Extra Innings Leadership

SHAW_325_3OTwinnerWe are smack in the middle of baseball season heading to the July All-Star break. Despite this we are in the middle of the ice hockey finals. Still! Normally my interest for this drops by May because the season is too long, baseball is up and running and it is just too warm outside to think about ice hockey.

But my interest this year goes well past May because the Chicago Blackhawks are in the finals. Last night they played the Bruins in one of the longest playoff games in NHL history. At the start of the 3rd overtime period it was still 3-3.


Whether it’s baseball, hockey, or just the local beer softball league, everyone expects to play a normal game. But sometimes it’s tie at the end of regulation and the teams play overtime. In the playoffs you compete until someone wins or everyone dies from exhaustion.  (Of course, in the guys-over-40 softball league it’s just as intense– but if you run out of beer, the game is called and everyone heads to the bar.)


Playing extra innings is hard enough. Weariness sets in and sheer intensity of competition takes its toll on the body and the mind. Emotions run thin and a single mistake can cost you the game. Everyone has to take it up a notch at the time when they are least capable of doing so.


But leading in extra innings is even harder.


It is especially difficult for the player-coach, the guy or gal who has to perform at the top of their game while motivating and guiding the rest of the team. Overtime will test your leadership ability in ways that other challenges cannot for the sheer fact that so much more energy, stamina, and focus are required.


Here are a few tips on how to lead when there is more game left on the clock than there is in the players.


1)     Acknowledge the reality of the challenge. This is no time for fake, rah-rah cheerleading that basically communicates, “C’mon guys, this isn’t any big deal.” It IS a big deal. Getting the project done, preparing the presentation, or solving the crisis really matters. Let your team know that YOU know this is not just really important – it is also going to be hard.


2)     Discern what is “doable hard” versus “destructive hard.” Working harder in overtime does not mean everyone becomes a crazy workaholic and winds up quitting when the project is over. People have to juggle the extra work in a way that considers family commitments and personal health. If every week at work is another overtime crisis it will ultimately crush morale, deplete leadership resources and produce an inferior product or service.


Some organizations use abusive work practices to force “extra innings” for employees. Famously, it is Wall Street financial companies, urban hospitals and top-end law firms who create insane work hours to weed out the “weak” and get more bang for their buck. It is illegal in some cases and demeaning in at best. Organizations that pay “part-time” people for 32 hours (to avoid paying for health benefits) but “allow” them to work well past that are ethically bankrupt.


3)     Focus the energy. In sports you have to coach tired players and create a winning game plan. You cannot use all the resources in the first few minutes hoping for the quick kill. If you fail, you are in big trouble because you might have another 30, 60 or even 90 minutes of game time ahead. So get your team members focused on what they do best, and help them draft a long-term approach. Doing what they do best will leverage the energy they have. Don’t ask everyone to help with everything. It gets chaotic, and wastes time you do not have.


4)     Deal directly with complainers. When the going gets tough the complainers get grumpy. You and the team cannot tolerate this – it saps energy, wastes time, and damages morale. Pull the offenders aside, look ‘em in the eye and let them know that attitude is everything, especially in overtime.


5)     Outwork your team. In OT great captains and managers rise to a new level of commitment, energy, and focus. You cannot push others to stretch while you operate at the normal pace and level. Let the team see that you are willing to do the extra work to get the job done. It is demoralizing to serve on teams and staffs where you outwork the leaders, and get none of the perks, notoriety, vacation time, or income their leaders receive. It is sad.


6)     Finally, play to win, not just survive. Yes, look at the potential for a long overtime. You might need 6 pitchers in extra innings, so be strategic in their deployment. But don’t settle for survival. Get the team together and determine what the goal is, what “victory” looks like and then get after it.  If it just drags on, then energy wanes, the team gets distracted, and the victory goes to others.


The captains and coaches of the Blackhawks led well in OT. They rotated players on lines, using shorter shifts, called time outs, worked a clear strategy, and led by example. It was a winning combination.  A 4-3 victory well into the 3rd overtime.


Imagine how good that must feel today!

 Photo Credit: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=673963

Creating Margin in your Leadership

Carving out space for refreshment and renewal is essential for lasting leadership. Here is a great way to monitor your life and create space in your schedule.




Creating Margin in your Leadership – Transcribed

One of the challenges we face as leaders is creating margin in our lives and I want to talk to you just for a couple of minutes about having margin and space in your schedule and in your leadership to refresh and renew yourself.
A friend Shared a tool with me over 20 years ago that served me quite well along these lines. I would like you to take the seven days of the week and put them across the top, on a piece of paper, so Monday through or where ever you would like to start list out the seven days. And then down the left side put three blocks of time morning, afternoon, and evening.
You’re creating 21 boxes, 7 across the top, 3 down, 21 boxes in a grid. I want you to place an X in every box you have a commitment that you have to fulfill. It’s not optional, you have to do something go to work, maybe you go to church, maybe you go do part of civic duties, you’re on a board, you have to travel, you have to do something with the family, not choose to things these are have to things, these are demands placed on you.
Put an X in every box that has even the smallest meeting in it, it could be one hour, it could be middle of the afternoon or 8 o’clock in the evening you’re going to meet with someone X the whole time zone out, that whole block. Because what happens is emotional energy is spent, physical energy is spent, time is spent. And sometimes there is the meeting after the meeting, or even if you have phone calls you have to make, you think it’s gonna be 20 minutes it turns out to be 2 hours. It’s a block of time you have an obligation in, so X it out.
Here’s the key: if you have more than 19, week after week after week you’re headed to burn out. If you have obligations in 20, 21 of those boxes week in and week out, that’s a tough deal.
Now, sometimes we all have seasons like that or short seasons like that and I hope that the end of a season like that you have several days or some time to pull back, renew, refresh, restore.
But on a regular basis you should be probably in that, if you are active, probably in that 16 to 17 range. Were you have at least three or four blocks in the week, not that you are doing absolutely nothing, but that no one is making you do something. You don’t have to be somewhere, you get to choose what to do. You want to take a nap, you take a nap, you want to read a book, you read a book, you want to get the family and go out, you go out. But you’re not obligated.
So take a look at your life on that grid and see what a month looks like. Are you running constantly in that 20 to 21 zone? Then find blocks of time that you can guard, and create margin. You going to do some phone calls? Stock them all one night of the week. Put everything into one block and free up another block. Instead of having four one hour commitments in different areas maybe you can cluster those two areas so you free up a couple spaces on the 21 block grid.
Leaders need margin, you need some space, you need to build it regularly, and you need it at the end of a tough run. I’m just finishing a tough run, I’ve got some space built in for that but I am very aware that on a regular basis I need to create margin.
You need to do that in your leadership, you’ll thrive if you do.

Are You Ready for Shared Leadership?

Shared Leadership Dr Bill I am a proponent of a flatter leadership culture. I believe in teamwork, shared responsibility, very little hierarchy and a more collaborative approach. Not only does it work – it works better. While a number of leadership “gurus” continue to act and teach like the Big Dog Leader model is a given (most then are well over age 50), a rising groundswell of leaders are opting out of the model. They are dropping like flies from organizations that thrive on hierarchy and the Command and Control model espoused at most Leadership Conferences.

So I am thrilled to see the changes that are coming. But here’s the question…


Are we – are YOU — ready for shared leadership?


Here are a few things that shared leadership implies. And you might have a few more so join the conversation.

1)    Shared leadership means shared blame. Ok, I know that you intellectually agree, but are you willing to take your share of the heat when things get hot? Or even more than your share?  When I coach organizations building a flatter leadership structure, the “underlings” are thrilled to be handed an oar or two, to row with the crew.  But I wonder if they are just as willing to grab a bucket when the boat takes on water in the storm? Are you willing to take the criticism, the blame for the loss or the downturn, or be confronted about the misfire?

2)    Shared leadership means deeper communication more often.  The more people involved in a process the more talking you need to do. That might mean more emails, more updates, more quick “check-in” meetings like Lencioni advocates in Death by Meeting. You ready for that?

3)    Shared Leadership means longer decision-making. I think this is generally good, but it takes some getting used to. I would advocate that, in the long run, you get better decisions and have less “clean up” to do when the solo leader goes rogue and makes a lousy hire or a bad decision “from the gut” (which is often code for “Let’s do it my way because I’m always right and I am in control). But decisions by a team take longer than solo leadership decisions.

4)    Shared Leadership means giving in and sometimes giving up. Of course, “real leaders” NEVER give up. Mandela is a great one to speak to this. In his book “Mandela’s Way” he has a chapter entitled, “Leading from the Back.” You need to read it. It comes after “Leading from the Front” so he is not opposed to being our front at times. But a willingness to step back and let other leaders have their way is an art that requires patience, trust and humility – a quality lacking in many “Big Dog” leaders. Are you ready to play second fiddle…or no fiddle at all?

5)    Share Leadership means shared success. Are you ready to share the glory, the rewards, the perks, the status symbols, and the “corner” office(s)? Many are not. If you have worked in a place where many people work longer and harder than the “point leader” but they get the special trips, income, organizational resources, power, freedom, vacation time, public recognition, and “benefit of the doubt” when stuff goes wrong, you know how that feels. It is a real demoralizing situation, especially when they pretend to be “a leader among equals” which again is code for “let’s share the problems but I get the goodies.” So are you willing to share the goodies equally among the leadership team? Even bonuses, and other rewards? We’ll see.


Shared leadership is more than an ideal. It is a commitment to becoming a real community of leaders with mutual accountability, vision, goals, trust, responsibility, blame and rewards.


It takes work, but it is really worth it. The team is stronger, the cause is more compelling, the results last longer and the process of “leadership succession” is virtually seamless, because there is no “mega-leader” to replace with another one. Instead, the team grows, changes, and new leaders are added as others move on. It is driven by much more than a person.


Are you ready for that?


Leadership Destroys Community

Leadership Destroys CommunityWhat kind of leadership destroys community and fractures a team? What role do leaders play in the process of fostering (or inhibiting) a sense of unity among team members, group leaders and staff? Here are some pitfalls to personally avoid and to confront in others when individualism trumps community. I have seen too much of this kind of leadership lately, and so I decided to revisit this topic.


Blinded by Vision

A vision is only as good as the reality it produces. Leaders obsessed with an ideal picture of what could be, fail to embrace what truly is. They live on vision fumes. Teammates and followers become frustrated and soon trust in the leader vaporizes. Activist and Pastor  Bonhoeffer famously observed “the one who loves his dream of community more than the community itself destroys the latter.” We could paraphrase: “The who loves his or her personal vision more than the people being envisioned, alienates them.”  It is easy to idealize our cause, mission, product launch, set of values or our service to a needy community, while ignoring the impact of our self-centered vision on the very people we are called to help.


Pre-occupied with Structure

When the model becomes the master community building’s a disaster (a cute rhyme but a deep truth). I have witnessed this in too many places—model-driven versus value-led leaders get obsessed with “the way” instead of looking at the values and processes that get you there. The structure serves the people; the people don’t serve the structure. Fluent teams and shared leadership mitigate against this. Top-down, top-dog leadership models tend to reinforce ineffective structure and promote unhealthy leaders.


Decidedly Irresponse-ible,

Any initiative requires strong leadership from the leadership team designated to carry out the venture. Leaders are “the voice” for the initiative and the guide to others seeking to build it. But there’s more. A leader who shuns the input of others and fails to consider their collective wisdom and insights is no longer responsible, leaving followers disconnected and devalued. This lack of response is the result of a failure – or a desire – to listen with empathy, respect and for the purpose of learning. Michael Hoppe’s Active Listening is a big help here. It takes some humility – and that goes a long way.


Focused on “Self”- Improvement

The inclination to use people instead of empowering them kills any team or community. When leaders make decisions from self-interest or self-promotion others lose respect for those leaders and then passion for the shared mission fizzles. Team leaders design meetings to meet personal needs or interests; staff members focus mostly on numbers and the success of big events; senior leaders make decisions to enhance personal agendas, and all this happens at the expense of the people we are called to lead.


Let’s look at our own leadership approach and style – are we killing the very thing we are working so hard to bring life to? If, so it’s time to change.

Life-Shaping Values

Values that shape you

What are the values that guide your decisions or influence how you spend your time? A few years ago I set out to define a few. I wanted them to be broad enough to address most aspects of life but have enough clarity to use as a “grid” or a “filter” for actions I might take, relationships I would be seeking, and how I might approach my work.

Values answer “WHY” the questions of your life, mission or a direction you are considering. They provide a guiding framework for reflection, decision making and time allocation.

Here are my four driving values. Confession: I do waste time and I do make bad decisions. But I know I would make more and squander more without a growing, guiding sense of why I do what I am doing.


Compelling Truth

I have to ask myself sometimes, “Is there are good reason I am doing this? What do I really believe? Are there certain “life truths” that guide me. Because I am a person of faith in the Christian tradition, I hold to some truths I believe have been revealed by God to guide our lives. These are captured in well-know scriptures and creeds. I think of the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, The Apostle’s Creed, The Book of Common Prayer, and some confessions and statements of faith created throughout the ages by various groups. (For an artistic and beautiful video rendition of Psalm 23, you might look at this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ervcj18qeyg .)

There are other important truths as well. Some of mine include “don’t sacrifice family to get ahead at work; honor your life rhythms; listen to your story and the stories of others; make the hard choice, most of the time it is the right one; your word is your bond; the news is not always true; everything works great until people show up; and, like they say, never take a sleeping pill and a laxative before bed. (Some awkward truths you just have to share!).


Does my life reflect truths I believe and do my actions contribute to their expression?


Inspiring Beauty

I love art, music, poetry, good food, great books and inspiring experiences. I use the term “beauty” to capture all of these because engagement with beauty moves me emotionally. Some beauty is superficial to be sure, and it can be used to manipulate and tempt and deceive. But at the core beauty lifts the soul, refreshes the heart and puts a smile on your face.

There is a deeper, truer beauty we need to pursue and embrace in the world and with one another. Model Cameron Russell shook the modeling world with her “tell all” talk at TED in January of this year. If you have not seen it, you must – especially you women. http://blog.ted.com/2013/01/16/model-cameron-russell-gives-the-real-story-behind-six-of-her-stunning-photos/



Does my activity add beauty to what we are doing; am I taking time to soak in the beauty of the moment?


Bold Love

Love is a most misunderstood virtue, often containing a mix of wondrous truth and awful lies. I wonder if many people truly understand love anymore, especially in light of how we demean and trivialize it.

Bold love implies adventure—the risk we take to offer loving acts of kindness, loving words of hope and affirmation, or simple loving expressions of touch or our presence to those whose lives ache with pain, heartache and rejection. “Bold” love challenges me to love others when at first they appear unlovable; it causes me to share love when it requires work to express that love (to the poor, the sick and the lonely); and bold love means receiving expressions of love from others even when I feel unworthy of love. It is the kind of love Dan Allender describes in his book Bold Love.


Does bold love define the way you view others, yourself, God and the world today?


Authentic Community

We are experiencing a return to communal life. The “rugged individualism” that Robert Bellah and others referred to in Habits of the Heart is finally giving way – in some places – to a more communal and “others-focused” mindset.

We all long for true community we are love, know, celebrate and serve one another, working together toward mutual goals and becoming a group of people that enjoy life together. I am privileged to share this kind of community with my family, a small group that meets regularly, some neighborhood friends, and some colleagues globally. For me, the “shared life” is the only life worth living.


Does a commitment to community guide the way you live, serve, and manage your life?


What are the values that shape you? Send them along so we can all learn from your thoughts – thanks.

Conflict Navigation – 6 Steps You Cannot Ignore

Conflict Navigation Dr. Bill DonahueI was talking with my son on the phone about a situation he was facing – a conflict between two members of a group that was affecting the entire group of eight. So, instead of having their regular gathering, the two members plus three from the group gathered to work it out together.

As he described what happened and how they chose to handle it, I realized they were wise about how they approached the situation and resolved it. And it reminded me of some principles of conflict navigation that every team, group and leader should be aware of. I have practiced and taught this for years.



1 – Start Soon: The temptation to avoid conflict often leads to not facing it at all. People put it off so long they figure, “That’s water under the bridge, now. Let’s just move on.” Or they think, “Maybe it will fix itself.” I guarantee that never happens. Don’t let things go on so long that deep-seated feelings and anger start boiling under the lid. The next time there is a disagreement among members this pot is going to blow! You don’t have to act immediately; let emotions calm down, get a clear head, clarify what you want to say, and then in 24-48 hours deal with it.


2- Meet Face to Face: Not email, not texting, not writing a long heart-felt letter. The impersonal approach makes it difficult to have a conversation, read feelings, respond “in the moment” and intercept misperceptions before a long trail of emails or texts gets established. Have a cup of coffee and work it out.


3- Affirm the Relationship: Be genuine and let the other party (or parties) know that you are there for them, you want to restore health to the relationship or team, and that you value them. Name some positive contributions or attitudes you see, and remind them that “You matter to us/me and that is why we need to meet and remove this barrier to our friendship/work.” This let’s them know you really want to work this out and move on. You are not finger-pointing just to “win” or be “right” – rather, you want restoration.


4- Make Observations not Accusations: Avoid “you” language and use “I” language. “You are a liar” is just going to add fuel to the fire. Better to say, “Twice I heard you say that you would make that phone call Tuesday, and now it is Thursday and the client is frustrated. I am concerned about that relationship.” OR, “Yesterday when you and I were arguing I felt attacked for my opinion. I heard you say some very harsh words and it hurt me. We need to talk this through.” Stick with, “I saw, I heard, I felt” language and then let them respond.


5- Get the Facts and Listen: Once you have taken a minute or two to make your comments, listen and ask, “Do you understand what I saw/felt/heard and why that is causing a problem?” Make sure you hear their words as well as their emotions. Clarify, repeat what they are saying to show you are listening, and make an effort to show you understand their side. (Same thing if you are the third party – make sure to two people in conflict have heard each other by making them say what they heard. DO NOT assume they listened, and do not simply ask for a yes-or-no response to the question, “Did you hear what Susan was saying?”


6- Promote Resolution: “Ok, so where do we go from here? Let’s find a way we can move forward. What do you need to take place? Here is what I need.” It may take some time to fully restore a relationship, especially if the conflict was bad and harsh things were don or said. But at least you can get the “issue” resolved, agree to move ahead, and determine a plan for continuing to process the damage, as needed. Avoid the extremes of dragging it out or trying to “clean it all up” in a hurry just because it is painful. You will regret wither approach. Stay in the process and move toward resolution.



Some good resources to use are:


Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott – http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=fierce+conversations&sprefix=fierce+con%2Caps%2C189


Caring Enough to Confront, by David Augsburger


Keeping Community at the Core

Community at the Core

I had the privilege of being with some great yet humble pastoral leaders last week at a forum in Atlanta. These 22 men and women are responsible for creating a climate where group life and effective teams can flourish in and through the life of the local church. Some world-renown churches were represented (Saddleback, LifeChurch, North Point) and some lesser known communities (Westridge, Sojourn, and Southridge in Canada) rounded out the list.


Church size, personal popularity, resources published, ministry longevity or the level of creativity were not the factors that made these leaders or their churches “great” in my eyes. Rather, they were successful because they maintained a relentless commitment to becoming a church with community at the core of everything they do.


Why? Because they knew and believed there is no discipleship without relationship! There can be no mass disciple-making using events and programs. Yes, you can create more followers with creative events, spectacular services and dynamic speakers. But you cannot make disciples.


As I listened to these friends and fellow leaders, it was clear that communal life and how it can change the world was truly at the center. It was not an afterthought, an add-on to be considered after focusing on fundraising, events, services, classes, programs and activities. I long for that kind of church.


But to be a place where community is at the core you must first believe that it really belongs there, where God put it and where Jesus lived it. And you must build everything around it. The heart of the gospel is community – the message that the God who lives in community came to restore community with his people through the life, death and resurrection of his son. (John 17:21)



How do we Become a Place with Community at the Core?


Here are some of the key insights that these leaders shared or that I took away as we engaged deeply about what it means for community to be central to the core of a church to catalyze spiritual growth and maximize world impact.


Strategy Matters: Organic growth is cool and new experiments are essential, but at the end of the day you need a cohesive, coherent strategy for building community life. It must not be so rigid as to inhibit innovation, nor so loose as to create unmanageable chaos. But you need one – missional groups, meta-church, life transformation groups, mid-sized communities…the models vary but not the need for a unified, cohesive strategy. And be careful not to over-program. The emerging discussion about Missional Communities was very provocative.


Clarity is King: Why do we do groups? What is our desired outcome? How do people get connected? Where do we find emerging leaders and how do we equip them? There are many questions and problems to solve, and most of them are complex or require real effort. But if you are committed to achieving clarity, you have most of the problem solved already. See Stanley on this.


Culture-Transformation is our Mission. Many Christians either attack the culture or run from it. But we are not called to build a community of navel gazers, obsessed with promoting an insulated, fortress mentality. People are lost, hurting, lonely, fear-filled, poor, hungry, homeless, hopeless, friendless, oppressed, unemployed, wounded and sick. We build community to strengthen the body AND enter the culture with a Luke 4 mindset. In God’s power we are setting captives free, bringing sight to the spiritually blind, offering good news and hope to the poor, and shouting out “God’s favor has come!”


Stories Stir the Soul: Listening to the stories of others and telling our story is a powerful way to connect people and build relationships with those outside our circle. Then we can connect our stories to God’s story.


Metrics Motivate the Mind: You get what you measure, but you cannot gauge progress without some markers. Without measurement there is no management. Plan to measure qualitative and quantitative growth, getting feedback so that you can focus your training and development of people.


Leaders Make a Big Difference: We all advocate the vision of shared ministry, mutual use of gifts, empowering one another to serve, and taking ownership of ministry at every level. But we also know that quality, committed leadership matters.  We want a flatter kind of church structure, and we know that leaders themselves have a big role in making that happen. We have to give more away, take more risks, allow others to fail, and be the first to work ourselves out of a job. See my post about your leadership.


The Good News is the Best News: We affirmed our commitment to the gospel-story of Jesus, teaching His way of being with people, loving others, living a sacrificial life, redeeming us from sin and shame, and putting us on a new path toward abundant life.


I was so proud to be in the room with such an amazing group of servants whose hearts are tender, minds are sharp, and souls long for real change. And who can laugh at themselves (and one another!) in a way that is simply pure joy.


With whom do you gather for this kind of inspiration? 

Where do you get real interaction and thought-provoking conversation?

Where do you discover fresh ideas and see strategies that actually work in real life?  

Not just more speakers and content and information – but real engagement about life and ministry issues that produces lasting change? 




We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Photo credit: http://welcome2hope.org

Spiritual Growth for Ordinary People

Quote on On-Spritual-Growth by Dallas Willard, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”

















I can imagine asking a small group or team member in a church “Is spiritual growth important?” and hearing them answer, “Absolutely!” Then I would take a risk and follow that with, “Ok, but is it actually possible?” With some trepidation, most would likely say, “Yes, it’s possible.” Ok…now the defining question, the one I really want to ask. “Is spiritual growth possible for you and, if so, how is that happening now?”  


Silence. Confusion. Fear. Shame. Doubt.


Welcome to “Awkward Moments in Spiritual Conversations” – the hottest new reality show.


To be clear, I believe growth is possible. And I have seen growth in my life. But not without much pain, sorrow, heartache or effort. And almost never without OTHERS!


Spiritual Growth is Intensely Communal


Church leaders remain convinced that people find hope and strength for their journey when they gather regularly with a small community for mutual support and wisdom. But it is no secret that they are seeking so much more. Inwardly they wonder whether real, lasting change is possible or if a group experience will play a role in their progress toward Christ-centered living.


I’m talking about your group and my group here. Group members are asking, “Is it possible? And if so, how does it happen? How do we know it is happening?” And for many of us in positions of leadership, “What role do group leaders play in this grand communal kingdom adventure of spiritual growth?”


Yes, publicly we are quick to declare that intentional, relational community is essential for life-change. But privately many fearfully wonder, “Can our group actually produce disciples? Can we become radically transformed human beings who are nuts about Jesus, instead of just nuts?”


Let’s be honest. We expect John Ortberg’s group to change. And we’re certain that a few weeks with Dallas Willard will take us just a few feet from the throne-room of heaven. And is there really any doubt that if we invited Richard Foster and the Renovare team to lead our group or team we would experience non-stop spiritual growth, upward and to the right, 24/7, every week of every year?


That’s what most of us believe—really. For THEM it is possible. But not for US. THEY are Transformational Titans and WE are Spiritual Slugs.


Don’t you believe it. Not for one minute. They are not super saints. (Trust me. I have seen Ortberg make a mistake, bumble in the pulpit and sweat in a staff meeting. And once I heard him say a bad word in public.)


BREAKING STORY…Ordinary Person says, “Spiritual Growth is Possible!”


All kidding aside, what attracts us to our spiritual heroes is that they are pursuing a life of devotion, seeking to make themselves available to the transforming grace of God in every part of their lives. But in this they are neither unique nor specially equipped. But they (and many others around the globe) are doing something. And it is something we can all do. It’s normal. And it is normal to need others to pursue lasting change. It is what the church is supposed to do and be.


Todd Hunter puts it this way, regarding the church and the good news it offers the world.


“We are cooperative friends with Jesus, living in creative goodness, for the sake of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Christianity Beyond Belief


Thankfully we had guides throughout the ages who have experienced this kind of life. And apart from a few mystics called to a more solitary way of prayer and life, they will all tell you that intentional group life – communal living in the way of Jesus – is a major contributor to lasting progress and permanent change.


Such change is both the opportunity and possibility for every Christ-follower. And it is the potential for every team and group in your church – to become a catalytic, change-oriented community of people in hot pursuit of a new way of life.


But it will take effort, something we “grace-focused” people think is downright heresy when it comes to all things spiritual. I am not talking about works—I am talking about effort. Go ahead…look at the phrase “make every effort” in the Bible. Peter, Paul and Jesus all use it. Why? Because they have given up on grace? No. Just the opposite – because grace makes the effort possible!


The spiritual life takes effort. We do not drift into growth or wander into deep, transforming community. Words like strive, labor and effort are not foreign to the bible, or to spiritual growth. In fact, they are essential. Look for yourself.


Dallas Willard has often remarked, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”  The words of the bible and saints through the ages bear this out. Effort is powered by grace. Earning is fueled by pride.


So make every effort – to persist in prayer, to work through conflict, to listen with intensity, to serve despite weakness, and to lead with diligence. In so doing you will not earn God’s favor – you already have that. But you will grow in grace, sharpen your focus and reap the rewards of faithfulness, as the scripture promises.


But whatever you do, do not do this alone. In community you will discover what real transformation looks like, for ordinary people like you and me, meeting in average small groups, led by reluctant leaders, yet fueled by the transforming grace of God and empowered by His Spirit. It is a messy process, this community thing. And it takes effort. But the Church—this ragtag group of spiritual misfits—is called to live in a community of oneness for the sake of others. And I, for one, am eager to learn more about how to enter this community with honesty, humility and skill.


I really need it. And so do you. And so do all the “spiritual giants” who have gone before us and guide us today.


Time to recognize spiritual growth is normal and not… uh … um … what’s that word… um… oh yes, …awkward!



We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.


Responding to People in Pain



“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. LewisThe Problem of Pain







Responding to People in Pain – Transcribed

Want to talk to you today about responding to people in pain. In light of the recent events, the tragedy that has taken place around the Boston Marathon, there a lot of discussions and feelings and thoughts and emotions that people are experiencing. I happen to be attending a funeral later today for a friend’s mother and again in that situation there’s emotion and some suffering and pain and sadness as well as some joy obviously around someone’s life she lived a full life. But it makes us think about important things and I just want to address this today whether you’d lead in the marketplace or in a non-profit organization or in a ministry setting or in a non-profit organization or in a ministry setting, you’ll deal with people who have pain and you yourself will have it. So how do we respond, how do we deal with it and how do we gauge one another when we’re feeling these things?


First, I want to say pain presents an opportunity for personal growth.

Anytime we feel pain we can either medicate it or we can enter into it and process it a bit. Some of that gets processed with others, some just for ourselves, but I want you just sit and reflect on what you’re feeling and thinking about perhaps this national crisis or pain you’re experiencing in your own life. Where does it come from, what causes it, how do you talk about it and engage it? And maybe reflect on who could help you process that whether that’s a professional of some type of just a close friend. But it is an opportunity to look into our own hearts, our own souls and say, “Who is this person?” Why do I respond the way that I do? What do I do with these feelings? What do I do with these reactions? How do I do my work in the marketplace today knowing you have these feelings with me? Again, it may not be about the national tragedy it can be something in your own life that you just have to bring with you because it is with you and you can’t run from it. So we try to enter into those things. Pain gets our attention C S Lewis famously said running again more from the spiritual perspective that, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain, that it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” So it’s kind of an attention getter whether you come from that perspective in life or you don’t, maybe have a different perspective, but a psychologist, sociologist, others would agree pain is an attention getter. So what do you need to pay attention to around that emotional or physical or spiritual or other level of pain that you’re feeling?


Second, when you’re working with people who are experiencing pain and trying to engage with them remember that your presence is more important than your words.

Now wrong words can hurt, superficial words, trite words, trivial things that you say to try to medicate someone’s pain they’re not helpful. But don’t worry about trying to fix someone’s pain with your words. Your presence is what’s important. Take someone a coffee, sit with them, and attend the funeral if it’s that kind of situation. Or just simply reflect back to them say, “Sounds like this is really disturbing you this situation that’s going on right now,” and let people talk. But being present with someone is far more important than trying to know exactly how to respond or to fix or to do a number of things. So again as a leader as someone who deals with others in you’re setting recognize that sometimes it’s just even maybe a minute or two with someone, just pausing, sitting with them, letting them know you care about what’s going on in their life will go a long way.


And finally, shared pain builds teams, builds community.

When you provide an opportunity for everyone to talk about a shared pain, a national crisis, an event in the community, or someone at the workplace who has experienced a loss or a tragedy or is very ill or is maybe diagnosed with cancer, whatever, a chance to just sit and say, “Hey we all recognize this is happening we need to deal with it right now by just being present with each other and naming it and letting one another know we care.” That shared pain forms a deeper bond in any kind of place in which you work or in friendships in marriages and other kinds of relationships.


So look for that, one of those maybe three things, an opportunity for personal growth, who can you be present with and how, and then how can we share tough times together as a community so that we all grow and we face this reality of life and do it with courage as we lead well.


Image Sources: http://images.sodahead.com

Leadership Lessons from the Iron Lady

I was saddened to hear of the passing of former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher. We need more leaders like Margaret – both men and women. Listen to her speeches and look at what she accomplished and there is much there to inspire any leader.

Margaret Thatcher

The following is a list of 5 leadership lessons from the Iron Lady.


1)     Be willing to do what others say cannot be done. She turned an economy around by throwing out the heavily socialist policies and practices in a system controlled by oppressive unions and special interest money-grubbers. Garbage piled high in the streets and Britain limped along. And then came Margaret: bold and willing to tackle the impossible. She removed business subsidies from the government in favor of more free markets, causing high unemployment at first. And she took a lot of heat.


2)     Never let your current status define your future progress. Or as some say, never let your label determine your level. Many looked down on her because she was a woman, and others because she was outspoken (not highbrow enough for some of the Downtown Abbey types of her day.) Politics was really not a woman’s place. Until Margaret showed up.


3)     Speak the truth – especially the harsh realities. When I hear the spin that comes through so many media outlets today it is a wonder we can find the truth after all the massaging done to the message. Margaret was savvy, to be sure. But when it was time to speak and let the chips fall, she did. And many did not like it. But it changed the world, especially when confronting communism and facing the financial depression of her day.


4)     Do what’s right – there will be a cost. When she led the British to invade the Falklands, it was highly criticized. But it was a gutsy move and her popularity (low at the time) got a huge boost after she defended her countrymen and she won a landslide re-election.  Later however, when she tried to impose a poll tax, it hurt her and she was drummed out of office by her own party. Some things never change. But she never let political opinions define her. She was her own woman.  http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/08/world/europe/uk-margaret-thatcher-dead/index.html?hpt=hp_t1


5)     Be graceful in defeat, charitable in victory, but always grounded in principle. You win some and lose some. But stick to your principles: integrity, courage, serving the people, finding your own voice, and facing criticism with tact.


Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady – a nickname the communists respectfully gave her after her 1976 speech – helped bring down the Iron Curtain. Her determination and resolve were a reflection of her greatness, and her grace and wit were expressions of her poise and humility. Yes, she had her moments – some found her a bit arrogant later, allowing her smashing success go to her head. Perhaps so. Few leaders seem to avoid that hubris.


But despite her flaws – the kind we see in ourselves and in all leaders – we can celebrate her character, leadership and courageous will to do the right thing. Even in the midst of great opposition, including a terrorist attack on her life.


Margaret – may your tribe increase. We can learn much from your leadership today, especially in politics, church and business. We need more leaders like you. I want to be more like you.

So while some of us fantasize about having The Iron Man on our team, I’ll take The Iron Lady any day of the week.



Image Sources: via http://www.cnn.com

By Oli Scarff (GETTY Images)