3 Leadership Lessons From a Jordanian Sheep

Sheep and shepherdI took this picture in Jordan earlier this year.  I was a square supervisor on an archaeological dig at Tall el-Hammam, thought to be the site of the biblical city of Sodom.  A bedouin family had set up camp next to the section of the site where I worked, and every day we’d watch the shepherd lead his sheep on their daily walk for food and water.  They were kept penned in when they were near the tent, but occasionally one of the sheep would escape his confinement and begin to wander.  And then the trouble began.

Our squares were on the side of a hill, and that hill is covered with rocks, stones, and boulders.  I don’t recall ever seeing so many rocks in my life.  And it was on this hillside that I saw one of these escaped sheep wander away from its herd.

This particular sheep did ok for a while going up the hillside, but there came a point when it realized that it had walked into quite the predicament.  It had made its way partly up the hill, but now it couldn’t get down.  It was stuck, and even a sheep knows that when you can’t move, you’re prime picking for predators.

I felt like I was watching Jesus’ story from Luke 15 in action.  The 99 sheep were safely in their pens, but the one had wandered away and was now in trouble.  What now?

When he saw what happened, the shepherd walked up the hillside to where the sheep had wandered, picked it up, and carried it back to the safety of the herd.

What does this have to do with leadership?  Three things:

1)  The Bible compares people to sheep for a reason.  Just like sheep, people need to be led.  And when we’re not led well, we can get into all sorts of jams.  It really matters how leaders lead others.

2)  Rocks are everywhere.  It’s a leader’s job to lead, to guide.  If the leader doesn’t do it, who will?

3)  Sheep aren’t typically attacked when they are in a herd; they’re attacked when they wander off into isolation.  So too with people.  Community matters, and not just for the people we lead.

Leaders, if you’re not learning from those farther down the road from you, if you’re not reading books and articles by leaders who are more mature in their leadership than you, then you’re moving slowly but surely toward a place of solitary, isolated leadership where you’re not growing.  Don’t let that happen – be intentional about your development as a leader.  That’s how you grow, and those you lead will be grateful that you did so.

How are you intentionally growing and developing your leadership these days?



A Great Leader and a Great Man


Photo from truettcathy.com

Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, died earlier this week at the age of 93.  I’ve watched his leadership from afar for many years and read some of his writings on leadership and business.  He was devoted to his family, and by all accounts was a strong man of faith.  He was one of the most laser focused leaders I’ve ever seen; he knew what he believed in and he worked tirelessly and determinedly to make his vision a reality.

Owning and leading a business using principles of faith is not for the faint of heart.  In recent years, he and his company came under attack for the beliefs that he held and operated according to.  But as any leader worth their salt knows, there will always be people who disagree with what you do and how you do it.  Always.  I mean, even Jesus, the greatest leader in history, had those who disagreed with what He did and how He did it!

The question is this: will you allow the feelings and opinions of others to drive your behavior away from what you believe is the best course of action, or will you lead according to your principles, according to what you believe is best for the people and the organization you lead?  Cathy did the latter, and I always admired him for that.  Whether you agree with what he believed or not, you must admire a leader that started with one restaurant and built it into a nationwide chain worth billions, and who always acted according to his core principles and values.

Many bloggers this week have posted some of their favorite quotes from this great leader, and I wanted to add a few of mine as well.

  • “I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed, and the important things will not change if we keep our priorities in proper order.”

This is my favorite.  How many leaders have you heard articulate this?  Priorities are CRITICAL for everyone, but most especially for those who lead others.

  • “Sometimes success is disguised as hard work.”

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Hard work is not optional if you want to succeed, yet it is often overlooked in the search for the easy, silver bullet.  Guess what?  That mythical creature doesn’t exist.

  • “Repetition yields constants. Constants create cultures.” 

Do you want to know how to build organizational culture?  This is how.  Consistent repetition, so that expectations can be set and met by those you lead.

  • “Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”

This is too often overlooked, and is based on a teaching of Jesus found in the Bible – “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  Wouldn’t you like to be led by a leader who lived this way?  Then be that kind of leader.

  • “I believe that you can combine biblical principles and good business practices.”

Too often, there is a big gap between what happens on Sunday at church and what happens on Tuesday at the office.  Cathy found a way to bridge that gap and bring his faith alive in his work.  That’s something I believe every leader and every follower of Jesus should and can aspire to do.

What did you learn from Truett Cathy’s life and leadership?  Add your favorite quote from Truett Cathy in the comments below.

Don’t Confuse Feelings With Reality

I’ve been reading a new devotional book during the last year called Jesus Calling.  It’s written from the first person as though Jesus were talking to the reader, and it is interspersed with Scriptures each day.  I’ve found it really, really good, and I’d highly recommend it to you if you’re looking for something fresh.

The opening lines of today’s entry really spoke volumes.  “I’m always available to you.  Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling; do not confuse it with reality.”

Jeremiah wrote “the heart is deceitful above all things – who can understand it?”  Our feelings WILL deceive us.  They WILL confuse us.  And the only way to battle against that successfully is to know what Truth is – what Reality is.   And that’s what we find in the pages of Scripture.

As a leader, you and I are not immune to feelings.  Feelings of inadequacy, feelings of failure, feelings of despondency – all of these were experienced by saints throughout history.  People like Moses, Elijah, Job, Peter – that’s a list of leaders that most of us would like to be like!  But like them, you and I are not immune to feelings.  How we respond to them, however, is our choice.

Listen to those words of Jesus again: “I’m always available to you.  Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling; do not confuse it with reality.”

Don’t confuse feelings with reality.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:20 – “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Remember what reality is, and when you’re tempted to feel alone, remember Jesus’ words.  When you’re tempted to feel inadequate, remember that you’re not alone.  Remember Whose you are, and remember Who you serve.  And speak words of revealed truth against those lies of the Enemy.

How do you fight against feelings that are contrary to the reality and truth revealed in Scripture?

Write It Down!

I was reading this article the other day about some 4th century B.C. business transactions inscribed in Aramaic on sherds (broken pieces of pottery, often used the way we use post it notes) that have been excavated in Idumea (about 40 miles southwest of Jerusalem). That’s almost 2,500 years ago.  And the inscriptions are still, for the most part, preserved and legible.

It made me think.  How many times have I had an idea, for a sermon, a blog post, a book – and lost it?  Later I tried to remember it, but too late – it’s gone.

These merchants from the ancient world knew a piece of wisdom that I often forget – write it down.  Then you don’t have to keep it in your brain’s active memory – it’s stored in a trustworthy place.  I learned that (and much more) from David Allen’s classic book Getting Things Done.  If you haven’t read that, go grab a copy now and read it.  Seriously.  It’s worth it.

Write it down.  A simple piece of wisdom that I’ve shared often with others – and it’s so critical.

The (not so) minor prophet Habakkuk received an answer to one of his prayers from God, and God told him, “Write down this message! Record it legibly on tablets.” (Habakkuk 2:2 NET)

You know why I think God told him to write it down?  Because despite our confidence that we won’t forget important things, too often time weathers the details of our memory.  Pastor Mark Batterson says it well – the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.

Write it down.  Whether it’s your vision, your new strategy, your goals, your grocery list, or your to do list for today, write it down.  Don’t expect that you’ll remember it – you might not.

And who knows – somebody 2,500 years from now might find it.

3 Questions to Ask When Criticism Comes Your Way

lightstock_147868_medium_user_2298620Every leader I know deals with criticism.  I think it’s been well said that the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, and no leader worth his or her salt can do that.  How do you handle it when critical words come your way?

I once heard a pastor named Craig Groeschel teach about this.  He said that when critical words come, he asks three questions:

1) Is what this person is saying biblical?  In other words, does it line up with the teaching of Scripture, or is just their opinion based on their preferences?  If it does line up with Scripture, then move on to question 2.

2) Does this person have the organization’s best interests in mind when they say this? If they do, then move on to question 3.

3) Are these words coming because of love for me?  Do they have my best interests in mind, and do they love me too much to keep quiet about this?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, then I can accept it as their opinion, as one data point, and move on.

If the answer to all three of those is yes, then I have to listen – take it to heart – and ask myself the hard questions as a leader.

Criticism is never easy to hear, and it’s never fun to receive, but it can be helpful and beneficial.  But only allow it to make it through to your heart if it passes the three question test above.

How do you deal with criticism in your leadership?


4 Ways to Persevere in Ministry

lightstock_146024_medium_user_2298620Last week I read a quote that surprised me.  It said “80% of people graduating college with a ministry degree and professing a ministry calling are out of ministry within five years.”  (Miles Welch, Pastor of Leadership Expansion, 12Stone Church)


I still remember something that was said in the orientation sessions I had to take as a first year seminary student.  They told us to look to our right and to our left; 2 out of 3 people who start seminary studies don’t graduate.

So 2/3 don’t finish seminary, and of the ones that do, 80% have quit serving in ministry positions within five years??

Why is this?  And what can be done about it?

To answer the first question, I think there are a myriad of reasons.  From toxic church environments to misunderstood and miscommunicated expectations (on both the church’s and the employee’s side), there are many reasons why this stat doesn’t really surprise me.  But I don’t think it has to be so.

One of the reasons we launched the Chrysalis program of residents and interns at Southview a few years ago was to bridge the gap between the academic learning that is a part of seminary education and the “real world” experience of working in a church.  I’ve heard many times how different working in a church environment is – it’s not what people expect!  We wanted to be a part of the solution by providing an environment for young men and women who were pursuing education and an eventual position in a local church where they could experiment, try new things, even fail, but above all learn what working in a church environment is like.  By doing this, we hoped to invest in these young men and women, but also to provide a way for them to determine if working in a local church was REALLY what they were called to do.

I believe that the stat I referenced above can be improved by four actions.

1)  Pray.

This seems like SUCH a church-y thing to say.  But truly, without prayer, we are operating solely in our own strength.  That’s not good enough – by myself, I can only accomplish what I can do, but when I pray, God moves and does what only He can do.  That’s what I want.  And in order to persevere, I have to make prayer a non-negotiable priority.  Every morning, as I’m getting dressed, I pray.  Every morning, when I get to the office, I spend time in prayer.  Sometimes I’ll go over to a kneeling bench in my office that my wife’s uncle made for us for our wedding and pray there.  Sometimes I’ll stand and walk around.  But prayer is a non-negotiable way that my day has to start.  That’s critical to persevering.

2) Understand what working in ministry is and what it is not.

When I talk with a couple before they get married, I always talk about expectations. Expectations can be right on track – or they can be incredibly skewed. Just like in marriage counseling, there can be (and too often is) a HUGE gap between expectations of what ministry will be like and the reality.  Contrary to what many people might think, you’re not just sitting, praying and reading the Bible all day while worship music plays in the background.  It is, in fact, a job, and there are expectations and responsibilities. You have goals, objectives, projects, timelines, calendars, and all the rest. Working in ministry is not the easiest job I’ve ever had – after leaving the marketplace, I’ve found ministry to be one of the most difficult!  But it can also be incredibly rewarding if you are gifted for it and called to it.  But you have to right size your expectations, especially coming into it for the first time.

3) Remember Who you serve.

When we talk about serving in a local church, I think it’s important to remember Who we serve.  Yes, I’m talking about God.

How many times have I talked with pastors and church leaders who are trying to meet every need, invest in every relationship, solve every problem, and be there for every “emergency” (whether it’s truly one or not)?  And that’s just when I look in the mirror!

I am a recovering people-pleaser.  And if I’m not primarily focused on serving God, listening to His voice, doing what He tells me – then I’m going to get so busy and overwhelmed serving the whims and desires of other people that I will look for ANY escape valve to get out of that.  It’s simply not sustainable, for me or for you.  Remember Who you serve.

4) Never stop learning.

I know, I know, I talk about this a lot.  But I really do believe this is a key to persevering.  If we are not learning from men and women who are farther down the road than we are – if we’re not reading and challenging ourselves to grow intellectually and spiritually – then how can we possibly persevere, and even prevail?  I want to lead with all diligence (Romans 12:8). I want to prevail and persevere in ministry, not just for a decade or two, but for a lifetime.  And that means I have to continue to be a learner – forever.

What advice would you give a new church staff member, or one who’s thinking of calling it quits?

9 Unopened Dead Sea Scrolls Found

DSSJarCheck out the news story here:

Once unopened, the scrolls are expected to shed new light on the religious practices of the Jewish people during the Second Temple Period between the years of 530 BC and 70, an era named for a holy place of worship for the Jewish people that was constructed by the builder of ancient Jerusalem King Herod.”

I wrote my master’s thesis on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QpHab, and when I visited Israel for the first time, I was able to see that particular scroll in the Israeli Museum.  Earlier this year, I had the privilege of seeing several of the scrolls that are housed in Amman, Jordan in the new Jordan Museum, including the copper scroll.  Since I first began studying them, the scrolls have fascinated me, and to know that nine more unopened scrolls were just found in a store room where they’ve been since being unearthed at Qumran over half a century ago – wow.

I believe that archaeological finds such as this can illuminate the Bible for us and help us to understand the text, life in antiquity, and culture/customs of the biblical era better. I’m looking forward to learning more about what these new scrolls will bring to our understanding!


Earlier this week, I celebrated a birthday, and as such events can do, it has caused me to reflect a bit.  This is the last year I’ll be in my thirties, and as I look around my life, I find that there are complexities everywhere.  Over the last month, I’ve been staring more and more at a sign on my office wall that I put there four or five years ago – it says simply ‘SIMPLIFY.’ As I’ve been thinking about what that means and what it looks like at this stage in my life, I encountered a new book by one of my favorite writers, Bill Hybels, titled (you guessed it) Simplify.

Typically I read fairly quickly, but this book is “chewy” – I’m spending far more time than usual mentally digesting and processing the contents.  I can already tell this is going to be a book I recommend and refer to frequently.  It speaks volumes to the pace of life in our day and the need to intentionally choose to simplify.  What does that look like for me?  What does it look like for you?  Hybels’ insights will help us to make decisions that don’t just affect today, but the coming years and decades of our lives. This has significant implications for self-leadership, which will then impact organizational leadership. Get this book, read it, and learn how to practice one of the least utilized spiritual disciplines.

Run, Run, Run!

IMG_0578Next Friday (July 4) at 8 a.m. I’ll be running in the Firecracker 5K race at the Reston Town Center.  This’ll be my first race since I injured my Achilles last year as I began training for a half marathon (which I never got to, but still hope to).  I’m looking forward to it, and two SCCers are running with me next week.  You in?  Register here.


4 Leadership Quotes From Man of Steel

One of my favorite movies of recent years is Man of Steel.  If you know me, you know that I’m a big Superman fan, and the latest movie did a phenomenal job of rebooting the franchise (which really needed it, especially after the last movie).

There are so many things I could point to as leadership truths and principles from this movie – truly – but here are a couple that jumped out.

1. “Endless debates lead to nothing.”  General Zod said this to Jor-El as Jor-El tried to talk him out of leading a coup against the Kryptonian government.  Have you ever been in a meeting where the debate goes on and on and on, and NOTHING gets accomplished?  Endless debates lead to nothing.  One of my goals for every discussion in a meeting I’m in is to get to a point of resolution, where tasks or projects can be assigned to someone who is then responsible for them.  Without that, it’s just endless talking.

2. “A good death is it’s own reward.” –Faora-Ul.  Leaders understand this.  How we lead, not just out of the gate, but all the way to the finish line, matters.  Too many leaders sprint out great and then sizzle out.  The apostle Paul taught us that finishing well is critically important.  Leaders lead knowing they are in a marathon, not a sprint.

3. “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”  –Jonathan Kent.  Think about this in the context of change.  Any leader who’s tried to lead an organization through change understands that people are afraid of what they don’t understand.  They don’t always see how what could be is better than what is – the leader’s job is to help them understand that.  That’s what visioncasting is all about – helping people understand what could be and why it should be.

4.  “There is more at stake here than just our lives.  It is the lives around us.”  –Jonathan Kent.  In the context of what I do, this one hits home.  57% of Fairfax county residents are religiously unaffiliated – they don’t know Jesus.  And they are facing a life now and an eternity apart from God, who loves them more than they can imagine.  It’s far too easy for followers of Jesus in our culture to just blend in, be like everyone else, and forget that we are here in this place for a reason.  There is more at stake here than just living our lives like everyone else.  It is the lives around us.  They matter to God and to us, and we have to do whatever it takes to connect them with Jesus.

Those four really made me think.  What quotes do you remember that impacted you?