How to Get Things Done in Seminary



My article for the latest edition of Towersa monthly publication from Southern Seminary.

Here’s an excerpt:

While I don’t begrudge the fact that time management was not taught in my seminary studies (though I think it should have been), the fact remains: every seminary student needs to learn time management. There is no other way to prepare adequately for all the demands that will come after seminary. Further, learning time management now will pay big dividends by enabling you to be more effective in your current studies, with less stress and more peace of mind.

In fact, time management is especially helpful during the days of your theological studies. Archibald Alexander, one of the founding faculty of Princeton Seminary, writes:

Diligence without method will enable us to make but little progress; adopt, therefore, and preserve a regular method in the disposal of your time and distribution of your studies. When you have your time judiciously apportioned you proceed with ease and alacrity like the traveler on a road where the distances are marked and the stages conveniently arranged for his accommodation. 

This is even more important now than in Alexander’s day or when I was in seminary, as the pace of life has only picked up due to technology. With the intelligent application of a few solid time management principles, it is possible to make the most of your time in seminary without letting your studies become a grind or unjustly interfere with your family, ministry, and other priorities.

So, how do you do that? Here are five principles that can serve as a starting point.

Read the whole thing. (You can also see the entire issue with all the other articles as well, in a way that is very nicely laid out online just like the print version.)

The Massive Leadership Opportunity for the Church Today

This is a fantastic article by Glenn Brooke at The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

Brooke argues that we were poised on the edge of a new renaissance period, but we can only rise up to this opportunity if we have the right kind of leaders. “This is a massive leadership development opportunity for the church, which is uniquely qualified to develop them.”

The right kind of leaders have a big view of God, sound theology, inclination to harness technology for addressing large global problems, and actually understand the nature of leadership. Above all, they are people of character.

Glenn looks at the main features of our leadership landscape today, and how they compare to the hallmarks of the European Renaissance  of the 14th through 17th centuries. Then he points out that, in light of this, what we need is “a critical mass of entrepreneurial leaders of high character.”

These are people who can let go of the old (even successful) ways of doing things. They have large imaginations and the drive to turn that imagination into something better in the world.

You don’t solve the world’s problems through government programs and handouts, though these have a place.  You improve the lives of millions through businesses which add value and support families. We’ve seen this story repeatedly in history.

He then looks at what leaders must do to meet the challenges of the future, and the leadership opportunity this presents for the church.

It is a truly fantastic post that brings together an understanding of the massive opportunities of our time with a solid and biblical understanding of leadership. Go read the whole thing — and if possible, read it several times so you can truly absorb and reflect on what he is saying.

The History of Management

In his book Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey summarizes well the four stages of management thinking.[1] Understanding the history of management is helpful not only for avoiding wrong turns, but also for shedding light on what it means to manage people holistically.

The Scientific Paradigm

First was the scientific management paradigm. It viewed people primarily as economic beings who don’t want responsibility but instead must be motivated through “the great jackass method, the carrot and the stick.” This method managed through authoritarian, command-and-control methods.[2]

Two key figures here are Max Weber and Frederick Taylor. Weber “postulated the view that bureaucracy—order by rule—was the most effective form of human organization.”[3] Taylor, then, “put Weber’s theories to the test” with his famous time and motion studies.[4]

“The thrust of the Weber-Taylor school was to suggest that if a finite body of rules and techniques could be learned and mastered—rules about breakdown of work, about maximum spans of control, about matching authority and responsibility—then the essential problems of managing large groups of people would be more or less solved.” (92)

Another component of the scientific paradigm was that it viewed organizations as primarily rational, as opposed to social. “Rational, in this context, means that clear purposes and objectives for organizations exist, and that these can be determined rather straightforwardly.”[5] On this view, decisions about objectives are almost mechanical and rise straightforwardly from analysis.

On the social view, on the other hand, it is recognized that determining purpose can be messy and is not always “very straightforward or deductive.” Decisions about purposes and objectives are ultimately value choices, although they are informed by analytical considerations. These decisions therefore need to be informed as much by social coalition as by clear-headed thinking.

The Human Relations Paradigm

The second management paradigm was the human relations paradigm which acknowledged that people also had hearts as well as stomachs—they were social beings. It was recognized that people had feelings, and thus the principle of management here became kindness. But the assumption here still left management in charge—except that instead of acting as an authoritarian, the manager was a benevolent authoritarian. Managers in this paradigm could become overly soft and lax in imposing any firm standards and expectations.

Douglas McGregor is a key figure here. He first developed the Theory X and Theory Y model. According to theory X, most people are lazy and seek to avoid responsibility. It is “the assumption of the mediocrity of the masses.”[6] According to theory Y, however, work is as natural as rest and people want to seek out greater responsibility.[7] McGregor argued that the theory a company holds affects how it manages and treats is people. In fact, “the theoretical assumptions management holds about controlling its human resources determine the whole character of the enterprise.”[8]

Organizations that hold to theory X tend to focus on command and control, whereas those who hold to theory Y seek to empower their people. McGregor argued that most organizations of his day held to theory X—and that even if they spoke as if they held to theory Y, their practice in reality accorded with theory X.

McGregor also pointed out, consistent with the fact that most organizations held to theory X, that in most organizations of his day authority was the “central, indispensable means of managerial control.” But authority, McGregor pointed out, is really just one of many forms of social influence and control, and that organizations—consistent with theory Y—should utilize many of these other means. But this was unlikely to happen as long as organizations regarded authority as an absolute concept, as the primary guiding means of control, rather than a relative concept.

McGregor’s insights are right on. However, the school of management that took his principles fell into disrepute because many took things to an equally silly excess on the human relations side as scientific management had gone on the rational side. Some companies, for example, focused simply on making everyone happy and threw out all forms of top-down authority. As Peters summarizes:

Whereas the rational model was a pure top-down play, the social model, as produced by McGregor’s misguided disciples, became  pure bottom-up play, an attempt to start revolutions via the training department. McGregor had feared that all along and said, ‘The assumptions of Theory Y do not deny the appropriateness of authority, but they do deny that it is appropriate for all purposes and under all circumstances.[9]

The Human Resource Paradigm

The third phase in management thought is the human resource paradigm, which came to work “not only with fairness and kindness, but also with efficiency.” Now contribution began to matter. People were seen not only as economic and social beings, but also thinking beings.

Covey notes that “with this larger understanding of man’s nature, we begin to make better use of talent, creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and imagination.”[10] There is more delegation, and people are not longer seen merely as machines or physical properties, but people. The aim becomes to “create an environment in which people can contribute their full range of talents to the accomplishment of organizational goals.”[11]

The Principle-Centered Paradigm

Finally, this leads us to the principle-centered leadership paradigm, which acknowledges all of the dimensions of a person. It deals with fairness, kindness, efficiency, and effectiveness. As Covey notes, “we work with the whole person.”[12] People are not just assets, “not just economic, social, and psychological beings. They are also spiritual beings; they want meaning, a sense of doing something that matters.”[13]

Meaning, then, becomes the fundamental management and motivational principle—not in exclusion from the other dimensions of a person, but in conjunction with them and as a necessary component. “People do not want to work for a cause with little meaning, even though it taps their mental capacities to their fullest. There must be purposes that lift them, ennoble them, and bring them to their highest selves.”[14]

The proper way to manage people given this paradigm is not through control but through principles. What are principles? They are “the natural laws and governing social values that have characterized every great society, every responsible civilization, over the centuries. They surface in the form of values, ideas, ideals, norms, and teachings that uplift, ennoble, fulfill, empower, and inspire.”[15]

Principles are what fundamentally tap into the level of meaningfulness and also, by their very nature, are inconsistent with management by control. For with principles, detailed control is not necessary. Instead, the key to managing people by principles is to make the values clear and provide the conditions for people to manage themselves. The role of the manager then becomes one of help and support, and of helping the employee align his role with his strengths. This arrangement becomes possible by setting up win-win performance agreements. These agreements make expectations clear (which is necessary for empowerment) without prescribing the methods in detail, while also outlining key guidelines and resources available. With this clarity in place, an employee can then evaluate himself, which is far more effective anyway.

Principle-centered managers realize that people are more creative and resourceful and filled with more initiative than most of their jobs require right now. People are spending their creativity and energy on their own goals and dreams—and much of this is lost to the organization. But if you can align what you need from the employee for the sake of organizational performance with the goals and initiatives he naturally wants to pursue, then you will tap into this energy that is lost to the organization—and amplify the employees effectiveness in achieving his own goals as well.

On the PCL paradigm, the center of power thus shifts away from the “elite authoritarian group” to every person in the organization. This is because it recognizes that people want to be treated as whole people. They “want to contribute to the accomplishment of worthwhile objectives. They want to be part of a mission and enterprise that transcends their individual tasks. They don’t want to work in a job that has little meaning, even though it may tap their mental capacities. They want purposes and principles that lift them, ennoble them, inspire them, empower them, and encourage them to their best selves.”[16]

In sum:

The scientific management (stomach) paradigm says, “Pay me well.” The human relations (heart) paradigm says, “Treat me well.” The human resource (mind) paradigm says, “Use me well.” The principle-centered leadership (whole person) paradigm says: “Let’s talk about vision and mission, roles, and goals. I want to make a meaningful contribution.”[17]

The Excellence Paradigm

Finally, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman propose a theory as well in In Search of Excellence. It is not necessarily contrary to principle-centered leadership, and has much in common with it.

The main components of the theory are:

  1. People’s need for meaning.
  2. People’s need for a modicum of control
  3. People’s need for positive reinforcement, to think of themselves as winners in some sense
  4. The degrees to which actions and behaviors shape attitudes and beliefs rather than vice versa
  5. The notion of companies as distinctive cultures
  6. The emergence of the successful company through purposeful, but specifically unpredictable, evolution

Peter’s first four points have been discussed in detail in some of the other documents. A few notes can be made on the last two.


First, the centrality of culture means that “the process of shaping culture [is] the prime management role.”

Second, culture allows for the “lose-tight” dynamic of the excellent companies. Culture shapes behavior and provides meaning (through the “tight” dimensions), but also allows people to stick out (because everything that is noncore is adaptable). “The culture regulates rigorously the few variables that do count, and it provides meaning. But within those qualitative values (and in almost all other dimensions), people are encouraged to stick out, to innovate.”[18]

Third, culture allows you to sidestep the complexity of large organizations. This is because it allows you to manage by a few core values rather than detailed rules. Big institutions are too complex to manage by rules; so the excellent companies have simplified, and instead they use a few transcending values to shape behavior.

Purposeful Evolution

Peters argues that “managed evolution is important to keeping a company adaptive.”[19] But adaptation is also too complex to manage by rules. Thus, instead of creating rules to manage adaptation, great managers instead make sure that there are enough tries to satisfy the laws of probability. The result is that there will at least by lots of singles and doubles, and the ability to rapidly learn from the market and continually make improvements that build on one another.

But in order for this to happen, the organizational culture has to have the loose-tight properties that are characteristic of the culture of the excellent companies. Most current theory, however, cannot enable this because it is “neither tight enough nor loose enough.” It isn’t tight enough “to consider the role of rigidly shared values and culture as the prime source of purpose and stability” and thus proposes “rules and goal setting to cover these bases.”[20] On the other hand, it is not loose enough to acknowledge the “relative lack of structure” and the need for a “wholly new management logic” that is needed to ensure continuous adaptation in large enterprises. Instead, it proposes structural rules and planning exercise—both forms of rigidity—to hurdle this need.


What we see in the development of management thought is an ongoing trajectory toward freedom and meaning as the ultimate guiding principles of management. Freedom and meaning, however, do not mean that there is no structure. Rather, organizations must have both loose and tight properties. There must be clear and fundamental core values (tight properties) in place in order to enable freedom to flourish and in order to provide the meaning that is ultimately motivating to people and the direction that enables them to manage themselves rather than operate within the command-and-control framework of earlier generations of management thought.

Extension: Biblical Connections. It would be useful to explore the biblical connections here. A few initial thoughts are:

  1. Freedom is at the essence of the Christian life that Christ has won for us (Galatians 5:1), and it is therefore good and right that our paradigm of management reflects the central defining value of freedom.
  2. The image of God also argues for freedom as a fundamental, defining concept in how we manage. If people are in the image of God, we should seek to maximize and empower individual freedom to the greatest extent possible in all areas—including management. It is not right to ignore the value of freedom when it comes to managing people, as though there are any realms where the image of God does not have implications for how we treat people.
  3. Meaning is also fundamental to the Christian view of man. People are not merely economic beings, they are not merely social beings, they are not merely competent beings. They are also spiritual beings. If management is to be holistic—and it ought to be, because it is about people, and people are holistic—then it has to reflect the spiritual dimension. There is a danger here, of course, that the concept of meaning can be secularized, and understood apart from God. At the same time, there does have to be a kind of meaning that non-believers can and ought to have in their work, and it is right to acknowledge this. It is, I believe, the responsibility of the individual, however, to make sure that these penultimate dimensions of meaning are not treated as ultimate, and to instead find his or her ultimate meaning in God, and a sense of fulfilling a calling given by God. It is the responsibility of the organization not to interfere with this ultimate dimension of meaning, even if it is a secular organization and cannot make this component explicit.
  4. Really, the concept of meaning here reflects the biblical reality that our work is a calling. It is meaningful because God has given it, and because it is in the path of the specific good works that he has laid before us and which is part of the purpose (meaning) he has for our lives (Ephesians 2:10).
  5. A slightly unrelated Lencioni thought here: Lencioni argues that “irrelevance” and “anonymity” are two components of a miserable job. At the human level, a Christian may experience a miserable job. But in an ultimate sense, no job needs to be miserable for the Christian because God takes notice (“do your work as unto the Lord”) and because everything the Christian does is relevant and lasting (“always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain”).


[1] See also chapter 4 (chapter 2 in the 2010 edition) of Management for Productivity for an excellent, clear, and comprehensive overview of the history of management in the 20th century and what we learned from each school of thought, as well as Tom Peters overview in In Search of Excellence, pp. 89-103.

[2] Stephen Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership, p. 176.

[3] Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence, 92

[4] Ibid, 92.

[5] Ibid, 91.

[6] He summarized Theory X in three tenets (see Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, updated and with commentary by Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, p. 43):

  1. The average human has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can
  2. People, therefore, need to be coerced, controlled, directed, and threatened with punishment to get them to put forward adequate effort toward the organization’s ends
  3. The typical human prefers to be directed, wants to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, and wants security above all.

[7] McGregor summarized Theory Y in this way (McGregor, pp. 59-60):

  1. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as in play or rest—the typical human doesn’t inherently dislike work
  2. External control and threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward a company’s ends
  3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement—the most important of such rewards is the satisfaction of ego and can be the direct product of effort directed toward an organization’s purposes
  4. The average human being learns, under the right conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility
  5. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.

[8] Peters, p. 94.

[9] Peters, p. 96. Peters and Waterman also note, by the way, that in their study of excellent companies, the best companies hold together both authority and empowerment. They have both a caring side and a tough side. “Like good parents, they cared a lot—and expected a lot” (96).

[10] Covey, p. 178.

[11] Ibid, 178.

[12] Ibid, 178.

[13] Ibid, 178.

[14] Ibid, 179.

[15] Ibid, 179.

[16] Ibid, 179-180.

[17] Ibid, 180.

[18] Peters and Waterman, 105.

[19] Ibid, 106.

[20] That’s a key point: When the values are clear and the culture embodies them, you don’t need detailed rules.

Core Management Realities

Core Management Assumptions

  1. People are in the image of God and should be treated as such.
  2. People are economic, social, psychological, and spiritual.
  3. Each person is gifted uniquely and enduringly.
  4. Each person’s area of greatest opportunity and growth is in their strengths.

Management Approach

Increase the scope of freedom in which people are self-directing, while providing feedback and accountability on results, plus helpful systems and structures.

This is holistic, ecological (everything is related), developmental (you have to do some things before other things), and people-oriented (rather than thing-oriented).

Organizational Ecosystem

  1. Guiding concepts
  2. Strategy
  3. Structure
  4. Systems
  5. Skills and Style
  6. People

Six Conditions of Empowerment

  1. Win-win performance agreements
  2. Self-supervision
  3. Helpful structure and systems
  4. Accountability
  5. Skills
  6. Character

Core Systems

  1. Planning & budgeting
  2. Information
  3. Recruiting and selection
  4. Job design
  5. Performance management
  6. Compensation
  7. Training and developing
  8. Communication/meetings
  9. Innovation
  10. Lateral work processes

Who Are Leaders Accountable To?

Most leaders would say “absolutely” to any discussion of the importance of accountability in leadership.

However, very often an essential aspect of accountability in leadership is overlooked.

It is easy to think “leaders should have a person that holds them accountable” or that they should “be in an accountability group.” These things have the leader accountable to other leaders.

I don’t dispute the importance of those things, but they are actually missing the most important element of accountability for a leader. And that dimension is the leader being accountable to those they lead. 

That is what keeps leadership from becoming a dictatorship. If the leader is not accountable to the people they are leading, then there is no true back-and-forth. Followers’ ideas and hopes are always only suggestions, with no real authority. This, by definition, creates two classes of people.

Instead, the biblical view is that while there is a place for differences in functional authority, these differences are counterbalanced by a true two-way street of accountability between the followers and leaders.

This doesn’t mean that every decision a leader makes needs to be approved by the followers. Rather, we see good examples of what this looks like especially in two areas.

First, democracy. The president is ultimately elected by the people, and has to be re-elected by the people. If he is not governing properly, they therefore have the ultimate power to remove him by not re-electing him. That is how the president is kept accountable to the people.

Second, congregational church government. Congregationalism can certainly be applied in ways that constrict the proper functioning of leadership. But at its essence, it means that the church members are ultimately responsible for what their church becomes, and the pastors and elders are accountable to the members — not simply themselves or a higher governing board.

This creates a cycle of accountability and creates checks and balances. And it enables the followers to take ownership and play a vital part, which is essential for growth.

The necessity of leaders being accountable to those that they lead follows from the fact that all people are in the image of God and equal. Because all people are equal, no person can lord it over another. Which is the same as saying, anyone in a position of leadership is accountable to those that they lead. Nothing else reflects that equality.

We could ask, “where is this taught in Scripture?” Consider Jesus’ statement in Matthew 20:27 where, in teaching about Christian leadership, he says “whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” A slave is accountable to their master to carry out their priorities. Since leaders are to see themselves as slaves of those that they lead, then, that means that leaders are to see themselves as accountable to those whom they are leading. That is part of what it means to see yourself as the “slave” of others — in your leadership, you are accountable to them as to whether you are leading well and carrying out the priorities of the mission.

The actual process of this accountability can take many possible forms. But leaders seeing themselves not as lords over those they lead, but as their servants who are therefore accountable to them is central to the nature of true and humble Christian leadership.

A Common Misapplication of the Doctrine of Sin in Christian Leadership

Over the last few years, I’ve seen people more and more say things like “since we are all sinners, we can’t trust ourselves and we need to rely on the pastors and elders of our local churches to guide us.”

That sounds spiritual. But it represents a very significant misunderstanding.

I know that can sound radical. So, first off, let me clarify what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that counsel is a bad thing, or that the local church has no role to play in giving good counsel. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to [good] advice” (Proverbs 12:15).

The problem with this statement is that it is reversing the way the doctrine of sin is supposed to be applied in relation to the role of leaders.

The implications of the doctrine of sin for decision making are not first about church members and everyday people needing the help of leaders to guide their lives. Centuries of human history in general and church history in particular bear out that making that the focus is actually a recipe for tyranny.

Further, it almost assumes that people are not competent to lead their own lives and fails to recognize that no human being has ultimate authority over us. “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). This applies to church leaders as well as everyone else: no one is to insert themselves between any Christian and the Lord. Each person is directly accountable to Jesus Christ alone. (This is a standard Reformed doctrine, and is discussed in a very helpful way in Paul Helm’s short book The Callings; it is also the basis on which Martin Luther was able to stand up to the corruption of his day in the church.)

Instead, the first implication the doctrine of sin has in relation to the role of leaders in the church (and anywhere else) is that leadership needs to be held accountable and have checks and balances.

In other words, of course we are all sinners — and we need to remember that this applies to leaders also. Further, sin is most easily given legs to cause harm when it is institutionalized through positional authority.

For that reason, the first and most important implication for the doctrine of sin for how we lead our lives does not have to do with followers needing church leaders to help guide their lives. It has first of all to do with leaders having checks and balances and recognizing that they are accountable to the people they lead. This is the only way to prevent abuse of power. And note that the issue is not the virtue or intentions of the leaders; good leaders need this just as much as leaders of poor character (who, of course, shouldn’t be leading anyway).

Centuries of history bear this out, and the lessons have been encapsulated in the rise of democracy and the founding of our nation. The greatest danger arising from universal sin is not that the everyday people will cause harm, but that those in positions of formal authority will misuse that authority, thereby causing even greater harm to a much larger number of people.

The problem, then, with the quote at the start of this post is that it is leaving this out. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is failing to recognize that this truth about leaders being accountable to those they lead is what needs to be given pre-eminence in our thinking when we consider the doctrine of sin and its relationship to the role of leaders. That is, our first thought should not be “we are sinners, therefore we need the help of leaders,” but rather “leaders are sinners, and therefore they need to be accountable to the people and their power needs to have checks and balances.”

A true leader welcomes this mindset, because he or she does not see himself as above the people they are leading (cf. Deuteronomy 17:20) but rather as in fact beneath them as their servant (Matthew 20:27; 23:11-12).

If you don’t feel that you can handle that, then I would say you are not qualified to lead.

With that mindset in place, and only with that mindset in place, are we then in a position to say “OK, now recognizing that all of us are fallible, let’s all of us also seek input and counsel, as is relevant and natural, from those in positions of formal leadership in our churches.”

And while doing so, we also need to recognize that counsel from anyone, including church leaders, only must be followed when it is simply a restatement of what the Scriptures command. Anything that goes beyond that may be good advice, but it is never an obligation for a person. To treat it as an obligation is equivalent to adding to the word of God — which is not looked upon as a small thing in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:2; etc.).

The 7 Characteristics of Servant Leadership

I think it is so important for the church to understand the real meaning of servant leadership. So important. 

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:25-28).”

“‘But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted'” (Matthew 23:8-12).

A servant leader:

  1. Puts the needs of the followers first — not themselves or the preservation of their own power. (This, counterintuitively, results in more influence.)
  2. Transfers as much authority as possible to the followers, enabling them to make their own decisions in as many areas as is possible. Other words for this are empowerment and decentralization. These are not just popular buzzwords. They are essential concepts for the proper functioning of society and any organization.
  3. Seeks the growth of their followers to their maximum potential. This is another reason that top-down oriented leadership is not right or helpful: it stunts the growth of followers by making most of their decisions for them.
  4. Recognizes that they are accountable to those they lead. This is an implication of the equality of all people. Without this accountability, leaders are by definition in a special “higher class” than the followers, which is unbiblical, wrong, and prideful at its very root. We see a very good, albeit imperfect, example of this in modern democracy. The leaders in government are ultimately accountable to the people, and the best governmental leaders see themselves as public servants in the fullest sense.
  5. Seeks to lead chiefly through influence and persuasion, not authority or coercion (threat of punishment or bad consequences for not doing what the leader wants). Note that this requires that the servant leader read and study, for their is no other way to have the knowledge needed to operate according to persuasion. Often when people lead by coercion, they are taking the easy way and trying to make up for the fact that they lack true knowledge, and thus real influence.
  6. Recognizes that their authority is limited. No individual ever has total authority over another. That is by definition a form of dictatorship, even if the “leader” who thinks he has such authority has good intent. This, again, stems from the fact that we are all in the image of God and thus ontologically equal. Ontological equality does not necessarily negate functional differences, but it must be reflected in the way those functional differences operate (such as through accountability to the led, principle 4, and recognizing the limited scope of authority, this principle).
  7. Has a concern for the poor and marginalized. Concern for the poor is a fundamental biblical responsibility, and the servant leader recognizes that this is not to be forgotten in the way they go about anything, including the way they lead.

What Christians Can Learn from Secular Business Thinking: My Article in Christianity Today

As a companion piece with the article on Jon Acuff, I wrote an article for Christianity Today on why Christians need to be learning from secular business thinkers.

More and more Christians have been learning from secular business thinkers over the last few years. I think this is a really good thing. What I seek to do in the article is lay out a brief case for why this is a good thing — something you don’t hear articulated much.

I also highlight two of the most important trends in the best business thinking that we can especially learn from as Christians.

Some Christians are hesitant to learn from business thinking. I think in most of those situations what is happening is that bad business thinking is being confused for the whole of business thinking. 

In other words, there is certainly bad business thinking out there. Some Christians have rightly critiqued that and said “this doesn’t belong in the church.” I agree — it doesn’t. But not all business thinking is like that. There is also good business thinking that is based in principles of character and respect for the individual. This business thinking is something we can — and must — learn from.

Often, those who have critiqued bad business thinking haven’t realized that they’ve only encountered one strain of business thinking. By then implying that all business thinking is like that, they close us off from learning the lessons that we really do need to learn and apply in the church.

We need to move past that and redeem good business thinking. Even more, when we do that we can also stop giving bad business practices a “pass” by saying “that’s just business.” No, it’s not. Business is required to seek the good of the other person just as much as every other area of life. That is the guiding principle of all good business thinking, and that’s why we can indeed learn from it in the church.

So take a look, and if you have any thoughts, let me know what you think.


Jon Acuff in Christianity Today

Kate Shellnutt has written an excellent piece on Jon Acuff at Christianity Today.

I love what Jon is doing. He is writing some of the best books right now on the world of work. He understands the nature of the new economy and the best of current business thinking. And, he is very funny.

Here’s a good snapshot from the article:

[Jon] tells readers they don’t have to settle for a job they dread and offers practical steps to find passion in their daily work. His taglines include “Punch Fear in the Face” and “Build a Better Monday.” He wants people to actually enjoy their jobs, for the sake of themselves, their employers, and their witness in the world of business.

I’ve also written a companion piece on why Christians need to learn from secular business thinkers.

Check out the full article on what Jon is doing. And if you don’t have it already, Jon’s latest book, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuckis very much worth checking out as well.

The Successful Virtual Office


Melanie Pinola at Lifehacker has written a brief, helpful, new book entitled The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes. As a part of series of 30-minute guides, this book seeks to “help telecommuters, consultants, freelancers, small business owners, independent professionals, and other types of remote workers set up and maintain a high-performance virtual office.”

And here’s a fun fact: In her book, she also quotes from my e-book How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem

If you need help with your own virtual office, or if you are interested in learning about available tools that might help you in this area, check out Melanie’s book. She has been gracious enough to offer some complimentary PDF copies of her book to readers of What’s Best Next. Send an email to contact [at] and explain why this book might help you. The first ten folks to email will win a copy. Enjoy!