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Leave it All On the Field

Growing up playing sports, there’s a statement that coaches will often make to their teams when it’s all on the line…at the end of the game when something big is at stake, they’ll often challenge their team to “Leave it all on the field.”  In saying this, they’re really saying, hold nothing back, give your all, go all in.  It’s a great challenge, because the reality is once the game is over, you can’t go back and change the outcome.  It’s finished.  Once you walk off that field, the score is set and there’s no going back.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a woman from our church that has actually been part of Calvary from the beginning.  She was the wife of our founding pastor, and over the course of the last 43 years, she has impacted the lives of countless hundreds, if not thousands.  As I was preparing for this special service, it got me thinking.  How often, in life and in ministry, do we hold back in order to keep something ‘left in the tank’?  I know it can sometimes be so easy to simply coast to the finish.  But, I want to be a leader that bucks that trend.  I want to be one that leaves it all on the field.  I want to be that person that at my funeral others can say I held nothing back…I left nothing in the tank, but left it all on the field.  I gave my all to my family, and to the ministry God calls me to.  It may not be a championship game on the line, but it is someone’s life…it is the life of your son or daughter, or the life of that hurting person that walks through the doors just before you’re about to grab lunch with someone.  As leaders, it’s time we leave it all on the field.  It’s time we hold nothing back.  Our world is in desperate need of parents and leaders that hold nothing back.  That give 110%, not for the recognition, but for the impact their able to make in another’s life.

And the really cool thing is, when we leave it all on the field, God picks up what we have given, and not only blesses it, but multiplies it exponentially.  One life becomes two, two becomes four, and so on.  You have the opportunity to impact countless numbers of lifves, but it won’t happen by holding back…you have to leave it all on the field.

The How and Not Just What

As a church, we are passionate about Leading people into an overflowing life with Christ.  Our desire isn’t that we simply tell people about Jesus, but that we take people along on our own spiritual journey toward Christ.  It’s not simply what we say, but it’s also what we do.  This applies beyond just sharing our faith, but also how we lead others.

You see, how you lead, not just what you say, will lead people to Jesus.  As leaders, we can oftentimes have a lot to say.  From vision casting, to email updates, to simply our conversations with those we are leading.  And communication is key to leading others, but what if not just what we said, but how we led pointing people to the Savior of the world?  This is actually what Jesus himself said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   In the context of leadership that means, how you lead, not just what you say. 

How you lead will either magnify or mute what you’re saying.  If your words contradict your approach, your words lose all value and volume in someone’s life.  You can tell those you’re leading they are valuable to you, but if you treat them like they’re expendable, your words won’t mean very much.

On the other hand, the leader that truly does care about those they’re leading, not just in words, but also in their actions is making a statement to their team that speaks volumes.  That because leadership isn’t just about what you’re saying, but how you’re leading.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself about how you’re leading a team:

  • Do your words back up your actions, or do they contradict one another?
  • How are your actions, not just your words, leading your team to Jesus?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to align both what you say and how you’re leading?

There has a lot that’s been written about the difference between leading people and managing people.  While there can be necessary expressions of both in any leadership role, I believe when it comes to leading as a follower of Christ, one should be far more common than the other.  And when it comes to leading within the church, one is crucial, while the other could be terminal for any church.  You see, God hasn’t called us to manage people toward Christ, but to lead them toward Christ.  So what’s the big difference?  Relationships.

When we take the approach to lead people, as opposed to manage them, we communicate that they have value as a person, not just a cog in a wheel.  Leading people puts the priority on the relationship, while managing them puts the priority on the task.  That doesn’t mean the task isn’t important, but the relationship is more important.  God didn’t call us to be pastors/leaders to accomplish more tasks, but to reach more people.

Within the context of church leadership, it is a tragedy when we undermine the greatest vehicle of change God has given us, relationships, just to accomplish a task.  What if we could slow down, step back from our long list of tasks, and get our priorities straight?  What if we started to recognize people not as a means to an end, but the end itself?  The reality is we could accomplish far more if we were willing to invest in the relationships around us, instead the responsibilities we can delegate.  This week, rather than trying to be more efficient or accomplishing more (which can both be important in context), try valuing the people around you more.  Stop managing and start leading.

 

 

Now & Later

The older I’ve gotten and the longer I’ve been in leadership roles, the more I’ve started to realize this tension that exists in any decision or direction I’m leading.  The tension is between what I’d like to see now vs. what I’d like to see later.

The younger I was, the more I seemed to give into the pressure to see the results of my actions “Now.”  But as I’ve matured, I’ve learned this invaluable lesson:  If you can be patient in the now, you can get a far better result later.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness by any means, but it’s deferring the ‘reward’ so to speak to see something happen that couldn’t happen in this instant.  Maybe for you, it’s putting in the long hours on a project to see the results later.  Or with your diet, it might be giving up that sweet treat now, so you can be healthier later.

In a very fast paced culture, the pressure can easily push us to want instant results.  But the reality is, an instant result will never bring the quality of results that a consistent, long-range effort brings.  Whatever you’re working on, leading others toward, or hoping to accomplish, be patient in the now, so you can see a far better result later.

 

In our journey toward Easter, the celebration, the fun, the joy in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, so often we can miss the weight of a day like today…the impact of Christ’s death on what we refer to as Good Friday.

In the first century, as this day happened, it was anything but good. Christ would suffer one of the more gruesome deaths, be ridiculed as a criminal, be treated as less than human, be beaten, and left to die a painful death. And as horrible as this was, it was by no means a surprise. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of this very event thousands of years before.  His words are recorded in Isaiah 53:4-5…

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…”

Christ willingly endured this pain and took this journey toward death, to take what was bad and make it good. He hung upon that cross, moment by moment, pushing himself up time and time again to grasp another quick breath of air, prolonging the inevitable…his eventual death upon that wretched tree.

And the moment would come as Christ breathed his last…the Messiah, the One that claimed to be the very Son of God would no longer have life in his lungs. His physical body hung their limp, no longer possessing the energy and vibrance that characterized Christ’s life on earth. This moment was one of amazing sorrow for his followers…they had put their hopes, their dreams, their desires into his hands, and now he was gone.

Things had been so different with Christ.  He wasn’t like the other religious leaders…he spoke with such authority, he displayed the power of God with such grace. But now he was gone.

Life had become so full, freedom had become so real because of Christ, but now his followers wondered if their lives would drift helplessly back to the way they once were?  It was a tragic moment of sorrow, of questions, of uncertainty. The moment Christ breathed his last was anything but good.

But the cross wasn’t the end that some had suspected, it was simply the beginning. Only hours after Jesus would die upon that wretched cross, the gospel writer, Matthew gives us a glimpse at what would be done with Christ’s now, lifeless body. We read this account in Matthew 27:57-61…

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”

Joseph was not only a wealthy man, but he was a man of great influence as a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin. We read elsewhere that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, who was also a follower of Christ and member of the Religious Leadership. These two men would proceed to wrap their arms around Christ’s lifeless body, lifting him from the cross that had taken his life, and with such love and care, they took him to the tomb owned by Joseph.  They had to move quickly as dusk was approaching, which would mark the beginning of the Sabbath, a day which no one was permitted to work.

They soon gently laid his body into the recently carved tomb, and wrapped his body in linens placing a mixture of burial spices, myrrh and aloes, upon his body. Standing back in this solemn and lonely grave, they would be the only ones to see the true finality of Christ’s death. He was now wrapped in burial cloths and placed within that tomb…this was the final statement of his death. His body no longer carried life, but was now clothed completely in death. Joseph and Nicodemus would slowly walk from the tomb, sealing it with a boulder…a giant, unmovable stone, further solidifying the death, the loss, the disappointment of Christ’s death.

This was a sad day for the thousands of followers that had watched Christ heal the sick, had heard him teach throughout the country sides, had experienced his compassion as he looked upon the hurting children of that region…their hopes of a new Israel, of a reformed faith, would seemingly die with this man known as Jesus.

For us on the other side of this moment, we forget the pain that Christ’s followers endured for the few days he would lay in that grave.  But every tear that was shed, every sorrowful and reminiscent conversation that would be had, would make what Christ was about to do even that much more powerful.

The Apostle Paul would later write in one of his letters to the church in Rome about a core characteristic of God that was at work in this moment, but was definitely not visible when Joseph and Nicodemus would look upon Christ’s body wrapped in that robe of death.

Paul wrote about how God so often takes what is clearly bad, and somehow transforms it into something overwhelmingly good. For Paul, it may have been a farfetched statement, but it wasn’t simply his words, it was a description of what God had already done and would continue to do.

And these words were not simply for the First Century, but  they ring true for our lives today. You see, we have all had moments when we’ve experienced the final blow of life’s circumstances.

  • When we’ve lost our job, and our family’s only source of income is gone.
  • When that significant other we have loved and were convinced would spend the rest of our lives with, walks out on you.
  • When the words of those closest to you become like daggers cutting straight to your heart.

These are the moments when hope can be lost, when the future can be dim, when everything around us is screaming that our dreams are over.  That the very idea of dreaming and hoping is simply the work of child-like naivety.

These are the moments when life can be described as anything but good. And into moments like these, into moments like Christ’s followers experienced on that dark Friday, Paul’s words become a shining beacon of hope piercing the darkness.

Here’s what Paul would say in regards to what is seemingly hopeless and lost in Romans 8:28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

How can today ever be called good? How can a day be called good when the Savior of the world was murdered by the malicious envy of the religious elite? How can the moment when death has wrapped its tentacles around Christ’s body be called good? It can be called good because it wasn’t the end.

In all things God is working for the good. In your life, that pink slip is not the end. In your family, that devastating news is not the end. In your relationships, that helpless moment is not the end. In your finances, that empty moment of despair is not the end.

You see, the same cloth that was wrapped around Christ’s body would only days later lay beneath his feet as he walked out of that empty tomb, conquering sin, death, and the very grave that held him.

The linen that Joseph and Nicodemus would wrap around Christ’s body may have represented the finality of Christ’s death, but it would only further magnify the impossibility of Christ’s comeback.

Whatever situation or circumstance you might find yourself in today…you may call it bad… you might call it unlucky… you might call it depressing, but the good news is God gets the last word…what you might see as bad or unfortunate, God is working…God is redeeming…in spite of your circumstances God is still working all things. And on a day that we now know as “Good Friday” take heart in the midst of your pain, your sorrow, your struggles, because Good Friday represents the redemption that God can bring even into the most impossible of situations.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

One of the things that is so amazing about God’s creation is how diverse he has made us all.  Some of us love exercise, others love video games.  Some of us love being around large groups of people, others enjoy their alone time.  God has made us all very different, which makes relationships even more valuable.  Relationships have the ability to enrich your life and to transform it.  At our church, we often say that “Relationships are the vehicle for transformation”, and it’s true.  So much of what happens in ministry, happens through the avenue of relationships.

Now in leadership, and ministry especially, it can become so easy to sometimes forget about the relationship with the people you’re working with.  I have watched far too often as people are seen as nothing more than ‘pawns’ or ‘cogs’ in the giant ministry machine.  We use people to get to our desired end, neglecting the relationship, or basing the relationship solely on productivity.  The tragedy that happens when people become ‘objects’ rather than ‘friends’ is we begin to treat them as such.  This affects both our care for them and our communication with them.

The moment this is never more evident is when things aren’t going your way.  When circumstances aren’t working out in your favor, it can be easy to start seeing those around you as nothing more than ‘objects’ to help you solve your problem.  And when this happens, our relational communication with those people takes a hit.   You see, with a friend you have difficult conversations face-to-face, not via text or email, and especially not on their Facebook wall.  But when a person is just an object to you, face-to-face, relational communication is no longer valuable.  My challenge to you as a leader or ministry leader is this:  Take the relational high road.  Allow those you’re working with, serving and caring for to always be seen through a relational lens.  Treat them with respect.  While you probably won’t agree with everyone, do your very best to honor everyone.  Here are a few tips with this in mind:

  • Have the hard conversations in person, not through digital communication.
  • When you’re leading people, see them as real people, not simply pawns who are there to serve you.
  • Even with your digital communication, don’t simply share info, but make sure you’re also fostering your ongoing relationship.  (“How are you?” and “Thank you very much!” can go a long way.)

I’ve now been a dad for over a year.  It’s been a crazy, at times tiring, but incredibly fulfilling year.  I still can’t believe Heidi and I get to love and care for this little guy every day.  It’s such a joy, but at the same time can be such an exhausting endeavor.  Over this past year, as we have had to get up in the middle of the night (mostly Heidi!), or have had to clean up the messes our son can sometimes make, it’s easy to forget the big picture.  The fact that we’re not just cleaning a messy diaper or rocking a crying baby, we’re raising a son.  And whether you have kids or not, there’s an important leadership principle here that I think is key to remember:  The best things in life are also often the hardest things to do.

In whatever you’re doing, there’s always the easy way and the hard way.  The easy way usually involves taking a few short cuts or cutting a few corners.  While the hard way will often take more time, energy and effort than you really care to give.  And in those moments when you have to make the difficult decision between taking the easy path, or the more difficult one, it can almost seem like a really hard decision.  But here’s the reality:  the path of least resistance usually produces the product of least endurance.  In other words, if you’re truly committed to this task, to this ministry, to this project…if you really want the best results in the long run…if you really want the best, think twice about simply taking the easy way out.  Think twice about not having that difficult conversation with someone that offended you…think twice about not preparing for that lesson, but just trying to wing it…think twice about keeping your mouth shut when you see injustice right in front of you.

In life and in leadership, it’s so easy to believe the lie that we should just take the path of least resistance.  Can I challenge that idea?  Don’t simply take the path of least resistance, but take the path that brings the best results.  Because often the best things in life are the hardest things to do.

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