7 Strong, but Hopefully Helpful Words for Pastors

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This is for all my pastor friends. It may not make as much sense to readers who haven’t served in that role. One thing that sets me apart from some pastors is that the amount of time I spent in the business world is greater than the time I have been in ministry. It has given me a unique perspective.

It’s also helped me realize I didn’t understand the unique pressures of ministry completely until I was in ministry. It’s made me want to encourage pastors whenever I can. That’s the point of this post.

Here are 7 strong, but hopefully encouraging words:

You aren’t promised church growth – Check the Scriptures for examples.You’re promised ultimate victory, but not immediate success. I do believe a healthy church is a growing church…either externally or internally…it’s producing more disciples, but sometimes you’re there for a season of preparation for future growth. That doesn’t always seem like glamorous work, but it’s necessary work.

You’ll never please everyone – As hard as you try. You can say what you think people want to hear and you still won’t make everyone happy. It’s better, therefore, just to do the right thing…following God’s direction…and not worry as much about making people happy.

Your call is bigger than your assignment - It’s true. And, it’s good. Your call is to a person. THE PERSON. The person of Jesus Christ. What group of people…no matter how great they are…is going to measure up to Him?

They are talking about you – It’s not just a feeling you have. They are. And, that’s not always a bad thing. You are an influence in their life…hopefully…and that naturally stirs conversation. Good and bad. Don’t be as concerned about that. Be more concerned about your heart and character than their behind your back conversations.

Your priority isn’t always their perceived priority for you – They often want you to do what they think you need to be doing. The problem with that is the number of competing perceptions in the church. You can never convince some people that you have responsibilities beyond their individual needs. That’s okay. You can’t understand everything in their world either. Just stay true to your purpose…to honor God with your time and give Him glory. Work for the pleasure of One and you’ll be fine.

They don’t love your family as much as you do - I’m not saying they don’t love your family. I’m sure they do. But, their wants (and demands) will sometimes trump their love for your family. That’s human nature. That means if you want to protect your family…and your time with them…it’s up to you and not them. Love your church. Love them well. That’s your responsibility, but in the process remember that only you can love your family the way they deserve to be loved.

Your biggest reward is yet to come – You may not always hear how good a job you are doing. They may not always post “excellent…life changing…message” on your Facebook wall. Don’t live for that. It will make you very ineffective and cause pride to get in your way. Some days you’ll wonder if you’re making headways at all. That’s okay…your greatest rewards will be the ones for which you wait longest. And, if you are faithful…great will be your reward.

Pastors, I love you. Praying for you. Let me know if I can help.

What words of encouragement do you have for pastors? 

7 More Tips for Finding Great Team Members

Elegant leader

I can form a team. I don’t have many specialities, but this is one of them. I’ve posted before some of my thoughts on how to do this, but it is one of the leading issues about which church leaders talk to me, so I keep coming back to the issue.

These are considered an addition to THIS previous post.

Here are 7 tips for finding the best team member:

Hire based on culture. The staff at Immanuel is very different from the staff at the church plants where I led.

If married, interview spouse. I’ve said this so many times, but think it may be one of my most successful steps. It’s made or solidified the decision yes and no several times.

Use your gut. Call it your heart…your intuition…God’s Spirit within you…but that feeling inside that is telling you good fit or not…use it. And, if you’re married, rely in your spouse’s gut too. That’s double the gut power.

Character before content. Every time. You can teach content. You can actually model character, but if that’s your starting base you’ll be disappointed before you get there.

Passion over skills. This is similar, but slightly different. Here I’m talking about motivation. If your choice is between a seasoned professional who has lost their zeal and a newbie with incredible passion choose the newbie almost every time.

Check references not listed. The references they give you will all be good. Do your homework beyond this. It’s been said all of us are just a few connections away from each other. Well, I look for a few of those connections.

Team players before sole survivors. Except in rare cases today, work is done in teams. There are usually less of us for more work. That means we must learn to work together. Look for people who can do that best.

Those are more of my tips.

What tips do you have for finding great team members?

7 Phrases to Outlaw from Brainstorming

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The best ideas in an organizational setting often come through brainstorming. I love getting a group together and searching for new ideas or ways of doing things.

Change spurs momentum. If you want to create some excitement around you, get a bunch of people in a room and brainstorm about some change ideas. If you are in a stuck or stale position…and want to see new growth…one recommendation I’d give is to organize a brainstorming session.

But, you’ve got to be intentional to brainstorm successfully. You need enough people to establish a variety of thought. (If you don’t have a large church staff, invite some lay people.) You need the right people…people who will voice opinions, but will be positive-minded.

You need to have some open ended questions…or issues to solve…to spur discussion.

And, then you need to establish some rules up front.

Specifically, there are certain phrases that cannot be heard in an effective brainstorming session. They are off limits. In fact, you might even give everyone the freedom to challenge when they hear one of these.

Here are 7 phrases to eliminate in brainstorming:

  • We’ve never done it that way.
  • We can’t afford that.
  • So and so is not going to like it.
  • That won’t work.
  • I don’t like that.
  • The problem with that is…
  • That’s crazy…(Or you’re crazy).

Long sighs…shrugged shoulders…or any animation that displays a sense of disgust or lack of initial support should also be discouraged.

There should be plenty of time to critique ideas before they are implemented, but for a brainstorming session you want every idea on the table. There are no bad ideas at this point. In fact, the one that may seem the worst idea of all may be the trigger for someone else’s spark of genius.

This is a great time to encourage randomness. I’ve even led us to play games prior to a brainstorming session.

New ideas are usually out there..they just need to be brought to the table. That’s the point of brainstorming.

What ideas can you add for productive brainstorming?

(Note: I am familiar that some are now saying the term brainstorming is offensive and not politically correct. I mean no harm by this post, but I used it because the term is still most people’s understanding of the process.)

My 12 Most Popular Tweets of 2013

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Here are 12 of my top tweets from 2013:

If your church attracts broken, messed up, can’t get it right people, then it’s not doing something wrong, it’s being the church #NoteToSelf

Weak leaders try to weed out anyone who could compete for their position. Strong leaders recruit them as team members.

Don’t mistake the silence of God as the absence of God. He is working.

As a leader, you’ll seldom make everyone happy. In fact, if that’s your goal, you might consider whether or not you’re a leader.

God’s not ignorant of your situation. He’s not perplexed either. Or overwhelmed. When it’s time…and you’re ready…He’ll reveal His plan.

If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.

Great leaders see opportunities where others see obstacles. #Leadership

Don’t be defined by a past you don’t intend to repeat.

God’s not worried. If your trust is in Him, why should you be?

Some people will learn to love Jesus only when His followers learn to love like Jesus.

I’d rather lead with character than competence. I can surround myself w/competent people, but no one can make up for my lack of character.

You can’t lead people if you don’t love people. You can control but not lead.

You can follow me HERE.

3 Questions to Write an Easy Personal Development Plan

I am frequently asked to help someone get started writing a personal development plan. I think everyone’s plan looks different, because we all are starting at different places. I believe, however, that there are some common questions, which can help all of us think about how we should be developing.

Take a break from your daily routine, grab a cup of coffee, a pen and some paper, and think through these three questions. Keep in mind, I can’t write your plan for you, but these may be tools to fuel your thoughts towards personal development.

Where am I now?

Be honest with yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you most need to improve? Consider each aspect of your life. Where are you in your career, family, social, financial, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being? Which of these areas are most neglected? In which areas do you excel?

Where do I want to be?

Think in terms of each of the categories above. Think through six months, one year and five years. What areas do you most need to improve? In what areas are improvement most critical? What areas, if you were to address them, would improve your overall satisfaction with life? What are some dreams you have for each area? Where do you get excited about the idea of stretching yourself to achieve them?

How can I get there?

For every goal you say you want to achieve, write some concrete action steps..a plan to get you there. What are some measurable goals you could implement to help you achieve them? This is the hardest part, but simply write one or two action steps for each broad goal. You will need to update this plan periodically with your progress and you can continually add to and refine these action steps. The key is that you take action to move forward in the direction you want your life to develop. Ask yourself: Where do I need more training? Do I need a mentor? Could I use more practice? Who could hold me accountable?

Now work the plans; take action. A piece of paper with plans of them, or an idea in your head, is worth very little until you take steps to achieve them. The best day to get started is today!

This sounds simple, but if you will spend a few hours thinking through your individual plan for personal development, the time could make the difference in whether or not you achieve the goals you have for your life. When you finish this plan, you won’t necessarily have a professional looking document you could turn into your college professor and there are certainly methods more complex for writing a personal development plan, but for me the end goal is progress towards my goals, and most of us are more likely to do something which is easy and less time consuming. This is a method I can and do use frequently.

Do you need to do this?

Confusing Critical Thinking with Negativity

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I love development within an organization. It challenges and inspires me to attempt to make things better. I previously wrote about three activities every organization and everyone in the organization must do to be healthy; growth, maintenance and development. (Read that post HERE.) Each of us tend to specialize or prefer one of those activities and mine is development. Development, by the way, is often the one neglected by organizations and/or leaders. We tend to push growth and then we attempt to maintain the growth. Over time, however, growth stalls unless things are developed (made better).

Development involves asking questions, thinking how things can be made better and desiring consistent improvement.  The problem for developers is that we get push back from those that prefer growth or maintenance. (Or those who operate out of fear or insecurity. I wrote about that HERE.)

As I see it, we often confuse critical thinking with negativity. I realize some people don’t know how to think critically without being negative, and some people can never celebrate the moment, but because of that, we often think of the word criticism and automatically take it personal. We develop turf wars over our areas. Fear keeps us from being open to critique. Critical thinking, however, when used correctly, is an effort to think towards making things better for the good of the organization and everyone on the team, not attacking a particular person or program.

Whenever people reject evaluation, I’m always tempted to ask:

  • What are you afraid of people finding out if they question your decisions?
  • What fear is causing you to avoid critical thinking?
  • If you want improvement, how will it come if you don’t critique/evaluate?

Don’t be afraid to think critically about your area or allow others on your team to help you do so. Your best days may be still to come, but you won’t realize them unless you think critically about the opportunities before you. Welcome them…even when they appear difficult or uncomfortable.

What do you think about when you hear the words critical thinking?

Two Things All Good Leaders Do

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Help their team say no

They can’t do everything. They are limited. Everyone is. And all of us can easily get distracted by seemingly good things and fail to do the best things. Good leaders give their team the authority to say no. 

And, when there is backlash for the decision, they defend them. Every time. 

(I hear the pushback. Some team members will take advantage of this…they will always say no. That’s true. And, in those cases, we handle the problem with the person. We don’t change the rules for everyone else.) 

Help their team say yes

Good leaders give their team the freedom to dream. They empower the team to take their ministry in new directions. They make sure they aren’t so distracted with mindless and burdensome tasks that they can’t pursue the things that spark their interest, or to move swiftly when change is needed. They encourage the team to be proactive rather than reactive. 

And, when team members do things different than the leader would, the leader looks to see if the vision is being attained, and, if it is, then submits to the leadership of the team member. 

Leader, does your team have freedom to say yes and no? What could you do to help them more?

7 Suggestions TO DO When the Church is in Decline

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I recently posted 7 suggestions NOT to do when the church is in decline. (Read that post HERE.) As expected, I had numerous requests for the companion post. And, this is that post. I chose a picture of growth for this post. Thinking positive!

It should be noted that this is a more difficult post to write. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. They are different reasons that cause decline. It could be anything from poor leadership, to being locked into the traditions of men or simply a change in population in the community. It’s difficult to copy what someone else has done, because the causes are so different.

I do have a few suggestions. When I’ve worked with a church in decline I almost always give at least some of these same suggestions.

(Now in any post like this I explain…I don’t know what I have to other than I’ve been blogging long enough to know some of the responses I will get. GOD IS IN CHARGE. Period. Listen to my preaching…pick any Sunday…and you won’t hear otherwise. I have a philosophical and even Biblical mindset that God has given us responsibility to lead His church well. We are under His direction and work by His strength, but He gave us minds and creativity to use for His glory. )

Here are 7 suggestions TO DO when the church is in decline:

Evaluate – What went wrong? What is going wrong? Why are less people attending? Why are new people not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic? Is it a people problem? Is it a Biblical issue? Is your church just plain boring? If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 50 years…I may already have your answer. But, ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary. You can’t address problems until you know them. You may need an outside perspective. You could trade with another church, by letting them evaluate you and you evaluate them. Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. You must evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers.

Own it – The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult…or unpopular…to address. Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something that didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith. I suggest if you find one example you can refuse to own (and address) the problems.

Address major, obvious issues – This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love”…repent. If the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past…forgive. If walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure…step out boldly. If the church is in disunity it must come together first. If you love the traditions of men more than the commands of God…turn from that sin. Now. And, if the problems involve people, don’t be a people pleaser, address them. (Told you this is hard.) Yes, this requires leadership. All we like sheep have gone astray. Church leaders lead. And, leadership takes us through the hard places to get to the best places. But, if there are obvious issues that need addressing, you can try hundreds of special programs or events and nothing is going to work, because there’s a roadblock to address first. (Side note here. Not every church can be saved, in my opinion. God promises the Church will prevail, but that promise is not given necessarily to Third Street Baptist…or Broad Street Methodist…or the church at Laodicea. If these issues can’t be solved it will be very difficult to move the church forward.)

Find alignment – Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find that and focus attention on it. In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Working together builds enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup – At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. It needs to be written. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28) I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again. Put some measurable goals in place to make progress….things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy. It will build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite – Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. If special events are your wheelhouse…do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working. They tend to drain energy and resources. (And yes, this is difficult and often unpopular.) Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again…the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry. You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate – There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Celebrate big. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful…or amazing…then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again…if the church yearns for health again…be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue. The harvest is ready…the workers are few…we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust that your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

7 of the Hardest People to Lead

tug of war

Someone asked me recently, “Who has been the most difficult person you’ve had to lead?” That’s a great question. As a leader for over a quarter of a century (wow, that sounds old), I’ve experienced just about everything you can imagine in leading people.

I once had an employee call in sick because her snake was peeling. And the snake got depressed when he shed. She needed to be home to comfort the snake. That was a new one…and a story for another time…but I’ve learned not to be surprised at what people you are trying to lead may say or do.

I’ve also learned some people are easier to lead than others. Often personalities, experiences and preferences negatively impact a person’s ability to be led effectively.

Here are 7 of the hardest people to lead:

Know it all – It’s difficult to lead someone who won’t listen, because they don’t think they have a need for what you have to say. They think they know more than you…and everyone else. They may or may not, but it makes them very hard to lead.

Gifted leaders - Don’t misunderstand this one. I don’t mean they try to be difficult. They just bring higher expectations for those who try to lead them. I have had some very successful retired pastors in my churches. I love having them…but they keep me on my toes! (And, that’s a good thing.)

Hyper-critical – When someone is always negative it becomes difficult to lead them, mostly because they zap the motivation from you to do so. They never have anything positive to add to the team, the glass is always have empty, and the sky is always about to fall. Draining.

Wounded – Wounded people are more resistant to being led to something new until they heal. I’ve had staff members who came to our church injured. I knew before I could effectively lead them I had to help them heal from their past.

Insecure – Those who lack self-confidence are harder to lead, because they are hesitant to take a risk. The best leadership involves delegation. It’s people who assume responsibility for a task. Insecure people will usually only move when they are given specific tasks to complete. And, while good leaders encourage followers, insecure people need constant feedback and assurance, which can be exceptionally time demanding for leaders.

Traditionalist – This may not be the right word, perhaps risk-averse would be better, but leadership always involve change. Always. Without change there is no need for leadership. So, those who cling so tightly to the past are harder to lead to something new. There is nothing wrong with tradition or with enjoying the memories of the past. It’s when someone’s love of our history prevents them from embracing their future that it becomes difficult leading them.

Myself – The hardest person to lead is almost always the leaders. If leaders could always perform as we’d have others perform, we’d be better leaders. In fact, most of us would be excellent leaders.

I’m sure I missed some. The fact is everyone can be difficult to lead at times and during seasons. It’s what makes leadership fun, right? Seriously, all of these scenarios and types of people serve a role. Whether or not they prove to be a good fit for your team, they sharpen our skills of leadership.

What type person have you found hardest for you to lead?

10 Common Complaints about Leaders

Complaint Concept on Red Puzzle.

I receive emails everyday from staff members of other churches or non-profit organizations. There is usually a question they have about leadership, but along with the question often comes a complaint about their leader. And there are many.

I’ve been in a leadership position for over 25 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints. Period. You will be misunderstood. Period.

But, leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints.

Several months ago I began compiling a list of some of the common complaints I hear. I grouped some of them together for brevity and went with the top 10, most repeated. I personally believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. This was an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.

Here are 10 common complaints about leaders:

Controlling – All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input.

Defensive – The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)

Stuck – Some leaders love routines and structure so much that they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense…never offense.

Fearful – Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.

Lazy – It’s not do as I do…it’s do as I say…because I’m not going to do anything.

Unpredictable – There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.

Never satisfied – It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”

Unclear – When they give direction or cast a vision it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration.

Prideful – They take all the glory. Enough said.

Indecisive – These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.

Distracted – Sometimes leaders appear so busy that those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention.

Phony – This leader’s personal life, and the one seen by those closest to the leader, doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.

You may be wondering, which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times.  If I had to guess, however, if you surveyed the people I’m attempting to lead, they would probably point to three intially.

Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.

Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.

I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership. It’s an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say that many of these complaints are often false assumptions. As I have observed in my own leadership, many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.

Leaders, the word for us is that we must work to become more aware of what is being preceived that usually isn’t being spoken. It might not be reality, but perceived reality is often just as damaging. (Some of the complaints I listed about me would fall into the perception category…not the reality. But, perception is someone else’s reality.)

If you are uncertain…ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain…just to give you honest, helpful feedback.

So, leader, be honest, which of these would most likely be the complaints said about you?

What are some other complaints you’ve seen waged against a leader…fair or unfair?