Category Archives: Leadership Writings

Leadership Writing #5-Commitment

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these “Leadership Writings,” and for that I apologize. I think the topic of today’s writing is a challenge to me just as much to anyone in that regard. Last year, I made a commitment to semi-regularly write 13-14 pieces on different elements of leadership, some spiritual, some more practical. Since that time some big changes in my schedule and the process of completing our new facility have gotten in the way of that commitment. That’s no good. I have been so challenged this year with the idea of discipline and commitment, which I believe are inexorably linked. In some areas, at certain points I have made real progress in my own self- and spiritual-disciplines in the beginning months of 2010. At times, I’ve allowed these to slack off, and that’s no good. We will always have seasons of life in which new responsibilities and challenges will come. That does not change with age or station. Our responsibility is to continue to steward our time and resources well and remain disciplined and committed to the vision and responsibilities God has given us. So there’s my introduction, let’s continue to learn as leaders and followers of Jesus about commitment.

This past Sunday during our time of worship I felt God put a challenge to some at Ephesus in regards to being dabblers. That’s a broad word, but one I think we all understand in our own context. To dabble, is to test the waters, try something out, give it a go, etc, but not jump full in. That’s left to the professionals! Bill Bryson wrote a great story about his personal journey on the Applachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods. The Appalachian Trail is over 1200 miles from Georgia to Maine and many folks hike portions of it from time to time. But Bryson’s story highlights the idea of hiking the whole Trail, thru-hiking, as it’s called. He begins in Georgia with his gear and a plan, a good start, and very quickly meets other folks with the intention of thru-hiking the Trail. What is so interesting are the folks who are “giving it a shot.” Some carrying actual suitcases by the handle for their 1200 mile journey through the woods. Needless to say, those folks didn’t complete the hike, much less make it more than 20 miles down the trail. They were dabbling. When it got tough and their feet hurt, and the handle of their suitcase was digging into their hand, they gave up. They maybe talked a good line to their friends, called themselves hikers, and started something, but there was no commitment. Without commitment, there is no finish. Without commitment there is no leadership. Without commitment, Jesus was just a nice guy with interesting things to say.

We must be committed. Across the board, throughout our lives, we must be committed. This topic is so important to me, because I see so many people walk through life with very little commitment, or commitment to the wrong things at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons. Lack of commitment shows itself in different ways; being late to appointments, coming up with excuses to renege on “commitments” and generally not being someone folks can count on. In my experience, lack of commitment seems to especially afflict those who are young, unmarried, and/or without kids. Now don’t start throwing stones, I know that’s a HUGE generalization, but it’s also fairly true. But there’s hope! That’s why I’m writing this, because I love this demographic. I love the potential in this demographic when they do commit. I’ve seen it in many young people who are committed to big dreams and big God-pursuits. And I’ve seen it in every great leader I’ve ever known.

For some application, I want to first relate three observations on commitment made by John Maxwell in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. (his points, my observations)

  1. Commitment Starts in the Heart. We’ve all heard about that kid who had “real heart.” But there is something to that. That’s where commitment begins. An internal decision to go all out for something or things. If your heart is not in something, commitment will be tough to come by. This can be an indicator of where you shouldn’t be spending your time. But most likely, it’s a wake-up call about getting your heart in the game. I think we can use it as an excuse. “My heart just wasn’t in it, so I quit.” That’s fine, but let me ask you, is your heart in anything? Are you committed to anything? I think often times we dabble in many things, but our heart is in none of them, therefore we lack commitment and never fully achieve all that God places before us. Get some real heart!
  2. Commitment is Tested by Action. Talk, talk, talk! It doesn’t mean a whole lot unless there’s action! We’ve all known those people who can talk up one side and down the other. I always catch myself critiquing the Gators on a Sunday after the game, and I usually catch myself pretty quickly and realize I’m all talk! I never played organized football, in skate culture, they call that a poser. I was never committed enough to actually get on the field. Action is where commitment makes a real impact in our lives and leadership. Do you follow-through on your commitments?
  3. Commitment Opens the Door to Achievements. We face all kinds of obstacles in our lives, even when we’re on a “mission from God.” David had to put some stones in his pouch and walk out on that field with Goliath standing in the way, a pretty big obstacle. But look what his commitment brought him. Commitment gives us the impetus to continue to push forward and achieve that which is worthwhile.

Areas of commitment.

  1. Personal Commitment. As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the big ideas God laid on my heart for this year was personal discipline, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Discipline comes from commitment. Are you committed to bettering yourself? Especially in the 3 areas I just listed. Getting off the couch to exercise takes TREMENDOUS will power! If you’re not committed, nothing will change. Actually reading a book with chapters and no pictures takes commitment! Digging into God’s word on a regular, on-going basis to better know and study who He is takes commitment. No one else can take the place of YOU being committed to bettering yourself.
  2. Corporate Commitment. By this, I mean commitment to those around you. In your church, home group, workplace, family, friends, etc. Are you committed to others and the responsibilities that come with being in relationship and community? Do you show up when you say you will? Do you avoid calling at the last minute to change plans because “something better came along?” Do you offer to be there for others? Do you help where there is a need amongst your relationships and within your church? Too often our culture has groomed us to be very self-focused. We are committed to others when it is in our self-interest but not often beyond that. Recent studies show that although there is a seeming increase in social action, many of our generation are more self-focused than ever before. This comes from a lack of corporate commitment. As leaders on mission with Jesus we must be committed to those around us.
  3. Spiritual Commitment. This is the one you knew was coming! Are you committed to the mission of Jesus? Not just a prayer and a thank you while you wait for heaven, but truly committed, beyond yourself, to advancing the Kingdom of God on Earth? This past week (4/11/10) Seth Ervin challenged us with the reality of Jesus being alive, and how that changes everything. A ragtag bunch of Jews were transformed by a living Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit so as to change history forever. They were committed! They were committed to Jesus in such a way that they lived with no regrets and wasted no moment proclaiming Jesus to those around them. They lived and moved in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit so that lives were healed, changed and brought to Jesus. They were committed to their deaths. Is our relationship with Jesus that strong? Are we that committed? I believe, when we begin to take seriously our spiritual committed to Jesus our lives will change, the lives around us will change, this city will change, and we’ll be leaders others will want to follow as we follow Jesus.
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Leadership Writing #4-Vision


This is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, and we’re always told we need to have one. And the best leaders have vision. And you need to have a personal vision. And you need to get your vision checked because you’re getting old, etc. But the truth of the matter is vision is crucial to leadership (and to being able to see, so get your eyes checked too).

There are many great books on vision, and as I’ve said before, my goal with these writings is not to create something new, but direct young leaders in the right direction. So grab some books and read them. A great place to start is Visioneering by Andy Stanley. Some of these principles are from his book. What I want to do is get your thinking started on vision. Perhaps you’ve never processed any thinking on vision or even prayed that God would start to stir vision in your life. So hopefully this writing will get the wheels cranking.

At its simplest, vision is having a dream or idea of what should be. This could be in your work, in your family life, in your spiritual life or a vision for something that isn’t yet a part of your life. It’s usually motivated by personal passions, experiences and desires. When you begin to develop vision, you become dissatisfied with the status quo and begin to get motivated towards working on what should be as opposed to just sitting around griping about what is. It’s possible to have multiple visions and the reality is we should have a unique vision for each area of our lives. At the same time these “visions” should complement each other so that the vision for our family can coexist along side our vision in our work, or in our relationship with Jesus, etc. If I have a vision for Ephesus Church (which I do!) it can’t supplant what I desire to see happen with my relationship with Casey and the kids (the vision I have for our family). They must coexist in a healthy, complementary way. At the same time, vision brings significance to many areas of our life. I used to hear it from my mom all the time when I was in school, because I never really tried overly hard. I made decent grades and got into the schools I wanted to get into, but barely. It used to frustrate my mom, because she knew I really could do better.  I always had the excuse that it was good enough, and way better than most folks, but I didn’t care too much. In college I slept through a lot of classes including a final exam! But I graduated with decent grades by doing just enough. Then I began to work in ministry. And I would work hard (still do I think!) and work long and discovered I was a bit of a perfectionist. I found myself thinking about ministry and what was next and what needed to be done to get to the next thing and then work at it. All these were traits I never exhibited in school! My mom saw this difference and asked me “why now?” My response: passion and vision. There was significance to what I was doing and it motivated me to do more and to do it better. I had a vision for what should be and the passion to work for it. It hasn’t been easy, still isn’t, but the vision keeps me moving forward, and keeps me passionate about what I’m doing.

In the bible, one of the greatest examples of vision with the accompanying work to see it accomplished is Nehemiah and his oversight of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. He was grieved with the way things were (the ruin of Jerusalem) and desired to see it changed. Through circumstances he arrived in Jerusalem and began the rebuilding. It wasn’t easy, it didn’t just happen, he faced much opposition, but the vision was clear and he pursued it.

Andy Stanley shares 4 things that are the foundational for vision in our life:

1. Passion-at its root passion is about strong emotion. Vision is about dreaming of what should be and getting excited enough about it to start doing something about it. What are you passionate about? What should you be passionate about? When Casey and I started dating I was still in school in Florida and she was in school in Virginia. Minor detail right? But I had a vision that I was going to marry that girl, because she is smokin’ hot and she loves Jesus. That’s as good as it gets! Emotions were strong, strong enough to lead to action. One Friday after class I decided what could be, what should be, and I got in my car to drive 11 hours to Virginia. Strong emotions allowed me to push through the 11 hour, ridiculously boring drive because the payoff was worth it (11 years later, still worth it!).  Passion is foundational to vision.

2. Motivation-Vision gives motivation to push through when it’s tough, boring, frustrating, seemingly stagnant, etc. Did I mention how boring that 11 hour drive to Virginia was? The last 45 minutes were okay, because at least I hit the mountains, but other than that…wow. I think God invented South Carolina and Southeastern Georgia as a place to put the leftovers. But I had a vision to marry that girl so the motivation carried me through! I think I made that drive 6 times in 4 months. Too often we don’t really have a vision for what we’re doing so we quit, give up and move on to something else. Vision-fueled motivation allows us to keep going.

3. Direction-Often times we can get focused on a lot of different things. Oprah calls it multi-tasking. But often those things keep us from moving forward on the truly important things. They could all be good, or they could all be a waste of time, but either way without clear direction we don’t focus on the important stuff. Vision gives us direction. It gives a place of assessment. Is the direction you’re moving in based on vision or not? I realized recently I was spending way too much time in the car listening to tech podcasts. I know, you’re thinking “Ben you’re such a hip, trendy guy. You can’t possibly be a geeky tech-guy too?” Shockingly, yes I am. I love that stuff. I love that stuff to a fault. I realized that listening to tech podcasts don’t really do anything to move the vision God has given for Ephesus forward. That isn’t the long-term direction I want to be moving in. So I made a decision a few weeks ago to drastically reduce the time I spend listening to tech podcasts and reading tech blogs so that I would be more focused on moving forward on the vision for Ephesus. The vision gives me clear direction.

4. Purpose-Rick Warren has seen a lot of success with his book “Purpose-Driven Life” because so many of us are looking for purpose and meaning. We’re looking for a reason to get up in the morning.  A reason to be more engaged at work, or in our relationships. We’re looking for more purpose in our local church. Vision is a huge part of purpose. We have an idea of what should be, vision, and that gives us purpose to act. What we’re doing begins to matter over the long run.

These four points are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vision. But hopefully you’ve begun to think about vision in your life.

Do you have a vision of what your life should be? What your family should be? What your career should be?

Specifically, do you have a vision for what should be in your local church (Ephesus)? What are YOU doing about that vision?

Pray for a vision in regards to your place in the church. If you’re serving, I challenge you to go beyond accomplishing tasks and prayerfully seek a vision for your role at your church and in ministry. Perhaps that vision extends beyond your local church. As Nehemiah did, spend time praying and seeking God’s wisdom and direction and vision for the areas of your life.

Finally, don’t be afraid to go after it. If the vision is from God, it may be scary, it may take some supernatural happenings to bring it about, but don’t back down! Pursue your vision for what should be so that it will be

Leadership Writing #3: Humility

Leadership writing #3 Humility

In this 3rd writing I want to take on a topic of personal importance to me, and a potentially huge landmine in Godly leadership: humility. Humility is one of those things we give much lip service to and pretend that is important and highly valued, but struggle to truly live out. Let’s face it, we can be pretty selfish and self-absorbed most of the time! Greek mythology gives us a term for it, “narcissistic,” derived from the story of a homosexual teenager who spurned all his male suitors’ advances and fell in love with his own reflection until he eventually committed suicide. Hmmm, self-absorbed pride comes with some issues…. Our problems come when we have an inflated view of ourselves, what we deserve or are owed, and the types of work or service we should be engaged in. Pride is at the root of much our own personal sin and the reason for Satan’s expulsion from heaven as he sought to supplant God. Beyond blatant pride issues is the issue of false humility. In our minds we know we should be humble, but our hearts don’t always follow suit. We act humble, because we know we’re supposed to, but inside the pride is there and affecting our thinking and interactions with others.

Humility in the leader can be difficult. There is no doubt about that. In a place of leadership you have people looking to you for direction, guidance and inspiration. While these are noble pursuits and rightly sought by those that you may be leading, if improperly pursued or sought by the leader, pride begins to raise its head in our lives. As a leader you are naturally out front, our pride likes to be out front! It can be a dangerous slope if we do not keep our focus on Jesus and His incredible example of humility. At the same time, a fear of pride taking root in our lives should not grow inside of us and keep us from moving into the places of leadership God may be calling us into. Below I’ve listed 5 thoughts on humility, I hope they’ll guide you into a place of true humility as a servant-leader.

1. Self-evaluate

You know yourself better than anyone. Even those that are bound tightly by pride and arrogance know the truth of where they are inside. Examine your life. Do you seek an inappropriate amount of attention from others? Do you need everyone to know what you have done, are doing or will be doing (have you ever been prideful of something you haven’t even done yet?! No comment from the author on that one!). Do you push back when asked to do something that you feel is “beneath you?” Do you look at yourself in every mirror or reflective window you pass by? That last one was kind of a joke, but not really….

What’s the verdict when you self-evaluate? Are there areas in your life where pride is taking hold? Here’s the next part, and this one’s tough: if you know God is calling you to a place of leadership, in a big-way or in a small-way, prepare to be broken. God wants to clean the pride out of your life. He will accomplish His plans one way or the other, as good as you may think you are, He’s better and can accomplish His plans without you. That’s humbling in itself. As He prepares you for the next step in life, He cares much more about you than the task ahead. He desires to see the pride cleaned out of you, and for most of us that is a painful extraction, because God is not a big fan of anesthesia (Gen. 3:16, although I think epidurals are part of the redemption, but that’s for another time)! Moses, a prince of Egypt, was broken. Jonah, a man of God was broken. David, a man after God’s own heart, was broken. Peter, the foundation of the Church, was broken. Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament, was broken. We’re in good company. After leaving Southern California to come to Charlotte to start Ephesus, I was broken. I’ve struggled with pride my whole life and brought that arrogance with me. God didn’t need me to take Charlotte by storm in the Fall of 2005, He much more preferred to begin a season of humility and brokenness in my life. It was painful, at times frustrating, but absolutely necessary. I’ve not fully arrived, and still struggle sometimes, but God is working in me as I pursue Him and honestly evaluate my own life and heart.

2. Humility requires regular repentance

I can sometimes be accused of talking about sin too much. I do bring it up often, but it’s a constant reminder that we’re not all we think we’re cracked up to be. We’re sinners. We’re prideful folks. This can be especially true as we pursue leadership, as I mentioned above. Being reminded of my sin is not a downer for me, it’s a reminder to me to be humble. Without Jesus, I’m truly going nowhere. Now, this is not a reason to wallow in self-pity and emotional tear-jerking, it should be a catalyst to repent, live humbly and pursue Jesus. Looking at the perfect life of Jesus should be a constant reminder of our station in the grand scheme of eternity and keep us pretty humble.

3. “No excuse sir!”

Many of you know that I spent a very short time at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Coming out of high school the only thing on my mind was flying planes for the Navy, becoming a naval aviator. It’s a grueling process to get accepted to the Naval Academy and once there you’re quickly humbled merely by the fact that everyone else in your class is probably better than you in most ways! I had grown up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder because people gave me attention. I had developed this attitude that I deserved it, and also developed a bad habit of making excuses for not doing everything perfect all the time. There was always an excuse. At the Naval Academy, as well as West Point and the Air Force Academy, you’re taught, that as a Plebe, you only have 4 responses available to you when addressed by a superior officer: “Yes sir/ma’am,” “no sir/ma’am,” “I’ll found out sir/ma’am,” and my favorite, “no excuse sir/ma’am.” That last one taught me the most. Now, while I was accepted to the Naval Academy, reported for duty and was sworn into the Navy as a Midshipman 4th Class, I only stayed there for 30 days. Very quickly after my arrival I realized this was not where God wanted me to be. I have the utmost respect for everyone who attends a service academy and for those who serve our nation, but God had other plans for my life. Not only was I only there one month, but this was 15 years ago. But in that one month, 15 years ago, I was taught an incredible lesson in humility: “no excuse sir.” As I said, I was good at making excuses. I was prideful and arrogant and could do no wrong. But in the halls of Bancroft Hall I learned to take responsibility for my screw-ups and failures. Officers and upperclassmen didn’t want to hear excuses, as great as they may have been; they wanted to hear responsibility. Taking responsibility for our actions is humbling, but crucial to the successful leader. Humility means owning up to what your responsible for. No matter what. You may have a great reason something didn’t happen the way it should, but ultimately the leader is still responsible. The humble leader takes the responsibility and makes no excuses.

4. Humility=servanthood

Somewhere in our wiring is a penchant for position and title. For some reason we like to have titles, an impressive resume and an excuse to not do certain things that are “below us.” This is pride. Jesus, the greatest leader to ever walk on Earth exemplified servant-hood in the entirety of His life. Nothing and no one was beneath Him.  In John 13 we see the example of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. This wasn’t just a nice gesture because their sandals had gotten funky, it was a service provided by only the lowest servants. This is for obvious reasons, who wants to wash feet? Feet are gross. Not only that, but everyone would have been wearing open sandals walking on dirt roads and paths covered in all manner of refuse and animal waste. Yet here is the Son of God, who very shortly will be giving His life for all mankind, washing feet. Jesus says in John 13:13-14, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Last fall, I had the tremendous opportunity to spend some time at New Hope Church in Hawaii. While I was there I learned the story of two of the pastors there. One is a former judge, the other a former convict. Interestingly, the former convict was sentenced to prison by the former judge for drug-related crimes! Upon his release from prison the ex-convict came to New Hope searching for a new direction in life. While he had been in prison, the judge had started a new relationship with Jesus through the ministry of New Hope. When the former drug dealer went into the bathroom prior to the service he saw the judge who had sentenced him cleaning the toilets. This extreme act of servant-hood prompted this former inmate to pursue Jesus. Now they serve together as pastors at New Hope, both pursuing new careers from very different backgrounds.

5. Humility leads to teachability

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Being teachable throughout life is a mark of humility. Too often we falsely pretend to know WAY more than we actually do. In my years as a youth pastor one of the most frustrating phrases I heard teenagers utter was, “I know.” 99.9% they said this after being shown quite obviously that they didn’t know! When we are leaders we can have a tendency to think we have to put on the act that we do know everything we’re supposed to know. We have false pride in thinking “we have arrived.” There is a great book on leadership that comes from an interesting place. Ender’s Game is a very popular science fiction story about a young boy raised up and trained to lead mankind in the defense against an alien invasion. I know compelling stuff! But in truth, this is just a great book whether you’re a sci-fi fan or not. One of the aspects of this book that make it great is the look at leadership. The protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is always striving to learn from anyone he can. He’s shown to be a tremendous leader, but he is always open to learning from whomever he can no matter their station. When we stop learning, we stop growing and eventually we’ll stop leading. Acknowledge, humbly, that there is much for you to learn and never stop being teachable.

Break it down:

1. How do you react to your mistakes?

2. Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Why/why not?

3. Where do you need some humility?

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Leadership Writing #2, Integrity & Character

Leadership writing #2 Integrity & Character

We first looked at the importance of courage in stepping out into leadership. Without courage, we never act, and therefore never lead anyone anywhere. This next topic is just as important, but on the backend of our leadership. We often talk about ethics and values in our society, but we don’t really attach that to underlying integrity and strength of character. The reality is “values” cannot be detached from an underlying foundation of integrity built on a strong character. This means we are unable to hang some values on the wall and proclaim to adhere to them if they do not flow out of our personal integrity and character. They are mutually inclusive (I’ll not dive into the issue of whether “values” are a modern attempt to define morality dissociative of a biblical principles. You can talk about that amongst yourselves! Besides we all know the answer is 42 (send me an email if you got that joke!)). To succeed in the long-term as a leader you must be a person of integrity and character. Below are some specific points on integrity and character.

1. It starts with a God’s-eye perspective

In 1 Samuel 16 God specifically tells Samuel he sees the heart and not the outward appearance. We like to quote this verse often, but don’t live it out often enough in our own lives. We’re drawn to charisma and larger-than-life leaders. That is not inherently bad, but we must also examine the heart just as God does. To bring that even closer to home, what is your motivating drive? Is it about accolades and success? Are you motivated in your leadership based on Godly desires or human achievements? Being motivated to succeed is not wrong or in itself unhealthy. I firmly believe God desires us to be driven to do our best, but He desires our success to glorify Him and be motivated by Him.

On another level, when our hearts are truly following after God there is an inherent honesty and authenticity to what we do. Others see this very quickly. The leaders that I respect the most exhibit this authenticity explicitly. I’m convinced they do not sit around in the morning thinking of how they can appear authentic to those around them each. It flows naturally out of who they are, a foundation built on God’s perspective not man’s perspective.

King David first began to attract followers long before he became king of Israel. In fact he had hundreds of followers willing to live in caves and constantly flee the army of King Saul who was looking to kill David and his followers for 10 years. He did not have prestige or position. He had won some battles, but these were quickly overshadowed by Saul’s attempts on his life. He was a leader in these early years, because he was a man after God’s heart, a man of integrity inside and out. He understood his source was from God, and that is where David built his foundation as a leader.

2. Integrity is not always required for success

There are times we see folks around us achieve success and move up corporate leadership ladders, but their integrity and character is very suspect. We often wonder “why them?” This may be true, but success can still happen. We are all born with certain gifts and abilities. For some, those include the ability to make things happen and move projects and organizations forward on willpower and ability. Unfortunately, without an underlying foundation built on Godly integrity, these individuals are nearly always doomed to eventual failure. This is usually very painful for the individual and devastating to the organization and people. I have seen this happen over and over with church leaders. Their abilities drive explosive growth, which leads many to see them as strong leaders. But the success cannot be maintained without a strong foundation. It’s like an army that has the strongest tanks and the most ammunition storming across the countryside blasting everything in its path, only to find itself far from its supply bases and out of gas. At that point the enemy rallies a few troops together and destroys the attacking army that no longer has any ammunition to fight with. Our integrity and character are our supply. The smart military commander thinks logistics before tactics. They have the right equipment, they have the right mission, and they ensure they have the foundation to carry the fight all the way to the conclusion. Too many times we can have the right equipment and the right mission, but we don’t ensure the foundation: our character and integrity.

God cares much more about who we are than about what we have accomplished. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells of those who will come to the Judgment Seat and list all of their accomplishments yet Jesus will still say “I don’t know you.” His larger concern is not what they accomplished it’s about their heart. We must overcome the “success” mentality. God will bring the success, He controls the outcome. His plans will come to pass with or without us; His deeper desire is to see us love Him with all our heart, soul and mind. That is the foundation of integrity, regardless of success. At Ephesus Church, success without integrity holds no value whatsoever.

3. Those that follow leaders value integrity in that leader above all else.

I touched on this a little above. If you look at examples in your own life of whom you have followed I believe you will find this to be true. Those that cut corners, manipulate or more blatantly violate biblical principles do not hold our loyalty long. I have worked under both leaders of integrity and leaders of very suspect motives. Those leaders that have held integrity and character in high regard continue to influence me today. What’s important to note is that you will not necessarily agree with all the decisions of leaders placed over you, but if you trust the integrity of that leader you will wholeheartedly follow nonetheless. That is true of your own leadership. Buy-in flows out of integrity. If you have a direction you are looking to take your team be sure your heart and actions are based on integrity above all else. From there your team will follow you. When you have to make tough decisions or have audacious goals, begin with integrity and character in your life first and your team will be motivated to follow you.

4. Having strong character is hard!

Andy Stanley says, “character is the will to do what’s right, even when it’s hard.” When you have a goal you are working towards, there will often come opportunities to compromise and take shortcuts. In the short-run compromise may bring some success, but ultimately lack of character will cause the bottom to fall out. When mountaineers are climbing high mountains like Mt. Everest, they typically will determine a turnaround time. This is the time the climbers will give up their summit bid and return to high camp with an appropriate amount of safety margin. To be left exposed on a high peak overnight, because you were unable to return to camp, almost always leads to death or severe injury. But when you’re climbing and the sky is clear and the summit is in sight it becomes very easy to compromise on the turnaround time. Summit fever leads to poor decision-making by even the most experienced climbers. In 1996 several climbers on Mt. Everest ignored their turnaround time, they compromised and instead of heading back to the safety of their camp they pushed on. This caused them to still be on the mountain when night fell and an unexpected storm swept across the peak. Over the course of the next few days, 12 climbers lost their lives, because they compromised. Often when the goal is in sight, we’re the most tempted to take short cuts or compromise on our principles, often at the expense of our character. This was the case for those climbers on Everest in May 1996. It would have been much more difficult in the short run to turn around with the summit in sight. For many, this was an once-in-a-lifetime shot at standing on the highest peak in the world, they did not want to turn around! But the result was disastrous.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a situation where they had to choose to take the easy path and compromise or maintain their Godly character in the face of extremely trying circumstances. Either they could denounce God and worship the Babylonian king, or they could stand with integrity and be thrown in a fire so hot it killed the guards tasked to throw them in. Living with integrity is hard!

5. Integrity and character are lifelong pursuits

Never can we say we’ve arrived and have all the character we’ll ever need. Building our foundation in integrity and character is not like building a retirement fund. We can’t just set a goal, achieve it, and then live off the interest the rest of our lives. No matter how much we strive for righteousness and become more like Jesus, we will always be tempted to shortcut our integrity and therefore must always be pursuing character in life and leadership. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.” Always pursue integrity in all you do as a leader and in life. God promises to guide, direct and care for us when we do.

Leadership Writing #1 Courage

As Ephesus Church grows, my heart to see more leaders raised up and trained increases. It seems to be in my mind and on my heart more and more these days. God is working at Ephesus, of that there is no doubt. I firmly believe that over the course of the next year we will see tremendous growth spiritually and numerically. With that, comes much excitement at being a part of God’s work, but it also means it will become much bigger than me (which has already happened!) and require a large team of leaders to effectively accomplish the mission attached to this vision of loving Jesus, loving people and loving the city. That’s why I keep thinking about training up and equipping leaders. Which has led to this: the first of approximately 14 writings on qualities and key issues of leadership, specifically as it pertains to Ephesus Church and the direction God has called us. I’m not intentionally writing to a global audience or attempting to be overly original. My intent with these writings on leadership is to speak into the lives of emerging leaders at Ephesus Church. I will include thoughts and ideas from many sources. My prayer is to impact the ability of Ephesus Church to accommodate and thrive in an environment of growth and change as we push forward with God’s mission by building up leaders. So here goes….



Effective leadership always begins with personal courage. If you’re not willing to step out and move forward in the face of great (or small) odds you won’t be able to lead at any level, whether it is leading one other person on a small project or hundreds of people across many levels and departments of the church. Leading means blazing new trails, not always following established procedure, and this requires courage. We’re inspired by leaders who take risks, who are bold, and step out. If we are unable to step out courageously, nothing will ever be accomplished. The church will plateau and eventually decline into mediocrity. My heart and prayer is that we are a church of courage, both personally and corporately. For some of us that means taking HUGE risks, for others it is courage that manifests in the form of baby steps. Both are to be commended, because what is key is that we are all exhibiting courage in our lives and our ministry. Below I’ve laid out 6 key aspects of courage.

1. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk

Courage at its root is exhibited in action. Doing nothing takes no courage at all (unless you’re facing a Grizzly bear and doing nothing is the right thing to do, because if you ran the bear would chase you and eat you, but come on we live in Charlotte!). We know the story of David and Goliath, I preached on it a couple of months ago! That is one of the great stories of courage in the bible. Why? It is a story of courage, because David moved forward in the face of risk. Saul had the title and position, he was king, everyone was supposed to be following him, but what did he do when faced with Goliath? Nothing. No courage, therefore no leadership, and the people gave their hearts and lives to David as their king and leader. 1 Samuel 17.48 sums David’s courage up very well, “David hastened and ran…to meet the Philistine.” This past Sunday (2/8/09) we looked at Jesus’ first call to the disciples to become fishers of men. They had much to learn and a lot of growing ahead of them, but they began their ministry with courage. They dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They gave up everything for a guy they had just met. They didn’t know where this would take them or what all the implications were, but they were already budding leaders because they had the courage to act, to move forward, to be decisive in the face of risk. One of my favorite books/movies is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, and yes, I’ve actually read the book too! The central personality in this story of an airborne company in World War 2 is Dick Winters, who rose from the rank of lieutenant to major over the course of 3 years. Even before becoming company commander, the men trusted and respected him because of his courage. One such example of action in the face of risk was at a crossroads in Belgium during Operation Market Garden. His unit was pinned down and had seemingly nowhere to go except forward into the German lines. Winters acknowledges that he was scared, but something had to be done. So he stands up and runs toward the enemy force. There was incredible risk! The enemy all carried rifles and greatly outnumbered him! But then his men followed his example of courage and they ended up capturing an enemy unit nearly 4 times their size. If Captain Winters had not moved forward in the face of risk his entire unit would most likely have been killed or captured. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk.

2. Courage is not the absence of fear

Too often we think we must not be courageous because we’re scared! Not true! Courage means moving forward in spite of fear. Any great leader or hero, who is honest with himself, will always acknowledge the fear that accompanied their actions and decisions. Courage is being able to act in spite of fear. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, says “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” How many of us were scared the first time we got behind the wheel of a car on the open road? But most of us are still driving (probably all of you!). The destination was worth moving past the fear. The idea of taking the car out on your own on the weekend motivated you, that was courage. Now you probably don’t think twice about getting into a car and driving just about anywhere. Not long ago I read a book called The 4 Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. I’m not a huge fan of the book, because his main theme is to figure out a way to make lot’s of money without you having to do much and then spend the rest of your life on vacation. Maybe that sounds good to you, but it’s like I mentioned in a recent sermon, do you really want to be known as the person who went on a lot of vacations, or do you hope your life counts for more than that? Anyway, back to my illustration, Ferriss does have some good applications for life and how we do things. One of those is about stepping out even when a little scared or there’s a big chance of failure (which I’ll hit on in #6). He said do something you’re afraid to do. He challenges business students to email people they think they have no chance of getting in contact with like Bill Gates or J Lo. I took that challenge. I sent an email to my not-so-secret hero, Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and to a more local pastor I greatly respect, Tyler Jones of Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh and asked them both if I could have a meeting. Mark Driscoll still hasn’t replied! But Tyler Jones did. Side note: Last week I finally introduced myself to Mark Driscoll face-to-face at a conference. I’ve been to his church twice and seen him at 2 different conferences, but I finally faced my fear, and my inherent introvertism and said hi and shook his hand last week. And yes I have washed my hands since, because I’m not a teenage girl with Tiger Beat photo spreads pinned up in my bedroom. And no, I didn’t mention the email, because I’m pretty sure it never made it past an assistant somewhere and I didn’t want to come across as a stalker. That email with Tyler Jones has led to the beginnings of an invaluable mentoring relationship as Vintage 21 started 5 years ago with a very similar foundation and vision as Ephesus and has since grown to 1000 in weekly attendance, and therefore I have much to learn and glean from Tyler. But I had to face some fear and thoughts of “this will never work” and just send an email. Sometimes building our courage up is that simple. A more challenging example in my life was the planting of Ephesus. Our initial plan was to start Ephesus Church in the suburbs of Charlotte near Concord and the University area. I have to be honest, perhaps it was pride or ignorance, but nonetheless, I wasn’t that scared at the prospect of planting a church in that area. Then God shifted our focus and began leading us to plant in Uptown. That immediately was scary! I was scared of what that meant and what it would take. I was scared because I didn’t really know how to plant a church in an urban center. I didn’t know anyone who had ever done it, none of the church planting books really talked about that type of church plant. It was unknown, I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge, and there was fear. But something else came with that fear, a realization that this truly must be God’s plan. He was calling me to courage and faith in Him. True courage means facing fear and moving forward in spite of fear, not in the absence of fear.

3. Courage inspires commitment from others

I believe it was Rick Warren who said if you think you’re leading and no one is following you, you’re just going for a walk. A leader who acts courageously inspires commitment in others. No one wants to follow someone who is indecisive or a wuss! We are all looking for someone who is bold and moving forward to follow after. Again, the example of Dick Winters. Following D-Day Winters’ company was tasked with taking the French village of Carentan. As they approached the village, the occupying Germans opened fire and caught the Americans in the open on a road. Realizing they would be systematically mowed down by machine gun fire, Winters jumped up, yelled at his men to follow him and in the midst of a hail of machine gun fire began running towards the village and the Germans (this was also toward the safety of the walls and buildings of the village as opposed to the open road they were on). Men recounted years later how they were in awe of Winters standing there in the middle of the road with bullets throwing up dirt and debris all around him as he called his men forward. They were inspired to follow and charged into Carentan eventually taking the village. His men then recounted that after Winter’s actions on that road, where they witnessed his courage and leadership, they were willing to follow him all the way to Berlin. If you’re looking for ways to build a committed team, lead with courage.

4. Courage expands your influence, your impact and your world

Too often our influence and experiences in life are limited because we don’t have enough courage. John Adams, our nation’s 2nd president and signer of both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was tasked with a dangerous assignment in the midst of the Revolution, travel to France to build a strategic alliance. Today, going to France doesn’t take much, a few dollars and a plane ticket and you’re there in a few hours. A few years ago, Casey and I traveled from London to Paris on board a high-speed train through the Channel Tunnel. I remember marveling at how quickly and easily we could travel from one nation’s capital to another, underwater, never leaving our seat between breakfast and lunch. But for John Adams this meant a month-long voyage in a small sailing ship across the dangerous North Atlantic in winter. Not to mention any British ship they encountered was ordered to sink them. Adams faced the journey with courage. He ended up having a hand in brokering an alliance with France, was then sent to Holland as an emissary and ultimately became the first United States ambassador to England. Because of his courage to face that first transatlantic journey he was acknowledged as the most understanding man in the new nation of world cultures and the thinking of other nations. No one else in America traveled as extensively as John Adams and this breadth of knowledge and wisdom led to his being elected the 2nd president of the United States. Increasing your impact and influence begins with courage.

5. Courage means thriving on change

At the place we are now as a church and the stage in life many of you are in, this may seem fairly easy. As a young church we’re only now building in systems, programs and procedures, the “way we do things.” With that, everything is changing constantly. Many of you are new to the area, are starting new jobs or first venturing out into a new phase of life. Change is a normal part of many of our lives right now. But that won’t always be the case. We start to settle into routines and predictable patterns, which then can lead to the danger of “coasting,” personally and as a church. You often hear the term “sacred cows.” In the Hindu faith system, cows are considered sacred animals, the culmination of many lifetimes and positive karmic choices which eventually land your spirit in the holy and revered body of a large, slow-moving, smelly, fly-covered, patty-makin’ cud-chewer. The glory! But to many Hindus, cows are sacred, Hindus don’t eat beef, they don’t butcher cows for their meat, they allow cows to roam freely and can be imprisoned or even executed for hitting a cow with their car. That’s the foundation for the term “sacred cow.” If we allow ourselves to resist change and settle into comfortable patterns we begin developing sacred cows in our life and become stagnant. We can’t kill or change the pattern or routine or program or system because it is special or sacred just because we’ve done it that way for a while, or we used to do it that way where we came from, etcetera. Courage means thriving on change. Consistently challenging the system in a healthy way to be more effective or more engaging. It takes courage because it means being willing to try new things, to experiment and to let go of the comfortable patterns we’re used to, but may not be as effective or efficacious as they once were. Often this includes being willing and courageous enough to hand over status and position in support of positive change. This may mean stepping down or to the side and allowing others to take up the banner on the front lines. George Washington was a great example of this kind of courage. There is no question of his leadership ability and courage exemplified throughout the founding of the United States. He then stepped into this very new role of “President” in leading the new republic, and for 8 years he led and solidified this nation through very trying times. But then his courage really showed forth when he stepped aside after two terms as president. What many don’t know is that the two-term limit on US presidents was not legally instituted until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951 as a response to Franklin Roosevelt being elected to an unprecedented 4 terms. George Washington willingly and courageously refused to run for president a 3rd time to allow the new Constitution to gain traction as the underpinning of an elected, republican government. Change was an essential to the strength of the Constitution; Washington understood this and had the courage to support fresh change by his actions. Andy Stanley says, “Leaders challenge what is for the sake of what should be” and then they act on it courageously.


6. It takes courage to be willing to fail

Too often we think of courage only accompanying success. But failure often leads to the greatest lessons leading to the greatest future success. If we only focused on the possibility of failure we would never act, and therefore truly fail by accomplishing nothing! There’s a story of Tom Watson, the founder of IBM instilling this principle in a junior executive. The junior man had taken a risk that cost the company $10 million, a lot of money then and now. When summoned to Watson’s office, the executive sheepishly offered his resignation. Watson’s reply was, “You can’t be serious, we just spent $10 million educating you!” Watson understood the courage it took to take the risk and the lessons gained from failing. Our society has developed this unspoken “one-strike and your out” mentality. If that was the case Lincoln would never have freed the slaves, Edison would never have invented the light bulb and Neil Armstrong would never have set foot on the moon (and yes I believe we really went to the moon!). They had the courage to try and fail and try again. Now, it must also be understood that having the courage to fail does not equate to being careless and reckless. God has entrusted us with people and resources that we must steward well. As a nascent mountaineer I have an intense level of respect for Ed Viesturs, one of the world’s pre-eminent mountain climbers. Several things set Viesturs apart from his contemporaries, he’s still alive (!), he has climbed all of the world’s tallest peaks without oxygen, he’s failed to reach the top on nearly every first attempt of those peaks, and he moves forward with courage, but never carelessly (which is why he is still alive!). Viesturs didn’t make it to the top of several mountains on his first attempts, but he learned his lessons and had the courage to come back and try again. He didn’t let failure stop him or carelessness to kill him. Being courageous means being willing to fail and continue to move forward.


Work it out:

o   Where have you acted courageously? Not acted courageously?


o   What opportunities have you missed because of a lack of courage?


o   How would you rate your willingness to be courageous?

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