Times of Trouble

In case you haven't noticed, the world is full of trouble—big trouble. We now have a global health crisis, the ongoing threat of terrorism, random acts of violence, political distress and upheaval, and a lot of mistrust, hatred even, between people groups. I am in Colombia as I write and I have had more people than usual write to say they are praying for my safety, which I certainly appreciate. How can we navigate and negotiate these troubled times without being overwhelmed with trepidation? Should we stay cooped up on our houses? Hire body guards?

This post is not to prescribe anything like that, but I do want to share what I learned to do when I was in Screen Shot 2020-02-01 at 10.10.55 AMAfghanistan in 2002 right after the war against terrorism started there. I was with a group of believers from all over the world and we met every morning at 7 a.m. for prayer. When we ended our time, we all recited aloud Psalm 91 and it had a soothing effect that framed our day as we left to go out into a society where every building was riddled with bullet holes or pock marks from explosives. Perhaps you want to adopt this habit during these times of trouble. In case you do, here is Psalm 91 in its entirety:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

I believe the promises in Psalm 91. This does not release us to do foolish, reckless things, but it does allow us to walk in comfort and security during turbulent times. I want not just to talk about the promises of God; I also want to live in them as I carry out my purpose. I invite you to join me in doing the same.


Down, But Not Out

As we close out the year, I trust you have had a purposeful and productive year. There is a Christmas gift for you at the very end of this entry. Before you get to all that, however, please enjoy this classic Monday Memo from the archives and apply the purpose lessons to your life this holiday season.

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I love spending time in the city of London. One year while I was there, I went to see Handel’s Messiah Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.01.30 PM
at the Royal Albert Music Hall. What a wonderful way to enjoy a timeless masterpiece of music and Scripture in the city where it was composed. That visit sparked one of my Christmas favorites from the Monday Memo archives, which I present to you again this year.

MESSIAH

Messiah is considered by many to be the greatest musical feat in the history of mankind. Commissioned by a charity to produce a benefit concert, Handel wrote the Messiah in only 24 days. A musician once told me that someone trying to copy the Messiah could hardly do so in 24 days—that is the level of inspiration in which Handel operated when he wrote. Handel never left his house for those three weeks. His food trays remained untouched outside his office door.

A friend who visited him as he composed found him sobbing with intense emotions. Later, as Handel groped for words to describe what he had experienced, he quoted St. Paul, saying, “whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I know not.”

What’s even more impressive is that Handel wrote Messiah under extreme duress. The Church of England strongly criticized and opposed Handel and his previous Scriptural works put to music. At the age of 56, he had no money, often going out only at night so as to avoid his creditors. Handel performed what he considered his farewell concert and went home, fully expecting to end up in debtor’s prison. Yet the first performance of Messiah in Ireland in 1742 raised almost 400 British pounds for charity and freed 142 other men from debtor's prison. Of course, the rest is history as countless millions have enjoyed and marveled at his work for more than 250 years. Handel also went on from there to enjoy tremendous success and popularity in his latter years.

So what does this have to do with you? Perhaps you are a person of purpose but you feel frustrated, even defeated in your PurposeQuest. Maybe you find yourself down and out, discouraged and criticized, forgotten and a failure. Perhaps your finances are in poor shape. If any of those descriptions fit you, read on, for this Memo can restore your hope and faith. If that’s not where you are right now, read on anyway, for that will probably describe you one day as you pursue your purpose.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE DOWN AND OUT

What should you do if you are in a season of “un-use,” disfavor, or inaction? As we close out 2018, I urge you to do three things if you are discouraged, disillusioned, or dismayed. And if you’re not, I urge you to find someone who is—you shouldn’t have to look too hard—and encourage them in their dark time.

  1. Renew your faith in God. Your success and purpose expression don’t depend on your faithfulness; they depends on God’s. Remind yourself that God can do anything, and then rest in Him. Handel went home to retire and perhaps thought it was all over for him. Yet God helped him when a group found and commissioned him, and God can do the same for you.
  2. Keep preparing for your day of success. I don’t think Handel went home to retire and abandon music. Don't you abandon your love either. Keep writing, reading, learning, and practicing. When the phone rings or the mail comes with your opportunity, you will be fresh and prepared, having worked in faith for the day of success.
  3. Be generous. Handel wrote Messiah for charity, even though he was destitute. What can you do for someone else even though you are down and out? It is a good thing to do the unexpected in hard times, and giving something away definitely fits the bill when you are in need yourself. What better way to express your trust in God?

I had some financially hard times in 2019 and had to resort to my own advice, following the three steps I outlined above. I am glad to report that I did not waver in carrying them out, and they brought me through. I’m grateful for God's help as 2019 comes to an end, and I hope you can find reasons to be thankful as well. If it's been a tough year for you, thank God for His faithfulness that kept it from being worse. At least you’re still alive and purpose eligible! Then take this Memo to heart or share it with someone who needs it. I pray that as you do what I recommend above, you will see a purpose breakthrough in 2020. Thank you for allowing me to come into your life every week and thank you for being a fellow PurposeQuest-er. As I close this Memo, I wish you not only a great week, but a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!

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CHRISTMAS GIFT: Here is an link to my audio message (40 mins) titled "Have Yourself a Mary Little Christmas."


Thanksgiving Offering

Here is a report from WEEP, our project that distributes sanitary products to young ladies every WhatsApp Image 2019-11-19 at 7.27.58 AMmonth. Please read the report through to the end and then consider contributing to my ministry's Thanksgiving offering to support WEEP and my other programs for the poor:

With the new scheduling for schools in Kenya, most students are on break for the month of November. With that considered, this month has been a mix of in-person distribution to schoolgirls as well as direct distribution to the schools, allowing the girls who are on break to pick up pads at their convenience. Since school resumes in January, this will be the same method of delivery for the month of December.
 
WhatsApp Image 2019-11-19 at 7.27.57 AM (1)As WEEP moves towards finishing its fourth year of operation, we are pleased to report that we continue to provide pads to well over 500 girls at this time. In January 2016, when operations first began, we had started with one school and slightly more than 100 girls. Our first school continues to maintain an attendance of three times as many (300+) at present and we have maintained our relationship with seven schools overall. The photos attached are part of the November distributions.

I tell the Lord almost every day, "I owe You, Lord. I am grateful for your blessings and am committed to WhatsApp Image 2019-11-19 at 7.27.57 AM
do Your will--no matter where or what it is." In this season in the U.S. when we give thanks, someone has generously offered a $500 matching gift for the work of my ministry. Every dollar you give now becomes $2. Let's give thanks together as we remember my work among the poor. Your gift this Thanksgiving season will help me continue my work In Kenya and in other places. If we are friends on Facebook, you can give through that fundraiser. Otherwise you can give on my website or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882.


Brick Project

A few years ago, a generous donor helped purchase a brick-making machine for one of our
orphanages. Here is a report on what that project has done this year. At the end of this update, read how you can sponsor a project of your own:

THE BRICKS PROJECT

TIME

QUANTITY

SALES

STOCK

JAN-MARCH

5300 PIECES

32,000.00

 

APRIL-JUNE

10,300 PIECES

61,600.00

 

JULY-SEPTEMBER

  8,000 PCS

48,000.00

 

OCT-NOVEMBER

   6,400 PCS

18,900.00

 3,300 PCS

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

 ON GOING

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.32.49 AMThis project has three youths on regular basis and about seven casuals working according to the demand. The three youths are paid their monthly dues from the sales while the casuals do piece work and for every piece they produce they charge ksh 1.5 (that is a penny and a half in U.S. currency). 

We pay all related bills and wages, and the rest of the money is spent in buying food for the orphans. Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.33.05 AMThis business is helping a lot and is covering about 20% of the food budget at the orphanage.

If you are looking to make an investment in the poor as a thanksgiving offering to the Lord for HIs faithfulness to you and yours, please contact me and I can suggest that projects that will be meaningful to you and your family. Thank you and God bless you as you consider how to help the poor.


Kenya Book Drive

It's time for another book drive for my libraries in Kenya, starting now and ending January 15 IMG_5924

WHAT I NEED: wholesome fiction, Bibles, leadership, spiritual, general interest books, kids books
WHAT I DON'T NEED: Textbooks, encyclopedias and other multi-volume reference books, fantasy books that involve fairies, demons, or witches, IMG_5925comic books.

Three ways to donate: 

1. Drop them off in the sanctuary lobby (in the blue bin) at Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh.
2. Ship them to me (write me for the address).
3. Coordinate a pick-up with me.

Remember, the deadline is January 15. Thank you for your help.


Jesus' Teaching on Leadership

I am in the midst of editing the final volume of my New Testament devotional commentary series titled Live the Word. This last volume covers the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude. I have wanted to post some other thoughts on leadership and was editing 1 Peter 5:1-4 and decided to share my comments on that passage as my next leadership entry on my blog. Here goes:

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5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

5:1 – Peter addressed the leadership among the churches as a fellow elder. Eldership seemed to have Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 6.06.19 AM been the standard governing structure of the early church. It isn’t clear how they related to the pastors, but today we have two models—either the pastor rules the elders in modern churches or the elders (or deacons) rule the pastor. I have not seen many examples where they serve effectively together, but my sample size may be too small. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because we are too hung up on who’s in charge and who has the power. This is why I am passionate about the concept of servant-leadership, which is the only antidote I have found for leadership power and its intoxicating effects.

Sometimes leaders are self-absorbed, infatuated with their own position, needs, and importance, instead of focusing on the flock of God (or the needs of their company). Both pastors and elders can easily develop an attitude of ownership instead of service and leadership. When that happens, the “customer” or church member is generally not served and may even be abused.

Peter addressed the leaders from his unique perspective as an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and sufferings. He also heard Jesus’ instructions to leaders in person, so that makes Peter’s directions to leaders in the next few verses important for all church leaders, for they are Peter’s summary of what Jesus would want and expect from those who lead His church and people. You can see from his letter that Peter did not exalt himself over the local elders, but rather identified as one of them. That pretty much refutes any claim that Peter was the chief shepherd over all the church’s leaders as some would imply.

Note also that Peter was looking forward to his ultimate reward of sharing Christ’s glory that will be revealed. Not all rewards for leaders are given in this life, so we serve in faith that God is watching and will allow us to enjoy His glory with Him in the age to come.  Thank you, Lord. Are you a leader? Are you leading and serving, or leading and ruling? There is a huge difference.

5:2&3 – Peter commanded the elders, presbyters, or bishops (they are one in the same title) to shepherd or feed the flock of God. The shepherd was not the focus of the flock, but rather the needs of the sheep were to be the focus of the shepherds. Peter put the emphasis for leaders squarely on the people of God and their well-being. I would say the same is true for those in corporate or secular leadership. Leadership power exists to serve the interests of others and not the leader.

The shepherds or elders had oversight, and that wasn't expressed through the use of power and authority but rather perspective and protection. Yes, the shepherd was and is the leader of the flock, but his or her leadership initiative is determined by what he or she “sees” in regards to the needs of the flock. If the flock needs water, then that determines what the leader will do. If the flock needs pasture, then again the shepherd leads accordingly. It is obvious that the people to a great extent determine the leadership agenda for shepherds and elders. Peter outlined three attitudes that you should use as a guide in your own church leadership roles:

  1. Lead willingly.
  2. Lead without focusing on money.
  3. Lead by setting an example.

Leaders were and are not to lord it over those under there care. Perhaps Peter was thinking of what Jesus taught at the Last Supper:

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30). 

Then there is another famous story of something that also happened at the Last Supper in which Peter, the writer of this epistle, played a prominent role:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:1-17).

When did this foot washing occur? It is my theory that it happened right after what Jesus said as recorded in Luke 22 and provided a great object lesson, a show-and-tell, of what Jesus was teaching His leaders about service and humility.

Every elder, pastor, and bishop (and all leaders everywhere in any walk of life) should read and re-read these verses regularly and reflect on their meaning. Jesus instructed His leaders not to lord anything over His flock, even if it was for the flock’s own good (note that someone who does this, who serves in someone else’s best interests is in Luke 22 is called a Benefactor—Latin for a doer of good). Jesus’ leaders should not have much in common with the leaders of the world or their ways.

How does your leadership style and method compare to Jesus’ instructions and example? How well have you applied the three principles Peter laid out in these verses? How can you improve? What are your other leadership passages that guide and develop your leadership philosophy and style?

Some leaders struggle with how they can lead and be a humble servant at the same time. That is why leaders need the Holy Spirit to help them, for what Jesus asks in that passage in Luke and the example in John are impossible without a total “makeover” in spirit, mind, and heart.

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 6.06.48 AM5:4Was Peter referring to the last verse or the passage from Luke 22 quoted above?  What a marvelous promise Jesus gave to His leaders. If they will lead like He wants them to lead, then He would see to it that they sit on thrones and receive honor and glory. The implication seems to be that if they sought after their own throne and glory, He would not grant them His. So it comes down to when a leader wants to receive a throne—now or later. If the leader chooses later, then he or she must be a servant-leader now. If he or she chooses a throne now, it seems that that leader will be denied one later. Which one do you choose? I will put mine off until later and embrace the leadership role and attitude that Jesus requested today.

You can find all the volumes of my Live the Word commentary on Amazon. This last volume will be published by year's end.


Why We Have a Leadership Crisis

This is the fifth and final essay with my most current thoughts on leadership. Here were the topics of the previous four:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.
  4. Leaders transform people and communities.

And now, let's add the fifth point to the list:

5. We have a modern leadership crisis.

Screen Shot 2019-09-05 at 7.59.45 AMThis is true both in and out of the church, and let's start by looking at a lengthy passage from the book of Ezekiel addressed to the leaders of Israel to understand why we have this crisis today:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LordI will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice (Ezekiel 34:1-16).

The final verse seems to summarize what the Lord expects of His leaders, both in and out of the church,  when He promised to take leadership matters into His own hands: "I will shepherd the flock with justice."

Justice is a word given to much subjective interpretation. In other words, it varies from person to person. When an athlete holds out for more money, he or she has an idea of what a "just" salary would be, while ownership may have a completely different idea. One athlete may differ from another on what a "just" pay is for his or her position. My point is that we must search for a standardized, universal definition to which we can all submit our personal, subjective interpretations to that definition. I don't know of where to find such a definition--except in the word of God.

I have made the point throughout this series that leadership is an ongoing study. Leaders never arrive nor are they able to say, I've learned enough. They must always be learning and growing because the people they are leading and the destinations to which they are going are always changing, and that requires leaders to be changing as well. Let's look back at the passage from Ezekiel to see if we can find some concepts to include in our definition of justice.

There are three themes that emerge from Ezekiel 34:1-16, which are:

  1. Leaders must take care of others and not use their power to take care of themselves.
  2. They are not to rule harshly or brutally, using their power to overpower others.
  3. Leaders must search for those who are "missing."

All three points come down to leadership power and how it is used. If it is used in the best interests of others, there will be justice. If the power is used for the benefit of the leaders, there is injustice. Jesus streamlined the definition even more when He declared, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). Paul described what love in action should look like when he wrote, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

Therefore, let me attempt to define justice where leadership is concerned: "The use of leadership power for the good of others and not for personal gain." If we accept this definition, we can see why I say we have a crisis, for many in the church and outside of it use their power not to empower others but to overpower them. The only antidote for this tendency is service, which is why Jesus advised His followers with these words at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

With those words, let's adjust the definition above to read as follows: "The use of leadership power motivated by love in the service of others for their good and not for the leader's personal gain." Our crisis would be solved if leaders would commit to live out that definition. Will their justice be perfect? No, it will not be perfect because some will always criticize and want more from their leaders than those leaders can produce. The leaders, however, must be comfortable with their own imperfections as they strive to achieve the perfection of our definition.

If you are a leader, no matter where or who you lead, I urge you to read Ezekiel 34:1-16 and prayerfully ask the Lord to show you how you can fulfill His expectations where you are right now. Study the definition I have provided and use it as a mission statement for your leadership. I promise if you seek the good of others that, even if they don't see or appreciate what you have done or are doing, God will see it and be pleased. After all, even though we serve others in love, God is really the only one we must please in this task called leadership. If we do that, we will then hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" at the end, and we will be have done our jobs to the glory of His name.


Leaders Transform People and Communities

Three down and two to go in our series outlining my latest thoughts on the practice of leadership. So far, we have looked at the following ideas:

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust.
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.
  3. The most effective leaders cultivate their self-awareness.

And now it's time for thought number four, which is:

4. Leaders have the power to transform people and communities—for good or bad. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 5.45.59 PM

When I think of the leaders in the Bible, they were all involved in the lives of their followers to such an extent that the followers were changed and impacted individually and then corporately. Don't believe me? Then consider these examples:

  1. Moses led millions of people out of Egypt and established a community in the desert. Some grumbled, others followed faithfully, and eventually, the people entered the Promised Land to become the people of Israel. Before he died, he provided a code of conduct along with copious interpretation that the people followed until the time of Jesus and even to today. 
  2. David inspired great loyalty from many around him, except his family, which leads us to believe there were complicated issues preventing that from occurring. Some men risked their lives to fetch and bring David his favorite water from his home area, others were called mighty men and performed great deeds of heroism and strength in battle, and still others served David even when he was at his lowest. 
  3. Solomon was a superb builder, while at the same time he devoted much time to creativity and teaching. He had such great insight that people came from all over the world to hear his lectures on nature. Yet, Solomon took the nation his father David had established and ran it into the ground, so to speak, oppressing the people and placing heavy burdens on them they could hardly bear. After this death, the nation fractured and the tribes split. In a sense, Solomon's leadership at first united the nation but then ruined it, and in a sense he twice transformed the community—once for good and once for not-so-good. That is the power of leadership.

We could go on to discuss Nehemiah, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah and Elisha, and then Peter and Paul in the New Testament. When those leaders emerged, things happened and people were inspired, healed, delivered, and the nation was transformed from what it was to what it could be. 

Leaders have this power for good or bad by God's design. God ordained leadership, and laid down rules and regulations for how leaders were to behave. When bad leaders come along, God does not scrap the concept of leadership and try something else. He replaces ineffective leaders with other leaders. One of Jesus' last acts on earth before His death was to make a significant statement about leadership at the Last Supper:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:24-27).

Jesus knew that leadership power was so intoxicating that the only antidote to keep leaders from self destructing and leading their people astray was service to others in a spirit of love. This is so rare, however, that Paul wrote a testament to Timothy because of his unusual ability and proclivity to serve:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Philippians 2:19-22).

Paul had many leaders in his sphere of influence, but only Timothy served others with selfless intent. All the others, and that includes men like Luke, Titus, Silas, and Onesiphorus, could not measure up to Timothy's selflessness. That is the reason Paul left Timothy behind in many places when persecution would not permit Paul to stay so he could set things in order. Places were never the same after Paul and Timothy came to town because godly leaders transform the people into individuals who can then join with others to form as the American Constitution says, "a more perfect union."

We are prone to be transformed for the good because leaders, like the ones in the Bible, are a rare thing. When circumstances reveal an Apostle Paul, a Churchill, a Mandela, a Lincoln, a Pope John XXIII, a Florence Nightingale, a Sojourner Truth, a Martin Luther King Jr., or a Frederick Douglas, we study their lives because they inspire us to fly higher and farther than we thought possible. When we encounter a Mao, a Hitler, an Alexander the Great, a Mussolini, an Idi Amin, or a Pol Pot, we study them because of the damage they did and the people and nations they destroyed.

Because leaders have this power to build or destroy, we must study leadership principles to learn from the best and worst. At the same time, we must recognize that leadership is like a powerful explosive. When deployed properly, it can be a great tool with which to build and shape, but when deployed poorly, it will do great harm that may take generations to overcome. I want to be a leader that improves the lot of people and organizations, even nations, when I have the chance. That means I have to take seriously all that I have written so far, and the last article that will come next, which states my fifth thought: We have a leadership crisis in the world, especially in the church. Talk to you next week.


Leadership Self-Awareness

Here is the third of five entries containing my latest thoughts on leadership. The first two focused on: Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 4.14.57 PM

  1. Leadership is a sacred trust
  2. Leaders are always developing themselves.

This third point is summarized in the statement

    3. Leadership effectiveness is based on self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the practice of paying attention to one's feelings and surroundings, especially the people with whom the leader comes in contact. For the latter to happen, however, leaders must pay attention to what they themselves are feeling and thinking. This may sound simple, but unless that skill and practice are developed, they may never occur.

I liken it to leaders learning to have an out-of-the-body experience, where they are able to step back and examine what they did, what they are doing, and what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes a coach or mentor can help them do these things, but they can easily learn to do it by themselves. The best example I can provide is from the life of Jesus when He was touched by an infirm woman: 

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace" (Luke 8:42b-49)

Even though Jesus was busy and on His way to an important meeting, He still felt someone touch Him. The people around Him were incredulous, for the crowd was pushing and jostling Him, but He was aware that something had happened to Him. This is important because His self-awareness led to Him being others-aware, and He was able to significantly help another woman in need simply because He paid attention.

You may dismiss that as a bad example or irrelevant, thinking that Jesus was divine and therefore had supernatural abilities to be in touch with Himself and His surroundings. If that's the case, then let's look at another example from the life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a servant to the king, serving royalty their food and drink. After Nehemiah heard about the terrible conditions in Jerusalem, he was burdened, so he fasted and prayed even though he was on duty. Then one day the following transpired:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time (Nehemiah 2:1-6).

If the king wasn't paying attention, he would not have noticed that Nehemiah was sad. What's more, even when he noticed, why did he care? He was the king, the most powerful man in the kingdom. Everyone's job was to make him happy and not use his power to help others--or so traditional leadership thinking has gone. The king could have been angry that one of his servants came into his presence with a sad countenance (that is perhaps why Nehemiah was afraid). The king was an effective leader whom God used because the king had trained himself to pay attention to his own feelings and thoughts, and that caused him to be empathetic and sensitive to those of others. 

Now, even if Jesus was sensitive to the woman's need because He was God, that indicates He can help us have that same sensitivity--but only if we want it. If we want it, then we will do the work necessary to have the skill to more often than not read situations and people accurately so we can lead effectively--just like Nehemiah's king did. We will cooperate with His work in our lives to put us more in touch with the needs and humanity of others as we recognize our own frailty and need. 

The goal in this self-awareness is empathy and not sympathy, for the latter is feeling for someone when they feel badly. Empathy is feeling what others feel, sometimes before they tell us, because we want to know and because we have been where they are, and can identify. Empathy can only be felt when someone has paid attention to their own journey and pain along the way, and has a heart and desire to help others who are on the same journey. 

Many say that feelings are not to be trusted, that we must not be led by our feelings. I disagree. God uses feelings to lead and guide us, and paying attention to them is vital to hearing God's voice, which is the epitome of leadership effectiveness. Heeding the messages of our heart is important if we are going to lead and guide others, for we cannot take them where we haven't gone ourselves, and God will use something as simple as paying attention to get us where He wants us to be--and to be who He wants us to be, which is effective leaders. 


Leadership Development

A few weeks ago, I began sharing five concepts from my Price of Leadership seminar that are not in my Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 11.02.42 AM book version. These five represent my latest thoughts on leadership, and we covered point one in the first post, which is 1) Leadership is a sacred trust. Now let's move on to point two:

2. Effective leaders are always developing themselves.

No one disagrees with this general principle, but as leaders get busier, usually the first things to disappear from their calendar are disciplines to help them develop and grow as individuals, which will increase their capacity to lead. What's more, there is a subtle attitude that assumes the wisdom and ability to lead will magically appear when leaders are promoted. Leaders may also think that what got them promoted to leadership is sufficient for them to lead. All these practices (the absence of training and the assumption that they are already smart and empowered enough to lead) are harmful to leadership effectiveness, and the church in particular is paying a price because its leaders have not grown in their capacity to manage and lead more.

The concept of "more" can be a controversial one in leadership circles. Some believe that more is not better, and at times they are correct. Business or church growth can become an end unto themselves, and increase can be pursued relentlessly or even held out as the one and only measure for success. At the same time, however, God's expectation for increase from his leaders is well documented throughout the Bible. 

Proverbs 14:28 states, "A growing population is a king’s glory; a prince without subjects has nothing" (NLT). One other translation reads, "A king's greatness depends on how many people he rules; without them he is nothing" (GNT). The proverb does not condemn growth, increase, or size. In fact, it seems to endorse it, as does Paul when he wrote,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of Godbeing strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:9-12, emphasis added).

Paul wanted the saints at Colossae to grow in the knowledge of God, which indicates their knowledge was to increase. By implication, the bearing fruit and being strengthened mentioned in that passage are in the context of growth or increase.

Jesus told a parable about talents (which was a measure for wealth, not natural gifts or abilities) in Matthew 25:14-30. The person who had five talents earned five more and the person with two also doubled his amount, but the one with one talent had no increase. It was this person who was condemned in the story as unworthy because he produced no increase. He did not desire more, and therefore did not grow to manage more.

A man named Lord Acton once said, "There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." He summarized a problem I mentioned earlier, and that is the attitude that somehow when a person gains a leadership position, he or she will automatically, and somehow magically, be qualified and sufficient for the work at hand. Yet, if there is to be increase, which we have seen that God expects, then that leader must work to increase his or her ability to manage and lead more. That "more" is new territory for the leader, and will require greater skill and wisdom if they are to be effective.

What are you doing to develop yourself and your ability to handle more? Here are some things I do that may be of help:

  1. I read or listen to books almost every day. That also includes updates from my favorite authors in the form of their regular blogs and podcasts.
  2. Reading and listening are part of my written, daily to-do list. I do not leave it to chance.
  3. I don't watch much TV, but when I do, I try to include documentaries and other programs of interest that will stimulate my mind and add to my body of general knowledge.
  4. I attend at least one leadership seminar or workshop every year.
  5. I walk two miles to start each day.
  6. I play word games on my smart phone.
  7. I write daily and I teach university classes regularly, especially classes I have never taught before. That forces me into new areas of learning and growth.
  8. I have my favorite leaders who I study for clues and patterns of their success, and I teach or write about them as much as possible.

I am not suggesting that you do what I do, but if you don't know where or how to start, imitating some of my practices may not be a bad idea. The bottom line is, however, that growth must be an important value for you, or else you will coast through your leadership opportunities, relying on your power, title, or authority to get things done. All those will work in the short run, but none of them will help you grow and develop. Only concerted effort to do so will produce the necessary results, and that effort will need to be maintained for the rest of your life--if you want to be an effective leader and not simply one holding a title.