Planting, Nourishing and Harvesting
I am a plodder. Over my lifetime I see myself as one who simply kept working hard at whatever God put before me. Did I thrive? Did The Navigators thrive under my leadership? Yes. But at the time, it was not always apparent.
There were times of struggle and challenge. My leadership path was not consistently smooth. But, I did want to thrive – to flourish, to see God work and give fruit for my efforts. I prayed often, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Ps. 90:17). Did I thrive personally? At times, yes, and at other times, no.
What made the difference? Thriving is not simply success or fruitfulness. It’s not that everything is going great. And, it isn’t a problem-free organization. I believe thriving is:
- Planting good seed in my personal life and my organization. It is the gospel transforming me deeply day by day. It is the gospel permeating the mission of our organization.
- Nourishing my soul through time with God in the Word and prayer. It is providing the care and cultivation of both my personal walk and the culture of my organization.
- Harvesting and flourishing in God’s perfect timing. But I need to be his kind of worker in the harvest. I can’t “make” it happen. It is fruit that only God can give, in my life and in my organization.
All of this sounds so good, and so biblical. But, what were the practical steps that made thriving possible? Assuming that I was properly caring for my own soul, I found there were several key steps that led to thriving:
What were the practical steps that made thriving possible?
1. Picking the right people and working as a team.
This is not easy. Nor will you always have the opportunity to pick your team. Each person on that team must be gifted, valued and developed. My predecessor, Lorne Sanny, said that the key element of being a leader was to be a good team member and then to be able to lead a team. There is no room for loners or dictators. You must listen to God together. I had a goal to always have people that were more gifted and talented than I. This meant deferring to them and their counsel. It meant listening even in disagreement.
2. Constantly nurturing my personal walk with God.
Your personal development must be constant and deliberate. Having a mentor is helpful. Having friends who hold you accountable can save your life, both spiritually and in leadership.
3. Being a consummate learner.
In leadership I never felt fully prepared for the challenges I faced. I read books. I talked with other leaders. But one of the key inputs was what I received through the years at Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes conferences. At both CEO Forums and the instructional workshops I was significantly helped many times. Although I could get some of the information online, the networking with peers through the Alliance profoundly magnified the impact of the meetings. It became a key connecting point for me.
What does it mean to thrive when I am no longer in direct leadership?
What a sad situation if I was only motivated to grow and learn when I was in a position of leadership! Position and authority are temporary. At times it is even an illusion that we are really in charge when only God is the one who is truly in charge. My role is now one of influence and counsel. Yet if I do not keep growing and learning, my influence will fade and become irrelevant.
My role is now one of influence and counsel.
One of the saddest statements I hear from some who are older or retired is: “Been there. Done that.” No you haven’t. That was the past. A new context and new challenges have come. We will either be able to contribute or we will be relegated to the past. Of course, we learned much in our past leadership. But it must be adapted to the next generation and their challenges. So keep learning. Keep listening to the next generations. Keep attuned to culture, and learn from the teachers and leaders of the next generations.
Psalm 92:13-14 speaks of the righteous flourishing (thriving) like a palm tree: “They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
The challenge may be to thrive and strive at the same time. We do all we can, like Paul: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:27). Yet we thrive only by the grace and goodness of God. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” (1 Cor. 3:10)
Never quit. Keep going.
Dr. Jerry White is president emeritus of The Navigators, and chairman emeritus of the U.S. Board of Directors. The Navigators is an international Christian organization with more than 6,000 staff ministering in 112 countries, working with college students, military personnel, business and professional people, and churches. White had a 37-year active and reserve career with the Air Force, retiring as a Major-General. He serves on the board of Christian Leadership Alliance, as well as other boards such as World Vision and the Air Force Association. His professional expertise was in Space and Astronautics.