Essentials of Leadership

John Maxwell always has great leadership insight, but this week I discovered an article by Rick Warren that is worth digesting. It is primarily written for pastors, but it is applicable to all of us:

Leaders are always defined by self-imposed standards. I’m not talking about standards set by other people, but standards they set for themselves. Great leaders always expect more from themselves than they do from their followers. They put forth more effort as well. That’s leadership.

If you were to look through the New Testament for the phrase “make every effort,” you’d find it six times. They represent six important vows we need to make as leaders. I believe these six vows will lead to an effective and productive ministry.

1) Vow to maintain integrity

“Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14).

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. No one is perfect. To be spotless and blameless means to live with integrity. How do you maintain integrity if you’re not perfect? You need to be transparent. A person of integrity is not claiming to have it all together in every area. On the contrary, the person of integrity is willing to be open about their strengths and weaknesses.

Having integrity also means living what you say you believe. You model what you teach. And you tell the truth, even when it’s tough. All leadership is built on trust. And trust comes from having the reputation for living out what you believe and for telling the truth. As a pastor and leader, people must trust you.

2) Vow to forgive those who hurt you.

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

Leaders forgive those who hurt them. You will be hurt in ministry. It’s going to happen. It’s a given. You will be hurt both intentionally and unintentionally. You will be hurt by those who recognize what they’re doing and those who don’t. You cannot be in ministry without being hurt. If you call the shots, you’re going to take the shots.

But you’ve got to be willing to forgive those who try to take you down. If you allow bitterness to build, it will choke your heart for God and your love for people until your heart just shrivels.

3) Vow to relax and trust God.

“Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter into God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:11).

If you’re going to be in ministry, you’ve got to learn to relax. You need to be concerned about the people around you, but at the same time, you’re not God. You can’t bear everybody’s burden all the time.

How do you release those burdens? First, you’ve got to pray. Ultimately, God is the one responsible for your flock. He’s the one responsible for the growth of your ministry. Share your burdens with him in prayer.

Then you need to spend some time in God’s Word meditating on his promises. Remember what God has done in the past – in God’s Word and in your own life. God has a good track record of taking care of us. Remember what God has done for you when you’re tempted to let the stress of your ministry position overwhelm you.

4) Vow to be an encourager.

“Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

As a Christian leader, you should build people up rather than tear them down. God has called you to be an encourager, not a discourager. Take the time to look beyond the problems and look at the potential of those you lead. People get discouraged in life; you need to be a source of encouragement.

As pastors, we are dispensers of hope. That’s what it means to be a Christian leader. You bring the hope of Jesus into a hopeless situation. You help people who seem to be helpless. You let them know they can do it.

5) Vow to be a peacemaker.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Leaders are called to make every effort to reduce conflict. Our society is filled with conflict. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” How do you make peace in such a fragmented society?

You’ve got to deal with different points of view. Not everybody is like you in your church. And that’s good. Everyone has something to contribute. The perspective of those who see the world differently can add something indispensable to your ministry.

At Saddleback we value unity, not uniformity. You can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye on every issue. God can overlook lack of programs in your church. He can overlook a lack of ability. But God will not bless a divided church.

That means one of your most important jobs is to promote unity. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts, the Bible says the church was unified. When you have the unity of Acts, you will have the power of Acts.

6) Vow to never stop growing.

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Learning is the lifestyle of leadership. The moment you think you know it all, you’re dead in the water. You must never stop growing. Growing ministries require growing leadership. You’ve got to train yourself continually.

Keep reading. Get a mentor. Solicit feedback. Ask questions. Always look for ways to keep growing in your character and your skills. The very nature of leadership is tied to growth. You’ve got to grow if you are going to lead others to grow.

Take a regular look at yourself. Where do you need to grow? What do you need to learn? What’s the best way to get the training you need? Make a learning plan every year. Your future leadership depends upon it. Will you commit to keep growing as a leader and as a person?

Leaders are Encouragers

I received word today that our new Director of Children’s Ministries went to visit a newborn and her family, taking a gift and making a timely visit to the whole family. I am reminded of the ministry of the church, to be involved in the lives of others; that’s called fellowship. There are days and weeks where we all have so much on our plates, and these types of opportunities for encouragement often fall through the cracks.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. (Philippians 2:1, 2)

John Maxwell once wrote that there is a difference between being a leader and being a manager. He often points out that management focuses on maintaining systems and processes, while leadership is about “influencing people to follow.” One way to cultivate such influence is quite simple: Influence involves sincerely caring about other people.

I sent hand written notes to two men who just returned from military deployments. Last week I was able to send an e-mail to someone at work who was having a birthday. Can you send a card at an appropriate time? A kind word can mean a lot. If somebody is struggling with an issue (or with life in general), simply sitting and listening can be worth more than any words that may come to mind. And don’t forget prayer, for “the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16).

Encouragement isn’t just for those who know Christ; all people need to hear positive words, especially the words that tell of One who died for us so that we can have eternal life. Let’s strive to be an encouragement to all we come in contact with daily. How will you influence someone else today?

How to Avoid Burnout

I’ve been studying the life of Paul over the past couple of months and wanted to pass on this information, perhaps you can relate:

Life is so busy these days, family, work, church, and we try to schedule a little time for leisure activities. As in any church, there is a large group of people who do a tremendous amount of volunteering. While many serve with joy, we can easily move toward burnout and lose that joy, forgetting the purpose we serve in the first place. I have discovered from Paul that the best time to deal with burnout is before you burnout. Take a look at Second Corinthians chapter four where Paul tells us how to go the distance.

Remember God’s mercy and don’t lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1): God has given us our particular ministries. We don’t have to prove our worth through our ministry, and we don’t have to wallow in our mistakes. It is God who calls and gives us strength.

Be truthful and honest in all you do (2 Corinthians 4:2): Maintain our integrity because integrity produces power in life. Guilt zaps your energy. You need to finish with your character intact. Your integrity includes how you handle the Word of God. Don’t distort it or make it confusing. Don’t serve others out of guilt.

Be motivated to work for Jesus’ sake, not out of selfish desires (2 Corinthians 4:5): We need the right motivation to serve others. We have to start as servants and end as servants, not celebrities, like people can see all that we do for God. We need to learn to live our lives for an audience of one, and that one is Jesus Christ, our only motivation.

Realize that Christians are only human (2 Corinthians 4:7): We must accept our limitations. The quickest way to burn out is to try to be Superman. Humility is being honest about your weaknesses, and recognizing that we don’t need to do everything in order to be faithful. Pace yourself for the important things, not just the urgent things.

Develop a true love for others (2 Corinthians 4:15): Churches and believers thrive, grow, and survive when love is present. We must love the people we serve or we won’t last in the ministry God has for us. Love even covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Allow time for inward rejuvenation (2 Corinthians 4:16): Serving others can be hard and take a lot out of us, so it is important to allow the inner person to be renewed. Take time for reflection, solitude, reading and prayer.

Stay focused on the important things (2 Corinthians 4:17-18): Let’s keep our eyes on the goal, not the difficulties we might encounter. I’ve heard it said that only God who sees the invisible can achieve the impossible. To be a winner in this marathon of faithful service, we need trust God and press on even when things don’t make sense.

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How to Keep from Stumbling

By the time we get to Acts chapter 11, Paul (Saul at the time) is reintroduced into the story. It was really a turning point in his ministry because after the Jews sought to kill him, Paul headed back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). We know that he went to Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21) but it was five years from the time he left for Tarsus and we pick up in Acts 11. Some scholars call this the missing years of Paul. Let’s consider what might have happened during this time.

God told Ananias that He would show Saul how much he must suffer for His sake (Acts 9:16), and God began to bring this into focus right away. Paul writes about his life of hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27); prison, floggings, five times he received 40 lashes, beatings, a stoning, lost at sea, constantly on the move, danger in the city, the country, at sea and from false brothers, gone without sleep, been hungry, thirsty, cold and naked. God wasn’t kidding about the suffering. A lot of the persecution is not recorded in the book of Acts so perhaps these sufferings took place during these missing years.

Persecution scattered the early believers and those in Antioch were faithful, so much so that many people came to faith in Christ (Acts 11:21). When God desires to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), He generally seeks out a remnant of righteous followers who usually don’t conform to what others might expect. These types don’t really care about popularity or tradition. The news from Antioch eventually reached the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22) and when they came to see for themselves, they saw evidence of God’s grace (Acts 11:23).

One of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas, encouraged the believers to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23); to basically plan in advance to remain faithful to Christ. It is a practical reality that the most effective time to resolve to be obedient to Christ is in advance of the persecution or difficulty. It’s hard to make up your mind to be faithful in times of trouble or temptation at the time you’re going through it. A conviction ahead of time settles the issue and allows us to remain strong when the world around us tells us to compromise.

Application: People may not be trying to kill you, beat you or otherwise harm you, but it would make many people happy to see someone who claims to be a follower of Christ stumble and fall to a moral failure, or compromise in some area that required integrity, or give in to some vice or habit that is left over from the old way of life. How will you stand when those around you fall? We stand tall when we are on our knees (in prayer).

As we seek God and strive to follow His direction in life, we can determine ahead of time how we will respond to temptations, how to flee from the trap set by the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). That’s what conviction is all about. After I was able to develop a settled faith, no one has been able to sway me into compromise or to consider that Christ is not the ultimate reality in my life. It’s not that I am immune to personal failure (I’m only human and I know the darkness that lurks within), but I have certain convictions of right and wrong that do not cause me confusion in the midst of these temptations. Heeding the encouragement of Barnabas, I have resolved to be obedient to Christ in advance of the persecution, difficulty or temptation. By God’s grace I am able to trust that He will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). How about you? Do you need someone to whom you will be accountable to remain pure? It’s imperative that you enter into relationships with godly men who will hold you accountable and encourage you when you are ready to give in or give up.