Cover Page

OTHER BOOKS BY REGGIE MCNEAL

A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church

Revolution in Leadership: Training Apostles for Tomorrow’s Church

Practicing Greatness

7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders

Reggie McNeal

Foreword by Ken Blanchard

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Leadership Network Titles

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

The Way of Jesus: A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers, by Jonathan S. Campbell with Jennifer Campbell

Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, by George Cladis

Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, by Neil Cole

Leading Congregational Change Workbook, by James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, and Jim Herrington

Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, by Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr

The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, by Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor

Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, by Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, with Warren Bird

A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Brian D. McLaren

The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, by Brian D. McLaren

Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, by Reggie McNeal

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, by Reggie McNeal

A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, by Reggie McNeal

The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, by M. Rex Miller

Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, by Milfred Minatrea

The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath

The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, by Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk

The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions, by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree

To all great spiritual leaders—
we have been blessed by you

About Leadership Network

Since 1984, Leadership Network has fostered church innovation and growth by diligently pursuing its far-reaching mission statement: To identify, connect, and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact.

While Leadership Network’s techniques adapt and change as the Church faces new opportunities and challenges, the organization’s work follows a consistent and proven pattern: Leadership Network brings together entrepreneurial leaders who are focused on similar ministry initiatives. The ensuing collaboration—often across denominational lines—provides a strong base from which individual leaders can better analyze and refine their individual strategies. Peer-to-peer interaction, dialogue, and sharing inevitably accelerate participants’ own innovations and ideas. Leadership Network further enhances this process through the development and distribution of highly targeted ministry tools and resources—including audio and video programs, special reports, e-publications, and online downloads.

With Leadership Network’s assistance, today’s Christian leaders are energized, equipped, inspired, and better able to multiply their own dynamic Kingdom-building initiatives.

Launched in 1996 in conjunction with Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, Leadership Network Publications present thoroughly researched and innovative concepts from leading thinkers, practitioners, and pioneering churches. The series collectively draws from a wide range of disciplines with individual titles providing perspective on one or more of five primary areas:

For additional information on the mission or activities of Leadership Network, please contact:

Leadership Network
2501 Cedar Springs, Suite 200
Dallas, Texas 75201
800.765.5323
client.care@leadnet.org

Foreword

When Reggie McNeal asked me if I would be willing to write a foreword for his book Practicing Greatness, it took me only a nanosecond to say yes, because Reggie is talking about a different kind of greatness. The greatness he is talking about is not a position or a destination, but a quality of leadership that blesses other people. Hallelujah! As Reggie points out, while bad leadership is to be avoided and good leadership helps us get things done, we need great leadership to raise the level of blessing for the human race. That is so consistent with my journey to truth about leadership.

In the late 1980s, when I turned my life over to the Lord and began to read the Bible, I realized that everything I ever wrote—everything I ever taught—Jesus did, and he did it perfectly, beyond my ability to describe or portray. And he did it with twelve inexperienced, unknowledgeable characters. His leadership was so effective that this ragtag group was able to carry on his vision and mission in such a way that it still impacts the world today. Jesus challenged us all to serve, rather than to be served as leaders. His leadership blessed people, and that should be the model for spiritual leaders. Yet sadly, often it is not. That’s why I think Practicing Greatness is a must read for all people who want to lead at a higher level.

In Practicing Greatness, Reggie contends that spiritual leaders self-select into greatness by practicing seven lifelong disciplines: self-awareness, self-development, self-management, missional clarity, making good decisions, engaging with people, and cultivating aloneness. He devotes a chapter to each of these disciplines, identifying the strategic issues in each that can help leaders practice what is most important to do as the leader. This is why I think Practicing Greatness is a hard-hitting leadership book, not just a collection of inspirational thoughts.

If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you touch, read Practicing Greatness and begin the journey. While Reggie devotes a fair amount of time to self—self-awareness and self-management—he definitely believes that leadership is not about you. Although it starts on the inside, it moves to the outside when you realize that greatness begins with a clear vision that inspires people to get into the act of forgetting about themselves and committing to the greatest good.

Thanks, Reggie. Practicing Greatness will make a difference.

Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and Lead Like Jesus
San Diego, California
March 2006

Acknowledgments

I am privileged to routinely intersect with the lives of many extraordinary spiritual leaders and to learn from them. They have provided the insights for this volume. Many of them afford me close-hand observation of greatness-in-process. My editor, Sheryl Fullerton, has practiced her craft expertly in maintaining balance between “you can do it,” “are you sure you want to do this?” and “let’s get it done!” Lee Douglas, my assistant, does an amazing job in managing many aspects of my world so I can carve out writing time. As always, Cathy (my wife) provides me with phenomenal emotional and spiritual encouragement. Cate, you are the greatest!

INTRODUCTION
Needed: Great Spiritual Leaders

“Deliberate mediocrity is a sin.” I can still recall the moment I heard Elton Trueblood speak those opening words in chapel at the seminary I attended over three decades ago. I honestly don’t remember anything else he said because I was so stunned by that first sentence. Despite his quiet Quaker spirit and diminutive presence, Trueblood roared a challenge that caused my spirit immediately to leap, as if suddenly shot with adrenaline. Years later I am still as thrilled and motivated by them as when I first heard them. They were—and still are—words of liberation for me.

Characteristics of Greatness

Up until that morning I had bought into the prevailing notion that aspiring to greatness was somehow unbecoming to a Christian. I had grown up in a spiritual culture that viewed the desire to be great as pitted against the virtue of humility.

Humility

Since then I have learned that greatness in the kingdom of God is a journey toward humility. I also now understand that humility does not correlate with low spotlight. Plenty of no-names are racked by envy, jealousy, and pride. Being obscure does not render a leader humble. Nor does being famous automatically rule out being humble. Humility and celebrity can coexist. Jesus proves this point. Humility derives from the leader’s awareness of where his or her source of strength lies. The ambition to become a great spiritual leader actually frees the spirit from the idolatry of self-centeredness, because greatness in the spiritual world cannot be pursued without cultivating God-consciousness.

The difficulty with which some spiritual leaders acknowledge their ambition to seek greatness betrays its motivation. They are looking for greatness that is found in position and power. Jesus dealt with this mutant strain of ambition in two close-occurring episodes with his initial band of disciples. Mark (9:33–35, NIV) tells the story:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Apparently, the disciples didn’t get it. Before long the group was again racked by dissension caused by their worldly ambition (Mark 10:35–45, NIV):

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him.

“Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In neither discussion does Jesus disparage the ambition to be great. Nor does he float the idea of greatness as something his follower-leaders might aspire to. Rather, he takes it for granted that their motivations would push them toward achieving greatness. He just wants to point them in the right direction. He seizes the moment to contrast the prevailing notions of greatness with the genuine article and to challenge them to see greatness in spiritual terms. Jesus’ idea of greatness revolves around humility and service—a far cry from our typical associations with this concept.

Jesus’ disciples often still don’t get it when it comes to the pursuit of greatness. Unfortunately, plenty of people who posture themselves as spiritual leaders hunger for the worldly trappings of greatness: position, power, and privilege. Many leaders in the church industry evidence the same ambitions as business executives or politicians. Calling this ambition something else (“call” or “mission” or any number of other euphemisms that spiritual leaders frequently invoke) doesn’t make it any less what it really is. Unfortunately, the current culture of the North American church seems to reward this lack of character rather than to repudiate it. No wonder our witness to the world is stunted! People see through such pretensions.

Effectiveness

Greatness is not just about character. It’s also about effectiveness. When Jesus talked about serving others as part of his definition of greatness, he assumed that the service would actually be helpful to its recipients and that the leaders would be accomplished. Jesus was not incompetent, nor did he look for that quality in others. He did not choose the twelve apostles based on their lack of ability. After all, he was going to trust the movement to them. Paul was never asked to give up his critical thinking or lay aside his determination (both are attributes of great leaders). In fact all great leaders in the Bible are characterized by their effectiveness, as well as character. They didn’t just have great hearts; they had great capacity to deliver.

Willingness to Serve

As for service as a quality of leadership greatness, we typically think of service in terms of acts of helping, supporting, encouraging, being kind—these sorts of expressions. This is too restrictive. Servant leadership is an attitude, not a genre of narrowly circumscribed actions. Service is about a desired outcome, not just the type of action a leader takes on behalf of others. Jesus served the rich young ruler when he challenged his value system. He served the woman at the well when he probed her pattern of broken relationships. He even served the Pharisees when chasing them out of the Temple. In every case those Jesus served made choices of their own in their responses, but that did not negate his acts of service to them.

Great leaders bless people. They inspire and encourage. They help people become more than what they have been, maybe even more than they thought they could be. Great leaders help people be a part of something bigger than themselves. In short, great leaders leave people better off than they were before the leader entered their lives.

Need for Great Leaders

Unfortunately, this is not what many of us experience. Bad leaders are a form of evil. They curse people by diminishing their life. They rob people of hope. They reduce people’s dreams and expectations for their lives. They discourage and disparage people. They leave people worse off than when they found them. Bad leadership is not always the result of bad character or intentional malevolence. It can result from simple incompetence.

Good leaders are usually adequate to the leadership demands placed on them. Good leaders get things done. They keep things going. They assess situations and devise solutions. They organize people to accomplish tasks and help people in the process. Good leaders are shorter in supply than they should be. We could use many more good leaders, as anyone who has suffered under bad leadership will attest. In normal times, we can generally get by with good leaders.

But we do not live in normal times. You may have noticed that we are in a vortex of transitional forces that are creating a new world. We need great leaders to help us get through the wormhole of overlapping universes of premoderns, moderns, and postmoderns—all sharing the same space on this planet. We need great leaders who will display both courage and wisdom in the face of unprecedented challenges in bioethics, global terrorism, economic realignments, and the information revolution, to name a few.

We are desperate for great leaders in every sector of our society—in politics, the social sector, health care, education, the arts, sports, and community agencies, as well as at local, regional, and national levels. We need leaders who distinguish themselves as great, mostly by the positive impact they have on the people they lead.

We are even more desperate for great spiritual leaders. The postmodern world is wildly spiritual, in contrast to the modern world of the last five centuries, which has seemed intent on draining mystery from life and the universe. Postmoderns realize that life is more than physical and financial and technological and functional. They are in a determined search for meaning and significance (contrary to predictions not many years ago that nihilism would be the philosophical choice for successors to modernity). This widespread yearning begs for spiritual leadership.

Postmoderns do not link their search for spirituality to the church, or if they do, they don’t limit their options in spirituality to organized religion. People take their life issues to the office, to school, and to the club, not just to the counselor’s office or Sunday School class. This reality means we need spiritual leaders in all avenues of life and culture. We need business leaders, educators, health sector leaders, scientists, and information specialists who are great in their spiritual capacities. Acknowledging and expanding our notion of spiritual leadership to the “pedestrian” arenas of life does not diminish the continued need for them. Our understanding of the sphere of spiritual leadership must include the busy street as well as the quiet cloister. While the suggestions for practicing greatness contained in this book may have primary application for those who are designated practitioners of spiritual leadership, the insights hold true for leaders across the board.

Leaders who have an appropriate view of self (humility), combined with the capacity to help others (service), don’t just show up in the nick of time. They are crafted over time. They practice being great. Extraordinary character and exceptional competence develop over time. Leaders must make countless good choices and right calls to fashion greatness.

Practicing greatness requires that the spiritual leader develop some key “disciplines.” These are self-awareness, self-management, self-development, mission, decision making, belonging, and aloneness. Some might not consider these as disciplines in a classic sense. However, great spiritual leaders habitually practice each of these disciplines just as surely as Olympic athletes commit themselves to a physical regimen or concert violinists dedicate themselves to running scales. Other leaders may visit one or more of these practices, intentionally or unintentionally. Great spiritual leaders are committed, consciously and intentionally, to all seven of them.

  1. The discipline of self-awareness is most important because it protects leaders from being self-absorbed or merely role-driven. Leaders do not arrive at self-awareness all at once. Life experience adds to this integration of mission, talent, and personality.
  2. The discipline of self-management acknowledges that great leaders are great managers, not just of others but, primarily and foremost, of themselves. Failure to manage oneself leaves a leader vulnerable to self-sabotage or derailment.
  3. The discipline of self-development characterizes all great leaders. They never stop growing. Leaders who adopt this discipline as a life habit pursue lifelong learning and build on their strengths. They also choose to grow through failure.
  4. The discipline of mission honors the propensity of great leaders to give themselves to great causes. They order their lives missionally. They have decided how to spend their lives focused on their mission rather than allow their lives to be hijacked by others’ expectations and agendas or dissipated by distractions that debilitate their energies.
  5. The discipline of decision making sets great leaders apart from good run-of-the-mill leaders. Great leaders consistently make good decisions. They know how to make decisions, when to make decisions, and what decisions need to be made.
  6. The discipline of belonging characterizes great leaders’ ability to enjoy significant relationships that nurture their lives. They not only value and practice community but also make a conscious decision to belong to others. They belong despite the risk, because they know that to quit risking is to quit loving and that to quit loving is to quit leading in the spiritual arena.
  7. The discipline of aloneness celebrates great leaders’ capacity not only to endure the loneliness of leadership but to actually build solitude into their lives. They appreciate the depth of soul making that is possible only in solitude and in heart-to-heart exchanges with their Leader.

The Intent of This Book

This book is not intended as a put-down to good leaders. We need good leaders, especially if the alternative is more poor leaders. But we are desperate for great leaders. This book aims to encourage many of you to choose a path toward greatness. Perhaps you are already on the journey. I am writing to help you stay the course. Or maybe you have contemplated the journey but are unsure of its requirements. This volume helps you know what is in store if you start up this trail. If you have wondered whether merely the yearning for this adventure is itself somehow inappropriate and self-promoting, you will discover that the way of spiritual greatness is the way of escape from lesser passions that define most leaders and constrict their influence. If you’re someone who just needs to be liberated to pursue greatness—to give you permission to escape self-imposed mediocrity—this book is also for you.

In the spiritual realm, greatness is not pursued for greatness’ sake. Perhaps this statement should go without saying, but to do so would run an unwarranted risk of a colossal misunderstanding about the pursuit of greatness for spiritual leaders. Genuinely great spiritual leaders do not do what they do for themselves or even as a way to become recognized as great leaders. The end game for spiritual leaders is about expanding the kingdom of God. They pursue greatness because they are passionate about God and about helping other people experience the life God intended for them to enjoy. In the end, great spiritual leaders are not interested in calling attention to themselves. They point people to a great God. This is the sort of greatness we are desperate for.

Greatness is earned. It is not a gift; it is a reward. It is not accidental; it is cultivated. It is not bestowed by others; it is self-determined. You do not need to hope it happens. You can plot a course to make it happen. “Am I a great leader?” or “Do I want to be a great leader?” are questions only you can answer. You will answer them one way or another. The kingdom of God is at stake.

You are free to choose to practice greatness.