Category: Leadership


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What are you afraid of?  People are afraid of many different things; some seem to be afraid of nothing, others… of everything.  In no particular order, some of the more common fears that people have: public speaking, crowds, spiders/snakes, clowns, heights.

For me in particular, I have a few years as well.  I know, I know, that may come as a shock to most people who think I’m completely fearless.  In a rare moment of self-revelation, what I want to do right now is share a couple of my fears with you, how they have affected me as a pastor, and what I’m doing about it.

I used to be a major perfectionist.  I would work and work and work to make sure that everything was perfect.  I was unhappy with myself for missing a few questions on a quiz or test.  I once pulled an all-nighter in college to finish a rough draft, and then, when I got a copy back from the professor, I saw that he would give me an A- if that was the final draft of the paper.  I went to his office and argued with him that it was a terribly incomplete paper and there was a lot more left to do on it.  He said, “So do it.”

Now, being a perfectionist is not always a bad thing.  It can cause me to be more intentional about thinking through the details of projects.  I can be very thorough, or, surprisingly, it can cause the complete opposite to happen.  I can become so overwhelmed by trying to get all the details in place that I never get around to actually doing the thing that needs to be done.  It’s called paralysis by analysis, and it’s a very real thing.

You see, being a recovering perfectionist has given me a fear of failure.  I don’t like failing.  I went 0-4 in softball last night and was really mad at myself.  It a rec league softball game.  It’s sole purpose is for me to have fun, get to know some people better and get some exercise.  At the end of the year, whatever happens in this league will not affect my life whatsoever, and yet, I focus on the “failure” of going 0-4.

As a pastor, failure is a very real and ever-present reality… depending on what you define as a failure.  I think part of the struggles that I have had in ministry is that I think not being able to implement something or having something not work would be a failure in my own eyes.  And I don’t want to fail.  So, I get caught up in the details and experience the dreaded analysis paralysis.

But, lately, I’ve been thinking about an even bigger fear – irrelevance.  Here’s what I mean by that – not that I need to the be the cool, hip pastor in town (let’s face it, that’s not going to happen), but that, when I look back at the end of my days, I don’t want to think that I have just wasted my life, pursuing meaningless things.  It’s really easy to get caught up in the weekly tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture.  It’s also easy to get so caught up in the big picture that you never notice the little things that you’ve accomplished along the way.  I don’t want to look back with regret, saying, “I wish I had…”  I want to make a difference in people’s lives for the glory of God.

In the last month, I’ve started being more intentional about my development as a leader.  I’ve always been interested in reading and listening on leadership, but putting it into action has been a whole different enchilada.  So, I’m seeing a counselor to remove some of the mental roadblocks that I’ve put up through the years.  I’m meeting with a coach to help me with specific things relating to ministry.  And I’m trying to be more intentional about getting together with ministry peers to talk about ministry on a level that you just can’t with anybody else.

And I’m reminded of the words in Joshua 1.  Joshua was selected to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.  How do you follow Moses?!?  I imagine it was a daunting task.  And then he hears these words:

[5] No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. [6] Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. [7] Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. [8] This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. [9] Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9 ESV)

Be strong and courageous.  Three times, God says this to Joshua.  And there is a promise, that as long as they stay focused on God, they will be successful.  God is with them wherever they go, just stay focused on the Word of the Lord.  And the Israelites prove God’s word to be true.  As long as they rely on Him, things go well.  It’s when they don’t that things start going down the drain.

And so, let those words encourage you today as well.  Be strong and courageous for God is with us.

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One of the great joys of having a little one is spending time at the sink washing bottles.  Has anybody come up with a sarcasm font yet?  I feel like it should be comic sans.  Yes, comic sans for sarcasm!  Anyhoo…

I still wash Hannah’s bottles by hand.  We put them in the dishwasher once, but didn’t really like how they came out, and so, we’ve been washing them by hand ever since.  Maybe that says more about my psyche than I should let on, but it is what it is.

As I was washing them the other night, something struck me – call it inspiration, boredom because I was standing at the sink washing bottles, whatever.  The bottles that were rinsed after they were used were a LOT easier to clean than those that weren’t.  I know, no-brainer, right?  Anybody that has “found” a bottle or sippy cup of milk after a couple of days could tell you the same thing.  But, then, I made the logical leap –

PREPARATION IS MORE BENEFICIAL THAN PERSPIRATION

Sure, I can work extra hard in the moment to wash the bottles OR I can do a little work ahead of time and ease the stress (and smell) of the need for a deeper cleaning.  It’s like that with so many things, isn’t it?

  • We can avoid cleaning the house until people are coming over OR we can spend 20 minutes doing a little every day.
  • We can wait until the last day to start working on our annual reports OR we can keep good records over the course of the year.
  • We can write a 20,000 word paper by pulling an all-nighter OR we can write 1,000 words each day for three weeks.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  Preparation is so important, but it is often at the bottom of our list.  So, how can we prepare better?

  1. Monthly, weekly, daily planning – Do you have a calendar?  Of course you do.  Everybody has a calendar.  Whether it is paper and small enough to carry with you or the one that came on your smartphone, we all have access to a calendar.  Having a calendar is not the issue.  Using it is.  So, do you want to prepare better? USE YOUR CALENDAR!  Calendars are awesome because they can give you a quick glance at your schedule, whether it is for the day, week, month, or even year.  Using the calendar helps get things off our minds (ever had the nagging feeling that you forgot what you forgot, but know that you did forget something?), helps us block out our time (it’s hard to double book when you already know that you have something going on – not impossible, but more difficult) and helps, you guessed it, prepare us for upcoming events.
  2. Write it down – On thing that has helped me immensely is having a To Do list.  It helps me get things done because it keeps the things that need getting done right in front of me.  Right now, I am using Wunderlist.  It took a little bit of time, but I have set up a recurring weekly To Do list.  Some weeks, I don’t need to do something on the list – that’s fine, I just check it off like it is already done.  There are many sounds much sweeter than the *ding* that comes alongside checking off an item in Wunderlist, but it’s a pretty sweet sound itself; the sound of victory!
  3. Set big goals, as well as small ones – Here is where I struggle the most.  But, by setting big goals, and then backing it into segments of little goals, we can better prepare ourselves to succeeding in the bigger things.

Here’s the thing: all of these suggestions (and I’m sure there are more you could add to the list) take some time.  Preparation always takes time on the front end.  There’s no way around it.  Actually, the way around it is to not prepare, and constantly be dealing with the stress of being unprepared – that doesn’t seem like a viable alternative to me.

Several coaches are credited with saying something along these lines (Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi among them), but in Indiana, you have to go with Bobby Knight:

The key is not the will to win… everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important.

Games are not won on the floor, in the field, on the diamond.  Games are won in the meeting room, in the gym, on the practice field.  You practice how you play.  Some athletes may disagree with me here.  Great ones, even the good ones, and their coaches, will not.  Ultimately, they do have to go out on the floor, field or diamond to win the game, but if they go out there with the confidence that comes from solid preparation, they already have the upper hand.

Washing bottles may be a chore, but rinsing them beforehand makes it less so.

Strategery

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I watched a little bit of the Cardinal broadcast this afternoon, and the announcers were talking about how the new clubhouse game in the Cardinal locker room is chess.  The World Chess Hall of Fame is located in St. Louis, the game is a favorite of Cardinal manager Mike Matheny, and apparently the team has gotten into it as well.  One of the announcers mentioned that there were at least three games going on earlier in the day.  I love this on so many levels.

Chess is a game of strategy.  Sure, you can get lucky and win every now and then, but to consistently be good at chess, you need to sharpen your ability to think strategically.  Baseball is the same way.  A manager in baseball needs to be able to think ahead through the different possibilities and potential outcomes of every decision.  After all, there’s only 25 players on the roster, typically 12 pitchers (5 of whom are starters) and 13 position players (8 of whom start the game in the field, leaving just 5 for the bench).

Strategic thinking is the ability/skill to look ahead and anticipate what moves are necessary to accomplish a particular goal.  I say ability/skill because I believe strategic think is one part intuition, and one part learned.  Now, I’m far from an expert on the topic, but that is certainly where I am after reflecting on it in my own life.

Now, why am I talking about strategic thinking?  I am becoming increasingly convinced that strategic thinking is something that pastors need to be able to develop in order to effectively lead a congregation, and it is a skill I am trying to develop in myself.  Recently, I purchased a series of books called The Strategy Six Pack from Amazon.  Each volume is a collection of books (six, if you couldn’t figure that out by the name) that in some way address strategy.  I’m still working my way through the first collection, but so far, I’ve read The Art of War (Sun Tzu), the Gallic Wars (Julius Caesar), Life of Charlemagne, and I’m currently in the middle of Machiavelli’s The Prince.

In large part, I’m reading these books because I believe that strategic thinking involves a particular mindset.  I’m not just reading books, I’m studying the mindset of those who were writing them.

In ministry, you have to be able to look ahead.  You have to think about what’s coming up.  You have to be able to plan for things – even make backup plans that you may never need.  This was a hard lesson for me to learn when I first got started, and it’s a skill that I am continuing to develop as I grow as a pastor.

So, how have you worked to develop strategic thinking in your personal and professional life?  What lessons have you learned along the way?

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In the last week or so, comments from  Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia, surfaced in which he said, “When I hear adults say ‘well I don’t like a big church. I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody, I say you are so stinking selfish.”  The clip was on YouTube for a while, but has since been taken down.

Stanley later apologized for his comments, tweeting the following:

In an interview with Christianity Today, Stanley went into more detail, and again apologized for his comments.  In the interview, he talks about having interactions with people in his community, and that being the focus of what he was trying to get across.  But, as happens with all communicators from time to time, it didn’t come out right – even the best ones slip up.  At the core of his statement, however, we see a mentality that some people have regarding the church – actually, a couple.

First, there’s the “bigger is better” mentality.  Stanley talks about how the church was just coming off a weekend where 4,600 middle school students – from the 6 North Point campuses – were able to take part in some powerful spiritual conversations.  Imagine the impact that occurred that weekend with so many young people able to learn, hear and share about faith.  That’s something that cannot happen in a single, small local church.  (Actually, it cannot happen unless you have a church of several thousand!)  Certainly it was a powerful weekend that changed some lives in significant ways.

There is some truth to the “bigger is better” mentality.  The amount of resources and the ability to do bigger things increases as the church size increases.  A church of 200 simply doesn’t have the resources to pull off what a church of 27,000 (like North Point) can.  But, here’s the thing, and make sure you catch this: God can work in people REGARDLESS of the size of the church they attend.

Bigger is better in terms of being able to pull of special events, but bigger is not necessarily better in terms of actual spiritual growth.  In fact, what you often see is that bigger churches try to get smaller by implementing things like small groups, multiple campuses, etc. because they realize that spiritual growth is difficult when it’s a group of several thousand.  A big church is a church that has something to offer people, but it does not have a monopoly in that department, which brings me to the second mentality that I want to talk about.

Stanley had in mind particular interactions with people who preferred smaller churches BECAUSE they felt like they could know everybody.  Now, there’s two ways this can go:

  • one, a person goes to a smaller church, is involved, actually does know everybody and is building relationships that are vital to his/her spiritual growth;
  • and two, a person goes to a smaller church, doesn’t actually get involved, only knows a handful of people that sit near them every week, but feels more comfortable because deep down they don’t really like crowds.

I know I’m getting into a bit of mind-reading here, but I think it’s that second group to whom Stanley is referring when he calls them “stinkin’ selfish”.  And, frankly, I can’t blame him.

People who “prefer a small church” because it makes them feel comfortable socially are less likely to be involved in fulfilling the Great Commission.  After all, if we’re reaching new people, then there’s somebody who might take my seat in the pew on Sunday morning, and we can’t have that.  If we get too big, then it could get uncomfortable for us.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to know everybody in your local congregation, but you should know somebody.  You should be getting involved.  You should be building relationships.  You should be making connections.  Because that’s where we find our spiritual growth.  And it doesn’t matter the size of your church.

If you want to go to a big church because worship is a high quality production, you can get lost in the crowd, and it doesn’t require anything of you, then that is just as selfish as being uninvolved in a small church simply because it doesn’t have a crowd.  If you’re not going to be involved in the local congregation, if you’re not going to be invested in the local congregation or your spiritual growth, then the size of your church is irrelevant.  As I read on Twitter once, “It doesn’t really matter which church you don’t go to on Sunday morning.”

I have a lot of respect for Andy Stanley, and I still do – even as a pastor of a small church who could easily jump on the “I’m offended” bandwagon.  I’ve listened to a lot of his stuff in the past and I know his heart for the local church and for pastors. I fully believe him when he apologizes.  Even the best communicators miscommunicate from time to time.

Bud, Horses and the Church

I know, I know… I haven’t written anything in two months, and now, I’m writing about Budweiser!?  This is strange on so many levels!  Not the least of which is the fact that I’m not a big fan of the beer in the first place – in fact, I’ve never even tasted a frosty Bud… or whatever they’re calling it these days.  However, the iconic beer label came out with some news recently that really got my mind moving, especially when it comes to the church.  The Clydesdales – the majestic horses, which have made an appearance during every Super Bowl commercial season and holiday season that I can remember – are no longer going to be part of Budweiser’s marketing strategy.

As part of their strategy to reach the 21-27 year old group – of which, nearly 44% claim to have never even tried the beer – the King of Beers is switching up its marketing to try to target this age group.  What does that mean?  It means no more Clydedales, and a stronger emphasis on what they see as “young and hip”.

One of the possible issues in this new marketing strategy, as mention in this WSJ article:

By wooing new fans, Bud risks alienating core drinkers across rural America, said Tony Ponturo, a former Anheuser-Busch senior marketing executive. “If you try to be too young and too hip, you lose your base. They’ll say, ‘That’s not my Budweiser anymore.’ You have to start with a message that resounds with a new generation of people but doesn’t throw off the core drinker.”

Now, what does all of this have to do with the Church?

25% of Millenials – the same age group that Budweiser is going to start targeting – are more likely to say that they are unaffiliated with an particular religion.  In fact, of all generations, at 68%, Millennials are the lowest percentage that self-identify as “Christian” in America.  (You can read more about from this article).

In years past, Sunday was for church.  People got up and went on a regular basis.  That doesn’t happen any more.  In fact, some estimates put only 20% of the population in church on a given Sunday – and even that may be generous.  And what are the majority of churches doing to address this issue?  Well… not much.

You’ll hear the occasional lament about how young people just don’t make church a priority, but you won’t see a lot of efforts to change how church is done in order to be intentional about reaching younger generations.  Church still do a lot of what was done in the 1950’s – expect people to just show up on Sunday morning because that’s why Sunday morning exists.  Millennials want to know that they are making a difference.  They don’t want to sit in a worship service due to an old fashioned sense of duty.  There are so many options in their lives right now that they want to make sure that what they are doing is worth their time.  If it becomes apparent that it is a waste of time, if it’s boring, irrelevant or outdated, they will leave… and not come back.  A fact that Budweiser has found to be true.

It used to be that Budweiser was one of four beers that would be on draft at the local bar, but that has changed.  When you are one of the only games in town, you don’t have to be good.  With the influx of local, craft beers, younger generations are seeking other options.  There are new players on the field, and the competition means that what was once taken for granted is no longer.

I imagine there will be some people who get upset about Budweiser changing up their marketing strategy.  People tend to get bent out of shape when things that have been around for a while end up getting changed.  But it’s a risk that Budweiser has to take.  They have slowly been losing their market share over the last several years, and it won’t take much longer before Budweiser becomes obsolete in the market if something doesn’t change.  That’s a route that many brands have taken in the past.  In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find some of the top selling beers from the 1950’s – anybody imbibed in a Schlitz lately?  I’m guessing not; yet, it was the top selling beer in the 1950’s.

In changing up their marketing strategy, Budweiser runs the risk of losing some of its long-term customers.  But, really, the ones who truly enjoy the brew will continue to drink it – even if they don’t like the advertising.  And, while they risk some, they stand to gain more.  That’s the big lesson that the Church needs to learn from Budweiser here.

Changing things up in the church is always a scary proposition because it runs the risk of losing a few people who don’t like the changes.  However, if you always cater to those who are present, you will not bring in new people.  What happens when a church becomes more concerned with appeasing its current crowd and neglects reaching new people?  Well… it goes the way of Schlitz; it may still be around, but nobody is really sure why.

Last Saturday, we had the 2nd Annual Swisher Ribfest at our house.  This year, it was more of a Meatfest, since we had three different type of BBQ (pulled pork, ribs, brisket) on the table.  Either way, it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing it again next year.

In preparation, I wanted to make a gold barbecue sauce, so I found a recipe that I wanted to try, especially since I already had all but one of the ingredients in the cabinet.  As I made the sauce, I realized something: just about everything in it was something that I would not eat on its own: brown sugar, hot sauce, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, yellow mustard, honey and molasses.  Look at that list of ingredients.  It almost looks like a bunch of things that somebody just found laying around one day and decided to whisk it all together.  Pretty whisk-y if you as me…

Yet, the final product was delicious.  It is probably one of the best BBQ sauces that I have made.  I’d put it right up there with my white BBQ, it was that good.  Isn’t it funny how sometimes, the most unusual things can come together and make something amazing, something far better than any of them could be on their own.

March ended up being a crazy month. Not going to lie, I got behind in my readings. That’s a big reason why I’ve been silent for the last three weeks, but it’s a new month and a new opportunity to get on track.

April kicks off with the Gospel of Mark (probably my favorite gospel), 1 Corinthians and the Israelites moving into the Promised Land in Joshua.

Joshua has taken the reigns of leadership now that Moses has passed away. Time and time again in Joshua 1, he is told to be strong and courageous. It makes me think about how scary it can be to be the one in charge. After all, why else would he need to be strong and courageous?

When it comes to leadership, let me share a secret that some leaders probably don’t want to admit. It’s scary. It can be intimidating. There are times when leaders wonder how they ended up in that position. Leaders don’t always have the right answer – even though they are “supposed” to know what to do in every situation. Sometimes leaders are just trying to figure it out themselves, knowing that no matter the direction one goes people will be upset. How do we navigate through these waters? What does it take to be a leader?

Strength and courage. The strength to do the right thing and the courage to see it through, even in the face of opposition.

There is a show that has gained some popularity in the last 9 months or so.  It’s called Hoarders, and it is shown on the basic cable channel A&E.  The show typically focuses on two different people, interweaving their stories throughout the episode.  These two people have something in common: an uncontrollable attachment to stuff.  Personally, I don’t like to watch the show because of two reasons: 1) it almost makes me sick seeing the conditions in which these people (many of whom have a serious mental illness that leads them to hoarding in the first place) live; and 2) it gives my wife extra motivation to do some cleaning around the house, which means I have to do some extra cleaning around the house.  Now, has anyone seen my sarcasm font?  I can’t seem to find it in my pile of books and papers next to the computer…  Anyway, the show itself has fascinated people for a while, and has even led to a spin-off about animal hoarding as well.  However, hoarding is not a recent problem by any stretch of the imagination.  As we continue in Exodus, we find that hoarding, at the very least, goes all the way back to the Israelites who had just escaped Egypt.

When we get to Exodus 16, the Egyptian pursuers have been left behind in the Sea of Reeds, and the people of Israel know that they are truly free.  Nobody is coming to recapture them and take them back to Egypt now.  They are at the beginning of what ends up being a very long journey to the Promised Land.  Unfortunately, Exodus 16 begins in the same kind of way that many of the other stories during this journey begin – with the people of Israel complaining about something.  This time, they are grumbling because they don’t have enough food.  Once again, they are looking back fondly at their time in Egypt because they may have been slaves, but at least they had something to eat.  And, once again, the people are blaming Moses for this predicament.

So, the Lord offers a solution.  For five days, there will be enough bread from heaven (which is called ‘manna’) for the Israelites to collect for the day.  On the sixth day, the people are to collect enough for two days, since they want to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest.  So, in the evening, quail come and the people have meat to eat, and in the morning, there is this manna all over the ground that the people were to collect for the day (or two days if it was the day before the Sabbath).

I’d like to say that Moses told the people what was going on, and they happily obeyed the command.  I’d like to say that… but I can’t.  Here’s what happened:

16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.  You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'” 17 And the people of Israel did so.  They gathered, some more, some less.  18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gather much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had not lack.  Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses.  Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank.  And Moses was angry with them.

At the heart of what is going on here is a lack of trust, a lack of faith that God will provide as He has promised. After all, why would you set some aside for later unless you believed that God wasn’t going to give you more the next day?  I think this says a lot about giving all that you have as a leader on every single day.  As long as you stay connected to God, as long as you continue to trust in His promises in your life, there is no need to go out there and only give a little bit, hoping to save some for the next day.

As we read through Scripture, we see that rest is an important part of the rhythm of life, and I’m not suggesting that if you rest you aren’t giving 100% of who you are.  I think that rest is important.  Leaders especially need to be in tune with the rhythm of their lives – knowing when to rest and when to push forward.  But when it is time to work, give everything that you have.  God will replenish you during those times of rest.  But when we fail to give everything, when we try to leave it for another day, then we wake up the next morning wondering why the smell of maggots is in our nostrils.

There’s the old adage in sports of leaving everything out on the field/court.  And that’s really what I’m trying to get at here as well.  Give everything that you have because you have been called by an awesome God that expects us to give all of who we are to Him.  Pay attention to the rhythm of your life and don’t overwork yourself to the point of burnout, but don’t hold things in reserve either.  Go out there and give everything that you have for the Lord today because he will give you the strength to get through tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

I want to touch on the same passage that the last Learnings from Exodus post touched on, but I want to look at something a little different this time.  More specifically, I want to look at the reaction from the people of Israel.

11 and they [the people of Israel] said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?  Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt?  What have you done to us?  Why did you make us leave Egypt?  12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt?  We said, ‘Leave us alone!  Let us be slaves to the Egyptians.  It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness.'”

What we have here folks – if you’ll permit me to parody the famous line – is a failure to appreciate.  The Israelites were experiencing their first taste of freedom after 400+ years of slavery in Egypt.  Generation after generation after generation the Israelites had the fact that they were slaves beat into them.  They were oppressed, and worse yet, they didn’t know any better.  They had succumbed to their captivity and decided that this was just the way that life had to be.  It’s sad, really, but it happens.

People get used to the way the world around them operates, resign themselves to the “fact” that they can’t change the way things are, so they resolve to just deal with life as it is.  I was part of a large group discussion once that focused on the mission of the United Methodist Church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  A counterpoint was given that this mission was too ambitious, and that the idea of transforming the world was not something that was really up to us in the first place.  It saddened me to hear this point of view.

The notion that the world is as it is going to be, and there’s nothing that can change it except the action of God Himself, leaves little room for inspiration.  People need to have a vision; people need to know that what they do in this life makes a difference and resounds in the halls of eternity.  Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope of this happening, but as disciples of Jesus Christ, who are actively working in the world, transforming one person at a time, the world can be completely different; it can be transformed.

Yet, so many people sound like the Israelites.  “I can’t do this or that because I’m just a speck in the sea of life.”  Yes, you are just a speck in the sea of life, but, praise the Lord, it’s not up to you to get these things done.  It is because of Jesus Christ working in you that you can make a difference in this world.

Who we are in our sin is not who we are called to be in the presence of a holy God.  We are called to something greater.  We are called to be sons and daughters of the living God.  We are adopted into His family because of His one and only Son Jesus Christ.  Stop thinking that the world is going to be as it has always been.  That’s just not the case.  Christ came so that we can be set free from our sin, free from our past, and free to follow him in a new way of living.  Embrace that freedom and stop looking longingly back at your former life.  There’s nothing for you there.  Look forward to what God is going to do in your life.  Keep your eyes on Him, and keep pushing forward to the Promised Land.

“If you can keep your head while others are losing theirs and blaming it on you… yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son.” – Rudyard Kipling

As we follow the post-exodus Israelites, we come to their first major obstacle.  After Pharaoh finally relented and allowed Moses to take the people out of Egypt, we find that he has a change of heart… again.  Only this time, he has to go after the Israelites because they were actually able to leave before he changed his mind.

The Egyptians get in their chariots, call up the army and head after the Israelites.  It’s not long before the Israelites look back and see that the Egyptians are bearing down on them, and they start to panic.  Here is how the story goes…

10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the LORD, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?

12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” 13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:10-14).

You would think that after 400 years in slavery, these people would be a little more grateful for their freedom.  You would think that after seeing what happened in Egypt, the plagues and miracles, that they would be able to trust in the Lord at this point.  You would think that after being led by the Lord as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, the Israelites would realize that everything was going to be all right.  You would think… but they freak out.

They start crying out to the Lord.  They start complaining to Moses.  “Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt?  What have you done to us?  Why did you make us leave Egypt?”  Don’t you love that?  “Why did you make us leave Egypt?”  Yeah, because Moses was the one that wanted to take you away from your cushy jobs as brick makers.  You wanted nothing to do with freedom or release from captivity.  I know it sounds like I’m ranting a little bit here, so let’s get to the real question at hand: what does this have to do with leadership?

Moses’ response is fantastic.  People all around him are freaking out, losing their cool and going out of their minds.  He says, “Don’t be afraid.  Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today….  Just stay calm.”  Wow.  As a leader, you have to be able to keep a calm head, even in the most difficult of situations.

Moses had no idea what was going to happen.  All he knew was that the Lord had brought them this far, and He wasn’t just going to let them die in the wilderness like this.  (Of course, later on… well… that’s a different story for a different day.)  As a leader whose identity is found in Christ, you are called to keep your head, even while those around you are losing theirs.

I’m not saying that leaders are supposed to always know what to do, either.  Read the story again, Moses did not know what was going to happen.  He just trusted in the Lord, and the impossible happened.  Even when things look bleak, even when it seems like everything and everyone is stacked against you, as a leader who is called by God, you must keep a cool head, and listen for the Lord’s direction in the midst of the madness.