Last year, I sat in a men’s conference with a bunch of guys from the Junction Church and listened to a speaker who was refreshingly authentic and deeply thoughtful. Thirteen years earlier, Pete Wilson pioneered a church called Cross Point – an amazing Christian community which grew to become one of the most prominent in America. His influence was truly immense, impacting the lives of millions of people around the nation.
However during September, he announced to his congregation that he would be stepping down as senior leader. His statement was made in his usual gracious and thoughtful way which no doubt helped ease the sense of shock among a stunned audience. But still, there was no denying their sense of loss.
So what was the reason for his decision? Well, it wasn’t because of some moral failure or misdemeanour. No, it was because years of leadership had taken their toll on his mind and body, leaving him exhausted and worn out. Painful as it was for him to step away from leading the beloved church that he’d planted fourteen years ago, he wisely recognised that he could not keep running on empty and expect to avoid a crash.
He told his congregation “Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays…but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership energy. Leaders in any realm of life who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. I really need your prayers and I need your support. We’ve said that this is a church where it’s OK to not be okay, and I’m not okay. I’m tired. I’m broken, and I just need some rest. I love you guys”
This man has invested a huge part of his life into pioneering a new church and serving others. He is gifted, anointed, sincere, loving, caring & passionate. Yet, despite his brilliance as a pastor and leader, he struggled with a pressure he knew was killing him. He realised he could not continue on like this and his decision required an act of truly enormous courage.
This story brings home again some sobering & important truths which we would all do well to remember. Here are four of them:
1) LEADERSHIP IS TOUGH This applies to leadership in any sphere of life, church leadership too. Lets not get pious about how leadership would be easy if it were done right….yeah right! Doing it right is what makes it tough! That’s leadership.
2) LEARN THE RHYTHMS OF REST Rest is a personal responsibility. It’s a discipline which no-one is going to arrange for you. Remember, God is not in a hurry but he’s always on time. He is far more interested in pace than speed. He has created rest as a means of refreshing and renewing us. We’d be MAD to go off beat!
3) NOBODY IS THAT GOOD The story of Pete Wilson shows that no-matter how brilliant or gifted someone is, no-body is THAT good. Even pastors are human beings who are subject to the same frailties and vulnerabilities as anyone else. The call of God doesn’t exempt us from them. That’s why it’s wise to pray, show grace and be kind to them.
4) BE AN ENCOURAGER No-one has ever died from an overdose of encouragement. But plenty have suffered from the lack of it. Encouragement is like oxygen – it helps us breathe. Sow it well and you will eventually reap it when you need it.
Finally, I am praying for Pete Wilson and his family. No doubt the day will come when he will be back in action again. Meanwhile, maybe you’ll join me in praying that in this next season of his life, he will experience refreshing in his heart, renewal in his mind and rest in his body. His best days are ahead of him.
A wise man once observed that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’. Yet in a world of creativity, this is an often dismissed notion.
The idea of being ‘original’ can easily develop into an unhealthy obsession. It’s a concept which asks a myriad of questions such as: How can I be different? How can I be unique? How can I carve out my very own identity? How can I stand out from the crowd?
However, whilst it’s good to be innovative, I personally find the concept of striving for originality unhelpful and uninspiring. For me, it turns the creative process into an unenjoyable competition which is largely based on egotism, arrogance and oneupmanship. Ironically, what often emerges from it are deluded notions of originality which aren’t new or original at all. In the process, genuine creativity becomes stifled & worn out by the weariness of a seemingly never-ending journey to be the stand-out first.
A far more helpful reflection revolves around the idea of staying fresh rather than striving to be original. This is healthier and more conducive to relevance and longevity. The question ‘how can I stay fresh?’ is so very simple, yet incredibly profound. It views change as objective rather than abstract. It’s not about re-inventing the wheel but rather replacing the tyre on the current one so it can stay on the road! Essentially, it asks ‘how can I be a better me?’
Ultimately, freshness is a state of heart and mind. It happens in an environment that is curious to learn and hungry to grow. It develops when serving others but turns stale in a cesspit of selfishness. It is stimulated by purpose but gets suffocated by aimlessness.
Whatever season you’re going through in your life, resist the temptation to struggle for originality. As noble as it might sound, in the end, it tends to feed our insecurities and leads to irrelevance. Staying fresh is a much healthier way to live. This is about working on your heart.
I once heard an old composer advise a group of young musicians to resist the temptation of learning multiple instruments. His reasoning was that it is better to excel at mastering one than be average at playing many. He was right. Genius is found in focused simplicity, not general complexity.
Doing too many things in life can lull us into a false sense of achievement. The reality is that as noble as our efforts may be, the multiplicity of tasks can often end up bearing little or no fruit. That’s why it’s important to simplify your life, taking time to reflect on what really matters so you can keep ‘the main thing the main thing’. This is true of us as individuals. It’s also true of church.
In my own life & leadership, I’m constantly assessing why I do what I do. It can be so easy to get involved in a myriad of projects which are all honourable and important. Virtually every day, I receive an email or advert about some crucial project which I should support. But the truth is that if I were to involve myself in all of them, then I’d become distracted from what I’m really meant to be doing! So here’s the key question: what has God called me to do?
Staying true to purpose needs courage and conviction. This will probably lead to misunderstanding at times and there’s not much you can do about that other than to stay gracious. But it’s crucially important to streamline and simplify. Here are two words that I find helpful in my own reflections:
REASSESS This is about honestly laying out your life and asking the BIG questions: Whose agenda am I living for? Am I furthering God’s purpose? Is this helping to build God’s house? If not, why not? What do I need to say ‘no’ to? What do I need to prioritise more? What needs to stop? What needs to go? What needs to get better?
REALIGN This is about the ‘how’ of making changes so that you simplify and align your life with purpose: How do I need to change things in order to remain true to purpose? How do I need to re-prioritise my time? How will I say ‘no’ to noble distractions? How will I maintain my focus to build God’s house? How will I protect myself from becoming overloaded with tasks?
As a regular exercise, it’s wise to take time to look at how you can simplify your life so you are living for what really matters – God’s purpose. This is all we have time to live for.
Most people love the idea of serving…until they have to serve! Then the vibe often changes. That’s because serving is inconvenient and costly. Servants don’t live for themselves but rather for a cause that is bigger than themselves. They understand that the thing they’re part of is far greater than the part they play. It’s not about recognition. Nor is it anything to do with adulation. It’s about quietly & humbly getting on with it whether you are appreciated or not. This is the essence of a servant heart.
A few years ago, I was speaking at a church on a very hot summer’s evening. When I arrived, I noticed that my car had a flat tyre. Since the service was nearly about to start, I decided I’d just repair it afterwards. When I walked into the venue, I happened to chat to one of the young guys on welcome team and in a passing remark, I jokingly mentioned about my flat tyre. He immediately asked me ‘can I have your car keys?’ Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily accede to such a request – but in that moment I just said ‘sure’ and handed them over. As the worship started, I remember breaking into a cold sweat and thinking to myself ‘will the car still be there afterwards?’ Ha!
Anyway, after the service, the guy came to me and said ‘all fixed!’. He said ‘I’ve replaced your tyre so you can drive home.’ I was absolutely blown away by his act of incredible kindness and I expressed my sincere thanks to him. When I got to the parking area, not only had he replaced the flat tyre but he had washed and cleaned my car to the point that it looked as if it was glistening in the evening sun. This guy had gone the extra mile. He’d missed the service, was inconvenienced and worked through stifling heat – all because his heart was to serve. He didn’t complain or moan about it. It was his total and utter delight. Today, that guy is a leader whose significance and influence is growing both in the UK and around the world. I think I understand why.
Servants don’t have favourite tasks. They just get on with doing whatever needs to be done. The Holy Spirit finds it easy to work with people like this. They don’t make demands. They’re not diva’s. They don’t cry out for attention. They don’t complain and huff when an unglamorous job needs to be done. They just get on with doing it. People may not notice but God does. And that’s the point. As Christians, everything we do is for the audience of One.
Servanthood is not a task. It’s a state of heart. We are never more like Jesus than when we are serving others. So let’s embrace the inconvenience, pay the price and take delight in serving, even if no-one ever notices. Remember, God notices. We are living for the audience of One.
Some battles in life are worth fighting. However, most aren’t. Yet so often, people waste hours, days or even years of their lives battling over things which just don’t matter. It is never wise to live like that.
So how can you tell if a battle is worth the fight? Here are a few questions to consider:
1) Is it a battle that’s FOR people or against them?
Paul the apostle said ‘Fight the GOOD fight’. This is about fighting FOR people – not against them. This is a positive battle. For example, fighting FOR a generation is good. Fighting FOR people to know and understand that God loves them – that’s good too. But fighting against people you don’t like or agree with is never good – and it’s certainly not a battle which God would ever want us to engage in. So this is an important question to think about.
2) Are the spoils of victory worth it?
So let’s think ahead. Suppose you engage in battle and win. Are the spoils of victory really worth it? This is such an important question which wise people will always want to consider. If the result is that you are proven right and someone else is proven wrong, it’s really not worth it. If your ego is stroked, it’s not worth it. If your selfishness is satisfied, it’s not worth it. If, however, you help someone get better, that’s worth it. If someone experiences God’s love and forgiveness, it’s totally worth it. If more people get blessed, that’s a battle worth fighting too. The spoils – they really matter. Does this battle build people up or pull others down? Now THAT’S a question!
3) Is this about your ego?
Come on, let’s be honest. Most of our battles are about our pride and ego rather than principle and purpose. For me, this is particularly challenging when I’m driving and some eejit decides to overtake me in a manner which is not to my liking (don’t judge me too harshly….you drivers know exactly what I’m talking about!!). My pride says ‘drive faster and beat them’. But wisdom says ‘sloooow down and let them win’. I must be honest, sometimes I don’t like wisdom. But I’ve learned that wisdom is ALWAYS right. Hey, the point is…don’t let your ego get in the way of your God given destiny. Think purpose. Think grace. Think long term. This perspective changes everything.
4) Have you really taken time to think it through?
Don’t believe the first thing your emotions tell you. They’re fickle – REALLY fickle. So before you write what you feel on social media, take lots of time to think about it. Before you just go ahead and speak what’s on your mind, submit your thoughts to God and ask him what he thinks. Before you send that strong email, consider seriously how it reflects the love and grace of God. Before you blurt out your anger, consider your own mistakes, failures and blunders. Think, think and then think again. It’s amazing how God can give us wisdom when we pause and reflect instead of just charging straight into battle.
Be sure to fight the battles which really matter. Leave the other’s to God. That takes REAL faith.
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Harrods. It was a mesmerising, almost magical experience. I’d been on a week long school trip to London and the contrast between the gloom of trouble torn Belfast and the glitz of Harrods was profound. The thing I remember most was it’s sparkle. It was all so fantastically pristine. The attention to detail was meticulous and you could tell. Everything had a glistening ray of excellence about it. Even the floors seemed to glow with a brilliant radiance. The experience was unforgettable.
Recently however, I visited Harrods again and I found myself feeling a little disappointed (though I still love Harrods!). Don’t get me wrong….compared to your average department store it’s still in a league of it’s own. But in comparison to my first experience there, it wasn’t quite the same. The attention to detail was not nearly as impressive as I first remembered it. For example, I noticed some of the the floors were marked with masking tape which covered over rips in sections of carpet. A touch of mediocrity had crept in and I could tell the sparkle had faded a bit.
Truth is…when tiredness creeps into our lives, our sparkle can gradually wane. Creativity suffers. Surviving rather than thriving becomes the goal. What then follows is a downward trend. A sparkle turns to a shimmer, dims to a flicker and eventually fades to nothing.
So what do you do when your sparkle fades? Can you get it back? If so, how? Here’s some thoughts:
1) Face up Recognise when the sparkle is fading. This requires self awareness. An unwillingness to do this probably explains why the sparkle ever faded at all in the first place. Facing up to the situation with integrity and openness is crucial, difficult though it might be. Don’t be blinded by the dullness of your insecurities. Have the confidence to be honest with yourself.
2) Clear up The mistake we can often make is to just keep on going in the hope that no-one will notice our lack of sparkle. Whilst the answer is not to quit, it is important to take time to clear up those things which dim our light, things which don’t need to be there. This kind of decluttering can require great courage.
3) Rest up Stop trying so hard. Take your time. Resist the temptation to panic and rush. Live for the long term rather than going for short term fixes. That means creating rhythms of rest in your life where you can be refreshed and renewed. This will not merely keep you alive but will cause you to thrive.
4) Rise up Get around people who are doing better than you. Spend time with those who are further on than you. Don’t be mastered by your insecurities that feel threatened and exposed by others who are sparkling brighter. It’s always a trap to measure yourself against that which is mediocre. The latter is where your insecurity would like you to go. It’s no good though. No, get inspired and rise to the shine of excellence.
5) Brighten up Give loving care and meticulous attention to the few things you do best. It’s not your job to do everything. It is your job to do what you do best. So do it with love. And remember, perfect love casts out fear. It’s your time to shine.
Finally, and above all, think about the words of Jesus: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:28-30 MSG)
When it comes to the art of decision making, it’s good to have a thinking mind, a prayerful heart and an eye to the future. Giving careful thought to the implications of our choices is always a wise reflection. It’s true that none of us can know exactly where a path will lead. But the Holy Spirit does – and He is a brilliant travel companion whose expert guidance for the journey is second to none. Listening out for His voice can literally save your life and lead you to amazing blessing. He has this incredible way of encouraging you when you’re on the right path and alerting you when you’re on the wrong one. Ultimately, he WANTS you to succeed!
There are some paths which wise people will want to avoid as they lead to destinations which are never helpful. Here are five of them:
The Path of Emotionalism
This path begins with what ‘feels’ right in the moment. But feelings are fickle and it is never wise to base permanent decisions on temporary emotions. There are countless stories of people who have followed this path and ended up in a place of regret because of it.
The Path of Sentimentalism
This path travels backwards and tries to recapture the good old days. Problem is, those ‘good old days’ where never actually that good. Sentimental living always ends in disappointment because the reality is that life moves forward, not back. Times change and people move on.
The Path of Impetuousness
This path is filled with impulsive people who only wish they’d taken a moment longer so they could have chosen a better one. To be impetuous is to give little or no thought to the consequences of our choices. That’s what happens on this path.
The Path of Impatience
This path is full of talented and ambitious people who gave into panic and despair. But far from being a pathway of faith & life, it’s a selfish & graceless struggle up hilly climbs and rough terrain, requiring massive effort and offering little or no satisfaction.
The Path of Bitterness
This is a path which hurt people walk. Disappointed and angry at other people in their lives, they proceed to follow this long, dark, painful journey that is filled with unedifying echoes, unhelpful ruminations and which eventually leads to loneliness, regret and despair. No-matter how tough life gets, it is NEVER wise to walk this path.
Here’s a better path…
There is a path which is always good to choose though. It’s called ‘the path of least regret’. When I’m faced with major decisions in my own life, I always ask God to show me where this path is. As I’ve followed it, I have often discovered God’s wisdom on it, even if I haven’t completely understood the journey. The path of least regret focuses the mind toward the implications and responsibilities of our decisions – and protects us from following other paths which lead to unhelpful destinations. Next time you’re faced with a major decision in your life, take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to show you this path. You won’t regret it.
Your vibe matters. REALLY matters. Everybody carries a vibe. What’s yours? Whilst it’s never good to be self-obsessed, it’s always wise to be self-aware. So the question is really important. What is your vibe?
Your vibe is the feeling & atmosphere you create when you’re around other people. Some people in life carry a positive vibe. It builds others up. It bigs people up. It uplifts those who are around them and makes them feel better about God, life & themselves. Personally, I really like being around those kind of people. They’re good for me. They bring out the best in me. I’m more than aware of my own tendency toward melancholy. So to get around positive vibe people is to challenge the mediocrity of my comfort zone and in turn, inspires me to help others.
Some people in life carry negative vibes. They’re convinced they’re just being ‘real’. But their reality is false. It’s just plain downright negativity, not honesty. It’s often an excuse to engage in self-indulgent behaviour which justifies moodiness, bad attitudes, lack of care & gossip. This in turn develops into their identity, and subsequently becomes the narrative by which they live their lives. Personally, I don’t like being around negative vibe people. They’re no good for me. They bring out the worst in me. They encourage me to become someone who God hasn’t called me to be. I don’t want that.
Carrying positive vibes isn’t about being false. Its about refusing to submit to the negative vibes that cynicism creates. Cynicism is AS bad as prejudice. It’s contempt of others is based on a false sense of it’s own supremacy & overrated self-righteous opinion. This is never worth submitting to. Better to just be positive instead.
Medical research consistently shows that positive vibes are incredibly beneficial for you and those you do life with. Numbers of journals have published articles which clearly show how simply being positive helps our general wellbeing. One report I recently read observed some surprising health benefits of positive vibes, including:
– Increased life span. – Lower rates of depression. – Lower levels of distress. – Greater resistance to the common cold. – Better psychological and physical well-being. – Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. – Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
And what about the Bible. What does it encourage? Surprise surprise…it totally encourages us to carry positive vibes. I could quote loads of Bible verses. However, I’ll leave you with just one in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Discouragement is something which virtually everyone faces at some point in their life. It’s causes can be wide and varied – including loneliness, criticism, pressure and even success.
In the Bible, numerous characters struggled with it. Elijah was one of them. It’s pretty ironic when you think of it. He was a man of huge charisma who called fire down from heaven and even saw the dead raised. He embodied all the traits of a ‘successful’ ministry. Yet he still experienced profound discouragement, so deep that he became reclusive and isolated. This teaches us an important lesson. Discouragement is no respecter of persons. It can happen to anyone, no-matter how ‘successful’ they might appear. In the New Testament, the writer James summarises the life of Elijah in one sentence by telling us, ‘he was a human being, just like us’ – James 5:17.
So how do you deal with discouragement? Here are 4 thoughts:
1) Allow yourself some breathing space
This is not about becoming reclusive. That was Elijah’s big mistake. It’s about establishing rhythms of time & space in your life where you can process the reasons for your discouragement. While external factors can trigger discouragement, ultimately it’s a heart matter. So you need to allow your heart some space to breathe in the oxygen of God’s grace. This never needs to be a long time. Resting too long is unhealthy. It’s amazing how your perspective on life can change after just a short period of rest. So be kind to yourself and factor in rhythms of rest which help you to breathe.
2) Surround yourself with encouragement
The world is full of discouragement. How many offices are dominated by negative vibes? How many businesses are influenced by pessimistic culture? How many families are laden by doom and gloom? These things feed discouragement. Therefore, it’s critically important to FIND a community of encouragement. At the Junction Church, that’s exactly the kind of culture we’re passionate about building. We’re investing our whole lives into shaping a community into the values of God’s Kingdom. We understand that encouragement isn’t just a few nice words. It’s an environment. It’s a culture. It’s what draws greatness out of people. The smart people will want to get into an atmosphere like that.
3) Trust through the fog
Discouragement is a bit like a thick fog. As blinding and gloomy as it can sometimes feel, it will eventually pass. God’s grace will always make a way. Of course in the midst of the mist, this can seem like a life time. However, this is where faith comes into action. As the author Jeff Lucas puts it, we need to have ‘faith in the fog’. When we can’t see the way ahead, that’s when we must trust God like never before. Discouragement is not the end. You will get through it.
4) Be firmly planted in God’s house
Don’t just be seated in church. Get planted in it. Develop strong roots which will sustain you in the long term. This was a lesson I had to learn in my life. A number of years ago, I struggled with discouragement. No-body would have been able to tell. I had a reasonably ‘successful’ speaking ministry, travelling to events in the UK, the USA and across Europe. Yet during one of the most fruitful times of ministry that I’d ever known, I struggled with deep discouragement. Looking back, I believe that the root cause was loneliness. It’s not that I didn’t have lots of friends in my life – I did. But the loneliness I felt was a consequence of not being firmly planted in a local church. This is one of the reasons why I now feel so passionate about the truth of Psalm 92:13 which says ‘Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God’. Being planted doesn’t mean that we won’t face discouragement. However, it provides us with a solid foundation that will sustain us through every discouragement and keep us sane, healthy and growing.
There is no reason for any of us to struggle with discouragement on our own. Remember, whatever you are going through, God is with you. Listen to his voice. He spoke to Elijah in a ‘gentle whisper’. In the midst of your discouragement, he wants to speak to you too.