Monday, November 22

Leader vs. Contractor


Collide Magazine has a great post today on the role of a leader. The basic point of the article is this:


“A leader doesn’t execute what the people want — a leader guides the people toward what they need…. The leader’s job is to evaluate needs and wants and to pursue the long-term vision. That doesn’t mean leaders are infallible, nor does it mean a leader should be isolated from feedback and counsel. It’s just that the leader still has a decision to make after everyone else has said their piece.”


Far too often I have seen those in positions of leadership in Christian organizations abdicate their role of leading those whom God has entrusted to them. They function more as contractors or managers than leaders. As the article states, we do have to listen to those around us and take seriously their input. But ultimately, the leader or leadership team has to set a direction and a strategy that gets the organization to accomplish their purpose and fulfill their vision. Then you have to cast that vision and strategy to those in your organization.


Leaders need to lead.

Friday, November 19

My Birthday Project: Completed!

About a month ago, I shared these facts with you:

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

So I decided to use the occasion of my 52nd birthday to raise money for a freshwater well in a developing country through the organization Charity:water. And I asked you to give toward that project. And did you! In that month, you gave $5,000 – the average cost of building a well that will provide clean water at least 250 people.

Though part of my job is raising money for our ministry, the giving to this project was different. It was for my birthday. And I asked folks from all aspects of my life – family, students, former students, friends, track friends. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to such a blatant request for money for my birthday.

What I discovered is that people from all walks of life, and all over the country, resonated with the need for clean water and were excited about a chance to help with such a project. And I was moved and humbled by the responses – that 63 people from 17 states (including DC) cared enough to give. Thanks to all of you. It will probably be at least a year before the well is completed, but I will keep you updated on the progress.

This project has also been a reminder that we can accomplish great things and make our world a better place for others when we work together. We just to do it more often.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Monday, November 15

The Passing of a Track (and Kansas) Legend

For decades, one of the greatest high school rivalries in Arkansas was the Springdale Bulldogs vs. the Fayetteville Bulldogs. But my favorite memory from any of those games had nothing to do with football or basketball.


The st14obitsantee-articleInlineadium in Springdale was packed for the annual match-up. Sitting beside me was a white-haired man in his 70’s. We began chatting and I soon discovered that he didn’t know anything about either team. He was just there to watch his grandson in the Springdale Marching Band. I also discovered that he, like me, was from Kansas. And somewhere in the conversation, I discovered that I was sitting next to Wes Santee.


Of the few thousand at this football game, I was probably one of the few (and maybe the only one) who would have recognized that name. But I was from Kansas. And I was a University of Kansas Jayhawk fan. And I was a track and field fan. And Wes Santee was a track and field legend in Kansas and, at one time, around the world. I don’t remember who actually won the football game that night, because Mr. Santee and I talked track until a storm caused the game to be suspended and we went our separate ways. But a few days later, I received an autographed copy of The Perfect Mile from him. If you enjoy track and field, you will love the book.


I will let this article from the New York Times give you the details of his career. But in 1953 and 1954, the world watched as Santee, John Landy of Australia, and Roger Bannister of Great Britain raced to become the first person to break the four-minute barrier in the mile. On May 6, 1954, Bannister ran a 3:59.4. On June 21, 1954, Landy ran a 3:58. Though Santee was the American record holder in the mile and world record holder in the 1,500 meters indoors and outdoors and in the mile indoors, he was never able to run faster than 4:00.5.


Wes Santee passed away on Sunday in Eureka, KS at the age of 78. I fondly remember my evening with him and his graciousness to me.

Friday, November 12

Spiritual Jazz: Your Life as a Work of Art


A few weeks ago, I began writing a series of posts on jazz as a metaphor for the Christian life. The premise was that many think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and staying in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are pretty clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual.


There is nothing wrong with any of those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life (and many bring those attitudes into the Christian life), it can become stifling. I think there is a freedom - an improvisation - that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the Spirit. Many are missing that. I would encourage you to go back to posts from Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 for more details.


One of the reasons that I have postponed the series is because some of these thoughts were in a guest piece I wrote for a “blog-a-thon”. It ran last week on Faith on Campus. I would encourage you to check out the other pieces posted.


Before I write more about elements of jazz that apply to our spiritual lives – things like syncopation, improvisation, etc. – I want to lay a piece of Biblical groundwork.


“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10


As many who have been around our ministry would tell you, this is one of my favorite and most often quoted verses. I believe it sets the stage for a life of fruitful and joyful service to God and others.


We need to realize that God has re-created us through Jesus Christ to be works of art. The word translated “workmanship” is poiema, from which we derive our English word “poem.” We are God’s poem, God’s musical composition, God’s work of art carefully crafted by his own hands.


We live in a “paint by numbers” world where creativity and uniqueness is often discouraged. Our world – from schools to churches to corporations to athletic teams to families to friends – works hard to bring everyone into conformity and to keep everyone from straying too far from the accepted ways of thinking or living. But works of art are not mass produced. Each piece is unique and different from every other piece. We need to recognize, and help those around us recognize, the unique way that God has created us. We have the freedom to express that individuality as we are led by the Spirit. Of course, we need to cling to Scriptural truth and practice spiritual disciplines so that the work of art that God created maintains is unique beauty, but we must beware of “cookie-cutter” approaches that make Christians more like other Christians or our religious culture (or us) than the work of art God intended.


Works of art are also created for a purpose: To reflect the creator and his or her values and nature to the world in a unique way. Every painting, sculpture, poem, or musical piece says something about the one who created it. So, too, it is God’s desire that the works of art he has created in us reflect him accurately to our world – but in unique and creative ways. We were designed for something far greater than a paycheck – to be works of God that communicate the nature of God to the world.


I believe that it is interesting – and significant – that the only other time that a form of the Greek word “poiema” is used in the New Testament is in Romans 1:20. In this verse, God states that the purpose of the creation around us is to reflect God’s power and nature so that the world is without excuse. They should recognize that He exists from what He has created. We, as God’s new creations, are to make God’s nature and power known, as well.


The primary way that we do that is by getting involved in the “good work” which God has prepared for us. That is the reason that God has re-created us and made us into works of art – to fulfill his purpose. God has a job for you – one that takes advantage of your unique giftedness and reflects his nature. It is something that is good. It is something that honors Him. It is something that makes Him known to the world. God has prepared it for you. God has prepared you for it.


We need to quit acting like the Christian life is all about me – my enjoyment, my entertainment, my comfort, my needs. The Christian life, the life that is in step with the Spirit, is a life that is on a mission. It honors God by fulfilling the purpose for which it is designed.


Those of us in leadership need to remember that one of our major roles is to help those around us recognize the gifts and value they have as God’s re-creative works of art and to help them catch a vision for the unique and critical purpose to which God has called them. Then we help prepare them to respond to that calling as a part of Christ’s body and in a way that reflects their Creator and draws others to Him. When we do these things, they will experience the joy of a life lived in step with the Spirit and the truth of these words by Frederick Buechner:


“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”



Monday, November 8

My Favorite Title for Jesus

We could fill this page with the names and titles that the Bible gives for Jesus – from the Old Testament through Revelation. And each of us would have names or titles that spoke most closely to our hearts. Maybe for you it would be the Prince of Peace or the Good Shepherd or the Alpha and Omega. (In fact, please feel free to share your favorite titles in the comment section.) These preferences probably change depending on the time and circumstances of our lives.


At this time in my life, the title of Jesus that I most resonate with is one that apparently was used in a derogatory manner by his enemies: “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19) On one level that speaks to me because I am a sinner and I need a friend like Jesus. On another level, that is what I want to be. I want to have the same kind of heart that Jesus did for those far from God and whose lives aren’t what God intended for them. I want our ministry to be one that is known as a place that is “sinner friendly” – where those not walking with God can feel loved and that they are in a place that will help them move into a relationship with God.


One of the amazing things from the biographies of Jesus is that those who were most attracted to Jesus – and to whom he seemed to be most attracted – were the ones far from God. The rough crowd of sinners loved being around Jesus and he really seemed to enjoy being around them. He wasn’t like those with a reputation as religious people, who went to great lengths to emphasis their separation and moral superiority. Jesus lived out a kind of holiness (what the authors of The Tangible Kingdom call a “winsome holiness”) that was attractive to those around him. Jesus was holy – all the time and in every way. He was sinless, but his wasn’t a holiness that was just based on the “don’ts” that we often focus on. It was a holiness that exuded a life and values – the fruit of the Spirit – that attracted  people to him. Of course, Jesus didn’t just leave people where they were. His most common message was one of repentance.


Those who “knew” God best – who knew their Scriptures and said their prayers and gave their tithes – were the ones who had the hardest time with Jesus. They were the ones who eventually arranged for his death.


Somehow, we have done a good job of turning that whole paradigm upside down. For the most part, we practice a Christianity with which religious folks are real comfortable and of which those far from God want no part. We live out a holiness that is more about separating ourselves from the world and those in it than it is about incarnationally living out the character of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And, I suspect, that if Jesus became a part of one of our ministries and started to live out the life he lived in Scripture many among us would have a hard time with him.


I could keep writing, but I better stop before you do. Here are some questions for you to think about:


Are you a friend of sinners? Do you have meaningful relationships with those whose lives aren’t connected with God? Do you find your heart going out to them or do you feel yourself being judgmental toward them? Does your life look more like Jesus’ or the life of a Pharisee?


Is your church or ministry a place where those whose lives aren’t connected with God feel cared for? Is it a place where they can safely explore the person of Jesus and their relationship with Him?


I spoke on this topic yesterday morning and the podcast should be available online soon at


Finally, I had decided to write this yesterday. This morning, Alan and Debra Hirsch posted an article on the same topic. Of course, they develop it better and in more detail than I have. Be sure and read it, as well.

Wednesday, November 3

Leadership and Seeing the Big Picture

I’m getting to spend this week at Camp Allendale in Trafalgar, IN working with four good friends. Roger, Tim, Don, Barry, and I are serving as officers for the Association of College Ministries – a group of about 110 campus ministries around the world. This is the third time in my 29 years of campus ministry that I have served as an officer of this group. Probably now , more than at any other time, I feel a responsibility for the care and success of those ministries and the over 300 folks who serve with them. We’ve spent the week talking about and planning retreats and conferences, but also about how we can add value to others’ ministries and help equip them for success over the long haul.


The week has also got me thinking about how one’s perspective changes the longer one is in leadership. The first time I served as an officer (about 20 years ago), my vision in all areas was more limited. Most of it centered on my specific ministry – our growth and development and needs. Though I had friends ministering in other places, my mind was mostly wrapped up in what I was doing where I was at. That wasn’t true of just the ACM (or the NACSF as it was known then), but also of my ministry at the UofA. I didn’t have much of a relationship with the other ministries on our campus. I was busy working to build and shape Christ on Campus.


Now I find myself thinking a lot about the big picture of furthering God’s Kingdom. That doesn’t mean I’m not totally invested in our ministry. I am as committed as ever to our growth and success in reaching and equipping students on our campus. But I also realize that God’s vision for our campus – and for our world – won’t be accomplished just by our efforts. So I’m concerned about and interested in the other Christ-honoring ministries on our campus. One of the most important appointments on my calendar is our weekly campus ministers’ prayer time when leaders of a dozen or so ministries gather to pray for one another. And I’m interested in and committed to the success of other ministries around the world that share the same desire to further God’s Kingdom.


This week has been about the Kingdom of God on a bigger scale. Teaching, training, and encouraging campus ministry staff and students from around the country. Strategic partnerships with other like-minded ministries.


I believe that is one of the tasks to which leaders are called. We are to be looking ahead and considering the big picture, the ultimate purpose. It is not just about the success of this event, but how does this event move us toward our purpose, towards God’s purpose. It is not just about the success of my group, but the advancement of God’s Kingdom and His glory. As a leader, your ministry needs you to be looking ahead and thinking strategically about the big picture – your purpose and the steps it will take to get there. Don’t get side-tracked by the immediate. Keep your eyes on the big picture – what will it take for God’s vision to be accomplished and God’s Kingdom furthered.