Recently at LifeCity Church, we began a series walking through 2 Timothy called The Leader in Me, where I’ve been walking through the leadership principals the Apostle Paul gives in his final farewell letter to Timothy. The point of this series has been simple: Leadership, in a word, is influence – and God has given all of us a degree of influence in this world that we should cultivate. One of the main points of his leadership dynamics is founded in 2Timothy 2:2, “The things you’ve heard and seen of me, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Through this and other passages, I introduced our church to the three levels of leadership…
You must be able to lead yourself well, if you’re ever to be capable of leading others. Self-discipline, sacrifice, and the ability to follow all fall under this for me. Because you can’t lead, if you can’t follow.
The next step up is leading others, or leading a team. This is often coveted by short-sighted “leaders” who want to skip over level 1. I like to elevate people to this level who have demonstrated the ability to lead themselves, but are otherwise reluctant to be “over” someone else. Their humility and self-awareness often make them far better suited for leadership than they realize, and watching them grow in this capacity is inspiring.
The third level is leading leaders, more specifically, leading level 2 leaders. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:26, that the greatest among you must be “the servant of all”. Jesus ties greatness directly to the idea of servanthood. The greatest leader, therefore, should be striving to be the greatest servant. In God’s Kingdom where everything is backwards to our human perspective, this is the model of a growing leader.
Levels 2 and 3 are contingent on level 1. You can’t lead others somewhere you’re not going. If you’re undisciplined, unwilling to sacrifice, unwilling to follow others, then your leadership is ultimately based on yourself, not those whom you wish to lead.
I hope this is helpful as you consider your leadership growth.
The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.
Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.
This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks. Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together. Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10). Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.
We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…
What do I do with my pain?
I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.
Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.
What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.
In leadership, it’s easy for us to get into ruts of just expecting people to do what they do. This is especially true in church leadership. Our entire enterprise is built on the willful volunteering of people’s time, energy, and resources to advance our sacred mission. And important as that mission is, we leverage nothing over the majority of the people we lead. Most of them could drop what they’re doing right now and walk away, and there would be absolutely nothing we could do to stop them!
But despite this, we can still get into some nasty habits of demanding from our people, lay leaders, and volunteers in such a way that is anything but loving. Why would anyone want to be a part of our team on a volunteer basis if it is not an environment full of gratitude and ultimately love for those who give so much to make it happen?!
Jesus said, “By your love for one another will the world know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35). Yet, like anyone who gets close to us, it can be easy to take our brothers and sisters for granted and fail to show love towards them. Here are five questions we should consistently ask ourselves about our level of love for those who serve with us:
Do I love my people, or do I love what they do for me? This becomes a question of motive. When we ask this question we remind ourselves that Jesus loves the people we lead, and we should also – not just for what they do in our time, but because God has placed them under our stewardship, and as such expects us to love them as He does.
Am I leading them, or bossing them around? This becomes a question of how we lead. Our team needs to see us pushing with them, not simply demanding they work for us, but getting in the trenches and seeing us working with them. A leader always brings two things to the table: energy and clarity. When we serve with our people, we give energy just by joining them. But we also give clarity by actually modeling what we want them to do for us. Both of these benefits demonstrate to our team that they matter to us.
Do I give credit away, or take it for myself? Hoarding credit is a sure way to make people want to leave our team! Loving leaders are humble. They give away praise, and take responsibility for areas needing improvement. People love serving a leader who lavishes praise when them team wins.
Do I correct them privately, or call them out publicly? None of us like getting called out in front of our peers. On my team, we often say that we “praise publicly and criticize privately.” When we bring them in close to correct behaviors and attitudes, we demonstrate that we care about the way the feel, and don’t ever intend to humiliate them when they’re needing correction and growing opportunities.
Have I dealt with critical flaws, or tried ignoring them? On the flip side of question 4, leaders can often be tempted to simply ignore the problems they see in their team. We lie to ourselves when we think this is loving them. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” In other words, a true friend will give painful news when it’s needed, but an enemy will just tell us what we want to hear. Sometimes, we need to have painful conversations with our people so that they can grow. Yes, we must do so with humility and grace. But ignoring problems is really about protecting ourselves from having a tough conversation – not loving our people towards their full potential.
Ask yourself these 5 questions regularly. If you lead other leaders, encourage them to ask themselves these five questions about their own leadership. Together, let’s be better about loving the people we lead.
What do you think about these questions? Which ones are the most difficult to address in our leadership? What questions would you add? Put them in the comments!
When I said “yes!” to God’s calling me to plant LifeCity Church, there were a few things that I knew that included. The whole driving force behind me sensing God’s call to church planting was directly connected with my passion for reaching my own generation, and that coming up after me. This past Sunday, I shared in detail some of those plans – and yes, dreams – for our future, and what I am praying God will enable us to do in the years to come. Much of this we’re already beginning here and now!
Develop our Pastoral Advisory Team – The top body of lay leadership within our church that will serve as our officers and board of directors for all our business affairs, but who also is responsible to and for our lead pastor (me, for the foreseeable future), his well being, and that of his family, as well as his fitness to serve.
Expand our Ministry Leadership Team – Right now, we have an amazing body of men and women who have been serving LifeCity Church in the direct overseeing of our various ministries. We will continue to develop these leaders, and expand this group as the breadth and spiritual maturity of our church continues to increase.
Refine our discipleship process – We’re piloting a resource that we anticipate becoming the primary avenue through which we make disciples at LifeCity Church. This will be an improving and expanding of our LifeGroups system.
College Interns – Beginning to train the next generation of church leaders preparing for vocational ministry. (potentially, summer 2017!).
Preaching workshop – This summer, I plan to offer a workshop, available to any of our members, who would like to be taught how to teach/preach the Bible, including getting an opportunity to write and deliver their own messages.
Leadership Residencies – Taking up to an entire calendar year to train up and send out future planters, pastors, and missionaries. (potentially, fall 2018).
Increase Support – LifeCity already contributes financially to the work of three ministries. This year, we plan to expand this ministry to supporting other missionaries, planters, and ministries who are joining us in the harvest. We intend on growing to the point where we eventually tithe back to other works , church plants, and missions efforts from our own church.
So this is it! Our structure for leadership, raising more leaders, and sending out the work of the gospel from our church, across the Bay, and around the world. We can’t do it alone! We have to come together as a church family, pray in faith, and continue serving God to see this happen. But as we’ve consistently taught at LifeCity – nothing worthwhile is ever easy, but nothing is too hard for God. Let’s see what God can do through us!
During our I Love My Church! series, I’ve challenged our people to sign a commitment covenant. Other churches have similar documents, and the point is simply for everyone who calls LifeCity their church home to know what that actually means. I’ve decided to share the content of that here on my blog:
Believing that God has brought me to this body of believers for this time and purpose, and having decided to follow Jesus wherever He may lead me, I commit to CONNECT with this church family for worship together, GROW in relationships and discipleship through a LifeGroup, SERVE in a ministry team to better and broaden the reach of our church, and GO to others with the invitation to find and follow Jesus.
I will pray for my church to grow ever closer in our walk with God, my pastor and his family to lead with confidence and integrity, and my community to see Jesus in me.
I believe God has called us to a future together, and that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Trusting God’s calling, I commit to being part of what He is doing to work through LifeCity to that future.
This is my commitment. And I believe the best is yet to come!
Many have signed the covenant already and next Sunday is the last Sunday of our ILMC series. God has already used this in profound ways to connect our church together over our mission. This Sunday’s message will be available online soon, and is the heart behind the whole series. To all our LifeCity peeps, it’s a joy and honor to be your pastor! Thank you for uniting with us to see many people fully experience life in Christ.
I was 14 years old when I committed my life to vocational ministry and preached my first message. I graduated Bible college at 22, and at 24 was ordained.
Now, at 33, I’m the lead pastor of a church plant. I regularly get told, “You don’t look like a pastor?!” I actually enjoy this comment. Most people apparently think that a pastor has to be a certain age (50’s +), and dress with a weird white collar, or at least a suit and tie. I play Xbox, preach in jeans and a V-neck, and recognize most of the artists on your teens playlist. Not exactly the typical “clergy” persona, I guess.
Most churches looking to hire a pastor, want a man who is at least 50, has a Masters of Divinity, and 20 years experience. It’s obvious to me that a young pastor has always received significant criticism for their youth. Even the apostle Paul gave his young protege, Timothy (a young pastor) some important instruction: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
So here are a few benefits I see to having a young, lead pastor:
Tenure. A young lead pastor has the potential to serve one church for 30+ years. LifeCity’s sending church saw it’s best years under the 44 year ministry of a personal friend and mentor, Mel Brown. The church was running about 120 people when he became “pastor” back in 1968. At the point he retired, the church was running over 800 every week. You could count on one hand the number of people who were there before him at that point. Which means he had been pastor to them, their kids, grand kids, and even many great grandkids to some of those “original” members. He was 25 when he started.
Multi-generational. In their late 20s – early 30s, young pastors can relate equally well to teens as they can to their parents. We’ve seen the challenges of our parents’ generation, our own, and the one coming behind us with nearly equal contact. A church generally attracts people in the community who are in the same stage of life as them. Having a younger pastor makes a church feel more welcoming to a family his age.
Passion. One of the greatest assets a young church leaders has is an unbroken spirit. Many seasoned veterans in ministry have taken massive emotional and relational wounds over the years. You can’t live through the gut-wrenching experiences many pastors have had to lead families and churches through without losing some of your zeal and drive along the way. And to be perfectly clear, young pastors will get theirs also, given just a little more time… But beforehand, these early years of our pastoral ministry are limited and precious for what they have to offer the church in terms of vision, leadership, passion, and faith for God to do the unimaginable. This should be leveraged by those they lead, not scorned.
Outreach. When young pastors talk about reaching people far from God to fully experience life in Christ, we’re not talking theory – we’re talking about our own current relationships. We almost all have friends that we’re trying to live Jesus toward and show the love of God. At some point in pastoring over decades in the same place, the overwhelming majority of your friendships consist largely of people within the church. It takes much greater effort at that point to befriend those outside the church and remember what it’s like to live your faith to someone who doesn’t have the same starting point as you. For young leaders, it’s quite fresh – and urgent.
And as I’ve already mentioned one mentor from an older era, let me also be quick to say – my ministry, and everything I’ve learned is indebted to those who have faithfully lead by example before me. I could write countless posts about each of the great men who have influenced my life, family, and ministry. I hope to pass the torch of leadership to the next generation, just as many of them have to mine.
Most of being a first-time lead pastor is learning as you go. While this was (and is) definitely true of me, there were six decisions I had made prior to stepping into this role, that I think other pastors and leaders could benefit from.
Creating Church Culture
Jan 19, 2017 • 25:36
In this podcast, John talks about branding, values, language, and celebrating as pieces to creating a healthy church culture.
Separation of Church and State
Feb 10, 2017 • 29:52
In this podcast, I talk about the Immigration Ban, and how the church should be approaching such issues regarding our response to government, and proclamation of the gospel.
Advice to those in Bible College
Feb 24, 2017 • 22:45
Here I give advice on what students preparing for vocational ministry should be doing now to get the most of what is waiting for them after graduation.
Mar 3, 2017 • 26:45
There’s always something to be upset about. Should Christians exert the energy and outrage in protesting the world and it’s values? Or rather in living differently, and loving the world creatively and compassionately towards Jesus? Hear me out… this isn’t talked about enough!
Live the Word
Mar 8, 2017 • 15:48
Not going to lie. I smell fake from a mile away. My guess is, you probably do to. And people who know the Bible, but don’t actually want to live it cuts me the deepest. In this podcast, I talk about the difference between knowing God’s Word and actually living…
Preaching, episode 1: What is Preaching
Aug 28, 2017 • 31:33
In this podcast, Pastor John unpacks the first of a handful of episodes intended to coach you in your growth as a preacher. Download the Handout for this episode.
Preaching, episode 2: Writing a sermon
Sep 2, 2017 • 17:50
How does one go about writing a sermon? In this podcast episode, Pastor John gets into the cadence of a good sermon, and how to lead people toward a compelling application. Click here for the outline
Preaching, episode 3: Sermon Delivery
Nov 29, 2017 • 41:45
In episode three, we look at HOW we preach and deliver our sermons. A “must listen” for the new preacher, and a great fresh perspective for the seasoned preaching veterans.
Jun 3, 2019 • 26:49
Bivocational Ministry is becoming more valuable than ever. Enjoy this episode as we been to discuss the needs, challenges, and advantages of being in bivocational ministry. To support this podcast and other resources from Pastor John, visit www.patreon.com/johnmarkum – thank you for your support.