Utter apathy! That was my feeling as I sat there running my index finger around the circumference of my plastic water bottle. To my right was Roy Fish, Professor of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To my left was a seasoned veteran of evangelism. Both of these well-dressed men seemed enthusiastic about the event. Both of them had previously been asked to serve in this same capacity many times. I had not. Why was I so disinterested? After all, this would be good for my career. It would look good on a resume. My own organization would get better exposure. Yet, in the midst of all of the fanfare, I was painfully bored. It was 2010 and the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE) was on the verge of electing a new president. At twenty-nine I was the second youngest member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s outreach arm of itinerant speakers. I should have been thrilled to be asked to speak. I wasn’t. Then it happened.
The next day it came to my attention that a campaign had already been underway behind the scenes to present me as a candidate for the presidential office. Some of those who were pressing the issue were complete strangers. By one vote, I was installed as president and a spark became a flame as my apathy dissolved. The same day I was ushered into a private banquet hall filled with the most influential leaders of America’s largest evangelical denomination. Promoters paraded me around the convention and news outlets contacted me for interviews.
Once the noise faded and I was back in my hotel room I noticed an internal change. I had, within the span of twenty-four hours, become a different person. I noticed myself downloading apps designed to keep me efficient. Emails were sent out to powerbrokers I had met that day to thank them for their time. Former COSBE presidents and interested businessmen were contacted for advisory meetings. I even hit the gym. In short, I became ridiculously productive. I was a checklist-dominating master. More was accomplished during my time serving in that position than I had done in the previous five years. The question that often occurred to me was, “What on earth happened to transform my thinking from apathy to passion in less than a day?” I have determined that there were three simple principles. For these principles to exist, it may seem like the stars need to align, but once they are in place no one needs to motivate you. You will also become a checklist-dominating master of productivity. They are, POSITION, POWER and POSSIBILITY.
If you aren’t in the right position to do anything, then nothing is going to happen. If your in the right position, but aren’t taking advantage of it, then nothing will change either. Getting into the right position, or becoming a leader is hard enough. However, there are far too many leaders that have the right position but still sit there bored, running their index fingers around the circumferences of plastic water bottles while waiting for the world to end. They aren’t taking advantage of the position.
About the same time I landed the position of president at COSBE, I also got a membership at the YMCA. The men’s locker room had a steam room. Relaxing after a hard workout in the steam room was my daily reward for powering through my regiment. With dread, though, I remember the day that I glanced at the door to the inviting sweat tank and saw the clouds of moisture billowing out in an inviting way. I thought, “maybe just today, I won’t work out. Maybe just today, I’ll just go into the steam room.” Big mistake!
The steam room was populated by out of shape men. They were extremely knowledgeable out of shape men. The steam room fellas could tell you everything you needed to know about effective fitness strategies. All the terminology was there. No one could argue with their advice. To say they knew what they were talking about would be an understatement. In fact, I discovered another benefit to joining the steam room club. After you leave the steam room you look as though you really went to the gym and, “killed it!” Sweat continued to flow readily for a good thirty minutes after I would leave and my skin retained a pinkish hue as if I had worked out . . . hard. Simply put, I had the look of a man who was doing something, I had the know-how and I received all the acclaim from friends and family for a hard work out. The problem, as I realized, was that nothing changed. We had talked quite a bit, but we hadn’t done anything.
In the same way, many leaders have the position, the look and the textbook answers to the problems they are facing. Unfortunately, like the steam room fellas, they aren’t taking advantage of their positions. After a day at the office, their families and friends think they really, “killed it.” Yet, what the leader may not even admit to himself, is that he has been sitting in the steam room . . . all . . . day . . . long.
What if you have the position and you’re willing to step out of the steam room, but you still aren’t accomplishing the necessary goals? What if you still find yourself ambivalent or bored? If the willingness is really there, it may be that a given leader has not recognized or utilized the power that he has been given. As a man who has often found confrontation or boat-rocking extremely uncomfortable, I have had this problem repeatedly.
When I was pastoring my second church at the age of twenty-three, I recognized what a benefit a projection screen would be for our church sanctuary. This may seem like a small issue, but at my young age, and having heard horror stories about angry deacons who look for chances to lambast young ministers, I was nervous. I knew that I had the authority (or power) to make the decision unilaterally since my personal budget was above the cost, but I still found myself reluctant to pull the trigger. For months I hemmed and hawed at the decision. Finally, one Saturday night, under the cover of darkness, the youth minister and I made the purchase and the installation. The next morning I was an uneasy cocktail of excited and scared-silly. Deacon Dread, as I shall call him, approached the doors of the church and I stopped him with a sheepish grin. “Deacon Dread,” I uttered, “I just want you to know, before you set foot in the building, that last night we installed a projector.” Dread looked at the air with squinted eyes as though the word “projector” was hanging there for him to examine. Finally he looked at me and in a sturdy tone bluntly said, “Good. We voted to do that before you ever came and nobody ever followed through. Besides, you’re the pastor. If you want to put up a projector . . . why . . . go for it.” Success! The relief that rolled over me was liberating. Deacon Dread wasn’t dreadful at all. In fact, he was deacon-down-right-agreeable. From that day I not only remained aware of, but willing to exercise, my position of power.
In a leadership position one must recognize and be willing to exercise his power. We wouldn’t be given power if we were not expected to make decisions and act as an authority in one respect or other. If this is not the expectation of those who interviewed you then some serious conversations need to be had. If you’ve got the position, and the power, then you are two thirds of the way down the road to becoming an empowered and productive leader who is able to accomplish his goals.
Let’s return to my situation as a newly elected denominational leader. My renewed enthusiasm was not just the result of my new position and power. These two elements would have been pointless had I not also seen great potential in the organization. That potential led me to believe that there was a great possibility for success in the future. If there is no possibility for success, and let’s not kid ourselves sometimes there isn’t, then our leadership may inspire some onlookers, but it won’t even genuinely motivate us. Some projects need to be abandoned. Some programs need to be ditched in favor of new ones. Faith in and of itself is not a good thing. Faith in a bad program is always a bad move. However, just because everyone else on your team thinks a particular project is a bad one doesn’t mean that you should give up. Moreover, your early commitment to accomplish a task may lead you to innovate. You’re the leader precisely because you were trusted with the power to make that call. This is why it is vitally important that you are able to be honest with yourself. Nevertheless, if the position, power and possibility is present, there is no end to what can be accomplished.
Yes, I know. The title is “THREE Principles for Becoming a More Productive Ministry Leader.” That’s because I assumed that a ministry leader should already recognize the need to bathe every decision in prayer. Yet, I can not deny the tendencies of the loud-mouthed, leather-lunged, red-faced southern preacher that I am. God is the one who undergirds our ministry POSITIONS. Our POWER has the Holy Spirit for its source and in Jesus’ name our impossibilities become POSSIBILITIES. Amen and amen!