Author and Pastor, Richard Dunn, gives advice to emerging leaders

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May 6, 2013 by eimrick

Pastor Richard Dunn is the Senior Pastor of Fellowship Church in Knoxville, TN.  He is also the author of the popular book Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults.  Anyone who sits with Pastor Rick for even an hour quickly learns that he bleeds discipleship and really has a passion to raise up young leaders in the church.

Rick Dunn

Read what he has to say to emerging leaders.

It is tempting, after three decades of ministry leadership, to assume that “I’ve seen it all.” After all, I’ve offered a biblical vision for sexual purity immediately following a youth band dressed in skin-tight spandex screaming its way through unrecognizable songs about loving Jesus. (All while middle school girls rushed the stage hoping to reach the lead singer’s outstretched hand.) I’ve presented to high school football campers a vision for a life of faith in Jesus just after then Chicago Bears QB Jim MacMahon, related his real-life experiences as the Super Bowl winning “punky QB”. (The high school players were not, by the way, impressed with my credentials.)  I’ve spoken in chapel to 700 thoroughly disinterested private school boys the day after Ted Turner spoke to them and committed to bring all 700 of them to see a Braves’ game. (Ted got 45 minutes to speak—I got 12.)


The “hardest act to follow”, however, in all of my speaking/teaching was sharing Christ with a group of students after they had just watched an evangelist/world-class tightrope walker had just mesmerized them. The tightrope walker was 35+ feet in the air, risking life and limb, to walk and ride and tumble on the high wire—with no net and no back up plan if he slipped. It was a AAA act: Amazing, Awesome, Astounding! He was also wearing a wireless microphone throughout the performance. The act reached its dramatic apex when he intentionally “slipped”, making it seem that he was about to plummet to his untimely and messy death. After the chorus of gasps subsided, he said, “Now, if I had fallen, I want you to know that I know where I would be now—I would be in heaven because of my relationship with Jesus. Do you know Him? Are you going to heaven?” Talk about an impressive Gospel presentation!! I was the main speaker for the event and I was about to raise my hand to be prayed for!

After the tightrope walker’s death-defying and life-offering presentation, I had to ask him, “Okay, besides the years of practice and experience, what is the secret to not falling?” His answer has resonated with me in one leadership moment after another in the years since. He said, “When I am on the tightrope, I find a spot on the horizon that is fixed, immovable. For instance, see that tall stand of trees in the distance? I fixed my sight on a spot on one of the trees, a spot that was still and not be affected by the wind. When I started to feel myself leaning to one side or another, I didn’t simply try to correct myself by shifting my weight in the other direction. If I did that, I would be perpetually over-shifting and be constantly swaying back and forth. That, to say the least, would be very dangerous! Instead, I just keep coming back to center. I am constantly making little corrections to bring myself back to center, focused and balanced by my adjustments to the fixed spot on the horizon.”

The application to our personal spiritual lives is, of course, unmistakable. The author of Hebrews, reflecting on the stories of faith in Hebrews 11, wrote,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

The leadership application of this tightrope walker’s principle is, however, no less remarkable. Leadership, at its best, pursues—with exceptional clarity—a fixed mission and purpose that yet lies on the horizon. Leadership, at its best, relentlessly pursues that unique fixed point with an immovable conviction that demands the leader’s whole heart and full attention. Such leadership endures all manners of opposing forces. “Wind gusts” arise suddenly to apply enormous pressure. These “gusts” take diverse forms, including harsh criticism, passive aggressive behaviors, and even betrayal. “Distractions” threaten the leader’s relentless pursuit of the fixed mission and purpose as well. Leaders are distracted by everything from embarrassing failures to ego-boosting successes; from thoughts  like “the grass is greener in situation X” to “if only I could be more like X”; and from emotions such as anger and fear that churn within when the people being lead lose their will or courage to follow. Given that all leaders, if they are truly leading, eventually find themselves in leadership “life and death” moments, the importance principle of adjusting one’s leadership to a fixed point to avoid over-shifting cannot be overstated. Many a leader has lain “SPLAT” on the ground after anxiously moving his or her attention off of the fixed mission and purpose.

I recently spoke with two young leaders who were venturing into unknown territory. They had chosen to risk a great deal to follow the fixed point of mission and purpose to which they had been called. They really didn’t have a back-up plan if the venture failed. They have given their whole heart and full attention to the vision and it was already getting a bit scary. Before they had even taken their first steps, however, the wind picked up, distractions appeared on the periphery, and the fear of “losing their balance” began to well up. My counsel to them? “Fix your heart and your soul on the mission and purpose to which you are called. Don’t react to the opposition—rather, act to pursue relentlessly the fixed mission and purpose.”

Take if from a wobbly, tightrope-walking leader, you cannot fail if you whole-heartedly pursue what you have been called to do. Likewise, you are destined to fall if you start reacting and over-shifting to the inevitable opposing forces that await you.

Next week, Dr. Robert Kelleman of RPM ministries and the author or Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends, will be guest blogging for us and sharing his insights.


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