I think that our world is concerned with “bigness.” As in, we want to become bigger and better at everything. We want to matter, and we want to seem important. We so often position ourselves to be seen as successful, winning and thriving. It’s in office conversations, and all over Instagram.
But, this path is so different than the path of Jesus. Jesus teaches us that we need “to become like little children” in order to be part of His kingdom (Matthew 18:3). And, I think this is important for us to remember. Because, I don’t think kids strive in the way we as adults do.
I was reminded of this from a simple and small writing from St. Therese of Lisieux, who is wonderful in all she writes. She says this…
“The only way to make rapid progress along the path of divine love is to remain very little and put all our trust in the almighty God.”
And, I couldn’t agree more, or add anything more to that truthful statement.
Here is something I’ve learned over the past few years: it matters to ask for mentoring.
I’m young, and in many ways I have so so much to learn. But I’ve learned the value of having mentors in my life informally. The first two mentors I’ve had were people who chose to invest in me before I thought I was worth investing in. One was my dad who mentored me over years, the second was a man named Shawn Good who actually asked if he could mentor me. He took the initiative and really showed me the value of having someone pour and invest into you. Both through his mentoring and through my dad’s, my leadership grew leaps and bounds.
But through a series of events both of those mentoring relationships stopped (my dad passed away, and Shawn moved across the country and I changed churches at the same time).
It was at that point that I realized something: I need mentors. I need people to invest in me, and not just for me but those around me. If I am going to give back something to this world, to the church I love, to the people I love, I need to be doing my best. And the truth is my best comes out when I’m listening and engaging with others wiser and more experienced than I am.
So I did something that felt unusual to me. I contacted one of the best pastors in our denomination and asked him to mentor and invest in me. I asked if I could have lunch and just learn from him. And he accepted and out of that relationship grew an opportunity I never could have guessed.
And I have been doing the same thing since: selectively reaching out to leaders I respect and asking for some coaching.
And through this I’ve made some great relationships. I thought what’s the worst – they can say no. But not one has said no, they’ve all given back, helped me grow, and given things to think about and put into practice.
So I say all this for one simple reason: we all know others investing in us helps us tremendously. But here is where we struggle: we don’t ask. We hope that someone will recognize us, will choose to invest in us, will see the potential and take the initiative. And sometimes that happens like with Shawn and my Dad, but sometimes it doesn’t. What I’ve also learned from the mentoring end of things, I love investing in people who take the initiative to ask, to learn, to grow, and to practice.
So here is my challenge for you this week. If you want to grow in whatever area you live, work, and breathe – who are the people you really respect? Who are the people you might have a connection with? Who are the people that you would love to spend even sometime with to learn?
And now here’s the challenge: why not ask them? Why not take some initiative and add some hustle, some discernment over who to approach and genuinely ask. Get rid of arrogance, and humbly ask. What’s the worst?
Because here is what I know about good leaders – they want to invest in other leaders. And the leaders I look to invest in are the ones who are hungry to learn, seeking to change lives with some extra investment and wisdom, and not scared to try.
So all I’m saying today is that chances are there are people in your company, in your sector, in your world that you might have a semi-relationship with. Ask if you can take them out to lunch to learn. Who knows it might start something that turns out to be the best future you could imagine.
I came across this Habits Manifesto in a book I was reading, and really thought not only was it simple but profound.
The truth is sometimes the most profound things are the simplest.
And here Gretchen Rubin outlines her habits and manifesto for how to live a life of impact, meaning, and with the right priorities.
Take a moment and really read through each of these points, and think to yourself,what would you add? What would you take away? And more importantly, how should you act in light of this?
What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.
Make it easy to do right and hard to do wrong.
Focus on actions, not outcomes.
By giving something up, we may gain.
Things often get harder before they get easier.
When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.
We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.
It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.
When we can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change.
We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.
We manage what we monitor.
Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.
Here is just one shift I’d make. The first says this, “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while”. Or I’d just put it this way, “Being consistent is better than being occasionally exceptional”.
What do you think?
This past Sunday we talked about what to do in response to when we are thriving in our relationship with God. Oftentimes, we look at the Bible and learn from God what we are to do when we are not doing well, or when things are not going so well. But this past Sunday we took a moment to think:
What were the really exciting moments in my walk with God in 2015?
When was I following God well? Thriving with Him?
The Bible has something to say to us when we reflect on these exciting experiences!
We learn from Paul’s example in Philippians 1:3-11, that moments of thriving with God are opportunities to express thanks, encourage, and re-engage.
We express thanks to God, because when we are thriving, He is working! Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit as our Helper, and we need to give God credit for His help in making us more like Jesus.
Paul also shows us that it is important to encourage one another when we are working hard in serving God. Don’t you find that honest encouragement from someone is refreshing and energizing? Paul encourages the Philippians, and we ought to encourage those around us for their hard work. God supplies what’s needed, but we still have to do our part – don’t forget that, and don’t withhold encouragement from others.
Finally, Paul finishes this passage, praying for the Philippians, that God might grant them greater growth in love – a love that is thoughtful, wise, and action-oriented. Let us be express our excitement when we are being faithful! But don’t forget: there is always more room to grow. And as we pray, and pursue further growth in love, we will grow to become more like Jesus than we are now.
As you consider moments in your 2015 when you were thriving with God – and even as you come to experience more exciting moments following Him in the future – how can you implement what the Bible says into your life?
Respond by expressing your excitement as praise to God! Refresh those around you with encouragement for their hard work. And after a short time of thanks and encouragement, get back on the path of growth, towards becoming more like Jesus.
May your exciting times of thriving with God be to you as a pit stop: a time to celebrate, be re-fueled, and drive better now than ever before in your adventure serving God!
Take time to share with someone this week about moments in your 2015 when you were thriving and excited in your walk with Jesus!
Big Idea: Moments when we are thriving with God are opportunities to express thanks to God, encourage each other, and re-engage in pursuing love.
– Think about moments you had following God in 2015 that excited you!
– What do we do when we feel like we are thriving with God?
– God started this successful project in your life, and God is the one who will finish this project.
– We must express thanks to God for how far we have come!
– Yet, don’t ignore the fact that we had to work hard.
– God supplies needs – but we still have to work hard.
– Encourage each other for working hard!
– There is no reason to keep from someone the refreshment that you could have given them through encouragement.
– Re-engage in pursuing further growth in love
– Re-engagement is important, because the day of Christ is coming
– Our end goal is to be faithful to Christ until the end – our death or his return
– Our continued pursuit of love really matters, so keep going!
Adult Discussion Questions:
What moments in 2015 were exciting in how you were following God and He was moving? Do you struggle with giving God the glory when you are doing well? What can you remind yourself of to remember that God deserves all the credit? Who in your life can you encourage this week for their faithfulness to God, and how that may have impacted you? What is the best kind of encouragement you like to receive in these times? How can you take time this week to celebrate moments of thriving, and also push forward towards further growth in thoughtful, wise, active love?
Discussion Questions/ Responses for Young Families
Take time this week after one of your meals together, to share with each other a story from your own life of following God and God being faithful. Give specific encouragement to each other for the hard work, and the faithfulness that each of you may have put in to serving God.
Challenge for the Week: Share with someone a story of when you were thriving with God in 2015.
This will sound almost well…un-North American. But life isn’t about winning. I know that seems funny, but it’s also something we all know deep down. We all know people who seem so content, and uninterested in joining in the rat race around us and competing for life. They just seem to have…life.
And that’s what I’m interested in. Interested in finding life apart from winning.
Because here is the thing, there is always a loser when someone else is a winner. And this makes it sound like I just want to give out participation ribbons to everyone and pretend that everything is equal and everyone should get a trophy. And that’s not it at all.
I believe that there is deep value in working hard, in striving and reaching for the best. I believe pushing yourself matters deeply. But what I also know is that this world is unfair, and there are people who are working hard, striving, and losing because the deck is stacked against them. So what I am saying is that life cannot be tied directly to winning; it needs to be tied to something greater. It needs to be tied of course to Jesus, to pursuing growth.
And here is the crazy thing, for you to grow you need to fail.
I know that sounds pessimistic but it’s true. There is nothing you grow at without some learning and failing along the way. There is nothing you came out of the womb totally competent and excellent at. This is the trouble with tying life to winning. It makes life static and boring because there is no growth.
Joan Chittister puts it this way,
“We need failure to learn that we don’t need to win to justify the reason for our existence. Wining is part of life, yes, but human beings can live healthy, happy lives without it. We are not born to win; we are born to grow, to develop, to become the best of ourselves – and to enjoy life…No life is not about winning. It is about trying, about participating, about striving, about becoming the best we can be, not by the best by someone else’s measure.”
And I just believe that is true. We are not born to win, but to grow. And that’s part about what following Jesus is all about. It’s about being “re-born” to learn to continue to grow in a way that requires failing, faltering steps, and striving for his Kingdom and his best.
So I write this all to say, that if you’ve been failing lately – that might just be okay. Don’t give up because life isn’t about the winning, but the trying.
Earlier last summer I spoke at this young adult group. I was invited to speak on whatever I picked, at a church I had never been to before. And so of course I picked talking about Jesus, which if given the chance is what I will always pick.
But this amazing thing happened when I went into the room. I knew a huge number of the young adults. In fact everyone on the leadership team other than one or two people had been a part of my youth group at some point.
And what was so amazing to me was to see them continuing to step up into leadership, and creating and giving God space to move. All these youth were there; many of them whom I’d spent hours and hours with and were now discipling others. It was just beautiful.
Now certainly I don’t get to own their decisions to step forward and lead young adults deeper into a relationship with Jesus. But in some ways God did remind me in that moment that we never know what the seeds we plant in others will grow into. That we can never discount the hours we give and pour into others.
The truth is that as human beings, we have a short horizon for time. We do things and expect results, in weeks and months. Sometimes I think God thinks in decades, or centuries. Some of the seeds planted by me, other youth leaders, parents, and friends are now years later bearing fruit. People are being changed, because people years ago poured into this youth who are now young adults. That’s the beauty of God, community, and investing in others.
For me that night to speak, was a reminder that pouring into others is never wasted. I don’t get to own the results. I also can’t own whether or not someone else gets filled up. What I can own and be responsible for is pouring out my life, and letting God do the rest.
And so while I spoke, hoping that God would use my words, God had already spoken so clearly to me. The moment I walked into the room, it was like God was just reminding me, “investing in others is never wasted”. So while I came to bless them, they blessed me and I think that’s how God works.
If you listen to truly gifted leaders you will almost always hear some paradoxical: they will talk about their failures.
They will talk about the tough times, and what they learned deeply. The leaders we most respect and follow when they talk about leadership are more likely to point to their failures than their successes.
And of course there are the arrogant leaders, who talk about how they are God’s amazing gift to the world.
But the truly gifted leaders I respect, have a humility, that comes from failure.
I say that this is paradoxical because we think of the best leaders as the ones who don’t fail, who press forward, and chart their own path. But I think this is the myth of leadership that we create in our minds. True leaders have failed, and more importantly, have learned from their failure.
The beauty of this is that if you have failed it doesn’t exclude you from being a leader. The question then is what can you learn from your failings and falternigs? What has failing, hurting, or going through that tough time given you to offer the world? Because some of our most profound offerings to the world don’t come out of our success but our struggles.
So if you are leading, struggling, and maybe even failing – be encouraged because you might just be on the path to better leadership as long as you keep learning, and keep pressing forward.
I think if we want to learn to be leaders, and leadership can be learnt, we have to learn to live with messiness. And I don’t mean just messiness around us, but messiness within us.
Here’s what I mean by that: learning necessitates failing, mistakes, and messiness.
You can’t become competent at something without trying, and without failing. That’s part of developing competence and ability. You try something, you make mistakes, you grow, you learn and you try again.
And that same principle is true with leadership. We won’t be able to grow as a leader if we are worried about failing, or making a mess. Instead, we should be growing in leadership as the art of learning from our mistakes and our messes.
All leaders fail and flounder. Which means to become a leader we have to learn to be okay with failing.
That almost sounds backwards in the leadership world. In the leadership world the talk is about success, moving forward, and casting vision. And those are all true and good things. The difficulty is that no one can do that perfectly on their first try. It’s something we grow in, and learn through our mistakes.
So all I’m saying is this: if you want to be a leader, you’re going to have to learn to be okay with making mistakes, and decide you are going to learn from your mistakes.
And that also means that if you are going to be raising other leaders around you, you’ll have to be okay with their mistakes too. In all honesty, I think leadership comes down to learning from mistakes, and allowing people to make mistakes.
So my challenge to each of you is this: go out and try to be a leader. Don’t let the worry about making mistakes stop you from trying, because that’s actually a deep part of leadership.
John Cotton Dana once said, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
I would agree with that, and also say, “Who dares to lead must never cease to learn”. Because the truth is that leading, and teaching require learning at their core. Leadership is nothing you are “born with”, it’s something you are taught. Knowledge is something you gain as you learn. So both teaching and leading flow out of a posture of learning.
The person who refuses to learn, refuses to grow.
The person who refuses to learn, refuses to improve.
The person who refuses to learn, stops moving forward and will soon move backward.
I think that’s all pretty straightforward, but here is the leadership or learning principle that flows from this that is hard. To be a good leader and a good teacher requires learning. This also means it requires saying, “I don’t know”. And this is what is hard for teachers and leaders.
They are used to being looked up to as the person with answers, with direction, with knowledge and skill. It is hard when you are in that position to say “I don’t know”. But being able to say, “I don’t know” is the fundamental posture of a learner. It is required to learn, to admit you need to learn. So here is the paradox or difficulty: to be a good leader means being a learner, which means admitting you don’t know things.
And this is hard, because we have somehow built up the expectation that our leaders and teachers would “know everything”. That if they were to admit that they don’t know we see them as an example of weakness rather than strength. But saying “I don’t know” isn’t a weakness; it’s a requirement to be a good leader and teacher. It requires self-awareness to know what you know, and know what you don’t. It requires courage to admit the limits of who you are. It requires humility to continue to look to others as well for direction, support, and growth.
The point is that if we want to be good leaders and teachers, it means being a great learner. And that means we need to get good at saying, “I don’t know”.
I don’t know where I heard this analogy but I often think of it. And by often I mean all the time. I actually have a list called “Frogs to Eat” on the top of my monthly goals. And that heading will make sense in a moment.
But here is the idea. Leadership is like eating frogs.
There are things each of us has to do to be an effective leader that we might not want to do. And this changes for each person in each role. The point is that leadership entails doing things that we might rather not do. For example we might need to make a tough phone call, to do that admin we’ve been procrastinating on, to take that leap whatever. We all have things we need to do that we don’t want to do, that’s eating frogs.
Frogs are the weekly tasks that for whatever reason seem annoying, distasteful, or unwanted – but are needed to be done. And that’s key.
So here is how it works: Each week you have a certain number of frogs you need to eat to move forward. If you don’t the next week, the number of frogs you have to eat just multiply, and the frogs grow bigger as well. Time never makes a hard decision easier. Each time you delay doing that thing you need to do, the number and size of the frogs grow.
So leadership is learning to eat the frogs before they grow and multiply too much. That’s the idea.
Each month then I line up and think through what are the frogs I need to eat. Things I’d rather not do, but that are crucial to do; things I’d rather delay than decide on. Then I try to eat those frogs. It’s not the fun part of leadership, but it a crucial part of it.
So here is my question for you today: what frog do you need to eat?