Ten Things to Know Before Pursuing a New Life Calling

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This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen:

It’s time. Or at least you think it might be. You’ve been sensing a struggle within for awhile, but you’ve kept it to yourself.  You’ve felt a restlessness, a sense that you should be pursuing a new life calling, something more in line with your God-given gifts — but you’re scared to step out without knowing how it will all turn out.

You may be sensing a new calling to get into the pastoral ministry, to get out of the pastoral ministry, to start a church, to start a business, to switch careers, or to revisit a calling left dormant for far too long.

That was my story. Not many years ago, I found myself deep in ministry as the leader of a thriving Christian school. And yet I sensed a restlessness within, an awareness that I had quietly begun to drift into simply existing. I’d allowed God-given writing gifts to lie dormant. And I knew a drifting leader was not what the school needed.

In what was one of the most challenging decisions of my life, I let go of the school and stepped out to pursue a new life calling as a writer, a Kingdom catalyst determined to live a story worth telling where it matters most. My journey, the journeys of others I encountered with similar stories, and the practical faith-stretching lessons learned from it form the framework for my new book A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life.

There are different ways to live with radical faith. Some can look pretty normal on the outside. Most don’t involve relocating your entire family, or even changing careers. But when your God-given dreams do require you to step out in a significant, life-changing way, here are some lessons I learned from having gone through the process of stepping out before I knew how it would all turn out.

What You Need to Know Before You Go

1. You do not have as much help as you think you do. If you’re expecting people to respond as if in a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, think again. Sure, family and friends will help as they are able. But most people have lives and pressing issues of their own.

2. You have more help than you think you do. Instead of expecting other people to come through, expect God to show up as you learn to trust Him in ways you never imagined possible. Only when we had no other choice but to trust God did we realize we should have been trusting Him more fully in the first place.

3. You do not have the faith you think you do. But don’t let that stop you. You will grow it along the way. When we place great faith in our great God, we pull back the curtains to reveal more of his majesty. And that just makes us want to trust Him more — so we can take one more step. The test of your faith is what it takes to stop you.

4. Not everyone will understand what you are doing. In fact, a lot of people aren’t going to get it. And that’s OK. The truth is that when you step out to live an authentic life, one that is true to what you believe about your God-given gifts, you will scare some people. I saw it in their eyes when they congratulated me for making the move and stepping out into the unknown while praying it never happened to them. To minimize discouragement, only go public when you know you’re going to follow through.

5. Someone understands and supports what you are doing. You’ll want to find that person early in the process. I enlisted a life coach as I began the transition. As your life situation shifts, you may not have ready access to advisors you regularly lean on. It is critical that you find someone you can trust who shares your faith and who will speak the truth in love to you along the way.

6. You’ll need encouraging success stories. You’ll find plenty of negative thinking out there, in addition to the thoughts you’ll have on your own. One of the most encouraging things for my wife was to learn of other FaithWalkers who had already emerged on the other side of significant life transitions. She found great comfort in Biblical stories, as well, such as those of Abraham and Sarah — ordinary people who lived memorable stories by walking with extraordinary faith.

7. You must make a habit of praying — hard. Don’t wait until a crisis arrives before cultivating a deeper prayer life. Henri Nouwen said, “Prayer is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are and defies all our calculations and predictions.” Share your concerns with God before sharing them with others.

8. You’ll need to repeat the previous step. Often. If you think you don’t have time to pray, that’s exactly when you know you should. It’s when we have no communion with God that we hear no calling from God.

9. You can expect to fail. You should also expect to get back up. We focus a lot on Peter’s failure to keep walking on the water in the midst of great uncertainty. But seldom do we consider how he got back into the boat. Matthew doesn’t tell us Jesus carried the soaking-wet disciple or magically transported him. The most likely answer? Peter walked. On water. Again.

10. Get a lot of counsel, but listen most closely to those who’ve actually done what you are thinking of doing. Seek out those who’ve been there, done that. These days, you can buy the t-shirt online. But scars only come from experience.

Bill Blankschaen is the author of A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, just released from Abingdon Press. A writer, speaker, and content strategist, he blogs at Patheos on church and culture and at FaithWalkers.com where he helps Christians live an authentic life with abundant faith. Follow on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

3 Must-Haves for Leadership Success Today

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To be successful today there are a few things we must have. We’ve always needed them. We need them even more today.

Here are 3 must-haves for success in leadership today:

Efficiency – There is never enough time or enough me. All leaders are pulled in so many directions. It’s easy to get distracted — and distractions are almost always things of lesser value. If you don’t have a plan for each day you’ll waste most of them — certainly not live up to the day’s potential. Today’s leader must learn and master efficiency.

Adaptability – Things are changing fast. Profusion is at an all time high. By the time I learn my phone there’s another update or another phone. And, it impacts every area of our life. If we are not going to change our core values and mission — and we shouldn’t — nor should we have to — then we must learn to adapt our strategies, systems and processes. Doing the same things that previously worked is no longer a sole option. We must embrace change.

Accountability – This is not a holdover from an 90’s Promise Keepers movement. Honestly, it’s a growing new concern for me. In my opinion, the focus on strong leadership can be taken to an extreme. We have created some powerful people with limited accountability. Church plants can be notorious for this. How many moral failures do we need to observe to understand this one? If you can create energy around a vision and attain a level of success, a leader can be given way too much individual authority — with no one to speak into the dark parts of the leader’s life. If numbers are good, budgets are met, many pastors are given way too much authority. I see this in business also, but it’s closer to me in churches.

I’m sure there are many more. Those are the three on my mind.

7 Ways to Increase Frustration in the Workplace

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Do you want to know how to completely frustrate a team? Is that your goal, leader?

Of course not. No leader sets out to frustrate their team. Yet, chances are we do it everyday. Or often. We are human. We make mistakes like everyone else.

Some things are common frustrations. If we can learn them – and attempt to avoid though – we can do less frustrating.

Here are 7 common frustrations in the workplace:

Unnecessary rules – Rules are necessary. Unless they’re not. Then they are a pain. The way to control people is To write more rules. The way to empower people is to only write rules that promote progress.

Limited communication. Don’t let people know what you are thinking. Keep them guessing. Maybe even a little paranoid.

Microanyalyzing. Monitor everything. And, make sure you have a strong opinion about all you see.

Unpredictabile leadership. Don’t let them learn to trust you. Here’s how. Introduce an idea. Get everyone excited about it. Then forget all about it next week and get excited about something new. That kind of thing. Works every time.

Silo competition. Let every area compete against one another rather than work together. And, pick your favorite silo.

Lack of community spirit. Make sure no one has an opportunity to get to know each other outside of work. Downplay fun. This is work. Make it so.

Celebrating what’s next. Only talk about the future. Certainly never the past. And never fully embrace the moment. Don’t see the good others are doing today. Keep pushing for more.

I’ve been guilty of many of these. And I’m sure there are many more. How about you?

“Why Would God Send Them Into a Miserable Situation?” – 5 Possible Reasons

Desperate man holding his face in hands appears in a miserable state of unhappiness.

I have the opportunity to speak to dozens of pastors each month. It’s one of my favorite things to do in leadership. Often I will share parts of the conversations I have with my wife Cheryl. She’s a great sounding board and always helps me form a more relational context around the situation.

Recently I was discussing a young pastor who is in a difficult church environment. He is a mid-level staff member and feels God may be opening the door to another opportunity. The problem is — from my perspective — he may be entering another difficult church environment. I said to Cheryl, “It could be miserable for a while.”

Cheryl knew all the principles I’m about to share, but they didn’t resonate before her immediate response.

Cheryl asked, “Would God really call someone into a miserable environment?”

Well, of course, He might. Consider Jonah. What about Elijah? Ever heard of Nehemiah or Noah or Daniel or David or Paul?

Here are 5 reasons God might send someone into a miserable environment:

The Gospel is needed. That’s why Jonah was being sent. People needed to know the Living God. They weren’t yet seeking. They were very wicked people. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go. But, God was seeking them. He wanted to use Jonah to reach them.

People need renewed hope. And, that’s a Gospel issue too. Imagine the “atmosphere” among the Israelites when Moses showed up to offer deliverance. They were frustrated, scared, oppressed, lonely from lack of interaction with God. But, Moses was being used as the deliverer from suffering into a renewed hope.

To show people a better way. It was probably a tense moment when Peter first arrived to the brothers after his time with Cornelius. Good disciples didn’t hang out with uncircumcised men like him. But, Jesus had brought a new message — one of grace — not one of rules. Peter was a messenger of grace.

We learn to trust more. We develop more in environments of tension. Abram left all that he knew to go to a strange land. He went without a good plan — certainly not one he could see very far ahead. That must have been miserable. Yet, God was using Abram to become Abraham — father and example of our faith. Faith is always going where you cannot see. Without Genesis 12, Abraham would have never been ready for Genesis 22.

God gets the glory. Who gets the glory when the credit goes to us? But, when we are in a miserable environment — and God shows up — who gets the glory? Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. He was eventually thrown into a prison cell. Miserable existence for someone who had tried to do the right thing. Yet, God raised Joseph to a seat of honor. Who gets the glory in that story?

I’m sure there are many other reasons God would send someone into a miserable environment. I should be clear, it’s not at all that God loves to see His people miserable. That would be absolutely contrary to everything else we know about the character of God. I do believe, however, that God is very purposeful to work things for good. And, sometimes the best good comes from the most miserable — when the power of God is at work.

His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Three Steps to be an Expert Disciple of Jesus

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Jesus was specific about what it takes to be a good disciple. This isn’t a guessing game.

If we want to mature in our walk with Christ, we should pay close attention.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Here are three steps to be an expert disciple:

First, we must deny ourselves

Jesus is not saying here that we should not own anything. Or want nice things. He is asking us to line our desires with His desires — even when they conflict with our desires. He is asking us to prioritize our life — with God and others in mind. (The first and greatest command — and the second is like it.) In denying ourselves, we are to look to Jesus and not unto our own abilities. Trusting Him when we can’t find our way without Him. That apart from Him, we can do nothing. Deny our fears. Deny our inabilities. Deny our sinful temptations by the power of the Gospel. Deny me — for Him — knowing I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Second, we must take up our cross

I don’t have a cross. At least not literally. But Jesus is encouraging us to carry forth His cross. His agenda. His mission. We are to be the salt of the Earth. We are to spread the Good News. We are to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world, as others see Jesus in us. The message and wonder of the cross — the Gospel — is to be evident in us. We should love the unlovable. Forgive the ones who don’t deserve forgiveness. Extend grace. Attempt to bring reconciliation through Christ. His cross.

Third, we must follow Him

That may seem like the easiest, but it is perhaps the most difficult. It would be easier to write a bunch of rules of what a good little Christian should look like. But, we’d only mess that up into some sort of legalism. Michael Yaconelli once wrote, “Jesus said follow me’, not ‘Follow my rules.” I remember when I was younger playing “follow the leader”. The guy in front made all the moves. The object was to follow the leader exactly. It was usually easier in looks than in practice. Jesus is our leader and every day we need to mimic the Savior. It won’t always be easy. Culture will work against us. Some in the church will still want to write more rules. But Jesus following will always be best. It’s part of being a disciple. In fact, it IS being a disciple.

Which of these three steps do you most need to apply to your life today?

5 Steps to Getting Unstuck

Trapped, Trying To Get Out

What do you do when you are stuck?

I mean you can’t get going again. You can’t find your way. You’re stuck in yesterday’s mistake. Or, you can get stuck in yesterday’s success. 

Perhaps you had a dream, but you got sidelined pursuing it. Perhaps you’ve absorbed all your energy, all your resources, and all your passion, but it didn’t work and now the dream is dead and you don’t know what to do next. 

Maybe you just experienced you’re greatest season ever — but now things are still again — you don’t know how to repeat the success. Or, even how to get started again. 

I understand. I’ve been there several times in my life. On both sides. And, both are frustrating. 

If this is your situation, i have a few thoughts. Based on experience. You can find your momentum again.

Here are 5 suggestions for getting unstuck:

Recharge

Being stuck drains you emotionally and physically. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to spend a season resting and waiting. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing, but it does mean allowing yourself a chance to heal. Rest is often the platform for launching next. 

Refocus

Most likely your setbacks — and sometimes your success — takes your focus off of the big picture of your life. You may have been saturated with fear and uncertainty and you are afraid to risk again. You may need a fresh dream or you may need some new dreams, but at some point you will have to lift up your head from the natural self pity that accompanies disappointment and refocus on your future and the plans God has for your life.If you’re coming off of a success, you may begin to believe that all of life is a victory. Spend some time considering what matters most in life. Many times we find it’s things that are there in times of failure or success. Things that money (relationships) cannot buy. 

Redesign

If you have a God-given calling or at least God-honoring and you don’t believe it’s time to give up — then spend time setting some new goals and objectives. You may need to redesign your dream into a contemporary context as culture or your life changes, you mature, or God gives you greater understanding. You may have to tackle things from a different angle, learn something new to help you towards it, or make some new connections with people who can help you move forward. And if your stuck after success – remember what got you there last time may not get you there the next time. It’s time to learn some new tools to spur some new momentum. 

Replace

It’s okay to start something completely new. It is. Many times God leads us through disappointing opportunities — or successful opportunities — to teach us valuable principles to help us achieve other dreams. Don’t be afraid of God doing something new. (Remember: His mercies are new every morning.)

Re-start

One thing is certain, you will never move forward if you are sitting still. Even God-given assignments require a commitment of personal energy and resources. Often people who fail to reach their destination remain sidelined because they never start again after a setback. People who have periods of wild success began to think that is the norm and so they wait for it to naturally happen again. Don’t be a victim of either mindset. Try something new. Find your passion again, get your vision in focus, be willing to take yet another risk — then get started again. 

I should also say that talking to people who have been stuck is a great way to get unstuck. The encouragement that you can start again often is exactly what you need to hear. And the way to find someone who’s been stuck? Simply find someone who has been around a while — and is now successful. Trust me, they’ve survived “stuck”.

Have you ever been stuck? How did you get unstuck?

Let your story encourage others.

7 Examples of Shallow Leadership

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Growing in our leadership abilities — including growing in the knowledge of leadership and the relational aspect of leadership– should be a goal for every leader.

Sadly, many leaders settle for status quo leadership rather than stretching themselves to continually improve. They remain oblivious to the real health of their leadership and the organizations they lead. They may get by — people may say things are “okay” — but it isn’t excellent.

I call it shallow leadership.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in leadership. Maybe you’ve been guilty of providing shallow leadership. For a season, at least. I certainly have.

Still wondering what shallow leadership looks like?

Here are 7 characteristics of shallow leadership:

Thinking your idea will be everyone’s idea. You assume everyone is on the same page. You think everyone thinks like you. You stop asking questions of your team. You stop evaluating. 

Believing that your way is the only way. You’re the leader — you must be right. You’ve had some success. It went to your head a little. So, you’ve become head strong. You’re controlling. You make every decision. You never delegate.

Assuming you already know the answer. You think you’ve done it long enough to see it all. You quit learning. You stop reading. You never meet with other leaders anymore. 

Pretending to care when really you don’t. You have grown cold in your passion. You may speak the vision but they’re just words to you now. You go through the motions. You’re drawing a paycheck. But, truth be known, you’d rather be anywhere than here right now.

Giving the response that makes you most popular. You like to be liked. You never make the hard decisions. You refuse to challenge. You avoid conflict. You run from complainers. You ignore the real problems.

Refusing to make a decision. You had a setback. Things didn’t go as planned. You’ve grown scared. You’re overwhelmed. You refuse to walk by faith. Your team won’t move forward because you won’t move forward.

Ignoring the warning signs of poor health. Momentum may be suffering. Things may not be “awesome” anymore. You look the other way. Your soul is empty. You may be unhealthy. The team may be unhealthy. You refuse to see it.

We never achieve best with shallow leadership. The first step is to admit. 

Have you seen shallow leadership before? What would you add to my list?

7 Suggestions for Planting a Church or Revitalizing in a New Community

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I am consistently asked for suggestions I have for moving to another city to plant a church or revitalize a church.

I planted once in my hometown, so I am very familiar with that community, but I also planted a church in a city in which I didn’t know anyone well, so I have some experience in that area too. In my present church, I moved to a city where I knew only one other couple.

Recently someone who was about to move to a new city to minister asked a very good specific question.

What advice would you give me that people don’t always give?

Good question. It made me think. I don’t know that any of these are original, but I don’t hear them talked about as much as other suggestions.

And, I think the things I would do would be the same in any ministry position.

Here are 7 suggestions for moving to another community to minister:

Have a prayer team – There should be a group of people praying for this community, the church, and the leaders on a daily basis. I have a personal prayer team and organize teams to pray for special events. Bathe every move in prayer. 

Learn the culture – Every city and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matter’s most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their unique language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value most? You’ll have to ask lots of questions and observe.

Learn the market – Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What’s the quality of the school system? If you’re planting, are schools an option for a building? What are the major problems, concerns and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics? How would a church address some of the issues? These matter for numerous reasons — but mainly it will impact the people you are trying to reach.

To learn these things I try to meet with the highest level leader I can in each area of interest – Schools, city government, police, business community, etc.

Learn the competition – Before you get too excited — it’s not other churches. It’s anything that has the people’s attention you are trying to reach besides a church. Sunday sports events. Major festivals. Community traditions.

Support the Community – Immediately find ways to get personally involved in the community with volunteer investment. That could be through the Chamber of Commerce, schools, festivals, etc. Give back. Believe it or not, that gets attention. Currently, we volunteer several places around town, including at our local visitor’s center. And, if you really want to show you love the community  — support the sports teams they support. 

Develop patience – It is harder than you think it will be. It just is. Church planting, church revitalization– really any ministry — takes a tremendous toll on you physically, mentally and even spiritually. It doesn’t happen overnight. Prepare for the journey. Commit to the change you bring to the ministry — even knowing how difficult it might be at times. 

Protect your family – Just as church plants are stressful on the planter, they are equally challenging for the planter’s family. That may even be more true in revitalization. And, it’s true in all ministry. These issues are multiplied because of relocation, since much of their support system is being replaced. Protect your family by discipling your time and not losing them as your primary focus. As much as possible, involve them in the work so they understand it’s value and get to share in the rewards. Protect your personal down time and your soul. Don’t burn out by trying to do too much too soon.

Ministry is tough, but like all actions of faith and obedience, God uses the sacrifices to reach hurting people and change their life for His glory. Thanks for Kingdom-building.

7 Pieces of Wisdom for Navigating through the Disappointments of Life

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I have the opportunity to sit with many people who are experiencing disappointment in life. Many times, even when we are doing the best we know how, we find ourselves disappointed with where we find ourselves in life at the time.

Life happens. It could be tragedy or a minor set back, but it hurts. Pain is always relative to context. And, if we don’t know how to respond we can have a very hard time recovering.

Having faced disappointment many times in my own life, I’ve learned a few things about navigating through these times. I hope some of my wisdom gleaned through experience can help you.

Here are 7 pieces of wisdom for the disappointments of life:

Keep your heart close to God. That’s important always, but especially during times of disappointment. The Psalmist said, “God is close to the brokenhearted.” God is most likely at work in ways you cannot presently see or understand. Often disappointment ushers in some of the greatest seasons of God for your life. Don’t miss it by not listening to Him.

Wait for your emotions to heal before you make major decisions. Recall how the prophet Elijah was ready to die during a difficult period. (1 Kings 19) Yet God still had great plans for his life and ministry. We tend to make irrational decisions immediately following times of disappointment. Let some time pass and make sure you are thinking rational again before you implement major changes in your life.

Don’t quit doing what you know to do. While you shouldn’t make major changes, an equally dangerous tendency to give up or stall until the next opportunity arrives or life gets “easier”. You may need a resting period, but keep your mind and hands busy doing what there is to do today. It will help protect your heart and mind from the attack of fears and doubts. And, do things that keep you alive and healthy. Eat, sleep, exercise.

Don’t allow a disappointment to determine your sense of self-worth. Read many of David’s Psalms. (22, 69, and 121 are a few of my favorites.) You can read his despair — then as He reminds himself of God’s love and faithfulness — he is restored. Be restored who you are as a child of God. Beloved. Let God and the people who know you best help determine your worth. It’s monumental worth. Yes, even today! You don’t have to be defined by your disappointment. 

(And, be on the lookout for signs of severe depression. Things like withdrawal, constant feelings of despair, severe worry, not eating, dark fears or thoughts, etc. Don’t resist professional help.)

Remember, you are not alone. Even though it may feel that way. Back to the story of Elijah, he couldn’t see it at the time, but God had reserved an army of supporters for him. Disappointments are a part of everyone’s experience. There is likely someone who has experienced the same type disappointment. Don’t be afraid to find them and let them walk through this period with you. (This is not a time to remove yourself from the church community — this is a time to find real, life-giving community.)

Learn everything you can from this period. No one welcomes disappointment, yet most who have experienced them learn some of life’s best lessons during those times. Even failure can be a great teacher. Don’t miss the value of experience.

Move forward when opportunity presents itself. Too many people become paralyzed after a period of disappointment, refusing to ever move forward again. Living an abundant life requires risk-taking. Dreaming again. Loving again. Ultimately, to be obedient to God’s call on your life, you will have to walk by faith again. If you ever hope to escape the moment of disappointment — when the time is right — and you’ve grieved your loss or disappointment sufficiently — get on with life.

Learning how to handle disappointments will make your life better. Eventually, God will — if you allow Him to — grant you the privilege of helping others who experience disappointment.

What wisdom have you gleaned from times of disappointment?