Leadership for a New Era: Lessons at 40 that I still believe in today..

Sometimes when I write something and come back to it years later, I wish I had said some things in a different way or left some things unsaid.  However, this speech is one that I gave a few years back for Public Policy students at William Jessup University (www.jessup.edu) where I serve as President.  I believed it then, and I believe it still!

Because each one of you are leaders, it is a particular joy to speak to you as I know you are multipliers; you will each have impact on the lives of many others.  This topic of leadership in a new era has great import for how you conduct your lives as leaders.   Your living and your leadership are, of course, intertwined and inextricable.  

I believe that Leadership in the New Era will be transforming when leaders exercise their influence as men and women of integrity in right relationship with Christ, with themselves and with the world around them.

Some people say that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  Past results are the best predictor of future results.  But, as Yogi Berra famously said, “The future just ain’t what it used to be.”   That matches my favorite saying about picking winning stocks; it came from Will Rogers.  He was asked how to make money in the stock market; he said, “That’s easy:  when a stock is down, buy it.  When it goes up, sell it”.  The reporter then asked, “what if it doesn’t go up?  Rogers replied, “then don’t buy it”

We are in times that appear to be a break from the past.  Tomorrows that appear to be discontinuous by degree from the yesterdays that have preceded it.  Listen to this representative quote:

“Wealth in this new regime flows directly from innovation, not optimization.  That is, wealth is not gained by perfecting the known, but by imperfectly seizing the unknown” (Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy, Wired, September 1997)

Let’s be clear:  Some things never change…and they are the same as they always have been.  I’m standing at the beginning of a whole new era for William Jessup University; simultaneous to that, I’m standing at the edge of a whole new chapter for me personally…plus I turn 50 in 3 short months, so the whole world may look different then!  

 I have had the privilege of studying and serving in various roles of leadership for over 30 years now.  I am a student of leadership.   In light of that, there are some affirmations that I can make with confidence and some that may be more of an “imperfect seizing of the unknown”…or as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, “seeing through a glass darkly”.

 Here are some observations I made at 40 that I am revising for our purposes tonight and for the road ahead that I hope will be helpful to you for leadership in this new era:

1)   Focus produces energy and excellence.  Life does not come focused.  You do the work and make it focus.  What will I focus on?

  Focus:  Deciding what you must be great at and being ruthless about accomplishing it…this “one” thing I do

This is not “zero based budgeting”….but this is TBA (is not “to be arranged” in the course schedule) it means  transformation based accounting.  Are lives being changed?  Are people coming to know Christ and becoming more like Him?  Is your church or agency fulfilling its unique, “thumbprint” vision ?

  Jim Collins, From Good to Great, …hedgehog, “what are you best in the world at, most passionate about, and what drives your economic engine”….for a church, it has to be changed lives, fulfilling the Great Commission. 

Dr. Tim Elmore…..every leaders creates an atmosphere of Destiny, a sense of Family, and a Militant Spirit

  Leaders ask questions….AND  take responsibility for answers.  They ask what needs to be done?  What can I do?  How will it happen?

2)   Character counts.  It just does, over the long haul.  You have to look at yourself in the mirror every morning.  I want to look at a man of integrity.

Every leadership study I have ever read says that integrity is the number one characteristic of effective leadership. Character is more important than smarts, looks, or power.  Lasting leadership is about character.

3)   Get your priorities clear and live them out.  This is a personal and organizational truth.  Arrange your life around your God given priorities; your family, your friends, your purpose in life.

Christopher Robin, in Winnie the Pooh, gives my favorite definition of organization:  “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”  Scripture tells us that God is a God of decency and order.

Leaders traffic in hope.  We have to help people see reality, confront the brutal facts, become more strategic, increase our distinctiveness, focus on mission and values, act courageously AND with compassion.  Why did you, your business, your school, your family, your life get given to you?  Arrange your life around your God-given priorities.

4)   Life’s best lessons are learned deeply.  Often those lessons come with pain.  Seeking a pain free life means you may miss those lessons.  You can’t “hurry-up” and get spiritual in the midst of a crisis.  You have to learn the lessons well.  

Those who love me best in life have walked with me through life’s deepest waters.  Don’t hydroplane in life.  Love deeply.  Think deeply.  Act deeply.

5)   Jesus never leaves you but He will let you disobey Him.  When you do, you will face the consequences.  But, His grace is never ending and an amazing source of healing.

Colossians 2:6-7 definition of discipleship:  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness

6)   The basics of integrity, relationships and stewardship get tested over and over again.  So guard your heart!

  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

When James A. Garfield, who afterwards became President of the United States, was president of Hiram College, in Ohio, a man brought his son for entrance as student, for whom he desired a shorter course than the regular one.  “The boy will never take all that in,” the father said.  “He wants to get through by a shorter route.  Can you arrange for it?”

“Oh yes,” replied the president of Hiram College.  “I can arrange for it.  Your son can take the shorter course.  It all depends on what you want to make of him.  When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years; but when He wants to make a squash, He requires only two months.” – Young Christian Worker.

  You are called to be servant leaders in this new era.  Lead with boldness…HOLY boldness.  And do so as ambassadors of the One who gave up His place for His purpose. 

On another occasion “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45) 

Leadership in the New Era will be transforming when leaders exercise their influence as men and women of integrity in right relationship with Christ, with themselves and with the world around them.

Why Your Church (Family, Organization) Needs Education AND Training

 I am a college president.  In some ways, college ruined me.  In other ways, it made me better and deeper.  Now, as I enter into my 5th decade of formal leadership roles, I am concerned for what I often see missing in my own life, the lives of people I’ve led, pastored, and parented.  I’m speaking about the seeming conflict between education and training.  

Education, at its most basic form, is equipping learners with knowledge and tools to help them see and understand the world most broadly.   Training, at its most basic form, is about mastery and being able to learn, grasp, and become proficient at reproducing a skill in a narrow sense.  And therein lies the seeming and apparent conflict.  I have to confess that at times my education caused me to be broad and unfocused.  I had great training when I was younger and at times my education caused me to reject the narrowness of my training.  Today, in our diffused and unfocused culture where I lead a complex Christ centered university, I wish that I had been able to better navigate the tensions between my education and training.

            Education broadens, deepens, grows, enlarges, and removes barriers to understanding in a world of diversity of perspectives and worldviews.  Training develops, deepens, sharpens, refines, equips, and has reproductive capacity built in to its disciplines.  I’ve been reflecting on grace and truth a lot lately.  In some ways, I think Education is like grace and Training is like truth.  Which is better?  In this brief article, I’m going to make a specific argument about spiritual life.  But, I think the applications are for parenting, organizational leadership, and cultural influence.  Join me in the journey and let’s figure out how education and training work spiritually and then you can apply it in other realms as well.   I’m still figuring it out, but hoping these reflections will encourage you in your leadership and influence journey.

The Miracle of “And”

            I believe in the “miracle of and”.  Many years ago, as I was in the process of educational endeavors, I learned about the “dichotomization fallacy”.  That is the tendency we have in human experience to think “either/or”, and to believe that any issue we are facing has a singular answer in the form of an “x or y”.   The truth is often more likely “both/and”.  Rarely is there a single “silver bullet” to what ails our family, organization, church, or ministry.  So, I’ve learned to look for multiple factors that may be contributing to the overall culture or blockage that is preventing success rather than assuming a singular point of blockage.  The seeming conflict between education and training is one such area where I have come to believe that the “miracle of and” is imperative.

            When pastors are surveyed about whether they are making reproducing disciples in their ministry, a shockingly high percentage of 99% say NO!    This is a crisis of epidemic proportions in the American Church and simply must be addressed in prayer, repentance, and Jesus honoring leadership for the future health of the people of God and our witness in the community. In ministry contexts, I think that discipleship (helping a learner become a follower become a teacher/trainer) is BOTH education AND training.  When we are growing people from infancy to adulthood, there is both a content aspect to our faith and a conduct dimension to our faith.   Beliefs and Behaviors are intertwined, organically related, and should automatically and robustly result from great spiritual environments.  Healthy churches and leaders want to see both evidenced in the lives of those who come into relationship with Christ.  But, I think we have sadly seen the separation of content and conduct and therefore often produce followers of Christ who are either full of grace with very little truth foundation in their lives, or followers of Jesus who have strong truth content to their faith, but live with very little grace.  Healthy followers of Jesus are full of grace and truth, as He was and is (John 1:14).  

Education in Spiritual Formation

            Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through the spiritual transformation of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).  Obviously, the Holy Spirit is the only one who produces genuine growth for a young man or woman, but the “seedbed” of that growth is an increasing understanding and application of God’s Word into their thinking and living.  Churches across America and the world are grappling with how to teach, transmit, and reproduce the content aspect of our faith.  It seems clear, upon reflection of the church in the US these past several decades, that we simply must have increasingly systematic, reflective, and relationally mentored truth streams in our churches. 

 I’m very sure that there is no “silver bullet” in the form of a class/seminar/workbook process for every new believer in Jesus.  But, I am equally sure that baby Christians do not become mature and healthy reproducing disciples of Jesus without being discipled in relationship and learning that comes from “fathers and mothers” in the faith.  Sadly, too few churches are arranged around the principles of fathering and mothering that we know produce strong spiritual sons and daughters.

Training in Spiritual Formation

            Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through continual surrender of our will to His will (Colossians 2:6-7).  Most parents know Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”.  Study of that text reveals that one of the meanings of the word “train” is to “make narrow”.  Discipleship is about training in that we are helping men and women to become more and more like Christ in the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live.  The Apostle John is clear that if we know Him (Jesus), then we “must walk as Jesus did” (I John 2:3-6).

            Discipleship training is the aspect of spiritual formation where we cultivate surrender of our will to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and learn to follow God with our mind and with our heart, and with our feet.  In my experience, this never happens until we are in relationship with others where we allow genuine and grace filled accountability; in essence, that we allow other people to speak truth into our lives.   So much of our modern experience of Christianity is full of anonymity, crowds, and lack of any real accountability.  I have led churches that were structured to take people from anonymity to intimacy and we had some really awesome experiences with success.  My burden is that I think far too many get accustomed to and remain at the point of anonymity and therefore are never trained in righteousness, but believe they are “Christian” because they have been exposed to the environment of the church without an encounter with God.

            Using retail terms, I’m very concerned that we have sacrificed much of the American church to a very “low barrier to entry” and “low cost” orientation.  The gospel, as seen in the pages of the NT, clearly is a “high price” strategy with a “low barrier to entry” (there is that “both/and reality again!).  As church (and family and organization) leaders, we simply must find the pathway to lead our people into deeper encounters with Jesus that produce a deeper desire to follow Him on the “narrow” path (Matthew 7:13-14)

The End Result

My prayer is that Christ is shaped into our hearts and we progressively learn to surrender to His Spirit as we learn to speak the truth to one another and grow up to maturity as disciples of Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-32).  When we think like and act like Jesus as the result of education and training that comes from organic and healthy relationships, we will reproduce health in the lives of those we are able to impact for the sake of His kingdom.

Your church, your family, and your organization need fantastic education and fantastic training. Educating and deepening the people in your life by teaching them how to think well, believe well, discern between truth and error, and understand worldview will hold them in good stead for the course of their lives.  Training and equipping the people in your life by helping them to master skills and life application content will enable them to reproduce life and health in others.   I pray that you experience the “miracle of and” in your church, your family, or your organization so that those you love and lead will be BOTH educated and trained towards greater fruitfulness and reproductive health.

What Others Are Saying About the Right Choice

As you know, I recently released a book, The Right Choice (Amazon link here:  https://www.amazon.com/Right-Choice-Choosing-College-Matters/dp/0988430681).  

I thought you might want to know What Others are Saying…these are wonderful folks and I am honored to have received their endorsement.  Hope their encouragement encourages you as well.  If you want to purchase more than 10 copies of the book for your church or ministry, please contact me directly.

What others are saying:  

Honest. Practical. Immediately useful. The Right Choice is my choice for inspiring my college-bound triplet teenage grandchildren to think deeper and wider about their college options. The “Decision Matrix” (Dreams, Desires, Details) is brilliant! 

John Pearson, Board Governance & Management Consultant, John Pearson Associates, Inc.

Given his 40 years of pastoral experience, and almost a decade of serving as a Christian College president, John Jackson is the kind of man that any soon-to-be-college-attendee would greatly benefit from knowing. In his new book, The Right Choice, John distills his wealth of experience into practical knowledge and fatherly wisdom that will bring great peace to anyone who is in the process of making the big decision of where to gain their college education. In these pages, which read like a conversation with a trusted mentor, John will guide you through actionable steps to make this choice, and any future life decisions, with confidence, clarity and courage!

Kris Vallotton, Leader, Bethel Church, Redding, CA, Co-Founder of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Author of twelve books, including The Supernatural Ways of Royalty, Heavy Rain and Poverty, Riches and Wealth

John Jackson understands leadership and he understands higher education, he understands the church and he understands the pulse of the rising generation. If you are a parent of a high school student who is grappling with what kind of college to attend, or you ARE that student, you will have a lot to gain by adding THE RIGHT CHOICE to your must reads.

Barry H. Corey, President of Biola University and author of Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue

John Jackson is a gift—in his words, insights, teachings, and strategies. This book will help  you set yourself or your child for next level success in life.

Margaret Feinberg, author of Taste and See

The importance of the right college education cannot be understated. As many of us have experienced, choosing a college can be a life-changing choice and John’s insightful book will certainly help you make wise and informed choices when it comes to the best possible college education. His decision matrix is memorable and easy to follow and his advice is practical and essential for those navigating the overwhelming details of a good college experience and outcome.

Ed Stetzer, Wheaton College

“This book is full of wisdom and practical advice for anyone facing tough decisions. I am grateful for Dr. Jackson sharing these valuable lessons in a conversational way. This book is like speaking with a trusted friend.”

Brady Boyd, New Life Church, Colorado Springs Author of “Remarkable”

“I’m astonished at the lack of wisdom available to help students make one of the 5 most important decisions of their lives. John Jackson has done future generations a huge favor with this very helpful book written by one whose whole life is devoted to guiding and building into college students.”

Gene Appel, Senior Pastor.  Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, CA

I live with a philosophy that I need to surround myself with wise counsel. I regularly seek out wisdom and insight from those who know more than me and have more experience than me. There are many times where I feel overwhelmed and do not know what to do. I want to make the right choice, but I am not sure what that is. In those times, I seek out those valued voices of counsel. I am a father of three children and deciding on which college to attend is a major life decision we have made and will make again. Whether you are a student or a parent, that life decision can be overwhelming and confusing. I am so grateful that Dr. John Jackson has written The Right Choice to help others navigate that season with wisdom and insight. Dr. Jackson has taken the time to write this book in order to come alongside you, like a friend and mentor, with wisdom and insight, to help you make a choice that will impact the lives of those you love the most. 

Banning Liebscher, Jesus Culture Founder and Pastor

What about college? President John Jackson gives any student a framework for deciding if college is a good choice and if so what college might be the right one. He does so clearly, cutting through what is not necessary to what matters. As a leading Christian educational leader and entrepreneur, Jackson sees both the changes happening in college education and the important values that have endured and will endure. This book is an excellent guide to a big decision that must be made in confusing times!

John Mark N Reynolds PhD, President, The Saint Constantine School

Senior Fellow in the Humanities, The King’s College

John Jackson has written a helpful tool for working through the myriad of complex issues that surround choosing a path and place of higher education. If you’re looking for help in selecting the college that’s right for you (or know someone who is), this book will provide invaluable help.

Larry Osborne, Pastor & Author, North Coast Church

“I did not go to college. But three of our kids have completed their college education, and we just sent our fourth off to his freshman year. This is a book I wished I’d had in my hands 8 years ago when we started down this path. So many families are going to benefit from Dr. Jackson’s wisdom.”

Tim Stevens, Vice President of Consulting, Vanderbloemen

 As it pertains to our God ordained destiny; the right decisions will facilitate, advance, and accelerate while the wrong choices can easily obstruct, hinder and impede. The Right Choice equips the student committed to doing God’s will with the necessary tools not only as it pertains to selecting the “right” school but also in living the “right” life; must read, must do! 

Samuel Rodriguez, New Season Lead Pastor, NHCLC President, Author of “You Are Next!”, Executive Producer “Breakthrough” The Movie 

“For any complicated journey a map is indispensable…a guide for the way forward that doesn’t tell you there is only one way to arrive at your destination. For parents and kids considering college, this is that book. I wish John had written this fifteen years ago. Drawing us to the intersection of dreams, desires and details, John then moves to consideration of public, private and faith-based college options. Helpful beyond words.”

Nancy Ortberg, CEO of Transforming the Bay with Christ

I’ll never forget my son Ben doing something that had never been done to me as the pastor of a church – he interrupted my staff meeting & handed me his acceptance letter to NYU in Manhattan!  We both embraced as he wept for joy and I wept for how!  It was the right decision, the right school & it has paid huge dividends.  This book addresses issues that must be faced when deciding on a college. Dr Jackson has written an excellent book that every parent and prospective college student should read. 

Bob Roberts, Founder NorthWood Church / Glocal.net

The RIGHT CHOICE, by John Jackson, is a superb resource to provide direction for students, parents, and others in the important decision related to the selection of a college. Based on his years of leadership in higher education, Jackson displays great wisdom and insight in helping his readers walk through the various options in what is often a challenging and complex process for more than a few. I am delighted to heartily recommend this fine book with confidence that it will be the “right choice” to provide guidance for many along the way. 

David S. Dockery, Chancellor, Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 

Dr. John Jackson has provided a helpful tool in a manageable package. Use his wisdom to help you mine through the options to make the right college choice for you.”

Dr. Robert E. Logan, Adjunct DMin Professor  at Fuller Seminary, author of The Leadership Difference, The Discipleship Difference, and The Church Planting Journey

The Proverbs say that wisdom is more valuable than silver. This book is gold. As a guy who’s helped raise three young men and who gets to teach at places such as USC, UCI, Naval Postgraduate School and Pepperdine, I can attest to the potency of these pages. I sorely wish I had this book when I was prepping myself and our sons. 

Alan E Nelson, EdD – Author of The Five-Star Boss and The Secret of People

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