5 leadership truths I’ve learned from my children
1. Don’t root your identity in what people think
2. Have fun
That’s the number of pieces in the Lego set my son and I are building. It’s called the Death Star, and it’s even more epic than I anticipated. He saved his money for a long time to get it, and it hasn’t disappointed. Every single day, Rex asks if we can build a little more of it. So naturally, I’ve used it as the hook to “finish your homework then we can build a little.”
I love the time spent with my son, using our minds and our hands together. It’s good for his development, and for mine. It’s good for our relationship. And I’ve found that we can have meaningful discussions about the most important things in life while we’re working together…even more so than if we were to sit down and have a face-to-face talk. Boys seem to respond better talking side-by-side.
But enough about that.
Did you know that you can learn a little about leadership development* from Legos? (actually, you can learn a bit about leadership from almost every aspect of life if you look for it)
No person has ever built themselves either. There are no truly self-made men/women. We are all a product of the communities where we live: our city, our church, the 5 people closest to us, our small group, our hobbies, our experiences, etc.
If you want to grow in your leadership, surround yourself with people who lead like you want to lead.
Development happens in the doing, not simply in the “learning.” It’s as you lead that you learn to lead. Books, seminars, and Ted talks can only take you so far. I’ve heard it said that “community” is both a goal and the means of achieving the goal, of the Church. The same is true of leadership development.
Leadership development is both the goal and the means of achieving it.
Knowing what you’re developing towards is important, otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels. But when you have a destination in mind, it gives you the freedom to know what to say yes to…and what to turn down. It points you in the direction you need to go. We are all lumps of clay in the hand of the potter, who makes of us something beautiful and useful, giving our daily grind purpose and meaning.
Without a destination, you’ll hit it every time.
Leadership development is not simply a series of formulas you follow. You can’t check all of the boxes and magically be developed. The development happens as you improvise throughout life. That’s called wisdom.
Leadership is a purpose-driven art.
Our development will be fraught with mistakes. And there’s a tool we need day after day after day: grace. Grace for others. And grace for ourselves. Grace that we’re not perfect, nor will we ever be. (there’s also a proactive tool to help us make fewer mistakes: constantly learning)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Leadership development isn’t a “thing” you put on your to-do list. It’s a process that changes throughout life, in different seasons, ups and down, highs and lows. Different seasons expose different weaknesses that invite more development.
Have the end in mind, but remember that the best leaders are always in development.
*another word for “leadership development” is discipleship. Because we’re called as followers of Jesus to be disciples, constantly learning and growing in the way we know, love, follow, and lead others to do the same.
When I started driving at age 16, I bought a little Toyota Tercel. It was old at the time. It was a little beat up, and if you wanted to make it up a big hill you had to turn the A/C off. But I didn’t care. I was proud of that thing.
I remember one day pulling in to a gas station to get a drink. I had half of a tank of gas left, but figured that since I was there, I might as well fill up. I noticed it took longer than normal to fill up. Thinking it was just a slow pump, I went on. A couple of weeks later, I was still at 3/4 of a tank but decided to fill up again. It took a long time again.
As I pulled out, the gauge jumped from full to empty to full. I pulled over to the side of the road.
I didn’t know what was going on, and I was just praying I would make it home. As I looked down at the gas gauge again, it was full. Completely.
And I was confused. Completely.
The next day, I was on empty again. But before I could pull in to the station, the needle had gone back to full.
What was happening was the mechanism that controlled the needle telling me how much gas I had in the tank was broken. So on a 10 minute drive across town, I would go from full to empty a dozen times. It was maddening. And anxiety-producing.
When I thought I was full of gas, I’d been running on empty.
It’s entirely possible that you’re running on fumes but you don’t know it. It’s possible you could be out of fuel but think you’ve got a full tank. Cruising around town, you’re about to have to call a tow truck.
If you’re a leader, you’re in an even greater danger of not just taking yourself out of service, but taking others with you.
God has given us some gauges to help us know whether our spiritual tanks are full or not.
Sometimes they are broken (though more often than not, the problem is that we choose to ignore the warning signs). I’ve found that some of the best gauges are actually questions you can ask yourself.
1. How’s your family?
Start with this question. Because your family (or those closest to you) know you often better than you know yourself. And they’re a great indicator for you. If they’re worn out, but you don’t feel that way, your gauge might be broken. You may be physically, emotionally, and spiritually running them ragged. Check that gauge.
Our hearts deceive ourselves, and we need others to help us see what we’re blind to. Those that know us best can help. Have you ever asked them?
2. Are you growing more anxious?
The Bible says to be anxious about nothing, (Philippians 4:6-7) which is easier said than done. We can easily find ourselves anxious about everything. Finances, job security, spiritual growth, physical health, parenting issues, retirement, and tomorrow’s to-do list keep you up all night.
If you’re growing anxious, you’re running on empty.
3. Are you growing less patient?
Patience is a sign of peace. And peace is a sign of rest. And rest is a product of intentionally sabbathing.
Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32
If you find yourself with a short fuse, with patience constantly out of reach, you’re closer to *empty* than you think.
And I don’t just mean “are you sleeping enough,” though that may be part of it.
Are you working so hard you need the rest? And resting so well you need the work?
5. Are you feeling less fulfilled?
Fulfillment comes from doing what God created you to do. That’s based on your spiritual gifts, your heart, your abilities, your personality and experiences (HN: Class 301 at Saddleback). So your interpreting a lack of fulfillment isn’t your job’s fault. Or your marriage’s. Or your local church’s. Or your home’s. It’s a by-product of a heart that’s searching for fulfillment in the wrong places. Here’s where life’s found:
And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. – The Apostle John, 1 John 5:11-12
A lack of fulfillment should signal to you that your gauge should be on empty. Time to fill up.
Have you been running on empty and didn’t even know it?
I love superhero movies. There’s something fun about getting lost in the fantasy world of capes, masks, and gargantuan fists. To see someone climb up the side of a building gets me stoked. To see someone smash the ground so hard it causes an earthquake makes me smile. And through a series of unforeseen, never-could’ve-guessed-it plot twists and turns that are completely predictable, the good guys win. I like that.
It’s fantasy in all the right ways.
I’m not always looking for a drama. I like to watch movies for the escape value. Life’s hard enough, so why be reminded about it on a 20-foot HD screen with surround sound? Can I get an “amen!”?
But when it comes to real life, there’s inherent danger in wearing a mask though it might be more fun and “safer.” It’s “easier” for me to pretend like everything’s always ok in my life. It’s easier for me to wear the mask of
There’s a gap between who you are and who you want to be. And this is a universal truth. As I look across my life, there is so much that I wish I could do. So many areas where I wish I was better, stronger, more articulate, and a better leader. So many areas that I wish I’d matured in.
There’s a gap between who I am and who I want to be. And I’m not alone in this.
I look at their marriage and wish mine were more like that. I look at the way they parent and realize I’m not where I need to be. I see their leadership and am quickly reminded I’m not as strong as them. I see the way they handle adversity and notice I’m not able to do what they do. I watch they way they navigate complexity and chaos and wish I were different. I see the way they speak, they write, they excel, and realize I’m not them.
My gap is wider than yours in certain areas. And narrower in others. In some areas of my life, I have a gap where you don’t. But we all have gaps. So we try to cover those with a superhero mask. Because superheroes are strong where we wish we were. Superheroes can overcome anything. And they always win.
They aren’t scared. They can take a bullet. They can fly, climb, and throw cars to save people. Everybody loves them. Kids want to dress up like them for Halloween.
Nobody’s ever wanted to dress up like me for Halloween.
When we look at others strengths, it’s easy to compare what they’re great at with what we’re weak at. And that’s not fair. God’s given you strengths so you can use them to serve others. If we were strong in everything, we may be tempted to think we don’t need God.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10
Others’ strengths aren’t your strengths. Your weakness isn’t theirs. So stop comparing.
The gaps we see in life can’t be crossed on their own. And the gap between who we are and who we want to be can be an awfully large chasm that isn’t traversed overnight.
It’s hard to exercise faith when the skies are blue and we feel like we can “handle” everything. When we’re weak, unsure how and where to take the next step, we can grow in our faith.
If you look across your life and don’t see any gaps, be scared. Because your faith isn’t growing. And you’re probably looking in the wrong direction.
Exercise some faith and grow.
People are more endeared to you through your weaknesses than through your strengths. Because they have weaknesses, too! In fact, Paul the apostle says
But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
If you want to fully embrace grace, and fully embrace the power of the One that rose from the dead, take that mask off. After all, you’re not fooling anyone.
Ever tried boasting about your weaknesses?
You are known by God more fully than anyone on this planet. God even knows you better than you know yourself. And as deeply and fully as you are know, you are loved.
It’s impossible to be fully loved without being fully known. But most of us walk around in fear that if we’re fully known, we won’t be fully loved. Thankfully, that’s not the case with God. He knows our weaknesses. Our joys. Our tendencies to mess things up. He knows our past and our future. Yet still He loves us.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! – God (Isaiah 43:1)
Live in that.
Two major shifts happen when you make the transition from “tourist” to “resident.”
Safety is good, as long as you don’t rot. Home is good as long as you don’t spend all of your time lazing on your couch.
Recently, we traveled about 350 miles from our home in California, to the state of Arizona. The place we went was a desert, with temperatures hitting 116 degrees Fahrenheit while we were there. But let me tell you, it was one of the most beautiful parts of the country we had ever visited. The mountains, the cacti, the wildlife, and the colors were simply stunning.
While we were there, we acted like tourists. Because we were. We took tons of pictures, drove all over the place, and stared way too long at rocks. Everything was different, new, and alive.
And in the process of being tourists, I learned a couple of things we naturally did as a newbie to the area that translate to leadership.
Tourists are curious.
Leadership: Be genuinely curious. Curiosity is the pursuit of something previously unknown to you. Be curious when it comes to potential solutions, new systems, and ideas. Approach problems as if it’s your first time there. Not your first time on Earth…use your intelligence. But be curious.
Tourists ask a lot of questions
Leadership: Ask questions constantly. This is how you’ll learn people’s motives, direction, and desires. Questions uncover truths, and get to the bottom of difficult situations much more effectively than when you come in and “have all of the answers.” Questions don’t put people on the defensive, but give them a chance to safely share.
Tourists search out new things
Leadership: Never be content with, ‘But we’ve always done it this way…’ Every new, shiny object isn’t worth pursuing, but be on the lookout for ideas, systems, and directions outside of your box.
Tourists are amazed with the ‘ordinary.’
As a tourist, you notice more about a place than a resident notices. Your eyes aren’t glossed over by the mundane everyday passings of life.
Leadership: Joy fuels ministry. Never lose the “why” behind the “what.” For us as Saddleback, we work to continually gather stories of life change, and share those with one another. It reminds us why we do what we do.
Tourists continually learn.
I picked up pamphlets. I Googled stuff. I sat and listened to tour Guides.
Leadership: Leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning is the moment you stop leading. Read books, listen to podcasts, go to conferences, and stretch your mind to think, dream, and strategize.
Leadership: Go do something new. If you’ve got a problem you’re facing in leadership, going about solving it the same way you tried last time is foolishness. You’re not going to get different results. (side note: if you don’t have any problems in leadership, just quit. Because your job isn’t necessary anymore. Leadership is needed when there’s a problem.)
The safety and security that comes when your role starts to feel like “home” is something we strive for. But the danger is that the feeling of comfort would lead us to laziness, a lack of curiosity, and half-hearted work.
So take your feet off the couch and go exploring.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Paul, Colossians 3:23-24
Every culture and organization has rules. Spoken and unspoken, these rules provide safety, security, and a roadmap through which everybody walks.
Rules aren’t evil. They’re set in place by people with the best of intentions in order to guide the culture towards the vision.
Sometimes, the rules win, and we’re broken by them. Sometimes we win, and the rules are broken by us. [tweet that]
We leaders have a responsibility. Because what they do, others follow, whether positively or negatively.
Followers don’t have the same influence as leaders. Sure, they can break, or follow, the rules. And sure, there are consequences on both sides of either decision.
But it’s leaders that shape a culture’s values by the way they handle rules. [tweet that]
When I was on staff at Grace, I remember one of the “rules” was that we were supposed to follow was when we hosted our connection event. “The best time for this is during the week,” we were told. But if our aim was to connect the maximum number of people, we wanted to offer this event at the time when the maximum number of people were present: during the weekend services. So we broke the rules, hosted it immediately following a weekend service, and doubled the number of people we connected to small groups.
At Saddleback right now, we’re in a church wide small groups campaign. One “rule” we broke was offering a 2nd pickup location for curriculum on our main patio. We didn’t change just for the sake of change. We had the vision in mind: to offer a high level of customer service to people who were starting new small groups.
Leaders shape the rules, while others follow. Which is a great responsibility.
They need to be broken, or bent, or completely rewritten. Maybe they’ve stopped serving their intended purpose. Maybe they’re hindering growth. Maybe it’s time for your culture to move past them. Leaders recognize this, and find a way to mobilize others to shape the rule.
They need to be returned to their original aim. Rules can at times be broken for the wrong reasons, and leaders recognize when this has caused a cultural shift. Leading the way by following the rules can often take as much (or even more) courage as breaking them. And it’s often much less sexy.
But how do you know whether to follow, or break, the rules?
Wisdom understands and sees the vision, and heads towards it despite all costs. Break the rules, keep the rules, but at all costs, let wisdom drive you head first towards the vision. [tweet that]
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. – Proverbs 4:7-9
Is there a rule you need to break today?
Just the other day, while doing box jumps at the gym I’m a part of, I injured myself.
But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
My family and I just made a massive move across the United States, from Nashville to California. From the syrupy sweet Southern US culture to the fast-paced, always-sunny Southern California.
To say that Nashville is different that Orange County would be the understatement of the century.
But we’re adjusting. Slowly, but surely, we’re building healthy relationships, finding our rhythm, and figuring out where to get the oil changed.
Coming on staff at Saddleback has already been an amazing adventure. I’ve learned more here than I’ve learned in the same amount of time in any other place. The learning curve is steep, and the amount of content, strategy, and intentionality runs deep in this place. I love it. It’s such a great fit for me in how God’s wired me for ministry.
Even though I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above water most days.
I’ve learned a few things about leadership since I’ve been here. I can tell this is a place where I’ll continue to learn in every season of life and ministry.
This is a little nugget I’ve picked up on as I’ve spent time around leadership. In other words, don’t just do an event. Help people to take the next step in their faith journey. Don’t just host a marriage conference. Recruit small group hosts and ministry leaders. Don’t just give out resources…use them to draw people into ministry. Don’t just host a family missions event…use it to help people step in to a small group.
Your next step is just as important as the current one. (Tweet that)
Learning the culture, values, and language of an organization is often the difference between successfully transitioning into an organization and staying back on the starting line. Taking the time and space to on-board well is one of the keys to building a solid foundation. For me, I’ve done this by listening, studying, and reading. By buying cups of coffee for staffers, church members, and small group hosts. By listening WAY more than I talk.
They help you grab the real values of an organization. Relationships help you understand how things REALLY get done. They help you feel at home, like you’re a part of a family. They help you learn what people do intuitively that needs to be made known. Relationships help you move further, faster.
Without relationships, you’ll shrivel on the vine. (Tweet that)
Understanding how you’re going to accomplish your core values is key. Your strategy is unique to your local congregation, your organization, your business, or your family. Understand your strategy and relentlessly work it.
The cultural demographic in Southern California is just the slightest bit different than the one in Nashville, TN. Understanding the people you’re trying to reach is vital to progress and growth. Know what they value, where they go, and how they spend their free time.
Without a knowledge of your city’s culture, you’ll never move forward. (Tweet that)
I have heard Saddleback’s story dozens of times since I’ve been here. And every time I hear it, I feel more and more like this is my home church. That Saddleback’s story is my story.
Stories, not programs, inspire people. (Tweet that)
If you’re married and/or have children, your primary calling is to your family. Giving your family your second best is never okay. “Killing it” in ministry but not investing time and energy into your family is not okay.
Pastor: if you lose your family, we all lose. (Tweet that)
It doesn’t matter what part of the country you serve. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the church world, the business world, or volunteering in your community. Cynicism can eat an organization from the inside out. Cynicism callouses your heart towards growth and change, and keeps you from believing God’s best about your organization and the people you’re called to lead.
Run, don’t walk, from cynicism. It’ll steal your heart. (Tweet that)
You want to be a better leader, in life and in your small group. I know you do.
Nobody that reads, watches instructional videos, and seeks to grow in their faith says, “I want to put this work in…so that my leadership capacity decreases.” Nobody.
This is one of the best talks on small group leadership that I have ever heard. My friend John Morgan (blog, Twitter, Facebook) gave the talk at a leadership rally I held for small group leaders at Long Hollow Baptist Church. Whether you’re on a church staff, a small group leader, or not, this video will help you become a better leader.
(the video’s long, but worth carving 35 minutes out for)
In case you missed them, here are the 8 keys:
1. Vision – what is my small group going to look like?
Without vision, you’re not going to accomplish anything. (Tweet that)
2. Attitude – if your attitude is bad, your life will be bad.
Your attitude in how you respond to problems is the determining factor in your life. And your attitude shifts others’ attitudes, whether positively or negatively.
A negative attitude is one of the primary causes of failure. (Tweet that)
If you’re not fired up about your group, nobody else will be.
3. Confidence – improvement comes from self-improvement.
If you want your group to grow, you need to grow. Be “selfish” with your own personal spiritual growth. If you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to. (Tweet that)
4. Environment – you can motivate others by having faith in them.
Believe that the Holy Spirit changes lives, and create environments where that can happen best. (Tweet that)
5. Seek – learn from those with the knowledge and how-to that you lack.
Who has time to read? You do! “There’s no such thing as a time management problem. There are only priority management problems.” (Tweet that)
6. Bravery – faith is tested in the moments of difficulty.
Fear regret more than you fear failure. If we remembered people for their failures, Christopher Columbus would be the guy that didn’t find India.
You owe it to your small group to be brave. (Tweet that)
7. Initiative – develop habits of taking action before they’re ready.
Don’t wait until your group is “ready” for their next step. Push now. Don’t wait until the church does a small groups push to get people into group life. Take the initiative now. Invite people to join your group.
It’s a shame that sales people do a better job than the Church. (Tweet that)
8. Habits: can you create your vision with your current habits?
Your habits create your reality. Everyone of you is happy with where your life is, and where your group is. If you weren’t you’d be changing your habits and standards. Your small group is as good as you want it to be. (Tweet that)
I’ve talked with a number of men and women in ministry, and I’ve noticed an alarming problem. It’s often felt but rarely talked about. Just below the surface, it affects daily interactions, vision casting, and strategic planning. It affects how we relate to God and how we relate to others.
I call it post-traumatic-church-disorder.
It may not be a professional diagnoses, but it’s a real issue.
You’ve heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, right?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. – mayoclinic.org
PTSD happens after a terrifying event. PTCD, however, happens after a traumatic, stressful, chaotic, terrifying, painful experience or season in a local church. It can happen after events that our society would deem abusive (physical, sexual, verbal) and/or traumatic. PTCD cuts deeply. If there’s a place where your spiritual, emotional, and physical life should be safe, it is in a local church.The safety net you should feel by being there erodes. Finding abuse and traumatic events where a wall of safety and health should exist carves deep wounds on your soul. You may begin to deal with this issue after having been in an local church that is filled with one, or more, of the following features characterizing its leadership (whether paid staff, volunteer leadership, or elders):
Church staff/leadership teams can have these attitudes and behaviors creep in over time. And you’d be foolish to think that one person that’s dominated by one of these traits doesn’t seep its way into other staff members and into the church at large.
One bad apple spoils the bunch, and one bad staffer can spoil the team. (Tweet that)
These prideful character traits can destroy staff and church morale quicker than just about anything else.
It doesn’t take long for PTCD to set in. Just a season or two of a self-serving, manipulative, controlling leadership in your life can move your heart to a dark place. Trust is built over time, but is torn down in a moment. (Tweet that) Fortunately or not, our view of the local church greatly impacts our view of God.
How do you know if you’re suffering from PTCD? Here are some markers.
Be careful that PTCD doesn’t wreck your heart. It can. And it will. Satan would love nothing more than to keep you from Church by convincing you Church is worth keeping from. (Tweet that) By couching “Church” in the category of pain, frustration, and uselessness, you’ll sideline yourself when the Church needs you and your voice.
Here’s how you can guard your heart from growing distant and calloused:
Start here. End here. And fill every moment with asking God to guard you from bitterness, inaction, and callousness. It realigns your heart with what pleases, and what breaks, the heart of God.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Remind yourself of who the Church is.
The Church is the bride of Christ. It’s the one for whom Christ suffered and died. And remember this…Jesus had to suffer and die because the Church isn’t perfect. We’re a bunch of messed up sinners who continue to do battle against our flesh. Church leaders are sinners being redeemed, too. The Church isn’t perfect, but its Redeemer is. And He loves his bride. (Ephesians 5:21-33)
Help make better decisions
Instead of complaining, speak in to the life and leadership of your local church. If you see things differently, that just might be a gift you could give. When you see a different path, point it out. When you see disunity, expose it. When you see poor, abusive leadership, blow the whistle. Terrible leadership begets terrible leadership unless you speak up.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or they will become wise in their own estimation. – Proverbs 26:5
Keep serving. Give of yourself until it hurts. Give of yourself until it costs you something. This will help curb your tendency of thinking that your local church only exists for you. Yes, we’re broken. Yes, we’re imperfect. But the Church is better when you serve. And as you serve, you become a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.
Don’t go at it alone
Don’t be so foolish that you think you can work through PTCD on your own. (Tweet that) Masking over problems doesn’t make them go away. Find someone you can be open, honest, and transparent with. You need an outside perspective in order to biblically, helpfully, and healthily walk through this issue.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Don’t give up on the local church. She is the bride of Christ, as broken and twisted as she sometimes can be. She’s worth fighting for.
She’s redemption in process. (Tweet that)