5 Truths Preachers and leaders live by
Preaching is deep in my bones, so is leadership. This is surprising. Fifty years ago, I was the homesick kid hesitating at the door of my first-grade classroom at Palm Beach Gardens Elementary. I did not want to step in. Forty years ago, I was the high school freshman suffering from stage fright and cowering before a microphone. I did not want to speak up.
I think God loves to laugh!
Musing on the paradox that is my life, I realize that though miles apart, the roles of preaching and leadership are strikingly similar, especially when it comes to the truths that guide me in each.
In this post, I spell out 5 truths that guide both preachers and leaders. With a nod to Samuel Johnson, I can say remembering them and practicing them makes both tasks more enjoyable.
1. "Some days it's easy. Most days it's hard."
When it comes to preaching, I feel like a Navy Seal, "The only easy day was yesterday." Preaching is hard work. One time, ONE TIME! . . . I can remember God giving me my message in the few seconds it took me to walk from one side of my office to the other. No lie! It was that fast. I was on the verge of calling Guinness World Records. I'm sure I heard the hum of an angelic choir.
Most weeks are not so pleasant. Most weeks I feel like the parched desert traveler, crawling on hands and knees, in search of a holy oasis. "God," I cry. "Does it have to be this hard?!"
When Solomon wrote, "All hard work brings a profit" (Proverbs 14:23 NIV), he was not uttering a blue collar truth. He was echoing the the words of God at creation, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15 NIV).
Work is a part of God's creative DNA. Nobody wins by showing up. Hey, New England Patriots, can I get an "Amen!"
Remembering this I don't fume, fuss, and fret when I have to do the hard work of leadership: building a team, casting vision, figuring out systems and processes, measuring effectiveness, nurturing a healthy culture.
Preaching is hard work. Leadership is hard work. That's okay. It is good hard work.
2. "God came through!"
Journaling helps me review, assess, and make sense of my days. Periodically, I review these journal entries. Many times I have scribbled the words, "God came through" on a Monday journal entry.
Those words don't show up on my Sunday pages. Many a Sunday morning I am feeling like Maxwell Smart, "Missing it by that much." At least that is how I feel before I preach. I don't want to drill down to the reasons for this, but it is definitely not from lack of preparation.
What I notice when I review my journal is Sunday's "pre-preaching" hesitancy is followed by Monday's "post-preaching" hallelujahs. I see this pattern again and again. God comes through. He takes my efforts -- my loaves and fishes -- and serves a meal that comforts, challenges, and points many to Christ.
This should not surprise me.
"Jehovah Jireh" (the Lord will provide) is the steady drumbeat of the Old Testament and New. God loves to provide for preachers and leaders. Interestingly, he often "shows up" when I am at weak points. In fact, God seems to shine brightest on the dark stage of my inadequacy.
That is encouraging. It means preaching or leading, I don't have to moan when I don't have it all together. I can stand strong. God is not going to abandon me. He's going to come through! God will provide what I need to do the work he has called me to do. So stand up and get after it.
3. "Hug your critics."
Okay, I have never really heard anyone say that. I have, however, learned the importance of appreciating my critics.
Preachers and leaders have their share of naysayers. Whether friendly or adversarial, criticism stings. But criticism is also a gift from God. The wise sage of Hebrew wisdom literature wrote,
Preachers and leaders go further faster as they learn to receive criticism, sift the kernels of truth, and make appropriate adjustments. Remembering that I can lean in and listen closely when critics speak. They are going to make me -- and the people I serve -- better!
4. "Learn from others. Be yourself."
Most preachers live under the shadow of expectations. "Hey, did you hear that message Andy Stanley gave the other day. Amazing! That guy is soooo good." In those moments, Insecurity sticks a toe in the door of my soul. While I am tempted to slam that door shut and protect my tender ego, the wiser move is to open the door and learn from the one who is "better."
John Piper once said,
I need not fear "better" preachers or leaders. "Every good gift is from above" James reminds me (James 1:17). That includes preachers and leaders of towering status.
When I remember that God gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12), gifted leaders (Ephesians 4), and the confidence to exercise the gifts he bestows (Romans 12:3), I can thank God for those who excel, learn from them, but enjoy being the best version of me I can be.
5. "Get some rest."
In the final scene of the Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne calls Pamela Landy, his nemesis turned ally. During their brief conversation she reveals his true identity. Pam says, "Why don't you come in and we'll talk about it." There is silence as Bourne absorbs the one piece of information that has alluded him. Wondering if he has hung up, she says, "Bourne?" Watching her from a secluded location, Bourne replies, "Get some rest, Pam. You look tired." Then he walks away.
Preaching is tiring work. As all who do "thinking work" know, working the mind wears out the body. We need to rest.
In his delightful book, Painting As A Pastime, Winston Churchill comments:
Dr. Charlie McCall, one of my mentors from years gone by told me, "Listen to your body. The time to rest is when you are tired." The key is knowing what kind of rest one needs. Rest is physical (naps and nighttime sleep), spiritual (restoring one's spiritual passion), and emotional (hobbies and downtime activities).
When I think of the latter, I think of Winston Churchill. Churchill refueled his emotional tank by sitting with easel and paints. About this kind of rest he said,
Rest is essential. This is a truth preachers and leaders ignore to their peril. On the other hand, understanding its importance, leads to guilt-free enjoyment and the willingness to take the necessary time to slow down and refuel, even when everything around me screams, "You don't have time to slow down. Get busy!"
Are you preacher or leader or both?
Whether you are preacher or leader, Samuel Johnson's words ring true, "People needed to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. That means my job is to periodically self-assess these 5 truths and remind myself where I am falling short.
I need not be overly critical in this process. Daniel Goleman says,
Today, why not take a fresh look at the 5 truths. Where do you need to do the important work of remind yourself or others?
- "People need to be reminded ..." from Spencer Johnson.
- "Mountains are not meant to envy" from John Piper, "Mountains Are Not Meant to Envy: Awed Thoughts on Spurgeon." January 31, 1995. www.desiringgod.org. Accessed February 28, 2018.
- "A man can wear out a particular part of his mind..." from Winston S. Churchill, Painting As A Pastime. Unicorn Publishing Group. 2013, page 2.
- "The cultivation of a hobby..." from Winston S. Churchill, Painting As A Pastime. Unicorn Publishing Group. 2013, page 4.
- "People with strong self-awareness..." from Daniel Goleman, "What Makes a Leader" in HBR's 10 Must Reads On Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press. 2011. Page, 7.