Jim Cowart, a pastor and horseman, shares leadership lessons he’s learned in the stables of Georgia, working with horses and professional trainers. Cowart also shares distinct insights from Australia’s legendary horseman Clinton Anderson.
Written in Cowart’s easygoing style, and full of humor, this book brings a light and engaging touch to a serious subject, and is packed with practical advice and instruction.
Jim Cowart is the founding pastor of Harvest Church, a United Methodist congregation in Warner Robins, GA, near Macon. Harvest Church, launched in 2001, has an average attendance of nearly 3,000 each weekend. The church grows primarily through professions of faith from new Christians. Jim is the author or coauthor of Start This Stop That, Grab-Gather and Grow, Living the Five, Grounded in Prayer, and Grounded in Creed. Jim serves as a trainer and coach, helping pastors launch and maintain healthy church environments. For more information go to harvestchurch4u.org.
Serenity Al Janat, who answers to the name, Seri, is a Straight Egyptian Arabian mare from the Dahmah Shahwan Strain. She can trace her lineage back to King Solomon’s stables in Israel, but now lives in Middle Georgia with her best buddy Jim Arch Cowart.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)|
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CHURCHES AND HORSES NEED A LEADER
Do you know the hardest thing about learning how to ride a horse? The ground.
— Old Cowboy Proverb
[Jesus] gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God's people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ.
— Ephesians 4:11-12a (CEB)
Nobody Likes "Horsey" ... Not Even Horses
I'd been out of town, overwhelmed, out of sorts, and stressed out. It had been about two weeks since I'd seen and ridden Seri, my sweet Arabian mare. I hugged her neck as she came to greet me, and I was sure she was as glad to see me as I was to see her. I grinned as she loaded on the trailer, anticipating the freedom and partnership I was about to encounter with my horse friend on the trails. I could see it already — running through the forest paths, wind blowing in our hair, sunshine beaming down. All would be right with the world again.
I expected too much.
Things went well at first. The day was nice. The sun was shining. But my daydream of a joyful reunion with my horse was not working out. There was something very important that I had forgotten: Seri is horse, not a person. That means she thinks like a horse and acts like a horse. And as much as I love her and want her to be Trigger (Roy Rogers's horse) or Silver (the Lone Ranger's horse) I try to remember that's Hollywood and this is real life. And this day Seri was acting rather "horsey."
If you're not a horse person, let me explain horsey. You probably know the difference between "childlike" and "childish." Childlike is a description for the best characteristics of children, such as trust, love, and belief. But childish describes the worst traits of children, such as selfishness, impatience, and bratiness. Well, Seri was acting horsey, like an eight-hundred-pound brat. She was fighting me with the bit in her mouth, tossing her head, and pinning her ears back in frustration and anger. My sweet horse who I love so much and dreamed about riding was being downright disrespectful. At first this hurt my feelings. Then I remembered that Seri is a horse, and I needed to start thinking like a horse too.
Horses are herd animals. They live and travel in groups, and there is a definite pecking order in their horse society. If you watch a group of horses in a pasture, it doesn't take long to discover that there is a top horse who rules the field. Horse fights happen, but usually don't last long. A nip here and a kick there by the dominant mare is enough to keep everyone in line. In fact, a simple pinning of the ears is often the only signal needed for the other horses to move out of the way and straighten up.
Horses are accustomed to leaders. They want a leader. They expect a leader. The way a person becomes a leader of horses is to make the horse move his or her feet. Behave like the dominant mare in the pasture. She asserts and establishes her position by making the other horses move. She applies subtle pressure like pinning her ears. If that doesn't work, she increases the pressure with a nip or a kick until she gets the other horse to move away from her. Lead horses in wild herds have even been known to discipline young horses who are being unruly with the horse equivalent of a "time out." They drive the troublemaker out of the herd until he is repentant and changes his behavior. When he starts acting like a respectable citizen again, he's allowed back in.
Seri's horsey disrespect toward me was in part caused by my absence. I had been gone for two weeks. Seri hadn't been ridden. She had been in the stall and pasture for two weeks, and now that I was on her back, she began to question me. Now, this is important because leaders are often asked questions that aren't put into words but acted out in behavior. People are going to question your leadership, and they often use their behavior instead of their words to ask the questions.
In Seri's horsey behavior, she was actually asking me these questions:
I haven't seen you in a while. Are you still the leader of my herd?
What makes you think you're worthy to be my leader?
Maybe I'll be the leader of our herd now. What do you think about that?
When I realized what was going on, I told her, "Listen to me, Seri. I'm glad to see you, but you better get this in your head pretty quickly. I'm the leader of this herd of two. You are invited to be my friend and my partner, but I am the leader."
Of course, words weren't enough to convey this message, so I translated this into the language she speaks, the silent language of the horse. I moved her feet. A lot. Just like a dominant mare would do. I dismounted and put her on a lunge line (a long rope) and worked her in large circles until she began to get the message. It didn't take long, and she began to ask me other silent questions. She began to lick her lips and turn her ear toward me.
Everything is training.
In doing this, she was saying in horse language, "Okay, okay. You are a good leader. Can we be friends now? I'm ready to listen to you and follow your leadership."
As soon as I removed the pressure of making her move, she came right up to me for some loving and snuggling. From here I was able to remount and continue our ride. This time was much closer to my ideal image because Seri was happy, respectful, and listening to me.
Horses need a leader. And if you as the owner or rider don't recognize this need and take the leadership position, then the horse pretty much says, "Well, if you aren't going to be the leader, I guess I'll have to take charge." By the way, if you've ever been onthe back of a runaway horse you know how terrifying it can be for your horse to be the leader instead of you.
This behavior is not unique to horses. I'm sure you've met dogs that are pampered and spoiled brats. In the absence of a human leader of the pack, the dog assumes the role. It's even more tragic with children who are pampered to the point of being spoiled. Perhaps well-meaning parents abdicate their role as leader, and a little tyrant arises to rule the roost. This same pattern can happen in churches, businesses, and government too. When leadership is not clear, chaos follows.
Horses need a leader. So do children. And so do churches.
Stay in Your Lane
Here are two things I've learned about leadership:
1. Everyone can and should be a leader.
2. You've got to stay in your lane.
Some might disagree and make the case that if we were all leaders, who would follow? Wouldn't there be chaos if we all tried to lead at the same time? Well, that's where knowing your lane comes in. In a race, you need to stay in your lane. In life and leadership, your lane represents your role, your area, your zone.
You've probably heard the old adage about "too many cooks in the kitchen." I get it. But that's only true if all the cooks are working on the same dish or getting in each other's way. The real problem is not too many cooks. The real problem is when onecook is interfering with the other cook's job, when the cooks don't stay in their lane.
Think of it this way. You have to feed a thousand people for lunch tomorrow. You don't want to be the only cook in the kitchen! You need people in charge of different areas. And then you need those cooks to do their job and stay in their lane! You actually need more cooks in the kitchen. You need more leaders in your church. And everyone needs to "stay in their lane."
Some pastors think they have too many "leaders" in their church already because there are competing systems, dueling personalities, and chaos. But those problems aren't caused by too much leadership. It's usually a lack of clear leadership, failure of people staying in their lanes, or areas of giftedness, that cause conflict.
First Corinthians 14:26-33 tells us that the church in Corinth had a problem. They actually had a lot of problems. When they got together to worship, it was chaotic. It seems that people wanted to speak at the same time. So, while one was delivering the sermon, another person would stand up and begin to speak in tongues. Not to be outdone, someone else would chime in with prophesy, while someone else would begin singing a song — all right in the middle of the service and all at the same time. And evidently, when questioned about the wisdom of this chaotic disorder of service, some would try to blame it on the Spirit. Can't you hear a Corinthian brother or sister say, "Hey, when God moves, I can't hold back. I just have to sing!"
So the Apostle Paul steps in and brings down the hammer. He says, "You can all prophesy one at a time so that everyone can learn and be encouraged. The spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets. God isn't a God of disorder but of peace" (1 Cor 14:31-33 CEB). In other words, hold your horses, people. Take turns and stay in your lane!
In Ephesians 4, we are given a short list of different kinds of leaders in the church. There are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Each of these has a "lane," an area of expertise and responsibility. Now look at the end game. They are to equip God's people for what? For ministry. They aren't supposed to do all the ministry. They are to equip others to do ministry too. So that means every Christ follower, every Christian is to be in ministry. It doesn't mean every Christian is a pastor or prophet. That may not be their lane. But every Christian is a minister, preferably being equipped to discover and engage in a particular niche or lane for which they are uniquely qualified. Churches need pastoral leadership and lay leadership to know their own lane and to respect and appreciate other lanes too. Leaders need to learn to work together in a partnership. That's the body of Christ in action, working together in rhythm and respect.
What's your lane? Well, that's what you need to find out. Some clues are your personality, interests, and life experiences. What are you good at? What things excite you? What do you see happening in your church or community or the world and say, "Somebody ought to do something about that!" These questions are clues to your "lane" and where you will be the happiest and most effective for the kingdom.
Somehow in America, many Christians have gotten the idea that showing up to a church service fulfills their Christian duty. But according to Ephesians that's a ridiculous idea! You aren't meant to just be a passenger on the boat. You are meant to help row the boat! By the way, have you noticed that when people are busy rowing the boat there isn't much time for rocking the boat?
Many pastors spend all their time doing ministry. That's not a biblical model. Many laypeople spend all their time either on boards and committees or just attending church. That's not a biblical model either. The biblical model is for every believer to be in a lane, in a ministry (Eph 4:12).
Find your lane. Then lead. And stay in your lane.
Every church and every horse needs a leader. Be a leader.
Born or Trained?
Clinton Anderson is one of my favorite horse trainers. I like his Aussie accent, down-to-earth humor, and ability to break complex behavior into manageable steps. Clinton brought his Downunder Horsemanship clinic to a nearby town, and I jumped at the chance to see him work his magic in person. As he opened the seminar, he addressed the crowd with this question: "How many of you would say you are natural horse people? Working with horses just comes naturally to you." Of the five-hundred-plus people present, only a few raised their hands, much to our envy. But Clinton's response made the rest of us feel better.
With a mischievous smile, he said, "Well, get out of here! The rest of us can't stand people like you!" And the whole crowd roared with laughter, even the now sheepish ones who had raised their hands.
Horsemanship can be taught. And so can leadership. Yes, some people seem to be naturals. There probably are a few natural- born horsemen and natural-born leaders. But not many. So, what about the rest of us? We can learn. We can improve. We can find our area of influence and grow as leaders.
In fact, there are some real advantages to NOT being a natural- born leader. Have you noticed that many natural-born athletes or musicians or mathematicians or even preachers have difficulty explaining how they do what they do to others? They can't explain it because it comes intuitively. "I don't know how I hit that note. I just do it." "I don't know how I gather a crowd. I just do it."
Prodigies are a small population, especially in the leadership world. Most of us are not natural-born leaders. Most of us must learn the hard way by making mistakes. We must learn how to be good leaders. It's a fact that every church, horse, business, and family needs a leader. It's a job in high demand. But many people count themselves out before they even try. Leadership can be learned. You can be a leader. Actually, the case can be made that you already are a leader in some sphere of influence. But if you aren't aware that you are a leader already, you probably aren't doing your best at it.
Seri questioned my leadership by acting out when she sensed a leadership vacuum. Churches can react in much the same way. They experience chaos and conflict when leadership is unclear or people are out of their lanes.
Read, study, and practice being a leader. Find your lane.
What excites you? What frustrates you? What needs to be done that no one else seems to see? These may be clues into how God has wired you and what your particular lane looks like.
"Too many cooks in the kitchen" really means that people are out of their lanes. In the 100-meter dash, if you get out of your lane you're disqualified because that interferes with the other runners. In churches, it's usually not quite that clear. We probably wish we could blow a whistle and make problematic participants sit on the bench. But we often only know someone is out of their lane by the damage that's happening in their wake.
Your church, your business, and your family need leaders. Not a Lone Ranger or Superman who single-handedly saves the day. Get over that idea. You're most effective as a leader when you use your skills and talents to help others find their lane and respect and encourage those around you to do the same.
There's often a silent question asked within organizations and teams: "Who's in charge here?" That's what Seri was asking me. This question often arises when the leadership is struggling with ambiguity or alignment. However, you can make the confusion worse. If you have to remind people verbally that you are the leader, then you're in a lot of trouble already! Good leaders don't rely on titles, rules, or manipulation. Good leaders demonstrate competence within their lane by example and by helping those following to get better at being leaders themselves.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What is a key take-away for you from this chapter?
2. Do you agree with the statement that anyone can and should be a leader?
3. Have you accepted your role as leader in your spheres of influence?
4. Have you ever seen the result of "too many cooks in the kitchen?" Looking back, do you think the resulting chaos was because of too many leaders, or that the leaders weren't staying in their "lanes"?
5. How do you think pastoral leadership and lay leadership in the church can work better together in partnership?
6. How would these same lessons apply in your home and job?
7. What would it look like if you embraced your role as a leader? In your home? Your church? Your business?
8. What's one practice or habit you would like to improve in your leadership skills? For example, read a particular book for self-improvement, attend a seminar, learn to use a new app on your smart phone, or find a life coach.CHAPTER 2
THE PATIENCE POLE
To change your horse you must first change yourself.
— Clinton Anderson
Be still, and know that I am God!
— Psalm 46:10a (NRSV)
It's a warm day, almost perfect. The sun is shining gently, and there's a cool breeze in our faces. Seri and I are doing one of our favorite things — running. We're out in the woods, crossing streams, dodging trees, running fast. Of course, when I say running fast, I mean Seri is running fast and I'm holding on for dear life. I'm a paradox of laughing out loud one second and cringing in terror the next because — I may not have mentioned this before — I'm really not a great rider. But I'm learning.
We crossed a stream, and I looked up as movement caught my eye ahead of us. Deer! Three beautiful does were apparently alerted by our splashing. They stopped and we stopped. Seri arched her neck and perked her ears forward as she examined these intruders on her trail. The deer were more inquisitive than startled. But after a long stare-down, one of them bolted and the others followed. With no plan whatsoever, I squeezed with my knees and made a kissing sound, which is my signal to Seri to run like a rocket. I yelled, "Let's get 'em, girl!" And we were off! Ha! Truthfully, the deer were never in any danger of being caught, and I sure didn't have a plan for what to do if I caught one, despite my bold and impulsive declaration.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Leading From Horseback"
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Churches and Horses Need a Leader 1
Chapter 2 The Patience Pole 13
Chapter 3 Charge What Scares You 27
Chapter 4 That's Not Your Fight 45
Chapter 5 Leaders and New Ideas 57
Chapter 6 Chase Butterflies and Elephants the Same 67
Chapter 7 When Leaders Get Lost 79
Chapter 8 Leaders and the Supernatural 91
Chapter 9 When Leaders Face Rejection 111
Chapter 10 Don't Lower Yourself to the Level of a Nasty Opponent 127
Chapter 11 Heroes 143