Discerning Your Seasons of Life

Four seasons collage

As I write this, we are approaching spring on the calendar, but today is a cold day that follows two warm, very nice days. A couple weeks ago we had 17 inches of snow on the ground. A couple days ago I was able to run outside in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Warmer days are predicted later this week.

Like the saying goes in my part of the world, “If you don’t like the weather now — stick around — it will change.”

Seasons. They come and they go. Sometimes quickly.

Life is like that.

Life happens in seasons.

Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything. Everything has a season.

Good seasons. Bad seasons.

Productive seasons. Growth seasons. And, seasons of decline.

Seasons of mourning. Grief. Seasons of laughter. Jubilee.

Seasons where there are more obstacles than opportunities. Often followed by seasons where we can’t seem to find time for all the opportunities.

There are seasons of stretching, where God seems to shape something new in our hearts. And, we often don’t know what that new is until we enter another season.

Seasons of passionate, growing love. And, tough seasons, where love is tested.

Seasons you’re more the leader and seasons where you’re more being led.

Seasons of blessings. And, seasons of wondering where are all those blessings others seem to be experiencing.

There are seasons of discovery and seasons where we get to invest what we have discovered in others — while we keep discovering something new.

As parents we have lots of seasons. The seasons where we never seem to have a break and you can’t get everything done and the kids are driving you crazy some days and you just need one good night’s rest. And, then seasons where the house seems empty and you long for a cluttered floor of toys again.

Seasons. Life happens in seasons.

What’s your current season?

It’s important to understand that seasons occur and to know what season in which you are currently living.

When we don’t understand this concept of seasons — especially in the bad seasons — we can begin to believe that seasons never change. We may stop trusting. Stop dreaming. Stop taking risks.

But, life comes in seasons. Seasons do change. Sometimes quickly. And, sometimes seasons overlap each other.

When we find ourselves in a good season — especially an extended good season — we can start to take the season for granted. We may even forget that seasons change. Sometimes quickly. And, so we aren’t prepared.

Take a minute and reflect: What season of life you are currently experiencing?

Review your life by how the seasons have molded you. God never wastes a season. Ask God to place in your heart what He wants you to learn during this specific season of your life. Invite God to speak into your seasons.

Life happens in seasons.

7 Intangible, Seemingly Unproductive Actions Valuable in Leadership

Thinking man

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times.

For someone wired for production — progress — checklist completion — even wasted.

I’ll admit, even though I know this in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions that don’t always produce visible, immediate results.

In fact, these actions are probably the most productive part of their work.

In order for the team to thrive, there are things which may seem unproductive that the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying. Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines that we fail to stop and pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying? (That’s a sobering question.)

Thinking. Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things, but this intangible action could also be titled dreaming. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where we are, where we are going, what’s working, what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm.

Reading. I don’t know why — even as I teach these principles — it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is that he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (As a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book — other than the Bible.)

Investing. Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, that I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors — even those not on our team — is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them or at least learning them.

Networking. Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of networking. Honestly, that is one thing that has made Twitter valuable in leadership. Quick connections with peers. The greater a leader’s success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking. Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action — which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately — seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be.

Planning. I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but that’s a very tangible action. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings — and I’m all about it when possible — but the fact is a team has to meet occasionally. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Even planning may seem unproductive — even wasted — for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive at the time. That’s especially true for me when I get back to my desk and face dozens of unanswered emails, but successful leadership demands that we spend time investing in the intangible.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization — Even Over Church Planting

Bellfry of old Russian church against blue sky

I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church, that was once in decline, to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30’s. That church introduced me to Christ, help me grow, and I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But, that church has seen better days. (Thankfully, they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: the attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And, that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end — if we can reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that near 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love inter-generational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And, personally, I think it’s healthy and a very Biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But, you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Everyday.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are Kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more Kingdom dollars being under-utilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer — maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But, the best changes have taken time — but they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But, I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But, there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

7 Common Elements of a Healthy Team

Working at office

What fosters team spirit? What makes a healthy team?

All of us want that. I would even say especially leaders.

Most of us understand that progress towards a vision is more possible if a healthy team is working together.

Also, all of us want to go home at night feeling we’ve done our best, were appreciated for our efforts, and are ready to go at it again tomorrow. That’s part of serving on a healthy team.

How do we get there?

I’ve served — and led — many teams through my career. Some I would say were healthy, some weren’t, and some were “under construction”. I take complete ownership of each of those. Team spirit — healthy teams — are greatly shaped by the leadership of the team. (And, that’s a hard word when, as a leader, we know the team isn’t as healthy as it should be.)

Among the healthy teams on which I’ve served, there have been some common elements.

Here are 7 common elements of a healthy team:

Clear strategy. To feel a part of the team, people need to know where the team is going and what their role is on the team. An understanding of the overall goals and objectives fuels energy. When the big picture objective is understood each team member is more willing to pull together to accomplish the mission because they know the why and can better understand where they fit on the team.

Healthy relationships. For a team to have team spirit it needs to be filled with team members who actually like each other and enjoy spending time with one another.

Celebratory atmosphere. Laughter builds community. A team needs time just to have fun together. And, there needs to be a freedom for spontaneous (and planned) celebration. People need to feel appreciated for their work and that their participation is making a positive difference.

Joint ownership. This one is huge, because without it the team won’t be completely healthy. Some people are not team players. Period. They checked out years ago and are now just drawing a paycheck — or continuing to hold onto a title. They may be great people, but they aren’t building team spirit anymore. They don’t want to be on the team or not in the position they’ve been asked to play. Team spirit is built by people who are in it for the common win of the team.

Shared sufferings. A healthy team spirit says, “we are in this together” — through good times and hard times. In addition to laughing together, a good-spirited team can cry together through difficulties of life. Healthy teams are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.

Shared workload. There are no turf wars on a healthy team. Silos are eliminated and job descriptions overlap. Everyone pulls equal weight and helps one another accomplish individual and collective goals.

Leadership embraces team. This may be the biggest one. As a leader, it’s easy to get distracted with my own responsibilities — even live in my own little world. And, let’s be honest. Some leaders would prefer to lead from the penthouse suite. They give orders well, but do not really enjoy playing the game with the team. A healthy team spirit requires involvement from every level — especially from leadership.

It’s a challenge leaders. Why don’t you use this as a checklist of sorts to evaluate. How’s your team doing? Let’s build better teams.

An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

Here’s What A List Won’t Solve

Clipboard with Checklist

I’ve been called the list guy.

I’m sure there are at least 7 reasons why. :)

Most of the time that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I’m sure it is. One guy wrote recently — “What’s with all the lists? Don’t you know how to write without them?”

Whatever! But, I’m okay with that. Seriously. There are other blogs out there that don’t use lists. Some that do. And, I’ve been told I’ve encouraged some that do to use the lists they do. (So, what’s that about? Crazy.)

I don’t use lists in every post. I didn’t this one, but lists sometimes help me make a complex issue simpler.

I start my day with lists. I process using lists. I often think in lists. I counsel people with lists — steps to think through — options — thoughts — in lists. It works for me.

And, thankfully, it seems to have worked for this blog. I have a lot of blog posts beginning with “7” in the title and my blog traffic isn’t too shabby. I could give you a list of reasons I’m thankful for that.

But, I need to be honest. Lists aren’t everything.

Lists — in and of themselves — aren’t the solution.

There. You heard it from “the list guy”.

And, I can promise you this: Here’s one thing a list won’t solve.

It won’t solve your problem if all you do is read a list.

Period.

Reading a list won’t fix a broken marriage. It won’t improve your leadership. It can’t cause you to lose weight. You won’t be a better parent simply by reading another list.

I could give you a whole list of reasons why. Probably 7, 10 or 12 reasons why.

If you ignore doing the right things — list or no list — it’s not going to work.

You can make all the lists you want. Read every list out there. There are a few on this blog. I think some of them are pretty good. But one thing I know for sure:

You can’t succeed at what you don’t begin.

Ideas don’t lead to success. Making lists doesn’t lead to success. Reading lists won’t produce success. They may help. But, actions lead to success. Taking positive steps forward — that leads to success.

Do nothing and you get no results. If you don’t work the list — the list is of no value.

The very best list can’t solve the problem of inactivity.

Do you need a list to understand this post? Be honest.

5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I do t know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But, this church is seeking answers. So, I decided to share Some thoughts to consider. And, I’m sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a churches growth. There are times where God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I’m convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It’s our mission as believers to produce disciples and our model example of the first century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, the are some common variables when growth stalls.

Here are 5 suggestions:

You get comfortable

It’s okay to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous, because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

You quit dreaming

Dreams inspire, challenge, and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You’ll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

You stop taking risks

You can’t succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

You start maintaining

When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you’ll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

You fail to walk by faith.

Especially for the church — we are a faith-based organization. If you aren’t walking by faith in what you are doing it is impossible to please God. (That’s Biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts towards actions which can spur future growth.

But, I’ve also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?

5 Examples of Leading Outside the Norm

Yellow chair in the middle of several purple chairs

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading over 30 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership.

Much has been written about the informal aspects of leadership being as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to a set of systems and structures — for a leader to be successful today — leaders must engage a team. We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, that may have always been important, but now it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapting leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

No more cookie-cutter leadership is allowed. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, economy and individualism of team members. We must know our teams uniquely and lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities.

Raising new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. That’s not an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team.

Balancing kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian leadership is not well received by today’s workforce.

Giving others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stockholders — knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do that means they must have ownership in the vision and decision-making. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission of the organization.

Creating for the greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves. Even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play a part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The way an organization treats it’s employees, the environment and customers is considered important — and if it’s not done well — the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow and an informal style where a team helps to shape the course of action is critical to an organization’s success. In many ways, after 30 plus years of leadership, I’m from an “old school”. I’m still learning – and re-learning.

But, I know this. Leaders today must continually strive to find that balance.

The Two Shall Become One Flesh

himher

I’m not good with art, but if you were sitting in my office, I would attempt to draw this diagram on my dry erase board. I hope you can get past the crude drawing to get to the intended meaning, because it really is important to understand in shaping a marriage.

Taken from Ephesians 5:21-33, I believe this is the model of a healthy marriage that God is attempting to build. It is by design that two unique and imperfect people are called to become one.

To accomplish that task, two things must occur.

First, as indicated with the upper left and right triangles, each spouse must get rid of the “baggage” he or she brings into the marriage. While most of us come with lots of baggage, in simple terms, this is anything that will not help the couple become one. If for example, one spouse is selfish, while that may be allowed in some relationships, it will not work in making one flesh.  Discovering what parts of each spouse will not work in building one flesh becomes one goal in building a strong marriage. This could even be natural bents or personalities, but they must be considered as to whether they make the marriage stronger or weaker.

The middle two triangles, with the words “One Flesh”, illustrate the process of taking the best of each spouse, that part that helps completes the other spouse, and using it to build God’s design for the marriage.

As an example, my wife is the compassionate one in our relationship. (You could have guessed that most likely.) In our life together, she helps me be more compassionate.

At the same time, Cheryl would enable others to take advantage of her if I were not around. Many times, I provide the strength that makes us strong as a couple and protects our family life.

So what do you do with this information?

 
Well, first working together (if you can’t do this together in love you have other issues to work through first), begin to make lists of those things that could keep it from becoming one flesh (your baggage). Over the course of time (don’t rush this process), each spouse begins to work on his or her baggage.

Second, make an opposite list of those qualities in each spouse that add to the strength of the marriage bond. Obviously, this is a more pleasant list to put together, but it’s most helpful if each spouse share the strengths of the other spouse. Once this list is in place, over time, begin to yield the marriage to the each of these strengths.

The seemingly impossible goal of becoming one flesh is not only challenging, but it is a lifetime process. Learning to communicate strengths and weaknesses each spouse brings to the marriage can help build the marriage God intended for you to have.

What strengths or weaknesses do you and/or your spouse bring to the marriage?

10 Problems with Doing the Best You Know How To Do

Confused charming woman holding up her hands

Years ago in a company I owned, there was a young man who worked for me who had tremendous potential. I believed in him so much that I personally invested in him and paid special attention to him. I thought his future with our company was worth the extra time. Sadly, he never measured up to my expectations and we ended up having to part ways.

Every time I would meet with him to “encourage” him, he would say the same thing.

I’m doing the best I know how to do.”

I have come to realize over the years that this response was actually his primary problem. He was doing the best he KNEW HOW to do.

But, here’s the reality I know:

The best you know how to do is never the best you can do!

It’s not. I wish I was, because that would make things much easier. But, there’s so much more. That’s just an excuse. And excuses never get you where you say you want to go.

Here are 10 problems when you do the best you know how to do:

  • You leave out a critical thinking…
  • You quit learning new things…
  • You fail to be stretched…
  • You never develop personally…
  • You quit asking questions…
  • You resist change…
  • You dismiss new ideas…
  • You stop growing in your field of expertise…
  • You never become an expert…
  • You fail to allow God to work through you…

There is a huge difference in doing the best you know how to do and doing the best YOU CAN DO. The best you can do is to continue to get better. The times you are being stretched beyond what you know how to do may prove to be the best times of your personal development.

Never settle for the best you know how to do. It seldom will take you to the places you really want to go!

Here’s a challenge question: What are you currently doing to produce future personal growth?