Let me explain: If you came to read a short leadership blog post, I’m sorry to say that I’ve misled you! When I started writing this, I didn’t know how passionate I was about the whole topic and I just couldn’t stop myself. I haven’t done a very good job of appreciating my teams in the past and the Lord has been working on me a whole lot in this area in particular, which led me to write such a long post. I hope that you can glean some truth from my missteps and serve your team by appreciating them well. Enjoy!
I absolutely love reading through the Old Testament. I know—that’s not something you may hear a lot of people say on the regular, but a lot of people are missing out. If the whole Bible is pointing towards Jesus and the Gospels—the OT pointing forward to Him, and the rest of the NT pointing backward to Him—then I want to know all about the story God was writing in the OT that led up to the fulfillment of His incredible rescue plan.
I’m also a HUGE nerd. So. There’s that, too.
Anyway, I’ve been particularly struck by one passage in 1 Kings that centers around Elijah. For those familiar with that book, and the prophet Elijah, you’ll probably immediately think of one of two stories from 1 Kings 18 in which God used him to work some incredible miracles. First, there’s his dance off with the prophets of Baal, then just afterward we read about him praying for rain. Both of these miracles are huge deals—if it was your name at the start of those sentences, you’d definitely put them on your Instagram stories. These two passages of scripture have been taught ad nauseam, and for good reason. The passage I’m particularly interested in actually happens just after those two things go down.
Whereas chapter 18 ends on a high note, chapter 19 starts off with a pretty solid downer: namely, Elijah’s life is threatened and he runs as far as he can. If you’ve read this passage any number of times, it may be easy to miss the significance of this in the midst of the larger story. Elijah goes from some insane victories and displays of God’s might to fleeing for his life. That’s a pretty drastic turn of events. When you really drill down and look at what is happening in verses 4-8, you can write some pretty legit sermons, but that’s for another blog. Right now I want to just focus on one small part of the story with you.
To summarize, Elijah lays down and asks to die, but an angel appears to him, gives him some food to eat, and sends him on his way. The most interesting verse to me is 1 Kings 19.8 (ESV): “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” The angel gives him a tiny bit of food, what I would hardly call a snack, and that sustains him for 40 days and 40 nights worth of a long journey.
I imagine some of you are growing weary of my extended intro, so let me get to the point: I believe that we have a responsibility to care for our people, the members of our teams, and to feed them food that will sustain them. We all have people that we count on—our staffs, volunteers, families, etc—and while we count on them to work alongside us, they also count on us to show them value and appreciation in order to have the strength to make this long journey. Let’s look at a few ways we can do this together.
Does Anyone Need Validation?
The Glassboro campus of Kingsway Church meets at a Marriott, which provides some interesting challenges overall, but specifically makes parking an issue for our church family (side note – if anyone wants to give us a building, that would be cool). With a 5:15AM load in time, our volunteers end up parking well outside the “free” window that is so graciously given by the 6 level garage across the street, so we try to do them a solid and validate their parking. Setting up staging and lighting before the sun comes out is painful enough without adding on the $7 fee each week. Inevitably, the volunteer tasked with validating all the parking tickets will walk around yelling, “Does anyone need to be validated?” as we are tearing down and loading the trailer, which often prompts 3-5 people to yell their thoughts and feelings back at that person. Chuckles are made, smiles appear, and then we all get back to our business.
Funny as it may be to yell that in a crowd of people, if all those in ear shot were being honest with you, they would likely respond with a soft and sincere, “Yes.” It’s easy to forget that everyone around is just like us: hiding their fears and insecurities behind carefully crafted masks instead of showing our hands to those around us. The people who wear their hearts on their sleeves aren’t more needy than anyone else, they’re just more honest than everyone else! You should actually be thankful for any team member that will look you straight in the eye and tell you what they’re feeling because, while they may have a lot to share, they’re the only ones telling you what they actually need from you and enabling you to care for them well. The long and the short of it is that people need to be validated and cared for, regardless of what they’re trying to tell you out loud. They may all need it in different ways and in different amounts, but they all need it.
For those overachievers who opened a new tab and read the verse, did you notice how the angel validated Elijah? If you didn’t read it, fear not: this post won’t disappear if you navigate away for a few minutes. Go read 1 Kings 19:4-8. You back? Solid. Elijah lays down and essentially prays to God, “I can’t hang. I’ve had all I can handle.” Interestingly enough, when an angel finds him and replies, he doesn’t say, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” like any good K-Love-listening Christian might say; rather, the angel responds with something more akin to, “Man, you don’t even know the half of it. You can’t handle this at all.” The angel seems to acknowledge exactly where Elijah is and what he has going on before he feeds him and sends him on a long journey.
Validating the efforts and feelings of our team members is a major part of fully appreciating them. Don’t believe me? Turn the whole thing around and put yourself in their shoes. Let’s say you’ve worked 40+ hours this week, fed and bathed your kids, saw your spouse for a solid 30 minutes, and then crawled around in a ceiling running the world’s most fragile fiber optic cable for 7 hours on a Friday night, only to find out it broke and you have to do it again on Saturday before serving 8 hours in 2 locations the next day. How much validation would you want Sunday afternoon? I don’t know about you, but I’d want literal boat loads. How would you feel if all you got was a simple, “Thanks,” and a pat on the back? Please, no expletives in the comments. If you and I think that appreciation is at most a thank you note, then we’re going to wind up with some pretty discouraged team members, if we have any left at all.
I want to challenge you to go out of your way to, as Stephen Covey writes, “seek first to understand” your team members and the hard work they put in. But don’t just stop there—follow up with genuine validation. Tell them (and show them) how much you appreciate and understand the work they have done, the schedules they have managed, the skills they have learned, and the effort they have put in. Scale your responses to match their value; not superficially, but seeking to display the genuine depth of your appreciation of them and the value they bring to the team. Give them all the love and attention that you would want from your leaders. Appreciation, in this way, is much more than simply saying thank you. But that’s pretty important, too.
The Last Responsibility
In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max DePree makes some pretty fascinating and impactful statements. Of all the 1980’s new-age comments he makes, the one people often point back to when referencing his book shows up pretty early on: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” I absolutely love this excerpt. When I quote the first portion of this quote (the “reality” part) I’m quickly greeted by nods of recollection and understanding from most people in any room. It is a pretty popular quote, after all. Oddly, though, when I begin to say the rest of the quote, the smiles and nods turn quickly into squinting eyes and tilted heads, like a puppy who isn’t sure it likes you yet.
As leaders, we really love the first responsibility in that statement because we’re often Type-A or task oriented people who really enjoy defining reality. A quick read of my Birkman report, or a short conversation with my team, and you’d find that I fit squarely into that category as well. Rest assured that I’m not trying to throw rocks from a proverbial glass house, just trying to get us all on the same page. The first responsibility Max lists is quite appealing and comes quite naturally to many of us, but what about the last? I’m not sure which one the author would pinpoint as being more vital, but I have some thoughts on the subject. While defining reality is vital to building a team and crafting that team’s culture, if you never fulfill the last responsibility, you won’t keep a team long enough to live inside the reality you’ve defined. As difficult as it may be to accurately and effectively define reality, no amount of skill toward the former will save you from a lack of the latter.
To be clear: I’m not telling you this because I’ve mastered the art of saying thank you. Rather, I know what happens when you don’t! I want to share with you from the bounty of my mistake-filled bucket.
I think we can all agree that some folks are better equipped to define reality than others. This shouldn’t be a point of contention, just a point of understanding. I may enjoy neuroscience, but I am far from ever being labeled a neuroscientist, and even further from being a neurosurgeon. I could spend time getting mad about it if I want, but the fact remains that you don’t want me cutting into your head. We all start from different places when it comes to the skills of building teams, organizations, and, as Mr. DePree puts it, “defining reality,” and for many of us this skill may remain a difficult one to acquire, even after years of practice. Saying thank you, however, is something anyone can do and–even more importantly–it’s something anyone can grow in.
Personally, I see the act of saying thank you as a part of emotional intelligence. If this is the case, then by Daniel Goleman’s own admission we all have the ability to grow in it and use it more effectively. If you don’t know what emotional intelligence is (sometimes referred to as “EQ”) don’t stop reading, but definitely make a note to read the article “What Makes A Leader” in the Harvard Business Review. In a nutshell, EQ is an awareness of yourself and your surroundings and the ability to regulate your actions based on those surroundings. It’s easy to put in a sentence, but much harder to put into action. Ask my team if you don’t believe me! The one thing that undergirds the study of emotional intelligence is the ability for any one of us to grow in our understanding and use of it. If this idea is true, and it’s true that those who make it the furthest do so with EQ and not IQ, then it’s easy to understand why so many people would invest so much time into studying it. If saying thank you can fit into the greater understanding of EQ, then you should definitely be investing your time and energy into the study as well.
Like I mentioned before, a portion of EQ is being aware of your surroundings and regulating yourself and your actions in the midst of it. So what does this have to do with saying thank you? Let’s harken back to the example of you and the fiber optic cable from about 500 words ago, but instead, let’s make that a member of your team. Let’s say you run into that team member Sunday afternoon after the crazy week / weekend they just had and you are about to speak to them for the first time. Imagine you just got chewed out by your boss and your spouse, your accountant informed you that you’ll never retire, and you broke something really expensive that belonged to the church. A normal person would probably see that worn out volunteer and begin venting about all the things that were going wrong in their life. A leader, however, would be aware of the situation, save their personal feelings for later, and shower that team member with praise and admiration. Take an honest moment to ask yourself how you would respond. It’s easy to say we’d do better than the author, and, to be honest, you probably could on your first try; but be honest with yourself and take it in prayer. Is there an area you need to grow in?
The right answer, by the way, is always yes.
The Five Appreciation Languages
So we can all grow in how we feed people, but do you know what to feed people? The angel gave Elijah, “a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water.” Not exactly what I’d eat to prepare for an Ironman-scale journey, but, ya know, whatever works. Somehow the bread, the water, and potentially even the interaction, gave him the strength to go 40 days and 40 nights without any other edible sustenance. Come to think of it, I may want to get that recipe.
It seems to me that the underlying need to feed people will, itself, not actually sustain them. I have to take action, get in the kitchen, and whip them up something that that will carry them for the journey ahead. The thing is, everyone has–to continue to over-extend the analogy–different preferences and tastes when it comes to the food they need. We may all be made in the image of God, but how can that whole image be crammed into one man? Each of us, taking up small portions of His multifaceted image, have different personalities and wirings, and require different fuel to keep us going. However unfortunate we may find it, we all see and interpret the world in different ways and that requires us, as leaders, to adapt the way we translate “thank you” to each member of our team. We should see that as a positive thing, but that’s another blog post.
A great way to gain some further understanding in this area is by looking at the Five Love Languages. We can talk some other time about the lack of scientific study that has gone into this crude tool, but a tool, and a helpful one, it remains. This is the kind of thing that comes up very quickly at any Christian marriage retreat and has some basis in work relationships as well. If you grew up in the USA, you probably heard your parents speaking English and thus learned to speak it. The “Five” holds that, similarly, the language that we hear the best is the one we often speak the best. The real issues arise when you realize not everyone speaks your language! In most marriage conversations, the problems come from the men being Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation and the women being Quality Time and Acts of Service. While I’d prefer to spend some time talking about the lack of any and all chemical and social science involved in this study, along with the detriment of making such broad, sweeping generalizations, I’ll just believe you’ve gotten what you need to out of this example and move on!
Every member of the human race is made differently and requires a different kind of praise, appreciation, and affirmation. Some people need you to tell them out loud how great they are and how much they mean to you. Some of those folks may even need you to do that in public rather than in a private setting. Don’t try doing that to everyone on your team though–some people hate public praise! They may need you to look them directly in the eye, keep is short, sweet, quiet, and between the two of you. Others get more love from a handwritten card or a personalized craft of some kind. If you’re reading this and you think I’m crazy, I dare you to try it. Write someone a card. In the days of email and text messaging–actually I think we’re passed those days, too. When nothing is ever written down and everything is digitalized and impersonal, a handwritten card screams that you are valuable. When an Amazon “gift wrapped” box tells you that you’re worth 5 minutes of my time, balloons and crazy signs at your desk tell you that you’re worth my whole day. It’s for this reason that my team writes cards to their teams every single week. It’s a requirement to pick one or more people and to write them a card telling them they’re awesome and we are honored to serve alongside them. I hope you’ll try it for your team as well. I think you’ll be surprised at the outcome.
A couple last notes about this: if you can, learn about your team’s personalities and temperaments through the use of different tests and tools. The DiSC is a popular one and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) will go a little bit deeper. If you can spring for it, I wholeheartedly recommend the Birkman Method; it is altogether unlike any personality test you’ve ever taken and it will tell you things about yourself and your team that you have never even considered. It’s been so valuable to us, in fact, that every single new staff member is required to take one as they join the team, sometimes even before. Whatever the tools you find, use them to their fullest potential and learn to show appreciation to your team members the way they need to receive it. Additionally, be careful to stay away from seeing any member of your team as “needy.” This may seem like common sense, but you’ll slip into the habit easily if you’re not paying close attention. Remember those team members I mentioned earlier who share all of their feelings all the time? They’re not needy, they’re just more honest than everyone else. They may tell you what they need more often, but that certainly doesn’t make them needy. A friend of mine likes to put it this way: when I go scuba diving, I’m partial to oxygen. Needing oxygen doesn’t make him needy, it makes him human. The ones who aren’t asking for an oxygen might be okay, and they might also be drowning. Be careful not to pass judgement on someone who cries for help when they need it.
Three Squares A Day
I met a guy this week while I was at a conference and he told me about a 40 day water-only fast that he had completed some years before. He told me all about the way he prepared for it, how he had gained permission from his boss (and his other boss, his wife) to do it, and the toll it took on him. His mind and his body turned to mush. Can you imagine doing something like that? As evidenced by my own train of thought during his story, I definitely cannot: all I could do was count the number of hours between our conversation and my next meal! I have to take a moment and discourage you from doing something like that without proper medical attention and consideration–this isn’t something you should do for fun. The general rule is that you can make it for 3 weeks on just water before you find yourself in a very bad position. Somehow Elijah was able to break all of these barriers and not only survive, but travel over 200 miles through an arid landscape. The small amount of food and water he consumed gave him enough strength to make the journey and continue doing God’s work elsewhere. How does this inform the way we show appreciation to our teams?
Let’s get something clear right out of the gate: you are not the angel of the Lord. Have you ever noticed that when reading scripture we tend to approach it from a heavenly perspective? Maybe it’s because of all the movies and TV shows we watch these days, or maybe just because we don’t have the right perspective. All the accounts of Jesus and His disciples? Stop reading them like you’re Jesus! When He was talking about the tax collectors and prostitutes, that’s where you enter the story. Alright, now that we’re clear, let’s keep moving. You and I are not the angel of the Lord and we are not able to provide people with supernatural food. It just won’t happen. We have to understand that the love, affirmation, and appreciation we show our teams will not sustain them beyond their earthly limitations. I must emphatically caution you not to try to feed your team what only God can feed them. You can, and must, open the Word before them and present it to them in relevant and compelling ways, but you are not the Holy Spirit and you cannot speak life into them. Be sure to direct them to the Lord, to the foot of the cross where they will find immeasurable value, a new identity, and an abundant life. We can’t feed them what only the Lord can feed them, but we must be sure to set a different kind of meal before them often.
We’ve already discussed what it looks like to feed your team and how we all need different things to eat in order to keep going. I hope you’re spending time considering what you need to feed your teams to support them along their journey, but have you also considered when to feed them? Just like with our physical bodies, we all need certain amounts of food at certain times: if you’re a small person who hasn’t exercised in 5 years, you probably need less food less often than a larger person who spends nights and weekends training for a triathlon. An athlete may need a certain amount of food during training, but they’ll likely require different amounts and types of fuel directly before or after an event. Too little food can cause serious health issues and even death, and too much food can have similar outcomes. When you think of food as fuel, then, like a car, we all require a certain amount to get where we’re going, especially when you take into account the way we go through it. Appreciation is one of the fuels that our team members use to accomplish the goals with we have given to them and without it, they won’t make it very far.
How much fuel does your team need? What size fuel tank did they start off with? How quickly do they run through it? Are they using it to power anything else like an air conditioner? Okay, my analogies have gotten a little out of control. Just track with me.
Each member of your team is built differently and needs different amounts of appreciation to keep on going. They also need to fill up often or else their tank will run dry before they accomplish the next goal. The question you really need to ask yourself is: how often do they need a fill up in order to keep going strong? The answer is pretty simple: more often than you think! As leaders, we somehow maintain a perpetual blindspot around how often we need to shower our team members with appreciation. Some people don’t want to share because they prefer a system of fear and punishment. Some people are just blissfully unaware! I’d like to think that I fell into the latter category, though I’m sure I made pit stops in the former. Who knew that people needed me to thank them all the time? Who knew they needed that much love? I sure didn’t, and I learned some hard lessons because of my ignorance and arrogance. Our people need more appreciation than they will often let on, and that means we must be vigilant in showing it as often as we can. If you wait too long, you may transition from a moment of camaraderie and joy to one of stress and pain. In an attempt to ensure that this never happens, some leaders have tried to force moments of appreciation without the true, heartfelt substance behind it. Please don’t do this! It is always better to appreciate someone often, unless you are often faking. Your team is full of smart cookies and they can tell when you’re forcing another contrived attempt at genuine care. You’re better off finding them a new team than lying to them.
I remember being at an airport, patiently waiting for a flight, eating some Swedish Fish, genuinely enjoying life until, in a moment, my heart rate spiked. I heard the faintest of whispers over a distant speaker that confirmed my heretofore greatest fear: they changed my gate. Now, I need you to know that I was early for this particular flight and waited patiently at the gate they had originally assigned me with no notification of any kind that I needed to be on the opposite side of the largest airport I’ve ever been in. I know they have TVs with the flight information. It’s still not my fault. Anyway, I took off sprinting like the mostly out-of-shape man that I am, barreling down the halls of that terrible building, trying desperately not to lose my $12 lunch from Chipotle. I barely made it to the new gate before they closed the doors, but I couldn’t even address the flight attendant because I was panting like a wildebeest! Apparently I need to hit the gym again. I kept on panting until well after we left the ground, much to the chagrin of my flightmates. You might be asking yourself, “Self, why is Joe spinning on about how he’s out of shape?” Well hold your horses and let me tell you: when stress enters into our lives, and the lives of the people on our teams, we must adjust the way we fuel them to match the need the stress creates.
During times of stress, our bodies need more fuel to perform and not crash. When we are exerting ourselves, as exemplified in my panting, our lungs and heart kick into overdrive to provide our muscles with the oxygen they need to perform. Similarly, when we are scared or shocked, our brains engage a “fight or flight” response and a series of other chemicals, like adrenaline, are added to the mix to provide us with even more power. But what is the end result in all of this? We burn through fuel like crazy. Remember my friend who likes to go scuba diving? What do you think would happen if he freaked out under water? He’d run through that tank much faster than he would otherwise. Just like needing oxygen when he’s scuba diving doesn’t make him needy, requiring more oxygen during a time of stress is a natural response. As the suppliers of the proverbial oxygen tanks, we need to be aware of these times of stress! You may encounter individual team members, or even your whole team, in a time of stress and requiring more fuel. These seasons may last a few days or a few months, which is difficult enough for anyone to manage, but there are also times of recovery. A sprinter walks a lap after a race just to catch their breath, and your team may need to do a couple laps just to find their balance again. Just because the trial ends doesn’t mean they don’t still need an increased amount of your affirmation and appreciation. Know your team, know their seasons, know their stress; be aware of the increased need and come prepared to provide.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Many of us as leaders live by the old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” For some youngsters who may have never heard this phrase, it essentially means that you are better off being happy with what you have in your hand right now than seeking something more that, ultimately, isn’t guaranteed. When used in the context of contentment, this is a powerful proverb. To quote a dear friend of mine, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Everything that we have is from the Lord and we should be thankful for it! Do you have a beat up old car? Great news: you have a car! Wish you made more money so you could buy a bigger house? Better news: you make money and live in a house! This perspective can be immensely helpful in our lives and greatly reduce stress. Think of what Paul writes in Philippians 4: even though he is going from place to place being slandered, harrassed, imprisoned, and literally stoned to death, he remarks that he has found joy and contentment. Here is where he writes the verse–that we so often take out of context–regarding the strength we receive from God. That strength empowers us to live content lives, full of the Holy Spirit, united to the father through Jesus Christ. A bird in the hand, you say? Marvelous. Thank the Lord. While it may be more difficult to attain this perspective and allow it to influence our lives, it is certainly worth the effort required. However, when we’re feeling particularly sapped of energy and lacking the aforementioned strength, we tend to grab hold of the more unfortunate focus of this proverb: fear.
Fear is a good thing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I’ll take that fear all day long. Fear keeps us from standing on tall, unstable structures, hanging out with hornets, and, generally speaking, it tends to keep us alive. Fear can, however, be a bad thing. It can keep us from moving across the country to take a job, asking out a potential mate, or walking up on stage to give a speech. By all accounts fear has its pros and cons, but I am generally thankful for the fear I have and appreciative that it has kept me alive thus far, even though I may have missed out on some opportunities. In the context of this proverb, however, fear can be downright destructive. If I am guaranteed the bird I have in my hand, but not the ones in the bush, then I can never give this bird away. In fact, I need to find a way to make sure this bird never leaves because what would I have then? If I’m not guaranteed anything else, then I need to find a way to keep this forever.
Do you see where I’m going? Have you been there before?
I won’t lie to you: I have been guilty of this way of thinking. I’m blessed that the Lord gives me little snapshots of organizations and team structures, even specific outcomes for specific people; tiny sketches and paintings of what could be and how to get there. They are truly awesome gifts that He gives me. I analyze the brush strokes, deconstruct the patterns, and chart a course forward for myself and my team so that we can begin to resemble the new piece of art I have hanging in the foyer of my heart. The problem is that I tend to hold on tighter to the paintings than I do to the Painter. Rather than sitting in awe of what He is able to create with such broken pieces of creation, I will do my best to craft a mirror image of His original painting as I had seen it at first. My efforts quickly resemble an amateur forgery lacking the detail and skill of the original, and the distinct difference between the two pains me. All along the way, my team has been poked and prodded, belittled and manipulated, until they fit into my interpretation of His artwork. “Are they doing exactly what I want them to do? Have they done it well enough? My painting looks nothing like the original. They must not be doing their jobs.” It’s an exhausting experience for me, and a destructive one for them. “What if they leave? My painting will never be complete. What must I do to force them to stay?” You and I might not be saying these things out loud, but our teams hear them as if through a loudspeaker. How do you think that makes them feel? I’ll tell you: they feel worthless, untrustworthy, incapable, and like a failure to the calling they’ve received. Is that really the way we want our people to feel?
Here’s the ultimate reality we need to grapple with: God owns all the birds. The one in your hand, the two in the bush, and all the rest in the whole wide world. They all belong to Him. He created them just like He created you–on purpose, and full of His purpose. His purpose for them will always trump and exceed your purpose for them. If we truly believe this, then we should want for our people what God wants for our people, even when they may involve a different position inside the organization–or outside of it. When you are committed to God’s will in the life of each of your team members, the way you think about them, and even pray for them, is destined to change. Now, rather than needing to lead them from one place to another, we have the opportunity to do ministry with them in this season. When they are bound up in an issue that is causing you grief, a prayer to fix them becomes a prayer to prepare them for what God knows is coming in the future. I have heard this referred to as “Open-Handed Leadership” and I find that to be a fitting definition. In fact, I’ve taken to praying for my team with my hands open, palms up, offering them to the Lord. “Take this one and make them a songwriter and musician; take this one and let them counsel your people. So long as You let me keep them, I’ll do my best to love them well. But they belong to You and You can take them any time.”
Are you filled with gratitude for your team? Genuine appreciation and care can only flow from a heart full of gratitude. You can certainly get things done without being thankful for the folks you work with, but you will run headlong into mountains of trouble and struggle. Believe me on this one. When we can see our team members in the context of their eternal design and champion the specific work God has given to them on earth, we will overflow with thankfulness for each day we get to spend by their sides. Treat them like you don’t deserve them–because you don’t! They are a gift you were given, not a prize you won or a right you deserve. Some days will be hard, and no one can appreciate everyone all the time, but a perspective like this will change the way you show appreciation to your team because it will change the condition of your heart. And as we all well know: from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
To Horeb, The Mount Of The Lord
When we pick up with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, he has just been a party to some incredible miracles designed to show the wisdom and might of the Lord. When we read to the end of verse 8, we find him beginning a harrowing journey across an unforgiving landscape, having barely regained the will to live. Then what? What was it all for? He goes to meet the Lord on His mountain, to hear Him in a whisper.
As I have grown and journeyed through ministry I have often sought the “yell” of the Lord. Personally, I do much better with strong winds, breaking rocks, earthquakes, and fire. I prefer big neon signs to small hand drawn ones. I desire the obvious things of the Lord, not the hard-to-reach truths. I’ve read every book I could get my hands on, sat under wise teachers, and learned beautiful truths through painful experiences. No matter what I sought to learn, the One who is wiser then I taught me what I really needed to know. He took me down paths I’d never seen before, using circumstances I could have never imagined, all to provide me with a next step in my somewhat faithful journey. I’m not sure what journey you’re on, or how far you’ve made it, but I can tell you that God has marching orders ready to dole out. Maybe I was burdened to write this for you, or maybe He just wanted me, like the Psalmists, to reflect on all He’s done thus far. In either case, we all need to hear what God was speaking to Elijah in that still, small voice: anoint another prophet in your place.
Jesus’ last words and command were very clear: “Go! Make more disciples! Baptize them, and send them on their way to do the same.” The point was never to wear fancy robes and say loud prayers; we were told to get to work! The apostles were given to us as teachers and examples, spreading the love of Christ and changing the world. It doesn’t matter what your job description says, we all have the same responsibilities! The command to Peter, and, by extension, to other pastors and leaders, is to feed the sheep, to care for them, and to help them grow. Peter in turn tells us that, through Christ’s divine power, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. We have been equipped to go and equip others as Paul so clearly dictates. The point is not to build an empire and craft a team in our image, but rather to equip God’s people to fulfill the divine purpose He placed inside each and every one of them. We must supply them with skill and knowledge, and do our very best to grow them in every way. And after we do it all and send them out, we must do it again.
Prophets, teachers, leaders: feed your people! Give them good food to eat, and give it to them often. Do not refrain from speaking the truth, but do it in love. Don’t forget that you, too, are one of the sheep imitating the Shepherd. You have been given this leadership and this platform in order to grow and develop others, so that they may grow and develop others, but you will never do so if you wander from the Source. Don’t neglect your time with the Lord. How can you give to others what you do not have? How can you give them good food to eat when you haven’t been personally supplied? Find your fulfillment in the only One who can give out abundant life. Let Him change your heart so that you can be thankful for every gift that He has given you. Let that gratitude overflow until you shower your teams with praise and affirmation. Don’t force it. Don’t avoid it. Feed your people the food they need to eat, and feed it to them more often than you think they need it. Acknowledge their hard work, and last of all: say thank you.