Saturday, July 25, 2009

So what have I learned so far on my sabbatical?

That's probably a question some of my church members would like to ask me, now that I've been on sabbatical for three weeks.

My answer: a lot.

But probably the best thing is not so much what I've learned as what I've experienced. I've been able to spend extended time with my wife, kids, and grandkids. I've stayed at the beach for two weeks. I've done a TON of reading. I've gotten back to blogging. I've picked up my guitar again. I even found out my younger daughter is expecting a baby! It can't get any better than that.

One of my goals was to get a sharper focus on the future...that of both my own life and my church. It's still a work in progress (probably always will be), but I feel pretty good about where I'm at now compared to three weeks ago.

A book that has been a tremendous help in this regard is The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. This is far and away the best book on leadership I've ever read. It's not light reading. It's not one of those "Who Moved My Cheese"-type books on leadership that you can finish in a couple hours. I've been working through Kouzes and Posner for some months, and I'm still only halfway. But if you want to grow as a leader, it's worth the time it takes.

The value of the book is the "Reflection and Action" sections at the end of each chapter. I've tried to do these exercises and they've really helped me.

The authors put forth five practices of exemplary leadership:
  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

For each practice, the authors describe two specific behaviors that help you learn to lead. It's too much to go into here, but my most valuable takeaway from the book so far are these two sentences:
"Before you can become a credible have to find your voice. If you can't find your voice, you'll end up with a vocabulary that belongs to someone else."

You know, that bit of advice doesn't just apply to leaders. It applies to everyone who hopes to make a difference, whether in a church, a family, a place of work, a neighborhood, or wherever. You have to find your unique voice, and then speak out of it.

So on my sabbatical I've spent considerable time listening to God, exploring my desires, looking at my past, surveying the future, and hearing what my own heart is telling me...with the goal of more clearly finding my voice.

There are an incredible number of voices shouting at church leaders today. My goal is to listen to the voice of my Senior Pastor (Jesus), and thus be better able to find and share my voice with others.

One thing I've heard Jesus telling me very clearly is that I need to spend my time differently. I've been spreading myself way too thin, trying to accomplish too many different things and have my fingers in too many different pots, and not spending adequate time doing the things that only I can do and that God has called me to do.

Another thing I've heard is God's call to UPC to be more missional - that is, to be more intentional and determined to be a church that makes a difference in the world. The thought occurred to me that the widening of Rouse Road (the street our church is located on) is kind of a metaphor for our need to widen our reach (how's that for alliteration??). I'll be sharing more thoughts along that line in the weeks and months ahead, but here's a foretaste that I recorded in my journal the other day:
What must be the focus of UPC? Winning, equipping, empowering, and sending mature followers of Christ (i.e., disciples) into east Orlando and around the world who are deeply grounded in the gospel and armed with a rich theology, love for God and neighbor, and the know-how to help friends become followers – the goal being nothing short of the transformation of the entire culture to the glory of God. Simply put, our purpose is to obey the Great Commission. We are here to grow the Kingdom of God.

Anyway, that's where I am. I have another week to go in this part of my sabbatical. Long story short, it's been a very restoring, refreshing time.

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