The Church Nazi

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This is a light-hearted post. Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh.

I repeat…especially for the most literal readers…this is a light-hearted post.

I watched the infamous “Soup Nazi” Seinfeld episode recently for the however many times (many) and still loved it as much as the first time. It’s no doubt created an iconic phrase… “No soup for you”.

I got to thinking.

What if there was a Church Nazi?

Nothing placed in the offering plate…

No seat for you

Cell phone rings during service…

No seat for you

Eyes open during prayer…

No seat for you

Yawning during the message…

No seat for you

Complain about the order of worship…

No seat for you

Enter the service late…

No seat for you

Laugh at an inappropriate time…

No seat for you

Leave during the invitation…

No seat for you

Sing out of tune…

No seat for you

Rattle paper unwrapping gum…

No seat for you

Thankfully there is no Church Nazi, but you get the idea.

How else would Church Nazi be offended?

(Again, this post is just for fun. None of these could really ever happen. Right?).

One Observation of Declining Churches

I’ve worked with a number of churches in decline. One thing I’ve noticed that is fairly consistent among declining churches is what they do once they realize they are in decline. (The same is true of other organizations, BTW.)

They dig their heels into the tradition that got them where they are today.

They go back to what’s comfortable. They resist any changes in what they’ve done before, hoping to avert future decline.

They do what they feel they can trust. They refuse to try anything new. They stop dreaming. They quit taking risks.

Afraid of losing everything, they go back to what they know best. It seems to make sense I suppose, but in the meantime, ironically, they perpetuate the problem and face further decline.

In fact, they resist walking by faith, defaulting to walk by sight.

I wonder…

Could the best thing to do during a period of decline be to introduce change?

Would trying something new make more sense?

Would a fresh dose of exploring new territory faith-building be more appropriate?

What do you think?

What To Do with a Popular but Not Respected Leader

What do you do with a leader who is popular with the people, but not respected as a leader? 

Recently I received this question from a deacon chairman of a church. He is in a dilemma in his current position, watching the staff become a revolving door with constant turnover, the church is in steady decline, and yet the church loves their pastor. He has prayed about the situation, talked to others in leadership, and the consensus is that he needs to address the situation, but isn’t sure what to do, since the pastor is so popular. He said every deacon chair before him in recent years has faced the same dilemma, but he wants to address the issue.

I have observed this dilemma personally and answered this question so often, that I thought I’d address it here. I realize this is not an easy answer and some will be offended at my bluntness, but I decided when I started this blog I’d be transparent, so I’m sharing the answer I gave this deacon. (This post is not addressing issues of the call to a position. I’ve addressed that in other posts.)

Dear Deacon Chair: 

You are not alone in your situation. I work mostly with church staffs and I’ve talked with so many staff members of churches who like their pastor, but they don’t respect him as a leader. The volunteer leadership of the church often feels the same way. They know, for example, that the church needs a better leader, or maybe a better preacher, but they know the pastor is well-liked by the congregation, so they fear making the changes needed.

I’ve learned that many pastors have very hard working staffs, but what’s missing is a respectable leader who will drive the vision forward. Eventually, potential leaders end up leaving under a liked but not respected leader.

Being liked is accomplished by “getting along”, compromising, settling for what everyone agrees with, and never pushing the boundaries. It’s being a friend more than being a leader. You become popular, but not respected.

Being respected is accomplished by doing the right things for the right reasons, regardless of the popularity it does or doesn’t bring. It’s being genuine, honest and moral in all the leader does.

Being liked can be easily achieved. Say nothing, do nothing, and move in no direction that will cause an uproar or disrupt people from the norm. Being respected is hard, messy, and uncomfortable for the leader at times, because it takes people where they need to go, and may even want to go, but may be afraid or don’t know how to get there.

What do you do when a leader is popular, but not respected?

Well, in my opinion, you have three basic options:

Remove the leader – This wouldn’t be my first choice and it won’t be easy, because of the leader’s popularity, but it may be needed if the church is to be healthy again.

Live with it – You can do nothing and live with status quo. That’s frankly what most churches do. I don’t recommend it, but it’s the easier option.

Challenge the leader to improve – Some leaders want to improve, they simply don’t know how or can’t bring themselves to do it on their own. They need someone to challenge them, coach them, and give them the courage to make hard decisions…which may not help them to be liked, but will gain them the respect a leader needs to be successful. (In fairness, I’ve learned that many ineffective pastors want this type of help, but are simply afraid or embarrassed to ask for it.)

These are hard choices, but this may be why they need you to lead at this time. Pray. Seek wise counsel. Then, make the wisest decision you can and trust God for the outcome.

The way you respond during this time will likely impact whether you are liked or respected as a leader also. I’m praying for you now with the weight of decisions you have before you.

Ron

Have you ever faced this dilemma? What advice would you give to this deacon chairman? 

7 Tips to Acclimating to a New City

I recently moved to a new city. Lexington, Kentucky is a great place to live. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t enjoy living here.

Along the process of adjusting to a new city, I discovered a few keys to acclimating quickly.

Here are 7 tips to acclimating to a new city:

Check out the local hamburger places – I figure if we can find a good hamburger…we won’t starve. Seriously, pick one of your favorite foods and check out all the options. For me, there are plenty of hamburger choices in Lexington. That’s made the transition much easier. I’ve tried many of them. I have a few more to go. (I’ve loved when someone tells me…”Don’t get the biggest one on the menu. You won’t be able to eat it all.” Really? So far, not true!)

Be a tourist – We have tried to find the places someone would go to if they were only in town for a few days. We’ve picked up the tourist brochures. These places will likely be what the town is known for and we want to identify with the city. I’ve also been listening to the stories and reading the history of the city. It’s been interesting a few times to remind the locals of things they’ve forgotten about Lexington, or to stir more conversation with trivia I’ve learned.

Buy a t-shirt – We wanted to find an identity with the community, so we bought some t-shirts specific to the area. In this case, I’m sporting a few UK logos too. If I’m going to live here, and I want to love living here, I want to love what the locals love. You don’t have to switch sports loyalties, but it will help acclimate if you can find some identity within the community.

Join a group that lets you meet people – I’m doing Leadership Lexington this next year. It’s a 9 month program that gives participants a comprehensive look at the possibilities and opportunities of the city. In addition to getting to know 42 local leaders, I get exposed to areas of the city it may take me years to discover otherwise.

Make a Gotta see/do/meet list – I’m keeping a list, and checking it twice. I can’t see everything in a week, maybe even in a year, but with a list I can slowly work my way through the key things I want to do and people I want to meet.

Avoid routines – I try to run different routes every day. I seldom drive the same way to get somewhere. I’m eating at different restaurants and ordering different meals. I want to experience as much uniqueness as I can.

Hide the GPS – Get lost. I’m purposefully trying to go places where I have to find my own way on my own. I’ve been confused a few times. That’s okay. It was by design. It’s helping me learn the city faster.

It’s quickly beginning to feel like home. Actually, sooner than I thought it would. I think part of that is that Cheryl and I have been intentional in trying to learn and love our new city. Obviously, however, some of you have moved far more times than I have.

How can you help me?

What tips do you have for acclimating to a new city quickly?

3 Ways Change is Changing

It seems to me that change is changing. Change is constant. Always has been. But, in my opinion, it appears change is unique these days.

It’s changing.

Here are 3 ways change is changing:

Faster – The speed of change has accelerated. From technology, to clothing styles to the way we communicate, the pace of change is faster than ever before.

Less thought put into it – Getting to market seems more important than thinking through what you take to market. It’s bound to have an impact on quality, but that’s okay. The important thing is that new is introduced. At the current pace, it seems to me it would be impossible to put the research, design, and quality control into all the changes being introduced.

Acceptance – Change appears to be more expected today than ever before in my lifetime. It’s almost anticipated. I’m not pretending it’s easier once change is introduced. People still naturally resist change, but it’s almost an understood now that change is part of culture.

These are purely my observations. Obviously, I could be wrong on some of them. My question, however, as a church, since we have a message which can never be changed, how do we adapt to the way change is changing? We can’t change our message, yet we must reach a fast-changing society.

I have questions:

  • How do we adjust?
  • How do we keep up?
  • Do we even try?
  • Are there ways the church should be changing as fast as the world?

Thoughts?

How do you see change changing? 

What Every Senior Pastor Needs From His Staff

This is a guest post by Eric Speir. Eric is a staff pastor, writer, blogger and educator. He likes to use biblical principles, coaching, practical wisdom and encouragement to help others to thrive in every area of their life. You can read more of his posts at www.ericspeir.com and follow him on Twitter @ericspeir.

What every senior pastor needs from his staff:

Being a pastor can be a lonely and brutal job. It’s a task that requires determination, tenacity and a work ethic that rivals most NFL coaches. Even if a pastor is gifted in many areas he cannot accomplish everything on his own. In fact, pastoring is nothing new, because it’s been around for a long time.

In the Old Testament Pastor Moses, the first mega-church pastor, had more problems that most pastors can dream up. At one point he almost had a nervous breakdown until the Lord intervened and sent him a wise mentor and raised up a staff around him.

If Moses couldn’t do everything by himself, then it is more important than ever for a pastor to have a staff around him that can help to accomplish the God-given vision. With this in mind, there are some characteristics that every pastor needs in a staff:

Every senior pastor needs a staff that…

• Is committed to the same vision he is. If you’re not committed, then find somewhere else where you will be. There’s no shame in finding a place where you’ll be effective in ministry.

• Will overlook his bad days. David had the chance to stab Saul in the back when he caught him with his pants down, but he chose not to. Remember, everyone has a bad day!

• Will pick up the trash when he needs you to. Simply put, don’t be afraid to do something that seems beneath you.

• When you say you’re praying for him, then actually do it. Being a senior pastor is a tough job that most people won’t ever understand.

• Has his back, instead of talking behind it. In other words, when you have a problem, bring it to the team, instead of to people who can’t help.

• Can help solve problems and be team players. Jesus couldn’t do ministry by himself, pastor’s can’t do it all either.

• Can think BIG! Anyone can be small-minded, but it takes someone extraordinary to think what could be.

• Can laugh and cry with him. It’s easy to forget your pastor is human and bleeds the same color blood as you. Just because he’s the spiritual leader, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have needs as well.

What would you add to this list? How can you serve your leader better?

The Reason Many Policies are Written

Many policies are written because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“. One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our youth pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved. On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which I typically prefer…that’s a problem to be solved. Quickly. A system, which is not working, causing more harm than good to the organization…problem to be solved. Now.

Most of the time, however, in my experience, churches are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy. (Just being honest.)

Using my illustration above, if the youth pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone. Plus, without wise counsel, the youth pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example, and it continues to impact his ministry for years to come. Problem not solved.

Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), maybe even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems…which later need to be solved!

For more of my thoughts on policies, see THIS POST. I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.

My advice:

Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.

Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.

Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?

Bonus points if you give me an example.

One Secret to Long-term Leadership Success

If I could give one piece of advice to leaders who want long-term success it would be this:

Learn the people.

I know. It sounds too simple, but until you learn how the people you are trying to lead think, what the people value, the differences among the people, how situations impact the people, and the way the people are likely to respond to situations…you can’t lead them successfully.

Learn people and you can successfully lead people.

Try it. It will work in any setting. In the church. In business. In the home.

New to a church or organization? This is your key to beginning well.

Long-timer in a church or organization? This is what will improve your leadership. Make it last.

Of course, you’ll have to respond according to what you’re learning, but this is where you start. This is what gives you the tools you need. This is what can help shape your leadership. This is the gold information of leading people.

Learn the people and you can learn how to lead people.

How are you learning the people you are attempting to lead?

What advice would you give to leaders who want long-term success?

7 Tips for Leaving a Job Properly

Recently I received the following question. It’s one I’ve been asked several times and one I know is more common as an issue than even asked. I’ve omitted some details for obvious confidentiality reasons, but kept the intent of the question the same.

I am writing you seeking counsel regarding a significantly large decision my wife and I need to make about our continued service at a local church. The church is in turmoil and my wife and I feel released from our commitment here. Leaving is probably the best option, but how do I know for sure and how do I leave “properly”?

Here is my expanded reply:

Leaving is never easy, but many times, even in the worst situations, it can be done in a way that doesn’t further disrupt the church. First, you might consider these two posts:

10 Scenarios to Help Determine if it’s Time to Quit

Discerning a Change of Ministry Assignment

You need to discern first if you definitely feel released to leave and then if you are leaving. It may not be worth putting the energy into deciding how to leave until you decide that you are. If that’s where you are headed…

Here are 7 Tips for leaving “properly”:

1. Make it a decision of prayer and conviction. The more you can remove your personality or personal comfort from the process, the more likely you will be able to convince people you are leaving on good terms and that you are following God’s will and not your own. (As I mentioned previously, it may be that God has released you to make the decision. I find that true many times. Your first step, in my opinion, is to make sure you aren’t violating something God has told you to do or not to do.)

2. Start properly. I know. This is a post about leaving. But, honestly, that process starts long before the door swings closed. The sooner you start preparing people for your eventual exit, the easier your exit will be accepted by people when you do leave. Help cross train for your area. Identify key leaders who could fill in for an interim. You don’t even have to share all this information, but be thinking ahead of time who those people might be. Start making lists of things you do that others may not know. Think in terms of “if I’m not here, then…” and write some of that stuff down to share when you leave.

3. Discuss with and seek wisdom from one or two people you trust, who know you and the church. You’ll need a sounding board to help you confirm your decision, but also to help determine the timing and approach of your exit.

4. Develop a plan, with counsel and prayer, of how and when you intend to proceed. You’ll need to decide who to contact first, when, and how to tell the church. This will likely be different for every church.

5. Don’t throw punches on the way out. There’s never a win and often a lasting negative when a person lashes out in the final days of their involvement with a church. Any credibility gained can be quickly lost based on the way the person handles their exit.

5. Work to protect spouses and children. Ministry can be very cruel and may even get ugly before it heals. Don’t allow your family dynamic to suffer because of the problems of the church.

6. Prepare your own emotions. It is likely to be hard leaving, even if things are miserable at the time. Chances are you’ve invested your heart in this church. You started with vision and enthusiasm. You felt a call to go there. You never intended things to turn out like this. Regardless of why you are leaving or what you are going to do next, it won’t be easy walking away from something you have loved.

7. Don’t end when you walk out the door. Be available to further assist them as needed in the months after you leave. It may not be welcomed or needed but offering is the graceful way to exit and the right thing to do.

Make this post better:

What would you add about leaving properly? Have you ever left when the church or organization was in turmoil? How did you handle your exit? Looking back, what did you learn to help others?