Tag Archives: Leadership skills series

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Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #5: Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

He made the front page of the local paper. His sin was published almost before he was released on bail. Both his employers and his church closed their doors to him immediately. He was unclean, a pariah, too messy for anyone to help. Weeks later someone who knew him invited him to visit my church. Over the next year and a half, he was surrounded by a committed group of men who walked with him as he was restored in his relationship with God, his family, and the church. It was an investment of love, but had we not practiced restoration, who knows what might have happened to this man.

Too many leaders have a throw-them-under-the-bus approach to sinful people who do not immediately repent and confess. Or even if they do repent and confess, little is offered to help them restore their walk with God, the congregation, and their family. The danger to this approach only becomes apparent when the condemning leaders get caught in sin themselves.

Restoration is something Jesus himself practiced with Peter after he denied Jesus in Pilate’s courtyard. Had he consigned Peter to hell for his denial, we would be justified to do the same with people who mess up in our congregation. But everyone who leads in Jesus’ church has to follow Jesus on this as well.

Restoration is not always a popular choice. Once when I chased a man caught in sin who was not looking to repent—looking more like he was happy to keep going deeper into the pit, I was told by other leaders that since he was not repentant, it was a waste of time to try to restore him. I knew they were wrong and they came to see that they were.

Mastering restoration is about learning how the gospel saves the saved. The power of the gospel not only restores the lost, it restores the saved when they willfully stray back into the enemy’s camp. Even if your congregation has a transformational culture, you will have plenty of people who will need restoration at one time or another. But you have to choose to practice it. You will not restore believers merely by wishing they would repent. Sometimes you have to lovingly chase them and they may just fight you until God wrestles them to the ground. Other times, people will be relieved to be caught because they hated what they were becoming.

For restoration, you will need to cultivate two characteristics and master two skills. The two characteristics are gentleness and humility. We all have the tendency to be disappointed to the point of anger at people who fail. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us that gives us control over our words. Humility is a product of our recognition of our own failure to be good for God. To be humble is to have learned that there is zero difference between us and those who are in the grip of sin. He or she could have been us and maybe someday it will be us. The combination of gentleness and humility guides how we become safe to help our siblings trapped in sin.

The first of the skills you need to master is the intentional confrontation, characterized by Nathan’s challenge “You are the man!” to David when David ‘secretly’ impregnated Uriah’s wife and then oversaw his ‘accidental’ death. Intentionally confronting someone produces two results apart from potentially seeing the person restored. It announces to the rest of the body that we are not helpless. Secondly, it tells them that saved people matter to God and therefore matter to us as well.

The second skill is leading someone on the pathway back again. A full description of the restoration pathway can be found in my book, Build Deep: Developing a Culture of Transformation in Your Church. But understand that you only really gain mastery when you actually do it. And you will find that it changes you. Every time I have participated in restoring someone caught in sin, I become more in tune with my own need for God to reign over me, more aware that I am prone to wander, too. And I become more conscious of how much I need my church family to watch over me. You cannot practice restoration and be unaffected yourself.

Mastering these four practices—repentance, confession, reconciliation, and restoration—will make it possible for you and other leaders to help develop a transformational culture in your church. You will be able to disciple others so they can do them too. This is how people become confident that there is a reality to their faith. People in your congregation will go where you go or they will go out the door. Give them every reason to stay and grow with you into a transformational church by becoming leaders they can imitate.

-Steve Smith


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Let’s Get Honest About Reconciliation

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #4: Let’s Get Honest about Reconciliation

Divisions happen between the best of leaders. Reconciliation happens less often. Paul and Barnabas, who God personally picked out to take the gospel into Cyprus and what is modern-day Turkey, later got into a furious ruckus over Mark and thereafter went on separate mission trips as a result. The only hint we have of a reconciliation between them is that Mark’s name pops up in several of Paul’s letters as one of his companions.

I meet a lot of leaders who never actually practice what Jesus taught when it comes to reconciliation. I am not naïve, but one of the most breathtaking moments in my ministry was when I was working with an elder team who had taken an unreasonable stance against their pastor. As I explained their responsibility to Jesus to work towards reconciliation, they essentially said ‘No,’ They believed they had a right to leave the church because of their disagreement. I asked them what they were teaching the younger disciples they were leading by doing this?

Mastering reconciliation is about honoring Jesus’ reign over your life. And it’s not just about leaders falling out with each other. It could be a broken relationship with someone you invested your life in. It could be about the neighbors who have so little regard for your property or sleep. It might be the brother you have not spoken to for ten years. Instead of reconciliation, your under-the-surface anger may have led you to believe you are on the moral high ground—but you’re not.

Mastering reconciliation is what mature believers do. Because of the Fall, there are way too many broken relationships in the world. People hate people. Nations war against others for obscure reasons. Families head for divorce courts so they can legally break apart. And brokenness is not left at the steps of the church building. It comes in and hides in the corners, shows up in meetings and emails, is written into petitions until it can make a grand entrance and blow the congregation apart. Sides are taken under its influence. Churches split and people who love each other stop being family.

This happens in spite of most believers having been taught about reconciliation based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-20. When brokenness appears, the goal for too many is to be right, whether we are talking about doctrine, conduct, or who cut into the line. Taking offense is as normal in our day as it was in Jesus’.

The usual focus is on confronting someone who has sinned against you with their dirty deed. But the most overlooked operative phrase Jesus used is “if he listens to you…Jesus’ goal for his family was not for someone to be right, but for them to be heard and to hear.

Mastering reconciliation, then, starts with learning to hear the other person first, to own what you need to own. What did I do to bring this conflict about? Did I not try to understand the other person? Was I being offensive to him or her in some way without realizing it? Is this person going through a crisis within that I was insensitive to? Maybe what is going on under their skin is much more relevant to the conflict than your hurt feelings. All these questions show you what you need to own before you confront. Reconciliation is about understanding the other person, even if that person also needs to own what he or she needs to own. It is learning to talk to someone who is offensive or offending in ways that reestablishes communication so that each person hears the other.

You have to want to do this. It is not the practice of the timid. Reconciliation requires a robust faith in Jesus and a will surrendered to the Spirit to guide such a process. Because you see, this process can take some time. One of my friends told of his two-year journey with the other leaders of his church family. His stand on certain spiritual practices going on in the congregation led them to attack him as unsubmissive to authority and disruptive to the church. His wife was aghast at their treatment and vowed never to set foot in the church building again. His response to her was, “We have to be mature believers and reconcile with these leaders because that is what mature believers do.” The rest of the story was full of twists and turns. But in the end, they were reconciled because they were willing to submit to what Jesus could do in them and through them. How real the gospel is! This reconciliation became a testimony to the power of the gospel to the young believers in that church.

-Steve Smith

 


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Let’s Get Honest About Confession

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #3: Let’s Get Honest About Confession

At a prayer conference, the speaker, Daniel Henderson, instructed the participants to break up into groups of three and confess to each other a personal sin with which they were struggling, then pray for each other. What caught my attention was that Daniel himself stepped down into the crowd, grabbed a couple of guys and did the same. He later shared about how he wanted to keep himself from letting pride dominate his ministry. No better lesson about the importance of confession could have been demonstrated.

Confession in the Bible actually comes from the legal language of Roman times. The word ‘confession’ means ‘to say the same thing.’ In court, when the judge states what I have done wrong, confession means agreeing with him that I have done what he said and that what I did was wrong.

As simple as this is, both public and private confession is hard for leaders. Public confession is hard because we are self-protective. We do not want to lose respect or authority or possibly our family or even our jobs in the church. So there are several methods we adopt to avoid the humiliation of confession.

One is to change the subject with a good smoke screen. A friend heard his pastor state a lie publicly. In private my friend went to him and asked where this lie was coming from. The pastor’s response was to aggressively recount the health of his ministry, his home life, his parenting, even his sex life. Exploring where this lie came from—no way! He was healthy enough. Or so his self-protecting mind told him. This was a mind-your-own-business smoke screen. Self-protection tells you that confession shows weakness, so stonewall anyone whom God might use to speak into your life. It allows you to avoid becoming healthier. James instructed about confessing sin so you can be healed (James 5:16).

Another smokescreen is confessing a lesser sin so you can look like you’re in the game when the real issue is much deeper. This form of self-protection has the aim of making yourself either the hero or victim of your story. But what this person may not be telling you is that a much deeper issue is going on inside, one which makes the confessable sin pale in comparison. He may confess, “Yes I did ‘accidently’ touch a woman inappropriately and I am sorry. I was jostled and lost my balance” But what he is hiding is a long-term pornography addiction. Or he might say, “I know I should not have spoken that way to my son in public and I promise not to do it again,” hiding the fact that he regularly curses and strikes his children in private to the point that they are afraid of him.

Private confession is also a challenge because even though you know nothing is hidden from God, the effects of the Fall are on you. You probably find it hard to accept the reign of God over certain areas of your life. Or maybe because you have not yet come to the end of yourself over particular sins, you are not ready to confess them as wrong. So you give half-hearted confessions. “God, you know I did not mean to hurt anyone.” “God, I have done this all my life and do not think it is wrong now, but forgive me if it is.” Or maybe frantic confessions hoping to stave off consequences. “God, I did wrong but please do not let me lose my job—my ministry—or freedom—or family—or life—over this. I will do anything (except surrender) if you would help me.” Need I say it? This kind of confession is not the kind that brings transformation.

Mastering confession means going for broke. You become willing to look at the sin in me choices of appetite, anger, envy, greed, lust, pride and sloth that you have used to comfort your woundedness and confess that they are not only destroying you, you have no power to stop. They will continue to color your world until you confess this and submit them to the Spirit’s work in you to free you.

Catch what I am saying. Confession is not about hanging yourself out to dry in the heat of people’s disgust and distrust. It is about freedom and health. It is less about being a leader and more about being a child of God. Mastering confession makes you realize that you are on the same level before the cross as everyone else, even if you are a leader.

One of the transformational leaders who influences me is Ford Taylor, who trains business leaders through Transformational Leadership. He teaches the six-step apology, which is an effective way that people confess sin to each other or to God. By following these six steps, you can master a means of confession that will not only bring freedom but will also heal broken relationships caused by your sin. And this process is easy to teach to others as well. The six steps are:

  1. I did it (name whatever the sin is).
  2. I was wrong.
  3. I am sorry.
  4. Will you forgive me (when you are able)?
  5. Will you hold me accountable to not do this again?
  6. Is there anything else I need to deal with that you know about in my life?

This last step is daunting. In asking it, you are perhaps opening yourself up to an unexpected journey. But God plans our steps and uses everything that is in our lives for His purpose—to conform us to the likeness of His Son. So do not fear it because it will lead you further into freedom and spiritual health.

-Steve Smith


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Let’s Get Honest About Repentance

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #2: Let’s Get Honest about Repentance

I think we all know that leaders are not the untouchables—those who can do no wrong. We know we need to be open to the convicting work of the Spirit. We know we need to be the ones who quickly respond when we become aware that our actions or attitudes are not matching up with the character of Jesus. Most of us have already learned the basics of what to do when we sin. We repent. We run back to the cross and ask God to forgive us and restore us. But mastery in repentance is not always about the out-there-where-everyone-can-see-it kind of sin. Many lessons in repentance are much more subtle because Satan is always subtle when lying to us and egging us on to defeat.

Repentance is about giving up your false idea that you have the right to reign over yourself—acknowledging that it’s your Creator who has the only right to reign over you and all your decisions. Leading a congregation, you have plenty of areas where you can be blind to self-rule. Your vision for the church, your way of building church systems, how you handle leadership, how you handle people, what biblical truths you choose to teach and how you choose to teach them—all these offer pathways to let your unfinished business destroy others.

Recently the North American church has been watching with great concern as a high profile pastor was called to account for his bullying ways. He had been successful by numbers and influence. It was precisely because he had been successful that no one had confronted him successfully. In the aftermath, those who should have held him accountable have found themselves repenting publicly for allowing so many to be wounded by this wounded leader.

If only this were the exception and not the rule. He and they are the poster children for all of us who lead while blinded to our unfinished business. While our own expression of self-rule may vary widely from theirs, the impact of our unrepentant sin reverberates in the lives of people we shepherd. Some of your worst moments of self-rule may be taking place as the “Parent” of your children or “Spouse” in your marriage, where the people you love are assigned second place to your all-consuming desire to be successful in ministry.

Mastering repentance means you ask God consistently to make you more aware of what lies you have believed about yourself that are offensive to Him, whether they be pretty lies or ugly ones. Whether they appeal to the lust of your flesh, the pride of your eyes, or the pride of life, as John puts it (1 John 2:16), you want to recognize the lies you have embraced for what they are, turn from them and humbly ask God to empower you to live out the truth.

Moreover, mastering repentance includes recognizing when God is leading you to do right in a culture that condemns righteous thinking. Sometimes you will find people are offended because you chose God’s ways over politics, over political correctness, over cultural prejudices, over religious taboos. Jesus knew that no one could ever meet the expectations of people affected by the Fall precisely because they were affected by it. He pushed back, saying the religious leaders had rejected John the Baptizer as having a demon for not eating and drinking with the crowd and were now calling him, Jesus, a drunkard and glutton for doing the opposite. Repentance for you also involves recognizing when you have been holding back in challenging those stuck by culture and personal preferences because you have been listening to the crowd, perhaps your own crowd, to get your bearings.

If you are going to master repentance, let me encourage you to take some previously given advice and get a partner whom you trust and who trusts you. Give each other permission to speak into the other leaders’ lives when he or she sees behavior that suggests underlying unfinished business. This is not a one-week assignment. This is a life-long quest because Satan will find new lies to tell you in the coming years.

-Steve Smith


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Let’s get serious

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #1: Let’s get serious

Stop and list the names of all the leaders whose lives have publicly imploded during the past twelve months due to exposed sin. Add to that list the names of leaders you know that have just quit ministry for good. If researchers are right, 10% of all ministers leave vocational ministry each year, most never to return, so you probably have names of a few whom you personally know. Then include the names of believers in your congregation that have dropped off the vine into living as if Jesus no longer mattered to them.

How long is your list? If you are like me, even one name is too many and I have many more than one name on my personal list.

Quite a few of these people had impressive leadership skills. They outwardly displayed a love for the gospel, a passion for God’s Word and a desire to see people put their faith in Jesus. Most were not newbies in their own faith. Most probably possessed the ‘21 indispensable qualities of a leader.’ But they crashed and burned out all the same.

The reason I asked you to do this was not to depress you but to help you see the gravity of playing the game. Which game? The one where leaders think they have time to wait before pursuing transformation through intimacy with God. How many people have to run amuck in sin before it becomes important enough to you? How about your closest co-workers in the kingdom? Are their lives critical enough for you to hit the start button? Or you yourself? Do you want to be a castaway and need someone to restore you?

Not only do you need to consider this a rush order, you will need to accept that you need to master essential leadership skills to be able to do it. These are not skills you will find in most books on leadership, like holy life, vision casting, development of other leaders, taking initiative, team building, fundraising, public speaking, creating a strategy, and communication.  These are essential skills you probably did not hear much about in college or in leadership training. But there are four practices that Jesus taught his band of brothers to prepare them to turn the world upside down. If you do not master these skills, you cannot lead in Jesus’ church.

Note that I said ‘cannot,’ not will not. I know lots of church leaders who are poor hands at these and take leadership positions anyway with bad results in the end. When I say ‘cannot,’ I mean you will lack the ability to do what a leader must know how to do not only to establish but also to maintain a transformational church culture. These leadership practices are:

  1. repentance
  2. confession
  3. restoration
  4. reconciliation

In a transformational church, you will need to use these weekly, if not daily. That’s how essential they are.

Because these practices are familiar, it is possible to read this list and think that you already know how to do all of them well enough. Personally, this may be true. But I am not merely talking about you. I am also talking about your influence on others who are part your fellowship. Are you helping people you lead to learn how to do these four practices?

I found that I was better at being on my own personal journey than I was at discipling people well. I entered a transformational journey with God when I was 30 years old and already in vocational ministry. No one had personally taught me these practices in spite of being in the church all my life. They were talked about—yes. But I had no mentor who walked me through their application to my broken life experience or my broken relationships. So I also failed to help others.

I was ten years into my own transformational journey with God before someone challenged me to teach a small group of men what I had been learning. I confess that it had never crossed my mind to do it. My encouragement to you is to approach these practices as mastery points for everyone who confesses Jesus, including yourself if you know you have not lived them out well before.

Next week I will begin to unpack these practices.

-Steve Smith


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