I believe that the single most important distinction that a leader can make is between what he is “able to do” and what he “can do”. Let me explain. When I use the phrase “able to do”, I’m referring to what a leader has the requisite skills to accomplish. For example, I have the ability to write expository sermons. What’s important to bear in mind is that there is a huge difference between what a leader is “able to do” and what he “can do.” By “can do”, I’m referring not to the ability to accomplish a task (in the sense of having the skills to do something), but rather the physical, emotional and spiritual resources to actually get that task done.
The distinction between what you are “able to do and what you can do” is different for everyone depending on your skill set, your circumstances, the time allotted, etc. but it’s a distinction that every leader has to make in order to avoid “burn out” and to make the most out of the resources that God has given you.
I first heard about this story from Steve Childers in his final talk at my first GCA National Church Planting Conference. His message was entitled, “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.” It’s the story about Robertson McQuilkin and his dear wife Muriel. McQuilkin was the son of the founding president of Columbia International University, and as a young missionary couple, Robertson and Muriel spent 12 years in Japan before returning to the United States, at which time Robertson became the president of Columbia International University in 1968.
Although thoroughly enjoying his role as president at Columbia, McQuilkin resigned from his post in 1990 to care for his wife who had been battling Alzheimer’s Disease since the early 1980′s. Someone happened to have a micro-cassette recorder in that meeting and recorded a portion of his resignation speech. Here is that recording of Robertson sharing about why he resigned. This is a testimony of biblical manhood.
When I was in seminary, I remember receiving counsel on several occasions that went something like this, “When you’re in the ministry, it doesn’t do any good to defend yourself. You’re going to be accused of wrongdoing and of mishandling situations and one of the worst things you can do is try to defend yourself.” I always wondered, then what on earth are you supposed to do? As the years have gone by and God has given me more and more experiences the local church, I’ve come to really appreciate this advice and find it to be absolutely true. A Pastor who is obsessed with defending himself and his own reputation will never be a good shepherd, because his focus is entirely inward on what people think of him.
I was reminded of this principle recently when reading through the book of Numbers. Numbers 16 contains the account of Korah’s rebellion against Moses in the wilderness, the account begins:
Now Korah…took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (vv. 1-3)
Apparently Korah did not like the fact that Moses was calling the shots in this congregation, so he gathered a group of malcontents and complained about the direction Moses was taking the congregation. Sound familiar? Korah was even able to appeal to the priesthood of believers in his argument against Moses’ leadership! The story continues:
When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.
What strikes me about Moses’ leadership is the fact that at no point during this entire ordeal does he defend himself. He simply refers the complainers back to God, who is the one they are really complaining about.
Apparently, Korah had gathered a substantial following because the next day when God does answer he very nearly destroys the entire congregation for their rebellion against Moses’ leadership. In fact, Moses’ has to intervene to stop God’s wrath from breaking out against the entire body. The story concludes with these words:
Then Moses rose…and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.”…And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly…And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering incense (vv. 25-35).
As I reflect back on this troy, here are a couple more leadership lessons that have been impressed upon me.
People will complain no matter what. The Israelites experienced miracle after miracle from the hand of Moses and yet they still grumbled against him. I’m convinced that as Larry Osborne says, “Some people would vote against the second coming if given the opportunity.” Some people will just complain no matter what.
When dealing with rebellion and complacency refer the complainers back to God. The worst thing you can do in the midst of church controversy is to take it personally. Ultimately, even your doctrine is not your own it is God’s and He is more than able to defend it.
Be Courageous. When speaking on behalf of God, it is good and right to be bold and courageous. We never want to shrink back from speaking the truth in love, even in the midst of controversy.
Entrust yourself to the sovereign care of God. God probably wont’ open the earth to swallow up the complainers in your office, but He has certainly proved Himself to be more than capable of taking care of His own.
Leadership-oriented teams don’t succumb to the tyranny of the “theys.”
When I came to North Coast, our board leaned heavily to the representative side of the scale. As a result, whenever we dealt with a controversial issue, we spent a great deal of time discussing an apparently large and influential group of people known as “they.”
No one seemed to know who they were, and those who did seem to know weren’t too keen on identifying them. But boy, did they have clout. It seemed to me that they were the largest power block in the church.
As a result, before making decisions, we spent hours worrying how “they” might respond. And afterward, we second-guessed ourselves whenever someone reported, “I’ve been talking to some people about this, and they have some real concerns.”
To make matters worse, I could never find out who “they” were, or how many of them there were. It was strange. For a group as large and powerful as they appeared to be, they sure valued their anonymity.
Finally, I’d had enough. I told the board that as far as I was concerned, the “theys” no longer existed. I’d happily listen to comments and critiques from people with real names and faces. But nebulous theys who didn’t want their identity known and hypothetical theys we couldn’t identify would no longer have any sway.
The board agreed. So we instituted a “no theys” rule. It immediately pulled the rug out from underneath the biggest group of resisters we had and eventually exposed them to be a tiny minority (and at times, a mere figment of our imagination).
Our “no theys” rule applies not only to the board; it also applies to every staff meeting and to all of my dealings with the congregation. Now whenever someone says that they’ve been talking to some people who have a concern, I always ask, “Who are they?”
If I’m told that they wouldn’t be comfortable having their names mentioned, I respond, “That’s too bad, because I’m not comfortable listening to anonymous sources. Let me know when they’re willing to be identified. I’ll be happy to listen.”
Every morning when I come to my office I have a simple prayer that I begin the day with:
“Lord, this is not my church. This is your church. I do not own this church and in the ultimate sense, I am not responsible for this church because this is your church. My desire this morning is to be a faithful minister and tool for you to use in the work of redemption here in this place.”
The roots of this prayer in one of my favorite stories from the life of Moses. In Exodus 32 Moses is on Mount Sinai meeting with the Lord as the Israelites participate in an idolatrous orgy in the valley below. Verse seven records the beginning of God’s conversation with Moses about the Israelites’ sin,
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.’”
Now, if there’s one thing that painfully obvious from the Exodus account it’s that Moses did not bring these people out of Egypt, God did. You can almost see the shocked expression on Moses face when God refers to them as Moses’ people who Moses’ brought out of Egypt. So he responds, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” It’s like he’s saying, “These aren’t my people! These are your people who you brought out of Egypt!”
I think this is a great illustration of the principle of leadership and ownership. Moses was certainly a leader amongst his people and a very powerful leader at that, but the secret to the strength of his leadership was the fact that he did not take ownership of the people. He recognized that the people belonged to God and that he was simply there to be a tool for God to use in ministering to His people.
Church leaders tend to get in trouble when they take ownership of the ministries or the people who they are supposed to be leading and serving. All of a sudden every decision becomes personal, every criticism is an attack, and every minor obstacle is a boulder that requires dynamite to remove. On the other hand church leaders who don’t take ownership, but who leave the ministries and the people entrusted to them in God’s hands have a remarkably calm and quiet spirit. They can leave critics and obstacles in God’s hands, because it’s His responsibility anyway, since they’re just there to serve. Those are the kinds of leaders that God will bless and those are the kinds of leaders that the church needs, those who take leadership and not ownership of the ministries they’re involved in.
I’ve been thinking a lot about humility recently. What is humility? How can you know if you’re humble? And especially what role does confidence play in humility?
Number 12:3 tells us that Moses was one of the humblest men to ever walk the earth and yet when you read through the life of Moses, you can’t help but notice the extraordinary confidence he possessed in leading God’s people.
It took tremendous confidence for Moses to stand before the most powerful man of his day (Pharaoh) and demand that he “Let my people go!” It took tremendous confidence for Moses to lead the children of Israel down a blind canyon to the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his entire army in hot pursuit. It took tremendous confidence for Moses to gather the Levites and order them to go and slay their brothers who were sinning wickedly at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
I think that the key to reconciling the confidence of a man like Moses with what the Scripture clearly says about his humility is by understanding where Moses’ confidence was placed. He certainly was not confident in his own abilities. In fact, God practically had to wrestle Him into going on this rescue mission to the Israelites. His confidence certainly wasn’t in his leadership skills or his public speaking skills. No, Moses confidence was squarely placed in the fact that he knew God and that he trusted God’s words.
Moses lived a life of “confident humility”. He was not confident in himself or his own wisdom, but he was supremely confident in God and His Word. I think this is one of the primary keys to growing in humility. To grow in humility does not mean that we are constantly second guessing ourselves, or throwing dust and ashes upon our heads. To grow in humility means that we are shrinking in our confidence in ourselves and growing in our confidence in God and His Word. That’s what it means to live a life like Moses, a life of confident humility.
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately and specifically the question of what is a leader. This is a many-faceted answer, so I don’t intend to give an all consuming definition in this post but I have been chewing on something for a few months that has been helpful to me in thinking through what a leader is.
Several years ago I lead a mission trip to Baja, CA. We built a Sunday School room, conducted several VBS programs and held night services, so it was a pretty busy time. As I was planning for the trip I realized that there were more tasks to be accomplished than we had people to accomplish them, so I was greatly tempted to assign myself an area of responsibility (i.e. running VBS) in addition to leading the team. Thankfully I resisted the temptation, found the right people to do the jobs and allowed myself the luxury of simply leading the team.
When we arrived in Baja I realized that there were a thousand things that I either hadn’t been aware of or hadn’t thought of which needed significant attention. Fortunately, because I hadn’t assigned myself any major tasks (other than leading), I was able to give attention to all of the various obstacles that came up and the trip was a big success.
So, what is a leader? In a word, “available.” Part of the job of leadership is simply being available to deal with unexpected situations, crisis, and people. But in order to be available leaders must be very careful not to overschedule their days or overcommit themselves to the point where they are no longer available. In short, leaders must build in “margin” to their lives which allows them to be available so that they can lead.