Life Altering Decisions: A and B is NOT an Option

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Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 1 Kings 18:39 NIV

Elijah had placed himself in a delicate situation. He had challenged the people that he could prove who they should follow. He told them if Baal was God, then follow him, but if God, (The Real Thing) was God, then follow Him!

Elijah placed his own life in jeopardy, because they would have surely killed him had his test failed. He was the last remaining prophet of the Lord. This was an important day!

Have you ever been in one of those situations before, where your next actions could alter the course of your life?

I have….numerous times!

In those situations, what you do next will likely have lasting impact on the rest of your life. The next step is a big one…and it is the one you must take! You are in between two opposing outcomes and the future will be determined one way or another, beginning right now!

Have you ever been there?

Talk about pressure!

Elijah responded with strength, with zeal, but most importantly, with faith!

Elijah put everything on the line for God’s glory…even his very life! Rather than depend on his own strength or understanding, Elijah turned his whole being over to God. With confidence, Elijah trusted God completely.

And, guess what?

God came through! BIG TIME!

(Now is where you should say, “Duh”!)

God didn’t mess around! He came through with a God-sized blessing in Elijah’s life. He could have left Elijah standing there, but He answered Elijah’s prayer. Elijah was willing to lay down his life for God’s reputation, and God did not disappoint Elijah!

Not only did God bring forth fire to burn up the bull, but He burned up the wood, the stones, the soil….and the water in the trench! That was some fire!

But then He is an awesome God!

I don’t know what decision you are facing. I recognize that what you do next…the next step is huge. I also know you have a choice…faith in God or relying on your own strength. A and B is not an option.

Which will you choose?

After a great day of teaching…

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Jesus faced the critics…

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58 ESV)

It’s interesting to me when this occurred in the life of Jesus. If you read just prior to this passage, the disciples had finally understood something Jesus taught them. It seems that didn’t happen much in their journey with Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus had just taught them a huge principle. They got it. It was a great day. The best of days. The men He was building into, who would launch the church we know today, understood what was being taught.

That’s a great day for any teacher.

Then the critics came out of the closet.

It never seems to fail. I’ve seen it in ministry, leadership and life. The best days are often followed by the darkest days. Deliver your best message and you’ll shortly afterwards find your harshest critics. Hit the home run and you’ll find some people ready to stop the ballgame.

Don’t be surprised on those days. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get distracted from what you are called to do.

Those days have value, if you allow them to:

  • They keep us humble.
  • They Keep us learning.
  • They keep us on our knees.
  • They keep the glory shining in the rightful place.
  • They keep us appreciative of the good days.

Are you facing the critics…even during the best of days?

Of course you are…you’re trying to be like Jesus…right?

10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change

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I am almost 8 months into a new pastorate. I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. Many pastor friends questioned me at the time, but now they…and people who follow this blog…consistently ask how the move is going. Thank you. I feel the support.

Honestly, it’s proving to be challenging…maybe slightly more than I thought it would be. But, God is allowing us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say…they look good. God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me. There are many great people here and we’ve assembled a stellar staff team.

Needless to say, I’m in the midst of change. That’s not unusual. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow…or even remain alive. But, some change has come fast. It doesn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church that’s over 100 years old…it’s been fast.

For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I’m learning a few things. I share this not only as an update, but knowing over fifty percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry, hopefully some of what I’m learning I can share with you.

Here are 10 things I’m learning in leading church change:

Don’t try to be the church down the street. You have to be true to the DNA, heritage and culture of the church you lead. That doesn’t mean don’t change, but does mean change should be relevant to context.

Don’t oppose the old. Encourage the new. The old got you to where you are today. It’s not bad. In fact, at one time it was very good…the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)

Celebrate history. People were there years ago, building the church where you serve today. My granddaddy would say, “Don’t forget what brung ya!” I especially love hearing the stories of how the church grew through other times of change.

Many times information overcomes objection. Many times. You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why”, the less they will resist the “what”. (By the way, my interview with Zig Ziglar confirmed this principle.)

It sometimes seems easier to let a church slowly die than to try to change things. There. I said it. But, it’s true. Some people are not going to want the church to change. Period. End of story. And, most likely, they will find a way to let you know. (Most likely that will be some way other than telling you…but you’ll hear it.) But, that doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change…and thrive again.

Change is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others. You might read THIS POST about a recent sobering reminder I had about the relativism of objection to change.

Some days all you’ll hear are the critics. That’s true too. I think Satan even has a hand in this one. You’ll think no one is on your side. You’ll think you’re wasting your time. You’ll have a one-day (or multiple day) pity party. On those days, you’ll need to remember the vision God called you to complete. Keep going.

The degree of pain determines the degree of resistance to change. When people are injured…or afraid…or lack trust, they are more likely to cling to what’s comfortable and resist what’s new. That is true in their personal life or their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain.

The best supporters are often silent. I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even. They just don’t always tell you they are. But, good news, they are usually telling others. And, that’s fueling more growth.

God is faithful. You knew that one, right? Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager. Awesome.

These are some things I’m learning. I’ll share more in the days to come.

What have you learned in leading change?

Pray and Don’t Give Up

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Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18:1

Our example comes from Jesus!

We should pray and not give up!

What are you facing today, which you have been facing for some time?
What in your life needs a touch of God?
For what have you been waiting to hear a word from God?
Is there something you can’t handle on your own?
Is there some special request only God can answer?

Jesus would say, “Pray and don’t give up!”

Now, you need to understand, God is not going to contradict Himself. His character never changes. So, if you are asking God to let you have an affair, or to help you cheat on your taxes, don’t expect to get what you want!

But, if your request doesn’t conflict with Scripture, if it isn’t sinful, and it will give glory to God, go ahead and ask expectantly! Pray, and keep on praying until God gives you an answer. Don’t give up!

In my experience, and with what I read in the Word of God, He will either grant you your request (in His time) or His reason for “No” will be far better than what you could have received by a yes answer. Also, it is important to remember that God deals in terms of eternity, not within our finite world.

If you have started to waver from your request in recent days, Jesus reminds you, “Don’t give up!”

God, the great Father, loves to give good gifts to His people.

What is one prayer you consistently have before God?

(By the way, this is a repost from a few months ago. I sensed it was needed again.)

7 Common Energy and Time Wasters for Leaders

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Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off the treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

Does that ever happen to you?

I firmly believe if we get rid of common energy wasters we can dramatically improve our performance as leaders. With that in mind, I’ve spent time in my personal development finding ways to eliminate time and energy wasters.

Here are 7 common wastes of energy in leadership:

Focussing attention on the naysayers – I have found that worrying over what the critics are saying, especially the ones I will never make happy, delays progress and takes time from and frustrates the positive people who believe in the vision and are ready to move forward.

Refusing to delegate – When I make every decision, or become too controlling as a leader, I rob myself and the team of valuable energy and talent and I feel overwhelmed more quickly.

Second guessing decisions – I find it is better to work to make better decisions moving forward rather than live in a pity party of bad ones already made.

Trying to have all the ideas – Many leaders feel they have to be the originator of all the creative energy of a team. They waste time brainstorming alone rather than expanding the creative process. Consequently, the best ideas often never surface. Original thoughts, better than ours, are usually in the room or the organization if we will welcome them to the table and it preserves my time for more efficient use.

Living with broken structure – Let’s face reality. Over time, rules take on a life of their own. What was once created to improve structure actually begins to slow progress and waste valuable time. Change the rules…or even drop them… and you often free up valuable space for people to breathe and enjoy their work.

Disorganization – Need I expand? Many leaders feel overwhelmed because they don’t have good organizational skills. Learning how to better handle routine tasks such as processing emails, calendaring, and scheduling work flow each week will drastically improve time efficiency.

Completing tasks not designed for me – This could be any number of things. Even reading a book. For example, perhaps a silly example, but I have discovered that sometimes I read too much. That sounds strange…I know…but really it’s because I read things I didn’t need to read. I start a book and within the first chapter I know it’s not helpful or even enjoyable…my sense of completion wants to finish. but, better is to put it aside and pick up another book. The novel length email…I try to determine first if I’m the one who should respond. Many times I’m not. It could be attending a meeting…or supervising a project. Whatever it is that I am not the best person for the job or it is just a time waster, the sooner I stop it or hand off the task, the more energy I preserve.

What energy wasters have you seen in leadership?

A Word to the Small Town Pastor

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Over the last 10 years or so I’ve had the privilege of ministering with dozens of pastors in other churches. Many of these were in person. Others were virtual. I’ve been in large and small churches. I’ve been to big cities and small towns with only one stop light. (Or none at all.).

In the process, I’ve learned a few things about pastors and churches. In fact, much of what I write this blog about comes from those experiences.

Recently I had back to back weeks in small cities dealing with, by some standards, smaller churches. They were shy about sharing their success.

I led a leadership retreat for a church with 150 leaders in the room. I was amazed they could attract that size crowd in a small city. But, talking to the pastor, it was as if they had no success at all…at least when compared to my perceived “success”. (I’ve realized, too, that if you have a decently read blog and you’re from out of town…people credit you with more success than you deserve. I’m sometimes seen as the “expert”. If only they knew, right?)

It wasn’t humility on this pastor’s part. I’m not saying he wasn’t a humble person, but I don’t think that was keeping him from talking about the good things God was doing through his church. It was more. I think it almost always is.

That’s when it occurred to me something I’ve observed numerous times, but never put into words.

Sometimes they don’t know how well they are doing.

It’s true.

Take my good friend Artie Davis as an example. His church is mega impacting Orangeburg, SC. I would love to see the church I pastor have half the influence in the community where I live. Artie also leads The Sticks Network of churches ministering in small towns. The impact of those church is amazing every year when I attend their conference.

Many times the small city pastors compare themselves to the big city churches. They compare numbers rather than progress. They compare size rather than context. They compare notoriety rather than influence.

And, because of that, many times, they don’t know how well they are really doing.

I see the connections, networking and influence the small town pastor has and I wish I could have that kind of Kingdom influence in my city. I see the respect they command in their community and know, in my context, they are miles ahead of me.

Small city pastor. God is using you. You are making a Kingdom difference. You just don’t know how well you are doing.

Do you know a small town pastor doing great Kingdom work?

How Do You Find So Many Great Restaurants?

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I’ll be honest…I like to eat. It’s become somewhat of a habit, in fact.

Our boys used to make fun of Cheryl and me because we would often drive long distances to eat.

Since, we’ve moved to Lexington, KY, we’ve determined that there are nearly 100 locally owned restaurants…and we are half way into exploring them all. We’ve uncovered some gems too.

People keep asking us…they always have:

How do you find so many good restaurants?

People who have lived here for years are learning restaurants from us. I kind of like that.

But, it’s a great question…and by the way…the answer serves as a great leadership and life principle as well. (If you knew me…you already knew that…right?)

Here is the answer:

We don’t limit ourselves to what we already know.

  • We take risks
  • We explore
  • We listen and ask questions of others
  • We venture off the path everyone around us has paved
  • We occasionally even get lost along the way
  • We aren’t afraid to be the first ones (in our circle of influence) who try something new

We will often Google reviews and we are impacted by them somewhat, but mostly we just take chances. That’s where we discover some of the greatest places.

Recently, we were in Maryland. We took the road less traveled, ended up on a dead end at the ocean in Virginia. It was a dive. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but it was great. Another gem.

You see, for us…
Being stuck with the same short list of restaurants…with the same menu items…

Boring…boring…very, very boring. (That’s actually a song in my head…wish you could hear the tune…)

That’s our secret. How do you find good restaurants?

And, just curious, does that represent how you do life?

By the way, it’s how I often do leadership too.

A Reality Observation for Pastors and Leaders

Good Job

Here’s a reality pastors and leaders need to know:

The longer you do what you do well…the less praise you’ll receive for it.

Everyone loves to praise the new guy…the guest appearance…the surprise home run.

Once you do exceptional for very long…it’s the new norm.

It’s expected…

You’ll hear less approval.

It’s not necessarily that you aren’t doing a good job anymore. You’ve just set a new bar of expectation.

Congratulations.

Still, this post also serves as a warning of sorts.

The new norm…the quietness…can make you think you’re no longer appreciated. If you’re not careful, you’ll begin to doubt your abilities or the success you are having.

Those emotions…the reactions…are normal, even if they aren’t true.

I’m not ignoring times when you aren’t doing your best. Don’t be an unaware leader.

I’m not trying to convince you not to be normal. That would be abnormal of me.

I am encouraging you to seek your affirmation beyond the verbal praise of man.

I am saying that if you live for the praise of others, you’ll eventually be controlled by that praise (or lack thereof).

And I am suggesting you may be doing everything right, but seldom hear the good that you’re doing.

That’s part of leadership. And, the leader who can lead just as passionately towards a noble goal, without the praise of man, even when criticism seems more dominant, is on track of success.

Have you ever been in a “normal” season of producing good work, but not feeling valued for it?

How a Mentor Will Change Your Life

This is a guest post by Tyler Braun. Tyler is a writer and pastor from Oregon. He is the author of several books, including a book on mentoring and Why Holiness Matters (Moody), which is on sale for FREE this week only (ebook version). You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, www.manofdepravity.com.

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How a Mentor Will Change Your Life

We all want to achieve some level of greatness or significance with our lives. What we often underestimate is that this only comes through our engagement with others, not in isolation. We all need people behind us that continue to push us forward.

Only when you understand who you are, will you start living into how you were made to engage in your current context. I believe we were each made with an intense longing to have other people speaking into our lives. A mentor will help you discover who we are in a way you would not know in leading an isolated life.

There is no life-change without life-exchange.

For over a four year period I waited for an older and wiser man to mentor me. I assumed that if I waited long enough this person would give me a call and make my life better. The call never came despite desire and my frustration continued to grow.

Eventually I worked up enough courage to flip the script and asked someone who I thought would challenge me to be a better person. And sure enough, the time I spent with him changed my life.

Looking back I see the specific ways interactions with a mentor facilitated change within me.

Clarity Within Community

A lot of people have clarity of vision for their life, but they lack the relational engagement needed to see the full extent of the vision.

A mentor provides added perspective. You have blind spots—areas in life that you struggle to navigate well.

Personal clarity without the input of others often leads down treacherous paths.

A Nudge

Your life needs fresh eyes to lend perspective on where you are going astray. A mentor is not a babysitter or a parent, but they can shed light on areas of concern. A mentor—having navigated life further down the road—can give you the nudge needed to keep you walking the right direction.

The culture at large teaches that you should surround yourself with people who give positive vibes, but what you likely need is someone who is willing to give you the honest truth when you would rather ignore it.

Hikes Not Maps

I’m stubborn enough that I typically look for someone who will provide me with enough information for me to continue on my way. These information givers are like shopkeepers who provide maps.

The problem is what I need is a trail guide who can walk the paths rather than just providing a map.

You need a trail guide, not a shopkeeper. On a lonely trail, you need a hiking partner, not a map.

Plenty of people can give you the information you need to take the next step but a mentor will walk alongside you throughout the journey.

A Character Driven Life

In my weaker moments I’m often drawn to make decisions when my emotions are at their peak. Instead of taking the time to process through it all, the knee-jerk reaction seems to come naturally.

A mentor helps you sift through the emotions to make character based decisions. What are the principles and values that under gird your life? Those should drive your decisions.

At one point 6 months ago I was about to make an emotionally-driven, irrational decision because I sensed a need to make a drastic change in my life. My mentor helped me see how that decision directly contradicted a few things I believed to be true about myself.

A character-based life allows for short-term wins to translate into long-term sustainability.

Wings to Launch

The Millennial Generation has been described as “failing to launch.” The reasons for this are many and highly debated, but it doesn’t remove the truth that many people feel relegated to their current state—flightless with no wings to see beyond it.

This is right where a mentor can step in and help you navigate how you have been gifted and how those gifts can launch you toward the life you’ve been created to live.

Take the step. Make the ask. Get a mentor. It will change your life.

In what ways has a mentor changed your life?

Catch Phrases Heard On the Way to the Finish Line

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I am a runner. I mostly run just for my personal health and pleasure, but I’ve run in quite a few races. I’ve even run a marathon and numerous half marathons. I’ve learned, however, that distance is relative. If a 5K is your milestone, that’s a long race. I have a friend who runs the 100 mile races. Crazy.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that, if you’re pushing yourself, at some point along the race, you’ll struggle. It will go from being “fun” to being a challenge. I’ve also discovered that without those stretching moments, there wouldn’t be near as much thrill of crossing the finish line.

Here’s something else I’ve observed. There’s a common language among those struggling the most.

Run any distance race and you’ll hear the frustration out loud.

I’ve heard things like:

  • I can’t do this.
  • This is harder than I thought.
  • I’m not a runner.
  • Why did I sign up for this?
  • This is crazy.
  • I’m never doing another one of these.
  • I’m in pain.

But, I’ve never met a runner, who crossed the finish line, who didn’t receive the thrill of victory…even if it was only after they threw up in the trashcan nearby.

The completion of a dream…a goal…a challenge…feels great after the finish line.

Are you ready to give up the dream?

Don’t quit too soon. You don’t want to miss what’s next!