20 Life-Changing Acts of Courage

courage

One single act of courage can change a life…often many lives.

No doubt, if you live a “normal” life there will be decisions you have to make that take courage. You will often have to walk by faith, be willing to risk everything, and trust God for the results, which often seem slow to arrive.

Sometimes doing the right thing is not the easiest thing to do. Most of the time, it takes courage to follow your heart, conviction, or God’s calling on your life.

But, when we act with courage into the places where God leads, it always brings greater rewards than we could imagine.

I reflected recently on some random examples that I have seen people make over the last few years…some of them from within my own family…that took courage, but the results were huge. At the time, some of them may or may not have seemed to be that “big of a deal”…and some of them were obvious risks, but in the process of completing them, the courage required can be equally huge.

20 Random Life-Changing Acts of Courage

  1. Leaving the job you hate (or love) so you can start the dream you’ve hidden.
  2. Taking the first step towards your God-given dream when everyone else is saying it can’t be done.
  3. Confronting the unspoken conflicts in a marriage.
  4. Offering forgiveness even when undeserved.
  5. Trusting God with money you don’t have.
  6. Beginning a Christian ministry in a predominately Muslim country.
  7. Letting go of the employee who is holding back the team, yet refuses to improve.
  8. Attempting again something you’ve failed at so many times.
  9. Planting a church…or trying to change an existing one.
  10. Ending the friendship that always drags you down.
  11. Trusting one more time the one who has hurt you so much.
  12. Moving the family for a new “opportunity” when the outcome is unclear.
  13. Speaking truth in love when it’s politically unpopular.
  14. Releasing the right to get even, even at the expense of your pride.
  15. Surrendering your will to God’s will.
  16. Putting other’s agenda ahead of your own.
  17. Standing up for someone everyone else is rejecting.
  18. Reaching out to a stranger, because you felt “led” to do so.
  19. Admit your struggle, sin, or failure to someone…even though you are afraid of the consequences.
  20. Ask for help even though you’re embarrassed to do so.

As I stated, those are random examples and your examples will be different from mine. Granted, some of these “appear” harder than others…requiring more courage. I never know when I write a post like this which chord I will strike and with whom. I have learned, however, that context makes life relative. Your act of courage can be “equal” to mine if God is calling you to an unknown reality. Moving forward into uncertainty requires a courage you don’t always have initially. Choosing whether or not to move forward and mustering the needed courage, is often what separates the ones who achieve great things from those who remain disappointed with their progress in life.

Here’s a voice of encouragement to you today…if you know you need to move forward…but you are afraid…I understand. I’m praying you’ll find the courage to trust God with the outcome and do what you know to do next.

What is something you have had to do that took a great deal of courage?

7 Ways I Deal With Fatigue as a Leader

happy jumping

I posted recently on what happens when I’m tired. It isn’t pretty. (See that post HERE.)  I hear someone say every day “I’m so tired”.  It’s epidemic it seems. There appears to be a lot of fatigue in our world these days. I know it’s true of those in ministry. Someone asked me how to deal with the issue, besides the simple answer of rest.

Here are 7 ways I have for dealing with fatigue:

Check-up – Make sure you are routinely getting medical check ups from your physician. Many health issues have fatigue as a symptom. Make sure something isn’t physically causing your fatigue.

Exercise  and Weight Control – For me, this is number one. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight helps me stay energized and feel better.  I wrote an extensive post about that HERE.

Watch what you eat – Junk food slows you down. Healthy foods build you up. I’m not an expert here, and don’t practice this as I should, but there are plenty who are equipped to help know what to eat.  What you eat does make a difference in how you feel and most of us know what foods slow us down Learn to fill your body with foods, which help you feel more alive.

Rest - It had to be on the list. Rest is the ultimate solution to coping with fatigue. The body signals that it has reached a point where rest is needed. Sometimes a short nap or extended night’s sleep is the needed response.  Sometimes NOT watching the last television show before you go to bed is a better option.

Mind-breaks – If your job requires you to think deeply, taking short mind breaks is often helpful. One reason I break to Twitter is to give me a quick break from the heaviness of thought. I also change projects throughout the day to keep my mind from wearing me out physically.  Sometimes I step outside and breathe the fresh air or, depending on the type of the fatigue, even go for an afternoon run.

Preparation – Having a plan for your day and week helps to cut down on unnecessary time wasters. You’ll work smarter and feel less exhausted when you begin prepared. Take time to organize yourself for efficiency. (Read a similar post HERE.)

Prioritize – You can’t do everything. Remind yourself that you’ll do better quality work if you aren’t trying to do it all. Try to complete the most important things on your list first, before your energy is drained for the day. Say no to things someone else can do.

Leading today (actually life today) requires a lot of energy. I meet so many people who don’t have the energy they need to get through the day. I realize there are seasons in life where this is unavoidable, but we should strive to keep ourselves healthy enough to be productive and enjoy life.

What advice do you have? What slows you down? What helps your fatigue?

Which of these do you most need to implement?

For a similar thought, read my tips for managing stress HERE.

7 Ways a Wife Injures a Husband…Without Even Knowing It

counseling distressed couple

I was talking to a man the other day. He’s injured. Not severely. He will survive. Hopefully. The wounds aren’t deep. Right now. But, he is injured.

It’s an emotional injury. Sometimes those are the worst kind of hurts.

The person doing the injuring: His wife.

And she…most likely…doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

Surprised?

I’m not. It happens all the time. She’s probably injured too. And, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it to her. Marriages are made of two very different, imperfect people. Plus, we often injure most those we love the most.

My friend is newly married. Over the course of the last few months he’s began to realize how many things his wife is saying and doing that are causing him to pull away from her. He even recognizes his reaction as a defense mechanism. Rather than start a fight, he withdraws. And, he’s withdrawn to the point that he was willing to admit his hurt…which is difficult for any man to do. I was proud of him for being humble enough to ask if this was normal in a marriage.

It didn’t take long before I realized, however, this marriage is heading for disaster if they don’t address their issues soon. There’s a great chance she has questions about the relationship also. Thankfully, they’re in a great season to ask hard questions…learn valuable lessons…and strengthen the marriage.

I should be clear. This is not a counseling blog. And, this couple needs counseling. Even though I have a degree in counseling, this is simply a blog where I want to help people. Mostly that’s by addressing leadership issues, but sometimes I address the issues dealing with relationships…families…marriage…children. Because, those issues impact us all. And, our leadership.

Which led me to this post…addressing the ways wives injure their husbands…without even knowing it. I realize this works both ways. As a man, I feel most prepared to address this side of the issue. I consulted with my wife for the companion post 7 Ways a Husband Injures His Wife…Without Even Knowing It.

Here are 7 ways a wife injures her husband (without even knowing it):

Put him down in front of other people – Most men will not counter this type of humiliation in public…if ever. They will simply take it…and hurt. If they do eventually address it it will be out of stored up resentment…maybe anger…and it won’t be pretty.

Go behind him when he tries to do something at home – When you always show him how much better you can do things than he can do them, his ego is injured. When he fixes the bed…for example…and you follow behind him showing him the “correct way” immediately after he finishes, he is reminded he doesn’t measure up to your standards.

Constantly badger him – If he doesn’t do what you want him to do…and you remind him. Again. And, again…it never accomplishes what you think it will. In fact, it injures him with the opposite result.

Use the “you always” phrase…excessively – Because…he “always” does… Not really, but when you accuse him that he always does…sadly, it only helps build him into a man that always will.

Hold him responsible for your emotional well-being – Acting as if he’s the reason you feel bad today…and every other day you feel bad…puts undue pressure on him he doesn’t know what to do with. And, you don’t have to tell him. Subtly, just be in a bad mood towards him…without releasing him from guilt. He’ll take the hint…and own the responsibility. He will think it’s his fault even if it’s not. And, he caries that pain.

Complain about what you don’t have or get to do – He has a desire to fix things. He wants to be a provider. Every man does. Some attempt to live it out and some don’t. But, when he’s trying, doing the best he can, yet he feels he isn’t measuring up…he’s crushed. When you are always commenting on what other women have…that you don’t…he carries the blame…even if you’re not intending it to be his.

Don’t appreciate his efforts – Want to injure a man? Refuse to appreciate the things he feels he does well. It could be work, a hobby or a trait, but he feels part of his identity in the things he does. When you don’t find them as “valuable” as he does, his ego is bruised.

The reality is a man’s ego…self-confidence…sense of worth…is greatly tied to his wife. Just as a woman’s is to her husband. We can be fragile people. Some more than others. And, some seasons more than others. Understanding these issues and addressing them…with a third party if necessary…build healthier, stronger and happier people…and marriages.

I understand some women, especially the equally or more wounded women, are going to take offense to this post. I get that. I’m prepared for that…I think. All I can say is that you can’t measure my heart or my intention. As I said, I aim to help. You can’t address what you do not know. If you are guilty of any of these, the response is up to you. If not, well, thanks for reading to this point in the post anyway.

I’m praying this lands on ears that need to hear.

For a similar post, click HERE

(Note: I used this post in a message I preached on marriage. You can view it HERE. Also, I wrote a parenting version of this post about ways parents injure a child. Read it HERE.)

7 Warning Signs a Leader is about to Crash

Stressed-man

I’ve been there. I’ve faced burnout and frustration in my work. Thankfully, I’ve never “bottomed out”, but I’ve felt near the bottom in my spirit. More than that, I’ve walked through these times with dozens of other leaders. 

I’ve learned there are some common indicators that a leader is heading towards burnout. The sooner we can recognize them, the sooner we know to reach out for help. 

Here are 7 indicators you’re heading for burnout:

Isolation – When the leader begins to avoid others, something is wrong. Leadership involves people. Not all leaders are overly communicative, but when the leader tries to avoid people who need the leader’s attention, something is wrong. Some leaders begin to question people around them. They struggle with mistrust or fear that others are talking about them, questioning them, or out to get them. 

Excuses – When the leader always has an answer why he or she was late, blame others for everything, or can’t see his or her own shortcomings, they are struggling with something. It may be burnout.  

Hidden sins – Many people hide in their sins, but burnout causes “secret”, deep sins. These are often new vices hidden from people who normally know you. The person who never drank before…is now drinking often. Someone who never struggled with pornorgraphy before suddenly can’t avoid it…and justifies it as a “release”. 

Apathy -When you don’t care anymore. And, you don’t really care that you don’t care anymore. 

Indecisiveness – Paralization…Refusal to make decisions. The person in this condition feels like every decision is a major one. And, there are seem to be so many…they make none. 

Short-tempered – Normally easy-going people often become shorter fused when under extreme pressure. 

Desperation – When every day seems to be a panic day…beware. The leader is in a danger zone. There will be seasons of this in all of our lives, but we can’t live there long. We need periods of calm in our leadership. If the leader always feels this way, something is wrong. 

Granted, all of these may be indicators of other problems, but, in my experience, they are good signs of a potential crash. 

Be careful. If a few of these are you, regardless of how you label it, now is the time to get help. Now.

(After several requests, I’ll share some ideas of where to get help in a future post, but depending on the severity, if you’re seriously about to give up, grab the closest person to you. Be vulnerable.)

Facing Fear at the Crossroads of Influence

Jenni Catron

This is a guest post from my friend Jenni Catron. Jenni serves as the Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, where she leads the staff and oversees the ministry of five campuses. Jenni and I have had the privilege of brainstorming together. She has a great leadership mind. She loves a fabulous cup of tea, great books, learning the game of tennis and hanging out with her husband and border collie. Jenni’s passion is to lead well and to inspire, equip and encourage others to do the same. Recently Jenni announced on her blog a new adventure in ministry. Read about it HERE. Jenni blogs at www.jennicatron.com. Excerpts of this post are from her new book CLOUT:Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence

Facing Fear at the Crossroads of Influence

Alex had the makings of a star staff member. He was passionate about his job. He had inspired vision for where he wanted to lead people. He was eager to step in and provide leadership to a group that had been floundering for some time. As his leader, I was so excited for him and the possibilities of growth ahead. The first year was challenging, but he kept his chin up and pushed through difficult growing pains. But soon I began to notice signs of discouragement in his eyes. Something had changed, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I saw fear instead of excitement and optimism. Where I still saw obvious potential, he saw roadblocks.

Over the next six months the situation deteriorated. I couldn’t make sense of why things were spiraling south so quickly. Gradually as I kept engaging him in conversation, he shared that he was terrified of being a failure. He feared that he wasn’t capable of doing the job that he had been hired to do. His fear that others would see him as a failure caused him to try to cover it up rather than share that he was struggling. Because he wouldn’t confront the fear with truth, many of those he influenced eventually lost trust in him.
As leaders, we often confront our greatest fear at the crossroads of influence. We face our greatest fear at the threshold of our greatest opportunity to make an impact. Not to confront this fear would be to deny who we are created to be. We’d be sabotaging the very calling and purpose we are designed for.

Fear impacts our influence in several ways:

Fear Hides
We often try to hide from our fear by ignoring that it’s there. Rather than acknowledge it and replace it with truth, we allow ourselves to live with the darkness it creates. We don’t want to acknowledge we fear failure, so we cover it up with pride and the drive to perform.

Fear Isolates
In the isolation of our minds, fear can be tormenting. The truth found in 2 Timothy 1:7 is an important reminder: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (nkjv).
We fear not having enough, so we are scarce with praise and stingy with our resources, which continues to close us off from developing relationships with others.

We fear that others won’t love or accept us for who we are. Our imperfections feed our insecurity, so we remain distanced and walled off from others.

Fear Paralyzes
Fear can also paralyze us from moving forward. We fear chaos, so our constant need for control causes us to slow things down while we try to get a handle on it. Our need for control can become paralyzing and is extraordinarily dangerous to our leadership and influence. If we’re unable to get some sense of control, we may give up altogether.

God equips us with plans to use us. Yet I believe that many of us miss opportunities to cultivate our influence because we choose the wrong route at the crossroads of influence. We turn around and run back when faith requires a leap that we’re too afraid to take.
Economist and political adviser John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.”1

To influence others you have to help move them to new realities and possibilities. You can’t take them where you haven’t led yourself. You must be willing to confront your fears and lead others through theirs.

Fear finds us at the edge of the cliff: the moment when we must make a decision. When you find yourself there, do you give in to fear or step out in faith? Fear turns tail and runs. Faith takes the leap. Faith sees beyond the fear and recognizes that you were uniquely designed and created for this moment!

1. John Kenneth Galbraith quoted from his Age of Uncertainty (1977), in Bill Clinton: The Inside Story by Robert E. Levin (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1993), 246.

Without a System Nothing was done Wrong

image

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

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

Our friction resulted from:

  • Miscommunication
  • Unclear expectations
  • Unknown objectives

Ever seen that on a team?

We all have. Those are common reasons for friction.

Here’s the principle that emerged:

Apart from a system nothing was done “wrong”.

Here’s what I mean.

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

And, systems are important:

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

And, every system should continually be: 

  • Evaluated
  • Reconstructed
  • Refined

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to writing better systems.

5 Stages of Organizational Development

Growth Blue Marker

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

Here are 5 life cycles of any organization:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Critical Elements of Time for Every Leader

clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways Physical Health Impacts My Total Life

weight-lifting-exercises

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

5 Ways Physical Health Impacts My Total Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those “recognized as leaders…”

golden leader

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

This passage spoke to me recently.

I see several things here…

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

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

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

What do you see in this passage?