Thursday, September 23, 2010

Making Disciples vs. Finding Disciples

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. One of the things I talked about was the difference between finding disciples and making disciples.

The last command Jesus gave his disciples was "go make disciples." There are many things we focus on in church leadership- vision, communication, relevance, preaching, programming, etc. But if there is anything we must get right, it's discipleship. The problem is that it's often easier to focus on other things because discipleship is so stinking hard.

Someone stumbled upon my blog once by running a google search on "how to shorten the discipleship process." Which prompted a response from me. If your goal is to discover a way to shorten the discipleship process, you are probably in the wrong business. Or need to at least rethink the business.

We often look for disciples. We look for a potential leader. We hope to find someone with maturity and gifts that we can raise up. We forget that Jesus told us to go make them. Not find them. If you can't find a potential leader in your group, in your ministry, or on your team, it's not their fault. Don't blame them for being immature or needing to grow. It's your fault. It's my fault. We are supposed to make disciples. And making disciples is long, hard work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Never Stop Learning

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. And as I told them at the very first huddle we shared together: Never Stop Learning.

Leaders are learners. Once you have stopped learning, you have stopped leading.

Being a learner means that we read. And we read as much as we can. We read in very focused areas of leadership growth and we cross-pollinate with other disciplines for creativity and to nurture new ways of thinking and problem-solving. We read the experts and we read the new brains on the block.

Being a learning means getting around the right people. Mentors. Coaches. Spiritual directors. And we ask them good questions. A learner always has questions ready to ask.

Being a learner means that we embrace a learning posture. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I have never met a man that was not my superior in some particular." In other words, each person we meet has the potential to teach us something. Make learning your passion and look for the lesson in every situation. Approach every situation as an opportunity to learn.

Finally, being a learner means that we honor the past while embracing the future. We cannot lead forward unless we look backwards. In appreciation for those who have gone before us and plowed the ground that has enabled us to do what we do. In humble assessment of the successes and failures so that we might not repeat their mistakes.

Never stop learning.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Porch and the Platform

I'm learning that there is a critical connection between my porch and my platform.

My porch is not a metaphor. It's quite literally my front porch, which I never imagined I would have in DC. While I technically have an office space with ergonomic and helpful IKEA furniture inside the house, my favorite office is my front porch. It's the place I meet with God, the place I connect with friends, the place I coach leaders, and the place where my world most often intersects with the world of my neighbors.

My platform...well, that's more of a metaphor. The platform could be the stage I stand on tonight as I talk to small group leaders. It could be the trendy pulpit I occasionally stand behind at National Community Church. It could be the passions I am known for. It could be this blog. It's the place where my message is communicated.

My message is shaped on the porch and by the other people who sit on my porch. If I'm not faithful to that place, I should never have a platform. The character, relationships and dreams that are built and fueled on the porch will eventually find expression on the platform. But I've got to live it first. Likewise, anything that I say on the platform must be lived out on the porch. And the people who sit there with me will know if my message is fueled by authenticity.

Don't aim for the platform; take some time to sit on the porch. And if you are on the platform, make sure you are preaching a message that you live on your porch during the other hours of your life.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recruit the Team

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. One thing I encouraged: when embarking on a new adventure, always ask yourself who else needs to be on the boat.

Yesterday, I blogged that leadership can be lonely. There are seasons, situations, and decisions that feel very isolated. But in general, it's best to lead in teams.

It’s always more fun with others. Whether I am traveling, ministering, strategizing, developing curriculum—whatever-- I ask myself who else needs to be a part of the process. If you are going on a hospital visit, take someone with you. If you are preparing for a small group lesson, have someone help. If you are developing new ministry opportunities, do it in a team.

Here are some of the questions I ask when determining who else needs to be a part of the process:
  • Who can bring something to the process?-- A skill, a sense of discernment, maturity, experience, momentum?
  • Who can learn something from the process?-- Maybe there is someone who cannot necessarily contribute much, but being a part of the process would be a discipleship experience for them. And I'm often surprised that these people have the potential to contribute more than I would have dreamed.
  • Who can bring someone else into the process?-- Who can bring others in? This is helpful when you are developing new strategies or programs with a vision to "sell." Who are the influencers that can own and cast vision and bring others on board?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Leadership Can Be Lonely

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. One thing I warned them is that leadership can sometimes be lonely.

I try to always lead in teams. But sometimes, leadership can just be lonely. There are places that only you can go. Think about Jesus going into the garden to pray. Or Elijah hiding out in the cave. Or Moses going before Pharaoh. There are some seasons and situations where leadership is lonely.

That’s why you’ve got to make sure that your identity is rooted in something much deeper than your own abilities or other peoples’ opinions of you. Popular opinion is fleeting and it is flawed. Those who praise you too much and those who criticize you too much are both wrong. Don’t listen to either. Hunker down into the Scriptures and discover who God says you are and who he created you to be. Seek his approval, favor, and pleasure. And when the lonely seasons come, you'll be anchored well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Your Friends Matter

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. One thing I encouraged them to do was to choose their friends and mentors well.

Your friends will determine the quality and direction of your life. I stole that from Andy Stanley. Look around you to see the people you are closest to. They will shape and mold who you become. David had a Jonathan-- who viewed friendship with David as a more valuable position than the throne. David had Mighty Men-- who were willing to risk their lives to be on mission with him. David had a Nathan-- who was willing to confront a king about his sin for the purpose of ensuring that he would finish well. And David had a Samuel-- who saw potential in him and called him into God's purposes and plans for him.

We need those kinds of people around us. Friends who love us but love the person God created to be enough to put the relationship on the line for it. Friends who see the purpose and potential God has placed inside of us and commit to seeing us grow into it. Friends who join us in mission and call us out in our stupidity. Our friends will determine the quality and direction of our lives. Let's choose them well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Anatomy of a Sabbath

For about 2 years, I've been on a path of learning about the gift of Sabbath. And I tend to get on a soapbox when talking about it. I hesitate to say it because I'm pretty sure it sounds over the top...but Sabbath has been my saving grace in ministry.

I get asked quite a bit about what I do on Sabbath. The question in and of itself always amuses me because it's such a reflection of our culture. At its core, Sabbath is not about what we do but who we are. But...for whatever its's what I did today.

I'm experimenting with a new form of Sabbath. One that starts on sundown on Sundays and ends sundown on Mondays. There will be weeks here and there where it shifts, but that's the general spot on the calendar where it lands.

It began with friends, food, and football. That's a form of celebration for me. This morning, I spent 4 hours on my porch connecting with God, reviewing the previous week, and reading the Psalms and John Ortberg's The Me I Want to Be (which I highly recommend). Then, I introduced my friend Jenilee to the movie The Sixth Sense. Sound odd for a day of spiritual discipline? I love the artistry and cinematography of that movie...and that makes me appreciate that God is creative and has made us creative people. Next on the agenda was miniature golf followed by basketball. And we topped off the day picking up some new books and the bookstore and a burger from Five Guys.

What will I do next Sabbath? I have no idea. Whatever I want to do and what brings me closer to God. It usually involves some combination of friends, food, and fun.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The New Protege Class

We kicked off the 2010-2011 Protege Class yesterday, and I've already got some favorite moments and memories. Here are just a few:
  • Listening to Davey Shepherd tell his story of being called into ministry when he was 7 years old. It is both hilarious and touching.
  • Watching the NCC staff cheer, yell, and slap high fives to the new Proteges when they entered the basement of Ebenezers for the first time.
  • Playing cornhole with my awesome teammate and former Protege Jenilee LeFors for several unbeaten rounds...only to be outdone by new Proteges Reagan Chaney and Davey Shepherd.
  • Giving out nicknames like T-Bone and Kryptonite to Heather Corsi and Diana Fang, respectively.
  • Team D singing "Keep Holding On" for the new Proteges-- to make sure they know we will be there for them when things get hard. Special shout-out to karaoke hero Will Johnston.
  • Reading the "NCC for Dummies" Manual that our A Team put together.
  • Chalking up the sidewalk with Maegan Stout to welcome the Proteges to the Zempel house.
  • Watching former Proteges Andy Pisciotti and Jenilee LeFors passing the baton of wisdom and warning. (I could only watch...have no idea what they said!)
  • Getting to hear the stories of Travis, Heather, Reagan, Davey, Josh, and Diana.
It's going to be a good year.

Follow Well

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. One thing I encouraged them to do was to develop the skill of following well.

If we want to lead, we must first learn to follow and to be faithful to the vision of another. I’m convinced that God will not release us to run after our own visions until we have learned to embrace, honor, and help implement the vision of another.

Sometimes following well means following someone we don't like or don't respect. It may even mean following someone who is less gifted or skilled than you are. Think about David's respect for and faithful service to Saul or Daniel's service in the Babylonian court. If we truly believe in the faithfulness and sovereignty of God, we can trust that He will get us where we are supposed to go when we are supposed to get there.

Anyone can bail when the going gets tough or the leader makes bad decisions. It takes a great leader in the making to remain loyal and to follow well.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lead Yourself Well

At the last Protege Huddle of the 2009-2010 class, I shared some final thoughts on leadership. The first challenge I gave them: Lead Yourself Well.

If you want to be a leader, then you’ve got to lead yourself well. You’ve got to become a leader worth following. You’ve got to know your gifts, your leadership style, your rhythm. You’ve got to pay attention to your personal spiritual health, your emotional and relational health, and your physical health. You’ve got to go to the places you want to take others. And you have to do it behind the scenes.

We don't drift into character. We don't just wake up one morning and discover that we've developed as a leader. It takes intentionality, and strategy, and a commitment to grow. It takes a willingness to subject ourselves to a development process.

To lead yourself well, think in terms of things like what you need to learn, what you need to read, who you need to hang out with more, what sins need to be addressed, what character issues need to be developed, what new spiritual disciplines should be implemented, and what new rhythms need to be observed.

Before you lead others, you must lead yourself well. Become a leader worth following.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Circle of Proteges

The circle of life brings us to the end of one Protege year and the beginning of another. We started the Protege Program at National Community Church a couple years ago to bring greater intentionality to our intern programming and opportunities. Basically, we bring on 5-6 people each year to serve on our team without pay. And when I say serve, I mean serve. Sometimes back-breaking, sometimes energizing, sometimes mind-numbing, sometimes mind-blowing. You can check out some of what our last class did here.

At the last meeting with the 2009-2010 class, I shared the following thoughts:
  • Lead yourself well
  • Follow well
  • Your friends will determine the quality and direction of your life
  • Leadership can be lonely
  • When embarking on a new adventure, always ask who needs to be on the boat with you
  • Never stop learning
  • We have to make disciples, not find them
  • God's glory is the only valid and sustainable motivation for ministry
  • Pass on what you have learned to someone else
  • Let God be as unique with you as He was with others
I'll flesh these out later... now... it's time to prepare for Protege Class 2010-2011. So excited!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Be a Triple Threat

I just got through reading Alan Danielson's Triple Threat Leadership. Again. It's worth the second read. In this e-book, Alan shares the essentials of game-changing leadership. If you can hold your nose and gag your way through his ridiculous obsession with the Dallas Cowboys, there really is some good material in here. (You know I love you, Alan. I just don't love all of your obsessions. Star Wars, okay. Dallas football, not okay)

In this quick, easy, and very practical read, Alan lays out leadership principles which clearly define his own engaging and visionary leadership style and can be incredibly helpful to leaders at all levels and in all arenas. He compares leadership to a 3-legged stool of vision, strategy, and relationships. All are necessary. But we don't have them all naturally. Each of us naturally leans in the direction of vision, strategy, relationships, or some combination of two of them.

While encouraging us to lean into our strengths and build on our natural tendencies, Alan also encourages us to become capable...not excellent...but capable in the other areas. I really appreciated that distinction. Just a few other things I appreciated:
  • Forest people, Tree people, and Squirrel people- you'll just have to read the book
  • Leadership style descriptions
  • The statement that "balance is an illusion and a circus trick"
  • Practical ideas for personal development
The book combines Alan's quirky personality with his extensive leadership experience. It includes an assessment to determine your unique leadership style and follow-up ideas for learning how to lean into, develop, and manage around the areas where you are less natural. I am a sucker for anything that has an assessment. And it's a great tool to use with your team.

Leaders are always growing, and this book provides a great workout.

Group Life South

I love small groups. And I love the South. So I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be or anything I'd rather be doing...well...any day of the week. But for the purposes of this post, I can't think of a better place to be on October 16 than at Group Life South. We'll talk about what we do when we realize that community is messy and discipleship is hard. I'm personally looking forward to connecting with and hearing from group life gurus Eddie Mosley and Dave Treat.

If you are a small group leader (or want to be), a pastor, church staff person, or lay leader, this conference is for you. Make sure to give me a yell if you are going to be there and we'll go grab BBQ stuffed baked potatoes. Can't wait!

For more information, check it out here. To register, go here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Prophets Repeat

When people start talking about the Old Testament prophets, I often find myself in a very small minority. Common frustrations include their repetitiveness, their focus on the harsher attributes of God, the gloom and doom, their lack of Gospel oriented messages. But I find them fascinating and hopeful for all of those same reasons.

Let's take the repetitiveness issue. The prophets tend to repeat themselves. Over and over and over. And over again. We read about "the day of the Lord" about a bajillion times (bajillion is just a bazillion raised to the tenth power). God is wrathful. God is vengeful. God is angry and indignant. They echo each other and they repeat themselves. In the 48 chapters of Ezekiel, we read "they will know that I am the Lord" at least 55 times. I started counting. We get it, we get it, we get it.

Or do we?

Here's what I love. It reveals so much to us about God's grace. The prophets are not just about what God is saying but how He is saying it. And how often. He is willing to patiently repeat himself over and over to make sure we get it. And one more time for good measure. We don't hear him say, "I'm not going to tell you again." He just says it again. And he says it again so that "we will know" He is the Lord. I'm thankful for that.

What if God wasn't willing to repeat himself to us today? Most of us would be hopelessly lost before we hit the age of seven. Or at least I would. I find myself needing to learn the same lessons over and over, and I'm thankful that the Father is patient and tenacious in his love to bear with me there. When we read the prophets, we get to hear it repeated. And we also see the tenacious heart of a Father who pursues us until we are sick of hearing it.

I'll deal with the harsh attributes and gloom and doom later. For now, let me just also state that our culture not only endures but giddily celebrates and repeats ridiculous repetitive drivel and nonsense from the songs of our musical idols. Repetitiveness is normal in poetry. Embrace the poetry of the prophets and be grateful for the tenacious grace of God.

A Good Icebreaker: The Concert

I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of icebreakers in small groups. I hate most of them. Can't conversation over hummus and veggies break the ice enough?

I do have a few favorites, though. Here is one:

If you could go to any concert in the history of the world, what would it be?

Big thanks to Bill Search of Simple Small Groups for that one.