Leadership Lessons I Learned by Watching my Father

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-7

So, my son, throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others. When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain.


Happy Father’s Day!

Country Western singer Rodney Atkins sings, “Watching You.” The song’s refrain goes like this:

“I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you and eat, and grow as tall as you are. We got cowboy boots and camo pants. Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, aint’ we dad? I wanna do everything you do. So I’ve been watching you.”

Dad did not wear cowboy boots or camo pants, but I grew up watching him as a leader in our church, in public education, and in the broader community. Dad is now 83 and very active. He is a veteran who out of high school served four years in the U.S. military with the Air Force. He retired from the field of public education after 52 years of service as a classroom teacher, high school principal, school superintendent, and dean of my hometown community college. He stays engaged with life and people teaching his Sunday School class, something he’s done since the third week after joining First United Methodist Church in Rio Grande City in 1960. He is a member of the Lions Club and visits elementary schools to provide vision testing for children and eyeglasses for those that need them. He serves as an advocate for the South Texas region of the Retired Texas Teachers Association and makes several trips a year to Austin to talk with legislators about issues affecting retired teachers. He walks 4 miles a day, does his own lawn (in 100+ degree weather), and plays golf on the weekends, often scoring better my brother, sons, and me!  I’ve seen him love mom for 58 years, teach us about life, love his grandchildren, help others succeed, and never really ask for anything in return because as he says, “I’m just doing what I am supposed to do.” Yes, I’ve been watching him.

Below are some leadership maxims for the type of leadership I try to practice which I learned from watching my dad.

  1. Stay focused on the mission. That’s your job as a leader. Treat what you do as if it’s the most important job in the world because it makes a difference in people’s lives and in the world and it’s your responsibility for its success. Besides, people are counting you.
  2. Cast a vision that makes people stretch and aspire without exasperating them and give them what they need to succeed. When the vision is accomplished, cast another, and another, and another always stretching people to be a little more and see a little further – “un poquito mas.” At first, some might complain a little but will feel great about themselves and their work when they accomplish it.
  3. Over plan for success and ensure that details are paid attention to – details matter and it’s the small things and little touches that separate good from excellent.
  4. Secure and align material and human resources to accomplish the mission.
  5. Thank the people – always! Especially the invisible ones, the ones that work in the background making things go well – they matter the most. Give away credit to others. Assume responsibility when things do not succeed then work to make them right.
  6. Act confidently to inspire confidence in others, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Stay calm. God is with you.
  7. Coach the people to expect more of themselves and to take pride in what they do. People have a depth of talent and gifts. A good leader will identify and call forth the abundant treasury of people’s gifts, talents, and resources.
  8. Delegate authority, responsibility, and accountability to others and specify the expectations and outcomes – they will do better than we imagine.
  9. See the whole of the organization, its interdependencies, its culture, and its direction and lead forward with hope for a brighter future with principle, integrity, firmness, gentleness, and fairness.
  10. If we you forget why you do what you’re doing, take what you do for granted, or lose focus on what you’re doing, go back to # 1.
  11. Above God and your family because they are the ones who care most about you and will be with you when it’s all said and done.

The apostle Paul mentored Timothy, his spiritual son. Timothy was a student of Paul. Timothy watched Paul minister in all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in all sorts of places. Now as Paul is ready to finish his course, he asks Timothy to carry forth the mission. “Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others.”

Perhaps you did not have a biological father to walk alongside you, model, or mentor you in life. But, I’m sure there have been other men in your life you have watched that have inspired you, challenged you, who expected great things from you, and who believed in you. As you have been mentored by a father figure, mentor others and bless their lives with the bounty and richness of your life experience, your faith, your wisdom, and your accompaniment.

Happy Father’s Day! Feliz Dia de Padres.

Seven Fold Blessing Prayer for Father’s

May God be gracious to you. May God bless you. May God make his face shine upon you. May you be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might. May you be filled with joy. May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. (Drawn from Psalm 67:1, Colossians 1:11, Psalm 20:4)

When Things Seem Hopeless – June 24, 2018


“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (Rembrandt, 1633)

Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


The disciples fear and despair for their lives. Their boat is swamped with water and about to sink in the middle of the lake during a great windstorm. Jesus is sound asleep, seemingly oblivious to their danger. They are frustrated by Jesus’ inaction in the face of their impending doom and wonder if he cares for them. They despair because they have hope and their hope is unfulfilled. All despair presupposes hope. “Where hope and life are frustrated in every respect,” says Jurgen Moltmann, “the hope turns against the hoper and eats into him.”

I have heard many people caught up in seasons of impending danger speak words similar to those of the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are, or that I am perishing?” In fact, I’ve thought and spoken similar words myself on occasions throughout difficult seasons in my life.

In seasons of impending danger, our anxious thoughts tend to move from trust in God to fear, from initiative to resignation, from seeking the spiritual strength and grace of our Christian community to isolation and loneliness.  This movement away from trust in God, from agency, and from the Christian community, drives us deeper into the grip of fear and despair. But we are never without hope!

The good news in this text is that the disciples have hope in Christ; more than they think. They are able to turn to him for help amid their own fears and lack of faith. They have faith in Christ, against their own lack of faith. They hope in Christ, against their hopelessness. Christ rises to calm the raging sea outside of them and calms their raging fears and despair within them.

There will be times when the great windstorms of life will shake our hope and our faith in God and in humanity. Our prayers, our hopes, and our agency will seem small, empty, and frustrated by the largeness of what we face individually, as a church, a community, our country, or as a global community. We will wonder in frustration, “Does God even care?” And still, we pray, we hope, we dare to trust, we dare to take agency, and we continue to seek the spiritual strength and grace of the Christian community, as we watch for the hope-filled world of God to unfold.

We pray, hope, and watch until our fears are overcome by the assurance of God’s enduring and everlasting love from which nothing can separate us from (Romans 8:38-39).

We pray until we can say with awe, wonder, and praise, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prayer based on Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

We are at our wit’s end in our calamity, O Lord. Hear our cries of faith and hope to you and bring us out of our distress.  Still the storm, and hush the beating waves that engulf us. Bring us into the haven of your peace. Thank you for your steadfast love for us which endures forever.

Extraordinary Power



2 Corinthians 4:5-12 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.


Paul persevered through much mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual affliction because of the mission that was given to him by Jesus Christ. That was, to “be a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 9:15-16; 13:47). He describes his afflictions as a distressing and gradual act of dying or sacrificially giving up his own life so that others would live for Christ in the world as a result of knowing the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The afflictions Paul humanly endured for the sake of others were enough to bring him down, perhaps lead him to quit, but he does not. He is a fragile clay jar filled to overflow by God’s extraordinary power and grace, not a superhero. Paul comes through his afflictions and perseveres in his mission not by drawing from his own limited and insufficient inner resources and wits, but from God’s extraordinary and abundant source of power and grace for living.

Troubles in our life come and go, sometimes they chronically stay around for years.  Job says “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire (Job 5:7). Whatever the difficulties we may encounter in our lives or their intensity, variety, or duration, the extraordinary and abundant power and grace of God is always present in us to bring us through them; especially with things around us look dim, withered, or hopeless.

The Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.