The Apostle John: An Example of Teachableness, Part 2

26 March 2015


(Yesterday we looked at the Apostle John and saw that there were numerous examples of his lack of love towards others seen in the Gospels. And yet John is paramountly known as “The Apostle of Love.”

How could that be, or more to the point, “how do we go from insensitive, petty John, to John “the disciple of love”?  The transformation seems almost as great as the transformation of Peter from denier of Christ to the bold proclaimer of Christ we see in the early chapters of Acts.”)  (Find that post here).

Part 2: 

I believe a big part of it was teachableness on the part of John (just as it was in the life of Peter). John was willing to be taught—through several means.

In the Gospels we certainly have a mixed view of John.  But in John’s Gospel of Jesus, (which he wrote decades after Christ’s resurrection and ascension), he recalls clearly that Jesus was trying to teach them of love throughout his ministry:

John 14.26-Jesus assure them that the HS, would teach them all things.

John 14.21- Jesus reminded them that “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

John 13:34-35; Jesus gave them a new command: to love one another.

John 14:15, 21,23,24,31-they were to demonstrate their love for Christ by keeping his commandments.

John 15:9,10,12,13,17,19; Christ has loved them as the Father has loved Him.  He exhorts them to “remain” in his love. They do that by obeying his commandments, just as Jesus has obeyed His Father’s’ commands. The (primary) command that Jesus wants them to keep is that they love one another as Christ has loved them.

John 16:27-theFather loves them because they love Jesus and believe that he came from the Father.

John 17:23, 24, 26- In his great high priestly prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus wants them to know that he has loved them just as the father has loved Him. He desires to continue to make the Father known to them so that the love the Father has for him can be shown in them.


A quick look at John’s first and second epistles and the Revelation which Christ gave to John have a steady drumbeat of lessons learned of his belief in the importance of being taught, particularly about love:

I John 1.1-God presented evidence to them (physically) about the Word of Life so they could learn

I John 1:5- We have heard a message from God and declare a message to you.

I John 2,7-8ff- The message of love isn’t a new message; it was included in the Old Covenant, but it came to have new meaning in the person of Jesus Christ and in John’s love for the readers of this epistle.

I John 2.26-27- The anointing they have received has resulted in them coming to new knowledge which John affirms they already know.

I John 3.12- An appeal for them to be teachable based on the (negative) example of Cain killing his brother Abel.

I John 3.16 & 4.9- We learn about love from seeing it demonstrated, particularly in the life of Jesus.

I John 4.1- Do not be gullible.  Learn but be wise in your learning.

I John 5.6ff- We learn from the testimony of the Spirit, water and the blood about the identity of Jesus.  But more than that we learn from the testimony of God.If you are going to be a Son of God, you must learn from God about Jesus.

I John 5.20- The Son of God has taught us understanding so that we know him who is true.

II John 5- This command to love is one that John has learned from the beginning, but he knows the need to pass it on to others.

Rev 3.18-the glorified Christ counsels the angel of Laodicea (through John) to buy from Him the things that are of ultimate value.

Rev.17.1; 21:9- The angel will teach John about the sin of the great prostitute and the kings who had adultery with her, and her punishment.

Rev 21;9-The angel will teach John about the bride of the Lamb

Rev 22.6 –the angel taught John what words were trustworthy and true.


This drumbeat of scripture may be a bit of overkill, but I think it supports my conclusion:  whatever hesitancies toward showing love that was in John was taken away (we don’t know if it was all at once or bit by bit) by the demonstration of Christ’s love through His crucifixion and resurrection as well as through the Holy Spirit’s teaching after Pentecost.

He continued to be teachable and through that he became the one we know today as “The Apostle of Love.”

By what moniker could you be known if you set yourself to learn the lessons that God is trying to teach you?

A profitable place to start is the Group Coaching Program beginning in April on Being Teachable that is based on my book, “TheTeachable Journey.” Space is limited. For more information, click here.

The Apostle John: An Example of Teachableness, Part 1

25 March 2015


When we think of the Apostle John, most of us think of the word “love”. That arises usually because of two facts about John:

  1. He is often referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is what John calls himself, as a way of deflecting attention from himself in his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry and back onto Jesus. Five times, beginning in the upper room and ending with Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus on the beach, John refers to himself in critical moments as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
  2. But John is also known for his use of the word “love”. Of course he uses the word to quote Jesus when the Lord famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3.16).

But he also uses the word on his own initiative. 65% of all of the uses of “love” in the New Testament are in the writings of John. [1]

Representative of those are the words of John in I John 4:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  (I John 4:10-11, 16-21).

John is not seen, however, as a great example of love earlier in the Gospel accounts.  In Mark 9:38-40 we have the account of John coming to Jesus to complain.  Earlier in the chapter we have the incredible account of Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus up an unspecified “high mountain” and being transfigured there before them.  Moses and Elijah then appeared with Jesus and talked with him.  A cloud enveloped them and the voice of God declared, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  A pretty incredible experience.

Upon coming down from the mountain, they travelled to Capernaum.  On the way, Jesus overhead them arguing about which one of them was to be the greatest.  When confronted by Jesus, they sheepishly admitted the argument.  Jesus stated, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”   He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mk 9:35–37)

So, after seeing the glory of Christ displayed, heard the voice of God and been rebuked by Jesus about their unloving pride, how does John respond?

He approaches the Lord and whines, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (9:38).


What love does that show to those who are doing miracles in Jesus’ name? What love does that show for the person afflicted with demons?


Jesus replies (I imagine with a patient look on his face):

 “Do not stop him…, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mk 9:39–41)

John has a great deal to learn…particularly about love.

In the very next chapter of Mark is recorded a second opportunity for John to enter the school of love.

Matthew and Mark give the accounts a bit different spin.  Mark says that the event happened on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus has such a determination to get to Jerusalem that it alarmed those accompanying him.  Their fears are not relieved when Jesus tells them what will happen when they arrive:  “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mk 10:33–34).

What happens next differs a little bit between Matthew and Mark.  Mark says that James and John approached Jesus and asked him a request with which most parents are familiar: “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”   (That’s a setup if ever we have heard it!)

Matthew says that it is James and John’s mother Salome (Jesus’ aunt) who came and asked him a favor.  While Matthew’s account makes the most sense—Salome came and made the request with her two sons, they certainly didn’t disagree with her.  Mark just cuts to the chase and lays responsibility for the request on James and John themselves.

“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)

There is the height of insensitivity for you!  Jesus has just said that he is going to suffer, be condemned to death, turned over to the Romans who will degrade him and then finally kill him.  And then (mysterious to them at this time) he says he will rise from the dead.

And so they come to Jesus, “Um, Jesus…if you’re going to die would you let us sit at your right and left hands?”  Perhaps they were referring to the resurrection…thinking that Jesus’ resurrection is going to mean he will finally come and take political power, “When you show them your power by rising from the dead and take your earthly position of power, will you let us sit on either side of you in your reign?”

They show the height of sensitivity and love.  (Not really.)

After trying to get them to see the seriousness of the situation into which he is walking, he simply tells them that these places are reserved to those for whom they have been prepared.  Very probably NOT James and John.

If being insensitive to the feelings of Jesus is not sufficient, they also show an attitude of superiority to the other ten disciples.  When the others found out about the request, they were (appropriately) indignant.  How dare these two put themselves into positions of authority over the rest of them?  (Perhaps some of them were wondering, “Why didn’t WE think of this?)

And so, how do we go from insensitive, petty John, to John “the disciple of love”?  The transformation seems almost as great as the transformation of Peter from denier of Christ to the bold proclaimer of Christ we see in the early chapters of Acts.

(To be Continued Tomorrow)

In the meantime, a great way to learn about your own teachableness (in love as well as in other areas) is to participate in the group coaching program that I will launch next month, based on my book “The Teachable Journey”.  Space is limited. For more information, click here.

[1] Out of the 179 times that the word “love” appears in the New Testament, 57 of those occurrences occur in the Gospel of John and it occurs 46x in I John. If you add 2 & 3 John (7x) and the book of Revelation (7x) that means that 117x

Why Should I Be Teachable?

23 March 2015
  • “I really have no interest in being teachable.”IAmNeverWrong
  • “I am not teachable and I’m OK with that.”
  • “At my age, I don’t think I can be teachable anymore.”

All of these are actual quotes that I have heard since I began to promote my book “The Teachable Journey.”  I would say that (so far) the biggest surprise for me as I have talked about being teachable is how many people simply write off being teachable as either something that is desirable, or something that is possible for them.

And yet, it appears that it shouldn’t have surprised me.  An infographic I saw today cited statistics that said only 61% of Baby Boomers would describe themselves as “Willing to Learn.”

39% of Baby Boomers are “not willing to learn”?  Wow.

Whether or not I WAS teachable, I have always believed that being teachable was a desirable characteristic.   Apparently not everyone believes that…

“So…” someone asked me last week, ”why should I be concerned with being teachable”?” I answered that person using the subtitle of my book: The Teachable Journey: How to Quit Making Mistakes and Open Your Doors of Possibility.

That subtitle was not chosen by accident: “How to Quit Making Mistakes and Open Your Doors of Possibility.”  That may seem like an exaggerated claim, the product of some marketing copywriter, but I really believe it speaks to the question of “why be teachable?”.

  1. To Quit Making the Same Mistakes.

We all develop habits.  We all have blind spots.  We all have ways of doing things that we just take for granted.    Everyone from teenagers to millionaire entrepreneurs fall prey to making the same mistakes over and over.  We look at certain people who have failed marriage after failed marriage.  Sometimes those of us on the outside know that the next one will fail too, because the person has not learned the lessons of the failure of the previous marriages.  Another person moves from job to job always ending each job with bad feelings and bad relationships.  And the pattern will continue…because it is all too easy to blame others instead of learning from our own mistakes.

In the book The Teachable Journey, I talk about my own struggles with making the same relational mistakes over and over.   Because of my own emotional needs, I saw more potential in others than either was there, or than they saw in themselves.  And this led to no end of trouble: I continually was spending way too much time with people who were not going to benefit from my time and attention.    Time, emotional energy…and money were invested without return.  Perhaps it was a “savior mentality”.  Perhaps it was idealism.  Perhaps it was a combination of the two.  But I kept making the same relational mistake over and over and it cost me dearly.  Only when I faced the lessons that I needed to learn and worked at it (actually, I’m still working at it) did those relational failures begin to lessen and did I become able to invest myself in more productive and satisfying relationships.

So…what mistakes (relational, financial, educational, whatever) do you keep making. Being teachable is a big step in changing that pattern.


  1. Open Your Doors of Possibility.

The second part of the subtitle moves the focus from backwards (the mistakes from the past that you and I keep making) to the future:  what possibilities exist before me that are unfulfilled because I have been unable to be open to learning new lessons?

Perhaps it is a new position at work. Perhaps it is a totally new career.  Perhaps it is a fulfilling relationship.  Perhaps it is greater success at an endeavor that has stymied me for too long.

Alan Hall, the Founder, Tempus Global Data and Grow America has said in Forbes magazine:

My first entrepreneurial venture was surprisingly successful and I recognized immediately that I enjoyed developing solutions for problems…. Sadly, the next four companies I launched were total failures. I lost my shirt with each endeavor. Bound and determined to succeed, I maintained a positive attitude by noting that the hard lessons learned from failures can be incredibly valuable.

Of all the tough lessons learned, being teachable and humble stand out as the most significant and critical attributes for success, not only in business but in any endeavor. Their evil twin counterparts, pride and arrogance, are the cornerstones of failure.

King Solomon wrote of the great possibilities that being teachable offered:

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. (Proverbs 2:1–8)

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. (Proverbs 3:1–2)

We all know the well-worn description of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The new possibilities will not come from doing the same things the same old ways.  It is only when we are teachable and willing to learn new lessons (thus do things in new ways) that we are able to get different results.

Perhaps you are as successful as you want to be.  Perhaps you are earning all the money you ever want to earn.  Perhaps there is no (positive) legacy you want to leave after you are gone. (A lack of teachableness will certainly leave a legacy, but it will not be a positive one!).

If those things are true of you, then don’t worry about being teachable.  But if you want to stop making the same mistakes…and you want to open the doors of possibility, I would urge you to consider examining your own teachableness.

One way to do that is through the group coaching program that I will launch next month, based on my book “The Teachable Journey”.  Space is limited. For more information, click here.

What thoughts has this prompted in you?  Share them in the comments below.

Teachable or Coachable?

18 March 2015


A number of topics I hoped to put in my book, The Teachable Journey” didn’t make the cut. One of those topics is the difference between being “Teachable” and “Coachable”.  Are they the same thing?

Absolutely not.

Or, while related, at least they are clearly distinct.   The difference lies in the source of the answer or information.

In my book, “The Teachable Journey” I define “teachable as:  “1. able to receive “knowledge or to be instructed in how to do something.”  2. To be able to receive instruction in (a subject or skill). 3. To learn by example or experience.”

They key element here is that a body of information passes from one person or experience to another.  You did not know something, and someone or something showed you this new knowledge or information (which you did not have before) and you assimilated it for yourself.

Pretty clear.

Coachable, however, is different.  In coaching, the coach minimizes the transfer of his/her information to the client.  (I don’t say it never happens, but it must always be minimized, and often is seen as a failure of the coach to do the best job of coaching).   A core principle of coaching is that the answer lies within the client.  (In Christian terminology I would say that either the person has the answer, or the Holy Spirit residing within that person reveals the answer to him/her).

The purpose of the coach is not to transfer his/her information to the client, but to help the client in the discovery of the information/answer for themselves.  You know your life/experiences much better than I (or any coach) does. The skill of coaching is to lead you to think through the answer to your situation or problem and discover the answer for that arises out of your experience and which is true to who you are. Realistically, there are ethical/moral and practical guardrails that most coaches apply.  But within the limits of those guardrails, you lead the client to come up with the best solution for themselves.

In teaching, the client (student) becomes dependent on the teacher for further information.  It is often a dependent relationship.

In coaching, the client learns to become independent of the coach, learning the thinking/questioning skills needed to make better life decisions in the future.  Rather than a dependency, it creates an independent person.

Now, it may seem that I am slanting this toward coaching, but I really am trying not to.  There is a place for both…teaching…and coaching.

But knowing the difference between the two is important if you are thinking through how to solve a problem.  Do I need NEW information?  Why do I think that this person will have better information than what I have?  Do I need a process to help me come up with the best answer/solution for myself?

There are time when I need to be teachable (open to information from a source outside of myself) and there are times when I need to be coachable (open to allow someone to help me examine myself to find the best information/answer).

Related, but clearly distinct.

Next month I will be launching a group coaching program based on my book “The Teachable Journey”.  Space is limited. For more information, click here.

Thoughts on this post?  Share them below in the comments section.

Coaching in Five Words or Less

23 February 2015


I belong to 22 different groups on LinkedIn specifically devoted to coaching. (I belong to 34 LinkedIn groups total, so it is heavily weighted towards coaching).

In one of my coaching LI groups, the question was asked,”How would you describe Coaching in five words or less?”

There were 38 answers (so far), but here are my top 10 favorites:

  1. Bringing awareness and life-changing results.
  2. A Guide on the side.
  3. Motivational kick n the butt!
  4. Knowing to change oneself.
  5. Enhancing awareness, intentionality and PURPOSE!
  6. Collaborative Open Active, Clarifying Help (C.O.A.C.H.)
  7. Reflective thinking and action partnership.
  8. Listening, questioning, processing, & executing…..
  9. Give meaning and develop self-efficacy.
  10. Helping others to be amazing!


I don’t know whether or not you have to be a member of the group to view all the posts, but here is the link from which I culled these:

A Thanksgiving Rant/Meditation

26 November 2014


This past Monday night as I drove home from Bible Study Fellowship, I was listening to a local radio program “Think Out Loud.” On this broadcast they had the rabbi of the largest Jewish synagogue in Portland,  a Muslim educational leader, and the retired minister of a prominent downtown church all speaking about faith and its place in our lives.

At the very end of the broadcast, the host Dave Miller asked the three guests what they were thankful for as Thanksgiving approached.

What the Unitarian minister said really made me shake my head in wonder/anger/sadness. Marilyn Sewell is the minister emerita of the First Unitarian Church here in Portland. She is a prominent community fixture and the author of many books. When asked what she was thankful for, she replied, “You know I have trouble being thankful these days. I’m very concerned, for example, for global warming. I’m very concerned about the injustices in our world. So when it gets down to being thankful, I start getting very personal: I’m thankful for my dear husband, I’m thankful for my children, I’m thankful for the church that I led for many years. So those are the things I am thankful about.”

I am glad that she is thankful for her husband, children and church. But to say that she has trouble being thankful for anything because of global warming and world injustice is a crock. Now don’t hear me to say that I think that global warming and social justice are unimportant issues. They are very important. I have been willing to rant about the idiocy of fundamentalist preachers who use the Bible to minimize those valid concerns. But it is also important to criticize progressive preachers when they spout nonsense as well.

Thankfulness is something that we can (and are to) have regardless of circumstances. Her words fly directly in the face of what is taught and modeled in the New Testament.

I Thess. 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 5:20 “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 4:6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

If my thankfulness is conditional about my situation or the situation of the world, I will NEVER be thankful. There is always more that I wish were better in my life and in our world. We live in a broken world and I am a broken human being. We are not in heaven yet: our hearts long for perfection. It is for that for which we were created. There is a holy discontent which will never be completely fulfilled on this earth…it will only be filled in the direct presence of the Father.

And I’m OK with that.

(That doesn’t mean we should stop working to better our circumstances and work for peace and justice in our world, but we need to realize that they will never be totally fulfilled on this earth).

But the New Testament doesn’t teach us to be thankful FOR our circumstances or FOR the condition of the world. We are, in the words of I Thess. 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances” and Phil. 4:6: “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present [our] requests to God”.

We see that modeled in the life of Paul who wrote these words:

  • When Paul was in prison…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was beaten…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was stoned and left for dead outside the city gates…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day in the open sea…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul could barely see because of his bad eyesight…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul was abandoned by those who were closest to him…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul saw the huge social injustice and abuse that happened in the Roman empire…he was thankful to God.
  • When Paul saw the extreme poverty of his age and disease wracking the bodies of innocent men and women…he was thankful to God.
  • When he saw his Hebrew brothers and sisters (for whom he said he was willing to be cast into hell) still out of relationship with Christ…he was thankful to God.

Sensitivity to the hurts and needs of others did not keep him from being thankful. Deep personal pain and heartache did not keep him from being thankful.

Thankfulness is an attitude of humility. It is a recognition of our place in the world. It is a recognition that everything we have and are is a gift to us from God.  Even in the way that Rev. Sewell worded the personal things she was thankful for: “I’m thankful for my dear husband, I’m thankful for my children, I’m thankful for the church that I led for many years,” there was no recognition of the one to WHOM she was thankful. God is the source of providing and sustaining her husband, children and church. Now she may have meant that she was thankful TO her husband and TO her children and TO her church. But that is not the way she worded it. But if that is what she meant, that itself is a self-condemnation of her lack of her understanding of the source of all good things in her (and my) life and a willingness to express thankfulness to God.

OK…negative blog post. Hopefully I don’t do this a lot. (at least publicly!) But really I think Rev. Sewell’s words (no matter how embarrassing and insufficient) can teach us a lot: we are to (and we have the ability to) be thankful despite our own circumstances and the circumstances of our world. Thankfulness is not a day. It is a frame of mind…an attitude that is to permeate our entire life.

May that be our reminder this Thanksgiving.

On Being a Thought Leader

22 October 2014


One of the (many) things I love about being a coach is that I learn from my clients and they inspire me.   Let me give you an example.

A while ago I was coaching a woman who has served in the international business world for quite a few years.    She currently also taught at a university and was wanting to make a career change, at least out of the business world, if not out of both.

When we began to explore where she wanted to go, she said, quite matter-of-factly “I want to be a national thought leader if not a world thought leader.”

This was one of the times when I am so thankful for my coach training to keep my mouth shut.  After a few minutes (less than a minute actually) I asked, “What would that look like for you?”

What I fortunately didn’t say was what was going on inside my mind: “How pompous!  You don’t choose to be a thought leader.  It’s not like saying, ‘I want to be a math teacher’.  Others choose YOU. Thought leaders are people like Warren Buffett, Madeline Albright or Tim Keller. It is not a job you aspire to, but a title bestowed on you.”

Oh, I was so glad I didn’t say those words.  I would have instantly lost my credibility as a coach and I would have put undue boundaries around her, even if subconsciously.

What IS a “thought leader”?

Forbes magazine gives two parts to their definition of “thought leader.”

  • Part One: A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
  • Part Two: A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

We can be a thought leader at many level.  Most ministers I know are thought leaders in their congregation.  Most physicians are thought leaders among their patients (although more recently with WebMD and other sites, they have had to fight to maintain that title).

But that type of thought leadership (as important as it is) isn’t the type of thought leadership desired by my client.  She already was a thought leader in the corporation of which she was an executive and in the classroom of her university.

She desired a bigger platform.  She wanted her expertise (which is significant) to expand beyond her company and her classroom.  As she told me, she wanted to be a national thought leader, if not a global thought leader.

Why would one want to do that?

1. Because you care about people and about our world.  The word turns on knowledge.  And without knowledge and expertise many people do more poorly than they might or even fail.  If you have information that you believe can be of benefit to others, you will want to share it if you truly care about people and their well-being and success.

2. If you are in business (as she is, and as I am, as are most leaders) the purpose of business is to have influence and be profitable.  Forbes magazine puts it this way: “From our perspective, no one can possibly be a thought leader unless they’re capitalizing on the dramatically enhanced brand equity attained by being a thought leader.”   So, someone who just knows a lot is not a thought leader unless she/he is making an effort to distribute that and makes others aware of their expertise.

Likewise, a person will not be a thought leader who can simply regurgitate information that they have read and remembered.  The thought leader will have processed the information.  “What does this mean for those over whom I have influence?”  Most anyone with an internet connection and Google can find raw information. (whether the information is even true is often up for debate) The real question comes down to “How does this affect me?” or (as I used to end so many of my sermons): “So what?  Who cares? Why is this information important and actionable?” –although I never used the word “actionable” from the pulpit!

Kirby Prickett of  WPEngine lists a dozen characteristics of  Thought Leaders. (Thought leaders can be teams as well as individuals and on his list he notes that “empathy” is the only one that cannot be done by a group):

  • True innovator
  • Takes risks
  • Does the unconventional
  • Exhibits expertise
  • Has vision
  • Demonstrates leadership
  • Has an insatiable curiosity
  • Is fearless
  • Likes to think in new ways
  • Has empathy
  • Develops the best people only
  • Loves what they do

The level of your thought leadership will depend on the level of intentional visibility you have in a specific forum.  A minister who never teaches or demonstrate his expertise will not be a thought leader in his/her congregation.  A physician who never shares his knowledge with his staff and patients will eventually lose both because he will not be considered a thought leader.  As business person who only sells widgets will not be a thought leader.  The business person must ask (and be willing to share with others) “How does this work?” “How else can this be used?”  “How can I maximize the use of this widget?”  Can I visualize this process or action verbally, on paper or in diagrammatic form so that it is clearer to visual learners?

Someone may argue, “There are so many thought leaders in my field, there is not room for one more.”  I would counter with two things:

  1. Go deeper.  Become the thought leader in a niche within your field.
  2. You don’t give yourself enough credit.  None (read:NOT ONE) of them has YOUR experience and YOUR personality or your style of communicating!

What are the processes to becoming a thought leader?  Well, first of all…think! (don’t just “know” but “think”)

But second, ask…what is the best way for me to distribute this information? What is the best way for me to be an influencer on those about whom I care?

Is it one-on-one?  Face to face?

Is it speaking in public forums? Does that take the form of community meetings? Webinars? Workshops? Most NPR stations are looking for “subject matter experts” to interview about the local impact of a national event or trend.

Do those forums have to be in-person?  Contributing to on-line forums such as Linked-In forums or Wikis on your area of expertise can be helpful if done regularly.

Is it writing something for distribution to others?  Is that a pamphlet, an e-book (they’re incredibly easy to produce and don’t have to be very long), it is a full-length book?  A blog?

The list could go on and on.  In our day and age, information is gold.    But as the parable of the talents (Matthew 25.13-30) reminds us: he who sits on the gold that has been entrusted to him/her will be condemned.

Or to quote another verse (a verse that we too often unjustly limit to witnessing and evangelism) “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14–16, NIV).

A Contrast of Confrontations

15 October 2014

confrontationTonight I was reminded of an event that happened 35 or so years ago and it stood in contrast to an event that happened tonight.  It may show the different ages in which we live, or it may show different leadership styles in confrontation, but whatever it shows, I found it profoundly interesting.

Tonight the minister of our church, Guy Gray, spoke on “Understanding Militant Islam”. Guy (after 20+ years at our church) had taken a sabbatical over the late spring & summer.  In addition to some time in Israel and time in Western Europe with his wife, Guy spent a month at Oxford University in England studying Islam.  He arrived back the middle of August and was asked (with all the news of ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaida) to help church members understand some about Islam and specifically about militant Islam. (He noted that militant Islam is a small minority of Islam, but gets almost all of the press).   It was an excellent presentation and may (but also may not because of what happened) be up on the church website soon.

But I want to write about not what happened in the first hour and a half of his presentation, but what happened in the last five minutes.

Guy said something to the effect of “In conclusion…” and a young man (maybe late high school age?) got up, move quickly to the platform and declared that he wanted to speak.  You could feel the tension pulse through the congregation like electricity.

Two things happened: one, Guy invited him up to the platform and two, the security team sprang into action.

The security team was formed after an Easter service a couple of years ago when a mentally unbalanced man rushed the platform and tried to take control of the service.  I wasn’t in that service, but the description from those who were was that it was very disturbing and that there was a feeling of “Oh no, what do we do now!?”

Beginning in the next few weeks and months a security team was formed.  To the best of my knowledge they are not armed, but they are a defined group and they have defined organization, training and tasks. Several times I have seen the security team touching base at one side of the foyer before/between services.  They wear ear pieces (like you see on Secret Service men and women around the President) and are just distributed around the building and the sanctuary, very unobtrusively.

A few months ago, as Loretta and I walked into the main doors of the church, there was a man who came storming out of the church screaming the most profane things and cursing. He was dirty, disheveled, unshaven and definitely out of control.

All of us froze.

Immediately, there were two members of the security team by his side talking calmly, but definitely moving him in a direction where they could speak to him privately.  The greeter at the door quickly jumped into action and called the names of people that he knew, welcomed them and asked everyone to come on inside.  It was handled as smoothly as could be expected.

Tonight, Guy invited the young man up.  When the young man kept saying,  ”I want to say something.” Guy very calmly asked him, “What would you like to say?” and the young man went into a speech about people misunderstanding Islamism and how Muslims love God and how the god they serve is the same god as the Christian God.

What I noticed was that 7-8 guys (mostly BIG guys!) were immediately up.  One was about half way up each of the aisles, 2 were at the front of the stage (but still on the floor of the auditorium).  They were almost within arm’s reach, but there was no attempt to grab or take the young man away.   The staff person who is in charge of the security team was over at the side of the auditorium surveying the room (and I wonder if he was communicating with the team members through their ear pieces). The young man on the platform spoke for maybe 60 seconds and at a breaking point, Guy stepped in, asked his name, offered his own name and shook his hand and thanked him for speaking.  In doing so he led him off of the platform.  The young man walked, accompanied by the two security men who were at the front of the stage and one of them walked with the young man to the back of the auditorium where they sat down together.   When we left, the young man was still sitting in the back with a few people (mostly security people) visiting with him calmly.

Pastor Guy made a comment about how these things were exactly like the things he had heard from Muslims during his time at Oxford and he thanked the young man for his words.  Guy said a few more sentences and then closed in prayer and the session was done.

I believe it was handled masterfully.  Guy was gracious.  He did not try to shut the young man up, but also he didn’t let him go on and on.  He let him say the essence of what he came to say, extended friendship to him, but also helped move him off the platform where people who could accompany the young man stood. If the young man had bolted off of the stage, or harmed the preacher and run…almost anything, there were enough security people to stop him and control him.

This stands in contrast with a similar session when I was in college.  Because it is not a very favorable comparison, I’ll keep names out of it.    The Way, International (led by Victor Paul Wierwille) was a cult that was growing in popularity in the late 1970s.  They were based out of Iowa which was just a few hours’ drive away from where I went to school.  During one chapel time, the school had a seminar on the teachings of The Way. Part way through the presentation a couple of young men got up (who were not from the school) and said that things were being misrepresented and they wanted to speak.  What resulted was a shouting match in which the presenter ordered them to leave the room, said this was a private meeting and that they were trespassing and if they did not leave immediately the police would be called.  This incited the two who began to shout back at the presenter.  They eventually were escorted out and the meeting ended badly.

I recognize that these were two different situations in two totally different time periods.  In the wake of church shootings and such, many churches have security teams. That would have been unheard of in the mid to late 1970s.  I think today it is appropriate. But the security people tonight were both visibly present when a situation arose, but also understated in their actions.  No one spoke except the minister and the young man whom I presume was Muslim.  Guy was very calm, allowed him to share briefly, but was definitely in control of the situation the entire time.   He ended the confrontation (if you can call it that) with extended friendship and agreeing with those things that he could agree with in what the young man said, but emphasizing that this was an example of what many Muslim people would say.

A church service is by nature a public meeting and anyone may attend. 35 years ago, the presentation was in the college chapel service, and while visitors are always welcome, it could (I suppose) be said that it was “a private meeting”…although if they had been friendly visitors they would have been totally welcome.

But the speaker back then was immediately confrontational, he escalated the conflict and basically shut off dialog.  The meeting ended badly and people (at least I) left with a very bad taste in their mouth. That stands in huge contrast with what happened tonight.   The discussions I heard after the service was on the content of what had been presented…little was said about the confrontation at the end other than about how well it was handled.

We live in an increasingly pluralistic age.  That means that we must expect people who don’t agree with us to show up at public meetings.  Not all will act in (what we would consider) an appropriate manner. There is a balance between keeping control of a meeting and being gracious hosts.  Thought and care had been put in place for a security team so that when something happened (both a few months back as well as tonight) key players knew exactly what to do and the spirit to use by which to diffuse the situation.

In the time in which we live, we need to have a well thought through safety plan in churches.  There need to be people who know both that they ARE to respond, but also be trained in HOW to respond (and diffuse situations if possible).  Those people who are leading from the platform, likewise, need to be trained in how to respond to interruptions by non-friendly attendees.

An interesting night, but one that sparked both remembrance as well as reflection within me.

Does your church have a similar plan?  I would love to hear about it if they do.

A Need is Not a Call

12 September 2014

A principle that I have lived by for quite a few years is “A Need is not a Call”. By that I mean, just because there is a need out there, even a need that you could conceivably meet, that doesn’t mean that you should or that God is calling you to meet it.

That flies in the face of so much recruiting and fundraising that we do in churches and non-profits. We think that if we simply can convince people of the NEED that they will respond. Or at least that they SHOULD respond.

I simply do not believe that is the case.

I believe we see this demonstrated in the life of Jesus:

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:32-38)

Jesus’ purpose (and by extension) the purpose of his disciples was to be faithful to the call of God…not to every need that possibly could exist somewhere.


I have known several individuals who severely limited their effectiveness in leadership because they spread themselves too thin. Whenever a need arose, they felt that they “should” do something about it. Especially if they had the means or ability to do so, they were even more compelled.

But in spreading their financial resources or energy resources or time resources so thinly, they really didn’t have enough to do ANYBODY any good. They give a little here and a little there of their money, time, influence and energy and nobody really benefits to any substantial degree. It may have made them feel good about themselves, but is feeling good about ourselves without genuinely doing good what God calls us to do/be?

Of course, this thinking is predicated upon the assumption that you know what your strengths are, you know what resources are under your control and you have a sense of vision or a sense of God’s call on your life. WHY (specifically) did God put you on earth? Was it to meet your own selfish pleasures only? (Most of us would say no). Was it to do as much general good in the most general way that we can? (I suppose that is better). But God put you in specific relationships, in specific geographic locations, in a specific time period, with a specific gift set. Is it not possible that he has something greater in mind for you than to simply to do as much general good in the most general way that we can?

There is generally a wealth of ways we can benefit others within a specific need point. That doesn’t mean that we only give to one cause or only volunteer for one cause. But we have to ask…if I say yes to giving to this in time or money, what am I saying no to? Is this really how God has called me to spend my time, money, resources, energy, influence?

I recognize that for those of us who have made our living trying to get as broad a base of financial donors and volunteers that we can, which makes our lives harder in one aspect.  But on the other hand, it can make our work easier. We as leaders of organizations recognize that our organizations are not called to be all things to all people. We can’t. WE must focus like a laser beam as an organization to be most effective.

We should expect no less in the lives of our donors and volunteers.

Thoughts on that?

Leadership and Expertphobia

20 August 2014

fear-of-public-speakingIt happened a couple of times in the past week.  Two very different people whom I respect, expressed deep fear and agitation about being in front of someone whom they respect as an expert in their field.

One was a business coach who had gotten called to coach an executive whom she knew only by reputation.   While she normally was a very confident and competent coach, the caliber of this person scared her to death.    She was afraid that her awe of this person would come out and that it would discredit her as a professional coach.  On the other hand, she didn’t want to come across as cocky and overly familiar.

Another was a friend of mine who was going to speak for his church.  Now my friend speaks at other churches and for large groups regularly.    But the church he attends is filled with former ministers and current university/seminary professor types.    He was afraid both about the quality of his style of presentation, but also that he had sufficiently crossed his theological t’s and dotted his hermeneutical i’s.

In both cases, I was reminded of a lesson taught me by one of my mentors, W.F. Lown.   Dr. Lown (former president of Manhattan Christian College) spoke of being in ministry early in his career, preaching as a student in a little out of the way rural congregation, filled with very uncritical elderly people.  They were just happy to have someone filing their pulpit.

One Sunday, however, as he made last minute preparations for the service, two men walked in who struck fear in him!  One was the president of his college and the other was a nationally known speaker.  The two were on their way to an evening joint event somewhere, but since it was Sunday morning, they picked this little out of the way church to attend because it was on their way.

At first Bill Lown tried to get either of the two to speak for the worship service instead of him.  Both demurred.  Then he confess to them his total fear at exegeting the text for the morning.  He said, “Surely both of you have preached on this text many times and would say much more important things than I have to say.”

One of the two (he never said which) gently took him aside and said “Yes, I have preached on this text many times.  Yes, I know what many scholars and commentaries say about this text. But what I don’t know is how God has impressed this text on YOUR heart to share this morning.  And I don’t know how this text has impacted your life and behavior.  So, in fact, you are actually much more prepared to speak to your people on this text than I am.  Please don’t allow our presence to quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do through you this morning.”

Brilliant.  With those simple words Bill Lown was able to go into the pulpit, not only with much reduced fear, but also believing that he had something to contribute to these two men, as celebrated as they were.

Whether you are coaching a celebrated client who (frankly) intimidates you, or you are speaking to an audience that you think is above you, or in some other situation that is unique to you, remember: there is no one else in the world that brings the unique combination of abilities and experiences that you bring to that setting.   No one else can speak from the unique vantage point that you can.   And, as a Christian, I believe that God has not brought anyone else but you to be in that situation.

Use it, not in a proudful way, but in a way of humble confidence.


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