FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Openness and Servant Leadership

with Ron Jenson | June 1, 2006
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On today's broadcast, internationally known author and speaker Ron Jenson talks about some specific qualities needed for effective leadership--openness and servant leadership.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On today's broadcast, internationally known author and speaker Ron Jenson talks about some specific qualities needed for effective leadership--openness and servant leadership.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ron Jenson talks about openness and servant leadership.

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Openness and Servant Leadership

With Ron Jenson
June 01, 2006
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Bob: The Bible says that God has called men to take the lead – to be initiators in relationships, in the church and in the home.  As Ron Jenson says, there's a price that comes with leadership.

Ron: If we're going to be effective leaders, we need to work hard.  We can't be victims, we need to take responsibility, get proactive, get out there and make things happen.  But part of it is also realizing that life is tough.  Leadership isn't easy, it's tough, whether it's in my home or in the ministry or in the marketplace – if I take the lead, I'm going to pay a price.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine, and if you're leading, you may not know what's in front of you, you better make sure somebody's watching your back.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  We are talking to men about being men this week; talking about taking the lead, the responsibility that goes with leadership, and we've got a guy to help us do that who is leader himself.  He is an author, a speaker, he's a life coach, and someone you've known for a long time.

Dennis: We do have a good friend, Ron Jenson, who joins us here again on FamilyLife Today.  Ron, welcome back.

Ron: Great to be here, Dennis, thanks.

Dennis: I want to begin today's broadcast by reading a passage of Scripture from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, "The Message," and it's found in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, verses 7 through 12 – "We weren't aloof with you, we took you just as you were.  We were never patronizing, never condescending, but we cared for you the way a mother cares for her children.  We loved you dearly, not content to just pass on the message, we wanted to give you our hearts, and we did.  You remember us in those days, friends, working our fingers to the bone, up half the night, moonlighting so that you wouldn't have the burden of supporting us while we proclaimed God's message to you.  You saw with your own eyes how discreet and courteous we were among you, with keen sensitivity to you as fellow believers, and, God knows, we weren't freeloaders.  You experienced it all firsthand.  With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you, step by step, how to live well before God who called us into His own kingdom, into this delightful life."

 Well, as I mentioned, we have a friend, Ron Jenson, who has written a book that comes right out of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2.  The name of the book is "Taking the Lead," and it's a book for men.  It's from a man who has spoken to men – how many countries of the world, Ron, do you have any idea how many countries you've spoken in over the years?

Ron: Oh, over 50.

Dennis: Ron has spoken to audiences, literally hundreds of thousands of people at a time.  He is a great friend, a comrade for Christ, and it's fun to have him again here on FamilyLife Today talking about the subject of strengthening men to be effectively, godly leaders.  And we've been talking about the 10 qualities that come out of this passage of Scripture and today we want to list three of those 10, beginning with the subject of personal openness.  Now, Ron, for men to be godly leaders, why is personal openness so important?

Ron: Well, it's because it's the essence, ultimately, of our leadership.  God calls us to lead from the inside out, and what's happened in our culture is we put more attention on our external personality than we do our internal character, and the power of leadership is being able to share what God is doing in and through you, though it's not perfect, though we're a bit messed up, though we're a bit goofy as individuals, we need to be transparent and open before people, and that's the way Paul and Timothy and Sylvanus were as they addressed people in this particular text where they say "We communicated to not only the Gospel but our very own lives," in one translation, and that word "lives" is the word "sukay" or "soul" in the Greek, and it means "we bore our lives before you," we were open and honest, we were transparent, we let you see on the inside.  We didn't pretend to be perfect, which I think is where the culture is.  Instead, we showed you authenticity, and that's really the power of leadership.

Dennis: Ron, we get a lot of letters here on FamilyLife Today from listeners – a lot of e-mails – come with stories of men who don't quite match up to these 10 qualities you've been talking about.  When it comes to the subject of personal openness, we get a lot of letters from wives who are married to men who simply won't engage their wives or their children around life issues.

 I got one the other day from a woman who said, "My husband is one of those good men – moral, good citizen, proud of it, but with no religious conviction and no need for God.  He is passive.  He is a good dad.  He is social with our kids, takes interest in everything that they find interest in, except he's passive.  He never talked to our 14-year-old boy about sex.  It's been me.  I asked him to do it, I encouraged him to do it, but both of our kids will only talk to me about personal things.  I'm feeling compelled to get my husband in gear.  Why is it that he invested in books and training on the mechanics of baseball but not on the mechanics of becoming a man of purpose for God?"

 Now, Ron, for a man to do what she's talking about, he, first of all, has to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, but he also has to impart, as Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, he has to impart his own life.  He has to have a sense of being open and willing to engage around life issues.

Ron: That's exactly right, and part of the reason why guys don't take the lead, and I use words "take the lead" intentionally – I want them to be proactive, intentional, I want them to be assertive in a good, godly sense, of taking the lead is that it's because they're not growing internally themselves.  And I love the Ezra 7:10 passage where King Ezra said, "I committed to study the law, then apply it, and then teach it."

 So if we're good fathers, according to Deuteronomy 6, what?  We take the word of God, we build it into our lives, we study it, we apply it, and then what do we do?  We teach our kids intentionally, when they rise up, when they lie down, when they walk in the way, when they sit in the home – we do that in the family and the ministry, even in the marketplace.  We ought to be communicating truth and taking the lead, but we do it not by pretending to be perfect or simply by quoting Scripture, but we do it by sharing authentically how our lives are being changed even positively and sometimes through our own failures with others, and that motivates people to say "Hey, I don't have to put on a con.  I don't need to pretend to be perfect.  Instead, what I need to do is keep progressing from glory to glory into the likeness of Christ," which, of course, is what we're commanded to do in Scripture.

Dennis: In your book, "Taking the Lead," you quote another author about the importance it is for men to be honest, to be open, about who they are with their wives and with their children.

Ron: Yes, and even with themselves, and the point of the quotation, which I'll read here by James Dolby, is that if we don't do this, after a while, we're so used to playing a con game or having a secret life, even, if you will, after while we don't know what's real and what's not real.  He says, "Once in a while, we stop playing the game of make believe, but when we try to stop, we're confronted with the depressing and startling truth – we cannot stop.  When we ask ourselves the question – who am I? – we don't know, and we find that no matter how hard we struggle, we're not able to find out.  We are caught in the pattern of dishonesty – to be honest with ourselves is simply not natural."

 What a scary thought that is.

Dennis: Well, you think about it, though, for a man, sometimes the darkness becomes our companion.  We don't want to come out of that hiding place and be real, because, frankly, we have a hard time seeing what's true about ourselves, and, well, the darkness can be comforting.  There's no risk there.

Ron: That's right, and that's why I think we get caught up into this pretext or perfection.  Even leaders in ministries and organizations and business, there is so much pressure to have it all together, that we get so used to putting on kind of a pretext so people will work their way maybe to church and be fighting all the way there, and then they get out of the car and walk in and say "Hi, praise the Lord, how are you this evening?"

Dennis: Yes, yes, and, you know, frankly, it's one of the things here on FamilyLife Today that both Bob and I get most complimented on by our listeners is they say, "You know, I just appreciate you guys being real."

Ron: Yes.

Dennis: And, frankly, none of us live life perfectly.  I wonder, at times, if the reason why the Christian community – that's church – isn't more attractive to men is that we really haven't gotten down to the realities of who we all are, ultimately, that we are sinners, that we're broken, we're not perfect, we don't present these spit-polished, airbrushed photos of who we are, and what Bob and I have tried to do here on FamilyLife Today every day is just say, "You know what?  We're going to try to teach you through our mistakes when we didn't match up."

 You list, in your book, "Taking the Lead," seven questions almost in a diagnostic sense, Ron, that helps men evaluate whether or not they're being honest or whether they're being personally open.

Ron: Well, and I ask these questions, and I say simply evaluate yourself with a yes or a no.  One is, "Do I pretend to be something in public that I am not in private, yes or no?"  "Do I find it difficult to share my inner feelings, yes or no?"  "Am I without someone in my life with whom I can share anything, yes or no?"  "Do I normally respond to criticism defensively" – that's a good one – "yes or no?"

Dennis: Especially if you evaluate whether your wife or your children have something to say that's critical, whether you can hear it from them.

Ron: That's really true, that is really true.  "Do I have secrets I won't tell anyone, yes or no?"  Six, "Am I more concerned with my outward appearance than my inward character?"  And then seventh, "Do I fear rejection if I open up to others?"

Dennis: Ron, what would you say to the man who is listening to those seven questions and say, "You know, I didn't score very well.  I'm not particularly open."  Where should he begin?

Ron: I would say, number one, embrace the fact that you're like the rest of us, okay?  It's okay.  I mean, it's okay in the sense that most of the struggle with being open and honest, it's a very tough thing to do.  It's tough to be vulnerable, number one.  So get some hope and know that you're part of the big crowd. 

 Number two, realize that your essential worth is that God loves you and cares for you, and He's made you someone of great value, and so God knows all this stuff, anyway.  So He's not surprised.  You can't shock God.  He just knows every part of us in a very real sense.

 And then, thirdly, begin to experience the liberation of opening up.  Find someone to whom or with whom you can share personally something where you're starting to struggle.  Just take a little baby step – I'm struggling in this area, will you pray for me?  Or can you hold me accountable?  I, like you, and Bob, over the years, just continually share stories, often out of my own weakness, for two reasons.  One, I have so many good examples I don't have to think of the other one, which I find to be very helpful.  And, two, when people hear me share some area of failure that's recent and current, the response, by and large, isn't "Yes, you know, Jenson's a jerk.  I thought he was, you know, it just confirms my suspicions."  It's typically "Well, you know, he seems like he's making some progress in his life, he's doing all right, and he's like me.  Maybe there's hope."  And I think what we do is we set up people for failure, particularly men, by not communicating openly and honestly.  So I'd say to a guy, "Lookit, as you take baby steps, know that will not only help you grow and develop, but it will give other people hope that it's okay."

Dennis: Yes, and when you do begin to crack that door of openness open, make sure you do it with your sons and show them what it looks like.  I've had some recent conversations with my two adult sons now that one is in his 30s and another one in his late 20s.  I've talked with them about some of my weaknesses, and the thing I would encourage every man to realize as he moves toward being personally open, God does not expect you to be perfect.  He does want you to be real.  And if you're so caught up with having to have life perfectly wired together to be accepted, you're going to miss a ton of life because there's a lot of life that's lived in our mistakes and coming clean from those mistakes, admitting them, embracing the lessons, passing those lessons on to the next generation, and that's where great leaders, in my opinion, is where a great leader really excels.

 You and I have a mutual friend in Dr. Bill Bright, and I would say approximately 25 years ago, as I knew Dr. Bright at that point, he was not particularly open to share his failures.  But as he grew older in the faith, in his walk with Christ, he illustrated this principle of leadership by being personally open, and I actually began to hear Bill admit some mistakes.  But he used those mistakes to teach us younger men how we can make mistakes, too, and not lose our spiritual authority as leaders.  You don't have to be perfect.

 Well, there's another one of these 10 qualities of godly leadership and, frankly, this is at the core of all of it.  You call it "servant leader."  Explain what it means to be a servant leader, Ron.

Ron: Well, at the end of the day, a servant leader is someone who puts others first.  I love the old definition – "I get more excited about someone else's success than my own," and it's rooted, in my view, and in the lives, I think, of these three men, in humility fundamentally.  They had this incredible sense of putting others first in humility of mind, esteeming others more important than themselves, and I think the core of this is not so much the activity of serving, though that's certainly substantial, it's the heart …

Dennis: … it's the attitude …

Ron: … of humility.

Dennis: Yes.

Ron: And part of that is – I like to give people the test of when they were last criticized how they responded to it.  We talked about that earlier.  I remember, years ago, when I was the head of the graduate school with Crusade, and one of our first-year students wanted to go out for lunch, and over lunch he says, "You're a great president and a fabulous communicator," so I picked up the tab, you know, I thought I'd reward him, and then he said, "There are two more things that are kind of personal, can I tell you?"  And I said, "Sure," because I knew what he was going to say, and that is, "Of all the great leaders who have ever lived, you've got to be one of them."  And I thought I'd love to hear that.


Dennis: I could take that compliment.

Ron: Yes, but he didn't say that.  He said, "There are two things you're doing that I don't think you're aware of that I believe impede your walk with God in your leadership."  I said, "Say what?"  And he said it again.  I said, "What are those?"  And he said, "Well, number one is, I think you're too permissive as a parent," and then he said something about what I was not doing on campus.  I was livid.  I mean, he was a – my first thought was, "You punk freshman," and as I was leaning forward to give him the benefit of my insight, the veins bulging out of my neck, you know, I was going to let him have it, and it was as though God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me back and shook me a few times and said, "Hey, Ron, why are you so surprised that someone should see something in your life with which you need to deal?  Imagine if he saw everything I see?"  And I thought, "Whoa, good point." 

And then I realized how arrogant it is to be offended when someone criticizes you or when someone points out something weak in your life.  And I thought, "That's just the opposite of esteeming others higher than yourself."  It's all about me, and it's all about how selfish I am, and the fact of the matter is I'm a lot worse than that guy could think about or could even articulate, and being a servant leader means that I start by serving.  That means I put others first, and that means that I'm constantly in the process of growing myself and developing and putting them forward and not putting myself forward, and that means some other things.  I learned to be open to criticism and constant growth in my own life.

Dennis: You also talk a great deal about how a servant leader has to exhibit humility.  Humility, in terms of really being a leader, humility is at the core of true servant leadership.

Ron: It really is, and I love the Philippians 4:13 passage, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  I think that's the greatest humility passage and, frankly, self-concept passage, in the Bible.  I can do all things, I'm special, I'm unique, God's called me, I have authority, but it's through Christ who strengthens me, so I realize that I'm loaded with soft spots.  I need the power of the Holy Spirit, I need to put others first in that context.

Dennis: Well, that's a little too convicting, Ron.  I think we need to move on to the next point.  We've talked about how a true, godly leader needs to be personally open, they need to be a servant leader.  This next one here – I think some men kind of twist this one.  You say that a godly leader needs to exhibit hard work.  Now, men really suffer from two extremes here, don't they?  They either work too much, or they're lazy.  You're trying to help men find a balance about hard work and really handle all that life is all about. 

Ron: Yes, and what Paul, Timothy, and Sylvanus, again, say is that we work night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you.  They didn't want to cause trouble.  They could have asked for money, but they decided to work night and day, kind of tent-make, so they wouldn't be a problem.  They had a work ethic, that's part of this.  If we're going to be effective leaders, we need to work hard.  We can't be victims.  We need to take responsibility, get proactive, get out there and make things happen.  But part of it is also realizing that life is tough.  Leadership isn't easy, it's tough, whether it's in my home or in the ministry or in the marketplace.  If I take the lead, I'm going to pay a price. 

I mean, that's the reality, because life is messy, anyway, but it's tough, and I'm impressed by the fact that Paul talks about the pressures that he went through during his life, and he was very open and transparent about experiencing incredible pressures and incredible stresses, but he said, "We're stressed, but we're not distressed."  He says, "We're confused, but we're not lost."  He goes on and says that we are "chased and driven, but we don't feel abandoned."  And Paul, Timothy, and Sylvanus, when they wrote this book and, again, I think it's one of the reasons why this is the greatest pattern of leadership of all time– the Thessalonian church was the healthiest one we know about in the New Testament because it's the only church praised for faith, hope, and love, the three marks of a healthy church.

 And Paul says this, and Timothy and Sylvanus, says this at the front end – 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1 – "We thank God for" – listen to these words – "for your works of faith, hard works of faith, for your labor of love" – and labor means [unintelligible] of love, and for your steadfastness of hope."  All three of those indicate how tough life is.  It is tough, but in the midst of that, that's where the great joy is.

Dennis: Ron, as you were talking about those, I reflected back to 1976 – now, that's been a long time ago.  We had just moved here to Little Rock, Arkansas, to start FamilyLife, and no sooner had we moved here than three weeks later – I mean, we hadn't even unpacked the boxes, that a phone call came from my brother telling me that my dad had died.  It's interesting how you can remember certain things, but the pastor did a magnificent job at my father's funeral.  He said, "Hook Rainey," and that was his nickname, because he had a wicked curve ball, he said, "One of the things that I learned about Hook Rainey is he was a hard worker."  He said, "He was known in this community to be an honest man, an upright man, but he worked hard."

 I remember, I couldn't help but reflect back to leaning against my dad's chest, smelling his sweat, coming in on Saturday from work.  He wouldn't work Saturday afternoons – he'd come and take a seat on the couch and go to sleep watching the Game of the Week, the baseball Game of the Week, and I would be right there with his arm wrapped around me.

 And the thought of him resting, the thought of him going to heaven and no longer working hard was a phenomenal ministry to a grieving son – to think, you know what?  My dad is at rest, he no longer has to work hard, because, as a spiritual leader and as a man, he did that.

 And, you know, as a man, now in my 50s, I'm thinking about the finish line as well.  And you know what?  You and I, Ron, are expected to work hard.  We can't give up our responsibility, we can't coast to the finish line.  We've got to stay stretched out.

Bob: But the reality is that there are days when we'd like to just relax and coast, aren't there?  I mean, there are days when the hard work feels oppressive, and you just think, "You know, I don't know that I can do this any longer."  And that's when you need other guys who can cheer you on, that's when you need the reminder of what we're called to, that's when you need to draw your strength from your walk with Christ.  It's really where the rubber meets the road on the kinds of things that you talk about in the book, "Taking the Lead," and the companion study guide that you've created for it, which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If any of our listeners would like to get a copy, you can go online at, click the button that says "Go," in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to a page where you can get more information about what Ron has put together.  It's not only a book and a study guide, but there is also an audio CD and a DVD so that this can be used in a group setting with a group of guys.

 Again, go to our website,, click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen.  That will take you right to a page where you'll get more information about what Ron has put together in the "Taking the Lead" study kit.  Or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY for more information – 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let's hope that there will be some guys who will catch a vision for using this material with a whole group of guys and see if we can't stir up a little of the leadership that is laying dormant in homes and churches and workplaces all around the country.  Again, our website is  You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about the "Taking the Lead" study kit.  Someone on our team can let you know how you can have it sent out to you.

 Well, tomorrow Dr. Ron Jenson is going to be back with us.  We want to keep the conversation going on the subject of leadership.  I hope you can be back with us as well.

 Thanks today to our engineer, Keith Lynch, our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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