Leadership is Decision Making

When I first entered the full-time vocational ministry, I started listening to John Maxwell’s material on leadership. He frequently said, “Leadership is influence.” I have used that line to help define this topic for over 20 years.

Recently I have reached a new definition of what it means to be a leader. Here it is, “Leadership is the willingness to make a decision for yourself and others.”

Making a good decision is a difficult task. It has always been challenging to arrive at a decision and move forward. It is literally draining to you, mentally and physically. It is getting even harder in 2019, where we have people offering their opinions on everything. It also becomes complicated because of social media. If you make a stance on a difficult subject, then you are liable to be tried and crucified in the court of public opinion. People are scared to make a stand on anything because the angry mob is always ready to attack.

Because of these reasons and other complications, people willing to arrive at a decision and remain firm are becoming rare commodities. In fact, I find myself called upon almost daily to decide for something or someone. Every group of people of which I am connected is desperately longing for people willing to say, “This is what we are going to do.”

With all that in mind, my new definition of leadership is the willingness to make a decision for yourself and others. A leader in the Church is required to make decisions even when they are unpopular. A leader in the community must step up and make decisions for the good of the people they serve. A leader in the home will not shy away from tough choices for their family. A leader makes decisions, and their influence is seen in the choices they make. A follower will delegate their responses to those who are willing to lead.

My question for today is simple, “Where are you stepping up as a leader?”

The Trouble With Answers

I think the Bible gives us answers to many of life struggles and questions. The problem is not with the answers; it is found in how we value information. The knowledge that we value the most is that gained by experience rather than being said to us. Let’s be honest, you can be told something over and over, but it doesn’t seem to stick in our mind until we do it ourselves.

In part, I think this is the brilliance of Jesus. He calls twelve men to be his disciples. They walk with him, talk with him and watch him perform miracles. Then Jesus sends them out two by two to test their knowledge. Jesus knows that sitting in a classroom or listening to a sermon has a limited effect on the actions of a person.

This is one of the struggles of the Church today. There is not enough discipleship going on beyond the Church walls. We depend on a program within the Church to effectively shape ourselves and our children. It will never be enough; there need to be some practical, real-life experiences to push us to grow. This is one of the reasons why I believe serving within and through a local Church is essential. It gives us a chance to learn with our hands and feet more than just our minds.

Recently one of my boys wanted to know something, and so I gave them a long answer. I mean, I told them to follow me and showed them how things worked. I asked them to put their hands on it and see it with their own eyes. I could have said, “Here is what to do,” but they would not have kept that information for more than a few days. This was something they needed to know and will prove helpful over their lifetime. Even though I was greeted with eye rolls and disgust, I did force them to interact anyway, and one day they will thank me for it.

The best solutions in life come with experience rather than information. One simple goal for each day of your life is to learn something about faith. This comes through Bible reading and prayer, but it is grounded in action. There is a difference between knowing something with your head and knowing it with your heart. That new idea God is placing in your head, go out and do it today and you will find it ingrained in you forever.

Write a New Story

If you were to ask people about a particular location or event, you would often be greeted by at least one person who doesn’t like it. This can include a restaurant, a store, or possibly even a Church event. Every time I encounter someone who doesn’t enjoy that thing, I always brace myself for a story. The reason they do not care for it is that that one time they went and a waiter was rude, the food was cold, the crowd was too big, the people unfriendly, and a host of other dreadful stories. The interesting thing to me is that frequently it happened years ago. Tales of the failures of others usually have no time limit. Case in point, my dad, refused to go to the nearby Pizza Hut for over 30 years because of a lousy waitress one night.

People, including me, latch onto these stories and allow them to be the basis for all future action. I hear things like, “I am not going to that Church, they are an unfriendly lot. I attended there some years ago, and no one even spoke to me.” Other encounters include, “I am not going back to that business. I once waited there for an hour for anyone to even notice me.” The stories continue, “I will never go to (fill in the blank) because one time the worker was rude with me.” How about this, “I will never speak to them again, one time I tried to have a conversation, and they ignored me and made me feel small.” We have our story, and it solidifies our thinking, and we never seem to revisit it.

My challenge today is to rethink my convictions about things, place, and even people. Are you going to let one story from some time ago still define your actions? Maybe that person was having a bad day. Perhaps you were caught in an ugly situation that happens only once a year. You never know the back story to the incident that molded your views. I once had a lady visit our Church, and she hated it. A year later she came back after the pleading of a friend, and she loved it. Unfortunately, a series of events made her first visit unpleasant, but the exact opposite happened the second time. She just had to come back one more time.

What would happen if today you decided to write a new story? What if you visited that store again or went to that restaurant, or maybe even gave that person a second chance? Most of the time, people find their second experience totally different than the first. Circumstances change, and our encounter is better than we expected.

What if today you let go of that old story about how awful everything was and embraced a new story? Sometimes people and places need a second chance.

Exceptions to the Rule

Almost everyone I meet thinks the rules do not apply to them. They are sure they are exceptional, and nothing can stop them. Down deep inside, they do not believe me when I tell them about some simple guidelines to life. These can be biblical principles or practical lessons I have learned through experience.

Here is the reality you need to embrace: you are not the exception to the rule.

God and his word establish the rules of life. They are also the result of watching hundreds of cases repeat the same patterns of behavior.

Let me give you some examples to consider:

Marrying a non-believer is a recipe for a long and challenging marriage or possibly failure.
Many young couples believe that the idea will not apply to them.

Living together before marriage will triple your chances for divorce.
Couples think that they are in love and living together will improve their marriage.

The list could go on and on: People think that skipping Church will not affect their faith. An overemphasis on sports will not affect their family negatively. Being busy is not going to hurt their soul. Their phone is not damaging their relationships with people they love. Drinking all that alcohol will not lead to an addiction.

Sure, the statistics show that these actions frequently cause issues, but we think that we are the exception to the rule.

I am here to tell you the bad news. You are not the exception. I am not trying to destroy your confidence or crush your dreams. I am here to warn you. Picture me standing here waving my arms trying to stop you as you head toward inevitable disaster. Some things in your life you might not be able to change but there are certain things that you can adjust to make your future better.

Here is some simple life advice: That thing everyone has been warning you about. That situation you feel needs to change. Those comments you keep hearing from your friends. The idea that keeps popping up in sermons and books. Listen closely. Those moments when you grit your teeth and think, “I will show them.” Instead of hearing these words as challenges for you to overcome, why not approach them as opportunities to adjust your path before you find out that the rules actually did apply to you.

Spending Time Together

It is Friday morning on the weekend of Memorial Day weekend. Many people, possibly including you, are planning a long weekend with family and friends. Relax, I am not here to throw stones and tell you to be at Church, although I believe your plans should include the people of God. No, I want to encourage you to embrace the time you have with your family.

Over the past couple of weeks, my mother has been visiting, and yesterday we slipped out and went fishing. It was the fourth time in the past two weeks. She enjoys it, and I love taking her. It is a chance for us to spend time together, make some memories, and talk about all of life. I would not trade these days with her for anything in this world.

The single most valuable thing in all the world is time. It is God’s precious gift to us. I think that real love is freely giving someone your time. The gift of our time has no equal.

One of the older couples in a Church I served told me this story. Their grandkids always wanted to come over and spend the weekends with them. They loved and hated it. They had raised their children and some Saturdays and Sundays they wanted a break. One of those weekends, their grandson was hugging grandpa and saying, “I love you.” He asked, “Why do you boys love grandma and grandpa so much?” The little boy said, “Because you have time for us.”

This weekend some of you will get some extra time off. You will use that to connect with other people. It is a great gift and you should not take a minute of it for granted.

The Problem with the Mirror

How many mirrors does your house contain? How many times do you look to see yourself in them?

Mirrors can be a useful thing; you can look at them to see if your hair is straight, to see if you have your makeup on correctly or see how your outfit looks. They can be useful tools in your home for all kinds of positive things.

They can also damage your soul. Look too long into a mirror, and suddenly the world becomes about you. How you look can turn into feelings of overconfidence or inadequacy. There is this subtle shift from looking at my outward appearance to making judgments about myself.

The problem really isn’t the mirror itself. The problem is our soul. Spending too much time thinking about yourself in a narcissistic way is damaging. Self-focus primarily leads one of two directions. It either breeds pride or shame. You can think more of yourself and less of other people. The flip side is that you think less or yourself and more of other people.

I firmly believe that God knows our natural tendencies, and so he pushes us to be others focused. He puts us into a community of believers called the Church so that we can see the needs of others. He instructs us to serve others so that we can help those needs. God wants us to see ourselves as part of a greater group that is dependent on one another, and no one part is worth less or more than any other part.

It is okay that you have mirrors in your home just don’t look at them too long or too often. How you see yourself might be a symptom of sin and not a reflection of God’s image in you.

The Importance of Application

Recently my mother has been at our house, and I have taken a few days off to take her fishing. For those that know me, you know my favorite spot is a series of handicapped accessible fishing docks below the dam at a nearby lake. At certain times of the year, this place is excellent fishing, and it is easy to access, especially with my mom.

I need to tell you that I am an experienced fisherman. Through the years, I have fished in five states and Canada. This includes trips to Lake Erie, the Mississippi and Kenai Rivers, plus the waters that surround Alaska. I spend more hours on the water than my wife likes, but my experience allows me to be successful.

When I go to these docks, I usually come home with a limit of nice crappie and often several catfish. These trips allowed me to have two enormous meals lately and feed people all the fish they wanted. I am truly blessed in my ability to catch fish, and I thank God for that. I am also willing to share my knowledge with anyone who inquires of me.

The past three trips have made me laugh, cry, and question humanity. Repeatedly my mom and I have been catching fish, and someone came up and asked us what we were doing. I have tried to explain to them that we are using slip bobbers. They allow us to fish away from the dock and to fish deep, usually 10-12 feet. I tell them that I prefer live minnows hooked in the back with weights attached about 3-4 inches above the hook. I have gone so far as to offer them free tackle and show them how to use it. Lately, all this information is greeted with the same response of “Hum.” Then they go right back to what they were doing before they asked with no greater success. There I am, offering them advice, showing them it works and I am even willing to help them and they walk away.

All of this has me thinking about the Church and my job as a preacher every week. I try to preach the truth effectively. I try to model that faith in my own life, family, and career. I am willing to do everything possible to help people. And yet, I realize most of the time people walk away and do nothing with it. Most people think they know enough to be good at whatever they do, but real wisdom is knowing enough to change. My experience tells me that the difference between success and failure is not the access to the right information; it is the willingness to change and act differently. Knowledge is only useful when you apply to your life.

Watching People at Worship

Each week the Church community gathers to worship the Lord for around an hour. As the preacher, I have the opportunity to watch the crowd while I preach along with observing their actions during the rest of our time. Through the years, I have noticed several things about the way people worship.

  1. The Apathetic. Honestly, several people attend each week that does not want to be there. Often they are family members of more committed believers. Husbands, children and other relatives have no real interest in worship and tolerate it for someone they love. They do not sing, interact, or even listen.
  2. The Tired. Some people are just tired on Sunday morning. It can be from work, fun, or family. It used to really upset me when people fell asleep during my sermon, and then I spent a couple of months not preaching. I found that some mornings were difficult no matter who was speaking. Some of these people are one time sleepers, but there is an occasional regular sleeper. Upon investigation, it becomes clear that worship is not a priority for them, and they never try to get rest on Saturday night.
  3. The Distracted. Yes, there are occasional unplanned distractions, but for some people, it is a regular occurrence. They bring in their little children and spend the sermon dealing with them and not listening. They make frequent bathroom trips throughout the service. They never wholly invest themselves in worship.
  4. The One Hour Worshipper. These people are happy to be at Church, but you can tell it is the only hour they spend with God each week. They are not familiar with the worship songs. The get lost as the sermon goes deeper into scripture. They are lovely people but never allow themselves to move beyond Sunday morning.
  5. The Invested. This group comes to Church as an extension of their life. They love to be with the people of God. They sing with joy during the music; they listen carefully and pray intently. They come in with a smile and leave full almost every Sunday morning. There seems to be nothing that separates them from God. Sunday morning is another deposit into their life of faith.

Each week I can usually predict who will say something about the songs or the sermon. I know who will be asleep and who will be taking notes. I know who will spend the week growing from the experience and preparing for the next week. I can tell a lot about you from the way you worship.

What do you think your Sunday morning says about you?

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read the past few weeks. Enjoy.

Where do you park your car at church?

How to Save Your Marriage Before It’s Lost



Saved by Grace But Entertained by Sin

Why Do Dying Men Call for “Mama?”

Embracing your incompetence

Observations on Christians Today in My Corner of the World

It is the time of year when I begin planning my sermon series for the next 18 months. Whenever I start this process, I ask an essential question, “What do the people I lead need to hear the most?” To adequately answer that question, I must evaluate what I see in the lives of the people in my congregations. Here are five observations of the people in my Church, and I think they reflect the greater Christian community I have experienced in the United States.

  1. People are Busier Than Ever. A full schedule is the new normal everywhere, including rural communities. I think that there is a two-fold problem that the Church needs to address. First is to teach people the downside of their busyness. Second is to show them the value of using their time wisely and especially for God’s kingdom.
  2. In a World Where People Have Tools to Connect More, They Actually Connect Less. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic in modern culture. Men appear to be struggling with this the most. There are several reasons for this, but the more significant issue is how to get all people to develop healthy relationships.
  3. Children Are a Huge Priority, but Teens are Not. This one is becoming more and more pronounced the longer I work with teens. Have an event for little kids like VBS, and you can pack the house. Host an activity for teenagers and expect very little parent participation and a handful of teens. Parents are deeply invested in the lives of those children fifth grade and under and have little clue of the struggle’s teens are facing, and even worse, they are rarely being addressed.
  4. Men Are Getting Spiritually Weaker. The divide between men and women in their faith seems to be growing wider. Once again, I think there are several reasons for this, but the solution is the bigger question. How do we get men to take their spiritual life seriously? Those who are trying to walk in faith need to be encouraged to lead in their home, Church, and community.
  5. There Are More Available Resources, Yet People Know Less. There is an ever-increasing need to teach people the Bible. Not only do people have little Bible knowledge, but much of what they have is inaccurate or incomplete. How do the Church and its leadership help develop more and better disciples?

These are some of the things I am noticing that are shaping the culture of the community in which I live. Is there anything you would add to my list? These concepts will develop my upcoming sermons and leadership through 2020. How are they molding your life and family today?