7 Unfair Criticisms or Generalizations of Large or Growing Churches

Modern Megachurch

I have only been in ministry about 14 years. In that time, I have been part of two revitalization churches and two church plants. We have been graced with tremendous growth in all four churches. One church was a smaller church, but the other three have grown to be considered larger churches. I grew up in a large church. So, that is most of my church experience.

It goes through seasons, but periodically I will hear less than positive remarks from people about their perception of growing or large churches. Sometimes it comes from within the church — someone who may struggle as the church experiences growth — which always means change. The majority of time, however, the criticism comes from people outside the church making observations about the church.

And, those are the comments I’m addressing here. Comments from people who really do not have experience with larger or growing (especially fast-growing) churches.

These comments are usually well-meaning in terms of the person’s concern for the church. At least, I’m willing to assume. But, they are usually also generalized and often given without complete understanding about the specific church.

These type comments are easily repeated. Some people love to talk. If we are not careful, they become detrimental to the Kingdom. Because some of them — I would even say most — are simply not true. At least in the churches with which I’ve been affiliated directly. (Which are really the only churches we can definitively criticize. And, even then, the larger the church the harder it is to understand all that is taking place within in it.)

Here are 7 unfair criticisms of growing or large churches:

“All you care about is the numbers.”

This is always a funny one for me. Most of the time people who say this are in churches that also count numbers. I’ve been in some very small churches that even post their numbers on the wall in the back of the church. Numbers are important. In all churches. Because they represent people. For me, I don’t want to pastor a growing church where people aren’t equally growing in their individual walk with Christ. Every large church pastor I know personally feels that way. But, to know this one, whether you’re in the church or not, you’d really have to know the heart of the people in positions of leadership. I know this, however, it is certainly not a fair generalization of large or growing churches.

“You are just stealing people from other churches.”

I have found in my ministry a couple of things to be true. First, once someone is involved in their church it is a very difficult decision for them to ever leave. Regardless of the size of the church. Unless they are moving to the community or there is some major uproar in the previous church, it is fairly rare that a truly committed church member joins another church. Second, some people change churches frequently. If you look at their life over a span of decades they will have been in numerous churches. I have known some churches where their primary growth comes from conflict, church splits, or transferred growth. But, these are rare, in my opinion, and have not been the case in churches I have been affiliated with directly.

“You have too much flash and not enough depth.”

Again, this is a funny one to me. The people who are looking for depth – who know enough to be looking for depth – – it would seem to me would know that real depth; real maturity almost always occurs in much smaller settings. The worship service is only one part of discipleship. And, whether a church averages 40 or 4,000, there will need to be some smaller settings for people to grow deeper spiritually.

“People aren’t growing.”

I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a comment such as, “the larger the church the more immature people you seemed find.” That’s a funny comment to me because I was always pretty good with math. It makes sense to me that more produces opportunity for more. More people — more potential for people who aren’t growing. Something tells me there are some immature people in smaller churches too. (Maybe even some of the ones who spread unfounded generalizations about other churches. Uh oh. Did I say that?)

“People aren’t cared for properly.”

That may be true. And, it might not be. Same would probably be true of smaller churches. In a large church you may not see the pastor every time you’re sick, but if they have a good care system you’ll be cared for in a Biblical community. I have witnessed countless stories of that in some of the churches in which I’ve been a part.

“You won’t get to know anyone.”

That would be like saying if you work at a large company you wouldn’t know anybody you work with. Not true. You won’t be able to just attend the large gathering, never speak to anyone, and expect to develop deeper relationships. But, something tells me, in every large or growing church there will be opportunities to get to know people.

“It’s all about the money.”

As with many of these, you have to think of things in a relative way. It is true that large churches require more money to fund the ministry. Again, that’s just math. But, all churches have a budget. It’s almost always proportional to the size of the church. I have loved watching some large churches that actually are very kingdom-minded and bless churches of all sizes. It’s been amazing to me, for example, to watch as our status church blesses smaller churches. This was something that was happening before me – so it’s not about me. But, I love it.

Here is my advice:
Be careful with generalizations. Look under the hood before you critique the engine. And, never throw stones at what you don’t know.

In fairness, people cast false impressions towards the church that isn’t growing. And, I certainly wouldn’t say that every church in decline or that has plateaued is “making disciples”. Some probably are. Some not as well.

People also make false impressions about small churches. Most of which are probably equally unfair. I have some good friends who are making huge Kingdom impacts in a smaller church. (I’d consider a well-written “7 misunderstandings of small church” guest post.)

Let’s be supporters of churches of all shapes and sizes. Let’s look for fruit, certainly consider the teachings, but take the entire ministry of the church into consideration before we offer generalizations — and certainly before we criticize someone with whom we are supposed to be on the same team.

“Why Would God Send Them Into a Miserable Situation?” – 5 Possible Reasons

Desperate man holding his face in hands appears in a miserable state of unhappiness.

I have the opportunity to speak to dozens of pastors each month. It’s one of my favorite things to do in leadership. Often I will share parts of the conversations I have with my wife Cheryl. She’s a great sounding board and always helps me form a more relational context around the situation.

Recently I was discussing a young pastor who is in a difficult church environment. He is a mid-level staff member and feels God may be opening the door to another opportunity. The problem is — from my perspective — he may be entering another difficult church environment. I said to Cheryl, “It could be miserable for a while.”

Cheryl knew all the principles I’m about to share, but they didn’t resonate before her immediate response.

Cheryl asked, “Would God really call someone into a miserable environment?”

Well, of course, He might. Consider Jonah. What about Elijah? Ever heard of Nehemiah or Noah or Daniel or David or Paul?

Here are 5 reasons God might send someone into a miserable environment:

The Gospel is needed. That’s why Jonah was being sent. People needed to know the Living God. They weren’t yet seeking. They were very wicked people. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go. But, God was seeking them. He wanted to use Jonah to reach them.

People need renewed hope. And, that’s a Gospel issue too. Imagine the “atmosphere” among the Israelites when Moses showed up to offer deliverance. They were frustrated, scared, oppressed, lonely from lack of interaction with God. But, Moses was being used as the deliverer from suffering into a renewed hope.

To show people a better way. It was probably a tense moment when Peter first arrived to the brothers after his time with Cornelius. Good disciples didn’t hang out with uncircumcised men like him. But, Jesus had brought a new message — one of grace — not one of rules. Peter was a messenger of grace.

We learn to trust more. We develop more in environments of tension. Abram left all that he knew to go to a strange land. He went without a good plan — certainly not one he could see very far ahead. That must have been miserable. Yet, God was using Abram to become Abraham — father and example of our faith. Faith is always going where you cannot see. Without Genesis 12, Abraham would have never been ready for Genesis 22.

God gets the glory. Who gets the glory when the credit goes to us? But, when we are in a miserable environment — and God shows up — who gets the glory? Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. He was eventually thrown into a prison cell. Miserable existence for someone who had tried to do the right thing. Yet, God raised Joseph to a seat of honor. Who gets the glory in that story?

I’m sure there are many other reasons God would send someone into a miserable environment. I should be clear, it’s not at all that God loves to see His people miserable. That would be absolutely contrary to everything else we know about the character of God. I do believe, however, that God is very purposeful to work things for good. And, sometimes the best good comes from the most miserable — when the power of God is at work.

His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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 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 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.

7 Things Great Leaders Do: Advice For Today’s Young Leaders

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Recently I was asked to speak to a local youth leadership program on — well, it makes sense — leadership. That’s what they are attempting to learn.

I’ve led in the business world, elected office, and now in ministry – and on dozens of non-profit boards. Along the way I’ve observed a few things about leadership.

And, some great leaders have appeared along the way.

I culled together 7 things I’ve observed and shared with the group things I felt they should know.

Here are 7 things great leaders do:

Great leaders never quit learning.

Never. So, if you want to be a great leader. Systematize your learning. Read one chapter a day that you don’t have to read. Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes. That may sound trivial. It’s not. It helps you remember but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed.

Side note: If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people that’s what you are doing. They’ll assume you’re not paying attention.

Fact is, we gather far more information than we can retain. Get a system to help you keep up with the information that comes your way. I use Evernote. Find what works for you.

As soon as you think you already know what the teacher, professor, or someone older than you is talking about you’ve mentally closed your mind to learning anything new. I’ve got 3 post high school degrees and that’s about enough education to convince me I don’t know everything.

Great leaders never underestimate a connection.

When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will come back around and work for good. Never burn a bridge. Be careful what you place on social media. Those are future connections. And, Respect your elders. Showing respect to people older than you now will ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Great leaders have great courage.

The fact is, if you’re a leader, you’ll not always know what to do. Seldom will you be 100% certain. The best leader is not always the smartest in the room. In fact, the best leaders I know surround themselves with people smarter than them. The best leader isn’t the most outgoing or the most extroverted. I’m perhaps one of the more introverted people in the room, but on Sundays, I appear otherwise.

The best leader is usually the one who is willing to lead others places they aren’t willing to go on their own. The one who has the courage to face the risks of the unknown.

Great leaders are motivated to lead for the good of others, not for personal recognition.

As a leader, you’ll many times feel under-appreciated. This is so huge — especially for your generation. You’ve been accustomed to rewards for achievement. Life isn’t always like that. 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 not have taken the time to let you know what an impact you had on them. Eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of “I did the right thing” as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

Great leaders learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. If a leader makes it “my” team no one will buy-in to the team except the leader. But, then is that person really a leader?

Anyone can be a boss. To be a great leader your words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Great leaders know they can’t get there on their own so they become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. They don’t brag on themselves they brag on their team.

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. Be an encourager — invest in others — and people are more likely to follow you.

Great leaders know that success often starts with humble beginnings.

Never underestimate the power of a moment.

All of the best things in life happened in a moment.
· A wedding proposal.
· A child is born.
· A college scholarship award is received in the mail.

We often look for the grandiose occasions, but the seemingly smallest moments can often have the biggest long-term impact. 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.

Great leaders learn to discipline themselves to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. No one makes you rest.

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 re-calibrate.
· Refocus.
· Rediscover the passion that once fueled you.
· Re-connect, if needed, to those you love.
· To meditate, read, play tennis or golf, go for a run.

You have to discipline for that. And, I’ve learned it’s life-essential.

Our bodies are designed, I believe created, to need rest. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re stressed with school is to go for a walk. Never neglect your soul – it will protect you and help you sustain for the long-term – and help you finish well.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities.

Soak up leadership principles. Keep learning from others. Whatever field of work you choose, the world is still in need of great leaders.

5 Words of Encouragement to the Church Planter or Young Leader

Handsome smiling young man standing with open denim shirt

Recently I was able to share some encouragement with church planters in Chicago. Having been a planter twice, I understand the unique challenges facing planters. They are constantly struggling with leadership issues, finances and simply knowing what to do next.

I get it. Most of what I know now came from experience and the wisdom of others.

Many of the suggestions I shared are suitable for young leaders in any field.

Here are 5 words of encouragement:

The more specific you are the more we can help. Established churches have systems. Processes. Committees. Structure. Too much you might say and that’s why you’re planting. But we have budgets that have likely been approved long in advance. The more detailed you can be with what you need the easier it is to meet the need. Otherwise, it seems overwhelming. And, don’t be afraid to talk about money. Everyone knows you need it. Just don’t be surprised if help is more readily available in other ways.

Surround yourself with some encouragers. Make sure you have people who speak regularly into your life. People outside the work you’re doing. Some days they’ll keep you going.

Seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to. Great advice someone gave me. You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. You may not feel you’re doing any good. You’ll second-guess yourself and your calling. Get back into helping the hurting people — the work, whatever it is — God called you to. Be recharged.

Everything great starts with a humble beginning. Either in your personal humility or the humble beginnings of your work. Take your pick. We all want the grand and instant success. That’s seldom the reality. Those who launch big often had enormous stories of previously being humbled. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah‬ ‭4‬:‭10

Protect your soul — and your marriage. You have to discipline to decompress. Paraphrase of Jesus: “Come to me all who are stretched, burnt-out, weary and heavy-burdened — I will give you refreshment for your soul. Live this truth daily. Put it as a regular practice of your life.

God bless you planter. Leader. Friend.

4 Realities to Help Discern a Vocational Call to Ministry

give me strength

Discerning a call to vocational ministry can be a tiring and trying experience.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with numerous young people and couples who are possibly experiencing a call to full-time, vocational missions or ministry. They don’t always know what they are supposed to do — usually not — but they know their vocation is to be a part of the mission of Christ.

Talking with people at this stage of life is one of my favorite things to do. It fuels me in ministry to help others process their call.

Having also wrestled through this issue years ago with two teenage sons makes this something very personal to me. Obviously I have my own experience in this area of wrestling through a call to vocational ministry. My wrestling was a 10 year process.

The counsel I gave my boys came to me suddenly one day. I’m not pretending it was inspired, but it certainly is a product of my personal experience and time spent with God struggling through this issue. I’ve used this teaching many times since then.

Basically I like to help people understand that the “call”, in my understanding, is not a call to a group of people or a geographic location as much as it is to a person; the person of Jesus Christ.

That’s important, because a lot of times someone begins to sense a calling after a mission trip to a certain area and feel as if that is the place they must go to serve God. That may be the place God wants to use them, but it could be that God just wants their availability, right where they are or elsewhere and God used the specific place to stir their heart towards serving vocationally.

I’m not saying He doesn’t send people to specific places or groups of people, but I do believe He reserves the right to change that at any time, because ultimately a person is called into a relationship with God first and a location second. In fact, I’ve several times in my call sensed God was even giving me freedom to choose where I served

After establishing that the ultimate call is to the person of Christ, I share a few principles. These are actually realities — based on my experience — of the vocational call. These won’t make the decision for the person. I can’t do that. They are intended to help someone think through their calling. The person who is sensing a call can often begin to discern that this IS the call based on the way they respond to these four words.

Four realities of call of God on a person’s life is:

Irresistible

You can’t refuse this kind of call and still live at peace with God. He will still love you. You may even be successful in what you are doing, but something will always eat at you until you surrender to this type of call. (Think of Jonah on the boat, attempting to run from God — even before the storm came.) That was the case in my situation. As much as I wanted success in business — and I had some — none of that brought me peace until I surrendered to God’s will for my life.

Irreplaceable

Nothing else will satisfy a person like this call. Nothing will fill that void — that emptiness. If God’s greatest desire for a person’s life on whom He places the “call”. I found no real joy in my work, until I was serving in the career choice God wanted me to serve.

Irrevocable

God doesn’t take this call away from a person once He has placed it on their life. At times, especially when things are stressful in ministry, I have glanced at other opportunities, but I know I cannot go backwards from this call God has placed on my life. I may serve Him in a number of capacities and places over the years — I believe that could even be in business if He chose that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as a pastor or in a local church — but I know one decision in my vocational career is solved — I work for Him. My end “product” of my life is advancing His mission — not mine.

Immediate

The call of God on a person’s life begins at the moment of the call. Often people want to get the right degree or start drawing a paycheck before they live out the call God has placed on their life. I don’t believe that’s the call. The call is to “Go” and the time is NOW. (Jesus taught this reality in Matthew 8.) That doesn’t mean the person shouldn’t gain education, experience, or even a paycheck, but if a person has received a call from God on their life the time to get started doing something towards that call is now! When I realized a vocational call to ministry was being placed on my life, I started immediately; with no promise of income or position. I simply started serving people. Opportunities and specific assignments quickly followed.

Are you feeling those four words heavy on your heart? Perhaps God is trying to get your attention.

For a Biblical example of this type calling which includes each of these four points, read Jonah’s story again.

Have you wrestled or are you wrestling through a vocational call to ministry? What was your experience?

7 Ways to Lead People Older — and Often Wiser — than You

Happy man with a notebook

In my first management position, I was a 19 year-old college sophomore working full-time and leading a small staff of four people in the men’s clothing area of a major department store. I was placed in the position almost by default, because the previous manager left unexpectedly and I was already there and eager to lead. Everyone working for me was older than I was, including one man who was in his sixties.

Today, even though I have aged considerably since then and had years more leadership experience, I continue to have positions where people older than me, with more experience than I have in many areas, report to me by position. In fact, in the current church I pastor, I didn’t just “inherit” people with more experience — I recruited them. On purpose. I do not believe we could have had the success in revitalization we’ve had without their input. We needed — and keep needing — younger voices on our team, but these seasoned leaders have helped navigate major change in ways I couldn’t have done on my own.

In our church plant, where I was the founder, most of our staff was younger than me. But, even there, I personally recruited a staff member almost 15 years older than me, which meant there were literally three generations of leadership in our church plant. It was gold for our organizational structure.

It can be one of the more challenging parts of leadership, but I highly recommend it.

I work with many pastors and church planters who, as they begin their ministry career will likely encounter the same experience with either volunteers or paid staff. I can tell you, from experience, that your leadership will be better if you learn how to lead people older — and wiser — than you are today. Don’t be afraid to recruit them.

Here are 7 tips for leading people older than you:

Recognize the difference

When a person is 10, 20, or even 30 years older they likely have different needs and expectations from their leader and the organization. They may need different benefits, different work schedules, and even different leadership styles, depending on their age and stage of life. You should maximize your leadership by adapting your style to the person you are leading anyway, but this will be especially true when you lead someone who doesn’t always “need” your leadership.

Give credit for wisdom earned

This is key. If you don’t recognize and value that age and experience has given them something you may not have you’ll never effectively lead someone older than you. Most likely there will naturally be things the other person has experienced that you haven’t. Don’t let that intimidate you. Allow it to work for you by gleaning from that wisdom.

Stand your ground, but do it respectfully

If you are in the position, then do your job. They were probably raised in a generation where they expect you to lead, but as you should with any person you lead, be respectful. If someone is older, most likely he or she will be more sensitive to a younger leader being disrespectful and react negatively when you are not. They may not say anything — because this may be part of their culture too — but you won’t have their full respect if you aren’t leading.

Learn from them

Be honest when you don’t know how to do something, such as leadership or handling difficult issue or people. If the older person knows how, let them show you. It’s okay that you have some things to learn. We all do. The older a person becomes the more in tune he or she becomes with the fact that no one knows everything. Ask good questions. “Have you ever experienced something like this before in your leadership?” “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” “Am I missing anything in your opinion?”

Be clear on expectations

More than likely a person from another generation is more accustomed to structure than you are. There were days past when expectations were more clearly defined and people knew what was expected. Organizational charts were more linear. Job titles meant more about what a person did on the team. Be aware of this. You don’t have to change your leadership to accommodate them necessarily, but you do need to recognize and understand when they may need a little more clarity on your expectations. They may wait until they know for sure you want them to move forward on a task or project.

Don’t play games — even if you are intimidated

I have seen this many times. The leader is intimidated by the older team member, so he or she dances around an issue or fails to handle conflict. The leader might make excuses for not knowing something or pretend they have more experience than he or she actually has with an issue. People with life experience can usually see through that type behavior. The age and maturity will make them less intimidated by you. Be kind. Be respectful always, but be direct. Shoot straight with them. Stand firm when needed. The fact is that the older team member will probably have handled worse situations. They will welcome your secure leadership — if it’s handled appropriately.

Be patient with them

This is changing rapidly, but sometimes the older team member may not be as culturally, technologically, or trend savvy. They may need a different form of communication or you may need to explain something in a different context. But they will make up for it by adding to the team in other ways. Be prepared to allow extra training for them if needed — even in some things which appear basic for you.

There were many times in business where I would have never made it without someone helping me who had more experience than I had. That’s still true today. I continue to surround myself with mentors in life and church.

Granted, if the person is cranky, rigid, or troublesome — don’t add them to your team. But, that’s true of all ages.

Here’s the deal — When you shy away from someone for your team because they are older or more experienced than you — you ignore some of the most loyal, hard-working, dedicated team members. And, the humility in knowing you are leading people wiser than you will make you a better leader.

Do you lead people older than you? What would you add to this discussion?