We recently caught up with Jesus Culture founder and author Banning Liebscher. Having read his latest book, Rooted, which is all about the process of cultivating patience and faithfulness, rather than focusing on what we do and where we should be, we had to ask him for a few insights into leadership and growth – and here’s what he had to say:
Banning, I’m really interested in what you have to say in your book about success. If someone’s trying to define what success means to them, what would you say to them?
Whatever we define as success needs to be measured by eternity. Sometimes we want to measure success in really temporal terms. The only way I really know how to measure success is to look at the Bible. But the Bible’s take on is: hey, you’re going to stand before God one day, and life is just a breath – it comes and goes away. So, I ask myself these questions: Is this going to go with me to eternity? And is Jesus going to ask me about this?
I’ve written a book, and poured my heart into it, but Jesus isn’t going to ask me how many books I’ve sold. At the end of the day, Jesus is going to say: “Were you faithful and obedient when I asked? I asked you to encourage the Church, I asked you to encourage people and take what I’ve shown you and try to serve people with it.” I wrote the book, not to sell a bunch of copies – although I’d love it if that happened, of course – but to be faithful and obedient to what God’s asked of me. So this is how we define whether the book is successful or not: did I do what God asked me to do? Was I faithful to that?
And there are things that are going to go with us, I think: love’s going to go with us. The way I love people, the way I love Him. And you might say to me: “I work in a factory and I build a widget that doesn’t really accomplish anything significant.” But if I can do that work as worship, that goes with me. All of a sudden, what I can put my hands to, if I do it for His glory – that goes with me into eternity. So it’s about faithfulness, obedience and love.
It is one of those things that we don’t realise, especially when you’re in your 20s and 30s – this life is shorter than we imagine. If we live with that in mind, then we know: ok, the things that motivate me have to be connected to some eternal reality.
In your book you describe the feeling of being left behind. I think there’s a certain point, when you hit your mid-20s, where you start comparing yourself to everyone else, and what they’re doing…
Wait till you hit your 40s! I think if you can redefine success, then that feeling begins to work itself out a bit. I will feel behind if I have a concept that success looks like I’m somewhere at a certain time, doing a certain thing. But if I’m doing the best I can to love Jesus, to love people and to be faithful and obedient to Him – I mean, if we just stopped for a moment and asked the Lord: “Am I behind? What do you think about where I’m at?” I think we’re harder on ourselves than He is. I think He’d say: “No, I’m proud of you. I think you’re doing an amazing job, thanks for being faithful.” He’s way more proud of us and way less hard on us than we are on ourselves.
Whenever I finally figure out that my real job in life is to love God really well, and to love people, then I can do that on stage in front of thousands, or in front of one person, or if I’m completely unknown. I can do that with Twitter followers, I can do that without Twitter followers. For me, it goes back to: you have to define success.
So you also talk in the book about the concept of building the wall in front of you. Is that related to this redefining of success?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s an analogy from Nehemiah, and it’s this attitude of, the Lord’s put me here, I’m going to do this. I’m going to build this wall, because this is what’s in front of me. I’m going to do this well, and trust the Lord with the rest of it. You know, it’s simpler than we imagine – I think we complicate things a lot. We need to ask ourselves, what is front of me? You might have something in front of you that you wish wasn’t there, but at the moment, it is. So it’s an issue of faithfulness.
So, how can we cultivate that attitude? How can we become finishers instead of just starters?
We need to go into things sober. When we start things, we need to understand, even though I’m passionate about this now, there’s work ahead. There’s a process ahead. One of the things I think we’ve lost with living in a technological age, rather than an agricultural age, is that we don’t understand process anymore. When the Bible was written, it was an agricultural age. We’ve lost a little bit of the knowledge of what a process actually involves.
When a farmer plants a seed, he doesn’t get fruit tomorrow – but that doesn’t mean that something isn’t happening. A farmer knows that no matter how frustrated he is, the plant’s not going to grow any faster. The farmer’s job is to plant, water, and steward – and with some fruit trees, sometimes it’s seven years before the fruit comes.
So people who are starters and not finishers are people who get hung up in the process. They don’t realise there’s work, and seasons. What Jesus does in your life isn’t like an iPhone, which does in the job in a second; it’s like a plant. It takes time. So if we go in, we’re excited about the vision, we plant the seed – we need to know that it’s going to take time. We’re going to need to get our hands dirty and wait. If you want to finish, you have to understand that there is a process involved in your dream and your vision.
It’s so hard sometimes to wait. How do you do that?
Everything’s too slow for me. That’s my personality. But once I realised that something is happening, even when I don’t see it, that’s when my perspective changed. Before, waiting felt like I’d stalled. It felt like nothing was happening. But deep down, God was planting seeds, developing a root system and laying the foundation so that I can bear more fruit.
The reason why I’m ok now with the process is that I want to bear fruit that remains. I don’t want to be flash in the pan, quick impact. So, I’m ok that the roots are still growing, that the foundations are still being built. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll have seen people who couldn’t wait for the foundations to be strong before they went out and did something – and it hurt them. They didn’t have the foundation to hold that thing. So, get a value for foundations. Get a value for the deep roots.
And what about the soil? You mention that a lot in your book. What does that represent?
So, Rooted is written against the backdrop of David’s life. He was anointed, but he didn’t become king for two decades. During that time, he went back to the field. He served, and actually was a bad leader at times, and he was in the cave with his men – a community. God developed his life, and he was planted in different soils: the secret place, service, and community – it was a process.
You have a brilliant quote in your book, about not being afraid to fail for God. What part does risk and failure play in this process?
If you’re obedient, it means that you’ll take risks. Live like hey: I’m going to be 90 one day, and I’ll be looking back on my life. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realise that I’ve played it safe. That would be more heart-breaking to me than something not working. I don’t want to look back and realise that I never did anything that took faith; that I never really did anything that took trust; that I only did the things that were guaranteed. I don’t want to live a safe life.
And there’s a lot of people out there who aren’t willing to say yes, because they’re afraid to fail. And you will fail – in fact, I don’t like to describe it as failing, because I think if you say yes, it’s shaping, it’s education, it’s forming – I’ve done stuff that didn’t work out, but I learned a lot from that.
I see it like this: success isn’t attached to whether a risk pays off or not, it’s attached to the fact you said yes to the risk. We went and did an arena event with 14,000 people, it cost $1.2 million and I remember a few days before it, being so overwhelmed and stressed; but in my heart of hearts, I knew this: at least I said yes. If nobody comes, if this thing loses a bunch of money, if this thing falls on its face, at least I said yes.
Because one day I’m going to stand before God, and He’s not going to ask me how many people came to that event – He’s going to ask me if I said yes. I think we can take a risk and fail and be ok, because at the end of the day what we did is, we said yes.