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June 29, 2009

Lead Yourself Well

So that you can be a leader worth following

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In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul states, "imitate me, as I imitate Christ." On one hand, that makes discipleship an easy process. I don't have to be a theologian or Bible scholar; I just have to be willing to bring other people on a spiritual journey with me. We are simply saying "imitate me. Do what I do."

But on the other hand, it makes the discipleship process very scary, because we are simply saying "imitate me"—and, well, I'm just not sure that would always be wise. It makes me realize that my greatest challenge and priority as a leader is to lead myself well so that I become a leader worth following.

Here are just a few disciplines that I have prioritized in my own life to ensure that I am leading myself well.

1. Feed Yourself. I think there are two dimensions of feeding yourself. First, leaders must be immersed in Scripture. Reading it, meditating on it, studying it, putting it into practice. There is absolutely no substitute. About four times a year, I develop a Bible reading plan for myself that is separate from any small-group leadership or other teaching responsibilities I have. I don't want to just read the Bible to get a word of truth for my group; I want to read the Bible so that I can grow as a person.

Second, I believe that leaders are learners. I try to be very intentional about reading books that help me lead better. A few that have helped me in recent months include Simple Small Groups (Bill Search), Making Small Groups Work (Henry Cloud and John Townsend), and Renovation of the Heart (Dallas Willard).

2. Stretch Yourself. It's easy to lead when there are no challenges, difficulties, or tensions. But real leadership happens when we face something that makes us uncomfortable or disturbs our normal routine in some way. If we lead for long enough, then we will find ourselves in stretching situations whether we want to be in them or not. So I've made it a practice to stretch myself regularly and intentionally in order to prepare myself better for leadership challenges when they come my way.

Stretching myself might mean serving in an area that is not part of my natural ministry affinity, being intentional about sharing my faith with someone, or slowing down long enough to talk with the homeless man that I pass on my way to lunch. All of us have spiritual muscle groups that aren't worked as much as others. Locate those muscles in your life and put them to work.

3. Pace Yourself. Leading yourself well requires intentionality. Our hope is that we would be a leader worth following, but that will require time and discipline. And if we want to become a leader worth following, then we need to set specific and measurable goals. Because you never hit a goal that you don't set.

About three times a year, I set goals for prayer, giving, Bible reading, and accountability. I make a list of books that will help me grow in areas of my gifts and put myself on a track to read those in the following months. I am not the leader that I want to be, but if I pace myself over a series of months, I will grow into a leader worth following. And maybe our personal growth process will be helpful to the people we lead.

4. Rest Yourself. Honestly, this is the hardest one for me to practice. I love feeding and pacing and stretching, but resting is difficult for me. I encourage all of my leaders at National Community Church to set aside one night a week that is their night. No small group prep, no calls or texts with group members, no meetings with group members.

When I practice Sabbath, a couple of things happen in my life. First, I remember that God is in control of my group and not me. Second, I am recharged so that I can lead from a place of strength and actually have something worthwhile to offer my group members. If you want to become a leader worth following, then you will regularly lead yourself to places of rest so that your leadership pace is sustainable.

I don't practice all of these easily. Becoming a leader worth following requires discipline, time, and tenacity. But I'm convinced that it's the only way to lead. If we lead ourselves well, then disciples will follow.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:53 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

June 3, 2009

When Is It Time to Move On?

There may come a day when you need to remove a person from your group.

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Are there times when a person should be asked to leave a small group? I think so. But those times should be rare, and it should be done only for the right reasons. So what are those reasons? I can think of a few.

The person is just too needy.
Once or twice a person has been in our small group who just had too many issues. They really needed a counselor, rather than a small group. In those cases, my husband or I—or someone else who was very patient—met separately with that person, instead. We have even been in some situations that no lay person could deal with, and we had to recommend a counselor and walk away.

You'll know a person is too needy for a small group if they cannot talk about anything but themselves. No matter the beginning of the conversation, the ending is always about their problems. If you've brought this to their attention and they can't adjust their behavior, or if they feel that you just don't understand how tough things are for them, that's a clue they need one-on-one attention.

Or perhaps they have an undiagnosed mental problem that causes them to disconnect from those around them. They will need more help than you can give them unless you are a trained counselor. In these rare situations, it can save the group (as well as the individual) to get them the help they need.

The person pushes heretical ideas.
Anyone who doesn't know their Scriptures well is liable to come up with off-the-wall ideas. We all deal with that in our small groups. But if someone claims to know the Bible and pushes heretical ideas, that's someone you do not want in your group.

I'm not talking about someone who disagrees with you on apocalyptical prophecies. I'm talking about something like refusing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and trying to convince everyone else in the group that they believe a lie. You simply cannot afford to have someone like that in the group. As Paul says in Romans 16:17, "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them."

The person refuses correction.
This kind of person is often arrogant, belligerent, and combative. You should try to meet with such a person outside of the group and point out the destruction they are causing. If they humbly accept your correction, welcome them back to the group with open arms. But if they continue acting arrogantly, belligerently, or combatively, then you will have to ask them to leave the group.

I've encountered such situations as these during my 30 years or so of small-group ministry. What about you? Have you had similar situations? How did you handle them? Can you think of some other reasons to ask someone to leave a small group? What are they?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Microwave vs. Crock-pot

Which leadership development philosophy do you choose?

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It's a conversation that has repeated itself several times over the years for me. The conversation takes different forms, but the theme is the same: Can people grow into spiritual leadership quickly, or only slowly? Can small groups be multiplied quickly, or does it take extended periods of time? Can new small group leaders be released into leadership quickly with the help of quality programmed curriculums, or does slower process-oriented apprenticing and relational training need to happen before releasing leaders?

In short, can development processes be "micro-waved" or do they need to be "crock-potted"? It's a conversation that took place again recently with some leaders in our local church. Did we come up with an answer? Yes and No.

We agreed it seems clear the New Testament gives ample evidence of both philosophies of leadership development. Some people were released quickly and "young" to lead (Acts 8:26-40) and some were mentored slowly and deeply (2 Timothy 1). So what's the right strategy? Probably both.

One thing we did conclude: We need to be intentional about people and leadership development. Intentional enough to have quick "microwave" release hopes and goals, but realistic enough and patient enough to persevere through the reality that much of the leader development process happens in the "crock-pot."

If we expect leadership to happen by just adding water or watching a DVD or whatever, I think we will become painfully aware of the shortcomings of that approach over time. However, going to the other extreme, if we wait it out until a potential leader has "attained the whole measure of the fullness of Christ," we are likely to be waiting a very long time.

So, what do you do? It's safe to say that, with any leadership development process, we should not expect a quick release to be fruitful without the support structure that an intentional relational connection to another more mature leader provides. It's also safe to say that a slow release is not fruitful without the same thing.

posted by Dan Lentz at 9:34 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)