Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

Finishing Strong

           For many years I have been an avid reader of Dan Reiland’s articles, “The Pastor’s Coach.” Just the title brings back images of my youth when I learned so much about sports skills, strategies, and life, from some great coaches that I had growing up. Reiland always has something to say that I need to hear!

           Reiland recently wrote an article that combined two of my loves into one article, music and ministry. He wrote about his experience at a recent concert featuring Crosby, Stills & Nash more than 40 years after their appearance at Woodstock (in 1969!). His reflections on finishing strong really spoke to me. I hope they will speak to you. Here are Reiland’s comments in full:

“40 Years Later”
by Dan Reiland

They played before an audience for only the second time in 1969, to a crowd of 500,000. Their first song was “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” It was at the Woodstock (Music) Festival near White Lake, New York. This event was held on Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm! Do you know the group? Crosby, Stills and Nash.

My wife Patti and I recently saw CSN at the Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia. Chastain is a great outdoor “rain or shine” venue with a cool tradition of picnicking before and during the concert. The food varies from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to the finest of wine and cheese over a linen tablecloth, and everything between. The music varies just as much as the food, with talent from James Taylor to the Dobbie Brothers to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

It rained that night, and no one cared. The rain only lasted about 15 minutes and helped to cool things off from what could have been another sweltering summer night in Georgia. They opened with a great acoustic set that showed-off their famous harmonies. That set the stage well for the second set where they kicked in with some of their classic rock numbers.

One thing that couldn’t help but be noticed was the multi-generational crowd. All ages from all backgrounds were there singing every word to every song! Patti and I were part of a group of six. Four were twenty-somethings, and well, let’s just say we are just a bit older!

It was a wonderful night and I couldn’t help but notice a few things that can translate to good questions about leadership.

• Who are your friends?

It’s amazing to consider that David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash have been friends for over 40 years. They’ve had their ups and downs and a few rough patches, but who hasn’t? We live in a day and age when marriage vows are optional, and roughly 50% don’t make it. So when it comes to the commitment of friendship, it is completely up for grabs.

It hasn’t been an easy road. They’ve had to negotiate everything from technical business contracts with all the minutia of royalties, to the artistic side of what notes are in what songs and who sings what part! Most marriages couldn’t survive that!

Pastors move. That’s just part of the calling of ministry, and that can be rough on friendships. Some move often and a few enjoy long tenures. Whether you are long term or short term in your church, it’s critical that you know who your true long term friends are. One of my mentors, Keith Drury, now a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University taught that by 40 years of age, we ought to know who our life-long friends are. I think he’s right.

Some pastors don’t believe it’s wise to have close friends within the church they serve, and others wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe the latter. I have deep and meaningful relationships from the churches I’ve served. The risk is greater when your close friends are in the church, but the potential reward is even greater.

I’ve also been blessed to have established great friendships during the years I served as a church consultant and leadership development coach with John Maxwell and INJOY. Still today there are many pastors who pray for me and I pray for them. We talk church, swap ideas and share some of the rough times together too. If it sounds like I’ve been blessed with friendships, I have. But I will tell you that friendships, especially the meaningful ones that last, don’t happen by themselves. They require intentional effort. I don’t mean mechanical networking. I mean taking the time to keep in touch on a personal level, and staying involved even when it’s not convenient. Genuinely caring about people always makes a difference.

• Are you doing what you love?

Some late night comedians and others like to take shots at old rockers like CSN. The last one I heard said: “Yeah, I saw them last week and they just keep coming back older, fatter and balder!” OK, it’s a little true. Crosby, Stills and Nash are grandfathers! But you just have to watch them play. They absolutely love what they do, and they are good at it! All of us thoroughly enjoyed the concert. It was like the three of them were old friends of ours and we all enjoyed the evening together.

CSN make jokes about themselves being able to remember the words and their hands not being as fast as they once were for those hot licks on lead guitar. But who cares?! Hey, if you and I can lead as well as they can sing and play when we are their age, we’ll be doing great. Let me be blunt. They can still draw thousands of people to a concert! Isn’t that a little like what you are trying to do? You want to draw people to church, and for something much greater than a music concert. The point is that it’s so important to love what you do. I believe that has everything to do with how long you are effective as a pastoral leader. When you stop loving church work, you are done!

So do you still love what you do? Church work can be rough. You serve people who think you work one day a week and have no idea you work 60 or more hours every week! The same people who fuss at you to take a day off, fuss at you if you try to take a day off on the day they want you for something. Living out those tensions isn’t easy, especially in smaller churches. You’ve got to love what you do to stay in the game.

You must also know where you are going to love what you do. I don’t think I’ve ever met a leader who is spinning their wheels without direction who loves what they do. On the other hand, I know many leaders in difficult and stressful situations who absolutely love what they do because they know where they want to go. It makes such a big difference. There are moments when you may not love what you do, but you can always be doing what you love.

• Are you playing new music?

I met Crosby, Stills, and Nash when they played at a cool downtown venue in San Diego. That was a number of years ago and they were more engaged in writing and playing new songs. I could tell they loved playing the new stuff even though the crowd wanted to hear their favored classics.

The new stuff keeps any band energized and in the game. When you write new stuff, you must write from the heart and write what you feel, but you must also write what record publishers will get behind and sell! You must write what radio stations will play. This kind of stress keeps you sharp, and good and in the game.

The best of the best keep writing new songs. I’m a fan of Paul McCartney. He’s 67 and still writing and singing new songs. He too was recently in Atlanta and played to an outdoor crowd of over 40,000 people. Even though all the fans wanted to hear the vintage Beatle songs, I believe the new stuff is what keeps McCartney going.

So how about you as a leader? Are you only playing the same old songs you’ve always played? The people may love some of them, but if you don’t dig in and write some new stuff, the crowds will start to dwindle. You must grow as a leader, listen to new ideas, and learn new ways of doing things. You may think that will drain you of your energy, but in fact, it will energize you.

I have some of my most fun learning from our twenty-somethings on staff. If you think about it, one of the reasons they are so alive and lead well is that all their “songs” are new. Life and leadership is all fresh for them! Keep pressing forward. Keep learning, keep thinking, and may your leadership play out like a new song for the people you lead!

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