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The Call To Lead: Following Jesus and Living Out Your Mission

Compiled by Chuck Olson

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Title: The Call to Lead: Following Jesus and Living Out Your Mission

Author: Billy Hybels, John Ortberg, Dan Allender

Copyright Date: 2016

Written by three exceptional leaders—Bill Hybels, John Ortberg, and Dan Allender—The Call to Lead: Following Jesus and Living Out Your Mission is stacked to the rafters with wisdom and perspectives that often confront the conventional thinking about what it means to lead well. Particularly challenging (not to mention convicting) is the section that addresses the ongoing temptation for leaders to allow their gifting to replace their need to have an ever-transformed character.

Take a look at these Book Notes to get a sense of the insights that await the leader who is gripped by the reality that everyone benefits when a leader gets better.

Signature Chuck

Book Description:

Modern business practice and scholarship have honed the laws of the leadership. To achieve success, you’re supposed to—among other things—leverage your time, choose a strong team, and avoid unnecessary controversy.

But what do you do when the laws of leadership collide with the teachings of Christ? What would it mean to reveal your true character to those you lead? What would it take for you to take an honest look at yourself and ask, “Am I leading from my mission … or my shadow mission?”

Using stories from their own lives and ministries, Bill Hybels, John Ortberg, and Dan Allender illustrate how the laws of leadership sometimes crash head-on into the demands of discipleship, and how the decisions you make at these crossroads could affect not only you, but the destiny of those you lead.

Book Quotes:

The call to lead is never easy. And it often requires us to prioritize faithfulness over success. We must learn to give up the ache to be successful in the eyes of the world and go with what God is calling us to do. Leaders of God’s people always sense this inherent tension to their calling: in their ministry, in their personal life, and in the pursuit of their God-given mission. LOCATION: 69

Leadership is critical to church vitality, and good leadership depends on the level of commitment, the authenticity of character, and the clarity of mission that a leader possesses. Though following God’s call to lead is never easy, it is always worth the cost. Learn to wrestle with the tension and to answer the call to become the leader God has called you to be. The future of the church rests in the hands of leaders who are willing to faithfully answer that call. LOCATION: 88

Hands down, the single most impressive leader in the history of the world is Jesus of Nazareth. Now, I don’t say that just because I’m a card-carrying Christian, which I am, but because I believe the facts speak for themselves. No leader ever cast a more expansive or breathtaking vision — nothing less than the redemption of the planet — than did Jesus Christ. No leader ever built a higher-impact team in a shorter period of time with less talent to work with. No leader ever instilled deeper values or inspired people more than Jesus Christ — in many cases, enough for them to die for the cause. Certainly, no leader has ever changed the course of human history the way Jesus did . . . and is still doing, more than two thousand years later. I’d say it all adds up to some pretty compelling leadership evidence: He was the best leader ever. LOCATION: 96

Laws of leadership are, in essence, a collection of wisdom principles, passed from one leadership generation to the next. The principles can pertain to building profitable companies or championship athletic teams or fantastic, God-honoring ministries. They can be learned on the battlefield or in the boardroom, during training camp or a political campaign. The “laws” that emerge serve as boundary lines, in a sense, that denote the field of play. Step outside of them and leadership’s penalty flags are likely to start flying. LOCATION: 372

When the demands of discipleship articulated in the Bible collide with human laws of leadership, read my lips: Defer to the Bible. Look to the Bible. Trust the Bible. And obey the Bible . . . every time. LOCATION: 416

The proof of that guarantee is in one little verse, found in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah and the people had been working day and night to rebuild the broken-down wall around Jerusalem, and right in the middle of their backbreaking efforts, enemies sent word that they were going to come in with troops and massacre the whole lot of them. Understandably, the people were more than a little jittery. Knowing he had to make some sort of leadership move, Nehemiah gathered everyone together and gave them a challenge. In essence, Nehemiah 4:14 says, “Remember God, who is great and awesome, and then fight with all your might.” I love those words! Remember God — he is for you. He loves you. He is more than just enough. You are a treasured child of the most high God. And then, fight with all your might — give the cause of Christ your all! LOCATION: 544

A leader’s failure is never isolated, involving only the leader. Usually the failure of a leader involves basic patterns of hiding and blaming throughout the whole organization, patterns that must be uprooted. But the solution must always begin with the senior leader. If the fix doesn’t begin with the leader, then any efforts to address it in the so-called rank and file will be futile. LOCATION: 759

…we have become linear, principle-oriented, and simplistically driven, wanting answers to our problems so much more than we want the person of Jesus Christ. LOCATION: 833

This new postmodern world is profoundly fragmented; and with that fragmentation, severely insecure; and with that insecurity, very suspicious of leaders. People are so suspicious, in fact, that they’re angry at virtually anything we as leaders say. Everything we say is eventually examined to gauge how sincere, how honest, and how true we really are in our positions of leadership. LOCATION: 854

Instead, you have the best chance of getting useful feedback if you start the conversation by owning up to negative information everyone already knows about you. In other words, tell the truth as far as you can see it and then invite more data in that realm. As an example, I once said to a group of leaders at Mars Hill Graduate School, “I know when we get into this topic, I tend to panic. And I know that when I panic, I want to reach a quick consensus and I cut off conversation. I am not aware of other ways I handle myself at times like this. Can you help me see myself better and see what effect my behavior has on you?” LOCATION: 946

Changing the processes and techniques we use as leaders will not result in transformation — of our work worlds or of our lives. Our prime tool for a radical makeover is prayer. I have failed to apply this truth more often than I have failed in any other dimension of leadership. I simply have not breathed prayer as air, and nearly all of my most suffocating moments in leadership have come about because I didn’t pray, didn’t ask others to pray, or didn’t listen to what prayer had to teach me. LOCATION: 957

A transformed leader prays more desperately and more often than he or she ever did prior to experiencing a radical makeover. LOCATION: 968

As radically transformed leaders, we open ourselves up to being an example of redemption — past, present, and future. Yet our calling is also to never let those we work with forget that we are all first made beautiful in God’s image and then gloriously remade in Christ’s image. If all we do is confess to being marred, then we have not disclosed the truest truths about our glory. Often I find honest leaders more willing to acknowledge their failures than to confess the beautiful new heart that beats in their chests. Instead, we must disclose glory, hiding and blaming, cowardice and cruelty, and the new heart that yearns for courage and kindness. LOCATION: 993

The more you tell the truth about yourself . . . the more effective your leadership will become, the more you will develop a true leading character. LOCATION: 1216

What I do believe is the more you tell the truth about yourself — appropriately, winsomely, age-appropriately, within a context — the more effective your leadership will become, the more you will develop a true leading character. The more you tell of your own failure of character, the more God will use that for his purposes. LOCATION: 1233

What do you do that most gives you a sense of God’s delight? What brings you delight? This is a question designed to move you closer to determining what unique aspects of your life contribute most to revealing God’s character. If you’re a leader, then I hope leading is close to the top of your list — otherwise, you likely will not thrive or perhaps even survive your leadership experience. LOCATION: 1246

In my experience, nothing chips away at gratitude more than the daily grind of leadership: the crises, confusion, conflicts, loneliness, and exhaustion. As leaders, we’re sometimes amazed we’re even able to get out of bed on certain mornings! We do, but do we do so with gratitude? Not the gratitude that comes when a problem is resolved, but gratitude that no matter how the issue plays out, we have the opportunity to be molded and shaped into a more glorious image of the person of Christ. LOCATION: 1275

If I’m the worst of sinners and I know I have no right or reason by competence or knowledge to be the president of my organization — no more so than you do to be a pastor, a parent, or the owner of your business — then the reality is this: It is in our brokenness that we have our greatest opportunity to reveal the heart of God’s goodness. Will we take that opportunity? Will we tell the truth? LOCATION: 1292

A simple rule of leadership is that we can never ask anyone to go any further than we are willing to go. If we labor for others’ transformation of character, we must be the first to be transformed. If we want others to tell the truth, we must go first. LOCATION: 1396

In the movie We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, Colonel Moore, the commanding officer, was the first boot to hit the battleground and, at the deeply moving end of the film, the last boot to leave the Vietnam battlefield where many of his men had died. During the height of the battle, someone back at headquarters demanded he leave the near certain massacre of his men. He refused and instead kept the promise he had made to be the first on the ground and the last to leave. He kept his word. Our task as leading characters is no different. LOCATION: 1399

Everybody — every human being on earth — has a mission. We were all put here for a purpose. Organizations like businesses, churches, and schools have them too. Leaders love to think about mission, love to cast vision for the mission, love to strategize about mission, love to achieve mission, love to celebrate mission. And everybody has a shadow mission. Our lives, and the lives of the groups we’re part of, can drift into the pursuit of something unworthy and dark. To give in to our shadow mission is — or should be — our greatest fear. LOCATION: 1426

You and I were created to have a mission in life. We were made to make a difference. But if we do not pursue the mission for which God designed and gifted us, we will find a substitute. We cannot live in the absence of purpose. Without an authentic mission, we will be tempted to drift on autopilot, to let our lives center around something that is unworthy, something selfish, something dark — a shadow mission. LOCATION: 1456


  • Joseph stood firm against the temptations of revenge and sibling rivalry, choosing instead to forgive his brothers and to trust that God would redeem the evil he suffered.
  • Ruth refused to abandon her mother-in-law even though she could have pursued security and familiarity by returning home. She embraced loyalty and sacrifice over safety and became part of the adventure of redemption.
  • Daniel repeatedly refused to allow the lure of power to tempt him into compromising his convictions. From what he ate to how he prayed, he chose to honor God, even when it put his ambitions at risk.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her great response: “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38), meant she surrendered all dreams of a normal family life and (as an unwed pregnant woman) her respected reputation.
  • John the Baptist rejected the temptation of jealousy that his disciples voiced (“Look, [Jesus] is baptizing, and everyone is going to him,”) by saying that his destiny and joy were to decrease so that Jesus might increase (John 3:26, 30). LOCATION: 1520

The battle between mission and shadow mission points to a fundamental distinction between two aspects of our makeup. There is a crucial difference between giftedness and character. LOCATION: 1687

By giftedness I mean talents and strengths: high IQ, athletic ability, charm, business savvy, leadership skills, charisma, good looks, popularity, artistic talent. These gifts are very good things. They all come from God. The Bible says that he is the giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), and that we should be grateful when such gifts come our way…But your gifts are not the most important thing about you. There is something else you have that is called character. Character is your moral and spiritual makeup; it is your habitual tendencies, the way you think and feel and intend and choose. The makeup of what is called character is what makes people trustworthy or undependable, humble or arrogant. It’s a word that sounds old-fashioned — kind of Victorian — but it is not. It is who we are at the absolute core of our personhood. LOCATION: 1692

Character determines our capacity to be with God, to experience God, and to know God. It determines our ability to love and relate to other people. All that is part of our character. When we are called to imitate Jesus — to be “imitators of Jesus” — we are not being called to have his giftedness or his role. Rather, we are striving for his character. LOCATION: 1696

In the absence of good character, the giftedness of people will not be used well. The more gifted we are, the more arrogant and self-centered and destructive we are apt to be. Lavish giftedness in the absence of well-formed character will always lead us toward our shadow mission. LOCATION: 1713

Giftedness always comes at a price: pressures, temptations, a sense of entitlement. Without character, your giftedness will crush you. LOCATION: 1716

One of the intriguing parts of his story is that sometimes God uses Samson because of what he does. And sometimes God uses Samson in spite of what he does. Samson’s story shows us that even when there is spiritual anointing, even where there is impressive ministry, giftedness never makes up for a lack of character. LOCATION: 1739

Character is, among other things, the capacity to be inhabited by God. Every wrong choice, every dark thought I entertain, makes me a little less sensitive to the Divine presence. In the end, Samson’s character was so eroded that he didn’t sense its erosion or realize how absent God was from his life. The success of giftedness can mask the erosion of character. Samson did not have the character to bear his giftedness. LOCATION: 1767

Like Samson, you might be extraordinarily gifted. But if you don’t develop the character to support your gifts, they will actually become destructive to you. Your shadow mission will win out and your gifts will crush you. It’s only a matter of time. LOCATION: 1775

You don’t have a choice about what gifts you’re given. But you are given a choice of what character you will build. Character — having the ability to grow in the character of Jesus — is available to anyone who wants it. But we don’t live in a culture that exalts character. The challenge about Christlike character formation is that it’s time-consuming, it’s not very glamorous, and it won’t get you very much at all . . . except life with God . . . except the healing of your broken, hungry, wounded, hurting, tired heart . . . except the satisfaction of your soul . . . things that giftedness can never achieve. LOCATION: 1777

The question really is: Who do we want to be? We can do really impressive-looking things, but what we take into eternity is who we become. LOCATION: 1787

When it comes to character formation, you need to use the principle of indirection. It’s a bit like happiness. Joy, of course, is part of a healthy character, but you cannot pursue happiness by making it the primary focus of your life. Joy comes as a by-product of the pursuit of other things. And I believe that character comes as a by-product of the pursuit of God and the kingdom of God. LOCATION: 1792

The question isn’t if you have a shadow mission, it’s if you’ll deal with it. LOCATION: 1974

Patrick Lencioni, author of numerous bestsellers on leadership, writes that at the foundation of a healthy team is trust, and what is core to building trust is the appropriate vulnerability of a leader. True vulnerability can never be faked. It always comes with a little risk, a little pain. LOCATION: 1981

Probably the single most important tool in battling the shadow mission is solitude. Solitude is critical to the formation of human character. I find it striking that it was in solitude where Jesus came most excruciatingly face-to-face with his own shadow mission. It was during the forty days in the desert when the Evil One tempted him to be a messiah without hunger, without pain, without opposition. And it was in solitude that Jesus battled his shadow mission and was given the grace to say no. LOCATION: 2015


  • A chronic sense of soul dissatisfaction. At work I feel less like a human being and more like a cog in a machine.
  • Emotional indicators. Irritability, lack of gratitude or joy, deep impatience, a sense of stagnation. Difficulty in achieving or maintaining motivation. When I slow down, I wonder: “Why am I doing this?”
  • A sense of smugness, exclusiveness, and self-congratulatory pride. I have a constant need to pump myself up by contrasting our organization with other organizations in our field that are less impressive.
  • Busyness at unimportant tasks. I have lost a sense of meaning in what I do. I default to rote compliance rather than genuine engagement.
  • Relationships are superficial. People become objects to use. Anonymity is pervasive. People do not know each other outside the cubicle. Supervisors do not care about the lives and families and interests of those they supervise. Few friendships happen at work. People feel unknown.
  • Self-aggrandizement. My gifts are used not to glorify God, but to gratify myself.
  • Lack of authenticity. Leaders give motivational speeches, but the tone feels hyped up, contrived, manipulative. Missing are simple, sincere descriptions of why what we do matters. People give surface responses, but underneath is widespread complaining and withdrawal, expressed covertly and destructively.
  • Running on empty. There is a sense among the staff that the organization is spending down the relational reserves that were built up in earlier, healthier, more devoted days.
  • Loss of excellence. It is no longer clear to people what it looks like to be effective. What was once a clear and compelling vision is increasingly replaced by “complaint management” or “survival” behaviors. LOCATION: 2069

Over time, as a movement or organization or church grows, people start to focus on what’s growing rather than on the reality of God. And then the shadow mission replaces the kingdom of God vision. Once that happens, it’s just a matter of time before everything falls apart. Questions like these get in the way: How do we make this thing bigger? How do we make it better? How do we at least keep it propped up? And we become preoccupied with numbers, goals, and programs, and people live with stress, exhaustion, fatigue, and competition. Before we know it, we’ve not only lost the essential God vision but we’ve lost our true mission and slid into shadow mission. LOCATION: 2108

I had heard Dallas [Willard] talk before about the necessity of letting go of outcomes. As leaders, we need to be aware of outcomes, we need to take them seriously and learn from outcomes, but we should not carry the burden of them. Outcomes are in God’s hands. We were not meant to carry them. We must not allow outcomes to crush us. But hearing Dallas talk about letting go of outcomes is one thing. To watch him give a talk and then just let it go . . . it was remarkable. LOCATION: 2148

Your purpose as a coaching leader is to add the most value to the people you lead and to help them improve. LOCATION: 147

The job you have right now has the potential to supply you with all the purpose you need to feel fulfilled and satisfied in your role as leader—you just need to change the way you think about your job. Based on my work with thousands of leaders over the past two decades, I believe it comes down to this: The key is to see yourself as more than a mere manager. Begin to perceive your role as that of a career and life improver for the people you lead! When you take on that challenge, you’ll find your job overflowing with purpose. LOCATION: 153

Note: should you wish to find any quote in its original context, the Kindle “location” is provided after each entry.

Chuck Olson

As founder and president of Lead With Your Life, Dr. Chuck Olson is passionate about inspiring, resourcing and equipping Kingdom leaders to lead from the inside out.  To lead, not with the external shell of positions, achievements or titles, but from an internal commitment to a deep, abiding and transparent relationship with Jesus. Serving as a pastor and leadership coach for over forty years, Chuck has a track record of building these truths deep into the lives of both ministry and marketplace leaders.

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