Lessons From A Tree

How to Multiply Your Influence

Have you ever been extremely proud of something that no one else seemed to really care about? No? Are you not as vain as me? Well, good for you. I, on the other hand, have a tendency to become a little self-focused. This is especially evident with the tree that is in our front yard.

Tree obsession

I am very proud of our tree. Mostly because when we first moved in we didn’t think that our tree or most of our landscaping would survive. I am limited in the area of gardening but still set out to prove I could make our landscaping grow. And against all odds our little tree has done quite well.

In fact, whenever someone comes over to our house I always make it a point to talk about how amazing our tree is. Normally, they don’t seem to care. So to highlight my tree’s awesomeness I usually begin to point out how much better it is than other trees that aren’t growing as fast (I am a jerky arboriculturist I know). It is only when I have reached a point of complete awkwardness that causes my guests deep regret for ever coming over that I eventually let them into our home.

I guess you could say I don’t have the gift of “hospitality.”

Lessons from a tree

Anyway, this obsessiveness with my own tree recently changed when a couple of family friends came over to help us with our yard. While Mr. Ron was helping us build a deck, Mrs. Patti began working on our landscaping. I saw this as a great opportunity to talk about my crazy awesome tree with Mrs. Patti. When she wasn’t that impressed, like most people, I showed her how much better it was than another tree that was not doing so great. Then she looked even less impressed and asked me, “Well honey… She paused. Have you ever considered adding a little fertilizer to the tree that’s not growing as fast?”

“No, I don’t think I have.”

“Well, you know, your tree will always look better when the trees around it are growing as well.

Ouch. I immediately went over and added some fertilizer near the dying tree and shared some tips with its owner to help their tree shine as well.

I can be an idiot sometimes. This adventure in gardening reminded me of that. We shouldn’t just fertilize our own trees. Our tree looks better when we spread the fertilizer around and help others grow as well. You influence people more by giving than by getting.

Empathy multiples influence

One way we can do this is by showing empathy towards others. Being self-focused will cause us to not realize that someone near us is shriveling up and may need some encouragement to nourish their soul. We can get so focused on wondering why no one seems to care about us that we forget that the best way to receive that kind of attention is to be good at giving it away. If you want to look good then you need to do a great job of making others look good. If you want others to notice you then you need to do a great job of noticing others.

No one likes being around someone who only talks about their own tree/themselves. And when you point out how others are not doing well in order to make yourself look better you are the only one who ends up looking bad. The key to gaining influence is not found in getting people’s attention but in giving people attention. Don’t just fertilize your own tree.

How to get noticed

I’ve heard that there are more songs written about the moon then there are about the sun. This is interesting when you think about the fact that the moon doesn’t produce any light on its own. All it does is reflect the light it is given unto others. You always shine when you reflect praise and attention on others.

If you have ever wondered why people are not noticing you are giving the credit you deserve then you try to gain influence by giving away what you hope to receive from others. Who can you reflect some light on? Who is it that you can do a better job noticing? How can you help someone else’s tree grow a little stronger? What can you do to spread some empathy and encouragement?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or share this post with someone else if it resonated with you!

Here are a couple of books that have helped me grow in empathy and making others bigger:

Lead Like Jesus

How to Lead Like Jesus

Jesus said that his purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10). There use to be a part of me that was full of false religion that would skim over a verse like that. I believed that it wasn’t godly to have a rich and satisfying life. I thought you had to be poor to be pious and to suffer to be spiritual. In reality the opposite is true. God desires to give us good things and is leading us to a more abundant life.

But how do we lead others in this same way? In John 10 Jesus gives us a few ways we can do this. I want take some of these principles and look at them in light of modern ministry leadership.

 

Make a personal investment.

To lead like a good shepherd we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our sheep and not sacrifice our sheep for ourselves (John 10:11). Leadership is about rising in position to take more responsibility and not climbing the ranks so that you can push the work off on others. Too many leaders are seeking a higher position because they want less work and more credit. This is not the model Jesus gave us.

 

Be proactive in decision making.

A good shepherd does not run when he sees a wolf coming (John 10:12). A good ministry leader is proactive and not reactive. Waiting until there is a mess to clean up and then overreacting to prevent future messes instead of solving the real issue is not a sign of good leadership. A good ministry leader is uses prepares and/or avoids possible threats to the team by giving direction before there is a problem.

 

Confront internal issues even when it is uncomfortable.

A hired hand runs away from conflict (John 10:13). Good ministry leaders don’t avoid conflict. They walk through them with wisdom and grace. Having an environment of correction is not fun for anyone. Its discouraging and you people eventually give up. At the same time, not being willing to confront attitudes and conflict in the team will allow those that cannot self govern to run your team culture. As a leader you always get a combination of two things: What you enforce and what you allow (Dr. Henry Cloud).

 

Make relationship the priority and not just projects.

A good shepherd knows his sheep (John 10:14-15). A good ministry leader leads not just with position but also with relationship. Ministry is a business of people. When you put the project ahead of the people the project is designed to reach you are failing to lead like a good shepherd. People are the priority. Put relationship first and then those relationships will make your mission their first priority.

 

Create a culture that echoes your values.

The sheep know the voice of a good shepherd (John 10:16). Your culture echoes your voice when you are not around. What is yours saying? A good ministry leaders creates a culture that reinforces the values they want echoed even when they are not there. They model this in not just want they say but in their behavior and in what they celebrate and reward.

 

Leadership can be messy. It comes at a price of personal sacrifice. We have to be willing to build relationship but also to look ahead for future threats to our team and correct internal turmoil. It can be easy at times to avoid these things but doing so will not create the culture we want to echo throughout the organization.

What did I miss? How do you think ministry leaders can lead more like Jesus?

 

For more thoughts like these check out The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People.

 

Interruptions

The Most Important Ministry Lesson

In this post I want to share the most important lesson I have lever earned in ministry. I first became a leader in ministry when I started a small group at 15 years old. Two years later as a High School Senior I was speaking in high schools and on retreat. My freshmen year at LSU I started a student ministry and eventually was on a team that united all of the campus ministries together for an annual outreach event.

After graduating from college I went on to work on our youth staff where I had the opportunity to see thousands of young people come to Christ and be discipled. Now at ARC I have the pleasure of working with pastors to start new church across the country.

Although I learned a lot in the past 20 years, my most important lesson in ministry did not come while in any of these ministry roles. It wasn’t until I spent a season working outside of full-time vocational ministry before coming to ARC that I learned my most important ministry lesson.

No Time for Interruptions

While on staff in youth ministry we had an internship that eventually grew to over 100 students in the program each year. Many times after their classes some of these students would come up and hang out in our office space. As a task oriented person, this began to be bother me a little as it kept me from finishing my work. I loved those students, but also felt compelled to give my best to the projects I was working on that I knew would help our ministry reach more people. The students lounging in my office and asking me personal questions took time away from these important items. The result? After their classes I would shut the door to my office so that I would not be interrupted. Cold hearted I know!

Years later I would find myself at a different church and no longer working in ministry. Amy and I decided to take a course called L.I.F.E. for Marriage. The class teacher was old enough to be my grandfather and began the class right on time by closing the door and making a bold announcement.

“If you are late to this class, do not come through that door…”

I braced for impact as a I knew he was about to rail on us about the importance of being on time.

He continued, “Make sure you come through the door on the other side so that you can get some coffee before taking a seat. And remember that if you are late, you are not an interruption. I have learned that if you see people as interruptions, then soon you won’t have any interruptions, because you won’t have any people left to interrupt you!”

Boom! That was not what I was expecting. I began to tear up. A little because I was caught off guard by this unsuspected grace that was being extended, but also because of the healing power that comes with being valued.

I bet you can guess this, but I was never once late to this class. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever shown up early so consistently to something before in my life.

Learning My Lesson

When I look back on my ministry life my greatest regret is not something I didn’t do or an opportunity I was overlooked for. I regret not valuing people the way I was valued that day.

This lead me to realize that the biggest lesson that I needed to learn in ministry is that people are the priority.

Roy Stockstill said that his greatest lesson in ministry was that “people are not the enemy.” I love that and it was the beginning of what God would eventually show me is my ministry goal, “Make people the priority while pointing them to Jesus.”

In the Masterpiece, The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People, Leman and Pentak waste no time in telling leaders that “Your people are your greatest asset.” When we treat people this way we are modeling Jesus who, as demonstrated us in Philippians 2, left the comforts of heaven to comfort us. He valued us, and made us the priority.

People are not the enemy. People are not interruptions. People are our greatest competitive advantage. My goal is to make people the priority while pointing them to Jesus.

What is your greatest lesson from life or ministry? I’d love to hear about it! Add a comment of send me a message.

Scrapes

Yesterday both my daughters scraped their knees. In the morning our youngest fell while running down a sidewalk. Later that afternoon my oldest daughter scraped her knee on the playground. Knee scrapes are not rare in any home with young children. In our home they are not only commonplace but also a source of great joy – band-aids.

In my kids’ minds band-aids have a mystical healing property that goes beyond just their ability to cover wounds. The idea of a band-aid can stop tears right in their tracks and begin to turn the deepest frown back into a smile. Sometimes Gracie will point to places on her body to place the band-aid other than where the cut is because she just enjoys having this decorative sticker on her.

After our new band-aid routine this morning my oldest daughter (who has a flare for the dramatic) asked me, “Daddy, do you ever wonder how I can keep walking even with all these bobos?”

“No,” I said in my most interested but not really interested tone I could manage.

She replied, “I’ve just learned how to walk with with all my hurts.”

I paused.

“Sometimes, I can even run with them.”

Then she went back to watching youtube videos of people making slime on her iPad.

I didn’t move on so quickly. I felt the Holy Spirit pause me and begin to speak.

“Josh, have you learned to walk with your hurts, and sometimes even run with them?”

Is there anything more unhealthy than someone who has taught themselves how to build a life around avoiding their pain and even mask it with accomplishments?

Later that morning I begin to think about scrapes and band-aids and a healthy soul. Had I began to celebrate the things that mask the hurts, the band-aids, over the healing that is needed for the wounds of my heart? Are there areas of my soul that have been hurt that I have just learned to walk with? Even though sometimes I can run, despite the pain, excel in certain ways, have I overlooked the real healing that needs to take place?

We may live in a time where we celebrate band-aids but I want to be someone who celebrates healing and health. Band-aids are known for their illustration as a quick fix. One side may have a Disney princess, but the other side is a mess. I don’t like messes. I like Disney magic and perfection but that is not real life.

Faith, hope, and love are not for perfect people. Perfect people don’t need those things because they have fairy Godmothers, talking pets, and magic crickets. Faith, hope, and love are for those who may have learned to walk and even run wounded but want to be healed and healthy. They are for those that aren’t afraid to take off the cover up off and allow God to do the necessary work of touching our mess and doing only what He can do. It is for those who want to live an authentic Christian experience.

Let me ask you the same questions I felt God was challenging me with, “Have you learned to walk with your hurts, and sometimes even run with them?”

If this post has encouraged you, then I’d love to hear from you, and please share it. Thanks!