One Common Struggle Every Pastor Faces

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There is one common struggle every pastor seems to face. I’ve seen it dozens of pastors. I often hear it on Mondays – even after a great Sunday. I’ve been guilty of this one – many times. It was true in church planting and in church revitalization.

And, this common struggle, I’m not sure, but it could be a common struggle for every leader, regardless of what they are leading.

The struggle –

We often let a few negatives overshadow many positives.

Things can be going great, but we can get one negative email – and our whole day is ruined.

We can have one season of struggle and we forget all the seasons of triumph – or all the promises for future reward.

We can miss the blessings God is providing all around us by focusing on the distractions of a few critics we may never please – regardless of what we do. We can live in gloom and doom about a present situation, forgetting how God has blessed us and how He has promised to bless us in days to come.

Are you ever guilty of this? Am I alone here?

The Bible is not silent about this struggle. Elijah – who the book of James tells us was a person just like us – fell apart with one threat from Jezebel after he had had tremendous success in ministry. (1 Kings 19)

It really is a common struggle. A common temptation to see the negative immediate reality, over the bigger picture positives of what God has done and is doing.

I don’t know, this is speculation on my part, but I think this struggle may have existed throughout the Bible with God’s people. For example, consider one of our “go to” favorite verses of encouragement – Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Put it in the context in which it was delivered. Notice Vs. 10

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” (Emphasis mine.)

One of the greatest promises – a promise God is in control and has a masterful future planned. This promise fits well on coffee mugs and desk plaques. We love it so much.

But, what do you think the people heard when this great promise was revealed by the prophet?

Again, it’s speculation on my part, but don’t you think when the people heard those words it was the “seventy years” of captivity they were about to face which jumped out to them more than the “future and hope“?

Yet, which do you think was God’s intent – to encourage or discourage? (Hopefully, you know the God who is love enough to answer correctly.)

Again, everything can be going according to plan. God can be working in your life, but one setback – one season of decline in church attendance – one negative email – can destroy your perception of reality. Common struggle.

This is why, as pastors – as leaders – as people of God – we must keep our mind and focus on the bigger picture. A focus on what God is calling us to do – what He is currently doing – and, ultimately, what He has promised to do – rather than the voices of the negative minority.

The Apostle Paul said it like this, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Who is brave and honest enough to admit I’m not alone here in this struggle?

7 Questions to Help Process the Emotion of Fear

surprised young man

I’ve watched fear keep many people from achieving all God would have them achieve. Fear will keep a guy from pursuing the girl of his dreams. Fear fan drive people to the safe side, rather than to assume the risk required to pursue their dreams. Pastors have even refused to address the needed changes in their church – not because it was challenging – but, because they were afraid. (Anyone identify with this one?)

Fear is the enemy of progress. It is the antagonist of pursuit. Fear can be the deadly foe of fulfillment in life. And, fear can be a leader’s worst enemy.

How can we overcome the dreaded fear all of us face frequently?

I don’t know if we can completely get rid of fear – or if we even want to completely – but, I do think we should and need to learn to manage the fear in our life. That’s the hope of this post. It won’t solve your fear problems, but it I’ll give you something to think about next time you’re afraid.

Let me provide some questions to process your fear the next time you are faced with a need.

Ask yourself these 7 questions:

Is it a God-given or a man-made fear?

This is a huge step. Fear is an emotion and God can use fear to keep you from harm. Is what you would be doing against God’s will for you or others? If it’s wrong to do, no wonder you are afraid. God may be trying to protect you. If you are continually making bad decisions in your life, you’ll likely live in fear. You may not even be able to understand the emotion, but in my experience, it’s one way God draws His children to Himself. Failure to walk by faith, which is a sin by the way, can also bring upon the emotion of fear. If you’re fear is from God – obey God! This is your answer – every time.

Is it a rational or an irrational fear?

Consider whether you are basing your fears on fact or fiction. Are you making up the scenario of what could go wrong or is the fear based on real information you have? Our minds can be our worst excuse – if we need one, we will find it. Be honest with yourself here. If you’ve been making up the excuses, it’s time to dismiss them and proceed.

Is it probable or improbable?

The truth is most of what we fear never comes true. Again, our mind is capable of all kinds of worst-case scenarios which keep us from moving forward. We shouldn’t allow fear in things which will probably never even happen stop what God may want to bring in our life. God may have a miracle for you – and, you’re allowing a made-up scenario hold you from it. The fact is you may fail, but remember, failure is a part of building life experience. Unless you know you’re going to fail (which is highly unlikely you would know this in advance), if it’s not sinful, and you feel you’re supposed to – I suggest you move forward.

Can anything be done to diminish the risk?

We should attempt to diminish fear through planning and preparation as much as possible. There is nothing wrong and everything right about being prepared. I’m not motivated by fear, but I have an alarm system at my house. (And, one of my father’s pistols he left me when he died!) If your fear is based on a lack of preparation, get busy developing the systems and strategies to help you succeed. Ask for help if you need it.

Is what I’m fearing necessary or unnecessary?

Is this something you must address? If it’s a conflict you’ve been avoiding, for example, the fear will only get stronger the longer you wait. The earlier you face the fear the more likely you’ll get positive results. Sooner or later, the fear must be faced. What better time than now? If it’s not really necessary, and there is no pressure upon you, you may not have to face this fear. I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. But, if you don’t have the desire – don’t do it.

Is the fear personal or impersonal?

Are you afraid of your abilities or the reaction of others? Do you wonder if you have what it takes? It’s only natural a challenge would create an amount of fear – even a captivation with fear. Every act of courage means you ignore an aspect of fear. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from achieving your dreams.

Are you satisfied with the status quo?

I know it’s a hard question, but if fear is keeping you from moving forward, and you’ve answered the other questions, this may be the one. You need to strongly consider the repercussions of giving into your fear. It may mean you stand still. It may mean you go backwards. It may mean you never realize the dreams you have for your life or the calling God has placed upon you. Are you willing to live with this reality?

Have you allowed fear to keep you from realizing all God has for you?

7 Ways to Make Fast Decisions When Time Isn’t Available

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There are those moments in leadership when you have to make quick decisions. And, like every decision a leader makes, the decision impact others. These are decisions which are hard to make with plenty of time to make them. Decisions which will be hard to reverse. Decisions which you would usually spend days, weeks or months deciding – but the have to be made now. There is no choice.

You wish you had more time to make them – but you don’t. Every leader I know has those moments. Unfortunately, the larger our organization grows the more they seem to occur.

What do you do?

First, my experience is this is still a rare occurrence in leadership – or at least you should attempt to make it so. Many times we feel we have to move faster than we really do. My advice is to try not to make quick decisions any more than possible. Proverbs says, “haste makes mistakes”.

There are times, however, when, as a leader, you simply have to move forward. So, when you do, here are a few ways to make better quick decisions.

7 ways to make decisions fast:

Pray

Sentence prayers work. Ask God His opinion on the matter. He cares about the smallest details of your life. He may be doing something bigger than you can imagine, however, so He may allow you freedom to choose knowing that He will work things for an ultimate good. Ask for His input first though. And, part of this is developing a close enough relationship with God where if He’s trying to speak to you – you will know His voice in your life.

Check your boundaries

Hopefully you have certain lines you will not cross. Does this decision cross any of them? If so, wait. If not, you’re freer to move forward.

Take the emotion out of it

Emotional decisions are seldom rational decisions. Do I need to say this one again? If you haven’t considered the black and white decision, if there is one, do this first. As much as possible, try to remove your personal agenda and your emotional response from the answering of the question at hand.

Phone a friend

Moments like these are why you need people in your corner who can quickly speak truth into your life. I have a few friends who always take my call. Before I “pull the trigger”, I’m pushing the speed dial. God created us for community – and we are better when we operate within His plan.

Pull from past experiences

You may not have made this decision, but you’ve made other decisions in your life. Try to pull in as close a parallel as you can. Glean from your successes and your failures. Often times, God will build upon our past. He’s working from an established plan. Don’t forget this.

Don’t let fear dominate

Fear is always a part of decision making, especially if it involves a risk of any kind. Fear can sometimes be a protector, so don’t ignore it, but don’t let it be the dominate decider either. The hardest and scariest decisions are often the most needed.

Trust your gut

You’ve made good decisions before – haven’t you? Or even if you feel you haven’t, you probably knew the right decision to make, even though you didn’t make it. We have a sense of right and wrong which allows us to know when we are making blatant errors. So, go with the gut when it says, “this is the right decision.” Many times you’ll be right.

Those are a few suggestions. Keep in mind, you will make mistakes this way. When you have to make quick decisions, you will get burnt at times. I’m not pretending you won’t.

But, there are times where a quick decision is needed. When this happens it is called leadership. Don’t shy away from it simply because of the timing.

How do you make good decisions fast?

5 Suggestions for Ridding Your Life of Fear

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Most of us live our lives with some kind of fear. It is probably uncontrollable to a great extent. We live in a very fearful world. Every week seems to have new issues which can make us afraid.

The title of this post may be a bit misleading – fear may always be with us.

But I think it should be a challenge to have less fear of this world in our life. This is certainly true if we are obedient to the commands of God.

What would it be like to live your life apart from fear – or, at least, with less fear?

Here are some points of understanding which can help us become less afraid of the unknown situations of life:

Life can be uncertain –

There are lots of unknowns in the world. This fact alone makes people afraid. Most people would prefer to know the outcome of a situation and yet many times, probably most of the time, we do not get that privilege. Most of the horrifying experiences of my life seem to come upon me suddenly. We tend to want the expected to occur, but we should always be prepared, at least emotionally, for the unexpected.

Fear is an emotion and not necessarily a reality –

Someone actually defined fear as a felt reaction to a perceived danger. We innately have the ability to respond quickly to danger. Sometimes we can feel that a situation is going to be scary before it actually is. Our reaction to the sense of fear often determines how well we handle the situation.

We must keep ourselves from allowing negative scenarios to build in our mind. People often take a fear and begin to build scenarios in their mind of what might, could, or is going to happen. Most often these scenarios are irrational. When the emotion of fear begins we must analyze its rationality and if it is based on an unknown occurrence we must dismiss it as strictly emotion and not reality.

Sometimes we must face our fears in order to receive victory over them –

We can’t allow fear to alter God’s plans for our life or steal our joy. We should not be too surprised if in our weakness and fear God encourages us to be strong. When Elijah was hiding out from Jezebel because he was terrified, God sent him back to face her again. (1 Kings 19) Elijah had to go back before he could go forward. God will often allow us to face our fears as well.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What fear do you need to face before you can get on with your life?
  • Is fear holding you back from moving forward in some area of your life?

There are two consistent themes in the Bible. We are to walk by faith and we are not to be afraid. I think those two themes are related to each other. It takes doing the first to accomplish the second.

God has a plan even when our fear tells us that He doesn’t –

Since fears are an emotional response and emotions are not always reliable, fears will often cause people to lose their trust and dependence on God. At the same time, God will often use fear to draw people to Him. Most people grow best when they are being stretched by life. God often uses faith-stretching events; times when people are most afraid, to grow and mature His people. One time Jesus made His disciples get into the boat, even though He probably knew as the Creator that a storm was approaching. Faith tells us that God’s plan is secure, even when our fear says otherwise.

As we grow more in love with God, we fear less –

Perhaps the greatest secret to overcoming fear in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Perfect love casts out fear. If ever a person could perfectly know the love of God he would never have to be afraid again. Whenever we run from the challenges of life, God has to wonder why. He must wonder “Am I not enough? Do you think this is too big for me?” As we grow in our love for and our trust in God we will be better able to live our lives in a confident assurance that God is in full control.

To continue to mature, as believers, we must be working to rid our life of the fear which keeps us from completely following and trusting in God.

What is your greatest fear you would like to overcome?

10 Traits to Identify Potential New Servant Leaders

Team in the office. Asian businesswoman standing in the foreground smiling, her team of co-workers in the background

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to identify potential new leaders. If a church or organization is to grow, finding new leaders is critical. 

Equally vital is the quality of leaders being discovered. Good leaders learn to look for qualities in people which are conducive to good leadership. If you want to have a culture which reproduces leaders, read THIS POST first.

But, where do you find these people who can be future servant leaders?

I find it helps to look for certain qualities, which all good leaders need or qualities which, consistently over time, seem to make good leaders. Of course, in context of the church, the Bible gives us clear guidance in selecting senior leaders (who will hopefully also be servants). But, my church is always in need of new servant leaders – from the parking lot to the hallways every Sunday. Where do we find a continual pool of new leaders?

The following are traits I look for in leaders I hope to develop or with whom I want to work.

Here are 10 valuable traits when looking for new servant leaders:

Concern/Love for others – You can’t lead people effectively if you don’t genuinely love people. I’ve seen people in positions who have great power, but they don’t appear to love others. These leaders often produce followers – if only seeking a paycheck – but they never reproduce leaders.

Not a complainer – Candidly speaking, leadership encounters complainers regardless of what we do. I certainly don’t want to add complainers to my team of leaders. A positive attitude will get my attention every time.

Teachable and open to suggestions – A person who thinks they have all the answers will repel other leaders. People with no desire to keep learning rarely find their place on my team of leaders.

Excellence in following – This is a biggie for me. I try to follow people I lead, because there are times they know more than I do. Many times. Someone who isn’t willing to follow is seldom ready to lead. I look for a servant attitude – willing to do what needs to be done for the benefit of others. 

Reliability – Leadership is about trust, and trust is developed over time and consistency by doing what you said you would do. I look for people with this quality.

Interest – The people with a burning passion for the church or organization often make great leaders. You can train someone to lead others, but you can’t easily train them to have interest.

Good character – Character counts. Not perfection. Not flawless. But, good character is necessary to be trusted on a team. Integrity. Honesty. A humble desire to always be improving as a person – this kind of character.

Potential – God always saw potential in others they themselves couldn’t see. I try to have eyes to see potential in others.

Confidence – Leaders have to move forward when others are ready to retreat. This takes confidence. Not being prideful, but a genuine willingness to lead through the hard times – to do what others aren’t willing to do.

People skills – This goes without saying, but you can’t lead people if you can’t communicate with people. You don’t have to be the life of the party (I’m a strong Introvert), but you do have to be able to engage people and make them feel a part of things.

Well, those are some traits I look for in potential leaders.

Do you have other traits you look for in recruiting leaders?

Catch Phrases Heard On the Way to the Finish Line

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe. woman fitness sunri

I am a runner. I mostly run just for my personal health and pleasure, but I’ve run in quite a few races. I’ve even run a marathon and numerous half marathons. I’ve learned, however, distance is relative. If a 5K is your milestone, then it will be a long race. I have a friend who runs the 100 mile races.

I think he’s partially crazy. For him – he set a goal, he worked for it. He’s achieving it.

Good for him. I’ll stick to thinking 8 miles is a good average stretch distance.

One thing I’ve learned, however, if you’re pushing yourself, at some point along the race, you’ll struggle. It will go from being “fun” to being a challenge. Ask any serious runner.

I’ve also discovered – and this is the good part – without those stretching moments, there wouldn’t be near as much thrill of crossing the finish line.

Here’s something else I’ve observed. There’s a common language among those struggling – at the point of greatest struggle.

I think you’ll find these very life and leadership applicable.

Run any distance race and you’ll hear people express frustration out loud.

I’ve heard things like:

  • I can’t do this.
  • This is harder than I thought.
  • I’m not a runner.
  • Why did I sign up for this?
  • This is crazy.
  • I’m never doing another one of these.
  • I’m in pain.

But, here’s something else I’ve observed.

I’ve never met a runner, who crossed the finish line, who didn’t receive the thrill of victory – even if it was only after they threw up in a trashcan nearby.

The completion of a dream – a goal – a challenge – feels great after crossing the finish line.

Have you been ready to give up a dream?

Are you fearing the next steps?

Do you feel in over your head?

Are you afraid? In pain? Having to stretch yourself simply to keep going?

Often you simply need a little motivation – a little push. I’ve experienced one brief prayer give me the strength to keep going. Whatever it takes – don’t quit too soon! You don’t want to miss the thrill of crossing the finish line. No one can take that thrill away from you.

8 Words of Encouragement for Young Leaders

Elegant leader

I love investing in the next generation of leaders. They are our future. I think we have an obligation to share our experiences and help them learn from our mistakes. This is a huge purpose of this blog.

Most of the ones I invest in these days are younger pastors – or those who want to be some day. I love it. It’s honestly what fuels me most.

With this in mind, I occasionally like to share some principles and practices of leadership I’ve learned along the way. I’ve written more to pastors and ministry leaders in other posts – and more about keeping your relationship with Christ first and foremost – these are more general thoughts.

Here are 8 words of encouragement for young leaders:

Become an early risk taker.

It’s seems more difficult the older we get to take bold moves. I hope I keep doing so. I look at Moses and Abraham as examples, but I know the meaning of “comfort zone” now more than ever. Develop into your personal DNA early you will always be willing to walk by faith.

Learn to enjoy and be content in today.

Don’t concentrate so much on the next level of achievement you miss the lessons of today or never experience joy in the journey. God is doing something now – today – even as you wait for the next great thing. Looking in reverse – today will probably seem more valuable in your development than you can imagine now. And, every season of life is like this.

Manage your time wisely.

It passes quickly and you don’t want to regret too many missed opportunities – or too many avoidable mistakes. Grace is amazing, but there are moments in life you only have access to once. Then there are those really dumb things we do we wish we hadn’t. If your long-term goals and objectives for life scream this will be a decision you will regret – don’t do it!

Be inventive.

We need innovation in leadership. Take us places you see in your dreams, where God is calling you, but we can’t seem to find our way there. It will be hard, there will be resistance, but there’s a value in youth and leadership. We need you and your unique contribution.

Find the right people to influence you.

Don’t allow the negative words in your life to crowd out the positives. Concentrate more on what God is calling you to do than the naysayer’s personal agendas. You’ll struggle with this all your life, so the sooner you discipline yourself the better. Just like Elijah, you probably have more supporters than you think you have. Complainers simply have larger vocal chords. Hang around positive-minded people – people you trust and who trust you – then let them speak into the deepest and darkest places of your life to help you continually mature as a person and leader.

Live in stored up praise.

You’ll seldom know the good you are doing. Keep going even when the cheering crowds are silent. Find your affirmation in God and His truth spoken to you. Know who believes in you! Know your self-worth is not found in your performance, but in your unique design by your Creator. You have value to this world!

Keep growing personally.

Spend as much time on personal development as you do trying to develop others. Read THIS POST for an explanation, but basically you will need all the strength you can muster to lead well. Stand strong. Learn. Read. Develop. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

Keep pride and arrogance in check.

This is huge. Never believe you’ve finally “arrived”. As soon as you do – you’re living in dangerousness territory. You will always need people to speak into your life. Be wise about whom you listen to, but always be teachable. There will never be a time you don’t have something to learn. I hate to admit it, but I was in my 40’s before I really began to know how much I didn’t know.

By the way, all of this wisdom is just as true for my stage of life, but somehow I feel if we can catch leaders early they may avoid some of the mistakes I have made. I love your generation for its teachable spirit. Keep going! You’re doing great!

What words of wisdom do you have for the younger leader?

10 Ways to Have a Reproducing Culture

growing team

You can’t recruit leaders – at least not effectively – if you never develop a culture to do so.

Reproducing cultures reproduce leaders.

Finding new leaders is critical to the successful growth of any church or organization. Kingdom growth is greatly impacted by the numbers of leaders we can recruit.

Therefore, we must strive to recruit more leaders and we do so by having a culture of reproduction.

How do we develop that type of culture?

Here are 10 ways to have a reproducing culture:

Catch the vision of multiplication

It’s hard to convince people to buy into something you don’t believe in personally. As a leader, you must believe reproducing leaders is a valuable enough process to make it a priority.

Be intentional

Every leader in the organization must be willing to consciously replace themselves.  Multiplication must be a part of the overall strategy. There must be a continual process of leadership recruitment.

Start early 

Reproducing cultures replace leaders before they actually need them.

Invest in personal growth 

You can’t take new leaders where the current leaders haven’t been or aren’t going.

Humble leaders

Leaders must not be afraid new leaders could lead better than them. When leaders allow people to shine under their leadership it advances their ability to lead. The good news is today’s generation likes honesty. They will follow a leader more if they trust their integrity.

Share responsibilities early 

The easiest way to learn something is to do it and the more ownership given to people the more they will be motivated to participate.

Identify potential

I shared some ways I do this in a previous post. It’s important in a recruitment culture to always be looking for people who may someday be leadership superstars. Look for the good in people. What do they have which attracts people to them?

Create an environment conducive to leaders

Leaders don’t develop well under a dictatorship. If people are afraid to have an answer under the current leadership for fear of being wrong, they are less likely to try to have an answer. The real leaders will disappear quickly in a controlling environment – or where one or a few people get to actually introduce new ideas and make decisions.

Recruit

The “sign up” method seldom works well. The best quality people are almost always personally recruited. Jesus found people – with a personal ask – even at risk they would betray Him. The best recruitment in most organizations will be likewise.

Lead for life change

Some people will experience their greatest life change only when they are leading others or have some sort of responsibility of leadership. Nurture potential leaders knowing part of their spiritual maturity will be developed leading others.

Are you in a leadership reproducing culture? What makes it so?