4 keys to staying fresh as a leader

August 5, 2010 — 3 Comments

One of the most challenging things for anybody to do is to resist the status quo. Essentially, whenever we begin to think that we’ve ‘arrived,’ we can be sure that we haven’t.

Our staff team is currently reading through Reggie McNeal‘s book, Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders. During our team meeting on Tuesday I had the privilege of leading the discussion of chapter three, which was on the topic of self-development. Admittedly, I’ve read a number of books from a wide variety of authors, both from the vantage point of great business minds and well-known Christian leaders. However, this particular book is proving to be one that challenges me to really evaluate myself in some tough ways.

We’re all familiar with the concept of lifelong learning — especially those of us who have to complete a certain number of hours for our professional licenses or affiliations. McNeal, however, talks a lot about something else — ‘lifelong un-learning.’ He defines that term as a “willingess to put yesterday’s ideas, attitudes, and approaches under the knife of new insights and new challenges.” This concept is not really that new to me, but I really like the way McNeal articulates it.

The author explains that unlearning, in the context of Christian ministry, must take place in several key areas: (1) psychological insights that leaders need to have about themselves and others; (2) ministry methodologies; and (3) the skill of cultural exegesis (which is basically a profound way to say ‘examining one’s worldview in an effort to stay fresh and current’).

In his book McNeal touches on a subject that I’ve been observing and talking about for several years: the changing process by which spiritual leaders are identified and developed. He writes:

Spiritual leaders who have trained for institutional leadership, who anchor their leadership in positional authority, and who rely on educational credentialing don’t understand the new expectations for leadership rooted in personal credibility, legitimized by followers, not external agencies. Leaders locked in the old world still believe that people think in secular-versus-sacred dichotomies and are expressing their spiritual quest by looking for a great church to join.

As one who has been well-educated by today’s standards, I must say that McNeal nailed this head-on. People in church and community life are not looking for perfect leaders with multiple academic degrees. They’re looking for people who care about them and who will come alongside them to mentor, nurture, and ‘do life’ together.

Whether you’re working on lifelong learning or lifelong un-learning, the process must be intentional. Those who seek to remain fresh and relevant in a culture that is constantly changing will need to employ a few key strategies in order to successfully reach the goal.

  1. We must be comfortable in our own skin. Although counterintuitive to the teachings of yesterday’s career coaches, we must focus not on our weaknesses but instead identify and multiply our effectiveness through our strengths. No matter where we go in life, there will always be someone who seems better in different ways. Better writers. Better speakers. Better thinkers. Once we accept ourselves with gratitude to God for His unique design, we will be better equipped to serve Him and others.
  2. We must put ourselves in places where we’ll be challenged. This will involve being willing to surround ourselves with people who don’t necessarily think, look, and act like us. By taking the time to have conversations with others, we will be better able to focus with laser-like precision on what it is we actually believe. We will also develop a deeper level of empathy for those who see life through a different set of lenses.
  3. We must have the courage to risk failure. There are very few guarantees in this life. Our ability to advance in our careers, to advance in a particular skill area, and to advance the Kingdom of God will depend on moving forward by faith, confident of His watchcare. Good leaders view even failures as opportunities for learning and personal growth.
  4. We must be proactive in taking care of ourselves. Even the best of leaders struggles with maintaining balance and emotional health. In essence, we have to keep doing the things we know we should be doing — getting proper nutrition, rest, and exercise; practicing healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships; fostering appropriate accountability relationships and processes to help us stay on course.

Perhaps there are areas in your life that could use some re-evaluation — maybe even renovation! One thing is certain: Greatness doesn’t just happen. As the Apostle Paul put it so aptly: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13a-14, ESV)


  • What things challenge you most with regard to staying fresh and relevant?
  • How do you find balance between work, family, and ministry?


3 responses to 4 keys to staying fresh as a leader


    At 60 I am still working with and being challenged by College Students! When you were one of those students (not that long ago) I could never have imagined how much campus culture would change. In fact I have often thought, out loud, that it is best that I didn’t know because I would have probably ran the other direction. Glad I didn’t!

    Your comments are encouraging and spoke to where I am today on the college campus. As I struggle, not only with my necessary leadership growth, I struggle with preparing students to assume their role as Christian Leaders in an environment of unprecedented change. Our motto in campus ministry used to be “flexibility” it is now “Fluidity”!

    Thanks for these words of leadership guidance and challenge. Thanks for helping to teach an “old dog” new tricks! I enjoy your postings. I hope you will grant me permission to print a copy of this one for each of my team members. I assure you they will be most helpful as we prepare our leaders for this new school year.

    Thank you,
    Tom McLaughlin
    Baptist Student Union
    Northwest MS Community College



      Thanks for the feedback. You are right about ‘unprecedented change.’ These are crazy times we’re living in. Of course, feel free to share this post with your team . . . always glad to know that God can use me for influence in places I’d never otherwise get to go. I admire your can-do attitude. You are running the race to win! Keep the faith, and fight the good fight, friend.


    GC, excellent discourse! What it brought to my mind was DISCIPLES. JESUS didn’t pick the “leaders” of his society…not those well versed and well grounded in theology. HE picked men who loved HIM and were willing to share HIM with the world. If “we” could only learn and PRACTICE what HE said to do, we would be surrounded by followers, willing to go do the same thing….


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