A Potential Problem With a Servant’s Heart

Teenagers Serving A Meal To A Man

I was talking to the Executive Director of a homeless ministry recently. Everyday they feed hundreds of meals. Every night the ministry boards dozens of men and women. They clothe people. They help prepare people for job interviews. It’s an amazing ministry, doing great work.

But everything isn’t great.

The leader is tired, the budget is stretched, and the volunteer base is thin. Everyone is worn out emotionally and physically.

What’s the real problem? The real challenge? 

It was easy to diagnose as an outsider.

The leader is too busy serving to ever lead.

She never has time to recruit volunteers, let alone train them. She never has time to do board development. She never has time to fundraise. She never has time to cast the vision. She never has time to plan and dream. She never has time to invest in anything that lasts bigger than today.

And, she never has time to take care of herself. Ever.

All things she verbally recognizes she needs to do.

It’s the real problem. It’s the real challenge to the ministry.

And, if she’s not careful…and I hate to be the one to say this to such a wonderful ministry — eventually, it has the potential to tremendously cripple the ministry. In fact, the future of the ministry, in my professional organizational leadership opinion, is in jeopardy now. And, she is personally a time bomb waiting to explode in burnout.

And, she is one example. But, she is not unique. I’ve seen it many times. I see it among my pastor friends.

Show me a constantly over-worked leader. Show me continually stressed volunteers. Show me a thin budget. Show me a ministry with more demands than the resources or people to meet them…

And, I’ll show you a ministry that is headed for certain trouble unless something is addressed.

It reminds me of the hardest thing I’ve seen for ministers to do who love doing ministry — people with a servant’s heart.

If he or she has a heart to serve others. If he or she loves helping people — connecting with people — ministering to people…

The hardest thing to do…

Is to step back and see the bigger picture.

They have a hard time stopping ministry long enough to explore longer-term issues. They have a hard time doing, what seems to be at the time, unproductive work. People need to be fed. People are hurting. That’s why the ministry exists, right?

And, I get that. I’ve lived that. I even applaud the heart. It’s that heart that possibly prompted them into the ministry. It’s a great heart.

The problem is that it isn’t sustainable long-term. Even Jesus “slipped away” from the crowds. Even Elijah needed to be strengthened.

My advice:

Be willing to stop feeding one so you can feed dozens more in months to come.

Spend time developing the board. Spend time recruiting more volunteers. Spend time raising more funds. Spend time casting the vision to the community. Spend time caring for yourself. Spend time relaxing at the feet of Jesus.

It will seem you’re neglecting the ministry for a time, but in the big picture, you’ll be building a better and stronger ministry. And, you’ll be a healthier leader.

What do you need to stop doing now so you can see even more done later? 

7 Ways the Leader Sets the Bar

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The leader sets the bar for the organization.

If you are a leader of an organization then you have the awesome responsibility of establishing the parameters by which your organization will be successful.

Now, as I feel the need in every post like this, Jesus sets the bar. Period. He is our standard. But, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that God allows people to lead, even in the church. And, as Christian leaders, we set the bar in our church for many of the things that happen in the church.

A mentor of mine always says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. He didn’t make up the saying, but he’s learned in his 70+ years experience how true a statement it is. Are you leading with the idea that you are setting the bar for the people you are trying to lead?

Here are 7 ways the leader sets the bar:

Vision casting – The God-given vision to the people is primarily communicated by the senior leader. Others will only take it as serious as you do. Keeping it ever before the people primarily is in your hands.

Character – The moral value of the church and staff follows closely behind its senior leadership. Our example is Jesus, and none of us fully live out that standard, but the quality of the church’s character — in every major area of life — will mirror closely to the depth of the leader’s character.

Team spirit – If the leader isn’t a cheerleader for the team, they’ll seldom be any cheerleaders on the team. Energy and enthusiasm is often directly proportional to the attitude of the leader.

Generosity – No church — and no organization for that matter — will be more generous than that of its most senior leadership. There may be individuals who are generous, but as a whole people follow the example of leadership in this area as much or more than any other.

Completing goals and objectives – The leader doesn’t complete all the tasks — and shouldn’t — but ultimately the leader sets the bar on whether goals and objectives are met. Complacency prevails where the leader doesn’t set measurable progress as a value and ensure systems are in place to meet them.

Creativity – The leader doesn’t have to be the most creative person — seldom is — but the team will be no more creative than the leader allows. A leader that stifles idea generation puts a lid on creativity and eventually curtails growth and change.

Pace – The speed of change and the speed of work on a team is set by the leader. If the leader moves too slow — so moves the team. If the leader moves too fast — the team will do likewise.

Team members will seldom outperform the bar their leader sets for them. Consequently, and why this is so important a discussion, an organization will normally cease to grow beyond the bar of the leader.

Be careful leader of the bars you set for your team.

When “This Kind” Can Only Come Out By Prayer

Here Are My Prayers

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

The disciples had tried to drive out the demon. They had watched Jesus many times before. It didn’t seem at the time like something they couldn’t do. Jesus had said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”

Everyone was watching, too! What would they think if they weren’t able to get rid of this evil spirit? People might have thought less of them. They may have said, “You’re not really His disciples.” or “Look at you, you can’t do anything by yourself.” or “Where’s your faith?”.

Have you ever been afraid of what others would think about the amount of your faith?

So, humbly and privately they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (verse 28)

Fair question, wouldn’t you agree? Why couldn’t they perform what seemed to be a simple task? Why couldn’t they do what they had been trained to do? What they had apparently already been given power to do?

“This kind”, Jesus said, “can only come out by prayer.”

Now there are plenty of commentaries on this passage, but what we can’t escape is the missing ingredient. Prayer.

I need to ask you to consider this next part of the post. The first part was about the disciples. This part is about you.

What are you trying to do today that can only happen…with success…by prayer?

Oh, you may be very spiritual. You may have great Biblical knowledge. You may even know the pastor personally. (Like that’s a big deal or something!) You may be a committed follower of Christ. You may have the “good attendance” pin. You may have a testimony. You know, the kind where everyone says “ooh” when you share it. You may be an example for others to follow. You may even give God the glory for great things He hath done!

But…you see — this kind — the kind you’re dealing with now — can only come out by prayer!

Today — whatever it is — no matter what people might think or say — turn it over to the God who loves you beyond your ability to understand! Let Him know you need Him and Him alone. Tell Him you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing!

PRAY! Pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Then get out of His way and let Him do His work!

You may now want to read THIS POST on prayer — Hezekiah’s example of effective prayer.

Is there something BIG that I can pray with you about?

7 Warning Signs It’s Time to be Intentional With Our Marriage

happy couple 2

Cheryl and I have been very intentional to protect our marriage. Every marriage bond can slip if the couple doesn’t recognize the signs of stress in the marriage and address them.

For us, we look for warning signs we need to take some extended time and invest in the marriage. That could be a long weekend or a day trip, or just a time where we turn off the television and talk. We have learned these mini-breaks from routine have helped us maintain a healthy marriage.

Here are 7 warning signs it’s time to be intentional:

When our relationship seems to be drifting further apart rather than closer together.  This is the big one for us. “The two shall become one”. Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your marriage? Is that higher or lower than a few months ago? If you try this exercise, both spouses should write the numbers on a piece of paper and share them with each other. One is usually more perceptive than the other. For me personally, if one person feels there’s a slippage in the marriage closeness, it’s time to take action. Be proactive rather than reactive.

When life has been routine for too long. I have personally learned in counseling and ministry that a leading cause of marriage troubles is boredom. We all get into patterns, habits and routines. That isn’t all bad, but over time and often for one spouse more than the other depending on the season, boredom can become dangerous. Occasionally we need to do something spontaneous, adventuresome or out of the norm.

When conversation becomes more tense or short-fused with each other. As a rule, we talk “nice” to each other. We believe that’s how marriages work. All of us can have a bad day, but when there are numerous bad days over an extended time we know we need a break from routine to address the marriage.

When too many nights go by without us spending quality time together. Strong relationships are built over time. This includes quality and quantity of time. We need time when we can talk deeper than “How was your day?”. When those conversations have become more rare, we have to intentionally plan them. (This was true before we became empty-nesters also.)

When we have pressing issues we need to discuss, but haven’t found time to have a serious talk. That could be about finances or health, the children, our marriage, or some future hope and dream. When something is on one of our minds long enough,we often have to invest extra time to address it.

When either of us is at a point of “stress overload” for an extended period of time. This is usually work involved, but may be due to a health situation for one of us or even situations involving our extended family. When our boys were still at home, it often involved something in their life. We have learned that stress on one of us — or both of us — as individuals will always impact us as a couple.

When one of us sense in our spirit that we need to “Get away!” We are both believers — spiritual people who have a relationship with God. It could be that there has been a weakening in our individual spiritual lives that is causing tension in our marriage. When one of us senses that we just need some intentional time together, we take that seriously.

The bottom line for our marriage is that God has called us to invest in the lives of other people. We know we can’t continue to pour into others until Cheryl and I pour into each other and allow God to pour into us. That takes intentionality. Plus, we both know, from experience, that the enemy is always looking for holes in our marriage. We must guard our hearts and our marriage.

Now here are a few disclaimers.

All of these may not apply to your marriage. You may both love routine. I would want to make sure you both do as much as you think both of you do — as in you – the one reading this. However, that may not be an issue for you like it is for us. And, you may have other warning signs unique to your marriage.

You’re marriage may need more intentionality than I’m suggesting here. This is more about maintenance for a good marriage. If you’re beyond that, get help. A good marriage is attainable when two people are willing.

Also, we don’t have children at home anymore. That gives us some unique advantages. We have learned we tend to fill our time either way — with children in the house or not — but the point is clear we can be more flexible if we need to be. (It’s a good season.)

I also should point out that being intentional doesn’t mean you have to “break the bank” to do so. Some will pushback that they can’t afford to travel out of town for the weekend or that they can’t afford childcare. I understand. So, find other ways to be intentional. You could trade time with another couple where they watch your children one day and you watch their children another. The key is to break the routine to address the marriage — not to spend extra money.

Finally, I realize this is especially difficult for marriages that are apart frequently, mostly because of work. I spent most of my life in a military town where this type post is much more difficult to apply. Most of us can make the extra effort to invest in our marriage if we choose to do so. For those with unique situations, I admit you’ll have to be even more creative. Even if, however, your intentional time together is via Skype – it would be better than allowing the marriage to drift apart.

What are some warning signs you need to be more intentional with your marriage? Are you there now?

One Way to See a Successful Change

Chalkboard with text Changes

Here is one key to successful change. 

Try replacing one something with one something else.

The problem with change is that people fear losing something they’ve grown to value…something they’ve grown comfortable with in their life…something they love. 

One key to successful change is to replace the thing your changing with something they’ll love even more.

You can’t do it everytime. Sometimes you just have to let things go. And, even with this change is never easy. But, when possible, give them something better rather than nothing at all. You’ll help them better embrace the change long-term and help build a culture more conducive to change.

Try it. 

7 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Marriage

man woman talking

I’ve shared recently about ways we injure our spouse without even knowing it. You can read the husband’s post HERE and the wife’s post HERE.

A common request after those posts is that I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note that I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved — which is pretty much all our life — can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions. Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.

So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.

Well, for one, that’s the way I think. I also know, however, that one reason some enjoy my blog posts is that I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. I may post more about this idea later, but I don’t believe we can always determine outcomes, but we can often determine the things that stimulate or encourage outcomes. (Again, I may post more about that later.)

Basically, using that idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing — but for discussion purposes.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse — they start with me — they start with things I do or we do together.

One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.

Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.

Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:

Share calendars – It seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.) She loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether that’s work, our hobby or our family.) By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.

One tip: Spend 30 minutes today sharing each other’s calendars for the next month.

Plan regular escapes together – Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.

One tip: Look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today.

Have a date a week – At least once a week we need time for just us. Every week. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week.

One tip: Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months — until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.

Increase communication – Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together — and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.

One tip: Tonight — put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough — like us — you can even power walk the mall. :) )

Communicate better – It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions that spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.

One tip: Come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative.)

Spend some time dreaming – Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse.

One tip: Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often.

Pray for one another – Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?

One tip: Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests and update old ones at least weekly.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. You’ve got ideas. Remember, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work. And two people. But, two people working together can take actions that can spur a healthier marriage.

What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?

Read THIS POST on some cheap date ideas.

12 Common Mistakes in Ministry Leadership

Erasing Oops !

I had the occasion over a couple months to ask some senior people in ministry the same question. Some were long retired. Others had 30, 40 even 50 years experience, but are still serving today. All would be considered to have finished — or be finishing — well.

Here was was the primary question:

Looking back, what were some of the biggest mistakes you made in ministry?

If you had it to do over — or you were advising me and others — what advice would you give?

The answers were so similar. I found myself putting check marks beside some of them. The wisdom was timeless. Even profound. Yet simple.

Here are 12 common mistakes in ministry leadership:

Failing to delegate.

Not seeing beyond yesterday or today.

Ignoring the real problems.

Refusing help when I needed it the most.

Not protecting my family enough and/or not continuing to date my wife.

Sacrificing my personal time with Jesus for my working for Jesus.

Celebrating only the spectacular.

Pretending everything is amazing.

Dreaming small dreams…or having no dreams at all.

Creating poor systems or having no systems at all.

Having too much structure or not having enough structure.

Not being vulnerable enough to a few close friends.

It was amazing to me how many of these are themes I consistently write about today. There is truly “nothing new under the son”. It was also encouraging what you can learn if you’re simply willing to ask. I’ve been a wisdom seeker all my life and I highly recommend it. Feel free to try this experiment at home with more senior ministers you know.

Of course, all of these have a story associated with them — as all good principles do. You could share your own. In fact, why don’t you?

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made — or are making — in ministry?

How a Man After God’s Own Heart Responds to Naysayers

charge

Those who seek my life lay their snares;

those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

I have become like a man who does not hear,

and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait;

it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Psalm 38:12-15

Contrary to some leader’s advice, I listen to critics. I understand we have to lead with those who believe in the vision, but I always feel I can learn from everyone — even those who disagree with me. I allow those I’m supposed to lead to cast objections to my plans and open myself up for correction — and yes, sometimes it hurts.

King David seemed to lead this way. We see several instances in his life where he was open to correction and criticism. He allowed those he was leading to speak into the situation and challenge his plan in 1 Samuel 23. Totally rare in those days. In 2 Samuel 16, David appears to take being cursed by another man, a man named Shimei, like a man — like a man after God’s own heart. Kings in those days — especially with the power of David — didn’t have to allow others to correct them — especially not with such violent accusations.

As a leader, David did not shelter himself from criticism or correction.

But, there’s a reality in leadership we can’t ignore. David, a “man after God’s own heart”, must have understood it.

Leader, you will never make everyone happy.

Some of us will try. Some of us take it personal when everyone isn’t happy with us. Some of us dislike conflict more than others.

But, the truth is, some people will always disagree with the decisions you make, because they disagree with you. They can’t buy into your vision, because they haven’t bought into you as the leader. That’s natural. It’s normal. It was even true for Christ in His leadership.

We should be open to input of others — even negative input. We should build collaboration as much as possible. We should do all we can to bring people along. We should make sure what we are doing is honorable.

But, at some point we move forward. And turn a deaf ear to the naysayers.

Because — in the end, David was leading for an audience of one. That’s how a man (or woman) after God’s own heart leads.

Thank you David for that gentle reminder.

We need it. Often.

7 Ways to Make Bad Decisions

hiding mistakes

I’ve made lots of bad decisions in my life. That includes my time in leadership — both in business and ministry, but I’ve also made plenty of bad decisions in family and personal situations. None of us set out to make bad decisions, but sometimes the way we make them can significantly increase or decrease the chance the quality of our decisions.

Granted, I’ve learned from every bad decision I’ve made. And, I’ve even repeated a few of them a few times — and still learned something. But, as much as I can, I want to make better decisions — the first time.

In my experience, there are a few common factors that lead to me making a bad decision.

Here are 7 ways to make bad decisions:

Make them too fast – I’ve learned that haste does indeed make waste. I make lots of decisions each day. I would be a poor leader if I couldn’t make most of them quickly. I’d always be stalled from my potential. When the potential outcome is significant, however, the more time I can give to it the less likely I am to make a mistake — certainly the ones that could have been avoided with more thought. Learning when to wait, seek God, the counsel of others and for better personal discernment is part of maturing, but can help us avoid some of the more costly bad decisions.

Make them too slow – Equally true, there are times when a fast decision is easy; even prudent. If I know the right answer — if it has a Biblical basis, for example, or my conscience is clearly convicted — but it is simply hard to implement, I’ve learned that waiting seldom makes the decision easier and often only complicates the process. I’m more likely to make a bad decision the longer I wait.

Make them to keep people happy – The right decision is seldom the popular decision. People pleasing as a decision motivator rarely accomplishes matters of worth. It often makes the worst decision of the options available.

Make them when angry – I don’t know about you, but I don’t think clearly when my emotions get in the way. If I’m angry — or emotional in any other way — I tend to overreact or under react. Emotionally based decisions, especially immediate decisions, are often ones I tend to regret later.

Make them alone – “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) A part of leadership involves standing alone at times, but rarely are we really alone. We should always walk in the counsel of God’s Spirit, and, in my experience, even when I have to make the decision seemingly alone — if I’m making wise decisions — it’s not really that I’m alone. I’m just ahead of where others know we need to go, but haven’t yet been willing to go. Building a collaborative environment as much as possible helps me avoid bad decisions.

Make them reactionary – Ultimately we want to work from a plan. We want to make decisions before the decision is needed. We want proactive decision-making. That’s obviously not always possible, but in my experience, I’m more likely to make a bad decision when I’m reacting to a situation, rather than having thought about the scenario and my response beforehand.

Make them out of fear – We are called to walk by faith, yet fear is often a more powerful initiator. But, I’ve learned, when I decide because I’m afraid to — or not to — do something, I almost always make a mistake. Following my faith gut, even when afraid, is part of leadership. And, part of life.

I’m sure there are many other ways to make a bad decision. These are some of my personal examples.

Which of these get in your way the most in making good decisions?

What are some ways you end up making bad decisions?