October 2009


I have 23 followers on Twitter.

I’ve never tweeted a thing.

Which leads me to the question, “Can you follow a stationary object?”

I’m sure you see the applications to leaders.

Back in January, Steve Moore posted a great vlog about busyness. He quotes Dallas Willard, from his book The Great Omission:

“God never gives anyone too much to do. We do that to ourselves. We allow other people to do it to us.”

Steve follows up that quote by asking,

“Do you have too much to do? Did God do that to you? Or who gave you too much to do?”

That’s a great point. If God didn’t intend for us to be overly busy, where is the fault? Is it our own inability to say “no” to opportunities and requests? Or is it some kind of subconscious motivation that forces us to work harder and perform? In Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, McIntosh and Rima point out that many people come to leadership out of past wounds that fuel a desire to perform and seek approval to an obsessive level. No amount of work, and no amount of recognition is enough because of their deep-seated need. Nonprofits and ministries are not immune to this kind of leader.

How about you? What motivates you to do too much?

11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Ah, the workaholic’s life verse. At Willow Creek Leadership Summit in 2006, I remember Andy Stanley sharing about the toughest decision he’d ever made. He compared two verses and realized that it was his job to love his wife while it was God’s job to love His church. He came to the conclusion then that he was going to give God 45 hours a week to build whatever church God wanted to build, and he was going to focus on loving his wife — specifically by being home for what my wife calls “the witching hour,” when she’s trying to cook dinner while the kids are hungry and cranky.

He dealt with all kinds of flack as he left his staff working in the office as he walked out and as he skipped hospital visits. But the results have been incredible. The church has moved away from being staff-driven. He said a volunteer told him as she mobilized dozens to help her, “Well, someone has to provide congregational care.” They’ve made very intentional decisions for the church, including shutting their doors the last Sunday of every year, as a gift to the staff. Over time, he has attracted a healthy, motivated staff who work hard… and then go home. He tells each one on their first day of work that they can cheat the church, but never cheat their family.

Here’s the thing that caught me by surprise. The very next speaker got up and talked as if he hadn’t heard a thing Andy said. This boomer pastor — who has had some fairly public battles with workaholism and burnout — started talking about the many hours you have to put in as a leader. The juxtaposition was stark.

So, who was right? Everything in me wants to scream, “Andy!” Like many of my colleagues under 45, I want it all. I want to help support my wife, help raise my kids and go to every event with them. I also want to be successful at my job and continue to get opportunities to advance and grow. But is it possible to do both? I think it is possible to have both, but neither to the extent you want it. I’m constantly torn: when I’m at work, I feel like that’s the most important thing I can be doing. And when I’m spending time with my family, I feel like that’s the most important thing. I wish I could spend more time doing both, but God in his wisdom decided on 24 hours in a day. I’m okay with both/and, and I’m okay with healthy tension. I pray that I make the right choices with my compromises so that neither side pays too much when I can’t be there.

Here’s my theory on busyness, based purely on my own life experiences. When I was single, I thought I was busy. I had lots of social engagements and often wished I could pull back a bit from my commitments. When I got married, I added a whole new set of commitments and found I didn’t have as much freedom with my time. Then along came baby #1 and a whole new layer of busyness. Some things I thought were critical to my life had to fall away. Babies #2 and 3 repeated the pattern. Increases in responsibility at work and church have only added more busyness to my life than I could have ever imagined even three years ago, let alone when I was 22 and single.

The trick is to be busy and still serve the Lord enthusiastically.

Here’s my question for all you readers out there: Is work-life balance a generational thing, or does every generation switch to workaholism as their naivite and idealism fade?

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

In crisis and trouble, the second trait a leader has to have is patience. When I think about Moses — who found his 1-2 year change process extended by 38 years — leading a bunch of grumbling sentimentalists for decades, I marvel at his patience and perseverance. The Bible only reports a couple of incidents where he let his frustation show.

Leaders have to take the long view. Crises come and crises go. One way to get past them is to take a patient view, riding out the latest challenge. I’m currently reading a biography, William Pitt the Younger. Pitt was the youngest  and second-longest-serving prime minister of England. He had things he wanted to accomplish, including abolishment of slavery alongside William Wilberforce, that got put on hold year after year as new crises came up. His perseverance through year after depressing year during the war against the French sapped his health and aged him. He never lived to see the anti-slavery cause completed, just as Moses never saw his promised land, except in their visionary dreams. Both cases show there’s something solid and unwavering in a leader that might get rocked but doesn’t give up in difficult challenges.

What was Moses’ secret? Trait #3: he prayed. When I read about Moses’ discussions with God, “prayer” seems too formal a label. He spent hours in the tent talking face to face with God — to the point that his face collected and retained some of the radiance! He climbed a mountain and spent 40 days with God. When setbacks came, he dumped on God rather than the “stiffnecks” he had responsibility for.

I wish I had that kind of deep and conversational prayer life. It’s a great way to keep your head above water. But when I begin to idolize Moses, I recall that he still didn’t put all of his burdens on God. He cracked twice in very visible ways, and the second one was serious enough an error to prevent him from leading his people into Canaan.

I love the way our text says, “keep on praying.” It’s not a one-time thing, but a daily practice. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and to acknowledge that, as talented as we think we are and as many things as we think we can control, God alone is the one who is Sovereign. That realization is at the heart of a godly leader’s perseverance, confidence and identity.

“Hurry, everybody! Hide! The future is coming!”

I think my three-year-old daughter summed up the way a lot of people feel about the future. Time to put our heads in the sand. Maybe it’ll go away.

I’m really enjoying the premise of the new show, FlashForward — the idea that everyone on the planet gets a two-minute glimpse of their future six months ahead. For some, this glimpse gives them hope. For others, it’s agonizing. As the season moves ahead, I’m looking forward to seeing how the show tackles ideas like free will, our ability to control our destiny and our inherent brokenness. I’m quite sure I’ll be disappointed, but I might also be pleasantly delighted at the truth the show exposes.

Yesterday morning I led Wycliffe USA’s leaders in a discussion on succession planning. One point I made is that you can’t anticipate the leadership needs of an organization or department by looking at today’s leader. The tendency if you do that is either to seek a clone to succeed an incumbent or rather to seek a reaction to the incumbent — someone who has strengths where the incumbent is weak. Unfortunately, the present is a bad starting place for succession planning. You have to force yourself into an assessment of the organization and an assessment of future trends that then defines the leadership needs of an organization or department. Where are the challenges and opportunities going to be? Who can take advantage and lead us in that reality?

The future is coming. Are you the kind of person who sticks your head in the sand, or one who wishes you could see around corners? Are you excited or depressed about what you see?