Do we make leadership more lonely than it needs to be?

word-balloons

“It’s lonely at the top”—but does it have to be?

On the one hand, I get it: yes, there are issues that only the guy on the highest point on the org chart has to deal with. Yes, there are appropriate boundaries leaders need to put in place in order to function… I get that because I’m a leader (although admittedly a mid-level one). Even at my level in terms of leadership hierarchies, there are limits to what I can do in order to balance my responsibilities effectively.

But when I hear this common bit of leadership “wisdom,” I just don’t resonate with it. Maybe it is simply because I’m in that middle area where I’m being lead even as I lead others, but the more I read about this, the more times I hear someone say “leadership is lonely,” the more I come to realize it’s not true. And the more I want to say one thing:

Leadership is lonely only because you’re making it more lonely than you need to.

This is the thing: when we’re lonely in this sense, it’s because, more often than not, we choose to be. But it doesn’t have to be so. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely, no matter what the experts tell you. Here’s what I see as the primary cause of the “leadership is lonely” problem:

We think too highly of ourselves.”No one can understand what I have to deal with,” we might think. But you know what that is? Pride. I don’t know how else to put it. People might not be able to relate to the details of our circumstances, sure, but everyone’s pulling a Radio Flyer full of their own issues, the particulars of which we can’t necessarily relate to either. But if we let our “no one understands me” silliness isolate us, what we’re really saying is there’s no one as important as we are.

More often than not, when I see a lonely leader, it’s because he has chosen to be one. He isolates himself from others and has no discernible accountability structure. And what happens?

He self-destructs. His career ends. His ministry is discredited… and worse, some people cheer when it happens.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be all alone out there. We can choose to see ourselves as normal people—to engage with others, even if the particulars of their situations don’t match our own. We can seek out others who are in similar situations. As much as we believe it to be so, leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

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7 Traits of Leaders Who Hire Well

Eric Geiger:

The only time the Bible records Jesus praying all night long was before He chose His disciples (Luke 6:12-13). He had no plan B. He chose to ensure the gospel would spread through the disciples, and He prayerfully selected those who He would hand the mission to.

In my role, I interact daily with leaders and managers who hire people, who invite others to join the teams they lead. I have observed these seven common traits in leaders who hire well, leaders who seem to excel at attracting the right players to their teams.

What Tom Nettles Taught Me

Russell Moore:

Tom Nettles retired last week as professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary, capping off a long and distinguished career. As I thought about his retirement, I reflected on what I’ve learned from this iconic Baptist historian, and it was hard to find a place to start.

Will Ferrell and Chad Smith drum off

HT: Barnabas

Four Words I’d Like to Strike From Christian Conversation

Joey Cochran:

There are four words that I’d like to strike from our Christian conversations. There’s probably more, but these four keep coming to my mind. They’re kind of buzz words these days. They are the following businessy terms: connect, tribe, sexy and brand. Here’s how they get used.

Was Christ’s Death Divine Child Abuse?

Jason Helopoulos:

He in our place. “He has borne our griefs” (Is. 53:4). “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Is. 53: 5). “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:4). “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5). He was our substitute. It has been argued that this is unjust; it isn’t right. Some enemies of the gospel have gone so far as to say that Christ being our substitute was some sort of divine child-abuse. However, that is far from the case. As Jesus said in Luke 22, quoting Isaiah 53:12, “He had to be numbered with the transgressors.” He had to be. It was the only way to save sinful men. “For our sake, He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). He became sin for us. And because He took what was ours we are absolved from the necessity of enduring that same punishment. Justice has been upheld. He received wrath and death that we might receive grace and life. Our debt has been paid by another—in full. And this is anything but divine child abuse. Let me give you four reasons why.

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3 wrong assumptions church leaders make

Trevin Wax:

As a church leader, you’ve probably noticed that when your assumptions are incorrect, you’re more likely to implement plans that don’t go anywhere. Why? Because what we’ve assumed to be true about the people in our congregations isn’t in line with reality. So, we’re forced to go back to the drawing board to determine what went wrong.

Much of our angst could be resolved by correcting our assumptions.

Here are three wrong assumptions we often make.

Kindle deals for Christian readers (and free stuff, too!)

Amazon also has 110 books on sale for $3.99 or less from a variety of genres.

And a couple of great additions to your cheap and free audio and Logos libraries:

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer is ChristianAudio’s free book of the month. Logos’ free book for May is 300 Quotes for Preachers from the Puritans. Along with it, you can get Study, Apply, Share: James—a resource for preparing and presenting sermons and coordinating your worship services—for 99¢.

20 Things I Wish I knew As A College Student

Paul Spears:

I don’t know if you are like me, but as I look back on my college years I wish someone would have pulled me aside and given me some tips on how best to pursue an education at the university. So I decided to put together a list called 20 things I wish someone told me while I was in college. This list is in no way exhaustive.

Get Saved From What? in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Saved From What? by RC Sproul for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas (ePub)
  • The Christian Mind conference messages (audio & video download)
  • Developing Christian Character teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

The Conference No One Hosts is the One You Need to Attend

JD Payne:

No one schedules a conference called “The Things that did not Work.”

No one would want to come to that. No one would flock to hear a bunch of people talk about the shortfalls. We would not pay for that. Plus, we are not secure enough in our identity in Christ to talk about our “failures.” That means being vulnerable, transparent.

We want to know what works.

Squeezing the Fun Out of Sin

Mike Leake:

His hands are trembling and his eyes are watering as he reservedly plummets his spoon into another bite of this nasty concoction. It’s part soup, part meatloaf, and all the way disgusting. Truth be told nobody really knows what this garbage is but the miserable man knows that this is his only option to calm his raging stomach.

I guess I should say this gruel used to be his only option. A new cook has been hired and has now set before him a banquet of the tastiest morsels. He can say goodbye to the nasties and hello to this new delectable food.

Only he doesn’t. He has decided that he’d like to finish his bowl of half-meat.

“What a fool!”, you shout.

You are that man!

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Your leadership shelf life

Eric Geiger:

Leadership is always a temporary assignment—always. It is a temporary assignment because leaders do not ultimately own the teams, ministries, or organizations that they lead. They simply steward what the Lord has entrusted to their care for a season.

Wise leaders embrace the temporal reality of leading, and they prepare the ministry for the future. Because the assignment is fleeting, developing others for leadership is an essential responsibility of a leader.

The Four Questions of Christian Education

Anthony Bradley:

One of the advantages of living in a free society is that parents have multiple options for how they can educate their children, including enrolling them in religious education. Christian education is unique in that teachers can integrate faith and learning in the classroom to unlock academic disciplines from mere materialistic or rational concerns to direct interdependence and collaboration with the providential work of the Triune God in his plan to redeem the entire cosmos.

In light this fact, if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. These four questions wed the goal of the Christian life — namely, to glorify God — with our day-to-day lives in a way that expands the scope of how we think about vocation.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly

This is a terrific infographic.

Get Jesus the Evangelist in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Sola Scriptura by various authors (Paperback)
  • T4G 2008 conference messages (audio & video download)
  • Tearing Down Strongholds teaching series by R.C. Sproul Jr. (audio download)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

The Joyously Annoying Memory of Children

Michael Kelley:

One of the most often repeated phrases at the Kelley house right now is, “But you said…”

You can fill in the blank afterward. For us, it usually has to do with a dessert or a “special drink” (something other than water). Kids are like elephants in that way – they seem to never forget when it’s something they want to remember. Over the course of the past 9 years, Jana and I have slowly picked up on this trait, and it’s caused us to learn to be a little gun shy when we are making promises. More than once we’ve been burned over saying the kids could have or do something, then something else comes up, and we have to make a mid-course correction.

Jimmy Fallon + Billy Joel + iPad = ?

HT Michael Kelley

If I Wrote the Bible…

Tim Challies:

Lately a lot of my tasks and projects have converged at the point of the Bible and, more precisely, the nature of God’s Word. I have been thinking about the sheer otherness of the Bible, the fact that it is so different from every other book. And I got to thinking, What if I had written my own bible? How would it be different? How would a simple, sinful person like myself approach the task of writing a standard of faith and practice that was meant to transcend all times, contexts and cultures?

If I wrote the Bible…

Four pieces of leadership “wisdom” you should totally ignore

keyboard

Every leader, no matter if they’re leading one person or one thousand, wants to get better at what they do. Fortunately the leadership industrial complex has produced a number of really great books offering really sound advice.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of dreck out there, the kind of stuff that makes me want to start reading Jesus’ seven woes out loud as emphatically as possible. Here are a few pieces of worldly wisdom that Christian leaders should probably ignore:

1. Criticized? Take heart—it means you’re a great leader. The other day I saw the following quote by Edwin Friedman in my Twitter feed: “Criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better.” While certainly criticism can be a sign you’re doing well, it can also be a sign you’re failing miserably. The type of criticism you receive and how you respond to it are far better indicators. Proud “leaders” quickly write off criticism as being the divisive words of “haters” (and nitwits make videos about it). While not every piece of criticism merits the same level of attention, humble leaders listen, process, and respond to what they receive accordingly.

2. Throw your peers under the bus. This nugget came from John Maxwell’s 360-Degree Leader, where he shares the story of “Fred,” a man with a moody boss. The moral of the story? If your boss is unstable, watch and see which way the wind is blowing as your peers bring up issues. If the boss is in a good mood, bring up your list. If not, slide it back into your pocket and let your coworkers get burned (see pages 76-77).

Never mind taking a risk and calmly saying, “I had some concerns I wanted to address, but I can see this probably isn’t the best time.” It’s dangerous to do this, but it’s better than silently letting everyone else get blasted. And besides, it’s not like your volatile boss can fire you for it (unless he wanted to face a wrongful dismissal suit, of course).

3. People complaining? Be even harder on them! This one’s a bit of a cheat, because it’s identified as being terrible advice. When Rehoboam was faced with rebellion and had to choose between easing the burdens of his people and increasing them, he ignored the counsel of the elders and went along with his stupid friends. The result? The nation was torn in two.

4. “It is much safer to be feared than loved…” This come from Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. Here it is with more context:

…it is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Much of Machiavelli’s writing deals with self-preservation as the highest virtue. Love is risky, he’s right. But good leadership is all about risk. Compliance via fear is “safer” only because it’s easier to intimidate than to actually show those you lead that you care. Threats work in the short term, but don’t think you’ll have anyone sticking their necks out for you when you really need it.

Those are just a few of the gems out there that you should almost certainly ignore. What are a few pieces of terrible leadership advice you’ve heard?

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The Never-Ending Need of Multiplying Leaders

Ed Stetzer:

Pastors of growing churches know all too well the old adage of there being two sides to every coin. The excitement and energy of a growing congregation comes brings with it new needs and a constant demand of more people to help carry out the ministry.

When the numbers are lacking, the pressure increases on the pastor and staff to solve every problem, run every small group, set-up every service, and clean every toilet. The stress can become so heavy that the growth feels more like a crisis than a blessing.

Having a leadership crisis is not exclusive to the church (take a look at Congress) and neither is it a new issue. In Exodus 18, systematic issues within Moses’ leadership surface and reveal the need for a change.

The Gospel Rescues Cynics

Mike Leake:

Then one day some hopeful Harry decides to tell him that this isn’t the way that things are supposed to be. “You don’t have to be a slave! You can be free! Our God has heard our cry and He is going to rescue us from slavery”.

And he bought it. Just like all of his other countrymen. They bowed their heads and worshipped. And with that a terrible invader came into their hearts.

Hope.

The Joy of Theology Reading Groups

Eric Bancroft:

Pastor, I want to thank you. My marriage has been totally turned around.

These aren’t the words you expect someone to write three months after their spouse began reading a 1,291-page systematic theology book, yet that’s exactly what I was being told in a card. My prayers had been answered. I’d prayed that God would give people such a love for him and his Word that it would begin to affect all areas of their life. I’d also prayed that reading and discussing a systematic theology book with others would be one of those means.

What Pastors Owe Their People

Daniel Darling:

Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural. – See more at: http://www.danieldarling.com/#sthash.qvUEP7iR.dpuf

Seven Problems with an Activity-Driven Church

Thom Rainer:

Many churches are busy, probably too busy. Church calendars fill quickly with a myriad of programs and activities. While no individual activity may be problematic, the presence of so many options can be.

An activity-driven church is a congregation whose corporate view is that busier equals better. More activities, from this perspective, mean a healthier church. The reality is that churches who base their health on their busyness already have several problems. Allow me to elaborate on seven of those challenges.

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

pastors-justification-wilson

Pastoral ministry is a strange animal. For many pastors, it’s good work—important work—but it’s easy to become discouraged. The burden seems too great and they’re ready to throw in the towel. Then there are pastors who seem to have it all together. They might’ve published a book or two that have gotten some attention, have a generous salary, research assistants, support staff and/or conference speaking gigs… and yet on the inside, they’re being crushed by the weight of their responsibilities and (real or perceived) fame.

Interestingly, whether they’re on one extreme or the other, many pastors share the same problem: they may be seeking their justification in something other the work of Christ.

“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one,” writes Jared C. Wilson in The Pastor’s Justification. “We’re a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles…denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something [all] have in common … a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel” (17).

It’s this “antidote” that The Pastor’s Justification is really all about, covered in two parts: “The Pastor’s Heart,” an exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-11, and “The Pastor’s Glory,” an examination of the five solas of the Reformation.

Solving pastoral problems starts with the pastor’s character

One thing should be abundantly clear reading this book: this isn’t another “how to be a better pastor” book. Wilson is far less concerned about techniques and best practices than he is about the heart of the pastor. And he wants pastors to recognize something critical they may too often forget and something rarely talked about in leadership conferences:

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem” (29). When a pastor sees people as problems to be solved, or the congregation he’s leading as being less appealing than the one he imagines leading in his daydreams, or he’s slipped away from shepherding to domineering… the problem lies with the pastor’s heart, not with the people. Which is really just another way of saying it’s all about the pastor’s character.

This is the reason Wilson spends so much time on the pastor’s heart. If he just said, “Here’s how you deal with situation ABC,” it wouldn’t be even remotely helpful if the pastor’s a train wreck. [Read more…]

Strike a blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism

word-balloons

Sadly, too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of the truth slips into self-defense, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interest of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity. It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of Scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd than in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvering, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep.

We have much to learn from Paul. When in our hearts (and not merely in our verbal piety) our aim before God is to strengthen other believers, not to defend ourselves, we will not only succeed in revitalizing the church by our sacrificial ministry and example, but we shall also strike a powerful blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism, which is self in another guise. And if, with Paul, we sometimes face believers who completely misunderstand our motives, then at least we may be confident, with the apostle, that we have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ, and that the attacks may reveal more about the attackers than anything else. May God raise up many Christian leaders whose passion is to build up the body of Christ.

D.A. Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity

Should Leaders Create Controversy?

pastor

I recently opened my inbox to see an article by Steven Furtick asking this very question. Over at Outreach Magazine, Furtick writes:

One of the greatest things preventing many pastors and churches from reaching their optimal level of impact is their fear of controversy. . . . They avoid criticism, which no one likes to receive. But they forfeit something far greater:

Influence. You can’t have influence if you are not willing to be controversial.

Just ask Jesus. . . . If Jesus’ ministry was controversial, why do we expect ours should be any different? . . . If you want to be like Christ, expect controversy. If you’re faithful to what God has called you to do, you are going to be misunderstood. Criticized. Maybe even hated.

But don’t worry when people are criticizing you. Worry when they’re not criticizing you. Because at that point you’ve blended in too much to be worth noticing. Personally, I’d rather be misunderstood than ignored.

So how ’bout it? Should leaders be comfortable with controversy?

Should leaders create controversy?

Well, this is a subject I’ve been mulling over for some time, and more intently since reading this article.

Our controversial message

On the one hand, it’s easy to say yes, church leaders should be willing to be controversial. Those who stand up for the truth, who proclaim the gospel unashamedly will inevitably create controversy because they are holding fast to the Word of God.

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 2:15-16, “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

The gospel is offensive in and of itself because it confronts us with an accurate view of ourselves—we are faced with the truth that we are hopelessly lost in our sin. We have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve created things instead of our blessed Creator (Rom. 1:25). Left to our own selves, we are idolators whose hearts are so deceitful and corrupt we cannot even rightly evaluate ourselves (cf. Jer. 17:9).

There is no darker picture of the truth of humanity than the one we see in the Scriptures, and yet no brighter hope for our reconciliation with God. God isn’t content to leave us to our own devices to make ourselves right with Him—the price is too high, the debt is too great!

So instead, He does it for us—the Father ordains our redemption; the Son accomplishes it in His perfect life, death, and resurrection; and the Holy Spirit applies it to us, bringing life to the spiritually dead, renewing our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.

So, if that’s the message we proclaim, absolutely it’s going to be controversial… and we should absolutely embrace the controversy that comes from it.

And yet…

Our uncontroversial attitudes

As clearly controversial as our message is, the Scriptures make it clear that Christians are to be decidedly uncontroversial in our approach to our calling. Consider what a brief survey of Paul and Peter’s epistles reveal on this matter:

…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. (Col. 3:15)

…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs… (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

An overseer must be above reproach . . . sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable . . . not quarrelsome… (1 Timothy 3:1-3)

[Christian leaders are not to have] an unhealthy craving for controversy . . . and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:4-5)

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

a person who stirs up division . . . is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

…let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:11)

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Whether inside or outside the Church, the apostolic witness is consistent and clear: Christian leaders, and indeed all Christians, are to be pursue self-control, peacefulness, and be above reproach (that is, beyond criticism, especially from unbelievers).

Just because Jesus was controversial…

The trouble with Furtick’s argument in his article is its flawed approach. It represents, at best, a half-truth.

Was Jesus controversial? Yes.

Why? Not because He was dangerous in the earthly sense.

Remember, Pontius Pilate found no fault with Him; He wasn’t a political upstart or a revolutionary in that sense. The danger Jesus represented was (and is) in His complete denunciation of our futile attempts to earn our own salvation and for His repeated declarations of His divinity.

There’s nothing more dangerous and nothing more controversial than that.

But here’s the thing… we don’t get to be controversial the way that He was.

We can’t make the claims that He did and we cannot perform the deeds that He did.

The danger of a half-truth comes when it’s presented as a whole truth. When that happens, a half-truth becomes a whole lie.

For the Christian, our call is more like that of John the Baptist—Jesus must increase, but we must decrease (John 3:30). It’s a call to humility. We don’t sacrifice influence by rejecting the notion of creating controversy. We increase in godliness as we consider others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3).

The only controversy that should ever come from our ministry is the faithful proclamation of the gospel. But anything else—if our methodology is stirring up division within the body, if our attitudes are creating cause for concern among believers and confusion among unbelievers, then we’ve not only missed the point, we’ve revealed we’re not fit for the ministry.

Controversy is not always wrong, but it’s pursuit is never to be commended. Influence is not wrong, but it is not something we, ultimately, can earn. It’s a gift from God given in whatever measure He deems fit. Steward what you have well and let Him worry about the rest.

The Call Is Not To Be Taken Lightly

The call is not to be taken lightly. For a person to possess knowledge is not enough. He must be sure that he is properly called. Those who operate without a proper call seek no good purpose. God does not bless their labors. They may be good preachers, but they do [not] edify. Many of the fanatics of our day pronounce words of faith, but they bear no good fruit, because their purpose is to turn men to their perverse opinions. On the other hand, those who have a divine call must suffer a good deal of opposition in order that they may become fortified against the running attacks of the devil and the world.

This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils one’s best work. When I was a young man I thought Paul was making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the importance of the ministry. I knew nothing of the doctrine of faith because we were taught sophistry instead of certainty, and nobody understood spiritual boasting. We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Edition, location 87)

Book Review: Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

Title: Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
Author: Guy Kawasaki
Publisher: Portfolio/Penguin

Working in marketing, I have the privilege of reading a fairly diverse set of books. It’s not all old dead guys and theology at the Armstrong house. (Just, y’know, mostly.)

Anyway, marketing and leadership books are strange animals. Some are great and others make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork. Almost all, though, usually fall into one of two categories:

  1. How to develop a large and successful business; and
  2. Why all marketers are liars

Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki is neither of these; instead, it’s a book about one thing:

Influence.

“How can I influence others without moral compromise?” is the question at the heart of Enchantment. And  it’s an important one. There are a number of easy cheats to convince people to follow your leadership (carrots and sticks) or to buy your product or join your cause (incentives), but eventually those things always fail.

Why? Because they’re disingenuous. They don’t tap into people’s passions. They don’t move the heart.

And without that happening, whatever impact you have is fleeting at best.

The “pillars of enchantment” Kawasaki puts forward ones you’d be hard pressed to disagree with:

  1. Be likeable
  2. Be trustworthy
  3. Have a great cause

In other words, be someone you’d actually want to spend time with and offer something that matters. These seem like concepts that should be met with a resounding, “well, I should hope so.” I mean, this seems to be common sense, doesn’t it? That’s thing about common sense, though. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it’s not that common sense has been tried and found lacking, it’s that it’s been found difficult and left untried.

Unless you’re likeable, it’s extremely difficult to be found trustworthy. And unless you’re trustworthy, no one will rally around your cause, no matter how good it is.

Whether you’re in the for-profit or non-profit world, whether you’re in some form of vocational ministry or working for a huge conglomerate, who you are impacts everything you’re involved with. Our character can be the scent of life or the stench of death, and we would all do well to remember that. [Read more…]

Becoming Balanced

A few weeks ago, Dustin Neeley sat down with Mark Driscoll to talk about what encourages and concerns him about young Christian leaders. Here’s the video:

(HT: The Resurgence)

In the video, Driscoll points out a couple of things he finds encouraging:

  1. A renewed desire for gospel-centered, Jesus-based, Bible saturated teaching
  2. A renewed heart for having a good gospel witness in urban centers
  3. A renewed interest in church planting

He also notes the following concerns, specifically in regard to what’s been called the Young, Restless & Reformed/New Calvinism:

  1. Good Reformed, complementarian theology unaccompanied by a strong sense of Spirit-filled mission will lead to fundamentalism
  2. New Calvinists being defined less by what they are for than what they’re against
  3. A lack of certainty about the role of the person of the Holy Spirit

Neeley asks viewers to consider the following questions in light of these encouragements and concerns:

“Where do I fall on the spectrum he describes?” and “What changes do I need to make to become more balanced?”

I don’t know about you, but here’s where I fall:

I absolutely love Jesus, the Church and the Bible and want to consistently be a better witness to Christ in my city (although I fail constantly). However, when I look at those concerns listed above, there are a number of things that caught my attention—not necessarily because I’m guilty of them (constantly), but the propensity is there.

It’s easy to develop convictions about what you’re against, for example, in the name of discernment. It’s a lot harder to develop strongly held convictions about what you’re for.

And it’s even harder to strongly hold to your convictions with humility.

This is where I’m learning that an increasing dependence on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me—both to make me more like Christ and (where necessary) speak words of correction—is so essential.

When I’m not actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide my words, thoughts and actions, it usually goes bad. I’ll say the right thing the wrong way or I’ll say the wrong thing altogether.

Becoming balanced means being immersed in the Word.

Becoming balanced means cultivating a consistent prayer life.

Becoming balanced means becoming dependent on the Holy Spirit.

God, help me.

Rescuing Ambition

Ambition is rarely considered a virtue for Christians. Historically, it’s carried with it connotations of seeking after personal glory and fame; of desiring for my own greatness, rather than God’s. But Dave Harvey wants to change our understanding of ambition and show us that being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean being selfish. That’s why he wrote Rescuing Ambition.

Ambition Defined

In this book, Harvey walks readers through a biblical understanding of ambition, beginning with our creation. “We love glory,” he writes (p. 21). “We were created to look for it and to love it when we find it.” It’s why we love rock stars, actors, authors, athletes. It’s why we want to be those things. There’s glory there, even if it’s fleeting.

And God doesn’t condemn seeking after glory—in fact, says Harvey, he commends it. But the glory we’re to seek after is His. It’s Christ. Christ is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb. 1:3), and therefore the object of godly pursuit. To seek after glory is to seek after Christ and the things he pursues.

This is to be our ambition.

Ambition Distorted

As Harvey continues, he shows us how our ambitions have been corrupted by sin as we’ve “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). Thus, naturally our ambitions turn in on ourselves, where we seek to make ourselves great. However, Harvey says, the opposite occurs. We actually make ourselves smaller by trying to make ourselves great. Worse, we place ourselves under God’s wrath. He writes:

Deeply embedded in my sinful flesh is a desire to install myself as lord over all. I want my name worshiped, my glory exalted, and my fame talked about long after I’m dead. But by pursuing selfish ambition, we fall short, tragically short of the greatness and glory of God. . . .

The bad news . . . is this: my quest for my own greatness leads me to a dangerous place. In our hyped-up pursuit of self-glory we place ourselves in the path of the wrath of God.

So we’re in desperate need of rescue. We need to be freed from wrath against imperfection—and we need to be rescued from ourselves. (pp. 46-47)

Ambition Redirected

Fortunately, God has made a way for our ambition to not only be rescued, but redirected through faith in Jesus Christ. What I appreciate in this book is that Harvey doesn’t try to be overly clever or sneaky in his presentation of the problem and its solution. The problem is we’ve sinned against God, pursuing our own glory instead of His. The solution is Christ’s atoning death on the cross. It’s the gospel.

When God saves sinners, He does it for His glory; and imperfect sinners are given Christ’s perfect righteousness. And He saves us, not so that we can go about doing whatever we want, but to pursue the good works we were created for, “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Harvey writes,

Walking in good works begins with aspiring to good works, being ambitious for them. Dreaming and doing things for God is the evidence, the effect, and the expectation of genuine faith.

We already have all the approval we need. . . . [L]et us never leave this solid footing: God’s approval comes from the perfect obedience of the Perfect Man.  (p. 62)

And so God redirects our ambitions—He redirects them to glorify Him and delight us. This is probably the most challenging thing about our ambitions: Who or what lies at their end? Harvey asks, “Are your goals built around that job you’ve got to have, the weight you’ve got to lose, that position in the church with your name on it? Or are your dreams increasingly built around God and his life-shaping activity in you?” (p. 79)

These are challenging questions that force me to look at what I pursue. Do I write because I want people to praise my ability? Do I preach because I want people to be impressed with how well I speak?

Or do I do these things because I enjoy God and find my delight in Him? Does that drive me to pursue godly ambition?

Ambition Redeemed

As God rescues and redirects our ambitions, we have to understand that there’s a cost. We might fail. We might never see our ambitions fulfilled. But our ambitions are to have one goal in mind: serving our Savior. This is where we’re to find our contentment: not in the accomplishment, but in Him who has redeemed us and created us for these works.

In other words, godly ambitions are humble ambitions. To pursue godly ambitions means that we can forsake our comfort and well-being because Christ is sufficient. So it doesn’t matter if we fail. It doesn’t matter if we don’t’ see our plans play out. Jesus is enough.

The last several chapters of Rescuing Ambition hit this point over and over again, and I am grateful for it. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in seeing things through to the very end.

To take “finishing well” as completing the task at hand.

But Harvey reminds us that “finishing well” actually means preparing the next generation to finish the work we begin. In sharing his own story of stepping down as the senior pastor of his church, to follow the leading of a younger man, Harvey models this for us. This is what our ambitions should be about. “True success means we will turn things over to the younger generation in such a way that enables them to run stronger and faster, with us cheering them all the way.” (p. 210)

That, to me, seems like godly ambition. It’s the kind that I want to pursue. How about you?


 

Title: Rescuing Ambition
Author: Dave Harvey
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Buy it at: Amazon

Matt Chandler on Leading Your Church Through Suffering

A few quotes, pulled by JT:

“Lauren asked the doctor, ‘What’s best-case scenario and what’s worst-case scenario?’ He said: ‘Best-case scenario is that God heals you. . . . Worst-case scenario, honestly, is that you get killed in a car wreck on your way home today.’

“He was the first one to say to me out loud, ‘Nothing’s really changed for you—you just get to be aware that you’re mortal. Everyone is, but they’re just not aware of it. The gift that God’s given you is that you get to be aware of your mortality.’

“So if this goes bad for me, if my MRI scan shows that . . . I have a short amount of time, I can talk to my wife, talk to my children, shoot videos. . . . Most guys who die in their 30’s kiss their wife goodbye in the morning and never come home. . . . At least once a year, for the rest of my life, I get the anxiety of ‘Am I going to hear today that I only have a couple years to live?’ . . . It is a gift.”

HT: Z