In Tribute to Lawrence Neisent
Pastor Lawrence Neisent, aka @pastordude, is the chief influencer of my current life and leadership. I cannot express the incredible debt of gratitude I have toward him. I woke up this morning thinking about the many things I’ve learned and received over our twenty plus years of connection and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. I’d like to take a moment in honor of his influence to share a few things I’ve learned from him over the years. This list is not even close to a comprehensive, it’s just a few things that come to mind as I think abut life and leadership. I also want to share all of this as an encouragement toward mentorship. Like all good mentors not everything I’ve received from this influence are direct words, lessons or teachings. Many of the valuable things I have been impacted by are simply modeled, caught by virtue of proximity, received by virtue of care or are the lessons behind the lessons that present themselves in a more subtle way as walk with someone through life. Love you very much @pastordude.
1. Listen Hard: “You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.”
“Everyone is on a journey,” so learn to be a better listener. “God gave us two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.” These are a few of the regular phrases @Pastorude has rehearsed over the years. This is a life lesson for me, as I seem to be more inclined toward using my words and voice. I make the mistake often of interruption and or assumption. However, this lesson of truly seeking to understand and hear others has transformed my life. Not only do we discover so much more about the world, ourselves and the nature of people (relationships), but we also open the door for empathy and compassion to clothe us more readily. It softens our heart for us to find self-control enough to stop and truly seek to enter into someone else’s thoughts, pain, feelings etc…
Make no mistake, having the appearance of a listener has it’s own benefits from a purely selfish perspective, but there is something magical about honing the craft of truly connecting with people in the shared way that comes from understanding them and leaving them with that feeling. Listening is not easy either, self-control is required as well as a sufficient amount of security and personal wholeness. You cannot hear right if you’re the type of person that feels attacked easily or are unwilling to become vulnerable with others. Vulnerability is an act of courage that springs from maturity, creates entrance and builds bridges.
Learning to have the character of a listener, positions you to even learn from your enemies. There’s an opportunity to learn, grow and advance at every corner if we will just listen! Give us ears to hear Lord. It’s worth noting that this also comes into play in the area of counsel and prayer. Great listening needs to be an overarching principal in every aspect of life. Performed regularly. So thankful that I was positioned early on in life under the influence of man that had “good ears.” He trained me to cultivate greater levels of sensitivity and to work toward suspending or restrain my own agenda when coordinating with others.
The best listeners can learn in every situation but must be willing to truly value what another person has to say, thinks and or feels. Entering into a place of truly hearing people, God, the truth and or the right counsel is cultivated by a willingness to hear something other than what you want to or expect to hear . It requires denying yourself and entering into a more objective posture. Being objective is not just about holding our opinion with an open hand it’s also about detaching from anxiety, or insecurity or anything else that may influence us toward a certain perspective. We must learn to truly step inside others’ shoes and to see from other angles. In the end this broadens us. So grateful for the example @pastordude has been over the years in this area. I have never felt more truly heard or understood than after speaking / meeting with Lawrence Neisent. May God help us to cultivate ears that hear well, both spiritually and relationally.
2. Plurality is Better: Create empowered teams and encourage expression.
It’s not me, it’s us! It’s a more natural or basic kind of leadership that places itself at the center asking people to fulfill it’s vision. The maturing leader sees beyond themselves and understands that what is being constructed requires more than themselves to be complete. This sense of Us leads them to build community and teams and see their responsibility in the organization differently, in a more empowering and decentralized way.
We need to see with eyes that recognizes the value of community and the diverse expression that comes from the proper coordination of each part. Everyone plays a role, carries a word, has a part to play. I always appreciated that Pastor Lawrence modeled time and time again that we should not only accept, but we must embrace and even celebrate the wide array of perspectives, gifts and expressions on the team. Environments that have high levels of collaboration are undoubtedly more messy and can from time to time create the need for more tough conversations but the result is more precious. My personality and gift mix is a such that if I were in any other environment early on in my service I might have been “shut down” or “let go.”
To be able to see value in gifts and perspectives that are different from your own is not easy. To empower and give permission to people with those differences is another level entirely. To learn how to steer, position and empower members of a team rather than command and control them is a fine art. Many times I’d be in a meeting and think, “we need to shut this person down,” (correct this) and Lawrence would ultimately speak up and do the exact opposite. He would recognize the value of what was being said and then help to gently guide it into a context we could all see as a valid part of what we were trying to accomplish. I’d sit there and think, “yep, I’m a jerk.” Seriously though, this art of coordination and moving together leaves people feeling validated and helps them to see the value of each person in the room. We’re all moving together not just following one person.
I want to be a part of teams that band together and are in full operation of their gifts, not afraid to express themselves and thrive in their service together. We need to draw out from people not demand from them. So thankful for the release, opportunities and encouragement I’ve received over the years. Pastor Lawrence saw in me things early on that I did not even see in myself. He spoke to those gifts and released me to safe places of service to discover them. Validate and see value! Don’t be intimidated by others and celebrate Team for what it ought to be. Build community and call others to rally.
If everyone looked like you the world would be so one dimensional and flat. We need the diversity of God’s grace fully expressed and great leaders learn to facilitate that beauty. Pull people closer and share authority. “The greatest form of delegation is decision making authority” and many leaders never graduate to a place of giving on this level. To defer to others, to not always hold your opinion as the best in the room, or to hold preferences with an open hand is not easy but changes lives. I believe I am better as a result of being subject to this people oriented, community based, team focused leadership style.
3. Perception Matters: What they think you said is an reality in the world of relationship.
Regardless of intention, what people think we said at the end of any engagement is what they will walk away with feeling. They will not leave with *what we actually said*, they will leave with what they *thought* we said. Everyone hears differently and what they hear and perceive is critical to the success of our relationships and work together. This bothered me on so many occasions early on in my work. When people misunderstood or were upset with me the conclusion in my mind always bent toward my crossing them off as “Idiots” or “babies” (misinformed or immature). The truth is, we need to take responsibility for what people hear by caring a little bit more and taking the time necessary to ensure we’ve not miscommunicated.
I love using the phrase (having learned it from @pastordue) “So what I hear you saying is…” or asking the question “What did you hear me saying just now?” This creates an opportunity for relay and clarification. Pastor Lawrence would do this often. On top of taking time and extra care in our speech we need to also learn the art of “follow up.” Coming back around with people after a more challenging conversation or moment of tension to ensure we are good with them ensures a continued momentum forward in the relationship. Providing a safe and appropriate environment for people to express their feelings without fear that their words will be twisted or turned is critical. Not everyone is going to be gracious or fair in relationship but doing our part to take greater care and responsibility for what we say, how we say it and what people perceive us to be saying is hugely important.
This has changed my life and allowed for even difficult conversations to become helpful and productive rather than potentially damaging. I still have so much more to learn when it comes to the art of conversation but I do know that being mindful of perception is essential. Self-awareness, how we present ourselves, how we make the other person feel (so much of our communication is non-verbal) and what they walk away with should be on our radar. I think as we grow and listeners we learn to read, sense and connect more deeply and this directly impacts our lives.
4. Purpose Time: Schedule it + Build a Rhythm
Many of the things I’ve had the opportunity to learn are tied to discipline and being intentional. Things don’t happen in our lives because we merely hope for them to. We have to make choices and be intentional. Creating rhythms and purposing time for that which we call important is what allows for those things to be produced, nurtured and developed. This applies to relationships, leadership, teams, prayer, dieting, finance etc… Purposing time for people to the point of scheduling reminders ensures a rhythm of connection that makes the relationship stronger than if the time was made on a more random basis. Obviously increased frequency and consistency produces opportunity for more depth and substance.
**Time is the great organizer.** We must leverage time and place, no fill its immovable cells with the things that matter. When it comes to relationships you might think using a google calendar reminder to regularly followup with someone as cold, but in actuality these types of practical things are used as catalysts. Learning to “schedule” time with others, create regular patterns of connection and setting relational reminders are all practical things that create profound results. As a person who by default leans toward random and spontaneous it took me a while to see the value of these types of things practically speaking. It initially felt like I was “cheating” or being to mechanical. Thank God the “idealist” in me was tempered and the principal mechanics of relationships discovered. We have to make the choice to “happen to our day and not our day happen to us.” Scheduling and purposing time on what matters allows for that to be more plausible.
The truth is, if you can catch on to the value of establishing virtuous rhythms in your life, it can be the difference between producing wealth or poverty, creating health or losing years of your life, growing closer or further away. You have to purpose and work toward that which you hope for. As kind of a regular mantra we would rehears the now widely popular mantra, “Hope is not a strategy.” Create a plan, a set of actions aimed at your goal and then daily implement (revise and refine as you go). Some of you may think this is overtly simple or silly to even mention, but it’s incredible how much even dynamic people miss do to a lack of intention and organization.
Family is an obvious context to see the value of purposing time in. Having four children and a lovely bride while pursuing ambitious goals is not an easy thing to do. To preserve the most important thing to me (the family) I have to insulate relationships with purposed and guarded choices that for the most part over time look like a rhythm. Our kids deserve more than our incidental flashes of care. They need a constant. Create traditions, schedule smaller bite sized moments even. My daughter and I, as an example, (since we are both early risers) have morning coffee together near daily. In ten years she will remember an entire childhood and young adulthood even having connected with dad in the mornings. That builds something even though its a small window of time really. That’s not to say that larger chunks of time should not be devoted to family but it is to say you can do more with what you have.
I am so grateful for the time that was purposed toward me and the model of discipline and relational rhythms that I experienced as a part of Lawrence’s life. As a matter of fact I’ll be in Oklahoma this weekend and benefiting from this very point. He’s opened his home to me and we’re purposing some time to connect. Let’s build community and life-long, legacy-style relationships. Build it!
5. Be Authentic: Reject the impulse to be fake or religious, pursue honesty and transparency in everything.
Finally, I want to focus on a way of being that is now a matter of conviction for me after two decades of connection with Pastor Lawrence. This particular aspect is embedded in me as a matter of principle. It is owed to ourselves, to others and to God that we strive for as much authenticity and honesty in our lives as is possible. Striving for authenticity, honest expression and loving the truth is actually much more difficult than we admit. Pursuing these can create discomfort, inconvenience and even loss at times.
We can become bent on soliciting approval and even celebration of people due to a nagging sense that we are not “good enough” or because we have purely set out to get something. We often tell lies, misrepresent ourselves, hide true thoughts and feelings due to fear or a strong desire for something. We’ve all lived in a moment of time where it felt like being honest might cost us a friendship or an opportunity. We had the choice of committing to the discomfort of transparency or being inconvenienced. Lying is actually very easy and more practiced in our lives than we realize.
Dating is a great context to witness the temporary editing of ourselves to achieve a certain goal or to ensure we are liked. Dating relationships that lead to marriage can often present many hurdles as time and a sense of security change the felt need to over-present oneself. We begin to be more casual and frank, we take a little less time to edit ourselves and the more rigid corners of our personality and appearance are exposed. Of course we are then presented in the relationship with the work of learning to love a very different person than the one we originally dated. Who we are and what we present can be miles away from each other. To say we need to learn more about honesty and authenticity in our relationships is not an overstatement.
You have to be willing to deal with the mess that comes from being an honest and authentic person. You also have to learn the art of knowing what part of editing ourselves is simply courtesy verses deception. Being an honest person does not mean that you yell out loud your hatred toward something every time it is mentioned, or that you always voice your opinion. This may undermine relational strength also. Learning to love people and committing to be honest in your expression toward them is the goal and overtime and as a product of increased self-awareness you helpfully discover those boundaries. If the heart to serve others grows and the centrality of self shrinks this honest presentation of self accelerates.
A lack of honesty, transparency and authenticity will ultimately lead to increased emptiness and a shallowing of every relationship. Depth is increased and our proximity is closer in the context of vulnerability. Being vulnerable happens when we make choices to present a version of ourselves that is more true. We open our lives up and people are able to see is for who we are. This instantly creates in most people a refreshing experience, relief and fosters trust. We want lives that welcome honest communication and allow for authentic connection. In this context we find a more substantial amount of love, trust and mutual respect. I like to joke that “You know you are close to someone only when you know enough about them to have them indicted.”
We have to realize that everyone curates and edits themselves on some level, none of us want an un-managed or unchecked pile of humanity to deal with. So there are levels of responsible and respectful communications and presentations of ourselves that are expected. That baseline respect filter is hard to gauge though and often times we go beyond merely accommodating others in relationship and move more into an over-presentation of self fueled by insecurities.
Don’t be afraid of tough conversations. Learn the peace that comes from having all your cards on the table. Bring every relationship to an honest level people will thank you later. I will warn you that not everyone appreciates or can handle more honest interactions (some people feel trapped on the surface) but in the end striving for greater places of purity, depth, and clarity in our communication will result in a more meaningful and dynamic relationship.
In summary, I cannot express the dimensions and level of blessing I’ve received from this one relationship. I wanted to honor Lawrence Neisent publicly so as to encourage all mentors and those being mentored to make the most of your relationships. Influence is at hand. I realize not all mentors can take on the more intimate title of spiritual parents but as a testament to the principles written earlier I want to mention the grace the Neisents have shown to us over the years.
I was personally discipled and trained for three years by Pastor Lawrence, much of which I lived in the Neisent home. Having lived in their home I received extra layers of input for which I am grateful. The Neisent family (Lawrence and Tracy) supported us in our first ministry assignment to Washington state, visited us, performed our marriage and helped us dedicate our children. They were there for us when our daughter became paralyzed and have walked with us through many Dr visits, stays and surgeries since. Supported my time off when we needed to be across the country. Have been with us every step of the way (in tears and joy) through the journey our son Judah has been on in regard to autism. Pastor has patiently developed me and given me many second, third and fourth chances in my professional life. Have walked intimately close to us and supported us through major life decisions, including our recent move to Atlanta, the purchasing of homes and other financial decisions. Have prayed for us regularly and never turned us away at our points of need. We (Renee and I) are so proud and overwhelming thankful for this couple. Beyond words.
You will notice that the above are instances of ministry and care that center around me and my family. I want to say in that light that the real compounding power of a matured mentoring relationship is not seen in my reception alone but in our ultimately being able to “serve together.” It would be a mistake to merely attribute greatness to someone based on what they did for you alone. The best thing that can happen is to grow in the that exchange and support structure into a testimony and embodiment of thing your mentor has exampled and imparted to you. Although geographical distance has been created (via our move to ATL) the ongoing satisfaction that there are now more than just the Neisents carrying a torch of mentoring others and living lives committed to deep relationship is empowering. Invest and multiply your influence!
Love you so much, @Pastordude. Looking forward to the continued years of connection in this next chapter.
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