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Preview: From the Keyboard of Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove

From the Keyboard of Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove

Pondering the subjects of life and leadership.

Last Build Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2014 00:03:46 +0000



Sat, 20 Nov 2010 13:04:00 +0000

It's been over a year since I last posted on this blog. Wow! Time flies while you're completing a Ph.D. and starting a new job as Chair of the Department of Graduate Studies at Beulah Heights University (BHU).

I'm still pastor at Conyers Church of God and my wife has taken on a larger role as a true partner in ministry with me. She is the Church Administrator, but she does not receive pay.

Anyhow, life is very interesting as the university is planning for me to travel to Brazil and to Belgium to organize extension sites from BHU. God is in this in that I will be working with Church of God churches in Belgium as the largest churches in the country are member churches of the denomination in which I am credentialed.
God has something significant going on in my life and the church and school I'm working with. It has always been my contention that if we will prepare ourselves for more, God will give us more to do. If we, through prayer and study, prepare ourselves for significance, God will do significant things with our lives.

Stay tuned.

Anticipating Change

Thu, 06 Aug 2009 18:10:00 +0000

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Change. Sometimes it can be frightening. Also, sometimes, even after change has occurred, we can still be surprised and startling. I recently put a suit of armor in my office to store for a short while before returning it to its owner. I knew it was in here, but his morning when I came into my office, that suit of armor startled me. In fact, later in the day when I came out of my restroom, it startled me again.

Change is inevitable and we can either be afraid of change, or we can anticipate it, plan for it, even embrace it and triumph through change. Though not all change is good, change is unavoidable. By anticipating change, through something author Sam Chand calls “futuring” we can plan in advance and lesson, if not eliminate, being startled or surprised.

Media Files:


Fri, 17 Jul 2009 13:03:00 +0000

I often hear negative and disparaging remarks about denominations and it troubles me. I was on TBN once and the host made a comment that indicated that a particular problem was unique to denominations. I quickly reminded him that that particular problem occurred in independant and non-denominational churches as well. He agreed and we moved on. The point being that there is this myth that being an independant somehow results in a superior church model. This is a myth because there are as many disfunctional independant and non-denominational churches as there are denominational churches.

Last week I traveled to North Dakota to preach the dedication sermon for the Dunseith Church of God (Wind of the Spirit Ministries) as they moved from their small wood frame building, into a stately stone building that was more than twice the size of their former building. Our church has supported the ministry of Pastor Daniel and Sandi Bean for about two years. When I arrived I found that the Solid Rock Church of God from Mobile, Alabama was there with 40 people, and another Church of God from Georgia was there with another dozen or so people. The state youth director from Kansas, Bill Harrison, was there where he took time to minister to youth in the area.

In addition the state overseer, Jeffery Robinson, his brother Jeremy and their father Julian Robinson were there as well. The pastor of Solid Rock Church of God is Glenn Barnhill and his associate pastor, who heads up home missions projects, Tommy Pike, were there for the celebration as well. Solid Rock Church of God purchased the new building for the Dunseith Church of God and at their request the building was dedicated in memory of Jeannie Robinson, the wife of Julian Robinson.

As I saw all the activity and the outreach, and knowing the contribution of time, talent and money to the Dunseith Church of God by so many Church of God faithful, it occurred to me that this is the strength of a denomination. We are a family and we celebrate with one another the success of each of our churches or ministries. Looking at all that was accomplished I was proud to say that I am a pastor in the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee.
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Media Files:

Be Inspired

Fri, 19 Jun 2009 17:17:00 +0000


allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />As leaders we need to be inspired. We may be inspired by a vision, by a great leader, or by the success of others. Most of the time we are inspired by great men who have done great things. One of the marks of a charismatic leader is that he or she overcame great obstacles to achieve their success.

I am inspired by the pastor of a small church in North Dakota. Daniel and Sandi Bean have been serving the little Dunseith Church of God for about five years now. They are from Georgia, but they went to serve a little church with about a dozen worshippers. Recently they've had about 45 worshippers. They both made great sacrifices to go to a church that few people would even have considered going to. They have worked tirelessly among the Native Americans and have seen lives transformed and have witnessed great tragedy among the people they love and serve.

Recently they were attempting to build a new building, nothing opulent; in fact two Church of God churches from Alabama had committed about 40,000 dollars. Instead, the Methodist church building not far from the Dunseith Church of God was for sale. It was appraised for around 60,000 (which is a lot in that area), and Daniel and Sandi knew it was beyond the possibility for their small congregation to purchase. After some inquiry and a number of serendipitous connections with the realtor, an offer of $20,000 was made and accepted. The a group from the Church of God in Alabama agreed to purchase the building outright for the Dunseith Church of God.

God honors faithfulness. I am inspired by Daniel and Sandi Bean and hope that others will be as well.

Media Files:

Leading like a coach

Sat, 23 May 2009 20:21:00 +0000

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />I like the coaching paradigm for leadership.  A coach should be looking at the long-term implications of the current practices.  He or she should be developing the current talent, constantly recruiting new talent, and then putting people into roles where they will be most effective.  When the individual is fulfilled and fruitful, the entire team benefits.  Think like a coach when you lead.

Media Files:

Lighten Up!

Fri, 15 May 2009 12:46:00 +0000

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Miserable leaders make for a miserable organization. Too many leaders are miserable, defeated, fatigued, frustrated and angry, and then they wonder why everyone around them is the same way. I believe that a leader must have a sense of humor, even being able to laugh at him/herself. Joyful leaders create a climate for a joyful and hopeful organization.

Jesus came to give us joy and an abundant life (John 16:24; John 10:10). The Apostle John tells us that he writes so that our joy may be full (1 John 1:4). The Bible tells us that Jesus is going to present us faultess before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). Yet I meet and read the posts of so many mad pastors. Lighten up. Enjoy the journey.

I once heard someone talk about "destination disease." They imagine that when they get "there"--wherever there is--then they will be happy, satisfied, and joyful. But it turns out that "there" is a moving target and few people ever get there, so I've decided to enjoy the journey. It's a good day to be alive and living for God.

It is doubtful that depressed leaders will be very attractive to the followers. If you look like you're about to jump off a cliff, don't expect many followers. Smile. Laugh. Laugh at yourself and laugh with others--not the other way around. As long as you're alive, all things are possible. One of the number one attributes of successful leaders is a positive attitude.

Media Files:

The Leader As Facilitator

Thu, 30 Apr 2009 13:13:00 +0000

allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Okay, I did it. I'm up with the times. I've downloaded a video blog on the topic of the leader as the facilitator. As someone who has both served as a staff member and now as a senior pastor, I believe that I have insight from both sides of the coin. The keys I've identified are:

  1. Recognize the strengths/gifts of those around you.
  2. Plug them in to a ministry/function about which they are passionate and which compliments their strengths.
  3. Trust them. Do not micro-manage.
  4. Praise them for their commitment, for their diligence, and for the outstanding job they do.
  5. If they need help, let them know that it's perfectly alright to ask, and then invest yourself into them, providing the leadership, training, or guidance that they need. If you don't have the expertise, then find someone who does and let your staff seek training from them, or from an organization that can be of benefit.
  6. Provide constructive feedback. Highlight the good things before addressing areas where improvement is needed. Never be condescending, but always assume a coaching/mentoring relationship and be willing for others to give you honest feedback about your performance as well.
  7. Be willing to let them get the credit for successes. Do not hog the spotlight, but always be willing to highlight the achievements/accomplishments of others.

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Regression Toward the Mean

Mon, 16 Mar 2009 14:24:00 +0000

(image) Extremes are by definition out of the ordinary. In life, in the economy, in history, in theology, in marriages, in parenting, etc., there is, as it were, a pendulum that swings. If you've ever watched a grandfather clock you'll see that the pendulum swings back and forth until it reaches its apex and then descends back toward the gravitational pull and then swings to the opposite extreme. If you assigned a numerical value for each point on the arch of the pendulum from one extreme to the other you would find that if you took the average point total it would be in the middle. The tendency is for life to move toward the mean, the average, the norm.

We often hear rainfall totals or rainfall deficits compared to the average rainfall total. What is the average rainfall total? It is the average of the extremes. The tendency in life is a regression from the extremes to the mean.

In the economy there are constant fluctuations between market expansion and market contraction. There are fluctuations between times of wealth building and recession. However, if the fundamentals of the American economy are sound, then in time the economy will regress toward the mean. It will correct, it will tend toward the norm.

In the current situation we can be sure that unless something is done by the government to prevent it from doing so, the economy will move toward the norm and it will appear that there is a significant improvement. What often happens is that when markets go through their cyclical fluctuations is that the president in office when the market trends lower gets the blame, and the president who holds the office when it trends better takes the credit. People acting out of emotion or blind loyalty often fail to appreciate the normal fluctuations and want to assign the label of goat or hero to the leader, regardless of what real impact he or she had. In truth, President Bush was not a goat and President Clinton was no hero. They just happened to be sitting in oval office as the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

Time will only tell where the pendulum will be at the end of President Obama's presidency in four or eight years. But regardless of where the pendulum is, President Obama should not be seen either as a savior or as a goat. However, we should never use the extremes of pendulum as an excuse to institute a social agenda that may have negative long-term effects. A true leader understands these fluctuations and makes provision to insure that there is a social net for those affected by market downturns and that others are not in a position to unfairly take advantage when the market is in an upswing. It will always regress toward the mean unless we impede the progress.

Stimulus Swamp

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 00:24:00 +0000

This is a swamp behind my house. It's actually much larger than this picture captures. I love hiking down to the swamp because one never knows what wildlife one will find. I've seen deer, ducks, frogs, and blue herons; there are beavers, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes. Walking through a swamp is difficult. I try to stay on the tops of the large clumps of swamp grass. Inevitably I will step on something that looks solid and end up in water up to my waist.

As I was walking through the swamp and meditating I thought of the latest stimulus bill signed today by President Obama. It's filled with potential pitfalls. It is guaranteed only to produce a dependency and socialization of banks, medical care, and the auto industry. There is no real guarantee of stimulating any real jobs. This is what happens when the foxes guard the henhouse.

There are many shoes yet to drop. The return of the "fairness doctrine" (to include the internet), the elimination of gun owner rights, the promotion of the homosexual agenda, the creation of life to be destroyed in stem cell research. Can God's judgment be far behind?

Apostle Paul as Leader

Fri, 13 Feb 2009 14:50:00 +0000

I'm working on my dissertation: "The concept of apostleship in the Pauline literature as it relates to Paul's self-identity and leadership paradigm." After reading several articles (with many, many more to go) it occurs to me that Paul's leadership could be characterized by the following adjectives: visionary, passionate, driven, daring, focused, and consistent. He had a distinct sense of calling and of having a Divine directive to do what he was doing.

In contrast, it seems that much of contemporary leadership lacks direction, lacks a clear sense of purpose, and as such, lacks passion. Too much of contemporary leadership appears to be driven by self-centered motives and the concept of personal sacrifice is anathema to many of our leaders who insist on benefits and bonuses while the ship is sinking.

Within ecclesiastical organizations there is an uneasy awareness that a crisis is looming and that something must be done. But what? Doing something, for the sake of doing something (such as passing a "stimulus package" of almost a trillion dollars without real dialogue with all parties involved) is not leadership. Leadership, such as the Apostle Paul epitomized, had a vision, had direction, and had a real sense of Divine directive.

There are some in ecclesiastical circles who advocate using "apostle" as a title and bringing this leadership title back into the church, but to what end. The title alone does nothing to bring about real leadership, and real leaders do not need the title to lead because they have a calling that compels them to do what is right, even if it is sacrificial. I'd agree with Vinson Synan that real apostles don't need the title, but wannabe apostles insist on having the title neatly printed on a business card as an artificial affirmation of a real call that does not exist.

Living In History

Wed, 11 Feb 2009 12:46:00 +0000

Okay. I haven't posted a blog since November 2008 and my wife keeps telling me that if I'm going to blog, then I need to write something. She's right of course, but honestly I've hestitated from writing anything in light of the last election because I didn't want to write anything that might be misconstrued, but let me give it a shot.

We are living in the middle of a historical time, and not just because a bi-racial man is president. More importantly, much more importantly, we are living during a time when America as we know it is changing. We are moving away from a Free-Market model to a Socialist model. This is not necessarily a moral issue. One can be a Christian and be a Socialist. However, the history of other countries who have embraced the socialist model reveals that the outcome of this shift has not been positive. In Europe inflation is a major problem, unemployment is and remains very high, healthcare is inferior to that offerred in America, and most importantly, Christianity has been declining while Islam has continued to grow. Many buildings that were once churches are now Mosques. In fact, the very church from which William Carey was sent forth on his missionary efforts to India, is now a Mosque.

I don't think that we can draw a straight line from Socialism to the decline of Christianity, but there seems to be a correlation that merits interest and futher consideration.

We are in a time of historical shift, so much so, that I believe ten or twenty years from now (if the Lord has not returned by then) we will look back and bemoan that fact that the world changed for the worse, and we stood by and watched it happen.

Thank God

Thu, 27 Nov 2008 04:11:00 +0000

(image) This is the first church that I pastored. In 1985 I was asked to serve as the Interim Pastor of the Caribou Church of God in Caribou, Maine. There were seven people in the congregation--me, my wife, our infant son, and four other people. I received no pay, in fact, what little bit of tithes we could pay from my wife's Air Force Sergeant's pay was almost all that came in to cover the cost of electricity.

Twenty-three years later I'm pastoring a church that is averaging over 300 a month in attendance and in which the sanctuary of the Caribou church would fit in the foyer. I'm no better now than I was then and God is no better to me now than He was then. Still, I'm grateful to God for allowing me to grow and to for my ministry to grow as well.

I have much to be thankful for, including the fact that this week I passed my comprehensive exams in the Regent University Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership. I was at Caribou when I earned my bachelor's degree, and at Conyers I've earned my D.Min. and am now a Ph.D. candidate.

The date on that photo is wrong, I didn't reset the clock on the camera. In fact, I took that picture this past Summer when my son (who is now 22) and I when back to Maine to visit the state of his birth. I thank God that I have children (Sons 22 and 12, and Daughter 19) who have never given me any real grief. No drinking problems, driving infractions, drugs, or rampant libido.

Then of course, I am thankful for a wife who has given her encouragement and support to my educational pursuits. She has often had more faith in me than I've had in myself.

Thank God.

Who Knows What the Future Holds?

Wed, 12 Nov 2008 20:28:00 +0000

Admittedly, the election did not turn out as I had hoped. I am saddened by the fact that the President-Elect is going to pass legislation that will remove all restrictions for abortions, and that now a portion of my hard earned money, taken from me in the form of taxes will now be used, against my will, to fund abortions.

In reality, there are many issues that loom large on the horizon of America's future. There is the growing Russian threat. There is the deepening economic crisis. There is the socialization of American banks and businesses. There is the failing stock market. There is a moral crisis in America. There is growing unemployment, home foreclosures, international tensions, the shifting tectonic plates of American culture. At the same time there is and will be a resurgence of white power groups and threat of terrorism both domestic and foreign.

The Bible tells us that such a time would exist and just as all are about to despair, a great leader will be embraced by the world, he will promise peace, he will seem to have all the solutions, and he will even gain the trust and allegiance of the Middle East nations, including Israel. But then, just when it seems the world is experiencing unparalleled prosperity and peace, he will break the treaty he has brokered with Israel and the world is thrust into a time of great tribulation and ultimately ends with the battle of Armageddon.

Who knows what the future holds? God knows, and He holds the future. Regardless of how I wished the election had turned out, God's plan is on track and I believe the end is in sight.

Weary With Politics?

Fri, 17 Oct 2008 13:15:00 +0000


I don't know if you feel the way I do, but sometimes I just get tired of politics. I get tired of the exaggerated promises and the exaggerated attacks. I get tired the hyperbole and the hubris. I just get tired of it.

I know it's important to stay informed. We need to know what the moral issues are, we need to know where the candidates stand and then we need pray and vote for the candidate whose values must closely align with God's standard.

We need to know, for example that one candidate has promised that within his first 100 days in office, he will sign a piece of legislation which will effectively end all restrictions on abortions (parental notice of minors seeking abortion, partial birth abortion, fetus rights legislation, etc.), and this will result in millions of unborn babies dying if this person is elected.

We need to know these things. But the truth is that by now we should all know where the candidates stand. They've been talking for two years! But we also need to know where our local candidates stand on issues. We need to know the "platform" of both parties. One stands for a pro-death agenda that supports killing the most innocent members of our society, and supports a homosexual agenda which seeks to "force" those who disagree with their immoral stand to keep silent under the threat of legal repercussions. The other party promotes a pro-life agenda and has resisted the homosexual agenda while seeking to respect the rights of all people.

We should know these things by now. If we don't then maybe we shouldn't vote. We should never vote party lines simply because our parents were in this party or that. We should not vote a certain way because the preacher or the politician says we should. We should vote the way we vote because we know the issues, we know where the politicians stand, and we know how these issues and stands align with the moral code that God has given us.

I'm tired too, but I'm not too tired to go to the polls and cast my vote. Please be informed, pray, and then cast your vote. Then come home and take a nap.

The Impact of Unemployment on Churches

Sat, 04 Oct 2008 20:52:00 +0000

(image) It seems that we are at the beginning of a fairly significant downturn in the economy. By all accounts it may take two to three years for the trend to bottom out and for recovery to begin. During this time unemployment is likely to increase significantly and churches are going to have to provide ministry to hurting families, while at the same time the churches will have to deal with the financial impact of lost tithes and offerings. The double hit of needing to do more but having less to do it with will challenge church leadership. There will be a need for new ministry paradigms and for innovative methods for creating multiple income streams for the church.

Fortunately, the churches that are debt-free will be able to weather the storms, but those who have been living on the edge of their resources with large mortgage payments will find themselves in a precarious position. In fact, many may default. In the past denominational headquarters may have bailed them out, but with decreasing property values, taking on the debt while HQ is also dealing with a money crunch make this much less likely.

Churches with these mortgages will be forced to ask their cash strapped congregations to give more, to do more, and to give sacrificially, but this push will only result in exacerbated feelings of guilt as people begin to divert tithes to pay for their home mortgages and other debt payments.

How did we get here? A focus on facilities with little attention on economic trends while going into debt and calling it a vision has resulted in grand facilities with dwindling income.

How do we get out? We must continue to evangelize, keeping our eyes on the harvest rather than on parishioner's pocketbooks. We must offer healing to the hurting, counsel the confused, and love to the lost. We must be willing to do more with less and rely more upon the Spirit than we do upon our money.

Finally, as churches begin to default on loans, congregations must be willing to merge as debt-free churches offer haven and love to those no longer have place to worship. This must be done with humility and without a spirit of triumphalism on the part of the church receiving the financial refugees from the failing churches.

God Driven vs Success Driven

Fri, 05 Sep 2008 14:15:00 +0000

It seems to me that too often Christian leaders are more “success driven” than “God driven.” By this I mean that pastors too often measure their own success by the externals rather than the eternals. We tend to put a premium on those things that can be measured and observed by ourselves and by others. For example, we can see the numbers in attendance or the new building that we’ve built, or the new state-of-the-art equipment in the audio-video department. Eternal things, however, according to Paul (2 Cor. 4:18) are invisible. What are the invisible eternals? Some of them would include our own devotional life, our witness, our prayer closet prayers, and our faith. When we God driven rather than success driven our decisions will be in alignment with God’s will and God is able to do things that we cannot do for ourselves.

Let me provide an example. When I went to Kansas I soon found that Church of God churches were few and far between. As the district pastor God birthed in me the desire to plant another Church of God church. I began to visit other towns near Junction City (which is where I was pastoring) and found the beautiful small town of Abilene, Kansas. It was the hometown of Dwight Eisenhower, and I fell in love with it. There were other Pentecostal churches in the town, but I still thought that I should plant a Church of God church. However, try as I might, nothing opened up and I never planted a church in Abilene. Instead, there was another little town about 30 minutes south of Junction City – Herington, Kansas. It was a little hole-in-the-wall town (pop. 2,500) that was out in the middle of wheat and milo fields. As it turned out there were no Pentecostal churches in Herington and in short order God provided a beautiful worship facility for less than six thousand dollars. It was a debt free church in two years. That’s a God thing.

If I had pursued my own plans in Abilene and we would have had yet another Pentecostal church in the town and a large debt to go with it. God knows what He’s doing and His ways are the best ways. That's why every leader should strive to be God driven rather than success driven. The ultimate success will be to hear God say, "Well done thy good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over much."

Leadership Style

Sat, 30 Aug 2008 15:31:00 +0000

A few days ago I was asked by someone what my “leadership style” is. I hadn’t really thought much about a particular “style” because frankly I feel that the style of the leader is determined in part by the follower(s), the situation, and the task at hand. In some circumstances, with certain followers, the “style” might be more autocratic and directive in nature. In other circumstances the “style” might be more democratic and participatory in nature. This is the approach promoted by Hersey and Blanchard’s “situational leadership” theory. It is, in my estimation, the approach used by Jesus. He used the leadership appropriate to the person and situation. Regardless of the style, however, it is always my goal to enhance follower self-efficacy and thus to empower them to act and perform with more autonomy and to become self-directed learners and leaders. This is only possible when the values and vision of the organization are shared by the follower and when they have demonstrated proficiency in their area of responsibility. A leadership function, then, is to clearly communicate vision and demonstrate and illustrate the organizational values as he or she is developing followers. There are various leadership theories that sound biblical, such as, transformational and servant-leadership, but it should be noted that neither of these theories was gleaned from scripture, but from secular organizational models. Certainly, they can be employed in ecclesiastical settings and “Christianized” but they are not inherently Christian in origin. Furthermore, less Christian sounding leadership styles can be appropriate in ecclesiastical settings given the situation. For example, Jesus could be very autocratic at times (“no man comes to the Father but by me”), as well as exemplifying servant-leadership as He washed the Apostle’s feet. Some argue that a leader has “one effective style” and cannot change to match the situations, and as such, the organization must match the right leader with the needs of the organization. To compensate for the lack of leadership range, then, the leader must hire a great supporting staff which will result in synergistic team leadership. Research and opinion is mixed in evaluation of the question of whether a person can effectively employ more than one leadership style. Taken together they suggest that some leaders have only one set style, probably a result of their personality matrix, while others are able to employ various styles with equal competency. There are a number of leadership style measurement tools available which will help one to determine his or her predominate style, such as the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) and it can be helpful to see where one falls on the spectrum of leadership styles. Having identified one’s predominate style, the leader who would aspire to multiple leadership styles to match situations, should begin a program of self-directed learning in the leadership styles he or she wishes to develop. This is a continual process of leadership improvement. The use of a mentor or coach in this process is very helpful. Call me.[...]


Fri, 22 Aug 2008 21:54:00 +0000

I stood beside the bed of a friend as the doctor's and nurses frantically worked to keep him alive. They had put unit after unit of blood into his body, but as they were putting the blood in, he continued to bleed out. His clotting factor was so low due to the blood thinners he had been on that a relatively minor surgery now had his life in peril. Thankfully, due to the dedicated work of doctors and nurses they stopped the bleeding and he lived.

In business and in churches a flow of finances is essential to the continued operation and success of the organization. The simple fact is that if there is more going out than there is coming in, then Houston, we have a problem. There are two ways to deal with the financial shortfall: first, increase the in-flow of money, and second, decrease the out-flow. Or a combination of these two.

God has blessed me with the ability to quickly scan the financial situation of an institution and to get a feel for the incoming and the outgoing. I almost always approach the problem from two fronts, both looking for ways to increase the income while at the same time finding and eliminating waste.

In an economy when many churches have felt the pinch, our church has had a strong summer of giving, while at the same time we have tightened our belts. We've had some emergencies come up with air-conditioners failing and such, but thankfully we've been able to match every emergency without having to borrow or beg.

In our own homes and personal finances we need to do the same. Everyone should have a realistic budget and should endeavor to live by that budget. It may mean tightening our belts, but we can survive financial upheaval in our economy if we make wise and God directed decisions.

Twenty-Four Years of Marriage:Lessons Learned

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 13:30:00 +0000

July 30th, 1984 a twenty-three year-old man and a twenty-one year-old women joined hands in a bridal shop in Caribou, Maine and a notary public, wearing a red, white and blue dress, married Mark Hardgrove and Sun Chi. I wore my Air Force dress blues and Sun wore a white dress she purchased from a mall in Canada. We couldn't afford a wedding dress, but ironically there were mannequins all around us wearing wedding dresses. Only my mother, my step-father and Sun's good friend Shirley were there to witness the occasion.We were two people who could not have come from more diverse backgrounds. I grew up in West Virginia; she was born in Seoul, Korea and lived in Los Angeles, California. She was a city girl and I was a country boy. She is Asian and I was a white hillbilly. We had known each other for a little over eight weeks, but there we were getting married.Frankly, we barely survived our first year. Two years later our first child, a son, was born and our common focus kept us together. For the next four years I worked all night and went to school all day working on my M.Div. Sun was home alone a lot with our son. Two years after our son was born our daughter was born and Sun was now home with two babies and not much of a husband. I finished my degree, we took our first church in Junction City, Kansas, saw God do great things, moved to Lawrenceville, Georgia to work as an associate pastor, and in 1996 our youngest son was born shortly before I became pastor of the Suwanee Church of God. For the past eight and a half years we've served the Conyers Church of God.What are the lessons I've learned from this twenty-four year odyssey? First, I've learned that there will always be ups and downs in a marriage. Enjoy the highs, learn from the lows, but as Winston Churchill said, "Never give up."Second, I've learned that people can change. My wife has developed a wonderful sense of humor that she did not appear to have when we first met. I have learned not to take every disagreement as the end of the world.Third, I've learned that time does fly. I went back to Maine with my oldest son this past June and we visited the old Loring Air Force Base where he was born 22 years ago. So many old memories came rushing in upon me. I was grateful to be there with my son, but I was wishing that my wife was there as well. I took a picture of the barracks (dorms) where she and I first laid eyes on one another. We had no idea that a seemingly chance meeting would change our world.Finally, I've learned that God does have a plan, even when it appears that we have done everything wrong, God has a way of making all things work together for good.As I wrap up my Ph.D. studies and I look ahead at the prospects before us, of the future that God still has for my wife and me, I live with the anticipation of a wonderful adventure ahead. Twenty-four years from now (should the Lord tarry) I'll be 71. I have no idea what lies ahead, but I fully anticipate that Sun and I will be together celebrating 48 years of marriage. Perhaps we'll have grandchildren by then, maybe I'll be retired and writing my memoirs, but oh the stories we will tell.What does this have to do with leadership? I read a study that found that, with few exceptions, most great leaders had been in a committed relationship for many years with a supportive spouse who believed in them. I don't know if I'll ever be considered a great leader, but I have a supportive spouse who believes in me and together we have done more than I would have ever done alone.[...]

Friend are Friends Forever in the Lord

Thu, 17 Jul 2008 17:35:00 +0000


An old friend is in the hospice. He was the administrative bishop in Kansas who appointed me to my first church. Though only 62 cancer has brought him to the door of eternity.

We often walk through life with little thought of the way our lives intersect and impact one another. When I graduated from seminary I had three ministry options-- one in Virginia, one in Arizona, and one in Kansas. I chose Kansas because my cousin was attending the church there. John was the administrative bishop and upon my first meeting with him I was impressed at how personable he was. Both he and his wife are humble and people who reach out emotionally and take you in as a friend.

I will never forget the day that I felt like my ministry was coming to a screeching halt and the first person I thought to call was John. I’d had an accident working at the church I was pastoring in Georgia and soon found out that I had absolutely no insurance to cover my debt of around $60,000. I thought that my only recourse was to go bankrupt and I figured that would mean the end of my ministry. I called John literally crying at the prospect of leaving the ministry. John listened quietly until I had vented my fears and then he said, “Mark, I know that over the past thirty some years of growing up in West Virginia without a father that you’ve overcome bigger challenges than this. Trust God. He’ll get you through this.”

Thirteen years later he is fighting for his life, but his words are alive in my mind and heart. Shortly after talking with John, the hospital called offering to pay the bill off through indigent care, the doctor lowered his fees, and the church I was working for insisted on paying the remaining $4,000. Not a penny came out of my pocket.

I had come so close to packing it in and quitting, but an encouraging word from a friend made all the difference.

Thank you John for being my friend. (John passed on to glory, 4:00 am, July 18, 2008)

Looking At Life Through the Eyes of Another

Thu, 10 Jul 2008 19:17:00 +0000

I'm a people watcher. I can sit at a mall or in a public park for hours and just watch people walk by. I love to watch how people interact with one another, how they laugh and how they cry. When I see someone crying, especially children, it makes me feel sad. My fascination is a mixture of curiosity and empathy.

Often we are so consumed with our own little world that it rarely occurs to us that every person on earth has their own story, their own history, their own joys and sorrows. As a writer I often have this urge to go uninvited to a table in the food court and ask that person to tell me their story. I suppose many people would think I was just weird, or the woman eating alone might think I was making a pass, so I resist the urge to ask. Still, I think each of us should try to expand our view of the world and try from time to time to look through the eyes of another.

We might want to start at home with our children and our spouse. Do we even know how the people closest to us experience the world? Do they view it as hostile, as inviting, as opportunity laden, or as a foe to be defeated?

I think that empathy enables us to be a better leader than we would be as an aloof, task only oriented person. At times even empathetic leaders have to make decisions that are painful--both to the person being affected and to ourselves--but we should make those decisions with compassion for those who are affected. If we have to fire someone one, they may effectively be removed from our "world" but their world goes on and we should be sensitive to that fact.

The Beautiful Question

Tue, 01 Jul 2008 18:35:00 +0000

e.e. cummings wrote: "Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” I found a blog by a young man identified as Pat. He states:

Are you a question answerer by nature? I have come to believe with all of my heart that it is a profound and highly successful ministry that learns how to ask beautiful questions . . . . (Geography of Grace).

He is dealing specifically with ministry to at risk youth, but I think his insight is meaningful to us all. In “science” we spend much time answering questions. As a Pastor my response to questions from my parishioners is to try to authoritatively answer all questions related to Scripture, after all I have a M.Div. and a D.Min. and if I can’t answer the questions then what hope is there for anyone else? Lately, however, I’ve been more inclined to answer questions with questions for the purpose of helping others discover the truth that is revealed in Scripture. My goal is not the more beautiful answer, but the more beautiful question and along the way the humbling reality that I might just learn something as well.

cummings, e.e. Poems 1923-1954. NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc. 1954.

Geography of Grace (n.d.) The art of asking beautiful questions. Retrieved July 1, 2008 from

The Power of Framing and/or Reframing

Fri, 06 Jun 2008 13:07:00 +0000

The aesthetic value of a picture is enhanced or diminished by how it is framed. This is why people will often spend more on a frame than they do on a picture or painting. A great picture in a bad frame looks cheap, while an average picture in a great frame looks like it must have some value. One of the most important roles of a leader is framing.

Looking at framing as an act of communication, it refers to how we verbally explain, describe, or promote an issue, policy, situation, etc. Unfortunately, too many leaders are not very good at framing and as a result good ideas are diminished in the minds of the followers. Let me give an example. A church wants to start an early Sunday morning service and eliminate the Sunday evening service. Whatever the motivation, the framing of the proposal for the church will make all the difference on how enthusiastically the new schedule is embraced.

A bad job at framing would be for the pastor so say: “Well our people just aren’t as committed as they once were and they won’t come for the evening service, so we’ll just cancel Sunday evening and try to get them out in the morning.”

A good job at framing would be something like this: “We know that people’s schedules have changed dramatically over the past couple decades, and Sunday evening isn’t an option for many of them. However, we understand that some people could come to an early service and many of our members would prefer to come earlier rather than later. So, we are going to move our Sunday evening service to the early morning and see if we can be more effective and reach more people.”

The same event is framed in two different ways. Which one would have the most appeal? Obviously the second. Every leader should spend a considerable amount of time considering how he or she will frame important decisions, changes, and innovations. Paul said we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:14). Love should always frame the topic, even when the truth hurts.

Change, change, change. . . .

Tue, 29 Apr 2008 13:56:00 +0000

(image) When one thinks of change it suggests an event or result that brings a person or organization from one state or mode of operating to another. In the Lewin-Schein change model the process is threefold: unfreeze-change-refreeze. The unfreeze stage is the stage at which the need for change is championed. It requires a critical mass of acceptance among members of the organization before change can be initiated. Often this need for change is motivated by discontentment with the current state or condition, as well as a desire for a preferred future state. As the unfreezing stage has influenced a critical mass of individuals the change process is initiated. This is the enactment of a strategy designed for the purpose of moving the person or organization to the preferred future state. However, given the propensity for humans to digress to familiar patterns of action, especially during times of duress or stress, Lewin-Schein proposes that change is not successful until the refreeze stage is complete. This is a process of structural and procedural codification of the change that endeavors to keep the individual or organization from moving back into old familiar past behaviors that predate the change stage.

This is a simple change model and one that can be effective. However, more recent reflection on this model proposes that the final stage of refreezing is impractical in the current era of rapid social, economic, and cultural change. Instead, some are suggesting that no organization should ever believe that it has achieved a state of rest, or settle into a current state or stage of development. What does this mean? It means that we live in a world that is in a constant and unabated state of transition and these transitional states are occurring with more and more rapidity. As such, even as an organization is moving from one state to the next it must be thinking three and four changes ahead and not merely looking to the next stage in the organizational life.

Let me illustrate. I used to play billiards and I wasn’t very good. I usually only looked one shot ahead. I looked for the next easiest shot and no further. I began to notice that the really good players were planning two and three shots ahead. When they took a shot they were setting up the next shot, and the next, and so on. When an organization moves only from one shot to the next it will never be ahead of the game but will always be playing behind the changing environment in which it exists.

Perhaps a new model of change would be unfreeze-change-change-change . . .

Change and Transitition

Tue, 18 Mar 2008 14:33:00 +0000

I recently attended a conference (Engage 21) that was addressing the issue of identifying emerging leaders. The purpose of the conference seemed to be an acknowledgment on the part of the denomination that with aging pastors in many pulpits there is a need to raise up younger ministers. There is a need for a mechanism to identify these younger men and women and have a structure in place that encourages them to participate and contribute to the overall vision of the organization--and perhaps even to forge a new vision.

This is a challenge in that the younger demographic is not nearly as loyal to any organization as their parents and grandparents were. (This is not a value statement but a fact revealed in a number of studies.) In society at large, secular organizations (and perhaps even religious organizations) have proven to have little loyalty to workers and therefore workers feel no compulsion to be particularly loyal to organizations. In light of this, organizations need to come to a new realization that loyalty and commitment cannot be assumed, but must earned.

How does an organization earn this loyalty from a younger and often skeptical demographic?

First, the conference was a good start, in that, the organization must be willing to listen. These younger leaders need to believe that their voice will be heard. If they will not be heard within the organization, these men and women will make their voice heard in others venues, such as blogs and message boards. Older organizational leaders have decried the participation of pastors on such boards such as, but instead they would do well to visit and read them for themselves, not to criticize, but to understand.

Second, the organization should invest in the youth. If the youth can't or do not want to assume the pastorate of an existing (dying) church, then we should regentrify. That is, as older churches close, reinvest that money in a proven young leader in a new church plant. When the organization uses the money from sales of older properties to bolster state budgets or pay-off state debt, the net result will continue to be negative for the long-term prospects of that organization.

Finally, the youth need to appreciate the wealth of wisdom and experience that is available in the older ministers and learn from them. Admittedly, things have changed and the good-ole-days weren't all that good, but just as organizational leaders need to listen to the youth, the youth need to ask questions and listen to the older ministers.

I'm somewhere in the middle, moving quickly to the older status, and I am eager to share anything of value that I have learned with others. After finishing my Ph.D. in organizational leadership, I hope to do some writing and coaching, and along the way to continue to learn from my older and my younger counterparts.