Our 12 week sabbatical journey has gotten off to a fantastic start. One of our objectives has been to strengthen family relationships and nurture the lives of each of our kids and grand kids. We saw this happening in a number of very positive ways on our Family Getaway in the Smoky Mountains the first week of April.
There were 10 of us all together. Sandi and I and the kids and grand kids, spending a week in a cabin in the Smokies! What a fantastic time of bonding together, of enjoying the beauty of God's creation, and of simply being family. Two experiences stand out for me. One was driving through Cades Cove, trying to spot any bear in the area. We drove and drove and drove and saw nothing. Then, out of the blue, when it was almost dark, we saw a mother bear and her cub. It was a lesson in perseverance. There really is the tendency to give up too soon in many of our endeavors! We saw that big black bear because we were willing to go around one more bend in the road. And it was worth the extra mile!
The second experience that stands out for me was the white water rafting trip we all took. It was a new experience for our family. And what an adventure it was. We traveled through as many as fifteen class 3 rapids, and five class 4 rapids. We all were certain that the raft would flip over. We had no idea how we managed to stay in that thing, thinking we would certainly be thrown into the raging waters. We traveled headlong into huge boulders and over numerous rocks all along the trip. It was an amazing hour and a half journey! Yet, our guide had it all under control. There was no concern or anxiety on his face. He was simply doing his job and enjoying the ride as well.
What a cool reminder of our God who guides His children along life's journey. He can be trusted. He really does have it all under control.
WEEK 2 of the sabbatical experience was a fairly intense conference in Orlando, FL, called the Christian Leadership Alliance Conference. It's an annual leadership experience for those involved in leadership in Christian organizations. The theme of this year's event was "The Heart of Leadership". There were incredible messages that really challenged me and inspired me. I also attended 9 stand alone intense workshops, many of them dealing with issues related to funding development for organizations like Converge MidAtlantic.
I'd like to share now about some of the personal inspiration and challenge I received from the big room sessions! They were great.
MARK MILLER, one of the top leaders from the Chick Fil-A organization spoke on becoming a life long learner! The primary focus of this session was the idea that for leaders, our capacity to grow, determines our capacity to lead. Mark reminded us that leaders need to be people who themselves are growing and learning. He suggested 4 areas where every leader needs to be growing.
He suggested that we simply need to grow by gaining knowledge. We must gain knowledge about ourselves, about others, about our business, and about leadership. Secondly, Mark suggested that becoming a life long learner involves reaching out to others. This involves having a sharing mindset. He encouraged us all to be active in sharing our ideas and learnings with others! Things like blogging and other social networking activities can be helpful.
A third way a leader can become a life long learner is by opening up our world - by constantly growing in our life experiences. He used the analogy of an artist, who rather than simply painting in one color, has a palette with many many colors. As we add new experiences to our life, we paint with many colors. This can involve things like meeting new people, doing things each year that stretch us, traveling to new places, getting involved with people from other cultures, and the like!
A fourth way a leader can become a life long learner is by walking in wisdom. This involves things such as getting feedback from other people, seeking counsel from others, and having mentors or a coach. Mark really did challenge me to be a life long learner. It's something I have to work hard at!
A SECOND BIG ROOM SPEAKER that made an impression on me was Pastor David Loveless, Lead Pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando, FL.
David spoke about Invisible leadership which overcomes Impossible circumstances. He suggested the radical idea that the heart of leadership is more about believing than it is about leading. He said that Kingdom leaders see the impossible but they operate out of the invisible. He indicated that we must face the impossible but not focus on it. He said we must focus on the invisible so we can do the impossible. Finally, he said, we must walk and lead by faith until we see the impossible become possible.
He shared from the Elisha story in II Kings, were Elisha sees God's army which was invisible to his servant. All the servant could see were the armies of the enemy. Yet, God's army was much stronger than the strength of the enemy's army.
I'm personally challenged to find ways to operate more in this realm - to believe that God truly is more than able to overcome the impossible circumstances that I often face, yet to be able to walk by faith until the impossible truly does become possible. God help me in this endeavor!
A THIRD SIGNIFICANT BIG ROOM MESSAGE for me was the message by Gordon McDonald, a 73 year old Christian leader who has experienced all the ups and downs of ministry and leadership, and thus speaks with great wisdom and insight.
Gordon spoke about the contrasts in leadership style today. Most organizations including Christian organizations, highly value things like competency, charisma, and vision, as some of the most important ingredients for leadership. In contrast to these above the line values, one biblical leader who exhibited leadership qualities that are below the surface or below the line was John the Baptist. His heart of leadership is clearly seen in how he responded when the crowds turned away from him and began to follow Jesus. Gordon helped me to see how John's response in John 3:27-30 reveals the true heart of a leader.
John the Baptizer said this: "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of him. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine and is now complete. He must become greater. I must become less."
Wow! These are powerful words. Gordon McDonald reminded us that John clearly understood 4 of the most important questions that every leader must wrestle with internally.
Question #1 - What has been entrusted to me? John saw himself as a steward. What he had as a ministry was never really his. It had been given to him by God!
Question #2 - Who am I? John knew who he was. He knew that he was a child of God, called to be a servant of Christ.
Question #3 - What is my calling? John understood that his calling was to focus on Jesus, rather than on himself.
Question #4 - What is my strategic objective? John understood that "He must increase, but I must decrease". He knew what his purpose was at each particular point in his ministry journey.
These 4 questions, and the example of John the Baptist, are a powerful reminder to me of the inner life of every ministry leader. These are the questions that need to be answered clearly for each of us in public ministry. Really, how we answer the private issues of who we are, what our calling is, and what our purpose is at any moment in time, will clearly determine what God can do with our public ministry. Ministry really does flow out of our heart, out of who we are on the inside.
For me, this was really good stuff! My heart has been filled and my mind stretched. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have heard from God through these servants. I am much the better for it!