Monday, July 31, 2017

When leadership is lacking

Everything rises and falls on leadership. I've written that in many articles in this blog. I'm certainly not the first to say it. John Maxwell wrote about it in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition), and others have written about it as well.

No organization can rise any higher than its leadership. It's true of churches, businesses, families, and governments. I've seen churches about ready to close their doors, but when a new pastor arrived the church suddenly regained life and became a vibrant place of ministry once again. The difference was in the leadership abilities of the new pastor.

I know of one business that operated for over forty years. It was a strong, profitable business until a new owner began to run it. Within a few years it was forced to close its doors.

Donald Trump surprised many Americans when he was elected President of the United States. He ran on a platform that resonated with many voters. Seven months into his presidency the White House is in shambles with several of his top officials resigning and others seemingly confused about what will happen next. Nothing has been done on many of his top campaigns promises including repealing Obamacare and building a wall between the US and Mexico.

For seven years the Republican party resisted virtually everything President Obama proposed. They fought against Obamacare and promised to repeal it as quickly as possible. Today, they control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate and have not been able to do anything with Obamacare.

Please understand something...I am not saying that Obamacare should be repealed. I'm not saying a wall should be built. This isn't a statement about the desirability of either action. It's a statement about the lack of leadership in the Republican party including those serving in the White House. They are proving to be a party who can only oppose what others want to do but are unable to lead when they have the opportunity.

America needs leadership, and I don't see anything resembling leadership from either party. Leadership requires that opposing parties find ways to work together for the common good of all people. I said it over a year ago, and I'll say it again...there are very few people who deserve to be re-elected to office. Until Americans stop sending the same self-serving individuals to Washington nothing will change.

Our churches need leadership as well. We need men and women who care more about the Kingdom of God than they do about their own preferences and comfort. We need individuals who have God's heart for lost and hurting people and are willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. We need pastors who will preach the Word of God with boldness and authority. We need pastors and lay leaders who have captured God's vision for what their churches could do and will take whatever steps necessary to accomplish that.

Those who are in positions of leadership, whether in the church or government, need to lead. If they are unable or unwilling to do that then they need to step aside and let those who can lead do so.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Suggested books

Every year about this time I share a mid-season report of some of the books I've read this year. Today, I want to list five of the books I've read so far this year. They are not listed in any specific order but are books that have impacted my life and ministry. If you are looking for some reading to help you grow as an individual and a Christian, I would recommend these to you.

Grace Is Greater: God's Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story by Kyle Idleman. The author is currently the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, the fifth largest church in America. I recently read this book as part of my morning devotions. Idleman points out that God's grace is far greater than anything you have done or experienced. Sometimes those of us who have been Christians for a number of years forget just how powerful God's grace is. This book helped me rediscover that.

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Beckwith is a professor of philosoply and Koukl is head of an organization dedicated to training Christian thinkers. This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to better defend their Christian beliefs. Their primary focus is on moral relativism, the belief that there are no absolute moral absolutes but everyone must be free to choose for themselves right and wrong. They powerfully demonstrate how dangerous such beliefs are when carried out to their logical conclusion. They write

For to deny the existence of universally objective moral distinctions, one must admit that Mother Teresa was no more or less moral than Adolf Hitler, that torturing three-year-olds for fun is neither good nor evil, that giving 10 percent of one's financial surplus to an invalid is neither praiseworthy nor condemnable, that raping a woman is neither right nor wrong, and that providing food and shelter for one's spouse and children is neither a good thing nor a bad thing.

And this is just in the introduction! Although moral relativism may be the mantra of our society today, it is an evil philosophy that is doing great damage. This book will help the reader address such a worldview when it is encountered.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Too many of us try to multitask in order to accomplish more. We believe if we can do several things at one time we will get more of our work done faster. I've certainly thought that in past years. Newport shows how such work is often shallow and actually leads to us accomplishing less. He writes, "To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work." He then goes on to demonstrate how to shift from shallow work to deep work. This book is not written for ministers, but I found a lot in it that certainly transfers to what we do.

Taking Pascal's Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life by Michael Rota. Essentially, the Blaise Pascal Wager, as it came to be known, stated that if one accepted Christianity as true and learned at the end of his life that it wasn't, that he had not lost anything. On the other hand, if one rejected Christianity and came to the end of his life and learned that it was true, he has lost everything. Another way of looking at it is that if it is even 50 percent possible that Christianity is true it is rational for one to commit to living such a life. Rota builds on this argument and presents a powerful argument that Christianity is true. I will warn you...this is not a quick read, but it is a very worthwhile read. The book stretched me at times, and I grew as a result.

Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. Churches are called to do many things. One of them is to develop leaders, and it is in this task that too many churches fail. Leadership development requires intentionality and a commitment to the task. The authors insist, "Developing leaders must be a burning passion, a non-negotiable part of the vision of a local church and her leaders, or it will never become a reality." They go on to share several ways churches can go about leadership development.

It's always a dangerous thing to recommend a book because each of us have different needs and different books speak to different needs. Still, these are some books that I would certainly recommend to anyone in church leadership or anyone wanting to grow in their faith. Happy reading!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Don't live on autopilot

In yesterday's post I quoted a statement I discovered in a book I am reading. The statement reminded us to not waste our lives living below our potential and outside our calling. That reminded me of another quote from another book I recently completed, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. The statement is

We spend much of our day on autopilot - not giving much thought to what we're doing with our time...It's difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of your schedule if you don't face, without flinching, your current balance between deep and shallow work, and then adopt the habit of pausing before action and asking, "What makes the most sense right now?"

The strategy the author suggests may sound extreme. He recommends that you schedule every minute of your day, and that you do that every day. While I certainly agree with his emphasis on intentional living, I have two problems with this solution. One, no schedule is going to be accurate. Some things are going to take longer than you anticipated, and some things will go quicker. When that happens the author recommends revising the schedule. I would think we would spend too much time revising schedules!

The second problem I have is that interruptions are going to occur, especially for those of us in ministry. People are going to call and need to speak to us. Interruptions are part of ministry, and there is no way to plan for them. That's why they are called interruptions.

I am a big believer in scheduling our time, but I do so around tasks. There are certain times of each day when I need to accomplish certain tasks. For instance, on Monday morning I go into the church office and prepare my preaching outline for the following Sunday and prepare the PowerPoint presentation that will be used. That presentation is then sent to our office manager so she has the entire week to get it ready for our computer system. On Thursday mornings I go into the church office and prepare my Sunday evening Bible study.

In a couple of weeks I have a large auction scheduled, and I've identified days in my schedule when I need to complete the various tasks associated with conducting an auction. I know what dates I will send in my newspaper ads, the date I will mail out flyers to my regular buyers, when I will begin preparing the items for auction, etc. I don't try to schedule every minute, but I do schedule the various tasks I need to complete for all that I do. Incidentally, the author also recognizes the value of block scheduling for those who are not comfortable with trying to schedule every minute.

Living our lives according to a schedule eliminates the possibility of living on autopilot and ensures we will get done what we need to accomplish. This is critically important for anyone involved in bivocational ministry, but it's also important for anyone who wants to fulfill God's calling on their lives.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Don't forsake your calling

This week I came across a powerful statement that I had to highlight in the book I was reading. I normally read with a highlighter in one hand, but the significance of this is that, although I am over half done reading this book, this is the first thing I've marked.

 The statement is this: "We all exchange each day of life for something, and it is a prostitution of life to exchange it for something unworthy of our potential and our calling."

How many people do you know drifting through life living far below their potential? How often have you felt you were doing the same thing? I know I've felt that way at times. When leaders drift, the organizations they lead drift as well. When pastors drift so do their churches.

Each of us have been given gifts to be used in serving others. Each of us have a calling on our lives. So often we think of a calling as something that just applies to ministers and missionaries, but the truth is that every person has a God-given calling. As God told Jeremiah, even before Jeremiah was born God had a purpose for his life. The same is true for you and me.

Every day we get to make choices. Among those choices is whether or not we are going to live into that God-given purpose or drift along doing something far less.

I've retired twice now, and my wife likes to point out that neither of them really took. The problem is that I see too much that I can still do and enjoy doing. I know the gifts God has given me, and when I see opportunities to use those gifts I have to do so.

I enjoy playing golf, and in fact I am playing golf later this week with a couple of friends. I enjoy fishing and have owned a couple of bass boats in the past.  I dearly love sitting on the beach and watching the waves. But, the thought of doing nothing but playing golf and fishing and sitting on the beach makes me tremble. It may sound wonderful, but that is not God's calling on my life.

We each have a set number of days on this earth. Only God knows that number. You may be like me and have more years behind you than before you. Or, you may be a young person really just getting started out in life. Determine to live every day to your full potential and in a way that honors God. The best way to honor God with your life is to fulfill the calling He has for you.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A leader's demeanor

There has been much in the news about President Trump's latest tweet showing him wrestling someone with a CNN image over his face. This video came from a WestleMania match several years ago when Trump attacked WWE owner Vince McMahon ringside. Of course, it was all staged as part of a script that led to McMahon's head being shaved. In today's tweet the CNN logo was placed over McMahon's face. CNN and other news agencies attacked the tweet as inciting violence against news reporters.

While I believe the tweet was unfortunate, as is most of his tweets, I certainly did not feel the need to run out and attack a journalist after watching it. Once again, the news media overreacted as did many others in the nation. There are people calling for the President to be evaluated for mental health issues and many others calling for his impeachment. There are some people who cannot accept the fact that he won the election and will not rest until he is out of office. My guess is that they will spend the next four years, and possibly eight years, being miserable.

The reason I said it was unfortunate is because it was another stupid tweet from the President of the United States. If he had hired someone to run one of his companies, and everyday that individual spent time putting silly and/or offensive things on social media he or she would be fired.

President Trump needs to understand that the major media will never accept his presidency. He was not supposed to win. They all backed Hillary Clinton who was supposed to win in a landslide, especially over Donald Trump. They ridiculed his candidacy even as he defeated one opponent after another. Trump will never have the support of the media. He needs to ignore them and get on with leading the nation.

I realize it's not easy for the Donald to take criticism, but he's now the President of the United States. Criticism goes with the territory. It goes with being a leader. Leaders cannot take the time to respond to every critic and negative comment. The best way to respond to a critic is not to respond to his or her comments but to lead in such a way that they are proven wrong.

What is true for the current president is also true for those of us in church leadership. We are going to be criticized at times. Pastors are often people-pleasers, but the reality is that we are not going to please everyone. Leaders have to make tough decisions which are not always going to be popular. Those decisions will sometimes lead to criticism. Sometimes it's important that we investigate the criticism to see if there is some truth in it that we can use to make better decisions in the future, but other times we just need to ignore the critic and continue doing the work God has called us to do.

The demeanor of the leader is also important, and that is the second reason I found today's tweet unfortunate. It's time President Trump starting acting presidential. Many of his tweets and comments are anything but presidential but come across as childish and immature. He did not become a successful businessman by acting this way, and he will not enjoy a successful term of office acting this way either.

As pastors, our demeanor is also important if we want people to take us serious. Anyone who knows me will tell you I enjoy joking around. I really do not take myself very seriously, but I do take my calling as a pastor seriously. For any leader to be successful it's important to treat people with respect and dignity. This is especially true for those who have offended us or criticized us. Failing to do that only gives our critics more ammunition to use against us.

Leaders never lose by taking the high road and conducting themselves with integrity and grace.