10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Hear

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I work with young leaders everyday. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (Here’s my picture with them a few years ago — taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a young leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, more surprising than that, they think perhaps their struggle is no longer mine — like somehow I’ve outgrown them.

That’s what prompted this post. I’ve included a few tips for young leaders I’ve learned along the way.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed. You know that feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. They are a part of life. Something you’ll never outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do. You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay — lots of things. Wisdom and experience has its benefits obviously. But, regardless of your age — if you’re doing anything productive — you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith. That is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience. And that’s huge. If you put all your effort into something and it doesn’t work — or its not as good as you thought it would be — it’s easy to get frustrated. But, the process will teach you something. And, the value of the learning experience is huge. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. Great things. Trophy-deserving things — and people will act — it will seem at times — like no one noticed and no one cares. And, that may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are — overwhelmed like you are — and it just passed by them. But, it leaves you feeling under-appreciated. And, like all leaders, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

People are watching. If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side. Disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All that said, don’t shy away from people. That’s never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent.

Learn the words of successful leadership early. As with the previous one, the words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to stand alone. That’s a hard reality in a world that tries to force sameness, but if you do anything of value — or believe anything strongly enough — sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right — especially those things you sense God is calling you to do — because it isn’t popular.

Great things starts with humble beginnings. Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. That’s still a viable option — and the reward feels greater when you built it the hard way. And, never underestimate the power of a moment.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress. It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life — when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence — which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. Re-calibrate. Refocus. Rediscover the passion that once fueled you. Re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for that. You’ll seldom have a leader or a system that forces that upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is that there something abnormal about all of us.

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

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There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand — most of these people are leaders now — they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader — but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn — and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team.

It’s a fine line — or a quadrant of the circle — as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership — when you’ve lived in the tension for too long — it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, that frustrates you  nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership — all senior leadership — good or bad leadership — because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be — if you were in the leading position — than what could be — if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for that jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college — it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

That’s why it’s a fine line — hence the tension.

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

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We need leaders. When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…” — I’m convinced — some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

But, I’m equally convinced, that just as their are not enough people working who should be working — some of the workers who should be leading are not leading.

Why?

Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion — not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain — though unseen — reality.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines — even though people believe in them — but they just don’t believe in themselves.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my new favorite sayings (I wrote about it recently) is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into that role, but in the meantime, we are missing your leadership.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call — or, at least, they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work — but they never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

They tried once — it didn’t work — and they gave up too soon. Failure is a part of leadership. Certainly its a part of maturing as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

They couldn’t find their place — and didn’t make one. Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years — in leadership positions for over 30 years — and you know my answer to that one? Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out — we can completely figure out leadership. Until then – Watch, listen, read, learn, ask questions. Leaders are all around you. You can learn some skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Are any of these the reason you’re not currently leading — but you know you should be?

What are you going to do about it?

4 Suggestions for Managing the Highs and Lows of Ministry

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Pastoring can be an emotional roller coaster at times.

You have a great Sunday and then the critics seem to come out on Monday morning. (Or Sunday walking out of church.)

You have your week planned and numerous crises happen in the same week — and your “day off” is spent part of the day preparing for Sunday. (And, don’t they seem to come around often.)

It seems you can never get ahead and you’re always playing catch-up.

It’s life. It’s ministry. It’s normal. (And, it’s not just pastors.)

Some days are always better than others, but learning how to deal with the highs and lows is a major key in sustaining yourself for ministry long-term.

How do we do that?

Here are four suggestions that help me:

Find your rhythm – You’ll be healthier and happier when you find the balance to your life. When you know the right amount of sleep. When you get an exercise and healthy eating plan. When you learn how to say no to things you simply can’t do or someone else can do better than you. I also find checklists keep me on task. Figure out what works for you and you’ll be in a better rhythm when the harder seasons of life and ministry come. By the way, interruptions aren’t as big an interruption when you plan as if they are normal.

Lean into others – You are not alone. Let me say that again. You are not alone. Think of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19) and remember — Others are praying for you, God has a plan, and He cares for you! Be willing to humble yourself, be vulnerable, and ask for help when needed. Even see a counselor periodically if it will help. There’s no shame in that. But, surround yourself with people who have access into the deepest parts of your life and the freedom to say the hard words you need to hear.

Become a better delegator – Drop the right to control everything. If I could I would say that to every pastor. The body is well-defined in Scripture. There’s a hand — a foot — a tongue — many parts. Don’t try to do them all. In fact, you can’t be and weren’t designed to be. Be intentional about allowing others to share the burden. That’s good advice not just for Moses — it’s good for you. And, it builds leadership in others that could be the discipleship encouragement they need.

Keep the vision ever before you – Our mission as a church is “Leading people to Jesus and nurturing them in their faith.” I inherited that when I arrived, but it meshes well with my passion for ministry. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m having a bad day, I go back to what I love doing. I intentionally lead. I nurture. I help build disciples. It always fires me up to see someone get more excited about Jesus!

It’s true for all of us, but maybe especially in ministry. We seldom know all the good we are doing. It keeps us dependent on God. My guess is you’re doing better than you think you are and I’m sure of this — your faithfulness will one day be rewarded.

Ministry is hard. It’s even harder when you aren’t prepared. Take some time now and consider how you are responding to the demands of ministry, how you can improve, and developing a plan to address any concerns you uncover.

5 Real Reasons Most Dreams Never Come True.

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I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet a lot of people chasing after something — yet never seeming to find what they are seeking. I think many times — and most of us are prone to doing this — we make excuses rather better than we make progress. And there are reasons that is the case.

Here are 5 of the real reasons most dreams never come true:

People quit trying. They give up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream — a worthy dream — realized on the first attempt. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough. If you have a dream — it will be difficult to achieve. Might I say that it again. It will be difficult. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream. I think sometimes we expect it “just to happen”. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Lucky isn’t a skill in achieving dreams. You might be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves. Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do.

People have unrealistic dreams. Seriously, if the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life — that’s probably not going to become a reality. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest — and most achievable — dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized. This is a biggie. Sometimes we really are “living the dream”. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us.

Are you in a funk, because you think your dreams are passing you by? Could there be a reason for that?

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?

5 Legitimate Fears of a Church Planter

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Having participated in two church plants as a planter, and now working with church planters on a regular basis in a coaching capacity, I know first hand the fears associated with planting a church. It’s a leap of faith and one God is calling many to these days.

My theory here is that recognizing the fear and realizing their legitimacy is part of guarding our hearts against them. The fact remains that for a church plant to be successful, at least in Kingdom terms, God must provide His grace.

Here are 5 legitimate fears of church planters:

No one will show up – If we do all this work and it doesn’t work…what will we do? You’ll be thankful you were obedient to what you believe God called you to do and wait patiently for Him to provide. We had to consistently remind our core team that God was in control of numbers. Our job was to be faithful. That doesn’t mean you stop inviting people or investing in the community around you, but you trust that God will stir hearts for His work.

We can’t afford it - You probably can’t. There will seldom be enough money…or so it may seem at times. God calls us to big tasks. Church planting is hard…and not cheap. But, the Lord will provide resources for His vision. Again, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to educate people on the needs or help them understand the command, value and blessing of giving, but it does mean you trust God even when the checkbook balance is low. It also doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait to make major purchases or there won’t be times you have to wait until “Sunday’s offering” to get paid. Our paycheck was delayed several times the first couple years so other bills…and other staff…could be paid…but we were never hungry.

I don’t know what I’m doing – Isn’t it wonderful? It means you’re insufficient without His sufficiency. What a great place to reside! The great news is that many have gone before you. Learn from others and stay on your knees before God.

People will leave – True. Most core teams are cut in half in the first few years. At first I thought we were to be the exception. We weren’t. Other people will come and never return…But, some will stick. And, they will have hearts for the vision. And, in them we rejoice at what God has done. We build our teams around those who God sends to us and who remain steadfast to the journey ahead. That team may change several times the first few years.

We don’t have a building – No, but you probably don’t have a mortgage either. And, you’re raising up an army of volunteers for set up and tear down. You are building service and sacrifice into your DNA as a church. Isn’t it wonderful! Don’t lose that atmosphere and culture of dependency, even when you have a building someday.

Final thought. These fears are legitimate…real fears. Don’t be ashamed that you have them. The key is not to live in them, but to live and walk in the faith that God will complete His plans and enable those He calls.

What other fears have you experienced in church planting?

7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

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I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize that makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.)

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers. Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role – The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday…I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works…some can catch on that the message actually has to be written…but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

Various opinions of how a pastor should pastor – Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here. Thom Rainer recently wrote an interesting post on this issue and how many hours a week accomplishing expectations would mean a pastor should work. Read it HERE.

People lose their filter when talking to a pastor – It amazes me what people feel comfortable telling a pastor. It is beyond the expected confidentiality issues one expects. It could be criticism of the pastor or gossip about someone else, but many don’t hold back their opinion no matter how harsh it may be. And they don’t clean it up before they present it. I had a pastor tell me recently that one man in his congregation blasts him every Sunday about something in a very hurtful way, yet this man claims to be one of his biggest supporters. The pastorate appears to be a “safe” place to unload raw, gut honesty. Unfortunately, however, I think some people believe the pastor has no feelings or is expected to be “tough enough” to handle the jabs and process the rumors.

The job is never finished – I guess I knew this, but not to the degree I do now. Job security is in the fact that the job is never completed. There is always one more thing I could’ve done when I go home at night. Lives keep falling apart. People keep sinning. Marriages are in trouble. It could be overwhelming, and I could refuse to rest and neglect my family if I wasn’t disciplined, and if I didn’t have a keen awareness that Jesus is ultimately in control. My heart goes out to (and it is part of the motivation of this blog) pastors who haven’t learned or aren’t practicing this discipline or this truth.

Everything isn’t always as seems – People are hurting. Many of those hurts are hidden. You can’t “judge a book by the cover” when it comes to people. There are always two sides to an issue. Everyone has a story and it isn’t always the story you are thinking. Being a pastor has taught me it is unfair to judge people by what you think you know until you know the whole story. I’ve better realized the importance of extending grace before I know, and even if I never know, the full story.

Sunday is coming – Every single week. I never realized how fast the weekend comes around until I became a pastor. Don’t misunderstand…I’m glad it does, it’s my favorite day of the week, but I just never realized how fast it does so until now.

Some people love their pastor – And, I’m so thankful. It’s amazing how supportive and encouraging some people can be. I honestly believe they would do anything for Cheryl and me. Most pastors have people like this in their church. (These are Kingdom-building people!) I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days. If you’re one of those pastor supporting types…on behalf of all pastors…THANK YOU!

Those are a few things I didn’t know, as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?