Five years ago, I did an interesting thing. I sent myself a time-delayed email, and I received it just last week. Here’s a short excerpt:
As I write this you stand on the verge of something awesome that is happening at Southcliff. You’ve started training leaders on how to do cell groups, and tonight you have a strategy meeting with them to figure out how you’re going to multiply your first group. This Fall, Southcliff is also going to do a program called 40 Days of Community. This is an exciting time at Southcliff, and it is your first year of ministry as Associate Pastor.
Right now, I’m a bit scared about what will happen with all of this stuff, but I’m trusting God to do something beyond my wildest dreams.
Kind of hard to believe that was only five years ago. I sensed that God was up to something, but it’s amazing to look back at how things progressed:
- Experimenting with small group ministry and learning more about websites
- Planning and eventually launching a satellite campus of Southcliff and serving as their Campus Pastor
- Serving with great people and working hard together to reach out to the community
- Grieving through the process of seeing the campus close after two years
- Understanding that God was moving me into a new phase of ministry
- Moving from Texas to Tennessee to join with Faith Promise
Every one of these steps was challenging in one form or another, but it’s neat to see look back and see how God has been at work. “Beyond my wildest dreams” is a pretty accurate description.
If you’ve never read any articles or books by Andy Stanley, you’re really missing out. When it comes to communicating leadership principles, the guy is a genius. To see what I’m talking about, just read this short quote from an article in Leadership Magazine. It’s brilliant.
It took me several years to figure this out. As a young leader I was tormented by the assumption that I should know what to do in every situation. If I were a good leader, I would reason, I would know exactly what to do. After all, I am the leader! Leaders are supposed to be able to stand up at any given moment and give direction with absolute certainty. Or so I thought.
Time and experience have taught me differently. There will be very few occasions when you are absolutely certain about anything. You will consistently be called upon to make decisions with limited information. That being the case, your goal should not be to eliminate uncertainty. Instead, you must develop the art of being clear in the face of uncertainty. The art of clarity involves giving explicit and precise direction in spite of limited information and unpredictable outcomes.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve faced some painful failures. I poured my heart into a ministry, and I watched it crumble before my eyes. Despite my best efforts, things did not go as hoped. People (including myself) walked away disappointed. And in the end, I really began to question a lot of things.
God, am I just in the way of your ministry? Do you really have a plan for me?
Through the brokenness, I began to discover that there is a God who delights in our weakness. He is quite comfortable with us coming to the end of ourselves and facing our fears.
But this time, when I looked at my failure, I realized there was something on the other side. Failure is a doorway to greater things.
Seth Godin, in his book Tribes, puts it this way, “[They] have actively talked themselves out of the fear. I mean, the fear is still there, but it’s drowned out by a different story…. The only thing holding you back is your own fear.”
God is teaching me this lesson in a dozen ways at the same time, but especially through the great leaders around me at Faith Promise. From what I can tell, I’m beginning to make some solid progress. I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m ready to fail, because I realize that failure is a part of making progress.
“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.”
– Anne Morriss, A Starbucks customer from New York City.
(From “The Way I See It – #76)
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to lead in different capacities, as a father, a husband, a manager, and a pastor. What I’ve learned is that I’m weak and frail. At times, I can give in to what is easy or comfortable rather than what is best. To keep myself in check, I started compiling some of my thoughts on paper.
Back in August, I was inspired by Bill Hybel’s excellent talk on leadership axioms at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Prompted by his brilliance, I began to classify some of my thoughts into “antiaxioms.” The result was a completely sarcastic recipe for leadership. I will be sharing these over the next few posts, and I hope that others will find them as helpful as I have, even though they’re painful to read.
Antiaxiom #1: Avoid Decisions at all Cost
Avoiding decisions is one of the most important aspects of misleadership because decisions can lead to actions, and actions lead to change. Always remember that few things are as painful as change. It throws off our equilibrium and gets us out of our ruts. It disturbs the normalcy of life.
Besides that, there is always the chance that the change will end up negative. What if we accidentally make a mistake and end up worse off than we were before?
I always say that it’s better not to try at all than to try and come away looking like a fool. In the words of Tolkien’s Treebeard, “Do not be hasty, that is my motto.”
Over the next few months, you’re going to hear Dr. Marr and I talk a lot about the Leadership Summit. This is an annual event that our staff has attended together for several years, and last year Southcliff began hosting a live satellite feed of the Summit (projected on a huge movie screen we set up at the Main Campus).
The big misunderstanding we ran into last year was that a lot of people thought the event was just for people on church staff. That’s not the case. It’s also for those of you who serve in ministry, who are thinking about serving in ministry, or who have leadership responsibilities in other areas of your life. I can’t say enough good things about the Leadership Summit. It’s one of the major highlights of the year for me. The speakers are always terrific, the music and drama is awesome, and God seems to speak to my heart in a significant way each year.
To be honest with you, I wish every person on our West Campus would attend. It’s just that good. And the only thing better than getting to go is getting to go with you guys, so I hope you’ll join me.
The cost is $75 per person for members and regular attenders (a huge discount compared to what others have to pay), but we don’t want to let money stand in the way of anyone attending, so let me know if that’s an issue.
Begging isn’t beneath me, so if that’s what it takes to get you to attend, just let me know, and I’ll be happy to oblige.