I’m nearing my fourth years as Senior Pastor at Gages Lake Bible Church, which means I’m just beginning. I’m still learning. John Maxwell need not fear. I won’t be dethroning him from the position of Leadership Guru anytime soon.
However, being on the job has taught me a few things about leadership, especially for young guys. Some of these lessons I’ve learned the hard way, others through the wise mentoring of older men. Here are five:
1) Young Leaders Must Resist the “push-off” model of ministry.
In their book, Sifted, Larry Osborne, Francis Chan, and Wayne Cordeiro talk about the tendency of young leaders to get their leadership energy by “pushing off” the perceived mistakes of other ministry models. They use the example of an Olympic Swimmer, who gains forward thrust by pushing off the pool wall. For leaders, it could be their legalistic, fundamentalist background that they despise, so every decision is made through the lens of how their parents or pastors or professors “got it wrong.” Or it could be the desire to be distinct in your community, so you’re going to sell yourself as the “only” version of your ministry in town. I’ve also seen the tendency to “pendulum-swing.” So if the staff culture you left was very lax, you’re tending to enforce a more rigid culture. Or if the staff culture you left was too rigid, you’re “the grace guy.”
The problem with a “push-off” model is that the forward thrust from the pool wall eventually loses energy. You need energy to sustain you in the race. I believe this must come from your own personal walk with the Lord and your own study. I have found that God may use a negative previous environment to push us toward something better, but ultimately our leadership must be based, not on what we don’t like elsewhere, but what God is teaching us in the present.
2) Young Leaders Need Old Guys
There is a fallacy in the world that younger is better. Young leaders have charisma, vision, energy. This is good and God uses this. But there is one vital component to leadership that we young guys lack: wisdom. Wisdom born from experience. And the only place to get this is by subordinating our ego and listening to older men. This means several things. First, we need to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we are sometimes wrong, and that perhaps the previous generation had some wise and important things to say.
Young energetic leaders tend to think that the old guys are washed up, that they are out of touch with today’s generation. And maybe some of them are, but for the most part, older, experienced pastors are fonts of spiritual wisdom. Use them. I’ve made it a practice to cultivate relationships with some experienced pastors. Why? Because they know things I just don’t know. They now the Word. They’ve made difficult choices. They’ve wrestled with the discouragements and fears that come my way.
I think every young pastor should have at least one, if not two or three older pastors who are speaking into his life. He’s woefully under-equipped if he does not.
3) We Must Die to Our Messiah Complex
If you’re a young guy in ministry, somewhere along the line you felt you were the answer to what the world needs. Or at least the answer to what your church or your community needs. But the truth is that you are not the answer. Jesus is the answer and you and me are simply humble representatives. We may have gifts and talents, but those too were created and distributed by God.
And here’s what I’ve discovered: People sense when you have too high an opinion of yourself. It creates a frustrating and chaotic leadership environment. It shuts off your ability to listen, learn, grow, and apologize. The Scripture reminds us in many places that God “resists” the proud but “gives grace” to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 1:5). My friend, you and I need grace in our ministry. We don’t need God’s resistance.
The bottom line is that gospel ministry is a privilege, a stewardship. It was here long before we arrived on the planet and will be long after we are gone. I’ve learned that the sooner I get over myself, the easier and better it is for me to lead. You’ve got to die to yourself.
4) You are responsible for the culture you create
Someone once said that sons do in excess what fathers do in moderation. This is true in leadership. I recently preached through the book of James. What struck me as I studied James 3 is just how pointed this chapter is for Christian leaders. At the end of the chapter, James contrasts two different Christian cultures. One is characterized by chaos, dissension, fear, and strife. The other by peace, love, harmony, and joy. James is quick to remind us that the former is not a leadership culture that reflects Heaven, but earth. In other words, if you’re culture is constantly beset by strife, there is a leadership problem. Leaders set the tone. What we emphasize, what we celebrate, what gets us angry is what we are telling people we believe is most important.
I’ve seen this played out vividly. Faithful church members will act on those things we have told them are most important to God. So if we find that people our churches are overly legalistic, it’s not enough to say, “Well, that’s not what I meant or intended.” There’s a communication problem. They’re getting the wrong message. On the flipside, if we find people are casual about church or flippant about following God, it’s not enough to say, “People just don’t get it.” No, they do get it, we’re just delivering the wrong message.
I’m not saying a leader is responsible for every action of those who follow him. People make their own choices. But I am saying that the words we say, the emphases we make, the actions we model–have far greater impact than we realize.
5) You Must Put the Work In
There is no app, no download, no program that will enable us to circumvent hard work. Yes, we’re fueled by the Holy Spirit. Yes, our ministry is grace-driven. But God does not reward laziness. God honors hard work. This means we’ll have to study on some Saturdays when we’d rather be watching sports. We’ll have to travel to the hospital when we’d rather be reading a good book. This means we’ll need to get our hands dirty with some areas of ministry that are “not our gifting.” Good messages require lots of study and hard work. There is no shortcut. Discipleship requires time and effort and money and patience. A loving family means an investment of our best time and efforts. Prayer and Bible study require discipline.
The ministry requires late nights and sweat and toil. Paul said that he “worked harder than them all (1 Corinthians 15:10). I don’t think he was bragging, just letting people know that doing God’s work requires . . . work. It’s not evil. It’s not belittling. Work honors God. Pastors can be workaholics, but pastors can also be lazy. We must fight both tendencies.
Real men cherish. They don’t chauvinistically condescend. They don’t use women and children to boost their egos or satisfy their sexual appetites. They cherish the things that they have been given to protect. Peter says it this way:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers [that is, your prayers together] may not be hindered. (1Pe 3:7)
When Peter says that the woman is a “weaker vessel” he does not mean that she is somehow less valuable or less capable than the man. The key is in the words that come before the “weaker vessel” phrase that we are too quick to forget: “showing honor…” So the woman is the weaker vessel, but only in the sense that a priceless Ming vase is more fragile than a Tupperware container. Both have value, but both are intended for different purposes and both need to be stored differently. In the same way, our wives are not less valuable than we are – but they are more fragile.
While predatory women certainly do exist and are a growing problem (a fact which I attribute to the general decline of our society), most sexual predators are men and their targets are almost always women and children. In pornography, women are victimized, abused, and shamed for the demented pleasure of a largely male audience. Pornography hurts women. It degrades them and objectifies them. And that’s normal.
Don’t think for a moment that I get any great joy from writing about this, or from the video that’s about to follow. The truth is, I’ve seen the damage of pornography firsthand. I know how it destroys relationships. I know how it steals your desire for all things holy. I know how it quenches the spirit. I know how it warps the way you look at and think about women. If you’re telling yourself anything else, you’re a fool. You’re lying to yourself.
Here’s what Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, had to say in his recent sermon The Porn Path. Whatever else you want to say about Driscoll (and like all men in leadership, he’s less than perfect), he is one of the few national voices speaking out against this rapidly-growing industry.
As men, God calls us to protect, cherish, and honor not only our own wives, but women in general. If you’re a man and especially if you’re married, I would submit the following questions for your consideration:
Do you view women/your wife as an engine for your personal gratification or as a soul to be cherished and served?
If you gave me the church answer to that last one, follow up question: in your entertainment (because isn’t that really where we get to be ourselves?), how are women treated? I’m not even talking about the porn, here. Dozens of movies every year, from PG-13 to R ratings, push buxom, sexually liberated, sexually-aggressive women into our consciousness. Does your entertainment cherish womanhood in all of its beauty, or does it tear it down or make a caricature of it?
What’s your ideal woman like? If we’re honest, very often even the spiritual-sounding things we say resonate deeply of selfishness. For instance, a very good church answer I often hear is “she should motivated me more to grow in Christ.” And while that’s a fine thing (and any good woman will), the focus is still on self. Are you looking for someone to serve God with, or someone to serve you?
I’m a young guy new at leadership, leading my church as Senior Pastor, leading my family as a husband and father of four, and leading (in some ways) as an author/writer/blogger. The world gets excited about young leadership, but quite often young leaders make mistakes because we lack the wisdom of our elders. Here are five common pitfalls I’m finding my for myself and I suspect other young leaders:
1) The Pitfall of Pride
The Scriptures both encourage and warn about young leadership. The encouragement is for the young to not let their youth get in the way of leading (1 Timothy 4:12) and yet it also warns against appointing immature people to weighty positions because they lack experience (1 Timothy 3:6). Perhaps our biggest and most pernicious temptation is pride. We’re young, we’re full of ideas, we feel we can change the world. That’s good, but it can also be bad when it seals us off from needed rebuke, wisdom of mentors, and constructive criticism. Young leaders must be wary, very wary, of the various ways that pride disguises itself as something good.
2) The Pitfall of Wanting Fame
Notice I didn’t say the pitfall of fame. I don’t think fame is inherently wrong. I don’t think all celebrity pastors or Christian leaders are off track, as some seem to. I think God allows some to gain favor and find numerical success. But what we young leaders must die to is our desire to be famous. This can be tricky, a sort of fine line between desiring our churches or organizations or platforms to grow and pursuing popularity with reckless abandon. I’m not always sure where that line is–it maybe different for every person. I do know that we must guard and check our hearts to see if our motivations for ministry are to glorify God and serve His people or to enrich ourselves.
3) The Pitfall of Comparison
It takes a while for a leader to gain a godly confidence his life and purpose. In the meantime, there is a dangerous tendency to compare and measure ourselves against our peers. Authors obsess over their Amazon rankings and privately wonder why some others seem to have more success than they do. Pastors compare numbers with other pastors and compare their sermons with the sermons of those they admire. I’m speaking from ministry experience, but I’m sure it affects young leaders in a variety of vocations.
Comparison is deadly because it blinds us to God’s unique purpose for each individual life. So we must kill this daily.
4) The Pitfall of Anti-Establishment
Our growing up years shape us in more ways than we now, with experience in church, at home, school, and community that affect us in positive and negative ways. For many of us there is a tendency to base our leadership off of our childhood experiences. We can easily become the “not” version of that negative church/ministry/business experience. I’m seeing a lot of this in the books and blogs and sermons I hear from young leaders such as myself. Uber-contemporary pastors styles themselves as different than the stodgy fundamentalists of their youth. Super-serious reformed guys style themselves as different than the substance-less contemporary leaders of their youth. And so it goes. There is nothing wrong with coming to grips with the parts of our upbringing or past that we would like to do differently in our leadership environments, but we hurt our effectiveness by cycling everything we do through the prism of what we considered wrong. We become reactionary and imbalanced. We become a movement defined more by being against we perceive as wrong than being for what God has called us to do.
5) The Pitfall of Overstatement
There is a tendency among young leaders to think of themselves as “the movement that will finally fix everything wrong with the church.” The church is going one way but we know better and we’re leading it the other way. When we’re young we tend to see ourselves as the hero in our own story, the Gideon/David/Abraham warrior that God has sent to rescue His people. The truth is probably much more humble. Even if your book lands on the NYT bestseller list or your congregation swells in size in a few years, you’re likely just one of many God is using in this generation. That’s not to tamp down enthusiasm or drive or God-given ambition. But we must remember that our story is not our own. God is the author of our story and it is Him who is after glory. We’re really not as influential or great as we think we are. And that’s okay, because God loves us when we’re a bit broken.
In last week’s men’s group post, Dave discussed and explained the problem of lust and how we as men must overcome it. One of the questions we heard asked the most was “What about accountability?” This post is aimed at answering some of those questions.
This post grew out of some thoughts I’d originally posted on personal accountability on my own blog. After posting, I got a lot of helpful feedback from some men in my life, so I’ve expanded the post to include the Scriptural foundation of accountability, as well as some of the things that have led to successful, effective accountability in my own life. Dave was gracious enough to let me share it with the rest of you. I pray that it will be a help and a blessing to you.
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.(2Ti 2:22, KJV, emphasis added)
Flee… But follow. That is the basis for biblical accountability. In this, the most specific passage directly touching on how we as men ought to deal with lust, Paul commands Timothy to flee them. Not flee them to bury himself in work. Not flee them to drown himself in music or media. Flee them… to follow. To follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace. And not by himself – but with those who are already victorious. Those who are already calling upon the Lord.
That’s what accountability is at its core.
Accountability. It’s something that, as men, we are constantly told we need. But at the same time I think most of us don’t have a really clear picture of what that accountability should look like. We’re told that it means we need to be calling each other out on things – that we need to be asking each other the hard questions.
And yet, after years of accountability partners and accountability groups, the questions I have usually been asked (or even been guilty of asking) are always something vaguely along the lines of, “did you read your Bible this week?”, “did you have any struggles with lust this week?” or even “how have things been going lately?”
The problem with vague questions like this is that they both fail to be specific enough to address the actual struggles that we as men deal with, as well as missing the real heart issues that underlie those struggles.
For instance, if a man is struggling with pornography, he may say, “I had a couple of rough days this week”, or “yeah, I’ve struggled with lust this week.” What he actually means is that he has engaged in online fornication on one or more occasion, but because of his tone of voice he can give the impression that, aside from a couple of rough patches, it wasn’t a bad week. That man’s root problem may be selfishness, but questions like, “how has your struggle with lust been?” don’t cover his heart issue or the other ways it is most certainly manifesting itself, such as how he treats his wife and children in other areas.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about men’s accountability, it’s definitely that it should be grace-focused, not law-focused. Checklists will not work out the sanctification of our souls. And yet, unless we are willing to take the gloves off and ask each other difficult and embarrassing questions (and in turn, answer those questions with candid, painful, uncomfortable honesty) our accountability time will not be as helpful as it could be and it will eventually fizzle out and die.
So to that end, here is a list of questions that I’ve been prayerfully considering lately. This is the list I will be giving the men in my core group, and asking them to use it to hold me personally accountable for my walk with Christ. Again, the goal here is sanctification, not legalism, and so this list isn’t just something for me to check off to make sure I’ve been a good man. It’s a checkup – a list of symptoms, if you will, that will help show me the wickedness of my heart.
At the end of the day, the kind of man I am or am not will be a direct result of how much like Christ I am becoming. And that, in turn, has very much to do with how much time I spend with him. When I put Him first, I take the first step towards dying to self that week. When I don’t, is it really a surprise that the works of the flesh manifest themselves in my life?
Did you spend 1-on-1 time with Jesus this week?
Have you been consistently digging fresh insights out of God’s Word? If so, what?
Have you spent time in prayer daily for your wife?
Have you spent time in prayer daily for your church & pastors?
Are you harboring or treasuring unconfessed sin or rebellion in your heart that you know God wants you to give up to Him?
Selfishness is at the root of a lot of the traditional “male” sins. When it comes right down to it, it’s our own selfishness that’s at the core of our lust, our anger, and our pride. And more than anything else, a selfish heart will destroy marriages, relationships, and lives. In Scripture, Christ calls for us as men to unselfishly give of our lives, just as Christ gave his for the church:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…” (Eph 5:25)
Have you become angry or frustrated with your wife this week? Why?
Have you put your needs before those of your wife?
Have you demanded service instead of being a godly servant leader?
Have you become angry or frustrated when running late, or any other time that you have felt out of control this week?
This is the big one, isn’t it? The questions about sexual morality are probably the most uncomfortable on this list. But they’re also some of the most needful, in a world where a pornography “habit” is considered normal and even healthy by the population at large.
Have you looked at any hardcore pornography this week?
Have you looked at any softcore pornography this week?
Have you deliberately sought out any form of media to feed your lustful passions?
Have you allowed entertainment into your life (movies, TV shows) that make provision for the flesh by raunchy scenes, immodest dress, or intimacy on the screen?
Have you looked lustfully at women other than your wife?
Have you robbed your wife by gratifying your flesh (masturbation)?
Finally, here are some closing thoughts on the subject of accountability. These are really outgrowing of the questions and discussions that I’ve had since writing the first draft of this article.
None of this works unless you truly desire freedom – unless you truly desire to be a man of God. If the desire isn’t there, then the best accountability partners or all of the best lists in the world won’t make a difference. No amount of accountability will work if there is not a genuine desire towards godliness on the part of all involved. What I can say, though, is that constant, godly accountability is the only truly effective way I found to gain freedom from a four-year addiction to pornography.
Earlier in this article I mentioned a “core group.” No man is an island, and each of us should have other godly Christian men who are already free – who are already following and calling on God out of pure heart – to hold us accountable, not just for lust, but for the many other temptations and attitudes with which we must wrestle on a daily basis. If you don’t already have that in your life, you need to prayerfully pursue those relationships with godly men.
Please, please, please, don’t have accountability partners for people who are locked just as deep in sin as you are. One of the reasons so many accountability groups or partnerships fail is that all parties involved are struggling with the same sins and it’s just so much easier to gloss over the stuff that makes us all uncomfortable. I’m speaking specifically about lust here. In other areas there’s more room for some mutual “iron sharpening iron” – but when it comes to lust, you need someone who’s not wallowing in your same sin to hold your hand and help pull you through.
Making your accountability time about a checklist, instead of heart attitudes, will kill your accountability time. I heartily encourage you to make a list for your core group like the one above, if only to identify (and get them to help identify) the areas in which you are struggling the most. But if you check items off of the list instead of working on rooting out the attitudes it’s intended to help identify, you miss the point. You focus your accountability time on law instead of grace and your accountability group will die a slow, ineffective death.
Earlier this year The Resurgence posted a list of 8 Ways to Ruin Your Accountability Group. I think this is a great list, and states much more succinctly some of the ideas I have tried to elucidate above:
Make your accountability partner drop ten bucks in the jar for that grievous sin
Make your accountability a circle of cheap confession by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.
Ask one another moralistic questions that reinforce moral performance.
Pilfer through God’s Word for an experiential buzz or life connection.
Go public with your respectable sins while cherishing your secret sins.
Know your partner’s sin better than you know your own.
Passively stand by as your sin slowly puts you to death.
Make accountability, not Jesus, central to your group.
Humility is key. Nothing destroys any relationship – accountability included – like people who are too prideful to confess their sins, too selfish to forsake them, too self-centered to care about the struggles of others, and too egotistical to accept godly reproof. Accountability groups are one great way God can use to humble us because of the mutual confession of our own wickedness. Don’t turn it into one more opportunity to showcase your perceived greatness.