Part 2 of our Easter Series – an important message for our day.
Leadership is easy. Seriously. All these years I’ve tried to complicate things. It’s really more simple than I imagined.
Once I discovered how easy leadership could be – my life even began to rhyme more.
See what I mean.
I’m no longer taking people where they don’t want to go.
Choosing instead to leave things status quo.
No more do I challenge worn out ways.
I’m simply embracing the good ole’ days.
I cave into critics, giving them the win.
I roll over easily – with a passive-aggressive grin.
I keep my voice silent, on issues which could divide.
Rather than build consensus, I pretend to enjoy the ride.
Popularity is my primary goal of the day.
Following the crowd or what the masses say.
I’ve quit pursuing my God-given dream.
These days I allow mediocrity to stifle the team.
I’ve stopped stretching people with new goals.
I’m simply ignoring the organizational holes.
See. I’ve discovered easy leadership. And, it rhymes, too. What more could people want?
Can you add a rhyme or two?
That is – if you can make leadership easy like I do.
This is an encouragement to those who are limping in leadership.
I entered ministry after a long career in the business world. I had significant life and leadership experience, but honestly, some of it was learned through tremendously painful experiences. Not only did I not have the pedigree of most pastors, it was actually following a sizable business loss – where we were forced to sell our business and basically start over financially – where God called me into ministry.
I entered ministry limping.
The truth is, the best leaders I know have a limp of some nature. It may not be visible, but if you are around them long, they will display remnants of a previous injury.
They may have had a failure which crippled them for a season. They may have messed up. They may have made a mistake. They may have lost their way. They may have been injured by others. And, as a result, they may have even been tempted to quit, but they pushed forward, never to be the same again.
If this is your story – if you have a limp and you’re in leadership – I have a few suggestions.
Don’t hide your limp.
There is most likely a younger leader around you who feels they’ve lost their way – or will some day. They need your guidance. They need your encouragement. They need to see by example they can get up again and move forward. You don’t have to wear a sign around your neck or tell everyone you meet about your limp, but you shouldn’t pretend it isn’t true, either. Your story is your story.
Your limp may be God’s way of keeping you humble. Rahab of the Bible never lost her title as a harlot, even in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11). It reminds me the past is my past – I can’t change it or hide it, for long. A great leader never forgets where they came from.
Don’t be a martyr!
No one enjoys a complainer or someone who is always making excuses. You suffered a failure. You had a setback. You made a critical error. You sinned. Others sinned against you. Don’t wallow in your misery forever. It’s not an attractive characteristic in leadership. One of my favorite verses for those of us who limp is Ecclesiastes 11:3. Look it up – recognize it’s true – and deal with it. It’s what you do after you fall, which matters most.
Allow it to strengthen you!
You have two choices with a limp. You can allow your limp to make you a better person and leader. Or, you can let it keep you from ever being whole again – and never realize your full potential. Grace is available if you will receive it. There may be forgiveness you need to seek or extend. You may need to do other “right things”. But, let your limp strengthen your leadership abilities, even if it’s simply learning what not to do next time. Most of us learn more in the hard times than the easy times. Most likely, you will also.
There is nothing worse than one with a limp refusing to recognize others who limp. Always remember others have struggles too. If not now, they will. They’re finding their way, just as you did. Extend grace as grace has been given to you.
Keep limping across the finish line.
Don’t give up. Great leaders proudly limp to victory. They cheer on others who limp. They steadfastly keep going towards the goal. And, in the process, they encourage a lot of people and accomplish great things.
Limp well, my friend. Limp well.
Are you leading with a limp? How has it shaped your leadership?
A youth pastor emailed me. He’s frustrated his pastor continually caves into pressures of a few leaders in the church. They are not supportive of the youth ministry, even though it’s the fastest growing area of the church.
The complaint they have? The ministry is costing far more than it brings into the church. Young people are coming to the church in growing numbers, but without their parents. Young people don’t usually contribute to the church, so it’s causing an issue with some of the deacons.
The pastor was involved and supportive in the expansion of youth ministries and the church is financially sound, but a few deacons consider it an “unprofitable” ministry.
The pastor’s solution? Cut back on the youth ministry expenditures to keep the deacons happy.
I’d love to tell you this is an isolated issue, but I’ve written about these type situations before. Obviously, I don’t have all the facts, but based on what I do know, it sounds like the pastor is a weak leader.
And, I hate labeling a pastor weak on anything. Certainly I’ve been week on many things. Preaching. Shepherding. Staff development. And, yes, leading. You name it – I’ve been weak.
But, we have to label the problem before we can hope to find solutions.
Have you ever known a weak leader? They’re usually easy to spot.
Runs from conflict. They avoid it at any cost. They usually say what you want to hear. They are passive-aggressive. They cave to the loudest voices. They disappear when trouble develops. You’ll never see them in the crowd when there’s a controversy looming. They hide better than they engage when people are upset about something or things aren’t going so well.
Hides all flaws. They have a lot of excuses – and, they often pretend to know it all. They don’t want you to know the “real” them – the them which may be lacking in some area. They will “try to” make you think they have it together more than they really do – and, you might believe it – for a while. These leaders are often afraid if they appear to be weak (how ironic) you may not respect them – or they might even lose their job.
(Of course, wise leaders learn to build a team which can bring strength around their weaknesses.)
Can’t accept criticism. They don’t take well to correction. They pout. Get angry, perhaps – may even seek revenge.
Quick to pass blame. They can never admit a personal mistake. They are consummate fault-finders. It’s always someone else’s error. It’s the economy, or the culture, or the lack of volunteers. They keep people under their authority by labeling others with the faults of the organization. In fact, according to a weak leader, you probably couldn’t do “it” without them.
Leads by control. They want you to believe they’ve “got this”. They don’t, but it feels better to them than the alternative. They keep people under their authority, never empower, and seldom delegate, because they are afraid of losing their power position.
Shies away from difficult decisions. They can’t make the hard calls. They can’t lead in a new direction because the opposition will be too strong for them. They stay in the safe zone – sameness is their friend.
Appeases critics and complainers. The louder you are the more likely a weak leader will cave to your demands. They don’t want you to be unhappy – especially with them.
I sound rather harsh towards a weak leader – don’t I? But, as I said, I’ve been – and sometimes can be – that leader. I share this as a check for our own leadership. We need strong, capable leadership – especially among our people of faith. Let’s lead. Let’s lead well. Let’s “stand firm” and “let nothing move us”. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
I love organizational leadership. I especially love attempting to lead healthy organizations. I have been in both environments – healthy and non-healthy. I prefer healthy.
If truth be told, I’ve probably been the leader in both extremes. And, there are seasons when every organization is healthier than others.
Over the years of leading I’ve observed a few things which can be the enemy of organizational health. They keep health from happening and – if not dealt with – can eventually destroy an organization – even a local church.
Shortcuts – There are no shortcuts to creating a healthy organization. I’ve known leaders who think they can read a book, attend a conference, or say something persuasive enough so everything turns out wonderful. Organizational health is much more complicated. Success is not earned through a simple, easy-to-follow formula. It takes hard work, diligence and longevity. Leaders must be committed to the process through good times and bad.
Satisfaction – Resting on past success is a disruption to future growth, which ultimately impacts organizational health. When an organization gets too comfortable – boredom, complacency and indifference are common results. The overall vision must be attainable in short wins, but stretching enough to always have something new to achieve.
Selfishness – Organizational health requires a team environment. There’s no place for selfishness in this equation. When everyone is looking out for themselves instead of the interest of the entire organization – and this starts with the leader – the health is quickly in jeopardy.
Sinfulness – This one is added for those who feel every one of my posts must be spiritual. (Just kidding.) Seriously, healthy organizations are not perfect (and we all sin), but it doesn’t matter if it is gossip or adultery – sin ravages through the integrity of the organization. When moral corruption enters the mix, and is not addressed, the health of an organization will soon suffer. This is why it is so important a leader stays healthy spiritually, relationally and physically.
Sluggishness – Change is an important part of organizational health. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must act quickly to adapt when needed. Some things never change, such as vision and values, but the activities to reach them must be fluid enough to adjust with swiftness and efficiency.
Stubbornness – Let me be clear. There are some things to be stubborn about, again, such as vision and values. When the organization or it’s leaders are stubborn about having things “their way”, however, or resistant to adopt new ways of accomplishing the same vision, the health of the organization will suffer. Most people struggle to follow stubborn leadership, especially when it’s protecting self-interest rather than organizational interests.
Structure – As much as we need structure, and even though we should always be working to add better structure, bad structure can be damaging to organizational health. When people feel they are being controlled by rules, more than empowered by their individuality and passions, progress is minimized and growth stalls. People become frustrated under needless or burdensome structure.
What enemies of organizational health would you add to my list?
When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection. It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s.
Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present.
Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But, this in lives change – and there is always tension with change. Always.
And, for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.
The fact is no one likes rejection.
Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.
You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?
It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.
When my ideas are being rejected, I like to ask myself some questions.
Is the rejection based on truth?
Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs.
And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.
Is the rejection about you or your presentation?
If it’s personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection.
If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions? (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.)
Am I the wrong person to present the idea?
Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection?
I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member.
Is the rejection permanent?
Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first.
Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything.
Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?
This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better.
Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership.
If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Proverbs 3:24
Years ago when we were in business, Cheryl and I went through a difficult season in life. We had had such success, but times got hard. Dealing with employees, cash flow, banks and trying to increase sales so we could make payroll made for many sleepless nights. It was distressing. I was frustrated. And, because I couldn’t sleep, I was less productive during the day.
I’ve grown a lot since these days – and from these days and I’ve come to believe, unless there are health reasons why you cannot, we should be able to rest at night. I wish I had known then what I know now.
Over the years, I have learned a few secrets of sleeping better each night.
Exercise during the day
Sometime during the day, make yourself physically tired. Exercise not only works the body – it frees the mind. It helps you prepare to relax. There’s a power in physical activity which cannot be ignored. I try to exercise at least 5 days per week. During the sleepless days of business I mistakenly thought I was too busy to take the time – which was foolish on my part.
Eat healthy foods in adequate quantities
I’ve learned, for example, greasy foods don’t set as well on my stomach. You’ll have your own foods which don’t make you feel as well as you could. Also, if you eat too little you’ll wake up hungry. If you eat too much you won’t settle peacefully. Find the right quantity of food and discipline yourself to eat the right amount. This usually means eating until you are satisfied, but not stuffing your stomach. And, eating early enough for food to settle. We even find walking after we eat helps us rest better. Finally, for this point, staying adequately hydrated seems to help me sleep better.
Put your day to bed
This is huge. For me it means reviewing my day and preparing for tomorrow. I spend a few minutes reflecting on what took place, what I can change and what I can’t, and then looking over my calendar for the next day. It mentally says “This day is over. A new day is coming.”
Even on weekends or when I’m out of town I keep pretty much the same schedule. Occasionally I’ll need to “catch up” on some sleep, but most of the time I’m in bed and out of bed (without ever using an alarm) at the same time each day. Once it becomes a habit it’s not so bad – even getting up early. Seriously. We moved time zones in the last few years and there was another adjustment to make. Now my goal is 7 hours sleep a night. I can tell a difference when I don’t get it.
Invest in good bedding
Don’t be cheap when it comes to your mattress or bedding. I’ve learned you get what you pay for with this expense. Shop for quality, as well as price. There are mattress experts. Rely on them.
Write it down
Journaling can be a release from the day. Share your thoughts, concerns, fears and dreams. Get them off your chest then lay them to rest. (No rhyme intended, but it works.)
End with a release to God. Regardless of how stressful the day was give your burdens to the Burden-Bearer. I’m not trying to be cruel – just factual, but if worry is keeping you awake at night, you have a faith issue bigger than a sleep issue. I certainly did in the hard business season. Remember, Gid is on His throne – even as you sleep. (If you fall asleep while praying God won’t mind. Didn’t you enjoy watching your children fall asleep?)
There will always be exceptions when you still can’t sleep – sickness, sick children, etc., but it shouldn’t last long without impacting the rest of your life. And, if necessary, see your doctor. The older I get the more I realize how important sleep is for overall health and productivity.
Try some of these and let me know how they work for you. I’m praying you learn some secrets for better sleeping.
Do you ever have trouble sleeping? What tips do you have?
If I have faith, why haven’t I been healed? How do we answer this question when it’s asked by a loved one with cancer? When it’s asked by parents who’ve lost a child? How do we answer it for ourselves, when we find are wheeled in for surgery or otherwise suffering?
This question is one of about a dozen questions addressed in the new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments by my friend John S. Dickerson. Today’s blog is an excerpt from the book and is part 2 (part 1 available here).
Yesterday we examined how Paul the Apostle was never healed (in this life) from his “thorn in the flesh,” which included physical, emotional and spiritual chronic pain. Today we find encouragement in more Bible heroes who suffered severely, even while having the highest and strongest faith.
Paul wasn’t the only spiritual giant who found God’s strength and joy right in his suffering. Many of Heaven’s choice servants spent months or years in prisons, and not because they were being punished by God.
Joseph, who God used to save nations, spent 13 years as an Egyptian prisoner and slave—while God was delighted with him.
Zephaniah, God’s chosen prophet, spent a good chunk of his life in a Babylonian prison (present day Iraq). The same goes for Jeremiah, who suffered rejection, slander and loneliness as well as literal imprisonment while doing exactly what God had asked him to do. God even told him to expect the rejection.
Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was chosen by God to declare that Messiah had arrived. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest person in the history of the world. What a privilege! And then John spent the rest of his life imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who eventually beheaded John as a party favor for a niece.
The apostle John spent lots of time in Roman prisons and jails.
Many of the first Christians got arrested and thrown in jail, simply for believing in Jesus. This practice continues today in parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, China and other areas, where the idea of “problem free Christianity” insults the most faithful believers of our era.
Peter was imprisoned again and again.
Paul’s singing friend Silas shared his jail cell.
In the early years after Christ rose from the dead, it became so common for believers to get thrown into prison that the early church made it part of its culture to visit jailed Christians who couldn’t make it to the Sunday gathering.
These imprisonments meant the loss of all earthly possessions. Believers “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property, because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.”
Jesus warned Christians in one church, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…”
Like Napoleon Bonaparte, John the disciple was sentenced to live his final years on a secluded prison island. From there, John wrote the final book of Scripture, Revelation. (John the disciple is different from “John the Baptist,” above, and keep in mind, he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” so no need to doubt Christ’s love for you when anymore in your own suffering.)
From Introduction to Conclusion, God’s people in the Bible are persecuted and jailed. Imprisoned on earth, but anticipating their escape into a better land with God. Peppered between those bookends we read stories where God does miraculously heal or instantly deliver from pain. God invites us to ask for such miracles in prayer even today. And I have seen Him perform those dramatic miracles. But, many strong believers today, including Joni Eareckson Tada, and recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, have not yet had a miraculous healing from pain or difficulty.
And we must face the reality that even the believers who did get miraculous healings (such as Lazarus, raised from the dead as described in John 11), those folks still eventually died earthly deaths. They left this earth knowing that death is not an end for the believer, but a beginning to a better life that actually is problem-free.
Here’s where we must gently but insistently course-correct many of our American brothers and sisters in Christ: Scripture focuses on our certain rescue in the future, not on present pain-free living now. (This can be a difficult concept for folks like us, who live in an age of immediate gratification.) Sure, some of God’s people got miraculously freed from their prisons. But the majority more closely followed the pattern of Paul, who prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:8), and then lived the rest of his earthly life with a painful “thorn” impaling his flesh.
It’s often the same today. While all believers will eventually be set free from our prisons, pains or thorns, we do not always gain immediate freedom or healing. This is why it’s called faith, a persistent belief that Jesus will break us out and that He will sustain us until His return. A faith that continues to believe, no matter what.
Find comfort in this list of spiritual super heroes. Their sufferings declare:
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not alone.
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unspiritual or lower-class in God’s eyes.
When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unloved by God.
When you find yourself in prison, God has not forgotten you.
When you find yourself in prison, and you choose to cling to faith in Chirst, you can count yourself in the company of Scripture’s spiritual heroes.
Like Paul, writing with his “thorn in the flesh,” you can declare in Christ:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
-2 Corinthians 4:8,9
This blog is an excerpt from John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.