Picked Last

the-little-giants
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him. – 1 Samuel 22:2
By the time I graduated college I had been teaching small groups for 4 years. I had taught mainly high school and middle school at that point, and as I found myself bold new world of adulthood one reality became increasingly clear: I couldn’t live life by myself, and the more I tried, the more I began to sink in my own walk with Christ. At every other point in my life, I had always been surrounded by people who loved and encouraged me to follow Christ, but I had reached a place where love, encouragement, and Christ followers were an increasingly rare commodity. I still had a great small group of high school students, but no one that could genuinely identify with my day to day struggles, or even have the same sense of humor and fun that I did. For a while I tried to convince myself that I was fine and that the strong were made to stand alone, and even though I was anchored to Christ, I knew that I was simply treading water while slowly trending downward.
Finally, after about a year, I joined a young singles small group at my church that met in the house of a pastor that I had grown up with. I struggled to even go because of the old church stigma that single’s groups were the places that high expectations came to die. The imaginary slogan running through my mind was “Can’t find a spouse? Neither can they! Join our group!” But I still went. Apprehensive, a little judgmental, but at the point that I wanted to share life with people who could simply identify with me. I had never been in an adult small group until that point. The leader was my age and married, not an old sage-like teacher, and the people that attended were really nothing like me. Some were older, some in totally different walks of life, others with careers in full swing, some had yet to find a career, and I was simply working a job to get me through grad school. It was nothing like what I expected and thank God it wasn’t. I began to realize as the weeks moved on that these people were more like me than my slogan allowed, and even their differences simply allowed me to see things from a perspective that God used to shape my life and vision to be more like Him. I even began to feel comfort in the fact that my leader was someone who could simply identify with me and walk alongside me. We may have been in slightly different stages, but we both struggled, and could walk alongside one another. I learned that leaders aren’t people who have it all figured out, they are simply chasing toward the answers faster than everyone else and encouraging them to come along.
I can’t help but think that David and his men felt the same way about each other as my I felt about my first adult small group. David was a great military commander, but at this point a fugitive from the king, and his band of men had one thing in common: they were all equally as alienated from society in one way or another. This isn’t the group I would have chosen if I were David, nor the commander I would have picked first if I was one of those 400 men, and it defiantly isn’t the situation anyone would want to be in. Yet it is amazing that these 400 distressed, indebted, discontented men became the bulk of David’s mighty men of great renown. They accomplished God sized tasks and reigned with David in the golden age of Israel. God took an unlikely crew and accomplished unprecedented tasks.
As a leader we often spend time thinking about what should be and what we want, but God has placed us in specific places, with specific people, with great purpose in mind. When you look at the group that God has given you to lead, the people he has opened up the doors to pursue, and yourself as a leader, the first inclination is to simply point out the flaws and resort to the what if’s that would improve your circumstances instead of realizing that God has gifted us with each of these things for a great and powerful purpose. So as you lead those God has entrusted to you, remember what this passage teaches us:
1. David was an anointed and wrongly accused felon, but still a felon on the run. We aren’t perfect and can’t be, but thankfully God doesn’t ask us to be. Our situations do not define us. Christ defines us so lead from that fact. Leaders who accomplish great things are often the last ones you would expect.
2. David identified with his men in, his own, brokenness and vulnerability, not in power and invulnerability. Followers know that leaders are not perfect and good leaders embrace that fact. When we are able to admit that we have struggles too, we allow others to find comfort that they are not inadequate, simply running with you.
3. The men that David had been given were a far cry from the armies he had previously led into battle. They were men on the fringes of society who struggled just like David, but God brought them together to do great things. Great leaders see the potential of what God has entrusted to them, and seek to develop it instead of simply looking for better stock to fit their mold.
Remember, you and your group were built to do things that you could scarcely imagine. The gates of Hell quake in fear when the purposes God has given us are realized! Don’t short sell what God picked specifically for you!

The Secret to Great Leadership

There is a fundamental distinction that separates the best leaders from the rest.  It’s not based necessarily on IQ, strategy, vision, or even passion – although these are all important characteristics.  The fundamental difference typically came down to one thing: They didn’t act like managers; they acted like coaches.

Like world-class leaders may not always have the best talent, but they always seem to get the best out of the talent they have.  The main reason for this that they understand that the only way to systematically improve individual performance is by giving constructive coaching and developmental feedback.  There is a direct correlation between the quantity and the quality of coaching a person receives and their level of improvement.

Coaching and developing people is an ongoing process that is tied to everything that you do as a leader.  These best best practices have been simplified into a four-step process.

Robin_coaching icon1.  Change your approach

What you believe about who God is will determine your behavior.  If you believe God is who He says He is, that will affect your day to day decisions.  Another controller of your behavior is how you think. If you believe your job is to coach and develop your team in order to help them perform to the maximum of their capability, you’re going to behave like a coach.

Coaching is not just something that you must do, it’s something that you must become.  When coaching becomes apart of your identity, your behaviors will automatically change.

2.  Create the environment

Once your understand that your job is to get every ounce of potential from everyone on your team, then you’ve got to create the environment that allows coaching to take place.    The first part of this involves an evaluation of your own leadership and asking, “How am I doing? What can I do better?”

As a coach, you set the standard for others to follow.  Your personal example is the most powerful leadership tool you have.

3.  Transform the conversation

Once the coaching environment is created, you’ve got to lay the foundation for weekly coaching conversations.  Keep in mind…

  • Celebrate small wins, not just big ones.
  • Long-term success requires short-term focus.

4.  Embrace mistakes and coachable moments.

Productivity can only be achieved through identifying and perfecting the seemingly small things consistently done right over time.  But…we seem to learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.  As you review and give positive reinforcement, it’s also important to take note of mistakes as well.  But remember that the objective is to coach, not criticize.

Does One Size Really Fit All?

one-size-fits-all

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

 – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

This seems like such a contradictory passage. Why would Paul, who was saved from legalism, murder, and sin, say that he would be as someone under the law, apart from the law, or weak? What does it mean to “…become all things to all people…”? We normally read this passage and try and understand exactly what Paul did to become all of these things. How does He manage to be so brilliant and reach so many people from completely different worlds? We spend time trying to be “better teachers” and find new ways to communicate because that is what we believe that Paul did. The problem is that we focus on the wrong object within this passage. Paul could spend time with Jews and live within their system because he knew that his identity did not lie within that system. He could reach those who lived out from under the Jewish law, because simply stated, neither was he. Paul could become as those who were weak because he knew that no one is strong by themselves. The truth is that Paul was who he was because the Gospel is what it is. Instead of focusing on what Paul was, it is a better idea to focus on the fact that the Gospel made him who he was. The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it can work and function inside of any system. Paul could live like a Jew because Christ had fulfilled the need to keep the law so Paul was not bound by it. He lived within the law for the opportunity to show them how it had been fulfilled. Paul could live with and minster to gentiles because Jesus had provided a way for all the nations to be blessed by grace and salvation. Provision was now given to all men and was not contingent on works. Paul made himself weak because the Gospel is the great leveler of all men, and reminds us that no man is strong except for the one who paid the price owed by humanity. Though Paul’s theological and educational credentials put him at the top of the list, they could not complete the list that he just gave to the Corinthians. Paul lived among and reached these people because the Gospel was given to reach ALL men and empowered him to do so. The Gospel reaches those under the law by crying that it has been fulfilled; it reaches those out from under the law by showing the new covenant of grace; and it reaches the weak by meeting them with Christ’s strength. The Gospel will reach all people, because it applies to all people.
All of this began to filter into my mind after a small group leader asked me a question. He asked about the possibility of teaching a group of people who were unchurched or had been away for a long time. He expressed concern at the possibility of people like this feeling uncomfortable in a group of “church people.” As I thought about his question, my mind recalled another comment that I had heard just a couple of weeks prior, from a girl who attended a single’s group. She made it abundantly clear that she did not want to attend a group for a few weeks because the topic centered around relationships. She wanted a “Gospel centered” study and not one that focused on issues like relationships. My first response was simply say that, “If the Bible’s open you will always learn something.” And though I agree with that statement, scripture deepens it this statement. How can someone say that a relationships study isn’t a “Gospel centered” study? Why would a group of “Church” people make those where unchurched or de-churched uncomfortable? The answer is simple. Just like we focus on Paul and put the Gospel in the background, we often focus on the lesson we teach and not the Gospel we have been saved by. The safest place for those far from God should be in a group of people who know and love Him, and a study on relationships should be nothing more than study on how the Gospel changes and prepares us to be in them. This principle applies to every facet of our teaching. Why do we assume that a lesson on marriage cannot be taught to singles? Are they not husbands and wives who are just waiting to meet their spouse? They should benefit and listen to the beautiful picture God has painted into marriage to reflect His Son and the deep love He has for His children. Why should the unchurched feel uncomfortable in a group of seasoned Christians? Aren’t they in the perfect place to be brand new partakers of the grace that others in the group are seasoned partakers of? Somewhere along the way we must begin to realize that every lesson from God’s Word applies to anyone who is listening. This is where the teacher is empowered by God’s Word, and this empowerment is due to our focus. We have to ask ourselves these questions: What does this passage say about God and His character, and how does that change those within my group? Relationships are pictures of Christ restoring our relationship with Him and new believers are refreshing pictures and opportunities to walk in God’s continual grace. What season is your group in and how does the Gospel apply to it?

Numbers Game

“The truth is, creativity isn’t about wild talent as much as it’s about productivity. To find a few ideas that work, you need to try a lot that don’t. It’s a pure numbers game.
—Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering, Stanford School of Engineering”

my 10 ways to FAIL

Fail_StampNobody ever plans to fail in life.  I’ve never met a single person who made it their life goal to be a loser, die young, and go through life all alone and depressed.  Yet people do these things everyday.  The lives of people we love are are full of addictions, bitterness, loneliness, depression, shame, and regret.

I’ve been asking myself what failure would look like for me personally.  Not mistakes or mess-ups; those happen all the time.  I’m talking about utter failure.  If I don’t know what failure would be for me, then it will be difficult to avoid it.  Here are 10 ways to fail.

1.  Build a great ministry while destroying a great marriage

2.  Compromise my convictions in a moment of weakness, and lose my family, my reputation, and my anointing from God.

3.  See thousands of strangers believe the gospel when I preach yet watch my own children reject the gospel when they grow up.

4.  Preach on being spiritually healthy while neglecting my own health for the sake of the ministry.

5.  Be productive in my daily work while never working on my own personal relationship with Jesus.

6.  Spend all my money and resources on my wants while neglecting the needs of my brothers and sisters, when it is in my power to help them.

7.  Be efficient at training and teaching others in how to do ministry but lack effectiveness in preparing my children to live for Christ as His disciples.

8.  Miss opportunities to bless, honor, and support other pastors and leaders because I am waiting on them to bless, honor, and notice me.

9.  Never have fun because I was too serious about my calling, my preaching, my writing, or my ministry responsibilities.

10.  Grow old without the deep, abiding love and friendships that I would miss if I never took the time to invest in people, beginning with my wife.

What would failure look like for you?