7 of the Most Frustrating Things Pastors Experience

This post, and the opposite one before it, (7 of the Most Exciting Things Pastors Experience) actually began when I received this question on my blog.

Ron – What do you think are some of the most frustrating things pastors experience?

Great question. I decided to first address some of the exciting things, but, like most jobs, there are frustrating things about the job. Leadership deals with people – different people, with different expectations, demands and opinions. And, anytime there are differences in people there will be frustrations. This is true even among people who love each other greatly. 

The actual question was about what is “most frustrating”. I had to think about the question. There are lots of little things which can frustrate me. I don’t understand why some people leave a room and don’t turn out the lights, or how someone would ever put a toilet paper roll on which unfolds from the bottom. (Slight attempt at humor there.) But, those are small examples – not “most frustrating”. So, I had to think a bit. 

I should first mention I’m sharing frustrations, but I am not frustrated. I love the local church and I love my church. (I shouldn’t have to mention it, but I will.) I believe the church is the hope for the world. I am a proponent of the local, Bible-believing church. We are filled with imperfect people, but our mission is God-inspired, God-given and supposed to be God-glorifying.

With this disclosure, here is my reply of some of my most frustrating things I see as a pastor. Please understand, I’m simply being honest.

7 of the most frustrating things pastors experience:

People who abuse their power or position.

I have witnessed this first hand in some churches where I have pastored, but even more so in churches where friends have been pastor. I know a couple of churches – as this is being written – where a few people in the church are literally controlling the church and causing potentially irreversible damage. 

It always bothers me for people to abuse power, but even more so when it happens in the church. This includes, of course, when the pastor abuses power. Abuse of power is wrong regardless of who is doing so. Ultimately, we are to follow Christ, but sometimes we can let positions and power get in the way of humility and obedience.

People who live opposite lives in and out of the church.

It is frustrating to me when people who have one church face and one community face. It gives the church a bad name. Many of my unchurched friends won’t come to church because they know someone who comes to church already. And, they aren’t impressed. They know the person in the office on Monday morning is not the person who claims to be so wonderful on Sunday morning. 

I should say, I’m not referring to new Christians, and certainly not those who are attending, but not yet believers. I’m talking about those who claim a history with truth, but don’t exhibit truth in the way they live their life. They would shout amen to “love one another” while sitting in the pew, but their actions outside the walls of the church say otherwise. 

Rumors which spread with no basis of truth.

How many times have I been caught in the middle of this one? I once had to dispel a rumor I was going to tear down the church’s steeple. I must admit, I’m not a fan of tradition for tradition, but I sorta like our steeple. Granted, our building looks very “churchy” – and, this can be an initial barrier to people coming. And, this is possibly where rumors start, because I’ve said similar before, but, this means we must meet and embrace people outside the church, inviting them to join us. It never meant demolition. But, rumors like spread rapidly in the right environment. 

And, this is a minor example. When the rumors involve other people they can be very damaging to character and reputation. Gossip destroys a person’s witness. 

Selfishness.

People who want what they want, even at the expense and inconvenience of others. These are people who will allow their personal preference to interfere with carrying out the ultimate mission of the church. They guard “their seats”. They protect “their programs”. They never complain about change – until it makes them uncomfortable. This one probably frustrates me because it has never seemed very biblical to me. I certainly can’t find it in Scriptures. 

Tradition for the sake of tradition.

Again, I’m not against tradition per se. I like meeting at a set time every week, for example. I love giving and receiving gifts at Christmas – let’s not stop this one. I get frustrated, however, with tradition which is adhered to only because of tradition especially if it gets in the way of making disciples. If it’s biblical I’ll be the biggest proponent for it, but if it’s simply because we’ve always done it this way I get frustrated with those who insist it never be changed, even if it is no longer effective in fulfilling the mission of the church. 

Wasting time.

I’m on a mission. A number of years ago God called me out of the business world and into full-time vocational ministry. In the business world we knew we had no time to waste. Our livelihoods depended on effecient use of time and resources.

Now in ministry, I have a keen sense time is short and it moves faster than I can fathom. I don’t want to waste precious Kingdom-time debating issues which simply don’t matter or doing activity which has little Kingdom impact.

Half-heartedness.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I got this one from Jesus. He called it being lukewarm. I sense it when the Spirit of God is obviously active in the room, but people who have claimed to be Christians for years look at me as if it’s a typical Sunday. I see it when people are more concerned if the rules were followed than they are excited about lives which are changing. I notice it when people choose to get involved only when it’s convenient for their schedule. I sense it when someone has been in the church for many years, but hasn’t grown deeper and more passionately in love with Christ than when they began attending. Some days I wish we were a ballgame – with bleachers – and a favorite team. Then maybe they’d get excited.

So, there’s my honest list. While I am confessing frustrations, can I tell you the person who is staring at the phone when the light turn greens or pulls out in front of me then drives ten miles under the speed limit frustrates me also – greatly. I feel better getting this off my chest. I guess I should remind readers I’m human. Just as things frustrate you, they frustrate me. 

But, let me share again, I love the local church. And, I learned years ago – actually I was convicted years ago – I must also love the people of the local church. Even if someone or something someone does frustrates me – I must love them too. And, I strive to do so. 

And, a word to my fellow pastors, I know when I am allowing frustrations to control me more than what the Spirit of God wants to do in and through me I need to take a break, rest, and renew my soul. 

7 of the Most Exciting Things a Pastor Experiences

There are many common factors pastors seem to get excited about in their work. Pastors get to see the best and worst of life, but there are so many positive things we get to experience.

Obviously, seeing someone become a follower of Christ or baptism of a believer, has to rank as a highlight of the pastor’s experience. This is what we are called to do. But, that experience isn’t unique to pastors. Every believer, hopefully, gets excited about seeing people’s entry into faith. This is the call of the church – not only pastors.

So, my list of the most exciting things a pastor experiences consists of things which may be more unique to the work of pastors. I’m not saying only pastors get excited about these experiences, but to pastors, these are especially exciting. I am certain different pastors will have different answers, which is where the comments section can make this post even better.

Here are 7 of the most exciting things pastors experience:

A child who loves church.

Children are the future of the church! Jesus loves the little children – and so should we. I love when a little child leads “them” to church – when I hear from a parent, “They woke up this morning excited it is Sunday!” That thrills me! I have little to do with the experience our children have a church – this is driven by other staff and volunteers (for whom I am eternally grateful), but when a child loves church, I know the parent is sure to be excited also. And, our future as an individual church is brighter.

Note takers and truth-livers.

Seeing someone follow a message closely gives me goosebumps of humility. Hearing pages of the Bible turn – that’s priceless. Even better, seeing people actually live the truths they are learning – don’t even get me started. When people start to understand the principles of grace and live out their faith individually, I feel we truly are living our mission of making disciples.

Sacrificial givers.

Whether in time, resources or talents, the church is built on people willing to invest in her work. The generous giver – who gives with no strings attached, and especially not seeking personal recognition – is a sure way to make a pastor smile – maybe even dance. And, honestly, there are always a minority who really learn and practice the principle and joy of giving, which may be what makes it so exciting when it happens. When I see a man or woman in the parking lot or a baby rocker in preschool, or someone who says “Pastor, I’m here to help you any way I can”, I am encouraged to keep going. Their enthusiasm for serving others encourages me.

Visitors and people who invite them

Visitors – could we grow the church and sustain it long-term without them? Of course not. Every person in the church today, unless they were born into it, started as a visitor. Every new church member and every new opportunity to add someone to our discipleship efforts starts with a single visit. I love people who invite. I love those who come when invited (and statistics are in our favor they will come if they are invited). I just want to hug them all. (I promise though not to hug you on your first visit – or ever if you prefer, because I want you to visit. Visit. Visit. Visit.) But, one of my favorite things on Sunday is meeting visitors and on Mondays following up on visitors.

True disciple-making.

Those who invest in others, to genuinely help them grow in their faith – and those who are truly becoming disciples – thrills me! Those who help people understand the principles of grace and truth – whether through individual mentoring or leading Bible studies – helps me know we are doing more than going through the motions. We are living the mission of the church.

New people joining the church

It’s not just because I like church growth, which I do. It’s because I know the church is a family and every pastor loves when the family grows. When people who have been visiting start coming more often, and eventually decide this is the church family – WOW! Exciting! I may try to look like it’s a normal day – I don’t want you to think we are desperate for new members, or scare you as I shout real loud, but inside, I’m bursting with joy.

When the church is the church!

I am encouraged when I hear someone is in the hospital and a church member has already made a visit, without being asked. I get excited when I hear needs within the church have already been met, because someone took it upon themselves to help. When individual church members are concerned more about those outside the church coming to faith than their personal comfort inside the church – I know we are being the church! When the church behaves like we were called to behave, without a staff member or me having to lead the effort, I’m energized. Elated. Blessed.

There is my list.

Pastors, what would you add?

In my next post I will share 7 of the Most Frustrating Things Pastors Experience.

15 Lessons Life Has Taught Me

And you should learn...

The best principles we learn in life, apart from revelation in God’s Word, comes from life experience. Experience is a great teacher.

Here are some of my favorites. Granted, these are random.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying I live by these always, just that I’ve lived long enough to know they are true.

Here are 15 lessons I have learned from life:

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life..

Proverbs 4:23, Eventually it all boils down to the heart of the matter. If you lose your heart in a situation it becomes very difficult to regain momentum. Consider a sports team – at the moment they give up – as soon as they think they’re beaten – they have lost the game. Protect your soul.

God cares more about our character development than He does many of the individual decisions we make.

God cares more where you are going than where you are at or where you have been. If we are not careful we spend more of our prayer time focusing on current problems than future opportunities.

This principle works the other way also. If you spend too much of your energies on getting the next best thing you may sacrifice the best God has for you today. Being a good father is more important than buying the best house in town. 

You’ve got to know when to fold them; know when to walk away; and know when to run.

Kenny Rogers was right. There are times to fight and times you know you can’t win and times when you shouldn’t be fighting anyway. Learning the difference is huge.

If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.

Thumper knew a truth that Scripture plays out too. There are times when we need to “shut up” and say, email – or post – nothing. Don’t add fuel to a fire you know shouldn’t be flaming. Unless you’re responding to a calling to strike a match, be an agent of peace.

Humility is an attractive quality.

Pride turns people away from us. When the applause are solicited they are seldom genuine.

It takes time to mend a broken heart.

As believers we don’t grieve like a world without hope, but we still hurt. Healing wounds take time, prayer, and truth. Words and actions of others do hurt. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. (Some marriages need to know this principle.)

Letting people get credit for something I did is okay if the organization is moving forward.

In the end, if I’m leading, I’ll get all the credit I deserve and more. Great leaders understand this.

We don’t always know the good we are doing.

It just sort of works this way. It would be encouraging, and probably build more momentum for us to know more, if people would tell us how wonderful we are, but they simply don’t We have to live in the security of knowing we are doing good things. Plus, the reality is if we do a good job at anything for long, we eventually quit hearing as many applauds.

More of the same will not produce change.

You can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get different results. Didn’t someone (Einstein) say this was the definition of insanity?

Sometimes the greatest fear we have is the greatest opportunity God has to use us for His glory.

God seems to always call us to that which seems bigger than we are. This causes us to rely on Him more, gives Him glory, and builds our character more than if it was something easy to do.

God is faithful – you can trust Him.

This one comes with test after test, but He has proven Himself to be a God of His word in my life – every time.

We tend to end in the direction we are headed.

We shouldn’t be surprised if we end up in a bad situation, if this was the direction we were aiming our life.

You get more bees with honey than vinegar.

Being nice to people usually gets better results than beating them into submission. (Bible truth: It’s the kindness of God which leads to repentance.

People are different from me.

I tend to want people to respond to life and me as I respond to life and others. They don’t. And, they shouldn’t. I’m not always right.

Every life experience can be used of God for something which gives God glory.

Everything! Maybe even reading this post!

Any you would add?

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.