| Reluctant Leader

Leadership / Videos

Five-Minute Leadership: Grow Like a Leader

June 13, 2018


What is the most difficult challenge you’ve ever faced as a leader?

When we grow like a leader, our primary area of growth is in internal character. In this week’s episode of Five-Minute Leadership, learn how God makes us more christlike through hardships and challenges.

Blog / Miscellaneous

Painting or Palette? Thoughts on Suicide and the Meaning of Life

June 11, 2018

Anthony Bourdain, popular chef, author, and television personality

—A few years ago, when my youngest son Jonathan was in high school, I came home and found him painting in our garage. As usual, he was covered in paint, as were several large canvases.

I noticed a smaller one that looked like an abstract painting. The colors and shapes were kind of cool, but really random. This was not like Jonathan’s other work (which usually featured seascapes, cityscapes, flowers, or musical instruments). Curious, but trying to be encouraging, I said: “This is an interesting one. What is this supposed to be?”

Jonathan laughed: “Dad, that’s not a painting. That’s my palette. That’s where I mix paint colors.”

It’s interesting how similar, yet radically different, paintings and palettes are.

In this case, both were made from the same substance (wood and canvas), and both were covered in oil paint. However, one was destined for an art gallery and the other was destined for the trash. One would be purchased and displayed in someone’s home for many years, and the other would be kept in the garage for a few weeks until a new palette was needed.

One was a result of an artist’s creative intention. The other was an accident—a random combination of drips and smears of paint.

Every human being in every time and every place has grappled with some form of this question: Is my life the result of divine creative intention, or am I an accident? Did a transcendent being will my existence? Or did I simply come into being by a series of exceptionally unlikely chemical and evolutionary processes?

Am I a human being made in the image of God, full of dignity, meaning, and purpose? Or am I simply an accidental collection of atoms and cells with no more objective value and purpose than an ant, a tree, or even a rock?

Am I a painting or a palette?

Is my life beautiful, meaningful, and valuable, or does it just appear to be so?

Questions like these loom large in our culture—especially on days when we hear the tragic news of yet another celebrity suicide. Last week, it was Kate Spade, the fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, television star, and Filipino food connoisseur. Rising suicide rates not only afflict the rich and famous, but also everyday people who live and work among us. Every year, more than 800,000 take their lives around the world.

Why are so many people willing to take their own lives?

The factors behind every suicide are always complex and difficult to untangle, but could it be that many people in our culture have come to believe that their lives are more like a palette than a painting? Could it be that we have begun to see our beauty, meaning, and value as subjective and ephemeral rather than objective and eternal?

If, in the grand scheme of things, our lives are as accidental and purposeless as Jonathan’s palettes, then what does it matter, someone might think, if I take my life?

If we see our lives as a palette, then suicide is only tragic in a small, subjective sense. It is tragic for those who valued the person—friends, family, etc. But, with this thinking, it is not tragic in any cosmic, objective sense. However, if we believe that every human life is God’s masterpiece, then suicide is tragic in both the subjective and the objective sense. Friends and family are grieved, yes. But even more, God, the one who made each one of us, is grieved.

If our lives are God’s paintings, then no one takes greater pleasure in us than the one who made us. It doesn’t matter if we think we’ve ruined our lives; it doesn’t matter if those around us don’t see our value; it doesn’t matter if we struggle to find purpose and meaning. The God who made us loves us and has a great purpose for each one of us.

If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please don’t struggle alone—talk to your pastor, pray with a friend, seek professional help. And finally, remember that you are created in God’s image for His purpose, and no matter what you have done or what has been done to you, He loves you.

Blog / Church

The Pain of Prophetic Preaching

May 7, 2018

Because I live in two nations, I get to be part of two local churches, one in Manila and one in Nashville. For obvious reasons, Victory Manila is 99% Filipino. For reasons that are not as obvious, Bethel is approximately 55% black (African American and African immigrants), 35% white, and 10% other (Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern). This means that I am an ethnic minority in both of my home churches. This also means that there are worship styles, communication styles, and hairstyles that I simply do not understand (and probably never will).

In the past year, I have had multiple conversations with black and white members of my Nashville church. Sometimes, my black friends feel like certain topics are not addressed enough, while some of my white friends feel like those same topics are addressed too much. In a multiethnic church, it seems that when certain sensitive topics are addressed, no one is fully satisfied. This is what I call “the pain of prophetic preaching.” And this pain is not unique to my multiethnic home church in Nashville.

If you have an honest conversation with multiethnic church members in London, Johannesburg, or Singapore, while the specific details might be different, the sentiments will probably be the same. Some want certain topics to be hit harder and more often from the pulpit, while others prefer those same topics to be discussed privately or not at all.

O the pain of prophetic preaching. What’s a preacher to do? If anyone ever lived with the pain of prophetic preaching it was Jeremiah.

He was born a priest, but before he was born, God decided he would be a prophet (See Jeremiah 1:1-10). I bet there were many times Jeremiah wished he could have lived the relatively uncomplicated and uncontroversial life of a priest.

But no, God called him to be a prophet, and that meant he had to preach uncomfortable topics like idolatry, adultery, immigration (sojourners), religious pluralism, colonialism, racism, the shedding of innocent blood, orphan care, government corruption, and poverty, to name a few. It is common today for people to think that faithful obedience to God results in prosperity and popularity. Not so for Jeremiah. His faithful obedience resulted in unjust incarceration more than once. It also led to brutal beatings and death threats. Because Jeremiah was faithful to his prophetic call, he was neither popular nor prosperous. He was hated and despised by the very people he served.

After a season of preaching prophetic sermons that no one except God wanted him to preach, Jeremiah let out a brutally honest and desperate prayer (aka a prophetic complaint). “Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me” (Jeremiah 15:10).

You know it’s bad when a preacher brings his mother into a conversation with God!

Notice that Jeremiah described himself as a man of strife and contention to the whole land. That’s pretty bleak, but it gets worse. He notes that, unlike a banker, he neither lends or borrows, yet all of them curse me. I doubt that every single person actually cursed him, but on some days, it seems that way when God calls you to be a prophetic preacher. Jeremiah discovered that being a faithful prophetic preacher can sometimes destroy relationships and increase stress.

How did God respond to Jeremiah’s complaint, and how might He respond to ours? God responded with a rhetorical question: “Have I not set you free for their good?” (Jeremiah 15:11)

God’s response contains two important reminders for everyone whose calling causes them to be unpopular. First, the call of God sets us free from the concerns and temporal value systems of the prevailing culture. Second, the call of God is for the good of others, not necessarily for our immediate good.

While most preachers reading this blog will not experience Jeremiah’s level of persecution, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that even modern prophetic preachers should expect some level of opposition because “the prophetic act, now as always, is decidedly upstream and against the grain.” (If you’d like to read more on this, check out Brueggmann’s book, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word) That “decidedly upstream and against the grain” phrase sure explains the difficulty of preaching certain topics. But faithfulness to the call demands that we preach them anyway.

Question: Does faithfulness to God’s calling always guarantee immediate earthly blessings?

Answer: No, but it always honors God and always produces eternal rewards.

Therefore, I suggest that preachers boldly and wisely preach whatever God says to preach, especially if it is “decidedly upstream” and against the prevailing cultural current.

Blog / Leadership

Whoever Strikes First

April 16, 2018

Deborah and I are in London this week for our annual Every Nation International Apostolic Team (IAT) meeting and Every Nation’s Build Conference for Europe. Every year, our regional team leaders from every region of the world gather together to fellowship, pray, and plan for what God has in store for our movement of churches and campus ministries.

Whenever I gather with this group of leaders, I am encouraged about the future, and I am reminded of our humble beginnings. Though we have a team full of world-class leaders, most of us would freely admit that we didn’t become leaders because we were the best and the brightest among our peers. Most of us have stories like Joab.

When David was capturing the stronghold of Zion, he needed someone to lead the charge, so he made this offer to his army: “‘Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.’ And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief” (1 Chronicles 11:6). (Sounds a little like David’s own leadership story from 1 Samuel 17.)

David needed a leader—someone who would do something, someone who would take action. He didn’t need a thought leader, a vision architect, or a chief experience officer. He didn’t need a town hall meeting, a focus group, or an advisory board. He didn’t need a coach, a consultant, or a counselor.  He needed a leader.

Leaders lead. Leaders go first. Leaders take action.

Some people, especially founders, are in top leadership positions not because they are the smartest or the best or the most qualified, but simply because they did something when something needed to be done. They are leading teams now because they were the FIRST on the team—before there was a team. That’s my leadership story.

For over three decades, I have had the privilege of leading an amazing team that leads a great church in Manila. I am not the best preacher on that team. I am not the best strategic planner. I have never been the most spiritual, and I am not the most educated. I am not the best theologian. I am definitely not the best pastor.  I ended up in the “senior leader” seat because Deborah and I were crazy enough to leave, to go, to stay, and to not quit. And that’s why I got the leadership position and title.

It is good for leaders, especially founder leaders and senior leaders, to remind ourselves that we are not in our positions because we are the smartest, most spiritual, or best leaders, but because we got there first. The realization of this fact should make it easier to step aside and decrease so that next-generation leaders can take increasingly more significant leadership roles.

When I admit that I am not the best preacher or the best leader on the team, I am acknowledging that this organization is not being led by the best most skilled person. That means that it will probably survive being led by another leader and generation that is also not the best. But when I assume that I am the best leader, best preacher, best pastor, best theologian, best Christian, then I will have a more difficult time turning it over to someone whom I perceive as less than the best.

David didn’t ask for the most qualified leader. He just asked for a leader, a man of action. So he got Joab, a brilliant yet deeply flawed leader.

If you are in a leadership position, don’t mistakenly interpret that as meaning you are better or more spiritual than those you lead. Stay humble. Stay dependent on God. And, when it is time, let go of the position so another leader who will also probably not be the absolute best leader or most spiritual person can have an opportunity to make some of the same leadership mistakes you got to make.