This is the final segment of leadership expert John Maxwell’s conversation with Preaching.
Preaching: You’ve been at this for a long time—you have been preaching since you were a young man and you continue to preach. What are some things you’ve learned about preaching, things you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
Maxwell: Well, something interesting has happened. I resigned Skyline in San Diego, Calif.—this just shocks me—15 years ago. When I left the local church after pastoring it for 25 years and loving it so dearly, I felt pretty satisfied, successful. I felt that my churches grew, that a lot of people came to faith in Christ. I felt I had the respect of the Christian community as far as being a “successful pastor.”
Now that I’ve gotten away from it 15 years, I get more disillusioned with my work every year. I told Margaret, “I’m not sure I can live long enough here in this process. I just feel like I didn’t do a good job.” I wish now that I had done this differently.
Just like I was talking about—I would talk to my people about how to share their faith. I didn’t teach them how to get respect in their business world. I didn’t know to do that. I didn’t do nearly enough social stuff that really would get into their world—help people with hunger, clothing needs or whatever. I didn’t do that enough. Now I look back and think, “I could’ve done so much better in my teaching and communicating.” I just came from my perspective all the time. I never would do that again.
If I was developing messages on a weekly basis, I would find un-churched people—hopefully uninterested people—and I would ask them to meet with me on a monthly basis. I’d bounce ideas off of them and see if I ever sparked their interest, see if I ever connected with them in any way. I would put a lot more of that teaching into my messages. One of the things I love now is that I don’t have to develop a message weekly, so I have more time to let them work in me.
When I was younger, I wanted to do a great work for God; I over-emphasized that and under-emphasized God doing a great work in me. I see it now, my shallowness. I get disappointed. I thought, “Wow, if I had been more interested in God doing a great work in me, my messages would’ve been more transforming. They maybe would not have been applauded as greatly, because they maybe wouldn’t have been as well-honed, but they sure would have been from the heart. They would’ve been out of brokenness and out of a journey I was taking.” I wish I had known that when I had that opportunity.
Again, I look back and am very surprised at how disappointed I am in where I was. The only comfort I get out of it is that I know I did my best. I didn’t lack integrity in trying to give my best effort; I just lacked direction and wisdom about things that I could’ve done a lot better.
Preaching: What word of encouragement would you offer to young pastors and preachers?
Maxwell: I’m working now on a lesson that’s been working on me for the last three months. It’s still evolving, so it’s not great; but it’s where I am. In fact, this Sunday at Christ Fellowship, I’m going to do a teaching on it, kind of the first time.
One of the things that’s changed is that I’m willing to teach now out of what I’m learning even though I don’t think I’ve got all the answers yet. I’m willing to let people enjoy that process and journey.
It’s on the subject of inside-out living. The thesis is that if I’m bigger on the inside than I am on the outside, that speaks of my spirit—that Caleb spirit, I suppose. If I’m better on the inside than I am on the outside, that’s character. In time, I’ll become bigger and better on the outside. It’s really going to be a message of “Don’t worry about the outside as much; worry about the inside, because that’s where God looks.”
God looks at the heart of man, and I’m using Job as my example. He was an honest man inside and out. When Satan came to God and challenged Him on Job’s life, what I love is what God says: “Have you considered My friend Job?” I would love for God to have that kind of confidence in me. You know, “Have you considered My friend John?”
Here’s the whole crux of this lesson: Satan believed Job was bigger on the outside than he was on the inside. He was the most influential man in the East; Satan said, “If I can get a hold of his outside, it’ll change his inside.”
God said, “No, he’s bigger on the inside than he is on the outside. You can mess with his outside, but it won’t change his inside.” I just think there’s a whole bunch of stuff there, and I’m developing what I think are the stages we go through to become an inside-out Christian, to be an inside-out leader, an inside-out person.
I think stage one is the “Help me” stage. That’s where we all start a relationship with God. We’re messed up and need God to forgive us of sin, so we start there. There other three stages—I move around on the sequence of them…One is the “Search me” stage, such as when the psalmist says, “Search my heart,” which to me is the stage that makes the change because that’s where we give up control of our lives. When we give up control, then we can go to the “Make me” stage and someday to the “Use me” stage. I’m still working on it because I think the later the “Search me” stage comes, the more difficult our spiritual battles are and the more we work on the outside instead of the inside.
I don’t think we really work on the inside until we get to the search issue and basically say, “God, come on in. You come in and show me where I am and what’s wrong; then begin to change my life.” That’s probably more of a message than you wanted to hear, but that’s kind of where I am.
John Maxwell’s latest book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What Most Effective People Do Differently is now available from Thomas Nelson.