Category Archives: Leadership

Random Thought Thursday: August 28, 2014


You better really enjoy being with your spouse once all of the kids have moved out. If not, you’ll be in quite a bind. Don’t neglect your marriage while the kids are living at home. Build into it and enjoy one another. Michelle and I did, and we’re really enjoying the empty nest.


I recently attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit.  It’s a yearly gathering of some 200,000 leaders from all over the world who desire to be better leaders.  One of the speakers this year was leadership guru Joseph Grenny who talked about the importance of having crucial conversations – which are conversations that need to happen but are very hard to have.  He said that if we don’t have these, we will end up acting out our frustration with the other person – which will only make the situation worse.  He claims that not having these kinds of conversations is what often stops the growth of relationships, organizations, etc.  His question is one I pose to you: What crucial conversations (in your marriage, at work, in your family, etc) do you need to have that you’re not having now?


A couple weeks ago, I took my son, Taylor, to Denver to see one of all-time favorite rock bands, Stryper.  He likes them too.  What a show! All 4  original members and all over the age of 50. 50 must be the new 30 because they are better live now than they were 20 years ago when I first saw them live.


If you’re looking for a good movie to watch, let me recommend a couple of recent releases – all about food – that Michelle and I have really enjoyed over the last few months…

The Lunchbox
Harvard University analyzed their delivery system and concluded that just one in a million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address. This is the story of that one.

Hundred Foot Journey
It is a story about how the hundred-foot distance between a new Indian restaurant and a traditional French one represents the gulf between different cultures and desires. It focuses on the rivalry and resolution of the two restaurants and is based in Lumière, France.

Chef Carl Casper suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner, he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife, his friend and his son to launch a food truck.

My Brothers. My Friends.


These are my brothers. Pastors from all over the state with whom I meet 4 times a year for lunch, prayer, and discussion. Some have become closer friends who I spend time with in-between meetings.

I get great encouragement from these guys. We’re not from the same denomination, nor do we conduct our worship services the same way. But we are unified around the essentials of the gospel of Christ and unified by our passion to lead God’s people into a closer walk with Him.

I’m thankful for these men – for their prayers, their empathy, their understanding, and their passion. There is great hope in the state of New Mexico – a state not known for its Christian presence and influence. As long as men like these are leading our churches, God’s Word will continue to be faithfully and powerfully proclaimed here in New Mexico.

For more about these men and their churches,

Elder Leadership: Who’s Supposed To Do What?

This is a condensed transcript of my May 22, 2011 sermon.

In the book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter encourages the early church to continue to live their lives for Christ, their King – in spite of the persecution and suffering they experienced for doing so at the hands of the Romans.  He reminds the persecuted Christians that living according to the code of Christ rather than the code of the Roman culture will result in the overwhelming blessings of the Lord – in this life and in the life to come.

In 1 Peter 5:1-7, Peter reminds the church what the code of Christ is pertaining to the way in which the community of faith (the church) operates.  By the time Peter penned these words, the church was already being led by proven, goldly men called “elders.”  As a matter of fact, he says that he is one himself.  So, he’s not instructing the early Christians to make sure their churches were being led by elders, but he is reminding them how this ought to look – both for the elders themselves and for everyone else under their leadership and care.

1 Peter 5:1-4
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

It’s clear that these words were written for elders specifically, but they are instructions that all Christians must hear because of what Peter says next.  Peter’s main instruction to the elders is to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. The imagery here is rich, but while the shepherding imagery would have been clear to his original audience, it’s somewhat unfamiliar to us.  A good shepherd showed great concern for his sheep.  He provided for them in terms of nourishment and rest.  He guided them, leading the way.  He was intimately involved with the flock and concerned for the safety of each animal.  And he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, even his own life, for the sake of his sheep.  We know that in Psalm 23, the Lord is called “the Good Shepherd.”  Elders are to serve as His under-shepherds, caring for their flocks as He would.  Verse 4 says that the Chief Shepherd will one day come back and will reward those under-shepherds who served faithfully…but until then, elders are to shepherd their flocks in His stead.

Here is how elders are specifically instructed by Peter to lead their flocks…

1. Not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.

It seems as though early church elders did not volunteer; they were appointed through prayer and fasting.  We see this in Acts 14:23 where it says, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”  1 Timothy 3:1 says that men should aspire willingly to serve as elders; they are not to feel forced into it.  Christ (the head of the church) will reveal elder “candidates” to the elders through prayer and fasting, and then these men should be invited to willingly serve as elders.

2. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly.

Men are not to see being an elder as a business venture where one seeks power and wealth.  Power is a temptation for all men, and wealth can be a temptation for those who are paid (vocational elders).  The Scriptures are clear that some elders are to be paid, but they are NEVER to serve as elders for the money.  There is no place for power and money-seeking among elders.  This leads to disgrace and distortion of the gospel message that they are called to uphold and protect.  Instead, rather than being eager for money and power, elders must be eager to shepherd the flock.  Shepherding takes all the energy a man can muster.  His eagerness must not be divided.

3. Not domineering, but examples.

Elders must lead like shepherds lead their flocks: from the front; not behind the sheep.  Shepherds did not allow their sheep to lead the way.  They always positioned themselves in front of their flocks so that the sheep would see them and follow them.  Not dominating them, but firmly and definitively leading them.  In our culture, strong leadership is often mistaken for dominance. Elders should not be domineering, but they should be given the latitude and freedom from their flocks to strongly lead.  A shepherd that would beat his sheep with his rod would have a lock full of scared sheep, reluctant to follow him.  Elders that lead in dominating ways will have angry and hurt congregants – many of whom will leave the flock and either join another one, or worse: stay away from flocks all together.  There is a balance that elders must strike between domination and abdication.  Pray that your elders find this, and pray that they follow the example of Christ (the Chief Shepherd) who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Here is how the flock is instructed by Peter to respond to the leadership of their elders…

1 Peter 5:5-7
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Be subject to the elders.

First of all, most scholars agree that “you who are younger” refers to all who are not elders in the flock – whether young or old.  The phrase “be subject” is the same Greek word Paul uses in Eph. 5:21-22 where he says “submit one to another…wives to husbands.”  It literally means to willingly line-up under someone.  Christians, then, have a biblical mandate to line-up under / be subject to the leadership of their elders.  This doesn’t mean that questions aren’t asked of elders and discussions are not had with them, but in the end, all Christians must subject themselves to the leadership of their elders.  This is part of Christ’s code for His people.

Elders are to lead and serve the flock as Christ did (in all humility and with great sacrifice), and the flock is to respond in all humility by submitting themselves to their leadership.

Poop and Pastor All In One Place

At any given time, 75% of pastors in America want to quit. 1,500 pastors leave their assignments each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention within their local congregations. 70% of pastors do not have a close friend with whom they can openly share their struggles.  Nice profession I chose, huh?  Well, technically, it (or should I say “He”) chose me, but nonetheless, this is my lot.

I’ve been in the bowels of the Bible now for the past two days trying to figure out how in the world I’m going to preach 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 on Sunday (check it out and see how you’d do it!).  All the while asking myself, “Why in God’s good name did you choose to preach 1 Peter anyway?”

I’m tired and somewhat down.  It’s been a rough spell the past few months at my church, and I’m pooped – physically, mentally, emotionally, and dare I say spiritually.  Admitting this only makes me fear what some well-intentioned church member may think about me – which may lead to them doubting me – which may lead to them talking poorly to others about me – which may lead to an uprising – which may lead to more long meetings where I’m forced to explain myself – which may lead to me becoming even more down – which may lead to my head exploding.

Yes.  I’m pooped.  But I saw something today that excited me, and hopefully it will help me (and many other pastors) out of the occasional funk of pastordom.  I came across a new website for pastors called – another resource from one of my favorite pastors, Steve Brown.  The site’s homepage contains these words from him…

I’m no longer a pastor but I haven’t been away from it for so long that I’ve forgotten…

The discouragement,
The battles that I sometimes won and sometimes lost,
The hypocrisy I often felt in thinking that my being a pastor was insane,
The times when I didn’t know what I was doing and pretended that I did,
The criticism that often came from those who I thought were friends,
The 24/7 schedule with work that was never done,
The people who left my church because they “weren’t being fed,”
The blank page late Saturday night and my reminding God about the sermon,
The incredible guilt over my family and my ministry,
The loneliness,
The fear of discovery,
The neurotics who hated me,
The congregational meetings when I was sure it was coming apart,
The hard road of authenticity when everything I did worked against it,
The efforts at humility when people thought more of me than was justified,
The questions about whether I and what I did even mattered…
Well, you know. It goes on and on.

Just reading this had me hooked.  Finally, someone willing to admit how hard it is to be a pastor, and finally someone willing to speak words of encouragement to us.  I know where I’ll be spending some of my time in the coming days – which will help answer my critics who ask, “What do you do all week, anyway?”

If you are a pastor, join me there.  If you know a pastor, send him there.  If you aren’t a pastor but go to a church where there is one, check it out to better understand him.  And if you don’t like your pastor, go fly a kite.

Leadership Lessons from Former President Reagan

Ronaldus-Magnus-724755Ronald Reagan is the first president I really remember.  He was sworn into office when I was 10 years old, and I vividly remember that day.  I remember the release of the Iran hostages that took place the day he was sworn in, and I remember that there was a sense of hope and excitement that filled the nation, much like there was the day President Obama was sworn in earlier this year.

By many accounts, President Reagan is listed among the greatest presidents of the 20th century.  During his two terms, the Cold War ended and the economy began an upswing that set the table for the incredible prosperity of the 1990s.  Reagan was truly a leader among leaders.

In his book, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton,  David Gergen says, “Reagan wasn’t just comfortable in his own skin.  He was serene.  And he had a clear sense of what he was trying to accomplish.  Those were among his greatest strengths as a leader.”  Here are some of the other leadership lessons Gergen learned while serving on President Reagan’s staff:

Communication is key.

Even Reagan’s harshest critics agree that – at the very least – Reagan was a great communicator.  He knew how to put his listeners at ease enabling them to stop worrying about the man they were hearing and pay attention to what he was saying.  He was also a master at using humor at just the right moment to break the tension and lighten the mood.  During the 1984 campaign against Walter Mondale, Reagan appeared in the first debate looking horribly old.  Afterward, the press had a field day with the photos and began asking if Reagan was too old to serve as president for a second term.  At the next debate, Reagan was asked point blank if he was too old to be president, and he was ready to answer.  “I will not make age an issue in this campaign.  I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience!”

Gergen also reports that when it came to giving speeches, Reagan knew – and practiced – every trick of the trade.  They are: prepare carefully, keep it short and brisk, use the language of the living room, look for a catchy fact, use the occasional prop, be positive, anticipate the critics, and have a good closer.  If you watch the footage of of any of the many speeches Reagan gave while in office, you’ll see many of these “tricks” in play.

Leadership requires great courage.

Even though Reagan was the oldest man elected president (69 years old), his broad shoulders, thick chest, and square jaw gave him the look of a rugged and courageous leader – one that you felt comfortable following. He personified the rugged, American tough guy – the real “Marlboro Man.”  Reagan not only looked like a courageous man, but he led with courage, and he even responded to great adversity with courage.

On March 30, 1981, Reagan experienced the defining moment of his presidency and of his life.  On that day, he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin.  From the video footage, it was not clear that Reagan had been shot.  In the chaos, he had been forcefully shoved into his limo by secret service agents.  Cameras were waiting when Reagan’s limo pulled up to the hospital doors.  Climbing out of the car, he waved off help.  Instinctively, he buttoned his suit jacket (which was a small but telling gesture about his sense of the presidency), smiled and waved at the cameras, and walked through the emergency room doors.  Just inside the doors and out of the view of the cameras, he collapsed.  A bullet was lodged within an inch of his heart.

During the hours that followed, the president hovered close to death, and it was only later – after he had recovered – that the country found out how close to death he really was.  This was his defining moment as a courageous leader in the eyes of many Americans.  To a great many, especially working people, Reagan was now the courageous president who had taken a bullet – and smiled!

A great leader is one who is steady in his or her core beliefs.

One of the marks of a great leader is whether he or she has a sense of conviction and can hold to it.  The leader can be flexible in the means of getting there but must be firm about direction and outcomes.  Reagan held to a set of core beliefs that were not popular in the 60’s and 70’s, but by the end of those turbulent decades, Americans were ready to embrace them.

Agree or disagree, these were Reagan’s core beliefs…and he stuck to them over the eight years in office: America is a chosen nation with a special mission, America should be number one not number two, strength matters, freedom matters, and values matter.

In an age where our public leaders seem to waffle on their convictions and beliefs in order to appease the masses, Reagan’s steadiness related to his beliefs is refreshing, even if one doesn’t agree with all of them.  Gergen also reports that he witnessed occasions where some of Reagan’s staff members lied, but never did he see or hear of Reagan intentionally misleading anyone during his tenure on Reagan’s staff.  Reagan proved that a great leader is one who leads with integrity and conviction.

Leadership Lessons from Former President Ford

Gerald_FordOver the last 50 years, no president has been overlooked more than Gerald Ford.  He served as our president from 1974-1977 and is best known for the sudden and (according to many) ill-advised pardon of former President Richard Nixon.  I had my kids look at this picture of President Ford, and not one of them had any clue who they were looking at.  When I told them who he was, my daughter Alexis replied, “Who the heck is President Ford?”

I was very young when Ford served as president, and I have little memory of him as well.  Growing up, my brother and I had a metal trash can in our room that had on it a caricature of him swinging a golf club and yelling “Fore!”  In 1976, I do remember voting for him in the election held in my first grade class.  Ironically, I remember the results of that election were the same as the results of the national election:  Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.    That’s about all I remember about him.

I’m reading a fascinating book  by David Gergen called, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Gergen served as an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, and in the book, he shares leadership lessons he has learned from each one.  Here are some of the lessons on leadership he learned while serving President Ford.

1. He loved his wife dearly and this endeared him to his followers.

One morning, the press watched him making breakfast for his wife, Betty, and not only were they impressed, but so was the rest of the country.  Columnists promoted the idea that any man good enough to make English muffins for his wife in the morning must be good enough to run the country.

Shortly after the inauguration, doctors found that Betty had breast cancer and immediately performed a radical mastectomy.  Hearing the news, Ford sat at his desk in the Oval Office and cried, later describing it as “the lowest and loneliest moment” of his White House days.

With Kennedy before him and Clinton after him, Ford’s love and devotion to his wife (which was not always easy as she struggled with devastating addictions) was a breath of fresh air.  His love and dedication to her spoke volumes about his character and endeared him to many who knew him.

2. He was a man known for telling the truth.

In our relativistic and cynical society, we have come to expect politicians to lie, but this was not the case with President Ford.  He believed that truth is the glue that not only holds government together but civilization as well.  His old nemesis, former President Johnson, after many disparaging remarks behind closed doors told Ford, “You and I have had a lot of head-to-head confrontations, but I never doubted your integrity.”

Gergen states that in his experience of over 30 years in the White House, every administration – save one – has on occasion willfully misled or lied to the press.  He claims that the exception to the rule was the Ford White House, claiming that many modern presidents have been congenital liars, but Ford was a congenital truth-teller.

3. He didn’t need to be president to be happy with his life.

Gergen claims that former presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton needed to win so much so that their unhealthy hunger drove them to extremes that sucked the dignity out of their presidencies.  Ford, on the other hand, entered the presidency content with his life and was not enamored by the position.  Because he was comfortable with himself, he was comfortable having men and women around him who were brighter and more talented in their area of expertise than him, but that didn’t matter to him as long as they could perform well.  He was not intimidated by their success.

President Ford was a man of integrity, and no matter how hard people tried, they could not poke holes in his character.  Maybe this is why he was so unmemorable.  According to many people, his biggest guffaw was pardoning President Nixon for his crimes while in office.  However, Ford had – in his opinion – a very noble reason for doing it.  His conviction was that post-Vietnam America could not handle a long-drawn out trial of a former president.  It would be too damaging and too taxing to a country already reeling from the negative outcomes of the Vietnam War, and so he did what he thought was best for the country.

Tip O’Neill, the former Democratic Speaker of the House, put it well about his friend in his memoirs: “God has been good to America, especially during difficult times.  At the time of the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln.  And at the time of Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford – the right man at the right time who was able to put our country back together again.”

Lessons on Leadership from Former President Nixon

richard-nixonIt’s not everyday that someone says they learned something positive from someone like former President Richard Nixon.  He was the only president to resign the office, and he did so after being mowed over by a self-made avalanche of lies and illegal activity.  In many ways, he’s the perfect example of what NOT to do as a leader, but there is someone who thinks that in-spite of all his shortcomings, President Nixon had some admirable leadership qualities from which we can learn.

David Gergen is a Harvard professor, editor of U.S. News and World Report, a regular on CNN, and the author of the book, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Gergen served as an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, and in the book, he shares leadership lessons he learned from each one.  Here are some of the lessons on leadership he learned while serving President Nixon.

1. He seized the opportunity for personal growth while in the wilderness.

In 1960, Nixon lost the presidential election by less than one percent to John F. Kennedy.  Two years later, he decided to build on that momentum by running for governor of California.  He was defeated by Pat Brown, and it appeared that his political career was over.  As it turned out, his banishment from politics was one of the best things that ever happened to him.  It prepared him to lead.  For the next six years, he wandered in the political wilderness and took that opportunity to deepen and broaden himself intellectually.  He visited four continents, investigating conditions, examining the interests and motivations of other nations, and expanding his storehouse of contacts.  He also read many influential books and spent a lot of time writing out his thoughts.  Gradually, he developed a more sophisticated, tempered, longer-range view of world affairs that became the foundation of his presidency.

2. Faced with bad news, he didn’t flinch but plunged ahead with even more grit.

Toughness in adversity became a hallmark of Nixon’s life.  From childhood, when two of his brothers died and his family faced incredible hardship, all the way through to the dark night of his presidency, toughness proved to be an indispensable element of his success in politics and in life.  In the summer of 1974, as his presidency was crumbling, Nixon was on a trip to the Middle East when the White House physician traveling with him discovered that Nixon had phlebitis – an inflammation that can be fatal.  The doctor advised Nixon to cut his Middle East schedule in half, but Nixon, knowing the political importance of the trip, ordered his agenda be doubled instead!  This scenario was indicative of the resolve and toughness of Nixon who lived through and excelled in times of hardship and crisis.

3. He understood that history was a handmaiden to leadership.

Nixon was a history buff.  He voraciously read books about famous past leaders in order to learn from their successes and failures.  While he spent much of his time reading about foreign leaders, he also took notes repeatedly on his predecessors, analyzing their greatest qualities and evaluating how he measured up.  He drew upon the past in three ways: to gain a broader perspective on his own times, to impress upon his listeners his place in the sun, and to find role models for action.  He believed that a leader must be able to “get on the balcony” in order to observe the patterns of action from afar so that he may participate in them more effectively.

4. He surrounded himself with a steady stream of talented and effective leaders.

Although some of these men – like Chuck Colson – ended up helping Nixon seal his demise, most of the leaders he surrounded himself with became his greatest strength and his greatest legacy.  The dedication in 1990 of his library drew together a wide array of former presidents, cabinet members, and other major figures – almost all of whom had roots in the Nixon era.  Among those who gathered were the Republican Big Four: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the sitting President, George Bush.  They all knew that had it not been for Nixon, they might not have made it to the White House.  And by the way, the story didn’t end with Watergate for Colson.  He has gone on to become the leader of Prison Fellowship and one of the most influential voices of our time for justice, humanity, and redemption.  Nixon surrounded himself with a steady stream of leaders who continue to lead well even to this day.