8 Core Competencies for Every Leader to Develop (part 2)

Last night at our Protege Missional Community, we opened up a dialogue about leadership. We had spent time this past week reading through this amazing “leadership book”, a biography really, of a man called Nehemiah. His story is incredible. The way God worked in and through his life and leadership contains so much substance that leaders can learn from (about leadership).


As our conversation unfolded, I wanted to guide the discussion (at least in part) around the idea of VISION. Why? Well, because vision is so critical not only to leadership effectiveness, but I believe to living life well.

If we desire to live our lives well, we must carry with us a vision of what life can be, or perhaps should be. Personally, one of the things I pray for people I know and love is that they would be attuned to the vision that God wants to birth in their life. For Nehemiah, that was the case. And then I pray that people would be motivated not by their own vision, or their own dreams for their life, but that they would tenaciously seek the vision of God, the dreams of God…for their life. And hey, there’s a big difference in saying, “Hey God, will bless my dreams.” VERSUS, “Hey God, what are YOUR dreams and how can I align my life with those.”

There is a somewhat familiar verse embedded into the Old Testament this so simple, yet when applied, astoundingly powerful. From Habakuk 2:4, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Isn’t this so true – again, not just about leadership but about life itself. We all need vision. Why? For starters because it is the vision that motivates our living, that motivates us to become men and women of character. It is the vision of life-transformation and the vision that I can move (with God’s help) from being a broken person to becoming an increasingly whole person – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, etc.

It is the vision that evokes the passion inside. And without the vision, the passion withers.

And then, when it comes to leadership, one of our great tasks in leading others is to cast vision over and over to the people we’re leading or who we want to lead. Truth is, vision leaks, meaning, people lose sight of it. This is why vision in leadership is so important. There are people all around us who don’t have a vision for life, don’t have a vision of who they could become, don’t have a vision or even hope at all that they could become a whole person. They wallow in their brokenness. They lose hope. They settle for status quo. They stop pursuing a “better life.”

So in the end, one of the greatest things that leaders do is that they live with personal vision, and then they cast vision of something better to the people around them. People want that. People need that. And they don’t just need it once. They need it cast and re-cast. They need a compelling vision cast by a leader that provokes passion their hearts so that they can live every day with a different kind of motivation, a different kind of passion, a different way of being and relating to others.

If you’re a leader, share stories about how God is changing your life, how he’s changing lives around you, how he’s bringing wholeness to broken people. Because ultimately, the most important vision we can live out and cast out to others is the vision that God has already given us – that life-change, through the grace and power of God, is possible. If we don’t carry this vision inside, the people will perish. We will perish.

So grab onto the vision of God. Ask him to birth it in you if it’s not there. And leaders, make sure you’re casting a clear and compelling vision for others to see and be inspired by as they struggle in the mundane of everyday life.

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8 Core Competencies for Every Leader to Develop

Today I’m beginning a series of blogs around 8 core competencies that I believe every leader ought to develop.

First up…Know and Lead Yourself Well. 

This might seem obvious, but it is a far underestimated “leadership trait.” One of the great leaders from the New Testament is the Apostle Paul. He once told his protégé, Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself…” (from 1 Timothy 4:16). Is Paul encouraging Timothy to become more self-focused or to put blinders on to what’s going on around him? Of course not. In essence, what he’s telling him to do is – lead yourself well. He’s telling him to pay attention to his interior world – his emotions, his thought life, his soul stirrings. He’s telling him to know what’s going on inside your soul.

As leaders, we are so often in “go mode.” We have our eyes on the future. We have our hearts on what we want to change about our organization. We’re focusing on changing the world. We are thinking about the vision, our vision. And that’s all good. But if we do all of that at the expense of knowing ourselves well, we will crash and burn.

Leaders establish credibility, gain respect, and create resonance in their followers when they understand themselves accurately, lead themselves well, and remain true to their core values. This is called integrity. And more specifically, we won’t live with the integrity that we desire without knowing ourselves well.

The most effective leaders are consciously introspective and intentionally reflective. They consistently monitor and recalibrate their behaviors, attitudes, words, emotions, mistakes, relationships, and motivations. They embrace who they are and who they are not. They don’t ignore their emotions but pay close attention to them as clues and signs to what God is doing in them or wants to change in them. The most effective leaders live with integrity as to who they say they are and who they really are. And that is much easier to proclaim in concept than to live in reality. Again, you must know yourself. You must know what entices you away from that life of integrity. What tempts you. What “good things” are alluring you away from the Ultimate Thing. For great leaders, it is this congruency and integration of their life and values that enhances their decision-making skills and expands their trust level with others.

In the quest to know ourselves well, what we mustn’t forget is that this is inextricably linked to knowing God well.

John Calvin once said: “Knowing yourself begins with knowing God.”

Later he said: “The knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, [but we must] treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.”

If you want to be a great leader, engage the quest to know God well and to know yourself well, remembering that they are inextricably linked together.

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The Tears of a Father

Last week, Hudson started first grade. For him, as well as for his father, it was far from a typical day. At first pass one might think of it as pretty ordinary. I mean, aside from first day of school jitters, which as parents we usually just think something like, “Push them through it. Encourage them to be strong. Stay calm, you’re going to do great.” Of course I said a number of things like that, but what I didn’t expect is my own emotional unraveling.



For Hudson, this was his first time going to school, and he did remarkable. Yes, he was a little nervous, but he took it all in stride. I was a proud day, and more than that, so happy for him. He loves his school, his teacher, his classmates, and he gets to see his best friend Nathan on the play ground every day. Life couldn’t be better. For me, I still remember the day I started Kindergarten, and then first and second grade went down the same way – tears flowed for the first two or three days in all those years. It pretty much came down to the fact that I was missing my mom. Really badly. My mom actually never realized this until decades later when I told her. But that’s not on my mom. I chose, for whatever reasons, to keep everything inside. And in the many years that followed, I made this behavior normative. I think a lot of people do, especially the manly kind.


Back to Hudson’s first day of school. I did my best to be there for Hudson, to nurture him, to encourage him, and to be right there in it with him. When I picked him up, and in the days that followed even, both Cheri and I asked him questions and tried to draw on what he was going through emotionally, how he was doing, what he was struggling with, what he wanted and needed to process and express.


But as I walked away, and then drove away, from Hudson that first day, my heart was overtaken by emotions. As I drove to work, I cried. At this point you may be embarrassed for me or something, but trust me, I’m not. Partly because I had an incredible “God encounter.” As tears flowed, I felt my heart so tender towards Hudson. I pondered how special that kid is, how deeply I love him, how proud I am of him. I reflected on him as our precious treasure, a dream kid to have, and oh man those kids that get to have him as their friend and that teacher that gets him as a student – boy how lucky they are and they probably don’t even know it. I’m not biased or anything am I?


My tears flowed for many reasons. It was a microcosm of Cheri and I releasing Hudson into “the world.” It’s part of growing up, not just for kids but also for parents. Yes, we are releasing him into what we believe is an amazing environment at his school, but it’s still letting him be with other people, most of whom we don’t really know well, and they get him for about 35 hours week – to mold him, shape him, educate him, etc. This is all good and par to life, but it doesn’t change how I felt that day.


The general life philosophy may tell me (or at least the lies I believe) that I shouldn’t cry about this, that this is life and this is what we do, etc. etc. But one thing I have learned (and seem to keep having to learn) about life is that we need to pay attention to our emotions. They matter. They matter in the path towards becoming a healthier and whole human being. They matter to God. Our emotional well-being and emotional health affect who we are becoming. And for too long in my life, I didn’t take time to notice my emotions, or sync more deeply into them. I either didn’t notice, ignored them, or had some thought like, “I shouldn’t be crying about this or that. I should be tough, or ‘be a man,’ or whatever else came into my mind that caused me to shun my emotions.” Truth is, I was sad last week. Nothing “bad” happened, but I was sad. Sad to let go of Hudson. Sad to release him into the world that will affect him, shape him, mold him in so many ways. At school, I know he’s going to experience rejection. Somewhere along the way, some kid will be cruel to him, say words that damage him, or someone may even physically push or hit him. Yes, that’s part of life and some may say, “Just get over it.” But I resist. I don’t agree. I think it’s important to be true to what you feel. To notice it. To bring that emotion to God because God wants to nurture us, hear us out, let us process that with him. God wants us to be on the path to emotional wellness and wholeness.


Any good parent gets filled with emotion at various moments in their child’s journey. But too often we push that emotion away, ignore it, resist it, shun it. What I say to you today is – DON’T DO THAT. Sync into your emotions. They are what make you human. They are also what open doors for you to walk through to experience God. So many of us know about God, or we believe “the right things” about God, but we don’t experience intimate connection with Him. I believe that one of the primary reasons is because we don’t dive more deeply into our own emotional world, or we do stay connected to our emotions but never bring them to God, never process them with God, never invite Him to speak to us or shape us in light of what we’re going through. So when your heart wells up, when tears moisten your eyes, will you open your heart to God in those moments? Will you invite God into your tears?




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The Next Chapter Begins

For the past 3 plus years I have served as the Pastor of Ministry Development at The Highway Community, which has been a great joy and honor.  The Highway staff as well as the whole community is quite remarkable.  It’s been a chapter of my life (our life) filled with tremendous blessing and grace.  In the last couple months, God brought an opportunity to me (and my family) that was very unique, and intriguing to ponder.  A friend of mine, Nancy Ortberg, introduced me to Ryan Ingram, the Lead Pastor of Awakening Church.  In short, there were some challenges he was facing that she thought a dialogue between us could be helpful.  As I began to meet with Ryan, a genuine friendship emerged as well as a deep sense of resonance with his passion and approach to ministry. Through a series of conversations, it became clear to Cheri and I, as well as to the Awakening leadership, that God was binding us together and solidifying a new partnership.  So…this past Sunday I began in my new position as Executive Pastor at Awakening Church in San Jose. My family and I are very excited about this new chapter that is beginning. We have sensed God to be in this, and guiding us into this whole process. There has also been so many confirmations and affirmations that have been so evident to us.

The transition out of the Highway Community was smooth, and I am very thankful, especially to Dean, John, the Shepherds and really the entire staff team.  It was an incredible staff that I got to work with. Cheri and I are eternally grateful for the years we spent at Highway, all the great friendships, and all the people that served our family and that we were privileged to partner with in advancing God’s mission in the world.

This month, I am beginning a new chapter, and a word that I sense God giving me is the word expectancy.  This word has been settling into my soul and affecting the way I pray and live. And with this word, I have great anticipation of what will unfold in our lives together, both with my family and with the Awakening community.

It’s a great honor to join the staff and faith community at Awakening, and I can already sense what a special place this really is. God is at work. People are discovering and experiencing new life in God. People are growing. People are loving their neighbors and loving God. People embody this wonderful spirit of servanthood. I could go on.

So I am off and running here at Awakening, anticipating the meeting of so many new people, as well as anticipating God’s activity. Can’t wait to be more and more apart of this movement, to experience this community more deeply, and to help people who are really searching for God to find him. This year will be a year that I choose to live inspired. I hope you do too.

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Does My Life Reflect God? (Short answer: No)

If someone spent one week deliberately observing your life, what would conclusions would they make about the God you believe in?

– Where do you spend time, and who with?

– What do you laugh at, or even smile at?

– What brings you genuine joy? Would joy and laughing and smiling even be noticed as part of your everyday life?

– When and how often are you moody (i.e. in a bad mood, or one with a negative tone)?

– What do you allow to go into your mind?

The questions could go on.


Here are a couple questions I’ve been reflecting on this past week:

Are the things that are important to me also important to the God I believe in?

Do my priorities reflect God’s priorities?

Is the trajectory of my life moving towards doing what God does, feeling what he feels, seeing the way he sees?

Do I have compassion in my heart? How about generosity and a willingness to serve others?


The truth about me is this: There are HUGE discrepancies between me and the God I believe in.


BUT…as I invite God to increase my awareness of his activity in my life, he moves in humbly, he softens my heart, he opens me to listening to his voice, and ultimately I see and sense him working to change my heart. I find myself wanting. I find myself wanting to want God more, wanting more desire and hunger for him, wanting to know more of who he is as I strive to reflect who he is in my own life. I know it’s not about trying harder ultimately as well. I know it’s about inviting him to give me the power to do what I can’t do by myself. That’s God’s grace and power at work. My job is to put myself in a posture that is receptive – to hear his voice, sense his presence, do the good that is before me every moment that I can.


And in moments when I’ve done this well, man has God showed up. And I know he will show up in your life to. It starts with an invitation from you to God because he’s already invited you to walk near to him.

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Addicted to Performance

No one really likes to admit they are addicted to anything. By doing so, you’re admitting to something having power of you. You’re also implying that you’re weak, or at least weaker than whatever it is that you’re addicted to.


So, I have an addiction.


I keep going back to it. I keep buying into it’s lie. I keep clinging to it because I believe somewhere deep down that it will make me feel alive, make me feel valuable and worthy. But you know what? It never delivers. And no matter how many times I keep going back to my addiction, it fails me every time.


I am addicted to performance and the feeling of achievement or success. And ok, maybe you don’t think you can be addicted to that, but give me a second. This has been a major issue in my life, one that God has worked deeply and routinely on because it runs deep.


I find myself getting my identity wrapped up into how I’m perceived by others. Do others see me as ‘accomplished’ or as ‘successful’ or with some kind of ‘status’ that makes me feel good about myself? Sometimes it leaks over into what others think about how good of a parent I am, or how well I speak or write or lead. And then throw in things like appearance, intelligence, my reputation, my achievements, how my kids behave, and all of these things become synonymous with my worth. In short, achievements add to my worth. And failure, or even the perception of it, deter from my worth. As a result I get addicted to performance and achievement because it makes me feel like somebody.


But it’s the journey of the false self. It’s a dead end. And like I said, even when I perform well, achieve something great, or succeed with flying colors, that good feeling only lasts a short while. Then back to the addiction because the feeling is gone and I need another hit.


Now, I’m not saying accomplishments are insignificant or shouldn’t be pursued. But, there’s a huge difference in finding pleasure in something we do and depending on it for worth, value and meaning. I don’t want to live my life giving all my energy to image projection, or “performing” for others. For one, it’s exhausting. And worse, it sucks me into living in my false self. It takes me away from the God life and keeps me clinging to the self-life or the me-life. That’s the great irony of the human spirit – when we try to consume for ourselves, thinking it’ll make us “happy” or “fulfilled”, it does just the opposite. And in contrast, when we live for something beyond ourselves, God, we find ourselves more deeply satisfied in our souls. Even in saying that, I “know this” but man it can be very hard to live it. So I continue to live in this tension, where God is patient with me, and reminds me of this deeper journey, a journey I’ve been created to be on. I want to disconnect myself from the hamster wheel of tireless and endless proving of myself, earning something from someone, running so fast and furious to keep up and keep a certain image. This causes me anxiety, fear, frustration, and outright exhausts my soul.


This brings me back to GRACE, something I feel I just never can fully get. But it keeps getting me. It keeps reminding me to cling to God, center myself in God, root my identity and worth in a deeper and deeper way…IN GOD. That’s how to break free from my addiction. And any addiction really. I am free – through the gospel of grace – from rescuing myself or proving myself or from carrying the burden of measuring up. And now, if I could just keep living in that truth the rest of my life…

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What Mentors Do

Aside from my parents, one of my first real mentors was my high school baseball coach. His mentorship of me revolved around skill development, namely baseball.  However, it went far beyond that. What Coach Holder taught me beyond baseball has many layers, but begins with mental toughness and work ethic. He was a hard nose coach who didn’t let you get away with anything. No disrespect. No laziness. No giving up. We were challenged every day to focus on the team’s best outcomes, but part of that being you coming to practice every day to work hard, give your best, and focus for a couple hours the best you can. When that wasn’t the reality he saw, he stayed on our case very intensely. At times I of course HATED THIS, or even hated even dare I say (at these for the moment). But he pushed me hard and stayed on me to do things the right way, with the right attitude.  Of course he intimidated me, but looking back, that was part of his strategy to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish with his players and teams.


I remember the days he would pull me aside (sometimes in weight training class). He’d throw me a tennis ball, mark off 60 feet and tell me to practice throwing the ball against the wall and getting it inside a little square every time I hit it. He would stand there and watch sometimes. And when I wasn’t hitting the goal, he would push me, challenge me, and sometimes yell at me. I felt the pressure. I was nervous, anxious, and sometimes flat out scared that I would fail. He stayed on me for years, literally. And it made me a better baseball player. More than that, he made me a better man. He taught me how to handle the pressure. He taught me how to discipline my mind and minimize distractions. He taught me to believe I could do, envision it in my mind, and then execute. Somehow in the midst of moments like these I knew how much he believed in me. He wasn’t pulling every player off to the side to push them harder, only a few of us. And essentially, best I could tell, it was those he believed in most.


From the perspective of a mentor, one thing I’ve always held onto was the power of believing in someone.  That can play out in all different ways, but people sense it and see it when it’s present. The reverse is also true. When we’re trying to mentor people, or when we’re having the “developmental conversations” with someone, they know whether we believe in them or not. If we really do, and they sense that, they will be way more likely to open themselves up to us, receive our input, allow us to shape them, and ultimately they will become better for it. The question we all must ask ourselves about those we’re mentoring, or those we want to mentor, is: Do we REALLY believe in people? Do we see their potential? Do we envision them excelling or do we see them so critically that we end up so focused on what they don’t do well? Great mentors capitalize on who they are and invest in the development of people’s strengths.  I was a left-handed pitcher, who had potential. My path to “success” (as a baseball player) was shaped by this coach of mine. I ended up getting a division one scholarship to the University of South Carolina, the best baseball conference in the country. There were many factors that contributed to this outcome, but Coach Holder stands at the center of my success. He mentored me into some level of excellence in the sport of baseball. And more than that, what he left me with was who I became because of his investment (and belief) in me. Who will you believe in, invest in, and help succeed?


I have a new book about Mentoring out if you’re interested – http://www.missiopublishing.com/protege/


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Prayers That Change Us: The Shaping of the Soul

The Psalms make up the authentic and profound hymnbook at the heart of the Scriptures. These 150 “chapters” have been the ongoing lifeblood of Jesus followers for centuries. Yet in modern-day Christian circles, the Psalms are either rarely used or they get reduced to a few verses to be recited as “filler” in worship services. Perhaps we don’t realize the depths of what we are missing.

The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank up there with any poetry in any culture, ancient and modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of passion and vulnerable emotions, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope, unimaginable grief and unprecedented worship. Any human being who is open to new dimensions of the human experience, any person who loves good writing, anyone who wants to get snapshots into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul, anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality — should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t eaten a good meal for two weeks. It’s all right there before us.
The Psalms have captured the attention and generated excitement of many who have been sensitive to powerful writing on the great themes of human life. These people know that praying, reading, reflecting on, and singing the Psalms can be and have been transformative. The Psalms can change the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are and who God is. These writings invite us deeper into the human journey, where life-transformation and true change emerges. Though we sometimes know what to do with the Psalms – all the emotions, the anger, the grief, the anxiety, and the passion – the words we read are powerful, and sometimes provocative. It’s a vulnerable and sometimes dangerous exploration to dive deeper into the Psalms, because they just may shake things up in our spiritual life. But in truth, I believe that’s what we all need, at least at times.
Ultimately, the Psalms cultivate unique ways to view the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way – God’s way.
This summer, I”ve been plunging deeper into the Psalms with a group of about 40 people. We’re seeking to make the prayers and poems of the Psalms our own prayers (and even poems). We desire to foster more authenticity between us and God individually as well as between one another communally.  We’re opening ourselves up to God’s deeper work in our lives, hoping and praying our summer conversations in the Psalms will jettison us forward in our spiritual growth and shape our soul.  (Inspired by a reading from NT Wright about the Psalms).
More reflections in the Psalms to come in future summer blog posts.
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