The Leader and Truth

The conscious denial of reality is a central danger of leadership, and the leader must defend against this temptation. History is filled with generals who refused to admit they had been out-maneuvered, captains who refused to admit they were lost, and CEOs who refused to admit that no one was buying their products. In order to do this, the leader must demand to know everything critical and essential to the organization, its tasks, its operating status, its finances, its policies, its history, and its opportunities. The leader must be unafraid of data and facts, and he must surround himself with people who know the information he needs and will give it to him. The leader starts out by affirming the importance of reality and the crucial facts that must be known, and he makes clear that decision making is going to be accountable to those facts. The data will be investigated, analyzed, poked, prodded, and sometimes taken apart and put together again. The leader assumes the responsibility to work until the facts make sense and a clear picture comes into view.

Thus, the leader’s disciplined posture is to lean into the truth and to be unafraid of it. He demands that those around him tell him the truth, and he leads by being the truth teller in chief. He does not allow the organization to be tempted by either dishonesty or self-deception, and he models personal honesty.

Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead

Leaders are Readers

When You Find a Leader, You Find a Reader, and for Good Reason

As a general rule, clichés are to be avoided. The statement that leaders are readers is an exception to that rule. When you find a leader, you have found a reader. The reason for this is simple–there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead…Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading.

Leading by conviction demands an even deeper commitment to reading and the mental disciplines that effective reading establishes. Why? Because convictions require continual mental activity. The leader is constantly analyzing, considering, defining, and confirming the convictions that will rule his leadership…

Leaders know that reading is essential, as it is the most important means of developing and deepening understanding. That is why leaders learn to set aside a significant amount of time for reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.

Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead (Bethany House, 2012)

Advancing the Church: February 22-25, 2011

Leading and serving a local church is no simple task.The challenges are exhausting. The joys are exhilarating. Both are difficult to exaggerate.

Introducing a bi-annual conference series focused on providing resources to pastors for growing healthy local churches.

We believe God’s servant-leaders need time away to recharge, to refresh, to reconnect . . . and to be reminded they are not alone in the battle.

We’ve designed our new “ATC” conference series to be strategically helpful for people like you. You love your ministry, even on the days it’s making you crazy. You just want to get better at what you do. You want your church to be spiritually healthy. Ultimately, you want a good grade at the final exam before the Chief Shepherd.

We think you’ll find ATC 2011 to be full of helpful resources to that end. Together, we’ll get our faces back into the Book, our knees back on the floor, and our hearts warmed to the One who died for the world we are sent to in His name.

Tim Jordan & Sam Harbin
ATC Conference Hosts

Rescuing Ambition for Ministry

Do you desire to be involved in ministry? Does your passion burn for serving God? I am writing primarily to those who long for vocational ministry, but the principles apply to anyone seeking to serve God in any way.

Paul’s first epistle to Timothy gives sobering instructions concerning the proper way for a man who possesses ambition for ministry to find his desire fulfilled. In 1 Timothy 3:1 he states that if a man is “reaching for” oversight (Gk. episkopos), that is, the responsibility of leadership in the local church, then he is desiring a good thing. But what of this desire, this ambition to lead?

Ambition can be constructive or destructive, driven by pride or driven by a passion for the glory of God. In his new book, Rescuing Ambition (Crossway, 2010), Pastor Dave Harvey seeks to show that ambition is not evil in itself, but has to be redeemed, or rescued by Christ. He believes ambitions for greatness are natural because we were made to experience glory—just not our own. Comparing our inner ambition for glory to storm chasers, he says,

Maybe you don’t chase tornadoes, but we’re all born glory chasers. Glory moments stir us…We experience something totally vicarious, some strange exercise in identification. And make no mistake, it goes deep. It calls to something we value. To do something that matters. To seek something greater than our own puny existence (p. 21-22).

The temptation for those who desire ministry is to let their natural ambition for glory become selfish, turned inward. What should be fuel for the glory of God becomes selfish ambition for our own glory. Ministry becomes a means for getting praise, flattery, gifts, and ultimately worship. The root cause of this is sin.

Sin does the same thing to us that it did to Adam and Eve. It distorts the truth of God and undermines our essential dependence on him. It seduces us to crave things that deface God’s holiness and assault his glory. Ultimately, sin moves self to the center of our desires and dreams. Rather than promoting God’s order and glory, we become relentless self-promoters. It’s a condition that shrinks the soul (p. 37).

Sometimes those who desire ministry see those already in ministry, and the respect and influence that typically accompanies faithful execution of the task, and assume that the way to obtain influence and respect is to seek influence and respect. These mistaken observers, however, miss two points. First, the way to glory is not to seek glory. The way to glory is to seek humiliation and servanthood. “Humility comes before honor,” says Proverbs 15:33. “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you,” says James 4:10. Many aspiring leaders misunderstand the path to leadership. Second, those faithful leaders that have obtained influence and respect did not do so by seeking it. They, too, pursued a path of service and humility that led to influence and respect.

Selfish ambition, on the other hand, is self-glorifying, and any time glory is drawn from anything other then God, it has the opposite effect of worship—it shrinks the soul. Harvey quotes Jonathan Edwards:

The ruin that the Fall brought upon the soul of man consists very much in losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature, and failing wholly under the power and government of self-love. Before, and as God created him, he was exalted and noble, and generous; but now he is debased, and ignoble, and selfish. Immediately after the fall, the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness, to an exceeding smallness and contractedness (Charity and Its Fruits, 226-7).

Ambition and humility are not mutually exclusive. A minister with a proper humility will also be possessed of a holy ambition. G.K. Chesterton distinguished between a proper humility, which he called “the old humility,” and a “new” false humility that dampened ambition. He appealed to a return to the old humility.

The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

Humility, then, should harness, not hinder ambition. Harvey expounds on rescued, or redeemed, ambition.

Formerly our aspirations were the soul-shrinking agents of self-exaltation. But because of Jesus, everything has changed. Having God’s approval changes why we obey, aspire, and apply. Now aspiration fuels delight. We can pursue great things for God, and it will enhance our joy in God. We no longer live ambitious for approval, but we act ambitious because we have approval. Here’s the difference: One disillusions us, the other inspires us. One is temporary, the other permanent. One drives us, the other delights us. (p. 59)

So what should a person who desires ministry do with his ambition? He should certainly not squash it, castrate it or kill it. Rather, he should redirect that ambition to bring about the greatest glory to God possible, recognizing that this happens through humble, selfless service that strives for the ideal of William Carey’s famous maxim: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”

The True Nature of Christian Mentoring, Part 2

Mentoring as life-sharing, experience-imparting and skill-training has a long history. The third-century bishop Gregory of Neocaesarea wrote an account of his relationship with the church father Origen, who became his mentor. When Gregory came to Palestine, it was for the purpose of having a relationship with Origen. Although he admired Origen’s mind, he wanted more than an information download. He wanted to spend time with the great bishop in order to learn from his life, not just his mind.

This view of mentoring was common in the early centuries. Clement of Alexandria wrote in his book on ethics, The Tutor, “The role of the tutor is to improve the soul, not to educate nor give information, but to train someone in the virtuous life.” Like others who wrote on mentoring, Clement understood the purpose to be “to form the soul in virtue” (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Yale, 2003, 268).

This is the aspect that many students don’t realize they need just as critically as they need theological training or skills in biblical languages. But the truth is, more men wash out of ministry because of character issues than doctrinal deviation.

Character formation is not always welcomed by young protégés. At first, Gregory resisted Origen’s attempts to change him. Though Origen’s words “struck like an arrow” Gregory was not ready to undergo the discipline imposed by Origen. Gregory was more interested in argument and intellectual debate, but this was not acceptable to Origen. His aim was to “move the soul,” and he challenged his disciples to open their hearts and allow their wills to be molded by the good (p. 269).

Although learning a set of precepts was part of the mentoring training, “what counted for more was the example of the master and the bonds of friendship formed with the disciple…Friendship, said Gregory, ‘is piercing and penetrating, an affable and affectionate disposition displayed in the teacher’s words and his association with us’” (p. 269).

This personal relationship had a profound impact on Gregory. “Through Origen’s friendship with him, Gregory learned to love Christ, the Word, but he also began to love Origen, ‘the friend and interpreter of the Word’” (p. 269). Only when this relationship became personal, was Gregory finally persuaded to give up those objects that stood in the way of Christian maturity. The master had to first know and love his students before he could cultivate their souls, and like a skilled husbandman, bring forth fruit from an uncultivated field. “To correct, reprove, exhort, and encourage his students, the master had to know their habits, attitudes, and desires. Origen’s love for his disciples was part of the process of formation” (p. 270).

This is the soul of genuine Christian mentoring. It is not a business-like, formal transaction of a superior to an inferior; nor is it a feel-good stroking of a student’s ego. It is rather an intentional life-guidance that is based on the mentor’s genuine love for the student, so that he is able to give either encouragement or rebuke when needed, all the while the student knows he is loved and valued. This is true mentoring, and it is desperately needed today, both in the lives of those preparing for ministry of some kind, and any young believer who takes his or her growth in godliness seriously.

The True Nature of Christian Mentoring, Part 1

Mentoring is a popular concept in ministry and education in the first decade of the 21st century. Books, conferences and journals on mentoring have sprung up in recent years, and various schools of thought regarding mentoring have emerged. While every Christian view of mentoring agrees that Jesus’ relationship with the twelve disciples serves as the foundational model for mentoring, the diversity of interpretations and applications of mentoring principles reveals that much ambiguity exists regarding the true nature of mentoring in real life situations.

There are many weak or erring models of Christian mentoring. One approach is to treat mentoring as information download where the mentor is merely passing on information to the protégé. This approach understands the student’s greatest need to be data that he doesn’t already possess. Another view conceives mentoring as mere accountability, where the mentor asks the protégé a number of questions in order to strengthen his spiritual discipline. The student is expected to share failures and successes honestly in order to experience both the joy and support he needs in his Christian life. Still another model of mentoring is practiced by those mentors who seek to mold the protégé into his own image, with all the same opinions, personality traits and idiosyncrasies. In effect, the mentor is trying to make a replica of himself, not helping the student become who God wants him to be.

A genuine understanding of mentoring acknowledges that each of these models contains elements of truth, but each is insufficient by itself. In addition, a mentor dare not leave it up to a student to shape the scope of the mentoring relationship. I agree with Howard Hendricks that a mentoring relationship ought to be based on what the student wants to learn from the mentor and not what the mentor wants. However, many times the protégé does not know what he needs, or may seek to avoid some of the more pressing needs in his life. Students who want mentors often think what they need most is that information download I mentioned earlier, and don’t realize that their greater need is guided character development and spiritual maturity. Also, many protégés who think they are being open and honest with their mentor pull back and keep parts of their inner life hidden as soon as the mentor begins to address those areas.

As a result, the mentor and student must craft together the nature of the relationship, but the student must remain open to the mentor’s scrutiny in areas of his life that the mentor senses needs examination. In the few years that I have been mentoring, I have come to believe that what my students need most is a relationship with me where they can let down their guard, be transparent and honest about their true selves, watch my life with all its warts, ask questions, challenge my answers, have me pray for them and with them, and generally say to them what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

In Part 2 we’ll examine a vivid historical example of this kind of mentorship which occurred almost two millennia ago.

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