Lessons Learned From 50 Years in Leadership

Chuck Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, received  a Lifetime Achievement Award at Catalyst 09.  He then spoke on “10 Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years in Leadership”.  Because I am in the process of retiring from UGACCF after 28 years here and after 41 years of ministry what he had to say really resonated with me. His “top 10” list of leadership lessons were:

  1. It’s lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the lonelier it is.
  2. It’s dangerous to succeed. He expressed especial concern for those who are under 30 and are very gifted and successful.  Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but it is rare because He usually uses leaders who have gone through “crushing and failure” first.  This was a reference back to what he was told by an experienced minister when he was fresh out of the military and a freshman at Seminary: “When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him.”
  3. It’s hardest at home. Swindoll was quite humorous in relaying the truth that no matter how “famous” you are as a leader, speaker, or teacher at home you’re not anything special.  No that I am famous but as one who has traveled and spoken a lot over the years I can testify that this is so true.  Instead of applause you get “Dad, you’re not wearing that in public are you?”  No one ever told me this in Seminary.
  4. It’s essential to be real. If there’s one realm where phoniness is common, it’s among leaders.  Stay real.
  5. It’s painful to obey. There are rewards but the Lord will direct you to do some things that won’t be your choice.  Invariably you will give up what you want to do for the cross.
  6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
  7. Attititude is more important than actions.  Swindoll joked “Your family may not have told you, but some of you are getting hard to be around.”  His point: A bad attitude overshadows good actions.
  8. Integrity eclipses image.  Our world highlights image but what is really important is what you do out of the spotlight and behind the scenes.
  9. God’s way is better than my way.
  10. Christlikeness begins and ends with humility.

2 Corinthians 4:5-7  tells us that we must be willing to leave the familiar means without disturbing the Biblical message. We get that backwards. This was written in the first century, and now we are in the 21st century. Methods change but the message stays the same. Don’t miss the message. As you alter the methods, don’t mess with the message.

Swindoll also gave 3 important observations abotu minstry:

  1. With every ministry a special mercy is needed.
  2. In every ministry the same things must be renounced and rejected: hiding shameful things, doing deceitful things, and corrupting truthful things.
  3. Through every ministry a unique style should be pursued.
    We don’t preach or promote ourselves (it isn’t about us). We declare Christ Jesus as Lord (it’s all about Him). We see ourselves as bond-servants for Jesus Christ.

Swindoll concluded with “5 Statements Worth Remembering During Your Next 50 Years of Leadership”:

  1. Whatever you do, do more with others and less alone.
    It will help you become accountable.
  2. Whenever you do it, emphasize quality not quantity.
  3. Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you the best.
    It will keep you from exaggerating. it will help keep your stories true. A good friend will tell you things that others will not. They will hold you close to truth.
  4. Whoever may respond to your ministry, keep a level head.
  5. However long you lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace.
    Stay thankful. Stay gracious

I would love to hear which of these lessons strikes you most.  So please add your comment.

Sing when your heart is breaking

As I said yesterday I am struggling with feeling close to God right now. God seems far away from me.  When God seems far away, I go to the Psalms because the Psalmist struggled mightily with the same feelings.  The way he handled his struggle becomes my guide to handling my own.  For example read Psalm 13:5,6: “My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

These words were penned at a time when David felt more like crying and singing.  As I look at the context of these few words and meditate on them I began to “get” David.  He was clinging to what he knew to be true and acting on it rather than clinging to what he felt to be true and acting on that.  I have learned that this really works!  I have learned that clinging to what I know to be true despite my feelings to the contrary is an incredible spiritual discipline.  So when I am feeling alienated from God I remind myself of the things God has done for me, and rejoice in them rather than give in to my feelings.

I think of all the things I know to be true acts of God in my life, and offer them up to God. I pray prayers like, “Lord, You’ve made such a difference in my life. You’ve given me joy.  You’ve provided for me and my family.  You’ve forgiven my sins. You’ve given me eternal life.  You’ve answered my prayers.”  I name as many specific answers to prayer that I can think of!   As I remind myself of the things Jesus has done for me, and as I offer them up to God in prayer, I  find myself strengthened in Him in spite of myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I pretend to feel something that I don’t really feel.  God knows how I feel; if I can’t be honest with him or He is not much of a god.  What I am saying is that I search my heart for those things I know to be true acts of God in my life and, by faith, I rejoice in them.  I cling to them by faith.  I refuse to be ruled by these false feelings of alienation from my Father.

When I feel like God is far away I sometimes think about where my life would be if I had never become a Christian.  Based on where I was before I met Jesus, what would my life have been like if it had followed its logical progression?  What kind of career would I have pursued?  What kind of person would I have married?  What kind of father would I have become? What kind of grandfather would I be?   Every time I think these things through, I am overcome with gratitude for God’s sovereign mercy in my life.  Even when he seems far away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has made an incredible difference in my life, and I cling to that.  And I thank him for it.

I believe that love isn’t a feeling, it’s something you do.  What I sometimes forget, though, is that praise (or worship) isn’t a feeling either; it’s something you do.

Praise is often an emotional experience.  Sometimes when your heart is “bubbling” you overflow with praise, and you can’t help but sing to God what you’re feeling in your heart.  When that happens, it’s wonderful.

However, even during those times when our heart isn’t “bubbling,” we should continue to worship God.  Even when David’s heart felt like it was breaking, he lifted up his heart to God.  Even when God seemed far away, he continued to sing his praise to Him.

David begins this Psalm by admitting that God seems very far away. And he ends it by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

David isn’t saying this because he suddenly experienced an emotional turn-around (in the time it took him to write these six verses!) and was suddenly back on top of the mountain. He’s saying it because he understands that praise is an act of faith, not of feelings. He’s saying, “I will sing to the Lord, regardless of how I feel.”

Some people say, “Isn’t it hypocritical to sing praise when you don’t feel close to God?”  I guess it is hypocritical if you believe you’re supposed to praise God only when you feel good.  But that’s not what the Bible teaches. We are to praise him all during the day, regardless of how we feel.  Our feelings will come and go; our praise to him should be consistent.

I’ll take it a step further.  God knows how we really feel, and I think he is more pleased when we praise him during those times we don’t feel all bubbly inside.

Think of it this way. Back when my daughters were teenagers they often wanted to borrow my car(and I often said no!), so when I let them drive they were overcome with joy, and would say something along the lines of “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you, I love you, I love you!” And, no doubt, the words were sincere. But suppose right after I had made one of them mow our lawn, and in the midst of the sullen grumpiness that teenagers develop to the point of an art form, she suddenly said to me, “You know, Dad, I love you. And I want you to know that I am glad you are my dad.” Wouldn’t those words, spoken in those circumstances, carry more weight than the others?

It’s easy to praise God when we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, but if we continue to praise Him even when He seems far away, He is especially pleased.  I believe we often worship our emotions more than we worship God.  To worship God instead of our emotions means that our worship of God is independent of our feelings at any given moment.

Whatever we put first is what we worship.  David shows us the path of true worship by writing “I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” when he felt distant from God.  If we do what our feelings tell us to do rather than what God tells us to do, which are we worshipping?

I would love to hear your comments.