Learning from Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch

I just finished a great book about our newest supreme court Justice, Neil M Gorsuch.


Here is something that was at the tail end of the book:

On Increase Summer’s (lawyer and judge) tombstone over two hundred years ago.

Buried in Old Granary burial ground in Boston.

 “As a lawyer, he was faithful and able; as a judge, patient, impartial, and decisive; in private life, he was affectionate and mild; in public life, he was dignified and firm. Party feuds were allayed by the correctness of his conduct; calumny was silenced by the weight of his virtues; and rancor softened by the amenity of his manners.”

“These word stick with me. I keep them on my desk. They serve for a daily reminder of the law’s integrity, that a useful life can be led in its service, of the hard work it takes, and an encouragement to good habits when I fail and falter. At the end of it all, I could hope for nothing more than to be described as he was. If confirmed, I pledge that I will do everything in my power to be that man.”

~ Supreme Court Justice Neil McGill Gorsuch

 From the book, “Gorsuch” The judge who speaks for himself


Prairie chicken or Eagle, which are you more like?

In his book “The Pursuit of Excellence” Ted W. Engstrom shares the story of a Native American brave who discovers an eagle’s egg and hides it in the nest of a prairie chicken.

The little eagle eventually was hatched along with the other chicks and grew up assuming it was a prairie chicken. With that assumption in mind, it lived like a prairie chicken. It flew in short bursts with a flurry of feathers and a thrashing of wings--just a few feet off the ground. Its eating habits were those of a Prairie Chicken, not an eagle. It pecked in the dirt for insects and seeds. Years past and the eagle aged, but never discovered its true identity and potential.

 One day the eagle looked up and saw a magnificent sight: a golden eagle soaring effortlessly in the heavens, taking full advantage of the powerful wind currents. “That’s so beautiful,” the eagle said to a friend. “What is it?” “Why, that’s an eagle,” said the knowing friend, “the chief of the birds; but forget it, you could never be like that.”  The eagle followed his friend’s advice, never giving it a second thought.  Eventually it died, having lived its entire life thinking it was a prairie chicken.

Before you read on, sit back a moment and let your emotions talk to you. What are you feeling right now? Be honest with yourself. Consider writing down your thoughts. Then read on.

Now the story is obviously apocryphal; but, nonetheless, loaded with meaning for us as leaders. From time to time, it’s good to reflect back and to look ahead: a fresh slate, new opportunities to push the envelope a bit, try new things, get out of your comfort zone, be dangerous for Jesus, be more of an eagle and less like a prairie chicken.

I took on the responsibility for a large conference a few years ago.  I didn’t have to do it. Nobody was asking or expecting me to do it. I told myself: it’s a risk…it’s more that I can reasonably handle. I vacillated between prairie chicken and eagle and decided God wanted me to take the plunge into the deep end of the pool. The potential pay-off is worth the risk and the work. As I look back over my life, I see specific points where I decided to go the eagle route rather than the prairie chicken route. I also see where I have stayed earthbound, going the prairie chicken route.

Most of my ministry life has been lived “in over my head.” I’m richer for it. It forced me to pray a lot, to confess fears, to worry a good bit; but God always came through for me. (What do you mean it doesn’t pay to worry? Most of the things I worry about never happen!)  I live with the philosophy of not going to Jesus to tell Him how big my challenges are, but going to my challenges and telling them how big my Jesus is! For me, that’s living by faith and really believing what God has promised me. It’s not always a question of do I believe in God, but do I believe the God I believe in?

Are you bored with the maintenance of the system; yawning through a rehash of the same old stuff? Are you restless to pioneer a new path? Let me encourage you to join the mavericks who don't color inside the lines, play by the rules or remain in the box. Be an eagle for Jesus! Try something you have dreamed about doing for years, but been too reticent to begin. Why not NOW?  Why not YOU?


 “There's no thrill in easy sailing,

      when skies are clear and blue,

 There's no joy in merely doing

      things which anyone can do,


But there is some satisfaction

      that is mighty sweet to take,

 When you reach a destination,

      that you thought you’d never make.”


Following are three probing questions I’m asking myself.  Consider joining me in some thoughtful self-analysis?

1.  In what ways have I been a prairie chicken?  What fears, have kept me earth-bound, instead of soaring in the heavens for Jesus?

2.  Why, in certain areas of my life, do I consistently choose to live the life of a prairie chicken, missing out on my true God-given potential?

3.  What kind(s) of eagle-dreams would Jesus have me attempt in the near future?

 I close with Luke 19:26, The Message:

  “…Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.”


Unbelievably, some churches choose to die!

The statistics regarding churches that are dying or plateaued are not pretty. A church doesn’t have to continue on the downhill slope, but unfortunately some choose to die. Thom Rainer gives us four reasons why a church would choose to die.

Originally posted by Thom Rainer

The conversation surprised me.

I was recently meeting with about a dozen members of a church that was on the precipice of closing. During their perceived “good old days,” the average worship attendance was in the 40s and 50s. Now the church attendance was in the teens. The church was on metaphorical life support.

I shared with them some items of urgency that might give them some glimmer of hope. So I was surprised when one of the members asked me a question that seemed to come from nowhere: “Will we have to sing from screens instead of hymnals?” she asked with a tinge of anger.

I never responded directly to the question. It was too late. The few members were of one mind about an issue so peripheral I had never anticipated it. I left saddened.

The church had chosen to die.


It is my life and ministry passion to help churches, particularly struggling churches, to revitalize. One of the greatest needs of churches today is to choose to live and to thrive.

Unfortunately, many congregations are choosing to die. For certain, they are not calling a business meeting and making a motion to die. Their choices are more subtle and, often, more incremental. But the end result is the same.

Churches are choosing to die.


So what are churches doing specifically that leads to their demise? Here are five of the more common choices. They refuse to face reality. I was in a dying church recently. The congregational average attendance was 425 seven years ago. Today it is 185. I could find no one in the church who thought the trends were bad. They were in a state of delusion and denial.

1.  They are more concerned about greater comfort than the Great Commission. Church membership has become self-serving. The church is more like a country club than the body of Christ. People are “paying dues” to get what they want in the church. It’s all about their preferences and desires.

2.  They are unwilling to accept responsibility. It’s the fault of culture. All the new churches in town are to blame. If someone wants to come to our church, they know where we are. People just don’t want to come to church anymore. Excuses and more excuses. I have never been in a community that is nearly fully churched. There are many people to reach. Excuses preclude obedience.

3.  They are too busy fighting and criticizing. If we could take the energy of church critics and antagonists into reaching people with the gospel, our churches would become evangelistic forces. Unfortunately in many churches, members expend most of their energies criticizing leadership and others, and fighting over trivial issues.

4.  They are confusing non-negotiables with negotiables. Almost ten years ago, a couple of men who live near me asked to visit with me in my home. They wanted me to consider visiting their church. One of the men told me their church was one of the few in the area defending the faith. I asked him what he meant by that. He explained that the faith was one particular Bible translation and traditional hymns. I wasn’t sure what happened to the bodily resurrection and substitutionary atonement. The church died within seven years.

Choosing to Live Rather Than Die

Most churches have choices to live or die. We use the word “revitalize” because it means to live again. I hope you will join me in this passion to see unhealthy churches become healthy, to see churches choose to live.


Living a balanced life? Impossible?

Attaining balance is a hopeless dream…it will never happen…why strive for it? Is this really true? Is living in balance as a disciple of Jesus, a leader, a biblical concept? Is the current leadership “rat race,” that most leaders I know find themselves in, a capitulation to our fast-paced culture or should it be embraced as normal and acceptable? I believe the answer is found in making a distinction between two types of balance:

Balance in your job

In his book, “The Next Generation Leader” Andy Stanley makes the following observation. “Being a balanced or well-rounded leader looks good on paper and sounds compelling coming from behind a lectern, but, in reality, it is an unworthy endeavor.” When I first read this it greatly disturbed and upset me. I mumbled under my breath that I couldn’t disagree more. For years I have encouraged leaders to have better balance and, in the face of “it’s impossible,” I still preach it. I was just about ready to write Andy a letter when I read on and understood what he was really saying. Then I strongly agreed. He was speaking of balance in the sense of feeling the need to be equally competent in all aspects of being a leader--to give equal time and expect equal results in all your leadership responsibilities.

You should be out of balance in your work. You should not expect to give equal time to all things you do. It’s reasonable and appropriate to focus on and spend more time in your strength areas and to delegate or minimize areas you are not as suited for: i.e. you will not be balanced. For example, if you are a very good communicator but poor at event planning, should you work harder at event planning so you are as good  (balanced) there as you are in your communication responsibilities? Well, we all know what happens with that strategy! You will perhaps excel in neither planning nor communication. The effort you could have put into building on your communication gifts are directed to an area of weakness and your strength area is neglected. So, yes, it is okay to be unbalanced in your varied job/ministry responsibilities.

You should be spending more time in your strength areas and less time (by delegating or abdicating) in areas for which you are not as suited/gifted: hence, you are out of balance. This opens the door wide for others to step into areas that don’t fit you very well. Your leadership role should be built around and based on how God has gifted you as a leader. All leaders are not created equal. We know that. Let’s shoot for balance as a team…as an organization, but not strive for balance within the realm of all aspects of leading. It is foolish and detrimental to try to be all things to all people as a leader. I am not strong at shepherding, but am strong at teaching and strategic planning. I am content not to try to be a great shepherd but let others step into that role. Now, depending on to whom you report, addressing the issue of not being balanced could lead to some heated, but healthy, discussion.

Balance in your life

Balance in your life? Now, that’s an entirely different issue. In his book “Your God is Too Safe,” Mark Buchanan has this to say about Jesus: “Few of us possess the inner compass, map, calendar and clock Jesus had; there was Jesus--vigorous, yet relaxed, clear-eyed, yet dream-filled, purposeful and yet not driven." I believe the Lord Jesus was a “balanced person.” He was not need-driven. He was not frustrated by the competing demands and expectations others placed on Him. He knew how to work and how to play, when to stay in a place and when to move on. He had a sense of when it was time to be with others and when it was time to be alone

Most leaders I know are dangerously out of balance between their professional and personal lives. Time with God and time with family is regularly edged out by the demands of work and ministry. We are not living in the “Little House on the Prairie” but in the “little” house by the freeway. Our physical, emotional and relational health is taking a regular beating. Lots of leaders are well beyond busy—they are utterly exhausted. As one person put it, “I am running on fumes and have no idea where the next gas station is.” We need to do some “spring cleaning.” Ego needs and people’s needs are driving us to put more and more on our already full plates. Enough is enough already!

My counsel these days to myself and to the leaders I coach is:

1.  Slow down.  Go at a pace which is reasonable and realistic. Try to do less in a given amount of time.  Smell the roses, enjoy the sunset, breathe more slowly, walk more slowly, eat more slowly.

 2.  Simplify. De-clutter your life.  Get rid of things, both in your closet and garage, as well as in your schedule. 

 3.  Say “yes” to less. “No” is a complete sentence!  Say “no” to lots of things so you can say “yes” to a few things. What are the themes of your life? Stick with those. You‘ll be healthier and happier. Don’t try to be the savior of the world. We already have one/One!

  4.  Seek solitude. There is too much noise in most of our lives. Don’t be afraid of silence--it is still golden (maybe platinum by now!) We could use more of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.” Learn to be friends with yourself and your quiet thoughts.

Is balance to be sought after? Yes and no!  Certainly within life’s responsibilities but not within your work responsibilities. Be the unique person God made you to be--not a carbon copy of every other leader.























7 Painful, but good, questions to measure your leadership:

A good leader is always trying to grow and become better. When you stop growing you in essence stop leading to the degree you could and should. Here are seven surprising questions to ask in order to measure the quality of your leadership.

Originally posted by Dan Rockwell

7 questions to measure your leadership: 

1.  How are you becoming dispensable?

  • Create systems that function without you.
  • Give control with accountability.
  • Develop vision as a team, not an individual.
  • Build redundant talent. Cross-train and rotate jobs.

 2.  How are you making it safe for teammates to speak truth to power?

  • Listen calmly.
  • Honor constructive dissent.
  • Lower the volume of your voice.
  • Smile.
  • Avoid power positions. Sit in lower seats.

 3.  How are you expanding organizational capacity?

  • What have you recently let go?
  • What have you learned from failure?
  • Who are you mentoring?

4.  How are you learning?

  • What are teammates teaching you? You aren’t smarter than everyone on your team, are you?
  • What are you reading?
  • How are you connecting with people that excel beyojd our achievements

5.  How are you making yourself accountalbe to those your serve

  • Complete this sentence. “I’m accountable to _______ (insert a behavior) my employees.
  • My team members know I’m accountable to them because I _______.
  • What character quality are you developing? Who’s asking you about it?

6.  How are you actively seeking feedback?

  •  Open yourself to 360 degree evaluations. What might those closest to you say, if they were completely safe?
  • Don’t tell teammates what you’re doing. Ask them to explain your goals and priorities based on your behaviors.
  • What questions do you ask others about your leadership?

 7.  How are you making others feel powerful?

  • Trust people to take on big challenges.
  • Provide coaching and training.
  • Focus more on maximizing strengths than fixing weaknesses.
  • Connect their values to leadership roles and goals.


  •  Confronts self-deception.
  • Minimizes waste.
  • Expands potential.
  • Identifies capacity.
  • Invites development.