Of Hammers, Competency and Character

I heard an interesting leadership concept recently that challenges the well-established maxim of “Character Precedes Competence.” I’ve been taught that when it comes to influential, transformative leadership, what makes good leaders great is what lay beneath their abilities and skills – the nature of their very selves. Who they are is more impactful than what they know how to do. In fact, the only lasting, “deep” change they can effect is based on the trust, loyalty, integrity, compassion etc. they evidence in their lives.

As pastors and ministry leaders (and spouses, parents, friends, workers, church members…as followers of Jesus) character is paramount in all our relationships.

The challenge came in asking the question “Where is character produced?” While we’re certainly born with personality, proclivities, bents – our “style” – character is a processed development of those traits through life and its experiences. Some of that process is intentional, but some is unintentional. Indeed, the more intentional the process, the greater control we have in the type of character we develop, and vice versa.

The presenter of this new concept shared a leadership model that begins with competency as its base and has redemptive impact as its goal. The thought is that in ministry leadership, we learn a lot of skills and concepts. (In fact, we tend to overload on them.) It’s where we begin. To get to the point where those competencies have a redemptive impact involves developing and integrating them into our selves – our characters.

I’ve been thinking of this in light of my past experience in carpentry. I grew up knowing about hammers and all the wrong ways to use them. My dad would constantly be after me for leaving his good hammer out in the rain, hitting rocks (and bricks and bugs) with it, using it as a “throwing axe” at trees, and generally wreaking “hammer mayhem” around our house and neighborhood. I had no clue how to use a hammer (no fault of my Dad…he tried!)

When I started a construction job, I was introduced to the proper use of a hammer (long before they let me near a power saw!) I was amazed. I saw guys doing things with hammers I had no idea you could do. And it wasn’t throwing them at trees. It was productive, efficient and lasting work. The way they handled their hammer was as if it were an extension of their body. Their hammer had purpose, and they knew how to wield it. They were able to create majesty and beauty with the use of their skill.

So it is with our competencies. In the model being shared, we have a choice how to wield our competencies. We can simply use them in a utilitarian fashion and hope they get the right results. This is often the mistake we make. All the skills and concepts we learn sit around in our “shelved toolbox” until we need a quick fix or impressive action. Once used, it is shelved again, often to be forgotten.

Or we can intentionally and continuously work with our competency so that it intentionally and continually develops us. Over time (as the presenter explained), competencies adhere to our values and become principals that undergird our decisions and actions. These principals, when tested and tried through adversities develop our character. That character then becomes the platform for transformational leadership and redemptive impact.

So my question for us is this: how intentional are we in not only developing our competencies, but in allowing them to develop us?

Christmas Fouls

At the risk of being though irreverent, irresponsible or irritating, I below re-post the blog forwarded to me by my youngest.


Thanks to Kate’s friend Amy Green for her insightful, clever and spot-on treatment of the subject!

img_4953     We call them Christmas Fouls.

This issue has been a long standing discussion (argument?) I’ve had with the culture at large and certain not-to-be-named individuals. I know I’m being a noodge (had to look up the spelling of that one.) I know it doesn’t matter (in a salvific, eternal kind of way.) And I’ve been known to push a little too far (in a demeaning, judgmental, very unattractive wrong kind of way.)

But the fact remains…Christmas music (yes….other than REHEARSALS!) before Thanksgiving is wrong…ish.

Full disclosure…I’ve been know to crank Glad’s “In the First Light” in mid-July.

In fact, just thinking about that led me to just listen again. You should too. Click here and crank it up.

Because, you see, there is an awesomeness (both the human shiveriness and God-honoring reverential type) to setting the message of Christ’s birth to music that transcends a season.

If we’re simply trying to rush the “warm fuzzies” of holiday time by having Bing and Julie serenade us (age alert)…save it. It has a time and place.

But…if it is an opportunity to proclaim and reflect on the grace-event of God, Word made flesh for our salvation, making the Father known reality of the Advent of the Messiah, his First Coming and God breaking into our sin and misery with hope and light?

There’s no foul there.

Decorating before Thanksgiving, though…oh PLEASE don’t get me started!

“If my people pray…”

IMG_4508We live in dangerous times, when words become weapons and rhetoric unleashes rage. The shooting events of the past few days have the potential to unleash a litany of verbal vomit that will do nothing but make a sickened society sicker.

What shall we do?

I’m thankful for the response  to these events from CONVERGE leadership, and the direction they call us to: to offer our words as prayers and not provocations. This is a good direction, a right direction, a necessary and profitable direction.

Read the CONVERGE Response here.

I’m not so naive as to think we must just simply pray: there is work each and every one of us must do to bring about the change that must happen. But we won’t know where to begin, or how to begin well without first addressing our own hearts and calling out to the Prince of Peace, the Great Shepherd of our Souls, our Great God who is infinitely more offended in these actions than we could ever imagine ourselves to be.

Let us align ourselves with God’s heart through humble, surrendered, searching prayer. Then may we begin the work – the difficult, urgent and requisite work – of peace.

5 Reasons Why I Don’t Blog

IMG_4248My friend and colleague Roy Yanke is blogging on topic that has touched a nerve in me, and given me pause for personal reflection and critique…an always necessary but difficult exercise.

Check out his blog: 5 Reasons Pastors Don’t Ask for Help…(and what can happen when you do!)

I’ve come up with 7 reasons of my own…and I mean 7 reasons why I resisted asking for
help in ministry. What is embarrassingly apparent is that these reasons have nothing to do with ministry, and everything to do with who I am.


I’m actually going to share these on this Blog. In deference to Roy, I’ll wait to share my reasons and discoveries until he has posted his. My goal will be to interact with his thoughts while unfolding my own.

At least that will get me blogging.

Which brings up the topic of this post…Why I Don’t Blog.

I began this blog almost a year ago with, I suppose, the same intention every blogger has when they begin: To be a part of the conversation. I haven’t said much (unusual for me…really…VERY unusual) and I have wondered why.

So in direct contradiction to what is revealed in the following, I’m going to tell you why!

  1. Blogging is hard…it takes time…you have to write. I’d rather talk than write. Waa, waa, waa…enough said.
  2. Who wants to hear what I’m thinking? This represents a loss of confidence on my part, and to some extent a loss of my “voice.” Self-disclosure: I was a preacher/teacher for many years, and disqualified myself from that role in the church. (FYI-really hard for me to post that.) So beyond having the whole “who is my audience” question, I have a whole “what right do you (me) have to speak on matters of grace, mercy or hope…I don’t WANT to hear your voice!” question that plagues me. I want to regain my voice, or better find the new voice God is graciously allowing me to sound to make the excellencies of grace, mercy and hope more vibrant and real in the part of the world I get to touch.
  3. I’m gun-shy about comments, because I’m an affirmation addict. Again, in my mind I’m setting myself up for some pointed comments in this public forum. This includes both judgmental/harsh/personal-attack comments and stroking/sugary/”what-a-good-boy” comments. I’d just a soon have interactive/thought-sharing/think-about-this comments that generate a “good conversation” (reference: The Last Samurai). But I guess I’m in charge of that, and get to edit/manage what comments are shared. I’d rather not have to do that…
  4. I’m in a continual battle against shame. Because of the particular paths I have chosen that have not coincided with the “good paths” God has set before me, I’m embarrassed.  There’s stuff about me that is mine, and belong just to me and my wife. But because of the public nature of my actions, there is a good that God can work in dealing with them publicly. I NEVER want to flout my sin/sinfulness, or make any excuse for it. But the extreme is just as dangerous, that I become so consumed by my shame that I am buried deep under it, and don’t allow God’s healing to show.  Lest anyone reading this become concerned about my self-disclosure, please be assured that I will only ever speak about ME, what I have done, and about JESUS CHRIST and what he has done.
  5. I don’t always know when to shut up. And, as I’ll reflect on in further blogs, I don’t always know when to ask for help, for some pretty poor and unhelpful reasons. I’m wordy (ya think!?!), prone to think out loud (I call it vomiting on the laptop!), and be a people-pleaser (see #3). I want to be honest in these posts, and so I know I’ll probably have to retract something, apologize or explain things. We’ll see how it goes…


So, I had to start somewhere. Thanks Roy, for shaking things loose this morning. This blog is probably (at this point) more for myself than anyone else, something of an extroverted therapeutic exercise. But I hope it can be more. But that’s not up to me!

So…why aren’t YOU blogging??

Being a Leader of Grace

Ministry is a joy and a challenge. Each of these hinge on grace: grace, the object, that accesses the fundamental joy and hope which we minister, and grace, the context, that provides the strength and mercy from which we minister in light of challenging (and sometimes painful) circumstances. It’s the “grace in which we stand.” (Rom. 5:1-2; 1 Pet. 5:12) Apart from grace, there is no ministry, and no way we can DO ministry.

The Winter 2016 (and LAST!) edition of “Leadership Journal” highlights this latter aspect of grace  –  how grace enables us to “press on” in ministry, in light of and despite of ourselves and the challenges we face (brought on by others or ourselves.) There are a number of important articles touching on key issues (many of which are the focus of PIR Ministries!) which provide a wealth of understanding for the pressures and problems ministry leaders face.

As a teaser, I invite you to read Mark Buchanan’s commentary (his testimony, really) on developing a “thick-skinned grace.”

Ministry can be (let’s face it, it IS) difficult and demanding. We human beings who devote ourselves to this call of grace are often times exposed to attack, accusation and antipathy from the very ones to whom we are extending grace, mercy and hope. It is often unprovoked, undeserved and untrue…but not always. How we stand in the midst of ministry is crucial.

May God grant us the GRACE to press on!

Spurgeon/Begg on Sure-footedness

Daily Devotional October 9, 2015

…able to keep you from stumbling. Jude 24

In some ways the path to heaven is very safe, but in other respects there is no more dangerous road. It is surrounded with difficulties. One false step (and how easy it is to take that if grace is absent), and down we go. What a slippery path some of us have to tread! How many times do we have to exclaim with the psalmist, “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.”1

If we were strong, surefooted mountaineers, this would not matter so much; but in ourselves, how weak we are! On the best roads we soon falter; in the smoothest paths we quickly stumble. These feeble knees of ours can scarcely support our tottering weight. A feather may divert us, and a pebble can wound us. We are mere children taking our first trembling steps in the walk of faith; our heavenly Father holds us by the arms or we would soon be down.

If we are kept from falling, how we should bless the patient power that watches over us day by day! Think how prone we are to sin, how apt to choose danger, how strong our tendency to stumble and fall, and these reflections will make us sing more sweetly than we have ever done, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” We have many enemies who try to put us down. The road is rough, and we are weak; but in addition to this, enemies hide in ambush and rush out when we least expect them and try to trip us up or throw us over the nearest cliff.

Only an almighty arm can preserve us from these unseen foes who are seeking to destroy us. Such an arm is involved in our defense. He is faithful who has promised, and He is able to keep us from falling, so that with a deep sense of our utter weakness, we may cherish a firm belief in our perfect safety and say with joyful confidence

Against me earth and hell combine,
But on my side is power divine;
Jesus is all, and He is mine! 

1) Psalm 73:2

The Family Bible Reading Plan

Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2003, Good News Publishers and used by Truth For Life with written permission.

**This blog page is my contribution to helping pastors engage in their calling more effectively, and find the resources God alone can provide through grace, mercy and hope.

Peterson on Burnout

“I don’t think pastors “burn out” because they work too hard. People who work hard often do so because they’re good at what they’re doing and they enjoy doing it. I think burnout comes from working with no relational gratification. Relationships become laborious and draining. Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated—and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” – Eugene Peterson

From the Alban post “Committing to Mutuality: An Interview with Eugene Peterson

Peterson did pastoral ministry well. It seems an important key to that was setting appropriate boundaries and sticking to them. It also seems that doing ministry well involved teaching his congregation that as a pastor, he was still a “real person”.  (Not unlike Hillary Clinton’s goal on “Face the Nation”!)

How well do pastors do at these? What kind of grief is created by ignoring them? How easily do the thoughts of “no boundaries” and “not real” take root?

Peterson’s insights are a treasure trove of pastoral-life jewels. His careful reflections on his life and call create a healthy pattern worth examining.

**This blog page is my contribution to helping pastors engage in their calling more effectively, and find the resources God alone can provide through grace, mercy and hope.