7 Words of Wisdom for Church Planters and Leaders

St John Church

I was meeting with a potential church planter recently and some of the words of wisdom spoken to me over the years flooded my mind. Some of these were given to me by others. Some were learned firsthand by experience.

Here are 7 words of wisdom for church planters and leaders:

Seek approval among people God sent you to minister to – Obviously, we work for the approval of God, not man, but all of us need assurance at times from other people that what we are doing matters. Church planting is unpopular among some established churches. There may be days when you feel like the “church’ community is working against you. Most likely God didn’t call you to plant so you could reach people who already love their church. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people. My guess is they are happy with your efforts. (I wrote about this principle HERE.)

Love God and you’ll love the people wherever God sends you – This happened to me when I just knew I was supposed to plant a church in New York City. I wanted to. I felt “led” to, at times. But, still, there wasn’t the peace or opportunity to do so. While walking the streets of NYC, I asked God to give me a clear heart for the people of New York if that’s where He wanted me to be. This line was one of the clearest words from God to me I’ve ever heard. If I truly love God, I will love the people and have a heart to make disciples among them, wherever I go. By the way, this seemed to take pressure off finding the exact right spot. If I “miss it”, God will still use me.

Don’t ignore churched people – When I was a new church planter, we ran from anyone who had any church affiliation. They weren’t our target. We didn’t want to offend other churches. We felt it was the “best” thing to do. In doing so, we robbed ourselves of potential leaders and kept some people from following the ministry God had laid on their heart.

Your wife may have to trust you – My wife has often known we were supposed to do something, but her heart has often been more tender when it comes to leaving the people we love. Her faith follows quickly, but her heart often lingers with the previous church. At times, I have had to ask her to trust me, and my walk with Christ, when she can’t seem to force her heart to shift. (You actually can’t force a heart to change.) Unless she has a conviction against moving forward, if she’s willing, it is often helpful if she relies on my logic more than her emotions. Her emotional commitment always follows in time.

Peace comes through obedience – I wrote about this HERE, but sometimes the complete peace in a decision doesn’t come until I’ve said “Yes Lord” to what I sense He’s calling me to do. Saying yes, before I have all the assignment or all my questions are answered, seems to open the door for God to bring peace about the move.

God stirs the nest – Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) that eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover that structure with the softest, most comfortable material available. A baby eaglet never wants to leave the comfort of home, so to teach them to fly, a mother eagle stirs up the nest, uncovering the roughest part. If things become real uncomfortable where you are, it could be a God thing. He could be “stirring the nest”.

Build DNA slowly – Once DNA is set, it’s going to be very hard to change it. Secure senior leaders slowly. Add staff slowly. Add rules and structure slowly. What you repeat very many times will become tradition quickly and when you try to change it there will be resistance. Make sure it’s something you want in your DNA, before you allow it to get to that point.

Any church planters (or church leaders) out there? What would you add?

The Blindness of Ministry

Day planner & pen

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005. I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal. I wrote, “God, at 41, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party” (Yes, even pastors have those), because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and is still accomplishing more now than we ever dreamed possible.

I don’t share that to bring attention to myself. And, it’s not so much that a church needs to grow at that pace. God may use you in completely different ways than He has used me. It may be with one person, a thousand people, or millions. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share it because it points to an important principle in ministry that’s true for all of us.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

That keeps us humble.
That keeps us in prayer.
That keeps us desperate for His hand to be upon us.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

If so, and if you are being obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm.

Don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is up to things you can’t even imagine.

God is using you Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

And, I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit from your labor as you continue to trust Him.

A Dozen Things I Learned Last Year

two elementary school students looking at globe

I strive to be a continual learner. I learned a few things last year.

Here are 12 of them:

Small things matter most in making change.

Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in one. Who knew? Changed my gym shower life. (Apparently my wife and boys did but they never let me in on the fun!)

A conference room table can also be used as an ironing board.

Certain neckties interfere with our television broadcasts. (This year we are looking to upgrade our system.) For now, it is a good excuse not to wear a tie, right?

Some people aren’t upset with you. They are upset with their life…or others…and you just happen to be in the way of expressing their frustration and discontent.

Transitioning to a new city happens faster when you’re intentional. And one way to do that is to learn all the hamburger joints. Another is to intentionally network with people…especially people who will connect you to other people.

Resistance to change is relative. Everyone struggles with it at some level. It’s just a matter of how we react to it and how it impacts us that determines our response.

Having done both, I have to say, church planting, in many ways, is easier than church revitalization…and more difficult in other ways. But both are needed.

Losing a beloved pet as an adult may be harder even than as a child.

Lexington, KY is one of the friendliest cities we’ve ever experienced. It would make a great, inexpensive, family weekend vacation spot.

Trust doesn’t come with position or title. It comes with time and experience. Yet gaining trust may be one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader.

People transfer emotional baggage and injury to other people and other situations, who had nothing to do with creating the emotional pain. It is unfair to the innocent recipients, but very true.

What did you learn last year?

An Organizational Growth Cap Theory

When I consider companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon, the one constant I think of is change. Interestingly, after I typed that first sentence, I Googled “Most Innovative Companies” and found Fast’s list for 2012. How close do you think I got to their list? See for yourself HERE. But, don’t be impressed with my guesswork. You could have done the same thing, because it’s obvious to us that these companies are all about change.

Then I think of churches I know…some of the most growing, Kingdom-impacting churches I know are also the most innovative…the most open to continual change. I think of LifeChurch.tv, for example. Not only have they impacted many with their vision for multi-site/video venues, but they’ve also helped us discover or been a part of YouVersion and Open, a resource website for churches and ministries. I also think of Andy Stanley’s North Point and how their version of doing church and Andy’s preaching style has impacted so many others. Both LifeChurch and North Point appear to be a culture of change. From what I read about their culture, change is continually being introduced.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that either of the church models is the right one for every church. Neither are they the exact right model for the church I pastor. I am interested in church growth. I do like to see progress. I do want to avoid capping Kingdom growth.

I am suggesting that there may be something about growth we can learn from the two examples…business and church. My personal experience, and watching other organizations succeed, has led me to believe that there is something about continual change that produces continual growth.

In fact, I wonder if:

The level of growth an organization can experience may be determined by its level of tolerance or resistance to change.

I’m still processing that thought.

What do you think?

How to Become a Regular Church Attender

I love when people who don’t currently attend church, give church a try. Many of these once attended church, but for some reason, they no longer do. The best church growth, in my opinion, happens this way. And, statistics tell us there are plenty of people willing to give church a try if we will simply ask them. (Hint. Hint church people.)

The most common thing I hear from people who begin attending church or who want to is that it’s hard to get into the habit of church. I understand. Beginning anything new requires a change of lifestyle. That can be difficult.

Recently someone asked a great question, “How can I get my family back in the habit of church again?”

Great question. I’m so glad you asked.

Here are a few suggestions:

Recognize the greater purpose – Why are you going? If it’s to check it off a “feel good” list, that won’t sustain you when a “better offer” comes along. If it’s part of your spiritual growth process…if it’s making you a better person…if it’s to serve others…fellowship…grow…you’re more likely to be committed long-term. You’ll also complain less when the message isn’t the greatest or they don’t sing your songs :)

Discipline until it sticks – I don’t really get up wondering if I’m going to church. And, I didn’t when my family was young and I wasn’t in ministry. It was a habit. If you attend long enough, without too many breaks in between, it will soon become a very welcome and comfortable part of your weekly schedule.

Plan the night before – Don’t make the decision to go to church Sunday morning. Make it Saturday night. (or earlier). Lay out your clothes. Plan your breakfast choices. Set your alarm. Be prepared.

Find a place to serve – If you really want to go for the long haul in church attendance, find a place to serve in the church. If there’s not a place, stand in the parking lot and welcome people. Become a servant of others and you’ll not only be more faithful in attendance, you’ll get more out of the experience.

Make it a priority – The reality is that we make time for things we value most. If your kids want to play soccer, that game becomes a priority, right? If you want church to be a regular part of your life….make it important enough to follow through.

Help this post. I’ve never had a time in my life when church wasn’t part of my weekly routine. If you have, and you now attend regularly, what happened?

A Warning…If Your Brand is You

2012branding

Here’s a principle you need to understand in leading a church, team or organization.

I see many church planters, pastors, and other leaders who build their organization closely around their own identity. They brand the church or the organization, very closely associated with their personality.

When you think of the church…you can’t help but think of them.

In fact, you may think of them even more than you do the church.

It has their flavor, their culture, their stamp. That happens naturally in leadership. It’s unavoidable to an extent. People like to follow a leader. People follow a person. But, these leaders seem to do so purposefully.

I’m not saying that’s wrong. It is certainly one option. I even encourage personal branding in THIS POST. And it often works.

(Unless, of course, it’s done out of arrogance or in the case of the church it’s done at the exclusion of the real brand of a church…Jesus!)

But here is the warning…

If you brand something around you….

It will be harder to hand off should you ever or when you ever need to.

You can build a brand around your name, your personality, your particular flavor…

You can probably be successful at it…maybe even more successful at it.

The problem is that when you build around yourself…when you don’t give others a seat at the table of leadership…when you don’t let others share the “brand”…

…and then you leave.

What happens to the brand?

It often leaves with the one it was branded upon. Then others have to build a new brand.

Makes sense, right?

I’m not saying it’s impossible to brand around a person…lots of organizations have…some continue to be successful…it’s just more difficult. Take this blog for example. Who else wants the brand, right?

If you want the vision to last long after you are gone…

Build your brand around a vision that is bigger than you….known for more than just your name.

How to Fund Your Church

I believe giving is a part of discipleship. If we truly develop disciples, we will have no problem funding our churches. If you are a pastor or church leader, however, then you know that church funding is almost always an issue in carrying out the complete vision God gives a church and its leaders. That’s why I”m thankful for the work of guys like my friend Casey Graham. I know Casey well, having traveled with him, worked with him, and used his consulting services personally. Recently Casey shared with me another project he’s launching.

Casey is the Founder of The Rocket Company, which exists to provide coaching and resources for church leaders. The HOW To Fund Your Church Now event is Free for church leaders. Click here for more information and the full speaker line-up.

Do you want to better fund your church?

Here is a guest post by my friend Casey Graham:

How to Teach Low-Income Attenders to be High Impact Givers

It would be nice if one person could write a big check and wipe the worry away from the church finances.

But the average person in your church is barely getting by when it comes to their personal finances.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that 86% of churches are either broke or at breakeven financially.

I recently interviewed Pastor Vanable Moody on this very topic. Pastor Van has seen the church he pastors (The Worship Center Christian Church) grow from a few to over 7,000 people each week.

You can watch the full interview on the HOW To Fund Your Church Now online event on October 17 for. But I wanted to give you a couple of ideas from the interview.

Two Tips To Help Low Income Attenders Be High Impact Givers

1. Don’t Make the Amount the Issue…Focus on Personal Responsibility

Pastor Van referenced the parable of the talents, pointing out that while each person had a different amount, they all had the same responsibility. He doesn’t think church leaders should give people an “out” just because they don’t make a lot of money. It’s not always the dollar amount…it’s the responsibility.

2. Help People Develop a Generosity Mindset

Pastor Van did a class for his church attenders that helped them think differently financially. This holistic class really helped people develop a right mindset with money. Teaching on giving is great, but it’s good to teach the big picture too.

The full interview with Pastor Van and nine other interviews with pastors around the country will be on the HOW To Fund Your Church Now online event. The event is focused on helping you and your church increase regular giving. If you want to have more money for ministry, this event will help you with practical stuff.

Have you registered yet? What are you waiting for?

A word to pastors…during pastor appreciation month

I came into ministry later in life, after over 20 years in the business world. Maybe that explains some of why I was surprised, when I entered the ministry, at how hard churches can be on a pastor. I never knew.

My church leadership blog has given me access into the lives of hundreds of young pastors, many of them in smaller churches where they are one of a few, if not the only, staff members. I don’t see this as much in larger churches where there are more staff members to spread the workload, but in some smaller churches, many times the pastor is drowning. His spouse is drowning. His family suffers. They can’t keep up with the demands of the church. I never knew.

Some churches expect the pastor to be at every hospital bed. They expect them to know and call when they are sick. They expect them to attend every Sunday school social and every picnic on the grounds. He is to officiate their wedding and then be the counselor when their marriage is suffering. He is to preach their funeral and visit their neighbor who isn’t going to church. He is supposed to recruit Sunday school teachers, manage a budget and be actively engaging the community through a healthy Tuesday night evangelism program. Then, they expect a well researched, well presented Sunday message, one in the morning and one at night, along with a passionate leading of the Wednesday night prayer meeting. One pastor told me recently he is allowed one Sunday off per year. I hesitated to do the math on the number of messages he is doing in a given year. Wow! I never knew.

Now some of that is exaggeration, but in some churches it is exactly the expectation. And, in principle, the activities may be different, but the level of activity is normal for many pastors, again, especially in smaller churches.

To be honest, I’m burdened for those pastors.

I learned when my boys were young and I was running a business, serving on the city council and on dozens of committees, that if I wanted to be successful as a husband, father, and business owner, I had to get better personally and privately, so I could achieve more publicly. It was then that running switched from being a fun pastime to a necessary part of my week. I needed and craved the downtime and the exercise. It was then that I had to get up early to make sure I had that days quiet time to fuel my soul. It was then that I became diligent in scheduling my week, so I didn’t miss family activities.

If I could give one piece of advice to pastors, ALL PASTORS, especially during Pastor Appreciation month, it would be that they take care of themselves personally, take care of their family, so they can meet the demands of their church. They may need to share this blog with some key leaders they trust in the church. They may want to have a hard conversation and establish some healthier boundaries with the church. Take some time and read Jethro’s advice to Moses. Read Acts 6.

I love you pastors. I want you around for a while. Take care of yourself. If needed, reach out to someone before you crash and burn. God called you to do His work, but the work He called you to do specifically, won’t be done (at least by you) if you aren’t here to do it.

Join the MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour to read today’s leading pastors and authors share their stories of ministers who made a difference in their lives. Visit MinistryMatters.com/blogtour for a complete list of virtual tour stops and to link up your own post about a minister who mattered to you!

MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour 10/1/2012 – 10/12/2012.

5 Steps When the Changes are Overwhelming

I’ll be honest. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately. In my new position, there are more opportunities than time. I’m excited about the potential, but my calendar won’t hold anymore and my mind is exploding.

One day recently, I was driving on the road which leads back to Clarksville. I considered my schedule, the enormity of the challenge ahead, the dozens of emails awaiting a response and the people I was still having to say “no” to when they ask for my time, many who don’t understand why the pastor can’t see them right away, and I turned to Cheryl and said, “Right now I wish I could just keep driving and that this had been a nice little dream”. That wasn’t reality speaking or how I really feel. It was emotions talking. I knew that I was simply feeling overwhelmed.

What do you do when you find yourself in that situation? Here’s what I am doing.

Here are 5 steps when change seems overwhelming:

Step back – Take a day. Take a week. Pause everything. Stepping back gives you an opportunity to take a fresh look at the challenges ahead. It may seem like you don’t have time to pause right now, but it may be you don’t have time not to do so. The time away will give you a better perspective, a clearer head and the rest will give you energy you need.

Get fit – I used to tell our staff in a church plant that “you have to strive to be healthy to work here right now”. I’m in that season in ministry again. As much as it depends on me, I need to be healthy spiritually, relationally, emotionally and physically. I need to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a healthy relationship with Cheryl. I also need extended time in God’s Word and prayer. This is even more than usual a time for intentionality in living a healthy lifestyle.

Renew the vision – When change is overwhelming you need to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. The why is the key. It’s what fueled you in the first place and what has the best potential to fuel you again. I was called here for a purpose. God doesn’t make mistakes. If you are overwhelmed at something God called you to do, ask God to renew that passion you had in the beginning, before you were overwhelmed, again.

Chart a course one step at a time – Baby steps. That’s how big change is accomplished. One foot in front of the other. The bigger the change the more methodical you must be. One day, one week, one month at a time. I’ve had to ask some people to be patient. I have to prioritize each day. I have to not feel bad about saying no. I have to get up every morning, create a list of things I can accomplish that day, and realize that tomorrow is a new day.

Invite people on the journey – Delegation becomes even more important during overwhelming times in leadership. If you’re world is like mine, that pretty much equates to every season of ministry. :) Read THIS POST for more of my thoughts on delegation. I’m learning again the value of a team. I’m learning who I can trust, but I’m taking risks on people. I can’t do it without them.

I’m making slow progress, but the process is working. I am expecting great things in the days to come. Stay tuned.

Are you overwhelmed at the changes occurring in your life right now? Try these 5 steps.

What suggestions would you offer?

The job of a shepherd: Encouragement for Pastors and Teachers

You can’t change a person’s heart.

That’s the work of God’s Spirit.

Many pastors and teachers get frustrated when people fail to live up to their expectations, or when they come so far only to mess up again. I’ll join you in that frustration. Some take it personal. Even if they are doing all they know to do and are called to do, people wander. Many pastors and teachers I know blame themselves. They allow it to impact their self-esteem or use it as a measure of their effectiveness.

But…

The job of the shepherd is to lead sheep to the source of provision, not be the provision.

Shepherds point people to truth and grace, but you can (and should) trust God with people’s hearts.

The job of a shepherd is not to make grass or water. It’s to lead the sheep to quality grass and water.

You can’t change another person’s heart, so don’t be too frustrated when people don’t seem to change.

That’s God’s job.

Do the leading…let God do the changing.

Do you get frustrated when sheep run astray?