Are You Going Fast…or Far?

Are You Going Fast… or Far?

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I love that African proverb, and not just because of the community of leaders, I mentored while there. I’m slowly learning that in the journey of life, it’s not just how fast you go but with whom you go. Soul work is not only slow work, but shared work.

For years I often traveled too fast, and worse—I too often traveled alone. In my “hurry sickness,” I pushed too hard. I pushed others and most of all I pushed myself. I’ve come to realize that the best part of my day is now the first part, which is the slowest part. I love slow starts because they allow me time to both metabolize the Scripture through meditation and also to ponder how best to invest my day in and with others.

Last week I enjoyed several days of deep connection with God and some leaders close to me. One of the things we did was to take turns answering the question: “What makes you afraid . . . or anxious . . . or concerned?” We deliberately sat extra close as we answered those questions, not once, but five times. As a result, each time we went deeper and when we finished, we were closer than ever!

Rarely do men ever go deep. By nature, our sin nature, we are too often fearful, prideful and competitive. We don’t want others to know that we struggle with feelings of inadequacy or that we are often clueless about what to do to get unstuck. As a result, we stay stuck. Stuck in sin patterns. Stuck in unhealthy attitudes. Stuck in damaging habits. Stuck carrying burdens we were never intended to carry alone or at all. The Scripture tells us, “. . . let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up . . .” (Hebrews 12:2).

We all carry some dead weight. In his insightful book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Peter Scazzero shares a story referenced by another author, Annie Dillard: “. . . some British explorers in their search for the North Pole in the 1800’s knew it would be a two-to-three-year journey, yet each sailing vessel carried only a twelve-day supply of coal. Instead of bringing more coal, each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, a hand organ playing fifty tunes, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware. They carried no special clothing for the Arctic except for the uniforms of the Queen’s Navy. When the Eskimos came across their frozen remains, the men were all dressed up, pulling a lifeboat full of sterling silver and chocolate.”

How many of us go through life and leadership carrying unnecessary, even ridiculous stuff? Might you be carrying one or more of these?

Perfectionism – unrealistic and even crazy expectations for yourself and others.
Hypervigilance – the fear of taking a break or even enjoying a sabbath rest lest you lose control.
People pleasing – being too quick to help or even too quick to apologize in an effort to impress.
Critical, cynical attitudes – the self-righteous view that no one can do anything as well as you can, not even 80% as well!

Never underestimate your own capacity for self-deception. That’s why we dare not go too fast. Soul work is slow work. And that’s why we dare not go alone. We need what Paul Tripp calls an intentionally intrusive community.

I’m preparing now to launch two more “soul work” groups. One group will be for pastors who are tired of merely talking about community and who are now ready to finally immerse themselves in healthy and even vulnerable connections. The other group is for some high-capacity leaders in our church, men ready to do life together as they grow through the challenges of their careers and explore their life calling.

As I ponder the mentoring pattern of Jesus it was clear: Go small, go slow, go deep. Our lives will never be any better, richer or more fulfilling than our relationships. In fact, we’ve probably all heard that our degree of effectiveness and happiness will tend to reflect the average of the five friends closest to us.

So, who are the five people closest to you whom you have welcomed to do life with you? Make no mistake, “It is not good for man to be alone!”

Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership

 
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Unforgettable!

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We don’t remember everything . . . not every day . . . not even every Sunday! But some days and some Sundays are truly in the category of “unforgettable!”  Two Sundays ago we were worshiping in Africa at the Outreach Hope Church located in the slums of Nairobi. I told our team that most Sundays blend together in our memories, but this one will remain forever. This was the church that began in a small meeting room above the sanitary block of toilets and showers that a few Rocky partners funded 10 years ago. It was a bathroom for a community of thousands that had none at all!
One of my memories was seeing a man named Victor. He reminded me that he had been one of the young men seeking our help to build a toilet and shower facility for the community. At the end of the little tour down memory lane, Victor said, “Thank you for changing my life.”
The Mission of Hope Ministry in Nairobi is a miracle. When several pastors joined me for the first tour back in 2007, the mission served 300 children. Now that number is over 16,000 kids, in 23 locations far and wide, with 1,000 on staff! Our team of 18 went to Madoya, the slum of the slums, to encourage and bless them. We received more, much, much more than we gave.
Mary and Wallace Kamau, founders of Missions of Hope, refer to us as partners.  At the dedication of a school building for 740 kids that our church provided 80% of the funding for, I said, “We’re not just partners, we’re competitors. We’re in a competition to out bless each other, and so far you are winning!”
The Scriptures tell us, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25) Even though this was an exhausting trip, it was an exceedingly rewarding one. We all received much more than we gave.
“Wow!” That was the repeated refrain from our sponsored child. As she opened her new backpack, she celebrated each gift. When she saw a simple pack of socks she smiled and pointed to the tattered ones she was wearing and said, “This is my only pair.”
Life in the slum of Madoya is hard. People survive on just a dollar or two a day where disease and dangers lurk. But light shines best in the darkness. It was my privilege to invest two days encouraging 20 pastors who serve in the slums. Ministry is hard anywhere, especially there. I was repeatedly humbled by these devoted servants. They all live near where they serve, enjoy meat only twice a month, and deal with the unrelenting demands of desperate people.
I learned a lot from these noble Christian leaders. They are coming to see how much they need each other for soul care. They were hungry for help. While it’s an African custom not to share burdens with others, these pastors are seeing that as they humbly share their struggles they become brothers. Seldom have I taught such receptive leaders. They lifted me in an unforgettable way.
I was in the middle of a miracle, blessed by God’s people doing hard things by shining the light of Christ in dark places.
Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim 
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership 

“Heart Attack!”

heartatack

“There’s a target on your back in the shape of a cross … and it will always be there.” Those were the heartfelt words an elder once shared with me. Then, shortly after he said that, he and his wife decided it was time for them to leave our church in search of something new. Their decision to depart didn’t give me a backache, but a “heart attack.”
Here’s the truth – there’s a target on the heart of every Christian leader! It doesn’t matter whether we lead in a church-related ministry or a business one, sad stuff happens. What matters most is our heart condition. While most leadership books focus on topics related to strategy and skill, the most important and enlightening Book of all puts the emphasis first on heart and soul.
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.”
Psalm 78:72 NIV
The sequence is important.  It’s not coincidental that heart comes before skill. In my mentoring and coaching of leaders far and wide, I’ve learned that what most of them crave is not mere leadership tips but soul-enriching, heart-challenging conversations to process the hits and hurts of life and leadership. What we all know is that ministries and businesses don’t crater primarily because of strategy mistakes, but because of self-centeredness and sin.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
We see this confirmed every day with the news of national leaders crashing due to moral failure. It happens among the media elite, the top CEO’s of business and sadly, even in the senior leadership of the church. In the current issue of World Magazine (my favorite journal) the theme “We Too” focuses on the tragedy and trauma of sexual misconduct in the church. World Magazine reports, “As Pope Francis comes under fire, Protestants in the U.S. face a church-too movement.”
The church I loved and led for 29 years was not exempt. We had our own embarrassments and even shame due to the moral failure of several key leaders over the years, including a youth intern who was sentenced to prison for molesting minors. These were gut-wrenching and heart-breaking experiences for many, especially for the individuals and families directly involved. Sadly, it wasn’t just the reputation of those who sinned that took a hit, it was the entire church that suffered. The Body of Christ is inter-related. When one of us determines to live selfishly or sin grievously, all suffer some of the collateral damage.
I often ask this penetrating question of my closest colleagues: “Can you honestly say, ‘I have no secrets and it is well with my soul?’” Only those who know us best would ever dare ask that question.

 

  • Who might ask you that question?
  • Who might you ask that question?
One of the most gifted leaders in the evangelical world recently experienced a devastating fall. Bill Hybels has been one of my mentors for many years. I love how he has reminded me that everything rises and falls on leadership, and that the local church is the hope of the world. I will be forever indebted to Bill, especially as he inspired me and tens of thousands annually at The Global Leadership Summit. The Summit and the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago have long put on a leadership clinic that has been a marvel to behold. This year was no exception; however, this year Bill Hybels was barely mentioned and nowhere to be seen. The church he has loved and led is now investigating multiple misconduct claims against him. While Bill and others led with skillful hands, clearly, he and others did not always lead with integrity of heart.
Make no mistake, there is a target on every leader – it’s on his heart. While I continue to deeply grieve the failures that surround us all, I am redoubling my commitment to lead well and to finish well. That begins on the inside with repeated and even ruthless self-examination.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
But the one who confesses and 
renounces them finds mercy.
Proverbs 28:13 NIV
I’ve never been more convinced than I am right now that heart health comes first, and that heart work is hard work indeed.
“Above all else, guard your heart, 
for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV
Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership

“The First 50 years are the hardest!”

alanandLinda
Marriage must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards. I’ve learned a lot over the last five decades, and suspect I’m not done learning yet; but on our 50th anniversary this I know for sure, if I had the choice to marry Linda all over again, I would. I just wish I knew then what I know now!

  1. Marriage is lived in seasons. Early on I was sometimes frustrated that Linda wasn’t always available for me. Her full time teaching job consumed much of her attention during our first several years and then three little kids soon arrived bringing sleep deprivation with them. Added to that were the unrelenting ministry responsibilities that grew exponentially with the church. Linda often reminded me, “This is just a season, it’s not forever.” As usual she was right. Now we almost always enjoy slow starts and quiet nights together. We’re blessed to be more in sync now than ever. We’re not in heaven yet, but we’re closer now than we’ve ever been!
  2. Marriage is a life long learning experience. After a half century together no one has taught me more than Linda, no one. She is my most trusted advisor, and I will be forever in her debt for daily putting on a clinic when it comes to love and acceptance. By the grace of God her patience has finally paid off. When I retired from leading the church one of my associates said that Linda deserved more time with me. I immediately responded by saying, “Linda doesn’t need more time with me, Linda deserves a better me!” She definitely deserves a more accepting, forgiving, patient and  devoted me. Now by her own admission, most days she finally has it. We remain devoted to forsake all others – as I keep reminding her, “You are my wife for life!”
  3. The best marriage insurance isn’t passion but purpose. Every enjoyable marriage includes plenty of pleasure, but it’s our common sense of purpose that has been the greatest source of glue over the years. Our marriage has not merely been a matter of commitment but of covenant. To the center of our soul we both know, “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) By God’s grace we are now thoroughly married. Recently as we were kayaking together on beautiful water high in the Rockies I could only repeatedly praise God for the beauty that surrounded me and for the radiant woman in the kayak beside me. During the hard times over the years, or just the ordinary ones, I only wish I could have really known that the best would be yet to come.
If I could marry my wife all over again I would – 50 years is just a great start!
Blessings, 
Alan 

My Blind Spot

It’s officialI have a 20% blind spot. I’ve lost significant vision in my right eye; and what’s amazing, I’ve even had a metaphorical blind spot about my literal blind spot. For some crazy reason it just never occurred to me that one of the reasons traffic often “blindsides me” is that I don’t see it.  Sadly, Linda had to point that out. She sweetly said, “You know, you keep getting surprised by cars on your right, but that’s exactly where the doctor says you lost some peripheral vision.”

It gets worse. After teasing my wife for years about the time that the garage “jumped out” and scraped her car, the same thing happened to me. The other day I was quickly pulling out while putting on my sunglasses and sending a text message. (I’m an amazing multitasker.) Then I heard an ugly and expensive sound. (Guys take note . . . be careful what you tease your wives about, your turn may be coming!)

Don’t doubt iteveryone has blind spots. It’s just that we don’t know exactly what they are; that’s why they’re called (drum roll please) blind spots! We often use that term metaphorically, but in my case it’s literally true. After years of treatment with expensive eye drops to reduce my high pressures, the doctors finally declared surgery to be essential to prevent further vision loss. I’m grateful for that; unfortunately, there is no surgery possible to reduce my blind spot. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news … there is the possibility of “soul surgery” to reduce my spiritual blind spots. That’s the point of daily Bible reading and reflection. Slowly ponder these prayers of King David:

  • “How can I know the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)
  • “Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.” (Psalm 119:29)

Jesus warned us about noting the speck in someone else’s eye and missing the plank in our own. That explains why I can quickly discern the flaws of others and easily overlook my own. I appreciate how Tim Keller put it: “Self-deception is not the worst thing you can do, but it is the means by which we do the worst things. The sin that is most distorting your life right now is the one you can’t see.”

We all seem to have an amazing capacity for self-deception and self-justification, at least I do. How else can you explain how I can become so irritated over my wife’s tardiness and absentmindedness, yet justify my own? Why do some of her flaws bug me far more than my own? It’s crazy how inconsistent I can be.

I often appreciate the insights of David Paul Tripp in his devotional entitled New Morning Mercies. Here are a few subtle sinful masquerades (which I didn’t appreciate him highlighting) that clearly illuminated some blind spots.

  • A focus on material things can masquerade as good stewardship of your possessions.
  • Building your own ministry empire can masquerade as a commitment to the expansion of God’s kingdom.
  • Fear of man can masquerade as a sensitive heart toward the needs of others.
  • A craving to be known and respected can masquerade as a commitment to ministry.
  • Bondage to the opinions of others can masquerade as a commitment to community. 

Now that I have moved into a season allowing more reflection, I don’t always like what I see. Then again, there is something good about asking God to illuminate my spiritual blind spots. What I’m discovering is that the more of my sin I see, the more I recognize my desperate need for a Savior.

John Newton saw spiritual things more clearly in his declining years. The former slave ship captain and later author of the song, Amazing Grace, lamented his decreasing mental and physical capacities, yet he confided, “I do remember two things: I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.”

Today, while I’m lamenting my vision loss I’m celebrating my growing awareness of God’s grace; may it ever be!

Grace and Peace,

Alan Ahlgrim

Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups

The Center for Church Leadership

Leadership Trends to Watch

Leadership Trends…

Leadership Trends

Feb 21 2018

When it comes to leadership trends, once again it’s safe to say that “It’s the best of times and the worst of times!”
The “Worst” Indicators
  • Alcohol use is increasingly common among leaders, despite the growing documentation that it is a “dangerous liberty” and a questionable example.
  • Worship at the technological tower of Babel is rewiring our brain and causing us to lose our capacity for concentration and contemplation. Reflection is in short supply.
  • Facebook and the avalanche of internet distractions are not only leading to discouragement but crowding out life-giving, face-to-face relationships.
  • Arrogance among gifted leaders is deceiving them to believe that their exceptional abilities make them the exception. Every leader needs the humility to welcome feedback and to consider that he might be wrong.
The “Best” Indicators
  • Prioritizing family life and setting personal boundaries are leading to greater sustainability among leaders. Self-care is no longer considered selfish.
  • Journaling, using paper planners and taking notes by hand are making a bit of a comeback and increasingly common habits among those seeking focus. Writing is helping leaders to both plan and remember better.
  • Soul Care is no longer considered to be optional. There is a growing hunger for authentic relationships with other leaders that not only encourage transparency, but even allow vulnerability.
  • Humility is motivating leaders . . . not only to build and lead effective teams but to honor them by at times deferring to them. A solitary leader is at best a naive leader and at worst a leader at risk.
Once again when it comes to trends it’s neither all this or that . . . it’s both.I continue to find more joy in focusing on the best leadership trends of our time rather than the worst! How about you?
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Alan Ahlgrim
Director of  Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership

Are you good enough?


 

Are You Good Enough?

 


When I was younger I often struggled with the question of being good enough, and even now that I’m older the same is sadly sometimes still true. As a skinny, insecure kid growing up in Chicago, I never felt that I quite measured up. I was never good enough to make the high school team, impress all the cute girls or earn straight A’s. Maybe you can relate. But what’s worse is that I never felt that I measured up in the eyes of God either. When I was baptized at the age of eight, I wanted forgiveness for not being good enough and to avoid the penalty of hell. Most people today don’t seem to have that concern.

In many ways we live in a grace-saturated culture. These days few people, young or old, seem to struggle much with the salvation issue. Perhaps it’s just assumed that most everyone deserves an eternal trophy just for showing up at death’s door. Now, it seems, the issue of “good enough” has a new twist. Here’s how Anthony Bradley of The King’s College put it when describing the attitude of our time among young Christians:

It’s not necessarily, ‘Am I good enough to escape eternal punishment?’ It’s rather, ‘Am I good enough to fulfill the mission that I’ve been told constitutes being a good Christian or a great Christian?’ So, ‘Am I a good Christian if I’m not a senator, a judge, saving orphans from sex slavery in India? If I’m not doing something extraordinary for God, then I’m not good enough. So my life has to be Snap-chat or Instagram-worthy to be impressive and sufficient for the Lord.’

Few seem to be content with their level of influence. That’s not only true for young college students but also for seasoned leaders. For example, not one of the many pastors I know thinks his church is large enough, social media platform popular enough, or influence broad enough. We live in a world of constant comparison, and we often feel that we just don’t measure up.

This is a debilitating and world-wide problem. I recently read an article in World Magazine on the topic of Japanese “Shut-ins.” It wasn’t about old folks in their declining years confined to home; it was about young men who failed to succeed in the highly competitive Japanese business culture. These young men have become hermits, hiding at home in shame with no jobs, no friends and no hopes for their future. Sadly, their parents are also embarrassed by their son’s failure to excel and try to keep it a secret from the world.  Christian missionaries are now seeking to reach these forgotten young men with the gospel—the message of acceptance that is not based on performance.

We all need to hear that message because we all have our limitations. No one is always going to be in first place in every category. That’s why we all need to hear, ponder and apply the gospel daily. Personally, if I am important to God only if I’m doing or leading something really big, then I’m in really big trouble! You see, I no longer lead an impressive and growing ministry because I now work behind the scenes as a sort of undercover pastor. That means I’m no longer in the lead role. Now I’m in a support role. I’m learning to embrace obscurity and find my fulfillment in service, not in leadership. My approval is no longer coming primarily through successful accomplishments, but through satisfying relationships, first with God . . . then with others. This is the gospel I preach daily, not to thousands, but to myself!

Everyone is valuable to God regardless of performance, even pastors, even you! The gospel compels us to strive, serve and even succeed – not in order to impress God and others, but rather because we are loved by God and have already been declared to be of immense value to Him. Here’s the shockingly good news: Our value is not based on our achievement, but on His acceptance. Jesus made that clear when He said, “. . . you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Mathew 10:31 NLT). Since God takes note of sparrows and values them, then there is hope for us all!

I’m now accepting that only by the atoning death of Christ and God’s declaration that I am His beloved child will I ever have confidence that I am finally good enough!

 

Grace and Peace,
Dr. Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership

 

Are You Good Enough? When I was younger I often struggled with the question of being good enough, and even now that I’m older the same is sadly sometimes still true. As a skinny, insecure kid growing up in Chicago, I never felt that I quite measured up. I was never good enough to make the high school team, impress all the cute girls or earn straight A’s. Maybe you can relate. But what’s worse is that I never felt that I measured up in the eyes of God either. When I was baptized at the age of eight, I wanted forgiveness for not being good enough and to avoid the penalty of hell. Most people today don’t seem to have that concern. In many ways we live in a grace-saturated culture. These days few people, young or old, seem to struggle much with the salvation issue. Perhaps it’s just assumed that most everyone deserves an eternal trophy just for showing up at death’s door. Now, it seems, the issue of “good enough” has a new twist. Here’s how Anthony Bradley of The King’s College put it when describing the attitude of our time among young Christians: It’s not necessarily, ‘Am I good enough to escape eternal punishment?’ It’s rather, ‘Am I good enough to fulfill the mission that I’ve been told constitutes being a good Christian or a great Christian?’ So, ‘Am I a good Christian if I’m not a senator, a judge, saving orphans from sex slavery in India? If I’m not doing something extraordinary for God, then I’m not good enough. So my life has to be Snap-chat or Instagram-worthy to be impressive and sufficient for the Lord.’ Few seem to be content with their level of influence. That’s not only true for young college students but also for seasoned leaders. For example, not one of the many pastors I know thinks his church is large enough, social media platform popular enough, or influence broad enough. We live in a world of constant comparison, and we often feel that we just don’t measure up. This is a debilitating and world-wide problem. I recently read an article in World Magazine on the topic of Japanese “Shut-ins.” It wasn’t about old folks in their declining years confined to home; it was about young men who failed to succeed in the highly competitive Japanese business culture. These young men have become hermits, hiding at home in shame with no jobs, no friends and no hopes for their future. Sadly, their parents are also embarrassed by their son’s failure to excel and try to keep it a secret from the world. Christian missionaries are now seeking to reach these forgotten young men with the gospel—the message of acceptance that is not based on performance. We all need to hear that message because we all have our limitations. No one is always going to be in first place in every category. That’s why we all need to hear, ponder and apply the gospel daily. Personally, if I am important to God only if I’m doing or leading something really big, then I’m in really big trouble! You see, I no longer lead an impressive and growing ministry because I now work behind the scenes as a sort of undercover pastor. That means I’m no longer in the lead role. Now I’m in a support role. I’m learning to embrace obscurity and find my fulfillment in service, not in leadership. My approval is no longer coming primarily through successful accomplishments, but through satisfying relationships, first with God . . . then with others. This is the gospel I preach daily, not to thousands, but to myself! Everyone is valuable to God regardless of performance, even pastors, even you! The gospel compels us to strive, serve and even succeed – not in order to impress God and others, but rather because we are loved by God and have already been declared to be of immense value to Him. Here’s the shockingly good news: Our value is not based on our achievement, but on His acceptance. Jesus made that clear when He said, “. . . you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Mathew 10:31 NLT). Since God takes note of sparrows and values them, then there is hope for us all! I’m now accepting that only by the atoning death of Christ and God’s declaration that I am His beloved child will I ever have confidence that I am finally good enough! Grace and Peace, Dr. Alan Ahlgrim Director of Covenant Groups The Center for Church Leadership

Survival

Hurricane-imageSometimes success is simply surviving! Last week we had dinner with friends who just returned from San Juan. Dave and Kim had endured the terror of Hurricane Maria while on the 14th floor of their beachfront apartment. Windows were blown out as their entire building swayed under the force of the ferocious storm.
My buddy Cam Huxford says, “In Savannah we’ve learned that you can prepare for a storm, but you can’t prepare for a hurricane . . . you can only hope to survive!” I’m no expert when it comes to literal hurricanes, but I do know something about emotional ones. I’ve experienced my own share of nighttime terrors, public panic attacks and heart- wrenching torments. Things such as stress fractures with elders, immorality among staff, litigation in Federal Court, abandonment by friends, not to mention two IRS audits! Here are a few of the survival tips I’ve learned.

  • Anticipate weather changesdon’t assume the sun will always shine. Jesus warned His people to prepare for the worst with the parable of two houses, one built on the rock and the other on the sand.
  • Store up provisions in advancedon’t go shopping in a storm. Solomon said, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets . . .” (Proverbs 21:20 TLB)
  • Keep filling your tankdon’t be caught running on empty! Retreating, reading and reflecting are the “refueling” stops needed for on-going health.
  • Reach out to your neighborswe take turns being strong. “Two are better than one . . . if one falls down his friends can help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
  • Be alert to lootersthey’ll steal your joy! “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16)
  • Put your trust in Godthe sun will shine again! During several of my “hurricane” seasons I daily recalled the words of King David, “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:14)
One of my friends is an expert on hurricanes. Rick Grover led a church through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Then he also led two other churches through their own ministry hurricanes as well. I know of no leader who has a stronger testimony on endurance. Rick has repeatedly put on leadership clinics on how to survive and is now flourishing once again.
This I know ~ when you encounter “the perfect storm,” success is simply to survive and get the ship you are leading safely back to port! “. . . the winds rose, stirring up the waves. Their ships were tossed to the heavens and plunged again to the depths; the sailors cringed in terror. They reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wit’s end. ‘Lord, help!’ they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor! Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.” (Psalm 107: 25-31 NLT)

Even if you’re simply surviving today, it’s a good time to praise the Lord!

Grace and Peace,

Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Fraternity Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership

The Risk of Vulnerability

Alan and Shan-3Without the risk of vulnerability we will never enjoy true loyalty. One of the great delights of my life has been a five-year friendship with my successor,Shan Moyers. I never imagined that Shan would ever be on staff with me, much less the man that I would bless to lead the ministry we launched 29 years prior into the next season and beyond. My desire was to find a man with three qualities:

  • Character I could trust

  • Competencies I could respect . . . and a

  • Personality I could enjoy

By God’s grace I’ve found that and more. I’ve found a friend who has returned my blessing multiple times over. Shan and I are not exactly alike. He is far younger, taller and balder. None of that surprises anyone–well, maybe the balder part. What has surprised many is how close we are and how much we appreciate and honor each other. 

It’s all rooted in trust and common values. Here are three we share in common:

  • Love for the Lord 

  • Devotion to the Word  

  • Passion for the church 

Shan is a great fit for now and for the uncertain future. While Shan’s style of leadership is much different than mine, I believe that his approach is serving the staff and church very well as we face the new and increasingly complex challenges of our day. That’s why it’s not hard for me to continue to be a raving fan not only of Rocky Mountain Christian Church, but also of my successor. From the very beginning of my transition I made it clear to all that I didn’t want Shan to merely succeed me, but to exceed me. I want the next season of ministry to be our best!

We all move in the direction of affirmation. I love to affirm Shan both publicly and privately. I’ve got his back. Maybe that’s why Shan trusts me to the point of being vulnerable with me. He is surprisingly candid in our monthly marathon conversations. He not only tells me much of what he is thinking and planning, he also readily asks my opinion. It’s only on rare occasion that I’ve offered any unsolicited advice. Frankly, I’ve rarely needed to, because Shan is hungry for feedback and counsel. 

Feedback is not only the breakfast of champions; it is the lifeblood of leaders. However, no leader is able to receive “feedback” well from a critic or self-appointed expert. By contrast, when we know that we are loved, accepted and affirmed it opens up both our heads and hearts. We’re not defensive, we’re receptive. 

This morning after I celebrated with Shan, I then put on my big boy pants and challenged him. Once again he not only humbly received it, he actually accepted the validity of my counsel. Shan knows and believes that I’ve yet to have a day of regret about him coming on board five years ago. Even more, Shan knows that I actually believe that the next five years will be better than the ones before. I believe that the best is yet to be!

There is no success without a successful successor, and that is rooted in relationship. I don’t want my successor to be my clone, I want him to become far more than that. I want him to be God’s man and to always know that I will be his friend. After five years, I’m delighted to say that by God’s grace, so far so great!

Five years is a great start, but we’re far from finished. While Shan and I are no longer “in transition” we are still in partnership. It’s a partnership that is rooted in mutual trust. Yes, that’s risky, but the rewards are more than worth it. 

With whom are you vulnerable? When you answer that question I will tell you where you will enjoy your greatest rewards.

Grace and Peace,

Alan Ahlgrim
Pastor at Large