My One, Simple, Unspiritual Rule for Leadership

Don't ask your people to do anything you aren't willing to do yourself

I ran into my rule again last night.

Staring down at slips of blue paper with students' names and phone numbers on them, I debated whether or not to make my follow-up calls. We met a few students on campus last week. Some of them filled out contact cards. We told them we would call them. But I was nervous to make the calls.

Then, I remembered my rule and made my calls.

Why is this rule so important to me?

It's not a biblical rule. Peter and the rest of the early Apostles had no problem handing off grunt work to other people (see Acts 6). Moses delegated (see Exodus 18). Jesus gave different gifts to different people (see Ephesians 4).

It's not a complex rule. You couldn't turn this rule into a book. People won't be impressed by it. You don't even need to explain it much.

It's the only rule I keep coming back to in my leadership work.

Why is it so important?

Leaders continually face the temptation "use" rather than "serve." Positions of power often come with privilege and lead to both abuse and ignorance. We push the dirty jobs down the leadership ladder. Our inexperience causes us to misunderstand the realities faced by the people we lead.

That's not the kind of leader I want to be.
That's not the kind of leader you want to be.

Last summer I found myself taking a Greyhound bus from Wytheville, VA to Raleigh, NC. It was a 9 hour ride (though it could be driven by car in 3 1/2 hours). Why did I do it? My community college students are constantly forced to take the bus: to take the bus around town, to take the bus to conferences, to take the bus when they travel long distances. I wanted to know what it was like. So I booked this particular trip this way. I now better understand the reality my students face.

Advocacy and service are key elements of Christian leadership.

In order to be an advocate and a servant, a leader has to follow this rule. You can't ask people to do things you aren't willing to do yourself. This doesn't mean that leaders can't share work, delegate or work where they're gifted. It just means they can't do this all the time.

This is my one, simple, unspiritual rule for leadership.

What's your rule for leadership? What guides you?

Pay Attention to the Steps in Evangelism

What if all of our evangelistic attention focused in the wrong places?

Most of the evangelism training people receive focuses on two transitions:
  • Helping people trust Christians (friendship evangelism)
  • Inviting people to commitment themselves to Christ (contact evangelism)
But the process of coming to faith in Christ is often more complex than this.

In their book I Once Was Lost Don Everts and Doug Schaupp detail what they call a postmodern path to faith (though I imagine that, like most "postmodern" paths, this one has been active for a long time). In their book, they talk about 5 thresholds people must walk through.
  1. Trusting a Christian
  2. Becoming Curious
  3. Opening up to Change
  4. Seeking after God
  5. Entering the Kingdom
Most of the evangelism training people receive focuses on Threshold #1 and Threshold #5.

As our student leadership teams have dialogued about their experience of evangelism on campus, we've noticed that most of their friends get stuck on Threshold #3.

How would you help someone who trusts Christians and is curious about Jesus to become more open to change in their life?

This is something we're actively trying to figure out on campus. We don't want to be manpulative or obnoxious. But we want to help our friends go deeper with God.

Free: Stolen or Given?

I had two encounters with "free" last week.

The first encounter went like this ...

Our cable went out. Living in a small townhouse complex, whenever new neighbors move in, it seems like our cable gets cut off. Wires grow like vines along the back wall of our house.

The cable repair people said they would take a couple of days to come out to the house. In the meantime, an electrician working nearby approached me. "I could fix your cable for you and set it up so you never have to pay for it again" he said. Free cable. Free internet. Thousands of dollars over the next several years.

Free, but stolen.

The second encounter went like this ...

Some friends were selling a nice leather couch. With the baby and another on the way (along with two dogs), we had been thinking about getting rid of our cloth couch and replacing it with something less allergenic and less smell-absorbing. The couch our friends were selling was really nice, deeply discounted, better than anything we could ever afford new.

We counted up our cash, made our moving plans and I drove to their house. When I got there, they told me: "We're not going to let you pay for it." Free furniture. Free gift.

Free, and given freely.

Free is a tricky concept for us. Getting something for free can boost our ego or make us feel ashamed. Some of the things we get for free, we treasure. Others, we discard.

In Christian theology, we believe that God's saving love for us is a free gift, not something we've stolen or tricked him into giving us. But many of us behave as if our free salvation was stolen, as if we gained it through a loophole or through some quick-witted twist. Such "free" salvation will always feel tenuous.

Have you ever struggled to receive God's free gift as a gift and not something you've stolen?

Why can't we just leave churches behind?

I refuse to believe that local churches are optional to our mission on campus. But it is tempting.

Talk to campus ministers and you'll hear their frustrations with local churches:
"They feel entitled to all the students"
"They waste so much money"
"They don't respect our work"
"They can't understand our students"
"They are more interested in crowds than transformation"

Why can't we just leave churches behind?

Here are 3 reasons that I've found ...


I became a Christian and was discipled in a church. Churches fund our ministry, send us students and care for our Staff. Though we may feel impatient with some churches, God has brought his blessings to us through them. To leave them behind would smack of ingratitude.


The churches that surround our campuses are filled with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We, their neighbors and siblings, have the privilege of being included in a special moment of God's mission. Few things compare to the joys of student ministry. It's invigorating, filling us with an exhausting joy. How could we hold this back from them?

I'm reminded of the story of the lepers who leave their city as it is under siege, choosing to risk execution rather than face starvation. To their surprise, they find that the enemy army disappeared into the night and the siege has been lifted. They eat and drink and celebrate, then remember the city they left behind. And this is what they say: “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

A posture of generosity forces us to long for churches to join us on campus. The Lord is doing great things in our midst. How could we neglect to invite our brothers and sisters to join us?


Abingdon, VA has a population that is the same size as one of our colleges in South Florida, FIU. Abingdon Bible Church is a thriving witnessing community of hundreds of people, sharing the gospel with their community, caring for the poor and supporting missionaries all over the world (including us!). Now, to put this in perspective, ABC serves more people than all of the campus ministries at FIU, combined. There is a scale differential between campus ministries and local churches.

The largest InterVarsity campus ministry in the country has 600 or so students. It's amazing. But it represents only 3% of the students on that campus. Every year, thousands of students graduate from that campus (the campus with a large and amazing campus ministry) never having had a meaningful opportunity to connect with the Christian community or to explore the gospel of Jesus. Maybe we need to think bigger. According to my best estimates, none of our campuses in South Florida have more than 3% of students involved in campus ministry.

I have dreams for campus ministry in South Florida. Big dreams. Dreams that are big enough that they keep me from daydreaming about leaving local churches behind. We will never get where we need to be without them. And, whether they know it or not, they will never get where they need to be without us, without our students, without our campuses.

Marketing versus Advertising

We had a great conversation with part of the South Florida area team today. New Student Outreach is right around the corner and people are trying to figure out how to include freshmen into the life of their chapters.

During the course of the conversation, the difference between advertising and marketing came up. Now, this may strike you as a strange conversation for a group of missionaries and ministers to have, but we love the business world, learn from the business world and believe that God is just as present in the world of business as He is in the world of campus ministry. As Kuyper said "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine'!”

I've learned a lot about marketing over the years.

And I can say with confidence that while the evangelical Christian world, at least in my neck of the woods, deeply values advertising, I'm not sure how they feel about marketing.

And marketing makes a huge difference.

Advertising is about getting your name out there. Publicity. Brand recognition. Buzz.

Advertising is necessary. Advertising really helps established ministries. Advertising is an essential tool. But advertising isn't enough.

Advertising will get your name out there, but it may not get people through the door.

Marketing, on the other hand, focuses on movement. How do you take a person from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D? In the business world, this involves taking someone who's aware of your brand and getting them to try a sample then buy the product then become brand-loyal then recommend your product to a friend.

In ministry, we're trying to help people make movements too. We want people to make a Christian friend then become aware that we're on campus and come to a gathering or Bible Study and make a commitment to follow Jesus and engage in his mission to bless the world. Movement. A to B to C to D.

Marketing is all about movement.

Once you're established, advertising smoothes the marketing process.

But a lot of us will find ourselves tempted to sit back, print out some fliers or mailers, get our name out there and wait. And some people will find us. People bet huge sums on advertising for a reason.

But nothing replaces an invitation.

If we're going to connect with freshmen this year, it will be because of marketing, because we're building relationships and invitaking them to move. Further on and farther in.

What would it look like to shift your strategy from advertising to marketing?

Reading List: June and July

Here's what I read in the months of June and July. As usual, all reviews are Twitter-short.

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

Backed by Barna research, You Lost Me provides significant insight into Millennial spirituality. Fast-paced. Very practical. A must read.

The Consolation of Philosophy by Ancius Boethius

An excellent 6th century study in the problem of evil and the nature of true happiness. I loved the blend of prose and verse.

Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Parallel to Ender's Game. Great story about exceptional children, group dynamics, bullying and space warfare. (also read Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow of the Giant)

A Call to Spiritual Reformation by DA Carson

Pray more, prayer more deeply, pray more biblically. Pray more like Paul. A slow, dry book, but useful.

Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carrol R.

Carrol wants to challenge Christians to think about the immigration conversations as Christians. This is the best book on immigration I've read.

Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Think Freakonomics meets Outliers. This book breaks down our desire to raise good kids and the techniques we use to pursue that goal. Eye-opening.

Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin

Larkin shares his story of addiction, loss and redemption. Along the way, he offers a roadmap for a highly structured men's discipleship groups.

Bloodlines by John Piper

Piper's book on racism fails on many fronts, but is honest and shows flashes of theological insight. Most significant because of who wrote it.

The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch

Great glimpse of the thinking, passion and theology behind the missional church movement.

In Progress ...

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy by Eric Metaxas

Paradise Lost by John Milton

That Which Should Not Be

One of my theology professors, the great Gary Deddo, once described evil this way ...

"Evil is that which should not be."

I've found myself thinking about the nature of evil after a number of conversations with friends on campus and at church.

Augustine described evil as the absence of good. Evil to him was nothing, literally no-thing. When good draws back, what remains is evil.

Echoes of this sentiment exist today.

Look on Facebook and you might find Christians left and right posting bumper sticker slogans about evil. My favorite this week: "Evil isn't the absence of good. Evil is the absence of God."

There's something attractive to this "evil is absence" philosophy. It feels like it gets God off the hook for evil. It feels easier to picture God's triumph over evil. It feels like we too can escape evil by a pursuit of the holy, by a pursuit of the good, by a pursuit of God.

And yet, an "absence" answer to evil collapses.

Evil is real in our experience.

Evil things happen to real people.
Real people become evil people.
Evil people experience evil ends.

That someone, anyone, would reject the love and glory of Jesus and choose the painful experience of hell ... that is something that should not be. That should never happen. And that, well, that makes it evil.

I wonder what would happen if we, as followers of Jesus, made a clear case to the world that we believe that evil should not be.

We have a long history of defending God by accepting evil. This practice appears in many of the classical theodicies (God defenses). We claim that God must have a purpose for allowing this evil. We look on the bright side. We offer up nods to God's sovereignty and talk about how he is glorified through evil.

And, in all this, we find ourselves saying that evil is not really all that evil. Evil becomes, in our estimation, secretly good. And so our resistance to evil flags and the watching world raises skeptical eyebrows to our claims to love holiness. And we experience the dull peace of easy rationalization.

But what would happen if we let evil be evil?