The Not So Secret Secret of Spiritual Leadership

A friend of mine worked with the Billy Graham Crusade and was tasked with getting Dr. Graham and walking him to the car that would drive him to the coliseum where he was to preach that night. As my friend approached the room, he saw the door was slightly opened and hearing someone speaking, my friend stepped into the room to call Dr. Graham.  Before he spoke, my friend saw Dr. Graham, stretched out on the floor praying out loud for the sermon he was about to preach and for the people who would be there to hear the sermon.

As a student of preaching, one of the things I’ve noticed about Dr. Graham’s sermons is their simplicity.  When Billy Graham preaches, he rarely brings some new insight or even says it in a particularly unique way.  Perhaps the source of Dr. Graham’s power is something else beside the cleverness of his sermons. Perhaps simple, but anointed words are to be desired over clever but untouched words of our own crafting.

Pastor or CEO?

Being the pastor of a church in postmodern America is confusing, conflicting and exhilarating all at the same time.  There are demands of a local congregation that mean we have to be CEO’s, financial analysts, family counselors, organizational strategists and experts on current events.

This requires an extraordinary allocation of our time. Sacrifices have to be made. Sadly, most pastors make these sacrifices in the places where they can least afford to make them— family, personal prayer and Bible study, and believe it or not, sermon preparation.

While each of these deserves their own blog, I want to focus on the last one – neglecting sermon preparation.

I’ll begin by telling the story of a time when I was lovingly confronted—and  convicted—by a friend who is the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. We were talking about leadership.  In the course of the conversation I mentioned something about being a Baptist CEO.

He put his coffee cup down (I can still see his face) and said, “Is that what you think?  Mike, I talk to CEO’s all of the time.  I don’t come to church to talk to a CEO.  I need to hear something different.”

He was right of course. He did need to hear something different.  Everyone who comes deserves to hear something different. That’s why they come – to hear something different… and they’re counting on me to bring it.  They don’t want my opinion on the political issue of the day or the latest public scandal.  They come because they want to hear something from God.

The Word of God to His church can only be found in His Scripture and it can only be discovered by someone  who will dare enter the crucible of prayer and study on behalf of the congregation.  Like Jacob, we must grab hold of the text and refuse to let go until we are blessed with a word to bless our people.

This kind of study takes time, discipline and an unrelenting focus. We must digest the passage until it oozes out of us like sweat—until the sermon becomes who we are, not just what we say.

This kind of preaching is hard and all consuming.  We become the bush that burns, to draw God’s people close to Him… the place where people will come to see what’s going on and then hear what God alone has to say.

It’s not just a sermon—but the lighting of the fire that redeems the world. This deserves our best time. Nothing less will suffice.

Getting the Right People in the Right Places Doing the Right Things

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal printed an article on Nick Saban and how he had led the turn around of the Alabama football team.  Of course, as a Bama fan I couldn’t wait to read the article. I was fascinated by what I read.  Saban is known as a meticulous planner, a fanatic about details, and I was surprised to see the level of planning that goes into recruiting.  He and his coaches have exact size and speed requirements for every position. They interview family and friends of the recruit to make sure the player has the mental and emotional capacity to become a Division 1 player. They are exacting standards. And if a recruit doesn’t meet these standards, Saban doesn’t recruit him.

Vision Isn’t Enough

Regardless of what type leadership you’re talking about – either secular or religious – you can’t read two sentences of any book or article without seeing the word “vision.”   According to all of the experts, every organization needs to have a compelling vision to drive it into the future.  Without this vision, the organization wanders in the wilderness without any clear sense of direction or accomplishment.

So, most leadership teams spend hours on retreats trying to hammer out a one sentence statement that tells the world why they exist in the first place.  After they get this sentence written, they announce it with great fanfare, print it on everything that can hold ink and then… what?