Blog / Leadership

4 Questions to Identify Potential Leaders

MANILA. A consultant once asked me what I mean when I say that certain positions can only be filled by a “leader.” Without thinking I said I expect a leader to do the following:

1. OWN IT. Good or bad, success or failure, if it happened on their watch, real leaders own it. Everyone gladly accepts the honor and rewards of success, but when things go south, non-leaders make excuses and pass the buck. Real leaders own the mistakes and failures of the whole team. No passing the buck. No blame shifting. In other words, leaders take RESPONSIBILITY.

2. DO IT. Leaders don’t wait to be told what to do and how to do it. They just get it done. I am ok with leaders doing something wrong. I am not ok with leaders doing nothing. Doing nothing is not leadership. In other words, leaders take INITIATIVE.

3. UPGRADE IT. Great leaders know when to call an audible. Non-leaders keep running the same play, even when it stopped working three years ago. Leaders figure out how to upgrade and make it better. In other words, leaders embrace INNOVATION.

4. DO IT NOW. The past is gone. The future is not yet. The only reality we have is to work with is the present. Non-leaders live in the past or the future, always talking about the good ole days or only talking about future vision. Real leaders act now. They don’t wait. In other words, leaders live with a sense of URGENCY.

Whether you have an impressive title or now, here are four questions that reveal if you are a leader:

When things go wrong, do you take responsibility or pass the blame?

When action is required, do you take initiative or wait for someone else to lead?

When standards are not met, do you embrace innovation or maintain the status quo?

When opportunity knocks, do you lead with urgency or passivity?

Blog / Church / Leadership

How to Create a Healthy Environment for Growth

I was recently talking to a pastor whose church was leaking people. As soon as a family joined the church, another family vanished. As we were trying discover the cause of the leak, I made up the following three points on the spot. I told my friend that as a leader, it is his responsibility to create and maintain a healthy environment for growth. Here’s the environment leaders must work for, pray for, and lead toward.

1. A sense of God’s PRESENCE must be experienced together. Spiritual leaders must value God’s presence as Moses did. “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15) As leaders we don’t create God’s presence, but we can plan and lead meetings that enable people to encounter God in a meaningful way. We can also plan and lead meetings in ways that obstruct meaningful encounters with God. Components of corporate worship that contribute to experiencing God’s presence include, but are not limited to the following: transformational preaching (vs. information transfer), empowered ministry time (vs. pastor doing all ministry), participatory worship (vs. concert-styled performance). If people do not experience God’s presence at our church, they will find another church.

2. A sense of MISSION must be accomplished together. People need to feel like their church is making the world a better place. Many churches are doing great things in regard to mission, but if their mission accomplishments are secrets, then the people will look elsewhere for their sense of mission. Healthy churches do local mission to the underprivileged and global mission to the unreached, they involve as many people as possible, then they over communicate so everyone can celebrate mission together.

3. A sense of COMMUNITY must be built together. All people need community. Some find it in church, many do not. Church community is best experienced through small group discipleship, corporate worship, and missional service. I recently blogged about the idea of mission creating community. 

All three components of a healthy church environment are essential. If two are strong and the other is weak, we will leak people in the weak area. How is your church or campus ministry doing in these three aspects of healthy environment? Where are you strong and where do you need an upgrade?


Blog / Leadership

If You Want an Easy Job, Don’t Do Ministry

MANILA. In our well-intended desire to send fully-funded, relationally connected, culturally sensitive, professionally trained, church planters and campus missionaries, I sometimes wonder if we have made ministry too easy. Lifting heavy weight builds muscles. If leaders don’t learn to carry weight, they  will never develop the spiritual muscles necessary for ministry.

I have seen too many church planters and missionaries quit because of the heavy weight of ministry. They simply don’t have the strength to handle relational conflict, spiritual oppression, or financial lack.

Others don’t quit, they never really start. The idea of hard work keeps them out of the game. If you are looking for a 40-hour work week, where you can clock in and clock out at predetermined hours, then I suggest you stay far away from church planting and campus ministry.

While reading Matthew 14 this morning, I felt burdened to pray for my friends in ministry who are sacrificially carrying the weight of ministry, in spite of personal pain.

Here’s my summary of Matthew 14. John the Baptist was jailed and brutally beheaded for drawing moral lines in an immoral culture. The disciples told Jesus that his cousin and close friend had been executed. “When Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” The crowds didn’t care that Jesus wanted to be alone. They were only concerned about their own needs. Despite his personal pain and grief, Jesus responded to the crowds with compassion. He fed 5000 with miracle food, he healed many, then he walked on water in an attempt to get that alone time he so desperately needed. But when he got to the other side of the lake, there was another crowd that only cared about their own needs. Again, Jesus put aside his personal pain, and ministered to the needs of the crowd.

Doing ministry requires that we get past our feelings, circumstances, hurts, burdens, and pain so we can pour out God’s word and God’s grace to others. In other words, self-denial is a non-negotiable essential of ministry.

Everyone wants to do the work of the ministry. Few want to carry the weight of the ministry. The work of the ministry is exciting. The weight of the ministry is excruciating. The work of the ministry produces great testimonies on stage that are applauded by crowds. The weight of the ministry presses us to our knees. The work of the ministry makes us want to keep going. The weight of the ministry sometimes makes us want to quit.

We diligently train candidates to do the work of the ministry, but not to carry the weight of the ministry. We give them strategies, tools, and funding, but they often lack spiritual depth, character, and conviction to keep going no matter how difficult.

The bad news: the weight of the ministry is heavy.

The good news: lifting weight builds muscles, and as we build muscles, what seemed heavy will eventually seem light.

The best news: Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and you will find rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

Perhaps the heavy weight of ministry is divinely designed to push us to Jesus.

Here’s an idea. Next time the weight of ministry is so heavy you want to quit, rather than quitting, run to Jesus, take His yoke, and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Blog / Leadership

Leadership & the 4 C’s of Vision Casting

A few weeks ago I was talking to a young leader, trying to upgrade his vision casting skills. I gave him four simple tips about communicating vision.

1. CLARITY. Leaders must create clarity by narrowing the focus when casting vision. A vision to do everything that can be done in the name of God is not a vision at all. It is a sign of undisciplined thinking. The leader’s job is to focus the organization on the core essentials. The more we focus on and clarify essentials, the easier it is to identify and eliminate non-essentials.

2. COMPELLING. Once vision is clarified, it must be communicated in a way that is compelling. A leader who makes an unprepared sloppy vision presentation can make an otherwise exciting vision seem boring. Compelling vision produces action. Boring vision produces nothing.

3. COMMITMENT. Casting a clear and compelling vision without calling for commitment is a waste of everyone’s time. Real leaders are committed and they call others to commitment. Some leaders are hesitant to demand sacrificial commitment because they are not all-in themselves. Commitment is an example that leaders set, not a message they teach. Leadership commitment is contagious. So is leadership non-commitment.

4. COMMUNITY. Clear and compelling vision attracts committed people. As these people sacrifice for the common vision, community happens. Trying to create community for the sake of community creates unhealthy ingrown short-lived community. Doing vision together creates strong healthy long-term community.

SUMMARY. As a leader, you are the CVC (chief vision caster) for your church, ministry, or organization. If you communicate a vision that is clear and compelling, if you model and call for commitment, you will end up with a strong healthy community. You will also accomplish the vision.


Blog / Leadership

Dealing with Disrespect

I recently had a situation where someone boldly and bluntly disrespected me. This guy should have been expressing gratefulness, but instead he was ungrateful and dishonoring.

While I was troubled by this young leader’s attitude and action, I have become more troubled by my reaction, especially by my mental conversations that no one hears but God and me.

“Doesn’t this guy know how much I have helped him? Who does he think he is to dishonor me? Does he realize who I am? Don’t I deserve at least a little respect?”

That last one is the killer. Any consideration of what we have earned or what we deserve because of our leadership sacrifices stinks of entitlement. Warning: entitlement is a slippery slope that destroys leaders.

Jesus never seemed bothered or offended when people dishonored and disrespected Him. Probably because He never felt entitled. He was mocked, flogged, unjustly crucified, yet he did not react.

While being questioned by Pilate, Jesus kept his peace and did not defend Himself even though blatant lies were being told about Him. Pilate’s response to Jesus is typical of insecure and entitled leaders. “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10)

When threatened, insecure leaders always throw around their authority and their title. Secure leaders do not.

As a leader, how do you handle dishonor and disrespect?

Blog / Leadership / Missions

What Matters Most in the Next 12 Months?

I recently met with Every Nation regional directors from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. We gathered in Dubai to clarify our top global priority for the next twelve to twenty-four months. We used Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage,as the framework for our discussions.

The Advantage teaches that organizational health is dependant on leaders practicing four disciplines:

  • Building a cohesive team
  • Creating clarity
  • Over communicating clarity
  • Reinforcing clarity

In order to make point #2 happen, Lencioni crafted six questions designed to help organizations create clarity. Of course, if we do not have a cohesive team, we will never be able to create, over communicate, or reinforce clarity. All four disciplines build upon one another.

Warning: after you read our answers to Lencioni’s six questions, you will wonder how it took us three days to come up with something so simple. The truth is, simplicity requires disciplined thought and rigorous debate.

Here are Lecioni’s Six Questions, and Every Nation’s best answers.

1. WHY DO WE EXIST? We exist to honor God by establishing Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, socially responsible churches and campus ministries in every nation. 

If the question had been: what is your mission statement, the answer would have been easy. But answering why we exist sparked quite a debate. The fact that our regional directors settled on our mission statement as the answer told us that our mission statement is more than words on a website, that it is actually a useful guidepost for our movement.

2. HOW DO WE BEHAVE? We behave spiritually, relationally, and globally. 

Again, that seems like an obvious answer, but it took time to get to the obvious. There might be a blog coming in the near future about this answer.

 3. WHAT DO WE DO? We do church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.

Of course we do other stuff, but these three are core. If we stop doing any one of our Big Three, we will cease to be who God has called us to be. Other programs, ministries, departments, brands might come and go, but these here are permanent.

4. HOW WILL WE SUCCEED? We will succeed by making disciples, developing leaders, and doing life together.

Each phrase in this answer is loaded with meaning. The starting point is making disciples. We make disciples by engaging our culture and community with the Gospel, by establishing biblical foundations, by equipping believers to do ministry, and by empowering disciples to make disciples. We take those disciples and develop them to be leaders in all walks of life. We develop leaders by identifying gifts and strengths, by instruction, by impartation, and by internship. And finally, for Every Nation to succeed, we must do discipleship, leadership, and life together. If we stay together, we succeed. If we scatter, we fail.

5. WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT NOW? Our most important priority in the next twelve months is to strengthen and expand campus ministry globally. 

This will require us to do the following:

  • -Create a cohesive global campus ministry leadership team
  • -Assess the status of campus ministry by region
  • -Create a global campus ministry brand
  • -Create buy-in from pastors and campus missionaries
  • -Synchronize our campus conference themes globally
  • -Identify best practices


6. WHO MUST DO WHAT? The answer to this one is still being processed among our global staff.

Of course, every pastor, campus missionary, church planter, and small group leader in our movement has a role in building a cohesive leadership teams, in creating clarity, over communicating clarity, and reinforcing clarity.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Lucky or Blessed?

MACAU. For the past week I have been on a small island, that looks and feels like a large casino. Every Nation Macau Church hosted our annual Asia Leadership Team meeting and a day later our China Discipleship Convergence. I wish I could blog about the reports I heard from Every Nation leaders in China, Pakistan, Laos, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, but I can’t because of security concerns.

Here’s my Every Nation Asia summary, in the words of Apostle Paul, “The Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:6)

While the spread of the Gospel brings great joy to my heart, there is also a deep sadness as I watch thousands and thousands march into the casinos to throw away their money and their future. I have observed a strange mix of greed and hope in the eyes of those coming into the glittery casinos, and a zombie-like hopelessness in the eyes of those shuffling towards the exit doors.

Luck is the operative word around here. Some, a very few, have good luck. Most have very bad luck.

While watching this tragedy play out before me, I read an interesting story about blessing this morning. Many people see blessing as the religious version of luck, but the two concepts have nothing in common. Luck is something that randomly happens to one and not to another. Blessings are often the direct results of our decisions and actions.

It is common for religious people to have wrong ideas about the blessing of God. Consider Luke 11. Jesus just taught his disciples how to pray the “Our Father.” Next He heals a mute boy by casting out a demon. Then He teaches the crowd. Typical day in the life of Jesus.

Watch what happens next, and notice the response of a random woman in the crowd.

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Luke 11:27 ESV

Like many people today, most people in Jesus’ day wrongly believed that a person was blessed or not blessed solely based on who their parents were. A person’s family background determined ethnicity and nationality. That was true then, and now. But ethnicity and nationality do not determine divine blessing.

In His response to the woman in the crowd, Jesus redefined what it means to be blessed and corrected a false belief about the source of the blessing.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28 ESV

How then is one “blessed” according to Jesus? In this passage in Luke, Jesus clearly ties the blessing of God to hearing and living God’s Word.

Never allow your family background, your ethnicity, or your nationality determine your blessing. Hear, read, obey, and live God’s word and you will find the true source of the blessing of God.

Blog / Church / Leadership

Confessions of an Arrogant Calvinist

MANILA. I once knew an arrogant young Calvinist who took great pride in his Reformed pedigree: saved as a teenager at First Presbyterian Church, while in high school attended Bible studies on the hallowed campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, bought his first study Bible in the RTS bookstore, took classes at RTS (but got too busy doing mission and never graduated). This guy was throughly Reformed, and equally arrogant. Had all the answers. Had it all figured out. Then life happened and he realized there were biblically valid answers that were not sub-points neatly tucked under one of Calvin’s Big Five. And he discovered a deep theological truth: loving, serving, and respecting people is more important than being right, winning arguments, and appearing smart.

That arrogant young Calvinist grew up to be a “Presby-costal” equally embracing his Reformed and Pentecostal foundations. He also spent most of his adult life making disciples and planting churches in Asia. Yep, I’m talking about me, and hopefully I am not as arrogant or irrelevant as three decades ago.

I’m thankful for my theological and spiritual heritage. God providentially saved me in a Reformed Presbyterian church, then formed me in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church. After all these years, my theology stubbornly clings to its Reformed and Pentecostal roots.

Last week, in the wake of the World Vision confusion, a Filipino campus ministry leader asked me a question about same-sex marriage. His question had serious theological, sociological, and moral implications. That question sparked a good discussion, and this blog.

Anyone who is willing to leave the safety of the seminary classroom or church sanctuary will quickly realize that unchurched students are not asking about unconditional election and limited atonement, but they are asking about same-sex attraction and sexual boundaries. Sadly, as church leaders rehash 400 year-old debates that no one but the “choir” cares about, few seem to be doing theology on issues that matter most right now. The Bible has answers, but it will take serious study and disciplined debate to mine its ancient wisdom and apply it to a confused culture.

A long long time ago, on a continent far far away, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and other pretty smart Europeans did theology to address questions that were actually being asked by their cultures and communities. I am glad they gave clear and thoroughly biblical answers to the burning questions of their day. I have learned much reading some of their book. And I have slept much while attempting to read others.

Rather than endlessly debating the minutia of the sub-points of Calvinism, I think we could better serve our churches and our communities if we do theology in order to answer questions that are actually being asked by real people today.

Here’s what Martin Luther said about answering contemporary questions in his classic book, The Bondage of the Will.

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every part of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all battlefields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

In other words, if we are able to debate all five of Calvin’s main points in English, Latin, French, Greek, and Taglish but we have no sane theology of gender, sexuality, morality, and marriage, then we are like soldiers fleeing the battlefield and we are “not confessing Christ.”

Time for serious theologians to engage the battle that is in front of us, not the one behind us.