Accommodating Versus Ignoring Criticism

In any leadership position the leader will receive criticism at some point.  It is virtually impossible to do everything in a way that pleases everyone.  Even Jesus had critics.  It comes with the territory of leadership.

As a leader, I have learned that there are times with the criticism is dead-on and something I need to hear and other times when I need to dismiss it and continue in the direction I feel God has led me to go.  Knowing when to accommodate the critic and when to ignore the criticism is a careful balance leaders face often.  If I give into every critic I will never complete the mission God has called me to do.  If I never listen to critics I will become arrogant and prideful.

Here are some principles I try to remember so I can balance the two extremes:

Learn something from everything – There is usually something that can be learned even from the harshest criticism, if nothing more than better understanding people.

My ultimate calling is to honor and obey Christ – I try to make sure I am pleasing Him above everyone else.

Find my affirmation in the people to whom God has called me to minister – This is a new principle for me, but one I wrote about HERE.

Consider the person offering criticism – A person with a sincere heart for the Kingdom, my ministry and me personally carries a lot more weight with me.

Be willing to humble myself – The fact is I could be wrong and others could be right.  If criticism is warranted I must be willing to alter my position.

Leaders, how do you handle criticism?

Coming Home To God (Thoughts for a Prodigal)

iStock_000003359196XSmallSo he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NIV

One of the finest word pictures in the Bible: God running to His children! Can you say Godspeed?

Jesus told this parable, not so much about a boy, foolish in his youth who squanders away all his wealth and then comes cowering back to an expectant father. Even though that is what occurs in the story, this story is about you and me.

Jesus is describing for us how God feels about His children. If you are a child of God, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus, through your faith in Him and Him alone to save you, then God will always be ready to welcome you home! God will never give up on His children.  God may discipline you, but you can rest assured He will never forsake you. You are His, and He will wait for you as His own.

Stop for a moment and picture this story as Jesus meant for you to see it. Imagine you are the prodigal child. You have wandered away from the comfort and protection of your Father God. You have wasted your life on wild living. It was fun at first, but then the new wore off and you were homesick. You realized what you had given up. What you wouldn’t give to go home, but how could you? You had traveled so far and your pride was at stake. People would say, “I told you so”. Your friends might even make fun of you. And what about your Father?  How could He ever forgive you for what you have done? Plus, does He really want you to come home anyway?  Would anyone?

Still, anything is better than where you are at now, so you head for home. Before you can even see the front porch…while your head was still hanging low…you hear a sound. It sounds like footsteps. Heavy footsteps. You look up, almost afraid to for fear of what you may see, and you the sight is something you have never seen before!

YOUR FATHER GOD IS RUNNING TO MEET YOU! God, the Creator of stars, is running to greet you, a sinner, and welcome you home. He isn’t coming with a frown or a smirk of anger on His face. He has His arms open wide! He has on a great big smile! He has a loving twinkle in His eye, the kind He always had when He was proud of something you did!

He reaches you and instead of shouting insults at you, He tells you how pleased He is to have you home. There are tears in His eyes! He lets out a shout of joy. He orders a party to be held in your honor! He tells the angels to get the band playing! Gabriel starts up the gas grill! GOD IS GLAD YOU HAVE COME HOME!

Maybe you need to go home today! God is waiting! He’s probably over half way towards you right now! All you have to do is turn around, and head for home!
I hope you’ll invite me to the party!

Avoiding Change For Change’s Sake

I love continual improvement. I am one of those who actually enjoy change.  If things stay the same too long I get bored and begin looking for a new challenge.  I even stir things for fun sometimes just to keep life interesting around me.  (Sometimes this characteristic gets me in trouble with my wife.)

Personality aside, however, the truth is that not everything needs to be tweaked.  Some things are probably working okay, achieving great success, and are best left alone for the time being.  Change for the sake of change sake is not always good.  When Momma said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the other cliché about “the grass is always greener”, she was speaking from some life experience.

There is a fine line between making things better and messing things up.  One of the great challenges for the leader is carefully considering the balance between instigating change for the good of the organization or team and allowing progress to continue without interference.

There are some indicators that change could be a good thing:

  • When energy is waning in the status quo
  • When needed improvement is planned and purposeful
  • When the change will result in greater efficiency, returns or profit
  • When it is clear a change will be needed soon to remain competitive or relevant

Leaders, how do you determine it is time for change?

Why Was David “A Man After God’s Own Heart”?

An often-confusing term concerning the Biblical character of David is the term “man after God’s own heart”.  Have you ever wondered what that really means? What does that kind of heart even look like? This morning I read a verse from the writings of David that I believe perhaps best captures the meaning behind this phrase.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” Psalms 16:2

David recognized that the only good in him was the God in him.  Great godly leaders are willing to step aside from their own need for ego building and self-confidence and humble themselves before an almighty God.

I have heard before that President Theodore Roosevelt often went outdoors at night, looked up into the vastness of the universe, simply to remind himself of his humanity compared to the vastness of the universe.  I think that is an important principle for all of us that claim a leadership title.

Next time someone asks you why David was called “a man after God’s own heart”, point him or her to Psalm 16:2.

Great Leaders Lead Well First In The Home

One key indicator of good leadership is to look at a leader’s family.  This may be a matter of personal opinion, but I believe a leader is only as good as the success of the followers of the person leading.  I personally believe the greatest leadership calling for any of us is in our home, so if a person desires to be a great leader, he or she must learn first to lead his or her family well.

I have known so many people who claim to be leaders and are hailed as great leaders in their profession or organization, but who have family lives that are a mess.  Sadly this is true in many churches also, which is where most of my leadership focus is aimed.  Again, it is a matter of opinion, but I have a harder time celebrating a person as a great leader if they have no ability to lead in their private life.  Maybe I am wrong, but I often weigh a pastor’s leadership excellence by the countenance on his wife’s face or the relationship he has with his children.  At our church, when we are hiring a staff person, we always consider the person’s spouse and children in the equation.  It is not only Biblical, but it is also practical.

Pastors and other leaders, if you measured your influence and success in ministry or business completely by your immediate family, how are you doing?

I have shared my opinion and I would love to hear yours.  Do you have a harder time following a leader if you find out he or she does not lead well in the home?

A Devotional Encouragement On Overcoming Fear

I command you…be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 NLT

As I read the scripture, I see little room for a believer to be afraid, except the reverent fear of God.

Perplexed, yes… Confused, sometimes… Overwhelmed, often… Angry, perhaps when necessary… Distressed, possibly…

Of course, just the fact that the command is there does not mean we will always follow it. In fact, to the contrary, I have been afraid many times. I fight the worry battle like everyone else. Wasn’t it David, the man after God’s own heart, who said, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you”?

Still, the Bible consistently reminds us not to allow fear to captivate our lives. Obviously, when God first gave this command to Joshua, being an all-knowing God, He knew that Joshua was about to encounter some scary days.  The enemies of Joshua had ample opportunity to attempt to make him squirm.

Even today God knows that there will be times in our life that cause fear to be our lead emotion. He sees the trouble before it comes. The One who MADE the disciples get into a boat and face the raging sea often allows the storms to come in our life.

God knows there are things to make us afraid, but the challenge remains and the command remains to not be discouraged and to not be afraid!  Furthermore, I have a feeling the times when our fear is greatest are instances where we need to rely on His perfect strength even more.

Call on the Lord today and ask Him to help you overcome your fears!

One Sentence That Impacted My Life Greatly

Cheryl and I were invited to dinner at a woman’s house that attends our church.  She had previously attended The Gathering in Nashville, but the drive was wearing on her each week, so she was excited to find a similar church closer to home.  She wanted us to meet her former pastor and his wife, David and Paula Foster.  I cannot accept every invitation, simply because there are too many in a church our size to accommodate them all, but I am glad I accepted this one.  David is a great leader and church planter.  I had met David several times, but never spent any time getting to know him.

David Foster made a huge investment in my life Friday night.  I had previously written a post about this need.  (Read that post HERE.)  God must read my blog…or my heart.  ☺

It was really simple.  David is a great listener so he heard my story of planting the church.  I shared with him the struggles, the heartaches, the sadness in losing friends, and of course, the joys of seeing God do amazing things in people’s lives.  I do not talk about the struggles much, but David understood firsthand the difficulties in church planting and he encouraged the conversation.  David said he considers himself a renegade.  In fact he wrote a book about it.  See an excerpt HERE.  I am sure he has faced controversy, but his words to me were invaluable.

David said one line to me and it rocked my world! He said, “Ron, you know this already (I am not sure I did.)

Find your affirmation in the people to whom God has called you to minister…in whose lives God is changing through your work.”

Wow!  Such a simple thought, but honestly, I am not sure I had really stopped long enough to see things through that paradigm.  I had probably spent more time seeking affirmation from other pastors or comparing our ministry to other churches. Sometimes I compare myself to them competitively.  I may get discouraged if I am not as successful as them. Frankly some pastors seem to resent or question the reasons behind our success.  There may be struggles if we have different methodologies.  I can wish the church world was less competitive, but even though its leader is perfect (Christ) it is an organization run by imperfect people.

When I apply David’s principle of finding affirmation I am overwhelmed at what God is doing.  He is molding, shaping, changing, growing, spurring, releasing, capturing, and saving countless lives through the work of Grace Community Church.  I have never been so encouraged to continue the work God has called me to do!  In addition, my greatest calling is to my family and they are flourishing in Christ!  (I am writing a separate post about this in recent days.)

Thank you David for investing in my life! You have no idea the impact your few words had.

Have you ever had a few words impact you in a powerful way?  Who is investing in you right now with words of wisdom or encouragement?  In whose life are you investing?

Every Possibility Is Not An Opportunity

Lots of people confuse a possibility for an opportunity.  That can be dangerous.  There can be a huge difference in the two.

Recently our church was approached with what we thought was a great opportunity to plant another church campus. An existing church building was going to be available for little or no money and 10 or 20 people were ready to launch with us.  With no start-up costs it would be reasonable to think we could successfully move quickly towards a decision. We have thought about multi-site campuses in the past, so this seemed to make sense.

Shortly into the discussions the owner of the building decided he did not want to continue to discount the building for another church plant. He is considering other options with the building. If we rented it our cost would be several thousand dollars per month.  No longer was this an opportunity.  It was now only a possibility.  Do you see the difference?

Characteristics of Opportunities

  • Defined as “an appropriate or favorable time or occasion” (Dictionary.com)
  • Come with some defined realities
  • Almost like being “in the right place at the right time”
  • Hard to pass up, because they almost always come with some pre-arranged wins
  • Make decision-making easier

Characteristics of Possibilities

  • Defined as “the state or fact of being possible” (Dictionary.com)
  • Filled with lots of hopes and dreams
  • Have fewer assurances
  • Could be great, but they could equally fail
  • Come with unique risks and require more preparation to insure success.
  • Need more thought, prayer and discernment.

Both opportunities and possibilities can be good.  I love risks and without them there is usually no opportunity to score big wins, but leaders (and individuals) need to learn to recognize the difference between the two.  Confusing a possibility for an opportunity often gets organizations and people in trouble quickly.

I have heard too many people say, “This is such a great opportunity”, when mistakenly what they have is an attractive possibility. There is a difference.

Have you ever made mistook a possibility for an opportunity?

A Lesson In Grace/Building a Legacy of Grace

Bear with me through a little Bible pilgrimage to illustrate a point about grace.

A man named Boaz displayed grace as the kinsman redeemer of a widow named Ruth.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. (Ruth 4:13)

Boaz became the great-grandfather of a man named David.
Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. (Ruth 4:21-22)

David displayed grace to a man named Mephibosheth.
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

Of course, the lineage continued to Jesus, the author of grace.
(Matthew 1:1-17)

I wonder if all those human examples of grace started here:
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab (Matthew 1:5)

Do you remember Rahab?
Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. (Joshua 2:1)

Here is my conclusion:
Rahab, the prostitute, received grace from the Israelites. Boaz was raised in grace because he had a mother who knew it firsthand. David was a man of grace, because it was in his heritage.

Here is my challenge to me:
I have been given much grace in my life, from God and others.  If I pass it on to others will I establish a legacy of grace in the generations to follow me?

Here is my challenge to you:
What legacy of grace will you leave?

Is Social Media Ruining Culture and What To Do About It?

As an avid user of social media in my work, people seem to enjoy sending me negative articles on the rise of social networking and its negative impact on our culture.  Yesterday I posted similar thoughts with an encouragement to develop a personal social media policy.  Read that post HERE.

The critics of social media claim:

  • Social media promotes the person and only builds another’s ego
  • Wastes time
  • Is not real ministry or work

I am reminded that everything good can be misused.   The key in using social media, in my opinion, is finding the right balance.  Here are a few suggestions I recommend:

  1. Have a purpose for social media.  It could be fun, business, or both, but know why you are using it.
  2. Limit to 2 or 3 mediums at most. I use Twitter, Facebook, and my blog.
  3. Learn enough about the medium to use it effectively.
  4. Discipline yourself so the practice does not control you.
  5. Figure out how to simplify.  Use tools such as Tweetdeck, synchronizing various mediums, etc.

Social media is a part of modern culture.  If the church or business ignores the world of social networking it will ignore a major portion of its target market.