Category Archives: leadership

Get to Reading

I’m a voracious reader beyond the bible: fiction, non-fiction, Christian, non-Christian all kinds of stuff. To continually be growing, I believe reading is essential. A few years ago I discovered a great way to read books, listening. Audiobooks aren’t new, but I remember 8 or 10 cassette tapes (yeah I’m old enough for those) for one book, a pain. But now many books are available in audio download. I can’t stand listening to the radio in the car and I feel like listening to music in the car all of the time is a waste because I’m not learning anything new. Audiobooks are a great way to pass the time when driving or excercising or whatever else you might be doing that can be somewhat mindless. I’ve been using for my audiobooks. They have a great selection of all kinds of books, but very little when it comes to quality Christian stuff, and I’m not talking about Janette Oke…the good stuff that digs into issues and theology and cultural changes. Today I discovered Great selection, the books I couldn’t find on Audible are there. Even better, each month they offer an audiobook for free, and not the cruddy stuff you’ll never bother with, good stuff. This month “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. That’s a winner! I used this for some of my research material when we went through the “Supernatural” series on the Holy Spirit. It is solid and engaging. So follow the link, download a free book and get to reading!

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What We’re Reading at Ephesus

I was meeting with some of my staff yesterday and I recommended some books I’ve been reading lately. The question came up about further reading on leadership. Well of course! John Maxwell!! So I sent out some further suggestions on reading and wanted to share with the world some important foundational leadership books and what I’m reading and encouraging the staff to read right now (besides the bible of course!).

Here’s a couple of John Maxwell classics.

The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

Another good one specifically for church is Wayne Cordeiro:
Doing Church as a Team: The Miracle of Teamwork and How It Transforms Churches

And the ones I’m reading right now:
Bill Johnson
When Heaven Invades Earth

Francis Chan
Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

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Just read this article by the leadership ninja master, John Maxwell this morning. He’s talking about discipline with a great example in Mickey Mantle. In the last month or so as we’ve moved into the beginning of the 2nd year of Ephesus Church’s life I’ve realized a huge need to step up my game. I’ll be honest, I’ve been able to coast through much of life. Occasionally the challenges will come and I’ll push through them and then kind of settle back. But this new season of leading Ephesus Church has challenged me like never before, and God has made it very clear that the coasting days are over. As I’ve pondered that I’ve looked around me for examples of getting past the coast and starting the climb. Leaders I admire and respect DO NOT COAST! The foundation of their intentional life, from my observation, is discipline. Discipline in life to do more with what they have, with what God has blessed them with. Leaders I admire exercise, eat right, read, challenge themselves in areas that they already excel in, etc. To do that takes discipline. And here’s the kicker, discipline is hard. You have to roll out of bed when you don’t want to and get to it. I’m not there, I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m trying hard. My challenge is that you will too. Stop sitting around, making excuses and coasting through life. God deserves so much more! Read this article and be challenged!

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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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