Two incredible men died nine days apart—February 22 and March 3, 2018. One was 99 and one was 88. One was a world-renown pastor and evangelist. One was a local farmer and businessman. But they had many things in common and one thing can be said of both — “He lived the message.” Billy Graham and my father, Thurlowe Gingerich, both lived the message. Billy preached and lived the message. Thurlowe didn’t preach it, but he lived it. Both left a legacy.
This is what I said at my father’s memorial service on March 12, 2018:
Multiple times over the last several years, our father Thurlowe Frederick Gingerich (TF is what he preferred), asked my brother Galen (also a pastor) and I to lead and speak at his memorial service. We assured him it would be an honor and we would do our best to do it when the time came. We’ve both been pastors for around 40 years—each leading hundreds of memorials over the decades. We usually share words of hope and comfort from the Bible. We want the family and friends of the deceased to be given courage and peace. But what do you say at your own father’s memorial?
While I was with my dad a few days before his death, this thought came to mind: His life was the message. He lived the message. Just share what he is remembered for by family and friends. He lived his faith out loud. He didn’t preach it in stadiums to tens of thousands. But just like Billy Graham, he lived it in all situations. TF’s life was characterized by the 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 scripture that says, “we are the aroma of Christ.” We either attract people like fresh-baked cookies or we repel people like a dead animal that is covered with flies and maggots. My dad was the first of those. In reflection, there are seven words that come to mind that describe how my father lived the message.
FAITH – Jesus summarized the whole Bible with four words. Love God. Love People. Moses wrote it the first time, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And Jesus added, “the second is like it, love your neighbor as your self” (Luke 10:27). Those four words characterized the way TF lived his life. He loved God and he loved people. He demonstrated his faith in how he built loving, caring relationships with his neighbors and how he served strangers. It didn’t matter if someone knocked on the door in the middle of night because they had run out of gas near our farm, 10 miles away from the nearest gas station. TF always got out of bed, went out to the bulk fuel tanks and got them five gallons of gas and he wouldn’t take any money for it. He served his church. He served on multiple non-profit boards. He went to Mexico multiple times to encourage missionaries that he supported. Mom & Dad hosted them in our home. He loved God and he loved people. His faith in Jesus Christ was evidenced in how he lived his life, how he treated people, and how he did business.
FAMILY – Next to his faith, family was at the top of his priority list. He was committed to his marriage to Mom for nearly 67 years. He loved his kids, grandkids and great grandkids. He especially loved it when all five of us children came home at the same time. He always showed an interest in his grandchildren, their work, their plans and their families. As recently as two days before he died, TF did video conference calls with nearly all of his grandchildren who couldn’t be present.
INTEGRITY – Dad’s word and a handshake on a several hundred thousand dollar deal was more certain than most people who sign highly detailed legal contracts. If TF said he would do something, he did it. I don’t recall a single time when I ever saw him cut corners or shade the truth. Even if it cost him more than he thought it would, dad always fulfilled what he promised.
EXCELLENCE – TF’s philosophy was “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” He practiced excellence in every area in life. Whether it was making sure the furrow was straight when he plowed; the fertilizer on the grass fields was spread evenly so there were no yellow streaks; or making sure all the screw heads were turned precisely the same direction on a truck or trailer bed he built, dad lived with excellence. As a child and a teen, there were times I thought he was too precise and expected too much perfection, but I learned from my dad, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” And I passed that same viewpoint on to my children who were also sometimes annoyed by how precise and demanding I was when it came to excellence. But now I just smile when I see my adult children winning achievement awards, being promoted or doing their work with excellence. TF influenced them too and I see them passing on the same qualities to their children, his great grandchildren.
COURAGE – Dad was a man of courage. He was not afraid to try something new. He often did that while farming. TF demonstrated courage while trying new crops, purchasing newly introduced equipment, implementing innovative soil conservation ideas or new irrigation methods. TF had the courage to follow his conviction that every week, one day should be devoted to worship and rest. During the grass seed harvest, Dad had the courage to be about the only farmer in the neighborhood who didn’t take the equipment out in the field on a Sunday when rain was forecast for Monday. One of the neighbors would said, “I don’t understand it Thurlowe, you don’t work on Sundays and I do. But you always get it all done before me and you don’t seem to have equipment break-downs like I do.” Dad was a man of courage.
When TF was age 50, he sold the farms and started multiple new business adventures—owning and managing mini-storage operations, small and large office buildings and even owned a group of restaurant buildings across the Willamette Valley. TF had courage. He was an entrepreneur. He wasn’t afraid to step out of the crowd.
My father also had spiritual courage. Mom and Dad were one of three couples from their home church in the early 70’s who were willing to risk being misunderstood as they left their traditional church to start a new outreach focused church to connect with their neighbors. In fact, they hosted this new start-up church in a large room they built on the back of their house. Three decades later, we are sitting in that same church they helped birth, recounting his life. They had courage to follow God’s call, even when it meant stepping outside the customary boundaries of their church and family traditions.
GENEROSITY – Dad was always a generous man. Generous with his time, talent, & treasure. TF had the spiritual gift of Giving. I’ve discovered in my pastoral ministry that people who have the spiritual gift of Giving usually have the ability to generate money and they love to give money to God’s vision and mission. They see a need and meet it. I am aware that sometimes TF gave away 50% of his income to his church and other ministries.
I distinctly remember a time period when the Internal Revenue Service and the Oregon Department of Revenue audited him year after year after year. Because he was a man of integrity and excellence, the tax authorities found never found any thing out of order. In fact, they owed him money because he didn’t claim as many deductions as the might have. TF finally got really tired of all the time and effort it took every year to gather all the information for these auditors. He questioned their repeated audits when they never found anything amiss. They admitted the reason for these recurring audits with this explanation: “Mr. Gingerich, you trigger all of our computer’s red flag alerts because you give such an abnormally high percentage of your income to your church and other charitable causes.” They never audited him again.
TF was a generous man. He taught us kids to give of the first tenth of our income at a very early age. We learned from dad that we could never out give God. We saw him care deeply for each of the local churches he has been a part of. In farming, the income from the harvest of crops is seasonal. I know, at times, he would borrow the money to pay his tithe to the church in advance of receiving payment for his crops because he knew the church needed the money now rather than later.
Dad lived life the way that Winston Churchhill described it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Our dad also knew the reality of what John Wimber once said, “What ever you don’t give away, you don’t get to keep.” And then a final characteristic of our father.
HUMILITY – Honestly, Dad would be a bit embarrassed by the way I’m talking about him tonight. But I have the microphone, he doesn’t. And remember, he asked me to speak. But seriously, he embraced humility. He shunned arrogance. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself, less. When I called him on the phone from my home in Florida, dad didn’t spend much time talking about himself—unless I asked. Instead, he asked me about my family and my ministry. He always showed an interest in others. He walked in humility.
TF’s life was a message. It is a message that our world desperately needs. In these days when arrogance, greed, cowardice, inferior work, dishonesty, family neglect and anti-faith are predominant, I’m privileged and greatly blessed to have been raised by a man whose top priorities in life were his faith, family, integrity, excellence, courage, generosity and humility. And I pray, my children and grandchildren can say the same about me—that I didn’t just preach the message to others. But, my life was the message. I lived the message, just like my father did for me.
I hate to be misunderstood. I know my inner intentions. I recognize my motives. But I found great comfort recently. I read this quote by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, “You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.”
Even though it has been nearly 30 years ago, I’ve not forgotten the comment by a peer of mine. I was embarrassed because it was in front of other peers. But it was more than just embarrassment. I was angry. I had been misunderstood. And, my motives and my intentions were questioned.
Here’s the backstory. I had just started a new church a few years before that encounter. We had started to buy land to build future church facilities. But it wasn’t an ordinary land purchase. We were doing something very innovative at the time. I’ve been told this was the first project of its kind in our city. I was also told by a few that it “couldn’t be done.” I was reminded of the fact that someone in the middle might be a holdout and not sell to the church and then the project couldn’t be completed. You see, we were assembling three adjacent city blocks of properties, individually held by 48 residential land-owners who were scattered half-way around the world. Once all 48 properties were acquired, the city and county would officially vacate the streets that separated the blocks and combine all of the pieces into one large 14-acre tract and the rezoning would permit the property to be used to build a future church campus. But buying all of the properties was the key. It did happen. It took ten years and about 60 closings—with all the various trades and transactions. But, it did happen.
But back to the comment that made me angry because I felt misunderstood. I was just practicing something that I heard Bruce Van Horn say decades later: “You know those ideas you have that are so big you’re embarrassed to talk about them? You should act on them!” God had given a vision to start a church that would reach thousands of unchurched families. I was acting on a vision. While a minimum of three acres was required in our city to build a church and the largest property that was owned by any other church at that time was seven acres, I felt we needed to be prepared to carry out the calling we had been given. So it stung a little (honestly, a lot) when an older much-more experienced colleague said to me in front of a group of other pastors, “What in the world are you going to do with all that land, build a university?” Given the tone of voice by which it was said, my interpretation at the time was: “Are you a young stupid kid or are you just arrogant? Who do you think you are? Do you think you can come to this city and start and build a larger church than all of the rest of us?” Innovation and vision was misunderstood.
David Brinkley of TV-News fame good-humoredly said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” Now as a 60-something well-seasoned leader, I’m grateful that as a 30-something leader back then, I was able to use that brick thrown by another leader who was then about the age I am now. I look around each weekend and see nearly three thousand people gathering on our brick-paver covered campus for worship and watch the five-acre park being used by hundreds of families every day. And, I’m grateful. I’m so very blessed. Being misunderstood is a small price to pay.
Just two weeks ago, I sat and listened to an audacious church-planting vision from another 30-something leader. He recounted how some have told him his ideas are too grandiose, unreasonable and ambitious. I remembered how I felt when others threw bricks at me. It felt good to simply encourage his extraordinary vision, pray for him and to commit to give start-up financial support for the next three years.
QUESTIONS: What great vision have you been given for 2018 that you might need to start sharing? When have you been misunderstood because you were innovative? I would love to hear more of your story in the comment section below.
“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure–the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.” This was a recent daily inspirational quote I posted on my social media channels. This slight paraphrase of something Robert McKee wrote is very evident right now in my neck of the woods. We residents of southwest Florida are 24-48 hours away from an attack by a large mad woman named Irma. She’s one of the most aggressive hurricanes ever birthed in the Atlantic. Only time will tell her legacy.
So we are in the final preparation stages: Hurricane shutters installed, gas tanks filled, outdoor furniture brought in, water stored, food secured and evacuation plans in place or already executed. But here’s the deal. Sandwiched in between the weather reporters and their Class A moving graphics, is a story of a compassionate and generous shopper at Home Depot who gave the last generator out of his own cart to the woman in line behind him who needs one for her father’s oxygen machine. There are stories of off-duty Cape Coral Police officers installing shutters for the elderly. Neighbors helping neighbors. Churches blessing their communities. People at their best.
But, I listen to my police radio (issued to me as a chaplain for our department) and I hear the call to Sam’s Club to quell a fight of 10 people over a newly arrived shipment of water. Another friend tells me of his friend who picked up the last case of water at Lowe’s only to have someone try to pull it out of his arms. When he held on, he was met with a fist in the face. Other news reports tell of $3-4 cases of water being sold for $39. People at their worst.
Here’s another recent post I placed on social media, “What is down in the well, will come up in the bucket.” These kind of crisis events will reveal what is deep inside of us. This shouldn’t surprise us. An amazing teacher, prophet, rabbi and Savior said it this way: “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” ~Jesus (Luke 6:43-45).
Transformation happens from the inside out. God is in the heart transformation business. You can’t give away what you don’t have on the inside. Start with asking God’s love and presence to fill you. And then, there are other forces that shape our character. Michael Hyatt talks about three of them:
- The Input We Consume—books, blogs, TV, music, social media, etc.
- The Relationships we Pursue—Jim Rohn says, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Positive, negative, big-picture thinkers, problem solvers, critics, successful, etc.
- The Habits We Acquire—The consistent ways we think, speak and act in different situations. What we become known for. Our brand. Late, organized, disorganized, tense, relaxed, gratitude, or grumbling.
What gets squeezed out of you when the pressure is on? What do others see? The best or the worst of humanity? If it is the best, rejoice in the character you’ve allowed God to develop in you. If it is the worst of humankind, it’s never too late to ask God for a heart transformation and begin to change the forces that shape your character. You can’t change the past, but all of us have the power to change the future. As Steve Maraboli said, “Don’t let your history interfere with your destiny.”
QUESTION: When you do honest self-inventory, are you satisfied with what gets squeezed out of you under pressure? Would love to have you share your thoughts in the comment section.
There are two words that have been the most common path to mediocrity. I’ll get to those two words in a moment. In reality, I doubt if any of us want to be mediocre. I always want to be above average. After all, being undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster and barely adequate is not at the top of my “To Do” or “To Be” list.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. The two most common words that lead to mediocrity — “Be realistic.” I’ve heard those words on the tip of the tongue of many parents, teachers, pastors, politicians and business owners. Be realistic. In other words, look at your circumstances. Remember your past failures. Think about what you don’t have. Stare at the obstacles. Make sure you focus on all the things that could go wrong. Those are the stepping stones to mediocre living.
I well-remember times when those two words, “be realistic,” were spoken to me. The most memorable time was about 1989. I had launched Cape Christian two years before. We had been looking all over the city of Cape Coral to find a parcel of land for building a future church campus. Too expensive, poor location, not large enough, and additional reasons squelched our enthusiasm for most of the sites we examined. But then there was this very crazy idea. An audacious option. Some said it was impossible. Others reminded me it had never been done before. Most politely said, “be realistic.”
Our leadership team bought into the idea of assembling 48 individually owned properties, three city blocks of vacant properties on a major thoroughfare near a planned yet-to-be-built cross-town limited-access expressway that would connect our entire region. An amazing opportunity! A top-tier property!
But the challenge was immense. These 48 owners lived in Germany, three Canadian provinces and twenty some states. One of the four-dozen landowners was preparing to build a house on his vacant lot. Contact with other owners included responses like, “I will never sell to a church—over my dead body.” “No way. Ever. I’ll build a fence around my land and throw my beer cans on the church property.” While the city officials said they would vacate the streets and right-a-ways in between the blocks and give us that land if we owned all of the properties on each side of the street the entire length of the block, they reminded us to “be realistic.”
Other pastors in town questioned why we would attempt something so difficult. They told me about larger parcels in obscure places for a great price that were owned by motivated sellers. Some made snide comments about the fact that we were trying to buy 14 acres when the minimum the city required was three acres and the average was five. After all, we should be realistic. The attendance at that time was approaching 100. Half the churches in America are less than 75 in worship attendance. 90% are under 350. Why isn’t one block of four to five acres enough? Surely, two city blocks or 9 acres should be plenty? Really, three blocks, a total of 14 acres? Why not be realistic?
And then, we were purchasing the properties, one by one, piece by piece. But what we thought might take four to five years, was now seven years, eight years. What if some one demands an exorbitant price for a necessary piece? Someone in the middle might hold out and not sell to the church. The streets couldn’t be vacated. The plan will be ruined.
Well, there is not space here. But there are really 48 God stories that could be told. Amazing stories of turn-around, mind and heart transformation. Resistant land-owners dying and their families imploring us to buy their land. Water-front properties donated to the church that were used as trades. It took from 1989 to 1999 to get the 48th piece. But it became such a God-inspired unrealistic journey that we were frequently in jaw-dropping awe along the way.
Here’s the truth. “Be realistic” isn’t God’s language. That’s self-talk. That’s the talk of family, friends and strangers. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).
And now the decades have brought Cape Christian to an incredible ministry to thousands of families in Cape Coral. Twenty-five hundred people attend multiple worship services each week. Five of the fourteen acres is comprised of Tony & Ada’s Café and Fellowship Park with its fun-filled playgrounds, a splash pad, basketball courts, pavilions, a play field and more for thousands of families of the community to enjoy every day of the year. Our campus is a community hub of daily life-giving ministry for youth, grieving children, addicted adults, preschool children and much more. When I walk across the campus and see what God is doing, I cringe to think what today would be like if I would have followed those often-repeated words, “be realistic.”
QUESTION: Name a time when you refused to listen to the words, “be realistic.” Or, share a time you did listen to those words and you now regret it. I’d love to hear your brief story below in the comment section.
I’ve been working my way through the Top Ten. This is the last on the list. But certainly not the least on the list. Ever since I funneled four decades of leadership lessons into a 90-minute teaching session for a group of young millennial worship interns last summer, I’ve been unpacking each of them individually in a series of blog posts. While my top-ten learnings were listed in no particular order of priority, “Leaders Must Keep Their Priorities in Order” is incredibly important in the life of a leader that expects to leave a powerful legacy.
My leadership experience has primarily been in a church environment. Launching and growing a small group into a church and then into a large thriving vibrant church has been a mostly wonderful journey. And, by the very nature and calling of the assignment of a pastor, I’ve been tasked with bringing dozens, and then hundreds and now, even thousands along with me on the journey of loving God and loving people. There are many demands. Many needs. Many who want my time and attention. There is always more people to see, more to be done than there are hours in a day.
But I’ve learned something about the need for one priority above all the other priorities. My ministry won’t matter without my family. My ministry won’t matter without my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Some things are more important than other things. Some things are priceless. I can start and grow the largest church in our city and be totally empty and devastated if my marriage is destroyed or my kids and grandkids are far away from God. My ministry won’t matter if my 42 years of marriage unravels into a mess. My ministry won’t matter if my kids don’t respect me or my grandkids don’t want to spend time with me. My ministry won’t matter at all if I’m emotionally burned out and have no motivation to get out of bed.
I’ve not experienced the above. I’m so very grateful. But in the last seven months, I’ve been in the hospital three times. A total of 13 days. Only one of the three was a scheduled surgery and hospital stay. Now, the good news is, I think everything has been fixed, cut out or checked out. But on those two emergency visits, important meetings on my calendar didn’t matter. My “To Do” list was useless. My goals and deadlines were insufficient. Nothing else mattered beyond getting well again. Some things are more important than other things. We tend to forget that when the pressures of our careers and leadership roles drive us to imbalanced over-loaded schedules.
I remind every younger leader of the priority of setting personal boundaries and keeping their lives in proper perspective and balance. You will never regret having your family and your own health at the top of your priority list. But you will have loads of regret if any of those slip away from you and slide to the bottom.
Some of the best mental health advice I received as a young leader was from another young leader back in 1986. Rick Warren said this to a group of us young pastors—divert daily, withdraw weekly and abandon annually. Having a finish line to cross to cross each day, a consistent day off each week and some time off the grid each year has helped me stay emotionally healthy.
And finally, I’ve guarded my family time and personal time as if it was my life, because it is. Putting my family events, a date with my wife, prayer, reading, exercise, and my hobby of photography on my calendar is a key. I can simply tell a person looking for a potential appointment, “I have another event at that time.” It also keeps my administrative assistant from overcrowding my personal calendar. Most of all, seeing those self-care appointments on my calendar are a frequent visual reminder—some things are more important than other things.
QUESTION: How do you stay healthy and well balanced in your life? I’d love to learn from you. Share your tips in the comment section below.
Ray Kroc quipped, “I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.” Kroc was a struggling milkshake mixer salesman who sold eight machines to brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald, for their store in San Bernardino, CA. In 1955, Ray Kroc offered his services to the McDonald brothers, convinced that their small local restaurant chain, had the potential to explode across the nation. As often said, “the rest is history.” The golden arches are now one of the most recognized brands in America and the largest fast-food company in the world.
Our culture is infatuated with “flash in the pan” success. Inventors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, church planters and more, all dream of being the exception. The lucky one. The overnight sensation. It was Ray Kroc who also said, “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.” And if you know the backstory, it was a very tough road and a huge challenge to even get the McDonald brothers to cooperate with Kroc’s plan to replicate and franchise their restaurant. The brothers resisted at nearly every suggestion he made. Frustrated, Kroc finally bought out the McDonalds in 1961 and gave them some royalty rights. Persistent perseverance was required.
Great long-term results nearly always come out of perseverance. Overnight success usually happens through years of persistence by someone. It looks easy after it’s been done. And normally, there was nothing easy about it. As an entrepreneur in the church-launching world, I can tell you that the last three decades of starting and building Cape Christian, required incredible persistence and perseverance. There were many obstacles. Mountains. Valleys. Roadblocks. Challenges. Setbacks. Victories. Defeats. But most walk onto our campus and see only the success of a church that started in a hard-to-find elementary school with three couples and has grown to thousands each week on a 14 acre property situated on a major thoroughfare.
I’m a huge fan of business analyst and author Jim Collins. In his signature book, “Good to Great,” Collins writes about the “flywheel effect” that happens in successful organizations. Relentless intentionality on a clearly articulated focused vision (Collins calls it the Hedgehog Concept), begins to attract believers, builds strength, demonstrates results and builds the brand.
Great leaders live their vision with stick-to-it-ness. This is one of the top ten things I’ve learned in nearly forty years of leadership. The application is across the board. Losing weight. Getting in shape. Starting a project. Launching a business. Growing in my relationship with God. Successful persons are persistent and they persevere. It’s mandatory. Steve Keating said it well, “Two things seem certain when it comes to your success: only you can make the decision to quit and only you can make the decision not to.”
QUESTION: What helps you persist and persevere? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Thirty years ago, (April 19, 1987 on Easter Sunday) I had the privilege of being a spiritual mid-wife. I helped God birth one of His churches, Cape Christian. My wife Linda and two other couples, locked our arms in a common vision to reach young unchurched families. Starting the first church in Cape Coral, Florida that was entirely focused on using contemporary worship music, down-to-earth messages and relevant ministry to inspire and transform families, we have been Loving God and Loving People for a full three decades now. This past weekend, over 6,500 people gathered on our campus to worship the Resurrected Christ! I’m never surprised, but always in awe. God is good, so good!
Many have asked, what is the secret? Are there one or two keys to the success of Cape Christian? I’ve written about a lot of them in this blog over the last few years. But on this 30th anniversary, here are 30 simple things I’ve learned over the last 30 years:
- Enjoy the journey. Live with a sense of awe and gratitude each day of the journey.
- God is always up to something new so embrace it instead of resisting it.
- “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” ~John Maxwell
- “The most powerful tool a leader has is personal example.” ~John Wooden
- “Humility is the first chapter in the book of success.” ~Mark Batterson
- Little things matter.
- Every stage of an organization’s growth is unique and every stage is important.
- Organizations never grow in a straight line. There are many peaks and valleys, zigs and zags.
- We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period and underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period of time.
10. Everything we do takes more time than we expect.
- Commit for the long haul. “Overnight successes,” usually happen through years of persistence by someone.
- Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Work hard. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~Thomas Edison
- Become a lifelong learner. My capacity to lead is determined by my capacity to grow.
- Explain the why, not just the what, when and how. People lose their way when they lose their why.
- Make the hard decisions when necessary. “Leadership is an extreme sport…requiring both courage and humility.” ~Cheryl Bachelder
- The higher you go in leadership, the higher your self-awareness needs to be and the fewer options you have.
- Great leaders take adequate time for reflection.
- Blessing follows obedience and risk.
- Leadership is more about relationships than it is about results. In the long run, results are in proportion to the quality of your relationships.
- Giving leadership away is ultimately better than keeping it for yourself.
- The best leaders are servants. They help others succeed.
- Leaders determine their brand. You will be known for something. Choose wisely.
- Great leaders build teams that build great organizations. Great leaders grow leaders.
- Great leaders realize they stand on the shoulders of others who’ve gone before them.
- The best leaders have more questions than they have answers.
- If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Keep the main thing the main thing.
- “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.” ~Ravi Zacharias
- Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn in the right direction.
- My marriage and my family are my most important calling and my ultimate measure of success.
QUESTION: Which would be your top three axioms out of these thirty? I’m sure I’ve missed many, what you add? Share it in the comment section below. Thanks!
“Top leaders see what others don’t see. They paint a picture that allows team members and followers to see the why behind the what. Great leaders learn to fly above the immediate hill or valley and get a bird’s eye view of what is best for the organization over the long term.”
Those are words I spoke in a “Top Ten for Young Leaders” talk to a group of millennials in a summer internship. In nearly four decades of leadership, I’ve learned that “Painting a Picture of the Future” is of utmost importance. Leaders look beyond the immediate and they portray it in vivid word pictures so team members are inspired to follow the vision.
For whatever reason, big picture thinking isn’t too hard for me. It comes rather natural. Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s environment. Maybe it’s training and discipline. Probably—all of the above.
Something as simple as parking a car has a big picture side of it to me. I don’t park on the street across from someone’s driveway because someone may back into the side of my car. I don’t park at the bottom of a sloped retail store parking lot because an unattended shopping cart may roll into the side of my car. I don’t park in an exceptionally narrow parking space because someone else may open their door and dent my door. I generally park way out at the far edges and walk further than most everyone else. What’s the upside? I get more exercise. And I have a car that is over five years old with nearly 100,000 miles on it but it still looks brand new because it is virtually absent of dings and dents.
For certain, visionary leadership in a business or a non-profit is of much more importance than a ding-free car. But paying attention to the little things while keeping on eye on the big picture is critical to a healthy organization. Leaders must look beyond the immediate day-to-day grind to see how decisions today will influence outcomes tomorrow. It is also true personally. Social media rants when hurt or angry today will be a big problem six months from now when a potential employer or client sees how you handle stress or conflict. Level five leaders care about the legacy of the organization so they develop succession plans. Great leaders think about every immediate decision in terms of the potential impact to the future of their career or the organization they lead.
My friend Matt Keller gave some of the best advice I’ve ever received in a talk he gave at Next Level church about five years ago. He gave this pivotal question that must be asked with every decision, both personal and in business leadership. “In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?” That question has consistently helped me make great leadership decisions. That question has been my filter for what I say and don’t say publically as a community leader. That question has kept betrayed spouses from burning all their bridges in a sizzling tirade on social media. That question has helped me hire and fire staff. Seriously, that question, when asked consistently and honestly, leads to big picture thinking.
Much more could be said about developing and strengthening your big picture thinking. Fast Company has a quick read called “5 Strategies for Big-Picture Thinking” that could be a helpful start. Bottom line. Be intentional about developing this skill set. Learn from big-picture thinkers. Read their books and blogs. Listen to their podcasts. Spend less time with those who habitually choose the myopic view. Study the advice of experts such as this short read in Guild. Stretching yourself to become a better big-picture thinker will be well worth your investment—because the best leaders learn to do it well.
QUESTION: What has helped you the most to become a better big-picture thinker? I’d love to hear your comments!
I’ve been asked, “What’s the most important thing to consider when you hire someone?” There are many lists of criteria I could use. Fifteen plus years ago I started using the three “C’s” that I heard Bill Hybels give: Character, Competence and Chemistry. Over the years, I’ve added a few C’s, especially for those who will be top leadership team members. Now I have six of them I use as filters in the interview process. Calling. Character. Competence. Commitment. Conflict Resolutions Skills. And Chemistry.
But here’s the top of the top. This is the one I shared with ten young interns in a talk about the top ten things I’ve learned about church leadership over nearly four decades – “Leaders Know Character is Critical.” So of the top things I look for in a leader? Character. Character is the most important of all. It will take you higher than you imagined. Lack of it will take you lower than you ever wanted to go. Excellent character is indispensible for outstanding leaders.
Character is top of the top because, even a little shortage, will leave a huge gap in that leader’s long-term ability to lead people. People will be patient with leaders that are growing in competence, leaders that are a bit quirky or a tad unskilled in resolving conflict. If a leader has a character issue, trust is broken. When trust goes down the tubes, everything else heads in the same direction.
The truth is, character matters. Not just in my realm of major leadership experience: a church. It matters everywhere, all the time. I’ve observed the crash of marriages due to character issues. I’ve seen businesses flounder and fail because leaders didn’t have character. I’ve watched a non-profit organization go through great challenges because a leader lacked integrity. I’ve definitely seen the pain caused by church leaders who had cracks in their character.
We can look at our nation’s recent history and see a major financial crisis in 2008-2009 because boldness or instant gratification triumphed over temperance. But even more, people knew bad risks were being taken but did not have the courage or confidence to speak up. People without integrity sold mortgages to those who could not pay them. They then bundled these mortgages into securities that were fraudulent and sold to others. People with large egos, lacking in humility, oblivious to the harm they may have been doing to others, became very rich at the expense of millions who were victims of the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Yet to this day, these same people seem unable or unwilling to accept any degree of responsibility and to recognize that the main problem was, essentially, a character issue.
The top of the top. It’s character. A collectively written article in the Ivey Business Journal said it superbly under a heading, Why Character Really Matters: “When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do.”
We must remember this. Character is not something that you have or don’t have. All of us have character. Character is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. But every situation presents a different experience and opportunity to learn and deepen character. Michael Hyatt says character is shaped by three forces (see previous blog). How is your character being shaped? What will you do this week to grow your character?
QUESTION: Are there any additional insights you have learned about character? I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.
9 Months, 3 days ago, I published this blog post in honor of my father in-love, Fred Augsburger. THIS MORNING – January 30, 2017 @ 2:15AM, he heard the words, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant, Enter Into Your Eternal Reward.” WELCOME HOME!
*A Celebration of Life for Fred Augsburger will be held February 11, 2017 @Berlin Mennonite Church, 4718 US Route 62 Berlin, Ohio 44610. Visitation: 2-4 PM Celebration of Life: 4PM
95 years ago today. April 27, 1921. A ten-pound baby boy was delivered by Doc Toot in the bedroom of a rural Elida, Ohio farm house. Clarence and Stella Augsburger were the proud parents of their first born of five sons and one daughter. Over the years, while planting, cultivating and harvesting tomatoes and melons on the small family farm, God was nudging Fred to a distinctive kind of sowing and reaping.
After a five-year apprenticeship helping start a church in rural Wisconsin, Fred and his wife Carolyn and young family of two daughters, were invited to Youngstown, Ohio to start a church in 1952. A Caucasian farm boy answered the call. A predominately African-American inner city community was the field.
Seeds of love, compassion, acceptance and authenticity were freely planted. Acts of kindness, servant-hood, mercy, justice and respect were consistently cultivated. Everything was drenched with the living water of the Holy Spirit. And a church was planted. A harvest of fruit was evident. People of all skin tones worshipped God together. First a church on the south-side, and then a second church 15 years later on the northeast side of Youngstown. Thirty years of faithful and fruitful ministry.
During and for an additional 15 years beyond planting two churches in Youngstown, were hundreds of fruitful ministry opportunities as the Fred Augsburger family of five children and parents travelled, sang and preached their way across the landscape of North American churches. Stories of transformation, healing and restoration abound. Several interim pastorates from Ohio to Oregon. (A book with their life story has been written). Sowing and reaping. Faithful and fruitful.
A God-loving, Christ-following, Spirit-empowered faithful leader. Married to an equally called, passionate and gifted wife. Together, they created five children who all married and birthed 13 grandchildren who now have added 10 great-grandchildren. At all levels of the legacy, there are younger generations living out a similar call that has been shaped by their father, grandfather and great grandfather. They have been faithful and fruitful.
Fred’s legacy has been lived out in many powerful ways through this family. They are as varied as the uniqueness of each child, in-law, grandchild and great grandchild. But one I know most intimately. I married his third daughter, Linda, nearly 42 years ago. Together we have spent 37 years in ministry. The last 30 of those ministry years, planting a church in Cape Coral, FL. Our passion for loving God and loving people has been shaped by our father and father in-love. We have been faithful and fruitful.
And our three children have also been molded by their grandfather. One of our sons recently wrote: After just passing two years of sobriety this month, I was praying for Grandpa and reflecting on the wonderful man he is and the wonderful family I have been blessed to be a part of…and then it hit me…grandpa asked me one time if I was ever going to be a pastor. He said he had a dream where I was walking in his footsteps, I believe he said literally walking in his giant shoes, trying to fit into them. Although I am not going to be a pastor, I realized that I am finally walking in his shoes. At the time, the shoes were too giant and too big for me to fit into. But, through the grace of God, I feel the shoes fit now. I am not perfect. I still am trying to “wear them in” and they are becoming more comfortable as I wear them. And I just wanted to thank you grandpa for being a man of God and passing that down through the generations. Thank you for the shoes grandpa, they fit!
Even at age 95, having just moved last week into the nursing home section of the retirement community he has resided in the past eight years, he is still laboring in the fields where God has placed him. He regularly prays for, encourages and inspires his peers. He sows seed. Cultivates and waters spiritual soil. And he still has the joy of a fruitful harvest.
If God gives me another three decades of life and health, I want to still be living and leaving such a legacy like my father in-love. Happy 95th Birthday Fred Augsburger!
QUESTION: What are you doing now to leave a legacy like my father in-love Fred Augsburger? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.