Over the years I’d captured some “axioms” as anchor points in ministry. We have developed axioms for how we function as a team at The Wesleyan Church Headquarters, but I also have about a dozen axioms that are personal and memorable to me. They serve as anchor points or paradigms for how I approach my life and leadership. I’ll mention just a couple of the axioms I’ve been focusing on lately.

Axiom: “If there has been no resistance, there has been no change.”

Early in my ministry I perceived resistance as a sign something was wrong. In my doctoral program I was first introduced to the natural cycle of any significant change:

  • Phase 1: Denial. If we keep doing what we’re doing, things will get better somehow.
  • Phase 2: Resistance. Much more uncomfortable than denial since we are creatures of habit.
  • Phase 3: Exploration. We know things must change, but we aren’t sure what changes to make.
  • Phase 4: Commitment. Resolve to follow through with the needed change.

Resistance comes even when something is right. It’s natural as people adapt to and adopt (or ultimately reject) a change.

So, I had to grow beyond pleasing to persevering. I had to realize that ministry growth not only including planting and harvesting but pruning. And along the way I learned something else — that a guiding coalition in any change not only includes “raving fans” but “converted cynics” as initial doubts are converted into devotion.

Axiom: “Lead and love by listening.”

I wish I knew when I first heard this phrase, “Being listened to is so close to being loved, that most people can’t tell the difference.”

As pastors, we are trained to talk. When nervous, we tend to filibuster — do all the talking so others can’t even get a word in edgewise. We even filibuster God in some of our prayers.

I’m learning to lead by listening. The higher the capacity of the person you’re leading, the more important listening becomes. Lots of people talk to (or at) them, but few people listen to them. I’ve also learned this in my marriage. I would out-talk my wife, Jan, and get her to acquiesce, but she could out-write me. The pen truly is mightier!

Many people assume I’m introverted because I’m not the most talkative, life-of-the-party person. But I’m an extrovert learning to pour my energy into listening.

The best axioms are rooted in Scripture. As James said, “blessed are those who persevere under trial” (1:12) and be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (1:19).