What the Bible Says About Leading Well

God is leading. He is bringing redemption and restoration to the world.

And God leads through leaders. He gives them a vision to lead people from where they are to where they could and should be.

So, the first question in leading is, where do I want to lead people? The next question is, how do I get them there?

One of my favorite summaries of the principles of leadership is in the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Here’s what it says: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

This passage teaches us three crucial leadership principles for leading well. In the diagram above, these are principles for moving people along the arrow to where the “there.”

1. The leader needs to do the hard thing.
The word translated “idle and disruptive” refers to someone who has gotten out of line in a military formation. The leader has to confront those persons and things that are keeping people from moving in the right direction.

Oftentimes, this means talking to someone who is disruptive about what they are doing. If you are a leader, that’s what you’ve got to do.

Doing the hard thing may also mean making a decision that is best for the whole group or organization, even when particular people disagree or complain (who also may need to be confronted).

It may mean going first. When no one wants to do what needs to be done, leaders may need to take the first step.

Leaders need to do the hard thing.

2. Meet people where they are.
It’s easy to go overboard with principle #1. We think that whenever people aren’t doing what we want them to do, then we need to confront.

Principle #2 teaches us something different. Sometimes people are fighting against you, but at other times people are discouraged or unable to do what you are asking. This is why the Apostle Paul says next, “Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.”

This isn’t always a matter of people being weak or discouraged. Sometimes meeting people where they are is just a matter of paying attention to what people actually do.

Here’s a very simple example. When I came to my current church, we got about a third of our children to come to Sunday School. Over the years, the leaders had tried all sorts of ways to get people to bring their children to church an hour before worship to Sunday School. It was only modestly effective.

Then, we wondered, if people don’t want to come early, would they stay once they were already ther to fellowship while their kids did Sunday School? What if we did Sunday School after church? We did so, and we got nearly 100% participation.

This is trying to meet people where they are.

3. Leadership is a process.
Whether you’re dealing with the disruptive, the weak, or the disheartened, remember that leadership is a process.

This is why Paul tells us to “be patient with everyone.”

It’s so easy for a leader to think, “I’ve got a great idea. Everyone should see it immediately!” No. It’s a process.

Someone once told me, when you’re tired of saying something, people are just beginning to get it. It takes time to communicate a vision. People need time to process it.

Be patient with everybody because leadership is a process.

God calls Christians to be leaders who are patient, compassionate, and firm. The best example is Jesus Himself. He did the hard thing, even when it meant the cross. He’s patient with us. He meets us where we are.

As believers in Christ, we have His example, and because of His resurrection we have His power. By His grace, we can lead others forward, even though it’s not easy.

To Lead–Know Where You Are Going

When I pull up my Google Maps app, Google can usually tell me the best way to go. All it needs to know is where I want to go, then it shows me several routes, including the one that it estimates will be the fastest. I can then quickly make a selection.

The hard thing is knowing where I want to go. I try to use Friday’s as a day with my family. I always want to go somewhere and do a significant activity.

However, I’ve come up to many Friday’s and had nothing. I realized not too long ago that I need to make a list of things I want to do with the family: the Knoxville Zoo, ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg, a day trip to the Cumberland Gap. Once I’ve selected my destination, then it’s fairly easy to figure out a plan to get there.

I think life and leadership is like that. The hard part is often figuring out what we really want to go. I remember asking a woman not too long ago, if you had a week without kids and any responsibilities, what would you do? She answered, “I have no idea.”

She’s like me. I’m often not even clear on what I want. How am I going to have clarity on what is best for other people? How can I lead?

This past week, I was having lunch with another Pastor from our presbytery (a regional group of churches). I asked him, what if all the churches said, “we’ll appoint you pope for a day, and anything you ask us to change, we’ll change in our churches”? What would you tell them to change? It was a hard question to answer.

I mean, there’s a lot of things you could suggest changing, but do they really matter? What’s really most significant?

So often, when we are leading other people, we just react. We see something we don’t like, and then tell them to do it differently. Don’t do that! Do this! Change this! The more we do that, the less effective it usually becomes. The more people are likely to tune us out.

My wife and I were discussing this concept. She said, here’s a bad way to lead. You see the kitchen a mess. You start barking orders, telling people what to do or, worse, just shouting, “Clean!” You end up just taking advantage of the person who is available, which often is the same person meal after meal.

A better way: where do you want to go? What she wants is for everyone to share the load of cleaning the kitchen. It’s not just about getting the task done. It’s about sharing the work and lightening the load for everyone. So, she made a simple list of kitchen responsibilities. One person cleans the table, another sweeps the floor, and so on. That’s better leadership.

One of my favorite examples of bad leadership comes from my previous church and our Wednesday night fellowship meal. For years, we held our Wednesday night fellowship meal at 6:00. Once in a while, we had good attendance. Most of the time we didn’t. We complained about it. We complained about our people not wanting to fellowship and not making God a priority.

It wasn’t until years later, we actually asked the question: what do we really want with our fellowship meals? The truth was that we were more interested in the tradition, in doing what we had always been doing, than in the people. That was stupid.

When we asked the question, though, we realized something. Our goal really needed to be that our regular attenders would come and that any visitors would join them at the fellowship meal. Once we were clear on our goal, then we knew how to get there. We needed to have our fellowship meal at the time that people were there and available, and that time was Sunday morning after church.

Once we changed the time of the fellowship meal, something amazing happened. People came. Visitors came. Everyone was happier. It turned out that our people did want to fellowship. Wednesday at 6 just wasn’t that for most of them.

One more example. I read in a book on preaching several years ago this question: what do you want people to do or think differently because of your sermon?

He then wrote, if you can’t answer that question, then don’t expect those listening to you to be able to answer it either. But if you do know what you want people to do or think because of the sermon, tell ’em!!

Know where you want people to go.

That’s where all leadership begins. People are in one place, but you want them to be in a different place. To lead well, you need to be clear about what that place is. Once you’ve figured that out, then you can find the best way to get there much more easily.

What’s Your Story?

What’s your story?

Like most Americans, I was pretty hazy on where my ancestors came from and how they got here.

My Mother was born in South Africa to American missionaries. My Father was born near Owensboro, KY. I always thought of my Father and Mother as having very different backgrounds.

A few things happened recently that led me to do some research and realize that the two sources of my ancestry were quite close.

One ancestor that I knew of was Levi Parks Keith. He was from my mother’s side, was in the Illinois cavalry in the Civil War, and died of disease late in the war.

I realized that “Levi Parks Keith” was a pretty rare name, so I did a Google search. This led me to a site called Grave Finder.

On that site, I found not only where he was buried but also information about his life and links to other family members, including his father and mother.

His Father, Mason Parks Keith, came from Virginia to Kentucky and then moved to Southern Indiana where most of my family stayed.

This intrigued me because I knew my Father’s family was rooted in Northern Kentucky and Southern Indiana as well.

I began to plug in some general history. The Great Lakes States as we know them were not open to settlement until quite a few years after the Revolutionary War. In addition, Kentucky was opened for settlement before the Great Lake States.

So, my ancestors came to America and settled on the East Coast. Then, they went to Kentucky probably through the Cumberland Gap and from there either remained in Southern Indiana or Northern Kentucky.

Through a strange turn of events, I ended up taking a DNA test.

I always called myself an American mutt in regard to ethnicity. I was wrong. The test from ancestry.com told me that I was more British than the British. The average inhabitant of the island of Britain has 60% of their DNA from there. I have 71%.

The test told me that my ancestry consisted of the group of people that settled around the Potomac and headed west to the Kentucky area. My research was confirmed.

It turns out my parents both came from the same stock.

My wife’s story was a little easier. I had always known that her ancestors had come from the Netherlands later than mine had come to America, sometime in the 19th century.

But how long ago? And where did they come from?

I discovered that they all came from the same area of the Netherlands in the mid- to late 19th century.

My wife is a 4th generation Dutch immigrant.

I’m somewhat surprised that this story wasn’t kept more alive in their family because it was her Great Grandfather Hendrik and his Father, Fokke, who came to the U.S. in the mid-19th century and settled in Western Michigan.

Daniel Vander Till, my wife’s Great, Great Grandfather born in Groningen in 1856
The story of each line of my wife’s descent was the same. They all came from the province of Groningen in the second half o the 19th century. Only one line was different. Her Paternal Grandmother’s family came from Vriesland. Further research showed me that this was basically the same area along the coast. Groningen was once a part of a nation called “Vriesia.”

Why did they come to America?

I did a search for reasons for immigration to the U.S. from Groningen. In one article on this topic, Richard P. Swierenga explained that the farms in this area became unprofitable because of the competition of American grain on the world market. As a result, farm owners and workers left this area and came to America. Most of them were Protestant.

So, that’s the simple story, my wife’s ancestors left the Netherlands and came to America to find better farms and farm work. All of them came about the same time from the same place.

That’s our story.

And what does it matter? I’m not sure.

But I do feel a bit more rooted and connected. I have a bit more of a sense of identity and connection to the world story. For me, this story was worth discovering and now telling.

So, what’s your story?

We Were Made to Lead

God did not create human beings to sit around.

He wanted them to take leadership and do something.

Here’s what God said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28).

In other words, don’t leave things the way you see them. Take leadership to do significant things that bless yourselves and others and glorify God.

But we know the sad story. Adam didn’t exercise leadership. He let the devil walk all over him. We’ve been doing it ever since.

God didn’t leave the world there, though. He sent Jesus to redeem it.

It’s important to see that when we talk about “redemption” and “getting saved,” we are not just talking about forgiveness and going to heaven. Salvation means a restoration to what God originally intended for humanity.

So, salvation restores us to dominion and leadership. “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).

Jesus is called Christ because He is anointed to be a prophet, priest, and king. Christians have understood that they are called Christians because they share in this anointing. We are restored to kingship and leadership in Christ.

One ancient statement of faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, captures this well:

But why are you called a Christian? Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.

God restores us to leadership, but He does more than restore. He wants us to partner with Him in what He is doing in bringing redemption and restoration to the world.

So, what does that mean for us practically? We need to change the way we view things. God is calling all people not only to receive His love but to be His partners and take leadership by His power in doing significant things that bless ourselves and others and bring glory to Him.

That’s how we should think of ourselves as believers in Christ.

God Uses Leaders

Leadership is a common topic in the modern world. Because it is so common, some people might think it’s just a secular topic and not a Christian one.

Consider, though, that God Himself is a leader. He is leading the world where He wants it to be.

But how does He lead? How does He move things forward in redemptive history? Generally, through leaders.

Even the most cursory reading of the Bible reveals this. God used Moses, David, Gideon, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and many others to lead people from where they were to where they needed to be.

Christian history reveals the same thing. He has used people like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Corrie ten Boom, and Billy Graham to move people forward.

On a daily level, he uses parents, pastors, friends, elders, and a host of others to lead people.

God also uses a host of people who have no leadership position but take leadership and action to meet needs, help people grow, move people out of bad situations, organize relief efforts, start initiatives, and connect people in relationships.

Far from being a minor theme, leadership is a major theme of the Bible and what God is doing in history. Most things that God does, He does through giving people a burden to do something when things could be and should be different and better.

God uses leaders.

So, what does this mean for us?

If we see a situation that needs to be changed, what we usually need is a leader.

So, first, pray for those who are leading and in leadership positions. If God works through leaders, we need to be asking God to protect them; to give them wisdom, strength, and compassion; and to give them courage to do what is right and good. If we care about those under their leadership, then we should pray for the leader.

Second, pray that God would raise up leaders. If something is not happening that needs to happen, then we may need new leaders who will step up and show the way.

Third, when things bother us, when we see the problems around us, when we see situations that break our hearts, we should consider if God is calling us to take leadership in those situations. If God uses people to lead others to a better place, then why not you? Why wait for someone else?

God is leading this world toward redemption, but He generally does it through leaders.

A Pastor’s Response to Disaster

Last December, I stood next to a woman looking with sad eyes at the burned out remains of a building. “Did you live here?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. She then went on to tell me about how she had escaped the fires that overwhelmed the town of Gatlinburg. She had left her pets behind, fleeing for her life.

I told her that I was a Pastor and that I would like to pray with her.

After the prayer she asked me, “Since you’re a Pastor, can you tell me, was God punishing me by taking away my pets because I left them behind?”

I assured her that though we all had sins, God had shown His love for us by sending his Son to die on the cross, and that if we believed in Him, we could be certain that all of our sins were forgiven and that we stood before God as if we had done everything right. She said that she believed, and I assured her of God’s love for her, even though times were tough right now.

I prayed with her again. I gave her my card. I left, and she left. I was gratified a few weeks later to get a text from her. “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It really helped.”

On November 23, 2016, fires worked their way down the mountains to the town of Gatlinburg and destroyed 2400 buildings, killed 14, and left thousands displaced. It was a disaster like I had never experienced before.

The next few days were filled with making sure our members were alright, crying with people, watching the news to get updates, and trying to figure out what to do.

Over the next few months, I had a lot of opportunities to work with and talk to people affected by the fires. One was the woman I mentioned in the opening story.

As I watch another disaster unfold in South Texas, my mind has gone back to those days in Gatlinburg, and tears have returned to my eyes as I think of the trauma of them. It’s still hard to believe.

I think of Pastors who will be confronting this disaster in Texas. I think of other Pastors who will experience similar disasters. To them, I’d like to offer here a few lessons I learned from living through disaster.

1. Call your congregation together for prayer and worship. The fires were Monday. We had a worship service on Wednesday. The fires on everyone’s mind. We needed to give ourselves a proper outlet for the horror we had just witnessed.

2. Drop what you’re doing and make the disaster a priority. The fires gave me opportunities to connect with people I never would have been able to connect with. The whole experience was very difficult, but it provided some amazing opportunities to experience the love of Christ given and received.

3. Go where people are. Find out where people who have left their homes, and go there, if you can. When I think of the woman in the opening story, I think God used my presence and concern as much as my words. Presence matters.

4. Ask people to share their experiences of the disaster with you. This seems counter-intuitive, but it really does help. What stays in the dark hurts. What comes to the light heals.

5. Pray with people. People may not want to hear about your church, but most people appreciate it when you pray with them.

6. Ask for money. When you hear from people who want to help, ask for money. You won’t know what to do with it right away, but ask. I’m really glad that we did (later than I should have). This gave us a fund with which we were able to help and connect with many victims of the fires.

7. Don’t worry about giving the money away immediately. There will be an initial outpouring of gifts for your community. It will abate. When it does, you will have a fund with which to help those who are still in need. If it’s anything like our area, it will be a lot of people.

8. See what others are doing about the disaster and then join with them. This saves you from having to reinvent the wheel, gets you into the action more quickly, and helps you connect with more people in your community. One man in our church took some people and went and joined with Samaritan’s Purse in sifting through the ashes of a home that had burnt down. He made a great connection with the people involved and the owner of the house.

I’m not expert on disaster response. I’m just a Pastor who experienced it, am thankful for the opportunities I had to minister in it, and wish I had done some things differently.

God Will Supply All Your Needs

We all need things we don’t yet have, don’t control, or worry we’ll lose. We’re dependent on other people and things for our survival, much more than we think.

This worry about our needs can become all consuming. We can get consumed with worry about food, shelter, and savings. We can get consumed with whether or not we’ll be loved. We can get consumed about making sure we have security and protection from harm.

Into the midst of our worries, we have this promise from God, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

This promise is a rock of refuge in a sea of anxiety about our needs. It is a foundation on which we can build our lives as Jesus taught us (see Matthew 6:25–34). Continue reading “God Will Supply All Your Needs”

Being Content When Other People Won’t Cooperate

We can get discontent with things. We want a better house, car, guitar, gaming system, phone, etc. It’s easy to struggle with wanting what we don’t have.

But discontent with things pales in comparison with discontent with people.

Here’s why. No matter how much money I have or how many resources I employ, other people will always do something slightly different than what I want. Oftentimes, totally different!

So, if we are dependent on the cooperation of others for our contentment, then we are in for a bumpy ride.

That can be really hard. We want people to like us. We need love. We are concerned about the people for whom we have some responsibility.

So, how can we be content when people don’t cooperate? Continue reading “Being Content When Other People Won’t Cooperate”

The Secret to Contentment

Have you ever had a big event where you expected a lot of people to show up? You planned for a Bible study and had 25 people tell you that they would come. Then, only 5 showed up. You planned an anniversary party for 100, and only 50 showed up. Disappointment.

Getting involved with people can be disappointing. The Apostle Paul was involved with a lot of people. He was dependent on people to give him money to fund his work.

We might expect that when people didn’t give what they had promised, he might be frustrated. But he wasn’t. He had learned the secret to contentment: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12).

Most of us walk around thinking that we would be happy if other people would change. If my kids would act differently, if my spouse would show me respect, if my employer was more understanding, if I had more money, if I had a better car, if I lived somewhere else, I’d be happy.

The trouble with this approach is that things outside of us will rarely match up to our expectations inside us. So, we’ll always be unhappy.

There’s another option. We can adjust to our circumstances. That’s the secret to contentment that the Apostle Paul had learned. Continue reading “The Secret to Contentment”

Hardwiring Happiness

Our brains present an interesting paradox. When it comes to bad things, we worry about them and go over them again and again.

When it comes to good things, we don’t even hold them in our mind for ten seconds.

Rick Hanson, in his helpful book Hardwiring Happiness deals at length with this paradox from the perspective of brain science.

Hanson notes that our brain “has a hair-trigger readiness to go negative to help you survive” (20). He describes the way our brain works this way, “when the least little thing goes wrong or could be trouble, the brain zooms in on it with a kind of tunnel vision that downplays everything else” (21).

In contrast, Hanson notes, our brains hardly give any attention to good experiences. “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones” (27). Continue reading “Hardwiring Happiness”