10 Ways To Spot An Unlikely Leader

I love the Jim Collins quote from Good To Great: “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” The problem: Where do you find great people?

Recently I was reading the story of Jesus confrontation with Zaccheaus in the New Testament and I noticed at least 10 principles that apply to all of us when choosing leaders to help us in our work.

What’s new this week?

What I learned this week

Confession time: I was the kid who read the encyclopedias for fun while growing up. Can I get a witness?

Some of you are saying, “Encyclo-what?”

Google it.

I’ve always enjoyed learning. Whether it’s researching the newest hobby, chasing the latest productivity app, or studying the history behind the New Testament, I love the thrill of discovery.

It’s follow thru that’s always been a challenge for me.

What’s in my pocket? What I’m reading and why it matters

Last week I posted about how I use Feedly and Pocket to help me expand my knowledge base as a leader. If it’s useful, I thought I might do a quick post every week or two called “What’s in my Pocket?” In it I will give a short list of what I’m reading and how it’s helpful to my leadership.

What do you think? Let me know in the comment section.

So, here goes…

What’s in my Pocket this week?

Five things I read this week that can make me a better leader

How do you grow in your leadership skills? By doing? By watching? By being stretched? By learning from others? Probably you grow by doing a combination of all of them.

20140426-125821.jpg One of the ways I grow best is by watching the example of the leaders around me. I love learning. I’ve always been a curious sort. Over the years, curiosity has gotten a bad rap. We all know about the cat :-) What you might not know is that St. Augustine wrote in Confessions in A.D. 397, that, in the time before creating heaven and earth, God “fashioned hell for the inquisitive”. Apparently one of his followers was asking a few too many questions. I hope he was wrong.

One of the ways I scratch the leadership curiosity itch is by reading as much as I can, as often as I can. The information age that we live in is like crack for a consummate learner like me. Earlier I wrote a post about some of the tools that I use to help me do my job. I use at least three of those every day to help me learn and to retain what I’m learning.

Setting the example without killing the morale

What do great leaders look like? That’s almost like asking, “When will I know I’m in love?” The answer: “You just will. You’ll know it when you see it.”

Recognizing a great leader is similar. You’ll know it when you see them. Great leaders are different. When you meet one, you can sense it. They’re just not like everybody else.

It’s been my privilege to learn from several great leaders. Fred Richard, the pastor of the church that we planted Seacoast from is one of those. When you are around him you just want to watch and take notes. Any room he walks into, you recognize his leadership gifts. He sees things differently than the average person.

How I nearly ruined Mother’s Day

I’ve got to admit – Mother’s Day is one of the most fear eliciting, stress inducing weekends of the year for me. It’s not so much about my ineptness in selecting a gift or honoring the mother of my house – Debbie. Although, I’ve messed that up more than once :-)


No, the trepidation comes from the annual exercise of trying to prepare and deliver a message that navigates the veritable minefield of emotions that women are feeling on that day. You’ve got women who are: mom’s, want to be mom’s but haven’t been able to yet, mothers who’ve lost a child, women who’ve lost a mother recently, moms with wayward children, women who have lost their husbands, women who would LIKE to lose their husband, women who would like to find a husband, career moms, stay at home moms. The list goes on.

I try to do my best but over the years, admittedly, there have been times that my sermons probably did more harm than good. My heart was right but my sensitivity meter was broken. Clueless might best describe it.

Honestly, we could probably just blow right thru Mother’s Day. Ignore it from the pulpit. It not in the Bible. Just a few years after it became a holiday, the person who created it was arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting against it. We could just take a pass and avoid the potential pain entirely.

That’s probably the best idea, but unfortunately it’s not the one I’ve chosen. I still think its a great weekend to tackle issues that impact women and give them an encouraging word from the wisdom of God. We’ve just got to be less clumsy.

So here’s what I’m doing this year:

  • First – Debbie sat me down and made me read this blog post by Amy Young. It was golden! I was going to innocently violate the most basic no-no – asking mothers to stand so I could pray for them. I would have ruined Mother’s Day for someone. Good catch Deb!
  • Second – I made a list of several women who represented some of the above mentioned stations in life and then asked them to help me with the message.
  • Third – I’m praying like crazy that God will use it in a powerful way.

Now I’m really looking forward to Mother’s Day. It should be great – if I don’t figure out a new way to mess it up :-)

How Jesus spotted a leader in a short little crook

Recently I was reading the story of Jesus confrontation with Zaccheaus and I noticed at least 10 principles that apply to all of us when choosing leaders to help us in our work.

First the story:

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NLT)

Now the principles:

  • Success in ministry has a lot to do with choosing the right leaders. Good ones will minimize your weaknesses or maximize your strengths. Jesus spent hours in conversation with his father before choosing the men who he would pour his life into. I’m not sure this encounter was as random as it looks. I think possibly Zaccheaus became a part of Jesus extended leadership circle. I also think he was carefully chosen.
  • The next great leader may not be the obvious choice. Most people wrote Zaccheaus off as a short little crook. Jesus saw thru the obvious to his hidden potential. Many people believe that Zaccheaus was actually the Apostle Mathias who was chosen to be one of the Twelve when Judas betrayed Jesus. Some believe he went on to become the Bishop of Ceaserea. At any rate, he became more than he was before his encounter with Jesus. If you are going to build a great team you’re going to have to get good at looking thru people to their God given destiny.
  • Choose people who go out of their way to get involved in what you’re doing. Zaccheaus didn’t let the fact that he too short and the crowd too big keep him from seeing Jesus. There are probably some people who are making a major effort to be close to you. Don’t overlook them. If you don’t have to talk them into following, you probably won’t have to talk them into staying.
  • Don’t be so focused on what you are doing that you don’t look up every once in a while. Jesus could have missed Zaccheaus because of the crowd. He paused and looked up. Do you do that? “Who is new? Why are they here? Could this be the person we’ve been praying for to fill a gap in our team?” You’ll never see them unless you look up.
  • Do your homework. Jesus had him at “Zaccheaus”. We love it when somebody who shouldn’t knows our name. Be that person. If possible, study the list. Read the roster. Surprise them. The simple act of knowing their name may be the opening that sets them on a path to their destiny.
  • Don’t be afraid to issue an invitation and challenge right away. Jesus didn’t wait till he’d been to the Newcomers/Membership Class and proven his faithfulness. He invited Zaccheaus to spend the afternoon with him. “And by the way, let’s throw a party at your house.”
  • Don’t be surprised when the old guard gets their undies in a bunch. They are upset that Zaccheaus doesn’t pass the background check. When you take a risk with a promising but raw new leader, there may be some on your team that won’t understand. Be respectful, but sometimes you’ve got to follow your gut.
  • Don’t under estimate the transforming power of food :-) Jesus invited him to a meal, not a Bible study. Food is disarming, socially inviting, and encourages meaningful conversation. Build food into your team building budget. (Better yet, recruit short rich crooks. They can pay their own way.)
  • People are more likely to respond to grace than rules. Zaccheaus knew the rules. He was more than willing to follow them when extended grace. When you build a culture of grace you’ll have less to fight about.
  • When salvation comes to the whole household, the potential for multiplication is staggering. I look at my own family as an example. Because someone didn’t overlook the leadership potential in my “short little crook” grandfather, there is a “household” of Surratt’s reproducing kingdom life all over the planet.

Can you see other leadership principles in the story of Zaccheaus?

The Seasons of Ministry and Harvest time (AUDIO)

With Church life there are seasons. There are seasons of of harvest and there are seasons of rest. During seasons of harvest the enemy would want to distract, divide and discourage in order to keep us from seeing God use us. This is an excerpt from a leadership talk I gave to the staff at Seacoast Church that I wanted to share with you.

Dealing with The Seasons of Ministry




When people leave – Pt 2 How did Jesus handle rejection?

(To read the first post in this series click HERE)

I was reading John 6 the other day and the headline above verse 60 screamed out at me: “Many disciples desert Jesus”.

I wondered how that made him feel. Seriously.  Go with me here.

I know he was God. And I know he knew in advance who would be staying and who would be leaving. But I also know he was human like me, capable of human emotions even when he knew the outcome. Like when his friend Lazarus died. He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead, but the shortest verse in the Bible says that “Jesus wept” anyway. He cried. Like I cried when my best friend died in a car wreck. It makes me feel better to know that he was capable of feeling what I feel.

So how did he feel when disciples started bailing?

You get the feeling that these weren’t just faces in the crowd. By this time the crowds had grown extremely large. He has just finished a miracle of feeding at least 4,000 people. That’s the second time he’d done that one. People were so desperate to see him that they literally chased him across a lake. When some of them misunderstood something he taught, they started grumbling about it. Some of the crowd decide that he was getting a little to full of himself and they start to leave. The murmuring grew until many of those close to him, his disciples, decided to quit following. They weren’t just faces and you get the feeling that they didn’t go quietly.

How did he feel? How did he process it?

At that point he turns to the ones that he is closest too, the Twelve, and he asks, “Are you going to leave too?” Hit the pause button. What are the emotions of those words? Words are never spoken in a vacuum. There is always texture and feeling and context. What were his? What was he thinking?

Honestly, we don’t know. He’s God and we are not. But I think we can learn some things from Jesus about a healthy process when people leave.

  • Be secure in the Fathers love. There was never any doubt in Jesus mind about whether or not the Father loved him. I’ve got to believe that he knew his worth had nothing to do with how many were at the synagogue this Sabbath as compared to a year ago. The echo of the words of his baptism, “This is my son and I am really pleased with him”, can’t be under estimated. A friend told me recently that our first thoughts every morning should focus on how much our Father loves us. Everyone else may think you are a jerk, but hey, what difference does it really make if God loves you?
  • Try to play for an audience of one. Jesus says in verse 38, “I have come to do the will of God who sent me, not what I want.” There’s a lot of pressure in trying to please everyone. As the crowd grows there will be more voices clamoring for your attention and potentially becoming offended if you don’t play their hand. One is a much less stressful number.
  • Learn to process it with your inner circle. Even Jesus didn’t go at it alone. In response to his question Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of life.” You need people like that. “I’ve got your back” type of people. Sure you need some who will tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but you also need a few “I’m not going anywhere boss” types for situations like these. Do you have people like that in your inner circle? Do you have an inner circle?
  • Trust in God’s sovereignty. Jesus knew ahead of time who would leave and who would stay. You and I don’t. It would be a great gift to have. It would certainly save time and a lot of grief. You may not know, but God does. And according to Romans 8:28, he’ll weave it into the plan in a way that serves both yours and his best interest.

The bottom line: When people leave for whatever reason, God’s got your back. What else do you really need?

Question for pastors: How does Jesus example help?

Question for church members: Does your pastor know you’ve got his/her back?

When people leave – Part 1

If you are a pastor, you know how it feels.

It’s the phone call, the appointment, the whispered news. “We’re leaving the church.”

As much as they say “It’s not about you”, it usually feels like it is. It starts as a lump in the pit of your stomach that slowly makes it’s way up the twists and turns of internal plumbing, until it gets stuck firmly in the back of your throat. You didn’t see it coming and the hurt is commensurate to the level of the relationship. The closer the connection, the more intense the pain.

I watched my Dad and Mom deal with it in churches when I was growing up. Dad externalized, Mom did the opposite. She would hide her hurt behind the duties of raising a family, but I’d see her tears and wonder what was really going on. You didn’t have to wonder with dad. He would sometimes vent his hurt on those who didn’t leave, using thinly veiled references in sermons or conversations. These days I see evidence of the same in hurting pastors twitters and blog posts. It’s hard to keep communication above the fray when your heart feels like it’s been kicked to the curb.

None of us are immune. In the early days of starting Seacoast, I used to wince when someone asked for an appointment. “Was this another ‘core team member’ hanging up their spurs?”, I’d think to myself. It seemed to happen about once a month and I’d become a little gun-shy. Even these days I’ll feel that lump from time to time.

Occasionally, when I meet a newcomer that has transferred from a local church, I’ll wonder how much pain our “success” has caused area pastors?

Why do people leave?

  • Sometimes people leave because of a misunderstanding. Some of the people who left in the early years thought that Seacoast was going to be different than it was. Some couldn’t understand the vision or wanted it too be more like the mother church or another church they had been comfortable in.
  • Some people leave because of an offense. A lady told me once that her family was leaving the church because I had not acknowledged her or her husband in several social settings. Truthfully, I couldn’t recall any of them, but they had left an impression on her, so they left. Often they are offended with others in the church and rather than facing the issue, they just leave.
  • Some people leave because the excitement of the new has worn off. Long term relationships are difficult to maintain, whether it be in a marriage, a friendship, or a church relationship. In our bigger, better, faster culture it’s easy to become enamored with the new and shiny rather than put the investment in renewing what seems old and dull.
  • Some people leave because it is the sovereign will of God. He has a new assignment, a specific mission, or a better fit somewhere else for this season of life. Almost everyone who leaves chooses door #4, and for some, it’ may actually be the true motivation.
  • So, how do you respond?

  • Some leaders internalize it – they become paralyzed by the rejection. They risk isolation and distancing themselves from future relationships in order to avoid further pain.
  • Some leaders externalize it – they lash out to anyone who will listen. They risk collateral damage as they are processing thru their pain.
  • Some leaders learn from it – they realize that sometimes people leave. They learn to process it in a healthy way and move forward stronger from the experience.
  • Next time we’ll look at how Jesus handled the rejection of close followers and suggest some ways that leaders can survive when people choose to leave.

Does this ring true to you? Have I missed anything so far?

To read Part 2 – “How did Jesus handle rejection?” you can click HERE