The Four Seasons of Leadership

tree at four seasons

There are four seasons of leadership. Misunderstanding this can lead to frustration.

Four seasons:

Some plant – Some leaders sow seeds. They are used to start something new. As a church planter of two churches, we planted a lot of seeds. I love knowing those churches are still thriving, Kingdom-building churches. God allowed me to be there in the beginning, but others are leading them now.

Some water – Some leaders are used to create systems that allow progress to continue. They build healthy teams. They create good structure. They help things grow.

Some pull weeds – Some leaders identify problems and provide solutions to address them. They make the hard changes. They restructure. They clear the path to progress.

Some harvest – Some leaders get to see the fruition of the harvest. There is a skill to capitalizing on the foundation of planning and working others have invested. They celebrate well.

Granted we plant within every season. We have to in order to ensure future growth, but we must, again, in my opinion, spend considerable and concentrated energies in the middle two seasons if we hope to sustain a healthy, long-term harvest.

(In my current role, in an established, older church, I’m finding myself watering and pulling weeds as some of my primary leadership season. It’s not that we aren’t seeing a harvest — we are seeing huge growth — but the real harvest is still months away, in my opinion.)

It’s great when you get to do all of these in one season of leadership, but my experience has been we only get to enjoy one — and at most a couple — at one time. Sometimes they run concurrently, back-to-back to each other, but it’s rare — and difficult — to lead all four at one time.

Don’t be afraid of your season. All our necessary.

What season are you currently in these days?

Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church

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This is a Guest Post by Thom S. Rainer. Dr. Rainer is president of Lifeway Christian Resources. His blog is fast becoming a “go to” resource for church leaders. I respect him as a leader, pastor, father and fellow introverted friend.

Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church

In my latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, I highlight several symptoms that can lead to the death of a church. These symptoms can become sicknesses themselves, sicknesses that lead to death. Some churches begin with a great heart and a great effort toward the Great Commission. But the methods used become the focus rather than the Great Commission itself. As a consequence, the Great Commission becomes the great omission.

There are a number of New Testament passages where Jesus sends out His followers. The text that is used most often to refer to the Great Commission is Matthew 28:19–20: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The imperative in those verses is “go.” But as we go, there are several sub-commands. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize. We are to teach.

Those are a lot of action words.

But the deceased church, somewhere in its history, forgot to act upon the Great Commission. So they stopped going. And making disciples. And baptizing them. And teaching them.

It stopped depending on Christ. Why? Here are four common reasons.

1. “Going” in Christ’s power requires effort. Certainly the results are dependent upon Him, but obedience is work. And obedience in His power means that we are praying to Jesus so we can reach others. That requires an “others” focus. That requires us to look beyond ourselves. That requires us to get uncomfortable. That requires us to go. The deceased churches simply gave up on going.

2. Obedience to the Great Commission faded. It usually faded gradually. It’s not like one day the church was sending out dozens of members in the community and it suddenly stopped. Instead the decline in the outward focus was gradual, almost imperceptibly gradual.

3. The church had “Great Commission amnesia.” That really may be too kind. Perhaps that description implies that the members were not at fault, that they no longer had the ability to recall or know what they were supposed to do. But they really knew better. They just used amnesia as an excuse.

4. Most of these dying churches had “Great Commission disobedience.” They chose not to remember what to do. They chose their own comfort over reaching others with the gospel. That is why the autopsy results concluded that the Great Commission became the great omission.

I am an obnoxious optimist about churches in America. I know many are struggling. Indeed, some are dying; about ten churches in the United States die every day. But I still remain an optimist because I see God’s work in so many congregations across our nation.

The essence of a “great omission” church is that the congregation has lost its passion to reach people. Typically, the efforts of those churches are pointed toward taking care of the members’ preferences. When the preferences of church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.

Churches can reverse the painful decline toward death. They can avoid becoming another casualty subject to an autopsy. Indeed, church members can decide to stop asking how the church can meet their own preferences, but ask how they might serve Jesus no matter what the cost.

Then the church is no longer a great omission church. She is then a Great Commission church.

5 Suggestions When You Find Yourself in a Miserable Work Environment

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About once a week I talk with a minister — usually a younger minister — who is miserable in their current context. It isn’t always because the workplace is miserable. Sometimes it’s a misfit for them personally. Sometimes it is an unhealthy culture or a controlling leader.

Many times, even if they’ve only been there a short time, they seem ready to quit. Most of us have been there at some point in our career.

There are many things I love about the youngest generation in the workplace. They are intent on making a difference. They are family-oriented. They want to do meaningful work. I love all that.

One difference, in my observation, is how they respond when they find themselves in one if these miserable situations. Many seem to check out too quickly. They are ready to quit — give up — even before something else comes along, as soon as they discover they are miserable.

I’m sure that is true of other generations, but there were generations who endured an entire career in less than ideal situations. They saw work as — well — work.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advising that either. Why spend 40 years in a miserable environment? Life is too short. Work doesn’t have to be miserable. And, there are healthy places that understand and appreciate the change in workplace attitude, especially being introduced by younger generations. That’s a positive.

But, what should you do when you find yourself in a miserable situation? How should you respond? Rather than quit, what other options do you have?

Here are 5 suggestions when a work environment is miserable:

Soak up all you can. You’re learning valuable lessons, even when you don’t enjoy the place where you’re working. I’m not sure you can see that at the time, but it’s true. It won’t be a wasted experience if you learn from it. Some if my best leadership skills came from watching leaders do leadership the wrong way. I once had a boss throw a huge sales book at my head because of disappointing numbers. I learned from that. Throwing things doesn’t work. :) (And, many other principles were learned from that leader.)

Dream your next big dream. Don’t quit dreaming. Invest your energies somewhere you enjoy outside of work. Create something inside or outside the place where you work that you can get excited about. Start your own ministry or company in a garage on your days off. Some of the best we know started that way. These extra energies will keep your heart filled, which is critical. (Above all else guard the heart. Proverbs 4:23)

Work to make life better. You may be the one positive voice that encourages others on your team. Chances are others are miserable too. Some people have better game faces. Even if that’s your only purpose in being there, that’s a worthy cause.

Strengthen your patience muscle. Sometimes the staying power takes more strength than leaving. It builds character. It builds tenacity. You may be the senior leader someday and find yourself miserable again. Leading at the top level brings that sometimes. The captain of a sinking ship isn’t supposed to jump ship. (We just have to watch recent news to know that.)

Pray and watch. Pray for discernment. For change. For delivery. For relief. For small moments of encouragement. And watch. For doors to open or things to change. God is doing something — working a plan — even when you can’t see His hand.

Are you miserable?

I’m not suggesting you stay forever. That doesn’t seem wise to me. I’m also not suggesting you quit — at least not immediately.

I am strongly suggesting you not waste the opportunities this time is presenting.

5 Ways a Leader Responds at the Outset of a Crisis

wonderful life bank scare

How do you respond when crisis comes to the team you lead?

I love the leadership displayed during a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George Bailey is about to leave for his honeymoon and panic struck the Building and Loan. As the president, he was forced to avert his plan, go back and save the company. He kept the Building and Loan open with a couple of dollars to spare. It was a tense moment. Everything they had worked for was at risk, but the crisis was solved — at least until the next crisis came.

That’s the kind of time I’m referring to as a leader.

How do you respond?

There have been several times where it appeared everything was a loss on the team I was leading. I’ve experienced it in planning a single project, as well as with the entire company felt in jeopardy when I was a small business owner.

Crisis.

At the outset of a crisis, how should the leader respond?

I must admit, I haven’t always handled these times as well as George Bailey, but experience has taught me a few things.

Here are 5 ways to respond at the outset of a crisis:

Slow down – The general tendency is to speed up, but “haste makes waste”. You need to move quickly, and sometimes you have to put out some initial flames, but as much as you can, slow down long enough to think before you react.

Don’t panic – You may indeed be in a panic on the inside, but your outer composure as a leader will set the thermostat of your team. The team’s emotions will almost always be an exaggerated version of the leader’s emotions. If you appear hopeless, the teams emotions will appear even more hopeless.

Get a plan – After you’ve addressed the most pressing needs — brought more of a sense of calm to the team — back away long enough to create a plan of recovery. It could be the best exit plan you can develop, but either way you need a plan. In crisis mode, this sometimes seems like a waste of time. The thought is that if the ship is sinking, you just need to bail water. In my experience, however, getting a plan in place makes the difference in the quality of your leadership through the crisis.

Navigate carefully – Once a plan is in place, you need to become an implementer of the plan. You’re the coach, cheerleader, captain of the ship at this point. You keep the team on task towards the end goal.

Help the team recover – After the dust settles from the crisis, the leader’s job isn’t complete until you help the team recover. That involves learning from what happened, making readjustments as needed, and helping the team begin again. In the best scenarios, this thought process begins to happen even during the crisis mode, giving the team some hope of better days to come.

We all hope to avoid those days of crisis on the team, but it helps to have a paradigm of how we should respond if or when they ever come.

Any thoughts you would add from your experience?

One Simple, But HUGE Way to Better Empower a Team

Elegant leader

Leader, let me share one of the best things you can do to better empower your team.

And, in full disclosure, I’m the worst at this, but it’s something I’m striving to do better.

You want to fully empower your team?

Here’s what you do:

Release them from responsibility.

Whenever you can…

Often as leaders we handle a lot of information. Sometimes we do that with our team. Sometimes we dispense a lot of new ideas. If we are growing and learning personally, the team is often where we process our thoughts.

If it’s not their responsibility — let them know it’s not.

It sounds simple — but it’s huge.

You see, the team is always wondering.

What is the leader thinking here — as it relates to me?

What do you want me to do with that new idea?

How do you want me to help?

What’s my role going to be in this?

Are you going to hold me accountable for this?

Do you expect something from me here?

As leaders, we often process and present a lot of ideas, but sometimes we are just “thinking.” Sometimes we aren’t assigning anything — we are just exploring.

The more we can release the people trying to follow us the more they can focus on things for which they are being held accountable. And, the more willing they will be to process new ideas with us.

Just tell them what you expect — or don’t expect. Say the words, “You are not responsible for this.” “I don’t expect anything from you on this.” “This is just for information.” And, mean it.

Sounds simple. It’s huge.

Quick Leadership Tip: Shotgun Your Day

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Here’s a quick leadership tip. Nothing earth shattering. Just a reminder.

Many times we try to accomplish too many tasks in one day and it makes us feel ineffective in all our tasks. I call that the shotgun approach.

Here’s a leadership tip:

Use the rifle approach.

Carefully plan a realistic list of activities for each day, with specific objectives, and rank them from the most important to the least important. Then check off each item as you work through the list, accomplishing as many as you feasibly can per day.

When you’re facing a major project (such as preaching each week), schedule one entire day for nothing but that project. Let nothing interfere unless its absolutely unavoidable. (And, those really are few if we are disciplined.)

You will be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you use the rifle approach to planning instead of the shotgun.

7 Considerations of Whether You’re Ready to be a First Chair Leader

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Recently I wrote a post on how to create environments that attract and retain first chair leaders in a second chair position. Read that post HERE.

The post was well received, but as expected, I received numerous questions after the post. The most common had to do with how to spot a first chair leader — or when a second chair leader should consider being a first chair.

A former intern of mine had a similar question. He’s a great young man, with a bright future ahead of him. I’m so proud to call him friend.

Here’s what he asked:

How long do you typically recommend a young first chair leader sit in the second chair? Obviously it depends on the individual and the leader, but in general there is always more to learn. What process would you go through to evaluate when the young leader seems ready to branch out? Thanks! Miss sitting in the chair under you!

Great question.

I told him I was working on a post. I decided to think through some of my own experiences and some of the observations I’ve made over the years. Frankly, some are based on frustrations I’ve experienced and certainly that I’ve observed or even caused others to feel.

Let me make clear, as if you didn’t know, that this is a subjective post. I couldn’t write a post that would fully answer the question for every person. I can only share some principles I think could help a leader discern if they’re ready or if they need to consider a first chair position. If you were sitting down with me to talk through this issue, I’d probably advise you to think through some of these.

Here are 7 considerations of when you may need to be a first chair leader:

You can’t seem to be satisfied with leadership you are trying to follow. I learned years ago that one way to discern the gift of teaching — I’m always thinking, “I could teach this better” — you may have the gift of teaching waiting to be expressed. The same is often true of potential first chair leaders. I’ve talked with some leaders serving under tremendous first chair leaders who were still continually frustrated. Sometimes it’s not the person they are leading, but an indicator they need to try leading on their own — at least for a season.

You are always pushing past the current limits set for you. You keep hitting a lid. First chair leaders (and many second chair leaders) hate to be capped to a level of achievement. If this is continually happening to you — and frustrating you — it may be time for to move chairs.

You have a different vision than you are being allowed to live. Let’s face it, any healthy organization has a defined vision — one of them — sometimes a few smaller ones that support the one. But, if you have a personal vision that doesn’t fit anywhere in the mix that doesn’t mean any of the visions is wrong. It may just mean you need to go pursue the vision you feel God has given you.

You are dreaming big dreams without an outlet to realize them. Let me be honest, sometimes you have to start something if you want it to be “your” dream. Let me also be clear, I’m a leader, but also a pastor. So the pastor in me says to make sure it’s a God-given dream, but there are times God has something He wants you to do. Not that you will accomplish it on your own, but you may have to be the one to lead the effort. That’s sometimes done from a second chair position, but frequently, if you keep feeling setbacks along the way, it may be you need to change chairs.

You are ready to handle first chair criticism. This is a big one. I chose to mix it here among the others, because it’s a harder one to accept. You often don’t know fully understand this one until you experience life in the first chair, but no first chair doing anything of value is removed from criticism. Leadership involves change — leading people somewhere new. That isn’t always neat, tidy, or even fun. Some days are harder than others. Some days — in fact, some seasons — there appear to be more critics than supporters. And, that, by the way, can be when things are going great overall. Are you ready for that? That requires a gut check honest conversation with yourself, and with others you trust to speak into your life.

You are a self initiator. Do you take the initiative to pursue something new or do you tend to wait until someone spurs you. First chair leaders often need to move forward while everyone else is comfortable sitting still.

You influence others. This is another place where self inspection is important. Do people seem to look to you for direction or insight? Ask yourself, are others following you naturally? In my experience, if people won’t follow you without the first chair position they probably aren’t going to follow you — short of force — if you move into that chair.

This post is intended to help. Actually, I hope it helps the first chair leaders who see people in second chairs around them who may need a little encouragement — even to switch chairs — or to be patient where they are at the time. I hope it encourages some second chair leaders to self-evaluate, ask hard questions, spend some time with God and others and discern their next steps.

There is no guarantee you’re ever ready to be in a first chair position. Again, no post could do that for you, but your response to some of these considerations may help you decide if you fit some of the profile of many first chair leaders I know.

You may recall my former intern asked the question “when”. I closed my reply by telling him I don’t think there is a certain time, but there is a certain maturity for which I would look. And, I think we often know if we are ready, but sometimes need someone to affirm it in us. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak into your life.

You’ll never be fully prepared for a first chair position, any more than we are ever prepared for what’s “next” in our life. But, as has been eloquently said so many times before — Where God calls you — He equips you.

7 Quandaries of Leading Creatives

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Leading creatives can be difficult. In fact, I love having creatives on the teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a definition of a creative:relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creatives’ minds are always wandering. It makes leading a team meeting harder. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied.

And, before you creatives get too defensive…just so you know…

I’m a creative.

I’m not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. And that always confused me and kept me from considering myself one.

But, I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination.

I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh, yea, creatives.

But, when I began to understand these things about myself it helped me understand the minds of other creatives on our team.

And, I love creatives being on the team. They bring new ideas. They stretch others. They add energy. They challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think that’s the word. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries that might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

See what I mean…and see if this is familiar with you — or the creatives you lead.

Here are 7 quandaries of the creative:

1. We don’t like boundaries, rules, policies (and we may test them or rebel against them) —- but we need them in order to be effective.

2. Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense —- other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

3. We have lots of ideas, they are endless, maybe even helpful —- but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format that helps you understand what we are even thinking.

4. Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea —- but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored, and hard to engage in conversation.

5. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them —- but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us.

6. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes —- but as fast as they arrive, they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly.

7. We are tremendously flexible in our imagination, in the things we can dream about or create —- but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

Have you noticed these quandaries? Any others?

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

These quandaries of creatives can actually produce the challenge in leadership — the quandary of leading creatives. Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

It can be difficult. A friend of mine said last week, “The most difficult person to lead is myself.” I agree. It’s sometimes a quandary.

But, it often begins with an understanding — of the quandary — and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

Do you see ways you can help lead creatives through the quandaries?

Consecration: In Ministry and Leadership

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This is a guest post by my friend Greg Atkinson. Greg is an author, speaker, consultant and the Editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. Greg is the author of Church Leadership Essentials and Strange Leadership.

Consecration by Greg Atkinson

Consecration or the act of consecrating means “dedication to the service and worship of a deity.” We serve, lead, and minister from a place and posture of consecration. This is the prerequisite for God choosing to use us in His grand plan.

The book of Exodus uses the word consecrate nineteen times. The book of Leviticus uses it eleven times. It’s used several more times throughout the Old Testament and a few times in the New Testament. Under the direction of king Hezekiah, the priests consecrated and purified the temple of the Lord, clearing out everything that was ritually unclean. Side note: You want to talk about innovation and creativity? Just look at all the work that went into building the temple. Wow.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. —Joshua 7:13 (NIV)

God tells Joshua to tell the people to consecrate themselves in preparation for a coming battle. He says they will not win unless they do it. I’m sure you’ve realized by now, we’re in a war. I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan or Russia, or whatever the current conflict is when you are reading this. I’m talking about the spiritual war we as ministers of the gospel are all engaged in. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If you want to see supernatural innovation in your life and ministry—something that can only be explained by the hand of God and changes people’s lives for eternity, you must be a consecrated servant leader. I’m not talking about being perfect, for we know only One has lived a perfect life. I’m talking about striving for a life of personal purity and holiness and dedicating our whole being to the will of God. Then and only then, will you be able to “stand against your enemies.” This is important because each of you, in your city and community, have strongholds and evil forces at work that are waging a war for the souls you so desperately long to reach. God may be wanting to do a “new thing” in your midst and shower you with the blessing of insight, knowledge, wisdom and discernment, but He is urging you (like He did Joshua) to “consecrate yourselves in preparation
for tomorrow.”

We recently moved into a new building at my church and when we were preparing for our first week in the new building, God gave me the following verse:

Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ —Joshua 3:5 (NASB)

I had an art piece made up and our entire congregation signed it with Josh 3:5 in the middle of the art piece. Many Saturday nights, I will post the Scripture on Facebook and ask people to pray for what God will do in the morning when we gather for worship.

Friends, don’t miss this: consecration is required if you want to see God move. I’m talking about personal and/or corporate consecration. Let’s take a quick look at what the Bible says about Noah.

This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. —Genesis 6:9

Noah was a man consecrated to God, and God used him to change history. Proverbs 3:32 tells us God “is intimate with the upright.” To truly be led by the Spirit, one must be upright and live a life of daily consecration. Out of this can flow all sorts of new ways of ministry and innovation.

[This has been an excerpt from one chapter of Greg Atkinson’s new book Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. Go to the book’s website for more info: http://strangeleadership.com/]

A Message from an Old Guy to Young Parents

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I’m an old guy now.

Officially.

Not really — at least I don’t think so — but to some.

My kids are grown. Out of the house.

Recently, we were having a meeting about church activities and a young man said, “We should get some of the older people in the church involved.”

He meant people my age. I guess “older” isn’t old, but it certainly felt that way at the time.

But, us old guys have learned a few things. And, so here is a word from the old guy.

To parents. Parents who are younger. With younger children.

Here goes…

It’s okay for your child to be bored.

There. I said it. See how old I am?

It’s okay for some time to pass where your children has nothing to do. Where they have no toys — or electronics — nothing to entertain them.

It’s okay for your child to be occasionally bored. It won’t hurt them. It might help them.

I’m a people watcher. It doesn’t seem some parents know this. The children are always being entertained. In the restaurant they have your phone — or their own phone. In the car they have a video rolling. In the store they are often being occupied by something electronic.

They never seem to be bored. If they get bored it seems most of you scramble for a way to quickly entertain them.

And what I’m suggesting is that it’s good for your child to be bored.

Really, it is.

There will be days — when they aren’t ‘being entertained all the time — they might play with sticks. Get their hands dirty. Or, they might just create something new. They could invent a new game. Expand their imagination.

And, in high school — college — in their first job — they’ll get bored. It’s okay. They’ll know what to do — and what not to do — when that occurs.

Don’t misunderstand. Exposing your children to exciting things is fun. The Disney experience can be magical. Enjoy it. I encourage you too if you can, but you don’t have to try to maintain that level of excitement when you come home. It makes Disney even less magical.  Occasionally let them be bored. That’s all I’m suggesting.

And, the old guy spoke.

I know — none of my business. And, you can dismiss it as quickly as it took you to read.

But, for some of you — maybe just one — trust me in this.