Wisdom in Years — As Fast As I Could Write

wisdom road sign arrow

I met with a near 80 year old business leader recently. I’m not sharing his name. He’s not famous, but he is well-known in the region where I live. But, he’s been exceptionally successful. He’s made lots of money. And, as a result, he has tremendous influence and a very comfortable lifestyle. He’s a straight, candid talker. In spite of his success, he was exceptionally approachable and genuinely seemed to be a kind-hearted man. His benevolent activities in the community indicate that is true.

(As a side note, I’ve learned people such as this man are willing to share their wisdom if asked. They are often honored to do so.)

This man is still working hard today — hasn’t slowed down a bit — in fact, the day we met he was exploring a new business deal that will take an enormous amount of his time, but has huge potential for returns.

Knowing that I connect with community leaders — I feel that’s a large part of growing a church these days — several people suggested I meet with him. He’s very active in the region and therefore I knew he would have insight into how our church can be more involved locally. He is a believer, but does not attend my church.

I quickly knew I was in for a overload of wisdom. I couldn’t capture it quick enough. (Which is another reminder to always take a way to record notes when you have such a meeting. I’m glad I did.)

He was particularly interested in the next generation. He used the term “entitlement” several times. He feels we’ve perhaps spoiled our children too much and it is impacting who we are as a society. You’ll see those thoughts in our talk. We were surrounded by pictures of his family. I suspect he’s concerned for his children and grandchildren’s future.

I share some of his statements in our conversation without commentary — just as he shared them with me. My purpose in sharing is just to give you the opportunity I had — gleaning from a successful, self-made, community leader.

Here are some of the random notes I took away from our conversation:

A huge problem with leaders at times is the zeal axis and the wisdom axis aren’t aligned. By the time you develop your character enough (wisdom axis) you lose your zeal.

The older I get the easier I can see a bigger picture. I’ve learned a few things I wish some of our younger employees would hear.

I always try a team approach to an issue. I don’t like surprises. Worst thing in leading is a surprise. With a team approach there are fewer.

Don’t burn bridges. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them bad people. Don’t treat them that way. You may need their connection down the road.

I carve out the piece of someone I don’t like and love the rest of them. You can love them without loving that piece of them (that they may not even like themselves).

As a businessperson, I’ve had some of my best success dealing well with the least of these. Don’t consider others better than yourself and you’ll be rewarded eventually (for your humility).

There are no substitutes for hard work.

I quit hiring people who have “lifeguard” or “golf caddy” on their resume. I hire people who have worked at Wal Mart or Dairy Queen — places like that. I want to know you know how to actually work for a paycheck.

Many of the young people we hire today want all the quality of life benefits now, but they don’t want to earn it.

At what point did we become entitled to Spring Break? Or to better shoes than the mom has?

I believe every business leader owes it to their community to participate in making the community better. It makes you feel better. It helps the community, and the bonus is you actually get business out of it.

Every good thing that ever happened to me (apart from God’s grace) I earned. Every bad thing that ever happened to me (apart from God’s mercy) I earned.

You reap what you sow, generally speaking. As the old saying goes, “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

You may or may not agree with everything he said, but what stands out to you most? 

 

The Delivery Truck Principle of Leadership

Delivery Truck

When I was in business, I once owned of a small manufacturing company. Most of my time was spent in an office or on the road somewhere, but when I had time I loved to hang out in the factory, especially when delivery trucks dropped off merchandise. For me it meant that we were receiving materials, we could make something, and then — eventually — we could bill someone.

Of course, collecting from the bill was another story, but anyone who has ever owned a business and had to make a payroll knows how exciting it is to develop cash flow.

As much as I loved the opportunity, the truck’s delivery was always bittersweet though.

We could now build a product…

But we also had to pay for the materials…

Sometimes (okay…truthfully all the time) that would stretch our cash flow until we could ship a product, send a bill, and collect some cash.

It was through watching that process a leadership principle came to me.

Delivery Truck Principle of Leadership.

This principle points to a tension which exists in all leadership decisions. The return on investment for any opportunity doesn’t come until after the investment has been made. Sometimes that’s a long time following the initial investment.

We see that in many areas of our life. Some examples from society that come to mind:

  • New people come to a church and participate in programs, but they don’t immediately start contributing.
  • New houses are built in a community but it takes years to recover money invested in the roads, schools and emergency services to add them.
  • Hiring new employees may eliminate some stress, but it may be months before they understand the culture and their role and are able to contribute.
  • Gaining new clients for a business takes upfront marketing money, but becoming a loyal customer may take months or years — if ever.
  • Developing a new program at your church may reach more people, but may pull resources from other programs.

You could add many more examples to this random list.

The principle I’m making is simple…

With every opportunity comes a cost.

The leader must discern when the cost exceeds the return, stretches the organization beyond its current capacity, or the opportunity’s costs simply aren’t received well within the organization.

Many leaders only see the potential in the opportunity, but fail to consider the costs associated. When a wonderful-sounding idea is thrown out in a creative meeting, I can get excited with everyone, but I’m also reminded that someone will have to develop a plan and do the work.

There have been so many opportunities or ideas I have left behind because I didn’t sense our team was willing or able to assume the costs associated. (There is also a cost associated with not taking an opportunity, but I spend far more of my time on this blog addressing those types of costs.)

Deciding to grow an organization is an admirable goal. I highly encourage it. Helping leaders grow and develop will continue to be a major focus of this blog.

My point in this post is simply to remind you of this:

With every opportunity to grow, someone must be willing to count and eventually pay the costs associated with that growth.

The wise leader considers those costs along with the excitement of the opportunity.

If you wish to continue this thought process answer this question:

Is your organization better at:

Coming up with ideas

Counting the costs

Completing a plan

While this may be the subject of another post, in my experience, organizations and/or individuals tend to excel in one of these three. Understanding the importance of each of them is a key to success.

Would anyone say their organization is excellent at all three?

If I Were God — Would I Hire Me?

Application for employment

I’m not trying to be cute or clever with the title or with this post. The thought occurred to me recently.

If I were God — would I hire me?

Now granted, I’m not God. You can say a loud amen to that. And, God is not like me. Bigger amen expected.

Everyone God calls is unqualified apart from His grace. And, God calls unlikely people to do extraordinary work.

But, just for my own thought and evaluation process, my thoughts pondered this question recently.

If I were God — like if for a minute I got to make a choice concerning my employment for God — what would I choose?

Would I choose me?

Do I often complain more than I try to find solutions?

Do I fail to see the long-term gain favoring instead the momentary personal pleasure?

Do I misuse my talents or do I invest them wisely for a greater good?

Do I consistently walk by faith or am I consumed with fear?

Do I learn from my failures or am I too full of pride to be teachable?

Do I obey quickly or find a million excuses why I can’t do what I’ve been asked to do?

Do I put others’ interests ahead of my own or am I selfish towards others?

If I were God — would I hire me?

The good news is — God did hire me — and yet I answer all those questions the wrong way at times. I’m so glad God is not like me — and that I’m not God.

But, the application of my thought process — understanding the grace extended to me — I want to be a good employee. A good servant. One who hears “Well done…”

What about you?

One of the Worst Leadership Mistakes We Make as Pastors (And Leaders)

complaint

There are many leadership mistakes we make as pastors. I’m certain I make one nearly everyday.

This post is only about one mistake. One of the worst.

And, frankly, I’m as guilty of this one as anyone. I think most of us are prone to making this mistake. In any realm of leadership.

Here is one of the worst mistakes pastors make in leadership:

Pursuing the few negative voices in lieu of pursuing the majority supporters.

Have you been guilty of that mistake?

Be careful. There is a Biblical principle here.

“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)

When we place our focus on the few negatives, it injures everyone.

We cater to them.
We try to appease them.
We worry about them.
We neglect the greater good.

And, in the end, here’s the strange part I’ve seen —

We usually find out that nothing we could have done would have made them happy anyway.

Wasted energy.

And, in the process, everyone loses.

The bottom line is that this mistake drains your energy as a leader and keeps you from investing fully in people who are believe in the vision, support leadership and are ready to help you build a great church.

It’s counterproductive. At best.

Be honest with yourself.

Is your leadership of the church being dominated by a few negative voices?

That said, we should listen to negative voices. We grow that way. I have written before that I even listen to anonymous voices. I’ve written about the Right Ways and the Wrong Ways to respond to criticism. I’m not afraid of criticism. I just believe we just have to be careful that we filter them in a healthy way.

For example, when you deal with critical people, ask yourself:

  1. Are these people generally positive, supportive people — or are they negative, divisive people?
  2. Is what they are saying helpful? If you took their suggestion, would it improve the overall vision of the church?
  3. Do they represent a larger audience — or are they lone voices? You need to know if the criticism is representative or personal.The fact is some people will never be on board with the direction of the church and you can’t do anything about that. Sometimes they represent a larger audience.

Your answers should change the weight you carry and the attention you give to their complaints. And, frankly, the amount of time you allot to appeasing those complainers.

I know. Heavy post right? And, if you’ve been yielding to the few negative voices it might even sting a bit.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the negative voices — the kind who is wasting everyone’s time — well, you don’t like me much right now. I just called you out. Sorry about that.

7 Helpful Skills for Pastors Leading Growing Churches

racial diversity

I came close to titling these “essential” skills, but I knew that was unfair. God can and does work through all different types of people. But, He has appointed some to be leaders, some teachers, etc. And, I know this from my experience working with and hearing from dozens of pastors each month. There are some great pastors who admit they aren’t skilled at leading the church.

I hear it at least weekly — “I know how to teach and cafe for the people, but I’m simply not always sure how to lead.” And, yet they recognize the value in and the need for leadership. They aren’t afraid of church leadership, as I’ve written about previously.

I believe there are some helpful skills for those who want to lead a church to not only care for and disciple the people in the church now, but actually grow and be healthy at the same time — where there is momentum and unity and excitement around the vision of the Great Commission.

Here are a 7 helpful skills I’ve observed:

Networking – For definition purposes, this is “the cultivation of productive relationships”. It is the ability to bring the right people to the table to accomplish the mission and it is invaluable for any position of leadership. This is true inside and outside the church. One place where good relationships are proving helpful in the community, for example, is within school systems. With the right people, churches can make significant missional differences in their community with school relationships. Those relationships are formed through networking. And, the possibilities here are endless.

Connecting – If the church is large or small, the best leaders bring people together. When a new person comes into the church, it’s important that they be able to connect quickly to others. First, the pastor needs to meet them, but that isn’t enough to really make people feel connected to a church. Good leaders connect them to people within the church, or help create systems of connection. They value connectivity — creating healthy, life-changing relationships in the church – and see that it is a natural, but intentional part of the church’s overall mission.

Visioneering – Good leaders are able to cast a picture beyond today worthy of taking a risk to seek. They may not always have all the ideas of what’s next — they should have some — but they can rally people behind the vision.

Pioneering – To lead a church by faith, a leader has to be willing to lead into an unknown, and take the first step in that direction. People won’t follow until they know the leader is willing to go first. Momentum and change almost always starts with new — doing things differently — creating new groups, new opportunities — trying things you’ve not tried before. Pioneering leaders watch to see where God may be stirring hearts and are willing to boldly lead into the unknown.

Delegating – No one person can or should attempt to do it all. It’s not healthy, nor is it Biblical. This may, however, be the number one reason I see for pastoral burnout, frustration and lack of church growth. Good leaders learn to raise up armies of people who believe in the mission and are willing to take ownership and provide leadership to completing a specific aspect of attaining that vision.

Confronting - If you lead anything, you will face opposition. Period. Leadership involves change and change in church involves change in people. And, most people have some opposition to change. After a pastor is certain of God’s leadership, has sought input from others, cast a vision, and organized people around a plan, there will be opposition. Perhaps even organized opposition. Good leaders learn to confront in love.

Following – Ultimately, it’s all about Christ. I can’t lead people closer to Him — certainly not be more like Him — unless I’m personally growing closer to Christ. But, following also involves allowing others to speak into my life. It means I have mentors, people who hold me accountable and healthy family relationships. Good leaders have systems in place that personally keep them on track. Self leadership — and following others who are healthy — keeps a leader in it for the duration.

That’s my list. Or, at least seven on my list.

What would you add?

My Greatest Success in Life

success

I was interviewed recently for a leadership podcast. One of the questions took me by surprise at first. I have been interviewed for this type of thing many times and so answers usually come fairly easily. They didn’t this time. At least to this question.

The question:

What has been your greatest success in life and what did you learn from it?

Greatest success? That goes contrary to my normal thought process. I don’t think I’m keeping a mental record of that. I guess I should more often. I didn’t have an easy answer.

The first answer that came to mind:

Apart from knowing Christ and being known by Him…

My greatest success has been failure.

And, in addition to that, the ability to get back up and try again.

Having had time to think about the answer I gave more — I’m sticking with it.

You see, I have had lots of failure. I’ve been on the bottom several times and, by God’s grace and through commitment and perseverance, I always climbed back.

I’ve gained my greatest lessons from life through the hardest times of my life.

And, something tells me I’m not finished learning.

I’m not sharing that to boast about anything in my life. I share it to encourage you. You may feel discouraged today. You may have just about lost all hope. You may feel a complete failure — like the best of life is past for you.

It’s not! You can stand strong again. By God’s grace — and through commitment and perseverance.

That’s almost always the story of people of success. You often only see them when they’re standing, but you didn’t see the times they fell. 

Your greatest success in life may be your ability to endure through the hard times — even through failure — get up and move forward again. 

The Church Afraid of Leadership

preacher bible

Leadership and the Bible

The more I write about leadership and the church the more my critics say I shouldn’t.

You knew I have critics, right?

I get push back for focusing so much on leadership on this blog. It’s like I’m being blasphemous. Like pastor and leader shouldn’t go together. Like I should discount the years of leadership experience and schooling God has blessed me with — and guided my life into — and just focus on being a pastor. Because, again, some don’t think the two can coexist. Good pastors can’t be good leaders. Right?

Those critics say Jesus is the church’s leader.

Well, I agree. Completely.

They say no one can claim expertise as a leader.

I agree again. (especially in the context of me).

Some even say we are never called to be leaders in the Bible. That servants, not leaders is the model.

Now, I disagree.

Not that we aren’t to be servants. We are. But, I disagree that leadership is not a Bible concept. It’s throughout the Bible.

If one wants to make the case that leadership isn’t defined well in the Bible, I can agree. I have an advanced degree in leadership. And, it wasn’t clearly defined there. We are still trying to adequately define it today — inside and outside the church. John Maxwell says leadership is influence. I agree, but other leadership experts have broader definitions. I’m not looking to the Bible to give me a definition either.

But, we find leadership throughout the Scriptures. You can’t miss it. However you define it.

From the creation of man, God gave Adam tremendous responsibility. God seemed to delegate leading the Garden to Adam. He couldn’t have “messed it up” had he not had some authority to make decisions.

The Holy Spirit of God does the real work of the church. No argument from me on that, but God enabled men and women to lead.

Moses was a leader…

David was a leader…

Ruth was a leader…

Joseph was a leader…

Gideon was a leader…

Nehemiah was a leader…

Phoebe was a leader…

Paul was a leader…

Esther was a leader…

Joshua was a leader…

Men and women God called to lead — sometimes reluctantly at first — humbled themselves before God knowing that without Him they could do nothing. They stepped out where no one else had gone before and guided people to a God-ordained victory. They used their influence to move people to a greater reality than they could have imagined.

That’s leadership — by anyone’s definition.

Jesus’ instructions were to make disciples — not wait on God to make them. Do something. Lead.

Pastor, don’t be afraid to call yourself a leader — or to lead!

And, every time you lead, you’ll find some critics. All leaders do.

The Downside of NOT Being a Controlling Leader

No game vector icon

I have a pet peeve about leadership. Actually lots.

But, this one is especially strong.

I have a pet peeve against controlling leadership.

I hate it. It’s so counter-productive to progress. It holds the team back from reaching it’s full potential. It stifles leaders. It never builds healthy teams.

And, the fact is if I allowed myself I could easily be a controlling leader. In fact, command is a “strength” of mine, according to Strengths Finders assessment. It can quickly become a weakness.

So, I discipline myself against controlling leadership.

I delegate.
I purposively bite my tongue.
I allow people to do things differently from the way I would do them.
I don’t micromanage.
I yield to others on my team.

And, when we remove controlling leadership it empowers people.

It means people take initiative.
They make decisions without me.
They proceed on their own.

But, that can create problems for the team.

It often causes miscommunication.
It can lead to fragmentation of the team.
It frequently brings frustration.

People lead. That’s no surprise. It’s what they’ve been empowered to do. But, many times they lead in different directions. Sometimes they lead too quickly. Often they lead into their own agendas — even outside the direction of the rest of the team.

And, the only way to keep that from happening is to be a controlling leader.

So, we have to learn to live in the tension.

We have to get better at keeping others informed. As leaders, we have to keep the vision in front of us and keep directing the team towards it, without controlling. We have to be better leaders.

It’s a constant challenge.

It’s even messy at times. But, it’s best.

7 Ways I Stay Forward Thinking as a Leader

man looking

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to be consistently looking forward for the organization. A leader has to continually be asking the question: What’s next? That’s a critical key to continued growth of the organization.

The problem for me comes with the immediate demands on my time. The now cliché statement goes “Sunday’s coming” is always true for a pastor. There are always immediate needs of people in the church. It seems there is something that continually occupies my immediate attention.

Still, if our church is to continue to grow and face the challenges of a changing community, I must discipline myself to pick my head up from the daily routines to think long-term.

Here are 7 ways I keep myself looking forward:

Read – I try to read something everyday and I read an equal balance of leadership and Christian books. In addition, I follow dozens of blogs with a variety of focuses, from technology, to culture and leadership. I take notes of ideas sparked along the way using Evernote.

Explore – I attend several conferences each year. I go to discover new techniques, strategies and ideas, but also to network with people doing what I do. The world of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has made it easier to connect with other leaders and I take advantage of the opportunities and ideas presented.

Hang out with a younger crowd – I love the idealism of youth. The newest ideas always seem to come from the younger generation at the time. One reason I like to be around college students is that they keep me fresh in my thought process.

Hang out with risk takers – I often need to be where creative energy isn’t limited by practical reasoning. There’s a place for that too, and I’m a realist by nature, but I don’t want to quit dreaming the impossible either. I certainly don’t want to be around those who have “It will never happen” as their first response. That’s another reason I love the idealism of youth. The newest ideas always seem to come from the younger generation.

Invest in others – As I invest in others I am personally energized. I feel I have even more to offer and have a stronger desire to keep a fresh approach when I think others value what I have to add to the discussion.

Let others invest in me – Sometimes I have to release power to others on my team and allow them to lead me. I’m stretched to dream bigger by the people on my team. I also have several people who regularly speak into my life. I surround myself with good, creative, seasoned leaders. When I stop dreaming, I find it necessary to allow others to push me.

Rest - When I’m tired or stretched personally I’m less likely to dream.  I have to discipline myself to stop sometimes, but it’s always productive when I do. In the busiest seasons, I am most likely to build into my schedule a day away more frequently.

Exercise – The best mind-stretching time for me is when I am running or exercising. The key for me is to break the monotony of busyness and allow my mind room to think. Something about exercising gets the blood flowing through my body to my brain. On especially busy days, I try to build in an hour in the gym or on the road. I keep exercise clothes at my office.

How do you keep focused on the forward picture, without being bogged down in daily routines?

3 Tips from Jesus Recruiting Methods

Handshake - extraversio

John Chapter One shares helpful insight into the leadership of Jesus.

I’ve written previously about Jesus’ leadership style.

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus I admire

Leadership Under Stress — The Jesus Model

In John Chapter One, I saw three more principles.

When Jesus began to organize a team, He used practices which maybe helpful for us today, especially those of us who are leading teams during a transition or start-up phase. Recruiting the right people is paramount to the success of any organization and Jesus obviously was the best.

Here are 3 tips of a Jesus recruitment methods:

Recruit transitional people – Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and then of Jesus (John 1:35, 40).

When developing a team or starting a new team, it’s good to have someone with experience in what you are doing. You need individuals who know how to do what needs to be done, who have learned how to follow, can be influencers to the rest of the team, and who have proven their loyalty. These people are valuable assets to any team.

In my current role, the associate pastor offered me his resignation before I arrived. He had been at the church 15 years or so and had weathered good times and bad in the church. I refused to accept it. Instead, I encouraged him to move into a larger office, gave him greater decision-making authority, and worked to earn his trust. He has been invaluable in my success at the church.

Allow the team to help recruit the team – Andrew found Simon — Philip found Nathanael. (John 1:41, 45) Apparently, Jesus allowed some of the disciples to help recruit other disciples. The team helped add to the team.

This is a great reminder when you are building a team, adding other team members, or replacing a team member. Get your team involved in recruiting. Their support will increase for the new recruits.

When I arrived in this current position, I made sure I had hiring authority. I think it’s critical for a leader’s success. I would have been foolish, however, not to include others in the selection process, so I had several people interview and meet with the new staff members prior to them joining our team. They helped me by lending credibility to the new staff.

Recruit people who are ready for a challenge - Some of the disciples Jesus recruited were apparently already looking for the Messiah. (John 1:38, 41, 45) They were ready for Him when He came, because they were already seeking something. Jesus recruited with big asks — basically, “Drop everything else and follow me!”

Obviously, I’m not Jesus, but I believe it is important when looking for new people on a team to find people who will buy into your vision as a leader, who will remain loyal over time and who are ready for a challenge. If you have to talk them into something, or gain their initial trust after the hire, you’ll waste valuable time before they completely commit. (That doesn’t mean their isn’t deeper levels of trust to be gained, but initially they should be convinced this is where God wants them to be.)

One practice I have continually used in recruiting new team members is to talk them out of taking the position — after I’m sure they want the job and I want them to take it. I want to help them test their hearts. I want them to know the unique challenges ahead (as far as I know them at the time). I don’t hide anything; even the less than glamorous parts. One of our newer staff members was told we were hiring on faith the first year. The budget did not support him, but we believed God would provide. He did. This was almost always the case when I was in a church plant. If they are still interested after they know all the down sides of the position then I know we will make a great team.