Archive for June, 2014

Subject to Change – Part 8

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at three ways a leader can build trust–relationship, success, and personal transformation. While one of these three must take place in significant ways before a leader can lead change, there’s one more that can “seal the deal” either in favor of trust or compromise it completely.

The final means for building trust is to act with integrity. When people see that a leader will always do what is right, they begin to trust that leader with what is right for them.

Someone has defined integrity as “what you do when no one is looking.” It’s the idea of what you’re really like when you’re not performing for others. That presents an interesting opportunity for pastors since they are almost always “on.” Their 24-7 life as a shepherd seldom lets them take the pastor hat off.

A pastor can establish his public persona through his wise words, penetrating insights, and the understanding demeanor with which he preaches. People easily say that “he’s just a really good guy.” He shows up when we’re in crisis. He speaks kind words at our grandmother’s funeral. He stands at the church door, always smiling, always listening, always affirming. He speaks knowledgeably about the godly husband when he teaches on marriage and more than a few wish their husband was more like him. He’s a great guy!

But in the private places of his life, the photos may not always match. If people see him yell at his children, become frustrated with his wife, or offer a small fib or two when negotiating a good price with a salesman, the photo of the pastor they think they know gets a bit smudged. And, trust becomes a bit damaged.

I remember attending a conference where an elderly leader held us spellbound for more than an hour as he unfolded the challenges of reaching the next generation. He spoke of younger people with such passion and potential. He called for great steps to be taken to rally his older peers toward a bright and technologically-driven future. I remember thinking “that’s the kind of leader anyone would want to follow. The people who work in his organization have to be excited to have such a leader as this.”

Then I went to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. There, at a corner table, sat the amazing leader, hidden behind the tall menu he was perusing. I chose a booth, not too far away so the waitress wouldn’t have to walk too far to serve us. The speaker and I were the only customers in the restaurant at that late hour. In a few moments, I was hiding behind my own menu.

When our food was delivered—his before mine since he got a head start on the menu—the speaker’s order was apparently assembled incorrectly. The vegetable was wrong, promised sauces were missing, and there was no butter for his bread. I knew each of these errors because he screamed them at the poor girl who had brought his plate. I sat stunned as he berated her for someone else’s negligence. I couldn’t believe that the man who had seemed so wise, so kind, and so in touch with today’s young people two hours earlier could abuse one such young person only a stone’s throw from the podium where he was so remarkable. Even as I write this, I realize that I remember his behavior in the restaurant, but can’t recall any of the incredible content of his evening message. I’ve apparently lost the notes I took too.

When the message matches the man (or woman), trust grows. A pastor who cuts corners, takes advantage of others, or seeks things for himself undermines such growth. But one who proves to be real, who acts honestly in every transaction, who treats people up close with his same “pulpit-kindness,” and insists on doing what is right even when that truth proves costly—that’s the pastor that will gain our trust.

If our pastor can be trusted in the little things, we will more quickly trust him with the big things. And, if he turns out to be that other guy, we may never learn to trust him at all.

Now, no pastor is perfect and most people try hard to provide him with a little grace to cover an occasional difficult moment. But the spotlight remains on at all times, even when you think you’re eating alone in a hotel restaurant.


Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 152

152. “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me” (John 9:4).

Difficult “night” times will come to Jesus and His ministry. But these are the moments of day and they deserve determined effort. So it is for us. The windows won’t stay open forever. Night will come. Our opportunities will remain only for a time and then we will face our own great trial of death. We, too, must be aware that our time is limited. We only have so many days to give to God’s purposes in our lives, and when we stand before Him, we will rejoice in the diligence we gave in revealing Him to our generation. Currently, it’s day so there’s work we must do.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 149

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

Do you learn from your mistakes?Yesterday, I watched in shock as one of my favorite international soccer players seemed to bite his opponent in their World Cup match. The preschool level behavior wouldn’t have been so shocking expect that it’s the third time this player has been guilty of such ridiculous behavior. The first two occasions landed him in major trouble with his team and the various associations under which he plays. What’s he doing?

I don’t really have an answer concerning that troubled young man, but I wonder about us. Do we learn from our mistakes? Actually, the better question is–do we keep making them? Sesame Street’s “Big Bird” taught me that everyone makes mistakes. That was the core message of a little book I read to my toddler sons. No one has cornered the market on mistake-making. We all have our turn in life’s “time out” corner.

But to continue making that mistake again and again seems senseless. The Apostle Paul asked his Roman friends why anyone would want to continue in the sins that had brought them so much trouble? (Romans 6:1 loosely translated). Yes, God has forgiven us, but why would we want to go back there again? Another biblical writer compared it to a dog returning to his vomit–a not only foolish, but also disgusting analogy.

And yet we do exactly that when we fail to turn from the things that were destroying us. We experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness and then run headlong into the same foolish bondages that once held us without mercy.

Set a new course. Pursue the path of righteousness you are now capable of walking. As Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” Easier said than done? Not if your heart truly understands the destruction you’ve been delivered from.

Maybe we should have stopped biting in preschool, but we should have stopped a lot of other things along the way too. And doing so is the only way you’re going to end up with the life you truly want.


Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 151

151. “this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).

Jesus answers the “why” question with an appeal to greater purpose. The disciples assumed this man’s blindness was a punishment for sin, but Jesus shows that the same man’s journey has unfolded for a much greater purpose. He lives to show what God can do. Is this not why each of us live? Doesn’t God want to demonstrate His glory in what He makes of what we are? So it makes sense that He would design us as we are for that larger, more amazing purpose. None of us have been equipped with all talents, all benefits, or all abundance. We stand in a weakened place in some area of our lives, awaiting the arrival of the Son of God to make us more than people can now see.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

Subject to Change – Part 7

Last time, we discussed the second way a leader builds trust…through success. Let’s look at another way to bring this critical element of trust into our leadership efforts…

A third means by which trust can be achieved is personal transformation. Here, we have decided to trust our pastor because of the impact his ministry has had on our lives. In the work of making disciples, those who shape lives establish a powerful influence on the lives they have shaped. So we say, “Pastor, your efforts have changed us. So now, we trust you to change our church.”

Personal transformation builds the most powerful form of trust possible in a ministry relationship. You can see such impact modeled in the relationships Jesus shared with His disciples. After a few years of almost daily interaction with Jesus’ teaching and miraculous moments, the disciples were ready to be world-changers on His behalf. When His work in their lives was punctuated by His resurrection—a moment that made their own deaths look a lot less threatening—they circled the globe with His message, enduring death threats of their own and standing firm when those threats became reality. He had changed their lives so now they trusted Him completely.

Of course, personal transformation is no overnight achievement. In fact, of the four methods for building trust, this one likely takes the most time. But it’s also why most of us became pastors anyway. We want to make a difference, and the lives of people are where we really hope to make it.

To some degree, personal transformation can seem like a combination of the relationship and success approaches. It begins with a genuine commitment to the existing congregation—to grow them, serve them, and teach them to serve others. As that priority becomes clearer, then the people are strengthened to aid our pursuit of the church’s measures of success. When we feel loved and understood, we will roll up our sleeves with you, and that’s often where we find the life-change we’ve long desired for ourselves.

If you want to grow a church without growing it’s people, you’ll be found out soon enough. Selfish success stories seldom endure in the local church. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine God himself getting on board with such an agenda or allowing one of his local families to suffer one for very long. Congregations are rarely enthused about building a name for their pastor, especially if they get very little from the bargain themselves. I think we can assume God is on their side on that one. Instead, a pastor’s genuine desire to see his people discover life as its meant to be lived keeps the focus where it rightly belongs.

While personal transformation will usually prove to be the most powerful means of building trust, it can also be the most difficult to measure. Pastor’s presence alongside my hospital bed can prove he loves me and there are metrics we can use to identify or church’s successes, but how do I know when personal transformation is occurring? What measuring stick can we use to determine real progress and how can a pastor reach higher on that stick?

The answer is usually told in the stories we’re living.

Pastor, if you’re going to have this kind of impact on our lives, we need to see your passion for the lives we currently have. Regardless of the numbers in the sanctuary, we need to sense your heart for us, and the hope you have for what we can become. Some of us stopped dreaming a while ago and our family members haven’t mentioned our potential in quite some time. When you teach and preach in a way that says you believe in us and want to walk with us into our futures, we know you didn’t come to our church just to reach other people. You want to reach us too.

I love visiting Mt. Rushmore—that chiseled collection of granite presidential heads one can find amidst South Dakota’s Black Hills. As a huge Abe Lincoln fan, I can spend hours at any site where he is in focus. Add Washington, Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt, and you have more than tripled the attraction.

Why those four? Actually Gutzon Borglum, the original sculptor at Rushmore, rejected the first list of carving candidates suggested by the guy who dreamed of the monument in the first place. Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill surely impacted the West, but Borglum insisted on sculpting those who had made their mark on a wider scale. Good call. The four great men he chose had transformed a nation. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt had founded, expanded, and preserved this superpower and stood as symbols of its courage. As such, they are among the most trusted leaders in our nation’s history.

Who would be on Mt. Rushmore if it were your life we were celebrating? For me, the list is easy—my dad, my immigrant grandfather, my first pastor, and his young adult son. I won’t fill the pages it would require to explain how each of these men have transformed my life, but I can think of no one whose head should be carved on my life’s mountain ahead of theirs.

Now, seeing family members on that list shouldn’t be too surprising, but including my pastor and his son seem significant to this context. Actually Pastor Howard held that title in my life for twenty-six years and his ministry has certainly impacted the other twenty-six. He put my growth, and the life advancement of dozens of others ahead of any church growth agenda he might have harbored. His son lived the same way, leading me to my initial faith decision and becoming a valued mentor in my teen years. They, along with my dad and grandfather, shaped my life in ways I can’t fully describe. Rushmore’s reserved for folks like that.

Pastor, we can tell when that’s who you want to be for us. You know our names, remember chunks of our important stories, and help us target a destination for our futures. So you bring the passion and we’ll bring our very lives, and the stories such a merger will write could prove to be the best future our church can find. You may want to change the way we do church, but your greater goal is to change us more into what we really want to be. Frankly, we’ll be glad for you to change both.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 150

150. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1).

Faith often leaves understanding behind. We think that answers are strewn along the path to God, that knowing Him means knowing more WHYs, but the opposite is actually more true. Faith only works in the dark. Only when we don’t understand are we forced to look in other directions, and when looking around doesn’t work, we finally look up. God doesn’t promise us answers, at least not in this life, but He does promise us His presence. And when He is near, miracles make answers unnecessary.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Brotherhood – Part 148

The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.

He’s my third base coach.In baseball, each team is allowed to place two coaches along the base paths to help runners make the best decisions as they attempt to proceed toward their goal–home plate. One coach stands along side of first base. He sees most of the action as those who get started toward their destination are many in number. Even those who don’t succeed run toward first base and either receive congratulations or consolation depending on how they’ve done.

But the third base coach has a different task. Not many make it to third base. You see, that involves safe arrival at second base and beyond. Such success usually requires teammates to hit the ball and help the runner advance before three outs are recorded. Players who get on base but don’t reach home plate are called “stranded” runners because they were left standing on a base when the inning ended.

The third base coach works to eliminate that “stranded” reality. He coaches and encourages the best base running decisions. When the ball is hit to the outfield, this coach decides if the runner will be fast enough to make it to the next base, or even to score.

When a player runs toward first base, he can see much of the field himself. But when he runs toward third base, his back is to most of the field so without the coach, he cannot know all he must know to make his next move. He needs that third base coach to share what he can see.

My dad was my third base coach. He was that coach when I played Little League, waving me and my friends around third base toward home. We were pretty good, won a few championships, and enjoyed many post game sodas.

He’s still my third base coach. In every major decision I’ve faced, I’ve run the situation by him to gain his insights. I’ve learned that often he can see what I can’t ’cause my back may be to some portion of life’s field. He sees and his view helps me a lot.

My third base coach knows and believes in the runner that comes his way. As he waves me toward my goals, he continues to give me that confident look that tells me he knows I can make it. And usually that’s all I need to reach whatever goal lies ahead.

I feel bad for those who don’t have a third base coach. They’re left to decide their next move without the insights of one who can help them see the whole field. Sometimes they win, but sometimes they don’t because there’s no one waving them in the right direction.

I’m glad I’ve always had someone in that coach’s box. Thanks, Dad.