7 Examples of Shallow Leadership

shallow pool

Growing in our leadership abilities — including growing in the knowledge of leadership and the relational aspect of leadership– should be a goal for every leader.

Sadly, many leaders settle for status quo leadership rather than stretching themselves to continually improve. They remain oblivious to the real health of their leadership and the organizations they lead. They may get by — people may say things are “okay” — but it isn’t excellent.

I call it shallow leadership.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in leadership. Maybe you’ve been guilty of providing shallow leadership. For a season, at least. I certainly have.

Still wondering what shallow leadership looks like?

Here are 7 characteristics of shallow leadership:

Thinking your idea will be everyone’s idea. You assume everyone is on the same page. You think everyone thinks like you. You stop asking questions of your team. You stop evaluating. 

Believing that your way is the only way. You’re the leader — you must be right. You’ve had some success. It went to your head a little. So, you’ve become head strong. You’re controlling. You make every decision. You never delegate.

Assuming you already know the answer. You think you’ve done it long enough to see it all. You quit learning. You stop reading. You never meet with other leaders anymore. 

Pretending to care when really you don’t. You have grown cold in your passion. You may speak the vision but they’re just words to you now. You go through the motions. You’re drawing a paycheck. But, truth be known, you’d rather be anywhere than here right now.

Giving the response that makes you most popular. You like to be liked. You never make the hard decisions. You refuse to challenge. You avoid conflict. You run from complainers. You ignore the real problems.

Refusing to make a decision. You had a setback. Things didn’t go as planned. You’ve grown scared. You’re overwhelmed. You refuse to walk by faith. Your team won’t move forward because you won’t move forward.

Ignoring the warning signs of poor health. Momentum may be suffering. Things may not be “awesome” anymore. You look the other way. Your soul is empty. You may be unhealthy. The team may be unhealthy. You refuse to see it.

We never achieve best with shallow leadership. The first step is to admit. 

Have you seen shallow leadership before? What would you add to my list?

7 Suggestions for Planting a Church or Revitalizing in a New Community

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I am consistently asked for suggestions I have for moving to another city to plant a church or revitalize a church.

I planted once in my hometown, so I am very familiar with that community, but I also planted a church in a city in which I didn’t know anyone well, so I have some experience in that area too. In my present church, I moved to a city where I knew only one other couple.

Recently someone who was about to move to a new city to minister asked a very good specific question.

What advice would you give me that people don’t always give?

Good question. It made me think. I don’t know that any of these are original, but I don’t hear them talked about as much as other suggestions.

And, I think the things I would do would be the same in any ministry position.

Here are 7 suggestions for moving to another community to minister:

Have a prayer team – There should be a group of people praying for this community, the church, and the leaders on a daily basis. I have a personal prayer team and organize teams to pray for special events. Bathe every move in prayer. 

Learn the culture – Every city and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matter’s most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their unique language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value most? You’ll have to ask lots of questions and observe.

Learn the market – Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What’s the quality of the school system? If you’re planting, are schools an option for a building? What are the major problems, concerns and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics? How would a church address some of the issues? These matter for numerous reasons — but mainly it will impact the people you are trying to reach.

To learn these things I try to meet with the highest level leader I can in each area of interest – Schools, city government, police, business community, etc.

Learn the competition – Before you get too excited — it’s not other churches. It’s anything that has the people’s attention you are trying to reach besides a church. Sunday sports events. Major festivals. Community traditions.

Support the Community – Immediately find ways to get personally involved in the community with volunteer investment. That could be through the Chamber of Commerce, schools, festivals, etc. Give back. Believe it or not, that gets attention. Currently, we volunteer several places around town, including at our local visitor’s center. And, if you really want to show you love the community  — support the sports teams they support. 

Develop patience – It is harder than you think it will be. It just is. Church planting, church revitalization– really any ministry — takes a tremendous toll on you physically, mentally and even spiritually. It doesn’t happen overnight. Prepare for the journey. Commit to the change you bring to the ministry — even knowing how difficult it might be at times. 

Protect your family – Just as church plants are stressful on the planter, they are equally challenging for the planter’s family. That may even be more true in revitalization. And, it’s true in all ministry. These issues are multiplied because of relocation, since much of their support system is being replaced. Protect your family by discipling your time and not losing them as your primary focus. As much as possible, involve them in the work so they understand it’s value and get to share in the rewards. Protect your personal down time and your soul. Don’t burn out by trying to do too much too soon.

Ministry is tough, but like all actions of faith and obedience, God uses the sacrifices to reach hurting people and change their life for His glory. Thanks for Kingdom-building.

7 Pieces of Wisdom for Navigating through the Disappointments of Life

Upset

I have the opportunity to sit with many people who are experiencing disappointment in life. Many times, even when we are doing the best we know how, we find ourselves disappointed with where we find ourselves in life at the time.

Life happens. It could be tragedy or a minor set back, but it hurts. Pain is always relative to context. And, if we don’t know how to respond we can have a very hard time recovering.

Having faced disappointment many times in my own life, I’ve learned a few things about navigating through these times. I hope some of my wisdom gleaned through experience can help you.

Here are 7 pieces of wisdom for the disappointments of life:

Keep your heart close to God. That’s important always, but especially during times of disappointment. The Psalmist said, “God is close to the brokenhearted.” God is most likely at work in ways you cannot presently see or understand. Often disappointment ushers in some of the greatest seasons of God for your life. Don’t miss it by not listening to Him.

Wait for your emotions to heal before you make major decisions. Recall how the prophet Elijah was ready to die during a difficult period. (1 Kings 19) Yet God still had great plans for his life and ministry. We tend to make irrational decisions immediately following times of disappointment. Let some time pass and make sure you are thinking rational again before you implement major changes in your life.

Don’t quit doing what you know to do. While you shouldn’t make major changes, an equally dangerous tendency to give up or stall until the next opportunity arrives or life gets “easier”. You may need a resting period, but keep your mind and hands busy doing what there is to do today. It will help protect your heart and mind from the attack of fears and doubts. And, do things that keep you alive and healthy. Eat, sleep, exercise.

Don’t allow a disappointment to determine your sense of self-worth. Read many of David’s Psalms. (22, 69, and 121 are a few of my favorites.) You can read his despair — then as He reminds himself of God’s love and faithfulness — he is restored. Be restored who you are as a child of God. Beloved. Let God and the people who know you best help determine your worth. It’s monumental worth. Yes, even today! You don’t have to be defined by your disappointment. 

(And, be on the lookout for signs of severe depression. Things like withdrawal, constant feelings of despair, severe worry, not eating, dark fears or thoughts, etc. Don’t resist professional help.)

Remember, you are not alone. Even though it may feel that way. Back to the story of Elijah, he couldn’t see it at the time, but God had reserved an army of supporters for him. Disappointments are a part of everyone’s experience. There is likely someone who has experienced the same type disappointment. Don’t be afraid to find them and let them walk through this period with you. (This is not a time to remove yourself from the church community — this is a time to find real, life-giving community.)

Learn everything you can from this period. No one welcomes disappointment, yet most who have experienced them learn some of life’s best lessons during those times. Even failure can be a great teacher. Don’t miss the value of experience.

Move forward when opportunity presents itself. Too many people become paralyzed after a period of disappointment, refusing to ever move forward again. Living an abundant life requires risk-taking. Dreaming again. Loving again. Ultimately, to be obedient to God’s call on your life, you will have to walk by faith again. If you ever hope to escape the moment of disappointment — when the time is right — and you’ve grieved your loss or disappointment sufficiently — get on with life.

Learning how to handle disappointments will make your life better. Eventually, God will — if you allow Him to — grant you the privilege of helping others who experience disappointment.

What wisdom have you gleaned from times of disappointment?

7 Ways to Tell it May Be a God Thing — Helping Discern if God is In This

Photo manipulation:  pineapple with watermelon content

And without faith it is impossible to please God… Hebrews 11:6

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. 2 Chronicles 20:12

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27

God calls people to seemingly impossible tasks. It gives Him glory when I can’t do something, but He can. I can do “all things through Christ who strengthen me“, but often what He calls me to do can seem foolish to attempt (at least to others — and sometimes me) at the time. Imagine what the friends of Abraham, Moses, and Noah must have thought when God called them to what appeared to be impossible assignments. God calls people to walk by faith into the unknown.

If you know God has called you to something don’t be dismayed if others can’t quickly identify with your calling. In my experience, God is often raising up others with the same heartbeat, but you can’t always see them at the time, so there may be periods when you have to stand alone on God’s calling. That may be for a season, but at times it could be for years. (Consider the case of Noah.)

With that in mind, what are some indicators what you are experiencing might just be of God.

Here are 7 ways to tell it may be a God thing:

  • Everyone says it can’t be done. There’s no way. It’s never been done before.
  • You feel you aren’t qualified. You don’t have what it takes. You’re scared. Overwhelmed. Under-prepared.
  • There aren’t enough resources available. Not enough money. Not enough people. (or so it seems) You don’t have the building, or the location or the perfectly mapped-out strategy.
  • It makes no rational sense. Seriously, who in their right mind would do this?
  • People are questioning your intelligence. Or asking if you are “sure you know what you are doing”.
  • Accomplishing it would give God all the glory. There would be no other explanation.
  • It honors God and is true to His Word.

I’m not saying this post confirms what you are attempting is from God. It might. It might not.

What I am saying is that you should not dismiss the call you believe God has placed on your life because it doesn’t make sense to others around you — or to yourself at times. God things seldom do. Read a few Bible stories if you need some inspiration — or confirmation of what I’m saying.

Are you in the midst of a God-calling?

Has God called you to things which made no sense at the time?

What would you add to my list?

5 Thoughts on Leadership from the Life of David

A businessman at the entrance to a maze

The best book from which to find leadership principles is the Bible. I love, for example, learning from leaders like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, Nehemiah — and I could keep going. Of course, the greatest leader of the Bible — and life — is Jesus.

And, I love reading about King David. From his time in the wilderness and serving as king, good and bad, we learn a great deal about leadership and what is required to successfully lead by observing David.

Take for example this story. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve used this dozens of times to encourage leaders.

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”The LORD answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah. But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 1 Samuel 23:1-3

Notice David had a vision — a word from God. This was a bigger request than David and his men probably felt capable of doing. They were still a young army. This was prior to David reigning as king. He had been anointed king by God, but did not yet have the position. He was hiding from Saul. He didn’t have a king’s palace. He spent much of his time in a cave. This new assignment was scary, his army was questioning him, and the future was unknown.

Have you experienced a situation like that as a leader?

Thankfully David’s story had a happy ending: (Imagine that since God put him up to it.)

But, even with a happy ending ahead — like most of our stories — that didn’t mean victory would come without challenges.

Read some more of the story.

Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 1 Samuel 23:4-5

This story prompts 5 thoughts on leadership I think are appropriate for all of us:

We seldom get to rest for long – In church planting and in church revitalization — and in my years leading in the business world — I never knew seasons of rest for very long. They could be good seasons or not so good seasons, but there was always something demanding our attention. Something new was happening. There were challenges around us.

It reminds me that we must rest along the way. Don’t expect things to “slow down” so you can catch up. They won’t. You’ll have to be disciplined to decompress regularly. God even commanded it into the system. It’s called the Sabbath. And, we need it. Our souls need it.

Next steps are scary – If they weren’t people wouldn’t need a leader. Next steps involve risk, require faith, and the future is an unknown. If David had not been obedient his “team” would have easily sat this one out — ignoring the command of God.

Leaders lead – That’s what leaders do. They take people where they need to go, maybe even where they want to go, and sometimes where they are hesitant, afraid or may not yet be prepared to go. People don’t need a leader to stay where they are currently. We could manage that.

As a leader I have to be obedient, even when the demands are bigger than I think our team can handle — bigger than I as a leader know how to lead. That’s what leaders do. We chart the way — even when the way isn’t neat, tidy, and clearly defined.

Big visions require faith – God doesn’t call us to that which is easy. He would receive no glory in us doing things we can naturally do — and seriously — what kind of a dream is it if it’s easily accomplished? Surely the God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine would want us to dream bigger than that which is easily attained.

Victory won’t come unless we move forward – You can’t realize the rewards of a God-given vision until you take the required actions. Standing still is safer, but it doesn’t bring the satisfaction of a well-executed, bold move of faith. And, leaders must be willing to take the first step.

What are you being called to these days that is bigger than you?

5 Ethical Things to Know when Blogging about Struggles in Your Current Position

Middle age woman working on her blog

I had an interesting question recently:

Do you have a “7 ethical things to know if you are going to blog while serving in a local church” blog post?

Although not always as succinct as that one, it’s actually a fairly common question. Basically, how should you blog about — or more popular — speak about problems in leadership when the problems exist where you are currently leading?

When you don’t agree with leadership, but you don’t feel released from your position, is there anyway to ethically talk about that?

Well, I would say first and foremost: BE CAREFUL!

That’s a slippery slope. You should know the risks in advance. People likely read your blog that you don’t think read your blog. (And, your other social media also.) I previously blogged about ways I blog about current leadership problems.

But, if you must, I do have some suggestions.

Here are 5 suggestions when blogging about current leadership struggles:

Be humble. God resists the proud. And, as if you need another reason, it’s wrong to be otherwise. You can usually spot a weak or arrogant leader by one who refuses to be challenged. Don’t be that one. And don’t assume your way is the right way. It might be. It might not be.

Be helpful. The reason to blog is not to get your opinion out there. Honestly, not trying to be cute, but who cares if that’s the only reason? Everyone has an opinion. The ethical thing to do is to write in an attempt to help others. That controls many times how you say something as much as what you say.

Be truthful. Whatever you say — say it honestly. Don’t share innuendos. Don’t insinuate hoping people will read more than what you wrote. You can do more harm than good and may implicate and injure people you don’t intend to hurt. If it’s worth sharing — especially if you feel convicted to do so — do it with complete transparency about what you’re talking about. That doesn’t mean you have to name names, but it does mean those who are in the “know” shouldn’t be wondering if you mean them.

Don’t be hurtful. That goes along with the be helpful one, but it merits a stand-alone mention. Don’t try to divide people. Your point may force people to choose. It may indeed divide. But, this is not the way to fight a battle. It’s not fair to those above you and it never helps to build a team. It won’t accomplish what you hope to accomplish.

Be general. Again, your goal should be to be helpful. Most people will not care about nor be able to identify with all the unique aspects of your situation. It creates confusion and is harder to translate into another context. The more you can generalize your thoughts the more others will be able to implement your suggestions.

Those are my suggestions. Sorry I didn’t get to seven.

It should be noted that there may be times the only way you have to express yourself is in writing. I’m talking primarily about settings where the “boss” is not completely out of your reach — you know them. I’m not addressing national issues, for example. But, some of these could apply there as well. I personally have a hard time finding the reason to ever use writing as a forum to do harm or cause further division. Seems like we have enough of that.

7 Actions When You Can’t Respect the Leader

A picture of a young furious businessman screaming over white background

It’s not uncommon that I receive a message from a staff member of another church struggling with the current leadership. The question is usually how they can continue to be where they don’t support the vision and direction of the pastor. They want my advice on how to responding during this season of ministry.

This situation is obviously not unique to churches, but also happens frequently in other organizations. I don’t believe all hope is lost during times like this. An individual can continue to grow even with a leader he or she cannot respect — sometimes even more.

Here are 7 actions I suggest when you don’t respect the leader:

Talk to God – That’s an obvious answer from a pastor, but sometimes it’s the thing we do the least. We complain faster it seems — at least I do. Ask God to reveal to you His purposes for your life during this season. It could be He’s preparing you for something, stirring the nest so-to-speak, or that you are in a time of testing. Don’t assume God is absent during this time. I assure you He’s not asleep at the wheel and has a plan. The closer you are to Him during this time the sooner you’ll understand that plan.

Keep working – Most of us need a paycheck. Be grateful while you have one. Unless you know for certain you are to quit, it is destroying you or your family, or you sense something immoral is happening, there’s nothing wrong with working until you find something else.

Do your best – While you are there be above reproach in your work ethic. Make it your aim to prepare for your successor and to leave your area of responsibility better than you found it when you arrived.

Respect the leader – I know. That’s the tough one, but as long as you’re there you must respect authority. That’s our Biblical command. You may not respect them as a person but you can respect them as the boss.

Learn all you can – The fact is we learn more during the stressful and difficult times, so be a sponge. You may gain all the wisdom of what not to do when you are in control, but you will learn something if you try.

Be thankful for the connections and experience – You will be gaining connections in the church (work) world — or at least you have that opportunity. It’s easier to network when you’re in the field than it is once you are no longer working. Be thankful for that opportunity.

Be a cheerleader for life – You may not enjoy your work setting but you can still be a positive life influence for those around you. Use your smile and your pleasant disposition as an encourager for others. You’ll feel better about yourself after you eventually leave.

Keep watching – Be open to what God will do next in your life. It may not be what you are expecting. Chances are good it will stretch you and require a leap of faith. Prepare your heart, family and attitude for that opportunity when it arrives.

Keep this in mind. I firmly believe we are called to a person — Jesus — more than any location. Even any other leader. At the end of the day, you’re biggest concern is to be faithful to your call — to Jesus.

Have you ever been in this position?

What advice would you give?

5 Bad Reasons to Plant a Church

young woman showing her denial with NO on her hand

I love church planters. I moved into church revitalization and part of the concern I had for doing so is that I might not have a foot into church planting. That would be tough for me. After two successful plants and having worked with literally hundreds of planters, I think it’s in my blood. (Interestingly, I learned a few years after my first plant that my mom served on the core of a church plant during her years before marriage. It’s truly in my blood.)

But, I’m concerned.

Can I change gears in the conversation that quickly?

I seem to find some planters — or want-t0-be planters — who are in it for the wrong reasons. The fact is we need people called to ministry in the established church. We need them in church revitalization. Not everyone needs to be a church planter.

But, the bigger issue is that without the right reasons, if we are not careful, a church plant could become just a part of a growing fad and no ultimate good will come from it. And, that’s not good for the planter or the Kingdom.

So, we must be careful to plant for the right reason. And, not the wrong reasons.

Here are 5 bad reasons to plant a church:

You’re running from authority.

I’ve worked with some people who didn’t want to follow the rules. In fact, I am that person sometimes. That’s not a good reason to start a church, however. And, when that is the reason — just offering this as a heart-check — it is usually out of pride and arrogance. God can never honor that. You’ll have authority in a church plant — if you’re smart — or you’ll find yourself in deep trouble. All of us need some authority in their lives.

You want to do things your way.

I understand. Really. Especially if you worked for a controlling leader or for someone who had no passion or vision. But be careful. Sometimes a desire birthed in good can quickly become something birthed in rebellion. And, when that happens, many times you close yourself to ideas other than your own. You then become the controlling leader.

You want to be close to mama.

Or mama-in-law. I get that too. You love your family. Free babysitting. It’s pretty common to love family, isn’t it? Don’t we all? But our callings are bigger — and stronger — than that. Sometimes God gives us huge latitude in location. And, that may be exactly where you want to plant. I hope He does. Sometimes, however, He doesn’t. But, the decision is always His. Never ours.

Your buddy is doing it.

It’s popular to plant a church these days. As I write this I am at a church planting conference. There are several — actually lots — of those these days. And, that’s a good thing. We need lots of new churches. Tons. It’s just not a good reason to plant a church because everyone else is doing it. It’s not.

You’ve got the cool factor.

Don’t we all? In our own context at least. I needed to clarify that because I was almost 40 when I planted my first church and I had long passed the day I could wear skinny jeans. Church plants — anything new — attracts cool. (It’s funny, when I attend church planting conferences there are lots of similar looks. Styles change but church planters keep up with the styles.) But, cool does not make a good church planter. It doesn’t hurt — I should be honest — but it isn’t a reason to plant a church.

By the way — I have to say this — church revitalization needs cool too. Don’t forget that.

So why plant a church?

There is really only one reason to plant a church.

You are fully convinced God has called you to plant a church.

5 Things Every Leader Needs to Hear

Applauding

Sure I’m a leader. So this may appear to be a self-serving post. I understand — and accept — the risk.

The fact that I am a leader, however, gives me a certain credibility in speaking on behalf of leaders.

I wrote this post several years ago, but decided to edit it and post again. More convinced than others.

I recently returned from encouraging dozens of church planters in Chicago. One of these planters has worked for several years without seeing a single person come to faith in Christ. Yet, I saw first hand the good work the church is doing in a very hard community. Others have seen their work grow only to have the world change again as a third of the church moved away in one year.

I was reminded again — there are certain things that every leader needs to hear that fuel his or her passion for leading.

This is true regardless of whether or not the leader is considered a “good” leader. In fact, sometimes a mildly successful leader can transform into a superior leader simply by receiving these words of encouragement.

Here are 5 things every leader needs to hear:

Good job – In spite of a passion for the vision — even if the leader is a thick-skinned, high confidence person — every leader needs to be recognized for what he or she is doing right.

You are making a difference – Leaders are inspired by progress. Every leader wants their work to be meaningful and worthwhile. Numbers, while they are important, aren’t the only indicator of success. Context is always relative. (The fact is, it’s easier to produce growth in a church where I live than in most of the 70 plus unique communities in Chicago.)

I trust you – Leadership is about influence. Leaders are acutely aware that if they are not trusted, no one is truly following. To know you have someone in your corner — who believes in you — that’s golden motivation for a leader.

I believe in you – Leadership can be a frightening place to be. At times, every leader feels he or she is alone and needs to know there is someone in their corner who will be there even when things don’t look or feel that successful.

I’ll follow your lead – Most leaders question their ability at some point and are often timid about making the first move towards something new. The best leaders are never 100% certain. That’s where risk and faith and trust come into the life of the leader. When a leader knows that someone will follow that step of faith is easier to take.

Are you trying to follow a leader?

Make his or her job even easier…and possibly even more successful. Speak some words of encouragement today.