Leadership Transitions and Overcoming “Founder’s Syndrome”: A Case Study in Humility and Gratitude

Some leadership transitions are fraught with tension and conflict. Others can even sink a church or an organization.  Thankfully this wasn’t the case for Leadership Resources when Craig Parro took over for LRI’s Founder Bill Mills in 2010 as LRI’s President.

Craig and Bill recently sat down to discuss the challenges of avoiding “Founder’s Syndrome,” and shared how God helped them transition with grace.

Bill Mills

Bill Mills: God gave Karen and me the grace – the joy – of being the founders of this ministry in 1970. I was president of the organization for the first 40 years. It’s amazing to think back that length of history.

Craig joined our staff in about 1989, and by the time we transitioned from me being president to Craig being president, we had worked together for 21 years. Craig was our International Director and laid the foundation in those years for everything we’re doing overseas today.

Craig Parro

Craig Parro: So, Bill, as we worked together over those years we learned to work together well. We’re wired very differently. Bill is your classic entrepreneurial visionary leader that began the ministry on faith and very little else. And the ministry grew under his leadership. Bill was able to attract people to join him. He’s a man of great faith, and so the ministry grew under Bill’s leadership.

I think during the 1980s Bill began to recognize two things: One is the need for leadership of the ministry with a different gift mix, perhaps. Someone, perhaps, with a little more strategic gifting and organizational-building type of wiring. I had at least some of that, and so Bill began very intentionally to begin to build into me. He really did that the whole time we were together. Bill has always been very intentional about developing me as a leader, as a teacher, and encouraging my gifting.

BM: You know, Craig, what you’re talking about is the reality that drove this change – the shift in leadership. It was purely a strategic move in my eyes. I wasn’t tired of the job. I wasn’t burned out in ministry. I felt, first of all, that I had my chance. Forty years is long enough to be in leadership. But it was a strategic move. I knew that your gifts of leadership and organization were much stronger than mine. And Todd Kelly had joined our staff and he was our Training Director, but of course when you joined our staff in 1989, most of what we were doing was in the States, and our work overseas was just beginning to grow. Now ninety or ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing is around the world and not in the States. And so this was a strategic shift, knowing that we could strengthen the ministry in one move on three levels: You had the gifts needed to lead the work as president that I lacked, Todd could strengthen the work by taking your place as International Director, and there was a need for someone to take over our work in Russia and Central Asia. I was glad to do that, and to me it was purely a strategic move. I loved you and trusted you, so the rest was easy.

CP: But the rest wasn’t always easy. Often for Christian organizations, or any organization or church, when the founding leader turns over the leadership to someone else but then sticks around, that often makes the organization very vulnerable. That’s the “Founder’s Syndrome,” if you will. It’s his baby; he’s poured his life into it. And that can play out in lots of different ways – and often in destructive ways. In fact, Bill watched a partner organization of ours go through a poor leadership transition, and I think one of the things Bill thought to himself was, “Oh, Lord, don’t let that happen here at Leadership Resources.” And it didn’t.

I attribute it to two things that Bill did:

First of all, he stepped off of our Board of Directors when I became president. That meant that Bill had no organizational oversight over me as a leader. What happened is that it gave me space – it gave me freedom to shape the ministry and reshape the ministry as seemed best to me. I appreciated that so much.

The second thing Bill did was to announce to the entire staff that his job description was to do whatever Craig wanted him to do. That demonstrated a humility which was no surprise because of who Bill is and the way God has been building into His life over the years. But I attribute those two decisions, if you will, to making the transition amazingly smooth for us.

BM: But, Craig, to be honest, the truth is, you and I are about as different from each other as two people can be. In character, praise God, we’re very much the same; but personality, gift mix, and the way we think about ministry and the future are very different at times. And you and I have had some very rough waters that we navigated through. And the truth is that, being founder and president for so long, my heart has been deeply invested in this ministry. Not only in the past but in the future. And we have had some real struggles and confrontations, and we’ve had to work through them. And by God’s grace, we’ve been able to do it. We were not thinking we want to do this as a model for others or an example to be followed. We just wanted to be the best stewards of this work that we could be, and so we were committed to getting through this stuff. But it hasn’t always been easy.

CP: One of the things I’ve learned from Bill over the years is when Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment. And that is a powerful approach to difficulties in relationships, because it reminds us. . . . When there’s a difficulty in a relationship, we’re always focused on the problem, the negative, the irritant that keeps frustrating us. But when we go to transition to gratitude, we’re focusing on the strengths, the blessing, the gift that the other person is.

When Bill struggles with a relationship at the ministry, he tries to do this – to thank God for that person, to be grateful for the person with whom he’s struggling at the moment.

I think Bill and I have learned to do that with one another over the years, because we have frustrated each other. The transition was eight years ago. I would say during those eight years, we had five or six clashes where there was some real energy and angst and yet none of those were showstoppers, because we valued one another so deeply. We realized we’re wired differently, and my job isn’t to fix Bill or change Bill. Bill’s job isn’t to fix me or change me. So, God just gave us grace to navigate those difficulties loving one another, being patient with one another, thanking God for the unique way that God has wired each one of us.

BM: Yes. One thing you were talking about there can be defined as trust. We talk about valuing each other. We have honestly trusted each other along the way. And underneath that, we genuinely love each other. That is a glue that has not only bonded us, but kept us, together for the sake of the work. It’s not a make believe; it’s a deep and genuine love. But there’s another thing Craig, and you talked about humility a moment ago. . . . I think part of the grace that God gave to us along the way is: this isn’t about us, and we were more committed to this work. We’re talking about not Leadership Resources as an organization, but the work of the gospel throughout the world. This work is more important than we are, and we genuinely were not most concerned about our reputation or our agenda but committed to doing what is best for the sake of the gospel and the growth of Leadership Resources. I think next to the love and the trust, that third thing – the commitment to the work of the gospel beyond ourselves – has been a great power and protection along the way.

CP: Jim Collins talks about a “Level Five” leader. That’s one aspect of a level-five leader: they put the mission first before personal agenda. We both have aspired to do that. We haven’t always been successful with it, but we’ve aspired to be that kind of leader. Dr. Henry Tan, one of our board members, asked the question, “Who’s the boss?” And his answer is, “The mission.” And I think both you and I ascribe to that, Bill. It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

It’s not about us; it’s about the mission. It’s about God’s glory.

Kevin Halloran: To close, Bill, say you know the founder of a ministry and exhort him – maybe he’s thinking about or there’s a leadership transition going on. And then, Craig, can you give an exhortation, a word of encouragement to a guy taking the reins of an organization?

BM: What we’re talking about here is really the fruit of much deeper theological understandings and commitments than just how to navigate well through ministry transition. First of all, if we understand that ministry is about God and not about us, if it’s about what He’s doing rather what we’re doing, that creates in us a humility that frees us to walk with God through the process. If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place. So at the root of this is deep and genuine humility. And neither Craig nor I want to put ourselves forward as an example of humility – we are deeply flawed persons – but that’s been part of God’s grace to us.

If we’re most concerned about preserving what we’ve done or our own reputation, we’re in an extremely vulnerable place.

I just want to say that part of what has given me freedom along the way is . . . Craig talked earlier about gratitude, and part of my wonderful freedom and joy is looking at Craig’s stewardship of this ministry that I love so much. You have done very well with it, brother, and carried it to places beyond where I could have ever been, and I love you for it.

CP: My exhortation to someone who is facing a leadership transition and handing over the reigns to someone else is: Get out of the way! You are more invested than you realize; you have more influence than you realize; you can cause more trouble for the person following you than you realize.

There’s a blind spot in the “Founder’s Syndrome” that is a huge vulnerability for you and for the person following you and your organization or church. This comes back to self-awareness. But get out of the way. Bill got out of the way, and I’m so grateful to the Lord and to Bill for that.

BM: Let me conclude with an exhortation for those who are reading: If you are facing a leadership transition in your church or mission organization, don’t assume.

Don’t just embrace the wisdom of the world immediately that says, “The former leader needs to leave the scene in order for the transition to be effective.” Don’t buy into the wisdom, the thinking of this system. That is not biblical, and it’s not even true. There are riches that have been developed over the years that God can use if we are willing to walk humbly through the process and build up each other and the work along the way by God’s grace. So, don’t just assume that, well, this is the pattern; that’s what we need to follow.  

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Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: 20 Years Later

It’s been over 20 years since Bill Mills and Craig Parro wrote the influential book Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout (available on Amazon or in our web store. LRI thought it would be a good idea to catch up with Bill and Craig about the book and hear of lessons learned since its release.

Bill Mills: Craig, it’s been over twenty years since we wrote the book together, titled Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Battle Plan for Burnout. We had hoped that it would be an encouragement to pastors in the battle against burning out in the ministry, and in the last twenty years, a lot of things have changed and a lot of things have stayed the same.

We still see a horrendous number of pastors leaving the ministry for various reasons. It’s hard to keep up with the statistics, but it sounds like at least half of the pastors of the churches on the field are struggling with burnout on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. We still pray that God would keep their hearts.

Craig Parro: Bill, I think it’s clear that this was a book that scratches where pastors itch. As you said, the landscape is replete with pastors who have burned out from the ministry. It’s one of the toughest jobs in America, isn’t it? You have the growing independent mindset of people in our country, and sometimes pastors feel like they have 150 bosses, right? It’s a very, very challenging responsibility. There are a lot of reasons why pastors can burn out.

BM: I think it would be good as we look back on that project to talk a little bit about what we wrote in the book that we still believe in very strongly and maybe some things that we wish we would have said differently. Do you have any thoughts on that?

CP: Sure. In many ways, so much of this book reflects your life message. I’ve heard you give dozens and dozens of messages over the years, and sometimes we laugh around here that Bill’s messages are all the same. And that’s not at all a criticism.

Ministry is looking to see what the Father is doing and then walking in that.

One of the key aspects of your message of the years, which is clearly reflected in this book, is the idea that ministry is looking to see what the Father is doing and then walking in that. I’ve so appreciated that emphasis, and you cite specifically the ministry of Jesus. We think of Jesus as this great leader, and of course He was, and yet Jesus in relationship to the Father was the Responder; the Father was the Initiator. He says in John, “I only do the things I see My Father doing. I only speak the words I hear My Father speaking.”

We’ve tried to shape our lives and our ministry based on that – that we’re looking to see what the Father is doing and then seeking to walk in that, rather than creating our own ministry.

BM: Just to review a quick thing: The book Finishing Well in Life and Ministry is about ten people in the Scriptures that struggle with burnout and how God met them along the way, hoping that it will be a help to us and to other pastors.

Ministry is about God – it’s about who He is, it’s about what He is doing. Ministry is not about us and about what we’re doing.

What you’re talking about is, to me, the most important message in that book, the one that I’ve learned over the years that has made the biggest difference in my life: understanding that ministry is about God – it’s about who He is, it’s about what He is doing. Ministry is not about us and about what we’re doing.

We have a God who speaks. There’s so much in this book about the power of His Word – that it brings new life in us and through us to our people. But it’s also about a God who is active, who is at work. Sometimes we think that when Jesus returned to the Father, He left the work to us. Biblically that is not true in any sense. When we look at the book of Acts and the disciples, they are following the Lord Jesus just as you described a moment ago – Jesus is following the Father. His identity, their identities, are clearly as followers of what God is doing. So here in the book of Acts, Jesus is building His church. God is actively fulfilling His purposes in His glory. That is a great hope.

CP: And the reminder – that it is about His glory – is another theme that Finishing Well picks up on. There’s a chapter on Habakkuk. Habakkuk battled with burnout didn’t he? He was complaining to God that God wasn’t doing enough, and God surprises him by saying, “Oh, you don’t think I’m doing much? Open your eyes. Let me show you what I’m doing. I’m raising up the Babylonians – that fearsome and impetuous people. And they’re coming to a neighborhood near you to destroy your people.” That just blows all of Habakkuk’s circuits, and the book is really a record of his struggle to understand and, ultimately, to embrace what God is doing. In the second chapter, he realizes that because of what God is doing, the earth will be filled with the glory of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). God’s purposes, ultimate purposes, are to fill the earth with His glory – and that includes mercy and grace. It includes judgment. It is all part of His great eternal purposes.

BM: When you mention Habakkuk and what he experienced, you’re really touching on one of the major themes of all of the other chapters of the book too, Craig, and that is the need of our vision of God to get bigger and bigger. When the book of Habakkuk begins, he is very confused. There’s some anger and there’s some fear about what God is doing and what He’s not doing. He’s crying out for justice, and God says, “I am at work, and I’m doing bigger things than you can see or understand.” Part of what God reveals is that He’s going to use the hated Babylonians to come and take God’s people captive. So, the prophet is even more confused. But by the end of the book, he is dancing on the high places (Habakkuk 3:17–19). What’s changed?

It’s helpful for us personally but also as we’re shepherding our people. How often are they in places where they’re confused about what God is doing, or what He’s not doing, or they’re disappointed in what God is doing? It might be a crisis in marriage or family or health or finances. Situations that are hurtful, devastating, confusing, fearful. How do we shepherd our people so that they’re able to dance on the high places? What’s changed for the prophet Habakkuk? His view of God has gotten bigger. His circumstances haven’t changed at all.

CP: Actually, his circumstances have gotten worse. Because at the beginning he doesn’t realize that judgment is so imminent for his people.

BM: Yes! We talk a lot in the book about vision. The need for our vision of God to get bigger and bigger. We talk about how God consistently began the ministry of prophets with vision. Not so much a vision of what He would do with them, but a vision of Himself. Of course vision is a very important word in ministry today, because we all know that if you’re interviewing for a position in a church or mission organization or whatever role, one of the first questions is going to be, What is your vision for this ministry?

“There’s no hint in any text in the Bible where God has interest in anyone’s vision for ministry. He’s got all the vision…”

One of the realities that we deal with in this book is the fact that there’s no hint in any text in the Bible where God has interest in anyone’s vision for ministry. He’s got all the vision, in that He’s an active God. He’s fulfilling His purposes: filling the earth with the knowledge of His glory. The confidence that the prophet Habakkuk experienced is that God will fulfill His purposes, and I can rest in that. It’s a wonderful thing.

But going back again, ministry’s not about us; it’s about God. It’s not what we’re doing; it’s what He’s doing. The hope that comes from the vision of this reality is not only that God is going to fulfill His purposes, but it sets us free to walk with God in what He’s doing.

Here’s the difficulty with the pressures pastors face: we expect pastors today to develop a vision for their church, for their ministry, to cast that vision in a way that the people will be engaged and follow the vision and help develop it. Then we’re in the place where so much of our energy in preaching and most of our prayer time is focused on asking God to enter into what we are doing, to give it life, to bless it, to make it happen – rather than leaving us with the freedom to enter into “What does God have for me?” and walk with Him in His purposes. So, it takes a lot of pressure off: I don’t have to develop a vision for this ministry; the Word of God is filled with the vision of His heart.

Next you’ll hear how Bill and Craig have learned to rest in ministry, not from it.

“Can’t we speed the process up a bit?”

Dear friends and partners,

“Can’t we speed the process up a bit?”

We’ve heard that question many times about our four-year training process. But there’s a reason it takes four years: You can’t grow a forty-foot tall oak tree overnight. Shaping convictions around God’s Word, building skills in exposition, and transforming hearts take time. Consider the story of Anatoyli* from the former Soviet Union:

“By 2008, I was burnt out. . . . My church was growing, but I was not. I did what I was obligated to do but felt emptiness. I desperately needed God to touch my heart. That year, LRI came to do [training], and I sensed I needed to be a part of it.

“LRI’s training is not a fast process. We are goal-oriented people who want fast work. But it doesn’t work like that. After the third or fourth session of training [about two years into the process], I began sensing more of God’s will and His heart – His love for everyone, His mercy, His holiness. I realized I needed my heart changed. He started putting His heart into my heart.”

If we had fast-forwarded the training process, Anatoyli’s new heart might not have come. It also might not have motivated him to pass the transformation on to others:

“I see the same [transformation] in the hearts of other pastors and leaders we train. I see that God changes [us] through His Word. When we abide in the Word for four days, God’s Word does wonderful things with our hearts. We could see pastors in [regions where we train] have a hunger for God’s Word. When the training is over, everyone says, ‘God is changing me.’ Even the congregations say that God is changing their pastor!”

Yes, for oak trees and for pastors, deep roots and healthy multiplication take time. But as Anatoyli would testify, it’s all worth it.

Thank you for your partnership in this work – we couldn’t do it without you!

Yours in Christ,

Craig Parro

PS: Would you consider a generous gift today so that pastors on the verge of burnout might instead become enflamed for God and His Word?

*Name changed for security purposes.

Note: Right now Leadership Resources International has a matching gift from a generous donor. If you are a new donor, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar! Learn more.

Helping Your People Grow through Coaching: An Interview with Craig Glassock from VineGrowers (Part 1 of 3)

What follows is an interview with a friend of the ministry, Craig Glassock of VineGrowers. In the interview we define coaching, talk about its importance for church ministry, and share a simple method to follow when coaching.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: Can you briefly tell us who you are and what VineGrowers is all about?

Craig Glassock: My name is Craig Glassock, and I’m the director with VineGrowers, which is a ministry based in Sydney, Australia.

Our mission is growing disciples and growing the gospel. We’re trying to help churches to develop a culture of disciple-making disciples.

Craig Glassock of VineGrowers

Looking at everything that happens in churches – all the ministry structures and trellises and the people—how can we get that all geared toward disciple-making, so that the normal life of the Christian is as a prayerful proclaimer of the Word? That’s what we’re about.

KH: Can you define coaching for us? Specifically as it relates to different activities such as mentoring or counseling, etc.

CG: Coaching in its simplest form is about helping a person develop and grow. Whenever we coach someone, that’s what we’re trying to do. That can be contrasted with things like counseling, consulting, and mentoring. The type of coaching that I do, which is working with pastors and church leaders, is overlapping in some of those areas. (Although, we try not to delve into the counseling side of things too much.)

If you think about a quadrant with asking questions being at the northern point and giving advice being at the southern point, analyzing problems on the west and creating solutions being in the east, coaching kind of sits in the asking questions/creating solutions quadrant. We’re trying to help people find the answers and unveil the answers for themselves.

In Christian coaching we’re trying to do that within a Christian framework, a biblical framework. That’s where there’s overlap with consultancy or with teaching or mentoring as well. I’m always very careful about differentiating the modes too much. Because you typically end up offending someone somewhat, but counseling tends to be about analyzing problems and problem solving: What’s happened to us in the past? How can we move through that, work through that?

Mentoring tends to be hierarchical, one expert talking to someone who doesn’t have as much expertise. Consultancy would tend to be something like going in, finding what the problem is, and solving it, and then leaving again.

It might be something like in the business world: A company gets a supply chain consultant in, looks at what’s going on, he offers suggestions, and then leaves. It’s a different kind of mode to coaching. Coaching tends to ask questions, dig and explore, and try to help people to find solutions and to be quick to be able to move forward into the future.

KH: Craig, why is coaching so valuable in ministry, and in what situations might a pastor or church leader find themselves with an opportunity to coach?

CG: I think it’s valuable in ministry because we’re sinful people and our flesh is at war with the Spirit. We all need people to help us. We need people to teach us to apply God’s word to our lives, to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We also need people to listen to us, to ask the right questions, to understand, to find out what makes us tick.

How is it valuable in ministry? I think it’s valuable in just about every level of ministry. I’ll talk about some structures or trellises where it might be useful, but I guess it’s important to think about what we’re coaching people in. I’m a product of the ministry of Colin Marshall and Phillip Jensen and others who for a long time talked about three Cs (which I know you’re familiar with): character, conviction, and competence—they’re the things we want to see people grow in and churches grow in.

We want people to grow in godly character and grow like Christ. Romans 12:2 says to stop conforming to the patterns of the world, be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so we know what God’s will is. None of us drift towards holiness. So, we need coaching; we need help to do that. That takes intentionality. I think that there’s a real gap. Some churches are doing it really well, but broadly speaking, in our churches there’s a real gap in coaching people to develop in character.

A few of us have maintained great spiritual disciplines throughout our lives. Spiritual disciplines are important. We don’t want to drift toward legalism, but how can we coach people to implement the basic spiritual disciplines of reading, and prayer, and proclaiming the Word in their lives? We want people to see what’s worked in the past for them when they’ve been doing that well, what hasn’t, and how we can move them toward that.

In terms of convictions, what are we actually believing, and how are we living those convictions? One example of this is that we’re encouraged to meet together regularly, as Hebrews 10 says, to consider how we might spur each other on to love and good deeds. If we take that seriously, then we’ll prepare for church, prepare to learn, prepare to think about who we can encourage.

Use the B-E-L-L principle: Be Early and Leave Late. We want to coach people so that their convictions shape their practice. That’s a role for small group leaders and others: to coach their people to have their convictions shape their practice of church.

But also competence, which is the third C. When we talk about competency, we’re talking about ministry skills, which is anything from leading a service on Sunday, to preaching, to reading the Bible with a non-believer, knowing how to evangelize, knowing how to lead a small group, and on and on it goes. I think coaching is applicable at about every level of ministry structure.

There are many very competent pastors, but coaching can be very helpful to them considering the burdens, the responsibilities, the diversity of skills that’s not just required but expected these days of pastors, particularly the solo pastor who has a huge diversity of responsibility. Pastors need help with that. They need someone to listen. They need someone to help them develop in those skills. They benefit from outside support. I think a lot of pastors just benefit from a listening ear. Someone they can share with. This is beneficial across other ministry structures, if there’s a lay person leading the Sunday service or praying or welcoming, for ushers, Sunday School, leaders, and on and on it goes.

We need to coach people to develop. We want to help them grow in those areas so that we are growing and building a disciple-making culture. When we think someone’s got potential, we should say, “You can lead the service” or “You can pray.” We might help them grow by getting them training and shape and structure, and then help them develop in those things, knowing they’ll make mistakes. We’re selling them short, essentially if we don’t do that. We need to coach people at every level.

I think that the big thing—and this is a growing movement in the States, I’ve noticed—is coaching small group leaders. It’s such a vital ministry for those who have small groups or adult Bible fellowship (adult Sunday School). How can we coach and develop our leaders to be equippers of others, to be disciple-making disciples, more than just facilitating a group? That takes coaching.

Leaders need to know how to lead a meeting, how to interpret Scripture, how to keep meetings on track, how to manage prayer, how to drive our people to have those deep convictions and develop character and competence. If we don’t, it’s like teaching a kid how to hit a baseball and then saying, “Alright, I think you’ve got potential to hit a baseball. Off you go. We’ll see you in a couple of years and see how it’s going.” We need more regular input for our small group leaders. And that is really challenging, particularly for solo pastors. They’ve got so many things on their plate.

If someone is ready to lead a small group, then I think 99 out of 100 of them can be trained to help people grow and change with a simple coaching framework and some simple coaching questions. I think coaching can be learned by lay leaders. It’s really important across all our trellises so we grow that disciple-making culture that we’re talking about.

Part two talks about asking good questions and the importance of listening.

31 Days of Prayer for LRI

Enjoying Your God in Prayer
Dear Praying Friends and Partners,

We asked you to pray at the beginning of last year. Good news! . . . the Lord has graciously answered your prayers. For example . . .

Last year, you prayed for our staffing needs – a North America regional director, an expanded development department, and critical support staff. Dave DeHaan and Brad Warren joined our development team, and Joe Paglia took over as our North America regional director. Praise God for these provisions.

You prayed for new trainings in the Middle East. We now are able to conduct trainings in three countries in this region. We are still looking for the right partners to launch ongoing pastoral training groups in each. Prayer is still needed!

Precious friends, we covet your prayers! The opportunities before us and our partners are greater than ever, but the challenges are daunting. Entering into 2019, we again invite you to pray with us.

Here are 31 more prayer requests, one for each day of the month. Please pray for . . .

  1. A country in South Asia – key mentor trainers who are leading the movement. Pray for God’s protection over them because of the anti-conversion laws in this country. There have been reports of arrests and fines.
  2. Our team – that God will continue to fuel our sense of total dependence on Him for everything needed for successful ministry.
  3. A restricted-access country – that westerners like LRI workers can still be allowed to come in undetected and not jeopardize the security of the pastors who are being trained.
  4. Ethiopia – that our training would permeate the traditional Ethiopian Church so that ministers are able to properly handle God’s Word in their context.
  5. Our team – for wisdom as we face this question: how much flexibility and adaptability should we allow in our training process?
  6. Brazil – a deepening movement of the Word in churches where pastors often struggle against neo-liberal theology, syncretism, prosperity gospel, and pragmatism.
  7. A restricted-access country – that God would continue to grow His Church in a country that is undergoing great oppression by the government – some are experiencing church closures, imprisonment, and persecution.
  8. Ukraine – for wisdom for our in-country leader as he forms a national training team empowered to lead training throughout the country.
  9. Our team – for wisdom: how much caution or risk should we take as we minister in countries strongly opposed to the gospel?
  10. India – that key leaders there would develop in confidence and competence as mentor trainers for northwest India.
  11. USA – that a movement of God’s Word would develop among the 100 Nepali-Bhutanese pastors/churches in North America.
  12. Ethiopia – for wisdom for Country Director Eshete Belete as he selects 3-5 regional training directors to expand the training within the country.
  13. Our team – Rejoice with us over the many generous partners that the Lord has given to us . . . including many of you!
  14. Europe – for new partner churches to support the expanding work in Europe for 2019 and beyond.
  15. Haiti – for pastors who face heavy spiritual darkness and daily struggles.
  16. Our team – that God will protect the integrity and reputation of LRI by superintending over every spending decision, wherever it is made and whoever it is made by.
  17. Poland – that the Church would be strengthened through our training and that Mateusz Wichary would grow as a leader of the training in Poland.
  18. Russia – that our leadership team would meet the growing desire for training in their nation and organize themselves for expansion.
  19. Uganda – that doors would be open for new training groups in new locations and for the establishment of a strong national training team led by Country Director, Jacques Masiko.
  20. Our team – for wisdom regarding how aggressive or conservative we should be in hiring new staff.
  21. Russia – for God’s favor in obtaining visas so we can enter the country . . . it’s a big problem.
  22. A restricted-access country in Southeast Asia – Praise God that these men are making great strides to exposit the Word and shepherd the people of God with its transforming purpose.
  23. Bangladesh – for wisdom for a third training venue to be launched in 2019 and protection and provision for our 36 pastors being trained in this, the fourth most populous Islamic nation.
  24. Our team – for wisdom in how to be both generous with our national partners and, at the same time, promote local sustainability.
  25. A restricted-access country – for safety of trainees during travel and the time at the training center.
  26. Indonesia – that the mentor trainers become more skilled in training others in expository preaching so that our national leader there is supported by a strong team.
  27. Our team – that the Lord would raise up many new partners who resonate with our mission to equip and encourage pastors around the world to teach God’s Word with God’s heart.
  28. USA – for increased capacity to facilitate additional training groups in North America and wisdom about how to best promote these new groups.
  29. Peru – that God would transform the hearts, minds, and wills of pastors as they study His Word and give them a strong sense of sufficiency in His Word alone.
  30. Our team – for wisdom as we develop a Global Leadership Team to guide the work around the world. How centralized or decentralized should we become?
  31. God – that He be glorified in every training, every conversation, and every decision made by our team and our partners.

So many of these requests admit to our lack of wisdom. Thanks be to God for his invitation and promise in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).

With much confidence in Christ,

Craig Parro


PS: You can use this PDF to print a copy of the prayer requests.

The Costly Results of an Impaired Prayer Life

Every Christian is called to pray. Every minister is called to pray. And yet many of us struggle to pray consistent and heartfelt prayers to the Lord. Norwegian preacher Ole Hallesby wrote in 1931 about the costly results of an impaired prayer life, and the wise will take his words to heart and ask for the Lord’s help in prayer.

Children of God can grieve Jesus in no worse way than to neglect prayer. For by so doing they sever the connection between themselves and the Savior, and their inner life is doomed to be withered and crippled, as is the case with most of us…

The result is that we go about at home and in the assembly of believers like spiritual cripples or dwarfs, spiritually starved and emaciated, with scarcely enough strength to stand on our own feet, not to speak of fighting against sin and serving the Lord… This neglect is the cause of my many other sins of commission as well as of commission…

The more of an effort prayer becomes, the more easily it is neglected. Results which are fatal to spiritual life follow, not immediately, but no less certainly. First, our minds become worldly, and we feel more and more alienated from God, and therefore have less and less about which to speak with Him. Then we develop an unwilling spirit, which always finds pretexts for not praying and excuses for having neglected prayer.

Our inner life begins to weaken. The pain of living in sin is not felt as keenly as before, because sin is no longer honestly confessed before God. As a result of this, again, our spiritual vision becomes blurred, and we can no longer distinguish clearly between that which is sin and that which is not. From now on we resist sin in essentially the same way as worldly people do. They struggle against those sins only which are exceedingly dangerous from the standpoint of their consequences.

But such people have no desire to lose their reputation as Christians. For this reason they try to hide the worldliness of their minds as long as possible. In conversation, as well as in the prayer meeting, they are tempted to use language which is not in harmony with their inner selves. Empty words and affectation now seek to strangle what little prayer life is left in their hearts.

All this and a great deal more is the result of an impaired prayer life. And this is just what has taken place in the lives of many believers.[1]

Maybe Hallesby’s words convict you as they do me. My gut reaction in receiving such conviction is to try harder—make up for time I’ve lost and do it in my own strength. This approach doesn’t lead to lasting change or deepen my joy in the Lord.

What does motivate me and deepen joy is taking the focus off of myself and putting it on God, His glory, and His gracious invitation to us in Christ. In Christ, we are His beloved children. In Christ, we have a Father who has an open ear and willing heart to hear our prayers and anxious thoughts (1 Peter 5:7). He knows our failures and weaknesses and wants to be our strength and Provider. Fix your eyes on Him.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 ESV)

[1] Excerpts taken from pages 38–41 of Ole Hallesby’s Prayer.

A Movement of the Word…Even Among Drug Addicts

Dear friends and partners,

Jonathan* was not the one you would pick for “most likely to succeed” when training began a few years back. He was young, quiet, lacking confidence, and without a position to influence others. Then Jonathan surprised us.

“A few years ago I was wondering, ‘Who will I train?’ A group of drug addicts at a local rehabilitation center were eager to learn, so I began with them. Soon they were changed by the power of God’s Word. Their hunger for the Word grew further still.

“Our denominational leaders took notice. They asked if I would be willing to teach the center leaders so they can each train their 10-12 residents. I have begun with 30, but there are 100 leaders total. This group is made up of leaders, pastors, and small group workers, representing about 30 churches.

“We studied 2 Timothy and they appreciated the methods of study. One remarked, ‘We are now confident to preach!’ Another, the head of all the rehabilitation ministries, said, ‘Even I was afraid to preach, but now I am confident to handle the Word.’

“The difference in their preaching is dramatic. Before, they preached about the experiences of their lives. They went to the Scriptures to find verses to back up their story. Now, they base their sermon on the text and apply it to their lives. As a result, we are seeing God add more people to our churches. I have now been put in charge of Christian Education for my denomination and have access to many churches . . . 48 in my region alone.”

So much for not having a position to influence others! Jonathan is living proof that God’s Word is sufficient to equip men (even those lacking confidence!) for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Faithful partners like you make this possible. Thank you!

To God be the glory!

Craig Parro

PS: The country where Jonathan lives is one of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians (according to the “World Watch List 2018” report by Open Doors USA). Please consider a gift today to advance the gospel in dark and dangerous places.

*His name has been changed due to security concerns.

“…His passion is channeled by the text itself” | Kenya Update

Why are you wasting your time with more training???

. . . Pastor Paul’s friends wondered. After all, their friend had attended seminary in the U.S. Why would Paul, a Kenyan pastor, need more training?

Paul knew why, and he shared it on a recent visit:

“[Some] training is quite general. LRI gives the tools to divide the Word and to share. . . . If you don’t have a map, you can get lost. If you do have the map and the way to get you there—that is what the training does.”

Having a roadmap to the Bible is great, but how does it translate to preaching? Who better to ask than Paul’s wife, Abigail:

“His teaching has become more clear and to the point. He doesn’t just appeal to emotions. Paul is still a passionate preacher, but his passion is channeled by the text itself.”

Preaching the text of Scripture not only lets God’s voice be heard by Paul’s congregation, but it has brought together leaders in a nation fragmented tribally and denominationally.

“The training unifies us. . . . At the end of the day we think the same. It doesn’t matter where you came from, your background, your training; this training brings people together. I can invite a friend [from a different denomination] to speak at our church. . . . We have become friends and partners in the ministry.”

I hope hearing Paul’s story brings joy to your heart! What a mighty God we have who brings people together to partner for His kingdom’s advance. We thank God for your partnership and making stories like Paul’s possible.

In His service,

Craig Parro

PS: We praise God that our training is truly cross-educational, bringing together different denominations and folks from different education levels. God’s Word is an equalizer! What if your gift this month helped bring unity to the Body of Christ in this way? What a cause for rejoicing that would be!

Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture: Ideas, Techniques, and Resources

Paul commands Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. . . .”

Why be devoted to the public reading of Scripture?

Let’s take a look at the theological foundations of public Scripture reading and some ways to give Scripture a more prominent place in public gatherings.

Theological Foundations

  1. God has spoken.

From the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:3), we see that God speaks, and His word is powerful and life-giving. At the end of the Bible, we see that a word from God ushers in the culmination of history (Revelation 21:2-4). In contrast to idols that cannot speak or do anything (Psalm 115:3-8), we serve a God who speaks and who has ultimately spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), the Word made flesh (John 1:14-18).

  1. It is written.

Because God has spoken, we know His words were worth writing down to be remembered for all of time. God shares with us in Scripture that His Word has two audiences in mind: the original audience and future generations (Romans 15:4).

  1. God’s Word brings life.

“. . . [M]an does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV). Through the Word, we are made wise unto salvation, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We proclaim God’s Word through preaching and public readings because we long to hear from God so we can love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and receive life. To put it more simply: when Scripture is read, God’s voice is heard.

Biblical Examples

In addition to Paul’s command to Timothy, the Bible offers several examples and additional commands relating to the public reading of Scripture. Here is a sampling:

  • Public reading is commanded in Deuteronomy 31:11: “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (ESV).
  • Ezra and the Levites: “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. . . . They [the Levites] read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1, 8; ESV).
  • Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue in Luke 4:18-19. As He concluded, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21, ESV).
  • At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, James describes the public practice of reading Scripture, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (15:21, ESV).
  • The New Testament church read letters publicly: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16, ESV); and “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thessalonians 5:27, ESV).

How to Read Scripture Publicly

Tim Keller writes in the foreword to Unleashing the Word (see suggested resources):

“In most church services the reading of the Word is poorly and hurriedly done. What a missed opportunity! The public reading of God’s Word is an interpretive act that takes skill and thought and has historically been understood as means of grace equal with preaching and sacraments.”

As people who take the Word of God seriously, let’s take public Scripture reading seriously.

1. Study the passage.

Studying the passage (and reading it over several times) helps you understand it better so you know what it communicates and how it communicates it. Simon Roberts suggests that readers “mark important words, bracket groups of words that belong together, and highlight important connecting words (e.g. ‘but’, ‘therefore’, ‘so’, ‘then’).”

It might be worth dissecting the structure and looking for a main idea as well. If there are any words you are unsure how to pronounce, ask others for help, or listen to an audio Bible on Bible Gateway for suggested pronunciation.

2. Practice reading the passage aloud.

Max McLean suggests, “Practice your delivery aloud until you feel ready to present it as if you’re having an animated conversation with a good friend.” McLean also advises paying attention to pause, pace, pitch, volume, and breathing. As you practice, you might record yourself to hear how you’re doing. Most phones now have voice recorder apps.

3. Make your inflection reflect the intent of the original author.

“When I read, I also go over the text multiple times,” writes McLean. “I think about how I will phrase the line so I can determine my inflection: the way I change my pitch or the loudness of my voice as I read a particular word or phrase. In my readings, getting the right inflection is one of the essential keys to communicating the meaning of the text.”

He continues, “The proper inflection helps me find the emotional undertow within the text. It connects the passage more viscerally to the congregation. While we certainly want hearers to connect at the head level, understanding the meaning of each thought block in the text, we also want them to go deeper and gain an understanding of the author’s motivation and intent at that moment.”

4. Pray that the Spirit would open eyes to see the glory of Christ.

The goal of Scripture reading is to behold the glory of Christ and be transformed into His image. Pray for listeners to experience our Risen Lord through His Word and for them to long for His Kingdom. Pray for the evils of sin to be exposed in hearts and the grace of Christ to be magnified.

You might also benefit from: 3 big ideas and 7 tips on how to read the Bible in church by Simon Roberts (GoThereFor)

Ways to Dedicate Yourself to Public Reading of Scripture

  1. Make Scripture reading an important and valued part of your church’s services. Choose your texts intentionally to reflect the service’s theme. Select and train a group of Scripture readers. Consider reading longer portions of Scripture to remind listeners of its importance.
  1. Consider holding special events to focus on reading Scripture. During a sermon series on Deuteronomy, The Orchard EFC in Arlington Heights, Illinois, held a special event to listen to the entire book being read. If the book’s original purpose was to be read publicly in one sitting (Deuteronomy 31:11), why not experience it like Israel did?
  2. Host a Scripture reading marathon. Involve your whole church in reading Scripture publicly by reading the entire Bible aloud over the course of several days.
  3. Memorize a whole book of the Bible and present it on a Sunday. (You will need many months of intentional preparation!) In doing so, you will not only bless your church with God’s Word, you will encourage them to memorize Scripture. Consider these examples: RomansHebrews, and 1 Corinthians. (Also see: 11 Steps to Memorizing an Entire Book of the Bible)
  4. Incorporate reading Scripture into everything possible: counseling sessions, small groups, member meetings, staff meeting, and church-related sporting events.
  5. Decorate your church with Scripture art. No, this isn’t necessarily public reading, but it does allow God’s Word to penetrate souls and proclaim the beauty of our God. God’s Word never returns void.

Suggested Resources:

Why Preach Overview Sermons of Bible Books

Preachers want their people to love the Word of God. They also want to grow as preachers and keep their preaching calendar fresh. Preaching a whole book of the Bible in one sermon is one way to accomplish all three of these objectives and might be worth adding to your preaching repertoire. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons encourages Bible engagement in the congregation.

All preachers should want their preaching to engender responses like, “I can read this for myself!” The more exposure your people have to different parts of Scripture, the better. Working in a book-overview sermon allows you to mix in other parts of Scripture that you wouldn’t normally cover.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons adds more variety in the preaching schedule.

If you have ever gotten bogged down by preaching consecutively through entire books, you might consider taking a break from your current series and preaching an overview of another book as a way to mix things up.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps show different contours of the book that are sometimes lost in a normal exposition.

Approaching the Bible with a wider lens reveals a book’s big ideas, turning points, and other vital details to the book’s message. More atomistic preaching risks losing the forest for the trees—or even the leaves on the trees. Teaching the Bible atomistically can lead our people to read the Bible atomistically. Zooming out to see the whole book reminds listeners that God moved authors to write whole books with coherent messages, not loosely arranged collections of verses.

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons grows the preacher.

Pastor Paul Alexander commented, “I myself learn so much as a preacher from preparing overview sermons. I learn both content of the book, and a different method of study, and my learning in those ways helps my congregation learn in those ways too.”[1]

  1. Preaching book-overview sermons helps you see how the book testifies to Christ in its macro themes and structure.

All of Scripture testifies to Christ. Focus on entire books allows preachers to more easily explain how higher-level ideas in books point us to Christ. The book of Judges’ steady drumbeat of “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) points to Christ, the Promised King from the tribe of Judah. Joseph’s words near the end of Genesis, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20), summarize not only a major theme of the book but a major theme of the Bible—one ultimately fulfilled when sinful man’s crucifixion of the Christ opens the door for salvation.

Responding to Potential Pushback

Preaching book-overview messages isn’t for the faint of heart, as two points of pushback testify to. Careful thought should help a preacher overcome pushback.

Pushback #1: But . . . you won’t cover everything a book has to offer in one sermon!

Isn’t that the case with every sermon text anyway? Scripture has an unlimited depth of riches no matter what size text you choose to preach. Occasionally sprinkling in book-overview sermons will help make more parts of the Bible accessible for our people so they can discover its riches for themselves.

Pushback #2: But . . . it takes so much time!

Yes, it takes time and is hard work. Consider Pastor Paul Alexander’s recommendation:

“The main downside is that if you’ve never done it before, you can make it harder work than it is (both to prepare for it and for your congregation to listen to it!) by choosing a long book rather than a short one. So start small and work your way up to the bigger books if you’re inexperienced. Start with an short NT epistle like Philemon or Jude, or 3 John, then a book like Philippians, then try a short OT prophet like Obadiah, or Haggai, then graduate to Ruth, etc. . . . Major prophets, Gospels, and the Psalms should be among the last overviews preachers do.”[2]

Example Sermons

If you’ve never heard an overview sermon, here are a few examples from pastors Paul Alexander of Grace Covenant Church in Elgin, Illinois, and Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC:

[1] Quote taken from a personal email with Alexander on May 30, 2018.
[2] Ibid.

Related Resources:


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    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.


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