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Philip Nation

  • Communication Skills

    An area often highlighted in the literature regarding leadership is the ability to communicate goals to the organization. For a leader to lead, communication must take place in some form for members of the organization to know what action must come next, or what knowledge needs to be learned. Leo Hindery Jr. works in the fields of television and print media. Having served as an executive in numerous media companies, including serving as the chief executive officer for AT & T Broadband, Hindery has a unique position to speak about communication. He stated, “A leader cannot lead without being able to articulate his vision. This means having the ability first to think straight and then to express thoughts and ideas clearly and directly. And a leader must give brain and heart equal access to his tongue.”[1] Hindery’s position is that the leader must be able to communicate both passion and information. Certainly, sufficient literary weight exists behind this idea.

    John Maxwell has written dozens of books and articles on the issue of leadership. In his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he teaches that communication by a leader must include both information and inspiration. His thesis is that the “non-connecting” leaders only transfer information around the organization. On the other hand, leaders that connect with the organization at a deep level are able to move people to action through right information and encouragement. He has constructed an “Inspiration Equation,” which aligns knowing, seeing, and feeling so that followers will move forward with the leader. He wrote,

    Greek philosopher Aristotle understood this and commented on it in The Rhetoric. In the context of persuasion, he identified the most important element as pathos, the communicators’ ability to connect with the feelings, desires, wishes, fears, and passions of their listeners. It’s a way of giving people reassurance, of letting them know they can trust you, of telling them they should listen to you.[2]

    The ancient philosopher obviously believed in the power of communication in that he wrote an entire work on the idea of rhetoric. However, as Maxwell writes, the content and ability to communicate well is key.

    Malcolm Gladwell, writer for the New Yorker, has authored several best-selling books about the nature of change and leadership in organizations, including Blink[3] and Outliers.[4] In his book The Tipping Point, he discusses what must take place for a significant cultural or organizational movement to occur. Throughout the book, he discusses the three key factors of a tipping point, and one of them is the “Stickiness Factor.” He wrote, “The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.”[5] By using television shows for children, such as Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, Gladwell established the need for communicators to distinguish between the details that engage and those that distract. Gladwell leans into his knowledge of advertising and shows how new characters, seemingly awkward pauses, and repeating questions all add to the stickiness of a message.

    Gladwell wrote, “We all want to believe that the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas we present.”[6] Instead, he concluded that the real need of a communicator is to adjust the form of communication that will fit the circumstances. Leaders must become masters at knowing what form will connect with their audiences or followers. For the makers of children’s television programming, the balance between repeating elements of a story and the introduction of new characters must be found in order simultaneously to keep their audience and provide educational value to the show. In business, little difference exists in that a manager must find the ways to best communicate in their environment.

    In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin makes the case that every member of an organization can be indispensable and also can lead in some capacity. In order to do so, a person must engage in the “culture of connection,” because one cannot succeed in isolation. He wrote, “If you can’t sell your ideas, your ideas go nowhere. And if you lie about your ideas, we will know and we’ll reject them. The Internet amplifies both of these traits. The new media rewards ideas that resonate. It helps them spread. If your work persuades, you prosper. And the new media punishes those who seek to mislead.”[7] Once again, the ideas of John Maxwell seem to return into the process that a leader must both inspire and inform. Godin’s caution is that it be done with absolute honesty in order to engender loyalty for the leaders, salesman, or manager.

    The communication acumen required for serious leadership is evident in that great leaders are generally known as effective communicators. The literary sources highlighted are but a small sampling of a significant theme that runs throughout much of the written work regarding leadership.

    Within the church, communication is likewise a fundamental part of leadership. In a business, in politics, and other pursuits, the leader often fills the role of the ultimate authority for the work. Not so with the church. Or, perhaps I should say, it should not be so with the church. Rather, leaders in the church are operating under the authority of Christ, who is the Head of the church. So, leaders are required to communicate His message while Jesus is not physically present with us. To that end, leaders in the church should be dutiful in sharpening their communication skills.

    [1] Dormann, Letters from Leaders, 124–25.

    [2] John Maxwell, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010), 201–02.

    [3] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown, and Co., 2005).

    [4] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008).

    [5] Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Boston, Mass.: Back Bay Books, 2002), 25.

    [6] Ibid., 131.

    [7] Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York, N.Y.: Portfolio, 2010), 210.

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • Sent to Serve

    The book God Who Sends continues to help me as I think about the mission in which the church participates. God’s mission existed prior to the church, as we can see when reading the whole of the Old Testament, and has been assigned as the primary work of the church, as seen in reading the whole of the New Testament. Dubose’s book is one that I highly recommend you read and one that I plan to read again this year. As the New Year has begun, I thought it appropriate to share this passage from the chapter “Ministry: Sent to Serve” in order to keep our minds focused on the task at hand.


    There is a basic twofold content to mission in the final New Testament sense: evangelism and service. As evangelism is essentially “telling,” so service is essentially “doing.” Both have their basis in “being,” as the nature of Christian existence moves from an inward compulsion to an outward expression of word and work. This fundamental truth has its origin in the heart of God. W. O. Carver well states that the ultimate origin of mission is in the heart of God.1 Out of the benevolent and redemptive nature of the God who sends comes his mission to mankind in word and deed. Jesus is the classic model. He expressed his self-identity in terms of his life’s mission. His very existence is from the Father who sent him, and he expressed the meaning of that existence in terms of the words and work which the Father had sent him to do. Receiving our mission from the mission of Christ, we are sent both to tell and to do. As evangelism is the telling of the good news, so it is witness to the work of God in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Likewise as service or ministry is the doing of good deeds reflective of God’s redemptive nature within us, so it is witness to that benevolent and redemptive nature of God.

    1. William Owen Carver. Missions in the Plan of the Ages (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1952), p. 12,13.

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • 7 Ways for Teaching Leadership

    I believe in the old saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you don’t believe it, then I would invite you to intentionally lead poorly for a season and then report to the rest of us what happens. Now, yes, for my theologically-minded friends, I know that everything really rises and falls on God’s providence, justice, and grace. Yes, I will give you that. So, with that as the foundation, we can then move on to all understand the power of leadership. And, the necessity of it.

    Without leadership, what will the church look like? Not the church. Leadership is inherent to God’s intention for the church. Leadership is included in the Romans 12 list of spiritual gifts. We are told in Ephesians 4:11 of five different roles of leaders within the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul taught about the two positions of elder and deacon for the body of Christ; one as a servant leader and one as a lead servant. (I will write about that distinction later.)

    At what I see currently, we need more leaders. Or we need to better train the leaders we already have in our churches. Have no doubt about it: there are leaders in your church. They do not have titles, but they lead. They may not be on the board or a committee, but they have influence. The only issue is whether or not we train them well. Let me give you a few ideas about teaching leadership.

    1. Put it in the priorities. If you do not have new leaders stepping into responsibilities, it is likely because they do not know how. You teach your way out of every problem. The lack of leaders can be solved in two ways: prioritizing the need in verbal communication and through relational discipleship. So make it a part of who you are.

    2. Fight consumerism. The movement out of consumerism requires an application of the truth. We are to be leaders in the culture and not merely consumers within the religious establishment. Leadership begins as a new perspective before it is a new behavior. You must move people from consumption to production.

    3. Actually teach. Just as “living like Jesus” alone is not evangelism, “living for the kingdom” alone is not discipleship. You must put together a plan to communicate the principles and work of leadership. So read the entire Bible, buy good books, talk to veteran leaders, and put together a plan to talk about it. Some of the books I would suggest include:

    • Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders
    • The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
    • Basic Christian Leadership by John Stott
    • The Disciple Making Pastor by Bill Hull
    • Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon
    • Pastoral Care by St. Gregory the Great
    • Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby

    In teaching, leaders must speak the truth to followers in order to affect change. Be clear about the current environment, needs, and how involvement as a leader can change things.

    5. Train leaders to also be theologians. In leadership, the truth precedes method. Otherwise, we thoughtlessly stumble into a way to do church. To put new leaders on a missional pathway, they must be able to contend for the truth before they know how to be counter-cultural with their lives. Don’t be afraid to tackle the hard subjects and use large words. As my friend Ed Stetzer says, “If people can learn how to order stuff at Starbucks, then they can learn theological language.”

    6. Understand the relationships of major disciplines. There is a relationship of theology, missiology, and ecclesiology that must be observed and understood. Currently, you can stir up a great debate among scholars if you ask which of these comes first. Normally, theology and missiology compete for the title. It is not likely the territory that you want to wade into early on with your blossoming leaders. Instead, help them to understand the relationship between the three arenas and how they are all necessary in the life of the church.

    7. Make a plan. Just remember that it does not have to be a perfect plan before you start. I am reminded of a man who once told Dwight Moody that he did not like the way he did evangelism. Moody replied, “Well, sir, I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don’t do it.” For now, just get going. Work hard at having a great plan so get a head start on that great plan by training some leaders for the work right now.

  • 3 Small Group Myths

    Small groups are an essential part of church life. It goes by a multitude of names–Life Groups, home groups, Sunday school, Bible fellowships, and the list goes on. When a ministry is so important, for some reason, myths begin to swirl around it. Here are three of the myths about small groups.

    1. Small groups are just for fellowship. Small groups must be an environment where people grow closer, but not just for the sake of friendship. As believers, our fellowship deepens when it is centered on the truth. Fellowship is one of the functions of the church, but it is not the ultimate reason for small groups. Transformation is. Small groups draw people together with a higher purpose than just hanging out in the name of Jesus. We want to draw people around His Word so they can be fed and then transformed by it.

    2. People in small groups should stay together indefinitely. In other words, breaking up a group is bad. The argument is made that “our healthy small group should not be separated.” But healthy group members will want to share with others what’s occurred in their lives. Conversely, it is also a myth that leaders just want to split every group for an underhanded reason: control, spitefulness, power-grabbing. In reality, we all know that healthy things grow and then multiply. As leaders, we also know that when things don’t grow, then they begin to drain energy from other parts of the body. Small groups are the same. Now, this is not to say that a small group that does not multiply is moldy, rotten, or cancerous. But it can be reveal an inward-facing spirit that runs counter to the mission of God. By engendering a spirit of multiplication, small groups will eventually reach more people for Christ and help more people mature in Christ.

    3. Anyone can lead a small group. I want to tread carefully in this one because it is so close to true. If the statement read, “Anyone can learn to lead a small group,” then we’ve got it. But, as it stands, it is a bit naïve. It comes back to purpose. If you buy into myth #1, then anyone can lead a small group. Just be there to host everyone for a good time and a quasi-spiritual conversation. But if you want to lead people toward transformation, then as leaders, we need to produce leaders. Rather than just throw people into the situation of handling whatever comes up on their own, teach/train/prepare them to be a great small group leader.

    If you would like to see more about the strength of small groups (no matter what you call them), I suggest that you check out two new resources. First, Transformational Groups by my friends Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer. Using data from the largest survey of pastors and laypersons ever done on the condition of groups in the church, they define a simple process to lead your groups from where they are to where God wants them to be. Second, take a look at the new site Groups Matter. It will help you dig deeper into how groups can be healthier and you can see how churches across the world are committing to staring 100,000 new groups this year. Fun stuff!

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • About Philip Nation

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as teaching pastor for the The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, Tennessee.

    His works include Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. He is also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, he has written the  small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.