Why Leaders Need Community

3 Reasons Great Leaders Need One (and 3 Excuses to Reject if You Don’t Have One)

“It’s lonely at the top.”

I hear that often from pastors, CEOs, and others carrying the heavy weight of leadership in their organizations. The truth behind that phrase was brought to life in The State of Pastors, Barna Group and Pepperdine University’s recent whole-life assessment of U.S. pastors. That study found that more than 50% of pastors have struggled with depression, and 75% are more likely to feel mental or emotional exhaustion vs. 55% of employed adults. A pastor myself, my heart broke as I read about the recent suicide of Andrew Stoecklein, an Indian Hills, California pastor. His passing and the loneliness and depression many leaders face are urgent warnings of the dire consequences of leading in isolation.

Like all of God’s people, leaders are called to live in intimate relationship with others. (Proverbs 13:20; 27:5-6; 27:17) This is much more than taking time to talk shop with other respected leaders. It’s about surrounding yourself with a circle of trustworthy, godly friends who:

  • pursue one another relationally,
  • confess sin to one another continually,
  • encourage, admonish, and pray for one another constantly.

Your inner circle must know where you are vulnerable and “prone to leave the God you love,” so they can help fortify you as you follow Christ. Here are a few reasons why great leaders have an inner circle and some excuses that you should reject if you don’t have one.

Three Reasons Why Leaders Need an Inner Circle

  1. Jesus Had an Inner Circle

Jesus was often alone, but never lonely. There’s never been a better leader than Jesus. If we are committed to following Christ’s example, we won’t live or lead alone. There was only one time Jesus was isolated and alone, and it was when He was bearing the sins of the world on the cross. Apart from that moment of separation,He walked in perfect unity with and in obedience to the Father, and that included Him walking in authenticity and deep community with other men. Jesus was alone with sin so you don’t have to be. Among the first things Jesus did in His earthly ministry was appoint 12 disciples, “so that they would be with Him…” (Mark 3:14) He was not above asking for human help even as He entirely depended on the Father. When Jesus was most tested He was most vulnerable with His inner circle, repeatedly informing them of His condition and asking them to be with Him and pray for Him. (Matthew 26:36-46) Wise men pursue solitude, but fools isolate. Jesus did not isolate, and if you do, you won’t be like Him or lead well for long.

  1. Our Hearts Are Sick

There’s an old saying among common men: “A fox doesn’t smell his own hole.” Sadly, fallen humanity, especially when they have position and power, doesn’t either. The world needs those who speak truth to power, and the powerful need others who speak truth to them. David knew this and prayed that the Lord would “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me,” and He asked the Father to see correction and care from others as, “oil upon the head.” (Psalm 141:5)  The more fans you have, the greater your need is for true friends who will speak out when they observe inauthenticity, sin, and selfishness taking root. Our hearts are “more deceitful than all else and [are] desperately sick.” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our flesh naturally withdraws from correction, but “he who separates himself seeks his own desire. He quarrels against all sound wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) The longer a healthy leader serves, the more he should seek sharpening and correction from his inner circle, because he knows what is at stake.

  1. The Enemy is at the Gate

A few years ago, I was speaking on a panel with a well-known Christian leader. When asked if he had an inner circle, he replied: “You should tell some things to everyone, a few things to someone, and everything to no one.” The crowd was noticeably impressed by the tweetable quip. I waited, and seeing there was going to be no further comment by him or others, I said, “I love the way that rolls off the tongue, but while that comment was pithy, it is entirely unsupported by Scripture.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are better off living isolated and telling everything to no one. Sadly, the person who shared the “advice” was living by it, and shortly thereafter lost his ministry and family because of the temptations and destructive choices he was hiding from those around him.

We have an Enemy – “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Over and over, God’s Word likens us to sheep – a pack animal in need of both our Shepherd and each other. If you’re a lone sheep hanging out amidst the wolves, you’re not a stud. You’re next.

Three Excuses to Reject if You Don’t Have an Inner Circle

  1. There’s No One I Can Trust

Many leaders don’t have an inner circle because they claim they can’t find people they can trust. While the Bible warns believers to be discerning about who they lock arms with (Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33, 2 Corinthians 6:14), it also makes clear that, as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) The Elders I serve with at Watermark fill that role in my life. We invest hours each week not only talking about how we can shepherd the flock God has entrusted to us, but especially shepherding, admonishing, and encouraging one another. I’m blessed to have them in my life.

Seek out a group of friends who are convinced they can play a significant role in your life and are unimpressed by who you are and what you have accomplished. If you’re struggling to trust your fellow elders and leaders, ask yourself this: If I can’t trust the hearts of those I lead with, why am I willing to ask others to trust and follow them?

  1. I’m Too Busy

When you say you’re too busy to spend time in biblical community with other faithful leaders, what you’re really saying is, “I’m too busy to care for my soul.” Proverbs 24:30-34 describes a once-fruitful vineyard surrounded by a stone wall. Neglected by its owner, the vineyard becomes overgrown with thistles and nettles. The passage ends by saying, “then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.” Those verses remind us that a time will come when it is too late to remedy the neglect of your soul. There are few things more important than taking the time to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) with encouragement and support from those you trust. Your strength as a leader depends on it. If you’re too busy to live in authentic relationships with others, you are busy doing too many of the wrong things.

  1. I’m Using My Power to Maintain Power (though you might not know it) 

When was the last time someone called you out or held you accountable? In a recent staff meeting, a dialog with another staff member became laborious, and my tone became harsh. Almost immediately, another member of the staff graciously pointed out how the way I responded was inconsistent with what he knew to be true of my heart’s desire to honor others as God’s man. Positionally, I had the authority to shut him down or make it clear that if anyone wanted to “give me a word of advice” it would soon follow with me advising them to “take a walk.”

Thankfully, because I pray with David the words of Psalm 141:5, and because I am surrounded by strong friends who love me (Proverbs 27:5-6), I was able to accept the admonishment of a faithful friend, immediately acknowledge my fleshly response, and seek the forgiveness of the one I addressed. Grace-giving, humility, relational courage, forgiveness, and repentance are constantly modeled by those in my inner circle, and I am a better man for it.

If you’ve surrounded yourself with “Yes Men (or Yes Women),” there is a good chance you are using your power to maintain your power. Super Fans will not confront you when you fail to “dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion.” (Zechariah 7:9) Too many senior leaders rise to the level where they only spend time with those who revere them – people who will never tell them the truth because they don’t want to lose their pay or their place in their court.  Kings without a strong court often become jesters and rule over others “as the Gentiles do.” (Matthew 20:15) Wise men have trusted counselors who faithfully wound them until they are more faithful men.

Leaders who are informed by God’s Word and heed the counsel of other godly people become stronger and more effective in their God-given role. But, the benefit does not stop there. Because you are a leader, others in your organization will follow. Only when we faithfully avail ourselves of all the resources God offers, including the humility to heed the counsel of others, can we say with integrity, “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Leadership matters like nothing else. To my fellow leaders in the Church, I beg you to care for your soul by inviting others in to admonish, encourage, and strengthen you as you do the essential work of leading others to Christ. If you don’t trust your fellow elders, than don’t ask others to.

References:

Burnout & Breakdown: Barna’s Risk Metric for Pastors, by David Kinnaman President, Barna Group, January 26, 2017, https://www.barna.com/burnout-breakdown-barnas-risk-metric-pastors/

 

How to Live Faithfully in Fayetteville and Forever

Much to my surprise, I have found dropping off (turning loose may be a better term) a young man on a university campus to be a much more sobering experience then the dropping off of a young woman.

The first two previous times I loaded the Suburban and headed to college towns it was to drop off a daughter, which as you can imagine, has its own set of concerns.  When I dropped off Ally and Kirby, they were ready to meet, enjoy and integrate into their college campuses with their eyes wide open and their hearts cemented to the idea that whatever college was about, it was more than just themselves.

My girls and I had long ago shared all the necessary conversations about the duties and dangers of being a young woman in a university setting, and though it is never easy to leave any child you have invested in and enjoyed daily for eighteen years in a strange land to care for themselves, I knew it was time and we were all sad, excited and ready.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2015 and all of a sudden my wife and I were about to make our way to Fayetteville Arkansas, home of the Razorbacks (the boy had “said no” to the Ivy League option) to drop off our first born son.  As the day neared, and much to my surprise, I had a growing and much different sense of responsibility in sending off a young man to college then I did a young woman.  I knew college meant my son, like my daughters before him, would have a new and greater freedom to live and lead his life as he wanted, AND I knew that there were Dad’s, just like me years earlier, who were dropping off their freshman daughters where they would either be blessed or burdened by the young men around them.

One might think that dropping off a girl and leaving her alone around a bunch of newly unleashed young “men” with unlimited freedom and limited maturity was the more daunting task, but such was not the case for me. Without going into too much detail, suffice it say that I found it more sobering to turn loose a potential predator then I did potential prey.

What you have below is a summary of the last hours of conversation this Father had with his son as he dropped him off to prayerfully, be faithful in “Fayetteville and forever”.  You can be certain I pray daily that these truths would be embedded in his heart for more than these next four years and you can be certain that I am praying now that they will be in some way useful to you as you seek to be faithful yourself and with any men you are charged with shaping.  Fayetteville is not the only place that needs faithful men…right where you are does too.

So to Cooper (and eventually Cade and Camp) and to you today, I say….

If you would like to hear a message I gave at a men’s breakfast at Watermark on this very topic listen here, http://www.watermark.org/message/3498

IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS:

  • College is not a time to taste the world. It’s a time to increase your appetite for God’s Word.
  • First, believe that college is not a time to sow your wild oats. It is a time to show your world Whose you are.
  • John 1:1-4; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:19-20

JESUS IS ALL ABOUT BRINGING YOU TO THE FATHER, AND THE FATHER IS ALL ABOUT RESTORING HIS GLORY IN YOU:

  • God does not deny men pleasure, He makes them great.
  • College is the beginning of your revealing the greatness of your God, not having what the world calls a great time. What the world calls a great time does not make great men, God does.
  • John 14:3; 1 Peter 5:10; Col. 1:13-14; Psalm 84:11; Prov. 22:4; Heb. 7:25

IF YOU KNOW THE FATHER AND THE SON AND YIELD TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, YOU WILL LOVE AND SERVE OTHERS:

  • Nothing is about you. Your life is not your own. Great men know this. College is for men.
  • Men understand the principle of delayed gratification. College boys do not.
  • Eph. 5:18-21; Phil. 2:3-5; Prov. 13:16; Ecc. 10:16-17

YOU CAN’T LOVE AND SERVE OTHERS IF YOU DON’T LEAD AND FEED YOURSELF:

  • Discipline is the heavy door that leads to freedom. Lead yourself to be free to serve others. • Everything you read, watch, eat and do is a blessing or a burden.
  • 1 Tim. 4:6-8; 1 Cor. 9:26-27; Prov. 12:27

HOW YOU START EACH DAY, EACH WEEK, EACH SEMESTER DETERMINES MORE THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE:

  • You will be what you are daily becoming.
  • Every day is a day you are preparing for something. Make that something faithfulness.
  • Galatians 6:7-9; Matt. 6:33-34; Psalm 27:4; Prov. 15:14; 18:15

WHO YOU CHOOSE TO RUN WITH AND LIVE LIFE WITH IS HOW YOU WILL CHOOSE TO RUN AND LIVE:

  • The best way to lead yourself is to run with men who follow the King.
  • Make sure your “mighty men” are committed to going to war against enemies of God’s people.
  • 2 Tim. 2:22; Prov. 1:10-18; Heb. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:33

WHO YOU ARE WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IS ALONE WHO YOU ARE:

  • Live honorably in the dark so you can walk boldly in the light. • Prov. 10:9, 11:3; Mat. 5:11,16

WOMEN ARE NOT PLAY TOYS. THEY ARE GOD’S DAUGHTERS. HONOR THEM. PROTECT THEM. SERVE THEM:

  • Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
  • Wait to taste the lips of a woman. Don’t waste yourself on lust.
  • Consult your Dad on all dates and consider every time you are alone with a woman a date.
  • 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Prov. 31:30; Prov. 22:3; 1 Tim. 5:2

DO NOT CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS OR YOUR FUTURE CAREER BY HOW MUCH FAME OR FINANCES THEY OFFER:

  •  Money takes wings. Fame is a vapor. Character endures.
  • Love people. Use things. Avoid those who love things and use people.
  • Prov. 23:4-5; 28:20; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 13:5

BE WISE. BE HUMBLE. BE FUN. BEWARE OF THE LIE THAT THOSE THREE ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE:

  • You have a powerful enemy who wants you to be foolish, prideful and believe that faithfulness to the Father is a fast track to futility. He is a liar.
  • John 8:44; Prov. 13:13-15; Psalm 16:11

BE READY. BE BOLD. BE KIND. BE FAITHFUL:

  • Go forth with courage. Return with honor. Live fearlessly because of your future hope.
  • Play the man: Step up. Speak out. Stand firm. Stay humble. Serve the King.
  • 1 Cor. 16:13-14; Jeremiah 1:17-18; Micah 6:8; Prov. 20:6; Heb. 6:10

I will build my life on the truths above.
I will attend my classes (tend to my business) every day.
I will be excellent in my work, diligent in my effort, and my work will  produce results.
I will welcome accountability in all areas of my life.
I will self-report my failures.

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Click Here To Download A Hardcopy of this Hand Out

A Few Thoughts On The Israel – Gaza Conflict

I recently made a few comments on my Twitter feed regarding the Israel – Gaza conflict which I’ve consolidated below for your reference.

I Want To Be An iPhone For Christmas

i want to be an iphone for christmas

We’re in the middle of a series titled inTIMEacy where we’re looking at various spiritual disciplines and how they help us grow in our relationship with Christ. A few weeks ago I talked about the secret place that is the secret to Christlikeness and in it read an article called, “I Want To Be An iPhone For Christmas.”

Hit play on the video below to check out the clip and feel free to use / pass this blog post along as you’d like.

I Want To Be An iPhone For Christmas

I want to be my husband’s iPhone. He’d be drawn to me with magnetic force – always wanting to hold me. I’d be his first thought each morning – the vision in his waking eyes. Nary an hour would pass without his fingertips caressing my face.

My husband would gaze at me and ask me questions, waiting patiently for the answers he knew would come. His evenings would be spent learning more about me and how I could make his life more fulfilling.

I remember, with nostalgia, a trip to England my husband and I took years ago. Before the dawn of iPhones and their competitors, I was in charge of holding the unwieldy maps and verbalizing the directions. From Oxford to Cartmel to York to Rye, my husband and I traveled.

How I would beam each time my husband told friends and family the story of what a competent navigator I was! “The whole week, we never made a wrong turn,” he would brag, squeezing my hand.

The iPhone is the ultimate navigator. We can never be lost. We never have to hold hands and just hope for the best. The iPhone knows where all the gas stations are, all the restaurants. It is a link to everyone we know. We are never alone. We are never adventurers.

Now, at social gatherings, he pulls out the phone. He brags on its abilities, saying, “Have you seen this app?”

The iPhone begins and ends conversations. No question can simply be speculated about, for within minutes the iPhone has answered it – even by a campfire in the middle of the woods.

At home, a tender moment in a movie we are watching echoes one of our own memories. I look at my husband, our son cuddled upon his lap, to give him a knowing smile. He doesn’t notice me. Nor has he noticed the scene. He is entranced by a miniature screen. He’s right here, yet loneliness pervades me.

The iPhone is the preferred entertainment. Holding it, you hold magic – the magic of never having to be fully in the room with another person.

Yes, I want to be my husband’s iPhone, cradled and protected at all times. Oh, the conversations we would have – his lips close to my ear. We would play together. I would sing for him, and he would buy me music and other presents.

A husband and wife should complement one another, like two puzzle pieces made to fit, each filling the other’s weaknesses with his or her strengths.

Now, the iPhone has become my husband’s missing piece. It gives him confidence, boosts his self-esteem. Oh, that I might morph into that rectangular shape that I might, once again, be my beloved’s other half.

As an iPhone, I would be his most valued possession, the object of his attention, his indispensable helpmate. And, being all of that, I wouldn’t have to miss him anymore.

Carol Bullman of Allen is author of “The Christmas House.” She can be contacted through carolbullman.com.