This week was special. I have received hundreds of congratulatory social media comments, some text messages, a newspaper interview and many personal compliments. On Tuesday, I received a significant local award—The Elmer Tabor Generosity Award. Here is what it represents: “The Elmer Tabor Award was established by the Cape Coral Community Foundation with the purpose of recognizing outstanding philanthropists in our community, those who have a record of exceptional generosity, show civic and charitable responsibility, and demonstrate leadership that inspires others to a life of generosity.” I was suprised just to be nominated and then honored to be named as a finalist. I was very deeply humbled to be the one selected to receive this special award.
But here’s the real truth I’ve learned over my 40 year leadership journey. Legacy leaders understand that leadership is not about them, but it begins with them. To me that means that I accept my role of leadership in inspiring others to generosity. At the same time, thousands of others could have been on the stage beside me receiving that reward. Let me name just a few:
- Linda – my best friend and life partner for the last 45 years. My wife inspires me, encourages me, believes in me, challenges me, coaches me and more! We have been partners together in planting and building a thriving church over the last 32 years. While she has never been a staff member of Cape Christian, Linda has had an extraordinary influence in shaping the church and leading from the sidelines. I wouldn’t be the leader I am without her. The church wouldn’t be what it is without her.
- Co-Leaders– During the description of all the reasons why I received the Elmer Tabor Award, many of the mentions were about ways Cape Christian has given back to our community over the years: A park built for the families of our city; a non-profit health clinic for the uninsured or underinsured initiated by Cape Christian; and involvement in food drives, community-wide events. Successors, staff members, board members, congregational leaders and community leaders have all been instrumental in making the above examples happen. They bought into the vision, refined the vision and did the hard work to carry it out.
- Followers and Supporters– Leaders are only as successful as the many volunteers who follow and support the vision. So many people at Cape Christian have given sacrificially of their time, talent and treasure to accomplish some amazing things over the last three decades. Without that kind of generosity, there would be no award. Thank you so very much to many more than I can possibly begin to name.
- Family– My heritage has set me up for success. Grandparents and parents demonstrated the value of generosity and giving back to the communities in which they lived. Service above self was a top value in my family. My mother is a woman of prayer and has prayed much for me. My father always told me how proud he was of my accomplishments and impact I was having. (In fact I had a few tears this week because I wanted to call my father and tell him of the award, but he died about 7 months ago). And, I’m grateful for my children who have always been my cheerleaders.
- Pastor’s Small Group– I am blessed to have a group of fellow ministry leaders in our city who have mentored, inspired, supported, encouraged, affirmed, challenged, and prayed for me for over 22 years at our weekly lunch meetings. They help me to be a better person and a healthier leader. Thanks guys!
So thank you to all of the above and many more! I am a very blessed leader! I wish I could give each of you a generosity award!
The whole world held its breath for days! Ten days! The search was intense for 12 young Thai soccer boys and their coach. The world was captivated as they watched and prayed for this team—stranded by rising waters that drove them further and further into subterranean passages. And then they were found. Everyone took a deep breath. And then we all watched as frantic efforts were started to figure out a way to remove them from over two miles deep inside a mountain. It took 8 more days to get the 13 safely out.
During the interlude between discovery and rescue, my attention was captured by a news network editorial by Dr. Marc Siegel, author of the book, False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. Dr. Siegel wrote his editorial about the trapped soccer team before the rescue began. He predicted:“I believe there are already several good signs that the rescue will ultimately be a success.” Why did he have such confidence? Dr. Siegel stated, “In the first place, the young soccer players are a cohesive team, already skilled in relying on each other, and are working with experienced divers to set up a well-organized, panic-free escape.”
Dr. Siegel went on to give another key reason for his confidence in a successful rescue: “Consider that the trapped boys have already shown bravery and mental fortitude in the way they survived for nine days without knowing when or if they would ever be found. Yet when they were found they were calm, several were laughing, and they assured rescuers they were in good health.” Here’s the main point Dr. Siegel was making. The above evidence “is a very good sign that the boys can control their negative emotions.”
Both fear and courage are contagious. Dr. Siegel’s book is grounded in research that demonstrates both fear and courage are strong emotions that engage the same primitive centers of the brain. However, they can’t both engage these brain centers at the same time. Laughter is an antidote for fear. As so is comradery. Both were clearly displayed in a video rescuers captured during the first few minutes of finding the soccer team.
I’ve been thinking about this concept of both fear and courage being contagious. I’ve observed it and experienced it as a pastor, a board chair, a soccer coach, a police chaplain, a husband and a parent. As a leader, my choice of courage or fear, was contagious. Sometimes I unintentionally chose fear and it spread through those around me. Other times, I chose courage. And those around me caught it and spread it. Both are contagious. Strong emotions. Mutually exclusive. Today, I choose courage. What will be your choice?
QUESTION: Do you remember a time when you saw the result of a leader choosing courage? Fear? Would you be willing to share it in the comment section below?
It’s as natural to me as breathing. I instinctively look for solutions. Not sure why. But it’s how I’m wired. My whole life has been about helping others find solutions to moral, spiritual and relational problems. And I confess, I really get annoyed when others don’t look for a solution to a problem.
Last week, I received a text while officiating at a funeral. Our local rental car agency was informing me that two reserved vans through corporate weren’t made available to them for transporting our 15 team members heading to Haiti early the next morning. In my mind, no big deal. There should be an easy solution. When I finished the funeral, I contacted the rental company. The reserved vans were not available as promised. They were apologetic. Had I caved, that would have been the end of it. No vans available. Period. But leaders are solution-seekers. As Sam Chand says, “Every leader got into a leadership role because they were a solution or provided a solution to something or someone.”
Without a doubt, I knew I could find away to get 15 Haiti team members from Cape Coral to Fort Lauderdale airport the next morning. I called our regional airport location of the company because the local agency said they have a much larger inventory and just might have the needed vehicles. The airport agent couldn’t find any vans anywhere in the area. He told me that he had no solution and then suggested I call their competitors to find two passenger vans.
Seeking a solution, I called the corporate office because we are corporate members with a direct-pay account. They quickly apologized and focused on the problem: the two reserved vans are not available. My response: “I understand what you are saying, but let’s get on the solution side of things.” I interrupted more excuse-making and asked the agent a simple question. “Will you help me get 15 people and all their supplies from point A to point B?” I politely told the corporate agent, “I would like to see you as a rock star by the end of this conversation. You will make you and your company super heroes. I just need your help to figure out a solution to get a combination of vehicles together to move our team and their luggage from the church parking lot, 150 miles across the state of Florida, to the passenger check-in area of the Fort Lauderdale airport. If you can do that, we will continue to use your company as our preferred provider. If not, we’ll have to seek out other solutions and other partners to provide our transportation needs. Is that something you are willing to do?” Finally, for the first time, I heard, “Yes, I will try.”
With that simple three-letter word, Y-E-S, she realized she had permission to find a solution. We went to work. We ended up reserving 5 large SUV’s to transfer a team of people and hundreds of pounds of supplies to their destination. As a consummate solution-seeker, I had my wife calling another local van rental company while I was on the phone making these vehicle reservation changes. As soon as I hung up with the rock star corporate rental agent, I called one of the mission team leaders because I wasn’t fully satisfied with the solution. Two heads are almost always better than one. He suggested using his pickup truck to transport the 30+ suitcases filled with supplies and then we could rent two SUV’s rather than five. Furthermore, instead of driving 25 miles to the regional airport during evening commute traffic to pick up the SUV’s, we decided to check back with our original local rental agency and see if they could now provide a solution by getting the two SUV’s directly from them. Bingo!
Here’s what I learned. Some people aren’t leaders. They only look at the obstacles. They make excuses. Leaders are solution-seekers. In fact, every leader’s trajectory is built on one thing. They provide solutions. In a business, a church, a non-profit, a government entity, solutions are needed above everything else. Whether it is increased sales, more revenues, better customer service, refined training, projects completed, products produced or additional employees—discovering solutions—is the key. It’s all about cultivating a positive-can-do attitude. Opening your eyes. Noticing. Looking. Vision. Creative out-of-the-box thinking. Listening. Collaboration. Leaders seek out solutions.
QUESTION: Is your tendency more toward solution-seeking or excuse-making? What is one thing you could work on today to grow your leadership by searching for solutions?
For nearly four decades, I’ve often been in the role of comforter—caring for those going through the death of a loved one. As a pastor, I’ve been with hundreds of families before, during or after saying goodbye to a family member. But I learned something from Barry a few weeks ago that will help me be a better pastor.
When my father died several weeks ago, hundreds of people expressed their condolences on Facebook, through emails, texts, phone calls and in person. Some sent cards in the mail. Every single one of those efforts of extending consolation and care were deeply appreciated by our family. But Barry’s care touched me the most.
Barry is a volunteer in our church office. For years, he has faithfully shown up twice a week to shred sensitive documents or insert offering envelopes in the weekly program handouts. He always has his coffee in hand, a cheery smile on his face and a warm hug for all our church staff.
After I returned to Florida from our family gatherings to celebrate my dad’s life, I was back in the office for the first in a couple weeks. Barry came into my office and told me he missed seeing me around. I told him my father had died so I had been in Oregon. Then the unexpected happened. Barry walked around the side of my desk, leaned over and hugged me. He said he was “so sorry to hear that news.” But then it got even better. Barry started praying for me. I couldn’t understand every word he prayed. In fact, I often have to ask him to repeat words to me so I can fully understand what he is saying. But I just listened this time. It was a heart-felt prayer to God on my behalf. Exactly what I needed. It made me cry. Still does.
The prayer-filled caring of my friend Barry, who has Down Syndrome, taught me to be a better pastor. No fancy prayer is needed. Just pray from the heart. And, a spoken prayer on the spot is better than a promise that you will be praying for them. No perfectly crafted words can bring greater comfort to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Simple words are enough. Even the mumbled words by Barry were understood because they were authentic and real. And, a hug from a friend is always powerful.
In the future, I will seek to be more like Barry when I’m in the role of comforter. I will never forget. Barry is the Best. Teacher. Ever.
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 never found any thing out of order. In fact, they owed him money because he didn’t claim as many deductions as he 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, my life was the message. And that 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.
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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.
[Tweet ““I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.” ~Ray Kroc”]
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.
[Tweet “Great leaders live their vision with stick-to-it-ness.”]
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.