You’ve had a dream that flopped. An idea that didn’t get off the ground. A passion that didn’t come to fulfillment.
I know you have.
- You wanted to write a book.
- You wanted to go to work for a non-profit.
- You wanted to start a non-profit.
- You wanted to read through the Bible in a year.
- You wanted to pray every day.
- You wanted to save enough money to go on a mission trip.
- You wanted to audition for a part in a play.
- You wanted to open your own business.
- You wanted to start, and maintain, a blog.
- You wanted to launch a small group.
- You wanted to learn a new language.
You started the process. And somewhere along the way, it lost its cool factor. Someone challenged you. Someone laughed at you. Something didn’t go exactly as you thought it would go. Things grew difficult, and hairy, and life happened.
Dinner still had to be served. Bills still had to be paid. Deadlines still had to be met. And dreaming took a back seat.
So you stopped. You walked away. And your dream, your idea, and that thing that God called you to do is disappearing in your rear-view mirror.
You tried. Got embarrassed. Then walked away.
What does that look like, in real life? Boiled down to 7 seconds? Something like this.
This is my son, Rex. He was dancing in front of the mirror. Dancing like nobody’s watchin. Then he realizes that someone is watching, and gets embarrassed. Then walks away, glancing back as he goes.
It’s funny to watch, but kinda sad, too.
Who cares what other people think? Who cares if they laugh? Who cares if you fall flat on your face? Who cares if things don’t go exactly as you hoped they’d go?
If God’s called you to do something, do it. Ignore the haters. Ignore the cameras. Ignore the failed attempts.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8
What’s God calling you to do? Be brave. Share it with us.
Drops of dirty road water hurled themselves at the hem of my gym shorts as I rounded the corner. It was a chilly February afternoon, and I was almost halfway through with my jog. It happened to be my long run for the week, the final installment that week for my 13.1 mile training plan.
As I rounded the corner, I started down a longer, straight stretch, a slight downhill section that cut its way between a row of houses, cold rainwater zipping across the road as I splashed my way down.
I looked up, and in the distance I saw the next corner I had to round. It was over a half-mile ahead. For the next minute, that’s all I focused on, and as I did, I felt myself slowing down, physically and mentally, frustrated I wasn’t further down the road. Anxious about how far I still needed to pound. My legs were ready to quit, and my mind was nodding its head in agreement. Until I looked down.
I dropped my eyes for a moment and focused on the wet pavement in front of me, putting one foot in front of the other. Looking at the pavement, then at the next puddle, then at the next mailbox, I pressed onwards until, before I knew it, the corner I’d dreaded was already behind me. The music in my ears echoed on as I focused on the next step.
The focus of a leader
There are times when leaders need to look way ahead, dream big dreams, and help paint a massive, far-off-in-the-distance picture of the bigger-than-what-we-can-even-imagine future that’s coming.
But there are also times when we need to put our heads down, and help others see that next step. Forget “the big picture.” Forget “the dream.” Forget “where we’re headed.” Just help people take that next step. Help them to not lose focus on what’s in front of them, and celebrate small wins. To look too far into the future can be paralyzing, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing.
Even a small step of faith in the right direction is worth celebrating. We’re all in process. Don’t paralyze people by the scope of the road you point them down.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Jesus, Matthew 6:34
Leaders should dream, because without dreaming there’s no forward momentum.
But dreaming without leading can leave you out-dreaming your team.
A good friend of mine has a boss that lives in her dream world. Her boss is living out her dream of owning her own small business…this is what she’s wanted to do her whole life. And she gets frustrated when those she’s hired don’t have hearts that beat for the business like hers does, and when her employees aren’t as personally invested in her dream as she is. Though she has great employees (case-in-point, my friend), they feel like they can never measure up to the standard that their boss sets as a pace for the organization, even when they’ve accomplished their job well.
I’d love to say that this only happens in the secular world, but I’d venture to reason that you’ve seen this dynamic on Sunday mornings at church. Maybe you’ve even fallen into this trap.
Ever have a volunteer you’re responsible for not show up? Ever been frustrated by that?
When church leaders grow frustrated because they’re out-dreaming those they’re leading, they often heap guilt on others. Here’s a scenario for you:
Sorry, I can’t make it this Sunday…it’s been a crazy week…I’m tired, my kids are tired, and I’m just not going to be able to make it to volunteer in the parking ministry…
Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, we’re going out of town next week and I need to get things ready…
Sorry I can’t make it this Sunday, I’m going to the _____ game Sunday afternoon…
To which every church staffer thinks
I’ve had a hard week too…I’m tired…and I want to go to that game!!
And the follow-up thought, if you’ll be honest with yourself right now, is this:
Do they really love Jesus? Because if they did…
I’ve fallen into the trap of out-dreaming those on my team. See, I’m living my dream right now. I absolutely love what I do. I love my church, the team I get to work with, and what I get to do within it. And sometimes…*shocker*…I have some volunteers that aren’t as committed to leading their small group as I am to leading this ministry.
I find a part of me growing frustrated that they’re not as invested in this as I am. Frustrated that I put long, hard hours into leading the ministry, while they have other dreams they’re pursuing (which, in the moment, I’d call less important). I’ve even thought, “If it were me, I’d give up _____ so I could lead my small group.” Or, “If I were them, I’d not let my kids do _____ so that I could love people and lead my small group well…” Those are some low moments for me.
In those moments, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that this is my dream, not theirs.
Leaders: your dream is your dream. Don’t expect that everybody is going to be invested in it like you are.
Sure, you cast vision well. Sure, you recruit leaders well. Sure, you sell the mission well. But at the end of the day
- It’s your vision, not theirs.
- It’s your job, not theirs.
- It’s your passion, not (necessarily) theirs.
- You live for this, they don’t.
- They have other dreams, you don’t.
This shouldn’t discourage you from dreaming. But if you’re going to dream, dream well.
Leaders that Dream Well
- Allow people to dream with them. Maybe you’re dreaming too small. If you’re going to accomplish your dream, you’ve got to have other people on board. More people = more laborers = more ideas = more solutions = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Allow flexibility in their dream. In this, you may have to actually give up part of your dream, but in the process, your give your dream the chance to go further. Allowing flexibility means you work from a modified, but unified dream. More flexibility = more buy-in = more unified vision = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Equip people, but don’t leave them hanging. It’s not their job, after all, to make sure your dream is accomplished. Equip them to work well, but don’t send them out to do a job because you don’t want to do it. Help them accomplish the vision you’ve given them, don’t simply heap a burden on them. More support = more effective work = less burnout = bigger, more effective dreams.
- Lead well. Lead people to adopt your vision. Don’t look at this from the “You’re either all-in or all-out” vantage point. Lead people to buy in to your vision. Cast vision well, love well, and be patient. After all, how long did it take before you fully followed what God was calling you to do? More leadership = more leaders involved (leaders attract leaders) = more followers involved (leaders also attract followers) = bigger, more effective dreams.
Have you ever out-dreamed your team?
Have you ever been expected to adopt someone else’s dream that wasn’t your own?
I’m a young leader. I’ve not been at this game very long.
I’m still trying to figure out the ropes. Understand how my giftings fit on a team. Making mistakes. Growing. Changing. Stumbling. And figuring out how to do it all better the next time around.
Working with leaders who are older, more established, and wiser can be incredibly difficult. Thankfully, the leaders who are older than me on staff at Grace Community Church make things incredibly easy.* And it’s from their leadership of me that I’ve seen some principles emerge that could be helpful to other older leaders who have young folks on their staff.
Thanks for paving the way for us. You’ve worked incredibly hard. You’ve poured your heart into this organization, and you’ve helped to establish a healthy, vibrant, growing system. And thanks for hiring us, the younger leaders! But if you want to lead us well, you’ve got to work on a few things:
- Believe in us. You did hire us, right? Then continue to believe that we can do our job well! Believe that God is going to continue to mold us and grow us and, some day, make us into better leaders. Believe that we have something valuable to contribute. Believe that we really are a vital part of the organization…and not just a hired, expendable hand.
- Encourage us. We may seem completely self-confident…but we need encouragement from someone like you. We don’t just need you to blow smoke at us. If we do a poor job, tell us! But when we do something right, when our gut-decision is the right one, when our project takes off, when we speak up in staff meeting with a new idea and it’s right on point, when you feel like we’re moving in the right direction…encourage us! We trust you, because you’ve been doing for many, many years (or even decades) what we’ve been doing for much less time. And if you tell us that we’re pointing in the right direction, it carries a lot of weight.
- Give us ample freedom within your structure. We understand that we can’t just come in and wreck everything. But if you want us to grow and develop, you’ve got to give us freedom to experiment, dream, do things differently, and be discontent with the status quo. We’re more than willing to do exceptional work…but we’ve got to have the freedom to think outside of your box. And giving us freedom may mean you’ve got to release some of your control on the system. If that scares you, then maybe you have too tight a grip.
With much respect,
Younger leaders, did I leave anything out that I should’ve included?
Older leaders, how does this sit with you?
* These principles are not a reaction to poor leadership at Grace Community Church, but are drawn from the amazing ways that Ron, Chad, and the rest of the team have shepherded me and the other younger leaders.