Leadership Lessons from New Hampshire and Super Bowl 50

I had the privilege of working with Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission, during the late 1980s. Loren is one of the wisest leaders I’ve ever known–and just watching him made a powerful impact on me.

Two character qualities really stand out in Loren’s life and the lives of other great leaders. A political primary and the world’s most watched annual television show recently brought those qualities to the forefront in America.

What leadership lessons can we learn from New Hampshire and Super Bowl 50?

I spend part of my time as an ad junct professor for Faith Evangelical College and Seminary located in Tacoma, Washington where I serve as an assistant professor of Global Leadership. This quarter I’ve been crafting some new leadership courses for graduate students.

What I learned from Loren Cunningham has been placed central in the curriculum. Here are two of his leadership nuggets:

The number one quality of a leader is self control. 

I remember hearing Loren share these words in 1986 and I immediately questioned the absoluteness of the statement. What about faith, love, diligence, hard work etc. Why was self control the most important leadership character quality?

Loren explained that leaders are models of behavior for all who follow or watch them. Their influence is great and so their actions must be circumspect.

For example, how many people and churches have been ruined by a pastor’s lack of self control when he committed adultery with a secretary, and that moral failure tore both the families and church apart and left a stain on the ministry of Christ? 

Baptist minister Gordon Hanstad says that “the greatest gift I can give to my people is my own personal holiness.” 

Exactly. Only self-control in leadership, in all areas of life, protects others from being devoured by the wolves of hypocrisy and disallusionment. No wonder the Bible holds leaders (teachers) to a higher standard of conduct (James 3:1).

Here is the second leadership gem from Loren Cunningham:

Authority from God is given to people on the basis of humility.

In other words, true power and authority does not come from a booming voice, a strong personality, or a larger height than everyone else.  The greater your humility, the more moral authority you have in your leadership.

Powerful vocal cords, style, personality, and stature are given by DNA.  They are not moral. How a person chooses to live in a fallen world–honest about their mistakes, willing to admit error and be known for who they really are–is what creates the strongest and best of leaders. Humility is harder to achieve and more crucial to wise leadership than physical strength.

King David is an example. Though he was a dynamic and powerful warrior, it was his tender heart and willingness to repent and acknowledge his failures that produced great leadership.  You can find his humble heart splashed throughout many pages of the Psalms (Check out Psalm 51).

Jesus Christ has the greatest authority of anyone who’s ever lived because he had the greatest degree of humility. No sin in his case. Just the beauty of self-sacrifical meekness that died for the transgressions of the world (Philippians 2:5-11).

Self control and humility. They form the core of truly successful leaders.

There are many other qualities that are important in leadership. I list ten attitudes and ten actions in my book Leadership for the 21st Century: Changing Nations Through the Power of Serving. But self-control and humility are the most necessary and endearing. Why?  Because leaders handle power.

Let’s look at those attributes (or lack of them) in two recent events.

New Hampshire Primary

The United States just held its first primary vote in the Granite State in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 60% to 39%–with 95% of the people that highly valued “honesty” voting for the seventy-four year old Socialist.

In other words, Sanders’ transparency and authenticity (despite terrible Robin Hood and Santa Claus fiscal policies) earned his victory over the former Secretary of State who many viewed as an untrustworthy liar.

Hillary has not showed self control and humility. Bernie seems more sincere.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump cruised to a stunning outsider victory with 35% of the vote. Trump is a powerful American icon who could ride the wave of anger and angst all the way to the White House.

But fellow Americans beware. Though Mr. Trump says he is a Presbyterian and holds up his mother’s gift Bible in front of evangelical audiences, he must not be listening on Sundays. He admitted recently that he’s never asked God or anybody else for forgiveness in his entire life.

Ponder that statement.  The Donald never had the guts and character to admit (and forsake) any sins or mistakes.  That’s not a wise heart to have sitting in the Oval Office. It’s the same problem our current president has of never admitting wrong but always blaming others.

Contrast Donald Trump’s lack of humility to Ted Cruz’s apology to Ben Carson for the incorrect message sent out to caucus goers. Or Marco Rubio admitting that he blew it in the last debate, apologized to those who’d worked hard for him in New Hampshire, and promised to never do it again (Proverbs 18:13).

We need those kinds of leaders sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Super Bowl 50

Sunday’s 50th Super Bowl was the third most watched television show in history. It show-cased Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos in probably the last game of his illustrious career against the up-and-coming Carolina Panthers and their young MVP superstar, Cam Newton.

Peyton’s team won the game 24-10–not with his aging arm, but with a tenacious and opportunistic defense.

After the contest, Manning acknowledged that the other side of the ball was responsible for the victory and thanked his teammates for the privilege of playing with them. All of his career, Peyton Manning–who will have a special wing built for him in the NFL Hall of Fame–has carried himself with dignity and character.

After getting trounced in Super 48 two years ago, Manning humbly congratulated Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson for the win and sought out cornerback Richard Sherman to see if he was okay (he’d been injured in the game).

Class act for many kids to emulate. Self control and personal humility–especially after an agonizing defeat.

Not so after Super Bowl 50. Losing quarterback Cam Newton sat slumped in a chair hiding under a sweatshirt hoody. He gave tortured one-word answers to the interviewers and even walked out of the room after three minutes.

A few days later Carolina coach Ron Rivera defended Newton: “That’s who he is. He hates to lose. That is what you love in him. I would much rather have a guy that hates to lose than a guy who accepts it.”

No, Ron.  You can have a guy who hates losing and loves winning with self-control and humility.

Cam Newton justified his own poor leadership example this way:

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser… If I offended anybody that’s cool, but I know who I am and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anyone’s expectations because yours or anybody’s expectations would never exceed mine…Who are you to say that your way is right? I have all these people who are condemning me saying this, that and the third, but what makes your way right?”

Sorry, Cam. Both self control and humility are the right way to win AND lose.

Who says so? God. No amount of narcissism or self-pity can change that.

In fact, here’s a lesson from Russell Wilson.

The most watched television show ever was Super Bowl 49. At the end of the game, with the New England Patriots leading 28-24, quarterback Russell Wilson dramatically led the Seahawks to the New England one-yard line with thirty seconds to play. Seattle was one down away from repeating as Super Bowl champions.

On the following snap, Wilson threw a quick slant pass to intended receiver Ricardo Lockette that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler–sealing the victory for the Pats. 

It may have been the most devastating Super Bowl moment of all time and certainly for the young quarterback.

But Wilson bowed his head and walked calmly off the field.  Here’s how he explained later:

“The play happens, and they pick the ball off. And I take three steps,” Wilson said. “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you. . . . I want to see how you respond. But most importantly I want them to see how you respond.”

Russell Wilson passed the test.

Memo to Cam Newton: Give Russell a call. He can help you grow in self control and humility.

They remain the real marks of true leadership.





What We Can Learn from the World Champion Seattle Seahawks

Allow me to to bask a few moments in the afterglow of Seattle’s first men’s professional sports championship in thirty-eight years.

Seattle Seahawks 43 – Denver Broncos 8.

I’ve gone full circle in sports enthusiasm in my lifetime. In my younger years, sports was an idol that I lived, slept, dreamt and loved far too much. After I became a disciple of Jesus, I ran to the other extreme and threw away all my athletic trophies and scrapbooks in a burst of religious zeal.

A few years back, God brought me to a place of wiser moderation. Jesus is the supreme love of my life and nothing takes His place in time, thought, commitment and passion. I can also enjoy watching the occasional sports contest with interest and enjoyment.

Superbowl 48–the most watched TV broadcast in American history–stimulated that kind of interest and joy. But it goes much deeper for me.

What can we learn from the World Champion Seattle Seahawks?

What We Can Learn from the Seahawks

1. Don’t believe the doubters. Seattle was recognized as a good team in 2013, and for much of the year stood at the top of the NFL Power Rankings. In December, their offense struggled  and some analysts began to doubt their ability to go the distance.

Bookmakers made them underdogs in the Superbowl against the Broncos and their legendary quarterback, Peyton Manning. Most of the lead-up to the game appeared to be a coronation of the highly respected quarterback. Certainly Manning would cruise to victory and be hailed as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time.

Instead, the Seahawks defense refused to believe the headlines and shut him and the Broncos down.

We need to learn from them and suppress the satanic and human voices around us that tell us we’re not good enough. Don’t accept the doubts. Do your very best and leave the results to God, whether you’re a student, secretary, soldier, factory worker, CEO, or NFL quarterback. Put your trust in the One Who Can.

2. Faith has its rewards and blessings. Many of the Seahawks players profess faith in Christ and have put their trust in God to save them from their sins. That’s why you hear them “thank God” when they’re interviewed and point their hands toward heaven after touchdowns.

The Making of a Champion shares the faith-stories of a number of Seahawk players and coaches and openly invites the audience to get involved in a local church.  Jesus is Bigger Than The Superbowl is an interview with Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll that reveals some Seahawks player’s supreme priority.

Faith in Jesus not only restores us to relationship with God, but brings many blessings to our lives. In fact, when you hear various Seahawks say to the cameras that they are “blessed” by what they’re doing, you’re listening to a code word  that means that Jesus has given them strength, talents, and gifts in life that they know come from Him.

Every good gift comes from God (James 1:17). Faith brings inner hope, confidence, strong friendships, better marriages, comfort in sorrow and many other “blessings.”

Let the Seahawks’ players inspire you to live by faith.

3. Defense wins. It is an axiom in sports–that great defenses beat great offenses. The Seahawks/Broncos matchup was a test of this theory as Seattle possessed the number one defense in the NFL and the Broncos sported a record-setting number one offense.

Yet, many pundits chose the Broncos. Then the game began and the Seattle defense absolutely dominated up the Bronco Express. It wasn’t even close. After a couple quarters, it looked like the Bronco players were “hearing footsteps” every time they went for a catch. The defense won the day.

Defense is important in our lives too. God is our Rock–we must take shelter in Him. We need to put on  the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness and take up the shield of faith daily against the attacks of the demonic world (Ephesians 6:13-17).

We, too, will conquer if we play good defense.

4. Character counts. This year’s Seattle Seahawks (with the exermption of the Richard Sherman rant) exemplified great character on and off the field.

Character is the sum total of your moral traits and include the attributes of love (1 Corinthians 13), the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23), and many other godly qualities. 2 Peter 1:5-7 lists seven character traits including virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love.

Athletes who exhibit many of these qualities make tremendous role models for kids and people of all ages because of their notoriety. Let’s pray for professional athletes in all the fields of sport that they would be people whose lives are worthy of imitation.

5. Work hard. Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson, at the ripe old age of 25, has already become famous for the saying “The separation is in the preparation.” Translation? Those who work diligently to be their best will distinguish themselves from those around them. Hard work is one of the primary tickets to success in a fallen world where we’re all competing for survival.

If you work hard like the Seahawks at what God has called you to do, you will also experience many triumphs. The Bible encourages us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving ” (Colossians 3:23,24).

Let’s work hard for Jesus.

6. Use the talent God has given you. Sometimes when elite athletes talk about their skills (as when speaking to an audience of young people), they emphasize “going for your dreams, aiming for the top.” There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but it comes with a caveat: it must be within the framework of the talent or gifts God has given you.

A wise and honest athlete once said, “You can’t put in what God has left out.” We must have a sober assessment of our talents, both athletically and professionally and then strive to do the best with what God has given us.

We all have special talents, aptitudes, motivations and desires. Find your own, be realistic about God has given you, and use those talents to the best of your ability. When you do, your successes will be just as satisfying as  athletes winning the Superbowl.

7. Give God the glory. I loved it on Sunday night when numerous Seahawk players began their after-game interviews with a quick and hearty nod to God. The same thing took place at the NFL Honors banquet the night before. Almost every player chosen for a prestigious award began his acceptance speech with a heart-felt “I thank to God” before going on to mention parents, coaches, and others.

That little phrase tells you alot about a person. They know who their source is. They are grateful to the Person who really gets credit for their ability.

In the famous Chariots of Fire movie, American sprinter Jackson Schultz hands Eric Liddell (The Flying Scot) a folded note before he runs one of the biggest races of his life. It reads, “He who honors Me, him will I honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).

When we give glory to God, He turns around and honors us in multitudes of ways. Be sure to give God the glory for the accomplishments and blessings of your own life.

8. Aim, high and shoot long. Russell Wilson told many audiences this week that he went to last year’s Superbowl as a spectator to learn about how to get there. Then he and the other Seahawks set their bar high to aim at winning the pinnacle prize of American football.

Over our lifetime we need to set goals for how God wants to use our lives. We need to “aim high” (don’t settle for the mediocre) and then “shoot long”–in other words, have the tenacity to look long range and never give up.

Are you aiming high in your life goals? Are you willing to pursue them for years to the glory of your Creator?

9. Be humble and give others the credit. This was one of the clearest testimonies of the Seahawk triumph. Player after player deflected the attention off of themselves to their other teammates. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was especially good at this–giving praise to all of his players and lifting up the value of “team” above individuals.

It was hard to choose the Superbowl 48 MVP. Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, Percy Harvin, or the entire Legion of Boom all qualified! The award went to unsung hero Malcolm Smith who quietly accepted the thanks–and then immediately gave credit to his teammates.

That’s the power of humility–team–thinking of others. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and also gives glory to God.

10. Don’t give up–persevere to the end. The Seahawks played a very steady game in Superbowl 48 which proved they were the best football team in the NFL. But to get there, they had to survive many epic battles, close shaves–even a rally from twenty-one points behind in one game.

Life is lived best by those who endure and don’t give up. They get knocked down, they look like they’re out, but somehow they muster the strength (in God and his grace) to trudge to the finish line.

It’s one thing to persevere in an athletic contest. It’s even more important to do so in your marriage, family, spiritual and business life.

In summary, I’m grateful to the Seahawks for bringing Seattle a championship after nearly a forty year drought. But I’m even more excited about the faith, humility, teamwork, and other character qualities that allowed this team to reach the top of their trade.

Let’s learn from the Seahawks and do likewise. That will make each of us champions in the ultimate game of life.



What Tebowmania Tells Us About America

I loved Tim Tebow the first moment I saw him play football.  His skills were enormous, his passion for life was contagious, and it was easy to see why Denver Bronco fans embraced him and gave birth to “Tebowmania.”

However, the most impressive thing about him, (there are many quarterbacks who are more skilled than Tim Tebow) was his bold faith in Jesus Christ.

That faith created Tebomania, “Tebowing,” (kneeling in prayer), and some of the biggest football ratings in the history of the NFL. 

It also spawned utter hatred and contempt. Why?

I believe Tebomania tells us something about 21st century America…

First, for those of you who aren’t American football fans, let me tell you about Tim Tebow. He was born on August 14, 1987 in Makati City, The Philippines to Christian missionary parents. He was the youngest of five–his mother deciding against her doctor’s recommendation to have an abortion because of an infection that had put her in a coma.

His mother chose life.

At age five, Tim chose to invite Christ to be his Savior.

The family eventually moved to Jacksonville, Florida where the kids were home-schooled on a 44-acre farm. When local laws were changed to allow home schoolers to participate in sports, Tebow attached himself to Allen D. Nease High School.  He led the Nease Panthers football team to the Class 4A State Championship in 2005.

As one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, Tebow was recruited to Florida and led the Gators to two national championships in 2007 and 2009. At the end of the 2008 season, he won the prestigious Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in America.

And everywhere he played football, he shared his vibrant faith in Christ. On some game days, he even put a Bible message on the eye black grease on his cheeks that was used to prevent glare.

His favorite verse: John 3:16.

Even though Tim Tebow was an unorthodox college quarterback–more of a runner than a pure passer–his college career is considered one of the best of all time.

In 2010 Tebow was drafted by the Denver Broncos and sat on the bench during his first year in the pros. In 2011, the Broncos started 1-4 and traded their first string quarterback. At that time, Tim Tebow was the third string QB on a lousy team.

But he beat out the competition, and to the delight of the fans, became the Broncos starting quarterback for game six.

The rest, as they say, is history.

For the next eight games, Tim Tebow built a legend that became known as Tebomania. Though he was not a good NFL passer, and was built like a linebacker who masqueraded as a quarterback (6’3″ and 245 pounds), Tebow led the Broncos to seven amazing victories–usually in the last quarter or even seconds of each game.

The NFL had never seen a “comeback kid” like this one. The phenomenon became known as “Tebow Time.”

After the first come-from-behind victory, everyone said it was a fluke. Then the victories continued. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven!

Suddenly the lowly Broncos were leading their division, an entire nation was beginning to tune in to “Tebow Time,” and  “Tebowing” was the talk of the nation.

Many liked his bold confession of faith. Others began to rail against it, saying that it had no place in sports. The unorthodox quarterback who loved Jesus had suddenly become the most admired athlete in the world.

Admired by many. Hated by others.

Then the Broncos lost three straight games. Was Tim Tebow’s lack of skill finally catching up with him? Many started to criticize the young quarterback for “wearing his faith on his sleeve” and not keeping the separation of “faith and game.” (Is that an offshoot of the separation of church and state?)

However, the Broncos backed into the playoffs and were set to tee it up with the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was noticably hobbled by an ankle injury and other Steelers were hurt, this match-up looked like David versus Goliath–with Goliath smacking down the Broncos as a human being would a pesky fly.

Then the unthinkable happened. In the 4th quarter, “Tebow Time” ramped up when the young “David” completed some long passes and brought the Broncos into a tie as regulation expired. The Broncos won the coin toss for the overtime session, and after receiving the kick-off, Tim Tebow walked onto the field with his slingshot and three rocks.

Goliath was ready. Time to quash this bug! But, on the first play from scrimmage, Tebow threw an eighty yard touchdown pass to Damaryius Thomas that won the game for Denver. The fans and nation went nuts!

Final score: David 29 – Goliath 23.

As usual, Tim Tebow knelt after the game, thanked God for his blessings, then did a victory lap around the stadium that was watched by the world.

The next week, 43% of Americans said they believed the Broncos had won because of God’s “favor” upon Tim Tebow. Not that God was interested in winning football games. Just that he seemed to honor someone who gave him the glory.

What was the evidence? Back to John 3:16. During the victory over the Steelers, the following 3:16 stats were compiled:

  • Tebow had passed the ball for 316 yards–a career high.
  • That translated into an NFL record of 31.6 yards per catch.
  • And Tebomania was so great in the Bronco-Steeler game attracted 31.6% of the evening television audience.

I don’t know if God was involved in the 3:16 stuff, but it’s interesting. There are some things in life that you just can’t explain.

The following week more people tuned into the Denver Bronco–New England Patriot divisional game that any other divisional match-up in history. There was no final miracle. A clearly superior Patriot team thoroughly beat the Broncos 45-10. Tim Tebow’s dream season was over.

It was a season that many of us will not soon forget.

Yet, we must pause and wonder why Tebomania was viewed by some people as negative. Wasn’t it a good thing to have a young quarterback talk about his faith in God and not his latest sexual exploit with a supermodel? Wasn’t Tim Tebow a good role model of hard work, passion, character, and all the qualities that every parent wants to see in their child?

Tim Tebow–the most admired athlete in the world–had even confessed he was a virgin–that he would save his sexual life for marriage. How refreshing is this!–that a world-renown athlete would forsake the pleasures of the day for the enduring institution of a godly and faithful marriage?

Yet some put him down–told him to keep his “faith” out of the public square.

Why would anyone say that in 2012?

Because we are fighting a worldview battle in this nation. Forty years ago we were a different nation. I remember. I was an athlete four decades ago.

I was never a great one like Tim Tebow–just an above-average basketball player with some smarts and commitment. During my season year in high school we went 20-3, won fourteen straight games, and won South Kitsap’s first league championship in twenty years.

Before every game, even though many of our players were not Christians, our coach led us in prayer in the locker room. We didn’t pray to win. We prayed for no one to get hurt, for strength, for good sportsmanship, and to be good examples.

I’m sure “Tebowing” prays the same way. We also used to believe “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

In 1970 I played on a national team that took the good character and sportmanship to an even higher level. We prayed before the game, we prayed during the game, and when an opposing player got knocked down or hurt, we even picked them back up and said “God bless you!”

That summer our Young Life basketball team went 29-1.

In the 1970s nobody criticized prayer, faith, and good character in sports. Our culture was still a Christian based culture that believed that faith in God and the fruits of faith were good things–in church, in society, and even on the playing field.

But things changed a couple decades later. In 1991 I was asked by South Kitsap High School to do a benefit basketball game to raise money for the sports program. Our old championship team would play some all stars that included NBA legend Bobby Jones. I said I would do it under one condition. After the game was over and we raised the money for the school, I wanted Bobby to speak to the crowd about faith in Christ.

Initially the school said no. Things had changed in twenty years. Faith and prayer were being removed from the public square. I stood my ground: No faith message at the end–no game.

The school blinked–we filled the gymnasium to capacity, raised a lot of money, and Bobby Jones talked about Jesus to the people gathered. I was grateful–but very aware that faith in God was no longer viewed as a positive virtue.

Now fast forward another twenty years. This season, Tim Tebow stepped onto a national stage and shared his faith in Christ. He prayed openly. In 1971 no one would have said a word. In 1991, maybe a few would have complained.

However, in 2011, Tebow’s faith was openly ridiculed. He was told by some to keep his beliefs out of the public square–really, that some would rather have him be a party-boy fornicator who took drugs and lived a depraved life rather than talk to us about prayer, faith, Jesus or God.

What Tebowmania tells us is that there is now a portion of America that hates God, laughs at faith and wants us to keep our mouths shut.

Let’s not oblige them. The Bible says, “Whatever you do…do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s what Tim Tebow is doing in the arena of sports. You do can do the same.

America needs a revival of faith. Let’s love people enough to keep Tebowing–for the glory of God.