By Trevor DeVage

Last week I shared three key principles for leading long-term:

1. Have short-term memory. (Don’t let yesterday’s missteps sabotage today’s potential.)

2. Simplicity saves souls. Complexity causes confusion.

3. Make one next good decision each day. (Otherwise you’ll become overwhelmed or distracted, or both!)

These are not isolated ideas; each one leads to the next, and so let’s move from the third principle to the fourth.


4. Resilience brings results.

The longer you stay in the game, the more likely you are to see results. I said that at the beginning of last week’s post. It’s really the theme connecting all five of these principles.

You’ve heard the analogies:

“An oak tree doesn’t grow in a day.” Just keep feeding, watering, pruning. Someday your children will sit in its shade.

“It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Just keep taking the next step, and the next, and the next. That glorious finish line is in the distance, but today you must get up the hill in front of you.

I’ve quoted Sam Chand here before. “Most leaders quit before the breakthrough,” he says. All progress is born of suffering. All growth follows making mistakes. Bear the pain, learn from the past but don’t dwell on it. You’ll grow as a leader, and then the wins will come.

Somebody asked Rick Warren, legendary author and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, how he survived so long in that ministry. “It’s simple,” he replied. “I outlasted my critics.” Follow his example, and you’ll wake up one day to realize how you’re accomplishing what God called you to do.

If you can’t come up with any other motivation, remember those never-discouraged Cubs fans. Every summer they say, “This is our year.” Some of them died before they could see their beloved team win the Series. But in 2016 their grandkids enjoyed the victory, and they were glad for all those years of never giving up.

And then remember one more picture: “You must have the skin of a rhino but the heart of a dove.” Outlasting your critics doesn’t mean hating them. God loves the narrow, the negative, and the naysayers who fill your inbox with complaints or nab you in the hallway with their criticism. You dare not be dissuaded by them, but neither can you stop finding ways to see them served. Your pursuit is ministry, not politics.

And that leads us to our final principle.


5. Focus on people, not progress, and progress will happen.

Kings High School sits not far from our church building, and Andy Olds was the winningest football coach in the school’s history. We invited him to lead a staff development day a couple of weeks ago and heard him say this: “Not one time did I ever talk with my team about winning. My goal was to change those kids’ lives. My aim was to make better men out of those players.” The byproduct of that mission was a record number of won games.

I certainly agree there’s nothing wrong with recording the wins. (I’m pretty sure Andy could tell us his teams’ win-loss statistics.) There’s nothing wrong with seeing attendance growth as a metric. I agree with another saying every church leader has heard: “Every number is a person, and every person matters.” If you really believe that, though, you’ll start with the second half of the sentence.

Many church leaders are concerned—some of them are panicked—by low church attendances at this stage of our pandemic. The in-person numbers at our church are down, too. But I’m also watching to see how God will use this pandemic to push the church toward Biblical ministry and away from American consumerism. Our staff has created a spreadsheet containing the names and contact information for every member of our church, and we’ve assigned each person or family to one of our staff members for follow-up. As we talk with them, we’ll be asking ourselves, “How can we reach people where they are today? What’s God doing in our community in the lives of those we’re serving? How can we join him? How can we glorify him? How can he use us in their lives?”

We won’t be thinking first about progress as we concentrate on those we’re serving and seeking. But with this strategy I’m pretty sure our future will see us taking strong steps forward for God.

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