Monthly Archives: July 2015

Moving On Up from Good to Great

Leadership Workshop Notes Prepared July 27, 2010

I read the book entitled Good to Great by Jim Collins in 2007. This book was principally written for the corporate world. However, it has had a powerful impact on my thinking in relationship to mission work in the CPC. Mr. Collins first sentence of the book reads, “Good is the enemy of great.”   I have thought about that in relationship to the CPC. Perhaps, we can say that our mission has been good, but not great. Our ultimate goal is to be a great movement in establishing the Kingdom of God.

Let me share some principles from Collins’ book that might assist us in the effort to achieve a higher level of service in our local church and mission around the world. These principles can guide us as we review and evaluate our work. Collins identifies several key elements in moving from good to great. I have tried to use the thoughts in ministry since I first read them. We only have space to review the most important elements, and apply them to the ecclesiastical context. My review of the material also includes some personal comments and scripture to apply the content to the ecclesiastical context.

Holy Land Trip 2021

  1. Good Leadership

“I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.” Titus 1: 5-9

Great organizations do not begin with the issue of vision and strategy. Instead, they figure out who they want to drive the bus of their organization. When they have the best driver, they decide where they want to go. That means that sometimes you have to change drivers.

If you have the right people in leadership, the problems of vision and motivation generally go away. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. And, this is particularly true in the case of ministers. We can find these people in a variety of places, sometimes outside the CP membership. Generally speaking if you succeed in one area you will probably succeed in another. Some non-CP leaders have the potential to enrich our denomination. Other times our best leaders will rise from the membership of our churches.

Consequently, you hire the best people and then you provide them the training needed to complement the skills they already have. If a person will not give an A+ effort, perhaps they should not be on your bus. Sometimes, some of our leaders have been great, but we must admit that we have not always had the great elders, missionaries, or pastors guiding our church. This has made it impossible to become a great organization. It would be an error to not recognize that although God can take our weakness and turn it to greatness, God doesn’t always do that. And, that is always a bit puzzling.

When we have the right people and if they ask the right questions, they will find a way to make the organization great.

We can say that high salaries do not guarantee greatness. Motivated people do not work exclusively for money. In fact, they work in spite of the salary. We do not pay reasonable salaries to secure the right work ethic. No, we pay reasonable salaries to get the right people on the job and keep them there. Great leaders have an incredible work ethic. They are constantly thinking and working to make a plan work. This is to say that traits like character, work ethic, basic intelligence, commitment, loyalty and honesty are both innate and aquired. We discover such characteristics by looking at the decisions leaders have made in life and how they have dealt with those decisions.


  1. When in doubt, do not hire the person.       You do not compromise over personnel.
  2. When you know you need to change personnel, do it immediately. Don’t let a poor employee damage the local church or the denomination any longer than necessary.
  3. There is always a place in an organization for a proven leader. But sometimes they are sitting in the wrong seat on the bus.
  4. Employees and non-employees need to discuss and sometimes argue, but once a policy decision is made, all employees should support it.
  1. Confront the Brutal Facts of the Current Condition of Your Church and Denomination

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Rev. 2:4

Endless restructure and hiring/firing are not characteristic of great organizations.

Perhaps one of the greatest errors of leadership is to act like all is well when the organization has serious problems. Face reality. Problems have to be identified and addressed. I am always amazed at the repetitively pathetic annual reports offered by some pastors and church leaders. Our job is to turn over the rocks and find the problems. Most churches live with their head in the sand.

  1. Good leaders operate initially with questions not answers.
  2. Debate and dialogue are important.
  3. When problems are uncovered, it is not necessary to place blame; use your energy to find solutions.

The truth is our denomination and many of our churches have problems, but good leaders will never give up. We will prevail in finding a way to be excellent.

“You must never confuse faith that situations can improve (which you can never afford to forget) with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.

A good church does not become great overnight. We do not overcome problems in a few months or even years. A great church is built through good decisions made consistently by good people over a long period of time.

Once the problems are identified, the leaders must act to resolve them appropriately. Making the right decisions is more important than speed in doing something.

  1. The Focus of our Area of Responsibility Needs to Be Simple and Should Address Two Questions—What Can We Do Best and What Can We Be Passionate About?

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” II Tim 1:6-7

The church has a problem in that we have to do many things good, but great churches have a limited number of things they do great. What we do great has to be decided upon based upon our talents, spiritual gifts, the need of our community, and our passion. It takes passion to become great at anything. I often feel that no one in some churches has sufficient passion to inspire others.

Great churches are able to focus their attention on what they can do best. It may be preaching. It might be an educational system that the community needs. It may be a heart for the “least” people of the community. It might be an evangelism program that constantly demonstrates fruit. It might be a ministry to youth. The idea is to find a clear objective rather than work furiously to accomplish a host of ministries poorly. If I were pastoring a church today, I find the most passionate person in the church, identify the focus of that passion, and facilitate the energy the person brings to the table. Simultaneously, I would sell the focus of my passion to the congregation and spend the time necessary to convince a sizable portion of the congregation to join the march to excellence.

Great doesn’t happen overnight. It took Einstein 15 years to find the theory of relativity.

  1. The Climate of Discipline

A strong church knows what it can do best and has the discipline to maintain focus on that objective, rather than chase the first fad that comes along. I have watched the church lose focus many times over what was believed to be the cure all to growth. Some churches thought everything would work if they started a food kitchen. Other churches have insisted on criticizing those with different passions. Others have felt that praise worship was the key.

CPC doctrine and denominational commitment should be emphasized identity so that all leaders can follow one another without retraining the congregation to a vision different than the one before.

The key to greatness is disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action. Discipline must be a culture and an expectation of all leaders.

Romans 5:3-5 “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”


Memories by Marilee Watkins

I had a birthday on July 16th, but I just found this in one of my boxes of papers, journals, sermons, etc.

The Following Are Memories
Recorded in 1977 by my mom Marilee Watkins.

32 years ago on July 16, 1945, we received a God-given gift, a son.

Weight: 6 lbs. 13 oz.

Length: 20 inches

Head: 14 inches

Shoulders: 13 1/4 inches

Chest: 12 inches

You didn’t have any eye lashes or fingernails for about 2 weeks because you were born a few weeks early. Your skin was olive and so soft and smooth. Your eyes were dark blue when we could see them. You had dark brown hair.

You were a sleepy little boy that didn’t care if he had his bottle or not. The nurses would snap your little cheeks with their finger until I objected and asked for cold wet cloth to wipe your face to wake you up. I don’t remember you taking your full quota of milk for several weeks. You felt it was more important to sleep, so you slept more than usual for the 1st month of your life.

Your birthday, July 16, was our choice. Dr. John R. Evans had given us a week from which to choose a date. You were born by caesarean section.

You were born in Denver, Colorado at St. Luke’s hospital. During the time you were delivered, your dad stayed in the father’s room, where hundreds of fathers had written their thoughts in big books while waiting for their child to be born.

Later when your dad came to visit us each day, he would wait outside the iron-gate that separated the maternity ward from the hospital. His favorite hospital story concerns the gypsy mother that was brought to the hospital because the grandfather could not deliver her at the camp.

We went home on the 9th day where your little sister anxiously awaited your homecoming. Carolyn was thrilled with you, she thought you were better than any of her dolls.

It’s 32 years later now and we feel more than ever that we were given a special little boy to love and cherish.

(I am posting this primarily for my children.)

The Story Behind a Photo “Few Know How Many Have Suffered”

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

While in mainland China in 1991, I had the opportunity to visit the Sha Kai Church near Zongshan. Grace Yu and I followed a young three-self minister of the church to the home of Elder Mu. The pastor insisted we meet this man and hear his story.

Every country and economic status of its people have unique odors, street semblances, interiors of houses, hospitality, living conditions, customs, standards of acceptable conduct, worship styles, fashions, food, and concepts about foreigners. I remember the walk from the Sha Kai Church to home of Elder Mu because of some of the distinct odors of the street. Homes with a damp dirt floor and walls elude a special odor that is uniform around the world. The odor smells like a wet cloth that has been left on bathroom floor for several days. It builds up a mixture of bacteria and mold that explodes in all directions when the rag is moved. Multiply the smell by years of quiet buildup in a house and the staleness becomes so dense that it quickly floods the air when any door is opened to the outside. I often wonder how people’s lungs endure years and years of their waking and sleeping hours in these humble home. None of these families had dehumidifiers that could easily improve the environment. Sunny days do not remove the build up because of the few windows or doors. The sun’s warmth only clears the air from depositing another small amount of mold on the existing layer. The clothes of the residents absorb that odor very similar to the clothing of a smoker. And, you can often tell where a person lives by the odor of their clothing. Of course, they could do nothing in those days about the persistent humidity that cursed the ambiance of their homes.

We found Elder Mu’s home on one of those streets. Elder Mu had been one of the elders and perhaps the key leader of the Sha Kai CP Church prior to the Cultural Revolution. He lived in a simple house, but was blessed with a tile floor and whitewashed adobe walls. Unlike so many of the houses, this house was blessed with an open courtyard that opened into a bamboo forest. And, the daily sunshine bleached the air with freshness. When Elder Mu was in his fifties, Chairman Mao mandated that all Christian churches be closed. Believers received unannounced visits to their homes by government representatives who confiscated Bibles, religious pictures, and Christian literature.

Most Christian leaders were persecuted harshly in the aggresive effort to cleanse the society of any Western influence and any loyalties that interfered with commitments to the Communist dogma. Some leaders were sent to a sort of reorientation camp. Elder Mu was one of those scheduled for one of those camps. However, prior to being moved from his home, elder Yu suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down. The physical paralysis of the stroke persisted for more than thirty years. It was only after the new directions of the Chinese government in the early 1980’s that he has begun to improve. He remained faithful, teaching, and witnessing from his bed through all those years. When I met him, at age 83, he had had his health restored. Praise God for his glorious acts.

A Tribute to Colombians–Giving the Credit to Whom It Belongs

God continues to hear the prayers that God will send people to help reap the harvest of souls around the globe. Part of God’s plan involves the movement of the Gospel from one nation to another via missionaries. We can assume that will continue until the second coming. We have come full circle in some countries and are witnessing a new phenomenon in terms of missionary deployment. Nations that were originally the senders, like the United States, are now the recipients of missionaries. The strength of a Christian presence can easily shrink in one or two generations as North Americans and Europeans have witnessed.

Colombian Missionaries and their family members.

Colombian Missionaries and their family members.

Those that hear and respond to the call to work in another culture are the fortunate ones. It is hard to express the honor of such a calling. I can’t say that missionaries are special, but they are privileged. They get to board the ships or airplanes to lands not so different from those the apostle Paul visited. It is their joy to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Globalization has changed so much of the mystic of traveling to a new culture, but the reality of learning and serving in a new culture remains the same. It actually like living two lives.

The missionary life has its ups and downs, its joys and its sorrows. They have the privilege of sharing in a much larger worldview than knowing only one culture. Just learning one new language opens the doors to more people to whom to witness and form friendships.

Throughout history missionaries have received so much credit for what has happened in taking the Gospel around the world. No doubt they have contributed significantly to the growth of the Kingdom of God. But this is only part of the story. Obviously it is God that elevates preaching and witnessing to the event of salvation.

More than 250 people have now returned from a very significant week in Colombia, South America. It is the second time that General Assembly has met outside the United States. This visit commemorated the 90th anniversary of Cumberland Presbyterian ministry in one of the beautiful countries of the world. Those people fortunate enough to visit Colombia witnessed a diversity of successful evangelical efforts. They sat beside cute impoverished children receiving a hot meal in a hot lunch program. They visited a host of Colombians in the Cumberland Presbyterian senior living center—a nursing home funded by our denomination. They worshiped in one or another of our denominational churches spread over the length and breadth of western Colombia. No doubt they were blessed by what they saw and felt.

One evening was set aside for the missionaries that have served during the 90-year history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Colombia to be recognized. It was a joy to remember the joys of the past.

The laity and ministers of the two Colombian presbyteries, Cauca Valley and Andes, reach more than 1,200 people for Christ every year. No one can number the thousands of people that Colombian nationals have led to Jesus; their converts are like the sands of the sea. Their disciples are now living on every continent and nearly every country of the world. So in this way we can say that our denomination has carried the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. We only lack a Cumberland Presbyterian astronaut for the next step into the vast creation of God.

Those of us fortunate enough to have served as missionaries want to express our deepest thanks for everything that pastors and laity have done for each of us. We do not take it lightly that while missionaries often lived in larger houses with more things, drove cars while nationals rode buses or walked, and always worked for a significantly higher salary, our international colleagues loved us as their equal. These brothers and sisters taught us much more than we taught them. We could not have achieved much without their love and hard work. They have walked side-by-side with us as we have shared the Good News and expressed the compassion and love of Christ. What a joy to return to see so many of the people that have enriched our lives.

Missionaries thank God for the privilege to live in countries other than our own. And quite often, we bow in prayer to applaud the courage, love, service, faith, and success of our Colombian brothers and sisters.