Breaking growth barriers

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growth barriersBreaking barriers to growth

Our capacity for leadership determines the scope of our work. However, as we have already seen, each one of us must develop our own leadership. Each one of us must grow and advance in the midst of all barriers, resistance and impediments.

Jesus shows us various barriers in the parable of the sower in Chapter 13 of Matthew where he compares the development of the seed of the Word of the kingdom in each of four different types of soil which represent four types of human hearts.

Through this parable we learn that:

  • Plants do not grow in the shade. Good discipleship leaders expose their disciples to the sun.
  • Plants do not grow if the vase is too small. We need space for our roots.
  • Plants cannot grow in hard soil. Hard soil corresponds to the wayside that is constantly trampled upon. There is no growth without taking the risk of following alternative and new ideas.
  • Plants do not grow in stony ground. The stones point to the ego and to sin.
  • Plants do not grow in containers covered with lids. The lids are natural and emotional blocks.

The effectiveness of our leadership depends on eliminating lids that are placed upon us. The leadership of David and Saul gives us two examples of leaders who dealt with lids in different ways.

Both were anointed by God

The same anointing that was over Saul was also over David. There was no difference at all. The anointing was the same, but each of them responded differently.

Both received the help of an experienced prophet

Both Saul and David had instruction and teaching. Samuel instructed Saul and Nathan instructed David.

Both faced great challenges

God tests our leadership through the challenges and obstacles along the way. Goliath challenged Saul just as much as he challenged David, but only David responded to overcome the enemy.

Both had the chance to change and to grow

Saul and David had different attitudes in the face of their circumstances. After Samuel reprimanded Saul, Saul merely tried to justify himself. David, on the other hand, repented bitterly after Nathan rebuked him.

The lids that limited King Saul

  • Fear: he hid in the camp afraid to face Goliath.
  • Concern with the opinion of others: he asked Samuel to honor him even after he had sinned (1 Samuel 13:8-12; 15:19-25).
  • Presumption; he did not wait for Samuel and offered a sacrifice that he wasn’t qualified to offer (1 Samuel 13:11, 12).
  • Impulsiveness: he made a rash oath that almost cost the life of his son.
  • Falsehood: he offered his daughter to David, but his desire was for David to die in battle.
  • Jealousy and envy: he became angry when the people unfavorably compared him to David.
  • Wrath: he tried to kill David two times

The lids in the life of David

  • His family: he was the youngest and least remembered when Samuel came to visit.
  • His social status: Saul was from a rich family (1 Samuel 9:1), but David was from a poor family.
  • His leader: Saul constantly tried to inhibit David’s leadership.
  • His youth and inexperience: David was just a kid when Samuel anointed him as king of Israel.

The leader must grow so that his cell can grow. The leader can only grow if he makes himself available to remove the lids that block his development.

The Power of Passion

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power of passionWhen we do things out of passion, God releases a certain power to and through us. The game breaker for a fruitful leader is his passion, the driving force of his heart. Whatever burns from within, can be smelled from without. Passion is the fire of the deep desire that attracts others. When we are passionate about something, we attract others to walk with us.

Passion can be wrongly interpreted, but for us, passion is represented by some key attitudes. We don’t manifest all of these attitudes all of the time, but if we have passion they will be present from time to time: fervor, intensity, perseverance and tenacity, pleasure and joy in the work, the desire for innovation and new experiences and dreams of the heart.

Why is passion so important?

  • It is the first step to any conquest
  • It activates potential
  • It influences the life of others and changes them
  • It establishes and maintains our priorities
  • It makes the impossible happen
  • It is a spiritual protection

When we lose passion

We lose passion when we allow the vision to become common and without value. We cannot speak of the vision in vain. Neither should we transform it into the object of jokes or associated it with unimportant things.

We lose passion when we allow routine to dominate us. We must break the power of routine so that it doesn’t extinguish our passion. We accomplish this through the renewal of cycles, by establishing new and higher goals. We must face challenges not flee from them. We must remain outside of our zone of comfort.

We lose passion when we begin to depend on external motivation. This happens when we are fuelled by applause. Our motivation must be to remain in Christ. Competition with others destroys our original passion.

We lose our passion when we permit the apathy of the world to contaminate us. Don’t seek personal comfort as your first priority. We live in a generation void of ideas whose pattern is playing video games, surfing the Internet, watching television and passivity before the world. We want to finish everything rapidly merely to go back to being idle and doing nothing. We feel like we are taking advantage of life when we are not doing anything. This is the death that the devil has injected into the world without God.

How to maintain passion and fervor

  • Believe that passion is decisive in order to grow as a disciple.
  • Reactivate your fellowship with God. If we ask for passion, the Lord will hear us.
  • Walk with people who have the same passion.
  • Recognize the need for spiritual connections. Holy connections protect us.
  • Passion is contagious.
  • Renew the convictions of your calling in order to serve God in this vision.
  • Activate your spiritual gifts.
  • Do not operate in areas to which God has not called you.

The leader as pastor of the lost sheep

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leader as pastor of the lost sheepIn the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we read the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:1-7). In this parable, we learn of the attitudes of the leader with a shepherd’s heart. I believe that the central truth of this parable points to the shepherd and not to the lost sheep. The principal meaning refers to the Lord, but His example can be translated into principles for all leaders. The most important principle to be stressed is the value of the leader’s attitude.

Attitude is the hidden secret behind great leaders. We can use Paul as an example of a leader for each characteristic and attitude that we observe in the shepherd of the parable.

1.   Control

The shepherd exercised quantity control: he knew how many sheep he had. The shepherd also exercised quality control: he knew that a sheep was missing. We must be constantly attentive to the safety of our sheep. Control is the result of a holy concern, a passion, and a responsibility before God. Paul had a deep concern for the churches. Several passages clearly show the evidence of his concern:

Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:28)

Then after some days, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36)

Control is nothing more than information. We plan actions, establish goals and make course corrections on the basis of information. As a leader, you must perceive the importance of controls, such as visitation reports, so that your work becomes more efficient. Paul knew exactly what was going on in the churches simply because he had information:

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. (1 Cor. 1:11)

For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part, I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:18)

2.   Right attitude

The shepherd did not have a commercial attitude – for a mercenary businessman, it makes no sense to leave 99 sheep alone to go look for one that got lost. However, the shepherd did not see the sheep as a source of profit. Leaders are like parents, they don’t want to lose any of their children. If the father has ten sons and he loses one of them, it does no good to tell him that he still has nine. Writing to the Thessalonians Paul reveals his heart free of financial interests:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

For neither at any time did we use flattering words, but we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5; 7).

. . . nor a cloak for covetousness, For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you (Thessalonians 2:5; 9).

Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. That you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:6; 12).

The shepherd did not have a passive attitude – he did not wait for the lost sheep to come back on its own. He could have thought perhaps: “when it is hungry it will return, or when it gets dark it will show up”. Many leaders fail because of their passivity. They expect the work to get done by itself but real leaders make things happen.

The shepherd did not think about what was convenient – he could have thought, “I only lost 1%, that isn’t so bad! It’s not worth it to leave the 99 and go after just one and risk the 99 that remain”. However, it is necessary to be clear that the success of the leader is guaranteed by his willingness to obtain excellence and do the best work. We find no comfort in comparing ourselves with those who are average. This is the principle of mediocrity.

The shepherd did not have a spiteful attitude – the shepherd could have had the following thoughts: “this sheep that left doesn’t deserve my love and care, it was a traitor”. Many leaders demand an eternal debt of gratitude from the flock because of their work. Leaders are servants and not investors seeking a return on their investment. In the book of Acts of the Apostles we read the abandonment of John Mark, who had helped Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13). We see the consequences of this desertion and how Paul dealt with the matter. First, Paul and Barnabas separated themselves because of Mark (Acts 15:37). It is possible that Mark’s desertion had left Paul indignant. However, in the letter to the Colossians, Paul recommended Mark to the church (Colossians 4:10) and, in his second epistle to Timothy, he said that Mark was useful for the ministry. In the letter to Philemon we see that the relationship was completely restored (Philemon 1:24).

3.   Planning, strategy and perseverance

The shepherd did not go out searching with no direction, but he sought after the sheep. “To seek” speaks of planning, strategy and perseverance. These are the fundamental ingredients in the life of a leader. A leader who does not plan is destined to failure.

Planning – the shepherd planned a way to find the lost sheep. Our planning is not based on circumstances. We plan our course of action and our work independent of circumstances.

Strategy – he knew the possible places where he might find the sheep and even the means to attract it to himself in the dark of night. He knew where the sheep most like to graze, where they prefer to drink water and where they occasionally get lost.

Perseverance – he did not give up, but searched until he found the lost sheep. He probably didn’t notice the absence of the sheep until near the end of the day. The food was on the table and he was tired, but even so, he decided to seek out the sheep until he found it.

Paul was also a strategist. He prioritized the large cities in his missionary work: Athens (Acts 17:16), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), Philippi (Acts 16:12), Corinth (Acts 18:1) and Ephesus (Acts 19:17). He began preaching in the Jewish synagogues to the Jews whose hearts were already a prepared soil (Acts 16:12, 13; 17:1; 10; 16, 17). He always consolidated his work with systematic teaching (Acts 18:11; 20:27).

4.   Self-denial

The text in Matthew tells us that there were no guarantees that the shepherd would really find the lost sheep, but even so, the shepherd left in search of it. We don’t invest our time only in sheep that guarantee a return. The shepherd abandoned his comfort and went out in the hot sun of the day and the chill of the night to look for it. This shows his self-denial.

Every leader is like a spiritual father. As spiritual fathers, we must be healthy fathers. Healthy fathers exercise self-denial. As fathers, we must avoid certain excesses:

Fathers that never released their children – these parents want their children to remain tied to them forever. Healthy parents raise their children to win over the world.

Mothers and fathers that demand eternal gratitude – “after everything that I’ve done for you this is how you repay me?” These are expressions of unhealthy parents.

Parents who demand a return of the investment that they made in their children – the parents should store up for the children and not the other way around. (2 Corinthians 12:14)

Our children are our glory, but it is terrible when the children shame the parents. Parents should prepare their children to be proud of them. Trees do not grow in the shade; allow more space for your children to grow larger than you have grown. Be the shoulders upon which your children can rise up and gain new levels of which you have never attained.

5.   Celebration

The shepherd only puts on a celebration feast after he has found the last sheep. Our work as leaders is to find lost sheep in this world covered by the darkness of sin. It doesn’t say that the shepherd exhorted the lost sheep or that he gave it a beating, but simply that he put it upon his shoulders and took it back to the flock.

One of the greatest secrets of successful leadership is learning to celebrate victories. Learn to celebrate each goal and each objective that has been reached together with your team. This will strengthen the team and motivate the team members for the next challenges that you wish to reach.

Basic Principles of Spiritual Leadership

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principles of spiritual leadership7 principles of spiritual leadership

When some of the Lord’s disciples became interested in receiving positions of leadership Jesus taught his disciples some basic principles that determine how God distributes leadership. His answer to the mother of James and John provide basic principles in seed-form that are vital to understand and properly apply in the ministry of the gospel.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28)

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to seat each of them on either side of His throne in the kingdom, she was thinking of a position of dominion and leadership. Evidently, they only wanted a position and status of leadership. We can see the true essence of spiritual leadership in the Lord’s answer.

Leadership is predetermined (v. 21)

The woman asked the Lord to grant her something that he was not willing to guarantee. It is necessary for the Lord to determine, to grant. We do not choose if we will lead or not. We merely obey the call of God. We are not volunteers but called servants.

Leadership is a prepared position (v. 23)

The answer that Jesus gave is that the Father has prepared someone for each position. For God to prepare us means that we have the tools, the gifts and the ability necessary to develop the function of leadership to which He calls us.

Leadership requires a price to be paid (v. 22)

Each position of leadership has its own price. You will never reach the purpose if you fail to pay the price.

The laws of price:

  • There is a price tag for everything that has value
  • You can achieve anything depending on the price that you are willing to pay
  • Not everyone pays the same price. Each one of us has a different cross to carry
  • The more you want something the higher price you will pay
  • If you complain of the price, you will probably give up before you pay it
  • Your talents do not determine your success in life, but the price that you are willing to pay to reach it
  • You will be criticized for paying the price
  • The price never goes down. Each time you are successful the next challenge will be more difficult, the criticisms will be more severe, the tests stronger and the price higher
  • The real price will increase and the perception of the price will decrease when your desire to improve grows and become more and more intimate with God
  • All spiritual payment is made beforehand

Leadership is within every man (v. 24)

The fact that the other disciples became indignant shows the yearning for leadership that existed in all of them. Just as back then, today disciples become indignant with those who want to be great leaders. Jesus did not tell His disciples: “don’t try to be great because that is pride”. He did not say that their aspiration to be great was wrong. He just explained how to arrive, how to become a great leader.

God is pleased when his people desire leadership

We do not know why James and John were among the three closest disciples to Jesus. However we can suppose that one of the reasons was their desire to be great leaders.

This is a faithful saying: if a man desires the position of a Bishop, he desires a good work. (1 Timothy 3:1)

Leadership is not for your own benefit but for the benefit of others (v. 28)

To serve is to seek the interests of the person that you are serving. Therefore, the goal of the leader is not to take advantage of or profit from his followers, but to discover how to contribute to the fulfillment of the full potential of each follower.

Leadership is to fulfill the purpose of benefiting others (v. 28)

The way that the Lord served was by fulfilling the purpose of God. We serve the members of our cell when we serve God, and not the other way around. It would be difficult for someone to say that the Lord was serving His disciples by dying on the cross. However, Jesus served God on the cross by doing His will.

The natural results of this leadership are:

  • Authenticity (the authority comes from the authorization of those who are called)
  • Originality (God’s call is individual)
  • Genuine trust (based on the conviction that the one who calls is also the one who enables and equips)
  • Personal fulfillment (because the fulfillment comes when we fulfill the purpose)
  • Sense of value (because every call of God includes a purpose that has eternal implications)
  • Absence of competition (because of the uniqueness of the call of each one)
  • Absence of jealousy (because each person who has been called has his own value)
  • Absence of fear (because of the conviction of all of the above)

Levels of leadership

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levels-of-leadershipFive leadership levels

John Maxwell wrote about five levels of leadership, which I will briefly share here. Your leadership can be developed and elevated to new levels. In practice, there are five levels of leadership: position, permission, production, people development and personal maturity.

1.    Position

This is the basic entry-level of leadership. The only influence that you have at this level is in virtue of your title. At this level people appeal to rights and titles. In other words if someone has the title, he is the boss and that’s it.

True leadership is much more than simply a title that confers authority. True leadership expresses you as someone who others follow joyfully. An authentic leader knows the difference between a boss and a leader. God did not call us to be chieftains, but to be leaders. Think for a minute, what is the basic difference between a boss and a leader?

This level of leadership is generally acquired by nomination. Such is the case when your leader nominates you to be a small group leader or chooses you to lead another group in which no one knows you. In this case, your leadership initially will be merely positional.

People do not follow a positional leader beyond their specific realm of authority. They limit themselves to do only what is required when the leader requests it. When there is no confidence in the leader, the members do not commit themselves.

Few people are prepared to follow us because of our titles. Our joy and our success in leading a small group or a network depend on our ability to continue reaching new levels of leadership.

  • At this level of leadership, you must:
  • Completely know the attributes of a small group leader
  • Be clear of what the vision of the church is
  • Be on board with the leadership of your network in the church
  • Accept responsibilities and challenges
  • Develop your work with visible excellence
  • Do more than is expected of you
  • Propose creative ideas for improvement and positive change

2.   Permission

“Leadership is moving people to cooperate with you when they are not obligated to do so”. This will only happen when you advance to the second level of influence. People do not care about your title until they perceive how much you care about them. Leadership begins in the heart and not in the head.

Level 1 leaders lead by intimidation. We advance to the second level only when we relate and demonstrate real interest and love for our followers. You can love people without leading them, but you cannot lead people without loving them.

Be careful not to attempt to skip this level. We cannot advance in leadership without gaining the people’s permission. On this level of leadership, you must:

  • Love the people in your group
  • Help the members help themselves with their battles
  • See through the eyes of the people
  • Place the members as a priority
  • Position yourself confidently before the group
  • Include all the members of the small group in fellowship
  • Treat difficult and resistant people with wisdom

3.   Production

Everyone is oriented toward results. Invariably results and goals that we reach are the principal reason for leadership and the principal reason why leaders must be established. Once strong and lasting relationships are established, people are open to cooperate on the third level, which is production. It will do no good to try to reach goals or fulfill tasks if we have not reached the prior level.

The level 1 position is the door to leadership, but level 2, the level of permission is the foundation. Therefore, in the third level we must:

Accept the challenge and responsibility to multiply our leadership

  • Pursue the purpose of growth
  • Make everyone accountable including ourselves
  • Plan strategies that will help reach the goal
  • Communicate the strategy and vision of the church
  • Transform ourselves into instruments of challenge for the members
  • Make the difficult decisions that will establish change

4.   People development

We can identify a leader through or by way of his recognition. Recognition exists when leaders constantly exhibit superior development of functions entrusted to them. The leader becomes great not because of his power, but because of his ability to delegate power to others. Success without a successor breeds failure.

The principal responsibility of the worker is to do his work. The principal responsibility of a leader is to develop other leaders. The small group leader must have leaders in training. Therefore, if the small group does not have leaders in training this means that he has not yet attained the fourth level of developing people.

In the second leadership level, the members of the small group learn to love the leader. In the third level, they learn to admire him. In the fourth level, the leader wins the loyalty of the cell, winning the hearts of his followers by helping them grow spiritually. However:

  • You must continue meeting together systematically teaching those that are under your small group leadership
  • Be aware that the lives of your team members are your most valuable assets and must be your focus of work
  • Prioritize the discipleship of your team
  • Be an example for them to imitate
  • Concentrate your efforts on leaders in training
  • Provide growth opportunities for them
  • Learn to attract overcomers around you

5.   Personal maturity

On this level, you lead and inspire people simply because you have already reached total recognition. You have become an example of leadership because of the results of your ministry over a long time. On this level, it must be evident that:

  • The members of the small group or network are loyal to you and willing to make sacrifices
  • You have spent years orienting and molding leaders
  • You have become a discipler or pastor with a testimony worthy to be followed
  • Your greatest joy consists of observing other leaders grow and multiply

Beginning with the recognition of these levels we can build a structure that helps us to understand influence and what can be done to increase it. In order to go to the top, a leader must do two things:

  1. Recognize what level he is presently operating in and
  2. Know and apply the necessary qualities for success in each level

Whatever your position within an organization or group, you will only grow as a leader when you successfully identify on which level of leadership you currently operate and identify the aspects lacking in your leadership to move to the next level. Then it is a matter of striving to overcome what hinders leadership growth and acquire the qualities necessary to move past the next level. Cultivate the attitude that this process will continue for the rest of your life.