4 Characteristics of Leaders Who Last
By Rick Warren
Everything rises or falls on leadership. No organization, no ministry, no church, no family, no school, no business can go any further than the leaders who are leading it. If everything rises or falls on leadership, then the quickest way for the opposition to halt any project, any family, any business is to neutralize the leadership. When the shepherd is removed, the flock scatters.
That’s true today in our churches. When Satan wants to cripple a church, he takes on the leadership. And this is not just about the pastor and the paid staff, but the church leadership’s — the lay leadership. If you want to be a leader, some people aren’t going to like you, and they’re going to attack you. Some people are going to try to make you fail.
Here are four characteristics of leaders who last long enough to accomplish big things in spite of the challenges.
1. Leaders who last have a compelling purpose.
This is the very first element of leadership. A cause. A vision. A dream. An objective. A goal. It doesn’t drive you, it draws you. You have to have a compelling purpose.
Until you have a compelling purpose for your life, you’re just existing. Nehemiah said, I have a great project! What are you exchanging your life for? Jesus said, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” When you give your time for something, you’re giving your life. That’s what life is made up of — your time. We tend to think that the most important thing we can give people is our money. But money can be replaced. But when you give people your time, that’s irreplaceable. The mark of a great leader is first of all, to have a compelling purpose — an over arching goal in life that motivates me to keep going. Paul says, “Love compels me to keep going.”
Great people are just ordinary people who have made a great commitment to a great cause. That cause draws them out of themselves and makes them more than they could be on their own. You need a compelling purpose for life.
2. Leaders who last need a clear perspective.
If you’re going to be a leader, you’ve got to have perception, or wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any man lacks wisdom, ask God.” When you spend time in the word of God you begin to take on the mind of Christ and you’ll be a more perceptive leader. The thing that clouds our perception is fear. A definition of FEAR — False Evidence Appearing Real. You need to have a compelling purpose and a clear perspective.
3. Leaders who last develop a life of continual prayer
In Luke 18:1, “Jesus told his disciples that they should always pray and not give up.” In your life you’re always doing one or the other. You’ll either pray or you’ll give up. John R. Rice once said that “all of our failures are prayer failures.” When the heat is on, when the pressure is on, you’ll either pray or you’ll panic. You need a continual prayer life.
4. Leaders who last need a courageous persistence.
One of the great keys to success is the ability to hang in there! Keep on keeping on! Keep on doing what God wants you to do! If you were to study all the sermons I’ve given at Saddleback I basically have two themes — one for unbelievers and one for believers. The theme I have for unbelievers is “God cares about you. You matter to God.” I say that in many different ways. I have one basic message I have for believers and that’s “Don’t give up!” We all get tired in the battle and God says “Don’t give up!” You need a courageous persistence.
How can you be fearful and courageous at the same time? Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving ahead in spite of your fear. Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
How persistent are you in doing God’s will? Do you just do it when it’s convenient? Have you ever made the decision in your life, “I’m going to follow Jesus 100% no matter what else happens, no matter what it costs, no matter what it takes, regardless of what people say about me, sidetracks, danger. I’m going to do the right thing.”
photo credit: Βethan
David Kinnaman: We’re coming up on Easter, which means a large Sunday morning crowd. Why do you think people are still drawn to church on Christmas and Easter when they aren’t attending very regularly at other points throughout the year?
Jon Tyson: I think there’s some level of religious hangover. People grew up attending church; it’s still celebrated quite largely across our culture. It remains a reference point for people. The more secular our story gets—the more consumeristic our story gets—the more hungry we, as spiritual beings, get for moments of transcendence. People know traditionally the Christian stories of Christmas and Easter, so I think people come to both holidays because they provide access points to transcendence—to hope and meaning that society is not offering them.
DK: That’s a lot of pressure on the church—on pastors—for those two holidays. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, we work with pastors a lot in our work here at Barna, do you think that’s the right kind of pressure they should place on themselves?
JT: Pastors [recognize] they have a reduced social and cultural platform to speak the Good News into people’s lives, so they feel the pressure to maximize on those increasingly rare opportunities. So I think the heart behind it is a good heart that says, “I don’t know if I’m going to get another chance all year to really articulate what God has done for us in Jesus. I want to make sure that I get that right.” I think that’s a good pressure. I would say however, that pressure should not just be channeled into programming and excellence of events. It should be put into prayer, it should be put into fasting, it should be put into creating ways for people to continue on in exploring the Christian faith.
DK: The top reason people give us in our research for why they don’t attend church is because they find God elsewhere. It’s something you hear a lot in popular phrases like, “I’m spiritual but not religious”; “I love Jesus but not the Church.” As a pastor, when you hear that kind of reasoning—that God is available and findable outside of the church—how do you respond?
JT: It’s too simplistic. I’ll try to explain why quickly, and it will be hard. There’s three kinds of spirituality: mono-, di- and tri-spirituality. Mono-spirituality is what I would call secular spirituality. It’s basically saying: secularism isn’t working, there has to be more to me than just chemicals and brainwaves; I will look for a spiritual force or God within myself. That sort of spirituality is used as a cloaking mechanism to stop you from having to depend on some sort of God.
Then you’ve got di-spirituality, which basically says: No, I need something outside of myself. I need a relationship with a deity of some kind. And this, I think, is what is wrong with evangelicalism—which can minimize my relationship to other people as incidental or secondary—everything exists so I can have a personal relationship with God.
Tri-spirituality is myself in relationship with God and in relationship with others. This is the spirituality Jesus taught—and actually cares about. So I think people are deluding themselves to think that outside of the body of believers—and I say that carefully, not church programs or Sunday events—that outside of the Body of Jesus Christ, people can find God. You will have a limited, immature, shallow spirituality if you think you can find it on your own. We are called to practice the way of Jesus with other people.
My guess, though, is that’s not really what people are saying. What I guess people are mostly saying is that [they find] Church to be pretty mediocre—that it is about guilt, condemnation and hypocrisy, and [they] find the Christian faith in other means. And if people get together regularly with a big group of friends to live the way of Jesus, if they’re laying down their lives in sacrificial love, I’m fine with that. It’s my experience, though, that most people don’t want to do the second part of that.
Watch the full-length Sacred Roots video for free for a limited time only.
DK: You know, it’s interesting, after reading your FRAME, Sacred Roots, a friend of mine said she hoped this little book would challenge pastors to change their view of what it means to be an effective church. That the problem is not just the consumer, individual church-goer, or culture, but it’s also church leader’s own expectations of what it means to be a community of faith.
JT: I completely agree. There are two forces at work. There is what people do to form people, and then there’s people’s response. It’s not a pastor’s primary job to create events that are better than other churches so their consumers are happy. It is their job, whether people like them or not, to preach the Word, to sacrificially love, to care about the poor, to focus on relationships over events and programs. It is their job to see the church be the Body of Jesus—a tangible trinity on earth in a local place.
DK: As you said earlier, most pastors’ hearts are in the right place. It’s probably something of a slow mission drift, shaped by culture and a history of certain expectations of church. So how can they avoid falling into some of those traps—of becoming a consumer-driven church or of setting expectations too low?
JT: I think the issue is what evangelical culture focuses on as success and what evangelical culture holds up as the model of success. Every conference you attend, the speakers are, for the most part, charismatic, disproportionately gifted, un-reproducible anomalies. And they lead churches that are, for the most part, in unique contexts at unique cultural moments and cannot be scaled or multiplied easily. So we are holding up the anomaly and trying to make it the expectation. We live in an evangelical culture that robs us of our pastoral joy by repeatedly telling us to compare ourselves to people we can never be like.
Very practically, [as pastors], we must first claim a biblical definition of success and root that in our own hearts. According to the Bible, success is faithfulness (“Well done, good and faithful servant.”) So we need to have a vision of faithfulness and obedience as true, biblical success. Number two: sacrificially laying down your life for your people in love. Which means focusing on the relationships that are actually before you, and asking the question: How can I more tangibly manifest the love of Jesus in the actual relationships God has brought to me? And number three, keeping our lives focused on the need of the world rather than striving for success or notoriety in any sort of Christian or ecclesiological platform.
DK: When you think about Millennials and young people in particular, what do you think is unique about their criticisms of church—what do you think is unique about their cultural context that is different than the way a generation of Boomer skeptics approach church?
JT: I think for Boomers—this is a massive generalization—it was about making church credible intellectually, and relevant culturally. I think those were the two great challenges post-WWII. There was a lot of apologetics and trying to make the Christian faith credible in light of history. Millennials wrestle with completely different things. They are wrestling with issues of authority; a distrust of authority has basically leaked into everything. I think consumerism is a default. Millennials want access, not ownership. They tend to use things rather than own things. Marketing has been telling them their life has to be exceptional—so they’re always trying to go on that journey of trying to be exceptional. I think that’s a very, very real generational shift. I would say this: The culture of distraction we wrestle with is unprecedented in human history. And the implications of getting people to focus, to be still, to walk with God, to hear form God, to think, and read, and have convictions on any sort of deep level are just incredibly hard.
DK: And what would be your advice, then, to a Millennial pastor who is dealing with that culture of distraction? Or to a Boomer pastor who’s trying to reach Millennials?
JT: To a Boomer pastor I would say, you should offer the gifts you have from your own story, journey and experience. So another generation doesn’t have to make those same mistakes. People are craving mentors to give them not just trends, but wisdom on how to live. I think there should be a massive increase in terms of mentoring—that’s an incredible gift Boomers can give. To a Millennial pastor, I would simply say, follow the path of wisdom, not the path of trends in a worship experience. We can’t let all these intrusions continually make their way into our lives. We have to put boundaries in place. In some sense, silence, solitude and stopping are the essential disciplines a Millennial pastor has to practice.
DK: I bet most people would be surprised to find out you trained to become a butcher. In your FRAME, you tell the story of how, back in Australia, you left school at age 16 to become an apprentice to a butcher and indentured yourself to that industry for four years. It’s a great story, and I just really loved reading how the Lord’s hand has been on you, bringing you from Australia and spicing meat, to one of the world’s most influential cities.
JT: It’s also, I think, in many ways a very New York story. Which is why even though I’m from another country, I feel like I’m very well received here in New York. New York is a meritocracy. It rewards you primarily on achievements, and in God’s kindness, things have gone well for our church plant. We have some level of credibility here in the city in terms of church presence.
And it’s an immigrant’s story: to move from one culture to another with a dream of being a part of something greater. That was certainly my story. And I’ve tried to take the best parts of my story, try to make sense of it and then help other people make sense of theirs. I love it.
DK: And I think some of the things you argue for in your FRAME: calling the church and Christians to move from dabbling to devotion, from transience to permanence, from preference to proximity, from beliefs to practices, also reflect some of those elements of what you’ve learned both in Manhattan and in your own story.
JT: Yes, definitely. Let’s ask the question: How do we need to live in order for God’s dream for the Church to be realized in the world? What do we actually have to change about the way we live our lives, not just about the way we think? And not just one or two of our practices. What, in our actual lives, has to change so God’s dream for the Church and the world can be realized. You have to evaluate not just the surface levels or practices or habits, you have to examine the framework. So I think much of what’s in that FRAME is my best thinking, best real-world experience about the future. In a transitory, secular, suspicious world, how does the Church need to live, think and act in order for it to gain credibility again? I think those shifts are a step forward.
About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.
© Barna Group, 2014
29 Ways to Increase Your Creativity
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love, You are love
On display for all to see
You are light, You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope, You are hope
You have covered all my sin
You are peace, You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy, You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life, You are life
In You death has lost its sting
(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
To Your embrace
Light of the world
You are more, You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord, You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here, You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God, You are God
Of all else I’m letting go
My heart will sing
No other name
Jesus, Jesus (repeat)
What if this One Thing is Causing us to Miss God?
Do you remember Gehazi? He’s one Bible character that doesn’t get a lot of Sunday School time. But, you probably remember the role that he plays in Scripture. Gehazi was Elisha’s servant. He was blind. The only problem was…he didn’t realize he was blind.
In 2 Kings 6, the king of Aram became enraged at Elisha because, through the direction of God, he continually foiled Aram’s plans to attack Israel. So, the king of Aram changed his focus. Instead of attacking Israel, he sent his army to capture Elisha.
“Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God [Gehazi] got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:13-17).
Until that point, Gehazi probably didn’t realize that he was blind. He had walked with the man of God for extended periods of time, but was never intimate with God like Elisha. In spite of his proximity to Elisha, something was blinding him to the ways of God.
So, why wasn’t Gehazi growing in God along with Elisha? If he was such a close companion of Elisha, if he was witness to all of the miracles, why was he so often blind to the things of God? Well, we could just call it God’s sovereign decision and leave it there…but I think the previous chapter of 2 Kings gives us further insight.
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman (who, ironically, was the commander of the armies of Aram) came to Elisha in hopes that he could be cured of leprosy. Elisha told Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. And it happened just as Elisha said.
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused (2 Kings 5:15-16).
Gehazi, frustrated with Elisha’s failure to accept a monetary reward, eventually tracked down Naaman and made his own request for material gain. He told Naaman that Elisha now wanted seventy-five pounds of silver and two sets of clothes for his services.
When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”
“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.
But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow (2 Kings 5:25-27).
This may be a stretch, but do you think Gehazi could have been blind to the things of God because of his love for money? Do you think materialism could have clouded his spiritual sight? If so, he wouldn’t be the only one in Scripture with this problem.
Judah, the son of Simon
In the gospel of Matthew, there is a guy known as Judah, the son of Simon. He was one of Jesus’s disciples. He was there when Jesus sent out the seventy two to the surrounding towns and villages to preach the good news of the kingdom. He wasn’t as close to Jesus as some of the other disciples, but he was a consistent eye witness to the “image of the invisible God.”
It is likely that he, the son of Simon, was in the boat when Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves…calming the storm. There is a good chance that he was present when the legion of demons was driven out of the Gerasene man. He probably sitting in the home of Simon the Leper…he may have even been reclined around the table with Jesus…when a woman came in and anointed Him with very expensive perfume. Chances are high that this kind of financial waste drove him crazy. After all, he was the responsible for handling the money bag of Jesus and his disciples. You probably know him best by the Greek form of his name – Judas.
In spite of walking in the dust of Jesus’s sandals for a couple of years, he was blind. He missed it. He was a firsthand witness to the kingdom of God breaking into the everyday lives of the people, but he didn’t have the eyes to see God. He was spiritually blind.
One of the last acts of his life gives us some indication of what caused his blindness. He agreed to hand over Jesus to the religious authorizes for thirty pieces of silver. In other words, he may have missed God because of his love for material possessions.
One final story
According to the Bible, this kind of spiritual blindness may be contagious. Apparently, it can spread within certain groups of people. And the church runs a real risk of catching this disease.
Do you remember the Church at Laodicea? According to Revelation 3:17, this group was “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” But, they did not realize it. And what was the cause? Verse 17 spells out the origin of their condition in very distinct language. They were blinded by affluence; “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”
This world is hard to navigate when you’re blind. But, it’s even worse to suffer from blindness and not know it.
Maybe those of us who live in affluence should take a cue from Bartimaeus. Maybe we should cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And when He asks what we need, instead of complaining about how we need more possessions, maybe we should simply say, “Rabbi, I want to see” (Mark 10:47-51).
With His grace, we can have the vision of Elisha instead of the eyes of Gehazi.