7 Traits of a Great Team Member

teamwork concept on blackboard

In the business world and in the church, I’ve learned that having a good team often makes the difference in how well we do at reaching our objectives.

I have been blessed with some great teams in the past. As a result, I frequently get asked if I have any openings on my team. I have a good team now. More than that, I’m asked how I continue to put together such great team. I’m not bragging, it’s simply that I’ve learned a few things about great teams. The longer a great team is together, the better it seems to work together.

I was reflecting recently on what makes a great team member. What is it that causes some teams to gel better than others? What are some of the joint characteristics we share?

Here are 7 traits I believe make a great team member:

Sense of humor – It’s critical that you be able to laugh…at life…at corny jokes…and sometimes at or with each other. I think teams should have fun together. It makes us a better team. We may even occasionally be found in the hallway playing a game. Life…and ministry…is stressful enough. Let’s laugh a little. Together.

Team spirit - We have no lone rangers on our staff. We rebuke struggling alone! We are part of a team and there are no turf wars on our staff and no one should be drowning in a project without some help.

Work ethic I’ve never been great at managing people. As a leader, I simply rely on people having the sense of responsibility and inner drive needed to complete the work. We set definite goals and objectives…measurable wherever possible, but I surround myself with other leaders who are passionate about Christ, our vision and other people and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the vision.

Heathy personal life – In ministry, we deal with a lot of messiness in other people’s lives. It would make it very difficult to maintain the level of ministry required of us if we were not personally living healthy lives spiritually, emotionally and, as much as it depends on us, physically. That doesn’t mean we don’t have issues or problems of our own…of course we do…but we are striving to be healthy individually and together.

Transparency – Great team members share burdens with one another. (That’s another way they stay healthy.) Team members don’t live on an island to themselves. The more a team learns to trust each other the greater this process becomes. The team is open to challenge the system, the ministry, the leader, and each other in an attempt to make the organization better.

Loyalty - It is imperative in any organizational structure that a team member be dedicated to the vision, organization, senior leadership and the team. There doesn’t have to be unanimous agreement on every decision…that would be unhealthy…but there must be unanimity of purpose.

Servant’s heart – If one cannot approach their position from a point of serving others and Christ then he or she will not work well on a good team. It should be the model of the entire ministry, so certainly it must be represented by the team members first.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to my mind first.

(For clarification, if needed, these are personality traits not spiritual qualifications. Those are Biblically scripted for us and would be covered in another post.)

Do you serve on a healthy team…or wish you did? What would you add to the list?

7 Lies We Believe As Pastors

Lies concept.

My heart is for the pastor. Maybe it stems from the fact that I spent more years as a layperson…a deacon and Sunday school teacher…and now, as a pastor. I realize now how much I didn’t understand about the position. The role has a lot more expectations and pressures than I previously imagined. I always loved and supported the pastor, but looking back, I wish I had been an even better pastor’s friend.

One of the other realities, and it’s rather sobering to me, is how isolated many pastors feel from people in their congregation. Isolation almost always seems to lead to a misunderstanding of reality. In essence, and here’s the problem and purpose of this post, if we aren’t careful, we can begin to believe lies about ourselves or our ministries. (That even seems to have Biblical precedence…believing lies got us into trouble from the beginning.)

Here are 7 lies we often believe as pastors:

I’ve got this - The enemy loves it when we begin to think we have completely figured out life or ministry. He loves us to place total confidence in ourselves. Self-confidence, if unchecked, can lead to arrogance, a sense of superiority, and a lack of dependence on God.

That didn’t hurt - Sometimes we pretend what the person said or did to us, doesn’t hurt. We can even spiritualize it because we wear the “armor of God”. In reality, most pastors I know (this one included) have tender feelings at times…some days more than others. We are human. Maturity helps us process things faster, but we never outgrow a certain vulnerability when working with people.

I’m above that – If a pastor ever thinks “that’s too small for me to be concerned about” watch for the fireworks to begin. The devil will see some points he can put on the board. Equally dangerous, when we as pastors believe we are above temptation of any kind, we have the devil’s full attention.

I’m in control – It would be easy to dismiss this one with a strong spiritual response. Of course, Jesus is in control. Hopefully every Bible-believing pastor reading this “Amens” to that truth. But, how many times do we believe we have more authority than we really do…or should? Danger.

I’m growing this church – We must be careful not to take credit for what only God can do. I can’t imagine God would let this lie continue long without equally letting us “believe” (and experience) that we are responsible for declining this church.

If I don’t do this no one will – We stifle spiritual growth of others when we fail to let them use their spiritual gifts. Additionally, we deny the hand and foot their individual role within the body. And, sadly, we often burnout ourselves and our family.

I’ve got to protect my people – I once had a pastor say he couldn’t allow “his” people to believe God still speaks to people today, other than through His Word, because there are too many “strange voices” out there. There are and I believe the Bible is the main source of His communication, but God still speaks. If He doesn’t, let’s quit suggesting people pray about how much God wants them to give to the building fund. When we try to protect “our” people by keeping them from His provision, we make them our people and keep them from fully understanding they are really His children. Let us instead teach them how to know God more intimately and discern His direction. His sheep know His voice.

I’m sure there are many other lies we can fall prey to as pastors. Exposing them can help us from being distracted by them and allow us to call on His strength to overcome them. Trading prayers for pastors as I type this post.

What other lies have you seen pastors believe? 

3 Problems with Being Too Nice as a Leader

Mister nice guy

I was talking with a leader recently. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hard-working, and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. She is currently experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.

In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious that she has one weakness and it is currently effecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.

Her weakness?

She is being too nice!

Granted, that doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And, it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And, she likes that. But, it also has made her team less successful than it could be. And, she knows it.

Currently, a few team members are taking advantage of her niceness by under-performing in their role. She hasn’t challenged the problems, even though she knows she should. She’s losing sleep over it, but doesn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, is not working with these team members.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.” 

I am not suggesting one become a mean leader. That would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be Biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction that’s best for them, the leader, and the entire team or organization. In the situation above, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat”, at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems that are impacting the entire team. As hard as it will seem at first, in the end it will be a blessing for the entire team…and my leader friend.

I have learned people accept the what better if they first understand the why…so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.

Here are 3 problems with being too nice as a leader:

It’s bad for the leader – The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of worrying about the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less than desired results.

It’s bad for the organization – The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.

It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness – Enabling bad behavior is never good for the under-performing team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And, they may never improve…and sometimes the best thing you can do for that person…certainly the team…is help them move on to something new.

Leader, have you become too nice as a leader?

Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.

If you are not careful you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.

Leading is hard…some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone…and the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.

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.)