The Humility of the Elephant

I think elephants must be particularly humble creatures.

I recently found a copy of the National Community Church Small Group Directory from 2007.  Of course, then it was called the Discipleship Atlas.

As I browsed through, I remembered people I haven't seen in a while and stumbled across folks I never knew.  I wasn't on staff at NCC then and hadn't even gotten all that involved in the church yet.

In some ways I was reminded of a simpler time, when we were one church in three locations and attendance was probably around half of what it is now... with half as many small groups.  In some ways it made me nostalgic and brought me back to the "good ol' days."

Then again, maybe they just seem like the good ol' days because I wasn't the one doing the hard work.  I was a participant who occasionally pitched in rather than a leader trying to take the next hill.  Things probably weren't that much simpler.  Sure, we've got more people and more locations now, but we've also got more staff and more budget.

Perhaps my most significant observation was that there were faithful people who came before me, before the people I know now, before the leaders I value.  There were people who invested in the Kingdom of God at NCC before I did.  As I browsed through it I found myself thinking, "Wow, that's a great idea for a group!" and realized that some of our shiny new stuff is stuff that these faithful people had done years before us.

It's rather humbling.

If you find yourself thinking about what a great job you do, how many great ideas you have, how well things are going because of your work, it might be worth taking a second look at who came before you and what got you to where you are today.

If elephants never forget, I must imagine they're quite humble.

Seven Questions to Determine if You’re Pursuing Godly Greatness or Worldly Greatness

Last night I worshiped at Mars Hill's Downtown CampusMark Driscoll preached out of Luke 22:24-30, a familiar passage in which Jesus' disciples are arguing over who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Of course, Jesus tells them that to be the greatest you must be the servant of all.  Here are a few thoughts from the sermon:

Sometimes, we fail to do our best because as followers of Jesus we want to remain humble.  We don't want to develop proud hearts, but this is the wrong course of action.  It is false humility.

What kind of person doesn't want to be a great parent, great businessperson, great spouse, great friend, or great neighbor?

It's good to want to be great.  Great people make a difference.  Great people advance the Kingdom of God.  Great people change the world.

The real question is: Are you pursuing Godly greatness or worldly greatness? Are you seeking greatness by serving others or serving self?  Try answering these seven questions:

  1. Do you welcome Jesus to serve you?
    Unless Jesus serves you, you can't truly serve God.  You need the grace provided by His service on the cross.  You cannot come to God on your own, and it is the ultimate expression of pride to attempt to do so.
  2. Do you humbly allow others to serve you?
    Jesus was the ultimate servant, but he was also served by others. Don't try to be self-sufficient and rob others of the joy of serving you.
  3. Do you humbly serve others with selfless motives?
    We never have totally pure motives, but what are your primary motivations?  Are they recognition or reward, or are you serving out of love for God and others?
  4. Are you willing to do menial tasks?
    Are there things that are beneath you? Nothing was beneath Jesus.
  5. Are you lazy or disorganized?
    You might be immensely humble, but you'll never be as good as you could be if you are lazy or disorganized.
  6. Is your life marked more by giving or getting?
    Are you more concerned with what you can get from others or what you can give to them?
  7. Would you rather achieve a status or make a difference?
    What's more important to you, that you get recognition or that you are actually able to get something done, to serve others.

Your answers should give you a good indication of what type of greatness you're pursuing.

These questions are especially important for those of us in leadership.  The greater our platform, our influence, and our success, the easier it is to focus on self rather than Christ.

How would you answer these questions?

Photo by Billy Hathorn

Whack Your Pride

Leadership Lesson #4: Make sure you keep whacking your pride with a stick.

I think I’m pretty great, and I want other people to know it. I want to be recognized for being at the top of my field.  I want people to look at me with awe and wonder.

Being in leadership nearly always means people are looking at you.  You’re more visible than average.  If you’re any good at it, you’ll probably continue to become more visible and well known.  Most of us thrive on that recognition.

Contrast that desire with these realities:

  1. In his best-seller, From Good to Great, researcher and author Jim Collins says that humility is what differentiates a good leader from a top leader.
  2. Renowned author and entrepreneur Seth Godin says that those who truly effect change don’t demand credit.
  3. The Bible says that anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all.

Pride isn’t just a sin.  It actually keeps you from reaching your potential.  You’ll never be all you can be or do all you can do while you’re more concerned about your appearance than your character and competency.  In other words, if you want to be great, keep whacking your pride with a stick.

Catalyst Session 2 – Jim Collins

Author: Good to Great

I’m very passionate to be here with you. I’m one of those people in life who have been enormously fortunate and blessed, which means I get to spend my life on things I’m very passionate about.

Not all time in life is equal. The opportunity to contribute something to your development now is a great privilege because you have such a great runway in front of you.

I’m very passionate to be here to talk to you about the results of our research.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we only have great business corporations, we will merely be a prosperous nation. We will not be a great one, and to be a truly great nation, we must also have great K-12 education, and not just for some of our children, but for all of them. We must have great health care and arts organization and military and government, and we must have great and inspired places of spirit.

Of course, there is a problem: Good is the enemy of great. It’s one of the reasons that so few things ever become truly great, it’s because their good.

What separates the exceptional from the others?

Our approach is deeply empirical. I have a love of data.

We must study not only the companies that became great but the similar ones that did not. What separates the good from the exceptional?

If I could only have you take one thing from this session: Greatness is not a function of our circumstances. It is not the cards we are dealt. It is a function of choice and of discipline.

What I’m not going to do is to tell you that the path to greatness for social enterprise is that it should become more like a business. Most businesses, like everything else in life, are average.

It’s not the difference between business and social, it is the difference between great and good.

Discipline is not a business idea, it is a greatness idea.

You will find a culture of discipline in the military, in the Cleveland Symphony orchestra. You
will find a culture of discipline in Lance Armstrong’s cycling team. You will find a culture of discipline in great public schools in bad circumstances, and you will not find it in the average.

The discipline of the flywheel.

Nothing great ever happens in one fell swoop. The way it really happens is that you start pushing on the flywheel. After a lot of effort you get one tired, slow, creaky turn, but you keep pushing.

It is the discipline to stay on that flywheel. It took 7 years for Sam Walton to get his second store.

How do those who were once great fall.

Sometimes you build something successful, become complacent and lazy, and then the world passes you buy, but that isn’t the way that most fall. Most fall because they reach too far too fast. You try to go from 100 to 1000 to 10,000 turns of the flywheel because of hubris.

How do you know if you’re overreaching.

Great enterprise is more likely to die for indigestion of too much opportunity

The number 1 sign of overreaching is when you grow beyond your ability to fill all of your seats with the right people, when you start compromising the quality of your people.

Who then what: make sure you have the right people and then grow. If you get out ahead of your ability to have the right people, you will fall.

Overreaching, hubris, undisciplined pursuit of more.

When someone is sick, the question is not what’s the treatment, what’s the schedule? It’s who’s the oncologist, who’s the surgeon, who’s the radiologist? When you have the right who’s they will help you find what to do.

Life is people.

What separates those who do well in highly turbulent environments from others? They are not any better at predicting what will happen next then anyone else. Therefore, you must prepare for that which you cannot predict. What’s the ultimate preparation for what you cannot predict? Who is on your bus; who is your climbing partner; who is with you?

It is very rare in history that stability and prosperity co-exist. Therefore we must gather the right people around us to handle the things we cannot predict.

There are important whos on the bus.

I’ve always been a leadership skeptic. It always seemed odd to me to say that if something is successful it was because of great leadership and if something is not successful it is because of poor leadership. I told my team that we would not have a leadership principle in “Good to Great.” However, in one meeting, my team of young people confronted me and said. Leadership is important in circumstances of greatness. I tried to tell them that there is leadership both in the great and those who did not become great, but my team told me that the leadership in the companies who became great was the difference between great (level 5) leaders and merely good (level 4) leaders.

How were these great leaders different? It certainly wasn’t their personality; most of them had a charisma bypass. What was the signature characteristic of these great leaders? Humility.

Humility not as an “Aw, shucks” weakness, it is passion for the cause, not for themselves, combined with the will to do absolutely whatever it takes to it great.

It cannot be about you, it has to be about the work, cause, values, it’s not about you. That’s the level 5.
Level 5 is not about personality. We tend to confuse the two all of the time. It’s okay to have charisma.
You can even be weird and be a level 5. One guy solved a dispute with an arm wrestling contest.
If you make your church dependent on a powerful personality, then you are being irresponsible, because then it’s about you. The true test of a leader, the ultimate report card comes in when you are done. You have to begin building that early.

Think about the flywheel of your faith and the flywheel of your church as different flywheels.

Those who build a great organization leave something behind that will continue long after they are gone.
Know your one big thing, and push consistently on that one big thing. Push the flywheel in three distinct areas. What are you passionate about? What can you do better than anyone else? Where are your resources?
Resources in the social sector: people, money, & brand reputation

Confidence that you steward your resources well. It may take 30 years to build a reputation, but it only takes 30 seconds to destroy it.

The presence of a to do list without an equally robust stop-doing list lack discipline.

If you have 10,000 hours of potential work, what does it matter if you work 12 or 16 hours? The critical thing isn’t working more hours. It isn’t what to do but what to not do? What doesn’t produce results? What gets in the way?

I will leave you with the existential dilemma of whether or not to put “Create a stop-doing list” on your to-do list.

Behind any great organization is a tension of “AND.” You must preserve the core and stimulate progress. What must never change are the core values. We lose our values, we lose our soul, we lose our soul, we lose it all.

The problem is that we confuse our practices with our values.

Every generation must create a set of practices that represent the values at the core.

  • Go to (where everything is free). Download the good to great diagnostic tool
  • How many key seats are on your bus? How many are filled with the right people? And what are the steps to get that to 100%?
  • Personal board of directors – the people you would love to look up to.
    Also in the category of disciplined people: get young people in your face.
    The chief of staff of the armed forces said that this generation of cadets is the most inspiring and inspired since 1945, but remember there is a bell curve in every generation. You want the right young people in your life.
    Asking what job, career, organization is the wrong question. The question is who, who will you allow to be your mentors?
  • What is you’re questions to statements ratio. It’s not about giving answers; it’s about asking questions.
  • Spend more time being interested than trying to be interesting.
  • How do you know when it’s time to change? About the time you start asking the question. Do not spend 5 years getting 2 years experience. You may not know it yet, but life is short, very short.
  • Take time to think
    Turn off the Blackberry. Take days that you actually cross out months in advance. Take the time to do this wonderful thing called thinking.
    Work is infinite; time is finite.
  • How do you become level 5?
    I don’t know, but I do know this. The level 5s always begin with the question: “How do I commit myself to something for which I have such passion that I am willing to endure the pain of level 5 decisions.

Greatness is not a function of circumstance. It is a function of conscious choice and discipline. We are not imprisoned by our environment, setbacks, mistakes, cards we’re dealt, or even by staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices, and I believe it is the choices that no one can see.

I believe that greatness is not a function of whether you succeed. It is a function of the choices no one can see.

Peter Drucker: First you pay your mentors back by mentoring others. We are put here for a reason: to be useful. Go out and make yourself useful.

Examples of level 5 decisions:

If a company loses money, it’s bad, but even worse: if a school fails to educate its children, if a military leader makes a bad decision and people get blown up, if a homeless shelter does its job poorly. Your responsibility is to the children, the soldiers, and the homeless first.

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you might have made a hiring mistake. The right people need to be led, guided, and taught, but the right people don’t need to be tightly managed.

People need to understand they don’t have a job, that they have responsibilities.

Always remember this, is it a seat or a bus issue? Sometimes you have the right person on the bus, but they need a different seat. Their work is too important to allow failure.

What are the keys/starting points to developing a culture of discipline?

  • The right people.
  • Have everybody on the bus, but never use a title. Describe them as the person ultimate responsible for X.
  • Everyone on your bus needs to be able to articulate their responsibility, not their titles.

If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.

For every priority you have, you must have a stop doing.

Good intentions are no excuse for incompetence.

What drives our unwillingness to stop doing? We have a culture that just doesn’t think that way. When was the last time Congress got together and said, what are we going to stop doing?


I’ve mentioned before that I think the reason my entrance into ministry was delayed after college was that God had some things to teach me, especially in the area of humility. I didn’t realize quite how true that was until last week.

On our first day at NCC, the staff and proteges were sitting around talking about the program, and Pastor Joel said something. I honestly don’t even remember exactly what it was, but it hit me. Right after college I was looking into a program very similar to the Protege program. I was talking with the pastor I would be working with, and I just really didn’t want one of those “work here part time and get a job part time as part of your ministry/support” positions.

While I do have a lot to learn practically about how to do ministry, I don’t really think that is why God sidetracked me. Plenty of people start with the same experience I had. No, He had (and perhaps still has) a lot for me to learn spiritually.