In his bestselling book The Outliers (2008), Malcolm Gladwell continually refers to the “10,000 Hour Rule”, which he claims from his research proves that world-class performers in sports, entertainment, etc. is the key to their success and level of expert performance. He questions the myth of “natural talent” and “born with abilities.” Success is long, hard work!

     As with any new data or research in any field, many of Gladwell’s conclusions have been doubted and even challenged. However, some of his research is documented and proves in those specific examples that it takes 10,000 hours of DELIBERATE practice to become above average in skills and expertise.

     What does this have to do with leadership? You might be thinking. In a word, PLENTY. From my personal experiences as a leader, a teacher of leadership, and an observer of leaders, I have concluded that numerous leaders, even in the church, preachers too, are riding on the road labeled “Just Get by.”

     Every station of leadership has a level of acceptance granted to each leader. As long as you stay in that zone and don’t rock the boat you’ll be able to hold the title and position. Schools and books are designed to create clones for potential leaders to model. Schools are cookie cutters with “one design” which is sufficient for every context and occasion. I have noted through the years that you can listen to a preacher and tell where he went to school.

     Whether it is provable or not, some scholars have estimated that Jesus spent 10,000 plus hours training the 12 Apostles, and then sent the Holy Spirit to continue their training. This seems reasonable when you consider that Jesus spent hours, days, weeks, months and years with them. There are 27,208 hours in three years. We call this OJT: “On the job training.”

     In my opinion, a major challenge facing most church leaders today is the failure to see, believe, or acknowledge that they aren’t yet the best leader that are capable of becoming. Because of the “just-get-by” syndrome, there is a reluctance or belief that there isn’t a need for continual growth and expertise as a leader.

     The comfort zone is crowded with leaders who resist escaping and being challenged to learn and develop new expertise. One preacher replied when encourages to enroll in a master degree program, “Why should I? The brethren are satisfied with my performance.” The word “satisfied” is the glue that holds leaders, and Christians, in the comfort zone. The rocking chair of leadership will keep you busy but it won’t take you anywhere.

     Lou Holtz, coach of champion football teams, both at the college and professional level and sports commentator, said, “In this world, you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.” Max DePree wisely said, “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” The apostle Paul wrote, “I have not yet obtained but I press on to the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ.” “A dream,” wrote Dr. Denis Waitley, “is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.”

     I have seen many potential preachers, teachers, and leaders at all levels in the church, start programs of learning and skills improvement only to drop out after a few hours or attempts to succeed. They never realize or have it brought to their attention, that when they are only a few sessions or hours into trying to do or learning something, and get discouraged and quit, that it takes TIME (remember the 10,000 Hour Rule). Stop expecting to be good or perfect after a few hours or efforts. Pay the price of persistent and deliberate practice.

     Remember, regardless of who you are or the position you occupy, you are not yet the best you can be. Have the attitude of John Paul Jones. When his ship was badly damaged and the British commander inquired if he was ready to surrender, he answered, “I have not yet begun to fight.” He and his crew captured the British ship. His own ship later sank.” May you reply to possibilities of mediocre and comfort zone leadership status with, “I have not yet begun to lead.”

     It is so easy to be swept into the instant, I need and want it now, faster is a better approach to our 21st-century lifestyles. We have time, and take time, to indulge in numerous hours of social media, etc. but very little time in “Growing into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ” (cf. Ephesians 4:11-17).

     Instead of pushing the boundaries of the comfort zone so we can expand and grow, we are, as a society, drawing them tighter and closer to ourselves. We enjoy the comfort that the familiar and routine bring into our daily lives. There is a tendency when something new, exciting, and with glitter is introduced, it is exciting and we jump on the bandwagon. Once the rush has subsided we move on to the next high, etc.

     The comfort zone is where your attitudinal, belief and behavior activities feel safe, stress-free, and unquestioned. The benefits are mental security, a pseudo sense of happiness, and less anxiety. It’s okay to be part of the “just-get-by” crowd.

     Jesus called us to escape from our comfort zones and live thereafter outside of them. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). It is risky to step outside your comfort zone as a Christian leader, daring to be and do what God has called you to do and be.

     Dare to expand your comfort zone. Remember, “inch by inch anything is a cinch but yard by yard it’s too hard.” Every day do something different; add a new routine, read a new book, etc. Accept with excitement the small changes that will come, and in time accumulate into a new and better equipped you.

     No, you’re not yet the best leader you can be but you are well on your way. The key is to START. START now, not tomorrow or next week.

     Write your intentional plan for being a better leader. DO IT NOW!

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