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.

THE PANDEMIC’S LEADERSHIP LESSONS

The following is an excerpt from my October 2020 Letter from the Editor in Christian Standard magazine.

Great leaders have a blend of humility—they know that they don’t know everything—and a curiosity to discover answers. They are constantly learning from a variety of sources, beginning with God’s Word, but also through books, mentors, failures, crises, and personal struggles, to name just a few. Perhaps John F. Kennedy summarized it best: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

The pandemic and all of its interconnected effects have provided a wellspring of important learning opportunities for us. Here are four I believe are especially worth considering.

1. The Lord’s Purpose Will Prevail. . . .

2. The Nimble Will Survive. . . .

3. Those Who Are Ready and Willing to Change Will Thrive. . . .

4. There’s No Going Back . . . or Maybe There Is. . . .

Perhaps this is an opportunity—a “divine appointment”—to go even further back than February 2020 … back to the basics in how we practice our faith and carry out Jesus’ mission … back to all believers seeing themselves as a kingdom of priests/ambassadors/ministers rather than as members being served by professional clergy … back to oikos ministry that naturally occurs in and out of Christ followers’ homes through personal relationships … back to a focus on going out to make disciples rather than “going to church” … back to the church as Jesus envisioned and built it.

_________________

Please CLICK HERE to read this article in full on the Christian Standard website.

MLK: ‘What Kind of Extremists Will We Be?’

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote these words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963. Now, nearly 57 years later, his words seem prophetic. 

King’s letter was in response to eight white Alabama clergy members who wrote a letter asking the “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham (a thinly veiled reference to King) to stop directing “some of our Negro citizens” in the “unwise and untimely” demonstrations for integration. They preferred to let the issue of racial segregation play out in the courts and to patiently wait for the social changes to happen over time. They said the outsiders’ resistance to racism, “however peaceful those actions may be,” were “extreme measures” not justified in Birmingham.

“I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction in being considered an extremist,” King wrote. “Was not Jesus an extremist in love? . . . Was not Amos an extremist for justice? . . . Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” 

This is not purely a racial issue, although that was the context of King’s letter. It is, as King pointed out, a church leadership issue. King said that with notable exceptions, he had become disappointed with the church he loved. 

The source of King’s disappointment was that its leaders “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today. 

Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today.  Click To Tweet

I am convicted by Martin Luther King’s words: 

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Do these words describe the contemporary Christian church? Do they describe your church? Are we extremists for love, justice, and the gospel? I echo King: “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” 

– Adapted from Letter from the Editor, by Michael C. Mack, Christian Standard magazine, February 2018. https://christianstandard.com/2018/01/what-kind-of-extremists-will-we-be/

Every Decision Point Is an Opportunity to Grow (and a Possibility for Pain)

Why do some churches grow and multiply, some plateau, and others decline? 

It’s a question I’ve considered for a long time, and my experience as well as everything I read and study and all the people I talk to reinforce my theory that growing churches do certain things and have a particular mind-set largely absent in stagnant and declining churches. I’ll try to explain. 

In my personal life, I’ve seen a direct correlation between my physical health and my tolerance for pain. For years I lived with carpal tunnel syndrome and eventually lost quite a bit of functionality in both hands. I knew having surgery would be painful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable for weeks after the procedure, but I need the use of my hands for work and many other things. I had to weigh the costs, and I decided to have the surgeries. It was difficult at the time, but now, about 18 months later, I sit at my computer and type without pain. 

I’ve experienced something akin to that in my spiritual, emotional, and relational life. Growth in those areas has come about mostly through times of struggle, pain, loss, sacrifice, and surrender. That’s why James said we should consider those kinds of struggles “pure joy”: they result in maturity and completeness. 

I believe similar correlations exist in our churches. Vitality and growth will never happen without pain, loss, and sacrifice, and we must weigh the costs of joyfully taking on those struggles—and the bigger, kingdom impact of not doing so. 

Churches, small groups, ministry teams, and other ministry organizations go through a common progression. They start “up and to the right,” with excitement and growth. Eventually, however, they begin to level off and plateau. This is not necessarily good or bad, at least not at first—it’s just a natural occurrence in organizations; it’s hard to sustain long-term accelerated growth. A brief plateau may be a time for rest—a sabbath of sorts. But over time it can become unhealthy: a comfort zone, a time for maintaining the status quo, focusing internally, and, well, lukewarmness. Churches, groups, classes, and teams can forget their “first love,” the very reason they were started, and settle for something safer and more comfortable. 

I think one of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! 

One of the saddest things in life is to see a once vibrant person, group, or church now plateaued and remaining there for years upon years. They weren’t created for that! Click To Tweet

Along the plateaued line, a church comes to countless decision points, and each one represents an opportunity. They can continue with the status quo, or they can push out of the comfort zone, wholly trust God, and focus on his mission to the world around them. 

Recognizing and responding to these various decision points is a vital leadership responsibility. I have used this chart to teach small group leaders how to get out of maintenance and into missional mode, and the same principles apply for church leaders. One of the first things the leader must do is simply recognize these decision points as opportunities to grow. 

Leaders should also recognize that each decision point bears an associated opportunity cost. A decision to step out of a comfort zone may bring temporary pain and loss, including the loss of some traditions, programs, and certain people. But missing or ignoring the opportunity has kingdom consequences. We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. We walk through pain, help people grieve loss, trust God’s plan, and strive for his mission.  

We accept pain to achieve progress; we endure loss to embrace real life. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s not enough to just recognize decision points. We must act on them! We unapologetically cast a biblical vision. We refocus leadership meetings from internal to external. We start a new, externally focused serving initiative. We reach out to a neglected group of people in our community with the gospel. We develop young leaders and let them lead, even if imperfectly. We decide and communicate clearly that objects are not sacred and can be moved or changed to help us be more effective in carrying out God’s mission, which is sacred. 

As a church moves forward in living out God’s mission, it becomes healthier. And healthy things naturally grow, bear fruit, and multiply. Unhealthy things don’t (or we don’t want them to!).  Leaders in healthy churches count the cost at each decision point, and they ultimately decide temporary pain will not deter them from becoming the disciple-making church Jesus established and envisioned.

____

Adapted from my Letter from the Editor in Christian Standard, May 2019, page 6.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Leadership TIPS of the Week: April 23-27, 2018

Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

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Leadership TIPS of the Week: April 16-20, 2018

Whether you lead a church, small group, class, ministry, business, work team, or family, these Leadership TIPS are written to help you lead in more godly, effectively, fruit-bearing, overflowing ways. We post them each day, Monday through Friday, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends!

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Leadership TIPS of the Week: April 2-6, 2018

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