5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

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How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

10 Tensions of Every Leader

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Being a leader isn’t easy. There are tensions with every decision a leader makes. I was thinking recently about some of those tensions.

Here are 10 tensions of every leader:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

Being inclusive without simply accommodating.

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Funding dreams and curtailing needless expenses.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

Honoring history while pushing towards the future.

Creating structure but allowing the freedom to create.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

Do you have some to add?

10 Things You Can Do Today to Improve as a Leader

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Read the Bible – The Bible is a tremendous resource for leadership development. Jesus is the Master Leader. And there are plenty of other examples of men and women who, unlike Jesus, were sinful people like you and me. Of course, for me it’s THE source of my foundation, but even if you aren’t a follower of Christ you can learn from the leaders in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the flaws within every leader either, so you can learn from people who recover from failure.

Read a leadership book – There are many good leadership books to choose from, but if you aren’t sure where to start, choose a John Maxwell book. Any of them. Safe choice every time. You might read THIS POST for some specific books I recommend.

Find a mentor – The best mentors in my life have been people I admire whom I have invited to speak into my life. This has included pastors, business leaders and politicians. I look for character first and then competency in an area in which I want to grow personally. (And, yes, there are politicians who qualify.)

Go to lunch with fellow leaders – I usually have 2 or 3 different groups of leaders I meet with periodically. These are peers. They are at similar places in their career of leadership. Some pastors. Some not. We learn from each other.

Join a civic club – I am not in one, but have attended and spoken to them many times. It’s a great option to put you with other leaders in the community. I have, however, always been active in the community. Most communities have formal leadership programs, often through the chamber of commerce. Ask around. There are leadership principles nearby if we are intentional to seek them.

Ask for input from those you lead – I promise the people you are trying to lead have suggestions. They won’t often share them unless they are given permission. You have to be bold…and humble…enough to ask.

Analyze current conditions – Few leaders stop to see where they are currently. What’s working? What’s not? What needs tweaking? What needs killing?

Reflect on past mistakes – The best teacher is experience. Most likely you’ve had situations in the past that God can use to prepare you for what you are currently facing. Or you’ve watched others make mistakes. Take time to reflect and learn.

Write some goals – It amazes me when I hear leaders who don’t have written goals and objectives they are currently trying to achieve. Writing something puts it in your schema. You are more likely to have the goals at the front of your mind. When that happens you’ll be a walking sponge of new ideas to accomplish them. You will learn as you go because you are living with your current objectives closer to your mind.

Subscribe to a few leadership blogs – People are talking leadership these days. Have you noticed? Participate. Listen. Contribute to the discussion. You’ll learn along the way.

What are some ideas you have to improve as a leader…today?

Lead Alone…Never Lead Alone: What?

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Sometimes I seem to contradict myself.

I say one thing…then I say another.

Yet, both are true.

For example. I say: Sometimes a leader has to lead alone.

Another time I say: Leaders should never lead alone.

Both are true.

Let me explain.

Don’t fear times when you seem to lead alone. No one seems to understand. There will be days in the life of a leader where you feel like everyone is against you. That’s normal. Happens to the best of leaders. You’ll have to keep going. That’s leadership. There will be times you have to lead when no one else sees what you see. You can have a firm, even God-given conviction, but it may take time for others to join in on the vision. Every leader will at times have to lead through the darkness of doubt into a greater reality.

But you shouldn’t lead alone for long.. Even when you don’t feel like it, there are usually people who support you. More than that, you should surround yourself with people you have given the freedom to speak into the deepest places of your life. You should allow people to help build the vision, give others ownership, and be a people builder by giving others the chance to lead. There shouldn’t be very long periods where you aren’t stretched by a doss of reality or correction. You should never lead alone…for long.

Both principles are true.

I’ve come up with a better way to say it:

Be willing to lead alone, but never lead in isolation.

Good Leaders Know the Difference in Popularity and Trust

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In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders… whether pastors, politicians or in business…try to take people places…even worthy places…and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader. But, people didn’t follow…because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust. Misunderstanding this can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but that is many times not the case. The leader may be very popular, but that doesn’t always translate into trust.

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But, popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes involve trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long term success requires trust. And, trust must be earned. Trust develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment that helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship that grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, know the difference and don’t confuse the two. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything…because you are…after all…popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader when you can begin to discern when you are popular and when you are trusted.

Have you seen this mistake made in leadership?

7 Things Leaders Must Do To Be Effective Today

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What makes an effective leader these days?

I was asked that question recently and I had to think for a moment. The question was asked in a way that caused me to believe the questioner felt my answer would be different today than ten or twenty years ago. Would it? Is leading any different today than in years past?

Well, it’s a good question, and I’m not going to attempt to answer it in this post (how’s that for dodging a question?), but let me attempt to put some answers to the question I was actually asked.

What makes an effective leader these days?

Perhaps in thinking through that question we’ll find answers to the question this question raised in me.

Here are 7 things leaders must do to be effective “today”:

Think bigger – Leaders don’t have the luxury of “resting in the moment” for long. Celebrate yes. But, then the leader must begin thinking “What’s new?”, “What’s next?” or “What needs improving?” Things are changing fast and to keep up, you’ll have to always be thinking beyond today.

Include others – There once may have been a day where a solo leader could flourish, but those days are gone. People want a seat at the table of decision. Information can no longer be controlled. (Not that it ever should have been, but it was easier. We can Google most anything today.) Reclusive leaders aren’t trusted and therefore not followed far. In the process, they waste valuable talent and opportunities from people on their team.

Remain positive – Leading isn’t easy. To say it is would mean life is easy…and it isn’t. Leading involves navigating through ups and downs and the successful leader will be the one who can keep people anxiously and excitedly looking forward through each season. On dark days a leader must point people towards better days…towards hope.

Challenge status quo – Change has always been part of society, but today change is happening at warp speed. Leaders must be agents of discovery and agents of improvement. Effective leaders must continually encourage people beyond what they think they can do.

Insure strategic thinking – We rarely reach a destination by chance, and so effective leaders are strategy experts. They work with people to craft a path to reach a destination that may not always look exactly like what we thought it would, but gets us closer to achieving our vision. We must get better with less resources and that will require strategy.

Communicate effectively – In a day where information is at everyone’s fingertips, and the quantity of information is overwhelming for all of us, the most effective leaders will be skilled communicators. They will be able to filter us through the mass of information to the most important information in the context of achieving our vision.

Stand firm – The successful leader will be able to guide a group of people towards a well-defined, easy to understand, worthy vision…in spite of hardships, setbacks and disappointments. As fast as change is changing, there must be some things which are consistent, which can grab and keep people’s heart and energy long term. Otherwise, we will see no real progress. That means effective leaders can’t get distracted with things that in the end won’t even matter. (Of course, for me, my constant guiding vision is the Gospel.)

That’s my answer of what it takes to be effective in leadership today. How is that different from years past? Is it?

How would you answer the question?

Biblical Principle on Writing Vision

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

(Habakkuk 2:2, 3 ESV)

Obviously this is a specific vision…God’s revelation, but the application is the same.

Keep it simple.

Make it timeless.

Does that sound like your vision? 

7 Signs of Healthy Empowerment

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Empowering other people on the team to be leaders…delegation…is critical to a successful church or organization. Every leader talks about delegation, but few truly empower others to be leaders. It’s a frustration I hear frequently from staff members of churches.

Frankly, as one with a strength (StrengthFinders) of command, I can easily take over if no one else takes the lead. It takes discipline as a leader, but I want to create an environment of healthy empowerment. I want to lead a church that produces leaders.

But, how do you know whether healthy empowerment is occurring? I don’t know that we can follow a script, but perhaps there are some principles which need to be in place which can help insure we create cultures conducive to empowerment.

Here are 7 signs of healthy empowerment:

(Written from the perspective of those being empowered…”you” being the one empowering.)

Confidence is conveyed – They know you believe they can do the job.

Expectations are clearly communicated – They know what a win looks like in your eyes and what is required of them to complete the task.

Authority has been granted – They have the power to script the path to accomplishment.

Permission to fail is assured – They know if it doesn’t work they will be encouraged to try again.

Resources are adequate – They have the training, tools and people to accomplish the task.

Back is protected – They know their decisions will be backed by senior leadership…by you.

Recognition is shared – They know they won’t do all the work for someone else…you…to get the credit.

Consider your system of delegation. How are you doing?

Can the Church Learn from the Coffee Shop?

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I believe the church is to be a cultural change agents in our communities, but the truth is that many coffee shops have taken some of that responsibility. Starbucks supposedly began trying to be the “Third Place” for the community. Borrowing from a sociological theory by Roy Oldenburg of everyone wanting a place besides home and work in which to feel welcome, Starbucks has become the “Cheers” place where if I come often enough everyone knows my name. There was even a sign in Starbucks recently inviting customers to serve the community with them. The church I pastor has a Gather, Grow and Serve strategy of discipleship. Starbucks appears to capture two of those attempts.

Regardless of whether you believe coffee shops can change culture, the newest one in Lexington, KY raises the bar in a coffee shop experience. And, frankly, I believe they are better engaging the community with their mission than many churches are with theirs.

And personally, I believe…

Every church

Every business

Every pastor

Every leader

Can learn something from this coffee shop experience.

A Cup of Commonwealth opened recently in Lexington. I frequent a lot of coffee shops, but I was out of town the week they opened. I caught them in their second week. Wow! They blew me away with the excitement and energy they have rapidly created. Owners Salvador Sanchez and Chris Ortez impressed me greatly.

Here are a few observations:

They know their stuff – Coffee 101 not, this is coffee expertise at work. One of the owners, Salvador, (Most folks seemed to call him Sal, but he introduced himself to me as Salvador. Probably because he saw me as old enough to be his parent.) told me he had been Central America to tour coffee productions. They spoke the coffee language (which I don’t, but many do).

They created an experience – It was an enthusiastic atmosphere. The place was enjoyable. They joked with customers. They had unique offerings. Apparently things have changed just since they opened with some of their decor. (And will change weekly)

They have vision – It is clear they want to provide exceptional coffee in a way that engages the community. (The picture above is painted on their wall.) Nothing appeared to distract them from this vision.

They acclimated first timers – Every time someone entered the door, if they didn’t know them, they took them through a mini tour of the experience. It wasn’t a canned presentation, but it provided the basic information one would need to understand the uniqueness of this place.

They engage comfortably – They made everyone feel welcome, but they seemed to interact with you depending on your level of interest. If you simply wanted a cup of coffee, they learned that soon enough to leave you alone, but if you wanted someone to talk to, you got that also.

They followed through – The next day they connected with me on Facebook. They actually “liked” some of my posts.

They provided quick entry to feel a part of the vision – The most unique item was their “Pay It Forward” board. A large, handwritten piece of paper hangs on the wall. (See picture below.) It contains drink orders prepaid for future customers. You can take one or add one. You can make up unique requirements for the type person you are looking to bless. (An attorney. A homeless person. Someone willing to sing a song. Etc.) I bought a large cup of coffee for someone besides my own. In 10 days, I was told they’d been through 4 of these large pieces of paper.

It was interesting to watch how quickly customers were engaging in something exciting…something unique…something they felt gives back to the community.

Of course, the key to all this will be whether or not they can sustain this energy. Apparently when I entered, 10 days after opening, the two owners are the only employees. They are new and excited. If they can, however, I believe they have a very successful business model.

But, I’m not in the coffee business. I am a church leader. I always want to be learning how I can do what I do better. And, honestly, I learned some things from this coffee shop experience.

Anything jump out at you that could improve what you do at your church?

(Okay, I have been blogging long enough to already anticipate the push back on even my logic behind this post. Some don’t think the church should or even can learn anything from the secular world. The Bible is our guide. I hear that. I’m a Bible guy. Cover to cover. But, let me ask you…where did you learn how to write a church bulletin…or even to have one? Who taught you how to register kids in preschool? Please quote chapter and verse if you choose to answer.)

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12 Game-Changing and Tweetable Proverbs

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A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash. – Proverbs 15:14

Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. – Proverbs 15:22

Greed brings grief to the whole family – Proverbs 15:27

Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18

Discretion is a life-giving fountain to those who possess it – Proverbs 16:22

Kind words are like honey— – Proverbs 16:24

Better to be patient than powerful – Proverbs 16:32

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven. – Proverbs 17:9

A cheerful heart is good medicine. – Proverbs 17:22

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes. – Proverbs 19:2

Which of these most speak to you?