On Ministers and Open Gates (Part 7)

I can remember every single one.

Every single instance.

Those moments, not always brief, but profound. I can remember them all.

One was in the passenger seat of a car. One was during a tour of a church. One was sitting in my kitchen chair in Nairobi. Another was with my parents as we sat around the large chest/coffee table in the entertainment room. One was in my brother’s and sister’s living room in front of the t.v. And one was in the basement of the home of my previous pastor, Jake.

All of these were moments when I wrestled with opportunities to pursue pastoral positions.

As was mentioned in a previous post, it is an incredibly tempting thing to jump at any and all opportunities. In a culture that teaches us that with education comes golden opportunities (and that they come quickly), it is easy to assume that the first open doors we come to are the ones through which we should walk. Especially for a young minister, full of other’s advice and eager to prove his/her own competence, there is a strong pull to accept whatever position opens up. And, if given the opportunity to interview for those positions, there is almost no question: pursue it at all costs!

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I remember those moments because they were all times when I felt a mixed concoction of excitement, anxiousness, and worry. It seemed that for every good thing about a particular position (or, at least, every ‘potentially’ good thing), I could find something else that may have been not-so-good. I tried to balance the pros and the cons. I talked my way through the possibilities, how my strengths and weaknesses would be used or challenged in different ways, attempted to discern a vision for the particular context and where the people were in their discipleship journey…

Attempting to discern the will of God is a difficult thing. Maybe it gets better with age and experience, or maybe it’s easier depending on the circumstances, I don’t truly know. But what I’ve come to discover is this: When the time is right, the will of the Lord is made clear.

It is good to wrestle with things. It is good to think through decisions, to seek counsel, to discern according to the best of our cognitive and emotional abilities. But, at the end of the day, we must recognize that even our best decisions making skills submit to the will of our Heavenly Father.

Many times our decision making skills align with His will, and so it is easy to discern. Other times, it almost goes in the opposite direction.

Most recently I was in that basement, pacing around nervously while I waited for a phone call from my new District Superintendent. My phone began to ring. I had been praying about this moment for a couple of weeks by that point. I had weighed the good and the bad, the pros and the cons, attempted to learn as much as I could about this particular church in order to make an informed decision. But I still was not completely sure what to do.

I answered. I don’t remember much, except this phrase: “The vote was pretty strong. But I don’t know how you could get a vote stronger than unanimous.”

For me, that was the moment of confirmation.

I want to be clear, though. My confirmation was not in the approval of what other people decided. I have had strong supporters for other positions before. In the end the decision to pursue what is now my first senior pastorate position fell upon the kind of confirmation and affirmation that can only come from God himself.

And, after all is said and done, he is the one to whom we are ultimately accountable.

“But seek first his Kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:33-34

When we seek first the will of our Lord, our way will be made clear. Perhaps not as timely as we would like, but when it matters the most.

 

Welcome to the life of a disciple.

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On Leading and Following

About a year ago, I was interviewing for a positing at Olivet.  One of the requirements for being a potential candidate was to write a one-page “philosophy of leadership.”  I remember mentally writing it for at least a week before I sat down to type it out.

Michael Scott, like a boss

This philosophy really grew out of many of my experiences as a follower.  I’ve seen great leaders and I’ve seen horrible leaders.  I’ve also experienced being a good leader and a bad leader myself.  As with many things in life, you learn the most from your failures, and many of my leadership failures found there way into my paper as I reflected on those times that shaped how I view leadership.

Anyways, after much debating with myself, I decided to post that paper here.  I owe a lot of people thanks for ‘helping’ me write this.  One of the most notable people that stuck out in my head while I was writing this was my middle and high school band director, Mark.  It was under his leadership that I took on my first leadership position, and  he always sticks out in my mind as someone who emulates true leadership.  Other men and women have made an impact on my life, but if a one-page paper can be dedicated to anyone I believe he would be the one.

 

Philosophy of Leadership

“Leadership” is not to be understood as merely a position. In truth, a position of leadership is probably the perspective of leadership that matters the least. Leadership is a character trait that is lived out constantly and consistently, both when others are around and when they are not. In more practical terms, leadership, and the leader, may be best comprehended in the following ways:

  • Leader as Servant

    • The leader gives of him/herself for the betterment of the group.

      • Any leader who abuses her authority in order to foster her own ego loses the privilege to lead.

    • The leader is always available, even if it is inconvenient.

    • The leader never allows a “me – them” mentality; the leader is a part of the group.

    • The leader takes responsibility for the failures, and shares in the successes, of the group.

    • The leader treats all members with respect and grace, and never looks down on anyone.

      • Followers choose their leaders. A true leader respects the choice they made to follow her.

    • When correction takes place it is motivated by the desire to help improve, and not as an exertion of authority.

    • The leader never drives the group to greatness, but draws it.

      • This is the product of a leader who is a servant, encourager, manager, and follower.

  • Leader as Encourager

    • The leader sees potential; sees what others have in them to be, and helps them to realize it.

    • The leader values the participation of her followers, and makes it known to them.

    • The leader always affirms improvements and desired results. No action goes unnoticed.

    • The leader is neither weak in spirit, easily offended, nor averse to criticism.

    • The leader both rejoices in the successes, and empathizes with the failures of the group.

    • The leader is always conscious of the spirit of the group.

  • Leader as Manager

    • The leader casts comprehensible visions and sets clearly defined goals.

    • The leader communicates clearly with the group, allowing no room for misunderstanding.

    • The leader never accepts mediocrity from anyone.

      • Doing so is depersonalizing, since it tells the follower that he is not worth the effort needed to help him improve.

    • The leader always exudes confidence, even in instances where the leader does not feel so.

      • Uncertainty and hem-hawing are lazy excuses for stagnation.

    • The leader is responsible for maintaining order within the group.

  • Leader as Follower

    • The leader is always aware of her own capacity to improve.

      • This does not mean that the leader is excused from leading at any time.

      • The leader is humble in his/her approach to any situation, aware of her ignorance.

    • The leader is always willing to learn.

    • The leader is always willing to be wrong.

    • The leader never expects out of her followers anything that she cannot do herself.

      • The leader shows the possibility of who her followers can be by being so herself.

    • The leader is first to apologize, first to forgive, and first to move on.

    • The leader is never above reproach from her followers.

 

A while after the interview, I was offered the position.  However, I had to decline due to unforeseen schedule conflicts.  I only had one page, so I was fairly limited in how detailed I could be, but let me know what you think, and whether you would add or remove something from this.

On Memories and Hope

About five and a half years ago I was sitting in Dr. Allen’s office talking about how I felt called to ministry and how I would like to go out and preach at churches while I attended Olivet Nazarene University.

A few months later I’m sitting in Ludwig with Mr. Tony Fightmaster – the head of Church Relations at Olivet, along with a fellow freshman Jake Goodspeed and some other person who I only saw that one time.  We talked about the possibility of going out to preach that following weekend up in Wisconsin and Jake and I jumped at the chance.  Tony seemed excited, and he handed us some information while walking us through what the weekend might look like.

Days rolled by and on a chilly Saturday morning Jake and I load our stuff into Tony’s car and start driving.  We stopped at a Culver’s and had some light conversations as we got to know each other a little better and asked each other what we were expecting for that weekend and what we were preaching on.

Flash forward a few more months and Tony calls me again to see if I’m available for a second trip in the Spring semester.  Naturally, I volunteered.  This time, along with Jake and I, Jake Gregory (who would be my future roommate) and Jameson Forshee all jump into ‘Big Brown’ and head off to Michigan for the second preaching trip of the year.

Flash forward to now, and we have a 35+ member Preaching Ambassador program fully funded by at least 4 main donors and about 20 other private donors.  Before the 2013-2014 school year is over, we will have been to over 200 churches in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.  We have a strong support group among the Olivet faculty, and a Student Leadership team that is both passionate and wise (collectively).  We’ve branched out beyond pulpit preaching and now send out Music Ambassadors and well as Youth Ambassadors.  It’s truly an incredible time for the PA’s.

However, after 39 trips in the program, I am waving my goodbyes in a few months.  It’s a sobering reality to face.  I poured five years of my life into this amazing program.  I spent so many hours talking with other students and faculty members expressing ideas, talking through challenges, and sharing my passion and vision for this program.  And now I am about to leave.

Although it is sad to think that I will be walking out of my last PA meeting after a short while, I am so hopeful for the future.  We have a strong leadership team, a great group of PA’s, and a solid vision that will carry the PA’s as far as God will take them.  And all of that was due to everyone else.

It’s true that this program is the brain child of myself and Jake Goodspeed (even though we always give each other credit for it and try to take none of it ourselves), but if it were not for God’s calling on my fellow ministers we would never be where we are today.  The long trips, the great conversations, the many awkward moments, the laughs, the tears, and the angelic look on people’s faces after they preach for the first time and share what an incredible experience it was are all things I will treasure forever.  All of those are due to those around me.  I am merely a blessed recipient of the amazing work God has done through all these years.

I also learned an incredible life lesson throughout all of this: Invest in others.  It may be a fact that we can accomplish great things by ourselves, but sharing ourselves and our experiences with others leaves a mark on the world that no individual achievement could ever mimic.  I can confidently walk away from this program with my head held high because I know it is in good hands.  And I know it is in good hands because I gave everything I could to it.  Granted, I made plenty of mistakes, but by investing in the next generation of preachers I can rest easy in the knowledge that God has taken my feeble offering of service and used it for his purpose.

I love the Ambassadors.  I love the people I’ve met through the program.  I love the experiences I’ve had (both good and bad).  But God is calling me on to something new, and the future of that program is now in his hands.  I’m nearing the completion of my part of this story, and my ministry has been deeply enriched through the PA’s.

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Take-Away:  Discipleship isn’t done just in a classroom.  it’s done in the car rides, the talks over Culver’s Butter Burgers, and in the church foyers.  We disciple where we are, to whom we are around.  The question is: are we being intentional about it? Or are we letting these opportunities slip us by as we focus more on what everyone can do for us?