Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Hymns IIMusic Review ~ Hymns II: Shine on Us – Michael W. Smith

This is the follow-up to the multi-talented Michael W. Smith’s 2014 Hymns album recorded for the Cracker Barrel restaurants. This one could have been titled Hymns, Worship Songs and Patriotic Songs, as it includes some or all of these. As with all of Smith’s projects (and I’ve been a fan since his 1983 debut Project (a song from that album is included here), they are done with excellence. Here are a few thoughts about each song included on the project:

Down to the River to Pray – a fantastic version (musically and vocally with background choir), of a traditional song that was sung by Alison Krauss on the soundtrack of the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? It starts off the album on a high note. It’s my favorite song on the album.

I Need Thee – the traditional hymn written by Annie Sherwood Hawks in 1872, with the chorus written by Robert Lowry and music composed by Robert Lowry. Begins with Smith on piano and vocal with light strings and then builds with a backing choir.

Jesus, Only Jesus – this is Matt Redman’s excellent song from his 2013 Your Grace Finds Me album. Starts with Smith on piano and vocals, and then builds powerfully with light drums and backing vocals.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – written by Helen H. Lemmel in 1922. Features backing vocals from Audrey Assad. Begins with Smith on the piano and vocal and some light strings.

I’ll Fly Away – An upbeat version with drums, fiddle, banjo, backing vocals and a bluegrass feel. Was written by Albert Edward Brumley in 1929.

I Don’t Know Why (Jesus Loves Me) – a wonderful Andre Crouch song. Smith brings a smooth black gospel feel with choir to it. Not the first time Smith has covered an Andre Crouch song, singing “Jesus is the Answer” on the 1996 Tribute: Songs of Andre Crouch album.

His Eye is On the Sparrow – the song was originally written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. The song is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography. Smith uses a scaled back approach, singing with piano and some backing strings.

Shine on Us – really a prayer to the Lord written by Smith and wife Debbie that has been covered by Phillips, Craig & Dean. It’ a ballad with piano, strings, light drums and backing vocals that gently builds toward a powerful ending.

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way In the darkest night
Let Your love come over us
Let Your light shine on us

Nearer My God to Thee – a beautiful rendition of a hymn written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841. Opens with violin and then Smith’s voice and piano. Features a duet with Susan Ashton.

I’d Rather Have Jesus – based on a 1922 poem by Rhea F. Miller, this was one of George Beverly Shea’s signature songs. Smith gives us a beautiful tender vocal, with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

O Sacred Head Now Wounded – Paul Gerhardt provided a German translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s text in 1656, and about 200 years later James Waddell Alexander translated Gerhardt’s German text into English. Smith gives us a beautiful tender version with piano and strings that builds gently with backing vocals.

Be Still My Soul – This hymn was originally written in German by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel in 1753. Smith’s vocal is paired with his piano and light strings that builds with backing vocals.

Great is the Lord – an excellent new version of Smith classic song from his first album Project in 1983. Features excellent backing vocals and instrumentation.

Great are you Lord
And worthy of glory
Great are you Lord
And worthy of praise
Great are you Lord
I lift up my voice
I lift up my voice
Great are you Lord
Great are you Lord

A Mighty Fortress is Our God – Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn is based on Psalm 46. It is a celebration of God’s sovereign power over all earthly and spiritual forces, and of the sure hope believers have in him because of Christ. Smith gives us a beautiful and powerful version of this triumphant hymn, slowing down the pace and featuring excellent backing vocals and church organ. Definitely a highlight.

America the Beautiful – this is the one misstep as far as song selection is concerned. Its inclusion reminded me of when Cracker Barrel stuck “Cinderella” at the end of Steven Curtis Chapman’s excellent 2013 hymns project Deep Roots. Both songs are good, they just don’t fit on a hymns project. Like many of the songs this one starts simply with vocal and piano and then builds to a powerful ending with strings and backing vocals, with a bit of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the very end of the song. I can hear this song being played during 4th of July fireworks celebrations this year.

Most of the arrangements and instrumentation is kept simple, except where noted, and for the most part Smith chooses to goes with a light, scaled back production, different from his normal releases. The scaled back production and instrumentation at times expose his voice, never strong, as vulnerable and at times thin. But overall, this is a highly satisfying and wonderful new release which will be loved by those who love the hymns and Smith’s music.

music news

  • Wow to the Deadness. I’m excited about the February 5 release of Wow to the Deadness by Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil. Read our review here.
  • New Andy Mineo Video. Check out the video for his song “Now I Know”, from his excellent album Uncomfortable.
  • New Scott Roley Music. I got to know Scott a bit when he joined Michael Card at a Biblical Imagination Conference at our church a few years back. I was excited to hear about his new album Nine Guitars which is now available on iTunes. The album includes “The Old Man”, which Scott included on his Patient Endurance release of a few years back (compilation of earlier songs and a few new ones). Scott is a believer who walks the talk as he lives among the poor in Franklin, Tennessee. Check out his books Hard Bargain: A Beautiful Place to Live and God’s Neighborhood: A Hopeful Journey in Racial Reconciliation and Community Renewal

Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • Double lives take half as long. Steve Taylor
  • People will always question the good they hear about you, but believe the bad without a second thought. Lecrae
  • Leaders activate people through passion, not pity. Andy Mineo
  • Starve your distractions. Feed your focus. Lecrae
  • I know many super-smart Christians who say Two Corinthians as opposed to 2nd. That being said, please God – protect us from a Trump presidency. Fernando Ortega
  • And as He stands in victory,
    Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
    For I am His and He is mine—
    Bought with the precious blood of Christ. “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Chris Tomlin Quote

Song of the Week           

Whatever Happened to Sin? by Steve Taylor


This song was included on Steve Taylor’s 1983 debut EP I Want to Be a Clone, but the lyrics are as current as if they were pulled from today’s news. Listen to the song here.

The Christian counselor wrote, quote
“Who is the only humane choice aheadSteve Taylor
If you can’t support it
Why don’t you abort it instead?”

You say you pray to the sky
Why? When you’re afraid to take a stand down here
‘Cause while the holy talk reads like a bad ad lib
Silence screams you were robbing the crib

Say it ain’t none of my business, huh?
A woman’s got a right to choose
Now a grave digger, next you pull the trigger what then?
Whatever happened to sin?

I heard the reverend say
“Gay is probably normal in the Good Lord’s sight
What’s to be debated?
Jesus never stated what’s right”

I’m no Theology nut
But the Reverend may be a little confused
For if the Lord don’t care and he chooses to ignore, ah
Tell it to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah

Call it just an alternate lifestyle, huh?
Morality lies within
Consciences are restin’, please repeat the question again
Whatever happened to sin?

When the closets are empty and the clinics are full
When your eyes have been blinded by society’s wool
When the streets erupt in your own backyard
You’ll be on your knees praying for the National Guard

If you don’t care now how the problems get solved
You can shake your head later, that you never got involved
‘Cause the call came a ringing from the throne of gold
But you never got the message, never got the message
‘Cause your mind’s on hold

A politician next door
Swore he’d set the Washington Arena on fire
Thinks he’ll gladiate them
But they’re gonna make him a liar

Well, he’s a good ole boy who was born and raised
In the buckle o’ the Bible Belt
But remember when you step into your voting booth
He’ll never lie, he’ll just embellish the truth

Promises were made to be broken, right?
You’ve gotta play the game to win
When you need support, tell them that you born again
Whatever happened to sin?

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Stephen CurryStephen Curry: The Incredible Story of One of Basketball’s Sharpest Shooters by Clayton Geoffreys. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 102 pages. 2014

My interest in this short unauthorized biography was not necessarily that Stephen Curry is the reigning National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Valuable Player, a member of the 2014-15 Championship team or the fact that that his team is currently an incredible 43-4 as I write this, with a real shot at beating the all-time record of 72-10 set by Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1995-96 season. What really attracted to me to Curry’s story, in addition to all of the above, is that he is known for his Christian beliefs.

Curry was born in 1988 in Akron, Ohio. His father Del was an NBA player and coach and his mother Sonya was an accomplished volleyball player. They met at Virginia Tech.   His parents provided Stephen and his brother Seth (also a basketball player), the following priorities in life – faith, family and academics above everything else, including sports.

Curry attended Davidson University, where he played for three seasons before leaving for the NBA where he was drafted as the seventh overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 2009 draft. In his 104 games at Davidson, Curry finished with averages of 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. His 2,635 total points and 414 total three-pointers are both Davidson records.

Curry’s early seasons were hampered by injuries (he spent the entire 2011-12 season recovering from ankle injuries and undergoing a season-ending surgery). He and teammate Klay Thompson, are nicknamed the “Splash Brothers” for their shooting abilities. The author states that even at this relatively early stage of Curry’s career, some are already considering him the greatest shooter in history.

The author takes us through Curry’s NBA career, through most of the 2014-15 season when the Warriors had a league-best record of 67-15, Curry was the top vote-getting in the All-Star Game, and was named the NBA Most Valuable Player. The book went to press before the end of the playoffs and the Warriors winning the NBA Championship.

Curry professed Christ while in the fourth grade at the Central Church of God in Charlotte. He writes bible verses on his basketball shoes. He is married to Ayesha and the couple has two daughters. He has a strong work ethic and though only 27 years old is a wonderful role model. The author tells us that Curry has stated in interviews he felt that God wanted to use him in the league to show that not all successful athletes live the celebrity lifestyle that comes with all the money and fame.

I enjoyed this short book about Steph Curry. The author sometimes goes overboard with superlatives and didn’t have any contact with Curry. Still, for those who want to know about this role model, this is an excellent book to check out.
book news

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at Chapter 22: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin

    • There is nothing at the present time which is more urgently necessary than that we should truly grasp the biblical doctrine with respect to sin. I assert that most of our failures and troubles in the Church, as well as in the world, are due to the fact that we have not really understood this doctrine.
    • I suggest that unless we are clear about the doctrine of sin we shall never truly understand the New Testament way of salvation.
    • Regeneration is meaningless to people who have a negative view of sin and do not realize its profundity.
    • If you dislike the New Testament doctrine of sin, it simply means that you are not a Christian. For you cannot be one without believing that you must be born again and without realizing that nothing but the death of Christ upon the cross saves you and reconciles you to God.
    • There is no true evangelism without the doctrine of sin, and without an understanding of what sin is.
    • A gospel which merely says `Come to Jesus’, and offers Him as a Friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convicting of sin, is not New Testament evangelism.
    • If you do not like the doctrine of hell you are just disagreeing with Jesus Christ. He, the Son of God, believed in hell; and it is in His exposure of the true nature of sin that He teaches that sin ultimately lands men in hell.
    • Self-satisfaction, smugness and glibness are the very antithesis of the New Testament doctrine of holiness.
    • Above all, this doctrine of sin leads us to see the absolute need of a power greater than ourselves to deliver us. It is a doctrine that makes a man run to Christ and rely upon Him; it makes him realize that without Him he can do nothing.
    • Finally, it is surely only a true grasp of the New Testament doctrine of sin that enables us to realize the greatness of God’s love to us.
    • Why do not we love God as we should? It is because we have never realized what He has done for us in Christ, and this itself is because we have not realized the nature and the problem of sin. It is only as we see what sin really is in the sight of God, and realize that, nevertheless, He did not spare His only Son, that we begin to understand and to measure His love.
    • The first thing our Lord emphasizes is what we may call the depth or the power of sin.
    • Sin is not merely a matter of actions and of deeds; it is something within the heart that leads to the action. In other words the teaching here is the characteristic teaching of the Bible everywhere about this subject, namely, that what we must really concentrate upon is not so much sins as sin.
    • Then there is the perverting nature and effect of sin. Sin is something that perverts.
    • Sin has perverted man, turning good itself into evil.
    • Finally, sin is something which is destructive.
    • God and sin are utterly incompatible, and therefore sin, of necessity, leads to hell.

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week



  • Should You Share Your Sexual Past? David Murray writes “Should you share your sexual past with the person you plan to marry? Personally, I’ve never been convinced that this is always necessary or wise for a dating or an engaged couple.”
  • Colton Dixon and the Craziness of Saving Sex for Marriage. Trevin Wax writes about comments posted to a recent People magazine article about Colton Dixon and his new wife waiting until marriage to have sex.
  • Anxiety. In this “Minute with Maxwell”, John Maxwell encourages us to share our anxieties with God or others. Don’t keep them, but find a way to pass them on.
  • D.A Carson on the Grounds of Our Assurance. Here is a powerful reminder from D.A. Carson, the President of The Gospel Coalition.
  • Desiring Knowledge and Maturity. Kevin DeYoung writes “All else being equal, I’d rather have a mature Christian with simple theological knowledge than an extremely knowledgeable, well-read Christian without a lot of maturity. But, of course, neither situation is desirable.”
  • A Prayer for Reaffirming, Resting and Rejoicing in God’s Sovereignty. Here is our prayer of the week from friend Scotty Smith.
  • mormonsWhen the Mormons Come Calling. Tim Challies writes “So this is my strategy when the Mormons visit: Preach the gospel. The gospel, after all, is the source of true joy. This is the same strategy I employ when the far-less-polite and far-more-aggressive Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking.”
  • Defy the Impossible in Front of You. Marshall Segal writes “Whatever the burden or obstacle or fear is in front of you, today is another opportunity to ask, “Is anything too hard for God? (Genesis 18:14). Another opportunity to redefine what might happen if He moved. Another opportunity to defy the impossible with faith.”
  • 11 Questions to Ask Ourselves about Debt. Randy Alcorn offers these questions to consider before we go into debt.
  • Jesus and Performance Fatigue. Scott Sauls writes “When we lose our intimacy with God, it’s not because God has shifted. In these moments and seasons of distance, we can truly say to him, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
  • The Character of the Christian: A One-Woman Man. Tim Challies continues his series on the character of the Christian.
Doug Michael’s Cartoon of the Week

              Doug Michael’s Cartoon of the Week


Courtesy of World Magazine

                                         Courtesy of World Magazine


  • Antinomianism Is Not the Antidote for Legalism. Tony Reinke writes “I doubt I will ever forget the place I was walking when I first heard (Sinclair) Ferguson explain why antinomianism is not the antidote for legalism, and why legalism is not the antidote for antinomianism. One deadly poison cannot cure another deadly poison, but each poison calls for the counterpoison of grace.”
  • Questions and Answers with R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and Steven Lawson. Watch this video from a Ligonier conference in which R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and Steven Lawson answer questions about standing firm in the faith and other doctrinal issues. The Questions and Answer sessions at the conferences are always among my favorite sessions.
  • Deserted Island Top 5: John MacArthur. Listen as Stephen Nichols visits with John MacArthur about his top 5 books should he be on a deserted island.
  • Go and Tell, “It is Finished” This eleven minute video is part six of a six-part series through John Piper’s book What Jesus Demands from the World.
  • Covenant Seminary to Offer Classes in Nashville.  Megan Fowler writes “Beginning this month, Covenant Theological Seminary (Note: where I got an MATS degree), will offer live classes in Nashville for its Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree. The second site will allow students to earn up to 23 of the 48 credit hours in Nashville in conjunction with completing the rest of the of the blended MATS degree either online or at Covenant’s St. Louis campus.”
  • Old Princeton: Her Pastoral Heart. I was blessed to have two courses at Covenant Seminary with Dr. David Calhoun. He writes “For a hundred years Old Princeton Seminary trained men of missionary zeal, evangelistic fervor, pastoral loyalty and scholarly ability.”
  • God’s Glory in Judgment. In this short video from the 2010 Ligonier National Conference, R.C. Sproul considers God’s glory in judgment from a message in which he addressed the difficult question “Can we enjoy Heaven knowing of loved ones in Hell?”
  • 12 Church Enemies. David Murray writes “Every pastor will eventually have to face enemies within the church, people who are dedicated to damage and even destroy them. As these enemies have a range of motives and methods, and can be deadly if not recognized early, here’s a selection of the kinds of enemies that can be found in many churches (some belong to more than one category – some belong to all!)”Sermon on the Mount
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 7. Ben Bailie shares the final installment in a special three-part “Perplexing Passages” forum examining the long-debated Pauline passage, Romans 7:13–25.
  • Sermon on the Mount.  I’m excited about this new 12-part teaching series from Sinclair Ferguson. I’ve listened to the first message of the series and look forward to the rest of the messages. It’s an excellent companion resource to Martyn Lloyd-Jones Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which I’m reading at this time.

Quotes of the Week

  • We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire. Jonathan Edwards
  • The poison of self-righteousness = the main thing keeping you from God isn’t so much your sins but your damnable good works. John Gerstner
  • If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last. Charles Spurgeon
  • If your name is in the Book of Life, your calling is not to stay alive but to stay in love with Christ. John Piper
  • “If I have THAT, my life will have meaning. I’ll have value and feel significant and secure.” THAT—is the object of your worship. Tim Keller
  • We are great sinners but Jesus is a greater Savior! John Newton
  • In the Lord Christ alone; in him only is God an all-sufficient God to any, and an exceeding great reward. John Owen
  • Read two old books for every new one. J.I. Packer
  • Compassion gives people space to be themselves. It doesn’t decide what people need. It doesn’t treat others like machines needing to be fixed. Paul Miller

R.C. Quote

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My Interview with the authors of THE SERVING LEADER and an Excerpt from the Book

My Interview with Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert, authors of the best-selling leadership classic The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business and Community

I recently visited with the authors of this best-selling leadership classic which Ken Blanchard has called “the most practical guide available to implementing servant leadership in your life and work”. The book has just been released in a 10th Anniversary Edition, which includes a very helpful new chapter. The authors use a compelling and at times quite touching fictional story based on real characters to outline the basics of what they call “Serving Leadership”.

So many themes in the book resonated with me as I too have a passion for servant leadership, helping people find work that plays to their strengths, learning from failure, etc.

Coram Deo (CD): A theme that flows through the book is the paradoxical nature of the Serving Leader. Could you speak about that?
Paradox lies at the heart of a great deal of wise living. For example, a good parent must be both firm and warm with their child, hold strong standards and also bend to show care and empathy with a beloved child. In leadership, we noticed paradoxes throughout great leadership practice. For example, to reach many people with our leadership influence, we need to focus very carefully on how we influence those closest to us. Another example is that the best way to show care and respect for those “beneath” us is to help them stand taller, grow stronger, and gain capacities that we have.

CD: You use the active word “serving” leadership. What were your reasons for that, rather than the more commonly used servant leadership?
There has been a great deal of confusion for executives in the servant leadership space, and some of it has come from seeing servant leadership as a set of ideals or lofty principles. It is difficult to know what to do with an ideal, other than to admire it. We chose the language of “serving leadership” to make this work a verb, to focus on the actions, applications, behaviors, and disciplines that we see great leaders exhibit. As an active word, we can practice it, master it, measure it, and teach others to do the same. All our work is about the applicability of key leadership behaviors, and how the research correlates those behaviors to real results.

CD: The book states that the Serving Leader model works for a small team, a large business or a community of several million. I haven’t read as much about how leaders impact large communities. Could you comment on that?
Center for Serving Leadership gathers Serving Leader communities together in major cities and geographies for the purpose of embedding the practices of serving leadership into many companies as well as public sector and social sector agencies. We do this in Cohorts so that the leaders learn together as a cross-section of leaders in that area. For example, Rochester, New York, is building a Serving Leader Community around their work with Center for Serving Leadership, and is leveraging the teachings from the book to catalyze a Greater Rochester movement to transform the economic and social conditions of the region. Similar groups in Chicago, Indianapolis, West Palm Beach, and elsewhere are doing the very same this with us.

CD: In the book you use an upside down pyramid model for the Serving Leader. Could you talk about why you chose that model?
Leadership is exercised both from the top and from the bottom. Leaders hold their authority in championing vision, watching over values, and keeping a sharp eye on the disciplines needed for success. At the same time, in Upend the Pyramid, leaders go to the bottom, as it were, putting themselves at the service of helping grow, become more, gain what’s needed for success, etc. “How can I help you achieve your goals?” is a great question for a leader to ask followers. This is a “serving leader” question, to be sure, not a command-and-control question. And it really drives great results.

CD:  The book at times touches on the faith of some of the characters. I enjoy helping people to integrate their faith and work. It would seem that a Serving Leader model would resonate with people of faith. Would you agree with that?
I do agree with that. I’m a person of faith, and have many clients who are, too. I also have many clients who are of differing faiths, or no faiths, and I am very committed to serve them well, help them get better, and share the principles that just plain work.

CD: One of the teaching points in the book is “To address your weaknesses, focus on your strengths”. That seems like one of those paradoxes we were talking about. How do you do this?
This is another paradox. We must fix certain weaknesses, such as always showing up late or having a tendency to stretch the truth. Such weaknesses can’t be ignored. But if we’re bad at spreadsheets and great in business development, our best contribution to the team is to do more business development and to partner with a colleague who is great with spreadsheets. There is no well-rounded leader; however, there are well-rounded leadership teams.

CD: I was interested in the discussion about Serving Leaders running to a great purpose. You write that this is the first action that marks the Serving Leader, the foundation that everything else follows. Can you tell us what you mean by the great purpose?
In the greatest companies on earth, leaders are helping their people understand the meaningfulness of daily labor. People do their best work when they understand how their tasks serve others, make the world better, and cause their work day to be worth it. Great Purpose, if it is to awaken great commitment and engagement within people, must speak to the question of how this job contributes to the valuable service of others. For example, Industrial Scientific Corporation manufactures gas detection devices worn by industrial workers. They read The Serving Leader, and fashioned this Great Purpose Statement, “The workers of Industrial Scientific are dedicating their careers to eliminating death on the job in this century.” This is the kind of Great Purpose statement that gets people excited about coming to work. They teach their people to ask, “Would the device I’m working on right now be acceptable to me if I knew that it was my dad’s life that depended on it working well?”

CD: I enjoyed the new chapter in this anniversary edition titled “Mike Wilson’s Updates”, which has Mike looking at lessons for personal growth and also lessons for organizational performance utilizing the framework of the Five Powerful Actions of Serving Leaders.  One of the things I learned was how Serving Leadership can strengthen (and heal) family relationships. Can you talk about that?
We see Serving Leader work traveling home with our clients all the time. In our Cohort work at Center for Serving Leadership, when I’m talking to an executive who is on the fence about joining a Serving Leader Cohort, and when I know that their wife is friends with the wife of another company owner who previously was in a cohort, I ask the wives to talk to each other. The reason I do is that spouses and children see the difference, feel the difference that is created by this work. It works at work and it works at home.

CD: Another learning I noted was under “Blaze the Trail”, where Serving Leaders are encouraged to physically co-locate teams that will benefit from working closely together, or find innovative ways to effectively collaborate virtually. We are doing both in the organization that I work in. Are you seeing a lot of organizations adopt these best practices?
We are seeing this more and more, but there’s a long way to go here.

CD: You talk about failure being a gift. Is that another of those paradoxes? What do you mean by failure being a gift?
Great leaders have awareness both of self and of others. They pay attention to how they are impacting others, and what kind of a wake they are creating behind them. Failure helps us develop that capacity. Many leaders start out with a great deal of talent, drive, and confidence, which is wonderful and all. But it’s failure that helps them start to wonder how others are doing, what others are thinking, what they’re missing in their dash to their goals. I’ve never met a great leader that didn’t go to the school of failure, learn from it, and start to pay much, much more attention to what their teammates and colleagues see, think, know, are concerned about, etc. Failure (and the pain of it) CAN make us better. Some leaders respond to failure by doubling down on protecting themselves from having to feel anything, but that’s not a path to lasting results.

CD: In discussing “Building on Strengths”, you mention strengths assessments.  Do you have any favorite assessment tools?
I use many, including StrengthsFinder, System for Investigating Motivated Ability (SIMA), StandOut, DiSC, Predictive Index, and Kolbe.

CD: Mike mentions that he will be writing “How the Serving Leader Grows”. Might this be a future book?
This book is done in its first draft. Perhaps a 2017 publication.

CD: I really enjoyed this updated edition of The Serving Leader, and hope that many take advantage of this new release. Do you have any closing thoughts?
Big, big, big appreciation to you, and my apology for such a late response. I was traveling early to late all week, and couldn’t keep my eyes open at night. I hope this is still useful to you. Blessings!

CD: Thanks so much for your time. Best wishes with the new edition of the book.


The Serving LeaderKenneth R. Jennings is a best-selling author, speaker, and active consultant in organizational leadership, serving as Chairman of Third River Partners. John Stahl-Wert is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and expert in growing great leaders, serving as Director of the Center for Serving Leadership. Together they co-authored The Serving Leader – now revised and updated for the 10th Anniversary Edition and available on Amazon.

The following is excerpted from their book, The Serving Leader. In this excerpt, Mike (who has been called to help his dying father’s leadership project) and his father are using their last days together to repair their relationship. Together they are exploring the concept of servant leadership. Here they discuss the spiritual aspect of servant leadership.

The Spiritual Part

“Can I ask you both a question?” I continued. “While we’re dealing with missing pieces?”

“Ask,” Dad responded.

“How does the spiritual part work? Or more precisely, is the spiritual part required for Serving Leadership to work? You both carry around Bibles.”

“It’s important to me, Mike,” Dad said, his voice quavering with emotion. “My faith is important to me because it keeps me in mind of the fact that my life doesn’t belong to me. My living needs to serve something bigger than myself.”

“I know that’s true of you, Dad,” I answered, wondering why he was explaining this to me. I knew it full well.

“I want it to be true of you, too, Mike,” Dad continued, his face now full of feeling.

“It is true of me,” I answered strongly, now understanding how he had taken my question. He thought I was back to my personal ruminations, which at this moment I wasn’t. “It’s becoming true of me, I should say. If you’re troubled about my part in this, you can put your mind at ease. I’m on the way.” I walked over to where my dad was sitting and gave him a hug. I really appreciated how much he cared for me, for the whole of me.

“You were really asking two questions, weren’t you, Mike?” Rock said. “One of a personal nature and one more professional.”

“Thank you, Rock, for saying that so well,” I answered, glad for the graceful transition he offered. “I work with a lot of clients, and I need to provide business value regardless of a client’s spiritual orientation or nonorientation. I want to promote principles and actions that can be applied in many different settings and that work for many different kinds of people. Some of them are spiritually inclined, to be sure. And some have deeply humane principles that aren’t religiously motivated. And some are driven to build great and profitable companies. So, yes, my question is, does Serving Leadership just plain work?”

“It just plain works,” Dad answered. Rock nodded. “Many of our friends are from different faiths,” Dad continued, “and many of the firms that use our principles have no faith agenda.”

“We have colleagues in government,” Rock added, “who are reporting great benefit from Serving Leadership. I use these principles right here in my Navy post.”

“I guess I loaded up your schedule with a lot of the more faith-oriented colleagues, Mike,” my dad then said, a grin of confession on his face. “A father’s prerogative.”

“But here’s the point,” Rock continued. “Bring great purpose to the table, turn your leadership into service to your workers, hold high expectations, make sure your team has what it needs in training and resources and clear running ground, and maximize the strengths you have. Take these actions, and you’ll get real acceleration and impact. We believe it’s how we’ve been designed to function best.

“Faith or no faith,” Dad added.

“Whether working with a small team, working with an entire corporation, or working with all the sectors of a great city,” Rock said.

“Live it out very personally, or set the principles in motion at a large corporate level. Let it bring deep private meaning to your life and to your family, or let it produce great public value,” Dad added. “Better yet, do both.”

Both men paused.

“But please don’t steer clear of God in your own life, Mike,” Dad continued. “Your father speaking here. Serving Leadership requires a deep humility and a willingness to pour yourself into the good of others. I pray that you let yourself be nurtured for this by something larger than yourself.”

I picked up my notebook, which was an almost unreadable scribble of notes, filled with whole sections of Rock’s remarks that I tried to capture word for word, as well as sidebar notations. I knew I was going to have my hands full getting it down more clearly later. Not to mention the job of actually living it out. That’s going to make the job of writing it all down a cinch in comparison.

I looked over at my dad, who had not yet gotten out of his seat. He looked back at me with eyes that were suddenly very tired. And very content.

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The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business and Community BOOK REVIEW & QUOTES

The Serving LeaderThe Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business and Community by Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert. 10th Anniversary Edition. Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 165 pages. 2016.  

This best-selling leadership classic, which no less of a leadership expert as Ken Blanchard has called “the most practical guide available to implementing servant leadership in your life and work” has been revised and updated with a helpful new chapter in a 10th Anniversary Edition. The authors use a compelling and at times quite touching fictional story based on real characters to outline the basics of what they call “Serving Leadership”.

Much as leadership fables by Patrick Lencioni do, this book, though written as fiction, is based on real people, organizations and results achieved. The story revolves around the relationship between Mike Wilson and his successful and respected father Robert Taylor Wilson, the CEO of his organization. Their relationship hasn’t been the best, to say the least. Robert often wasn’t there for Mike growing up. Now he reaches out to Mike, saying that he is ill and needs Mike to step in for him for a while.

When Mike gets to Philadelphia, he is introduced to the “No-Name Team”. They introduce him to the concept of “the Serving Leader”. He is told that this approach paradoxically turns almost all previous thinking about leadership and turns it on its head. To demonstrate this they use an upside-down pyramid.

The plan was for Mike to spend time with each member of the team focusing on the person’s key projects, learning both by observation and getting to work on some of the projects. After Mike finds out that his father is very ill and doesn’t have much time left, he realizes that he has three objectives:

  • Learn what Serving Leaders do and how their approach works
  • Use the upside-down pyramid to structure what he learns
  • Be with his father while he dies

We follow Mike as he spends time with each member of the “No-Name Team”, learning the concepts of a Serving Leader. That leads him to write a job description for the Serving Leader. A summary of that description, using the upside-down pyramid, is that Serving Leaders:

  • Run to Great Purpose
  • Upend the Pyramid
  • Raise the Bar
  • Blaze the Trail
  • Build on Strength

A helpful new chapter for the 10th Anniversary Edition is “Mike Wilson’s Updates”. In the years since we last heard from Mike, he shares lessons for personal growth and organizational performance by utilizing the Five Powerful Actions of the Serving Leader, putting each lesson into one or another of the actions.

So many themes in the book resonated with me as I too have a passion for serving (servant) leadership, helping people find work that plays to their strengths, learning from failure, etc.  I highly recommend this book, which would be a good one to read and discuss with your leadership team or those you are mentoring.

15 Quotes from The Serving Leader by Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert

 I recently read 10th Anniversary Edition of The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business and Community by Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert. Here are 15 helpful quotes that I appreciated from the book:

  • The Serving Leader is down here unleashing the strengths, talents and passions of those he or she serves. It works this way for a team of two, a business with a thousand employees, or a community of several million.
  • When a leader keeps personal ego in check – and builds the confidence and self-esteem of others – it is then possible for the team to work together.
  • I’m realizing that something else is going on that’s very different, that seems almost contradictory. On the one hand, you’re serving people, but on the other hand, you’ve got really tough standards!
  • The model used by Jesus of Nazareth is instructive here. He could have chosen from thousands of his eager followers, but he chose only twelve, spending the rest of his time relating to them, serving them, and preparing them to do the very same with others. And look at the multiplied results that today validate his methodology.
  • Paradoxically you get better results by shifting attention away from your weaknesses. It’s far more productive to shift your focus to your strengths.
  • Serving Leaders are living paradoxes.
  • My role model for this business of great purpose is found in one of the oldest management texts in the world. The text is Nehemiah.
  • Run to Great Purpose is the first action that makes the Serving Leader. It’s the foundation. Everything else follows.
  • Making a difference for others is the point of our lives. It is the great purpose that gives us everything we need to run the best race we can.
  • Serving Leadership requires a deep humility and a willingness to pour yourself into the good of others.
  • What the greatest Serving Leaders have taught me over the years is that the lion’s share of great acts committed inside great businesses day by day are done by ordinary workers who choose to give their full best.
  • Growth in Serving Leadership strengthens organizational performance and strengthens (and also heals) family relationships.
  • Great leaders take active steps to really learn who those people (their direct reports) are, who they are as people. They ask them about their lives, their aspirations, their strengths and needs – and then they make sure to really listen!
  • If you want your workers to go above and beyond, to dig deep and do their utmost, then you must go above and beyond. Raise the Bar starts with the leader who raises the bar for his own attitudes, intentions, behavior, and results. Leading involves going first, and that is never truer than with the leader’s own commitment to being fully engaged.
  • Failure brings with it one of the best chances to grow and develop real strength.

Second Serving Leader Quote

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Movie Review ~ Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fu Panda 3Kung Fu Panda 3

In this third film in the Kung Fu Panda series, Jack Black returns as Po, the Dragon Warrior leader of the Furious Five (Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane and Viper), who get little screen time in this film. As the film begins, Po’s master tells him that he has taught him everything he can, now Po is to teach others. But we quickly see that is a disaster, shattering Po’s confidence.

We are then taken to a spirit world, where we see Po’s former master Oogway relaxing in bliss when he is confronted by a supernatural entity Kai, who he defeated five hundred years ago. Kai wants to rule the world and needs Oogway’s chi (an Eastern spirituality concept defined as the force that sets the world and everything in it into motion. It is also the force that sustains all things once they are created). When Kai gets Oogway’s chi, he then returns to the mortal world with a goal of taking Po’s chi so he can rule the world. Got all that straight? And this is a fun animated children’s film about a dumpling loving fat panda?

Meanwhile, Po is suffering through an identity crisis. All of this is complicated when his biological father Li shows up and takes him back to a Secret Panda Village, much to the chagrin of Po’s adopted father Mr. Ping, who has raised him for twenty years. Li tells Po he was sent by the Universe (another Eastern religion/philosophy concept). Po will need to save the world against the evil Kai.
The film includes a lot of Eastern religion/philosophy content (chi, universe, ying and yang, etc.). It was not nearly as fun or entertaining as the previous two films. Although there were a lot of children in the theatre, we didn’t hear a lot of laughter during the film, and one wonders what they make of concepts such as chi, universe and ying and yang.

Several scenes seem included just to show off 3D. Overall, we were very disappointed in the film, despite excellent animation and the stellar cast that provides the voices for the characters – returnees Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Lui, Jackie Chan, David Cross and newcomers J.K, Simmons, Bryan Cranston and Kate Hudson. The film is directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

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Movie Review ~ Brooklyn

BrooklynBrooklyn, rated PG-13

This excellent film, which has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, is based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel “Brooklyn”. It is directed by John Crowley and the screenplay is by Nick Hornby, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his work here. Hornby wrote a different ending for the film than included in the book.

The film stars Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as Eilis Lacey. Ronan delivers an excellent performance, and has been nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of a young Irish Catholic woman who lives with her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) in Enniscorthy, Ireland in the early 1950’s. (Note: in real life Ronan was born in The Bronx, but raised in Ireland by her Irish parents). She works for a mean shopkeeper Miss Kelly, played by Brid Brennan.

There is not much of a future for Eilis in Enniscorthy, so Rose contacts Father Hood (a very likeable Jim Broadbent, Oscar winner for Iris), an Irish priest in Brooklyn, who finds her a place to stay in a boarding house for young women in Brooklyn run by Mrs. Kehoe (two-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters), and a job at an upscale department store.

After Eilis arrives in Brooklyn, after getting violently ill on the ship between Ireland and New York, she is terribly homesick, missing her mom and sister. Each letter from home drives her to tears. As time goes on however, she slowly begins to settle in, and with Father Hood’s financial support, starts to attend college classes in the evening, with a goal of being an accountant. Over humorous dinner scenes at the boarding house we get to know Mrs. Kehoe and the other boarding house residents.

At a church dance she meets a handsome Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen from The Place Beyond the Pines), who immediately falls for Eilis. All of this happens a little too quickly for Eilis, but she eventually tells Tony that she loves him too. A favorite scene is when Tony takes Eilis to meet his family. Eilis’ boarding house friends teach her how to properly eat spaghetti (she’s never eaten any Italian food). Tony’s eight-year old brother Frankie (James DiGiacomo) steals the scene.

But then something happens back home and Eilis decides she needs to go back to Ireland for a month. Tony is terribly afraid that she won’t ever return. It is a much more mature and confident Eilis that returns to Enniscorthy. It is there she meets Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter films, where ironically Julie Walters played his mother), from an upscale family.

This is a beautiful film, thanks to Yves Belanger’s cinematography. The film captures the look of Brooklyn and Enniscorthy and the costumes of 1952. It is a romance that features some very strong acting performances, led by Ronan. This is a film that you will want to see in the theatre if possible.

The film is rated PG-13 for a brief scene of sexuality and some brief adult language early in the film.


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