New Year – New Opportunities

I have to confess that I like new things. Maybe that’s why New Year’s Day may be one of my favorite days of the year. A new adventure. A new destination. Even a fresh new page in a brand new journal!

I realize that New Year’s Day is not exactly a holiday (holy day), except for college football fans. But this day does seem spiritually significant.

Like many of you, I take several hours on the days leading up to January 1, to reflect on the past year and project into the year ahead. My reflections include highlights of the past year. I think back over victories and disappointments. Mistakes made. Lessons learned. Friendships formed. Chapters closed. Doors opened.

One of the biggest changes has been in our family life. The countdown to launch is on with our kids. Our four children are wonderful and it looks like we’ve survived the teenage years without major catastrophe. They really are amazing young people. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed growing up with them!

John and Lindsey were married just over a year ago and are thriving in pastoral ministry serving on staff at Stoney Creek Church.

Josiah is months away from graduation with only 2 more classes and his internship in student teaching left this semester. He stays busy filling in to lead worship at several churches in the area. I’m excited to see where God leads him in the fall.

Joel is a junior this year and serves as president of the student council at Kingswood University. He is also member of the inaugural Buckingham Leadership Institute Scholars, a monthly mentoring experience with Dr. Laurel Buckingham.

Jordan, our 17-year-old, is always a delight to us and is enjoying her freshman year at Kingswood. This New Year’s Day finds her serving in Haiti with Dean Stephenson’s Catons Island counselor team.

But this fall, Sherry and I are likely to be empty-nesters, unless Jordan takes pity on us and follows us to a destination yet unknown. That will be a big change. Sherry has always enjoyed serving clients in her accounting and tax practice, but has been careful to not let it come ahead of our children. For the next few years, at least until grandchildren start arriving, she is looking forward to developing her practice more broadly. Whatever she does, it will be with excellence and contagious enthusiasm.

And then there’s me. I turned 55 this past year. Trusting God for favor and health, I’d like to be as energetic and enthusiastic at 75 as is Dr. Laurel Buckingham, my friend and mentor. If that’s the case, I am just beginning what I believe will be the most productive 20 years of my life.

I have been incredibly blessed to serve the church in a variety of capacities: youth and music leader (North Carolina and Alabama), church planter (Mississippi), pastor (North Dakota and Azerbaijan), district superintendent (Wisconsin, Michigan), and now as a college president.

The past 5 years at Kingswood University have been amazing. I’ve learned so much. I’ve worked with a dedicated team. I’ve met wonderful people. I’ve been blessed to see God work in miraculous ways. But I really did sense last year that this chapter was closing. My goal is always to leave a place better than I found it. I believe, with the help of God, I have accomplished that assignment.

And bright days are ahead for Kingswood. I am confident that the new president will hit the ground running with vision and passion that will take KU to even greater levels of impact in preparing workers for the Harvest.

Some friends have asked what I’m planning to do after leaving Kingswood. The honest answer is that I don’t know yet. I do know I’ll be more engaged in coaching and consulting, especially with leaders in local churches. And there’s a writing project that’s been calling my name. But if you have room on your prayer list for one more request, we would be grateful for you to pray that Sherry and I will clearly know and follow God’s will for this new chapter.

Whatever door God chooses to lead us through, He is so good and faithful that I am confident that He will make a way, even through the wilderness. And, I fully expect to find streams in the desert!

May God crown you with His blessing and favor in all 8,760 hours of this new year as you pursue Him!

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)


3M Leadership

3M Corporation is one of the best-known brands and best-run companies in North America. Founded in 1902 as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, the business almost failed during its first 14 years but it finally became financially stable in 1916. Today, with products that include household names like “Scotch tape” and “Post-It Notes,” 3M worldwide has more than 80,000 employees and $30 billion in revenues and is one of America’s more respected corporations.

3M may be best known for its deeply held value of innovation. Last year, 32 percent of their total revenue came from sales of products developed in the last 5 years. Inge Thulin, recently promoted from COO to CEO, said that they are tracking to have 40% of their profits generated by new products by 2016. (

So how does that apply to leadership in the church? I propose that every church that hopes to flourish should aspire to becoming a 3M church.

No, I’m not proposing that churches should move into mining or manufacturing. However, I am convinced that the greatest source of future growth in the church will come from developing and empowering new leaders. And the secret to multiplying new leaders is mentoring.

The most frequently asked question about leadership is “Are leaders born or made?” The answer of course is that all leaders are born. As John Maxwell jokes “I wouldn’t want to meet an unborn leader.” For leaders to achieve their maximum effectiveness, they must learn to lead. And the best way to learn to lead is by actually leading something with the counsel and coaching of an experienced mentor.

A 3M church is committed to the principle that “Mentoring Multiplies Ministry.”

Whether the church employs a “fractal structure” as advocated for by Wayne Cordeiro (“Doing Church as a Team”) or the “cell-church” strategy modeled by Yyongi Cho at the world’s largest congregation, every healthy church has to figure out a way to multiply leaders.

I was privileged to sit with Mike Hilson (lead pastor for La Plate – New Life Wesleyan Church) last week. Mike talked about the requirement they have for every leader in their church to pick some people to mentor and then teach them to do the same for others.

Pastor Mike used the example of their children’s ministry. Of the 2800 people who call New Life their home church, more than 300 volunteer to serve the children. That high of a ratio of volunteers in children ministry (10% of attendance) wouldn’t be achievable unless the teams of leaders for every department and age group were intentionally investing in others.

I’m note sure if Mike said it or I just heard it, but what I wrote in my notes that day was “Multiplication Matters Most.” Reflecting on that conversation now a week later, I would summarize it this way: “Mentoring Multiplies Ministry.”

There really are only two ways to get more done in the ministry to which Christ has called you: 1) work harder and smarter yourself or 2) invest in other people who will mentor others to serve with you.

There is an African proverb that says, “You can go faster alone, but you can go further together.”

Will it be slower in the beginning to take the time to train and develop other leaders? Yes. A one-time event can be “microwaved” with a crowd of volunteers who simply follow directions. An enduring ministry requires a “crockpot” approach of mentoring toward multiplication that marinades the vision, values, and practices of the culture deeply into the next generation of leaders.

Is it worth it? Yes. Not only will you become a better leader by teaching and mentoring others, you will exponentially increase the capacity of your team for Kingdom impact. If you can accomplish your vision alone, dream bigger!

If you want to go further as a congregation, embed this 3M principle in the DNA of your church or organization: “Mentoring Multiplies Ministry.”

“Do Stuff”

Rev. Mike Hilson (Lead Pastor at New Life-La Plata) and Chris Waggoner (New Life’s executive pastor) presented at the Eastern New York – New England District pastors conference this week. In the Tuesday morning session, Chris took the platform to share helpful insights from his years of leadership with staff and volunteers.

In addition to a long and strong list of ways to affirm and develop your team, Chris challenged the pastors to “stop chasing what God is not blessing.” Chris made the point that often we don’t have the staff or resources to do the new thing that God is blessing because we’re unwilling to let go of programs or activities that were once useful but have ceased to be effective.

As Chris was wrapping up his presentation, Mike Hilson (Lead Pastor at New Life) jumped in to remind us of the power of building a team to accomplish more together than we could alone. His humorous way of explaining this began with “Do stuff.”

This is where every leader starts. Whether it’s creating a big event or hospital visitation, every pastor does stuff. However, until the leader is willing to recruit, train and empower other people do to the stuff that he or she has been doing, the bottleneck to the growth of ministry is the pastor.

When the pastor moves to the next level, more people can use their gifts and abilities to multiply the ministry. Not only does more get done and more needs get met but each new person involved in “doing stuff” develops a greater sense of belonging and ownership of the ministry. In this next level of leadership, the pastor has to function as a manager/mentor of people who “do stuff.”

The next step of building this ministry base is becoming a leader/mentor of the manager/mentors of people who “do stuff.” As the ministry grows, the pastor must become a leader of leaders. When a church is ministering to 1000 or more, the pastor is the vision provider for leaders of leaders of managers of people who “do stuff.”

Mike’s outline of changing role of the leader in a growing organization reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s directions to the growing church in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:11-13). The equipping/teaching ministries are to prepare God’s people to “do stuff.”

Steve Murrell, author of “WikiChurch” and pastor of Victory Church in Manila, describes this as “mentors-ministers-maturity.” Only when the equippers/teachers mentor the saints to be effective in their ministry can the whole body move to maturity.

Steve argues that this usually breaks down in churches because the people, and some pastors, think they have to be as mature as the pastor before they begin to minister. The result, in Steve’s words, are churches full of “overworked pastors, overfed members and unengaged communities.”

Ministry is one of the most direct paths to maturity. The ministry leader serves best by recruiting, training and empowering people to “do stuff.” Then, as more and more people are released to “do stuff,” the pastor grows into a leader of leaders of managers of people who are ministering to a wider range of needs and greater number of people than the pastor could ever have served alone.

My responsibility as a leader is not to just “do stuff” but to create systems and opportunities to ensure that a growing and maturing body of believers get to “do stuff.”

The Cycle of Security

“The greatest limiting factor of any organization is the insecurity of its leader.” – Dr. L.D. Buckingham

Dr. Laurel Buckingham is a long-time mentor. His stellar 44-year track record of exemplary leadership and growth at Moncton Wesleyan Church is still unparalleled in Atlantic Canada. I have the privilege now of knowing Dr. Buckingham as a colleague since he launched the Buckingham Leadership Institute at Kingswood University last year. Over the past few months I have enjoyed accompanying him as he’s been teaching leadership seminars for pastors in Canada and the USA.

One of Dr. Buckingham’s most fundamental convictions is that an insecure leader is the greatest limiting factor in any organization. He shares candid insights from his own journey. Combining his personal experience with his observation of other leaders over the years, Dr. Buckingham makes the compelling point that the most significant progress in an organization is only possible when the leader is secure enough to seek out and respond positively to feedback.

Listening to Dr. Buckingham in these presentations made me think more deeply about the connection between feedback and security. The question I pondered was “Does someone become more secure simply by welcoming feedback?” Feedback certainly does create more self-awareness. And self-awareness creates an opportunity and direction for change in response to the insight that has been gleaned from the feedback. Action taken now has a greater degree of confidence because it is an informed response, not just another shot in the dark.

Seeking out, welcoming and positively responding to offered feedback is the missing ingredient for many leaders.  Dr. Buckingham paraphrases John 8:31-32 and puts it this way, “Truth, rightly responded to, sets us free.”

Imagine trying to climb a mountain path in the dark. The first few steps are hesitant. The changes in elevation and random loose stones on the path create uncertainty. But the biggest obstacle to progress is a lack of confidence. Then a traveling companion just ahead of you turns back and shines her flashlight on your path. With this additional light comes additional confidence. The more light you have, the more confident your steps. The more confident your steps, the faster your progress toward the mountain’s summit.

Feedback is best when it is truth shared with a clear motivation of love. But even when it is negative criticism and the motivations of the critic are clouded, there are still insights to be gleaned. Dr. Buckingham likes to say that feedback is like nuggets of gold. Once you’ve found one, you need to keep on digging because there’s a goldmine of truth in there somewhere.

Let’s call this the “Cycle of Security.” Interestingly enough the cycle of “security” starts with two risks. First, I risk by taking action. In doing so, I risk failure and rejection. Second, I risk by inviting feedback. In doing so, I make myself vulnerable to criticism that may be unfair and hurtful. Courage is a prerequisite to beginning the Cycle of Security.

But these two risks are essential to open the door to greater confidence and success. Interestingly, as a side benefit, welcoming feedback can provide an opportunity to gain an ally rather than an enemy. People are more inclined to help those that they find to be open their input and suggestions. People are less inclined to assist or cheer for those they find closed to their feedback. So, just by being open, I’m already in a better place than I was before I started the Cycle of Security.

The real value to receiving feedback comes when I make the changes to put this new insight into practice. And now, when I take action, I have a great sense of confidence or security that my behavior will result in the outcomes that I desire. Then, I seek feedback on this action and begin the cycle again.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Dr. Ken Blanchard

Military aviators have a learning process that resembles this Cycle of Security. Know as the OODA Loop, pilots in combat are trained to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The faster the pilot can observe the details, place them in context, make a decision about the best solution and then act to implement, the greater the likelihood that they will win the dogfight. The stakes are higher. Adrenaline is surging, but the pilot who has mastered the OODA Loop engages the battle with great confidence and a higher probability of success.

The stakes in leadership are high. This is especially true of leadership in the Church. Here, the stakes are eternal. There is a very real and very powerful enemy. In this arena, the leader who is insecure and closed to feedback is a dangerously limiting factor for the health of the organization and to the accomplishment of the mission.

The wise leader understands that leading without feedback is far more dangerous than opening up to criticism. The leader who embraces the Cycle of Security is set free for greater effectiveness. The better the leader, the better the team. The better the team, the more likely the victory.


The better the leader, the better the team.

Leading Yourself Well

I resolve to be a leader that people will choose to follow because I lead myself well.

It’s been more than a decade since I first discovered Dee Hock’s wisdom in an article entitled “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” The title alone caught my attention. What is “chaordic?”

Early in my career I had already experienced the reality that leadership in most organizations is dealing with chaos. Most of what I had learned about management was how to eliminate, control, or at least minimize the chaos. Hock had my attention but started his article out in an unusual way. He told the true and dramatic story of his experience rescuing a drowning calf on a stormy night.

Then he made the connection to a new breed of organizations in which chaos and order are harmoniously balanced. His personal example of leading in such a complex and adaptive organization was in creating and leading VISA. This confederation of banking entities and business owners blends both competition and cooperation to create a great whole than the sum of its parts.

Hock makes the case for leadership that is able to induce followership, not simply elicit compliance by force or economic incentives. I resonated with his statement that “In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led.” Ultimately, leadership is a gift of trust willingly bestowed by followers. It may be earned or forfeited, but true leadership is never a right that may be demanded of others.

Leadership is a gift of trust willingly bestowed by followers.

So, if leaders are only leaders because followers give them that privilege, what can a leader do to “earn” that right or prepare for that opportunity? Hock answers that question this way: “The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts.”

The way I rephrased and remember Hock’s definition is that my job as a leader is to “lead myself so well that others will want follow.”

It’s a pointed and painful reminder to me that others will choose whether or not I am a leader, not because that’s what my job description or title proclaims. John Maxwell captures that thought this way “If you think you are leading when no one is following, you’re simply taking a walk.”

I have to admit that I have taken a few walks in my day! I remember advocating loud and long for the Wisconsin District to bring a memorial (change to our Book of Discipline) to the 2000 General Conference that would reduce the number of General Superintendents from 3 to 1. Though far from being an expert, I am a student of leadership and my “not-so-humble” opinion was that our denomination was languishing due, in part, to the bureaucracy. I felt that there would be greater accountability and alignment with 1 GS than having our denomination led by committee.

I took the initiative and began to work the change through the legislative process. First, I brought the resolution to our district board and then on to the floor of our district conference. It passed. From our district conference, the resolution went to the General Board. It flopped. On the floor of the General Conference, we followed the procedural guidelines to bring it before the full assembly. It failed. And when it did, I learned a good lesson. Leadership is not about informing the process, but influencing the participants.

I had informed them of the merits, but I did not have the leadership credibility to overcome the reservoir of influence and goodwill that the other leaders in the room had accumulated by leading themselves well for many years.

Interestingly enough, it would be 12 years later that the General Conference voted to move from 3 General Superintendents to one. Humorously, at least to me, the memorial that passed was essentially the same resolution that the Wisconsin District had proposed in 2000 but, this time, it was carried forward by some of the same credible leaders who had not supported it a decade earlier.

I don’t know what role, if any, my advocacy may have played in the final passage. I do know that the lesson I learned from the process was invaluable. Here is the bottom line for me:

I will never lead others farther or better than I have led myself. So, I resolve to be a leader that people will choose to follow because I lead myself well.


“You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Leadership Lessons from John Wesley

John Wesley provided clear direction for his itinerant lay preachers through the “12 Rules of a Helper” that he developed in 1744. This version of the rules is from John Telford’s The Life of John Wesley (Hodder & Stoughton, 1886), available online at the Wesley Center for Applied Theology at Northwest Nazarene University.

1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time, nor spend more time at any place than is strictly necessary.

2. Be serious. Let your motto be, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.

3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly with young women.

4. Take no step towards marriage without solemn prayer to God and consulting with your brethren.

5. Believe evil of no one unless fully proved; take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction you can on everything. You know the judge is always sup­posed to be on the prisoner’s side.

6. Speak evil of no one, else your word, especially, would eat as doth a canker; keep your thoughts within your own breast till you come to the person concerned.

7. Tell every one what you think wrong in him, lovingly and plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your own heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.

8. Do not affect the gentleman. A preacher of the Gospel is the servant of alL

9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; no, not of clean­ing your own shoes when necessary.

10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them, and that for conscience’ sake.

11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. There­fore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those who want you, but to those who want you most.

12. Act in all things, not according to your own will, but as a son in the Gospel, and in union with your brethren. As such, it is your part to employ your time as our rules direct: partly in preaching and visiting from i house to house, partly in reading, meditation, and prayer. Above all, if you labour with us in our Lord’s vineyard, it is needful you should do that part of the work which the Conference shall advise, at those times and places which they shall judge most for His glory.

“Observe, it is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care merely of this or that Society, but to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and, with all• your power, to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord. And, remember, a Methodist preacher is to mind every point, great and small, in the Methodist discipline. Therefore you will need all the grace and sense you have, and to have all your wits about you.”