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Young Leader

How to be a Young Leader

Much has been said in recent years about the decline of potential young leaders in various organizational and ministerial bodies.  Current executives bemoan the seeming lack of maturity among young up-and-comers, while the up-and-comers argue that they aren’t getting a chance to prove themselves.  Having talked with people on both sides of that conversation in organizations big and small, I have heard the long-time higher-level managers claim that young people don’t respect them, while at the same time I hear the young people say that their managers just don’t listen.

It is no secret that we are facing a significant generational divide; the Baby Boomers running the show are at odds with the Millennials who, at some point, will have to take over.  As a younger person myself, only having worked in my field for seven years, I have faced the harsh reality that there is a generational barrier between where I am today and where I want to be several years from now.  How can the two sides break down the walls of bad communication in order that organizations (and especially churches, which aren’t immune to this leadership gap by any means) can thrive for generations to come?

In leadership, there is a principle young leaders must adopt, called “leading up.” Personally, it is something I have practiced from the time I began my ministry and it has served me well.  Leading up is the skill of guiding those above you, either in age or position, without being overly insistent or rude. And while it was outside of the context of Christianity that I first heard of this principle, I have come to find that leading up is a very Biblical practice.

Paul’s letters to Timothy in the New Testament are basically textbooks on how to lead up, so if you’re a young leader looking for some fresh insight into how to drive change in your organization or church, look no further.  Many of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 4:12, which states, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”  That verse remains for me, to this day, a terrific encouragement to keep on pushing forward in leadership, especially when I feel discouraged about my age. But, stopping with this verse misses out on how the author Paul expected his young leader Timothy to put this idea into practice. Let me explain:

1 Timothy 4:15 goes on to say “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”  As young leaders we must work harder than anyone else if we are to be taken seriously.

1 Timothy 4:16 says “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.  Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.”  As young leaders, how we live speaks louder than whatever words we say, so we must endeavor to live lives above reproach so that those we lead can trust our judgment.

1 Timothy 5:1 tells us “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would your own father.”  Regardless of the situations we face, in order to lead up, we must maintain respect for those older than us.  Respect is mentioned in two ways: never speak harshly, and appeal, or ask the opinion and advice, of those older and wiser than yourself.

1 Timothy 5:2 says “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.”  As young leaders, especially young male leaders, respecting the women we lead is abundantly important.  Nothing will dissolve your credibility faster than inappropriate relationships with people of the opposite sex.

One of the most important things I have learned from leading up is that while I cannot control the actions and behaviors of other people, especially those older than me or higher up the organizational flow chart, I can control my actions and my behavior.  If it is your desire to develop as a leader so that the gifts God has given you might affect more and more people around you, don’t concern yourself with the behavior of others, work diligently on your own leadership abilities, and ask God to help and guide you.

Harvest

Evangelism Today Part V: The Harvest

In the first four articles in this series we have taken a look at Evangelism in our world today. I want to conclude this now by taking a look at the power that still remains in this God-given calling and we need look no further than in Matthew 9:36-37, where we see Jesus traveling with His disciples:

“When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’”

What Jesus was pointing out to His followers were the abundant multitudes of people who were ready to receive the Gospel and convert to becoming followers of Christ; so many, it seems, that there weren’t enough workers to harvest all of the would-be-followers.  To those of us with evangelistic experience, we know how difficult it can be sometimes to see anyone come to faith in God through Jesus, and this likely gives us pause.  Where is this great harvest and why can’t I seem to find it? Jesus’s words in John 4:35 help fill in the missing piece:

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’  But I say, wake up and look around!  The fields are already ripe for harvest.”

If we don’t see fruit from evangelism efforts, perhaps we aren’t looking in the right places.  Jesus tells us that there are those who are ripe to be harvested, but we don’t see them.  All of John chapter 4 is the story of Jesus sharing the truth about God to a Samaritan woman of whom the other disciples were skeptical; this is who is ready to receive the Gospel – a lonely woman working by herself in the heat of the day, but others were unwilling to help.

Recently, I met a young couple who was trying to find a church to get married in but who had been turned away by pastors because they were currently living together.  I met with them, and in no time at all I asked if I could share the Gospel with them and if they would like to pray to receive Jesus as their Lord.  They did and are now growing in their relationship with Jesus, on their way to a marriage filled with God’s love and the Spirit’s guidance.  As I drove away from our meeting, having just witnessed God transform this couple into new life, all I could think of is what those pastors who turned them away – missing out on recognizing a couple ripe for the harvest.  There was nothing special about the way I shared or what I said; I simply raised the subject with them, explained the Gospel simply, asked if they wanted to receive it, and set up meetings for follow-up.  It was truly a blessing for me to be there in that moment to see God work, and all it took was a recognition and willingness to participate in the harvest that is ready and waiting to be gathered in.

So wake up and look around, as Jesus tells His disciples.  There are people in your midst who are ready to receive Jesus as their Lord in order to walk in new life in a relationship with Him. Today just may be the day that they take that next step you would have never imagined possible.

Evangelism

Evangelism Today Part III: Knowing Your Audience

When I was younger, I received training in evangelism in ways that made me feel uncomfortable.  I was given a script and told that, regardless of whomever I was talking to, if I just stuck to that script then I would be fine.  Filled with trepidation, I tried it; and I tried it; and I kept on trying it but saw very little in terms of what the Bible calls spiritual fruit, either in me or in those with whom I was sharing.  I felt like a salesman giving a pitch, and thought that if this is what evangelism is like, then no thank you; I’ll leave that to other people.

Years later, having received further training that helped reorient the ways I think about and practice evangelism, I no longer treat conversations with people centered around the Gospel like a sales pitch.  I still use a script (kind of) but its one that I developed myself using an atonement metaphor (see my last article) I feel comfortable sharing with someone who knows very little about Jesus, and I only use it after having gotten to know the person I’m talking with.

That is perhaps the most exciting thing about evangelism I can share: its about the relationship with the other person.  In Matthew 28:19, when Jesus delivers His “Great Commission” to the Apostles (those being sent to start the Christian movement), He tells them to “Make disciples of all the nations…”  He doesn’t say, make converts or believers, but disciples.  A disciple is one who follows closely the life of the leader – in our case, Jesus.  If it’s our goal to make people into followers of Jesus, then we must spend time getting to know the people with whom we share the gospel.

Of course this can be done in any number of ways, but a helpful tool I have found for making this process intentional is to assess the relationships you have with others based on Jesus’s parable of the soils.  In Matthew 13:3-8 Jesus teaches,

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.  Others fell on rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.  Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.  And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

When I spend time getting to know someone with whom I want to sow the seeds of the Gospel, I want to find out as much as I can about their life so that I can know what work needs to be done in the soil of their hearts to make it a place where the gospel can take root.

Perhaps, like the first soil, they have been trampled on all their lives and have hard hearts because of it.  My responsibility for that person is to evangelize by tilling the soil; softening their hearts through friendship and compassion for as long as it takes.

Perhaps, like the second soil, they lack depth and my responsibility for that person is to invest in deepening their understanding of God.

Perhaps, like the third soil, their life is filled with thorns; trials and distractions that would choke out the gospel – so my responsibility to them is to help clear some of the brush from their lives so the gospel can be the main thing that grows.

Each of these can be considered evangelism because, through your work in their lives, they are taking steps closer to Jesus where the Holy Spirit can ultimately bring them into an eternal relationship with God.  Get to know the person, build that relationship, and I guarantee you will enjoy the work of sharing the gospel a lot more, and those with whom you share wont feel as though they’re being sold something; they’ll feel the love and the care of Christ flowing from your life into theirs.

Prayer

Focused Prayer in a Group Setting

Recently I have been reflecting on a passage in Matthew,

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (6:5)

The reason the passage stuck with me comes from an internal debate I have been having about publicly praying with groups of people. You see, some people expect me to pray at every gathering and personally, I began feeling like I should edit my prayers to serve the whole because I am the one leading the group. I began feeling very disconnected and my focus was on my choice of words rather than being attentive to what God put on my heart to pray. I started then listening to others as we prayed and found that often we used the same words or statements, just in different phrasing.

I began to ask myself, how do we engage collectively in prayer while recognizing that it is what is on our hearts that needs to be focused on – not what we think we ‘should’ be saying. I knew I needed to shift my train of thought to listening to others and affirming what is on their hearts – not simply being politically correct.

As you consider your prayer time with other people, I’d encourage you to think on what some of those that came before us had to say – ultimately, these short quotes played a big role in my process of understanding,

“Our Lord did not say it was wrong to pray in the corners of the street, but He did say it was wrong to have the motive to be seen of men.” Oswald Chambers

“Prayer is not getting things from God, that is the most initial stage; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God; I tell Him what I know He knows in order that I may get to know it as He does.” Oswald Chambers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Søren Kierkegaard

Here are some suggestions for the next time you pray in a group:

  • Focus your times of prayer on first listening to God, not just speaking.
  • See what is stirring everyone’s hearts and how those things are shared within the larger group.
  • See what is burdening the collective, often times God will place a specific burden on groups of people.
  • Pray together and affirm the things that shared by others in the group.
  • Ask the group how, when praying together, everyone can change and better grasp the character of the One (God) to whom we are praying.

I believe if you start to focus on some of the core elements, it will greatly transform your collective prayer life. I know it has ours.

Giving People The Attention They Deserve

Giving People The Attention They Deserve

Have you ever given thought to the notion that while we are so preoccupied with the rapid pace of life, we fail to give the people right in front of us the attention they deserve? I often find myself looking for balance with the day to day grind of tasks (which undoubtedly need to get done) and spending time with someone who just wants to talk (which is where much of our individual growth happens).

I recently read this poem from Jamie Tworkowski which I believe echos the issue:

“You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things.”

How do you respond to this? I, personally, was thinking about Jesus and how He interacted with people throughout the gospel and while I didn’t see much account of Him referring to people by name, what I was struck by was the way the gospel writers gave us a sense of how Jesus paused to simply be with people while still working to communicate what we refer to as the gospel today. Look at this one account where he talks with the Samaritan Woman at the well:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

What strikes you about this passage? It is not unique the amount of time and attention he paid to this woman?

We need to be that other person that Jamie was referring too in her poem mentioned above. We need to be 100% present in each of our conversations. This is how we develop a sense of community. This is where people’s transformational stories take shape. This is where we celebrate, learn, affirm and deepen our own sense of what God is doing. We must look at Jesus’ model and replicate it in our lives – both for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.

 

Questions During The Journey

Questions During The Journey

I was driving into work one day this week and suddenly remembered how much I used to enjoy the game SIM City. I would design a magical city and watch it develop from just a few small steps into something really significant. As I reflected upon my youthful passion, I realized how much this is like our journey to faith. We make a decision to follow Jesus and then start growing and nurturing this decision. Just like the game though, there are moments where things occur in our lives that we have to spend time correcting and changing – a hurricane or tornado leaves us broken, needing to rebuild.  The reality is, the same exact circumstances play out in our journey to faith, as each and every person will go through times where we find it difficult to grow or are even forced to rebuild completely. The key to our sustained growth, however, is what we do to foster healing in our own life and in the lives of others. When we approach healing in the right manner, we can grow back stronger and move further down the road to where we want to be spiritually.

For me personally, I responded to a compelling message about Jesus at a Good Friday service in 1992. I was given a Bible and told “God Bless you, you made an awesome decision that will change your life.” The truth of the matter was… I had no earthly idea what to do next. It was as if my SIM city had just elected a new mayor, but the mayor wasn’t working with the people. Then, for me, when the tough times came, the lack of clarity and understanding of Jesus’ leadership in my life left me in a deep dark valley for over two years. I was stuck trying to find a way to even just articulate the basic questions that were brewing, with no one there to help me through my troubles.

As Christians, it’s important we look at both our spiritual journey and the spiritual journey of those around us and help God to take a role of leadership in the process. As we attempt to grow and see people make decisions of faith, we must remember it is the beginning, not the end, of a spiritually-centered relationship with that person. We need to take our role in their spiritual development just as serious as we take our own. We need to see to it that their questions are answered and they are discipled, just as you seek out people to help answer your own questions. For me, once I finally found someone to help, it literally took months to work through these questions with a local Pastor and, to this day, I am always seeking ways to foster every element of my spiritual life. And now, as I interact with others, I am sure that they always have an atmosphere in which I can minster the same way.

Do you have someone in your life helping you down your faith journey? What about the people around you – are you helping them through their questions?

 

I would love to hear further from you. Take a look at what is really  central to your relationships with other Christians – are you building around Christ effectively to maintain spiritual health or is there a lack of leadership in the journey? Really think on it and leave me a comment as to your experience below.