“Whiteboard” Leadership

The original post on this topic was published in 2005.  I have been brought back to these principles again and again.  So here it is in a new, updated version.

This is a picture of me looking out over the Colorado landscape from Montgomery Pass, which is part of the Poudre Canyon. There was about a 40 mile an hour wind right in my face. This was taken in July of 2005 when I was faced with some critical decisions–the biggest of which was where would my family and I serve in ministry for the next season of our lives.

I was 49 at the time and was finding change more and more difficult. Yet a friend of mine, Eric Swanson, counseled me that a leader occasionally needs a new “whiteboard” in their life. He stressed that we must go back to simple. Leaders by their leadership acts rightfully take things that are in some state of chaos or simplicity and bring clarity and growth, leading to greater complexity. But after a season a leader needs to go back to simple. This allows for fresh faith and fresh learning-and I am convinced that a leader’s longevity is in large measure tied to his or her ability to remain a learner.

This conversation started me down a path of trying to refine my thinking about faith. What is faith at it’s core? We know from the book of Hebrews that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But earlier in the book I believe we have faith at it’s core being put on display. In Hebrews chapter three the writer quotes Psalm 95–“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” The writer makes this quote because he is warning his original audience to be very careful that they don’t fall prey to “an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” You see these Hebrew believers were under some amount of persecution from Rome and their great tendency was to run to “safety.” Safety was probably being defined as running back to Judaism. The Jewish faith was a recognized and sanctioned religion under the Roman government-it was “safe”-but Christianity was not sanctioned and was not “safe.” I believe the overall theme of Hebrews is this, “There is no better, nor safer, place than Jesus Himself.” Safety is not being defined as the absence of trouble–it is in Jesus himself, our Great High Priest. But what is the writer pointing to in Psalm 95? Psalm 95 is an invitation to worship tied to a warning. The warning at the end of the Psalm ties back to a historical incident in Exodus 17. The end of Psalm 95 is ominous-it speaks of a generation not entering into God’s rest. If you go back to Exodus 17 you find an episode in the life of the Israelites (remember the original audience of Hebrews-Jewish believers) where they were complaining and grumbling about life in the wilderness after being liberated from Egypt. Their ultimate complaint was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” And it is here that I think we get to the essence of faith. More and more I am seeing active faith as the belief in the absolute goodness and presence of God. That is what the Israelites were ultimately questioning–is God really good? Is God really present in our current circumstances? Our ability to exercise faith on a daily basis and in every circumstance is based on these same aspects of God’s character. So in every situation I must fall back on the absolute goodness and presence of God to move forward. And I can ultimately avoid a hard heart if I regularly trust in the absolute goodness and presence of God in my life.

Back to the picture and our decision. The decision before us was whether to move our family to the country of Italy to trust God for the university students of that nation. I could see several reasons why this was stupid–my age, the possible negative impact on my children, our parents ages, my inexperience in cross cultural ministry, etc. But there was a divine restlessness that my wife and I sensed-God was nudging us toward change-and the opportunity before us was certainly a clean whiteboard that would require fresh learning and fresh faith. And with fresh faith applied there are fresh vistas on God, life and ministry. Thus the picture. This picture has become somewhat of a metaphor for me and for how I want to finish my life. The journey to Montgomery Pass was not easy. But the vista was incredible! What I could see from there was unmatched from anything I could see at the trailhead.  At the trail head there were only trees and a narrow path that led somewhere. But on top was grand beauty, crisp air, a feeling of exhilaration, and a great sense of accomplishment and purpose. Fresh faith takes us there in life too-because ultimately it takes us to the person of Christ. He is exhilarating-it is he who provides purpose-he breathes fresh life into us-he is supremely beautiful. He is absolutely good and he is intimately present.

We spent five years in Italy and it has been one year since we returned to the U.S.  And I would not change a thing.  I am still learning from my time in Italy as a leader and as a follower of Christ.  I am still learning about faith.  The clean whiteboard was worth it.  I am in a new season that is requiring fresh learning and fresh faith.  I know the view will be worth it this time too.

Where do you need fresh faith and fresh learning?  Where do you need a new vista?  What will be your new “whiteboard?”

5 responses to ““Whiteboard” Leadership

  1. Thanks for posting this again Gary. We (my wife & I) face some similar decisions and opportunities in the coming months. Great truth and perspective to anchor our decision making.

  2. Hey Gary. I agree with Brian. Thanks for the repost of this. I like what you said about learning. When we stop learning, no matter what stage, age or location, we stop leading. Terry and I will also be facing future decisions in the next 6-8 months, after our Lake Hart STINT.

    • Thanks Steve for the likes and the comments. I hope to see you guys at LHS-I am in and out of Orlando often these days. Look forward to what is next for you guys.

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