Big Talk, Small Man



Leadership is broken because leaders are unbroken

It happened on a Thursday morning many years ago in San Jose, CA. That morning I was involved in a meeting about reaching the world with the Gospel—heady stuff.

Following that meeting, I chatted with a pastor friend of mine and soon our conversation centered on what great things we were going to do for God. It could have been an edifying conversation, but it wasn’t, and I knew it wasn’t as soon as I left my friend.

I knew what I said was wrong—empty words full of empty ambition.

That night I woke up with my arm wrapped around my head, all circulation cut off and all feeling gone. As I struggled to restore feeling in my arm, a question entered my mind, a question from God I’m sure…Are you going to stay here in your church and serve me or are you going to leave?”

I knew He raised this question because of my big words. I had to stay and I said so.

Two days later I was at an elder retreat and the chairman of the board was giving an update concerning our proposed church building. Our landlords were forcing us out of our rented facility, and we had to build or shut down.

The builder’s report was in: construction costs had sky rocketed in the past few months, and our building now cost $100,000 more than the original estimate. Our chairman, a major businessman in San Jose, wept because he feared the church didn’t have the money.

At that point I thought of my empty conversation and God’s penetrating question, and now I understood why He raised it. He knew what was coming and wanted to determine if I would stick it out. I told that story to our elders and we got on our knees and declared our trust in God. Three weeks later—after the $100,000 was in hand—we held Celebration Sunday.

Our new building construction had started. Big talk always reflects a small man, a man in an identity search full of painful emptiness that he seeks to fill by what he achieves.

But that only makes his pain more unbearable because identity does not come through accomplishments— identity comes through relationships. Jesus spelled that out when He told us the only way to greatness is to love God and neighbor and serve Him by serving them.


This is why I want to change the leader conversation from what we do with our hands to what God does through our hearts.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had empty leader conversations. I fear that they go on in various forms all over the world every day, and we must turn from our empty greatness to Christ’s true greatness.

But this drives me to Paul’s question: who is adequate for these things? I’m not. Learning to love is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do. Still I’m sticking to it, working to start a new conversation marked by Christ’s fullness, not my emptiness.

I invite you to join with me in this new conversation.

From "Big Talk, Small Man" on Broken Leadership Blog is about changing the leadership conversation from what we are doing with our hands to what God is doing through our hearts.


Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.