Why leaders need transcendent moments



Do you ever wonder why Jesus’ favorite recreational activity was to go either to a deserted place or to the mountains?

Leaders need times of solitude. We need transcendent moments to remind us that our problems and challenges are not bigger than God.

This truth came home to me a few years ago. Former members of our church invited our family to spend a day at their home located near a breathtaking lake.

I was in the middle of a very stressful time in the church—many meetings, staff conflicts, budget deficits, personal pressures.

My wife was convinced we should go, but I wanted to stay home and have my private pity party.

She pushed. We accepted the invitation and traveled the fifty-five miles to see our friends. Was I glad I took their offer!

Their spacious home was situated on close to an acre of land next to a large lake. Entering the area where they lived was like stepping into a soundproof zone.

We no longer heard the white noise of the highway; all we heard were birds singing to their Maker, the gentle wind pushing and pulling the leaves on the trees.

After lunch, our hosts took us down to the lake and showed us how to kayak. I had never done this before, but after a few missteps, I began to understand the rhythm of kayaking. I learned how to efficiently move my paddle from side to side; moving forward, backward, turning.

What initially felt like a chore quickly became delight. I confidently pushed out into the middle of the lake, and it was only when I was in the middle of the lake that I realized the enormity of this body of water.

Way back on shore I could see my family, they were waving and calling out to me, but I was so far from them I could not hear a single word. And then I stopped rowing and quietly sat in the middle of the lake.

This is a moment I will never forget. In the middle of the vast lake, I felt small, insignificant, and my worries seemed small. I realized at that moment my problems, my concerns, fears, and desires were as nothing in the middle of this enormous body of water.

My thoughts turned to Christ and his power to walk on water; his authority to speak to the wind and the waves roiling and threatening his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. His fearful disciples were convinced death was imminent, so they shook him from his peaceful sleep.

Lord, do you not care that we perish? Jesus first said to them? Why are you afraid? O you of little faith. Then he stood up and spoke to the wind and the waves and it became still. (See Matthew 8: 23-27)

Thankfully, I was not in a literal storm that day. The lake was like a plate of glass except for a few slight undulating waves. But my inner life was in turmoil, and I knew at that moment Christ was not just with me, and that everything would be fine, but Christ was greater than all the storms I was facing and I did not need to be captured by fear.

At that moment my giant sized challenges were eclipsed by the magnitude of the lake. The chaos of my inner life was recalibrated from feverish, fretful pursuits, to peace, stillness, rest, faith, and renewal in the presence and power of God.

I hope you have a place where you go and experience God. I hope you have a place where you can resize your challenges before the greatness of God. Failure to find these transcendent moments leave us thinking it’s all up to us. It never is.

Where do you go to reset your inner life?

Dead Leader Walking


A costly error

I recently read some of the saddest words ever said about a leader:

So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance, and did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David, son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13-14 NRSV).

What do I find so disturbing about these words? Not that Saul died (this is tragic), or the way he died, but that he did not seek guidance from the Lord.

Saul was anointed and appointed by God. He had all the right leadership tools, except one: humility in seeking the Lord with all his heart.

As his leadership started unraveling, he began losing confidence and broad support from his trusted leaders and the people of Israel.

He became a “dead leader” walking–willing to do anything to solve his problems. Anything but seek the Lord.

Instead, he went to a medium and in desperation, tried contacting the spirit of Samuel.

Like a dehydrated person in a desert craving a drop of water, Saul was yearning for wisdom, direction, and help. The weight of leadership was crushing him. If you are a leader, you know what this feels like. 

Jealousy toward David, his son-in-law, was slowly building a prison in his heart and this was when he took a foolish shortcut, and it cost him everything.

Leaders, remember that nothing of eternal significance happens apart from God.

Jesus was unequivocal when he said, “Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). The task of leading an organization is challenging.

Leaders who have nothing to rely on but their degrees, their raw, brute strength to carry the load, will inevitably hit a wall and fall apart. They will not endure over the long haul that is often required of those who lead. Most of all, they will not finish well.

Source of the problem
Many leaders struggle in their prayer lives. They trade the short term comfort of immediate results for the longterm gain of seeking God’s best. Prayerless leaders are more common than we care to admit because prayer is slow, humbling, hard work. 

Those who pray, feel like it is a waste of time. Like Smeagol, in Lord of the Rings– the creature with the obsession for the shiny ring–many leaders are smitten with shiny leadership tools that they think will spur growth within their organization, their church, motivate people, and raise vast sums of money. Leaders want results. I get that!

I am not trying to dismiss leadership resources. I am saying that we must wisely choose our tools. Speaking through Jeremiah, the Lord said, “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6: 16).

Come back to the ancient crossroads. Seek for the ancient paths–spiritual leadership that is centered on devotion to God. And in doing this, leaders will discover that God’s power is greater than anything they can do in their strength and that the wisdom of God and the plans of God are often revealed through prayer.


Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success) points out that virtually every person who has achieved success has done so, not only because of their talent, intelligence and hard work, but also because of an incredible set of circumstances that has given them advantages others have not enjoyed. Most studies on the traits of effective leadership include the attribute of humility—from Kouzes and Posner to Jim Collins; from Lencioni to Covey to Drucker. All of them recognize what Einstein taught: we are but a speck in an unfathomably large universe. Every leader who seeks a legacy of effectiveness realizes that he or she stands on the shoulders of someone else. They know that their abilities, opportunities and even their very breath come from the hand of God. William Loritts (Leadership as an Identity: The Four Traits of Those Who Wield Lasting Influence) writes, “For a Christian leader, brokenness is a dear friend, and pride is the enemy.” Leaders who would be grateful, humble and broken must begin on their knees, thanking God for his grace and mercy in their lives. (From Do Leaders Really Need To Pray?: The Role of Prayer in Leadership)

What are you doing to maintain spiritual vibrancy in your leadership?

What I am reading this week

Book imageI sometimes get questions from folks about my reading and study habits. In a word, I read widely because this world is a massive community, filled with teachers from many different perspectives.


I often begin my day reading and meditating on a portion of Scripture. For more years than I can count, I take about 20 minutes of each 365 days to ponder the Scriptures. Between my ESV Bible and YouVersion, I rouse myself from lethargy and pursue God through Scripture for these reasons:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalms 119:9-11

The Power of Habit
Had a great time re-reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Judith and I gave a short talk about habits and how they shape us. Your habits are either making you or breaking you. If you are serious about change, not only read this book but be transparents with a few good folks who can help you seek new ways to live.

If you have never heard of the rapper Lecrae, check out his music. His new album, All Things Work Together, talks about how he handled the pain and rejection from his mostly white Christian fans for speaking up about the racism and white supremacy. I listened to his album about two or three times this week.

Bondage of the Will
I am writing a paper for the publication, Theology Matters. My article will focus on Luther’s book Bondage of the Will. Pray for me that I will meet this writing deadline before November 30.

Mission Drift
Just started listening to an audio version of Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Chris Horst and Peter Greer(good summary here if you don’t have time to read the book). This book is helping me understand how people and organizations drift from their core beliefs and practices. I will tell you more when I complete the book.

Happy reading!