If you were to come up with a list of the three most important characteristics a leader should possess, what would those three be? A degree? Business experience? Excellent managerial skills?
When looking back at the lives and legacies of the apostles, the fifth-century archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (who was nicknamed "The Golden Tongue" for his excellent speaking abilities), stated:
"What need could they have of my tongue? Their own struggles surpass our moral nature. The prizes they won go beyond our powers and understanding. They laughed at life lived on earth; they trampled underfoot the punishment of the rack; they scorned death and took wing to heaven; they escaped with them no gold or silver or expensive garments; they carried along no treasure which could be plundered, but the riches of patience, courage, and love."
Did you catch that? The three fundamental leadership attributes that Chrysostom saw when looking back at the apostles were patience, courage and love. These were the three characteristics that the apostles possessed that helped launch a worldwide movement. This isn't to deny or downplay the role of the Holy Spirit. However, it would seem that the years that Jesus spent mentoring his disciples were spent teaching them these three things.
So over the next few blog posts I want to spend some time unpacking each attribute and seeing how we can grow in these three essential skills. I am utterly convinced that if a leader possesses these traits, they will be well on their way to being truly great leaders.
By the way, you should check out Brian Shelton's great book on the apostles Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacy. His book is what got me thinking about the leadership qualities of the apostles. We have a podcast coming out in a few weeks that will further unpack these ideas.
How about you? What leadership traits do you have in your top 3? Comment below!
Some of the best mentors I have are actually pushing up daisies. They are super dead...and have been so for quite awhile. Here at Theologian of the Boss, I try to connect leaders to theologians, both past and present. My hope is that ancient theologians, who have often been focused on exclusively by academics, would function as mentors to a new generation of leaders. In my own life, these theologians often feel as if they are friends--there to critique and encourage me constantly.
So what can we learn from these dead mentors?
1. Dead mentors give us a different perspective on modern issues
C.S. Lewis argued that we must steer clear of what is called "chronological snobbery" which defined, as "the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited." We forget that many of the issues that face us faced our predecessors as well. However, we are inundated by our culture and so often think like everyone else in our culture. What ancient mentors do is allow us transcend our culture, even if for a few paragraphs. They can give us "creative" ways of dealing with difficult problems. For this reason, it is essential for us to read ancient sources.
2. Dead mentors function as either warnings or examples
We live in a society that give quick responses to virtually all news stories. No sooner is a decision made then you have five or six different opinions posted all over news sites. What is great about having ancient mentors is that history has weighed in on their decisions--whether for good or ill. Did they make good decisions? Well, we can tell often from the aftermath. Did they fail epically? We can see where they went wrong and learn as well. I have learned just as much from the failures of mentors as from their successes. For instance *Jonathan Edwards example*
3. Dead mentors connect us to the larger story of history
The role of any mentor is to help us grow. One of the best ways dead mentors help us is by connecting us to the larger story of history by showing us our role within history. We have the tendency of thinking of ourselves as unique and the challenges we face as something new. This causes us to have a feeling of isolation. However, when we read dead mentors we recognize that the issues we face are not necessarily unique. They provide us with a sense of solidarity. While our world may look different, the human heart hasn't changed. Thus my dead mentors become close confidants and good friends.
I can help connect you with some of these mentors! Sign up for my monthly newsletter where I will give you book recommendations of some of the best books I have read. Right now, if you sign up, I'll give you my "Reading for Leading" genre reading schedule. It will keep you on track so you can grow as a leader.
In the final two chapters of Reading for Preaching, Cornelius Plantinga deals more concretely with how reading gives us wisdom on different aspects of life and sin and grace. He quotes Joseph Epstein who writes,
“From the study of literature we learn that life is sad, comic, heroic, vicious, dignified, ridiculous, and endlessly amusing sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once, but never more grotesquely amusing than when a supposedly great thinker comes along to insist that he has discovered and nattily formulated the single key to its understanding.”
Literature gives us life in all of its varied beauty. As leaders, we should read good literature so that we can learn how to deal with the complexity of life. Life cannot be understood or “formulated”—we are complex creatures living complicated lives.
I have noticed that this is where many younger leaders struggle—everything seems black and white. What is worse, many of our leadership works suggest that there is simply ONE paradigm to understanding business, life, spirituality etc. We suggest that if you do “these five things” you “too can experience success.”
I would also suggest that sometimes our “Gospel-centered” preaching or teaching can often times become unvaried and not take into account the complexities of life. This is unintentional since the Gospel is broad enough to handle any variedness in life. Our preaching, teaching and leading must take into account that life is difficult and sometimes there are no good or easy answers. The Gospel is alive—but just as God incarnated into our brokenness so also our Gospel preaching, teaching and leading must “take on flesh” within the lives of our hearers.
But this takes a substantial amount of work on our part. It is far easier for us to use low-hanging fruit in our illustrations and application. I do this—it is easier to use personal illustrations or family illustrations in my teaching. That is easier than me mining literature, articles or film for better, more tangible, grittier examples.
And here Plantinga offers us the hack—read literature. This requires discipline of course. If you aren’t a reader or are extremely busy, it may not seem worth it. But I think it is. If nothing else, Plantinga’s book has given us a glimpse of what reading can do. Perhaps the most important thing reading does is help us grow as leaders by forcing us to consider different perspective and develop empathy. Good literature creates a Gospel-awareness that tune our hearts and minds to our culture.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed about the prospect of developing good reading habits and don’t know where to even begin. I can help. You can take a look on how I read books and how I manage my time to read more. Second, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter. If you sign up now, I’ll send you a free “Reading for Leading” genre schedule. It lists a specific genre to read each month so that you can grow as a reader and as a leader.
Also, consider buying Reading for Preaching because I really just skimmed the surface of what this great book has to offer.
This week we have been talking about how we can start reading more effectively. But now you may be wondering what you should start reading. This is a great question and one that I want to start helping you out with.
First, I would recommend that you sign up for my monthly newsletter where I will offer you a wide range of books to read to help you think more clearly on leading. You can sign up here.
Second, you can check out the "What Should I Read Next" page where I suggest some books that have personally influenced me in my own thinking about leadership. It is a pretty diverse list, so I think ANYONE can find something to read.
Third, I want to offer you a free gift. If you sign up for my newsletter I will send you a free "Reading for Leading" schedule. This PDF will help you plot out what you read next by giving you categories of books for each month of the year. If you are like me, sometimes the sheer VOLUME of what to read can be overwhelming, so I hope my "Reading for Leading" schedule helps you out.
This article is part of a larger series where I look at the theological implications of reading by going through Cornelius Plantinga's Reading for Preaching. Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3.
If you lead, you need wisdom. Not just wisdom on a few things either--you need wisdom on a multitude of topics. But how do you acquire wisdom?
As Christians, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). While fearing God has a bunch of aspects to it, one of the larger ramifications is that it means we invite God into every sphere of our life because He is God. This means that why we read, how we read and what we are to glean from reading should be shaped by God. For Christian leaders, therefore, we read to acquire wisdom for the glory of God.
Chapter four in Cornelius Plantinga's book Reading for Preaching addresses the connection between reading and wisdom. "General literature abound sin incidents, characters, images, and observations that illumine everything under the sun, including most of the topics which the preacher [and I would leader in general] has to become at least a middleweight sage" (pg. 74).
However, if you are like me, sometimes you just enjoy reading because it's...well...fun! The good news, according to Plantinga, is that "the preacher in quest of wisdom is realistic about what a program of general reading will yield. She doesn't need her reading to yield one desperately deep insight after another that, once ingested, make the preacher more profound than everybody in the philosophy department. Of course she would like to draw more from her reading than mere commonplaces, but she doesn't expect her soul to shatter and mend every time she sits to read" (pg. 74). We should be satisfied with small insights that we find.
The wisdom we acquire from reading is a sort of "middle-wisdom." What is that? It is a type of wisdom that is more profound that commonplaces and yet fall short of the proverbs that we hold so dear from century to century. According to Plantinga, this sort of wisdom saves the preacher (and leader) from banality, presumption, vagueness, and dogmatism. The more we read the more our horizons are expanded and the more we learn. We don't deal with abstract spiritual principles--we apply them to real life situations.
Of course, it may be tempting to read the above and think that the Bible plays a lesser role. This would be an unfortunate conclusion. "Christ, the wisdom of God, is the standard, The preacher measures her reading against the standard...the preacher's authority in the pulpit does not derive from the lordship of literature. Nothing in my ordination compels me to declare, 'Thus saith Philip Roth'" (pg. 79). Wisdom derived apart from the Scriptures is part of God's common grace to us--but it does not possess the authority of the Bible.
So does this mean we should only read literature that coheres with biblical truth? Not necessarily. By fearing God, we can actually read literature that is a sort of "anti-wisdom." We can read from atheists, nihilists and the like and learn from them. How? By keeping Christ as the source of our wisdom and anchor point. Sometimes we can learn the most by way of contrast!
Along similar lines, we may find knowledge that we wish we didn't know. However, this too plays a role in the life of a leader. I wish I didn't know some of the stories I do about abuse at the hands of religious people, but now that I know, I cannot turn back. It forces me to speak about it and address those areas of concern. Ignorance may be bliss but it is also highly irresponsible.
All of this points us to same reality: God's lordship rules over our reading.
This week I’ve been going through Cornelius Plantinga’s book Reading for Preaching, with the intent of seeing how reading applies, not just to pastors, but also leaders in general (See part 1 and part 2). In chapter three of the book, Plantinga discusses how reading should shape how we speak.
Leaders typically have to do a lot of communicating. While much of our speaking is impromptu, there are times when we are called to speak formally. It is here that I think Plantinga’s chapter helps us the most. So what should communicators to become more effective and how can they learn it from reading?
1. Practice Good Rhetorical Pitch
Plantinga means by this that we should learn how to use the right words for the right situation—not too formal nor too informal. Quoting Robert Jacks’s work Just Say the Word, communicators should write for the ear and not just the eye. We should practice speaking in a sort of, business casual, style which will captivate most people.
2. Practice Narrative Movement
Here, the author recommends that we read writers whose characters move (pg. 53). What does this mean? “Emotions, actions, character development, external circumstances—all of it moves in lively narrative” (pg. 53-54). So what should we do? We should learn how to become excellent storytellers—the kind that get our audience interested in what we say and keep them guessing.
3. Practice Speaking Less
The best writers are the ones who accomplish the most in the fewest amount of syllables. Plantinga encourages us to practice being economical with our words. I will admit that I struggle with this—not just as a writer but also a speaker. I tend to overexplain things. Not only does this fatigue my audience but it defeats the whole purpose of what I am trying to do: be heard! Read writers who write in economical fashion.
One of my favorite parts of this section are the four commandments Plantinga gives for speakers:
1)“Don’t drive your listeners nuts. If they cannot figure out what they are trying to say, they will get cranky.”
2)“Don’t waste your listeners’ time. Don’t make them wait while you unfold layers of padding.”
3)“Delight your listeners whenever you can. When they are delighted, they want to praise Jesus.”
4)“Follow from God’s command in Leviticus and Jesus’ repetition of it in the gospel, namely, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (pg. 59).
4. Practice Using Evocative Language
Good writers use language that “makes you ponder, makes you wonder, makes you yearn a little” (pg. 59). Reading good writing should improve you as a writer. They will help you learn how to turn a phrase. I can tell you that some of the best speakers I have ever heard were fantastic at making me think in different ways—they captivated me. I recently saw Andrew Peterson in concert and whenever he spoke, I heard from a man who had drank deeply from the well of Tolkien and Lewis. It reverberated not just in his music, but in normal speech. That is what reading evocative writing can do.
While all of this is well and good, Plantinga ends this chapter with an important reminder for all Christian communicators and leaders when he states, “All the powers of language the preacher picks up from listening and reading are means, not ends, and that the preacher is called not just to linguistic craft but to faithful proclamation of reconciling grace in Jesus Christ. The power and glory may happen, but not so much because the preacher wanted them to. They happen because of the mighty and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.” (pg. 63).
In other words, all of our reading, writing and speaking is in service to the Gospel. That is where the heart of leadership lies—not in us and our abilities, but in God.
So tell me, what books have you found that have absolutely captivated you with their prose? Comment below!
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I have been working through the magnificent book Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga (which you can buy by clicking the link). As I said before, though Plantinga's book is designed for pastors, I find it useful for anyone who writes, teaches, has a platform or leads in general.
In chapter two, he encourages pastors to thoughtfully consider how to use illustrations from what they read. However, what Plantinga is actually doing is giving us a crash course on how to think critically and apply wisely what we glean from the books we read. The author warns us to not just read to find illustrations but to read to be "deepened and expanded by my reading" (pg. 22). Everything we read gets us a "little bigger" (pg. 23) and so we should read for personal development. That said, preachers (and I would suggest all leaders) should develop sharp eyes and ears, looking for illustrations in their daily life. Plantinga points out, "If she also reads widely she will multiply the number of eyes and ears out there working for her, spotting remarkable things she can use in her sermons" (pg. 25). So books function as our eyes and ears.
But how should we use books?
1) Be attentive to everything you read.
Plantinga illustrates that reading an ad in the newspaper that reads "WEDDING DRESS--Mori Lee, size 18, runs small, still has tags, never worn, Asking $50" tells a story that can potentially be used as an illustration. We are called to be attentive readers and find illustrations in the least likely places.
2) Look for sources to illuminate a situation, person or idea.
Plantinga, writing for pastors, encourages preachers to look for sources to illuminate biblical situations, persons and ideas but I think the leader is called to try to illustrate ANY situation, person or idea they come across. We must constantly look to make the context where we work come alive to those around us in new ways. Look for sources in poetry, biography and of course, theology.
3) Find Illustrations that Move the Heart
A well-placed illustration speaks to the heart and not just the mind. It moves us in ways we never imagined. This doesn't mean we use illustrations to manipulate our audience. However, we want to use illustrations to encourage our audience to take action.
I should also mention here that Plantinga states that we must be wise in which illustrations we use. Is it appropriate for our audience? What exactly are we attempting to do with our illustration? There is power in words--and so we need to be careful in what we use.
This is just a taste of ways we can use what we read. Reading For Preaching is loaded with awesome advice for readers who are searching for new ways to apply what they are reading to day-to-day experiences. Make sure to check it out!
Tomorrow, I will talk about chapter 3 in Plantinga's book which covers how reading should transform our speaking.
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Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.