My 12 Most Popular Tweets of 2013

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Here are 12 of my top tweets from 2013:

If your church attracts broken, messed up, can’t get it right people, then it’s not doing something wrong, it’s being the church #NoteToSelf

Weak leaders try to weed out anyone who could compete for their position. Strong leaders recruit them as team members.

Don’t mistake the silence of God as the absence of God. He is working.

As a leader, you’ll seldom make everyone happy. In fact, if that’s your goal, you might consider whether or not you’re a leader.

God’s not ignorant of your situation. He’s not perplexed either. Or overwhelmed. When it’s time…and you’re ready…He’ll reveal His plan.

If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.

Great leaders see opportunities where others see obstacles. #Leadership

Don’t be defined by a past you don’t intend to repeat.

God’s not worried. If your trust is in Him, why should you be?

Some people will learn to love Jesus only when His followers learn to love like Jesus.

I’d rather lead with character than competence. I can surround myself w/competent people, but no one can make up for my lack of character.

You can’t lead people if you don’t love people. You can control but not lead.

You can follow me HERE.

5 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts

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I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams permission to tell me “bad idea”.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas?

Here are 5 ways that work for me:

Get up and walk – If it is cold I walk inside, but outside is my preference. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. My best ideas rarely happen sitting at my desk.

Whiteboard – Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale…I play with dry erase markers. Literally. Start writing or drawing and it leads to more ideas. Every time. (I also have several doodling apps on my iPad.)

Exercise – Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. And, it’s good for my health. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought.

Hang out with creatives - Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen me. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, nut structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Different environments – Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space…expand the pace (of thought).

Those are a few that help me.

What triggers your creative process? 

How a blog post becomes reality…

Blog word.

People ask me frequently…How do you write so much? How do you blog almost everyday?

Well, I’ve addressed this before, but it takes discipline and intentionality, but it really is simple when you uncover the process. In fact, so simple you may be surprised…maybe even disappointed there isn’t a more complex formula.

Here’s how most blog posts become reality:

Idea hits me – I especially write about leadership…and that’s a large part of my life…so the canvas is large. Plus, I have the privilege of living life vicariously through others as I interact with their leadership situations. Everything has potential to be a blog post someday. Something I read…something I hear…something I encounter…something I do…can trigger a thought. It’s often a small idea at first, but it strikes me as something that could be developed. The key is I’m always looking.

Write it down – The important thing here is to record thoughts as they occur, before the moment is gone forever. We forget far more than we retain. That’s why its important that I always have something nearby on which to record ideas. It is why I use Evernote a lot. This post started there. (I am still trying to find the best way to record shower thoughts.) I then dwell on the idea for a while…let it resonate with me. Whenever I go by the small thought again, if another idea hits me about it, I add those ideas to the file. It’s important that I periodically review the files I’m saving. I can almost always find a potential post I’ve had around for a while. (Right now there are over 200 new ideas developing. Some will never see the light of day…some you may see later.)

Write it – This is bottom line. I have to take ideas, as small as they may seem, and develop them. It may be a day, a month, or several months in the making, but at some point I have to expand the thought into something blog worthy. I have to write. I do this almost daily with one post.

Something tells me you have more potential blogs in you also. You simply need to be intentional enough to capture the ideas as they occur…and the discipline to write about the ideas.

This post provides a great opportunity for you to share your blog with me. Add a comment and tell me your blog address. I’ll check it out.

The Structured Removal of Faith

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This is an opinion post. In fact, this is an opinion blog. Unless I’m quoting Scripture you can dismiss everything I write as one person’s opinion. Mine.

But, this is an opinion post about a problem I’ve seen. 

It’s a problem I see in churches.

It’s a problem I could see us having in the church I now pastor…if we aren’t careful.

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God. 

Let me explain.

I pastor a 104 year old church. We know structure well. Real well. If a church can deal with an issue in 104 years, we’ve probably addressed it by policy. We have a committee that can handle it.

Don’t misunderstand. Contrary to what some believe, I appreciate structure…to a degree. I once planted a church that ran from it and we discovered soon that without it not much got accomplished. We had lots of enthusiasm and growth, but we couldn’t sustain it for long. We needed more structure.

Structure helps build systems and processes that help us meet the demands of a growing church. 

Also, don’t misunderstand and think that I run to structure either. I don’t. My basic DNA is to resist it more than embrace it. I’m much more a big picture, risk taking, defy establishment type person in my temperament. I just have learned by experience the need for structure.

Structure…healthy structure…helps organizations and churches maintain excellence. It’s designed to be an asset not a hindrance. I’m reminded of the structure Jethro shared with Moses. Gold. Joseph created great structure to carry out the work of God that would ultimately save Joseph’s family. And the Israelite nation. Invaluable.

The problem is when we begin to rely on structure as the answer, more than the vision God has called us to attain. Ultimately we can begin to rely on man made structure more than we rely on the King of kings to guide us into the unknown. If we aren’t careful…wait let me leave the structure of this paragraph to better make a point…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

If you’ve been in church very long you know this is true. In some churches, if God were to call us to move in some new area, even if we were certain we had direction from God, it would take us months to get the idea beyond the committees of the church and to a church vote. We have often allowed systems and policies to navigate us more than relying on the Spirit of God. We can do it in budgeting, in planning, and in carrying out the traditions and work of the church.

Of course, this can happen in any church…regardless of the age or structure…but the longer we’ve been doing something the more comfortable we seem to get at doing it. The longer we rely on our structured way of doing something, the easier it becomes to continue that structure, and the more challenging it becomes when we are called to new levels of walking by faith. (This is true in our personal life also.)

Am I wrong? Have you seen this?

It’s a conviction I am currently living with as a pastor of a very highly structured church with a rich history of seeing God do incredible things. I am keenly aware that generations before us have walked by faith to get us where we are today. It is a learning process for me. It’s a balance between the practical issue of the structure in place and the calling to walk by faith I believe God has placed on my life. And, just being honest, it is sometimes a tightrope walk between the two.

Recently, I was asked the question (again)…What is the church I pastor doing now that is totally dependent on God? I’m still thinking of a good answer.

So I’m ever mindful…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

And, for that balance, the scales are already tipped in my personal life and calling. As for me and my household, we will serve The Lord. We will walk by faith. So, I’m praying God will show us His will…so we can once again walk by faith.

Pastors, weigh in to this discussion.

Have you felt the tension between structure and faith? How do you deal with it personally?

And, What is your church currently doing that is totally dependent on God?

7 Suggestions for Navigating Change When Standing in Muddy Water

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Have you ever navigated change through muddy water?

Have you ever had to lead change when no one knew for sure what change was needed? Or when there wasn’t clear agreement on where the organization needs to go? Or when some players on the team were uncommitted or complacent? Or when the leadership pipeline…who is supposed to be leading…wasn’t clearly defined? Or when the season of decline has been so long no one remembers what success looks like? Or when…you get the idea.

It’s like navigating through muddy water. Ever been there?

Continuing with the muddy water metaphor, what do you do during those times?

Here are 7 suggestions when you are leading change through muddy water:

Analyze the water – How muddy is it? You need to know the work you have before you. How desorate is it? You’ll get very discouraged if you try to lead through semi-cloudy water and find out it really wasn’t muddy at all, but in fact, you were standing in quicksand. This process can take a day, a week or a year depending on the depth of the water and how long it’s been muddy. Give it time. Learn the issues. Learn the players. Hire a professional water analyzer for perspective if needed. But, know your mud first.

Be honest – “The change is going to impact you and it’s going to be hard.” How is that for transparency? It may sound too forward, but people know something new has to happen. They may not yet be able to admit it. They may not want change. They may even resist it, but they know change has to occur. Go ahead and admit the obvious. You can and should encourage people that things will improve, but they already know there is a problem. The water is muddy. They can see that. Maybe even taste it in their lemonade. Admit it. People will trust you more when you are honest.

Cast a clear vision – Where are you going? How clear must the water be for you to be satisfied? How do you propose to get there? What’s the timetable for doing so? As much as you know today…share it. People need to be assured that good things are being planned and on the horizon and clearer water is on the way.

Communicate well – Communication is always important, but especially during times of unrest, confusion or chaos. When the water is muddy, people become frustrated. They need to know what’s happening and what is being done to clear the muddy water. Remember, effective communication is speaking and listening. Do both. Do them often. Do them well.

Stand strong – Muddy currents can pull you under quickly. You will heed to be firmly anchored as a leader. Make sure you are keeping yourself healthy, emotionally, physically and spiritually so you can navigate the muddy waters.

Challenge when needed – During difficult times…in especially muddy conditions…there will be some who try to disrupt any positive change that occurs. You’ll have to challenge those who want to add more mud to the water. If you have to remove some who prefer to stay muddy…do so. Instead, lead with those who grab a shovel and help clear the mud.

Keep casting clearer water – You’ll have to encourage with a healthy vision of where you are going over and over again. This is the time for leaders to be very visible and very approachable. People will want to know someone is guiding the ship though the improving waters.

Have you ever navigated through muddy water? Any suggestions you’d add?

5 Tips to Write Better Informational Emails

typing laptop

Can I be candid with you? I don’t read every email I receive. I’m not even talking about forwards of cute stories that get massed emailed…I almost never read those…I’m talking about informational emails. The emails that have information in them I probably need…I don’t often absorb all of it.

I know. That sounds awful. Hopefully, someone in the comments will let me off the hook of seeming cruel or weird and admit they are the same way. But, here’s the fact. I’m not detail oriented. At all. If you send me a “book email”…one that appears exceptionally long and full of details…you often lose me before I really get started. (Again, just being honest.)

But, I know it’s probably vital information. You wouldn’t send it to me unless you wanted me to read it…right?

So, what can we do about it? I could tell you I’ll change…I’ll bite the bullet and read your longer than necessary email (see, I’m trying to be lighthearted about this subject…so you can laugh now), but the truth is…I probably won’t. History proves otherwise. Show me more than a few paragraphs and I’m probably out of here.

Let me give you a few suggestions. I’ve given these to staff members who write really long…packed with detail…emails. Some have taken my advice and learned that it actually increased their communication results. People seemed to more closely read their emails. They actually appeared to know more of the details the person emailing was trying to communicate. And, isn’t that the goal?

With that in mind, here are 5 suggestions for better emails:

Personalize the email – Mass emails get read less by me. If I see there are many people on the list of recipients, I figure I’m not that necessary as a reader. Someone else will respond. (I know…to some that seems arrogant of me…but at least I’m truthful. And, I suspect I’m not alone.) An email written just to me is far more likely to grab my attention. Thankfully there are programs now that do a mail merge type function for you.

Make the main point early – What is the point of the email? What do you want to communicate if I get nothing else. Say that immediately. If it’s multiple pieces of information, say that up front too. It might be helpful to bold or underline the main ideas, (but don’t use weird colors or oversized font.) Highlight the most pertinent facts you want to convey, dates or locations, especially if the email is very long. Here’s the bottom line, if you don’t capture my attention soon in a longer email, I’m probably less likely to absorb the key points you want to make sure I get. I realize that’s my fault, not yours, but if you want the information absorbed…you’d want to know your audience, right? And again, I suspect I’m not alone. If you write long emails, I suspect you are losing more readers than you think.

Use bullet points for main ideas – People can often read lists easier than paragraphs when dissecting detailed information. The points you want to make will seem more streamlined and easier to follow if you number them or bullet point them in some way. (I hear frequently that people like how I do that with blog posts like this one. Some wired like me may only read the points in bold. I already know that. If that’s you, you’re not reading this right now…are you?)

Consider an opening summary – On especially longer emails, or emails with lots of details, consider opening with the main highlights for quick and busy readers, listing only the points you’ll expand upon later. They can scan down if they want or need more details, but this way your main ideas get attention and hopefully you capture the reader’s interest enough so they read what you have to say before they disappear.

Proofread – Before hitting the send button, read over it as if you were reading it aloud for the first time. Does it sound like you? Is it complete in thought? Are there obvious grammatical or spelling errors? Are there any lines or words you could cut and the point still be made? (If so, cut them.) You’ll lose some readers if it is not a tightly written email.

That’s it. There might be more I could add, but this post is getting kind of long. And, I’ve already lost some of you.

Here’s to writing better emails.

What suggestions do you have?

7 Criteria to be a Change Agent Leader

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In my observation, many leaders want change and know they need to lead change, but they haven’t been able to actually produce change. I think there are reasons for this. The process of change isn’t easy. Not every church, business or non-profit will tolerate change…or at least to the level prescribed by a leader. Some leaders simply don’t know how. (That’s not a slam. It’s a reality statement.)

I believe change is necessary for growth. I don’t think everything has to change. Some things never should. But, change, even the hardest kind of change, has to occur if progress towards worthy visions is going to continue to occur.

This post is sort of a gut check for those who want to lead change.

If you want to be a change agent leader:

You have to be willing to fail - Not all change will work. You can strategize and plan, but change at some level involves the risk that it may not work. Are you prepared for that?

You need to be able to withstand criticism – Change invites pushback. Change changes things. (That’s deep, isn’t it?) Change is uncomfortable and people will tell you the degree of discomfort they are feeling. Sometimes in passionate…even mean ways. You’ll feel unpopular at times.

You must evaluate and be willing to adjust accordingly - You can’t be a change agent and equally be a control freak. You are leading people through sometimes muddy waters. You’ll need to solicit buy-in from others. You will need to collaborate. You’ll need to process the success rate of the change and recalibrate as needed.

You have to outlast the opponents of change – When the naysayers show up you’ll have to stand strong to the vision of change for which you believe is worth fighting. It will take longer than you hope it will at times and you’ll have to stand the test of time.

You must think bigger than today – Change is always going somewhere new. Always. So you have to be able to think about the options that aren’t currently on the table. You’ve got to think beyond now and even beyond the most immediate future. You have to look for what others can’t see, choose not to or are afraid to see (or admit).

You have to challenge status quo - That’s the kicker, isn’t it? You have to go against the way things are being done and the way things have always been done. We are talking about change. Get it? Change. That means something is changing. (Oh, such a deep post.) You have to move people from the center on which they’ve grounded themselves.

You have to have a DNA in which to work that is conducive to change – And here’s another kicker. Every church and every organization in which you are called to bring change isn’t wired for change. The fact is that some of those said churches and organizations are going to die…they’ll stall…perhaps for long periods…but they’ll eventually just fade away…and nothing you can say or do will encourage otherwise. In the end, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go. The sooner you can learn that fact the quicker you can try to be a change agent where change will actually occur.

Well, those are some hard realizations. I’ve studied and observed them by working with dozens of churches, businesses and non-profits and in the organizations and churches in which I have led.

What have you seen as necessary criteria to be a change agent?

Making Good Changes in a Highly Structured Environment

The best

We had a situation recently where a staff member felt the need to make a change in his area of ministry. It would save the church lots of money, is more in line with our vision, and would have a greater Kingdom impact. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

It’s the best decision.

Problem? It’s changing the way something has been done for years and something that is very popular.

We are a 104 year old church. Every church acclimates towards a defined structure…an established way of doing things…some traditions. Even if that tradition is continual change (which this church is not), every church (and every organization) forms a unique DNA of how things are done. In our setting, it’s developed into a highly structured environment of systems and procedures, which makes change more difficult than in some churches. This is not atypical of an older, established church.

We talked about what would have to be done in order for this change to be successful. Who to talk to. Which committees need to weigh in. Who the influencers are in this area of ministry. Part of being an established, highly structured church.

His statement hit me hard. It’s one I think we often confuse in making organizational changes, probably especially in the church. (Which is often very slow to accept change.)

He said, “I just hate having to be so political in making what we know is the best decision.”

I completely understand his concern, but it’s in that statement that exists the confusion.

I said to him, “You have already made the right decision. That’s what we will do. We just have to be strategic in the implementation.”

And that is what it takes to make disciples…to grow a church…to stop stagnation.

Make the right decision.

The best decision. Use collaboration not control, but do what is best for the church or organization.
Not the one that makes you popular, or even the one that causes the least conflict, but the wisest, most promising decision. That’s good leadership.

But be strategic in the implementation.

Take your time. Establish trust. Build consensus. Talk to the right people. Even compromise on minor details if necessary. Accommodate special requests if possible and if it doesn’t affect the outcome. Be political if needed. It’s part of the process, especially in a highly structured environment. (Does that describe any churches you know?)

Structured environments shouldn’t keep you from making the right decisions involving change. They just alter the implementation process.

Knowing this difference provides freedom to visionary pastors and leaders in highly structured environments. You can make the change. You can. You’ll just have to be smarter about how and when you make them.

Do you understand the difference in decision making and implementation? How does that shape your process of making change?

How I Battled Claustrophobia (and other life applications)

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Cheryl and I were recently on an airplane flight for 2 1/2 hours. It wasn’t the longest flight we’ve been on by far, but it seemed longer than it was. We managed to get the last seat in the back corner of the plane. There was no window. No reclining to the seat and limited leg room. I realize that’s typical these days for most seats, but trust me when I say this was the worst seat I’ve ever had on an airplane and I’ve flown a bunch.

To make matters worse…The guy in front of me reclined his full 3 inches and wouldn’t sit still the entire flight.

I knew I was semi claustrophobic, but on this flight I thought I would die. I allowed myself to be psyched into a frizzy of miserableness. Cheryl tried to calm me, but I was restless.

I know it sounds extreme, and like I am a big baby, but it became that big of a deal for me at the time. I had to do something.

So, how did I survive?

Well, the way I turned an uncomfortable situation into a manageable situation was a lesson for me for other life situations. Real life situations. The kind that last longer than a 2 1/2 hour airplane flight. (Even funnier was that I read a book about a WWII POW survivor on this vacation…talk about surviving…I am a sissy! But, still…)

Here’s what I did:

Thought about destination. We were getting out of town. Somewhere exciting. Vacation. Better times ahead.

Reminded myself this was temporary. These things too shall pass.

Redirected my thoughts to something that I enjoyed thinking about. (Such as writing a blog post.) And planning a new strategy. And studying my Bible.

It made the trip more pleasant and helped me arrive in a better mood. Cheryl was happy about that.

But, as I said, it helped me process how I respond in other claustrophobic times of life.

When you feel stuck. The walls feel like they are closing in around you. You are miserable in your current circumstances.

Here’s what you do:

Destination – Think about where you’re going. Better days ahead. If you’re a believer…a follower of Christ…you are living with some promises. (If you’re not on the right path…redirect here.)

Temporary – Remember life has ups and downs. These days shall pass. And, as Paul said, even if troubles last a lifetime, these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs” anything of this world.

Redirect – Change your thought process. Many times what we think about determines how we feel. Again, Paul said, “whatever is pure, whatever is noble, if anything is excellent or praise worthy…think about such things”. Maybe we need to think better thoughts.

When you have a proper perspective you can sit back, relax and better enjoy the flight.

Just for fun, what’s the most miserable flight you’ve ever been on and what made it so?

3 Ways to Fuel Momentum

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I am frequently asked how we spur momentum where I lead. I have been blessed to be part of some tremendous seasons of momentum in the churches where I have served as pastor or planter. We are in another season of momentum now.

I am quick to point out that God is ultimately in control of His church. I get no credit and don’t want it. But I am also not afraid to point to what God has done through His people. In my experience, He often allows the body to lead. I believe He has gifted us with uniqueness and imagination for a reason. I believe the parable of the talents is an example of the way God wants us as church leaders to make wise decisions with what He has given us. (That even sounds Biblical. 1 Corinthians 12:27)

With that disclaimer, (which is always necessary in a post like this) how do we stir momentum? How does the body, functioning together, spur momentum?

In my observation, there are really 3 basic ways momentum is encouraged.

Here are 3 ways momentum is fueled:

Innovation – I’m using this term to highlight improving existing. This is development. When you take what you have and attempt to make it even better people notice and it makes room for more excitement…more enthusiasm in the body…more momentum.

Creativity – Dreaming. Brainstorming. Ideas. Randomness. This can be temporary, even one time activities. We can’t be more creative than the Creator so don’t be afraid to “think outside the box”. Creating something unusual or something that has never been tried before gives momentum explosive potential.

Change – Change means new. New creates immediate energy. Momentum. Every time. New classes. New services. New times. Even new people in leadership. Change spurs momentum.

Those are the 3 momentum fuels I’ve observed.

It should be noted that not all momentum is positive momentum. There is such a thing as negative momentum and it can often grow stronger and faster than the positive kind. So beware. Be careful. Be smart. But, even still, be consistent with trying to spur momentum.

In my experience though, you can often reverse negative momentum with more positive momentum. Which, by the way, requires more innovation, more creativity or more change.

It’s not easy. In fact it’s hard. That’s why it requires leadership. But, figuring out what causes momentum isn’t difficult either. Of course, with any principles, knowing and doing are two different issues. But, at least now you know what I have observed, by experience, about fueling momentum.

And, I’m confident someone has better observations than me. So share!