Improving Your Leadership

heart of a servant leaderAny leader who really cares about accomplishing great things will examine their methods to make sure they are still effective. There are particular behaviors which should be found in every leader. These behaviors help insure that a leader will continue progressing from good to great. As we discipline ourselves in the practice of self-examination we will be setting an example for those we lead. Eventually they will follow our example and begin progressing from good to great. However, leaders who do not apply or practice these behavior will set themselves on a downward spiral until they become nothing but a bad leader.

This morning I read “From Bad to Good” by Sam Rainer. Sam lists a few of the behaviors that help leaders keep moving forward and prevent their leadership skills from deteriorating.

Rainer writes:

Leadership literature is chock-full of ways in which an average leader can become great. We all believe we’re good. Greatness is just a book, a conference, or a degree away. Indeed, I believe run-of-the-mill leaders can become better with training. A desire to learn, self-awareness, and a solid work ethic go a long way.

Some leaders, however, are just bad. They don’t lead well. Poor decisions are normative.

I believe most pastors want to lead their congregations in a way honoring to God. I believe most pastors care about their flocks. And God uses different types of leaders in different contexts. A rural setting, for example, requires a different type of leader than an urban setting. One is not superior over the other simply because of contextual expertise. But not all leaders—or shepherds for that matter—are great. And some pastors are poor examples of leadership, even if they really do care.

Years of practice entrench bad habits.

At some point, enough imbedded weaknesses transform an otherwise mediocre leader into a bad leader. Sometimes bad leadership is caused by context or position. The church leader is a poor match for the church, ministry focus, or setting. What makes a good senior pastor does not make a good middle school pastor. What makes a good worship pastor does not make a good children’s pastor. While environment and position influence bad leadership, not every case of poor leadership can be blamed on a mismatch. Some leaders are just outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve.

There are two types of bad leaders: the inept and the unethical.

Prominent malicious leaders tend to make the news. Unfortunately, scandals and scoundrels abound. But another category of bad leaders involves those who do not intentionally lead people astray. They are not malicious, just incapable. I’ve written previously on what makes a pastor a bad boss. These leaders desire to make ethical decisions, but they are oblivious as to how their decisions affect others. They shoot from the hip and trigger collateral damage.

The focus of this post is improving the ineffective rather than redeeming the unethical. What are some ways in which bad leaders can become better? A recent study sheds light on behaviors helping a leader transition from bad to good.

  • They shared their knowledge. One of the main drivers of poor leadership is poor interpersonal skills. Many people get promoted because of their expertise in a specific area, but leadership is more than technical knowledge. Bad leaders are stingy with knowledge. Bad pastors can guard theological and methodological black boxes. Good leaders use their knowledge to develop others.
  • They raised the bar of expectations. Expecting little of your church or staff is usually a reflection of low personal expectations. Raise the bar of personal expectations and improvements are bound to occur in the people around you.
  • They shifted from a discouraging posture to an encouraging posture. Bad church leaders become better when they stop focusing on why something can’t be done and rather focus on how something can be done.
  • They worked at becoming proactive change agents instead of reactive change agents. If all you do is put out fires, then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Little flare-ups always exist. Bad leaders reactively move from one to the next. Good leaders proactively discern the dangerous fires with the potential to affect everyone.
  • They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition. Bad leaders divide people, creating opposing camps. Bad pastors use theological nuances as a wedge. Bad church leaders pit style preferences of one group against another. Good church leaders are bridge builders, demonstrating how different people can cooperate rather than compete.

Bad church leaders fail in many areas, but average leaders have weaknesses in specific areas.

Good, bad, or ugly—we can all improve our leadership. And the best pastors recognize continual improvement is the only option for leadership. While only a work of God can redeem unethical pastors, I believe every incompetent pastor can become a good leader. Bad leaders are not locked into poor decisions. Greatness is a noble goal, but good is an achievable step.

Sam S. Rainer is the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN, and president of Rainer Research. He blogs regularly at SamRainer.wordpress.com.

“Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering?” Part 2 by Randy Alcorn

If God is GoodSevere suffering seems unacceptable to us precisely because we are unaccustomed to it.

Susanna Wesley had nineteen children; nine of them died before they reached the age of two. Puritan Cotton Mather had fifteen children and outlived all but two. Ironically, the problem of evil and suffering seems worse to us who live in affluent cultures precisely because we face less of it than many people have throughout history.

I heard an exasperated woman at a restaurant table loudly proclaim that her Porsche had to be taken in for repairs and now she had to drive her Audi. In contrast I have met devout Christians in Africa and Southeast Asia who have endured famine, genocide, and persecution, yet smile genuinely as they affirm God’s goodness and grace.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. [1]

People who ask why God allowed their house to burn down likely never thanked God for not letting their house burn down the previous ten thousand days of their lives. Why does God get blame when it burns, but no credit when it doesn’t? Many pastors and church members have experienced church splits, feeling the agony of betrayal and disillusionment. But where were the prayers of gratitude back when the church was unified? Our suffering seems extreme in the present only because God has graciously minimized many of our past sufferings.

Dorothy Sayers wrote,

“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did he not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such a cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why sir, did he not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty bit of financial trickery? You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for in that case, it would make precious little difference to his creation if he wiped us both out tomorrow. [2]

Our birthright does not include pain-free living. Only those who understand that this world languishes under a curse will marvel at its beauties despite that curse. C. S. Lewis’s final article, published after his death, carried the title “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Believing that we do have such a right sets us up for bitterness.

Fallen beings could not survive in a perfectly just world where God punished evil immediately.

What if every time I gave a hundred dollars to feed the hungry, two hundred dollars appeared in my wallet? Or when I spoke a kind word to a weary supermarket checker, I received a Starbucks gift card?

Suppose that every time a man yelled at a child or looked at a woman lustfully, a painful shock jolted his frontal lobe? Or when he lied, he got an instant toothache or was struck dead by lightning?

If we think we want all evil judged now, we’re not thinking clearly.

Were such rewards and punishments built into our lives, the world would cer­tainly be more just—but at what cost? We would base our obedience on instant payoffs or the avoidance of instant pain, not on loving God. Our behavior might improve, but our hearts wouldn’t. Faith would fade, because faith means trusting God to eventually make right what is now wrong.

Do you believe the world would be a better place if people immediately paid the just penalty for every sin? In God’s sight, every evil is a capital crime (see Romans 6:23). The woman who tells a “little white lie,” the teenager who shoplifts, the greedy man, the gossiper, all would instantly die. D. A. Carson writes, “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell.” [3]

God restrains suffering through our limited life spans—people don’t endure eons, millennia, or centuries of suffering, but only decades, years, months, weeks, days, and hours.

Take the total number of years you believe human life has existed. Now, ask yourself what portion of that time any one human being has suffered.

Suppose God permitted evil and suffering, yet limited them to one ghastly year of human history. Would we consider that duration of evil and suffering acceptable? What about one month? If someone could prove that we would become greater and happier beings for all eternity as a result, would you think it right for God to allow ten seconds of intense suffering? Likely you would.

Once we make that admission, do you see where it puts us? If we could justify ten seconds, then why not ten hours, ten days, or ten years? And in eternity, as we look back, how much longer will ninety years seem than ninety minutes?

Who holds the record for suffering among all human beings alive today? As I write, the oldest person in the world is 114 years old. She hasn’t suffered her whole life. But suppose she suffered significantly for a century. Most people, obviously, will endure much less. Some suffer severely for five days, weeks, months, or years; some, perhaps, for fifty years. However, no one in this world suffers for 10,000, 1,000, or even 130 years.

To say God takes too long to bring final judgment on evil and suffering imposes an artificial timetable on someone time cannot contain. God’s Son entered time in his incarnation. Though he understands our impatience, he won’t yield to it—and one day we’ll be grateful that he didn’t.

God allows substantial evil and suffering because he values our sense of neediness and trust as we turn to him for his grace.

Each year before Christmas we look forward to our church choir singing “Send the Messiah.” The haunting lyrics and powerful presentation resonate within us:

The cry of generations echoes in the heart of heaven….

I need a Savior who will walk the earth down here with me…. Send the Messiah, I need his love to own me. [4]

God sent the Messiah once, but he will send him again to deliver us. Paul, likely within months of his death, said God will grant a special eternal reward “to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). What makes us long for our Lord? Isn’t much of it because of the evil and suffering we face in this life?

Thankfully, while the Messiah may not return to Earth as soon as we’d like, he promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). So while we long for and pray for God to send the Messiah to bring an end to this age of evil and suffering, we need not wait until then to enter his presence.

In light of the work done by Christ, our sympathetic high priest, we’re told, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Until God sends the Messiah to rescue this world, or he rescues us through our deaths, may we approach his throne confidently, seeking his fellowship, comfort, mercy, and grace in our time of need… today, this very hour.

This is an excerpt from If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn.

Sources

From: Eternal Perspective Ministries

[1] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 52.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Triumph of Easter,” in Creed or Chaos (London: Methuen, 1954).

[3] D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 161.

[4] Daniel Perrin, “Send the Messiah,” https://www.cedarpark.org/resources/media/ html.php?id=60.

Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering? Part 1 by Randy Alcorn

If God is GoodGod may already be restraining 99.99 percent of evil and suffering.

Why does the chaos that breaks out in some corner of the world always prove the exception rather than the rule? Why haven’t tyrants, with access to powerful weapons, destroyed this planet? What has kept infectious diseases and natural disasters from killing 99 percent of the world’s population rather than less than 1 percent?

In the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, fifteen thousand people came out alive. While this doesn’t remove the pain felt by families of the nearly three thousand who died, it shows that even on that terrible day, suffering was limited.

Nanci said to me, “Given what Scripture tells us about the evil of the human heart, you’d think that there would be thousands of Jack the Rippers in every city.” Her statement stopped me in my tracks. Might God be limiting sin all around us, all the time? Second Thessalonians 2:7 declares that God is in fact restraining lawlessness in this world. For this we should thank him daily.

If God permitted people to follow their every evil inclination all the time, life on this planet would screech to a halt. Sometimes God permits evil by giving people over to their sins (see Romans 1:24–32), and this itself leads to the deterioration and ultimate death of an evil culture, which is a mercy to surrounding cultures. The most morally corrupt ancient cultures no longer exist.

“But many children suffer; why doesn’t God protect them?” We don’t know the answer, but we also don’t know how often God does protect children. The concept of guardian angels seems to be suggested by various passages (see, for example, Matthew 18:10).

God gives us a brief, dramatic look into the unseen world in which righteous angels battle evil ones, intervening on behalf of God’s people (see Daniel 10:12–13, 20). How many angels has God sent to preserve the lives of children and shield them from harm?

My earliest memory is of falling into deep water and nearly drowning; someone my family didn’t know rescued me. As a parent and a grandparent I have seen many “close calls” where it appears a child should have died or suffered a terrible injury, but somehow escaped both.

This thought, of course, doesn’t keep a parent’s heart from breaking when her child suffers or dies. Still, though I can’t prove it, I’m convinced God prevents far more evil than he allows.

God may also be preventing 99.99 percent of tragedies.

Great though they may be, God actively restrains the tests and temptations that come our way so that we will not experience anything greater than we can bear (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Fatal car and airplane accidents bring awful devastation, but statistically these are rare. On January 15, 2009, what should have brought certain death to passengers aboard Flight 1549, and catastrophe to Manhattan, turned into what secular reporters labeled a “miracle.” The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, safely landed a crippled plane in New York’s Hudson River, with no serious injuries.

While chunks of ice and busy ferries filled most of the river, the place where the plane came down remained clear of both ice and boats. It landed without breaking apart. Ferryboat captains rescued all 155 people from the frigid river within minutes. The New York Times suggested “more than luck” brought the plane down mere minutes from experts trained in water rescues. Passengers who said they hadn’t believed in God nevertheless prayed to him on the plane, then publicly thanked him for sparing their lives. [1]

I tell this story to raise a question—isn’t it likely that a kind and all-powerful God routinely prevents terrible tragedies in ways that we do not see and therefore do not credit as miracles?

While the miracle of Flight 1549 appears to be the exception, not the rule, we cannot know about most of the equally miraculous interventions of God that may have invisibly prevented other catastrophes. Perhaps one day we’ll hear those stories and marvel at how often God intervened when we imagined him uninvolved in our world.

God exercises wisdom and purpose by not always intervening in miraculous ways.

As a young Christian, a teenager, I often asked God to show me signs. In the darkness of my room at night I would light a match and ask him to blow it out. What a simple miracle I requested! Nothing on the level of raising the dead, not even turning water to wine. But he never granted my request. And though I didn’t understand why at the time, now I have a better idea. What would I have asked him to do once he blew out the match? Levitate the pool table? And then what would I ask him to do to top that? Where would it end?

How many magician’s tricks would we call upon Jesus to do? As we share Christ with a neighbor who says, “I don’t believe in God,” we might say, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” Then we’d call on God to torch the man’s maple tree. Seeing the tree vaporize would get his attention! And surely it would generate faith-oriented conversion, right?

No. That’s not how faith works, and it’s not how God works.

God did bring down fire from Heaven on occasions (see Numbers 16:35; 1 Kings 18:38). He even opened the earth to swallow up his enemies (see Numbers 16:31–33). Did this result in people turning to him for the long run? No. Jesus fed the multitudes and many followed for a while, but they turned away recoiling from his demanding words (see John 6:1–66). Abraham told the rich man that his brothers “will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (see Luke 16:27–31).

We say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe,” yet countless people who have seen miracles continue to disbelieve.

In our eagerness to see greater miracles, we regard “natural processes” as minor and secondary, missing God’s marvelous daily interventions on our behalf.

Focusing on God’s “big miracles”—like curing cancer and making brain tumors disappear—causes us to overlook his small, daily miracles of providence in which he holds the universe together, provides us with air to breathe and lungs to breathe it, and food to eat and stomachs to digest it.

Years ago when I became an insulin-dependent diabetic, it dawned on me that I had never once, in the fifteen years I’d known him, thanked God for a pancreas that had worked perfectly until then.

No matter how much God reduced world suffering, we’d still think he did too little.

Evil and suffering make up part of a world in which God allows fallen people to go on living. How much evil and suffering is too much? Could God reduce the amount without restricting meaningful human choice, or decreasing the urgency of the message that the world’s gone desperately wrong and we need to turn to the Redeemer before we die?

Suppose we rated all pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the worst and most intense pain, and one describing the unpleasant yet quite tolerable. Say “engulfed in flames” got a ten rating while “mild sunburn” received a one. If God eliminated level ten pain, then level nine pain would become the worst. God could reduce the worst suffering to level three, but then level three, now the worst, would seem unbearable. Any argument that judges God’s goodness strictly by his elimination of pain will, in the end, not leave us satisfied if he permits any pain at all.

This is an excerpt from If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn.

Source

From: Eternal Perspective Ministries

[1] Michael Wilson, “Flight 1549 Pilot Tells of Terror and Intense Focus,” New York Times, February 9, 2009.

The Good Samaritan

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly;  do this and you will live.” But wishing  to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was  going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.But a  Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

(From Luke 10.25-37 NASB)