The Work Before The Work by Stephen W. Smith

I'm beginning a new book. Here's my writing today to introduce the book to you. I'll write it here. Let you read it and I based whether or not I'm hitting the bulls-eye by your response and reaction, so don't be shy. Let me know what you think and how this stirs you in one way or the other.


The news today is filled with stories of leaders who self-destruct in their path to be successful. On the way up, leaders find that there are many forces, pitfalls and dark allies that catapult them ever so quickly into a spiral and fall.

One CEO of a mid-western company was arrested for embezzlement and fraud. While a prominent member of his mega-church, his family now lives in disgrace while he serves his remaining term in prison.

The pastor of a large church was recently fired when it was discovered that he was having an affair with his secretary. The books he had written had to be pulled off the shelves of bookstores and he is now selling automobiles.

A fast rising “superstar” who is 35 years old, married with three children was fired from his multi-million dollar company as President. His spiral began with marital infidelity on one of his many business trips.

A missionary couple was sent home because of team conflict and his inability to be a team player on the mission field.

The President of a college was discovered to have a sexual addiction and was terminated after it was discovered that thousands of dollars of the college’s funds were used for his sexual escapades.

All of the above and thousands more assumed a job and became noticed, celebrated and promoted because of charisma, giftedness, skills and expertise. Yet, somewhere on the road to even greater success, each faced an ethical, moral, character crossroads that could not be navigated well.  Wrong choices were made. A budding career is ruined. A leader fails.  The carnage of such self-destructing ways spills over into organizations, churches, missions and into the souls of children and spouses.

Many who have aspired to do their work have fallen and failed because something was left out of their formation as a leader.  I call it “The Work Before the Work.”  The real work of a successful leader is to do the work—the development of character, the fostering of moral excellence, the maturity of soul of a leader has been left lacking.

We are not the first to see such a crisis. This problem is sadly recorded throughout the pages of the Bible where we see men and women with undeniable promise and gifting become snagged in unwise choices because of a softness or even weakness within their own hearts. 

Abraham, the celebrated hero of both the Jewish and Christian faith succumbs to influences which engage him in sexual trafficking and an erosion of his moral fiber.

David, the celebrated poet, king and warrior fell into the arms of the awaiting Bathsheba because he could not control desires which led him astray with catastrophic consequences.

Barnabas, Paul’s companion on many of his missonal journies could not find a way in his own heart to do “team” and a split resulted in their leadership.

And the women are not exempt.  There’s Eve, the original female who receive God’s curse for her darkened leadership of Adam. Potiphar’s wife, the spouse of the leader of Egypt could not control her sexual appetite and plotted the downfall of Jospeh. Deliah did the same with Sampson.  Two women in one of Paul’s first churches nearly split the church because of their uncontrolled tongue and poisioned hearts for each other. Then we see in the early church, Sapphira who could not influence her husband or even herself to make good choices regarding money and fell into hoarding and thus became an bad example for all regarding being stingy with our God given resourses.

Something happened in the hearts of these men and women that caused their fall into disgrace. They, like so many leaders today had not done the work before the work.

Explaining the Work Before the Work


Author, Parker Palmer tells the story of the Chinese man who long ago began his career making bell-stands for huge bronze bells to hang  from in Buddist temples.  As the story goes, this particular man was prized and celebrated for making the best, most elaborate and long lasting bell-stands in the entire region.  No other person could make the bell-stands which such strength and beauty. He was sought after all over the land to make bell-stands and his reputation grew vast.  One day, the celebrated woodcarver was asked, “Please tell us the secret of your success!”  He replied. “Long before I start making and carving the bell-stand, I go into the forest to do the work before the work. I look admist all of the hundreds of trees to find the ideal tree—already formed by God to become a bell-stand. I look for the bows of the tree to be massive, strong and already shaped. This takes a long time to find the right tree.  Without doing the work before the work, I could not do what I have accomplished.”

What set the celebrated woodcarver apart from all the rest was his decision to first do the work before the work. Skip this step and he would have been like every other wood carver. But implement this priceless step and reputation, success and achievement follow.

In my work with hundreds of leaders across the world, I find that far too many have quickly set out to begin and to do their work.  They are eager to enter the workplace, marketplace or mission to give their long, earned knowledge away. Many move quickly from college or trade school into their chosen field of work.  They begin the long, arduous process of establishing themselves into their work.  But many who start have not done the work before the work. They are fired for ethical violations. They are let-go because they don’t know how to serve on a team. They succumb to the dark sides of money, sex and power. They find themselves trapped somewhere in the beginning, middle or even end of their career path.

This book reveals the pathway that leaders need to follow in order to be not only successful but strong in their souls as they lead. Based on the extraordinary leadership and writings of the Apostle Peter, we will discover the much needed and absolutely necessary character building blocks that assures one of “never falling” (2 Peter 1:10) and will keep leaders and potential leaders of becoming “ineffective and unproductive.”

Peter’s Voice is for Leaders in the 21st Century


Peter is a champion of a leader.  Every single time we see a list of the twelve disciples of Jesus listed in the Gospels, Peter’s name is always first. In the New Testament church, Peter’s leadership is vast and unquestioned. Evidently, his charismatic personality; persuasiveness of speaking and leadership skills catapulted him to be first, perhaps among equals in the first century world and that influence continues to this very day.

Chronicled for us in the New Testament, is Peter’s journey of becoming a great leader.  Eugene Peterson has written, “The way Peter handled himself in that position of power is even more impressive than the power itself. He stayed out of the center, didn’t “wield” power, maintained a scrupulous subordination to Jesus. Given his charismatic personality and well-deserved position at the head, he could have easily take over, using the prominence of his association  with Jesus to promote himself. That he didn’t doit, given the frequency with which spiritual leaders to exactly that, is impressive. Peter is a breath of fresh air.” (Message, p. 574).

In today’s world, we need this breath of fresh air to help us find our way admist the plethora of books, conferences and seminars on leadership. Here we find, one solid leader who led well and finished well and whose legacy is still felt today, 2000 years later.

In Peter’s life and legacy we see an ordinary man transformed into becoming an exceptional influencer of men and women. His doubts transformed into steel convictions. His humility aligned with that of Jesus, himself. His ability to model a life that is worthy to be lived amidst suffering, persecution, competing religions and scandals is noteworthy. His voice is needed today more than ever when scandal, ethics and virtues are colliding at the intersection of our very lives today.

Peter’s Work Before the Work

In the last of Peter’s letters to the New Testament church, we see outlined the work that men and who aspire to lead, manage and influence need to do. At the end of Peter’s life, he writes what he feels compelled to say not only HAS to be done but NEEDS to be done in the shaping of a leader’s soul.

The aging, accomplished and able leader says this:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”


In Peter’s own words, we find our much needed gateway to begin and to continue to do the work before the work—no matter what work we aspire to do or are now doing.  Peter feels the need to “remind” us these things and to “refresh” our memory and with this we begin our journey into the heart, mind of Peter but also a clearly marked pathway for every aspiring leader to follow.