Tough Calls: Game-Winning Principles for Leaders Under PressureTough Calls: Game-Winning Principles for Leaders Under Pressure
Travis Collins
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In Tough Calls, pastor and high school football official Travis Collins offers encouragement and inspiration to Christian leaders. Travis selects famous and infamous moments from sports history to bring to life key principles of spiritual leadership. Written for both men and women, this easy-to-read book mixes stories and quotes from the sports world together with biblical wisdom and input from leadership experts to encourage and challenge all Christian leaders.

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For more than 25 years, Dr. Travis Collins has purposefully helped people around the world discern and live God's call for their lives. Experienced as both a pastor and a missionary in Venezuela and Nigeria, Travis has written extensively for church leadership, preaching, and mission journals. He earned his bachelor of arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and his master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Travis served a two-year term as a Missionary Journeyman in Venezuela, and spent four years teaching in the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso. Travis and his wife, Keri, live in Richmond, Virginia, with their three children, Landon, Brennan, and Grant.


Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I served a two-year term as a Missionary Journeyman in Venezuela, and spent four years teaching in the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso.  My Ph.D. emphasis was “missions.”  Therefore, I tend to think like a missionary.  That colors the way I lead the church I serve as pastor, and even the way I write.  By that I mean that I lead and write for transformed lives.

Our church is a fairly large congregation (1800 in worship on the weekends).  We worship in five services in three locations.  Two of those services are Christ-centered recovery ministries.  While those recovery ministries are for anyone with hurts, habits, and hang-ups (which covers just about all of us), the worship services have been particularly effective for those with addiction problems.  In many ways, I believe our church looks more like a mission outpost than a chapel.

Our congregation is such that I exercise leadership of a complex organization, including two 501C-3s. That leadership, with its own “tough calls,” is behind the book in question here.

How did you become interested in writing?

Writing comes naturally for me, and I have said many times that I think best with my hand on a keyboard.  I had had a number of articles published, and wondered if one day God would bless me with the opportunity to write a book.  When the President of New Hope Publishers called in 2006 and invited me to write about “the call,” I was thrilled.  I jumped into the project with such enthusiasm that I finished the first draft far ahead of schedule.  The result of that was my first book published in the U.S., Directionally Challenged: How to Find and Follow God’s Course For Your Life.   Writing that book proved to be such a rewarding experience for me that I was delighted by the opportunity to write a second book for New Hope—Tough Calls.

What compelled you to write a book on this subject?

I have been a student of leadership for a long time, and have exercised leadership in various settings, from Director of Graduate Studies at a seminary in Nigeria to the pastor of a large church.  My interest in leadership, together with my passion for football officiating, are behind this book.  As I reflected on the lessons I was learning from my officiating (i.e. You can’t take it personally; There are those whose expectations you never will meet; How you handle criticism and conflict will help define your leadership; The crew is a team, but the ref has the final voice) I began to realize that those lessons apply directly to leadership in challenging situations.

I know about tough football calls.  Several times a week during the fall I put on my striped shirt and my knickers, put my yellow flag in my pocket and my whistle around my neck, and take the football field.  And I have the time of my life.  Granted, high school football is not the NFL; but it sure is fun.  Of course every time I walk on the field as an official, I am putting myself in a potentially confrontational, argumentative, tense, all around nasty, situation.  It’s as if my “zebra” shirt has a sign on it:  “If you’re unhappy with the way things go here, feel free to let me know.  Passionately.”  Leaders will see the connection between officiating and leadership.

Spiritual leadership is increasingly difficult and we all need all the help we can get.  Our rapidly changing culture tests the wills and skills of spiritual leaders, whether we are pastors, school administrators,  denominational leaders, lay leaders in our churches, corporate executives, politicians, or the captain of our teams.  If, from my experience (including my mistakes) in officiating and spiritual leadership there is anything helpful to be mined, then I’m willing to offer what I can.

What is the main theme or point that you want readers to understand from reading your book? Are there any other themes present in the book?

We can lead spiritually whether or not our context would be considered spiritual, and we can do so even in difficult situations. I wrote this with a prayer that in these pages readers will find some things that will help them reflect the Spirit of Christ as they lead. Leadership often involves “tough calls”—the necessity of making decisions amid difficult situations. Ken Blanchard and company have helped us to “lead like Jesus.” My goal here is to help us “make tough calls like Jesus.”

Are there some specific lessons you hope readers will learn and apply to their lives after reading your book?

This book is about spiritual leadership in difficult situations, whether that leadership is being exercised in secular arenas or religious arenas. These pages are for those of us who desire to lead spiritually—to reflect the character of Jesus in the way that we influence people—no matter where or who we are leading.

Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite chapter?

My favorite chapter might be Chapter Two, “Sometimes the Official Calls a Touchdown on the Five-Yard-Line.” In that chapter I tell a humorous story about one of my officiating blunders and write about a topic about which I am passionate: the willingness to risk.

I have watched far more groups flounder because of tentativeness. I’ve seen organizations plateau simply because the leaders seemed more interested in popularity and job security than in the fulfillment of a mission. I’ve even seen churches die, ironically, because no one seemed willing to risk. Mistakes caused by poor preparation and reckless leadership are inexcusable, but mistakes of initiative are not only forgivable; they are downright commendable.

What makes your book different than any other books similar to yours that are in circulation today?
I know there are a lot of leadership books out there, and I have benefited from a number of them. Many who read this book will have learned a lot about such things as vision, mission, teamwork, and strategy from those helpful books. Yet I want to offer something more; I want to offer encouragement to those leaders who are enduring unfair criticism, being second-guessed, and wondering if the opportunity before them is worth the risk. I want to offer observations that I pray will be helpful to my colleagues who are at the helms of ships sailing through, or toward, the storms.

How does the book intertwine with God¹s call on your life and how you are currently serving Him?

Our church is growing and, with additional ministries and even locations, is becoming increasingly complex. It demands the best leadership I can offer, and forces me to develop new leadership skills all the time. Thus I write as a student of leadership and as someone there in the trenches--not a guru in an ivory tower.

Do you have a favorite Scripture verse? What is it and why is it important to you?

Jeremiah 29:11 has been a favorite verse since it became impossible for us to return to Nigeria. While we were on furlough in 1996, my father had a stroke that eventually took his life. As an only child, I needed to stay behind and take care of my mom. I’d had the “call” pulled out from under me; I lost my identity as a missionary and wondered where we’d end up. God’s promise, “I know the plans I have for you …plans to give you a future and a hope” became awfully important to me during that period of uncertainty.

Are there any authors that either influenced you personally or influenced your style of writing? Who are they and how did they influence you?

My favorite writer is Philip Yancey. He deals with issues of substance and he writes with refreshing candor. He is not abrasive, but he is honest and vulnerable.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?

I am a high school football official.

Posted 03/31/2008