You Are More Influential Than You Realize: Take An Influence Inventory

As many of you know, I’m writing a book on influence, specifically on ways we make or break our influence in other’s lives. Personal edits are almost done, and then it’s off to a professional editor. More on that soon!

Public Domain PC: Free Pixabay Images

But the truth is, many people minimize their influence, not realizing how many people or groups they influence (or have the potential to influence). It’s hard to consider ways we might be hurting or helping others if we tend to minimize our connections.

For those of us who think, “I don’t really have a lot of influence,” I’ve got an exercise for you: take an influence inventory. And for those of you who know you have more connections, taking an influence inventory is a powerful way of remembering your responsibility and growing your intentionality.

Take an Influence Inventory

Public Domain PC: Free Pixabay Images

First, start in close. Who are your primary relationships? Family, close friends, people you’ve worked with for awhile–these are the ones who come to mind first.

Move out from there. Who do you see less frequently? This could be a neighbour that you only chat with over the fence once in a while, or a person you rarely meet–but you do have connections of some kind.

Next, what groups are you part of? There’s the ones that you regularly see, such as at church or a hobby group.  These are societies or sports teams or service groups, addiction support groups and small groups of various kinds. And don’t forget your online forums, which, for some of you, are places you have significant voice.

Within those groups, consider the nature of your participation. Are you in leadership? Do you have a role within that group? Are you considered knowledgeable? Are you trusted? Are you able to be heard and to suggest changes? Are you a donor? A mover-shaker?

And then think of those who watch you from some distance. Nephews, nieces, kids of friends, community members at large, clerks at stores you frequent, servers at restaurants, customers–some of whom you may not be fully aware.

Don’t forget to include people that you’ve struggled with. A strained relationship at work or in the neighbourhood, someone you’ve not seen eye to eye with online or in conversation. You have more influence than you can imagine in those relationships because of how you can choose to go forward in your relationship with them.

Think of non-human relationships in which you have influence: the soil around your house, the air you breathe, the local watersheds, as well as the animals, birds and pollinators who live near you.

What about potentialities? Consider local initiatives you could support, artists you could encourage, youth you could mentor, events you could sponsor and people you could love.

I’m guessing that by now, you’ve got quite a list. Even those of you who thought you had little influence have probably amassed a sizeable inventory.

And what about your Heavenly Father, the one who made you and dwells in you by the Holy Spirit? For the Father is responsive to us, and has asked us to come to him, to express our concerns, to ask him for what we need. Surely, in some mysterious way, you have influence upon him?

Now step back: How big is your list? Are you stunned by the size of your inventory? Who did you miss? What surprised you? What other categories and relationships came to mind that I didn’t suggest?

Reality check: We all have influence–some more, some less, but everyone’s got it. We all have the ability to help others grow, or to hinder people from growing, either actively or passively. And the first step toward better influence is acknowledging who is within our sphere of influence.

Consider your list. I’m guessing there’s quite a few names on it. It might even be a bit overwhelming. To make it actionable, identify just a few of those relationships to give more focused attention. Make sure to include both the obvious relationships, as well as potential relationships and difficult ones, too. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a relationship that you have been avoiding, in which you really could have good influence. Maybe circle 3-5 relationships in which you will invest time and energy over the next months.

And then pray for how God might move you to increase your influence. It could start as simply as an email or phone call. Perhaps it will mean hanging out a little longer after church or when you drop your kids off at the bus. Maybe it will require something more intentional, like asking a youth out for a coffee or signing up to serve in a ministry or service group. Let the Spirit guide you on that, but do choose to lean into a few of these relationships with more intentionality.

For those who were already aware of their influence, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it, what were the relationships that surprised you as you brainstormed your inventory? I know I found a few. Someone you’ve neglected. An area you’ve not been thinking about. It could be that God is using this exercise to recall someone or something to your attention, and you can now give it more of your influence and leadership.

We all have influence. Clarifying who is getting it (and who can get more) helps us become more intentional and specific about the nature of our influence, which is the first step in our reflection on all the ways we can make, or break, the influence we have in other’s lives.


A Surefire Test for Self-Righteousness: Try it today! :)

Self-righteousness is notoriously difficult to self-assess.

Pic: Pixabay Public Domain

Those of us who struggle with it the most are the least likely to recognize it within ourselves. When the infamous Pharisee pompously prayed of all the ways he outshone his fellow worshiper, I just don’t think he was quite aware of how self-righteous he had become. We rarely are.

But I think I may have figured out a way of doing just that. Go with me for a moment, and then I’ll try to explain what I’m thinking.

Here’s the self-assessment question that might–just might–help reveal if we are struggling with self-righteousness:

Am I more offended by the sin of those around me, or am I more offended by the sin that is within me? 

What gets you riled up? What makes you ache inside? Is it the sin within your own heart, or the sin you see in others?

That, my friends, is a surefire test for self-righteousness.

The Pharisee and the Publican, baroque fresco in Ottobeuren Basilica. By Johannes Böckh & Thomas Mirtsch via Wikimedia Commons.

Because I, for one, am far more willing to denounce others than expose myself. I can feel very good about my reaction to the pride and superiority in others–in fact, I can feel pretty . . . er . . . great about it. You can see where this is going.

And lest you think this is a soft-sell, I’ll be clear: getting over self-righteousness is not about becoming dull to sin. Sin is destructive. And we can hurt for the damage sin wreaks in someone’s life; we can mourn over the losses, the hurt and the pain, even when the person doesn’t realize the effects of what they are doing. When we witness tragedy, when we are present in the midst of aching chaos, when we see firsthand the devastation of betrayal and selfishness, we respond with broken hearts.

We can even be offended by sin.  I mean, aren’t you rightly offended when you hear of abuse in the home or an injustice in the workplace? Aren’t you enraged by bombs dropped on kids or the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women? Yes. We are and we should be. Sin is offensive. Sin is nasty. Sin hurts and destroys.

But, at the end of the day, as a general posture, who’s sin am I more offended by? Which sin makes me the most sick inside?

Is it “their” sin?

Or mine?

Because our answer to that gives us the greatest clue to the state of our own hearts, if we are willing to listen.

Following his classic aphorism to “judge not, lest you be judged,” Jesus said to first take the log out of own eyes, so we can then see clearly to help others with the twigs in theirs. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus’ teaching doesn’t imply “no judgment at all” but rather that we make ourselves the primary focus of judgment first before we then help others. Jesus wants us to be far more concerned with our own junk than the mess in other’s lives, remembering how easy it is to overlook our own sin. Unless we are willing to let Jesus extract the massive ugliness within ourselves, we won’t be very helpful conduits of grace and love for others. In fact, we’ll be dangerously unhelpful. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul warned us against harsh judgment of others?  Paul knew from experience how easy it is to forget our own sin in our fervour to “correct” someone else’s error. Prideful self-deception is most powerful when we are focused on someone else, forgetting our own susceptibility, our own ugliness, our own need for Jesus, our own log-jammed eyes.

So, I offer this question to you for thought, for consideration, one more time:

Am I more offended by the sin of those around me, or am I more offended by the sin that is within me? 

What do you think?

Would this question help you discern your own self-righteousness? Would this move you toward a greater awareness of your own need for the Father’s grace, and therefore a greater desire to show the Father’s grace to others?

I’m hoping so. At least for me.


Your integrity is more about your direction than your perfection.

Our ability to influence others is directly proportional to the integrity of our lives.

Without personal integrity, people feel cheated and cynical, for you have said one thing, but done another. The charge of hypocrisy is then justified, from our homerooms to our boardrooms, to our families, businesses, churches, and communities, short-circuiting influence and diminishing what could have been so great.

Integrity is critical to influence.

But integrity does not mean perfection. Having integrity does not mean we never mess up, that we never fall short.  In fact, unless you are talking about something mechanical or structural (in which case I’m kind of hoping that the integrity a bridge or a jet means something close to perfection!), then integrity signals more of our direction than our perfection. When we buy the idea that integrity means perfection, we increase our chances of hurting our influence, for who among us is perfect?

Instead, personal integrity means being honest about where we are at with respect to our higher ideals or goals. We state where we are failing, where we are growing, and where we need help. Integrity means that we don’t hold up a false front suggesting we are more than we say we are, or even that we are more than we are hoping we are! No, integrity comes when we are transparent and honest, authentic with who we are and deliberate about ways we need to grow. And more than that, when we model integrity as direction and not perfection, we are able to invite others to become more honest and open about their growth and their struggles, which will help us all learn and grow together.

So how do we do this? First, by being more honest with ourselves about where we are actually at–naming our failures and reflecting on our steps, humbly and with candor. And then, in ways that are appropriate, opening up to others about how we are growing and failing, reaching but also falling back.

I believe that the more authentic we are about our own attempts to live lives worthy of God’s high call, including our losses and missteps, the more integrity we will have. And the more integrity we have, the influence we will have. And with more influence we have, the more transformation we will experience together, as we come, step by misstep, through surges forward and wanderings throughout, toward all that God has for us.


Are you killing your influence in 1 of these 5 ways?

Everyone wants influence.

You don’t think so? Go with me for a moment. Whether it is influence in a child’s life, influence in an organization we joined, influence over your own health, influence on an issue of grave concern, or just influence in your conversation with a customer service agent, we all want influence. We want to be able to move something from where it is to where it should be–spiritually, relationally, culturally, politically, organizationally, or physically.

And yet, we can do things that minimize or even kill our influence. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about things we do or say, attitudes we foster, or postures we take which makes us less able to move something we deem important from where it is to where we think it should be.

We can kill our influence.

The polarizing, political conflicts of late evidence our diminishing powers of influence, but I could just as easily refer to ways we lessen our influence in the lives of our youth, the spiritual journey of our friends, and even our own personal growth.

Here are 5 ways we kill our influence.

  1. We don’t slow down to let people catch up. Sometimes we get so excited about a good idea that we fail to help people process and move along at the pace appropriate to them. How many parents have been frustrated with the slowness of a child’s development and given up trying? Patience!
  2. We are more concerned about getting our own point across than we are hearing where others are struggling. Someone is conflicted over an idea, or reacting because of the inherent personal implications, but instead of teasing out their questions, we get preachy and overbearing. Without empathy, influence wanes. Listen!
  3. We get defensive when people question our actions or ideas, becoming reactive instead of helpful. Because polarized argument has hit the mainstream in a profound way, we seem less willing to engage disagreements at the level of ideas–we feel attacked and return the favour with force. Peace!
  4. We consider certain people unworthy of our respect, reducing them to mocking derision. So much of this is happening, I don’t even know where to start. People who boldly claim to follow Jesus Christ will say the nastiest things about others, bringing shame on their Saviour (Here’s a related post on Christians behaving badly online). The lack of respect and the degrading of dignity means we’ve already lost our influence (as well as our own dignity). Battle lines get drawn, wars ensue, and nobody moves. Respect!
  5. We lack the humility needed to influence others, exuding instead an ultra-confidence (which we may not even have!) that our position or thought or perspective is the only right one possible.  Is it? Really? You’ve got it all figure out and don’t have anything left to learn from others, even those you may disagree with? Humility.

So how are you killing your influence?

We all want to move ideas and people toward something better, but we can kill our influence if we won’t wait and listen, calmly and with respect, knowing that we are also growing and learning, along with everyone else.


How often do you say “no” to yourself? One lesson I learned through fasting.

To be honest, I don’t say “no” to myself very often.  I don’t mean the stupid or harmful or overtly sinful things–I say “no” to those as often as I can! But I rarely say “no” to my common desires, my everyday loves, the things that I simply must have and cannot do without: food, sleep, coffee, snacks, me-time.

Enter: fasting. Which is all about saying “no” to some very basic loves.

Fasting–abstaining from food for a prescribed period of time–is an ancient spiritual practice that crosses religion, time and tradition.  Fasting has formed an essential practice for those who long to discipline themselves, become more aware of God’s presence in their lives, attend to certain issues, as well as express sorrow and deep penitence. It has also been used as a practice of preparation and discernment. And there are those who say fasting has a component of breakthrough, enabling a person or a church to move through some barrier previously unbroken.

While fasting is not an end-all or be-all practice, nor is it commanded in the Bible, it has been helpful to many.

Last week, I fasted for seven days, specifically for the church I pastor. I was praying for our heart, that we would be aligned with God’s heart for our Valley and our world. And I waited upon God for myself, that I would be ready and available to the Father for all he needs me to be.

And in the process, I learned a few things, much of it about myself. One of them was key: It is good to say “no” to yourself sometimes so you can say “yes” to God all the time. And while that may seem pretty basic, I’m telling you, it was very illuminating for me.

It is currently vogue to learn to say “no” to others, to competing voices, to those who would draw us away from our main priority.  Much of that is good, and I’m learning that graceful art in my own life. Learning to say “no” to some things, even good things, so you can say “yes” to the right things and the best things is wisdom.

But perhaps we don’t go deep enough with that, if we only focus on saying “no” to exterior distractions or opportunities.  What I realized last week was that I need to be able to say “no” to myself, to my wants, to my needs, to my desires–so that I can really say “yes” to what God really wants for me.  And fasting, well, that brings it all up really clearly and poignantly. Every day, every meal time, snack time, coffee time. Which for me is a lot of times during the day! Saying “no” to myself is a healthy discipline.

Am I saying everyone should fast like I did? Not at all. However, anyone could employ some form of fasting with good benefit (skip a meal, say “no” to coffee for a month, etc). But what I am saying is that saying “no” to ourselves is an important part of our spiritual and personal growth, as well as critical to our larger leadership, but something that we often overlook.

With Lent coming into view, the season traditionally used to say “no” to ourselves, perhaps you want to consider some kind of fast or discipline, denying yourself something good so that you can avail yourself to Someone greater. Or maybe it isn’t about Lent or fasting at all–maybe it’s just about that daily choice to place God’s best before my good, knowing that his best for me will always be better than any good I can imagine.

At the end of it all, it’s not about saying “no”–not really. It’s actually all about saying “yes”. Yes to the Father, Yes to the Best. Yes.






What are we doing up there on Sunday? A conversation with young worship leaders

Can I let you in on a fun leadership conversation I had yesterday?

I enjoyed an hour with some young leaders, preparing to lead singing on Sunday during our worship gathering with the Erickson Covenant Church. It was so much fun, as anyone who’s worked with grade 5 girls knows! And yes, there was a lot of giggling! 🙂

When we were done practicing the songs, I asked them what we were doing up there on Sunday.

Their answer: “Worshiping Jesus.” Good answer.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we love him. Because he loves us. Because he’s worth singing for.” Amazing answers.

preparing-to-lead-worship“What’s the other reason we are up there singing on Sunday?” I asked. They weren’t too sure. And I didn’t expect them to have an answer, because the question is a little trickier.

“We are up there helping other people worship Jesus, too.” Ahh, yes–you could see they got it. And then we went on to talk about what that means and how we don’t just get up and sing for ourselves–we sing and worship Jesus in a way that helps others do the same. As worship leaders, we have a responsibility to practice and prepare, and then lead and sing so that others will be drawn to give praise to the Father, also.

Which means we practice. Which means we make sure that everything we do points to Jesus and doesn’t draw attention to ourselves. Which means that we are conscious of our role as leaders even while we are singing.

The girls loved it. And so we teased out some more implications of what that might mean.

At the end, I asked: “But even with all of that in mind, what’s the most important thing we do to help others worship Jesus on Sunday?”

They knew the answer. “We worship Jesus. We sing our hearts out. We sing for him.”

Yep. Because at the end of the day, the climax of the song, or the close of the gathering, he’s the one we’ve been singing for all along. And he’s the one we’ll keep singing for through the week.

It’s a privilege to lead others in worship, and it’s an honor to lead with these young leaders.  And above all, to gather and worship the One who loves us.

I’m looking forward to Sunday.


When are you the most unteachable? The Top 10 Times My Teachability Tanks

I can be unteachable.

But if you are anything like me, there are times when you aren’t very teachable, either. We try to be open; we try to be humble. But sometimes, our teachability tanks.

Charlie BrownAnd while there are legitimate times to refuse teaching, teachability is critical to growth in any area of our life: spiritual, relational, vocational, physical or intellectual.

So when are you the most un-teachable? Knowing those times when you are most resistant to learning can help you become more teachable. When I thought about my own life, I identified at least 10 times when my teachablility tanks.

My Teachability Tanks . . .
  1. When I think I already know what I need to know.  If I don’t think I need any more information, I find myself frustrated by an ongoing lecture on what I’m supposed to be doing. While you could say this is pure arrogance, that’s not always the case–perhaps I really do know what I’m supposed to know. Either way, my openness to more teaching goes down when I think I already got what I need.
  2. When I don’t trust the teacher. Trust is huge. If we don’t think the person teaching us is credible, then why would we be open to their teaching? And while it is possible to learn from anyone, we are wise to take precautions if the person character or teaching isn’t trustworthy. Trust and teachability go hand in hand.
  3. When I already feel like I’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked. In areas of struggle (areas we need help the most!), we can feel so discouraged that we resist more teaching. We can feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We can feel we’ve been there/done that and already know there’s no hope. It’s hard to learn anything without hope.
  4. When I’m too proud to admit I need help. Pride is the bane of teachability. And when asking for help exposes my ignorance and wounds my self-pride, I tend to bluff and hide and fake. Admitting I need help takes humility, and we can all struggle with that. I’ve written about some of the reasons we resist getting good advice here.
  5. When I don’t want to change what’s “sort of working” for fear that things could get worse. There are times when life is such a delicate balance that we fear any kind of change, not because we don’t want our situation to get better but because we are afraid that things could get worse. I’ve seen this in marriages, churches and work relationships. Fear of change makes me unteachable.
  6. When I like the way things are, even if I’m told it could be better. Unlike the previous resistance based on fear, we can be unteachable because we are comfortable with the way things are. Oh, they may not be perfect. Yes, I know it could be a bit better. But I like things the way they are. The hardest person to teach is the person who is unquestionably comfortable in the status quo.
  7. Pressure to LearnWhen I feel pressured to learn. Of course, some of us operate well under pressure, and we can all think of instances where the pressure to perform at work or at school really did kick us into learning mode. But there are also times when I’m less teachable when I feel the pressure to learn, especially if it’s something I’m not convinced I need.  Think: elementary school student learning math–the pressure to learn may actually create more resistance to learning.
  8. When I’m too busy and distracted. One of the challenges to ongoing personal growth and learning–a practice I’m deeply committed to–is the level of our busyness and distraction. The busier I am, the less I read. The more distracted I am, the less I’m open to learning throughout my day. The faster I fly, the less I listen. Too much piled on the plate scrapes learning in the trash. 
  9. When I’m not convinced I need to change. How can I be taught if I refuse to acknowledge my need to learn or change or grow? Even if an area of growth is brought to my attention, if I’m not convinced of that need, I won’t be open to learning. People have to see the need for change before change can occur.
  10. When I refuse to listen to new information or ideas. I become unteachable when I’m closed to the new. When we refuse to be open to anything outside of ourselves and what we already believe, it’s tough to see change come. In my own life, this is particularly true when it involves something I feel strongly about–I resist hearing any ideas that might challenge my own dearly held position.  My teachability tanks.

So what about you?

  • When are you most unteachable and why?
  • What is the difference between legitimate reasons for refusing to be taught and becoming an unteachable person?

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #20: The Church Belongs to Jesus (not to me)

When you really care about something, it’s easy to take too much ownership. Parents do this with their kids, volunteers with their work, and pastors with their churches. We can shift from managing as stewards to ruling as owners. It doesn’t usually go very well.

And this is a lesson I’m still learning–Lesson #20: Jesus owns the church. I don’t.

Zapata-Cattle-DriveWe applaud “having ownership” because a person who feels a sense of “ownership” will take responsibility for what happens, refusing to pass the buck and actively serving together for the good of the community. In that sense, I hope everyone who calls our church home feels a sense of “ownership.” It is their church. They belong!

But the difficulty comes when we move from a sense of “ownership” in the church to acting as the Owner of the church. Or at least that becomes a difficulty for me.

You see, over the years I’ve had to remind myself (and be reminded by others) that the church isn’t actually mine. I’m not the possessive, overly-controlling type, but I am deeply committed the local church and want to see the church flourish and deepen. As a leader, I can envision some of what that could look like, and I work hard to see God’s vision realized.

MineBut in the middle of all that, I can slip from acting as a steward within God’s house to acting as the owner of the ranch. I can start taking too much ownership, taking all failures personally, resenting resistance, imbalancing my daily life and allowing the ebb and flows of regular ministry to define the ebb and flows of my own soul.

With startling regularity, I have to stop and remember: Jesus owns this community. This is his church. He bought and paid for it, in blood. Jesus is the one leading us. Jesus died for this church, not me. Jesus is the one in the middle of this church, not me. Jesus is the one who will see this church through to his intended goal, not me. Not me.

I think that’s why Paul, encouraging his much-loved Philippian friends, expressed confidence “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:9) We often hear these words in reference to our own personal lives. While that’s good application, the primary reference is to the whole church in Philippi, the little gathering of Jesus followers faithfully worshiping, serving and witnessing in that Roman colony.  Few people were more heavily invested in the early churches than Paul; he took responsibility as a founder and apostle within the movement. But at the end of the day, at the end of his life, Paul knew that the church was not his–the church belonged to Jesus, and he would finish what he started. 

This truth makes a practical difference in my ministry leadership, giving me perspective and confidence. You see, as much ownership as I feel for the church, I can serve knowing that, in the end, I’m not the one ultimately responsible for the success and flourishing of the church–Jesus is. As important as pastoral leadership is to a church, Jesus is over all and he will complete what he’s started in us. I am so thankful!

A couple of reflection questions for you:

  • When does “having ownership” inappropriately shift to acting as the owner?

  • How does Jesus’ ownership of the church increase your confidence to take responsibility for your church?

This was my final of 20 ministry lessons. As you might remember, I began my first vocational ministry posting on May 1st of 1996–these posts are retrospective reflections of some of the lessons I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) in ministry. Here are the other 19. Thanks for reading.

If you read through some or all of these 20 lessons, I’d love to hear from you. What was it like to read them? What resonated with you? What didn’t work? How could I have done it differently? I’m eager to learn from you. You can comment below or private message me. Thanks!


20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #19: Character Trumps Gifting, Every Time

Would you rather work with someone super-gifted or someone truly trustworthy?

If you had to choose between a leader with skills or a leader with integrity, how long would you have to think about it?

We all know the answer because strength of character trumps skills and gifting, every time. That’s Lesson #19 of my 20 ministry lessons.

Vintage One Man Band More than 20 years ago, as I was finishing up an internship, a mentor spoke this truth into my life: “Tom, you’ve got lots of gifts, and as a young minister, many people will see your skills and gifts and assume depth of character. Don’t be fooled by that–place the growth of your character over the honing of your gifts, because in the end, it’ll be your character that truly matters.”

That’s the truth, folks. And those words stuck with me.

Because it is easy to see gifts and assume maturity. We do it all the time. When you serve others according to your gifts, especially if those involve worship leading, Bible teaching, and pastoral care, it is SO easy for people to think you are spiritually deeper than you really are. Either we, like the Corinthian Christians, assume spiritual gifts are related to spiritual maturity (they aren’t), or we just never drive deeper than what’s being presented publicly.

SupermanWhat my mentor helped me see is this: it’s deceptively easy to equate the kind things people say regarding my public ministry with the depth of my personal, spiritual growth. Not only would that assumption hurt me, it would eventually hurt my ministry, too. Rather, I must make the development of my character a priority focus. No one else would do that for me; they may even inadvertently help me overlook its importance.

Prioritizing character doesn’t downplay the importance of honing our skills or developing our gifts. Many of you know the frustration of working with someone who refuses to develop more skills or acknowledge weaknesses. The responsibility to grow in gifts is a given–we need to be getting better as leaders or givers or preachers or helpers if we are to truly help the body of Christ mature (see Romans 12:3-8). But make no mistake: We don’t do that at the expense of our relationship with God or the strengthening of our character. In the end, it’ll be depth of our character that holds us true, not the heightened power of our gifts.

So how do we make sure we aren’t blinded by ministry skills? Here are 6 ways to ensure our character growth outpaces our gift development.

  1. Find good mentors, be they dead or alive. Let them challenge you.
  2. Spend more energy on personal growth than skill development. Get practical about this–make a concrete plan, complete with dates.
  3. Deal with heart issues as soon as they are revealed. Don’t dodge them because no one else sees what you see (yet).
  4. Get trusted truth-tellers to help you identify your blind spots. The more you grow in gifting, the more difficult these truth-tellers are to find.
  5. Rigorously grow in self-awareness. Does it sound like I’m repeating myself? The more I lead, the more I’m convinced that self-awareness holds the key to a vibrant relationship with God in the context of sustainable ministry.
  6. Develop spiritual habits that create space for God to speak. Examples include solitude, silence, fasting, journaling and retreats, but there are many more. Find what works best for you. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook are two very helpful resources.

Let me ask you two questions for reflection. Feel free to comment below.

  • When you consider the leaders who’ve fizzled out or harmed the church, has their failure been a character issue or a gifting issue?
  • What is your plan for expending more energy on the hidden things that matter most?

Spiritual Gifts Don't Ensure Spiritual Maturity

Only one more lesson to go. Here’s the first 18 ministry lessons I’ve posted through the month of May, reflecting on my first 20 years of vocational ministry.


20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #18: Cynicism Kills

Nothing sucks the air out of the room like well-placed cynicism.

Creativity? Dead.

Insight? Gone.

Trust? Fading . . .

I’m so done with cynicism. Why?

Because cynicism kills. That’s Lesson #18 of 20 lessons gleaned from 20 years of ministry.

Oh, I know–being the “insightful” realist, cutting through all the sentimentality and mush, exposing the flaws and the motivations makes a person seem wise and discerning, that you’ve been there/done that/and won’t get fooled again. In certain circles, cynicism is applauded as the pinnacle of maturity.

Cynical CatBut cynicism signals deformation, not maturation. And a culture of cynicism cannot grow people nor inspire them to greatness. I’m not sure the Spirit can even do much where cynicism reigns.

As I’ve reflected on my 20 years in ministry, I’ve seen cynicism up close and personal, exposed in fellow leaders and battled in my own heart. Creeping cynicism is one of the vocational risks of any “people” profession, rearing its ugly head when people fail you, yet again, when exhaustion begins to set in, when you are disappointed with your own lack of growth in godliness.

But when leaders or pastors become cynical, leading people into God’s good future becomes difficult, maybe impossible. We can’t help people envision better marriages, nurture better relationships, pursue better experiences, and practice better habits if we ourselves don’t think “better” is even possible.

And pastors can become cynical about the very foundation of our life together: cynical about the power of God’s word, jaded about the greatness of God’s people, negative about the possibility of personal transformation, dismissive about the very world Jesus died to save. Why? Maybe they’ve been disappointed too many times. Maybe they’ve lost perspective. Maybe they just experienced a major set-back. Maybe they are under spiritual attack. Maybe they’ve taken their eyes off of Who really is in the middle of this mess.

As leaders, we must define reality–that’s part of a leader’s role. But we must define reality in hope, not despair. Leaders must be critical thinkers, but with open (not jaded) hearts. Pastors must be honest about the failings of others, and yet deeply passionate about the worthiness of each person in God’s eyes. We must practice hope and reject cynicism, every time we show up.

Unless we do, we won’t be able to lead or serve or help. A jaded leader is dangerous to the mission Jesus has given to us; unless they deal with their cynicism pronto, they should resign from leadership before more damage is done.

True wisdom is not found in cynicism– it is found in hope-filled realism that, though this world is a mess, though we are a mess, God is present and he is leading us into his good future. Though the days be dark, the light is dawning, and we can place our hope in the God who will never disappoint.

  • How have you seen cynicism harm ministry?

  • How do you battle cynicism in your own life?

I’ll give Stephen the last word today. It’s a good one.

Colbert on Cynicism

Catch up on the previous posts in this series of 20 lessons learned in 20 years of ministry: