leadership Posts

Reaching the Next Generation

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Hezekiah is a fascinating example of a guy who’s not willing to enter into the mess of the younger generation in hopes of developing, training or discipling them. Because of his pride of showing off all of his treasuries and his kingdom and his storehouse, he is told that his sons will be taken captive. Yet his response is, indeed, the word from the Lord is good. At least there will be peace in my time (2 Kings 20:13-19).

What I never noticed before is what happens after that. Hezekiah dies and his son Manasseh takes over. And when you read 2 Kings 21, you see all of the junk that Manasseh led the nation into. It’s an incredible wickedness that had not been seen in Judah to that scale previously. It had in Israel but never in Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s arrogance and selfishness of not wanting to enter into the next generation, he forsook the next generation, and the next generation took the excesses that were common in the culture and multiplied them.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, regardless of which one you’re in, the next one will always be perceived to be not as good as yours. They will always be perceived to be not as committed, not as faithful, not as biblical, etc. And yet the irony is that’s not necessarily the case. As we look at this current generation that’s now coming up, we’re really dealing with a group of people who, as we’re finding, are deeply committed to the things of God and open to the things of God. They’re just not committed to our systems or structures that people have found so much comfort in religiously.

If we’re going to reach the next generation, there has to be a sense where we recognize, yeah, I know the dude’s growing a beard, I know he’s rocking a beanie and it’s 100 degrees outside, he’s got skinny jeans and the whole hipster vibe going, okay, cool. But what’s at the heart? And if we can enter into the diversity a little bit, enter into the distinctions even of style and music and language, and recognize that this next generation is going to carry and steward the gospel moving forward, we can understand their world enough that we can get to the heart of the next generation and begin to disciple them.

We don’t have the option of pulling away and saying, “at least there will be peace in my time,” because what happened in Hezekiah’s day will happen in our day. If we are so uncomfortable or stubborn that we fail to enter in with the next generation, we fail to sit with them and disciple them and hear them and get to the heart of what God is doing in their lives, then the same type of excesses we saw in Hezekiah’s day with his son Manasseh, we’ll see today.

I would challenge any of you who might look down your nose a little bit at the next generation, as if somehow you’re better than them, to recognize that your calling is to serve them and disciple them and mentor them and train them and enter into their world enough that they recognize you care about them. Only then, when you’re telling them about Jesus, will they understand it’s coming from a heart of love and a heart of discipleship and a desire that, regardless of what generation we call our own, there could be a shared sense of the foundation of the gospel and of what Jesus is doing in our lives.

Are You Called?

5 books that have changed my life

RUDE AWAKENINGS

Shortly after I came to faith in Christ, I was talking to a pastor and I said, “It must be awesome to do what you do.”

He said, “You have no idea what we do. In fact, if you can see yourself doing anything other than ministry, do it.”

He told me if you’re called to ministry, God will swallow you like Jonah and puke you on the shores of ministry.

I thought, a little dramatic, don’t you think?

He went on: You don’t try ministry. You’re called to ministry. Ministry is not a career; it’s an obligation. You don’t go into it for the money or the prestige, or the notoriety.  You go into because you have to, because you’re compelled, because there’s a fire in your soul that you cannot put out, and you are absolutely driven by God to do it.

Why is that important?

There will be multiple times throughout your career in ministry where you want to quit, and in those moments you have to lean back on your calling. I could quit. But I can’t quit – because I’m called.

There were many rude awakenings as I got into the reality of ministry that I would have never seen from the outside.

 

THE 5 MISCONCEPTIONS OF A PASTOR

Everyone is going to be my friend.

Ministry is a very lonely road. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study and delivering the word of God. And sometimes those words are well received and sometimes they’re not. As I speak truth into those around me, as I have hard conversations, it makes friendships very difficult. I’m watching my daughter’s track meet and who shows up: a guy on church discipline that I’ve had words with, a parent whose affair I exposed, and his wife who is now a single mom, and next to her another woman who is living inappropriately with her boyfriend.

It’s an 8 to 5 job.

I walk into a grocery store and “Hey, Pastor, can I ask you something?” I can’t go anywhere where someone doesn’t know me. And what an honor that our church would have that kind of influence in our city. But there’s a weight with that. I realize I’m never off – unless I’m hiding in my backyard working on my garden.

I’m going to make a difference.

I start swinging away expecting massive exponential life change. But then I realize, boy, we’re a mess. Life change is subjective, it’s cyclical or seasonal, and it’s one step forward two steps back. I assumed there was a formula to spiritual growth. If I just pray well, preach well, boom – life change. But often, spiritual growth is hard and it’s a slow process and it’s extremely messy, and that can be very discouraging.

Church is not a business.

I thought my staff team was going to be together for 40 years. But as an organization grows, your leadership has to grow and the way your organization is led has to grow. The responsibility of the role outgrows really good people and you have let people go.

And while philosophically, we are not a business – meaning our end goal is not for profit but for life change, and the way we go about doing things is different – but the reality is, from a practical standpoint, church is run very similar to a business. And that, I was not prepared for.

If I had to do it over again: I would get my undergrad in history, I would get my MBA, and then I would go to seminary.

I’m going to just hang out with people.

I’m going to be in the lives of people. I was discipling people face to face over time. I was sitting at Starbucks – listening, meeting, talking about life. But as a senior pastor, it becomes more platform-driven. I become more of an influencer, not a discipler. And I end up leading through other people, not through personal contact.

Now I’m 10 minutes late to everything all day. I never imagined this many meetings. I’ve never been in more meetings in all my life. And people who wanted to meet with me used to call me; now they call my assistant. How do you think they feel about that?

5 Books That Have Changed My Life

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team 

Patrick Lencioni

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This is a must-read for anyone in leadership.

 

In the Name of Jesus

Henri Nouwen

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This was a total ambush. I never saw it coming. Nouwen exposed me to a way of thinking I would have never given myself permission to pursue. He was a Catholic priest and an educator at Notre Dame. He forsook a prolific Catholic writing and teaching career to live in a home for the mentally disabled. He wrote this book as a reflection of that time; he wrote of his own personal irrelevance, and how liberating and enlightening it was to realize how insignificant we truly are.

 

The Bride

Chuck Swindoll

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This gave me hope at a time in my life when I was wrecked and wondering if I should quit ministry. I was poor and I couldn’t afford to buy a book, so the owner of Fresno Bible House said, “anything you want to read or use to study, read it, study it here and just put it back on the shelf.”

Swindoll gave me light in a dark time when I wanted to crawl under a rock and die; he gave me hope for what the church was supposed to be, and he reminded me of the beauty of God’s church when it’s functioning in health. A lot of our staff values – why we do what we do – came from this book.

I read one chapter at a time trying not to spill coffee on it, so I could put it back.

 

Ordering Your Private World

Gordan MacDonald

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I read this book 10 years ago, but I’m still talking about it. Fantastic book  – especially the chapter on being driven versus being called. MacDonald makes a great comparison between the leadership style of Saul and the leadership style of David. It’s a good caution for leaders to not rely merely on talent but to rely on the calling of God. I also loved his chapter called “The Sinkhole Syndrome,” where he talks about how we can create sinkholes in our lives when it’s all output and no intake.

 

Spiritual Leadership

J. Oswald Sanders

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If there was a 67th Book of the Bible, it would be this one. Phenomenal book on what leadership needs to be from a spiritual standpoint. The thrust of a leader is not merely his competence or his skill, but what’s going on underneath.

 

*plus one bonus

Unbroken

Laura Hillenbrand

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I did get totally sucked in to one book unrelated to leadership. It’s about a World War II pilot who ends up on a blow-up raft in the Pacific with a buddy. The raft has a hole in it, and they are taking shifts overnight, blowing into the raft to keep it from sinking, while using an oar in one hand to hit the sharks on the head. We think we’re tough – these guys were studs. Ultimately, it’s a story about how this guy forgives his captor and tormentor.

What are some books that have changed your life?

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

hardest leader

Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.