How To Be a History Maker

I want to be a history maker. I remember the first time I saw my favorite Christian band, Delirious, in concert. In that dark, crowded, suspiciously musty concert venue, I remember shouting the words of one of my favorite songs:

I’m gonna be a history maker in this land
I’m gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again

Delirious, History Maker

In 1999, I was a 21-year old Bible college senior ready to change the world. Those heady words swirled inside of me and took residence in my heart. I had ambitious plans. I would land an internship, join a church staff, ascend through the hierarchy, and accept the call to lead. I’d be a fearless, compassionate, and creative leader. Over time, I’d expand my influence by coaching and supporting other aspiring leaders. After a full ministry career, I’d run into God’s arms and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I wanted to be a history maker!

Can you relate?

No matter what calling God gave you—vocational ministry, the armed forces, education, raising children, banking, farming, retail, tech, or politics—you likely pursued it out of a deep passion and an overwhelming desire to make a difference in the world. You wanted to help, to earn responsibility, and to expand influence. You wanted to change the world.

Do you still want to be a history maker? I know I still do. There are at least four disciplines that history-making demands of us:

Become good at the little things

I discovered quickly that if I wanted to change the world, I’d have to focus on the present. Every career is made up of 1,000 un-glamorous tasks that simply must be done. I learned that if I wanted to have a chance to teach on a big stage, I’d have to get really good at planning lessons for my small group. If I wanted to help an organization increase efficiencies, I’d have to learn how to file accurate expense reports on time. If I wanted to get permission to make changes, I’d have to learn how to persuade decision makers. I had remember that this is the path to greater responsibility and impact in the Kingdom: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 25:21″ display=”Matthew 25:21″]).

Faithfully executing the details gives you the experience and credibility you need to assume greater responsibility. There are no shortcuts to success. The discipline developed in getting good at the little things positions you as a person who can be entrusted with bigger things.

Sharpen your Spirit-given strengths

I had a clear picture of what I was going to accomplish but I didn’t know my own strengths and weaknesses. As I embarked upon on my plans, I experienced great friction in some areas and great traction in others. I spent a lot of time trying to become good at things that simply weren’t aligned with my gifts. I soon realized that I could either invest hours trying to bolster up weaknesses with very little return on investment or that I could lean into my strengths with huge results. Along the way, I learned that God had given me gifts of leadership, administration, and teaching. I took time to better understand my own temperament. And, wise counselors gave me permission to focus on my strengths, gifts, and calling. This made all the difference.

The Apostle Paul teaches that each of us who are in Christ have been given the powerful presence of the Spirit to accomplish the common good ([biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 12:7″ display=”1 Corinthians 12:7″]) and he reminded his protege Timothy to fan his gifts into flame ([biblegateway passage=”2 Timothy 1:6″ display=”2 Timothy 1:6″]). If you want to be a history maker, spend your time sharpening your Spirit-given strengths.

Invest in people

You can be charismatic and gifted, in possession of all the right resources, and you can be a wizard at strategy and structure. If you don’t invest in people, though, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Or, at the very least, you’re diminishing your potential. No matter where you work, what you do, or how talented you are, you won’t succeed if you’re not great at investing in people.

As Christians, what’s our overarching calling and purpose? It is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:37″ display=”Matthew 22:37″] and [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:39″ display=”39″]). That’s it. Whether it’s our coworkers, our constituents, our clients, our communities, or our customers, our first priority must be to love people well.

If we become history makers it will be because we invested in people and we loved them well (ultimately by bringing them to Jesus).

Keep showing up

Finally, there’s no substitute for simply showing up every day. For most of us, God willing, it will be a long race. It’s easy to become discouraged when we forget that history making takes years of sustained, persistent effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week or month and underestimate what we can do in a year or two. People who make a difference in the world have learned how to push through the pain of slow progress and how to keep showing up and doing the work to which God has called them.

What about you?

Are you young and ambitious, hoping for history-making results on a shorter-than-realistic time frame? Are you trying to remain passionate in spite of slow progress or under-realized visions and dreams? Have your world-changing dreams begun to fade?

Hang in there. Keep working on mastering the little things. Continue sharpening your Spirit-given gifts. Don’t quit investing in people. And, by all means, keep showing up. God is in the business of making history and he wants to use you and me. (If you need a little extra inspiration, try this!)

Fighting for the Heart

fighting-for-the-heart

I had only been in full-time ministry for four months when I attended a conference in Atlanta with friends. One of the first speakers preached a sermon that fueled my ministry in those early years.

God had used him to transform a dying church into a vibrant community of belief that was, and still is, on the cutting edge. But, it wasn’t an easy process. He described the period of time at which he and his leadership team were at the lowest of lows. The vision they had been communicating had fallen flat. Many of the people they were attempting to love and bring along with them were leaving. They had experienced several other gut blows that left them gasping for air and wondering if God was done with the church they were so desperately trying to bring back to life.

He spoke of his ministry as heart surgery. He framed himself as the surgeon and the church as the patient. I remember him saying, “I decided that I would either save the patient or I would die in the operation!”

His passion, and that sticky metaphor, have remained in my heart and mind for the past 15 years.

Fighting for the heart of the church

It’s not always easy.

The other day, I met with a friend who has suffered a huge amount of hurt during his time serving in ministry. Things have been so painful that he’s no longer serving in the church. It has gotten to the point at which he’d rather mow the lawn on Sunday; it’s just too difficult to go there for him and his family.

My heart goes out to him.

The church is far from perfect. Sometimes people get hurt, overlooked, moved to the margins, or forgotten. It’s regrettable. Many times, it’s avoidable. But, the fact remains, there is no perfect church and sinful people, as they’re prone to do, will sometimes disappoint.

The church needs leaders who know all about her blemishes—leaders who might have even been hurt by her in the past—to determine to remain in the operation, to keep fighting for the heart of the church. The church needs brave, godly, committed men and women who refuse to get caught up in petty problems, turf wars, and politics so they can focus on fighting for things that matter: bringing lost souls to Christ, nurturing young believers in the faith, preaching and teaching God’s truth, binding up the hurting, restoring the broken, and transforming communities. It’s not always going to be easy. But, it’s necessary.

Isn’t she worth fighting for?

As I talked with my friend, I reflected upon some of the difficulties I’ve experienced in the church. I’ll admit, there have been times where it was tempting—and would have been easy—to walk away. I’ve considered it seriously. But, by God’s grace, he keeps drawing me back, reminding me how much he loves the church, and encouraging me to keep going.

She may not be perfect. But, she is still worth fighting for.

I’m either going to save the patient or I’ll die in the operation!

What about you?

Are you fighting for the heart of the church? Have you given up? What keeps you committed? I’d love to hear from you.

Why Your Church’s Mission Matters

why-your-churchs-mission-matters

I’ve always appreciated a well-written mission statement.

Recently, as I was sitting in the whirlpool at the YMCA loosening up after a swim, I glanced up at the prominently posted rules of conduct and noticed the Y’s mission statement:

“The mission of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.”

I’m glad the Y is committed to that mission. It’s a good one. But, as I sat there and thought more about it I realized that the mission could just as easily be adopted by any number of well-meaning congregations.

Think about it:

Programs.

Christian principles.

Healthy spirit, mind, and body.

Now, I have to clarify, there isn’t any church I know that has adopted mission statement like this and actually put it in print. But, in practice; well, that’s a different story.

Think about your church.

Lots of activities: camps, classes, small groups, fitness classes, golf outings, retreats, committees, and seminars. At each of these programs, Christian principles are taught: be honest, be a good parent, read your Bible, pray regularly, attend faithfully, help others, and grow spiritually. And, the result of all this activity and advice? Do the right thing. Be moral. Grow at a steady pace. And, make sure you stay on track.

I realize this is somewhat of a caricature. But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that a lot of the frenetic activity that happens at church is really centered around making sure a bunch of people are relatively happy, relatively well-adjusted, and relatively knowledgeable, and that they keep attending on a fairly regular basis.

This is why your church’s mission matters:

Your church will be no different from the YMCA unless the transforming, saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central to your mission.

The Gospel is the difference. But, it cannot just receive lip service. It must be the catalyst for each ministry the church undertakes. It must be the central element upon which all activity and teaching is focused. And it must be the end toward which everything points.

The Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the only thing that makes the church any different from the YMCA. Let’s keep it at the heart of all that we do and all that we are.

What about you?

Is your own mission focused upon proclaiming and living out the Gospel? What about your church? How are you contributing toward that end?

Want to Get Noticed in Ministry?

want-to-get-noticed-in-ministry

I’m an ambitious person.

Not a characteristic you typically associate with someone who is in ministry? I agree; at first, that may seem like a contradiction. We typically think about ambition in a negative sense because we’ve witnessed so many ambitious people doing whatever they can to climb the ladder, to achieve, and to protect their status. But, in and of itself, ambition is morally neutral. It can be used for evil or it can be used for good.

I’ve always been ambitious to make any contribution to the church that I can. Occasionally, that ambition has been accompanied by a strong desire to ascend in leadership, to take on greater responsibilities at a higher level. Actually, I think that’s a good thing. In men and women who God calls and equips to lead, there’s always an inner pull, an ambition, toward greater leadership.

But, what do you do when you’re not given greater responsibility? When your ambitions fall flat? When you don’t get to lead at the level at which you’re capable?

There’s one man whose ministry in obscurity encourages me greatly.

I want to be like Andrew

Andrew was one of Jesus’ first disciples but he wasn’t the greatest. He’s best known as Simon Peter’s brother. He rarely appears in the Gospels. He isn’t included in Jesus’ inner circle; James, John, and his brother occupied that space. And, other than a quick mention in the book of Acts, Andrew never appears again in the text of the New Testament. When it comes to notoriety among the disciples, he’s pretty low on the list. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t prominent. He didn’t hold a special position.

But, what we do know about Andrew is a huge encouragement to me:

Every time we meet Andrew in the Gospels, especially in the book of John, we find him bringing someone to Jesus.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 1:40-42″ display=”John 1″], Andrew is the one who actually introduces his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Peter was the leader of the disciples and the central figure in the first few decades of the Church.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 6:7-8″ display=”John 6″], Andrew is the person responsible for bringing the boy with the fish and loaves to Jesus. Jesus used the boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 people.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 12:20-22″ display=”John 12″], Philip is approached by some Greek men who want to see Jesus. He doesn’t know what to do so he gets Andrew. And, of course, Andrew brings them to Jesus.

I love it! Andrew isn’t the disciple whose name gets placed on the marquee. He’s not at the top of the organizational chart. But, that doesn’t faze him. He continually goes about his business of introducing people to Jesus.

So, what happens when your ambition for greater responsibility doesn’t get you noticed? You remain faithful. You keep bringing people to Jesus. You keep serving, continue loving, and continually pray for God to convert your ambition into greater depths of dedication to your role.

When ambition exists because you want to get noticed in ministry, that’s trouble. Ambition is OK as long as long as the object is bringing people to Jesus.

What about you?

What is your ambition in ministry? Is it to get noticed? Or, is it to bring people to Jesus? If you’re not a vocational minister, what’s your ambition? Do you consider it your job to bring people to Jesus?

How to Know When to Leave

how-to-know-when-to-leave

Sometimes you have to walk away.

That’s a painful truth in ministry. Sometimes you’ve worked so long, fought so hard, influenced to the extent of your capabilities, and had all the difficult conversations that are necessary and there’s no sight of growth or change on the horizon. It could be an unchangeable systemic problem, nearsighted leadership, entrenched members, persecution, overwhelming political interests, or some combination of all of these external problems that prompts a minister to move on. Or, it could be a change of life circumstances, a heart that is pulled toward a new ministry focus, a family need, or some combination of these internal conflicts that prompts a minister to move on. Whether the root cause is internal or external, sometimes the only solution is to shake the dust off your feet and walk away.

So, if change is inevitable, how do you know when to leave? First, let’s consider what not to do.

Five mistakes when leaving becomes an option:

1. Allowing difficult circumstances to damage your heart, family, or friendships.

Some people are able to leave work at the office. Some bring it home with them. And, many ministry families have suffered because of the residue of struggles at church that have been allowed to creep in. By all means, preserve your heart, family, and friendships. They’re too important.

2. Believing the grass is greener.

It’s not. I’ve known ministers who regularly move from church to church. Either they leave when their bag of tricks is empty or they skip to the next more-prestigious assignment that comes their way. Sure, some churches are healthier than others, but simply moving on in order to avoid problems is not a solution that honors the church or deals in solid logic. Don’t jump over the fence just because you believe you’ll graze better.

3. Leaving too soon.

Friction and traction are inseparable. Way too many church leaders view friction as a sign that they ought to give up rather than conceiving of it as the precursor to the traction for which they strive. There will always be difficulty and discomfort. Great leaders push through and love people along the way. Don’t make the mistake of leaving too soon and miss the opportunities that are often just around the bend.

4. Staying too long at the expense of your character.

Wrong is wrong. Sin is sin. And, sometimes staying too long means that you actually perpetuate problems, endorsing them by your presence. And, it is quite possible to simply inherit guilt by association. Rise above. When it becomes clear that there is a deep-rooted moral impediment, you’ve done all you can to lovingly expose and heal the issues, and sin is allowed to persist, have the character to walk away.

5. Creating a mess on the way out.

Once the decision is made, it’s done. No good can come from being a disruption, making accusations, or fouling things up on your way out. Be gracious. Be slow to speak. Give up the right to defend yourself by casting aspersions on others. Just go. Speak well of Christ’s church. And, throw your heart into leading her elsewhere.

So, if you’re working hard to avoid these mistakes, how do you know when it’s really time to leave? 

How to know when to leave:

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula. But, there are a few signposts that you’ll see along the way.

1. The Spirit prompts, nudges, or provides opportunities.

I’m not talking about open doors or outrageous circumstances. I’m talking about the Spirit’s still, small voice. What is the Spirit placing on your heart? What Scriptures is the Spirit bringing to your mind? Tune in. If he is the catalyst, he will also be the guide, comfort, and provision. Lean on him and step out.

2. The godly voices in your life encourage you to move on.

Who are these voices? Well, I’d begin with your spouse. Then, I’d include your accountability partner, ministry peers, godly counselor, concerned friend, or fellow small group member. Most of the time, assuming you aren’t quite hearing the Spirit’s voice, these will be the voices the Spirit will use to get your attention. Listen to them. Weigh what they’re saying against your experience and against what God’s saying to you in his Word. Don’t discount the observations they share or the wisdom they provide. Take stock. If the godly people in your life are unified in encouraging you to consider moving on, it might be time to brush up the résumé.

3. You’ve done all you can do to live at peace with others.

I love Paul’s advice in Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Living at peace with everyone is obviously the objective. But, I love the qualifiers: if it is possible and as far as it depends upon you. Do all you can. Be above reproach in your thoughts, attitudes, motives, and actions. (Read all of Romans 12 if you need some tips.) You still might reach the point at which peace simply isn’t possible. It doesn’t all depend upon you. It’s OK—regrettable but OK—to walk away if this is the case.

4. You’ve handed off ministry to capable hands.

This is a different point from what I’ve listed above. But, if ministers take seriously their calling to equip God’s people to do the work of the church, there may come a time when your services simply aren’t needed. You’ve replaced yourself. That would be a success! And, assuming there’s not another role to step into, it might be best to move on and to continue equipping others elsewhere. If this is the situation in which you find yourself, congratulations! You’ve done well.

It’s never easy to leave a ministry into which you’ve poured your heart and life. But, there’s one truth that can provide immense comfort during times of transition:

It’s God’s Church. He is still loving, leading, and guiding her whether we’re present or not. We’re leaving her in capable hands.

What about you?

Have you ever had to make a transition? How did you know when to leave?

Maximizing Strengths

maximize-your-strengths

I have spent a number of years feeling guilty.

You see, I need to get in better shape. But, I really dislike working out at the gym. The thought of getting up in the morning to go for a run simply isn’t appealing. I used a treadmill for a year or so—as a clothes hanger. You get the picture. I’ve tried, and failed, at any number of exercise routines that I simply didn’t enjoy. None of them stuck. They only succeeded in making me feel guilty.

A couple of months ago, my wife (who is much smarter and more perceptive than me) said, “You love to swim. Why don’t you get a membership at the YMCA and start swimming?”

Great idea!

I’ve been going several times a week. My stamina has increased tenfold. And, between swims, I actually look forward to getting back in the water.

What was the difference? I’ve found an activity that plays to my strengths and preferences and I’ve given up trying to incorporate unenjoyable activities in areas of personal weakness.

What does all of this have to do with serving? 

I have regularly struggled to find a balance between maximizing my strengths and shoring up my weaknesses, especially at work. There are things I love about what I do. I gravitate toward opportunities that are in my wheelhouse. I’ll almost always respond in the affirmative to invitations to do these things. But, there are other tasks I simply dread. I’ve tried to improve in these areas. But, mustering the necessary motivation is like trying to wade through a pool of molasses.

My experience swimming laps has made me reflect on an important question:

What if I spent much less time feeling guilty about my weaknesses and, instead, spent that time actually maximizing my strengths?

I believe we’d see great results—in all areas of life: ministry, work, marriage, parenting, relationships, and more—from forgetting about weaknesses and maximizing strengths.

Three benefits of maximizing strengths

1. More enjoyment

It’s just more fun to do things that I love, to play to my God-given strengths. And, life’s too short to be chained to a role or task that’s become a ball and chain.

2. Greater output

I’ll never produce as much working in an area of weakness as I could working in an area of strength. It just makes sense. But, how many times do we work ourselves to the bone trying to produce when we know we’re simply not wired for the task? Focus on the things you love, your areas of strength, and build all you can with all you have in you. You’ll be surprised at how much you’re capable of producing.

3. Deeper relationships

Maximizing strengths, and understanding the strengths of the people with whom I’m partnered, can lead to greater depth in our relationships. Whether it’s at work, in the community, at church, or at home, knowing the strengths of the people with whom I’m working keeps me from forming unrealistic expectations of them, increases my appreciation of their unique contributions, and helps me to value them for who they are. And, bringing my strengths into my relationships gives others a chance to appreciate me in the same way.

Before moving on, there are three qualifications I feel I need to make:

First, we’re not talking about moral weaknesses here. These must be dealt with swiftly, decisively, honestly, and with the help of godly friends. Second, this doesn’t give us an excuse to beg out of the tedious tasks that all jobs, roles, and relationships require of us. We still have to be responsible for the little things while being mindful that we lean into areas of giftedness and strength. Finally, this shouldn’t give us an out when it comes to trying new things. We should be excited to try new things even if we think they might not be in an area of strength. You just never know what you might end up loving.

What about you?

What weaknesses have you been determined to bolster up? Which of your strengths have you been neglecting? What changes do you need to make to move into a place where you’re maximizing strengths?

Introverts And Wonder

introverts-and-wonder

In the introduction of her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain points out that introverts are more likely to ask what-if questions than extroverts.

That’s me!

Truths about Introverts and Wonder

I didn’t know this tendency was in any way tied to my personality. But, I’m glad it is! While it might be more natural for introverts like me to wonder about stuff—to ask what-if questions—it’s a discipline that is central to so many things for all of us. Here are just a few:

What-if questions are essential to creative endeavors.

Innovation simply isn’t possible without the ability to ask what-if questions. What if I pour lemonade into my iced tea? Bam! The Arnold Palmer is created. What if we strapped some brave people to a rocket and pointed it at the moon? Bam! The space age is born. What if we could put a personal computer in every home? Bam! Microsoft and Apple make billions of dollars. What if we speed up these atomic particles and make them collide? Bam! … Bam! You get the idea. Every creative innovation or endeavor begins with someone who asks a what-if question.

What-if questions can be powerful catalysts for spiritual growth.

I recently glanced over the notes in my Bible app and was astonished by how frequently I use phrases like, “I wonder” and “what if.” I believe wonder is a central characteristic of people who place themselves on a trajectory of spiritual growth. When we begin asking those questions, we begin a dialogue that opens us up to new ways of seeing things and it helps us better internalize and apply what we’re reading so it becomes a vital, living relationship with the Creator and not just a cursory, religious activity.

What-if questions are a key characteristic of people who lead.

A leader has to be someone who is constantly asking what-if questions. Questions about direction. Questions about resources. Questions about vision and values. Questions about the future. In fact, the alternative to the willingness to ask what-if questions for a leader is stagnation, inertia, the status quo. It takes bravery for a leader to ask what-if questions, even more courage to act on them. But, they’re essential for leaders and their organizations if they intend to move forward.

As a proud introvert, I’m excited to read the rest of Quiet and to continue asking what-if questions as I move into the future.

What about you?

What if you were to ask more what-if questions at home, at work, at church and in your relationships? I wonder what might happen as a result?