7 Ways I Protect My Family Life in Ministry

Happy Family Portrait at Park

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of the pastor’s immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. 

How many pastors do we know who have adult children that don’t even attend church anymore? Lots. I’ve heard from many who resent the church which stole their family time. 

There have been seasons of my ministry where this was the case, especially on abnormally stressful days. It should be the exception, however, not the rule.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life on a long-term basis.

Cheryl and I are in a different season now. It’s easier to protect our time. My heart, however, goes out to the young families in ministry. Please heed my advice.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry:

Down time.

Saturday for me is a protected day. I normally work 6 long (up to 10 hours and more) days a week. (I’m wired to work and to take a true “Sabbath”, according to Exodus 16:26 at least, it seems one would have to work 6 days — just saying :) ) This also means I agree to do fewer weddings or attend other social events on Saturdays. There are only a few Saturdays a year I allow this part of my calendar to be interrupted. We are blessed with a large, qualified staff. Pastors, it doesn’t have to be Saturday for you, but there should be at least one day in your week like this. If you are wired for two — take two!

Cheryl and the boys trump everything on my calendar.

I always interrupt meetings for their phone calls. If they are on my schedule for something we have planned together it takes precedence over everything and everyone else. There are always emergencies, but this is extremely rare for me — extremely!

Scheduled time with my family.

If I’m going to protect time with my family then they must be a part of my calendar. I’ve been told this seemed cold and calculated, and maybe it is, but when the boys were young and into activities with school, those times went on my calendar as appointments first. I was at every ballgame and most practices, unless I was out of town, because it was protected by my calendar. It was easy for me to decline other offers, because my schedule was already planned.

I don’t work many nights.

Now it’s just a habit and my boys are grown, but when my boys were young, I also wrote on my schedule nights at home. The bottom line is I’m a professional. You wouldn’t want my time if I weren’t. Have you ever tried to meet with your attorney or banker at night? Of course, there are exceptions — I have some monthly meetings where I have to work at night — and life has seasons which alter this somewhat — but in a normal week I work 6 full day time hours a week and that’s enough to fulfill my calling.

I’m not everyone’s pastor.

This is hard for members of my extended family or friends to understand sometimes but, I pastor a large church, so if someone is already in a church elsewhere I’m not their pastor. I am simply their brother, son or friend. Obviously, if someone doesn’t have a church at all then this is a different story, especially since my heart is to reach unchurched people.

I delegate well.

We have a great staff. If something is better for them to do, I let them do it. Every event doesn’t require me to be there, nor my wife. I try to support the activities of the church as much as possible, but not at the detriment of my family. I realize smaller church pastors struggle here, but part of your leading may be to raise up volunteer people and entrust them with responsibilities and leadership. It also may be to lead people to understand your family remaining strong is just as important as other families in the church and part of having a healthy church is having a healthy pastor and family.

I try to stay spiritually, physically and mentally healthy.

It’s hard to lead my family well and engage them when I’m always stressed by ministry. This is a constant battle, and requires great cooperation and understanding by my family, but I recognize it as a value worth striving to attain.

Pastors, I hear from you — and sometimes your spouse. Some of you are drowning in your ministry and your family is suffering. Many are going to say they have no staff or a small staff, but I encourage this same approach to ministry for every person on our staff. I would expect no less of a commitment to their family than I have to mine. Ask yourself this question: How healthy is your family? What are you doing to protect them?

Help me help other pastors. Share how you protect your family.

You might also read 7 Ways I Protect My Heart and Ministry from an Affair

Hard Advice for Young Leaders

wrestler

I have some hard advice for young leaders.

Before I share , I feel the need to be clear — in case you’re a new reader — to assure you I’m a supporter of young leaders. Ask anyone I work with, or look at decisions we’ve made as a church, or the personal investments of my time into young leaders and you can clearly see I believe in the next generation of leaders. I only build my case of support, because this may be a hard word to receive.

To illustrate this principle, let me begin with a story:

When out oldest son Jeremy was in high school he was on the wrestling team. It was intense training. I loved the discipline and confidence it gave him and I loved the wrestling matches.

When Jeremy would come home from a hard day of practice he wanted to bring what he learned in training into our family time. I had always enjoyed wrestling with my boys, but now he wanted to take our play time to a whole new level. We would start wrestling in the “assumed position” he had been taught, but then I would use my extra 70 pounds as an advantage and quickly pin him to the ground. He would often yell, “No, you’re doing it wrong! That’s not the rules!

To which I would always reply, “No buddy, you’re on my turf now, you play by my rules…and I say there are no rules.”

And in that illustration lies a principle younger leaders need to learn as they enter the field of leadership.

Here’s the principle:

If you’re gonna play with the big boys and girls — you’ve gotta bring your big boy and girl game.

Let’s face it. Many entering the field of leadership today have lived as a generation where they were given much of what they wanted but had few demands placed on them personally. They played multiple sports, for example — which they enjoyed — but it meant they didn’t have “chores” when they were home. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is often the case. By the way, this was also more the case for my generation than for my father’s generation.

I’m not being completely critical of this — it was mostly true for our boys also, but because of this, I often see young leaders enter the field of leadership these days with some unrealistic expectations. They sometimes expect to receive equal reward without paying their equal dues.

I should also point out I see some incredible young leaders. Hard-working. Conscientious. Dedicated. Loyal. So this is an “if the shoe fits” post.

What disturbs me most is when young leaders fail to live up to their full potential.

Here are 10 ways I see that occurring:

  • Making excuses for poor performance rather than attempting to improve
  • Pretending to have answers to problems they’ve never experienced
  • Refusing to learn from other people — especially older people — discounting anything which isn’t from your generation
  • Demanding more than they are willing to give — maybe especially in regards to respect
  • Expecting a reward they haven’t yet earned
  • Depending on step-by-step instructions instead of learning by trial and error
  • Refuting another generation for content when technique is the real difference
  • Being cynical towards anything opposite of the way they think it should be
  • Remaining fearful of taking risks or making a mistake
  • Treating loyalty as if it is a strange idea from the past

Wow! I told you — hard words. They only sting if they’re true.

And, granted, all of these were probably true to some extent of every generation. They seem very common today among younger leaders.

My advice:

Young leaders be patient, teachable, humble, grateful and mold-able as your enter positions of authority and as you are given responsibility. Don’t fail to learn all you can from those who went before you or to grow from your mistakes. Expect to work hard to achieve the things you want from life and realize things may not always be as you would want them to be. There are a few stories of people who stumbled into instant success, but those are rare.

The reward: 

Over time, as you are diligent, you will likely change some of the rules. I hope you do. Some of the rules of my generation need changing. I’m not afraid for you to teach this old dog new tricks. I want to learn from you. I want you to have responsibility and authority. I want you to be fully rewarded and recognized for your contribution to society. I also want you to realize, however, that most things of lasting value take time and discipline to achieve.

The “big boy and girl” world can be tough, but you can make a huge contribution if you are willing to pay the price.

By the way, I gave this same advice to my sons as they have entered adulthood and the workplace.

7 Attributes of a Great Worship Leader or Pastor

Church congregation singing hymns in church

I have worked with some great worship leaders and pastors. Jason with Building 429 was once our worship pastor. He is phenomenal at helping people engage in corporate worship. How could I not mention the golden voice of Daniel Doss? I should mention our current worship pastor, Bo Warren, is one of the most gifted people I’ve ever known. 

I’m not intending this post, however, to be a shout-out to any of them specifically. I’ve been blessed with many great worship leaders and pastors with whom to work. 

I’ve worked with enough now to form som opinions of what makes a great one.

Here are 7 attributes of a great worship leader:

Humble – They love Jesus and attempt to walk with Him daily. They are willing to let others help lead, because it’s not about them — it’s about Jesus. And, they don’t have to always be center stage.

Strategic – They think through the planning of a service from start to finish. They are conscious of the need to remove distractions and give people the best opportunity to potentially engage in worship.

Cooperative – I once worked with a worship leader who could not handle a change. I believe in planning. I also believe the Spirit of God can work in our planning process. But, it’s very difficult to allow God’s Spirit to reign when we are the ones in control of the service. The bond between the teaching pastor and the worship pastor is so important. In fact, the ability to form chemistry with them may be my most important quality when seeking a worship leader. 

Faithful – In this one, I really mean a willingness to walk by faith — even when it’s uncomfortable. A good worship pastor can lead people to respond, but it is one position in the church where there are multiple opinions of their “performance”.  The worship pastor is subject to receiving criticism as much or more than the pastor. It can be a challenging position for anyone who thrives on popularity. A great worship leader focuses more on the call of God in their work than in the comfort of the position or the response of the people. 

Servant – They are here to serve the church, it’s volunteers, and ultimately Christ. There’s no “Green Room” mentality. I love, for example, to see a worship leader who engages with people after the service. They realize people see them “on stage”, but they want people to simply remember them for being a regular person — humbly striving to be like Jesus. 

Encouraging – They invest in volunteers, making them feel valued. People are drawn to them because they know they are loved and appreciated.

Innovative – The best worship leaders I know don’t get caught in a rut. They are not afraid to try new songs or new orders of service. Every week is not the same. They are consistently raising their own bar, challenging others, changing things, and seeking to improve.

Notice I never mentioned talent.

And, granted, they should have the talent to fit the job requirements, but just as a pastor doesn’t have to be the next Andy Stanley to be successful, neither does the worship pastor have to be the next Chris Tomlin. (Or choose the names that work best for you in my analogy.) Talent matters, but that someone goes without saying, and — if I had to choose — I’d rather have slightly less talent to get slightly better character. 

What are attributes you believe make a great worship leader?

Develop Where You Are

Little green seedling grow from tree stump

I’ve seen so many potentially great leaders waste opportunities because they were waiting for the perfect scenario before they begin to develop as a leader.

They don’t enjoy where they are currently in life or work — so they think there is nothing to be gained where they are now.

They aren’t in their dream job — so they don’t look for the benefits of being in the present situation.

They don’t respect the leader they are supposed to follow — so they close themselves off from learning anything  — whether good or bad — from him or her.

They don’t plan to stay in their current work location — so they overlook personal growth opportunities.

They don’t enjoy the people with whom they work — so they miss the potential of building future relational connections.

They are waiting for the “right” opportunity — so they never give their best effort, not realizing their “off-paper” resume (what others say about them) follows them. 

What a mistake!

Here are a few things I’ve learned by experience.

There is no guarantee your next location will be any healthier.

Or the leader will be any stronger. 

Or you will like it any more.  

If you don’t work well with the people you are currently working with — what if the problem is more you than them?

In fact may end up being a worse opportunity — the grass which appears greener on the other side often turns out not to be.

Here’s my advice:

Take advantage of where you are now.

Learn all you can now — from every opportunity.

Grow where you are now.

Give your best now.

Build relationships now. 

Develop where you are today.

It will build your character.

It will make you better prepared when you reach the job you do love.

And, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

If you don’t see yourself in your current position five years, or even one year from now — that’s okay — give the next whatever time you have the best you’ve got. Bloom where you’re planted.

There are lessons, principles and wisdom to be gained in every situation. Never waste those opportunities. 

Help all of us. Describe a time when you developed as a leader in an environment you didn’t enjoy.

5 Tests to Determine If You’ve Forgiven Someone

Mother and teenage daughter giving each other a big hug.

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13

Wow! Those are hard words, aren’t they?

Whether in business, in church, or in family — relationships can cause pain and separation.

It’s tempting to get even. Holding a grudge is easier. Our first reaction is not always to forgive.

But forgiveness is not an option for the believer — even for the person who has hurt us the most.

And, there is another wow moment — especially if you know it applies to you.

Even with the importance the Bible places on forgiveness I frequently hear people give excuses for not forgiving someone. Things such as:

“You can forgive but you can’t forget.” And, that’s most often true. Only God (and sometimes time and old age) can erase a memory.

“I’ve tried to forgive them, but they haven’t changed.” This may be true also. Forgiveness can be a catalyst for change, but it doesn’t guarantee change. And, I don’t seem to read those qualifiers in the commands to forgive.

“I may have forgiven them, but I’ll always hold it against them.” Okay, while it may sound logical, it’s not really forgiveness. Sorry, to be so blunt.

Forgiveness is a releasing of emotional guilt you place upon the other person. It’s a choice. It happens in the heart. It’s not a release of responsibility or an absence of healthy boundaries. It doesn’t even mean justice — legal or eventual is removed from the situation. It is, however, a conscious choice to remove the right to get even from the person who injured you. It’s a release of anger and any bitterness or grudge.

Plain and simple, forgiveness is hard.

I was talking with someone who wants to forgive the person who has hurt her the most. She wants to be free from the guilt of holding a grudge. She wants to follow the example of Christ in Biblical obedience. The problem? She’s not sure she has truly forgiven, because she still hurts from the injury.

I shared with her that while forgiveness is a decision — a choice — it is not an automatic healer of emotions. It helps, but emotions heal over time. Then I shared some ways she could determine if she’s truly forgiven the other person.

Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ve forgiven someone:

The first thought test.

When the first thought you have about them is not the injury they caused in your life you have probably extended forgiveness. You should be able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally. Remember, you are dropping the right to get even — the grudge you held against them.

An opportunity to help them test.

Ask yourself: Would you help them if you knew they were in trouble and you had the ability? Most likely this is someone you once cared about — perhaps even loved. You would have assisted them if they needed help at one point. While I’m not suggesting you would subject yourself to abuse or further harm, or that you are obligated to help them, or even you should, but would you in your heart want to see them prosper or would you still want to see them come to harm? This is a huge test of forgiveness.

Your general thoughts test.

Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Again, you’ve likely been on positive terms with this person or in a close enough relationship for them to injure you to this extreme. Is there anything good you can come up with about them which is even remotely good? If not, have your really forgiven them?

The revenge test.

Do you still think of getting even with the person? There may be consequences which need to come for this person and you may have to see them through to protect others, but does your heart want to hurt them? If so, would you call this forgiveness?

The failure test.

When someone injures us we can often wish harm upon them. This is normal, but it’s not part of the forgiveness process. Have you have stopped looking for them to fail? If you have truly forgiven someone, then just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed or at least do better in life. Forgiveness means you’ve stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongs. That’s how believers respond to others. We consider their best interests.

I realize this is a tough list. Those struggling with forgiveness will most likely push back against it a bit. I know this, however, for your heart to completely heal, you eventually need to forgive the one who hurt you the most.

And, if you’re struggling to “pass the test” don’t beat yourself up. Pray about it. Ask God to continue to work on your heart. 

Have you seen a lack of forgiveness keep someone from moving forward in life?

What would you add to my list?

25 Questions for a Prospective New Pastor to Ask a Church

Portrait of an attractive young man talking about himself during a job interview

I have been asked frequently for questions a prospective pastor can ask a church. There are lots of resources for churches who are interviewing their next pastor, but I personally believe the pastor needs to equally interview the church.

In the few times I have interviewed with a church — and in the dozens of times I have coached people interviewing with churches — I asked or encouraged lots of questions. Additionally, I ask to see the church budget (including payroll for staff), bylaws, personnel policies, most recent business meeting minutes, and current financial statements.

As for questions, in my experience the process of hiring (or calling) a pastor is long, so there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. I decided to list some of my favorites.

Here are 25 questions for a prospective new pastor to ask a church:

  • What are you averaging currently on Sunday mornings? (Adults and children total)
  • What are you averaging five years ago? 10 years ago?
  • When was the highest average attendance in the life of the church?
  • How much did you grow as a percentage in attendance and budget last year?
  • How much debt does the church have? How old is that debt?
  • What is your biggest obstacle to growth?
  • What is your biggest opportunity or growth?
  • Who are the current staff members and how long have they been at the church?
  • How did you select your pastor search committee? Who are they and what role do they play in the church?
  • Do you have deacons? What role do they play?
  • What is the church known for in the community?
  • What would you say are some of the core values of the church? If you were to describe the church in a few words, what would you say?
  • How many committees do you have? Which does the pastor typically attend? Is the pastor a voting member?
  • What percentage of Sunday morning attendance are in some sort of Bible study program?
  • How motivated do you think the church is going to be to follow someone my age?
  • What are your top requirements or needs in the new pastor?
  • What are the non-negotiable’s when it comes to changing something? What is off limits?
  • What was the last major change the church experienced?
  • What are the demographics of the community? How has that changed over the years?
  • What are the demographics of the church? How has that changed over the years?
  • Do the demographics of the church mirror the demographics of the immediate surrounding community?
  • What was the last major church argument? Has there ever been a church split or large exodus of people?
  • How are decisions made in the church? What is the overall governing structure?
  • How are staff hired or fired?
  • What is your process/timeline in recruiting and calling the new pastor?

Those are some of my suggestions. Obviously some answers will trigger follow-up questions. Be thorough in the process. Of course, if God is calling you here the answers won’t matter, but they will help you prepare to lead. And, I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in where we serve. He has lots of places where we can live out our calling.

What questions would you suggest?

7 Natural Barriers to Sustained Church Growth

image

In church planting, we defied the rules of growth for several years. There are “rules”, which when they happen will naturally stall growth. We were convinced they didn’t apply to us. What we learned is it just takes more time – sometimes.

Recognizing these early and addressing them is key to sustaining growth and momentum.

Here are 7 natural barriers to growth:

Facilities –  There is something to the 80 percent rule of capacity. When your attendance at in service reaches 80 percent full you will eventually begin to stall. It’s not immediate, but it is eventual. In church planting we defied this one for several years. We were convinced it did not apply to us. And it didn’t for a while. I am still convinced it can be addressed without the only solution being building bigger facilities, but leadership must be intentional. One way we addressed it was to use “fullness” as a part of our vision-casting. It works for a time but eventually one of these other barriers begins to occur.

Mindset – When the resistance to change is greater than the need for change you can expect growth to stall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a church plant or an established church — eventually people get comfortable with the way things are and traditions begin to take shape. When you begin to alter those traditions some people will naturally resist. To continue to grow leaders must consistently challenge the norm and encourage healthy change.

Burn-out – It could be volunteer or staff burn-out. In a church plant, after people have spent so much time setting up and tearing down, eventually they grew tired. The key is to find ways to motivate them again or continually add to the volunteer base. And, doing both is probably the best option.

Complacency – When people no longer seem to care if growth occurs or not. They may be satisfied or passive, but their attitude is always contagious. This is why leaders must continually cast and recast vision. It’s also why we must continually embrace change, because “new” stirs momentum.

Country Club small group Bible studies – I’ve noticed this one is often overlooked in the established church — especially when church growth has already plateaued. Whenever a group sits together with no new people entering long enough they become closed to outsiders — even if they think they are not. Newcomers can’t compete with the inside jokes and confidential information the group has already developed together. One way to address this is by continually starting new groups. Some churches “force” or strongly encourage groups to break up and start over with new people.

Leadership void – Continued growth requires new leadership. There will need to be new initiatives, creative ways to do things, and simply replacement of the leaders who move or quit. One key to sustain growth is a successful leadership development program.

Leadership lid– This one is the capacity of the senior leadership. If a leader is controlling, for example, there will be a cap. The church will be defined to the leader’s personal abilities. When leaders realize they have reached their personal lid they must be humble enough to admit it and seek help from others. Empowering and delegating become even more important. (Of course, they always are important.)

These are some I have observed — and experienced personally. I’m certain there are others. The biggest mistake I see leaders make, and I’ve done this as well, is to deny they are issues. They may be subtle for a tune but if you wait until they are obvious the damage will be much more difficult to address.

7 Questions to Ask Before You Post on Social Media

typing laptop

There is no doubt the impact of social media on our society. It’s huge.

It seemed strange the first time I heard a news story refer to a Twitter feed as a “source” of information. Now it’s commonplace. Employers often review a person’s social media prior to hiring them. Friendships are made and lost through what’s posted online. Who would have thought that just a few years ago? We now “follow” those we are most interested in and “unfollow” those we aren’t — yet we remain “friends”. The number of “likes” and “favorites” determines some people’s sense of well-being or worth for a day. Crazy.

But, it’s the culture in which we live.

More than likely, most of those who are reading this post will make a post of their own today. It could be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any of the other dozens of forms of social media. And, if not posting for yourself — you’ll be reading the post of another.

With so much activity it seems harder to know what to post and when. One thing I do frequently in my profession is help people think through making the right decisions in life. I don’t want to make decisions for people, so many times I use questions to help them process on their own. I thought I’d provide some questions to think through your social media posts.

Here are 7 questions to ask before you post on social media:

Who is going to read this?

Think through future employees, friends of friends, family members, etc. It’s amazing how many times I didn’t know someone was even keeping up with me comments on something I have posted.

How will it impact the reader?

How would it impact you if you were to read something like this? Would it hurt your feelings, make you angry, or would it motivate or encourage you? There’s nothing wrong with simply being funny or sharing something of interest — even helping to shape public opinion. But, a mature person (certainly a believer) thinks through how others will be impacted by what we post.

Will they understand my intent?

It’s more difficult to communicate intent in a written format. In person you would have more opportunity to explain yourself, use hand and facial gestures to help clarify, etc. Read it back to yourself and think like someone else who may be reading it — maybe someone who doesn’t know you well.

Can it easily be misconstrued or taken out of context?

Remember, you only have what’s written. There’s no “background” to the story or supplemental information. Will they “get” what you’re intending to be “got”?

Do I want this around for a very long time?

Because once it’s posted — it’s forever.

Am I acting in anger, frustration, or vengeance?

We seldom communicate most effectively when we act out of emotions. We usually say things we wouldn’t say under more “normal” circumstances. Do you need to hold the post until your emotions have calmed and see if you still feel the same way?

Is this the wisest way to express myself?

Or, is there a better way to accomplish what you hope to accomplish? For example, if it’s really aimed at only one person, would it be better to make a phone call? If it’s addressing a larger concern, is your post going to make things better — or further add negativity to an already tense situation?

These are just suggestions. You may also read 7 Ways Christians Should Behave Online or 12 Ways Christians Can Be Less Mean.

Are there any questions you would add to help us discern better posts?

5 Things I Learned In Sending A Son Away To College

A vector illustration of father helping his teenage son moving to a new campus

We are well into our years as empty-nesters. Both of our boys have finished college, one is in grad school, but both are supporting themselves and on their own.

I loved the time with our boys at home. We had great relationships. They were (and are) two of my best friends.

The first son attended a local college and lived at home most of the time. It was a different season, but we still got to spend a lot of time together. The youngest went to school 8 hours from home.

I’ll never forget the feelings of driving away from him freshmen year. Wow! It was painful. I mourned. I cried. It was a deeply sad occasion. If you’re going through that now — I’m praying for you as I type this post.

In the process of him leaving I learned a few things:

It was much harder than I thought letting go. My counseling background tells me I began a mini-depression about a month before he left and it was a few months afterwards, probably shortly after the first semester ended and the Christmas break ended, before I felt “normal” again.

I prepared my boy, but not my emotions. I am not an extremely emotional person. This changed the day I said “goodbye”, got in the car and drove back home. I was an emotional wreck.

It is never the same, but it can be better — at least in some ways. I missed seeing Nate terribly, but our talks became even more open and honest than when he was at home. As he grew to be a man, our relationship became deeper, more personal.

I couldn’t wait for his calls/texts/emails. There was a charge in my spirit when I looked down at my phone and saw it was Nate. I longed for communication. When our boys were at home we had disciplines — such as a nightly meal — where we could discuss the events of the day. We couldn’t expect those every day from college. And, most days they didn’t happen — but when they did it was golden.

It began a new phase of life for Cheryl and me. Our parenting is not over, but our role has changed. We began to make new dreams — just for the two of us. We enjoy our time with our boys when we are with them, but we love our life together. It’s a good season.

Shortly after Nate went to college I wrote him an email and posted it here. You can read the post HERE.

For some things I have learned in parenting, see this CATEGORY.

7 Ways to Better Ensure Your Email Gets Read

Young man receive mail over tablet

When our youngest son was in college I realized he wasn’t reading all the emails he should have been reading. A few times we almost missed paying some fees he had due for college, which could have made him miss some deadlines for school.

You see, Nate’s a busy college student. He’s consumed with school work, church activities, and a host of social activities. If you want to lose his attention quickly — send him a really long email.

And, I don’t think it’s just my son. I see it as a trend among a younger generation. They don’t read all the emails they receive. I talked to one millennial recently who said if his inbox gets too full he just deletes a bunch of emails — without reading any of them. He figures they’ll text or call if they need something quickly — or send another email.

I hear some people my age — the age who received some of the first emails long after we were adults. Some would say that’s rude. Inconsiderate. Uncaring. Unprofessional.

And, yet, I feel a certain kindred spirit with our younger generation.

I can’t complain, especially because of my son, because he’s wired like me. He is always busy doing something, hates unproductive time, and some emails — if they tend to ramble — simply don’t capture his attention. I realize it’s ultimately our problem, not the sender, but to us it almost seems a waste of time to process an email which could have been written with the same information in a much shorter form.

Just being honest. I don’t read all the long emails I need to read. At least not in their entirety. Sometimes I miss details, because the email was too long to process or was so poorly written. I never check my Spam folder. I quickly divert emails to other people if I think I’m not the right recipient. And, an email in all caps — please no.  

That’s my honesty. And, for some one who holds responsiveness to such a high value it bothers me not to thoroughly read and respond to each one. It seems, however, I constantly get a ton of chapter length emails. Over the years the volume of email keeps growing yet my time to focus on them hasn’t. It has prompted me to think through what I believe helps an email get read. I certainly want my emails read. If I’m sending it I must believe it’s important enough for someone to take time to read it.  

If you want to ensure I read your email — and maybe other busy people —  people like me who receive literally several hundred emails a day — I want to share some suggestions. Please understand, I’m being brutally honest here trying to help. I realize some who read every line of every email they receive can’t understand. But, everyone is not like you. Yet, I assume you want your email read also.

Here are 7 ways to better ensure your email gets read:

Make sure your name is clearly listed in the FROM line

I am more likely to read an email from an individual than I am an organization or a group. I know it’s probably not fair, but if it’s coming from an “organization” I assume it applies more to the masses than to me personally. If I’m covered up with emails I’ll pay more attention to the ones that are from a person rather than an institution.

Make the recipient — ME

I’m less likely to read an email addressed to a group, even if the group is summarized by your name. I’m okay with being in the BCC line for a hidden group list, but if I see a group of 20+ addresses in the “To” line I’m probably assuming it’s not as important I read it.

Write a great subject heading

“Hey” is probably not a great one. The subject line needs to capture the reader’s attention enough to want to open the email — and read it. Give me some clue the general purpose of the email and what I can expect to learn from it. And, a FWD message rarely excitedly grabs my attention — especially if FWD is in the subject line.

Get started immediately with the main idea

Similar to the rules of writing a letter, you should instantly begin dealing with the subject of the email. If you’re inviting me to something — say that immediately. If you have a suggestion — tell me you do. You can explain later, but you need to hook the reader into the email early.

Give pertinent details, but don’t write a book

Please — don’t send an email just to ask me to call you. That’s so unfair that I have to wonder what you want. Tell me the basics in the email. Just don’t tell me the basics and everything else you every thought about the basics — plus three stories to go along with it. Again, the length of an email is critical to ensure it gets read. I often suggest people write bullet points. Sometimes they help make the email easier to read.

Another way, especially where the email has to be longer is to have two sections. The first section has “just the facts” section at the top with bullet points of pertinent facts,followed by a longer section for those who may want to read more detailed explanations. The person can read all they have to know in a couple minutes and then scan down to learn more details about items about which they are interested.

Finally, I especially appreciate if the absolute most pertinent information — such as dates, times, or the one single question or point you’re making — is highlighted or made bold in the email.

Read before sending

Before pressing send, read the email aloud. Listen for how it sounds. Email can be terribly misunderstood and this helps. Also, look at the overall length of the email. Would you read it? Or, would the length encourage you to put it aside for a later read — or skip it altogether? Remember many — maybe most — may read it on a smart phone and the email will appear even longer.

Give the option to ask questions

Close your email with the opportunity to ask questions if the reader wants more details or information. Even better — if appropriate — provide links in your email to websites or pages with additional information.

The more emails we send and receive, the more important it becomes that we write better emails. Writing emails which are to the point and concise ensures a greater chance of them being read. I would assume this would be a goal if we are going to take the time to send one.

Now your turn to be honest. When you receive a really long email, how do you respond?

What would you add to my list? What ideas do you have for writing emails that get read?