Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Danger of Character (Part 1)

He sat in his tent with tears running down his cheeks. Usually a stoic man, now he could not hold back the sobs that pierced the early morning. His sister had always watched out for him. Cared for him when he was just a little boy, traveled with him through the desert. She had celebrated with him, and mourned with him. Now, he was alone, her body buried on the mountain. He had known that she had been getting old, but he had been avoiding acknowledging it. The trip up the mountain was too much for her, and her body just gave up. Now, all he was left with was his brother Aaron, who was even older than his sister and would be gone soon enough. He felt like blaming God, felt like it was unjust. He felt angry at his people, who were just too stubborn. Most of all, he felt empty without Miriam.

Suddenly, Joshua called from outside the tent:
"Moses, the people are complaining again. They want you to hear their grievances"
Moses stood up slowly and tried to collect himself.
"What do they want?" Moses asked with a sarcastic tone. "They didn't get enough beauty sleep? Is the manna too dry for them? Or do they want meat again?"
"Water, sir." Joshua replied. "There isn't any for miles around. They're getting violent. They say that they wish they had died back when the Lord killed the followers of Korah, because they're dying of thirst."
Moses felt rage bubbling up inside, another complaint from these people. After all that Moses and the Lord had done for them! Tears began to well up in his eyes again. Thoughts racing through his mind. Why didn't someone tell me earlier? Perhaps they would riot. They might break camp, and try to go back to Egypt. More tears. How in the world was he supposed to fix this? He was just a man doing his best to try to lead God's people into the promise land. God! He thought back to the last time they went without water, the Lord had provided. He needed to seek the Lord again.

With Aaron by his side, Moses fell down at the entrance of the tabernacle. In a moment, the glory of God filled the room. The fear, the anger, the hurt all vanished, only wonder and worship were left. God spoke to Moses:
"Take the staff, and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and water will pour out of it."
In a great gust of wind, the presence of the Lord was gone, and Moses and Aaron were again alone.
"Speak to the rock?" Aaron asked Moses. "I thought we just hit the rock with the staff the last time."
"This is the Lord's will." Replied Moses. "This is what we must do."

An hour later, the whole community had arrived in front of a large rock that the Lord had pointed out to Moses and Aaron. Leaning on the staff, Moses overlooked the assembly with a glare. They whispered to one another, mocking Moses and Aaron, and the rock they were going to "speak" to. Their eyes watched, judging Moses and his leadership. The different heads of the tribes didn't say a word, but watched, waiting for Moses to mess up. The crowd grew louder and louder, and Moses grew more and more furious. Screaming at the top of his lungs he said:
"Alright you rebels! You want water, do you? Fine! Have it!"
With that, he took the staff, and began striking the boulder.
The staff collided with stone and water began to dribble out. He yelled again, raising the staff for a second swing. It wasn't about the rock anymore. He wanted the people to fear him. He wanted them to just shut up.
They question his character, they question his qualifications, they question his power! No more!
He pulled back for another strike, when suddenly a flood of water poured out of the rock, knocking Moses off his feet.
"Leave me alone!" Moses protested as Joshua tried to help him up. "I can take care of myself!"
As Moses stood to his feet, a chill ran down his spine. The people cheered, and began to drink from the rock. Moses' heart sunk. He had failed. As fast as he could, he and Aaron ran back to the tabernacle, falling down at the entrance. The presence of God, felt hot and convicting.
"You didn't trust me to show my holiness to the Israelites." The words of the Lord like hammers on his heart. "You will not bring my people into the promised land."
Tears ran down Moses' face, the words of the Lord echoing in his mind. Just like Miriam, he would die in the desert.

Wow. I know God is just, but I feel sorry for Moses. Having worked so hard for the people of Israel, trying his best to serve God, and struggling with the everyday struggles of life. Moses let the attacks on his character and identity define his actions. That is, Moses allowed for what people were saying about him to shape the way he acted. In the life of a leader, the words of man should not be the basis of our work. Instead, a Godly leader must be one that is based on Jesus.
But, I'll discuss what that means next week.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Church Without Google

Francis Chan is one of my favorite preachers. I enjoy listening to him because he's insightful, witty, and authentic in his preaching. Yet, at times, I dislike it because he brings up the areas I need work in. In a sermon I was listening to today, Mr. Chan addresses something that's been bothering me recently. What do we mean when we say church? Perhaps some background is in order.

This summer, the bible study I'm a part of will be going through a series called "The Elephant Plant". The goal is to figure out how to go about planting a church in a very practical way. As I was preparing the overview for the summer, I found myself struggling with a very basic question. What is church? This is so important to me, since I want to be a pastor. I want to lead the church, but what am I wanting to lead?

I was tempted to just google the answer and get some theologian's treatise on the word. Or, perhaps just rely at what I had seen on Sunday mornings. However, I decided on a different approach. I looked at the bible. I decided to hit some of the major passages I knew taught about the church, and tried to read them point blank. I'm not too comfortable with what I found.

In Acts 2:41-47, the first picture of the church is given. I suppose the gathering of the disciples before Pentacost counts, but this is the first picture of the Holy Spirit filled church. That Holy Spirit part seems to be important. After some time, the church gets persecuted by the Jews, and gets scattered (Acts 11). Oddly enough, instead of trying to regroup, they just plant churches wherever they end up. Later, Paul, one of the lead church planters gives a picture of the leadership in these churches. In Acts 14:21-28, Paul appoints "elders" to lead the church. Later, in a letter to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul explains the qualifications of these elders, and names another group involved in the church who he calls: "deacons". In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he lists gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit to each individual, and how each gift works together to build the church.

First off - what the heck is a deacon? I mean, my church has ushers, but somehow I doubt that passing out cards and the offering bucket is really what deacons are for. Second, I don't see a pastor position specifically named, though it seems that Timothy had a role similar to our idea of it. Third, while there were house churches and large churches, they weren't staying in one spot. They were always moving out, always planting new churches wherever they ended up.

I'm concerned that I can't lead a church, because I'm not sure what church is. I'm no expert, and I'm by no means against modern church. Yet, what I see in the bible doesn't seem to fit to our modern understanding of it. The role of deacon seems pretty important, whatever role they have. Likewise, I wonder if my focus should really be on being the best pastor that I can. Maybe getting the qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3 should be my goal.
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy— one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
I may not know what everything looks like, but I do know that I can work towards these qualities. Whatever a leader in the church looks like, I want to have the character sufficient for it. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Days of Future Present

Geez, I guess I lost track of time after finals and haven't written a post since then! My last semester was a bit of a beast, and I needed a week or two to not do anything. I hope to be a bit more on top of writing.

In my down time, I found myself thinking about the future. I tend to daydream about what I want to do with my life. I've been planning to go to Brigham Young University in the Fall of 2014, and have been researching different seminaries to attend afterwards. A few weeks ago, I was even looking at mission programs in certain countries. In the midst of this, I've been preparing something for the Monday night bible study called the "Elephant Plant", where we'll be learning how to plant a church!

When I found myself thinking about the future, there were certain character traits and habits that I saw in my future me. I would be much more humble, and generous with my money. I would be constantly telling people about Jesus, and intentionally making disciples. This future me was committed to constant prayer, well versed in the bible, and a passionate worshiper. This all sounds like some idealistic dream, and I really doubt that my future will look exactly like I imagine. Despite that, this future is unobtainable if I do not make efforts to obtain it. 

My younger brother plays an online game called League of Legends. The game is immensely popular as an e-sport, and provides opportunity for several players to make a living by competing in tournaments, much like regular sports. I asked my brother how someone could become a pro-gamer who made a living off of League of Legends.
"Well, they'd have to be willing give up everything else in life and do nothing but League [of Legends]" He replied.

This video about a professional gamer, Doublelift, illustrates how much some people give up to make a living playing a video game. Becoming a pro-gamer seems like a dream to most people, and is, until someone is willing to make the sacrifices in order to do it.

This idea of sacrifice reminds me of a story I once heard. There was a certain prospector, who was looking through some old geological surveys of a small Texan town. To his delight, he realized that there was oil beneath a particularly worthless looking stretch of land. He then sold his house, his cars, and anything else he could, just to buy and drill for oil in that field. Is this sounding familiar? This story is the same parable that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44. This is what the Christian life looks like; an individual giving up everything they have for someone greater. 

How does this all tie together? In order to be that servant leader that I want to be in the future, I need to serve now, where I'm at. In order to be a missionary to some foreign nation, I need to be a missionary in my own community now. In order to be a "prayer warrior", I need to sacrifice time in my schedule for prayer now. There is an inherent danger for Christians to daydream about what their lives could be, if they only stay in the daydream. My brother might play League of Legends a lot, but he only plays for 3 or 4 hours a day. Professionals may devote 12 to 14 hours a day to the game! The prospector sells everything he owes to buy that oil field. Likewise, the leader must be willing to go "all in", for the sake of something much greater.

It's important to note that though Christians do some of the work, ultimately Jesus is the one who will change them. For some reason, I think He changes and molds Christians to be like Him, as much as they let Him. This isn’t to say that Jesus’ power is limited, rather that He lets us choose to be a part of what He’s doing. I want my life to be positioned for Jesus so that I experience the fullness of the future God has for me. That is why I believe that those dreams I have for the future will require action in the present. I need to make room in my life. In regards to leadership, I need to make room to grow. In regards to my Christianity, I need to make room for Jesus to work. What is unobtainable in my own power is obtainable in Him.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

No, you go first.

Recently, I've had to face one of my shortcomings in leadership. I was sharing some of the things I have planned for the summer concerning the Monday night bible study with a good friend of mine. Our theme this summer is church planting 101, where we, a group of unexperienced teenagers, look at what the bible says about building Christian communities everywhere we go and then do it. I was excited about all the things that we'll be covering, how to study the bible, how to train up young Christians, and how to evangelize. Now, I'm far more comfortable with the first two than with the third. As an introvert, going out of my way to talk to people is extremely hard. The idea of sharing Jesus with someone is rather terrifying for me. As I was bringing my fears up to my friend, he offered to help me to learn. What a fantastic example of leadership! He is willing to walk me through my difficulty and show me how to do it. I can't explain how much this affected me. Not only because it will help me to face my shortcomings, but because I don't have to lead the charge alone.

When I read about John the Baptist, I don't envy him. John was a scraggly man from the wilderness near Jordan. With long tangled hair, he stood by the banks of the Jordan and preached repentance. He wasn't an eloquent speaker, but people flocked to be baptized. Why? We read in the Book of Luke that John's job was to prepare the hearts of the people for Jesus. (Luke 7:25-30) He planted seeds for Jesus to harvest. When Jesus did show up, the most John got to do was dunk Jesus in the water. While it was a great honor, John didn't get to go around with Jesus while He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. Instead, John did his job, and got rewarded by being thrown in prison. (Luke 3:18-20) Hardly seems like a just reward for John, especially with all the hard work He did.

John the Baptist reminds me of the infantry scouts. Infantry scouts of the U.S. Military have the dangerous job of going out before the rest of the units, and scouting out the enemy location. As Spc. Serrano Brooks notes: "We're the ones the enemy aims for...". I have a hard time imagining anyone willingly signing up for that job. Much like John, they go ahead and prepare the way. The scouts don't have the safest job, nor do they get much glory for their work. Nevertheless, their job is essential for the success of the unit.

I used to live along the shore of a densely wooded reservoir. Whenever friends visited, I would take them along the hidden paths in the woods around the lake. The paths were fairly easy to follow in the winter when the foliage wasn't as thick, but in the spring, it was a complete jungle. A times like those, I always had to go ahead of my friends to show them where the path was, usually overgrown and hidden by greenery. Sometimes it meant I had to push a bush out of the way, or make a new path through the dense vegetation. 

How does that relate to my earlier problems with evangelism? Leaders often have the same job as John the Baptist or the scouts. Leadership is often blazing a trail for those who will follow us. (Insert obligatory reference to The Road to El Dorado). Leaders have to be walking in front of, preparing the way for, and taking the risks for the sake of those who will follow. John led people to a place where they would be open to receive Jesus, while not getting any glory himself. The scouts go in front of their unit, and locate the enemy. They risk their lives to pave a way for victory. Much like I did along the shores of the reservoir, I make the path for others in the way I'm leading.

Being a trail blazer in my life means that I have to be disciple making before I tell anyone to do it. It means I have to prepare a safe place to grow in maturity. Lastly, it means that I have to take the risks of evangelizism and being uncomfortable, so that I can be the leader I'm called to be. As I expressed to my friend, this can be a lonely job. I don't like going it alone, and sometimes I have to. Thankfully, God is graceful, and my friend is willing to work with me. My friend has already blazed the trail, and now he is teaching me how to walk down it. I'm not risking it alone, and the reward is great.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When Sons Become Fathers

It's hard to believe that 16 weeks have past since I started this semester. This has been my second semester at NOVA, and my first time blogging consistently. It's certainly been an interesting experience and the consistency has been, at times, challenging. I had started this semester thinking that while I was not an expert leader, I was fairly experienced. It's funny how you realize how little you know about something by learning more about it. I learned quite a few new aspects of leadership this semester, I've also relearned some essential truths of leadership. I think I'd like to highlight two that really stood out to me this semester that I've written on, and then one truth about leadership that I've been learning these past two weeks. The end goal of Christian leadership is not to lead the people to a goal, it's to lead people to lead. 

Get back to the basics. 
I'm so glad that for the first few weeks of blogging I did. I examined my motivation, and my vision. Examining my motivation has been a huge factor in my life as a leader this semester. In February, I was forced to examine why I was leading a certain bible study. I had let my pride and insecurity lead the group, and had to reevaluate the reason I was coming to the bible study. Recently, I had been praying for numerical growth for the same bible study, and had to examine my motivation again. Am I praying for growth because I want to be leading more people? Am I praying for growth so that more people can draw closer to God? In the campus bible study, I had to ask myself several times what the vision of the group was, and where we needed to be going. The vision I was given was of a place where Christians from all over the campus can gather and be family to one another. I'm happy to report that it's precisely what we're doing. Motivation and vision are fundamental in leadership. Without regular evaluation, leaders fall into unhealthy and sometimes harmful patterns of leadership.

Treat it seriously
I'm kinda ashamed to admit it, but I really did not take my leadership role at the campus bible study very seriously for the first few weeks. I was tired, juggling classes, and dealing with other issues. Because of that, the Christian Student Union (CSU) slipped to the wayside. Because of that, we had inconsistent vision, confusion who we were supposed to be, and worse, drove some people away. If a leader is given responsibility, they must commit to it as they are able. I agreed to lead the group, and for as long as I am needed as a leader, I must serve in the capacity that I am able. Leadership is a big responsibility, and I need to treat it as such.

Lead them to Leave
More often than not, most Christian leadership takes place in church. What is this vague entity, the church? I think the best definition I can give is that the church is the community of Christians committed to Christ on mission in the world. In the bible, the church is referred to as a bride (2 Cor. 11:2). The imagery of a bride has a twofold meaning. Firstly, it refers to the total commitment of the church to Jesus, just as an engaged couple are committed to one another. Secondly, I believe it uses this imagery to paint the picture of a living entity. The church in it's truest form is not a building, idea or a specific group of people. Rather, the church is the living active representative of God on the earth. An organism that is constantly on the move. This is important for every church leader to understand. Why? Because the living aspect of the church changes the way that Christians lead.

This past week, I encountered an opossum in my backyard. The opossum seemed rather bloated, and my mother made an acute observation. The opossum was pregnant. Like everything we consider alive, it reproduces. Soon, I hope to see little opossum pups running around the yard. (Hopefully not in the house!) In the same way, a church should reproduce and create more churches. In turn, those churches will plant more churches, and ultimately fulfill the Great Commission given by Jesus, that is, to go and make disciples of all people (or ethic) groups (Mat. 28:18-20). The bible study that I lead on Monday nights should not remain a solitary bible study, but rather, should spread across the world. That means that Christian leaders have a specific job: to train your followers to be leaders.

It’s a bittersweet job, to know that the more that come in, the more will be sent out. This summer, I am going to be saying goodbye to a great number of my friends as they go off to other universities, cities, and seasons of life. My goal is to equip them to be the church wherever they go. Out of this, good news will spread to every campus, town, city, people group, and to the world. The calling of a leader is hardly an easy one, not always a comfortable one, but without question a wonderful and honorable call.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Responding to Tragedy

Monday, a horrible bombing took place in Boston. With three people dead and over a hundred wounded, it's a grim week in America. As I thought on this atrocity, I wondered what my response ought to be. Certainly one of grief in the face of death of destruction. As a Christian, I should also be praying. However, as a leader, what am I supposed to do? I think I have three reflections on the Christian leader's response.

1. Acknowledge Evil
I think culture enjoys moral relativity. That is, we like to think that what's "bad" for one person isn't "bad" for another, and the same with "good". Christians hold to objective morality, where good and evil aren't matters of opinion, rather absolute truth. When horrific events like this occur, we can say with confidence that the bombing was an evil event that produced evil things, such as death, loss, and suffering. Christian leaders must declare the evil nature of tragedies, and mourn with others over the tyrannical reign of evil.

2. Preach Hope
As leaders mourn with others, they should ask what hope they can offer. From a naturalistic worldview, (the view that the natural world is all that is, and was, and will be), there is little hope to offer. There is some hope that the bombers will caught and held accountable for their actions, some hope that the injured will get better, but, what else can leaders really offer people? It seems that, no matter how hard we try, everyone eventually dies, sickness and evil seems to win. Christian leaders know something the world doesn't. Death has been defeated. Christian leaders must proclaim the victory of God over evil, and preach the hope that death and sickness are not the end.

3. Pray
The past few days, the #prayforboston hashtag has been trending on twitter. It's good to see that the entire nation sees the importance of prayer. Certainly every Christian should be praying, but I believe the prayers of leaders are of special importance. In the book of Nehemiah, a young leader named Nehemiah hears that his people are living in ruins, constantly in danger and under oppression. What is his response? Prayer. He spends days fasting and pleading with God for his people. God responds to his prayer, and gives Nehemiah a chance to return to his people, and help rebuild their city. Christian leaders have the great opportunity to pray on behalf of those who they lead, and should petition God on behalf of the people of Boston.

In the midst of my grieving and brokenheartedness over the events in Boston, I was convicted of some hypocrisy in my prayer. I claim to be a person who follows the bible, but I don't like taking Jesus' command to "love your enemies" (Mat. 5:43) literally. In my prayers, I was happy to ask for healing and justice for the victims, but nothing good for the bomber(s). The hard truth is that Christian leaders have the responsibility to plead for mercy on behalf of the bomber(s), for their healing, and for hope for them too. I was once in a place of loneliness and desperation, and I had a sort of self-hatred, and if I had stayed that way, I very well could have been the Boston bomber. Jesus saved me out of that place. I believe that Jesus saves despicable people, even murders and terrorists. My job as a leader is to pray for them, and set that example of unconditional love for other Christians under me. I can think of no better way to lead, then in love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sometimes You're the "Bad Guy"

I had some trouble today finding what I wanted to talk about. I was rather busy with other schoolwork, and with a particular situation with a bible study I lead. A young gentlemen from this group had asked if he could lead the discussion for the next meeting, and I was happy to let him. Although, because of my responsibilities as a leader, I asked that he could send me an overview of his lesson, just so I'd get a better idea of what he was saying. I ask this of anyone in my groups who hopes to lead a discussion, just a formality to ensure that the group is not led astray. I had never had a problem with this, before today. When this young man sent me a summary of what he'd be teaching on, not only was it a rather obscure and unimportant topic, but he claimed some complete myths. So, I did the hard thing: I told him that he could not teach the lesson. I haven't heard back from him, and he didn't show up to the meeting. As I considered all of this, I occurred to me that it'd be a great blog post. Christian leaders have to be the "bad guys" sometimes in order to protect the people God's given to them.  

Why do they need to be protected? Well, can I let you in on a secret? The church isn't perfect. We have debates, we get petty, we get selfish, and we do stupid things. Don't get me wrong; the church is a beautiful thing. A group of screwed up people all being made less screwed up by a perfect God, and then sharing that God with the rest of the world.  The problem is, we do still have those issues, and someone has to deal with them. Enter: the leader. The leader acts as the mediator, a teacher, and when necessary, the protector of the people from danger.

Paul, writing to a young leader Timothy, charges him to "Proclaim the message, persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 HCSB). The idea of rebuking, correcting, and encouraging form the three ways that a leader goes about resolving these conflicts within churches.

On occasion, I work with the kindergarden age kids at my church. Generally, these are nice kids, but sometimes, there aren't enough firetrucks to go around, and a disagreement starts. When one child is being selfish and refusing to share their toy, in my best attempt at a loving manner, I tell the little boy or girl that he or she needs to share, and that being selfish is wrong. Though Webster would define it as "to criticize sharply", to rebuke in the context of the Christian community is focused on locating sin or a major spiritual or physical health issue, and pleading with an individual to change. Practically, it means telling one's porn addicted Christian friend that what they're doing isn't right, and they cannot keep living in sin. The leader’s rebuke must be motivated by love for the health of the Christian.  

Correction is different from rebuking in a less than obvious way. While rebuke requires someone to turn away from an action and turn to something else, correction is about the way that action takes place. A young man who was a part of a bible study I led was passionate about sharing the news about Jesus, but didn't always do it gracefully. He had a habit of using "Christianese," which led to some confusion with the non-Christian people he was talking to. I brought this up to him, and offered a suggestion on how to communicate the gospel using everyday language. He certainly wasn't doing anything wrong, but there was a better way to do what he was doing.

Sometimes overlooked, encouragement is universally understood by Christians and non-Christians alike. When a leader is encouraging, they are focused on building up the good that someone is doing, and calling attention to the gifts and abilities that the individual has. My pastor is constantly encouraging me in the work that I'm doing, both in my musical giftings, and in the leadership I have been given. A leader cannot forget to encourage alongside of correction and rebuking. Our job is not to tear the individual down, rather it's to lead them to the fullness of the future that God has for them.

So, what's with the "bad guy" talk in the beginning? Because sometimes, people aren't open to rebuke, or correction, or even encouragement. Like I shared before, the people who go to church aren't perfect, and some become extremely unhealthy to the rest of the group. Much like a teacher would kick out a problem causing student, Church leaders sometimes have to kick out problem causing people. I don't like it. I hate conflict and the idea of not including someone. Thankfully, the issue with the gentlemen today probably won't come to that. However, sometimes, a leader needs to step in the authority given them by God to protect the people from danger. Being a leader isn’t always a glorious job, and sometimes, it means hurting people’s feelings. How wonderful it is to know that God brings healing to hurt people.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Superman of the Soul

"I'm nothing more than a charity case to you!" The words hit me like a pile of bricks. My face went pale as the words sunk in. I had no response for her, only silence. I simply didn't know what to say. I had known this young woman for a while, and she had let me in on some of the inner struggles she had been facing. God put me in a place where I could recognize some of the problem causers in her life, and I thought I knew how to handle them. I had been talking to her, giving advice, and trying to fix the problem. Everything seemed to be going great until she expressed her frustration, and explained the flaw in what I was doing. In the midst of trying to lead her out of some very dark times, I was trying to be the hero. Looking back on it, I realize I was doing it wrong, in three specific ways.

1. I was trying to do it for her, not with her:
I believe leaders, Christian leaders in particular, have fallen into the "do it for them" mentality. In my house, my mother is completely computer illiterate. Every time that something doesn't work, I have to come in and troubleshoot the problem. (Usually fixed by the I.T. crowd answer.) Unfortunately, my mother isn't learning how to fix things, I'm the one fixing them. Some leaders tend to fix the problem, without teaching anyone what was wrong, or how they fixed it. Christian leaders are especially guilty of this, giving one-way sermons and lectures that give an answer to a problem, (like why Christians believe sex outside of marriage is wrong), but never explaining why. Real development, both spiritual and physical, happens when the learner is a part of the fixing process.  

2. I was technical support, not a friend:
It's hard for me to make friends. I am not a psychologist, and so I am not entirely sure why, but I can guess it has something to do with my dislike of trusting people. What I see myself, and other leaders doing is a whole lot of involving themselves in other peoples lives, but not letting people into theirs. Many Christian leaders are seeing leadership like airdropping supplies into Haiti. We give them food, clothes, and medicine, and we don’t have to meet the people in their poverty and discomfort. Leaders who write books, offer counsel, and get involved in the lives of others, all whilst never letting people into theirs. Tragically, I see this in my own life, and have tried to lead that way. However, as Jo Saxton points out - it doesn't work. Leaders need to have a two-way relationship with those they lead.

3. I was the solution:
As I've shared before, I'm a comic book nerd. Every comic's story differs in small details, but usually follows the same flow. As the three act trope dictates: We are introduced to the good guys and bad guy in act one.  The heroes run into some difficulty in the second act, but in the third act, defeat the bad guys and save the day. There is a certain degree of comfort with this model, the heroes are always the solution to the problem. In a way, the bible teaches the same three act story, with one major difference: we aren't the heroes. Some politicians, business strategists, and pastors go into their respective fields with the idea that they are the solution to the problems of the world. As we've seen with this recent debt crisis, more politicians are probably not the answer. Pastors are not the solution to the problems of the people, rather they only point to the solution.  

When this friend of mine brought this up to me, I was shell-shocked. I wish I could say that the above account was a single isolated event, but it wasn't. This has been a consistent problem with the way that I've been leading. Thankfully, I’m recognizing it quicker. I'm learning to lead others to the answer, instead of just giving it to them. I'm trying to let people into my lives, despite my dislike of it. Finally, as God has been repeatedly showing me: I'm not the hero. I'm convinced more and more every day that Jesus is the hero, and my job as a leader is to assist Him in what He's doing. I’m not doing it perfectly, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it totally right; but the hero, my hero, always saves the people in the end.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Prince Became a Pauper

This upcoming Easter Sunday celebrates the center of the Christian belief, the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, this week also has another holiday of great importance, namely Passover. The feast of Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance that God provides for the Israelite people. For Christians, the holiday is sometimes observed in remembrance of the “last supper”. According to the gospel accounts of Jesus' days before His death, He celebrated Passover with His disciples the night He was betrayed. At Passover, Jesus did something that was radically countercultural for the time: He washed His disciples feet. In the Jewish culture, washing someone's feet was something that the women (Jewish Encyclopedia) or servants (Jackson) did. Not the host, and certainly not a rabbi! Jesus was setting a standard for the future leaders under Him. The leaders are to be the servants.
(Taken from

In 1964, businessman Robert K. Greenleaf published an essay titled "The Servant as a Leader," in which he argued that the most effective way to lead was to be a servant ( That is, the person who is most interesting in serving and caring for a group should be the one who leads it. Servant leadership is an inverted business model. The traditional view of leadership within a company might resemble the comic strip Dilbert. The employees working for a boss, the boss's job is to manage and direct what they need to be doing, and then taking credit for what they do. The inverted model of leadership suggests that the boss's job is to work for his employees that they can do their job more effectively. The boss still leads and manages, but acts as a steward of the work that goes on, instead of a director. This inverted model that Greenleaf championed was not a brand new idea, but rather the same thing that Jesus taught, the we have to serve first, lead second.

Yet, one has to ask the question: is this a practical leadership model? While in our ivory towers of philosophical musing, have we overlooked reality? Groups need leaders so that there can be consistent direction and purpose. The leader takes responsibility for those under them, and guides them to a purpose. Can a leader really do this and still serve their followers? Not everyone thinks so. According to Nathan Colquhoun, servant leadership doesn't work because the title leader, or the position of leadership, is directly opposed to serving. He argues that Jesus did not teach His disciples to be servant leaders, just servants. He says: "Our problem is that we have way too many people thinking they are leaders and not servants. Servant-leadership doesn’t count. There is no such thing. Just be a servant. Let the leadership lingo slip from your language. If people end up following you, don’t focus on that, just keep serving."

While Colquhoun has a valid point, our focus should not be on title, I disagree with his dichotomy of leadership and servanthood. To ignore the responsibility of leadership in the name of service is just as bad as not serving those whom one is leading. As I shared in a blog post a few weeks ago, leadership is a huge responsibility, and if a leader fails to recognize their position, they are in danger of neglecting their duty as a leader. It is not the title that makes the leader, however, with or without a title, the responsibility of a leader must be recognized. It seems that leadership and servant-ship have a "yin-yang" relationship. Almost like Jesus knew what He was talking about.

To answer the earlier question; does servant leadership work? According to the Navy SEALs, yes. Former Navy SEAL and author Brent Gleeson noted, that Navy SEALs understand servant leadership and can do it effectively because:
...a SEAL is trained to lead and to follow. Team leaders are strong and bold, and have the ability to make hard decisions under the most extreme conditions imaginable. But they also encourage their team members to step up, share the power, and not hesitate to take care of business without waiting for further instruction.
If the Navy SEALs, (who are essentially the Rangers of the North of the real world), along with Greenleaf, and Jesus, believe in and practice servant leadership, shouldn't we?

When Jesus washed His disciple's feet, the sheer level of humility and servanthood was far greater and grander than most CEOs or even Navy SEALs could ever imagine. The bible teaches that Jesus was not merely a nice guy, but rather God Himself, who lowered Himself to be a human. At Passover, as they celebrated and remembered the provision of God for the Israelites, Jesus was preparing to be a provision for the whole world. The betrayal, beatings, and then the brutal crucifixion all were acts of sacrificial servant leadership. If the ruler of all reality became a lowly servant for the people who killed Him, what right do modern Christian leaders have to not serve?

Colquhoun, Nathan, "Servant Leadership Doesn't Work",, Sep. 16, 2010, web. Mar. 27 2013
Gleeson, Brent. "Servant First, Leader Second",, Feb. 1 2013. web. Mar. 27 2013
Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, "About the Robert K. Greenleaf Center",, n.d., web. Mar. 26 2013
Jackson, Wayne, "Did Jesus Institute Ceremonial Foot Washing?",, 2013, web. Mar. 26 2013
Jewish Encyclopedia, "Foot Washing",, 1906, web. Mar. 26 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

...Fear my power, Green Lantern's light!

I'm a pretty huge comic book nerd. In recent months I've started following Green Lantern. In the Green Lantern series, there are magical rings throughout which are powered by certain emotions. Green rings are powered by willpower, red rings are powered by rage, and so on. The rings choose people based on their strength in the respective emotion.The only problem is that a single individual cannot use two rings as once. Each lantern must focus and control their specific emotion, and use it to save the galaxy. There are also talking squirrels, emotional entities, and blood magic, but that's another subject for another day. In short, I believe that church leaders share some distinct similarities with the Green Lanterns.

When it comes to Christian leadership, most of the focus is placed on pastors, teachers, or public speakers. Yet, I would say there are three (very) broad categories of leaders in the church. As Mark Driscoll would put it, there are prophets, priests, and kings. The three titles come from the offices of leadership that Jesus has. Jesus is a prophet, that is, He speaks from God to the people. Jesus is a priest, which meant that He speaks for the people to God. Finally, Jesus is a king, who has authority over the church. Within the church, there are three different types of leaders that make up the leadership of church. I like to think of these three as different "power rings", that each leader can wield. So, what does it look like?

Prophets in the traditional sense are those who give divine revelation (Webster). Prophets in the Old Testament often warned about impending destruction, but also instructed the people, and gave wisdom. In the modern day, the church identifies 'prophets' as those gifted in teaching, preaching, and discerning. A prophet is not confined to the walls of the church, but apply to teachers at a college, people on debate teams, or even some politicians! A prophet style leader can be found in the secular world with a PR director, or any spokesmen for a company. The prophet's focus is instruction and truth, loving to read long books or articles on a seemingly insignificant topic in order to better understand it. Prophets are fueled by knowledge, but often can become self-righteous and prideful.

The concept of priest is perhaps the most alien to our modern culture of the three. A priest was in charge of worshiping God in the temple, bring the concerns of the people before God, and caring for the people's spiritual needs. Modern priests are not exactly living in elaborate temples killing animals and then cooking them as a form of worship (at least, I hope not). Instead, modern priests are found living in run down areas of town, showing God’s love for the broken, and feeding the poor. A priest leads the local people of God to love and care for the needs of the world around them. In a modern business, I supposed that a priest might be found leading the human resources department. These priests are fueled by compassion, but can ditch truth along the way of helping people.

A "king" leader is much more administratively focused. Kings like using graphs, charts, and large text files full of information. Kings set up systems to keep things running, lay down a long term plan, and organize whatever they're leading effectively. In the business world, a king might be a CFO or CEO. Last week, I did my taxes for the first time, thankfully, I didn't do it alone. A friend of a friend was a tax expert, and helped my mother and I file our taxes. What was incredulous to me was the absolute joy she found in doing taxes. She had a head for numbers, and was definitely a king style leader. Kings like her are fueled by structure and order, but can get so trapped in it that the world breaks down when things don't go according to plans.

As we've seen, each of the three have strengths and weaknesses. Now, a church, a business, or just a club might be able to handle things on their own with just one of these types of people. Likewise, in the green lantern universe, the Green Lanterns generally handle things themselves. This was the status quo for many years, the Green Lanterns being the space police and stopping ne'er-do-wells. Recently however, a new series has launched. "Green Lantern: New Guardians", which has a team of different colored lanterns, green, red, blue and more. Like the horrible cliche of every superhero team's origin story: they realize that only together can they stop their foes! I think it's about time that the church form's their own "New Guardians". Church leaders all have short comings, and can't master all three rings. What leaders can do is focus on what they're good at, and work along side of other leaders who are gifted in the same areas. Together, church can be compassionate, while not neglecting truth, structured, with grace for the craziness of life, and wise, without being hypocritical. The church can't do it perfectly on it's own, thankfully, there is a man out there who broke the rules, mastered all three, and now leads the church. Jesus is the ultimate lantern.

Personal Application: find out which of these three I am, and how I can bring others along side of me.
Also, this chart gives a good idea of what each of the three are.

"Prophet",, 2013, Web. Mar. 20 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Weighty Leadership

Over the past eight weeks, I've primarily focused on reasons why one should be a leader. I have also discussed fairly non-controversial topics. Today, I wanted to break that cycle by talking about why someone should not be a leader. (I'll address the non-controversial cycle later.) The focus of today blog will be fairly religious in nature, however I will attempt to explain any Christian jargon to the best of my ability. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from becoming a leader, however my intent is to show the grave responsibility that comes with this wonderful gift of leadership.

An early Christian named James wrote to fellow Christians with a warning: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know we will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). James believed that leaders were being held to a higher standard than normal people. Why is this? Uncle Ben said it right: "With great power comes great responsibility". I believe that leaders are under this harsher judgment for three reasons:

1. The leader is affected by the followers
Be it in Nazi Germany, the Vatican, or even the secret service, leaders must answer for the actions of those under them. In an earlier blog post about failure I mentioned the Penn State scandal, where the former president of the school was charged for not doing anything about the sex-abuse. Though the president of the school did not commit the sex-abuse, he was held responsible for the abuser's actions along with his own. Of course, if the former president of Penn State had not known about the sex-abuse, he would not have been held to such a high standard. However, part of his responsibility was to know, and to be aware of what was happening in his school. Be it a president, pastor or CEO, the actions of the followers affect the leaders.

2. The leader’s public actions affects the followers
I was on a trip in Alaska with some other Christians, and we were putting on an event for the children of some local native American tribes. In preparation for this event, I was told something that still affects the way I lead today. My team leader warned me: "the children will be watching you, and what you watch. You need to watch what they need to be watching". Who I focused on, the children would focus on, because I was setting the example for the others to follow. Where leaders go, others follow. The past two leaders of our country have led us through a war and into a recession. This is not to comment on the good or bad nature of where we're at, but simply that the responsibility of the president is to lead, for better or worse.

3. Leading is a gift, given by God.
I voted in the last election. I'll be honest, the guy I voted for didn't win, but I really didn't care. This was not because I don't have opinions on what politicians should or shouldn't do with the nation; rather, as a Christian, I understand a principle about leadership and authority that governs my understanding of the world. Paul makes an observation in Romans 13:1, "...there is no authority except from God...". For Christians, any position of leadership that is given to anyone is ultimately because God gives it. This means that every CEO, every pastor, even every general manager of a convenience store has been given their position, not just by human superiors, but by God Himself.

Now, the question that pops into my head at this point is this: How could Paul possibly say that about leaders with such horrible people like Hitler, Stalin or even Nero, the emperor who martyred Paul? This is where James 3:1 comes again into play. Just as all leaders are given a position, they are held accountable for what they did with that position. While an irresponsible manager may avoid answering to HR, and a greedy CEO may not answer to his board of directors, eventually, all will have to answer to an ultimate manager. Even a mass murder like Hitler cannot escape it. According to the Christian worldview, every leader will be held accountable for what they did as a leader.  

To bring it back to the original point, why shouldn't someone be a leader? A leader is responsible for their actions, the actions of those under them, and they will have to face evaluation for it. Christian leaders have to recognize that their words, actions, and even private thoughts are all being assessed by the giver of their position. Being a leader means accountability, accountability to a perfect leader, who has to be just. Should no one be a leader then? Of course not! However, leaders must understand the responsibility and accountability of their position. If someone is not prepared to take on this responsibility and answer for it, they should not be a leader. Leadership is a gift we cannot treat lightly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Daddy, how are leaders made?

Today I happened to watch one of the ads that played during the Super Bowl, (for the first time as I don't watch sports), about a child asking his father where babies came from. The ad reminded me of a question I ask myself, where do leaders come from? Certainly Shakespeare was right to say that "some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them." However with leaders, Christians in particular, there is an aspect of leadership which comes from the work of mentors. These mentors are leaders who take time to grow other leaders. They do this by what I’ll call “impartation.”

Impartation, according to Webster means either "to give, convey or grant from...a store" or "to communicate knowledge." When I talk about impartation in relationship to Christian leadership, it has a more spiritual significance to it. Christian impartation is both an intellectual and spiritual gift, given by a mentor. These impartations are things like: understanding how leadership is to be done, how to handle the various struggles that a leader can encounter, and how to mentor other leaders. The spiritual aspect is a giving of what the church calls "spiritual gifts" which are God given abilities or expertise that help the Christian to do what they are called to do. These gifts can include teaching, preaching, administration, compassion and other talents or abilities. Now, for those who aren't too religious and reading this, please don't be too put off by the metaphysical nature of this. The spiritual aspect of impartation may be uniquely Christian, but this intellectual impartation is something that every leader should receive. A mentor’s impartation is the means by which good leaders are made great leaders.

How does a good mentor make this good leader? It starts with the example that they set. In creative writing we are told "show, don't tell." A good writer describes the scene for the reader, instead of just giving them bland facts. Instead of just writing a book or preaching a sermon, a good mentor shows parts of leadership like getting vision and dealing with failure by actually doing it. Next, a mentor listens to their mentee, allowing for the mentee to express his or her's ideas, concerns and problems. I have had opportunities to mentor quite a few young men, and more often than not, what they need isn't my advice, but rather my quietness as they work through the problem. Finally, a mentor gives the mentee a place to work. A mentor in my life, who continues to be an inspiration, was a guy named Jason. Jason led the youth at my church, and as a gangly, geeky 15 year old, (I haven't changed much), he took the time to mentor me. Jason let me lead a small guy's bible study and gave me the rein to take it where I wanted. He continued to watch out for me, and give me advice when I needed it, but allowed me to lead in a safe environment.

A great example of mentor impartation is in a guy named Timothy. Timothy was a timid young guy who wanted to lead the church. Unfortunately, he was not experienced in leading, and not particularly gifted at it. Thankfully, there was a guy named Paul, who became a sort of spiritual father to Timothy. Paul brought Timothy around with him as he taught, mentored and preached (Acts 16:1-5). Paul listened to timothy, and sent him letters full of advice which still set an example for Christian leadership. Lastly, Paul gave Timothy a place to lead. Paul brought Timothy to a town called Ephesus and put him in a place of leadership there. There were other solid leaders there who would help Timothy to lead the people, and Paul saw that Timothy had the strength of character to handle the work. Timothy then went on to mentor other leaders, and the cycle repeated itself.

These mentors who make leaders are part of an ongoing process that continues today. This is not restricted to the church, but to the whole world. The more I study leadership, the more I am convinced that leaders are not simple born in greatness, but molded, crafted and forged. Even Alexander the Great, a man who fits the definition of a man born to lead, had a mentor, Aristotle (Melchert, 157). The impartation of a good mentor into a leader's life can result in great leader. Jason imparted to me the ability to lead, and the knowledge of how to do it. My goal is to impart that knowledge, along with any more I learn along the way, to another. I do this so that they can do something even greater. In short, good mentors make great leaders, great leaders are great mentors and make even greater leaders.

For personal application, this week I am going to identify at least five people whom I am currently mentoring, (intentionally or not), and find ways to better encourage them in their giftings, be it in leadership or other places.

Melchert, Norman. "The Great Conversation", Boston, Ma: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. 2002. Print.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

24 > 168

Do you know there are 168 hours in a week? Now, does it actually feel like that? If you answered no, you're not the only one. I am currently taking 16 credits at NOVA, and 2 extra with a Tuesday night theology class. I also prepare for and lead two to three groups a week. When I'm not doing schoolwork, I'm doing more schoolwork. I'm writing this after an eight hours at NOVA, with more schoolwork to do after this. When do we get to slow down? I often joke that I'll sleep when I'm dead, and sometimes, I think there might be more truth to that than I'd like. There is always something to be done, always something we could be doing with our time, why in the world should a leader stop?

Back in Genesis, we read that God creates the world in 6 days. That's a lot more work in 6 days than I have done in six years, but since He's God, we understand that there was no actual effort in doing any of it. Now we read in Genesis 2:1-3 that God decides after six days of work, to stop. The actual verb in the Hebrew we use for rest is, shabath, which means "to cease"(Strong's). This idea of ceasing is not that God stopped doing things, but rather he stopped doing that work, and turned to something else. The idea is that we work for six days, and on the seventh, do something different. God seemed to think it was important for Himself to rest.

In the book of Exodus, the fourth commandment given in the famous ten commandments passage, was to obey the Sabbath (Exo 20:8-11). The Sabbath was of such importance to the Jewish people that some of them began setting up some extreme rules for what one couldn't do on the Sabbath. One couldn't even carry a mattress on the Sabbath, because it was considered too much work (John 5:10). This idea carried on into Christian history, notably with the puritans, some of whom wouldn't even shave on the Sabbath (Shulevitz).

Taking time to rest is not just a Christian idea, but seen by many as beneficial. Judith Shulevitz, a Jewish writer for the New York Times, explained in her article "Bring Back The Sabbath" that the very notion of a day of rest is foundational to America society (Shulevitz). Even non-religious leaders recognize the importance of taking a break. Stefan Sagmeister, a designer in New York, spoke at a TED conference about how taking a year long break every seven years positively changed the efficiency and passion with which he did business.

Now, one might ask, "Sure Colin, rest is important, but this is a leadership blog. Why emphasis this for a leader?" I'm glad you asked. Leaders especially need to be reminded to rest, or to take a Sabbath, because of the standards we tend to set for ourselves. Gordon MacDonald lists some of the myths that leaders begin to believe about this aspect of leadership, including: "A leader must be constantly available for all emergencies" or, "rest, recreation and leisure are second-class uses of time" (MacDonald, 86-87). I have found myself feeling ashamed for not working or not always being available, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Yet, leaders see a rather different example from Jesus. Though Jesus constantly had crowds to heal, disciples to teach, and religious people to silence, he still found time to get alone. (John 6:15, Luke 9:18, Luke 5:16) If Jesus Christ, religious and non-religious leaders, Jews, Christians and God Himself all took time to rest. How much more so, should an average leader? I may be taking 18 credits this semester, and by now, I should have had copious amounts of mental or emotional breakdowns. However, this idea of a Sabbath helps to stop that. At 11:59pm Saturday night, all my weekly activities stop. I do no homework, reading, or even check my email all of Sunday. To be honest, it's a challenge not to do any work, stressful to try to get stuff down before or after Sunday, and so much more wonderful than I can explain. Sunday is when I get recharged and refocused for the week. It is where I meet Jesus in beautiful rest. The sabbath is the foundation of a healthy leader. Twenty-four hours that set the standard for the other 144.

Strong's "Sabbath" Strong's Hebrew Lexicon, 1890. Web.
Shulevitz, Judith. "Bring Back the Sabbath", New York Times. Mar. 03, 2003. Web. Feb. 20, 2013. 
MacDonald, Gordon. Building Below The Waterline. Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2011. Print.

Two Good Christian Leadership Blogs

Over the past few weeks, I've been almost overwhelmed with the amount of blogs there are out there on Christian leadership. One site, is just about collecting articles from various Christian leaders from around the web. However, there is a small disconnect within the Christian blogosphere (yes, that's a real word). We have many great megachurch leaders, like Perry Noble, or Steven Furtick (though his 'blog' is a little more twitter focused), and James Macdonald. Most megachurch 'blogs' have very little community attached to them, some do not even allow comments from readers. On the other end of the spectrum, there are numerous pastors, teachers, and average joes who are blogging about Christian leadership. So what am I reading? Right now, there are two I have kept coming back to.

The first is The Resurgence, a ministry group based out of Mars Hill church. This blog is contributed to by several megachurch pastors, including Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and John Piper (Whom I may have a man crush on. Just sayin'). It has a constant stream of articles usually on topics related to practical leadership in the church. The downside to this blog is there is very little communication between the writers and readers. There is no way to comment on the various posts given. This limits the blog a great deal.

The second blog that I continue to read is a blog called HeartHeadHand. David Murray is a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Murray posts daily with different insights or book reviews. His focus is usually on leadership, but also includes intellectual or theological questions beyond just leaders. Murray also includes media, with podcasts and instructional videos related to leading and or pastoring. The comment section may not be filled with hundreds of replies, but communication between Murray and the community happens.

Overall, I hope that gives you some clues as to where you can go to check out much better writers with much more experience on this topic. also will have good links to different blogs. I have an analysis paper due at the end of the semester related to the Christian blogosphere, and I believe I will use these two blogs.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Failure is not (just) for Failures.

Can I be honest with you? I am a perfectionist. An extreme perfectionist. I hate failing; I hate doing anything "unprofessionally". The worst part is, I think I'm pretty good at it most of the time. I am a straight-A student, a quick learner, and somewhat obsessive. I get upset if I get a grade lower than A in any class, I am devastated whenever I lose at a game. Unfortunately, as I have learned repeatedly including this past week, I will fail. So, what should be the leader's response to failure?

The first step is to admit you've failed. In the midst of the Penn State scandal, it was revealed that the president of the college had known about the sex-abuse and had not done anything about it. How many great leaders have discovered something has failed under their leadership, and not hidden it? When these things remain hidden, the problem will only get worse. The problems grows until eventually, as the former Penn State president learned, it gets out on it's own. The only effective way to deal with failure is to be open and honest about it. Perhaps this is why such great leaders in the old testament like David, Daniel and Nehemiah all took time to confess their personal failures or "sins", or those of their people (2 Sam 12:13, Neh 1:6, Dan 9:1-19). They recognized that the only way for a leader, and those under the leader, to move past failure was to admit it publicly, namely to God.

The second step is to identify why you failed. Do you know what happens after an airplane crashes? After the commotion, cameras and chaos, a special team arrives. This is a team of experts who comb through the wreckage, bit by bit, to find out what happened. This team, called the "Go Team" has the job of finding what caused the crash, so that something like that cannot happen again. This same process must be put forth in the life of a leader. If you failed, you need to go through the circumstances that lead to the failure, the reason for the failure, and possible ways to prevent it.

Once you've identified why you crashed, you must learn from your failure. When I think of someone who learns from failure, I remember a little girl named Hadley. My family has been babysitting Hadley since she was only a few months old (she's now two years old). Hadley was an ambitious child. She set her mind on learning to walk. She kept trying, over and over, and kept falling. As leaders, we are not perfect. We will fail. But Hadley? She kept trying, kept working, and now walks with me through the neighborhood whenever I babysit her. Likewise, we leaders must learn from our failures, to find what works and what does not.

This does not only apply to our personal failures, but to the failures of other leaders. I have had the opportunity of watching some leaders in my life deal with some huge failures. Not only do I see what not to do, but also how they deal with failure. I am humbled and amazed by leaders who learn from their mistakes. A youth pastor that I look up to refused to drive alone with a member of the opposite sex. Why? Because he had seen where other leaders had fallen short, where "crashes" had occurred, and refused to let that happen. He not only learned from his own failures, but from other leader's failures as well.

In summery, a leader has to realize they will fail. In fact, failure might be a good thing for leaders, if they handle it rightly. We need to bring it to light, so that there is accountability and honesty. We should send in our "Go Teams" and find out what went wrong. Then, we have to keep going, and learn from the failures. This will not just help us in the short term, but make us better leaders in the long term.

I lead a bible study monday nights, and last week, some people got honest with me about how I was not doing the job I was supposed to. This was a shock to my system. The more I investigated, I found that they were correct. Last monday night, I got before the whole group and confessed that I had failed. It was painful, and very uncomfortable for me. I then went on to explain that I would do my best to do the job I needed to do. Do you know what happened? We went on to have probably the best night that we've ever had. I realized why I had failed, and I now have a better idea of what to do to prevent it. Failure is not just for failures, but for leaders too. You will never be a good leader, until you're a good fail-er.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Building a Better... Vision

I don't have GPS on my phone. I rely primarily on written or printed directions, or on my own sense of direction. This doesn't always work. Last summer, I was visiting some friends up in Pennsylvania, using printed directions. According to my directions I was only 15 minutes from my friends, and the road I needed to go down was closed. Fifteen minutes of backtracking later, I called my friend, and he gave me an alternate route to take. Unfortunately for me, my friend sucks at giving directions. Another 15 minutes later, I was back where I started, still lost. I called my friend again, got directions again (which didn't work again). Rather frustrated, I pulled out my phone and looked at the map of the area. Eventually I figured out how to get to his house, and arrived 45 minutes later than I expected. I believe that a leader without vision is a bit like a guy without a GPS. If a leader does not know where the group is going, he will lead the group in circles or to dead ends. So what does a leader's vision look like, and how does one get it?

It is important that we understand that vision and a goal are not the same thing. Vision is seeing the end goal of a group, and figuring out how to get there. The analogy of GPS for vision fits very well to describe how it works in the life of a leader. Vision, like GPS, gives you and (hopefully) your group direction to go down.  For example, for my english class last semester, I had to do a group project. We were given a goal, to present a power-point lecture on possible ways to stop obesity in children. So, I divided up the work to everyone in the group, and then set up different check-points, to see how we were doing. I did this by sending out group emails, and then meeting with the group in person. This gave me a clue to where the work was at, and if we were ready for the presentation. Vision isn't just knowing where the group is going, but where it is at. Eventually leading you towards the goal of the group or leader.

In relation to Christian leadership in particular, vision is understanding what God wants to do in a group, and then working with God to accomplish it. This vision is exemplified in the life of a man named Thomas J. Barnardo. In 1866, a young doctor in London stumbled upon a young group of homeless boys. Being shocked that such poverty actually existed in London, Barnardo felt called to end the homelessness of the children in London. This was his goal, and before he died, he rescued over 60,000 children (Fessenden, 120). Author David E. Fessenden notes this was not always easy. "During his second eleven years of ministry, Barnardo rescued six times as many children [12,000], but he had to do it with only four times the money. In spite of that, Barnardo's vision never seemed to waver; he continued to dream big" (Fessenden, 107). Barnardo got a goal, and held onto a vision. This vision was carried into his organization, into the lives of the homeless youth he worked with, and eventually to the British government (Fessenden, 105).

So how does one obtain vision? Like we've already seen, the starting point of vision is a goal. What is the purpose of your group? Be it something as simple as a presentation or ending homelessness, a goal is necessary for any group. Once you have goal, you set to work to chart how your group can reach that goal. What needs to happen in order to obtain your goal? For a spanish group project I have right now, our group needs to have a group charter, a game plan for what we will be doing over the next 12 weeks. Finally and perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to do some recalculating. If I had a GPS on my drive to Pennsylvania, I might not have had to waste 45 minutes trying to find where I was going. I needed only to drive down a different road for a little while, and the GPS, like good leaders, would find a way to reach the goal another way. 

An older translation of Proverbs 29:18 reads "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" (KJV). While modern translations differ, I think the proverb remains true. A leader who lacks vision will lead the people down. However, a people with the law, that is: a people with vision, will succeed. For personal application, I resolve to examine the vision of the various groups I lead. Where are we going, what's the end goal? Are we moving towards that goal, or away from it? What do I need to change in order to better get us to that goal? Why not try that yourself? 

Fessenden, David E., Father to Nobody's Children, Fort Washington; CLC Publications. 2005. Print.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Building a Better... Motivation (Part 2)

In last week's blog post, I began to examine my motivations for being a leader. Three motivations stood out to me, obligation, pride, and calling. This week, I'm going to take a step back, and find out what other leaders in the past and present have said should be a leader's motivation. Jesus, in the book of Matthew, warned his disciples against what he called "false prophets". He warned them with the example of a tree, saying that "every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit". (Mat 7:17) I think the same applies to leaders. "Good trees", that is, good foundations, will produce "good fruit", or good leadership. The same is true with bad foundations. So, lets first look at the foundations, and judge them based on what fruit they produce.

My first motivation that I examined was obligation. Oddly enough, there is not much material on leading because of obligation. Perhaps it is because obligation doesn't have the fire to sustain anyone in the long-term. Likewise, it does not instill a passion or love for the work you are doing. An episode of "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" illustrates this well. The main character, Ned, had a hard time saying 'no', and ended up taking responsibility for many different projects around the school. Eventually, he upset everyone, and burned himself out. Although it was only a kid's show, it understood what obligation does to leaders. Eventually, leading solely on obligation will lead to burn out.

My second motivation was pride. I guessed last week that this was not the right motivation for leading, and I believe I was correct. Both secular and sacred writers have agreed that pride is destructive. The often quoted proverb: "Pride comes before the fall" spells out the inherent danger of pride. Even modern business agrees. Author Jim Collins discusses why great leaders fail in an article in Businessweek, A Primer on the Warning Signs. He explains the process of a company's collapse, and the root cause of it. The bad foundation for Collins is something he calls "hubris" (Collins). Hubris is "exaggerated pride or self-confidence"(Merriam-Webster). This hubris is the foundation for destruction for both secular and spiritual leaders. Pride is a universally bad tree for leaders.

The third motivation last week was calling. Calling seems to be a word thrown around in Christian circles a great deal. Most pastors will say they were "called" to the ministry. Calling to most people means a emotional excitement or passion for a topic. This was similar to my experience with a "calling". Yet, when I take a look at how great church leaders were called, it was a command, not a emotional experience. An example of this would be the call of the apostle Peter. Jesus commanded him to be a pastor, and then explained the horrible things that would happen to him, and then says "Follow Me" (John 21:15-19). Quite an radical way to recruit someone to leadership! There are then, two callings. An emotional calling, and a command calling.

Which calling is a good tree, and which is a bad one? An emotional calling is by all appearances, a good tree. Emotionally called people love what they do. Their vision, commitment, and passion are likely to fuel successful leadership. However, much like young love, passion is fleeting. The command calling is more like a marriage, a commitment to "follow" through the good and bad. The command call is a "good tree". It takes work, commitment, and is tougher than the emotional call. Nevertheless, this call produces good leadership. 

My personal application this week is to take an inventory of my current motivations for the various things I lead, and see if I have 'good trees', or 'bad trees'.

(1) Collins, Jim. "How the Mighty Fall." N.p., May 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
(2) Merriam-Webster. "Hubris"  Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.