There is an erosion and unraveling of so many of our moral foundations. We need a leadership awakening!
We need a leadership awakening for the vacuum of godly and courageous leaders that exists today. Education alone doesn't make or produce them; diplomas don't prove them. Character does! Degrees on leadership are only worth the paper they're written on without the substance of character to go with it.
Effective leaders are able to maintain their vision, hold on to their hope and continually fan into flame their passion for God and their compassion for hurting people. But it's not enough to do these things sporadically—we must do them consistently.
Back to the Basics
I have rarely seen a leader fall because of failing to grasp some deep theological treatise. The reason leaders stumble along the way is not because they don't understand Hebrew or Greek. Nor do they get off track because they misinterpret the book of Revelation or some other prophetic passages in God's Word. In many cases, leaders get into trouble because they neglect fundamental truths and basic spiritual disciplines. Let me explain with an illustration from one of the most successful football coaches of all time.
At age 45, Vince Lombardi became a head football coach in the NFL for the first time in his life. It was 1959, and he had the challenging task of leading the Green Bay Packers, a team that had won only two games the previous season. He clearly had his work cut out for him. But Lombardi wasn't going to let last year's record shape his expectations.
After all, this was a new season. When the discouraged NFL players gathered for their first pre-season meeting, they must have wondered how their new coach was planning to turn things around. Coach Lombardi entered the locker room and stood silently for several seconds. Holding out a football in front of these men, he spoke one of the most famous lines in football history: "Gentlemen, this is a football."
In just five words, the new coach had communicated his philosophy for the team's success: They were going to start with the basics and make sure to execute the fundamentals. You see, the Packers had been losing not because they lacked talent but because they'd forgotten the basics of football.
This simple story is a powerful message for us as leaders. We can read countless leadership books and attend all the latest seminars on how to build a successful organization. But in the final analysis, our success or failure as leaders will be determined by how well we executed the basics of the Christian life.
We cannot change our past, but the choices we make each day determine our future.
Vince Lombardi brought the Packers a new philosophy that led to incredible success in the following years, including several league championships and Super Bowl victories. A seemingly hopeless team was given a new beginning.
What a great lesson! No matter how poorly things may have gone for you in the past, God can turn things around incredibly fast. However, the key to your turnaround is the same key that led the Packers to victory—get back to the basics, the fundamentals.
Beyond the Superficial
When I say, "the basics," I don't mean a superficial or shallow spiritual life. Too many Christians—even those in leadership—have spiritual lifestyles akin to the old commercials for Brylcreem, the hair-styling gel: "A little dab'll do ya!" This is certainly not the philosophy we want to have when it comes to spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting and Bible study.
We can't expect to have powerful ministries if we have a "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer life. I'll never forget the day Leonard Ravenhill told me, "Brother Doug, God doesn't answer prayer; He answers desperate prayer." Rather than settling for token, superficial prayers, Christian leaders must learn to wrestle with God and passionately pursue His blessing on their lives (see Gen. 32:24–32.)
In the same way, we'll never consistently live in victory just by memorizing a few favorite Bible verses to quote. We should consistently take time to saturate ourselves with God's presence and His Word. His Word must be written on our hearts, and we must be committed to applying it in every area of our life (see Ps. 40:6–8; Ezra 7:10).
As Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee used to say, it's not enough to carry a big leather Bible if we haven't ingested its teachings and put them into practice. He said we must "put the Word of God into shoe leather," walking it out in every aspect of our life. That's the only way to consistently stand in victory and turn the world upside down for Christ.
The first-century Christians showed how powerful the basics can be. They were known as "uneducated and untrained men," yet they rocked the world! How did this happen? Because "they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
The day of Pentecost had brought these early disciples a new beginning. In a moment's time, they received power from on high, reversing all the failure and frustration that had gone on before. Instead of denying, doubting or betraying their Lord, now they were bold witnesses (See Acts 1:8, 2:1–4.) No matter how discouraged you may be at the moment, you can experience this same kind of turnaround!
It's Not Over 'Til It's Over
You can not only experience success in your leadership role but experience lasting success. You see, it is very important how the game of life ends. If you're on a basketball or football team, you know it's nice when your team has the lead in the first three quarters of the game, but it's tragic if your team blows the lead in the fourth quarter.
In this paraphrase from The Message, the apostle Paul gives a colorful description of what it takes to finish well and be a gold medalist in God's kingdom:
"You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself" (1 Cor. 9:24–27 MSG).
Paul warns that a runner needs to run hard and stay alert in order to successfully reach the finish line. He says he wants to make sure he doesn't miss out on God's best.
You may wonder if it's too late to finish well. Perhaps you've fallen into some kind of sin and you doubt your life can ever be the same again. Or maybe you've hit a wall on your marathon through life. Perhaps your chosen career or ministry seems too difficult, and you feel like giving up.
Let me encourage you with the words of the great American philosopher and baseball Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra: "It ain't over 'til it's over." Isn't that good news? As long as there's still breath in your lungs, the game isn't over. There's still hope for a turnaround. The gold medal can still be yours.
Dr. Edwin Louis Cole, founder of the Christian Men's Network, said it this way: "Champions are not those who never fail, but those who never quit." He used to point out that Jesus refused to quit and pressed on to fulfill His mission even though it cost Him everything. Despite the agony of the cross, our Lord was resurrected, and He's able to bring resurrection to your hopes and dreams, too. Even if you've grievously departed from your high calling in Christ, the Bible says that you can "rise again" (Prov. 24:16).
You can bounce back from failure and frustration. Hebrews 12:1 says the grandstand is full of heroes of the faith who are cheering you on to victory.
Through faith, they finished their races well, and now it's your turn. The example you set and the legacy you leave can set the pace for a whole new generation of champions, impacting the world for Jesus.
Excerpted from Doug Stringer's book, Leadership Awakening, Chapter One: "Why So Many Tragic Endings?"
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