The Wisdom of Honest Relationships

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Freshly Ground Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend

Today’s Scripture: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24

A new Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through just opened a few minutes from my house. I happen to love their coffee, so it’s a great place to pick up goodies for those who drop by to visit me. (The down side of that is I often have leftover donuts to ward off temptation from while attempting to maintain a strict diet and workout schedule.) I’ll be the first to admit I have a thing for their coffee too, but my overall love of coffee happens to revolve around the magical moments of conversation and silence surrounding a cup shared with a good friend. I value relationships, and I appreciate honest, committed individuals who take the time to share their thoughts and heart with me.

We live in a world where honest relationships and friendships are an endangered species. Some of us are blessed to have close friends we can discuss anything with. Others, though perhaps surrounded by many people, feel the darkness of loneliness on a regular basis. BostonIn times when we are faced with acts of evil we might not understand, such as the bombing in Boston yesterday, honest relationships are vital. We need each other as we walk through life. We need to be faithful and committed friends to those who face trials. We cannot run away from each other when circumstances are hard. As so many close to the scene at the Boston Marathon yesterday demonstrated, we must run toward each other when we need help.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more wary I’ve become of individuals who want to monopolize others’ time and talents for their own gain. Unfortunately, I know there will be some who will try to take advantage of the tragic stream of violent acts which seem to be on the upswing in the States. I’d like to attempt to help you as you navigate the waters of new relationships during this volatile time. Here are three warning signs to look for when determining who you should invest your time, talents, and treasures in:

1. Does the individual monopolize the conversation when you are with them? Do they perk up at your comments if money or someone in a position of major influence you happen to know are mentioned?
If this is the case, it’s probably not a good idea to invest more time in the relationship. The individual in question is not obviously not interested in who you are as a person, and they will probably write you off once they have exhausted your resources.

2. Does the person or organization ignore phone calls, emails, and conversation from you that does not benefit their cause?
Though this is not always a warning sign (leaders and those who work for organizations are often busy people), if there is a lack of communication from an individual except when they want something from you over a period of six months to a year, I would advise reconsidering whether this is a cause you want to help. Either their motives are selfish or they have a problem with overcommitment and time management. Both are red flags that there might be some bigger issues down the road.

3. If you’re in a crowded room with the individual and you make eye contact or say “hi” while they’re in earshot, do they ignore you and not make an effort to follow-up afterward?
This is a sign that: 1. They are a very rude individual; 2. There is an underlying problem in their relationship with you they don’t want to address. Both of these issues lend themselves to reconsidering if this is someone who you want to invest time in. If the individual is part of a larger organization where you are treated with respect otherwise, I would say it’s more of a personal problem. If this is the case, you should address the issue one-on-one with them. If this doesn’t work, find someone who will help you mediate a conversation with them in an effective manner.

For the record, I haven’t been perfect in the way I’ve treated people over the years. I also haven’t been perfect in pinpointing healthy relationships and friendships. I’m trying to get better, and I hope you will make honest, open relationships a priority with me in a time when we all so desperately need each other. In my case, there are two things which have helped me the most over the years: 1. My close friendship with Christ; 2. A healthy prayer life. I recommend both to you while you navigate the waters of life.

Please share your perspective on this topic. Your thoughts are valuable.


Leadership, Short and Sweet

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Homemade Coconut Mocha Latte with Hershey’s Kisses melted in

Today’s Scripture: Protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one. Taken from Jesus’s prayer in John 17:11 and my current personal prayer of unity for the Christian leaders in my life

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Coffee Talks on Leadership I’ve been posting lately. Today, I’d like to highlight several quotes on leadership based on my Five Cs of Leadership post and the books I’ve been reading. I’ll attempt to be short and sweet. Speaking of sweetness, I’ll also be giving away some chocolate from a fabulous place called Mid’s in honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day. Comment on this post before midnight on 2/10/13 for a chance to win! Now, get ready to chew on some quotes!

A leader strives to possess solid character.
“Instead of bossing others around, boss your heart around by reminding it to remember who God is– and how good He is at being God. Remember that more than simply serving Him, God wants you to seek Him.” – Renee Swope in A Confident Heart

A leader is committed to service.
“The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.” – Eugene B. Habecker; quoted from The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John Maxwell

A leader communicates well.
“The spoken word is one of the triumphs of man….” – Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A leader demonstrates competence.
“Never, ever, ever, ever quit.” – Sigmund Brouwer; quoted from 112 Christian Authors and Publishing Professionals Share Their Best Advice for Novelists compiled by C.J. Darlington

A leader models courage.
“Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the willingness to act in the face of fear.” – Nicole Braddock Bromley in Hush

Coffee Talk: Finding Balance in Christian Leadership with Carla Smith

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Bentley’s Pomegranate Green Tea because I already had my daily dose of coffee

Today’s Scripture: In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8

If you’ve been following my blog as of late, you know I’ve been focusing on leadership. I’m in the personal throes of a crazy re-learning process of what it means to be the right kind of leader, especially within the Christian community. In the past, I’ve been on the receiving end of both amazing and horrible leadership. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I’ve seen happen at the hands of often sincere, but misled, leaders. Likewise, I also want to make sure I build on the strengths of positive experiences I’ve had with some incredible leaders over the years. In my quest to learn what it takes to lead with dedication and integrity, I petitioned the women’s ministry leader of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In this season of our lives, my family and I call Emmanuel our home church. The woman I’d like to introduce you to, Carla Smith, is one busy individual in her leadership roles within the congregation.

Carla heads up the women’s ministry department at Emmanuel, provides full-time counseling there, and is very committed to her role as one of the church’s interpreters to the deaf. She is a mom, grandma, and lover of the creative. I constantly hear amazing things from women I’ve known who have been counseled or encouraged by her, and I’m looking forward to hearing what this humble, dedicated follower of Christ has to share with us today.

Thank you so much for being willing to share your heart with those who follow my blog, Carla! It means a lot that you would take time out of your busy schedule to give your perspective on a topic I find needs addressed in an effective and relevant manner within Christian circles. Let’s start off by talking about the positive aspects of leadership. What is one of the most rewarding moments you have experienced as a leader?
I have had many rewarding moments as well as difficult ones, but the rewarding moments can be summarized best by saying they are the times when people respond to God’s leading and obey Him. When this happens it results in so many encouraging victories: a family is restored, someone is able to forgive and let go of the bitterness in their heart, people are able to stand against the anxiety or depression battling for their hearts, or a person accepts the beautiful gift of salvation… just to name a few. When God allows me to be a witness to these moments, I’m humbled and reminded that God doesn’t NEED me to do His work. He invites me to be a part of it, which includes experiencing these rewarding moments.

It is truly amazing to witness God’s life-changing nature firsthand in the lives of those you encourage and lead! It’s so important to maintain a healthy balance while working with others so you can be used as effectively as possible in this process. What is your favorite way to unwind in the midst of a leader’s hectic schedule?
A few of the most simple things one can do to unwind in the midst of chaos is to learn to take small moments to breathe deep, to laugh out loud, and to take a moment to enjoy something beautiful. These can all be done in a short time, but can help us re-center our thoughts and release tension. When I have more time at home, I love to be creative. Sewing or baking something allows me to live out my identity as a child of the Creator. I am also an avid reader. I strongly believe that all leaders will be readers. This too can help me unwind as well as help me learn and grow.

I love your practical suggestions and your belief that all leaders are readers! Let’s dig into the idea of finding balance in leadership a little bit more. What advice would you give to someone juggling multiple leadership roles?
I once was blessed to have a conversation with Stuart Briscoe, an author, speaker, and pastor, at a seminar I attended regarding this very question. He enlightened me by saying that balance is the process of trying to make two opposing forces equal. As a believer, all of life is ministry, so the parts of our lives are not opposing. Thus, trying to ‘balance’ all these areas is not what we need to do. What we need to do is find the ‘rhythm’ that helps us step away with the Lord and then engage with other people whether our own family, or people at our work, in the church, and in our neighborhoods. Finding rhythm in your life is like learning to dance with God. When He moves, we must learn to move and keep in step with Him. When He stops, we are to stop and rest too. We also must learn that there are daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms we need to engage in as well as rhythms of abiding, pruning, and bearing fruit. The more we learn how to live in rhythm with the Lord, the more healthy we will be physically, spiritually, and mentally, and our ministries we be able to bear more fruit as well.

Wow! I could stop my questions right there and have enough to chew on for weeks! I love the image of life being a dance where we follow the Lord’s lead and finding balance as a leader by finding our rhythm! On that amazing note, let’s talk about aspects of leadership that may challenge any rhythm or flow we may find in our role. What is, in your opinion, the most difficult aspect of being a leader?
There are two things that come to my mind that have been difficult aspects of being a leader for me. First, I have had to learn that not everyone will like you or agree with you, but my job is not to try to get everyone to like or agree with me. I am to be obedient to the Lord regardless of the outcome. If you have a personality that wants to please people, this will be a tough lesson to learn, but not impossible. We are responsible to do the best we can to live at peace with all people, but we are not responsible for people and their choices. We must recognize the boundaries between what is our responsibility and what is the other person’s. We must make our own choices dependent on God’s leading as opposed to what man may want us to do or say. The other difficult aspect is learning a healthy rhythm of work and rest, just like Jesus did. Throughout the Gospels we can see Jesus retreating by Himself to pray and be with His Father and then re-engaging with people– many people– all day long. He is not pushed around by their needs and desires because He has spent time getting direction from God. It is often difficult for those in leadership to learn the rhythm that is healthy and God honoring.

I love what you have shared with us so far! There has been so much wisdom in it. What advice would you give to anyone desiring to enter any level of leadership? Is there a Scripture you can think of that goes with that advice?
Honestly, leadership is not something I ever desired, but there was a definite moment I sensed God’s call to it. So my first response would be to tell someone not to seek it out, but make sure they are called by the Lord to it. When you look at many of the leaders in Scripture, they were not trying to figure out a way to become a leader. They were just busy doing the work at hand when God approached them and called them to leadership (i.e. David in the fields with his sheep, the disciples working as fishermen). Knowing we are called to leadership will also help us keep going when things get rough because our purpose is in pleasing and obeying the Lord. Romans 12:6-8 and I Peter 4:10-11 says that we all have different gifts according to what the Holy Spirit has given us. Whatever we are called to do, whether serving or teaching or encouraging people or leading people, we are to do it to the best of our ability so that God receives the glory. God will provide the grace we need to accomplish HIS work. This requires humility on our part to accept what we are called to and to do our best whether it’s a large or small job. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, ‘How do I love God? By doing beautifully the work I have been given to do, by doing simply that which God has entrusted to me in whatever form it takes.’

That’s an amazing point to end on, Carla! Thank you so much for your time and perspective. I look forward to being able to thank you in person with your choice of tea or coffee too!

Which parts of Carla’s answers did you, my blog audience, find helpful?

Coffee Talk: Tim Burt Gets Real About Leadership

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Caramel Macchiato

Today’s Scripture: Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Our local Starbucks has a corner I often hide in when I’m sitting down to talk one-on-one with someone. There’s something about being focused on the person in front of you and stilling your mind as much as possible while you concentrate on what they’re saying that lends itself to much better conversation. Imagine, if you will, sitting down with me across from someone whose life has been full of amazing successes and leadership opportunities. What would you ask them? What would you talk to them about?

Tim Burt

Today’s guest is Tim Burt. That name may mean nothing to you initially, but to me he’s a hero. He’s the guy that invented the first fold-down commercial infant changing table now used worldwide in public restrooms. (I can hear all the parents out there yelling a big THANK YOU with me!)

Perhaps you have heard of Tim. He’s an Associate Pastor at Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota, which is a church with over 10,000 members. He’s also one of Minnesota’s top Tweeters, one of the top 55 blogging pastors, and a former employee of Northwest Airlines. Tim and his wife, Renee, created a small group ministry when LWCC only had 800 members. Today, Tim’s responsibilities include managing the over 200 small groups now in existence at the church. He also oversees the Visitor and Member Relations Department, Leadership and Volunteer Development, and the Pastoral Care Department. In his spare time, Pastor Tim serves as the Minnesota State Director of Christians United for Israel. His blog, Fresh Manna, is one I pay attention to. Now that you know who you’re getting ready to hear from, let’s dive in!

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to invest in those who follow my blog, Tim. I look forward to hearing your perspective. Let’s start off by talking about balance, which is a big issue for many leaders out there. How do you balance your leadership responsibilities with a healthy routine in other parts of your life?
I am a leader at all times no matter where I am at. Leadership is something that is in you that you walk out every minute of your day. It is not an on/off light switch because, if it were that, then much of your leadership is pretense. If you think about Jesus, He was who He was at all times.  Living this way makes it easy because it’s who you are, not something you act out. Being a leader does not get in the way of laughing, enjoying time off, spending time with your wife and children, or anything else. It just means you walk prudently, with discernment, and with a servant’s heart in any situation.

I appreciate your perspective, Tim! It’s important to be genuine as a leader, and, you’re right, leadership is not something we should turn on and off. What is your favorite way to unwind in the midst of your schedule?
My wife and I have purposed from the beginning of our marriage to create a date every week. Sometimes that is as simple as a breakfast or coffee at a coffee-house. Sometimes it’s more. We get away, get completely caught up in the details of each other’s life, and then we solve all the problems of the world. Of course this is an exaggeration… but it feels like that, and it has been wonderfully therapeutic for us. We also try to pray together most every day about the situations in our life, in the lives of others, and in our jobs. This gives us great confidence that God is helping us in every situation. I also am a gardener (award-winning) and I was a marathon runner for many years.

I love that you are focused on date nights every week and praying together with your wife. It’s important to maintain a solid relationship with the person you’re walking through life with. Getting into nature and running are definitely two good ways to de-stress also. Let’s talk about faith and leadership for a minute. What is the hardest aspect of being a Christian leader?
Speaking in regards to Christian leaders in the secular workplace, I think the hardest aspect of being a Christian leader is living life by a higher standard–the standard of God’s word–while the rest of the world does not hold themselves to that standard. As Christian leaders, we are called to be a light and to model Christ-like behavior and attitude, or those watching us cry “foul….” That means emotional stability, maturity in handling conflict, carefully watching the words we choose and speak, offering forgiveness and grace, and walking in integrity are all going to be a part of our life. The benefit is that holding ourself to this kind of standard builds godly character in us and helps us mature in our leadership. Promotion and blessing will follow those that take their Christ-like leadership seriously.

What kind of response to your leadership from those you influence as a Christian do you find encouraging? Is there anything that’s ever discouraging to you in Christian leadership?
I am constantly encouraged by those I influence through my leadership. Rarely does a day go by that I do not receive some form of communication of appreciation for how my leadership and ministry helps their life. I keep them in a folder to remember when I am busy beating myself up over something or losing sight of my effectiveness.

The discouraging part would be that not everyone that you lead is in good shape, highly functional, or ready to be led. Sometimes people misinterpret your purpose or motives as they did Jesus. People can be mean when they want to and, when they let you have it, primarily born out of problems in their own life, it can hurt. But, the longer you are in ministry, the more grace there hopefully is to understand them, not take it personally, continue to love them, and try to help them by not reacting with anything other than love.

I’m so glad you mentioned having a grace perspective as a leader! I’m sure you have seen many benefits from maintaining that focus. What is one of the most rewarding moments you have experienced?
My wife and I walk in a leadership role influencing large numbers of people continuously. We have sacrificed a great deal of our life toward the service of others. And yet, in all that we’ve given, we’ve most always received a steady stream of warm, kind, thankful feedback that continuously encourages and motivates us to do more. I have had many experiences that have been rewarding, but I do remember a young businessman that I was mentoring a little here and a little there for years. He truly matured into a fine businessman that became very successful. One day he showed up at the door of my house asking if he could share a few minutes with me. He then told me how much I had helped him in His life and how God had used me to help shape who he had become. He then gave me a gift– a very precious and costly gift of appreciation. This wasn’t about the gift, but his heart in this action. Very few people back their words up the way he did. That made this gift the most precious gift I’ve ever received– again, not because of the value, but because of his heart in this gift.
I’m glad you have been encouraged forward in leadership in every step of your journey, Tim! I know there are many who have benefitted from your perseverance. It is my prayer God continues to encourage you and your wife as you give of yourselves and your time for the sake of others. Thank you so much for joining me today, and God bless you.


The Five Cs of Leadership

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Salted Mocha, sipped over conversation with a friend (and someone I’m responsible for leading) who needed to talk

Today’s Scripture: Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers. – Proverbs 11:14

In the United States, our eyes were on the nation’s leader today. The public ceremony of the inauguration of the President made headline after headline anywhere you turned. Though I have been mulling over the topic of leadership for quite some time, it seemed appropriate to sit down this evening and kick off my focus on leaders (and what they have written) over the next couple of weeks.

We are most familiar with a nation as something that houses government and politics. If you stretch the definition of a nation, however, you may find yourself a leader of a small one. A blog audience, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or any group you facilitate which stretches the boundaries of race and background can loosely be defined as a nation. Each has its own way of operating and a certain structure and order. I also believe each requires a certain sense of responsibility.

Nation: A community of people composed of one or more nationalities and possessing a more or less defined territory and government. – taken from Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

My focus over the next several weeks will be on leading well no matter what the group you lead looks like. Admittedly, I am not as qualified as those I will feature in my upcoming Coffee Talks, but I do have over ten years of experience in different levels of local and regional leadership within various organizations. I also have an insane thirst for reading leadership material. Though I’m far from perfect in my own example, it is my hope that, whether you’re a writer looking to brush up on the necessary leadership skills required in today’s professional writing industry or someone who just wants to learn more about being an effective leader serving your local community and church, you will benefit from the thoughts and discussion presented in this mini-series.

Read excerpts from the book!Let me kick it off by highlighting what I call the Five Cs of Leadership. These are not original to my often overactive brain. I borrowed them from John Maxwell and his book entitled The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. Maxwell, along with John Wooden, is one of the two modern voices I turn to consistently for leadership advice. Since I can’t usually remember all of his concepts, and these are the five which I’ve found to be most impactful in my own leadership journey, I’ll highlight them. My thoughts below are loosely based on what is presented in the book, but I’ve taken some personal liberties with them as well.

A good leader maintains:
1. Character- Having strong character means being who you say you are and doing what you say you’ll do. As Maxwell says in his book, “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.” I’m big on making good choices. Granted, nobody is perfect and everyone, including the best leaders, can fall short of goals. However, those who follow you will know whether you are genuine or not. Choose integrity for you and your group’s sake. Don’t gossip about those you lead, don’t live a double life, and don’t lead from a place of past rejection. Lead from a place of love and honest commitment to those you serve. I also recommend a focus on Biblical character mixed with an insane sense of humor. You’ll need both to survive in today’s world. Look for more on that later.
2. Commitment- This is the number one area I see separating real leaders from those who are only interested in looking and sounding good. Follow-through will get you everywhere. Lip service might gain you numbers, but eventually broken promises will fail you and those you lead. Your group will not survive if you are not committed to it.
3. Communication- Effective communication also needs to happen for success to occur. Each individual within a group or organization is unique, as are their thoughts. A successful endeavor cannot be based on assumption. We are all wired a little differently and have individual perspectives. You cannot have a thriving group without each part of that group communicating their thoughts in a healthy way. Assumptions, and then conversations between only a few people in a group based on those assumptions, will only lead to failure for everyone involved. Obviously, no communication at all will also lead to failure.
4. Competence- “If you build it, they will come,” says Maxwell. It’s true. Most people only follow that which they see to be established and excellent. Practice the first three Cs, and you will achieve competence. Achieve competence, and people will start to notice and want to join in with what you are doing. If you’re interested in numbers (which I don’t recommend) you will probably need to wait for this process to happen over a period of months or years. Numbers do follow competence.
5. Courage- One person with a little bit of courage can lead more effectively than the most equipped person on the planet who doesn’t commit to leadership because they are afraid to. I always think of the story of Joshua and Jericho when I need motivated in this area. I also have a few people who inspire me many would probably consider to be dysfunctional and the worst people to be in leadership on the planet. Their sheer courage to overcome adversity motivates me every day. Be an inspiration to those you lead, and they will follow your example of courage.

Since it’s a Monday (and I like to give things away on Monday), if you are the first one to tell me where the semi-hidden giveaway offer exists on my website I will give you Maxwell’s book. I will also give you the giveaway you find… unless you are interested in donating back into my giveaway vault. In that case, I will be sure to communicate with you and report on where it ends up! Blessings to you as you lead wherever you have been planted!