All Leaders and Teams Would Benefit from Leading from the Heart

People still ask me questions about my book, Leading from the Heart, which I wrote 20 years ago. The subtitle, “A small group leader’s guide to a passionate ministry,” defines my original intended audience, small group leaders, plus the coaches and pastors who work with them.

Like several of my other books, the audience really includes a much larger category of leaders. I believe Christian leaders of all types will benefit from this book.

Leading from the Heart is based, at least on a surface level, on the life and leadership of King David, the “man after God’s own heart.” But each chapter also digs a bit deeper, looking at the heart and leadership of the son of David, Jesus. These two biblical leaders provide excellent models of leading from the heart.

But this book is much more than just a theological and theoretical treatise; it provides many practical leadership lessons for any leader. It also includes “Heart to Heart” questions at the end of each chapter that can be used for leadership training, turbo-groups, or coaching/mentoring relationships.

Contents:

Foreword by Lyman Coleman

Introduction

1. The Heart of the Father

2. The Heart of Jesus

3. A Heart Empowered and Led by the Holy Spirit

4. The Heart of the Call

5. Head and Heart

6. A Heart of Worship and Prayer

7. A Heart of Reconciliation

8. A Heart for Discipleship

9. The Heartbeat of Life: Relationships

10. Heart Attack!

Amazon page reviews

See my Product Page for more information, Praises for Leading from the Heart, and a link to buy the book directly from the publisher, TOUCH Outreach Ministries.

Step #1 in Becoming a Great Leader: Gut-Level Honesty

The World’s Greatest Small Group Leader is a perfect model for us. Jesus’ priority was his relationship with his Father. He said and did and taught nothing on his own, but only what his Father gave him. Henri Nouwen once pointed out that Jesus spent about 50 percent of his time in solitude with the Father, about 40 percent building community with the twelve, and about 10 percent “doing ministry.”[i] How does that match up with your life?

In Experiencing God, authors Henry Blackaby and Claude King also describe Jesus—and godly leaders today—as spending abundant time seeking God. These leaders have discerned the difference between activity for God and the activity of God. Jesus never ran ahead of God. Instead, before making any decisions or starting any new ministry work, he spent time, maybe days on end, with God, waiting on his Father to show him exactly what to do next.

Pastor and author Joel Comiskey’s survey of more than 700 small group leaders in eight countries revealed that the biggest factor in the “success” of small group leaders was not their gender, social status, education, personality type, or skills; it was the leader’s devotional life. He found that those who spent 90 minutes or more in devotions (prayer, Bible study, etc.) a day multiplied their groups twice as much as those who spent less than 30 minutes.[ii] Comiskey says the correlation is logical. “During quiet times alone with the living God, the [small group] leader hears God’s voice and receives His guidance. … Group members respond to a leader who hears from God and knows the way.”[iii]

Jesus modeled seeking and following God for us. As our Leader and Savior, he is our Good Shepherd who calls us by name and is waiting to lead us (John 10:3-4). Are you quiet and still enough to hear his voice?

Let me encourage you as you read this to get gut-level honest with yourself. Where are you in your relationship with God? Are you . . .

  • Walking right behind him; his voice is crystal clear
  • Meandering along toward the back of the crowd; his voice is like bad cell-phone service—sometimes clear, but with lots of dropped calls
  • Running this way and that; I hear lots of voices, lots of noise—his voice is indistinguishable
  • Stuck in a rut; I haven’t heard his voice in a while
  • Other: ____________________

Before considering how you can become a more effective leader, you must get honest with yourself, and with God, on this. Then, there’s the next step. You’ll need to share this with someone else. Get gut-level honest with another person: someone from your group, a church leader, or a good, trusted friend. I’m asking you to be vulnerable and authentic. Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group!

Until you get gut-level honest with yourself, God, and at least one other person, you cannot become a more effective leader and guide an effective, growing, GREAT small group! Click To Tweet

[i] Leadership, Spring 1995.

[ii] Joel Comiskey, Home Cell Group Explosion (Houston, Texas: TOUCH Outreach Ministries, 1998), 26-36.

[iii] Ibid, 34.

World's Greatest Small Group cover

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader, by Michael C. Mack.

‘Where Are You?’

“Where are you?”

The obvious answer to that question is a physical one … but there’s a much more vital spiritual answer.

“Where are you?” is the simple, three-word question God asked Adam (Genesis 3:9) after he and his wife had committed the first sin. The question, while seemingly simple, is deep and full of theological implications. It’s the question I believe God still asks Christ-followers today … if we are listening.

Like Adam and Eve, we have chosen to listen to the wrong voice. We have fallen for the lie implied by the serpent’s question, ““Did God really say … ?” We question God’s authority, and the authority of his Word, and we disobey him. We go our own way rather than his way. We desire what we don’t have rather than being satisfied with what God has given us and trusting him to provide all we really need. We fall short. We sin. We separate ourselves from his loving presence.

But don’t forget. God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. But he doesn’t force us to do what we don’t want to do. He loves us too much. He’ll never take away our free will—it’s such an important part of how he created us. So sometimes, like the dad in the parable of the lost son (Matthew 15:11-32), he waits for us to come to our senses and head back home to our Father.

God comes looking for us. He continually draws lost people back to him. He seeks and saves that which has been lost. Click To Tweet

Imagine the dad in that story as he waits in his house for his son to return. Picture the tears running down his cheeks. Hear the impassioned words he cries out to a son who is too far away to hear: My son, oh my son … where are you?

That’s a picture of our loving, Father.

I’m currently using a study on my Bible app based on Kyle Idleman’s book, AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything. “AHA is a spiritual experience that brings about supernatural change,” says Idleman in the first devotional reading. AHA involves three ingredients: an Awakening, Honesty, and Action. We see these ingredients in the lost son’s turnaround, and we can see it in our own if we pay attention.

Today, I’m sitting with God’s question for me: Where are you? I’m considering specific areas of my life where I’ve run away from God or where I’ve been hiding. I’m seeking to be brutally honest and humble as I consider my current spiritual location and I’m looking for where I need to take action.

Some of us may need to step out of the pig trough of our sin—that place where we have become comfortable even though we know how messy it is—and make a difficult journey back home. At the same time, as leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation….as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).

As leaders, we are called by our Father to come alongside those who are still far away from him. Click To Tweet

The spiritual life of leaders is probably my favorite topic to write and speak about, although I’m certainly not a perfect model. But I believe it’s vital to how we lead and what kind of impact we can make. (If you want to read more on this topic, see my books, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry and World’s Greatest Small Group: 7 Powerful Traits of a Life-Changing Leader. It’s also the topic of Chapter 2, “A Healthy Group Has a Healthy, Overflowing Leader,” in Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health That Make Groups Flourish, and Chapter 1, “Change the leader of Your Group,” in The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership.)

“Where are you?” is not a question of condemnation from God. It’s a question he asks in his grace and his unmerited love for us. He seeks us—as he seeks our friends and family members and neighbors and co-workers who are still far from him—so that we may have an abiding relationship with him now and for eternity.

Leadership: An Extraordinary Lesson from George H.W. Bush

The last five days have provided a rich lesson on leadership.

Almost immediately after the passing of George H.W. Bush on Friday, November 30, I started noticing the words being used by people who knew him best to describe him. So I started jotting them down. Here’s my list:

dignity, integrity character, humility, goodness, honor, courage, respect, dedicated, friend, kindness, decency, generosity, loyalty, service, patriot, passionate, caring, loving, role model, decent, honorable, compassionate, class, sensitive, tough, imperfect, humanity, relationships, gentleman, principled, solid, strong, sincerity, noble, legacy

As I look at that list I notice something about true leadership. Most of these are heart characteristics. They point to what kind of man George Bush was on the inside. Yes, people also mentioned some of his external qualities: his good looks, heritage, education, military background, political experience, and more, but those internal qualities defined him.

When you interview new church leaders or recruit volunteer leaders, what do you look for: exterior qualities such as knowledge, skills, talents, positive attitude, strategic thinking, and such . . . or internal, heart qualities such as integrity, character, humility, goodness, and love?

What kind of leader does God look for? That’s an easy one. He said about Eliab, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, God chose David as his leader, because David was “a man after his own heart” (13:14).

What kind of leader are you?

I wrote Leading from the Heart based on the leadership of King David, and the son of David, Jesus. I wrote it not as a “how-to” book; that is, I didn’t write it about what leadership skills to develop. Instead, I wrote it to help readers develop the internal qualities godly, fruit-bearing leaders must have.

God uses ordinary, unschooled leaders, and he wants to multiply them over and over to reach the world. President George H.W. Bush understood this as well. His “thousand points of light” was about ordinary people making a difference in others’ lives and therefore the country. As the church, we are all ambassadors of Christ, a priesthood of all believers, the body of Christ in which every part does its work.

George H.W. Bush was not perfect. Presidential historian Jon Meacham described him as such: “An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.”

I hope something similar will be said someday of me: An imperfect, ordinary man, he loved a perfect God who did extraordinary things through him.

 

 

Leadership: Helping People Become Who God Created Them to Be

God wants us to realize that we are works of art in progress, and we, as leaders—church leaders, small group leaders, teachers, parents, etc.—can envision others with this truth.

I am fortunate that several people in my life took the time to help me see beyond my present circumstances to something better. God used to them to transform me into what he had in mind for me in his plan for my life. Allow me to share my own personal experiences.

School was a chore for me. I was always the youngest and smallest kid in my class. It started in Kindergarten. I had not fully developed my language skills yet—even my mom didn’t understand half of what I said. My Kindergarten teacher was a Chinese nun who herself had not mastered English. Mom understood less than half of what she said. (Somehow my teacher and I understood each other perfectly well, but no one else could understand either of us!) My teacher and I got along great, but when the year was over, I was not even close to being ready for first grade.

Somehow I got through first grade . . . and then came second grade in a new school. Mrs. Stevens (not her real name) was my teacher, and for some reason she did not like me. I can’t remember doing anything to warrant her disaffection, but, well, she just treated me as if I had stolen her favorite broomstick. At the end of the year, she gave me an F in math. My mom went to the principal’s office, armed with the evidence of passed quizzes and assignment papers, to complain. When confronted, Mrs. Stevens admitted to a “paperwork mistake,” and upped my grade to a B. But the damage of that year was done on my psyche and self-image. (Several years later, Mrs. Stevens was fired from the school, allegedly for a drinking problem.)

In fourth grade I endured several social embarrassments, including having my pants rip up the entire inseam while playing football on the playground. This freak accident happened twice in two weeks.

In fifth grade, I had to go to a special class each day for kids with speech problems. I couldn’t say my Rs correctly, so “bird” sounded like “boawrd.” I hated being singled out and pulled out of my class to go to the “speech teacher.”

In sixth grade, I discovered I had diabetes, and missed three weeks of school. When I returned to classes, I had to leave class twice a day to get a snack. Doctor’s orders. My friends treated me like I was “different,” and my teachers did nothing to help educate my classmates about the disease.

I struggled academically and socially through school until eighth grade when two important events took place to change the direction of my life. The first happened at home. Mom owned and operated a custom drapery shop in the basement of our home. She employed about four other women in the shop, all of whom became like extended family to me.

One day, out of the blue, Mom said, in front of everyone, “You know, Mike is a really good problem solver. He always uses his creativity to come up with good solutions to difficult situations. He really has a creative mind.”

The second positive thing that helped change my life happened in school. It was math, the subject with which I struggled most. I had a Chinese teacher, Mrs. Li, who knew very little English. “Here we go again,” I thought. My first couple days in class were like a terrible nightmare. I’d become sick just thinking about going to class.

Mrs. Li had a lot of difficulty keeping control of the class. She even had her military-regimented husband come in one day to scold us for our misbehavior. We were moving through the math textbook at a clam’s pace and learning nothing.

About a month into the year, two of my friends, Paul Augustine and Dale Trebor, went to Mrs. Li and suggested they do an independent study through the textbook. She agreed, and they asked me to join them. Each day we worked through the textbook ourselves. If we came across something we didn’t understand, we tried to work it out ourselves, and if we really had trouble, we asked Mrs. Li for help. When one of us got stuck on a concept (this was algebra), the other two stopped to help him figure it out. None of us moved on until all three of us got it.

When we finished one textbook, Mrs. Li got another and let us advance. At the end of the year, Paul, Dale, and I had worked our way through three and a half textbooks! The rest of the class had not even finished the first, with very little comprehension.

If you were to ask my friends and co-workers for a reference on me today, they might say a couple positive things about me.. First, I’m a creative, big-picture thinker. I’m good at seeing a problem and coming up with creative solutions. Secondly, I’m pretty good with numbers. After my “small group” experience in eighth grade, I went to a private college-prep high school and tutored other kids in algebra.

You see, I was given a vision of what I could be, indeed, in what I truly was. I am not the short kid with speech and math impediments. God worked through those painful times in my life to develop something inside me that only he could bring about. And, in his design, he used others to envision me with his plan for my life.

My mom used encouraging words to bring out something good in me—something good that God had created in me. She saw it, helped me to see it, and then helped me become it. She was God’s instrument in his process of transforming my life.

Paul and Dale included me in their community with a purpose. I believe this was my first small group experience! Together, we spurred each other on and, in the process, really connected with each other. We challenged one another and were patient with each other as we moved together to become something better.

God created every person as a unique work of art in his creation. God’s plan is for us to realize this and live it out. But we do not always see the beauty and purpose within us. Leaders have a special privilege of helping people see, understand, and live out the purpose God has created within them. It is God’s plan to use his people to encourage one another and spur one another on to what he wants us to be. He wants this for our lives because he loves us.

 

Leading from the Heart cover

Adapted from Chapter 1 of my book, Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader’s Guide to a Passionate Ministry, published in 2001 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries.

 

 

 

Get the BLANK Out of Leadership!

How does the way others think about you—or what they’ve said about you—affect your ministry? How does the way you think about yourself, perhaps based on those tapes that keep playing in your head of what others have said to or about you, affect your ministry?

If we are honest, my guess is that most if not all of our ministries have been affected greatly by what others or by what we think of us. I wonder if we even realize how much those voices have hindered our ministries. I know. I’ve heard and still hear those voices in my head. “You can’t …” “You’ll never …” “You aren’t …” “You don’t have enough …” “You’re not … enough.”

Jesus and the apostle Paul were particularly aware of and empathetic toward this issue, and both wanted to be sure followers of Christ didn’t fall for this trick of Satan. This morning I was reading 1 Timothy 4, and came across a significant encouragement from the apostle to his prodigy, Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (v. 12).

What were people telling Timothy? “You’re too young. You can’t …” Paul was telling Timothy not to listen to them or pay too much heed to what they thought about him. (The New Living Translation translates it as, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.”)

Timothy was young. That was probably just one of the supposed “obstacles” he had to fruitful ministry. What is it for you? How would you fill in the blank?

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are _____.

What’s in the blank for you? What have others told you or what are you telling yourself?

It’s a trick! It’s a deception from the Deceiver himself. It’s a downright lie.

Don’t let anyone think less of you or look down on you for any reason.

“For our hope in in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers” (v. 10).

“[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Cor. 12:9). 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

“What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Everything. You can do whatever ministry God has given you to do—in your home, in your small group, at your church, in your neighborhood or workplace—not by your strength, but through Christ, who gives you strength.

Take what you put in your blank and give it to God. Surrender it. With God there is no such thing as “can’t.”

Then fill in a new blank:

For I can do _____ through Christ, who gives me strength.

QUESTION: I’d love to hear what you wrote in that last blank. What can you do through the power of Christ? Please respond by clicking the comments button, below.

Jesus’ Leadership Order

Jesus started his church by calling a few normal, workaday guys to follow him, and then he made a remarkable statement. He told these unschooled, unspectacular, blue-collar guys that he’d turn them into leaders who would make an eternal difference in people’s lives (see Matt. 4:18-20) and ultimately the world.

Jesus reiterated the point sometime later when he called together a bunch of the folks he had asked to follow him and asked 12 of them to take their following to the next level. He called these disciples to be a part of a select small group of “apostles,” men who would be enlivened, equipped, empowered, and entrusted to lead his church (Mark 6:13).

That’s what Jesus does, still, today. He takes regular, ordinary men and women and calls them; first as followers and then as sent leaders. It’s always in that order.

Someone who cannot be a humble follower should never become a leader. 

By following the Master Leader, you learn how to lead and how not to lead. As you spend time with him, you see his heart for people and you catch hold of that great compassion. As you abide with him, he pours his love and power and grace into you so that you can then overflow that same love, power, and grace into those around you.

In other words, following Jesus forges you into a leader. 

The anvil of real Christian leadership is a follower of Jesus who becomes more and more like Him.

Before you lead your small group this week, be sure to be a follower first. Spend time with Jesus and allow him to saturate your mind and heart with his love and wisdom. This may sound odd, but don’t pray—at least not in the way you usually think of prayer, as uttering so many words. Just sit with Jesus and enjoy his presence. Ask him to lead you. Then let him.

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Finding FAST People

GUEST POST by Joel Comiskey, Ph.D., president of www.joelcomiskeygroup.com.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I really wanted John to replace me as the small group point person. He was knowledgeable, talented, friendly, and likable. He was a good friend and always positive.

But he was the wrong guy. Why? He just wasn’t FAT. Or better, he wasn’t FAST.

I’m referring here to acronyms, and I like FAST the best:

F
aithful
     Available
     Servant-oriented
     Teachable

FAT works as well; it just leaves out the servant-orientation and might offend people in the process (although I do like to see people’s reactions when I tell them I’m looking for FAT people).

John had a lot going for him. But he lacked the FA (faithfulness and availability). I would frequently get the dreaded text before the Life group, “Hey, Joel, sorry, I forgot that my son has a birthday tonight.” Okay, I could understand that. We all have our forgetful moments. But then a few weeks later, I’d get another text before Life group, “Hey, Joel, I just got the parts to my broken air-conditioner, and I need to install them. I can’t make it tonight.”

But I was still convinced that John was the one. I just need to meet with him more frequently, I thought. Or maybe he just doesn’t understand the importance of being in a small group. So I talked to him more, showed up at his work for a visit, and gave him more attention. And during those times, he was all in. John was positive, confident, and agreeable.

But then a few weeks later, I’d get that fateful, common text, “Hey, Joel, I’m just not feeling well. My back really hurts. I’m going to have to cancel tonight.”

John’s problem was not his ability to lead the group; it was an internal problem of priorities. He lacked the deep-down commitment of making the Life group his priority. It was a value problem. He just wasn’t FAST. Now he might get there, but I realized that I simply had to redirect my attention to someone who was already FAST.

Tom was FAST. Yes, he was a newer Christian and had certain personality quirks. He lacked the knowledge of John, but oh was he FAST. He never missed and was even on time. I could count on Tom. Granted, Tom needed more training, and I would have to work with him, but he was FAST. I wouldn’t get the dreaded text message on Life group night.

I’ve been reminded by this experience to look for those who are FAST. There are a lot of talented people in the world, but if they don’t value small group life enough to make it a priority, they will never be the type you can count on.

The writer of Proverbs summed up my feelings precisely, “Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble” (Proverbs 25:19). Faithfulness and availability always trump talent, personality, and expertise. Someone rightfully said that most of what we call success is simply showing up. Just showing up time after time wins the battles and places people in a position to learn, grow, and achieve great things.

As you look to develop leaders in your group, just remember that your leadership choice needs to start with those who are FAST.

MORE POSTS ON FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE FOR LEADERSHIP

The “Right Person” to Lead a Small Group
10 Can’t-Miss Principles for Finding the WRONG Leaders
Stop Recruiting!
Seven Steps to Share the Leadership of Your Group

Is It Well with YOUR Soul?

As a shepherd leader, you are undoubtedly concerned about those you lead. You care about their souls. You pay attention to their spiritual conditions and want to lead them deeper with God.

At least I hope so.

Being in a small group is—or should be—good for your soul as well. But I’ve found, through my own experience and from talking to other leaders, that this is not necessarily so.

Last week I attended a regional gathering of small point people from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The theme was caring: for our leaders and ourselves. We began by worshiping together, singing several songs, one of which was “It Is Well with My Soul.”

I felt like a liar as I sang those words.

Because my soul has been troubled lately. I won’t go into all the reasons here, but, even as I sang, my soul felt . . . not well at all. It felt stressed, hurting, depressed, even lonely . . . as I stood in the midst of a bunch of fellow community and discipleship junkies.

And I knew I was probably not alone.

Allow me to digress for just a moment. When I take a step back and consider the big picture of my life, I realize how blessed I am. In the big picture, my soul is well. I have a strong relationship with my heavenly Father who loves me despite myself. He provides for me every day. I have a loving wife and four good kids. I have friends. My health is good. I could go on and on counting my blessings.

But let’s face it: our many blessings don’t always add up to a soul that is well.

When my soul is not well, I know I need at least four things:

  • I need more time with God in the “ordinary” disciplines of Bible study and prayer, perhaps extended time away from all my projects, to-do lists, etc. to be with God in a solitary place.
  • I need more time with my friends—the opposite of the above. I need a both-and solution, and I’ve learned this is a symbiotic relationship. Both of these makes the other one stronger.
  • I need to serve others, taking my focus off myself and putting it on other people. When I surrender, my soul grows stronger. (Does that make you think of the Grinch?)
  • I need more time doing some of the “out of the ordinary” types of disciplines. For me, this includes personal worship. Actually, I like to spend time on a regular basis worshiping God. Worship is a lifestyle, not an event. But I’ve learned that extended time in personal worship helps me more than just about anything else when it is NOT well with my soul.

Let me briefly discuss that last one a little more. I try to find different ways to worship God.

One way is to take a walk in a woods where nature sings to me the majesty of God, and I simply join in that worship.

Another way is something I did this morning: singing praise and worship songs to God. To help me do this, I created a YouTube channel that I play in full screen on my laptop. I chose praise songs that help me focus on God, ones that include the lyrics so I can sing along. If you like this idea, you can view it below. I believe you can also subscribe to it.


What other ideas have you used to attend to your own soul? Please share them below.

MORE POSTS ON THIS

How to Start Every Day: This WILL Change Everything!
The Counter-Intuitive Cure for Leader Stress and Burnout
The Most Important Thing You Do Today: It’s Not Reading the Bible!
What Do You Do When Life Sucks?

What Should Happen with a Leader Who Has No Time for God?

What should a church or small group pastor do when they discover that a small group leader is not spending time daily with God–assuming this is an ongoing issue?

Yes, there are times that most of us have gone through the desert, and perhaps we’ve allowed our time with God to slip down our priority lists. But we know these times are temporary.

But what should a pastor do if a leader confesses they have been stuck in this situation for a long time, and what should the pastor do if the leader seems to be OK with this (yes, these may be two different situations)?

  • Ask the leader to immediately step down from leadership … at least until this situation changes
  • Develop a personal weekly mentoring/discipleship process with the leader
  • Get a small group coach involved
  • Develop a training program to teach leaders how to have a quiet time
  • Enforce accountability upon the leader(s)
  • Nothing: This situation is between the leader and God
  • Other: ____

What would you do?

Please comment below.