead. Obviously you can’t have Easter without Christmas. If Jesus had never been born, He could not have been crucified or raised from the dead. But also, if Jesus had not died and resurrected from the dead, we probably wouldn’t celebrate His birth! I believe, pound for pound, Easter trumps Christmas.

One of the things I find interesting is that Easter doesn’t seem to get the backlash that Christmas does. Aside from the Jewish observation of Passover, Easter doesn’t have a lot of rivals (and the two are certainly connected!). There seem to be very few complaints about the religious nature of the day. Obviously bunnies and eggs have their supporters, but the animosity that comes against Christmas is pretty much absent at Easter. Sure, many public schools no longer observe Easter break, preferring instead to call it Spring Break. But think about the opposition to Christmas. Every year, I dread the same conversations – about how we need to keep Christ in Christmas. I don’t think it helps when Christians spend a lot of time complaining about the commercialism of Christmas. It’s a shame that we even have to have these conversations. Over all, people just seem to go with the flow of Easter, without a lot of pushback.

That’s not my only point. I am using impact as my criteria for assessment.

My observation is that Easter garners a lot more real ministry activity than does Christmas. At least in my circles, this season is massive for reaching out to people who don’t know Christ and who don’t go to church.  Christmas Eve has its punch but nothing equals Easter when considering the number of people who actually go to church services.  It simply has a greater impact. I know that tomorrow, over twice as many people will come to our church than who attend on any given Sunday. There is something to this Easter thing!

Now my hope is that the impact of Easter will last longer than one day, or one week. We are praying for an eternal impact in the lives of lots of people.  In churches all over the world, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus will be told. Let’s ask God to change the lives of everyone who hears the message!

Nothing against Christmas but Easter rocks! What say you?

where’s the passion?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes referred to as Passion Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and extending to Easter, we recall the Passion of Christ, the road He walked that led Him to the cross. It’s a great time for Christ-followers to get re-focused on matters of faith and worship.

Leading into this season of ministry, there are many times that I ask the question, “where is the passion?” Obviously, Christ cared enough and was committed enough to do whatever it took to save us. But it seems, at times, that there is a lack of response on the part of those of us who have been saved. Allow me to explain:

On any given Sunday, during music and worship, I am amazed at how many people have no response. I mean they either just stand or sit there, expressionless, unmoved. They don’t sing, or in any other way engage in the music. I realize one can worship by listening but there is no getting around the idea that we are told in scripture to sing, clap our hands and worship God. Outward worship is simply a way to express love for God, it is a “spilling over” of what is in our spirits. I wonder, do these people sense anything in their hearts? Are they, in any way, moved in their spirits? Sometimes I preach about God’s love, His sacrifice, His intense desire to know us…and there are times when there is no response. In these times, I have to ask, “where is the passion?” This explains why the average Christian will not be in a local worship gathering at church tomorrow.  Recent research indicates that church attendance doesn’t mean what it used to for Christ-followers. Where is the passion?

The real issue isn’t with what is happening or not happening in corporate worship gatherings. I think Sunday is just a snapshot of the rest of life. I believe that the cares of life have acted like wet blanket on a fire. Stress kills passion. Pain has a way of burying it. Distractions prevent us from feeling and discouragement prevents us from expressing love for God.

One of the more disconcerting parts for me is, people don’t seem to hold back in their passion for other things.  Tonight’s NCAA Basketball Final Four will blow up Facebook and Twitter. This certainly is a season of political posturing – most people will gladly let you know where they stand on the issues. But spirituality has become taboo for many people in our culture – including those who have been saved from hell by God. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I am asking you to reconsider your approach and response to God, especially during Passion Week. He gave everything for you. How does that make you feel? Can you contain those feelings on the inside without outwardly expressing them in some way? God doesn’t need your passionate worship, but He wants it – and certainly deserves it.

Tomorrow, I will preach a message at Cross Community Church entitled: Pasión por la Vida. It will describe how passion for eternal life for you and me drove Jesus to the cross. And I plan to challenge the people of our church to be passionate in their response to the Passion of Jesus. Join us if you are able.

critics are a dime a dozen

Today’s post is a bit of a rant. Allow me to vent, just a little.

Again today, I saw some shining examples of people who get a kick out of shooting holes in the efforts of others who are doing God’s work. There seems to be a steady supply of “experts” whose sole purpose is to expose what others are doing wrong. I will use this as my format to request that unless you are doing something better than what someone else is doing, please leave them alone.

No, I didn’t get criticized today. But some good friends and organizations that I support did. Our efforts to reach the lost and minister to the hurting will ALWAYS be met with criticism. It happened to Jesus, I suppose we should be honored when it happens to us. But we don’t feel honored – we feel frustrated! My experience is, those who are always telling me a better way of fulfilling the mission of Jesus, do nothing to fulfill the mission themselves.

Here are some over-generalized statements on how I feel: Armchair quarterbacks are all talk and no action. People who tell guitar players they are too loud, can’t play one song. Those who tell preachers their theological mistakes don’t have the guts to preach even one message. Those who criticize the efforts of missionaries to spread the love of Jesus are too lazy to lift a finger for the Gospel’s sake. I know several who qualify for the above generalizations!

Elbert Hubbard said, “To escape criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Kind of like our critics, huh?

I love how Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they criticized Him for healing the sick on the Sabbath.  He simply ignored them and got on with the healing. Awesome!

Anyone interested in personal and spiritual growth understands and embraces the value of constructive criticism. We all need that. But none of us need the aggravation that comes from perpetually negative critique.

Friends, don’t let some naysayer discourage you. Do what God tells you. And forget the knuckleheads who are doing nothing.

Ok, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Oh, and if you disagree with me on this, keep it to yourself. We are too busy doing God’s work to care what you think! 🙂