Leadership (part 7 of 9): Lead in Love

Editor’s Note: This is part 7 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small.

Momma knows best.  You know what I’m talking about.  Say please.  Say thank you.  Smile.  Tuck-in your shirt.  Don’t be a grouch.  Age-old wisdom from those that know best.  It is amazing how quickly we can forget such basic truths of how to interact with others.  Perhaps we have carried this wisdom with us throughout the years, but the question is, do we take this attitude into every arena of our life?  These simple but profound words of wisdom from mom may perhaps be the most important piece we can carry into our daily lives as leaders.

I’m  sure you’ve been there.  You’ve had a boss that likes the idea of being in charge.  He or she  postures themselves as superior.  They work hard to get to that spot and they will make sure you know that.  A boss may have little time for their ‘underlings’ as they have important bossy things to do.  Or perhaps a boss exerts his or her power more subtly.  Rarely saying thank you, or when you tell them nice job they reply with an skin-grating “I know.”

Don’t be that boss.

Be nice.  Be caring.  Be loving.

Your secretary is a person too.  They have a story.  They are important.  They matter.

Your  co-workers have ideas.  Listen to them.  Don’t just listen to them–hear what they have to say.

Treat others how you would like to be treated.

The rule is golden for a reason.

I remember the first time I was asked to help lead a mission trip.  I was a junior in High School, filled with excitement and completely oblivious to what it meant to lead others.  We took a group of Middle Schoolers to Chicago.  I thought I was ready to lead.  I was not.  I was abrasive.  I acted like I had finally arrived.  I was somebody.  Except that I was a nobody.  I wasn’t ready–I acted more like a middle schooler than a leader.  I got into a silly tiff with one of my co-leaders because we wore the same shorts on the same day.  Silly.  So silly.  I was not emotionally ready for my role and it showed.

I did not treat others as I liked to be treated.  I acted superior, and as a result, my leadership was terribly poor.  I quickly learned that leading does not make me better than anyone else.  The very reason I was asked to lead was because I generally was a good person–always kind, filled with positivity and a supportive heart.  When I was handed the mantle of leadership, I thew all those things out the window.

Not good.

I have since found that those very basic elements that I learned at a young age are essential to effective leadership.  I now base my leadership on being a good person.  Being nice, polite, listening well, working collaboratively, meeting people where they are at, being present in my current situations, being humble, and showing love.

At the same time, good leadership does not mean creating a world of rainbows and butterflies.  Just as a parent is not simply a friend to their children, a leader needs to know when to speak challenge into a person’s life.  That does not mean being abrasive.  It means speaking boldly out of love and offering a word to help a person grow.  An effective parent will show tough love when it is necessary.  A leader needs to be able to challenge others.  It can’t all be hunky dory all the time.  In a church context, we are not to be consumers, we are to be a living body of believers seeking to live as Christ lived and doing the things Christ did.  Jesus was certainly kind, but not always.  Jesus would turn tables when the time called for it.  He would speak a challenging word to his disciples.  He would speak truth into the Pharisees lives.

Challenge cannot exist without love, and love cannot exist without challenge.  Effective challenge is soaked in love.  We must approach others in love and kindness–following the fruits of the Spirit.  Then, our challenge has a base of trust and understanding.  We must offer challenge to move people forward, but only if it is based in love.  There is no room for one without the other.  They must be calibrated for effective leadership.

Jesus was the best leader to ever live–let us look to him for guidance on how to lead.


Leadership (part 6 of 9): Joy

Editor’s Note: This is part 6 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. 


“How was your day at work?”


“Just fine?”

“It was work.”

Sound familiar?  Perhaps you’ve had this conversation before.  Perhaps you’ve had it every day for the past twenty years.  Maybe (or always) your child responds this way when asked about school.  As adults, aren’t we supposed to enjoy what we do day after day?  While that sounds nice, do you find it to be true?  Do you love your job?

Here’s the deal.  Regardless of your position, regardless of whether you love or hate your job, some days are going to be worse than others.

But, working is a part of life.  Humankind was created to work.  The very first commandment God gives us is to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).  We are given the task to till and keep the earth (Genesis 2:15).  The first man, Adam, also had a specific role: he named all the animals on the land and in the air (Genesis 2:19-20).  Work was assigned before the fall.  Work is not a punishment for our sin–it is innately good. It is not a curse.  We were designed for intentional activity to produce a sense of fruitfulness in our lives.  Do you believe that?  In your heart do you view work as a good thing, or as a hindrance?

It is easy to view work as simply the means to provide security and life’s necessities.  This is certainly true, but that does not mean that it has to be seen as a chore.  The question is, is our work producing fruit?  That’s the distinction.  Is our work simply work, or is it fruitful?

I get it.  Some tasks are monotonous.  Some jobs seem pointless.  There are good days and bad days.

No matter how bad it gets, we always have a choice.  We have the ability to choose joy.  Stick with me.  Some jobs seem completely joyless, and yet, we tend to work our way into a self defeating spirit in which we come to work expecting it to be bad.  Every day we have a choice.  Choose joy.  Making this decision day-in day-out does not mean work will always be joy-filled.  That just doesn’t happen.  However, by making a choice each and every day to open yourself to joy, to expect joy, will foster a posture most open to receiving it when it comes.  A travel mug is meant to be filled, but it will be filled mighty slowly if the lid is on as the coffee is poured.  It still might fill up through the sipping hole, but not nearly as easily as if the lid were off entirely.

We have a reason to be happy.  We have joy knowing that God created us to work, but more importantly, he created us for relationship.  God has work for us to do here on earth.  But looking at the story in the Garden, before Adam and Eve even had a full day of work, they rested.  Their first full day of existence was set aside for rest.  God created humankind on the 6th day, and on the 7th day, he rested.  God has created us to be in a covenantal relationship.  How awesome is that? Despite any of our sin, God continues to love us and offers us life with him even though we have done nothing to deserve it.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty joyous.

If you find yourself dreading work day after day after day, I invite you to seek joy starting today.  Seek out those little glimmers of hope each day.  Perhaps an attitude adjustment is in order.  Maybe it is finally time to have that long overdue conversation with your boss or co-worker.  I invite you to ponder what simple, memorable, and reproducible things you can introduce to your work day to make it a better experience for you.  Seeking joy is a choice.  Remember the joy we have in knowing who our God is and what he has done for us.

Today, seek joy.

Leadership (part 5 of 9): Soul Food

Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

Sometimes we just need a cookie.  You know what I’m talking about.  You have one of those days where happiness ceases to exist.  After a long, full day of work in which you seemed to create more work than you finished, you come home to a dirty house and all you want is a little something to make things better. Your eyes fall upon the cookie jar.  Ten minutes and four cookies later, you start to feel a little better.

But the feeling usually doesn’t last.

Sadly, these little moments of gluttonous self satisfaction may be the only times we take a minute for ourselves.  The question is, is the cookie really going to make things better, or is it just a bandage for a wound that runs deeper and is being neglected?

One of the most important, and often most forgotten, elements of being able to lead effectively is to routinely practice the art of self-care.  Let me be clear, I am not writing this as an expert on the subject, but rather as a person who struggles to live this out on a day-to-day basis.  Self-care is not about a binge of sweets that we may regret later, it’s about soul food.  

We’re not talking chicken and waffles here either, folks (despite how amazing that sounds right now).  Soul food consists of those little things we do that gives us life.  They fill us up and bring refreshment.  It’s those little moments of a day we find ourselves longing for when our to-do lists consists of multiple pages.

Being a leader means caring for a group of people.  It requires having the best interest of a team in mind and the ability to lead them through valleys and plateaus.  To lead effectively is to give of yourself regularly.  The more we do this, the less we have of ourselves to give.  If we are not practicing self-care, then we are leading out of a shallow or empty well.  How do we think we can lead well if our well is running dry?

We need to stop lying to ourselves.  We need a break.  We need to experience life.  We need to take care of ourselves so that we can lead others.

 It’s similar to taking a shower.  You could get by a day or two without one–but eventually the smell is going to catch up with you.  It is not in anyone’s best interest to go without for an extended period of time.  Self-care acts in the same way.  We might not notice anything the first day or two of not practicing self-care, but the more days that go by the more it will effect you and everyone around you.

It is important to note that it is not selfish to practice self-care since it allows us to better care for others.  I have learned this the hard way.  I have gone through far too many weeks in which I pour myself out to others and never take a moment for myself.  This leads to me collapsing from exhaustion, unable to do anything of substance.  We are not built to lead this way.

We need a daily rhythm in which we allow ourselves a bit of time to recharge.  The best way to feed our soul is to rest with God.  Spend time with him, read his Word, have a conversation with him, invite him into your downtime.

Do something that brings you joy.  No matter how much schoolwork I have left, or how much needs to be done at work, I make an intentional decision to have quality time each and every night with my wife.  There will always be some type of work to do, but spending time with my family is precious and it helps me gain perspective on what is important in life.  I will also take a little bit of time each day just for myself to do something I enjoy.  That may be reading a chapter out of a book (you know, one I’m reading just for fun).  I might take my dog on a long and aimless walk.  Sometimes I spend an overly long time in the kitchen since I find peace when I cook.

What brings you life?  What activities do you long for when you are cooped up in the office?  What are some simple, memorable, and reproducible ways you can care for yourself on a day-to-day basis?  What activities feed your soul so that you will be in a better place to lead everyday?  Will you join me in trying to take better care of ourselves so that we can better care for others?

Let’s not settle for the occasional cookie-binge.  We can do better than that.

Leadership (part 4 of 9): The Call

Editor’s Note: This is part 4 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

If things had gone according to my plan, I would be teaching third grade right now.  I would be a four-time teacher of the year award winner and well on my way to earning the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead, I’m four years further in debt as I work through my final year of seminary.  And… I love it.  Well, except for the debt.

I had a plan, and it was thrown out the window.  Or rather, I recognized my plan wasn’t the best plan for my life.  It turns out God is way better at making plans than I am.  Who would have thought?

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We like to think we have a handle on our lives.  I’d rather not admit how often I have said, “yeah, I think this is a good idea” to later find myself asking, “what was I thinking?”  But, we are human.  We have blind spots, we charge ahead without rest or a healthy rhythm of life.  We may have a decent plan in place for our lives, but there happens to be One with a far greater plan for us than we could ever dream up on our own.

God has a plan for you.  Think about that for a minute.  Seriously.  Stop reading, sit back and close your eyes and ponder this: God, the Creator and King of the universe and everything in it, God, the Uncreated One, has a plan for you.

How awesome is that?

To live into God’s plan for us, to let go of our own plan and slide ourselves off the throne of our lives, is to answer the call God has given us.  God calls each and every one of us.  God has called you to live for Him in a way that is unique to you and to the the gifts he has given you.  Being called by God is not reserved just for Abraham, Moses, Peter, and your friendly neighborhood pastor. God has a specific calling for each and every one of his people.

I wanted to be a teacher, but God has called me to be a pastor.  I can look back and see the different ways in which I slowly became aware of this call despite my stubbornness to recognize it at the time.  There is an internal and external aspect to being called by God.  The internal call is what is at work deep inside you.  It is that small voice and feeling within that tugs at your soul as you feel something bigger than yourself leading you towards a purpose.  It took me a long time to finally hear my internal calling.  I did not want to give up my own plans to do something different.  I did not want to be in school any longer than I already had to be.  Finally, my junior year of college, I humbly submitted myself to what I already knew to be true deep down inside me.  That meant I had to give up my dream of teaching elementary school.  I had to go to school at least three more years (which turned into four). I had to give up on my plan.  I was called to pastoral ministry.

The external call was recognized much earlier in my life and came through my church community.  As I made my way through high school and had increased involvement in my church, God used others to recognize something in me.  These people would ask me if I had ever considered ministry, or if I wanted to be a pastor.  I would tell them it wasn’t really my plan right now, but perhaps it would happen later in life.  You know, after my Nobel Peace Prize.  Once I accepted my internal call, the external call was already in place to clarify and validate what I was feeling.

So here I am, in my final year of seminary, doing my best to live into my call.  But ordained ministry is only one of many callings.  All of God’s people have a particular calling.  There is no good, better, and best calling, either.  Each calling is to live into God’s plan and to do the good work he has in store for us.  The place God calls us to work for him is called vocation, whether it is ministry, teaching, retail, photography, social work, driving a bus, or any other type of work.  God has a specific purpose and place for you.  

There can be a lot of uncertainty when we seek God’s plan instead of our own.  However, we can find comfort and peace knowing that God is in control, and we are not.  Allowing God to sit on the throne of our lives allows us to live into who he wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do.  Our vocation should be where our passion finds a place to flourish.  If you are not passionate about what you are doing, perhaps there is something greater in store for you.  If you are merely content, what is missing?  What gifts have others recognized in you that you are under-utilizing?  What gets your fire burning?

I invite you to listen to the song below by All Sons and Daughters.  May these words wash over you and be your prayer as you wrestle with your call, acknowledge your call, or celebrate your call.  You have called me higher, you have called me deeper, and I’ll go where you will lead me Lord, where you lead me.

Listen here.

Image Source: http://leverhawk.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/iStock_000014861801_Medium.jpg

Leadership (part 3 of 9): Blind Spots

Editor’s Note: This is part 3 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

You know how it is.  You’re driving down the road, fairly certain there is no one around you.  You go to switch lanes and experience the longest second of your life as you swerve to miss the car you didn’t know was there.

Blind spots.  Cars have them, cell phones have them, our eyes have them, and I hate to say it, but we have them too.  A blind spot is an area in which our vision is obstructed.  It is a void in perception.  It is something we know exists but we cannot see it.  We have read the signs on semi trucks that read “avoid my blind spot” or “if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” The danger of blind spots are well documented.

Here’s the deal.  we all have blind spots.  We hate to admit it, but we are not perfect.  We are so imperfect, in fact, that we have certain negative qualities or harmful habits that we do not even realize are a part of us.  They dwell in the hidden cavern of our own personal blind spots.

Have you ever been called out on your shortcomings?  This is not a pleasant experience!  But what happened afterward?  Having awareness about where we fall short is the first step to improving a part of ourselves.  If we have no awareness of such things, how can we ever hope to be better?  We cannot help having blind spots.  They are simply a part of who we are.  No matter how long we live and how awesome we are, we will never be perfect.  Dumbledore was a fantastic leader and as awesome as awesome gets, but even he had his shortcomings.

Just because we cannot help having blind spots doesn’t mean we are off the hook.  We need to be humble enough to acknowledge our less desirable qualities and bold enough to deal with them.  As leaders, we cannot pretend we have it all together.  People crave authenticity like a dog craves a walk.  To effectively lead our communities we need to be honest with ourselves and all those that surround us.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to live like him.  Jesus, the only one to walk the earth without a blind spot, is our guide for how to live.  Jesus also provides our measuring stick.  Am I living the life Jesus would live if he was me?  If not, what needs to change? How can my life look more like Jesus’ life?  The closer we walk with Jesus the easier it will be to remove our blinders and deal with our shortcomings as they are brought to our attention.

One of the best ways we can start to deal with all our junk is to ask those closest to us to lovingly point out the ways we are falling short.  Scary, right?  Right.  This takes a great deal of trust and is not to be handled carelessly.  Likewise, if we open ourselves up to this, we need to practice lovingly telling others as well.

Marriage has been an incredible example for how this has played out in my life.  While I hate being called out on how I’ve been a poor husband, I am much better for it now that I know what to work on.  Our marriage is stronger for it.  The same is true in friendships and workmates.  This needs to be approached with our defenses down, our humility up, and our ears open.

We will always have new blind spots that pop up throughout the course of our lives.  We can’t get rid of them all, but we can always be a better me than we are right now.

Image Source: http://www.eoionline.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/human-blinders1.jpg

Leadership (part 2 of 9): Sabbath


Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

Sabbath. Like so many words, the meaning it carries will vary from person to person. To someone who is a bit older, it may represent the day of the week the whole family goes to church and spends time together while refraining from doing chores or homework. For those a bit younger, it may simply mean the day of the week all shopping centers are closed, or at least not selling alcohol. For those younger yet, it may only be somewhat recognizable as the second half of the name of a popular rock band started by some guy named Ozzy.

I am one of those lads that knew very little about the Sabbath, and sadly, I do not think this is too uncommon nowadays.

Last week we explored the importance of resting in the Lord: to have a rhythm of life in which we care for our souls by having solitude with God. This rhythm is scalable in that we should practice it daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

Living the Sabbath is a weekly rhythm of life that we are called to practice as instituted by God in the first account of creation found in the beginning of Genesis.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 NRSV)

The creation of the heavens and the earth did not end with the creation of man; it ended, and climaxed, with the Sabbath.  Notice what it says in verse 2, “and on the seventh day God finished the work he had done.”  Humankind may be God’s masterpiece, but the Sabbath is creation’s crown.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his stellar work, The Sabbath, “Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed and He hallowed the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).  To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity” (Heschel 2).  A common popular interpretation of Sabbath is simply to cease from working.  While this is certainly true, there is more to it than that.  Like all Hebrew words, Shabbat has a range of meanings, such as, cease, stop, be at a standstill, stop working, take a holiday, or to even cease from living.  These are all verbal meanings of the word Shabbat.  God blesses the Sabbath.  To bless is to transfer power.  God gave the day significance, holiness, and sacredness when he gave it his blessing.  He created a holy space in time that we are to observe every seven days.  God also sanctifies the seventh day.  He deemed it Holy and set the seventh day apart from the other six days of the week.  Heschel writes:

To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time, “a day of rest, a day of freedom,” a day which is like “a lord and king of all other days,” a lord and king in the commonwealth of time.  (Heschel 7)

To live the Sabbath opens us to participate in the holiness, sacredness, and significance of the day itself, which is ultimately to participate in God!

And yet, how many of us are actually doing this?  If the Sabbath is so important, why do most people not even know what it really means?  As life speeds up we have forgotten the importance of slowing down.  Whether you work in a church, a shoe store, a restaurant, or anywhere else, if you are a grandparent, a student, a child, or somewhere in between, the Sabbath is for you.

Here’s the deal.  This is not exactly an easy journey.  To live the Sabbath is counter-cultural.  But doesn’t that make it all the more attractive?  My wife and I have been striving to practice the Sabbath regularly for over a year now.  This still does not always come easy, but we have both felt the incredible peace that comes with setting a day apart.  We resist the urge to make plans on the Sabbath. We cease from work, homework, and chores.  We do things that give us life, such as going for a long, peaceful walk with no destination in mind.  We will play games together, read together, and rest.  We are working on being more intentional with our time, to spend it more deliberately with our Lord and not just with each other.  The day is noticeably different than every other day of the week in every good way.  From our rest on Sunday we enter into our work for the coming week with a growing anticipation of the promise of the Sabbath.  While our practice of the Sabbath needs a bit more depth, we have already found life through this weekly rhythm.

What sorts of things do you do to live the Sabbath?  What have you found life-giving?  Challenging?  If you currently do not experience this in anyway, you certainly are not alone.  This is not a common practice, but it is a worthy one.  It is my hope for you to prayerfully consider beginning this all-important way of life and experience the richness of this rhythm of rest.  My wife and I can speak to the way it has changed our life for the better.  We hope the same for you.  For as Abraham Joshua Heschel so beautifully writres, “The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God” (Heschel 6).

Image Source: http://www.meaning-of-life.info/images/graphics/godrestingw.jpg