Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A couple days ago I heard the question, in a leadership context: 'If knowing and focusing on what is most important is so basic and so crucial, why is it so rare?'

Why indeed?

When we stop and think for a few moments, we can usually understand very quickly what the greatest priorities are for our particular context. As I think about what it means to be a good dad or a good pastor, I can very easily articulate what 2 or 3 things I need to prioritize to bring that about. I know exactly how to spend my time as a pastor in order to lead the church well.

So why is it routinely a struggle in practice to actually spend my time in that way?
There are many reasons, but what it all boils down to is lazyness. Because I am solely responsible for my own time. Therefore, if I am not consistently giving myself to the things that matter the most, it is because I am not disciplining myself to do so: maybe I am doing only the good instead of doing the best. Often I will do what is easier and quicker instead of what is harder and takes longer. (After all, it allows me to check off more tasks and feel more productive.)

But the bottom line is that it is up to me to do what is most important. I only do the things I choose. (This is true for all of us, by the way. People who are 'too busy' are busy doing things of their choosing. I'm not aware of a single exception.) As someone has said, 'If you do not control your time, someone else will.'

It has been a good couple of weeks as I have taken a lot of time to think through not only what matters most, but what habits can I begin to cultivate so that what matters most is what gets my best time and energy. There are several:
1. make sure I get enough sleep: 7.5 - 8 hrs every night. If I don't, then my attitude, spiritual health, relational ability and work effectiveness all suffer.
2. know God. Whatever else I do, the habit of cultivating the consciousness of God's presence & love, and submitting myself under him is absolutely crucial.
3. prepare well for preaching well: spend appropriate time not only preparing each sermon, but being immersed in Scripture so that - as Spurgeon said - my very blood is Bibline.
4. invest in church leaders, both relationally and in leadership development.

Imagine what a church would look like when its pastor is physically and emotionally energized, knows God well, preaches God's Word compellingly and with credibility, and commits himself routinely to building into the leaders. Any pastor who cannot do that should find a new job. Including me.

So, reader.... what is most important to you? Are you giving yourself to these things?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Forming habits

As I enter the 'reading program' of my Sabbatical, I am beginning with a focus on self-discipline and character formation. No one can lead others who cannot lead himself.

Today I started reading The Power of Focus (by the authors of the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' series). I was directed to think about 'habits'.

Our lives and character are the outworking of our habits: My relationship with my wife and kids in ten years will be the outworking of my relational habits today (do I take time with them? am I critical or kind?)... My health and fitness in ten years will be determined by my eating and exercise habits today... My financial condition will reflect my money habits today. (If I'm not in the habit of saving now, I'll be broke later.... )

In terms of leadership and ministry, my habits now will lead either to effectiveness or to ineffectiveness. Therefore, my habits ought to be reflective of what I value most. For example, long ago I decided that (for me, at least) effective pastoring means three main things:
1. Know God.
2. Preach the Bible well.
3. Love and lead the leaders.
If I truly think this is so, I will cultivate habits that foster these things, and change current habits that hinder them. My habits of sermon study and prep will be good habits, and habits of distraction or procrastination will be addressed. I will make a habit of connecting with leaders, and praying for them. And so on....

The good news is that in this - and any area of life - habits can be changed.
Key: don't make a list of ten habits and launch them all at once. Prioritize them, and start one every three months. That's four a year, twenty new habits in five years. Imagine the transformation!

Project: In ten years, what do I want to be my 'new normal' in ministry, in my family, and in my own person? What habits can I begin to cultivate to move me toward that? What currently unhealthy habits should I change: (too much TV? no exercise? critical comments?sleeping in?...)

Because a good leader - in a church, in a family - can only be a person who habitually orders his life around what matters most.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Max De Pree, in his book Leadership Jazz, suggests that 'faithfulness' is both more important and logically prior to 'success' for a leader. He writes: [In a faithful leader] integrity in all things precedes all else. The open demonstration of integrity is essential. Followers must be wholeheartedly convinced of their leader's integrity.

Later he writes: Though I'm still learning things about being a leader, I can tell you at least two requirements of such a position: The need to give one's witness as a leader (to make your promises to the poeple who allow you to lead), and the necessity of carrying out your promises.

Later again: Many of us privately make promises. We promise ourselves to lose weight, work harder, or finish a book. If we don't keep this kind of promise, we can usually find a reason, sometimes even a good reason. But followers can't afford leaders who make casual promises. Someone is likely to take them seriously. Leaders make public promises. They put themselves on the line to the people they lead.

These words strike me. I want to be a person of integrity first, then a leader of integrity. I have found a disturbing tendency over the recent few years to make casual commitments and promises. I cringe when I think of how often I have forgotten to something I said I would do.... or got distracted from it until it was to late.

As a parent of young children, I try to teach them the importance of teling the truth. 'You want people to be able to believe you when you say something. You don't want people to disbelieve you when you say something.' How true is that for leaders! Leadership is, first of all, character. Because leadership is built on trust.

So my first priority as a leader is to cultivate the virtue of always - ALWAYS - doing what I say. If I take on a task, do it with excellence within the agreed time frame. Call it follow-through. Call it keeping promises. Call it what you will. Without this kind of self-discipline a 'leader' has no integrity and therefore can never be truly a leader.