Q: As someone who talks a lot about change, what would you tell a next generation leader like myself to never stop doing? What commitments should never change?
There are a couple of obvious answers to your question. Never stop sharing God’s Truth. It is the only source for light, freedom, redemption and hope in this world. Never change your commitment to truth.
Never stop living a life of integrity. Character is the only conduit through which God’s truth is believable. Never change your commitment to being a person of character.
But in hopes that you’ve already embraced those commitments as unchangeable, here’s my answer: Never stop growing. Never alter your investment in continued growth. This commitment has fueled my ministry through the years. It has helped my ministry to remain viable, relevant and effective as times have changed.
Growth Precedes Impact
This is the principle that I’d love to pass down to next gen leaders. It’s biblical, It’s practical. It’s essential.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), Jesus tells us the story of three people—two successful, one failure. The two successful people grew personally, walked through their fears, doubts and uncertainties, and started investing. The result? Impact.
The one failure never grew. He stayed in his comfort zone, lived in his little box, never tried anything new. He didn’t even take the obvious and easy step of putting the money on deposit. He buried it in the ground. The result? No impact. Loss.
It works the same way for all of us, in every area of life.
Growing in our knowledge and understanding of relationships precedes experiencing the positive impact of successful relationships. Too many people stop growing, and it leads to failure in relationships.
Growing personally precedes professional impact.
This is so true in my life as a leader. When I’m not growing as a leader, I become the greatest obstacle to the success of the church I’m called to lead—and to all those who are under my leadership.
One of my leadership heroes is Abraham Lincoln. His picture hangs in my home office, where I see it daily. (I even named my dog “Lincoln.”) I’ve read a ton on his life and leadership. He is an example of growth preceding impact. I keep the following quote about him on my desk:
“He was not a born king of men, but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm resolve, patient effort and dogged perseverance. He slowly won his way to eminence and fame by doing the work that lay next to him—doing it with all his growing might—doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure, when failure was encountered, how to do it better. He was open to all impressions and influences and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances no matter how adverse or unwelcome. There was probably no year of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler and better man than he had been the year preceding.”
In order to keep growing in my life, I have to:
Keep trying new things.
If I don’t, I’ll never grow. The reality is that growth requires change. As the old saying goes, “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.”
Trying new things moves us out of the box of our past experiences. It helps us to see, think and experience things, people, life and God differently.
What I’ve found in my life and leadership is that enthusiasm and passion result from exposure to truth, thoughts, ideas and experiences that are new to me. But growth and change result from applying those new truths, thoughts, ideas and experiences to my life.
Example: My best teaching doesn’t flow out of truths I’ve been exposed to but out of truths I’m actually living and experiencing. When I teach truths I’ve been exposed to but haven’t experienced, all I can offer is unsubstantiated enthusiasm. But when I teach what I’m actually living, I’m able to offer the reality of truth that I’m experiencing.
When I was a young leader, my teaching was often unsubstantiated enthusiasm. I’d go to conferences or read a book, and then I’d teach those concepts with excitement. Often, the excitement didn’t last. I just moved on to new ideas that enthused me for the moment. Whereas, now, the majority of my teaching and leading flows out of living and experiencing the truth in both good and bad circumstances. There’s a big difference between the two.
The same is true for all of us, in all of our life settings. There’s a huge difference between our excitement over new learnings and actually experiencing the life change that comes with applying, living and seizing them.
Be willing to admit that I don’t know everything.
I need others to teach me. As legendary coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
We’ll never grow unless we understand we have something to learn. Those of us who aren’t growing are—consciously or unconsciously—saying we don’t need to grow, that we’ve already grown enough. Sadly, this was me in the early days of my ministry and as in the Parable of the Talents, the result was predictable. Failure. A lot of it. Though not an easily learned lesson, it led to my commitment to keep growing.
Surround myself with the right kind of people—
Surround yourself with people who challenge, stretch, and motivate me rather than those who allow me to be comfortable where I am.
Refuse to be satisfied with where I am.
Here’s the simple reality: when you’re through improving, you’re through. This principle of growth applies to our spiritual lives too. Growing spiritually precedes knowing spiritual blessing and making a spiritual impact. Peter urges us, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
I believe this explains why so many leaders—last generation and next generation—are failing to make an impact. They’ve stopped growing spiritually, relationally and professionally.
Are you making a positive impact? If not, the solution is obvious. It’s time to start growing again.