Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Leader's Pitfalls

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (I Timothy 4: 12)

When we began our “Crunch Time” message series last week I shared the sad accounts of two successful men, one in politics and the other a church planter. Both men exploded onto the scene in their respective fields with great success. Both men created another explosion by admitting moral failure. They are but 2 examples of an all too familiar tale. They are examples of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. They are both highly educated, extremely gifted, and yet I am sure their lives are one of supreme disappointment.

What happened? Simply put, they veered off course. They knew a pit would be at the end of the road laid out before them, and yet they did not have the strength to steer clear and avoid the pain their failure produced for them, their family, and countless others who were looking to them for leadership. Henry Blackaby says they have “shipwrecked their lives” by making careless, foolish choices. They are not alone. I have prayed and counseled others who have followed the same path. Blackaby says there are 10 common pitfalls we must avoid as spiritual leaders. Let me briefly list them and give a quote or two:

The 10 Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership

1. Pride – “Spiritual leaders are God’s servants, but pride can cause them to act as if God were their servant, obliged to answer their selfish prayers and to bless their grandiose schemes. (Prov. 27:2; Dan. 4:29-31) Pride, our greatest enemy, makes us self-sufficient and unteachable.

2. Sexual sin – Sexual sin is the most notorious, because it has “the heinous power to destroy a career, a family, and a reputation, all in one blow.” Moral failure is not from a lack of information on our part. It is the result of poor choices and unhealthy habits.

3. Cynicism – “Leaders who surrender their positive attitudes have resigned themselves to be mediocre leaders at best. Negative leaders spawn negative organizations. Cynical leaders cultivate cynical followers.”

4. Greed – “Wise leaders know that the measure of their success is not the size of their bank account but the quality of their lives.”

5. Mental laziness – “Good leaders never stop learning and never stop thinking. Wise leaders take the time to process every major event and learn. They never stop learning or evaluating, so they never stop growing.”

6. Oversensitivity – “People who cannot handle criticism need not apply for leadership positions. Being criticized, second-guessed, and having one’s motives questioned are unpleasant but inevitable aspects of leadership.”

7. Spiritual lethargy – “A leader’s enthusiasm to make things happen will tempt them to forgo the passive pursuit of spending time with God. Leaders in Christian ministry are busy people. We must never see the Bible as a textbook for a sermon, but as the living Word of God!”

8. Domestic neglect – “Leaders should get in the habit of marking significant events as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and special events on their calendars so they do not schedule unnecessary outside commitments on those dates.”

9. Administrative carelessness – “Leaders are, by nature, visionaries. They may focus so much attention on the vision of where their organization is going that they neglect to build the kind of organization that can actually arrive at the destination.”

10. Prolonged position holding – “Good speakers recognize that if they haven’t made their point after thirty minutes, they might as well send their parishioners home to roast beef. Similarly, we must know when the time has come to exit graciously and allow a new leader to step in.”

Henry Blackaby offers a series of questions to meditate upon if you are in a position of spiritual leadership:

1. Do I pray regularly with at least one other leader?

2. Are there other leaders with whom I am free to be candid about my personal struggles?

3. Who holds me accountable to follow through on what I know to be God’s will?

4. What safeguards have I built around my relationship with my spouse? Are they adequate to protect me from temptation?

5. How am I presently studying and applying God’s Word to my life?

6. Have I built safeguards around my time with God?

7. When was the last time I clearly heard God speaking to me? How did I respond to what he said?

8. Do I have people who are willing to challenge my actions when they think they are harmful?

9. Are the fruits of the Spirit growing in me? (Gal. 5:22-23) Am I becoming more and more like Christ?

Avoiding the Pitfalls,

Dr. Derek

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Leader's Schedule

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17)

Time management in ministry is one of the most important things for ministers to gain control of, especially for people persons who love to talk and visit. I must admit this is an area of discipline I was fortunate enough to gain valuable insight from admired pastors and began to set a pattern for what works best for me.

One of the things I enjoyed from Blackaby’s chapter on time management is his analysis of proper scheduling in order to stay on God’s agenda. He says, “God never burns people out. He never piles on more than someone can handle. Therefore, wise leaders realize there is no way they can satisfy the desires of all the people who clamor for their time.”

As a pastor of a growing congregation on two campuses, I cannot best serve the needs of our church by availing myself to everything that vies for my attention. If I do, then I sacrifice the primary for the secondary. Therefore, I have developed some routines that have changed very little over these last 10 years. In case you are not aware of my weekday schedule, here goes:

Monday – Time for evaluation of the previous Sunday. I evaluate and address some weekly spiritual check-up questions:

“How much time did I spend in personal Bible study and prayer last week?”

“Did I personally share the Gospel within the last 7 days?”

“Am I holding something in my heart that is hurtful and divisive?”

“Did I give God my best?”

“Did I lead in my area of ministry with excellence?”

“Do I minister like I am a “fisher of men” or a “keeper of the aquarium?”

“Is my passion for Christ’s church increasing or decreasing?”

“Am I giving my best because I believe the best days of the church are ahead and not behind?”

“Am I desiring average or awesome?”

“Is there anything happening in my life privately that, if it became public, would damage the Church and my future ministry?

Starting the week with a little spiritual heart check is a good way to prepare me for the week ahead. Afterwards, I try to clean and organize my desk, make out my “to do list” for the week, draft any correspondence that needs to go out, etc. In short, I am usually a little brain dead on Monday, so I really don’t do a lot of in-depth message preparation. I visit the hospitals. I listen to Adrian, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, and other favorite preachers to get my tank filled. Then, I meet with my men’s small group that evening.

Tuesday – A good morning of study, followed by any scheduled appointments in the afternoon. If there are no scheduled meetings, I utilize the time for calendar planning, etc. Occasionally, I have committee meetings on Tuesday nights.

Wednesday – Staff meeting at 8:00 AM, followed by a full day of sermon preparation and prayer. I do not take appointments at all, unless an emergency arises. This makes for a long day, especially for days like yesterday, with lunch in my office, dinner at church, followed by quarterly business meeting at the north campus, then a leadership team meeting at the south campus, pulling into the driveway at 9:45 AM. A good day, but a long day.

Thursday – Study time in the mornings, followed by some writing responsibilities (Monday Morning Manna, etc.), individual staff time if needed, office stuff or appointments in the afternoon, etc.

Friday – I spend the day with the most important person in my life (outside of Christ) – My beautiful wife. When I can, I speak at Celebrate Recovery.

Several years ago a very wise older pastor shared great truth with me: “If you do not make a plan for your time, someone else will.” The apostle Paul would describe that as a “trustworthy statement worthy of full acceptance.” So, please be patient when you call to speak with me and I am in study. Let my secretary know if your call is urgent, and she will let me know asap. I try to keep my door open for you without neglecting my primary responsibility: preaching and prayer.

Henry Blackaby says, “Great leaders want their lives to count, so they use their time wisely.” I do not consider myself a great leader, but I do want my life individually and our ministry corporately, to count! These are evil days. Let’s make the most of our time for the glory of God.

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Leader's Decision Making

What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18)

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” (2 Corinthians 5: 9-11)

I have heard it said many times, that the fastest way to lose credibility as a leader is to make foolish decisions that lead people down a blind alley or off the end of a pier! I think back over almost thirty years of ministry and all the impetuous and ill-considered decisions I have made and realize the lack of prayer and caution displayed by a fallen and perhaps ill-equipped shepherd. I would venture that every shepherd has made them. And, therefore, decision making is a fundamental responsibility of any church shepherd and leader. Every decision impacts hundreds of people. How do we go about making a decision that glorifies God and blesses our church?

Blackaby’s Guidelines For Decision Making:

· Leaders allow the Holy Spirit to guide them.

· Leaders are teachable.

· Leaders know their history.

· Leaders know they are accountable to God.

As you can see, Henry Blackaby emphasizes the importance of bathing each and every decision in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts. Just this morning, I read to our staff from Proverbs 2 and the aggressive pursuit of a wise, discerning mind. Solomon says if we “treasure God’s commands within us, and incline our heart to understanding, and cry out for discernment”, then we will “discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:1-5)

So, we must prepare our hearts for God to use, we must allow God to teach us where we need to grow and learn; we must look at the history of our organization, and remember that we will stand before God, who takes note of every word, thought, and deed.

Now, what should we do once a decision has been made? Blackaby says:

· Leaders accept the consequences.

· Leaders admit their mistakes.

· Leaders stand by their decisions.

So, we must trust God to direct and stick with what we know God has burned in our hearts. As a pastor I know that the buck stops on my desk. Therefore, each decision must be biblical and prayerful. I confess that making decisions would be much easier if there were no consequences, but I know that is only found in fairy tales and movies. Real decisions that impact real lives have real consequences, good and bad. So, we must accept the possible consequences as leaders, admit when make mistakes (hopefully those are few and far between), and stand by our decisions once they are made. The best guide for making the right decision is a careful, spirit-filled, Scripture-saturated approach to all things.

Finally, Henry Blackaby says leaders can improve their decision making abilities by:

· Evaluating Constantly. I am blessed to have some godly mentors, accountability partners, and wise staff that provide invaluable insight as I evaluate situations. Their wisdom is, without question, of immense value to me.

· Cultivate my relationship with God. This is critical when I may be struggling with a decision. Where am I in terms of intimacy with God? I have found that abundant time spent with God on the front end of a decision is better than painful regret after a decision has been made.

· Seek God’s vision and God’s wisdom. This is the key to an indecisive heart. God blesses those that seek Him more than precious gems. God’s wisdom on the tongue of man is of more value than “apples of gold in settings of silver.”

God has given us all that we need to make wise decisions. There is too much at stake for us to make quick, knee jerk decisions without prayer and fasting, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, begging God to show up and speak up through His servant. As I have grown older it is more apparent than ever that we, as shepherds and leaders, are the instruments God uses to direct His church, through His word, to the knowledge of His will. Let’s make sure we are actively seeking His face as we move people on to God’s agenda.

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Leader's Influence

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

As a church leader, I have asked myself many times, as I am sure you have if you are a church leader: “How can you move people to do what needs to be done?” The question of “how leaders lead” is the subject of much discussion in leadership conferences and seminars, with all kinds of leadership guru’s offering the simple steps to maximum effectiveness. In his book Spiritual leadership Henry Blackaby is no different, except in the simple and concise way he answers the question.

The fact remains: if we are to lead effectively in any area of ministry we must be able to influence others. What we do, or fail to do as spiritual leaders, will ultimately mark our ministry effectiveness. In short, here is what Blackaby says leaders do to influence others:

Leaders Pray

The single most important thing leaders do is pray! Why? Prayer must be at the apex of our mind, because nothing of eternal significance happens apart from God. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Leaders cannot neglect this spiritual discipline and still expect a work of God to be done. Why should leaders pray? Henry says:

  • Prayer is an essential leadership activity. (John 15:5)
  • Prayer brings the Spirit’s filling. (Eph. 5:18)
  • Prayer brings God’s wisdom. (Romans 8:26-27; I Cor. 2:9)
  • Prayer accesses God’s power. (Matt. 7:7)
  • Prayer relieves stress. (I Peter 5:7)
  • Prayer reveals God’s agenda. (Mark 1:30-39)

One thing God has made me keenly aware of as a pastor/teacher is that I must come to the end of myself in order for God to move. I cannot move people on to God’s agenda in my own strength. I have tried many times and failed. I am sure you have as well. We can only move people forward in their pursuit of God’s will by first seeking His plan through utter dependence upon Him. Where are you in terms of your prayer life?

Leaders Work Hard

You and I will dramatically influence our churches by our work ethic. I agree wholeheartedly with Blackaby when it comes to our labor in the ministry. He says, “Leaders should set the pace for others.” I am thankful that my parents taught their children the value of hard work. One of the concerns I have of younger generations is their work ethic when it comes to ministry. Church members will not be motivated, encouraged, or influenced by “lazy leaders” who are more interested in time off than they are ministry involvement.

Blackaby rightly observes, “Life offers few shortcuts to greatness.” You and I will influence others by our example. Let’s give our lives “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The bottom line is this: “Leadership is hard work.”

Leaders Communicate

We must be clear in our communication. We must be students of communication, always looking for ways to get the message out to our people. Blackaby says leaders ought to “immerse themselves in the Scriptures and the writings of great thinkers.” I am thankful that “who God calls, He equips.” That is the overwhelming message of Scripture. Therefore, “The key to effective communication is the presence of the Holy Spirit working in the leader’s life.” With all the advancements in technology today, there is no excuse for a failure to communicate what is happening in the life of the Church.

Let me also say that there is a difference between communication and control. Sometimes when lay people say church leaders do not communicate, it is because leaders do not communicate, they dictate. That cannot be if we are to successfully lead as shepherds. And when people say leaders do not communicate, it is because lay people want control, not communication. This is why shepherds, church leaders, and ministry volunteers must constantly pray and communicate with one another – so that we clearly understand what God wants and where He wants to take us. As the television commercial so eloquently puts it: “Anything else would be uncivilized!”

Leaders Serve

The greatest influence we can have on our people is through “servant leadership.” You need look no further than Christ as the preeminent model of a servant:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
(Phil. 2:5-11, NKJV)

Leaders Maintain Positive Attitudes

“A pessimistic leader is a contradiction in terms”, says Blackaby. He goes on to state that leaders who do not think success is possible and see the glory days as past and not future should resign immediately. Leaders who serve under the power of the Holy Spirit realize that “God is able…” (Eph. 3:20) because “with God all things are possible” (Luke 1:37).

I love to be surrounded by positive thinking people. Years ago I served with a staff member who saw all things as “doom and gloom.” He sucked the life right out of me. I found myself not wanting to be around him because of his outlook on life. I think that’s why I love to be around our south campus First Impressions Team leader Kenny Burrell. He always has a great outlook on life. He is always building others up and he looks for the best in those around him. Another reason I like Kenny: he was accused at a yard sale one time of being me! He sure is handsome! J

As leaders we need to remember that influence is a powerful thing. Spiderman’s uncle once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” May we use our influence for the glory of God!

Until Next Week,

Dr. Derek