Three Common Fears of Every Young Leader

Businessman showing thumbs up

I’m convinced.

After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much — or even admitted — the pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear — but they are real fears.

Three fears of every young leader:

Am I good enough?

Have I got what it takes?

What happens if I fail?

Common, legitimate fears.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions — in the affirmative.

Help them believe in themselves. Help them discover that inner strength — that God-given grace — that God-given talent — that helps them weather any storm and overcome any obstacle that may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.

Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. Find the young leaders who need to hear our words of affirmation. Something tells me we can help build a future. And — in the process — we will leave a legacy.

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Christmas Holiday

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems that developed — or were exaggerated — between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? That’s a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together. Stick to it. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. The principle is this: Don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first. Even if that means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong — and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.)

Build traditions that build family. We often get distracted by things that matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born — He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas — the real Christmas — and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside. The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets. Decide now that nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple. Make this a celebration season that grows your heart stronger as a couple.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

10 Harsh Realities of Leadership

Rocky road ahead.

I love leadership. I feel called to it. I realize the need for good leadership,but the fact is that leadership is hard.

I meet regularly with some high-level, senior leaders to glean from them. We talk about our common challenges in attempting to lead others. One shared discovery we have made in our time together is about the perception of people who haven’t served as a senior leader have about people in that role. It’s the same one we had before we were in senior leadership. It often looks easier — and maybe even more glamorous — from the outside than it is in reality.

As a student and blogger of leadership, I want to be realistic with people who desire to be senior leaders.

Here are 10 harsh realities of leadership:

You will at times be unpopular. Every leader is at some point. Change is hard and people will agree and disagree.You open emotional wounds through change. In fact, they will often blame you for changes happening in their own life because of the change you are making as a leader.

You will have to make decisions no one else will make. That’s what leaders do. It’s what inspires people to follow. It’s what challenges the paradigms. It’s what leads us to a discovery — and hopefully even a better reality.

You have to be able to see farther than today. If you can’t, maybe leadership is not your thing. Leaders aren’t stuck in today. They are leveraging influence today for something better that may not be realized until some tomorrow.

You won’t be successful long by making excuses. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll be more likely to attract followers through your ownership of them. Humility is an admired leadership trait.

You can motivate, but you can’t mandate. Attempting to control or bully people to produce more won’t work long-term. It isn’t a sustainable technique. People will either rebel, fail to live up to potential or leave.  

You’re only as good as your team. No matter how good you are — if you’re team is lousy, so will you be as a leader. 

Your legacy will mostly be formed by the investment you made in others. Not by the great ideas you had or the success you can personally take credit for producing. People investments always last longest. 

You can’t avoid conflict indefinitely. You can run but you can’t hide. Eventually little things can become big things. Hidden and unresolved conflict eventually explodes. 

You will be misunderstood at times. You can have the best intentions, but you’ll still be misunderstood. You’ll have to continually get better at communicating, but you’ll still keep being misunderstood. It’s part of leading people who are different from you.

You can’t neglect your soul for long. If you do — you’ll crash and burn. 

Just a few of mine. Any you would share?

5 Areas I Have Micromanaged in Church Revitalization

Rural chapel

At least once a week a pastor contacts me about church revitalization. I always tell them I’m still learning, but we have seen God do some pretty amazing things in our church. Through this blog I’m trying to share some of the things I’m learning.

The primary question I receive is where I spend my time. What am I doing to lead the church to grow again?

And, I understand the question. It’s the question I’m asking other church leaders also.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are some things I have to micromanage.

It’s important to know I’m not a micro-management leader. It goes against everything I stand for in leadership and even how I’m wired personally. I have written extensively about the need for delegation in leadership. I’m not good with details. I have a problem focusing minutely, So, I really do control very little that happens on our team. Plus, I love the team process. I don’t like the word “I” as much as the word “we”. (Even though I’ll use “I” more than “we in this post.)

In church revitalization I’ve micromanaged a few things a bit closer than I normally would. We are leading a church to survive it’s second hundred years. That’s not easy. It’s not easy work and it’s not easy for a church to continue to thrive that long. And, I knew that — not as well as I do now — before I entered this pastoral position.

I began with a keen sense that some things were vital to our success long-term. I view it as one of my roles to see the bigger picture and make sure all of us are going in the same direction. Therefore, I have micromanaged some things. I’ve not necessarily made the decisions, but I’ve made sure I had a strong voice in the process. (Actually, some of these were just as true in my years of church planting.)

Here are 5 things I’ve micromanaged in church revitalization:

Who we add to our team. Even people I don’t directly supervise. Now, I haven’t always made the final call — I don’t do all the interviewing — but I’ve been part of recruiting, part of discerning and part of the decision process. We are shaping a culture. It’s one of change and adaptability. It’s one where everyone takes ownership. It’s one where people enjoy their work and pull together as a team. That requires a certain “fit” and staff culture. Who we add to the team from this point forward says a lot about who we will be as a staff and how well we will work together. I want to make sure everyone we add is on that same page.

How we cast vision. We knew that having a common voice as a staff was vitally important — especially in the earlier days of change — but really always. We purposely developed some common language that would serve as rallying points for the church. We had a few key areas of focus. We said the same things repeatedly. I didn’t come up with those exclusively — we developed them as a team — but I led the charge and micromanaged to keep us on that track until it began to stick as our common vision.

Where we place our greatest energies. Many times in revitalization efforts we can get distracted chasing after too many ideas. We are trying to grow again and often churches (and other organizations) will frantically move from one bad idea to another trying to find one that works. We needed some common goals and ideas and a limited focus. Again, this was especially true in the early days until we could gain trust with the people and gain buy-in for larger changes. I knew one of my roles would be to say no to some new initiatives and to slow the pace of change in some areas, while fueling that pace in other areas.

Organizational structure. As an established church, we had over 100 years of structure. Bureaucracy and process we know well. We had rules for everything. Over time, the church doesn’t stop to analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Typically we just add new layers of structure. Some of our structure, quite frankly, had become extremely burdensome and stood in the way of making progress. Some things we had on paper as “rules” we didn’t even follow. (I don’t like that either.) And, some rules we follow were simply archaic. They didn’t work or weren’t necessary. They slowed us down filling out paperwork no one was even going to read. We had duplicated processes and systems. I knew in the early days I would be a fresh set of eyes on our structure and would need to micromanage quickly before I “settled in” and became just another participant in the established process. (After we do something long enough it becomes habit and we can’t even see that it needs to be changed.)

New expenditures. As with most churches in need of revitalization, our finances had been struggling for several years. Thankfully we had good people in charges of our finances and they had held the church together through very difficult times. But, I knew to be successful long-term we had to be in the best financial condition possible. And, I knew that as the senior staff leader I had to be the primary voice for this on a day-to-day basis. Even though changes were needed (and are needed) that can be expensive, we have been extremely careful to make sure our basic financial condition is stabilized first. I don’t make economic decisions alone — and shouldn’t — but I’ve been a key driver in that process. And, we have done remarkably well financially (again thanks to tremendous finance committee and staff efforts), but we still have a ways to go.

I’ve not worried about a lot of things in church revitalization. What color carpets or wall coverings don’t excite me very much. I’ve given a few song suggestions, but I’ve not been too involved in that process. Apart from my normal responsibilities of preaching and being a pastor, these are the things I’ve concerned myself with most and that have received my best energies.

How to Identify Constructive Criticism

Man drawing a house blueprint in nature

Constructive:

“Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.”

Criticism:

“The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.”

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. :) )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse that phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system — for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing — offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase — constructive criticism — is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about that term lately. Even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, needed.

Using that definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization — even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think that’s the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone. It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving. It doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves — even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement. I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would be an indicator the criticism is constructive (by definition).

It creates useful dialogue. Again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive — it helps build — construct.

It affirms others or the vision. Constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. That would be counter to the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed. I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility — would never work — then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive. Constructive criticism serves to build up — not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, that’s not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism that would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

That’s my rambling thoughts on the issue. I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple that way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is — if I can attempt to constructively criticize the way some of us criticize — constructive criticism should live up its name.

What To Do When You Exceed Your Leadership Capacity

Storage full concept.

What is your leadership capacity?

Have you found it?

I use the term leadership capacity to describe a leader’s maximum potential to effectively lead others to accomplish the vision.

A leader exceeds their leadership capacity when they no longer have the ability to effectively manage or lead the organization to reach its potential. They find themselves on a regular basis not able to handle all the demands placed upon them — and it’s beginning to show in the organization.

The leader has exceeded his or her leadership capacity.

You may not know the term, or even agree with my definition of it, but I suspect if you’ve led very long at all, you have felt the sensation of being over your capacity.

Do you ever feel you are in over your head?

I met with a great businessman and leader once that admitted he was overwhelmed with what was happening around him. He felt the weight of leading. His business had grown larger and faster than he ever anticipated. There were increasing demands — not only on his time, but also on the number of decisions he was having to make on a daily basis. He went home everyday feeling he had accomplished so little — even though he was doing a lot — because there was so much that could only be done by him.

He knew he was already beyond his capacity and growing more and more concerned the business could get away from him unless he did something to increase his capacity as a leader.

I know the feeling. Been there and done that – and probably will again.

I appreciate any leader who can recognize this about their leadership. That realization is like an insurance policy against leadership failure.

If you are leading and you feel you are reaching your leadership capacity, consider these steps:

Recognize and admit – That’s most important. Do not be afraid to admit you are over your head. Humility is actually an attractive leadership quality.

Re-evaluate – Are you trying to do too much? Are your standards for yourself too high? Do you need to change your role in the organizational structure? Do you need to lose some of your responsibilities? Have you built too much power or too much dependence on you in the organizational structure?

Ask for help – Seek wisdom from those who have led longer than you. Find a mentor. Take a class. Join a network. One of the values of social media for me has been the insight I have learned from other leaders, but I always have a mentor in my life — usually several.

Delegate – Ask yourself what responsibility you could give away or what areas others on your team would be better able to handle. If you are a one person “team”, seek volunteers or part-time help to help you bridge the gaps between your leadership ability and the demands of the organization. (It may end up being an investment that protects everything else in which you’ve invested.)

Quit if needed – If you value the vision enough then be willing to step aside if you are no longer a good fit to lead it. This is not a sign of failure or an indication that you are a bad leader. Sometimes the organization simply grows in another direction from our passion, skills or strengths as a leader. Some people are better suited to lead at one level than another. It takes an act of bold humility to admit this.

Leaders, is your leadership capacity being stretched? What are you going to do about it?

How to Endure a Critical, Non-supportive Leader

complaint

I was talking to a younger leader recently. He is feeling under-appreciated. His boss, the senior leader, never notices the work that he is doing. Even worse, for this senior leader, crisitcism flows easily. He never misses a mistake.

I get it. That leader could be me at times. I’m bad about celebrating. I’m wired for constant improvement. It’s something I’m conscious of and work on, but it takes consistent discipline on my part.

On the other hand, the new generation of leaders were born into a system that afforded instant and constant recognition. In my days, A’s were expected in school. So we didn’t always celebrate them. If we did it was at the end of the year. These days an A on a test may get a steak dinner.

I’m not criticizing. And, I’m not making excuses. My generation enabled this generation. I am just pointing out a difference in generational expectations. So, the reality is this senior leader may not even recognize the problem this younger leader is experiencing. He doesn’t see the problems with the way he is leading.

And, I’m not saying that as an excuse. From the way this senior leader was described to me, his behavior is wrong, demeaning, and certainly not conducive to produce the most excellent team environment or one that develops leaders — in my opinion — in any generation.

But, the question from this younger leader was how to respond. For a variety of reasons, he doesn’t feel the freedom to move on to something new right now. So what does he do today?

Well, first and foremost I told this younger leader he should not get his hopes up that things might change anytime soon. They might. Maybe the leader will read the right book or some masterful blog post and a conversion experience will occur in how this leader leads. Not likely.

But, what I can say is that, in spite of the deficiency in his leadership, the senior leader probably still has something he can teach the younger leader. S0, be respectful. There will likely be other occasions in his leadership where he will have to display respect to someone even if he doesn’t agree with them. Maybe just to keep his job. Maybe even to be obedient to Scripture. (Romans 13)

The fact is the way we honor those we don’t naturally respect says a lot about our character.

But, the other thing I would say. And, I think this is huge.

You can learn good principles under bad leadership.

You can. You can learn what not to do by watching what others do wrong. Right now this young leader is developing good leadership practices by acknowledging what has injured him that he would never do to injure someone he is leading.

Take notes.

Grow. Learn.

Prepare now for how you’ll lead then.

We will always need better leaders. Be one. And, if you’re serving under a critical, non-supportive leader, you’re in a great training ground.

7 Attributes for a Pastor Wanting to do Church Revitalization

Church

I have been in church revitalization for almost 3 years in the church where I currently serve as pastor. My first church some 13 years ago was a church in need of revitalization. In between, I’ve been a part of two church plants.

Even more, I’ve worked with dozens of pastors in church revitalization and church planting. Along the way, God has blessed us with some success and I’ve tried to learn some things — and pass them along here.

For example, I’ve learned there are some commonalities among pastors who can successfully revitalize an established church.

Here are 7 attributes of pastors who do church revitalization:

Calling. I don’t recommend church revitalization to anyone unless they have a clear calling from God. I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in allowing us to choose where we serve, but church revitalization appears to be a unique calling — one I’d be certain God has called you to do. Honestly, it’s the same for church planters, but, in my experience, it’s easier to plant a church. Starting completely over is usually easier than trying to revive an established church that has been in decline. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s based on experience.) And we need lots of church plants. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but there has to be more Kingdom money in established, but declining churches than the total invested in recent years in church planting. We need church revitalization — if for no other reason to be good stewards of Kingdom resources.

Supportive spouse. As in church planting — or any ministry — if you’re married, the spouse plays a huge role. But, to be honest, in church revitalization, Cheryl’s part has been one of the hardest parts for me personally. I have the greatest pastor’s wife. She genuinely loves people. There are days, however, when people with no filter chose my wife as a punching bag for their frustration with me. It happens almost every time we announce a change. (I’ve made it very clear that is not an acceptable response, and it’s gotten better with time, but it still occasionally happens.) But, that never happened in church planting. And, might not happen as often if we left everything alone and didn’t try to revitalize. The bottom line though is that Cheryl felt we were being called to this. In fact, she sensed it before I did. (She almost always does when it comes to matters of faith.)

Love of history and tradition. The key here is that you’re in revitalization. It’s not demolition. You’re leading a church to rediscover their past. If they don’t have a past worth rediscovering — then demolition might be a better option. Give. up and go plant a church. But, revitalization will involve celebrating some of the great moments from history. Along the way, there will be traditions worth maintaining. They are culture — DNA — and they work towards the mission they just need new energy behind them.

Entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve heard those who love “new” say they’d get bored in revitalization. Not! In addition to loving what’s old, it helps greatly to love all things new. And, this attribute and the last one are rare as a combination. It’s unusual to love history and tradition and have an entrepreneurial spirit. You can’t leave things exactly as you found them and expect the church to revive. Revitalization involves change. The heart of a planter, if they can live with the other attributes needed, works well in church revitalization.

Patience. It won’t be easy and you will not be able to move as fast as you can in church planting. The delicate balance between preserving DNA while encouraging change will be challenging at times. To be successful, you’ll need to honor the past while you push towards the future. That takes patience. (And, frankly you’ll have more somedays than others.)

Visionary. A church revitalization pastor receives a call and then grasps a God-given vision for what could be. It’s a strong enough vision to provide the tenacity to see it to fruition and to be able to cast in a powerful enough way where people are willing to follow.

Resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience as “the power or ability to return to the original position after being stretched.” Yea, that. No, doubt you’ll be stretched as a church revitalizing pastor. And that also requires perseverance. Dictionary.com defines perseverance as “steady persistence in a course of action”. And, yea, that too. You’ll have set backs. There will be days you think you’re making progress only to realize people are upset about the color of the carpet. Through it all, you’ll have to keep going to be successful. And, if God called you to it then you will be.

My goal is not to scare you away from church revitalization. We need some who will take up the calling. My goal is for you to be prepared — and ultimately — to be successful.