Without a System Nothing was done Wrong

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Several incidents lately have helped shape or remind me of an important team principle.

Team friction developed on our team recently. Nothing major, but noticeable. That isn’t unusual on teams. Teams involve imperfect people with differing views and opinions. The best teams will have friction at times. The only way to avoid some it would be to institute a more controlled environment, where opinions don’t matter. But, then friction really isn’t eliminated. It’s just silenced. For a time.

Our friction resulted from:

  • Miscommunication
  • Unclear expectations
  • Unknown objectives

Ever seen that on a team?

We all have. Those are common reasons for friction.

Here’s the principle that emerged:

Apart from a system nothing was done “wrong”.

Here’s what I mean.

Sure, the friction was wrong. Sure the miscommunication, unclear expectations, unknown objectives…all wrong. All of those, however, are natural occurrences when there is no system in place to address those concerns. Or when the system isn’t good enough. People were performing under the current systems…or lack thereof…the best they knew how.

And, systems are important:

  • If you want something repeated and done well you systematize it.
  • If you want something done better…you create better systems.

And, every system should continually be: 

  • Evaluated
  • Reconstructed
  • Refined

Systems drive progress and if you want better progress keep getting better at your systems.

So, back to our friction. As a leader, it’s important for me to realize and remind people: No one did anything wrong. We were making decisions the best we knew how under the current systems. And in the process, unnecessary friction developed. Totally natural.

What is important now is to learn and write a system. Or a better system. To keep that type of friction to a minimum.

Sometimes, as a leader, you can calm the friction on your team by:

  • Releasing people of a sense of guilt…which only causes them to be defensive…resulting in even more friction.
  • Identifying the need for improved systems.
  • Leading the process to create or develop better systems.

Here’s to writing better systems.

5 Stages of Organizational Development

Growth Blue Marker

Every organization goes through life cycles. This includes the church. These cycles can be natural or forced, but part of leadership is recognizing them and adapting leadership to them for continued health and growth. Each stage has overlap, but understanding this can help a leader decide how best to lead…which is different in each cycle.

Here are 5 life cycles of any organization:

Birth – This founding period usually involves a few people with a big vision. This is the initial stage where a lot of learning takes place and the organization begins to develop leaders…sometimes by trial and error. Everyone on the team at this point has the potential to become a leader in some area. Having planted a couple churches, we launched one with one staff member (me), my wife, and twenty or so people. The other was with three staff members, our wives, and eleven couples. Each member of both teams were forced to lead areas outside their comfort level, but we gained some of our best leaders that way and several people found a passion they did not know they had. In both church plants, which grew quickly, this stage lasted less than one year.

Childhood – A deepening and maturity process begins at this stage, but the organization still has few policies and procedures in place and everything is still “fun”, with the excitement of still being a young vision. New leadership develops and responsibilities spread to new people within the organization. Mistakes are common as the organization figures out its identity. The DNA of the organization begins to form. The organization begins to recognize its need for more structure. This was a fun stage and time for both church plants. The normal for this stage appears to end in three to five years. (For larger organizations, I assume this could be a longer time frame.)

Adolescence – Greater levels of responsibility are handed out to more people and the weight of responsibility spreads within the organization. The organization has had some success at this point and so it begins to take new risks and dream new and bigger dreams. This is a continued growth time and usually full of renewed energy. If the organization is not careful some of the initial leaders of the organization can begin to experience burnout; and often a loss of power as new leaders emerge. More developed structure becomes necessary at this point and the organization must begin to think about maintaining growth. Organizations are forced to “grow up” during this stage. It usually happens in the first ten years, but again, this may depend on the size of the organization.

Maturity – At this stage the organization has many experiences of success and some failure and must begin to think through continued growth and health as an organization. The organization needs constant renewal and regeneration to remain current and viable. Leadership has been developed, but the organization begins to plan out succession of leaders. The structure of the organization is usually well established by this point, but must remain flexible enough to adapt to changes outside the organization. At some point all organizations enter this phase. All. The goal at this point needs to shift into breathing new life into the organization. (A lot of churches reach this stage and cease to change and grow, often steeped in their own traditions, and this is where plateau begins. Know any who fit this category?)

Renewal – This stage almost always has to be forced on an organization. Sad, isn’t it? Either by leadership or for survival purposes, something new must occur or the organization will eventually die or cease to be viable. I am in this stage with a church now. This can be scary for people, but it does not mean the organization must leave its vision, traditions, or culture, but it must consider new ways of realizing its potential. Some will say renewal comes at each stage of the organization’s life cycle and that may be true, but I contend there is a definite stage in a healthy life cycle where an organization improves and almost reinvents itself to continue to experience health and growth.

Another thing to remember is that the speed of an organization’s growth (or the church’s growth) can cause life cycles to complete much quicker. Consider the child who has to face adult decisions early in life and is forced to “grow up fast”. A similar thing happens to organizations.

(These are not my terms. I learned them years ago in a management class. The explanation and application is mine. I realize this is written with secular leadership terms. I have a long background in the business community, but I believe the principles here are directly transferable to the church setting.)

3 Critical Elements of Time for Every Leader

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Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader. Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

Most leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on it, often to the neglect of the other two. All three are needed. Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 segments of time every leader must consider:

Time reflecting on past experience – If a leader doesn’t evaluate where he or she has been and what has been done, he or she will soon be disappointed with where they are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations.

Time focusing on current expectations – A leader must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect the routine tasks required of everyone. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership.

Time dreaming about future expressions – Leaders must spend time dreaming of the future. This is critical to an organization’s success, but the larger a leader’s responsibilities or organization grows the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

The place in the organization and season of responsibility will determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for very long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader?

In honor of three…here are questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

5 Ways Physical Health Impacts My Total Life

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I recently starting writing periodically for Pastors Today through Lifeway’s blog. This is one of my first posts.

5 Ways Physical Health Impacts My Total Life

One would have to be living under a rock to not know we have grown larger as a people in the United States. Obesity is a growing concern in our nation. And, few in the church have bothered with the issue or even seen it as a problem. We have no problem addressing issues such as greed or guilt, but seldom do we approach the word gluttony. Yet, in my opinion, and experience, how I feel physically almost always impacts my spiritual life.

In Joshua 14, Caleb was 85 years old and “just as strong” as when he was called to mission. Somehow, to me, that seems to be a better motivation than learning to navigate the rocking chair and television remote. I’m not trying to be funny—and certainly not cruel—but I do believe as much as it depends on me, I should take care of the body God has given me. And, as a pastor, I have taken it personally to lead my church in total transformation: caring for their body, mind, and soul.

I haven’t always thought this way, but shortly into my thirties I began to get heavier. I had always been called “skinny”, but suddenly the candy bars began to catch up with me and my stomach approached near “Pillsbury Doughboy” proportions. It didn’t take long to realize that my new physical form was impacting me in every other way. Since then, for about the past 15 years, I have disciplined myself to be healthier. I have experienced remarkable difference. At 50 years of age, I feel better and am more productive now than I was in my mid-thirties.

Here are 5 ways physical training helps my total life—not just my physical life but my spiritual life as well:

My mental capacity increases. I can focus better when I’m in better physical shape. In fact, if I want to work on a major project requiring extra brain power, I always spend an hour in the gym first. I don’t know all the chemical reasons exercise jars the mind, but I know the impact.

For the rest of this post, please go to the Lifeway Pastors Today site by clicking HERE.

Those “recognized as leaders…”

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I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles — but privately to those recognized as leaders — so that I might not be running, or have run the race, in vain. (Galatians 2:2)

This passage spoke to me recently.

I see several things here…

For one…it addresses the critics I get frequently who denounce any mention of leadership in the church apart from that of Christ. Of course, Christ is THE leader. It’s His church. But, Christ works through people. Leaders. Inside the church. Don’t be afraid of the leader issue in church growth.

Second, this speaks to the way leaders lead. Leaders lead through leaders. Pastor, one strong piece of advice I have for you is to identify and work through the leaders in your church…specifically those “recognized as leaders.” They won’t always…many times aren’t…the ones the church has voted into an office. They are leading other places where people have “recognized them as leaders”. I often use something I learned in the business world (say it isn’t so Ron) called a stakeholder analysis to identify those influencers. (Read a post about that HERE.) Look for people who can lead. Apply the Biblical standards to them, with grace and truth, but let then lead.

Finally, it reminds me that we aren’t to run the race of leadership alone. Paul was operating under the revelation and authority of Christ, but he still surrounded himself with other leaders. He met privately with them. Spoke into their life…and…my suspicion is it was a mutually beneficial time together, since Paul also wrote to “encourage one another”.  Don’t try to be the Lone Ranger pastor. It’s dangerous. It’s ineffective. It’s not Biblical. Pastor, are you leading alone? Stop now!

What do you see in this passage?

7 Strong, but Hopefully Helpful Words for Pastors

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This is for all my pastor friends. It may not make as much sense to readers who haven’t served in that role. One thing that sets me apart from some pastors is that the amount of time I spent in the business world is greater than the time I have been in ministry. It has given me a unique perspective.

It’s also helped me realize I didn’t understand the unique pressures of ministry completely until I was in ministry. It’s made me want to encourage pastors whenever I can. That’s the point of this post.

Here are 7 strong, but hopefully encouraging words:

You aren’t promised church growth – Check the Scriptures for examples.You’re promised ultimate victory, but not immediate success. I do believe a healthy church is a growing church…either externally or internally…it’s producing more disciples, but sometimes you’re there for a season of preparation for future growth. That doesn’t always seem like glamorous work, but it’s necessary work.

You’ll never please everyone – As hard as you try. You can say what you think people want to hear and you still won’t make everyone happy. It’s better, therefore, just to do the right thing…following God’s direction…and not worry as much about making people happy.

Your call is bigger than your assignment - It’s true. And, it’s good. Your call is to a person. THE PERSON. The person of Jesus Christ. What group of people…no matter how great they are…is going to measure up to Him?

They are talking about you – It’s not just a feeling you have. They are. And, that’s not always a bad thing. You are an influence in their life…hopefully…and that naturally stirs conversation. Good and bad. Don’t be as concerned about that. Be more concerned about your heart and character than their behind your back conversations.

Your priority isn’t always their perceived priority for you – They often want you to do what they think you need to be doing. The problem with that is the number of competing perceptions in the church. You can never convince some people that you have responsibilities beyond their individual needs. That’s okay. You can’t understand everything in their world either. Just stay true to your purpose…to honor God with your time and give Him glory. Work for the pleasure of One and you’ll be fine.

They don’t love your family as much as you do - I’m not saying they don’t love your family. I’m sure they do. But, their wants (and demands) will sometimes trump their love for your family. That’s human nature. That means if you want to protect your family…and your time with them…it’s up to you and not them. Love your church. Love them well. That’s your responsibility, but in the process remember that only you can love your family the way they deserve to be loved.

Your biggest reward is yet to come – You may not always hear how good a job you are doing. They may not always post “excellent…life changing…message” on your Facebook wall. Don’t live for that. It will make you very ineffective and cause pride to get in your way. Some days you’ll wonder if you’re making headways at all. That’s okay…your greatest rewards will be the ones for which you wait longest. And, if you are faithful…great will be your reward.

Pastors, I love you. Praying for you. Let me know if I can help.

What words of encouragement do you have for pastors? 

7 More Tips for Finding Great Team Members

Elegant leader

I can form a team. I don’t have many specialities, but this is one of them. I’ve posted before some of my thoughts on how to do this, but it is one of the leading issues about which church leaders talk to me, so I keep coming back to the issue.

These are considered an addition to THIS previous post.

Here are 7 tips for finding the best team member:

Hire based on culture. The staff at Immanuel is very different from the staff at the church plants where I led.

If married, interview spouse. I’ve said this so many times, but think it may be one of my most successful steps. It’s made or solidified the decision yes and no several times.

Use your gut. Call it your heart…your intuition…God’s Spirit within you…but that feeling inside that is telling you good fit or not…use it. And, if you’re married, rely in your spouse’s gut too. That’s double the gut power.

Character before content. Every time. You can teach content. You can actually model character, but if that’s your starting base you’ll be disappointed before you get there.

Passion over skills. This is similar, but slightly different. Here I’m talking about motivation. If your choice is between a seasoned professional who has lost their zeal and a newbie with incredible passion choose the newbie almost every time.

Check references not listed. The references they give you will all be good. Do your homework beyond this. It’s been said all of us are just a few connections away from each other. Well, I look for a few of those connections.

Team players before sole survivors. Except in rare cases today, work is done in teams. There are usually less of us for more work. That means we must learn to work together. Look for people who can do that best.

Those are more of my tips.

What tips do you have for finding great team members?

7 Phrases to Outlaw from Brainstorming

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The best ideas in an organizational setting often come through brainstorming. I love getting a group together and searching for new ideas or ways of doing things.

Change spurs momentum. If you want to create some excitement around you, get a bunch of people in a room and brainstorm about some change ideas. If you are in a stuck or stale position…and want to see new growth…one recommendation I’d give is to organize a brainstorming session.

But, you’ve got to be intentional to brainstorm successfully. You need enough people to establish a variety of thought. (If you don’t have a large church staff, invite some lay people.) You need the right people…people who will voice opinions, but will be positive-minded.

You need to have some open ended questions…or issues to solve…to spur discussion.

And, then you need to establish some rules up front.

Specifically, there are certain phrases that cannot be heard in an effective brainstorming session. They are off limits. In fact, you might even give everyone the freedom to challenge when they hear one of these.

Here are 7 phrases to eliminate in brainstorming:

  • We’ve never done it that way.
  • We can’t afford that.
  • So and so is not going to like it.
  • That won’t work.
  • I don’t like that.
  • The problem with that is…
  • That’s crazy…(Or you’re crazy).

Long sighs…shrugged shoulders…or any animation that displays a sense of disgust or lack of initial support should also be discouraged.

There should be plenty of time to critique ideas before they are implemented, but for a brainstorming session you want every idea on the table. There are no bad ideas at this point. In fact, the one that may seem the worst idea of all may be the trigger for someone else’s spark of genius.

This is a great time to encourage randomness. I’ve even led us to play games prior to a brainstorming session.

New ideas are usually out there..they just need to be brought to the table. That’s the point of brainstorming.

What ideas can you add for productive brainstorming?

(Note: I am familiar that some are now saying the term brainstorming is offensive and not politically correct. I mean no harm by this post, but I used it because the term is still most people’s understanding of the process.)

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.

3 Questions to Write an Easy Personal Development Plan

I am frequently asked to help someone get started writing a personal development plan. I think everyone’s plan looks different, because we all are starting at different places. I believe, however, that there are some common questions, which can help all of us think about how we should be developing.

Take a break from your daily routine, grab a cup of coffee, a pen and some paper, and think through these three questions. Keep in mind, I can’t write your plan for you, but these may be tools to fuel your thoughts towards personal development.

Where am I now?

Be honest with yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you most need to improve? Consider each aspect of your life. Where are you in your career, family, social, financial, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? Which of these areas are most neglected? In which areas do you excel?

Where do I want to be?

Think in terms of each of the categories above. Think through six months, one year and five years. What areas do you most need to improve? In what areas are improvement most critical? What areas, if you were to address them, would improve your overall satisfaction with life? What are some dreams you have for each area? Where do you get excited about the idea of stretching yourself to achieve them?

How can I get there?

For every goal you say you want to achieve, write some concrete action steps..a plan to get you there. What are some measurable goals you could implement to help you achieve them? This is the hardest part, but simply write one or two action steps for each broad goal. You will need to update this plan periodically with your progress and you can continually add to and refine these action steps. The key is that you take action to move forward in the direction you want your life to develop. Ask yourself: Where do I need more training? Do I need a mentor? Could I use more practice? Who could hold me accountable?

Now work the plans; take action. A piece of paper with plans of them, or an idea in your head, is worth very little until you take steps to achieve them. The best day to get started is today!

This sounds simple, but if you will spend a few hours thinking through your individual plan for personal development, the time could make the difference in whether or not you achieve the goals you have for your life. When you finish this plan, you won’t necessarily have a professional looking document you could turn into your college professor and there are certainly methods more complex for writing a personal development plan, but for me the end goal is progress towards my goals, and most of us are more likely to do something which is easy and less time consuming. This is a method I can and do use frequently.

Do you need to do this?