Larry J. Michael’s book Spurgeon on Leadership takes us through the life, ministry and preaching of CH Spurgeon drawing out principles for leaders.
Here is Spurgeon on the need for innovation
Our faith makes us abundant in good works. May I say to you, if you are doing all you possibly can for Christ, endeavour to do yet more? I believe a Christian man is generally right when he is doing more than he can; and when he goes still further beyond that point, he will be even more nearly right. There are scarcely any bounds to the possibilities of our service.
Many a man, who now is doing little, might, with the same exertion, do twice as much by wise arrangement and courageous enterprise. . . We need, like the apostles, to launch out into the deep, or our nets will never enclose a great multitude of fishes. If we had but the pluck to come out of our hiding-places, and face the foe, we should soon achieve immense success. We need far more faith in the Holy Ghost. He will bless us if we cast ourselves entirely upon Him.
Preaching on the 100th anniversary of William Carey’s birth Spurgeon challenged his hearers in the following words;
When a man once had a good thought, he should not be afraid of it because nobody else had thought of it. He should do it and dare it, defying custom if it thwarted him, tearing it to pieces if it stood in the way of right. All God’s true servants were innovators. Those that turned the world upside down were the very descendants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
At a recent meeting of the West Midlands Evangelical Leadership Forum we heard from Richard Underwood the FIEC Pastoral Director.
Towards the end of his session he shared four Big Ideas that were a great help to me and all who battle with accepting our limitations in ministry. These are the truths that must be embedded deep into our hearts, lives and ministry.
1) Be human
Richard said ‘please never use the word ‘only’ and ‘human’ in the same sentence.’ Not only do we have needs but we were created with needs. Our limitations, the limitations of time, gifts, resources, energy, wisdom are needs by design.
What a help to be reminded that God has made me to be dependent on him. I cannot make it on my own in ministry because I was not created to make it on my own.
2) Be humble
Gospel ministry means remembering that we are not only are we human but we are fallen. As we look back and look forward in ministry ‘at no point do you ever function in the way you are meant to do.’
Our very falleness will mean not just weakness because we are human but failure because we are sinful.
Again, we are cast on God not just for strength for each day but for mercy and grace to cover our sins and renew our lives.
3) Be honest
How much damage is done by ministers to ministers because we fail to apply the gospel to our ministry?
It was amazingly honest of Richard to begin his session saying he had only two qualifications for speaking to us. Firstly, he knew and loved the Lord Jesus and secondly that he was ‘a failed Pastor. Forgiven, restored, set-free to minister again.‘
How many of us come close to ever describing ourselves in those terms?
The result is that when we meet up together we’re likely to do as much damage as good. Richard challenged us as to how easy it is for ministers to meet in competitive pride. Our natural desire for self-justification is not only a denial of the gospel but a massive disincentive to real honesty and a refreshing reality in ministry and prayer.
4) Be filled with hope
Because Jesus is Lord and he will build his church we can continue to minister each day knowing that it is not all about us.
We may be human, we need to be humble, we must be honest and we yet we can continue to minister in hope, rejoicing in the fact that he uses who he uses and that includes me.
A thought provoking article by Mike Breen that highlights the fact that we focus on reaching the world NOT by neglecting the church. In fact, unless we we make discipleship the heart of church life our mission will fail. Like building a car without an engine, being ‘missional’ is not enough.
In the book Spurgeon on Leadership Larry J. Michael introduces us to the man and his ministry that made him, arguably, the greatest evangelical of the 19th century.
The book has chapters on a variety of leadership essentials including calling, character, creativity and casting vision amongst others. Each one is packed full of inspiring examples, quotations and principles from his life and ministry.
As I work alongside other church leaders in church-planting in Birmingham here are a few that have inspired and encouraged me to in the words of William Carey ‘Expect Great Things from God, Attempt Great Things for God.’
It’s Spurgeon’s confidence in God and the gospel that prepared him to make bold, ambitious plans for the expansion of the gospel:
The common policy of our churches is that of great prudence. We do not, as a rule, attempt anything beyond our strength…We accomplish little because we have no idea of doing much. I would to God we had more ‘pluck.’
I make it bold to assert that, in the service of God, nothing is impossible, and nothing is improbable. Go in great things, brethren, in the Name of God; risk everything on His promise, and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
It was that same confidence that gave him a great vision for church-planting
We must build this Tabernacle strongly, I am sure, for our friends are always with us. . . But our desire is, after we have fitted our vestry, schools, and other rooms, that we shall be able to build other chapels….I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey is covered with places of worship. I took on this Tabernacle as only the beginning; within the last six months, we have started two churches, one in Wandsworth and the other in Greenwich, and the Lord has prospered them, the pool of baptism has often been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places, I am about to do in a third, and we will do it, not for the third or fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our Helper. I am sure I may make my strongest appeal to my brethren, because we do not mean to build this Tabernacle as our nest, and then be idle. We must go from strength to strength , and be a missionary church, and never rest until, not only this neighbourhood, but our country, of which it is said that some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the gospel.
Buy the book and learn to lead!
Let’s be honest, how many of us have ever even heard of a NOT-to-do list let alone tried to make use of one? In a blog post in the Daily Telegraph Daniel H. Pink (author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) argues the case that in a world of too many competing priorities, to quote Tom Peters, ‘what you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.’
The key insight of both Peters and [Jim] Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it’s only by taking away what doesn’t matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.
That’s why a couple of years ago I began using a hybrid of the Peters’ and Collins’ techniques – a combo of a to-don’t and stop-doing list. I revisit the list more than once a year, but I don’t craft a new one every day. Instead, I post it on the wall next to my desk where it’s always in view and revise it when circumstances demand.
Let me share with you what’s been on the list:
• Don’t answer email during peak morning writing hours;
• Don’t accept meetings or conference calls initiated by others that you wouldn’t have initiated yourself;
• Don’t drink coffee in the afternoon;
• Don’t go to sleep after 11pm.
Pink’s examples in his NOT-to-do list are a good starter but they are limited to general principles of working practice. I wonder how we could extend them to strategic priorities in our work? A NOT-to-list could be extended to help us choose between good, yet competing, options and opportunities at work and become an ally in that battle to say ‘no’ to people (see this blog post on the issue).
How might that work?
Maybe our list of what we do NOT do could include;
Decisions as to where we will NOT put our energies to ensure that we can focus them elsewhere.
A decision NOT to let my sermon preparation time suffer in my role as a church pastor might mean agreeing NOT to accept any more than ‘x’ speaking invitations in a quarter or year. Learning to say no to some things is certainly helped if we have already committed NOT to do so too!
A decision NOT to give time to developing one ministry area (by ideally delegating it to another) so that I can invest more energy in a different area.
And so on.
Then of course there is the option to publish our NOT-to-do list. That would be an interesting thought that colleagues and for me my congregation knew what I wanted them NOT to ask me to do!
Skimming through some of my old paperbacks I came across ‘Pressure Points: How to survive in your stress filled world’ by Peter Meadows.
He offers some good common sense advice on learning to say ‘no’ to people when they make demands of our time. In the book he refers to the ‘seven steps of saying ‘no’’.
1. Make up your mind before any request is likely to come. It is easier to set boundaries when not confronted with specific requests.
2. If caught unaware, at least play for time by, asking for more information or a chance to think it over.
3. Remind yourself that if they feel they have the permission to ask, you have the permission to say no. You are free to set your own priorities, express your own opinions, assert your own values – without feeling guilty or selfish.
4. Deliberately speak slowly, steadily and warmly to avoid the danger of sounding rude or abrupt.
5. Say ‘no’ clearly, firmly and without any long-winded explanation, invented excuses or self-justification. It might help to own up to your feelings – ‘I feel embarrassed about this, but I’m going to have to say “no” or “I feel guilty saying “no”, but that’s the answer I’m going to have to give,’
6. Stick to your statement, repeating it as often as is necessary to get your message across.
7. Don’t hang around. To do so could send out misleading signals and encourage those who are asking to try to persuade you to change your mind.
But why can’t we just say ‘no’?
Meadows offers some good advice but wouldn’t it be even better to ask some questions when we are struggling to say ‘no.’ Here’s our opportunity to dig a little deeper and ask ‘why is this such a problem for me?’ and ‘what exactly is at work in the motives of our hearts when we just can’t say ‘no’?
In trying to identify reasons we might find a number of different motives at work in different circumstances.
a. A godly motive. Sometimes there are situations in which it is a godly response to say ‘yes’ even if you would rather say ‘no.’ Perhaps a moment of crisis in which you have to step in to prevent something bad from happening. There are times when you must sacrifice time and other plans to meet an urgent need eg a pastoral crisis or to cover illness.
b. Pride or flattery. Maybe we are struggling to say ‘no’ to something simply because we’re feeling good about being asked! We feel noticed, important, valued. It might be that we’re glad for an opportunity to show what we can do, to make a name for ourselves or establish a reputation at work or church.
c. A sense of importance that comes not from the individual request but from the cumulative effect of being too busy. Some of us love the adrenalin rush from over-commitment and a sense of things being out of control. Like a drug we love being simply too busy!
d. Guilt. There is an evangelical guilt that is self-induced rather than God-induced. We feel we ought to say ‘yes’ because that is the Christian thing to do even if that means denying our higher calling of loving our spouse or children perhaps. Maybe we feel that we would be letting God down or that he would be disappointed in us if we don’t. We might even reason that we must say ‘yes’ because ‘if I don’t do it God’s purposes may fail’.
e. Fear. At other times we don’t want to say ‘no’ because we are afraid of what impact it will have on our relationship with others. What it might do to a friendship or working relationship. What others will think of us. We fear their rejection and their condemnation. A general fear of rejection or retaliation if we don’t can be a powerful factor in simply being unable to say ‘no’.
Assessing your motives:
At heart, the issue is whether if I say ‘yes’ I can with integrity say I am doing this for God and not for me. Is this me working from a secure identity in Christ or working for an identity in my work?
The following questions might help:
- Would you be as happy for someone else to do it as for yourself to do it?
- Do you think God can’t do this without you?
- In saying ‘yes’ would you be putting your work ahead of other, higher, calling. E.g to family.
- Are you more worried as to what others think of your decision than what God things of your decision.
Paul David Tripp warns:
The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. Desires are a part of human existence, but they must be held with an open hand. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God and his Kingdom.
Various other strategies may help:
1. Time out! Recognise that even 24 hours may help you decide the wisdom of saying yes or no. So ask for the request to be sent in a-mail because that gives you time to reflect. It also happens to be easier to write ‘no’ than to say ‘no’ so it will help with the fear of man!
2. Involve others in your decisions.
That may be a boss, it may be a spouse or good friend. It’s easier for others to help you assess whether it would be appropriate to say ‘yes’.It’s also easier to say ‘no’ if you can tell the person who’s made the invitation that it was a team decision.
Paul David Tripp writes in Instruments in the Redeemers Hands
If my heart is the source of my sin problem, then lasting change must always travel through the pathway of my heart. It is not enough to alter my behaviour or to change my circumstances.
Matt Perman’s blog What’s Best Next is a must read for Christians in leadership.
He describes his blog as existing ‘to help equip Christians in good works, because that’s what productivity is really about.’ and through it Perman addresses a whole host of leadership issues from a gospel centred perspective.
Here is a recent post addressing the issue of procrastination;
A lot of productivity advice seems to focus on giving you tips to stay focused on and get motivated to do things you don’t want to do. I’m actually not into that sort of thing.
I think that if you are doing a lot of work where you have to “goad” yourself to get it done, you are probably in the wrong job. Plus, a lot of the detailed tactics for self-motivation don’t work long-term. It is far better to make procrastination a non-issue, which is what my first point gets at.
1. Love what you do
The best motivation is to love what you do. It’s far better to tackle the “problem” of motivation at the higher level so that you don’t even need to deal with the more detailed and specific motivational tactics.
The three components of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you find yourself needing to be motivated, rather than identifying tactics like “reward yourself after you get done with a hard task,” take a look at whether you believe in the purpose of your tasks (and, before that, actually know the purpose!), whether the tasks are too hard (or too easy), and whether you have the freedom to do them in your own way.
The best type of motivation is to want to do the things you have to do — to be pulled toward them by a desire to do them and make a difference and serve others — rather than to be pushed towards them through carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments). Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation every time. When you like your work, procrastination typically becomes a non-issue.
Now, at the same time, there will always be tasks now and then that we just find ourselves entirely dis-inclined to do. Maybe it’s even a task we ordinary love, but we are extremely tired that day and yet are on a deadline and need to get it done. Or maybe there are other factors interfering. In these cases, tactics can sometimes be useful. Here’s one I’ve found useful.
2. Take Breaks After Starting the Next Part of a Task, Rather Than In Between
When you take a break, don’t take your break at a natural stopping point. Instead, get to a natural stopping point, and then start into the next segment of the task. This gets you into it a bit and gets your wheels turning. Then take your break. While you are on your break, your mind will be inclined to get going again, since you’ve already started in to it. So it will be easier to come back from the break and avoid letting the break turn into an extended period of procrastination.
The title for this post comes from Tim Keller and is taken from a paper pointing out the terrible consequences both for ministers and for churches of working from a wrong foundation and wrong motivators. I’ve suggested on this blog before that ALL ministry is either a search for a secure identity or flows out of a secure identity. In this paper Keller highlights what becomes of a Pastor who is working for his own justification;
Ministers must be willing to admit that their ministry-success is often the real or main basis for their joy and sense of significance, much more so than the love and regard they have from the Father in Christ. It is what they look to in order to feel they can stand with confidence before God and others and even their own reflection in the mirror. In other words, we look to ministry success to be for us what only Christ can be. All ministers who know themselves will be fighting that all their lives. It is the reason for turf-consciousness, for jealously, for comparing yourself to other ministers, for the need to control the church, for the feeling that when your ministry is criticized you are criticized.
The danger for many in gospel work is simply that somewhere down the line the functioning motivators change. As a young minister maybe it really was all about God and not about us. Maybe it really did flow out of a joy from being a child of God. But then maybe just as a result of forgetfulness or maybe as a result of jealousy or maybe the results of either success or failure the gospel was subtely replaced by a different and destructive motivator, self-justification. And when it did it started to change everything and to undo minster and congregation. No wonder Keller says we will fight it all our lives but fight it we must.
Ask any pastor and there are certain tragic situations and circumstances that they dread ever being expected to preach on. Dane Ortland points us to a book to be published in the US next week that, judging by the contributing authors, every pastor and would-be pastor will want to have.
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