One thing that leaders learn very quickly, especially church leaders, is that with growth comes problems. The early church experienced this. At no other time in Christian history has the church been characterized by the phenomenal growth which it experienced in the first few weeks of its existence. Yet it was in this most exciting moment in the history of the church, when the church was being multiplied in size, a problem arose in the church that caused dissension and a division. The apostles acted immediately to deal with this threat to the unity of the church.
What we learn from the apostles in problem solving.
I. Handling Problems Demands DiscernmentActs 6:1 “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
As any organization grows, things cannot be handled spontaneously or informally any longer. Organizational growth requires constant evaluation and change in the way things are done.
The complaint, here in Acts, concerned the welfare of the widows. The apostles discerned that this was a real problem in the church and it needed to be dealt with.
II. Handling Problems Requires DecisivenessActs 6:2-3 “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”
There are several possible ways they could have dealt with problem.
(1) They could have Ignored the Problem Ignored problems do not go away.
(2) They could have Resented the Problem. They could have taken the criticism personally and reacted with resentment. This never leads to a solution.
(3) They could have Over-reacted to the Problem. Sometimes the temptation is to overreact by giving in to criticism even before we check out its merits, and possibly do more harm than good.
(4) They Faced the Problem. Every problem that arises gives us the opportunity to do three things.
(1) Examine the effectiveness of what we are doing. (2) Exercise faith (in God and in each other). (3) Express Love in the way that we work out the problem.
III. Handling Problems Requires Delegation.Acts 6:4-5 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.”
It would be easy to read this as though the apostles were saying, “We’re too good to serve tables.” But if you read it that way you miss the meaning of the passage. The apostles were convinced that their primary calling was to pray for the church and to proclaim His Word.
The disciples knew their calling and therefore they knew they needed to prioritize and organize. Therefore, Instead of taking it over themselves, they delegated responsibility.
Acts 6:3 “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”
This ministry was important. So the apostles laid out specific qualifications. These men were to be men of character. Men who have demonstrated they were trustworthy and wise.
IV. Handling Problems Produces DividendsActs 6:7 “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
The first result of handling this problem was that unity was restored among the people. According to verse 5, the proposal made by the apostles “pleased the whole multitude.”
Verse 7 starts out with “And”. Many versions use the word “Then” or “So.” In other words, it was only when the problem was solved that they church started to grow again. “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.”
It’s Christmas time. When I think of Christmas I think of joy. Jesus was born to bring us joy through a restored relationship with God. On that first Christmas night the angels came proclaiming to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The angels were speaking of joy through Christ. It’s a reminder that Jesus came to give us joy. The word "joy" is prevalent in the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.
Luke 1:14 “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”
Luke 1:44 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
Luke 2:10 “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Matthew 2:10 “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
Jesus came to give you joy. Do you have joy in your leadership? You may ask, “What does joy have to do with leadership?” I believe it has everything to do with it. If you have no joy, those you lead will have no joy. And that makes for a joyless environment. Moreover, I have yet to meet a person who delights in following a joyless, grinch-like leader.
The best leaders I know have a contagious joy about them. I took some time to think through the traits of the most joyful leaders I have met.
1. They love what they do. In fact their attitude is that of Thomas Edison who said, “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun." When they awake in the morning, they look forward to the day - the people they will see and the tasks they will do.
2. They love their family. Their family holds a place of higher priority than their work. Their wife is their best friend and they enjoy spending time with their kids and/or grandchildren. In fact, the most joyous leaders I know not only enjoy time with their family, they make time for their family.
3. They love people. They love being around people and talking to people. They believe the best in people. They have taken to heart the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
4. They have a positive attitude. They are optimistic about their future and have a hopeful state of mind. They understand the power of a positive thought life. They understand what Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
5. They have a passion for personal growth. They are continual learners. They read every day desiring to learn something new. They have mentors. New experiences excite them.
6. They delight in adding value to people. Knowing that they had a part in another person’s success brings them great joy.
7. They work within their strength zone. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are. They don’t waste their time and energy trying to do things they are not gifted or equipped to do. They know what activities and tasks produce the most fruit and bring them the greatest return and they stick to those.
8. They have learned to deal with criticism. Every leader faces criticism. They have learned to handle criticism in a positive way. They know how to differentiate between positive and negative criticism. They learn from the positive and forget the negative. They have learned to forgive and move on.
9. They have a vision for the future. They understand that what they do today will determine where they will be tomorrow. They work with enthusiasm on what is most important to them knowing that at the end of the day they will be one step closer to seeing their dream realized.
10. They like to have fun. “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing,” wrote Dale Carnegie. They know how to have fun at work and away from work.
Over the years I have read many times that one of the leading marks of a successful organization is that it’s leadership has been in place for many years. Successful organizations have leaders who last.
Recently I read an article that started me thinking on this issue of pastoral leadership and church growth. The article stated that the Southern Baptist Convention found a relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches and the growth or decline of those churches. Approximately 3/4 of growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in place for more than four years, while 2/3 of declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in place less than four years. Their conclusion: While long-term pastorates will not guarantee church growth, short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.
Amazingly according to a 2009 Barna study the average length of a pastorate is just four years. It seems that pastors are leaving their churches right at the time they should start seeing positive growth. Why is it that some pastors can stay at their churches for many years while most pastors seem to move from church to church every four years? What is the difference between the long-term pastor and the short-term pastor? Here are some thoughts.
1. Long term pastors have a God-sized vision for the future.
Long term pastors come to their churches with a vision that motivates them. It provides them with the zeal to stay the course. A God-sized vision is one which cannot be accomplished in a few short years. Capturing your town for Christ cannot be done over-night. Developing leaders to start new churches or multiple campuses takes years. Sending missionaries to every continent is a long-term strategy. Building a dynamic small group ministry that transforms lives can take a whole generation. These are examples of God-sized visions which cannot be accomplished in a short four year span. Long term pastors have visions that are much bigger than they are.
2. Long term pastors protect their integrity.
Long term pastors work hard to protect their integrity. They set moral and ethical boundaries for themselves that they refuse to cross. They not only hold themselves accountable but they allow others to hold them accountable. Accountability partners have permission to challenge them.
3. Long term pastors have a sense of calling to their church.
Long term pastors sense that they are placed where they are by the sovereignty of God. God placed them at that particular church for a purpose, therefore it is not seen as a mere rung on the ecclesiastical ladder in their climb to a larger more prestigious church.
4. Long term pastors maintain spiritual vitality
They take care of themselves spiritually. They read the Scriptures, pray, study, worship, fellowship—and lead out of the overflow of their walk with God.
5. Long term pastors maintain physical health.
The long-lasting leaders eat properly, exercise regularly, and sleep well.
6. Long term pastors maintain mental health.
They are passionate about personal growth. They read every day. They have an appetite to hear other pastors and leaders preach and speak. They have a mentor. They listen to wise counsel. Their appetite for new knowledge and learning is insatiable. They do not like failure, but they know that failing at something does not make them a failure. They have learned how to make the most of their failures.
7. Long term pastors maintain family health.
The church does not come before their family. In fact they openly share with the church that their family will always have a higher priority in their life than the church. They understand that if they lose their family, they lose everything.
8. Long term pastors maintain healthy relationships.
They love people. Long term leaders are likeable. People respect them because they respect people. When attacked by others they don’t become bitter but forgive. To put it in the words of the apostle Paul, long term leaders are patient and kind; they do not envy or boast; they are not arrogant or rude. They do not insist on their own way; they are not irritable or resentful (1 Cor 14:4-5).
9. Long term pastors maintain a healthy sense of humor.
They have learned to laugh. They do not take themselves too seriously. They laugh at themselves and they laugh with others.
10. Long term pastors maintain a healthy legacy.
They understand that leadership is highly visual. They know they are being watched and scrutinized as a Christians leader. Therefore they work to insure that they are setting a godly example. They know that how they live today will determine how they will be judged tomorrow. They have a desire to leave their churches in a position to continue to succeed after they are gone. They understand they are accountable to God for how they lead where they are in the time they have.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."
As I was rereading this well known passage, which was popularized by The Byrds in their song "Turn, Turn, Turn", I was reminded just how precious and limited the resource of time really is. Unlike financial and human resources, time is the one resource that cannot be replenished. Time is also no respecter of persons. Time does not play favorites. It does not matter whether you are the president of a nation, the CEO of a fortune 500 company, a waitress at a restaurant, or a pastor. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and 8760 hours in a year.
So why is it that some people seem to be able to get a lot more accomplished in the time they have? It is because they understand that the question is not "What am I doing with my time?" The question is "What am I accomplishing in my time?" It comes down to priorities.
I came across the following story a number of years ago. I have since seen it demonstrated in several conferences. It speaks of effective time management and its relationship to values and priorities.
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He then pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them one at a time into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing it to work down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar until it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that's not the point.” “The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all. What are the 'big rocks' in your life? Your children, your loved ones, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching others, doing things that you love, your health; your mate. Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you'll never get them in at all. If you sweat about the little stuff then you'll fill your life with little things and you'll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff.” So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the 'big rocks' in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.
Effective time management cannot be disconnected values and effective prioritizing. So how do I prioritize activities in my calendar? I use a procedure I learned from John Maxwell. It involves asking myself three questions: What is required of me? In other words what must I do that no one else in the organization can can do for me? For example, I am required to prepare and preach messages from God's Word every Sunday morning. That is what my church hired me to do. I cannot, on a regular basis, pass this responsibility off on someone else. I have a number of other responsibilities that my job requires of me. These I cannot dump on another person. Once I know what is required of me, I must make sure that I schedule time to fulfill those requirements. What brings me the greatest return? In other words, what are my strengths? What can I do that will bear the greatest fruit for me and the organization? The key is staying in my strength zone and out of my weak zone. I don't need to be working in areas that I am weak in. For example, I am not good with my hands. I am not good at word-working, landscaping, decorating, painting,... you get the point. Whenever I try fix something at home I always end up making a bigger mess and calling a repairman anyway. I am good at teaching, preaching, vision casting, and leading. These are the areas that I need to spend most of my time on.
What brings me the greatest reward? What activities bring me the greatest joy and fulfillment? What activities re-energize me? These need to be priorities and included in my calendar. I enjoy spending time with my wife on the water. I enjoy reading. I like to watch football. I have to put these on the calendar. If not, something else will end up taking their place.
The question is not, "Is my calendar going to be filled?" It will be filled. The question is, "Who is going to fill my calendar?" There are plenty of people who want to fill my calendar for me and they will fill it based on their priorities and not mine. The danger is that, if not careful, I could find myself drowning in activities that accomplish nothing.
Is there time? Yes. But you must learn that there is a connection between time and priorities. Think of it like this:
Time minus right priorities = activity
Time plus right priorities = accomplishment
One more thing. For the Christian leader time is not just about the hear and now. Solomon said God "has put eternity into man’s heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The Christian leader understands that people were made for eternity. The Christian leader works within the confines of time but always with eternity in mind. The question that I constantly ask myself is "Will what I'm doing now help people to know Christ, grow in Christ, or go in Christ?" I know that one day when time is over, I will stand in eternity before God and He will judge me based on what I did with the time He gave me.
In my last three posts we have looked at ten different leaders from the Bible and what we can learn from them. I had originally planned for this to be a three part series. However, because my last post was a little longer, I decided to extend this to a four part series. Today we will look at two more Biblical Leaders and lessons we can learn from their lives.
11. Peter: Leaders Fail Forward
When Jesus was arrested and being questioned, Peter, the most well-known of Jesus’ disciples is in the courtyard just outside where Jesus is being held. Three times he is confronted with being a disciple of Jesus and three times Peter denies being affiliated with Jesus in any way. What makes this failure even worse is that just hours prior to his denying Jesus, Peter assured Jesus that he would never deny him even to the death. Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” When the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. Fast forward a few weeks and we see Peter in Acts chapter 2, giving the first sermon after Jesus’ ascension, to a crowd of thousands of people. Peter has emerged as the leader of the early church. Leaders learn from their failings. They understand that failure is a part of life and leadership. They make the most of the failure by gleaning lessons from it and they pick themselves back up and move on having learned from their failure.
12. Paul: Leaders Are Passionate For What They Do and Believe.
When you read the life, ministry, and teaching of the Apostle Paul, one thing stands out very quickly - he is consumed with his mission. As a Pharisee, he zealously and violently opposes the spread of Christianity. Paul said himself that he was zealous to kill and imprison Christians. In Acts chapter 9 while Paul is on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, he has an encounter with the risen Jesus, resulting in a transformed life and a new purpose. As passionate as he was about destroying Christianity he is now just as passionate for the spread of the gospel. Paul travels across the known world establishing churches. Leaders are passionately driven by a sense of purpose. Leaders have a fire lit under them and are consumed with their mission in life. There is no place for apathy in the life of a leader. Leaders are passionate about what they believe and what they are doing.
The greatest leadership lessons I have learned have not come from leaders of today but from leaders in history, most notably leaders from the Bible. Some of the greatest examples of effective leadership can be found within the pages of Scripture. For leaders today, there is much to learn from these ordinary people who made decisions that transformed them into extraordinary leaders. In my last two posts we looked at seven of these great leaders and what we can learn from them. Here are three more Bible leaders we can learn from.
8. Daniel: Leaders maintain their values and principles even when it will cost them. Many of us are at least familiar with the account of Daniel in the lion’s den. In the sixth chapter of Daniel, Daniel is a highly esteemed government official whose colleagues become jealous. Seeking to get rid of him and knowing that he is a man of faith and prayer, his colleagues convince the king to enact an official decree stating that prayer can be made to no god except to the king himself. When Daniel found out about the law he had to decide whether he would submit to the kings edict or stay true to his convictions. He continues to pray to God as he had always done. When he is caught, the king, albeit reluctantly, is forced to throw Daniel to the lions. The next morning, the king finds Daniel alive and unharmed. Daniel’s faith, values, and principles is what made him a great leader to begin with. And he maintained those values, even when he knew it would cost him. Great leaders have values and principles that enable them to make decisions quickly and confidently, even when those decisions may require a great cost.
9. John the Baptist: Great leaders are great followers.
In Matthew 3 people are coming out in throngs to hear John the Baptist preach. At this point he had already developed a strong following and had a number of disciples. He is baptizing scores of people and preaching about the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John knew that his purpose and role was to point people to and prepare people for the coming Messiah. And when Jesus came John humbly submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. While John was baptizing, Jesus approaches him. John laid his ego aside and publicly said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” At another time when Jesus’ popularity was growing John’s disciples approached John and pointed it out. John, once again demonstrated humility and respect and said, “He must increase but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Great leaders “yield to stronger leaders when they appear because the cause is more important than personal popularity” (John Maxwell).
10. Jesus: Leaders are servants.
The greatest leader in the world proved himself to be the greatest servant in the world. One of the most powerful images in the life of Jesus is when he washed the feet of his disciples in John 13. When he finished, he said to them, “You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Jesus, of course, isn’t talking about feet. He’s talking about servant-leadership. Jesus always focused on the needs of others. Great leaders focus on serving those who follow them. One day when Jesus caught his disciples arguing over who was the greatest among them, he didn’t rebuke them for wanting to be great, he gave them a formula for greatness: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Great leaders are servant leaders.