Posts tagged ‘Leadership’

A Cathedral of Crystal

Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday marked a new day for one of the most famous architectural landmarks in the United States and, really, in the world.  Yesterday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated its first Mass in what was once dubbed the “Crystal Cathedral.”

The Crystal Cathedral was the brainchild of famed televangelist Robert Schuller.  He moved to Orange County, California in 1955 to plant a church.  And oh, did he ever.  He launched his congregation at the Orange Drive-In Movie Theatre, where he preached from the roof of the snack bar to people as they sat in their cars.  “Come as you are; pray in the family car,” was his slogan.  From there, he went on to launch and build Garden Grove Community Church.  Though his new church building featured a more traditional sanctuary, it still allowed worshipers to remain in their cars in the parking lot and listen to worship if they did not wish to go inside.

By the 1970s, the church had outgrown its current facility.  Thus, in 1977, Robert Schuller joined with famous architect Philip Johnson to construct the Crystal Cathedral at a cost of $18 million.  What began as a drive-in movie theatre mission plant was now a world-famous megachurch.  During the 1980s, the TV program that Robert Schuller hosted from his Crystal Cathedral, The Hour of Power, was the most watched religious program in America.

But trouble and turmoil bubbled up when it was time for the church’s founding pastor to hand over the reins.  At first, his son was to become the new senior pastor.  Then his daughter led the congregation for a short time.  Then his grandson took over.  The tumultuous transition took a severe toll on the congregation, which had to file for bankruptcy.  What was once, arguably, the most famous worship space in America soon fell silent on Sunday mornings.  Yesterday, however, the Crystal Cathedral sprung back into action as a space for worship, although it has been remodeled and renamed by the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Orange as Christ Cathedral.

The story of the Crystal Cathedral is a cautionary tale of the kind of damage rocky leadership transitions can do to tender congregational ties.  It is also a cautionary tale, however, of the danger of having a larger-than-life pastoral personality displace the person of Christ in a congregation.  It doesn’t really matter whether the displacement takes place intentionally or unintentionally.  The effect is the same.  When the people in the pews become more enamored by a church’s leader than by the Lamb of God, when the leader leaves, the people will, too.

As a pastor, I know how difficult it can be to lead strongly while also pointing humbly to Jesus.  It can be difficult because people naturally tend to gravitate toward someone they can physically see, like a pastor, instead of someone they cannot, like the One who is now enthroned in the heavenly realms.  It can also be difficult, however, because there is a part of me that wants people to look at me and to me – to love me.  It is at these times that I must remind myself that the goal of ministry is not to get love for me, but to encourage love for Jesus.

John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  This is a statement of how to do ministry, yes, but it is also a reality of ministry.  If you’re a pastor, like it or not, you will eventually decrease.  No one’s ministry lasts forever – except for Jesus’.  So, point people to the Minister and the ministry that will long outlast yours.  His ministry will stand, long after our world’s cathedrals of crystal close.

July 29, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Ministry Myth: Jesus Always Addressed Felt Needs

Jesus Heals ParalyticA while back, I was in a meeting with church leaders from across the country who are devoted to bringing Christ’s gospel to all nations.  In our discussions, one of these leaders pointed out that, as important as church programs and friendly atmospheres may be for engaging people who don’t know Christ, ultimately, what reaches people is the preaching of the gospel.  “It is the Word of God,” he said, “that touches and transforms hearts.”  To this, another person replied, “Yes, the gospel is important.  But we can’t start with the gospel because the gospel alone won’t reach people.  We need to begin with people’s felt needs. Jesus always began with people’s felt needs.”

Well, yes He did…except when He didn’t.

Like the time a paralytic’s friends brought him to Jesus.  Jesus saw that they had faith enough to bring their friend to Him for healing.  But He did not respond to their felt need for healing – at least not right away.  Instead, He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  Jesus dealt with this man’s deeper need – his need for forgiveness – before He dealt with this man’s felt need – his need to be healed from his paralysis.

Or how about the time one of Jesus’ dearest friends – a man named Lazarus – fell ill?  His sisters, Mary and Martha, begged Jesus to hurry over and heal him.  But Jesus did not meet their need.  Instead, He intentionally let His dear friend die.  Why? So that Jesus could address humanity’s deeper need – the need to be rescued from death – which far outweighs the felt need of being temporarily healed from a frustrating ailment.  This is why Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that Jesus never began by addressing people’s felt needs.  After all, He fed a crowd of 5,000 by miraculously multiplying loaves of bread before declaring Himself to be the bread of life (cf. John 6:1-35).  He began with a felt need for physical food before He moved to a deeper need for heavenly food.  Jesus does sometimes initiate an engagement by addressing people’s felt needs.  However, Jesus does not always begin this way.  Indeed, sometimes, He flat out denies people’s felt needs as He challenges them with their deeper needs.

The problem with felt needs is that, often, felt needs are not helpful needs.  Sometimes, felt needs can even be sinfully selfish needs.  Jesus has little interest in meeting our felt needs for riches, for ease, and even for happiness.  Thus, for us to begin and base our ministries on what people think they need, and then to try to meet those needs before we share Jesus, can devolve, if we are not careful, into merely enabling sin.

I have learned over the years that Jesus has a funny way of resisting the easy ministry models we like to apply to Him.  To those who say that Jesus always begins by addressing people’s felt needs so they will be open to the gospel, I must say, “I think you’re wrong.”  But then again, to those who say that Jesus never begins by addressing people’s felt needs as a foray to share the gospel, I also must say, “I think you’re wrong.”  Jesus does both.

We should too.

Perhaps we would do well to learn to pray a slightly modified version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous, though contested, Serenity Prayer as we seek to faithfully reach the world with the gospel: “God, grant me the tenderness to address people’s felt needs at certain times, the boldness to challenge them with their deepest needs at other times, and the wisdom to know when to do which.”

That’s my prayer as I seek to reach out with the gospel.  Will you join me in praying the same?

April 25, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Little Lesson In Leadership: “Working In” Versus “Working On”

write-593333_1280It’s easy to get trapped in the trenches. This is certainly true for me. With a myriad of emails to answer and phone calls to make and projects to complete, I find that if I’m not behind on at least a few things, then something is wrong! Perhaps you feel the same way.

Having too much to do and not enough time to do is nothing new. Back in 1967, Peter Drucker reminded us that people in positions of leadership always have more to do than time will allow. An effective executive, then, to borrow the title of his famous 1967 book, doesn’t just focus on getting everything done, but on “getting the right things done.”[1] He or she asks “What needs to be done?” rather than “What do I want to do?” Again, to borrow an illustration from Drucker, when Harry Truman came to the presidency, he was convinced that:

The country could and should focus again on domestic problems. He was passionately committed to reviving the New Deal. What made him an effective president was his accepting within a few weeks that international affairs, especially the containment of Stalin’s world-wide aggression, had to be given priority whether he liked it or not (and he didn’t). [2]

“What do I need to do?” is a question I am always asking myself.

I have found that what I need to do can be broadly divided into two categories. The first is what I need to “work in.” And there are many areas I “work in.” I work in the area of adult education at my church. I work in the area of pastoral care and counseling. I work in the area of blogging weekly! And make no mistake about it: I love what I work in! I love sharing God’s Word with God’s people. I love caring for people and am honored that people let me into their lives. I love blogging. I love the areas I work in.

But there is more to my job than just what I “work in.” There is also what I need to “work on.” At my congregation, we are currently working on teaching people how to have what we call “spiritual conversations” so they can share their faith with unbelievers and grow in their faith with believers. Personally, I am working on how I schedule my days so I can be more efficient in what I do.

“Working in” is necessary to get things done. “Working on,” however, is necessary so you can get things done well and, over time and with reflection, get things done better.

As a leader, what are you working in? What are you working on? Though these questions are not particularly theological in nature, they are important to ask. Sometimes, the things you need to work in become so overwhelming that you forget about what you need to work on. The problem is, the areas you need to work in will continue to pile up and you will be unable to manage everything – at least with any semblance of sanity – if you do not take the time to work on the systems and strategies that can help you get things done. So strike a balance. Don’t just work in, work on. Don’t just get things done. Figure out how to get things done well and empower others to get things done as well. Your calendar, your to-do list, and, most importantly, your weary heart will thank you.

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[1] Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).

[2] Peter Drucker, “Drucker on Management: Six Rules for Presidents,” The Wall Street Journal (11.18.2009).

October 12, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Godly Vision, Not Personal Agenda

Window 1It is axiomatic that vision is integral to leadership.  No less than Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies, defined leadership as “the capacity to translate vision into reality.”[1]  If a leader does not have a vision, he will lead aimlessly.  If he cannot articulate a vision, his organization will wander aimlessly.  Leadership requires vision.

But that’s not all leadership requires.  Leadership also requires mission.  After all, mission is what gives purpose to an organization’s very existence.  Vision, then, is when the leader of an organization understands his organization’s strengths, gifts, and capacities, and capitalizes on these in ways that fulfill an organization’s mission.  Thus, the mission of an organization and the vision of its leader must work in synergy with each other.

When it comes to the organization – or, better yet, the body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28) – that is the Church, her mission is clear.  After all, her mission was crafted and communicated by Christ Himself:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).   The mission of the Church is to make disciples by baptizing in God’s name and teaching God’s Word, all the while exuding a lively confidence that Christ is continually with us, empowering us as we carry out His mission.  How precisely this mission is accomplished from congregation to congregation is a function of the vision of a congregation’s leaders – specifically, its pastor.

Sadly, in my years of ministry, I have seen far too many pastors who, rather than casting visions that capitalize on their congregations’ strengths, gifts, and capacities, push agendas based on their own likes and dislikes, preferences and antipathies.  They may say they’re casting vision to congregations that have none.  But what they’re really doing is asserting agendas that bully congregations at their weakest points.

To the leaders in Christ’s Church, I offer this plea:  don’t confuse your agenda – no matter how noble it may seem – with Godly vision for your congregation.  One, by God’s grace, can breathe life and excitement into a congregation.  The other can frustrate and deflate God’s people.  And Christ’s mission is far too important to settle for that.  Christ’s mission deserves true vision.


[1] Kevin Kruse, “100 Best Quotes On Leadership,” Forbes Magazine (10.16.2012).

December 2, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why It’s Good To Be A Weak Leader

Leadership 1The other day, I was reflecting on how some of my most memorable moments of ministry seem to come when I am not doing the things I normally do.  I spearhead the adulteducation program at Concordia, but I sincerely love getting goofy for the sake of the Gospel with the kids who attend our annual Vacation Bible School.  I spend a good portion of my day in the office taking care of business on my MacBook, but I am delighted when I go on a mission trip and swing a hammer to help an underprivileged community.  Just last week on Christmas Eve, though I am normally a teacher, I was honored to work with an incredibly talented group of actors, musicians, and tech folks as a director in our Christmas pageant.  Stepping out of my normal role and into something different has a unique way of stretching, growing, and inspiring me.

Leadership gurus traditionally teach that a person ought to lead from his strengths while managing his weaknesses.  But as I’ve been reflecting on the times where I have been privileged to lead in areas where I am not apparently talented or naturally strong, I am beginning to question this tenant of leadership orthodoxy – at least in part.  For when a person is called to lead in an area where he may be weaker, it not only helps him grow in a different and new mode of leadership, it helps him grow in his preferred mode of leadership as well.

Here’s what I mean.  Every leadership strength comes with a built-in deficiency.  For instance, if a leader is naturally a type-A in-charge go-getter, he may also come across as insensitive or uncaring, more concerned with finishing a job by a deadline than demonstrating compassion on a person.  But if this leader periodically puts himself in positions where his primary calling is to care for others, this can help him balance his type-A in-charge go-getter proclivity with intentional empathy and deep sensitivity.  If another leader is naturally more of a perceptive, conciliatory, people-person, he may also come across as weak or pandering, more concerned with keeping everyone happy than getting something done right.  But if this leader periodically spearheads projects that involve making tough decisions that will inevitably ruffle others, this can help him balance his perceptive, conciliatory personality with a tough-as-nails determination.  Leading from a place of weakness encourages a person to be cognizant of and work on those deficiencies that are inherent in his strengths.

Leading from a place of weakness, of course, is nothing new.  The apostle Paul writes of his leadership in ministry, “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).  Leading from and in weakness is what honed and helped Paul’s strength, for when Paul led from weakness, he had only Christ’s strength on which to rely.  And Christ’s strength, not human fortitude, is what every leader needs.  As Paul writes in the verse prior, “[Christ’s] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don’t be afraid, then, to lead in an area where you are weak.  After all, even if you’re weak, Jesus is not.  And He can use your weaknesses to show His strength and to bless your leadership.

December 31, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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