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.