5 Axioms Shaping My Leadership Right Now

Leadership is a gift and a skill. I read a good number of books on leadership, some more helpful than others. But I find that Proverbs-style, pithy, and portable phrases are helpful to me. Like actual proverbs, you can chew on them. So, here are five (mostly unoriginal, yet totally helpful) axioms that are shaping my leadership right now. Leading Means Listening When I was a music student as an undergrad we took whole courses on listening. Why? Because you can't conduct a choir or orchestra well if you can't hear when one part, one section, or even one player is out of tune. Similarly, I've got to listen to my people. Like a great orchestra, the diversity of my people ethnically, socially, and generationally means that we don't all sound the same, and sometimes we're out of tune. I can't just charge ahead, leading means listening.

Do for One... Famous old Andy-Stanley-ism, but man it's still so good. The whole thing goes, "Do for one what you wish you could do for all." There are a lot of people in the church, and I can't personally help everyone. I can be paralyzed by that. But, if I can do for one what I wish I could do for all, I create a culture where all can be helped.

You Can Have Control or Growth, But You Can't Have Both Guys I'm such a control freak. I want it all a certain way ... my way ... the right way! That's fine as long as I'm willing to disobey the Scriptures and keep our church super small. But if I'm going to make leaders and grow a people, I've got to let go of a LOT. Don't remember who said this one, but high fives to them.

You Can't Over-Preach Vision and Values As an achiever, I suffer from serial boredom. Once I've done something, it's really hard for me to go back and do it again. It's crossed of the list ... next! But leading means taking those core truths about who we are and holding them up for all, all of the time. I can't say our vision and values enough. In fact, the only thing I should be saying more is the actual gospel.

Reaction isn't Leadership Being loud, angry, and reactive isn't leadership. There's a lot in this world that's truly horrible and worth getting loud and angry about. And, if I were only concerned with expressing myself, I'd go for it. But as a leader I don't have the luxury of venting my emotions at injustice and sin in the world. I have to orient a people toward action. So, I've got to constantly deal with the PH balance of my soul, and keep myself at a low state of reactivity. Otherwise, my words become acidic and my leadership bullying.

What axioms are helping you?

Talent Ain't Enough

If you're leading a church, you're probably gifted. God's given you some skills which you bring out on a regular basis to build the church. Maybe it's a preaching or leadership. Perhaps you're a great evangelist or strategic thinker. Whatever your talent is, it ain't enough.

Your talents aren't enough to do what God has asked of you. If they were, then you wouldn't need God. Can you get to a certain level on your own? Sure. But to take the work of God in your hands to greater heights, you're going to have to see that your talent alone just won't cut it. Your people deserve you to be more than who you are naturally.

To your talent, you'll need to add the following to steward your talent well:

Study Don't just rely on your gifts. Work your mind to make them better. Get that seminary degree. Dust off the Greek and Hebrew. Your people need you to know what you're talking about.

Fidelity Talent and faithfulness aren't the same. In fact, a lot of talented people get discouraged and quit. Don't. You'll have to become faithful to be truly fruitful.

Practice Talent is just a sign of untapped potential. If you're naturally a good communicator, imagine how good you'd be if you practiced. Do the hours, do the reps. Get better.

Coaching Whatever you're talent is, I guarantee there's some better. Find that person and beg them to coach you. You're never too old, too good, or too lofty to get good kick and a hug.

Your talents aren't enough. But, they're a great place to start. Get a plan, and get to work on them to maximize your effectiveness for Jesus.

Leading Means Listening

As a leader, I'm often asked what other leaders should be doing to lead well. What techniques should we employ? What data are we missing? What styles of communication work best? Very rarely am I asked, "How should we leaders be listening?" But, when I see Jesus leading, I see him doing a lot of listening. Here are three ways I see that — for Jesus — leading means listening.

Listen Ahead

Leaders don't just look ahead, they listen ahead. On the cutting edge of every organization — corporate or church, government or school — there is unclaimed territory. What's the sound of that place? What to they believe there? What do they talk about? What's the accent like? Leaders can't lead the mission in a language that isn't spoken. Jesus spent 30 years listening, absorbing, and preparing. Leaders who would follow him must listen ahead like he did.

Listen Behind

Leaders must also listen to those who are coming behind them. Not only must leaders hear their followers, but also their future successors. What do they see? How do they feel? This doesn't mean leading by democratic vote. It means leading by love. Jesus asked Peter, "Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15-16) Leading well means hearing your people, even if they say things you wish they wouldn't. Think about how discouraging it must have been for Jesus to listen to his followers miss his message time after time! But if Jesus' followers missed the message of the master, it stands to reason your team might not get it the first time either. Jesus probably led better than you.

Listen Above

Leaders don't just listen on the flat horizon of human experience. We must learn to listen to God — to listen above. I find it fascinating that Jesus took time to go listen to the Father, not just talk. (Lk 5:16, Mk 1:35) If I'm going to lead well I need to listen to God. This is the distinguishing mark of Christian leadership which separates it from good advice. We're trying to lead where God wants to go. We're leaders under authority. You and I have to schedule time to stop, get away, and listen to God. Otherwise we might employ good leadership techniques to take our people to the wrong place.

Leader, listen well. Listen ahead, behind, and above.

3 Axioms Helping My Leadership

  Axioms are self-evident, pithy truths that fit well in ones mental pockets. Here are three that are really helping me right now.

Small is Big

I struggled to believe this one. I like big. Big crowds, big results, big faith, big budgets ... all that sounds fun. But here's the deal, big is illusory. If I want to make a big change in my city, my kids' lives, my relationship with my wife, or my walk with Jesus, I must work the small things. Eye contact, consistency, prayer, kind words ... it's a game of inches.

Do For One...

This is an old, true Andy-Stanley-ism. "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." So, so good. As the church grows and my heart continues to see more and more of the world that needs so much help, the weight can be crushing. I can't fix everything, but I can fix something. I can't do for all, but I can do for some.

You Replicate What You Celebrate

This one is huge. If I want to see a disciple-making, Jesus-exalting, Kingdom-bringing movement in my house, my church, or my city, then I must shout and sing when ground is gained toward those goals.

I love helpful leadership axioms like these. Which ones are helping you?

His Faithfulness Observed

This Sunday we celebrated our fifth birthday at Aletheia. It was a great day—a wonderful moment to celebrate all that God has done over the last five years. Very often I will write to solve a problem, share a skill, or add a thought to an ongoing issue in church planting or in culture. But to commemorate all that God has done for me personally and for our church corporately in the last five years, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than to briefly enumerate some of the amazing ways God has proven Himself faithful.

  • God called some of our best friends in the world to move to Boston with us. We would not be where we are if it weren't for Donny and Janna Fisher.
  • God gave me a supportive, prayerful, faithful woman of God in my wife, Hope. Without her, I would not and could not do this.
  • We were so scared to move up here, but God gave both our families beautiful, new apartments right on top of each other. Our kids got to play, we got to laugh, and our families grew in close proximity. This made the hard, early years so much sweeter.
  • God gave us a people from day 1. Not everyone gets that, but I never once had to bear this church plant totally alone.
  • God gave me two amazing ministry mentors in Jim Laffoon and Stephen Mansfield, who have walked closely with us for years, guarding me, my family, and our church, with selflessness and wisdom.
  • God provided a building in the perfect location for our launch.
  • God gave us every single dollar we needed, from partners who've given to our ministry for years, to churches who gave us enormous special gifts.
  • Through us, God has saved a lot of people.
  • We launched with 99 people.
  • We've never stopped growing.
  • God has given us hundreds of amazing volunteers. These men and women are selfless, Kingdom-minded, and joyful co-laborers for Christ. I am humbled to lead them.
  • God called and enabled the launch of a second location in downtown Boston.
  • My kids love Jesus and like me. Not everyone can say that, so I'm grateful.
  • All our gatherings are packed, and that's nuts to me.
  • God has allowed our spiritual family to be a diverse one, and I'm so, so grateful for that testimony of gospel power for unity.
  • When I was walking through the valleys of depression, God delivered me.
  • I get to preach the Bible for a living, and make disciples of Jesus Christ as a full-time job. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
  • God has given us an amazing spiritual family in Every Nation. There's no other group of men and women I'd rather walk with in the world.
  • God gave us an amazing staff, and I love these men and women with all my heart. I love working with them, and think they're all rockstars.
  • I've lost count of how many people I've baptized in the last 5 years.
  • When church planting was hard, God never left me. His presence and power sustained me.

It's good to make lists like this. One thing is sure, not every day in ministry will be as sweet as a 5th birthday, but seeing just some of what God has done in the last few years reminds me that He is unstoppably faithful. I can't wait to see what the next few years hold!


Trusting God Means Taking Risks

Trusting God means taking risks. The thought is pretty simple, really. Trusting God means trusting Him, not your ability to understand everything He does. As a pastor, I watch people get confused by this one a lot.

"Where's God right now? What's He doing"

"Pastor, why did He let me experience this?"

"I don't understand what God could be doing in this situation."

We seemed to be convinced that if we can't see what God is doing, then God can't be doing it. But here's the thing: God doesn't have to approve His plan with you. If He did then you would never have to trust Him. You'd simply be approving his plans. And, those are not the same. If you require a comprehension of God plans, you'll never take a risk and step out in faith. Why? Because you'll never do anything that totally depends on God and His character, just on you and your understanding.

What a lame way to live.

Trusting God means taking risks — stepping out in obedience doing things that have unclear outcomes (from our perspectives, at least). If you're afraid of risks, the answer isn't to just manifest some bravery. It's to remind yourself of the nature of God. He's the kind of God who can be trusted with your step of faith.

Jesus said, "Follow me." You may not be sure where you're going, exactly. But, you know you can trust your leader. Take the risk. Trust God.

3 Reasons to Keep Going

You're in the middle of something right now — maybe even something great — and you want to quit. Don't.

Some activities, habits, and attitudes we should quit. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about quitting on your calling, your relationships, your work — the things you know you should do. Do you ever just want to tap out on those things because they're just really hard?

Again, don't.

Here's three good reasons not to quit on good things:

Your Not Supposed to Quit Things like your calling — your real purpose in life — you're not supposed to quit. You can't tap out of being who God made and appointed you to be. "It's really hard, though," you say. Yes. Yes it is. That's because it's good, and everything good is hard. An unhealthy side effect of our overly-coddled culture is the belief that when opposition comes (or just when the good vibes leave) we must be in the wrong lane. That's not true. If God commands it, you're to do. Don't stop.

Jesus Didn't Quit Let's talk about the archetype for perseverance a moment. Jesus didn't quit. He didn't hang up his gloves because his team still didn't get it. He didn't roll back when his family thought he was nuts. He didn't even quit when the Roman soldiers were ripping the flesh of his back, nailing him to a cross, and watching him die, slowly. He didn't quit.

Maybe you're suffering right now. Suffering doesn't mean you should stop. God uses our suffering to build our character, purge our sin, and make us stronger. I'm really glad Jesus didn't quit when it was hard. Don't quit.

God Gives Persevering Grace to the Persevering God doesn't abandon you when it's tough. The genius of the Christian story is the way God remains omnipotent while entering into human suffering, and overcomes. Because Jesus overcame this world, he can now give overcoming grace to those of us still in it. I know it's tough right now. God gives grace when it's tough. He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His grace is there to sustain.

Whatever you're in the middle of right now, don't quit. Show up, ask God for help, keep going.

3 Great Expectations for 2016

Expectation is a very visible emotion in my house, especially at this time of year — especially among my kids. Expectation for fun, presents, and all-around Christmasy goodness. I'd imagine they have such great expectation because, for the most part, Hope and I are pretty good parents who like to give them good stuff. Well, God's a better dad than me. So as his kids, we should approach this new year with some great expectations. Here are three of them:

Expect Evil to Persist I know, not the most encouraging one. But seriously, why are (Christians especially) so surprised when evil rears its ugly head? It's horrible, yes, but hardly surprising. We've got a whole theology about evil that does a pretty good job explaining why it's there. Unless Jesus returns in 2016, evil is will remain. You can expect it.

Expect the Gospel to Work In the face of evil and brokenness, here's another sure thing — the gospel will still be the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. In fact, as evil gets worse, the power of the gospel to rescue and redeem gets bigger and brighter. So let's not skulk into 2016, pining for a so-called Christian culture of a by-gone age. Let's charge ahead with the confident expectation for the gospel to bring the Kingdom.

Expect God to Do Great Things If you expect God to do very little, you'll probably get what you expect. You're facing some giants in 2016 — health, money, dreams, and destiny. So show up like my kids do this time of year. Don't let disappointment drain your faith. Don't allow disillusionment to lead you into doubt and despondence. God is great, so expect Him to do greatly. You will not be disappointed.

Vision Entropy

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy within a closed system will always increase over time. Or, put more simply, energy always runs out, but never gets automatically put back. Vision is the same way.

When we start, we usually start with vision. Motivated by a clear picture of the future and all the energy that goes along with it, we jump in with both feet. A few weeks in, we're not quite as passionate as we were when we started, but we're hanging in there. But years later? Vision entropy. The thing we're doing doesn't much resemble the vision we began with. Our souls have leaked the vision. Our spirits, like sieves, can't hold the momentum. Eventually, the Second Law of Thermodynamics claims another victim. Entropy has won.

The closed system of our lives simply cannot maintain the same level of passion, drive, love, hope, and work forever. We leak, dry up, and run out. But here's the catch:

You and I were never meant to be closed systems.

I don't know how to stop vision entropy, but I do know where to get more vision than I leak. That is the key. In order for our lives to radiate with more and more vision and passion, we've got to get it from somewhere (or someone) else. This is the greatness of Christian leadership — we have an unending, unyielding source of vision, energy, and passion for all our calling. Leader, you don't have to gin up your own momentum today. You and I can simply wait, ask, and trust that the same Spirit that hovered over the void and made the universe, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, now lives in you.

Will you leak vision? Yes. So ask for more.