A Word of Encouragement to the Small Town Pastor

Over the last dozen years or so I’ve had the privilege of ministering with dozens of pastors in other churches. Many of these were in person. Others were virtual. I’ve been in large and small churches. I’ve been to big cities and small towns with only one stop light. (Or none at all.).

In the process, I’ve learned a few things about pastors and churches. In fact, much of what I write this blog about comes from those experiences.

A couple years ago I had back to back weeks in small cities dealing with, by some standards, smaller churches. I realized quickly, probably because I was coming from a larger city and a larger church, they were going to be shy about sharing their success.

I led a leadership retreat for a church with 150 leaders from different churches in the room. I was amazed they could attract that size crowd in a small city – and actually bring people from different churches together. But, talking to the host pastor, it was as if they had no success at all – at least when compared to my perceived “success”. (I’ve realized, too, if you have a decently read blog and you’re from out of town – people credit you with more success than you deserve. I’m sometimes seen as the “expert”. Just please don’t ask our staff about that one.)

It wasn’t humility on this pastor’s part. I’m not saying he wasn’t a humble person, but I don’t think that was keeping him from talking about the good things God was doing through his church. It was more. I think it almost always is.

That’s when it occurred to me something I’ve observed numerous times, but never put into words.

Sometimes people don’t know how well they are doing.

It’s true.

Take my good friend Artie Davis as an example. His church is a mega impact on the small town of Orangeburg, SC. I would love to see the church I pastor have half the influence in the community where I live. Artie also leads The Sticks Network of churches ministering in small towns. The impact of those church is amazing every year I attended their conference.

Many times the small city pastors compare themselves to the big city churches. They compare numbers rather than progress. They compare size rather than context. They compare notoriety rather than influence.

And, because of that, many times, they don’t know how well they are really doing.

I see the connections, networking and influence the small town pastor has and I wish I could have this kind of Kingdom influence in my city. I see the respect they command in their community and know, in my context, in many ways they are miles ahead of me.

Small city pastor. God is using you. You are making a Kingdom difference. You just sometimes don’t know how well you are doing.

Do you know a small town pastor doing great Kingdom work?

5 Tips to Write Better Informational Emails

Which actually get read...

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

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

Keep in mind, I receive hundreds of emails everyday. Many times I am one of many recipients. I know it’s probably vital information. You wouldn’t send it to me unless you wanted me to read it, right? But, if I want to be effective at all, I simply can’t digest everything in an extremely long, detailed email. Sometimes, I have to email back and ask for a summary.

So, what can we do about it?

I could tell you I’ll change. I’ll bite the bullet and read all longer than necessary emails, but the truth is I probably won’t. History proves otherwise. Plus, there are only so many hours in every day. Show me more than a few paragraphs and I’m probably out of here. Again, time simply won’t allow it.

Frankly, sometimes when the email gets too long it’s time to have a meeting. But, when email is the only practical means, ultimately, we have to write better emails.

Let me give you a few suggestions.

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

Here are 5 suggestions for better emails:

Personalize the email

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

Make the main point early

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

Highlight or bullet-point main ideas

People can often read lists easier than paragraphs when dissecting detailed information. The points you want to make will seem more streamlined and easier to follow if you number them, use bullet points or highlight them in some way.

I hear frequently people like how I do this with blog posts like this one. Some wired like me may only read the points in bold. I already know this, so I try to write accordingly. If that’s you, you’re not reading this right now – are you?

Another suggestion here is to offer the main points to consider, such as an upcoming meeting date and time, and then provide a clickable link to access additional information for those who want or need more details. I write a Saturday informational email to our church and try to use this one – as well as bold highlighting the main subject in each paragraph – often.

Consider an opening summary statement.

On especially longer emails, or emails with lots of details, consider opening with the main highlights for quick and busy readers, listing only the points you’ll expand upon later.

You could write something such as, “In this email, I hope to address several issues. I want to talk about…”. Then list the things which will later be expanded upon in the email.

Readers can scan down if they want or need more details, but this way your main ideas get attention and hopefully you capture the reader’s interest enough so they read what you have to say before they disappear.

Proofread

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

There might be more I could add, but this post is getting kind of long. And, I’ve already lost some of you. The main point is if you want to make sure the email you took time to write is read consider the reader and how it will be read – or not.

Here’s to writing better emails.

What suggestions do you have?

How to Stop Being a People Pleasing Pastor or Leader

Answer to a reader's email...

After a post about people-pleasing, I received the following email:

Ron,

Have just finished your blog post “7 Casualties of a People Pleaser in Leadership“. I recognize I am a People Pleaser Pastor. How do I turn the tide on this? How do I stop? I am seeing tension mounting on the team. There is frustration on our staff and it is even spilling over to our spouses, and my vision has hit a brick wall. I really want to move away from this but I am finding it most difficult.

Signed,

One frustrated pastor

Here was my reply:

Frustrated Pastor,

I’m impressed with your boldness and honesty.

Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

Get firm again on the vision you are trying to accomplish

It appears you have one, but people pleasing must be more important to you than accomplishing this vision. Not trying to sound harsh, but that’s the reality. We tend to do what we value most. You must begin to value the vision more than making people happy. Make sure your vision is God-honoring and God-ordained – which I’m confident it is. When you are leading a church, obviously you want to do the will of God. He gives us latitude I believe, but we want to make sure whatever we do honors Him and gives Him glory. Be confident of this.

The vision is what should hold your feet to the fire. If it detracts or doesn’t line up with the vision God has given you, you shouldn’t be as enthusiastic about it – regardless of who brings it to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t say yes to other things, but you can clearly say, “I’m sorry, but right now I’m chasing this vision God has given me.” Imagine the pressure Moses was under as a leader to please the people, but he had to hold to the vision God had given him and not cave to the pressure to always please people.

Get buy in with a team towards reaching the vision

You need a team around you committed to the same defined vision you have. Be careful who you surround yourself with here. Make sure they are people who are not self-serving, can see a bigger picture, and will protect your back should the need arise. We all need people who can and will back us up when we are tempted to give in and be a people pleaser.

When you recruit them, make sure they understand the vision and are committed to seeing it to completion. Be honest with your propensity to cave to pressure from others. Share with them your desire to complete the vision and given them permission to speak into your life when they see you pleasing people more than accomplishing the vision.

Assign responsibility and timelines

Give people real responsibility towards accomplishing the vision and measurable timelines toward achievement. This is hard for some pastors, but you have to release responsibility for decisions made. This process is vital, because it keeps tasks moving forward and therefore makes it easier and more palatable when you have to say no to other things. It’s hard to argue with success.

I often find it’s sometimes easier for someone closer to a task to say no to something new. For example, if a group wants us to start a new mission somewhere outside our focus area, the people who currently lead our mission efforts are often better at protecting the vision we’ve already set in place than I am. If I let those who lead in a specific area of ministry help make the decisions in their area, we will protect the vision more often.

Allow these same people to hold you accountable to sticking to these determined goals and objectives. You will be less likely to cave to people pressure if you know things are on track to reach the vision. I give people on my team the right to tell me when I’m veering from the vision we have before us.

Discipline yourself

The reality is, if you recognize people pleasing is a weakness in your leadership, you’ll have to discipline yourself away from it. This will take time. It probably has been a weakness for a while now, so don’t expect it to disappear immediately. When you sense you are making a decision purely to please others, give yourself a gut check. Put it in your schema. Tie a string around your finger if needed, but by practice and consistency, recall the bigger picture.

When needed, call in the trusted advisors again. Renew the passion for the vision again. Slowly, over time, you’ll find yourself better able to say no when needed so you can better realize the vision God has placed on your heart.

Those are my initial suggestions. I’m praying for you frustrated pastor, but I’m believing you can do it. God has called you to it. He will equip you accordingly as you surrender to His will.

Ron

Ever been a people pleaser? What suggestions do you have?

Leadership Training Begins in the Home

Guest Post

He must manage his household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

In your church, my church, and indeed most churches, there is a crying need for trained, humble, and passionate leaders. But where do we find these leaders? How does God develop them? How do we?

After planting and pastoring a church in New England for the past twenty-five years and watching other well-known leaders rise and fall, I am convinced that a biblical principle is overlooked by many: Leadership training begins in the home.

In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul explicitly connects how a leader shepherds his own household with how he will shepherd God’s household. While some organizational principles can certainly help a church leader, the deepest lessons are learned between a husband and wife and between parents and their children.

Yet, too many church leaders do not see the connection between leadership at home and leadership in the church. At best, home is often seen as disconnected from the church, and at worst, it is perceived as a distraction from leading God’s people.

Paul makes clear that the family is meant by God to be the first context in which we learn leadership skills.

If you have a family, you can readily inculcate the following four lessons in your life to grow as a leader. If you are single, many of these principles will apply to your interaction with your roommates and others closest to you.

1. God has given me a family to teach me how to make disciples.

As I have stated in The Disciple-Making Parent, the Great Commission means I am called to make disciples across the oceans, across the street in my neighborhood, and across the dinner table in my home. Realizing that my family is God’s smallest discipleship unit, I learn lessons with my children that will transfer to others in the church. Parenting is discipleship in its purest form.

2. God has given me a family to learn personal holiness.

Child training is really a misnomer; it should be called parent training. My children and my spouse are given by God to shine a floodlight on my need to grow. No relationship causes me to die to self-interest more than my family. As Martin Luther said, “Marriage is a better school for character than any monastery; for it’s here that your corners are rubbed off.”

Whatever your spouse is mentioning to you as a problem at home, others in the church have noticed. They just haven’t said anything. Paul told Timothy to, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Don’t rush past the former to focus on the latter.

Learning to die to myself, asking forgiveness, serving when I don’t feel like it, and working through conflict in my home are all training me to be a more godly leader in the church.

3. God has given me a family to teach me to lead with encouragement and authority.

Our families, as a reflection of the Trinity, are to be places of love, joy, encouragement, and honor. But our families, because of sin, also need to have times of correction and discipline. As a leader in the home, I give encouragement as well as correction. I set the atmosphere of the home.

The church is no different. Even as we cast a vision for loving one another to reflect Christ (John 13:34-35), we need to correct when this is not happening. Many church leaders err by focusing predominantly on either love or correction. There needs to be a balance, and God gives us families to learn both on a small scale.

4. God has given me a family to become a better communicator.

Most of us don’t realize it, but we are poor communicators. Just as “bad breath offends all but the host,” so terrible communicators offend without even realizing it. We undertalk or overtalk; we interrupt, nitpick, or are easily angered.

As a spiritual leader, your words are your main tools. God says the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). The more skillful and godly we grow in our communication, the more we can influence others to follow the Lord. Our family will give us instant feedback on our communication strengths and weakness. As I have written in The Disciple-Making Parent, home provides the perfect context for you to practice your conflict resolution skills and hone your listening skills.

Live out the Gospel at Home

God’s plan is that his household should be led by those who have lived out the gospel in their homes. They are learning leadership lessons in the daily home life. Being a parent should make you a better Christian leader; and being a Christian leader should make you a better parent.

In your desire to lead, family is by no means a distraction from God’s call on you to lead. Rather, God’s intent is that home would be your first and safest testing ground.

This is a guest post by Chap Bettis, the author of The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ. He is also a frequent conference speaker and executive director of The Apollos Project, a ministry dedicated to helping families pass the gospel to their children. For 25 years previous, he was lead pastor of a New England church plant. He and his wife, Sharon, have four children and reside in Rhode Island. You can find him on Twitter or blogging at TheApollosProject.com.

How to Correctly Identify Constructive Criticism

Organizations, churches, and societies need this...

Constructive:

Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.

Criticism:

The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. 🙂 )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse the phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system – for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing – offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase – constructive criticism – is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about the term lately – even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, often needed.

Using the definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization – even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think this is the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone,

It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving.

This is a huge one. Constructive criticism doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves – even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement.

I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would certainly be an indicator the criticism is actually constructive (again, simply by definition).

It creates useful dialogue.

And, here again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive – it helps build – construct.

It affirms others or the vision.

As I understand the terms, constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. This would seem to contradict the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed.

I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility – would never work – then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive.

Constructive criticism serves to build up – not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, this is not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism which would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

This may simply be my personal rambling thoughts on the issue – maybe it’s not even constructive, but I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism seems like a better societal way to go.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple this way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is – if we are going to attempt to constructively criticize constructive criticism should live up its name.

What to do When You’re Waiting for a Lead Position

Recently I posted “The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position“. The point was there is a fine line between when a person is ready to be in a senior leadership role and needs to remain in a learning position. The post was to help discern the proper time to make the transition.

I know some 20-something year old youth pastors who will some day be senior pastors, for example. When’s the right time to make the jump and when should they stay in their current position? I know some entry-level managers in large organizations who could move to a higher position in a smaller organization. When should they jump? That was the idea behind the post.

It stirred quite a discussion offline.

One repeated question:

How does one manage the tension well while in a learning position until the transition to a leading position takes place?

I would first say make sure there is a tension. These suggestions are intended for those who sense they are being called to a senior leadership position – someday – but haven’t made the jump for whatever reason. They are living in the “tension”. The advice is hopefully good at any stage of life, but this was my specific intent of the original post and this one.

But, also know that you’re asking the right question. You should never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are right now. He’s working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It’s good if you’re in a waiting position to be asking these type questions.

Now here are 5 suggestions:

Recruit a mentor.

Everyone needs a mentor – at every stage of life – but especially if you want to move upward in positional authority. Find someone who is in a position of responsibility at the next level you hope to eventually be and ask them to meet with you on a semi-regular basis. Don’t expect it to be often. They’re likely busy people. I’ve had mentors I met with only every few months. Others were more frequent.

Consider also, the mentor doesn’t always have to be in the same field you are in, just with similar level of responsibility as the next level on your radar. The same would be ideal, but not always available.

When you arrive at the meeting, don’t waste their time. Do the hard work of preparing for the meeting. Have questions prepared in advance. And, make sure you take notes. It’s helpful for review later and demonstrates how serious you are taking the advice.

Set a tentative timeline in your mind for transition.

How long do you realistically think you should attempt to be at the next level of leadership? Ask yourself probing questions, such as, “If I knew I was going to be here 3 more years – without any changes in my level of responsibility – am I going to get frustrated?” A realistic timeline is probably not 2 months, but a year certainly could be. And, so could five years be. Much of that depends on your current heart for what you’re doing now, how much you’re thinking about where you need to be next, and how much tension there is between those two. No one can answer this but you. You’ll have to soul search.

Set a realistic timeline in your mind, but then don’t bind yourself to it either – that’s dangerous. Life happens and ultimately God is in control, but this gives you a sense of hope and perspective. If you think you’re three years out from a transition, then you know you have three years to grow where you’re at currently. It’s not the time to be looking actively. It’s the time to excel in what you’re doing. If you know in a year you’re going to be bored to death, then you know how fast you have to respond to seek another position.

Discerning this timeline is a good talk through with a mentor or other people who know you well and believe in you.

Prepare for what’s next.

You should always be doing this. Even if you never moved to a position with more authority you should prepare for what’s next. The needs within our jobs are always changing because the people and cultures we encounter are always changing.

Learn all you can. Take notes as you observe other leaders. Read books. Attend conferences. Build your network. Don’t waste the wait.

Stay very loyal and faithful to the job you have now.

Please don’t accept any of my other suggestions without doing this one. This one should perhaps been my first suggestion. It’s that important.

Do your best work every single day in the job you are currently doing. Respect the leadership where you are now. Learn what you can from them too – even what you would do differently some day. Finish well. This is what you’d hope for from people you will one day lead. And, it is the right thing to do.

Staying loyal is only fair to the opportunity you’ve been given, but it also protects your resume. Never ruin a relationship where you are – it will only come back to hurt you later. Plus, staying faithful as you wait says a lot about your character.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

In my experience, if you’re asking these type questions, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be looking to make the transition to a lead position. It could be years, so don’t live in the future when the present needs your attention, but opportunities are often closer than you think.

In my most recent transition, Cheryl and I had known for 2 years God was doing something new in our life. We didn’t know what or where. We also entertained several opportunities. We listened and had conversations. We didn’t jump until it was clearer. But, when the opportunity was presented which lined with our hearts it was much easier to discern the move. (I should say it was nothing like we thought it would look, but we knew God was in it.) Had we not been watching and listening, we might have missed a God-sized open door.

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand – most of these people are leaders now – they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader – but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn – and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team – and the one who stays.

It’s a fine line – or a quadrant of the circle – as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership is pretty simple. When you’ve lived in the tension for too long – it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it. It is probably why you would read a post like this, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, it frustrates you nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership – all senior leadership – good or bad leadership – because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be if you were in the leading position than what could be if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts. Also, when you are in the season of sensing you are ready, never be arrogant, flippant or act like you know it all. You don’t. You will have to trust me with this one. I will write more about what to do in this season in my next post.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for the big jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college – it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

This is why it’s a fine line – hence the tension.

5 Insights I Have Learned About Failure

I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.

It could be because of relationships gone bad. Business setbacks. A personal life – which was private – but is not anymore, because of intentional bad decisions or circumstances out of the person’s control.

And there are so many other examples I could share – but, the person feels like a failure.

One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. In all the areas I listed above – I’ve experienced failure. (Where do you think I got the list?) I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and there was plenty of time to gain valuable life experiences, which can only be learned the hard way. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)

Here’s what you need to understand though.

I’ve had failures – but I’m not a failure.

Because I got back up every time I failed.

(If this is your story, maybe you need to repeat that line to yourself. I’ve had failures – but I’m not a failure.)

Along the way I’ve gained some insight into failure. There are some misunderstandings about failing you don’t necessarily know during the failing process.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:

Not everyone is talking about you.

This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels the opposite. As a result, sometimes we avoid people – even though we may need people in our life more than ever. Sometimes we refuse to get back in the game – even to attend church – because we assume we are the news on people’s mind.

Yes, some people may be talking about you – for a while – but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others – I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)

Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away.

That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. Yet, she also made it into the famed “Faith Chapter” (Hebrews 11)

When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. You may have consequences to face because of your failure. Grace eliminates the condemnation of failure, but not always the impact on you or others.

I’m not sure, however, if it should be our goal to completely lose any reminder of our failure. It’s actually a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure – how you proceed after the failure.

Plus, and this has proved important in my life, failure keeps us humble and, if responded to correctly, can actually fuel us for future success.

God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail.

In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace – something God loves to extend to those who will receive it. Nothing you do can make God love you less or more than He does right now. He made you. You are His.

Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing.

It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy understands this and loves to use it against us too. Why not? It works, right?

But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely – that’s a choice too. You may need to preach the Gospel – to yourself.

The best days of your life may be after the failure – not before.

Wow! If only I could have understood this during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, I’m thankful. I wouldn’t be the husband, father, pastor or friend without some of the failures I’ve experienced.

Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.

What have you learned from failure?

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

I hope you learn from my error...

One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meanings, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s much deeper than I am). I’m a questioner too – and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership.

The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day – he was an early teenager – seemingly out of nowhere Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long.

We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead. We sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did.

Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I remember saying something such as, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.

(It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday, but, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart – where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times.

(As a side note, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again.

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will in your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And, God apparently had nothing else to say.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them – continually replying we are all “called to ministry”. I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failures in my life always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Understand

There's some gold nuggets here.

I work with young leaders everyday. And, I have to say it’s one of my favorite parts of leading. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (The picture with this post is with them a few years ago – taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a younger leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, perhaps more surprising, they think their struggle is no longer mine – like somehow I’ve “outgrown” their struggles as a leader.

After experiencing this numerous times, I was prompted to write this post. These are simply some things you need to understand to be a leader long-term.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed.

You know the feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. These times are a part of life – and work. Something you’ll never completely outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do.

You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay, lots of things. Obviously, wisdom and experience has its benefits. But, regardless of your age – if you’re doing anything productive – you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain.

Whenever you’re making decisions – like the really big decisions of life – you’ll seldom be absolutely, without any reservations, fully convinced it is the absolute best decision. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith – based on the best information you know at the time (from your own experience and the collective wisdom of others) – then trusting God with what you don’t know. And, this is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience.

And this is huge to understand. Perhaps it’s a job you don’t particularly like. Maybe you put all your effort into a project and it doesn’t work – or its not as good as you thought it would be. You might try a new business and the business fails. It’s easy to get frustrated – even lose hope. But, the process will teach you something if you allow it to. And, the value of the learning experience may prove to be life-changing for you in years to come. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated.

There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. You may be doing great things – trophy-deserving things. It may appear at times like no one noticed or even cares. And, this may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are – overwhelmed like you are – and they simply didn’t take the time to let you know how much you are appreciated. Plus, the more you do something well, the more it becomes expected and the less recognition you receive for it. But, all this can leave you feeling under-appreciated if you dwell on it too long. Like all leaders who last, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of our work.

People are watching.

If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side – disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All this said, don’t shy away from people. This never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. And, while you have people watching, lead them somewhere noble, somewhere better than their current reality. This is what great leaders do!

Learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win. Great teams are shaped by leaders who value the input of everyone on the team.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to be willing to stand alone.

This a hard reality in a world which tries to force sameness and is critical of anyone who doesn’t follow whatever is “in” at the time. But if you do anything of value – or believe anything strongly enough – sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right – especially those things you sense God is calling you to do – because it isn’t popular. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong. Be very humble – never arrogant or self-serving – but stand with courage when you know in your gut you’re right.

Great things start with humble beginnings.

“Do not despise these small beginnings…” (Zechariah 4:10) Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. This is still a viable option – and the reward feels greater when you build something the hard way. The greatest reward often comes when there has been plenty of sweat, tears, and times of waiting. And, never underestimate the power of a moment. One moment can easily change a life.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life – when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence – which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. To re-calibrate. To refocus. To rediscover the passion which once fueled you. Perhaps to re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for these things. You’ll seldom have a leader above you or a system in place which forces this upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul. Never neglect your soul.

These are obviously random, but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is there something abnormal about all of us. Enjoy the abnormal part of you also. God makes no mistakes.