Born or made? How leaders are formed

person making clay pot
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I don’t expect the following names (Uncle Eddie, Eardley, Coach Smith, Pastor Lue, Judith, Tita, Dr. Biberstein, Dr. Willie Jennings, Coach Morley, Dr. Mary Fulkerson, Pam, Barry, Tony, Danny, Mama, Joycinth) to mean anything to you, but these people represent milestones, pivot points, influencers in my life’s journey. What I am getting at here is, I don’t know where I would be without the impact of these in my life. These people are gifts of gold to me.

Reading through Acts this week reminds me of these people and the power of partnership and influence: Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:25-26)

It is possible that Saul, who later became Paul, could not have become the great church planter and leader in the history of the Church without the influence and partnership of Barnabas. Barnabas left Antioch and traveled over 151 miles to find Saul, bring him back to Antioch to help solidify the growing, diverse church in Antioch.

But he also brought him back to Antioch to influence, mentor, and validate his gifts and calling. The action of Barnabas underscores that tomorrow’s leaders do not come into the world prepackaged, ready to lead. Tomorrow’s leaders are nurtured through mentoring relationships, experiences–both positive and negative–education, humility, and self-awareness.

When Alex Haley achieved great fame and fortune because his book, Roots, was turned into a blockbuster series on TV, the world beat a path to his door. Top of the world. Everyone wanted to interview him. Many years ago now, I read an article about Alex Haley, his humble beginnings, and his service to his country in the Navy. In an accompanying interview, the journalist kept looking at a picture hanging on the wall. Finally, he asked Mr. Haley, “Tell me about that picture?,” pointing to a large picture of a turtle sitting on a fence post. “What is the significance of that picture?” Haley responded, “I keep that picture to remind me that the turtle did not get to the top of that fence by itself. It got there because someone helped it. I keep reminding myself that I am where I am because many hands lifted me up.”

So, think about where you are today. How many hands lifted you up? Would you then please consider doing the following:

First, make a list of the people in your life who influenced you, encouraged you, partnered with you through your life. It is humbling, and there is no room for pride or boasting in such an exercise.

Second, would you be willing to write a letter to one of the Barnabases in your life and thank them for being present and supportive of your journey through life?

Third, could you find a way to pay it forward? In other words, a “Barnabas” found you, influenced and encouraged you. Who might you lift up and encourage?

Fourth, would you be willing to reach out to an emerging leader and find ways to bless and encourage that young leader?

By doing this, we help shape future leaders in our homes, churches, and society at large.

Today we too often find ourselves withering under the weight of arrogant and unprincipled leadership in many areas of our society. Men and women who have no regard for how they use their power in the lives of people who depend on their leadership. Leaders who give praise to themselves and forget how they got to the top of the fence.

Almighty God knows I am not a perfect man. And, sure as the Lord causes the sun to rise each day, without the people whose names I listed above, I would not be where I am today. Thanks be to God for his gift and grace in our lives.

Marital drift: what it is and how to stop it

marital separation

I have never met a couple who told me they are getting married to make the other person’s life miserable. Maybe you have, but I haven’t.

People get married because they are in love.

They are passionate about each other.

They want to bring joy and happiness to each other.

They want to pursue common hopes and dreams together.

These emotions of love and desire are so strong they often lead the couple into the covenant of marriage. The logic then should go something like this: if the couple were close like a stamp to an envelope before they were married, then after getting married they should be even closer, right?

Well, not so fast. Something happened to the couple over time to slowly and painfully pull them apart. There was no sordid affair. No physical or verbal abuse. The couple just drifted apart like untethered boats, pushed and pulled by the sea of life.

Marital Drift seems as inevitable as the continental variety. A creeping separateness between spouses often begins on the day they return from their honeymoon and sometimes doesn’t stop until one or both end up in a counselor’s office, a lawyer’s office or somebody else’s bed. Many believe nothing can be done to prevent Marital Drift. Comments like, “I just don’t love her anymore,” “We’ve grown apart,” and “I can’t imagine what I ever saw in him” are common excuses.

What are some of the signs?

  • No physical intimacy
  • Finding pleasure in porn.
  • No more romantic dates.
  • Focus on children more than the spouse.
  • Holding on till the children leave home.
  • Over-investment in work.
  • Spending more time talking to “friends” on Facebook than to each other.
  • No more laughter.
  • Avoidance of conflict.
  • Ennui or boredom
  • Preoccupation with social media.
  • Binging on Netflix.
  • No longer sharing hopes, dreams, failures, daily happenings. Nothing is shared other than, “could you please pass the salt and pepper.”
  • No longer praying together.

If you are in a state of marital drift, what can you do? Or is it too late?

It is never too late to invest in each other. It is never too late to save your marriage. The biggest obstacle you will face is pride. Are you willing to humble yourself, stop blaming the other person and just say, “I (not you) need to change the way I am acting.”

Here are a few things you can do today to stop the drift:

Admit that there is a problem
Say to your spouse, “We know something is wrong with our relationship. I don’t like what we are becoming and I must admit that I don’t know how to fix it.” Admitting that there is a problem, without affixing blame is a great start.

Ask for help
Every couple, if they are honest, is fighting marital drift. If a couple is not growing they are flatlining and drifting. Help could come from a small group of like-minded couples at church. Help could come from seeking a mentor–a couple who are farther along the journey than you. Ask them to walk with you during this time of struggle. You should not be afraid to seek the help of your pastor or a professional marriage counselor. The point is, don’t try to go it alone. Ask for help.

Commit to serving the other person’s needs: What can I do today to make your day a better day?
I came across this practical article in Huffington Post that is worth reading and implementing. This question gets at the heart of being a servant. Most marriages struggle because of an intense desire for individual happiness and fulfillment without regard for the other. It sounds illogical, but if you focus on serving, blessing, and bringing delight to your spouse, the law of reciprocity kicks in and your joy, blessing, and delight returns ten-fold. If you want to be great, if you want a blessed life, learn to be a servant to others. Read Richard Paul Evans’ post and you will see what I am talking about.

Recommit to praying for each other
Prayer is the practice and experience of spiritual intimacy. Many of the couples I meet with have never explored this area of their relationship. They have physical intimacy, financial intimacy, shared social events, but they have never explored what it looks like to pray together.

Judith and I have been married for more than three decades, and over the course of our marriage, we have found praying together to be the single most powerful practice in our lives that keeps us close to God and to each other. We have faced many storms, both personal and in our professional lives—storms packing gale-force winds of a Category 5 hurricane. Without the protection and the anchoring strength of prayer, we would have been blown away. There is something powerful and calming about praying while in a storm. We’ve discovered a simple truth: Jesus is with us in our storms. This is not a time to bail on our marriage or to drift into isolation, to blame each other, or to allow fear to cripple us. When struggling through a storm, call on Jesus.

Take even five minutes in the morning, or before going to bed to pray for each other. Like water renewing a dry flower bed, praying together will restore life to your marriage. 

Again, these aren’t THE solutions. But the first law of halting marital drift is to stop doing what you have always done and do things you used to do or have never done. Any investment in your marriage no matter how small is worth the effort. You can also check out our book: Five Disciplines of a growing marriage for more ideas.

What other steps might couples take to stop Marital Drift?