learning through challenges

I am sure every person, in one way or another can relate to this illustration…

Every one of us faces challenges. Some are big and some are small. Challenges that I face, might not be as difficult for you to navigate. Setbacks you encounter might derail you, where with another person, they are more easily managed. Some of us are magnificently equipped to handle a variety of challenges while others of us have to continually seek out help and leverage what resources, skills or talents we currently possess.

The way in which we respond to the challenges we are faced with in life speak powerfully about our character and the values of our heart.

And we could easily turn to a quick fix, or perhaps a quick search…

One could read all the “how to” books and articles and still not experience that change of the heart and mind that is required of someone to endure the challenges of…school or work, parenthood, anger or fear, floods and earthquakes, annoying neighbors, obnoxious friends, a lack of employment and financiers, sickness, disease, or even death. You name the challenge and it will always require perseverance on our part.

The reality we probably have to embrace is that the way in which the world around us responds to challenges, well it might not be our best model to pursue.

In fact, I believe there is a better model…

Jesus, and only Jesus should be our example that we look to as we face challenges. And, God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment

And perhaps you do. Perhaps you cry out to Him in prayer. Perhaps you turn to the Word of God for direction and hope. Perhaps when faced with a challenge you have a whole network of physical and emotional support that you can mobilize.

But when you’ve done this, when you’ve grieved, confessed, prayed and sought help, what have you learned as a result? What has God taught you about His character and your identity being rooted in Him, regardless of the challenge and its outcome?

Often we see our challenges as hurdles or road blocks preventing us from living, from loving and from doing all that God has placed within our reach. As we face challenges we need to build into our spiritual problem solving methodology the ability to stop and ask the right question.

Jesus had twelve disciples who followed Him and learned from what He had to say. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘learner’. It is a passion of mine to be a Disciple of Christ who makes Disciples for Christ who can go and make Disciples of Christ. That means that we should be very focused on learning how to listen to God and to seek to learn what He’s telling us in every experience, in every challenge.

To help us with this, you can use a tool called the “Learning Circle.” I have been using this in my journey with the Lord and it has profoundly impacted my life.

The “Learning Circle” helps us, especially in challenging time and during set-backs or loss, it helps us during those experiences and challenges to identify when God is speaking to us through a “kairos moment” – a moment in which God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment.

We all face challenges and we all make mistakes. We can either learn from them, or ignore them and watch them happen again and again. Using the “Learning Circle” has helped me move from observation to action.
learningcircleI have learned that most effective way to start applying the “Learning Circle” to our lives is to learn it from somebody else. I believe in this tool and I’d love to partner with you in apply it to your life. But for now, the next time you have a kairos moment, why not share it with somebody you trust. Ask them, “can you help me take this around the circle?”

To help you more now, here is a simple outline of each step of the circle…

FIRST – OBSERVE: To change our lives, we need to observe where we are. This means taking note of our reactions, emotions and thoughts.

SECONDLY – REFLECT: This means asking ourselves why we reacted or felt the way we did. If a real change is to take place, we must be honest with our answers. 

THIRD – DISCUSS: Through discussion, and by sharing our thoughts with a group of trusted friends, we begin to discover more clearly what God is doing in our life. It can be hard to share your thoughts and struggles with someone else but it will help you grow and change the way God wants you to. 

FOURTH – PLAN: After reflecting and discussing, the next step is to plan. This always involves considering the Kingdom of God first. Pray, discuss, and consider the best move or action that will glorify God. 

FIFTH – ACCOUNTABILITY: If your plan is going to happen, there needs to be at least one person holding you accountable. Ask someone to pray with you and keep them up to date with how you’re going. And pick a person who is the “real-deal” as well – someone who won’t sugarcoat their responses but who care enough about your growth and success that they will be honest.  

AND SIXTH – ACTION: Once a plan has been established and shared, the next step to take should be is to act on it. Real faith is courageous. Real faith trusts in God and what He has said. Real faith always surfaces as action. Thoughts and intentions that remain within the mind and are not acted upon, however fruitful, is not faith.

You can learn more – and I would HIGHLY encourage you do just that – you can learn more about the “Learning Circle” by connecting with me directly, or by reading “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, or by visiting the 3DM website directly. The “Learning Circle” image is from a shared resource.

When we face challenges we can learn from them and we can look to Jesus with complete confidence that He wants us to learn and grow through all of life’s challenges.

God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment. How will you respond? And He is faithful, He will not waste any of the pain we face. He is with us in every season, and through every experience, looking for us to become more like Him and experience more of His peace.

Leadership Insights from Some Greats

Perhaps you’ve heard of him before, John Maxwell, a huge hitter in the leadership world. He is an author, speaker, and he has served as a pastor and as a pastor within the movement I am part of, the Wesleyan Church. Some of his books include: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow. His books have sold millions of copies and some have made it on the “New York Times Best-Seller List” as well.

I’ve read a few of his books and I have taken classes developed around his writings and other resources he provides. The man is out of this world. And, he drives me nuts, makes me angry and yet inspires me and challenges me to do more with myself. Not many people live in that kind of extreme, in that kind of tension. He does. Maxwell is one of a kind.

And even though I am not his biggest fan, I have been impacted by him. He has poured into other pastors within my specific area and they in turn, have poured into me. The things they learned from him, they shared with me and I have used many of tools to help encourage and guide those that I lead. Perhaps this is why Maxwell has such a dynamic presence because his leadership and values are so far reaching.

Recently I attended a national event for our movement of churches, called “The Gathering” in Orlando, Florida. It was such a special time to gather with several thousand pastors and leaders from our denomination – to be refreshed, encouraged and challenged both personally and in ministry. One of the seminars that I attended was hosted by another prolific church leader in our movement, Kevin Myers. He too had been mentored and coached by John Maxwell and he lead Maxwell into a time of sharing key insights regarding leadership.

Here is what I walked away after a few moments:

Wooden asked himself everyday: “How can I make my team better?”

A leader makes those around him better. We cannot lead by assumption, for this is the wrong way to lead others. Let those you lead discern what went wrong, what needs to happen and then lead them from that place, no longer assuming but knowing where they are so you can lead them to the next level. Ask good questions, not just be a good teller, vision caster. Listen more, ask better questions and direct less. Value the question asking process more than the teaching process.

For the team, a great question to ask: “Did I/we exceed expectations?” Most live below expectations. Few meet expectations. And only 1% exceed expectations. Disappointment is the gap between expectation and reality. Most of us live in this gap.

Exceeding Expectation: First, expect more from yourself than others expect of me. Don’t let others set your bar of expectation, for when they do, you are already at a loss. Meeting expectations is the bare minimum. The people who own the world exceed expectations, so don’t let others set your expectations. Second, refuse to live off of your past. Most people, when they taste success, get fat, dumb and happy. They always talk about yesterday. Yesterday ended last night, quit sucking off yesterday. It’s over. Your memories shouldn’t excite you more than your future. Don’t live forever in today’s success. Third, do not let relationships cover your issues. Whenever you use a relationship to cover up for what you didn’t do, you begin to abuse the relationship. Fourth, respect must be earned daily. We honor people for what they have done. We respect people for what they are doing. Fifth, it is impossible to offer excuses and exceed expectations. These two worlds cannot cohabit together. Accepting excuses dumbs down expectations.

The reason I need to exceed expectations is because one day, I will stand before God and I don’t want to give a list of “if’s” and “buts”.

And then Kevin Myers shared about the impact that Maxwell had on his life. I loved this part and it was such a solid reminder about how to learn from others and apply what you learn. Here is what I gained from Myers:

What Myers Learned from Maxwell: We cannot sit there and surround ourselves with people who will let us dwell in emotionally acceptable standards. Be careful where you get your expectations affirmed. Even though I won’t meet every expectation, it doesn’t mean that I am not accountable and must grow and strive to exceed expectations. If we are meeting expectations that means we are working faithfully. If we are exceeding expectations, we’d be willing to cancel our vacations and work harder – meaning we can’t just let momentum die, because eventually it will die. Live off of momentum once you have momentum. When that momentum dies, then go on that vacation or take your break then. And, if we miss expectations, we need to work smarter. The set expectation was probably too high, too soon. The expectation wasn’t wrong, probably, but the timing was. Adjust and re-set, and go again.

Prepare for your times with your mentor. You do all the digging. You must prepare. Consultants do all the work, they do they digging – you’ve bought them. People say they want a mentor, but really, they  want a consultant. But we must dig deep with our mentor. We must prepare and prepare again and get from them all the layers of information that they have, and that we need – for we must draw it out. Be a good steward of your time with your mentor. Come back, after results. Insecure leaders always think more about themselves and end up taking more than giving more.

I won’t be personally embracing everything that was shared by both men. I can’t. I don’t want to. But there many things shared that did challenge and encourage me. So perhaps these insights have challenged you too. That was my hope. To share from some great leaders things they’ve learned and things the believe in. I hope these insights help you to be more effective in our goal to advance the Kingdom of God and to make more and better disciples of Jesus Christ.