John Ortberg on Women in Leadership

This week I saw an interview with one of my long time heroes in ministry, John Ortberg. John serves as the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California; he formerly was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, which was where I became acquainted with him. He is a tremendous writer that I recommend all the time.

What John discusses below is an issue that is not talked about enough today in the church, and it really needs to be. Listen to what John has to say – even after studying this issue for over a decade, I picked up several new ideas and thoughts here.

I was challenged by what John said, especially in my role at Southview. For nearly twelve years, I’ve been a strong proponent of every follower of Jesus serving as they are gifted and called by God, regardless of their gender. But I realize there is still much work to do, especially when it comes to investing in and developing new leaders.

You can see this video on Tony Morgan’s blog here, along with a list of highlights.  I highly recommend Tony’s blog to you – he is an outstanding thinker and writer on issues facing churches in our day and how to deal with them.

How are you developing women as leaders in your organization? Guys, are you shying away like John talks about to try to avoid one type of sin, only to commit another? What’s your intentional plan this year to invest in and develop ALL the leaders in your church or organization? 

IMPACT: Developing Leaders

impactThis summer, I’ve been leading a small group called IMPACT made up of new and emerging leaders at Southview who want to learn more about leadership and develop the leadership gift that God has given them.  The discussions that come out of this group are often significant, and to listen to leaders process what they’re reading and hearing, growing more and more, is truly one of my favorite things to be a part of.

During this session of IMPACT, we’re reading and discussing two books together (Chess Not Checkers by Mark Miller, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell). We’re watching and discussing video of sessions from the Global Leadership Summit and Leadercast from years past. And we’re learning from one another as we each navigate various leadership challenges in wildly different contexts.

Leaders, if you’re not a part of a group where you are being challenged to grow, make it happen!  If you’re not sharing what God’s teaching you with others, make it happen!  This is a low financial cost endeavor – it really just takes time and intentional effort. My experience has been that every time I lead an IMPACT group, I learn a great deal, and my own leadership muscles are strengthened.

This session, I tried something new. Each time I do this, I adjust and adapt based on what I’ve learned from previous sessions.  I limited the size of the group for the first time, in order to make it more conversational and intimate, and I limited the time the group would meet to 8 weeks.  I sent out an email announcing this summer’s group, and the group filled up within a few hours.  I’ve found that leaders want to get better; they want to grow and develop their leadership gift, especially in the church.  Sometimes they just need an opportunity and an invitation.  You can do that!

How are you developing other leaders?  What tools or groups like IMPACT have you found helpful as you’ve grown as a leader?  What books would you suggest I consider for future IMPACT groups?


Excellence Begins On Time

IMG_2825I was listening to a leadership podcast by pastor Perry Noble earlier this week while I drove.  It’s from last year, and has to do with the difference between excellence and extravagance in the local church.  Excellent listen – I’d recommend it to you.

One of the things Perry said in passing resonated with me.  “Excellence begins on time.”

Leaders, let’s be honest.  How often do our meetings start on time, and how often are we waiting till more people or “everyone” gets there?  And it’s not just meetings – it can be applied to events, training sessions, workshops, even worship services!

Last week I was at a homeschool convention in South Carolina.  I attended one of the workshops, getting there about 5 minutes before the published start time.  The presenter was there, had his slides ready to go, and we waited.  About 150 of us in the room.  Waiting.  At about 2 minutes past the start time, he said “we’ll just wait a few more minutes for those folks who are late today.”  And we did.  The workshop started 7 minutes late.  It was good, but what a way to start.

The next day I was going to attend another of that same presenter’s workshops.  I was running a bit behind walking across the convention center, but I thought, “no worries, he doesn’t start on time.”  And guess what.  He didn’t.  I was late but still there well before he started.

I hate to be late.  It’s been ingrained in me since I was a 9th grader in marching band – our director frequently would say “if you’re on time, you’re late!”  I’ve found that to be good advice both in the business world and now in the local church.  But not everyone shares that mindset.

I believe excellence begins with being on time, with beginning on time, and continues with delivering more than was expected.  I remember years ago being on staff at a church where we started late.  Every. Single. Week.  It drove me nuts. When I asked about it, I was told “people aren’t here yet – we’ll start when the room’s more full.”

Hear me – when we do that, we empower people to be late.  They will think, just like I did last week, “no worries – they don’t start on time anyway.”  And we will enable their habitual lateness.

It begins with us, leaders.  We set the tone – we set the pace.  Excellence begins on time.  I am far from perfect at this, but it’s always what I aim at.  Let’s encourage a culture of excellence that begins on time.  And see what happens when we do.

 Have you ever had an experience like I did last week?  What does lateness by a leader or organization communicate to you?

God Made Them Leaders, Male and Female

lightstock_146024_medium_user_2298620In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Galatia:  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Much ink has been spilled and many pixels used to discuss the issue of leadership in the church with regard to gender roles.  Not everyone agrees with me that the reading of Galatians means that every role in the church is open to anyone gifted and called to it.  But based on my study of God’s Word, I believe that strongly.

At Southview, the church where I serve, the decision was made long before I arrived that every role is open to any believer who is GIFTED and CALLED to that role.  Those two words are important.

By gifted, I’m referring to spiritual gifts.  According to Scripture, every believer receives at least one spiritual gift.  That gift may change over time – it’s not static.  And we don’t receive it fully mature – what I mean by that is that our gifts have to be developed and grown, just like muscles.  If someone has the gift of teaching, or giving, or serving, they should strive to learn all they can about it, learn from others with that gift how they can utilize it better, and seek to use it regularly.  By doing those three things, the gift begins to be developed, and it’s utilization is more effective and stronger.

By called, I’m referring to that prompting by the Holy Spirit to step out into a role.  If you’re not called – if you just fill a slot – then you’ll find that as your excitement and enthusiasm wanes (as it does for every one of us at times), your obedience to serve others with that gift will wane as well.

This month, the Jewish people celebrate Purim, a festival set aside to annually remember one of the greatest leaders Israel ever had – a woman named Esther.  Because of her devotion to God and her courage, God used her to save the nation from annihilation.  She’s not alone – in the pages of the Bible we find leaders like the judge Deborah, the prophet Huldah, the deacon Phoebe, and the apostle Junia.  That’s just a sampling – and I believe that the Bible is clear that those God gifts and calls to a role, be they male or female, they should serve.

I think by freeing up people to serve as they are gifted and called, regardless of their race (Jew or Gentile), socio-economic status (slave or free), or gender (male or female), is the clear teaching of Scripture in this passage and many others.  Tradition has led the church at times down a different road, and while I can understand those who feel its tug, my question is always “what does the Bible say?”  I want to follow Scripture where it leads.  And I want to lead in a way that is consistent with that, even and especially when it’s difficult.

It is God who chooses what gifts are given to each follower of Jesus.  It is God who determines who is called to what role of service.  It is God who made them leaders, male and female – in the pages of the Bible and today.

When God gifts and calls someone to lead, may we never get in the way of that.

Where have you seen this issue dealt with in a positive way in the local church?  How can we as leaders help to empower and equip every believer to know their gifts and use their gifts to serve others?

4 Ways To Develop Your Leadership Bench

scottwilliamsOne of my favorite leadership blogs is by Scott Williams over at  Last week I saw a post titled “11 Key Attributes of Great Leadership.”  It’s worth your time if you missed it.  One of the 11 attiributes was a “spirit of development.”  Scott wrote: “Develop other leaders; without leadership development, the pipeline of leadership is halted.”  Boy, is that ever true!

Each year, I talk over with the Elders what my major areas of focus are going to be.  I love getting input from them and from the other pastors as to where they think my time, energy, and focus would best be spent. One of my goals for 2015 is developing Southview’s “leadership bench.” If we are not continually developing new leaders, we’re going to pay the price down the road.

This is a lesson I thought I had down, but as with most things, if you don’t stay focused, you can lose sight of the important by allowing the urgent to crowd it out.  Over the last few years, I have not been as diligent as I should have been, and we’ve seen fewer leaders stepping up – because we’ve been investing less in new and emerging leaders!  This is one of my major focus areas this year (and every year from now on) – I want to make sure Southview has a strong leadership bench.  Leadership matters, and if I’m not investing in and developing new leaders for tomorrow, it’s possible we won’t have the leaders we need when we need them.

I think leadership development should be done with a 5-10 year view in mind.  What kind of leaders do I want to see engaged in our church’s leadership 5 years from now? 10 years from now?  That’s the kind I need to start developing and investing in today.  And it doesn’t just happen – it takes intentional effort and focus (kind of a recurrent theme on this blog, isn’t it?).

Here are four ways you can begin to develop your leadership bench.

1. Reach out to new and emerging leaders.

Send an email, fire off a text, pick up the phone, or walk across the room – you take the initiative.  Let them know you see leadership potential in them and you want to help them grow.  If they’re not interested, no harm no foul – but don’t wait for them to walk up to you.

2. Provide leadership development opportunities.

At Southview this year, we’re providing two leadership development conferences – the Leadercast and the Global Leadership Summit.  Each of these simulcast conferences feature outstanding speakers who will help leaders get better and grow.  I’m going to invite as many potential and emerging leaders as I can.

3. Gather potential leaders into a small group.

This summer, I’ll be leading a small group for potential and emerging leaders called IMPACT.  This group is designed to be a safe place where we can discuss leadership challenges, grow in our own leadership, and learn from one another. I create a syllabus for each group based on who’s involved, using videos, books, articles, and other resources. It’s one of my favorite things to do all year.

4. Provide potential leaders with resources to help them grow.

I try to keep books and other resources on hand to give to potential and emerging leaders. If I find a book particularly helpful, I’ll use it with the IMPACT small group or put it in the hands of a new leader so we can discuss it once they read it.  This has proven to be invaluable over the years as it gives our leadership shared language, principles, and understanding.

If you’re not currently thinking through the leadership development process for your organization, today’s a great day to start.  And if I can help you, just ask.

How are you being intentional in your organization’s leadership development process?

The Church Is A Results Oriented Organization

By Hakandahlstrom at en.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by IrisKawling at en.wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

By Hakandahlstrom at en.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by IrisKawling at en.wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Famed hockey player and coach Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”  

That’s true in leadership too.

So often, I’m reticent to take a flyer, to try something big and audacious.  But that’s the only way to accomplish something big and audacious!

This year at Southview we’re stepping out and trying a few new things.  They may fail badly – or they may succeed beyond our hopes.  The only way to know is to step out and take the shot.

I heard a quote the other day from pastor Bill Hybels – “we are a results oriented organization, and we make no apologies for that.” I agree with that – the church IS a results oriented organization!  We have a mission given to us by Jesus, and we are responsible and will be held accountable for how we lead and what we do with that mission.

I think there’s a common perception in churches that we shouldn’t focus on results, that we should just be faithful and keep on keeping on.  I agree with the first part – we should be faithful – but being faithful involves more than just maintaining the status quo.  It involves taking shots that we’re not 100% sure will work! It involves trying new things, being creative, thinking beyond what worked yesterday.  It involves realizing when something isn’t working and stopping or changing it.  It involves evaluating results – and seeking better results.  And none of that just happens; it all requires intentionality.

The church is a results oriented organization, and we should make no apologies for it.  We should constantly be asking “how can we do this better?”  The mission – reaching people with the message of Jesus and helping them grow to maturity in Him – is too important not to.

Do you agree that the church is a results oriented organization?  Why or why not?


Photo from The Gospel Coalition website

On Sunday, a video was released by ISIS showing the beheadings of 21 Christians who refused to recant their faith in Jesus.  The world has been shocked and horrified month after month by the violence that these terrorists have unleashed, and this latest video only adds to that.

Two blog posts have stood out in my reading about this: one here by Tom Schreiner, where he offers an excellent biblical meditation on these executions.  The other is here by Ann Voskamp, where she offers extended thoughts on the church’s response to such violence and hatred.

The video that ISIS uploaded is titled “A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.”  It is intended for those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ, and it is intended to create fear and anxiety that will lead to a denial of Jesus.  May it never be so.

I am greatly troubled at heart by what I see in the actions of these terrorists. Their cruelty and hate filled actions reveal hearts of wicked darkness.  But I am overcome with joy at the knowledge that these Coptic Christian brothers are now with Jesus, experiencing the hope that is promised to all who believe.

Upon learning of their executions, Pope Francis said “Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply because they were Christians. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a witness that cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

We’ll be talking about persecution to close out the Overwhelmed series at Southview in a few weeks.  I believe it’s important to know what Jesus and the apostles had to say on this subject, and we’ll also be talking about how to respond when faced with persecution because of our faith.

Today I pray that every follower of Jesus would have the courage and fortitude to face persecution with that kind of strength. I pray for the families of these men, that they would find comfort in the sure knowledge that they are now with our Lord Jesus.  I pray that believers around the world would not give in to the demons of hate and anger, but instead do as Jesus taught us and respond to hate with love. And I pray that leaders in particular would rise and stand against this evil.  In the infamous words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Pray for Christians who are being persecuted and martyred today. And pray that every one of us would stand as firmly with Jesus as these 21 men did should we ever be faced with what they were.

Tough Weeks

lightstock_177929_medium_user_2298620Every leader I know has tough days and tough weeks.  No matter what you lead, or in what context, you WILL have difficult seasons.  I’m in one right now.

Last week, a friend of mine committed suicide.  Those are difficult words to type.  Many of us at Southview knew him and consider him a friend, and this has been a challenging and difficult week as we seek to process what he did.

Right now at Southview, we’re in a series of messages called “Overwhelmed.”  When we planned this series last fall, we planned for messages on being overwhelmed by the “perfect parents” around us, on being overwhelmed by anxiety, and on being overwhelmed by depression.  We had no idea what this week would hold.

This Sunday, I’ll be speaking on a topic we didn’t plan to discuss – suicide.  I want to walk through what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about this topic.  In recent days I’ve seen a lot of things being said online that are unbiblical and unhelpful, and I want to teach about what the Bible says on this very difficult topic.

We don’t talk a lot about suicide and depression in the church today.  And I don’t believe that’s right, because it affects so many people. There has been a stigma, a sense of judgmentalism, around this topic, despite the fact that so many have encountered it among those they know.  I’ve heard so few sermons on this topic, so little teaching about something that affects so many.  


  • 37,000 people will take their own life this year.
  • Once every 15 minutes, someone in the US takes their own life.
  • Once every forty seconds, someone in the world takes their own life.
  • The greatest number of suicides happen with white males age 45-64.
  • Suicide is now between the second and third leading cause of death for those age 15-24.
  • The leading cause of death by suicide is clinical depression.
  • Almost everyone has at least a distant experience with suicide in their extended family or circle of friends, if not closer.

It is normal at times like this to have questions.  I know that questions, thoughts, and emotions have been running through my mind during the last 4 days.  That’s normal.  But my goal as a pastor is to help us look at and interpret our experiences through the lens of Scripture – to examine what God says about our circumstances and what happens in our world – and allow what He says to influence and direct our thoughts, our words, and our feelings.

Leaders, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid the tough topics.  Especially when addressing them could bring hope to someone who’s struggling today.

What Do You Look For When You’re Hiring A New Team Member?

Across the fields of business, non-profits, and the church, I’ve been in and around leadership circles for over 20 years now.  In my first experience leading a team, where I was responsible for a team of 20-25 people, hiring, training, and in some cases firing, I learned a lot of lessons – many in what not to do!

In the early 2000’s, I first heard a pastor named Bill Hybels teach on what to look for when you’re hiring a new team member. You can watch a six minute explanation by Bill of what he looks for:

I’ve used that list for nearly 15 years now.  Every time I’m looking for the next member of our team, I look for character, competency, chemistry, culture, and calling.  If one of those is not a good fit, that’s a red flag and we need to slow WAY down and look more closely at it.

I can recall early in my leadership once making in incredibly poor hiring decision. At the time, I thought it was the right call, but it wasn’t even close. The employee was a poor culture fit for our organization, which I could have and should have recognized during the hiring process (which I should have taken MUCH longer with). The employment relationship didn’t even last four months.

I could have said, “Well, this person just didn’t work out. It’s their fault, and I’ll just try again, using the same hiring methodology I used the first time. “ But my goal was to see this as a learning moment, and to do that I had to systematically evaluate what had happened and “own” my contribution to this hiring failure. I evaluated the hiring process with fresh eyes, seeing where I should have paid attention to warning signs and comments during that process and not proceeded with the hire, especially at such a high speed.

I’ve heard it said many times: hire slow, fire fast.  I think there’s great wisdom in that, and I think if you do the first, you won’t have to do the second nearly as often.

What do you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?


When Leaders Compromise

lightstock_167786_medium_user_2298620A few months back, I observed one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a while.  A leader stood up in his church and compromised what the Bible teaches about a topic, simply because it’s not socially acceptable in our culture to teach otherwise.  He chose to go with what was socially acceptable, and relegate the Bible’s teaching on this subject to applicability in antiquity, not in our lives today.

This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard such a thing, but each time it happens, it’s so sad to me.  To stand up and say, “This is what the Bible teaches – I don’t like it, and I don’t fully understand why, but this is what it says and this is what it means, regardless of what I think about it” – that’s honest, and I can respect that.  I’ve felt that way at times.  But to offer  your opinion as what God really means, despite what the Biblical text clearly says – that’s not ok.  And to see a leader compromise the truth of Scripture and the integrity of their ministry like that is really heart breaking.

Teaching is hard.  James 3:1 writes that, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I fully understand and can empathize with the fact that it’s not always fun and enjoyable to bring the whole counsel of God’s Word to people.  I certainly don’t always want to hear it!  Scripture convicts and challenges my ways of thinking and living, and that’s not always pleasant.  But it is a standard that is unchanging and immovable, regardless of how I feel or what I think (which can change from day to day or year to year).

Leaders, be aware: when you choose to compromise, to take the easier road, you don’t just make a poor choice for yourself.  You lead all those who follow you down that path, and the ripple effect spreads farther than you know.

I share this post in all humility. I’m CONFIDENT that in nearly 20 years of teaching the Bible that I’ve made errors when I’ve taught. I’m CONFIDENT that I’ve not always done the absolute best job possible exegeting and teaching the text.  Young teachers can make terrible mistakes as they are learning, and I was no exception.  But it’s never been intentional.  It’s never been because I didn’t like what I read in Scripture on a topic and felt the need to “update” the Bible.  Leaders and teachers, we don’t have edit rights to that document.

The temptation to compromise the teaching of Scripture is nothing new.  It was present in the early church and in every generation that followed, and it is very present in our day.  What is politically correct or socially expedient might be easier to stand and deliver, but that doesn’t make it biblical.  And when we choose to present it as such, we compromise the leadership that is entrusted to us and the role of teacher that is placed in our hands.

Fight the temptation.  No matter how uncomfortable, no matter how difficult, present the truth of Scripture.  And trust God to use it as only He can to change lives.

Have you ever been tempted to compromise the truth of Scripture as you prepare to teach or as you stand to present it?  How do you guard against that?