Sometimes It’s Not a Systems Problem – Identifying the Real Issue

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In one of my first vocational leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.

I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department – find the right system – I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.

I was wrong in my assessment and the experience taught me a valuable lesson. 

You can have the best systems – the best strategies – the best programs – and still struggle with the performance of a team.

Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.

Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.

I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after months of trying to coach and encourage this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.

Since then I’ve always tried to remember to never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.

Handle people problems, with people.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.

Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.

Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problems in their life will continue.

Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.

Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem? 

7 of the Hardest People to Lead

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Someone once asked me, “Who has been the most difficult person you’ve had to lead?” It’s a great reflection question. You learn a lot about yourself answering it. As a leader for over 30 years (wow, 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.

But, I thought through the years and made a list.

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 leader

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 and on our staff. Our staff is full of seasoned ministers with more experience in ministry than me. I love having them, but they keep me on my toes! (And, this is 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 a number staff members who came to our church injured. I actually love this as a Kingdom ministry. 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.

Change Resistant

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 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 Ways To Create More Margin in Your Time

Time is Money

How do you fit more into an already busy schedule?

Isn’t this a great question?

Because, aren’t you being asked to do so all the time? Isn’t your standard reply to the question “how are you?” – BUSY? Aren’t we all?

HOw do you creat more margin in your schedule – to do the things you want to do and the things you need to do?

Here are a 10 tips to help create more time margin:

Start your day with God.

Of course a pastor would say this, but it is amazing if I start the day talking to God about my day how much better my day flows. If I ask God for margin in my time and to help me complete my “to do” list, He actually seems to listen and help me. (Try it!)

Prioritize your life.

It is important to have a life purpose. What do you value most? Without knowing this we find ourselves chasing after many things that have little value. Have you discovered why you are here and what God has most for you in life and in this season of life? If not, start here.

Make sure your priorities line up with your desires.

This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is not. Many times, we say our purpose is one thing, but what we actually do is something entirely different. This is often because people are going to do what people want to do. We may need to ask God to change our heart and plant in us His desires.

Stop unnecessary time-wasters.

If you “veg” out every night on three plus hours of television or browsing Facebook, don’t be surprised you didn’t get to spend a lot of quality time with your children or friends. Most of us form bad habits or have unorganized methods of doing something that waste bulks of our time. Make a list of what you spend the most time doing and see if there are places you can cut. (I suspect there will be.)

Work smarter.

I can’t imagine being successful and leading a team without some system of calendaring your week or keeping a planner, yet I know so many pastors and other ministers who simply handle things as they come up rather than work with a plan. The benefit of organization is that you can do what you need to do more efficiently and faster and be more productive. Give a shoutout to the checklist people! 

Schedule times to organize.

This is so important, but most people don’t do it. Spending an hour or two actually planning the week will make the whole week more productive. Usually for me this is the first part of my week. If I know where I’m headed and my work space is organized for efficiency, it’s much easier to get everything done and still handle distractions, which are sure to come.

Do the most necessary things first.

You may have tried the A/B/C list of scheduling priorities. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but the important thing is you have one and use it to help your rate of completion. (And, this may be rest, it might be family, or it could be the project you have to complete today.)

Don’t say yes to everything.

Be picky with your time allotment based again on your end priorities and goals.

Schedule down time.

Especially when my boys were younger, I would write on my calendar time for them. This may sound mechanical, but it allows you to be there and keeps things and others from filling up your schedule. (I still schedule this time for Cheryl – and, it sounds counterproductive, but we get away even more frequently during busier seasons.)

Evaluate your schedule often.

Plans should not be implemented and then ignored. Develop your plan to create margin in your life, then periodically review the plan to see how you are doing and what needs to be changed.

For some people just reading this is laborsome. I especially encourage those of you geared this way to push through the difficult part of this and give it a try. You will be surprised what a positive difference it will have on your life.

5 Common Struggles Among Young Pastors

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A couple years ago, I spent several hours with a group of young pastors. It was a cross representation of church planters and pastors of established churches. Healthy churches and unhealthy. Growing, plateauing and declining. Most were new in their positions and I expected to see all these churches will be growing soon. It was a sharp group of people.

We talked about a lot of issues, but one of our longer discussions was when I asked them what their greatest struggle in ministry was at the current time. There were some incredible consistencies – actually more than I anticipated. Very different churches and very different pastors – very similar struggles.

I thought it was worthy of sharing here. A large majority of my readers are pastors. And, here is my word to you – You may not be as alone as you think. The title says “young” pastors, and I chose it because this group was, but I suspect these aware shared by pastors of all ages.

Here are the 5 most common struggles among pastors:

Personnel issues. 

If the church has any paid staff other than the pastor there will be issues for the pastor. I’m finding this portion of our work more demanding than ever. The longer I lead the more complex this issue becomes, simply because of the changing laws and regulations placed on places of employment – including the church. 

I always advise younger leaders, especially those without a background in this issue, to seek professional help in this area, even if it has to be from outside the church.

Navigating bureaucracy.

I think this is a particularly heavy burden on younger pastors. The generation entering the ministry is much like the generation entering the secular workforce. They want to do something, not meet about doing something. I share their heart, but granted this is one of the hardest ones to address. (Of course, the church planters weren’t the ones with this struggle as much.) 

I often advise young pastors in established churches to write some of their best sermons around casting vision of how we should spend our time as pastors. Jesus seemed to teach and model quite extensively about our need to reach the lost. The Bible doesn’t record a lot of His time in committee. Acts gives good models of leadership and serving the people. People in the first century seemed to do a lot of the work we’ve placed on professional staff.

Balancing ministry and family time.

This has always been a struggle. And, frankly, it should be. We need to work hard – it’s a good Biblical principle – and we need to protect our family. There’s another great Biblical principle. It requires a healthy art of balancing our time. This younger generation of ministers, however, and I think it’s a good thing, won’t automatically let the ministry trump their family. Ministers from my generation and older generations sometimes did. And, many from these generations have told me they wish they hadn’t after it was too late. 

My advise to the younger pastor is to keep the heart for the balance, be very intentional with their schedule and use of time and cast vision to the church continually of why they’re not at everything and why they’re family is so important. The church needs this message too – as they are equally in the struggle.

Developing leaders.

This one seemed true regardless of the style of church. And, in my experience, it’s true in most organizations. We are always in need of new leaders. You can’t grow or even maintain without consistently developing new leaders. In a practical sense, leaders come and go, die or burnout. But it’s also difficult to grow and develop as a body without growth in the number of leaders. 

I advised them to start systematically and strategically developing new leaders now. In fact, I think it’s more important you have a system – even if it’s not perfect – than to do nothing. People typically learn best by doing. So, at the least, in the absence of a formal leadership development program, start giving people you see with potential assignments to lead – and let them develop with on-the-job training.

Handling critics.

Again, this one was shared less by the church planters, but the interesting twist is the criticism church planters received was typically from outside the church. Pastors in established churches seemed to receive most of their criticism from inside the church. (There’s a whole blog post needed on my thoughts on this one.) But, either way, one thing all leaders have in common is criticism. Lead anything and critics will find you. You don’t have to go looking for them. (I love the passage in Exodus 24 where, as Moses was going to the mountain to spend time with God, he made a plan for how to handle disputes among the people.) Because leadership involves change. And change always changes things. (You got that, right?) People often respond to change with an emotion — it could be anger, frustration or sadness — but it comes to us as what we’ve labeled criticism. I’ve learned sometimes it isn’t as much against the leader as it is against their sense of loss, but either way it hurts. 

I always remind young pastors and leaders that we must find our strength in our calling, our purpose and in the pursuit of the vision God has placed in our hearts. We shouldn’t ignore criticism. We should filter it. (And I’ve written on the right and wrong ways to respond to criticism.) But, we should not let criticism control us – in our leadership or in our emotional state – even though that is sometimes the intent of the critic. Part of leading is learning how to stay healthy even in the midst of criticism.

I loved my time with this group and repeated it several times.

Let me ask, was anything surprising about the list?

I also wondered, are seminaries addressing these issues? Should they?

10 Considerations for Understanding Biblical Faith

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Are you struggling to understand faith? 

I have learned to understand faith I have to put it in terms of a relationship. When we speak of a Biblical faith, we are speaking in terms of having faith – trusting – based upon our relationship with God through His son, Jesus Christ.

With this in mind, based on my understanding of Scripture…

Here are 10 considerations of understanding Biblical faith:

1. Faith is defined for us as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

2. Faith believes even when it makes no sense to believe, not because of the proof before you, but because of the trust you place in the object of your faith.

3. Faith is based on the will of the person in whom you place your faith, not my will. This is huge to understand. You can have faith the person you love most will never hurt you, for example, but whether they do or not is up to their will, not yours.

4. Biblical faith is in a person, the person of God. (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – they are One.)  Faith is not in me or my abilities, but on God and His abilities.

5. When Jesus used the illustration of moving mountains He was giving an example of the power of God and how we should place our whole faith in Him. He was not talking about the power of my ability to have faith, but rather the power of the One in whom we place our faith. If God’s will is to move a mountain, He will surely move it. You can even ask Him to by faith.

6. When we talk about faith in God then, we are talking about His will, not our will. Again, this is another huge point. This is how Jesus taught us to pray….”Our Father, who is in Heaven – Thy will be done”. Faith is based on God’s agenda, not my agenda. It’s not your ability to move mountains. It is God’s ability. You have no power over God with your faith. Again, it’s not your will to move mountains; it’s God’s will. We can’t command God to do anything regardless of the size of our faith – because, faith is based on God’s will, not our own.

7. Faith is based on the promises and the character of God, not our hopes or desires. We often miss this one. When you struggle with faith, you don’t doubt your ability – you doubt God’s ability. Sometimes we get upset God hasn’t done something we think He should do, but God never promised to do it. He keeps His promises. You can trust His character – without reservation. God is always going to do what is best. If God has promised something you can absolutely, without any reservations, have faith. And, so, you can also know if God hasn’t done it He hasn’t promised He will – or it is not in His timing yet. You may not always understand what God did or why, but you can always have faith He is acting within His goodness and love. 

8. When you pray by faith then, you are praying with the understanding you trust God to do His will in your life, based not on your wishes or desires, but on what He has promised to do. Some things we can always have faith God will do, because he has promised to do them, such as “love you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), “work all things for good” (Romans 8:28) and “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). You can have peace in this world – Jesus promised this. (John 14:27) You don’t have to be afraid. (Isaiah 41:10) You don’t have to worry. Jesus made you a promise. (Matthew 6:25)

We can’t, however, have faith God will heal every sickness, because He’s not promised He will. We can pray He will – and we should. We can hope He will, but we can only have faith in what He has promised to do. And, in fact, God promised we would have trials – He promised we would need Him daily – and, praise God, He also promised throughout all tribulations we can rejoice in our sufferings – and our Heavenvly reward will be worth far more.

9. God is trustworthy – worthy of our faith. I love how The Message Version puts 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” Do what? His will. Faith in the person of God is based then on your trust He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do.

10. When your faith lines up with God’s will, you can absolutely, positively, unquestionably claim by faith God’s will be done. One of the reasons it is so important to know God personally is so we will know His will, so we can know how to pray in God’s will. (Romans 12:1-2)

You can ask God to do anything – and you should. Pray continually. Seek Him continually. Have faith God will keep His promises to you. He will. If you are a believer this should be a huge encouragement to you. The greatest days for a believer are still to come. Eternity will be glorious. God promised. Have faith in this.

Understanding Biblical faith is critical to maturing in our faith. Now, take a minute and read the “faith chapter”, as it has been called. Hebrews 11.

God bless!

Your Life Can Change In One Day

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One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro… (Exodus 3:1)

It apparently began as a normal day for Moses. In the morning, Moses set out, as he had many years, to tend to his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. Shepherding was a dirty, thankless job, but it was Moses’ livelihood and so in typical fashion, he began another day’s work. As the story goes, however, it was not a normal day for Moses. This particular day would change the course of Moses’ life forever.

If you know the story in Exodus 3, this was the day Moses met God in the burning bush.

This was the day God recruited Moses for Kingdom service. This was the day Moses became the chief representative for God to the Israelites. Beginning this day, Moses led the people out of Egypt towards the Promise Land. Along the way, God used Moses to lead the people through a parted sea, deliver the 10 Commandments, and feed the people with manna and quail.

Oh yea, and Moses got to speak to a rock and watch as water poured out also. Moses life was never the same from this one day forward.

The story of Moses is a great reminder to me of the power contained within a day.

In one day, a life can be changed. One change of direction can alter a person’s future for good or bad. One new resolve, one decision to do the right thing (or the wrong thing), or one personal conviction can alter the outcome of a person’s life in positive or negative ways.

This thought really leaves me with one question for you:

How are you allowing your “one days” to shape your life?

Is there something in your life you know you need to be doing, some change of direction you need to make, some new commitment, but so far, you have not been obedient to what you know to do?

Could this be a day you surrender to the will of God for your life?

Will this be the day you begin to head your life in the direction you actually want it to end?

Will the resolve you make today carry you towards the vision you have for your life?

Life altering decisions usually begin “one day”.

Is this your day?

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. I promised a companion post.

What should you do when a church is in decline?

It should be noted 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 which 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 would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

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, however, 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 10 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 which 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 sin. Now. And, if the problems involve people, don’t be a people pleaser, address them. (I 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 the 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 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 your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

Downtrend chart and red pencil. Selective focus

Part of my ministry involves working with other churches. Sometimes when I hear from a church they have been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.

I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation. I do know, however, if a local church never adds new people – eventually it will cease to exist. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is often not what they should do, but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, at least what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again. The purpose of this post is to help churches who may find themselves in a declining period avoid mistakes I’ve seen some churches make.

In a future post I’ll share some suggestions of what a church in decline should do.

Here are 7 suggestions NOT to do when in decline:

Blame others

It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor – or one the deacons – or one the seniors – or even on the culture. I continually hear phrases such as, “If it weren’t for a few people we could probably grow again.” But, the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. And, as long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.

Make excuses

There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover – many of them true – of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point, excuses only cloud our ability to move forward. We tend to live in them rather than move past them.

Pretend

I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem – when everyone knows there is one. (Or many.) If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem which needs addressing. (And, this is the subject of another post, but, in full disclosure – just so you know – this likely involves implementing some change. No, actually, it WILL involve some change.)

Lower expectations

It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but this never works. You are trying to attract new people. You need more excellence, not more mediocrity to do it. You may need to lower the number of programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.

Cut expenses

This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut the things which got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. Don’t cut promotional or community investment dollars, for example, just because they are intangibles or an easy decisions to make. The fact here is many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult decisions – unpopular decisions. So we often avoid them and cut the things that we should be doing to spur growth.

Overreact

Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to – set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward – and then trust God will see you through this period.

Give up

There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. He didn’t make the promise to every local church. Local churches close every year. But, before you give up, or before you resolve church growth is for other churches – but not this one – make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.

(Let me address the pushback I often receive on posts like this – many times from well-meaning people who think I’m too strategic to be Biblical. God is in charge. He sets the rules and adds the increase. But, this does not leave us without responsibility. Read the parable of the talents – or the story of Nehemiah – or multiple others. God has given us minds to be used for His glory.)

Have you pastored a church in decline? What mistakes did you make?

7 Necessary Steps When You Need to Have a Difficult Conversation

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I once Tweeted, “The hardest conversation is often the most needed.”

It was as a result of my counsel to another pastor in a leadership setting. He knew he needed to approach an issue, but he wasn’t sure how to do so. I understand. If it were easy we wouldn’t struggle to do it.

I find myself encouraging those type conversations often. Apparently, from the retweets and direct messages I received it’s a frequent issue. In relationships, there are consistent needs to have difficult conversations. Often leaders, spouses, and friends avoid them, but it’s often to the detriment of the relationship.

I decided to expand beyond Twitter length encouragement.

Do you need to have a difficult conversation?

Here are 7 necessary steps you’ll need to take:

Conviction

There first needs to be some sense of urgency towards having the conversation. People who have frequent hard conversations just to have hard conversations are obnoxious at best. Hard conversations, where you challenge someone, confront a situation or address sensitive issues, should be rare – not normal. Make sure you know it’s something you must do in order to improve the situation or protect the relationship.

Prayer

You should pray as a part of the conviction process also. And, you should pray after you know you are moving forward. Pray for God’s favor on the conversation, open hearts for you and the other party, and God’s resolution to be realized. And, enter the conversation in a spirit of prayer.

Notes

Jot down your main points you are trying to make. You might read THIS POST. It’s about how to write a sensitive letter, but the points in it will help you prepare for a face-to-face conversation also. (And, there are times a letter is best.) You want to be prepared. You want to remember your thoughts clearly and not from emotion. The main issues (as you can read in the post) are to be factual, to the point, but kind, truthful, and helpful. Be willing to assume blame where needed.

Setting

Time and place are critical in difficult situations. You should never “attack” someone in ways that will embarrass them more or add unnecessary stress to the situation. You shouldn’t have a hard conversation when you’re being motivated simply by emotion. You should find neutral ground. Be strategic with your when and where.

Rehearsal

Go through your notes and your part of the conversation. Imagine if someone was having this conversation with you and how you would respond. You can’t determine how they will respond, but you can rehearse how you will respond. The more you do this the better you’ll be able to control your emotions when the time comes.

Action

Do it. You need to plan the when, as stated above, but the longer you wait the harder and more awkward it will be. Have the conversation while you’re prepared and in a prayerful mindset about the situation.

Follow up

Most likely the conversation won’t end with the conversation. You will need to check in with the person, send them a follow up email, phone call or even another meeting. You may need to reiterate your care for them personally even after the conversation. The Scripture is clear – as much as it depends on us we are to live at peace with everyone. If nothing more is needed between you and the person, at least take time to think through how the conversation went so you can learn from it and be better prepared for future difficult conversations. You can be assured of additional opportunities.

I hope this helps. Don’t avoid the hard conversations. They are often the most needed. But, always be wise about having them.

What steps or advice would you add?

5 Ways You May Be Destroying Your Marriage

couple in distress

How does a once good marriage fall apart?

I get asked this question when it becomes public a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.

As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.

There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.

Many times couples are destroying their marriage – and, most times, it’s not intentional and they didn’t even know it was occurring. So, let me address this to those who may be in a season – or an upcoming season – where a good marriage is in jeopardy. (Satan loves those seasons.)

Here are 5 ways you may be destroying your marriage:

Other interests come between you.

Typical dangerous scenario: The couple hasn’t been communicating well, life is stressed, and suddenly a friendly voice or a pretty smile says an affirming word at the office. Happens everyday.

It could be a relationship – even good relationships like children or other friends – or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. There was probably once a time when the two of you could “take on the world”. Nothing could come between you. You were inseparable. But, other things began to grab one or both of your attention – slowly, over time. Outside distractions will destroy a good marriage.

(I have also seen solid couples who once were so committed to the church. It was a stabilizing place for them. They found their friends there and their weekly encouragement. Gradually they get off track and are infrequent attenders at best. It provides a whole for the enemy.)

Are there distractions coming between you and your marriage?

Unresolved conflict.

Every couple is different – and every individual. I have found there is often one who doesn’t mind conflict and one who runs from it. There may be one who little things to bother and one nothing seems to phase. (Drawers continually left slightly open or clothes on the floor can prove to be a major problem if never addressed.) And, there are all kinds of combinations in between. But, when conflict develops at some point it must be addressed. Hidden pain never disappears on its own. And, many couples simply don’t know how to address conflict. (Get help if you don’t.)

Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes. Someone reading this may be allowing an injury from years ago to continue to haunt you. Your spouse may not even know the hurt is still there.

The couple stops dreaming together.

When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy which fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.

Many times we get so distracted with life stuff – the kids, work, paying the bills – it becomes all we have to talk about anymore. Those things we once dreamed about are replaced with current demands. This is natural, but it can de-fuel a marriage.

When is the last time you spent time talking about the future – your future as a couple?

Boredom.

I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating – quit laughing – quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.

Do you remember when you once couldn’t wait to see your spouse again? You were newly involved and they were the first person you thought about in the morning and the last person at night? What was it about them which captured your attention about them? Chances are it’s still there – you simply haven’t noticed in a while.

When is the last time you belly laughed with your spouse? When was the last time you remember the marriage being “fun”?

Living separate agendas.

It’s okay to have separate identities. It’s okay to have separate interests. I would even encourage it. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda of a marriage should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When this is not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.

Is it time to get back on the same page with each other? We have found sometimes (many times) we need to set aside time – just the two of us – to reconnect and get realigned with where we are as a couple and where we are going.

It will take intentionality on your part – and granted on both of your parts – to address these issues. But, a good marriage is worth the effort.

I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.