Jan 2015

You’re Working on the Wrong Things and It’s Wearing You Out!

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I know a particular leader who is very conscientious and has a hard time giving away power to others. To be sure that things are done properly, she often ends up just doing them herself. As a result, she is exhausted.

Recently she told me: “I recognize that leaders should give power away; and that should include giving away both responsibility and authority. But, my difficulty is that I often don’t see what I must do and what is okay for others to do. For example, to make sure we recruit the right people for a training program, I see the need to be deeply involved and to interview the leaders who recommended people, asking them why they made their recommendation, and what are the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses etc. Is this something I should do or should I give it to some of our emerging leaders to do?”

In response, I said this:

Before dealing with leadership, let’s think for a moment about doctrine. To have a proper balance, we must recognize that our doctrines have varying levels of significance and authority. Jesus said there are certain doctrinal matters that are “more important” than others:

…you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness… (Matt. 23:23)

By implication, this means there are some doctrinal matters that are “less important.” They are not all equally important (although, of course, nothing in the Bible is unimportant).

Vital doctrines that are clearly taught in the Scripture – such as the deity of Christ, the substitutionary blood atonement, Jesus’ virgin birth and bodily resurrection, justification by faith alone, the inerrancy of Scripture, the triunity of the Godhead, etc. – must never be compromised. These are the doctrines for which you should be prepared to die and which you should defend even if it means causing division in the local church.

However, issues such as the exact method of water baptism, the timing of the rapture, forms of worship, method of taking communion, or the appropriateness of Christians observing Christmas should not be the causes of church divisions. You should be prepared to die for the deity of Christ, but not for someone’s speculation regarding the meaning of Paul’s head covering in 1 Corinthians 11! You should not divide churches over disagreements about the historical identity of the king called “Darius the Mede” in the Old Testament book of Daniel!

As the importance and clarity of the doctrine increases, its authority increases. However, if a doctrine is relatively less important or clear, then its authority decreases. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say there are “three levels of doctrines.”

Level 1: Vitally important, we should die for them. We must be right about these doctrines.
Level 2: Important, but we can work with people who differ; it’s not the end of the world.
Level 3: Not very important; speculations and human traditions.

Three Levels of Leadership Responsibilities

In the same way, it’s helpful to think of three “levels” of leadership responsibilities.

Level 1: The leader must personally assume these responsibilities. He has no other option. These are absolutely necessary for him, and only him, to do.

Level 2: These things are important, but they can be given away. Of course, there should be clear oversight and coaching, and follow-up by the leader to ensure they’re done well. But they’re not necessary for him to micro-manage. Moreover, if they’re not done perfectly, it won’t be the end of the world.

Level 3: These responsibilities should be given away immediately. And don’t worry about them!

For example, Level 1 responsibilities would include:

  • Establishing vision for the whole organization.
  • Dealing with major crises.
  • Appointing top leaders.

Some Level 2 responsibilities:

  • Organizing and leading certain meetings.
  • Establishing vision for smaller components of the organization.
  • Overseeing many kinds of communication, both internal and external.

Some Level 3 responsibilities:

  • Deciding what snacks to put in the break room.
  • Ensuring the facilities are neat and tidy.
  • Arranging transportation for people.

This framework provides a clear distinction between which responsibilities the leader should and should not take personal responsibility for.

Of course, emerging leaders should always be involved in “Level 1 and 2” matters, in order to stretch them and give them opportunity for growth. The leader should not simply do “Level 1” things in an isolated way – that will be unhelpful for the maturing of the emerging leaders.

Now, back to the initial question: Recruiting the right people for an important training program is quite possibly a “Level 1 decision.” However, the leader should still incorporate emerging leaders into this process – it will be a great learning experience for them.

Save Yourself From Exhaustion

Many church leaders make a big mistake when it comes to doctrine: they consider every doctrine at the same level. This is where things can get dangerous. It becomes a very serious problem when speculations are presented as possessing the same degree of authority as “Level 1” direct statements of Scripture. Due to a lack of theological training, many church leaders and Christians do not have a balanced view of the degrees of doctrinal authority, but they have a “flat” theology in which everything they believe is considered to possess the same absolute authority. In such churches, aberrant speculations are believed and held to as zealously as direct statements of Scripture, and sometimes even more so.

Strangely, in some churches, “Level 3” speculations are stated and pursued as pure and absolute revelations from God, whereas foundational “Level 1” doctrines are disregarded as unimportant. Obviously, you should not give your life for someone’s speculation. Unfortunately, however, in small, “cultic” churches, many believers have done just that.

Similarly, every leadership responsibility is not at the same level. But if everything is treated as a “Level 1” responsibility, the leader will be personally involved in every single thing.

The daily lives of our organizations are filled with “Level 3” responsibilities and if the leader personally assumes responsibility for all of them, three things will happen:

  • The leader will burn out.
  • A strong ceiling for the work will be created; it can only grow as much as that one leader can personally accomplish.
  • Everyone else will be frustrated since they’re not allowed to do much.

We must learn to distinguish the difference between the levels of leadership responsibility. Many of us are doing the wrong things and it’s wearing us out!

Oct 2014

Do You Overestimate Your Ability as a Leader?

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How accurately do you estimate your ability as a leader? Do you think too highly of yourself, not highly enough, or about right?

Recently I came across the concept of “illusory superiority.” Illusory superiority is “a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others… [It is also called] the ‘Lake Wobegon effect’ (named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where ‘all the children are above average’).”

According to the research, 80% of drivers will rate themselves as above average. Other research demonstrates the same lopsidedness in people’s estimation of their own teaching ability, IQ, test scores, memory, job performance, relational capacity, punctuality, sensitivity, consistency, popularity, health, and more. Frighteningly, only 18% of drivers believe they are below average drivers while using a phone for texting or email.

Of course, the simple statistical fact is that only 50% of people are above average in anything! Ironically, people also tend to consider themselves less “susceptible to bias” than other people. We’re not only out of touch with reality – we also pat ourselves on the back for how “in touch” we are!

This shouldn’t surprise us since the Scriptures teach that we are inherently prone to both self-deception and pride.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jer. 17:9-10)

The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jer. 5:31)

…There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong. (Ps. 36:1-4)

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers” (Matt. 7:21-23)

You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Rev. 3:17)

In Christ, we are made new in His image but this is a daily growth toward maturity – it does not happen instantly.

So it’s no wonder that many Christian leaders believe that various mistakes and failures only happen to average or below average leaders and that they themselves are immune to the types of problems that have plagued leaders for centuries. It comes naturally for us to assume that spiritual burnout, doctrinal error, relational failure, crippling or even fatal stress-induced physical collapse, moral compromise, etc. only happen to “other, weaker” leaders.

The simple fact is: you’re probably not better than most other leaders!

The first task of the leader is to face reality – including reality about himself. Now, again, how accurately do you estimate your ability as a leader?

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:16)


  • Think about your past life and ministry – what specific negative situations could been avoided by a more accurate understanding of yourself?
  • In what ways did God speak to you before or during those times (perhaps through His Word, through the words of others, inwardly by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or through circumstances) but you didn’t listen?
  • What accountability do you need in your life to avoid self-deception in the future and what will you do in order to get it?

Sep 2014

What Is the Best Leader Development Advice You Can Give?

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The fifth Leader Development Consultation (LDC) was held in Asia in October 2013 with about 240 participants from 20+ nations. Prior to the event, participants were asked, “What is the best leader development advice you can give?” The following are some of the very beautiful and wise responses. The original answers are given with minor editing.

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Sep 2014

Significant Trends in Leader Development

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The fifth Leader Development Consultation (LDC) was held in Asia in October 2013 with about 240 participants from 20+ nations. Prior to the event, participants were asked about significant trends they see happening in Christian leader development work. The following is a summary analysis of their responses. As much as possible, the original answers are given word-for-word in bullets.

1. A broad recognition of the central importance of leader development:

  • Everyone is talking about leader development.
  • Increased awareness by major organizations of the critical need for developing leaders to meet the demands of a rapidly growing church
  • There seems to be an increased awareness of the need for leader development within the network of my relationships.
  • People are awakening to the need.
  • There is a hunger for training and good material in the two-thirds world like never before. Quality education has become a high priority among leaders.

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Aug 2014

Designers of Leader Development and Users of Design

Probably everybody who is reading these words has the ability to sit in a car and be driven somewhere by someone else. Everybody can benefit from the car. Whether or not we understand how the car works or even how to drive, everyone can benefit. But how many people can drive the car? Quite a few, but it’s not everybody. Then, how many people can change the oil in the car and do basic maintenance work? This is a significantly smaller group. How many people can fix the engine when it breaks down? Even fewer.

Now, think about when the car was built. How many people have the knowledge and skills to work on the production line and produce the car? Very few. Then, how many people have the ability to precisely engineer the various parts of the car? Not many. Finally, how many people can invent something like a car in the first place? Hardly anyone.

In another analogy, very few people can write a truly great book, but multitudes can read it and benefit from it.

Leader development is like this.

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Jul 2014

Simple Design and Complex Design

By God’s grace, for the second time in a row, LeaderSource SGA was recently selected as one of the recipients of the Leadership 500 Excellence Awards for 2014 “for outstanding achievements in leadership development and programs.” In addition we were selected as a “Top 10 finalist” in the Non-Profit Organizations Category . The complete list is here (we’re on page 12). We thank God for this honor.

In our last Letter, we began to look at how to design transformational leader development. Let’s continue now…

Simple Design and Complex Design

An intuitive grasp of the principles of gravity and aerodynamics is sufficient to catch a ball that is thrown to you. But it’s not sufficient to design an airplane, even though the same principles are at work! To design an airplane you need a considerably greater (and conscious) mastery of the principles.

In the same way, there is both simple and complex leader development design. Just as you can catch a ball without knowing anything about “lift” and “acceleration,” so you can intuitively harness the power of 4D design (incorporating spiritual, relational, experiential and instructional dynamics) without being able to design a full-time, multi-year curriculum for training.

Anyone can do “simple” design.

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Jun 2014

Designing Transformational Leader Development

In this Letter, we will begin a new series, looking at how to design transformational leader development.

Transformational leader development requires more than classroom instruction. Life transformation takes place through a combination of the “Four Dynamics of Transformation”:

  • Spiritual Dynamics – including prayer, worship, reflection, meditation in the Word;
  • Relational Dynamics – including encouragement, accountability, examples, mentors, coaches;
  • Experiential Dynamics – including learning by doing, challenging assignments, and pressure;
  • Instructional Dynamics – the teaching of the Word of God in an engaging and interactive way.

Traditional training, however, almost exclusively uses the Instructional Dynamic.

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May 2014

The Power of Pressure in Leader Development

In our last Letter we looked at the power of pressure in leader development.

There are several cautions we must observe as we introduce pressure into the lives of emerging leaders:

  • It is not true that “the more we make them suffer, the more they will grow.” God allows suffering in our lives, but He does so wisely. We should not just callously or arbitrarily throw people into the fire, thinking this will automatically improve them. We should be intentional and careful about exposing emerging leaders to various forms of pressure. A boxer said to his manager, “I want to fight the champ.” The manager said, “No, you’re not ready for the champ.” “But I want to fight him. I’m ready. Why can’t I fight him?” “Because,” said the manager, “you’ve only so many fights in you, and it’s my job to pick the right ones.” In the same way, we need to protect our emerging leaders by carefully designing what they experience.
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Apr 2014

True Leadership is Forged in the Fire

Many biblical leaders such as Joseph, Moses, David and Paul were built in the fire of suffering.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Tim. 3:10-12)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Cor. 1:8-11; see also 4:7-12; 11:21-29; )

These are the ways of God: healthy leaders are built – and lead – in the fires of suffering.

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Mar 2014

Jesus Showed Us the Path of Suffering

Leaders are built through fire. Godly leaders know that sufferings can build spiritual maturity, brokenness and genuine faith in God; thus, they do not shy away from the cross in their lives.

Accordingly, Jesus showed the way of suffering to the leaders He was building. He personally demonstrated sufferings to them:

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