Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging

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Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

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I’m a reflective person. This time of year — when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so — get alone — and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating — sin can have an immediate pleasure — but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships — spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again — even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year — one decision — one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life — and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk — and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being — planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will — and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life — spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself.

Try answering them — see how it helps you start your best year ever!

5 Step Process to Write a Simple, but Achievable Life Plan

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Here’s a simple, step-by-step process to writing a life plan. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I prefer simple. If it’s complicated or too involved, I’ll opt out quickly. That’s my goal here.

(I actually wrote these posts several years ago and I’ve not updated them — just this summary page. If you find any links that don’t work, let me know.)

I’m praying God allows many of us to realize dreams and goals we never thought possible.

Here are 5 posts to walk you step-by-step through writing a simple life plan:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Of course, all of this should be done by committing your plans to God first. For help and an example of that, you might read this post: 7 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Effective

Let me know how your plans develop.

A Guaranteed Way to Have the Best New Year Ever

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Do you want to guarantee your success in the new year?

If you could figure out a way, that’d be worth it, right?

Here’s a Biblical example of how to have the best year ever.

The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,

your relatives,

and your father’s house

to the land that I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse those who treat you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (Emphasis mine)

The secret, for lack of a better word, for any success Abraham would ever had would be found in moving from his will to God’s will — allowing God to shake his direction and the outcome of his life.

When the “you” comes after the “I” rather than before, we’ll always guarantee our success.

Here’s a guaranteed strategy for the new year to be a success:

  • Drop your agenda — and join His agenda.
  • Get off your path — and get on His path.
  • Release your ambitions — and embrace His ambitions.
  • Set aside your will — and live His will.

Are you ready for a great new year? Let God lead the way.

Three Common Fears of Every Young Leader

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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.

5 Areas I Have Micromanaged in Church Revitalization

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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.

Here are 5 ways I Expand My Leadership Potential

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I think the best leaders expand their influence and leadership potential by continuing to learn and grow in experience. It takes an intentional effort to improve as a leader. You can read books, follow blogs and Tweets, attend conferences, and hang out with other leaders. These are all good practices to improve as a leader.

In my experience, however, my leadership influence grows the fastest when it grows through the people I’m supposed to be leading. Let me explain.

Here are 5 ways I expand my leadership potential?

Invest in other people. It’s amazing, but when I invest in others, they invest in me. I have had several mentoring groups or relationships — where I am supposed to be the mentor, but I feel I learned as much as they did.

Allow someone you lead to lead. When I get out of the way of my team amazing things happen. Now, first, I surround myself with people smarter than me about their area of expertise, but they make my leadership better. I may even get credit for the overall success of the team — but I’m quick to admit — I couldn’t have done it without them.

Promote someone else’s agenda. I’ve learned people have better ideas than me. A lot better ideas. Actually, I’m an idea guy. I have lots of them. But, if the team is bigger than one — there’s always one more idea to consider. I’m a better leader — with more potential — when I open the idea generation task to more people than me.

Celebrate a team member’s success. When I hog the stage — or the recognition — I limit other people’s willingness to contribute to the success of our team. When I share the lime-light I expand my own capacity as a leader — and everyone wins.

Invite other people’s opinions. One of the most dangerous things I’ve seen a leader do is to build an atmosphere of elitism, where no one else is welcome at the table of decision-making. When a leader values a range of thoughts and opinions it makes people feel valued and expands the leadership base of the senior leader and the entire team.

The best leaders I know understand that when the people they lead are growing in their leadership, it spills over into their personal leadership potential.

As a team improves, so improves the leader.

When others who are following a leader grow in their leadership capacity and influence, the senior leader’s capacity and influence increases. It truly is one of the win/win scenarios of leadership.

Invest in others and watch your leadership potential expand.

Seven Reasons Some Churches Experience Revitalization (While Others Don’t)

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This is a guest post by my friend Thom S. Rainer.

I have a great love for local congregations. To be sure, I’ve never been in a perfect church. They just don’t exist.

But I still love local churches.

One of my greatest joys in the past several years has been to see and work with churches that have experienced significant turnaround. While that turnaround is typically evident in attendance numbers, it is much more than that.

I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches.

These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches:

The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.

Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.

The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.

Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.

Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.

These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.

The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.

Do not count me among those who have their heads in the sand about the state of congregations in North America. As many as 100,000 churches are very sick or dying. Many more also need revitalization.

I hope you can join me for a video consultation on church revitalization at RevitalizedChurches.com. It will almost be like I’m at your church offering you guidance and hope toward the future. You can CLICK HERE to sign up for the four-part overview of the series at no cost.

Yes, I remain an obnoxious optimist about local churches. I am seeing too many indicators of His work to believe otherwise. Let me hear from you. And I hope to see you in the video consultation on church revitalization.

What are your perspectives on the need for church revitalization? What do you think might be missing in many churches?

7 Performance Characteristics of a Great Team Member

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I love team dynamics and organizational structures. I have written many times about what makes a healthy team, my expectations of team members, and elements to build health into your team.

I previously wrote 7 Traits of a Great Team Member.

But, how does a great team member perform on a team? I’m not sure I’ve talked specifically about the performance characteristics I believe make a great team member. How do they act on the team?

Here are 7 performance characteristics of a great team member:

Needs very little supervision – He or she catches on quickly, learning the expectations of the team, has confidence in his or her ability, and knows the vision of the organization well enough to make routine decisions. He or she attempts to figure out problems and asks specific questions when something is unclear. This saves everyone time and speeds progress. A great team member follows through on what he or she committed to do with limited oversight. They don’t need a “boss” — they are truly part of a team. “Let’s get it done together!”

Adds to team spirit - A great team member knows there is work to do as a team and limits the drama that comes from working with people. They aren’t known for gossip, back-stabbing, or pouting when things aren’t going as they would have them. Everyone has bad seasons and a good team is their to assist during those times, but a great team member doesn’t allow their personal life doesn’t impact their professional life on a daily basis. They are known to improve team spirit rather than detract from it.

Remains flexible – The work of a team requires synergy from all members. Sometimes one team member carries unequal weight for a season. Great team members are flexible to pick up slack from others. They do what needs doing. They don’t participate or foster “turf wars”.

Recognizes results as part of the reward – Not to take anything away from fair compensation, but the great team player does the work to see the results of a project done well. Their motivation is achieving the agreed upon goal of the team. They love their work — even more the work of the team — and they are motivated to celebrate when the team succeeds.

Considers the interests of the entire team – Great team members are good listeners. They value others on the team. They are humble enough to look out for good of the entire team. They aren’t self-serving. He or she wants what is best for everyone, even if that means having to personally sacrifice for the win of the team.

Adds intrinsic value to the team – Great team members add something to the team no one else brings.  They know themselves and allow their strengths to shine through hard work and dedication to the vision, providing a unique value to the entire team.

Demonstrates Loyalty in Action – No one questions the loyalty of a great team member. They are “on board” with the vision, supportive of the leadership and direction of the organization, and committed unless something unforeseen takes them away from the team.

Of course, I forgot the one about bringing homemade snacks occasionally for the break room, but I’ll save that for another post.

It also bears mentioning that it is difficult to be a great team member without a great team environment and a great team leader. I get that. Granted. I have, however, worked with some great team members who served on a dysfunctional team. And, I’ve seen one great team member help transform an unhealthy team.

I’m confident there are plenty more ways a great team member performs on a team. Feel free to add to my list. I’d love to hear from you.

In your experience, what does a great team member do on a team?

4 Reasons Leadership Development Doesn’t Occur

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Most churches admit they need more leaders. I have never met a pastor who would say they didn’t need more leaders, but I’ve met hundreds who are desperate for new leaders.

The Bible says to make disciples. That’s should be our goal for every believer in the church. But, the process of doing church requires leadership. Leaders leading the process of making disciples.

One way to grow a church is to expand the leadership base. And, one way to ensure a church doesn’t grow is to limit leadership development. In fact, if a church isn’t growing — one major reason may be they haven’t developed enough leaders. Without leadership progress stalls.

There are 4 primary reasons I’ve observed for churches that aren’t developing new leaders.

Pride – When current leadership doesn’t believe anyone coming along could do as good of a job as they are doing — they will cease to develop new leaders.

Selfishness – When current leadership doesn’t wish to share the power — they will cease to develop new leaders.

Lack of Intentionality – When current leadership doesn’t have a plan or system to develop new leaders — they will cease to develop new leaders.

Ignorance – When current leadership doesn’t know how to develop new leaders — they will cease to develop new leaders.

There are probably other reasons, but these are the four I see most often.

Is your church developing new leaders? How? If not, why not? Do any of these apply?