Category Archives: Legacy

6 Major Barriers to Finishing Well

As I have contemplated my own personal leadership over this past year-one aspect has stood out.  It is hard to finish well.  Think about it.  In almost any arena it is rare to see leaders who end their leadership lives with integrity and vibrancy. I am more convinced than ever that a leader will not finish well without great intentionality.  Part of that intentionality is understanding what could keep you from finishing well.  Below are six barriers to finishing well as identified by J. Robert Clinton.  Clinton is a Senior Professor of Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and has done extensive research on leadership formation and development.  Below the list are two links for further reading from Clinton.  I highly recommend him to you.

1. Finances-their use and abuse.  Leaders, particularly those who have power positions and make important decisions concerning finances, tend to use practices which may encourage incorrect handling of finances and eventually wrong use.  A character trait of greed is often rooted deep and eventually will cause impropriety with regard to finances.

2. Power-its abuse.  With leadership comes power-and the tendency to abuse it.  Leaders who rise to the top in a hierarchal system tend to assume privileges with their perceived status.  Frequently, these privileges include the abuse of power.

3. Pride-which leads to downfall.  Pride which is inappropriate and self centered can lead to a leader’s downfall.  There is a dynamic tension that must be maintained.  We must have a healthy respect for ourselves and yet we must recognize that we have nothing that was not given us by God.

4. Sex-illicit relationships.  Illicit sexual relationships have been a major cause of downfall for leaders in every culture in every era.

5. Family-critical issues.  Problems between spouses or between parents and children-or even between siblings-can be a major source of a leader’s downfall.  This aspect is often ignored, but always carries greater consequences.

6. Plateauing.  Leaders who are competent tend to plateau.  Their very strength becomes a weakness.  When leaders plateau they stop developing.  This can lead to the slow erosion of leadership vibrancy and competency.

Which of Clinton’s six barriers caught your attention?  What are your thoughts?

The Making of a Leader, by J. Robert Clinton

Finishing Well Factors-Enhancements and Barriers, by J. Robert Clinton

Leadership Is Like A Marathon: Part 1-Preparation

Today I am beginning a five part series on how leadership and running a marathon share several of the same principles. To date, I have run ten marathons. That does not make me an expert. But it does give me enough experience to suggest some parallels worth considering. Over the next five days we will look at Preparation, The Start, The Proper Perspective, Hitting The Wall, and Making It To The Finish Line. Today I will focus on the Preparation stage.

Preparation is everything in desiring to complete a marathon. You can’t just wish your way to the finish line. You have to engage in a routine that will prepare your body and mind for the whole 26.2 miles. Most marathon trainings are between 16 and 18 weeks in length and include speed work, cross training, and distance running. One regimen alone will not ensure a good race. Let me say quickly too that equipment matters-a lot. It’s critical that you purchase running shoes to match your body and running style. It’s important that you wear the right clothing on race day. And you have to train your mind for both the known and the unexpected to make it to the end. Consistent running requires some learned skills. It helps greatly to know what a good stride looks like so that you can run efficiently and effectively.

Some people are more gifted runners. They are better overall athletes. I once stood at the starting line with a 72 year old man who was running his 54th marathon. That simply takes a certain kind of body to endure all those miles for so many years. But even the most gifted must train well to tap all of the potential that is within them.

The greatest temptation in marathon training is to cut corners. The truly gifted are the most susceptible. Early on you will want to run only three days a week or shorten your long runs by a few miles. Your legs are going to hurt. The key is faithfulness. You need to follow a designed training program that values balance and your experience level. It helps to do those once a week long runs with a friend. A 16 mile training run can get pretty boring by week nine.

As a leader it helps to know who you are. An assessment of your gifts, abilities and natural leadership acumen can be helpful in having your maximum impact. In leading, you mainly learn by doing with feedback. There are no shortcuts in leadership preparation. Again, the naturally gifted leader will be tempted to short circuit the process. Learning to be a good leader requires preparation. Look for opportunities to lead. It is best if the initial opportunities are small in nature and scope. This is where you see if others also believe you can lead. If people are recognizing your leadership abilities then determine to design a plan. Read a lot, ask for regular feedback, seek out a mentor, and be wary of proclaimed success. Expect to fail. You can learn far more from your failures than your successes. Create your own emerging leader cohort. Like marathon training it makes sense to learn to lead in community with others. Take advantage of formal leadership training-take advantage of informal leadership trying. Actually, you are never fully prepared for the next leadership setting or situation. Leadership preparation is a lifelong process. You need to take a marathon perspective on leading. Again, faithfulness is the key. Stay faithful to the leadership responsibilities you have now. Don’t always be looking to the next opportunity. Faithfulness will help to build character and character is what will help you make it to the end. There are no short cuts to character. Every marathon I have ever ran ultimately took it’s toll on some would be finishers. We all know of spiritual leaders who did not finish well.

The Apostle Paul communicated a powerful perspective when he compared the Christian life to running in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

A Contrast of Two Leaders

In 3 John 9-12 we find a contrast between two leaders in a fledgling community of Christ followers.  Diotrephes is the negative example and Demetrius is the positive one.  3 John 9 says, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”  This verb translated “to put himself first” is used only here in the New Testament and literally means “a love for having the highest rank or position.”  Because Diotrephes held this attitude he could not acknowledge John’s apostolic authority-nor probably anyone else’s.  If you love to be first, it is going to be really difficult to acknowledge anyone else as a valid authority in your life.  But here is the severe consequence-you cannot give away power and therefore you ultimately cannot multiply your own leadership.  I believe that the first job of every leader is to raise up more leaders.  But you cannot do that without empowering others.  John goes on to note that Diotrephes also did not welcome the brothers and even tried to prevent others within the body from doing so.  Most likely these “brothers” were traveling teachers-fellow laborers-who circulated through the early church helping to build up the body of believers.  This too was probably a threat to Diotrephes’ desire to be first.  The consequence of this is you are unable to partner.  If you cannot recognize the contribution of other missional laborers then you cannot partner with them for the greater cause of Christ.  Diotrephes could not recognize other authorities and he could not welcome other worthy laborers.

In contrast, John says that Demetrius “has a good reputation from everyone, and from the truth itself.”  Demetrius seems to be held up as an example of a good leader to imitate.  But who is this Demetrius?  The only other reference we have in the New Testament of a man with this name is in Acts 19.  That Demetrius was the silver smith who started a riot over the preaching of Paul in Ephesus.  He did so because Paul threatened his business of idol making with his preaching of Jesus.  We don’t know for sure if this is the same man.  But John is most likely addressing this letter to the same general region geographically.  If this is the same Demetrius then we have a picture of a radical transformation.  The one who opposed Paul and caused a riot was now seen as a Christian leader with an outstanding reputation-one worthy of imitation.

Who do you want to be or become?  This is the only mention of Diotrephes in the Bible-not a legacy you should long for.  We must realize that all authority is derived authority and submit our leadership to the lordship of Christ.  That is the starting point.  That position is what will allow us to honor and welcome others within the body of Christ.  It is this attitude that will allow us to empower others and partner well.


The Legacy of Christmas

This Christmas take some time and read the book of Ruth in the Bible.  That’s right-Ruth.  I am always amazed at the grand story line of the Bible.  There is one over arching theme to the entire volume made up of 66 individual books.  In one sense it is the story of Christmas and Easter wrapped into one.  It is the story of our Redeemer-Jesus Christ come to earth, His life, His death and resurrection, and His providential reign.

Ruth is a short story right after the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  It carries three crescendos that strongly echo a coming Messiah.  It is about an Israelite family that is forced to move to enemy territory because of famine.  All the men in the family die-we don’t even know why.  But we are left ultimately with a wife (Naomi) and a daughter in law (Ruth) that are faced with ultimate poverty.  The first highlight is here as Ruth forcefully declares her allegiance to Naomi’s God and people.  Listen to what Ruth says in 1:16-17.

“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.   Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

They move back to Bethlehem with no promise of a desirable future.  But God in His providence is arranging the circumstances.  Naomi encourages Ruth to go into the fields to recover any grain left over from the harvesters.  She unknowingly goes into the field of Boaz-a relative of Naomi who has the possibility of redeeming them.  Boaz comes to find out the story of Naomi and Ruth and seeks to fulfill his moral obligation to save them and provide for them-listen to the promise of Boaz and hear the language of redemption in Ruth 3:11-13.

And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you.”

There was another “redeemer” standing in line ahead of Boaz-but he chooses to give up his right of redemption and Boaz fulfills his promise to redeem Naomi and Ruth.  No longer will these women be destitute.  No longer will they worry over their own heritage and family line.  The promise of fulness and rest have covered them in the form of a kinsman redeemer.

But now we actually have the punch line to the whole story.  This little story about a Jewish family is going to reveal Messiah.  We learn in Ruth 4:17 that the offspring of Boaz and Ruth is Obed.  Obed is the father of Jesse who is the father of King David.

The legacy of Christmas is revealed in Matthew 1:1-17.  Ruth’s name is prominently mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in verse 5.  Ruth, a Moabite, not an Israelite, enters into the story line of Messiah.  Ruth, a woman, enters into the story line of Messiah.  An interracial marriage is part of the story line of Messiah.

What does this tell us this Christmas day?  It shows us that God’s ways are not man’s ways.  We would have never scripted this story into history.  It shows us that God cares about the whole world-every people, tongue, tribe and nation.  It shows us that God can take everyone of our little stories and fit it into His grander story line of salvation history.  It shows us that true fulness and rest are only found by completely abandoning ourselves to a providential Messiah who entered the world through a humble manger-but took Him all the way to the cross for you and me.  Take 15 minutes today and read the little book of Ruth through the eyes of Christmas.  Buon Natale-Merry Chrstmas!

Leading Old

Let me be quick to say that I am not old-right? I am only 53. I remember when that sounded really old-and it sure didn’t take long to get here. And in some ways I am beginning to feel my age these days-mainly after a long run.

Lately I have begun to consider more carefully my leadership life and what my legacy might be. I am pondering what leading at an older age looks like. It can certainly mean that your organizational superior is younger than you. It can also mean that your “leadership peers” are younger than you. Fears may begin to creep in about what is next. You may wonder if you are still as “needed” as you seemed to be a few years ago. You may be less in demand and need to forge your own path like never before. I am blessed to currently be in a great leadership environment here in Italy. I have a lot of freedom tied to strong organizational vision. I am being challenged to stay fresh and remain a learner. And I am being held accountable for my leadership foundation.

I need to think about “leading old” more-but here are three observations for now. And let me encourage you to think these through even if you are a twenty, thirty or forty something in leadership. It’s never too early to consider your legacy.

1. Character matters now more than ever.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to finish well. More than ever I want be a part of that group that breaks the tape with confidence and courage. Godly character is at the heart of Christ-centered leadership. The problem with character is that it is never instantaneous-it is built over many years. So what you do day by day really matters. But make no mistake-it is your character that will get you to the finish line. It will be your intact character that will matter to you most when you reach fifty and beyond.

2. Don’t leave a list of accomplishments; leave a leader legacy.
Sometimes when leaders get older they want to be remembered for what they have done. That’s why so many buildings get named after people-to keep the cherished memory of a lifetime in front of people. But it is far more important for the Kingdom of God that you raise up more leaders that can take your place than monuments to your namesake. Look for younger, promising leaders-and invest heavily in them. Create space for them to spread their leadership wings. Certainly apply the “he who is faithful in little” principle-but begin to entrust significant responsibilities to those who can and will lead the future. Leave a leader legacy.

3. Lead from an environment of organizational values and calling towards innovation; not from tradition towards stagnation.
Some leaders as they grow older want to strongly maintain the status quo. This can arise out of fear. This can arise out of pride-that you are older and more experienced-therefore you know best. This can arise out of wanting to protect your accomplishment legacy. To entertain others innovative ideas may mean that you are forgotten. But truly your elder role is to help people around you stay true to values and calling-and then empower them to live that out in fresh and effective ways towards their mission field.

I believe I am in the best years of my leadership life. But these are also dangerous years-evidenced by how many leaders fail in many ways later in life. I am on a journey of discovery-I will keep you posted.