The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

2-Circle Venn Diagram  - Plain

There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand — most of these people are leaders now — they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader — but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn — and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team.

It’s a fine line — or a quadrant of the circle — as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership — when you’ve lived in the tension for too long — it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, that frustrates you  nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership — all senior leadership — good or bad leadership — because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be — if you were in the leading position — than what could be — if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for that jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college — it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

That’s why it’s a fine line — hence the tension.

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

Funny scared man

We need leaders. When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…” — I’m convinced — some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

But, I’m equally convinced, that just as their are not enough people working who should be working — some of the workers who should be leading are not leading.

Why?

Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion — not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain — though unseen — reality.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines — even though people believe in them — but they just don’t believe in themselves.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my new favorite sayings (I wrote about it recently) is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into that role, but in the meantime, we are missing your leadership.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call — or, at least, they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work — but they never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

They tried once — it didn’t work — and they gave up too soon. Failure is a part of leadership. Certainly its a part of maturing as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

They couldn’t find their place — and didn’t make one. Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years — in leadership positions for over 30 years — and you know my answer to that one? Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out — we can completely figure out leadership. Until then – Watch, listen, read, learn, ask questions. Leaders are all around you. You can learn some skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Are any of these the reason you’re not currently leading — but you know you should be?

What are you going to do about it?

7 Common Ways to Lose the Support of Senior Leadership

Business team

As a rule, I’m pretty hard on senior leadership. Having been in such a position for over 25 years I know the bad side of senior leadership. I’ve witnessed it and, in full candor, I’ve been it.

My goal is always to improve senior leadership for all of us. That’s a chief goal of this blog.

But, what about supporting senior leadership?

And, the support from senior leadership for those attempting to follow?

Those are equally important topics in leadership. Any good senior leader knows he or she is nothing without the people on their team. So, that requires confidence in the people trying to follow senior leadership.

What causes senior leadership to lose confidence in people they are trying to lead?

How do you lose the support of senior leadership?

Here are 7 common ways:

Give half-hearted devotion to the vision. Speaking for someone in senior leadership, who feels the weight of completing the vision before us, there’s little time to waste on people who don’t share the same vision. It’s one thing not to understand it, to have questions about it, or need development. Everyone has bad days and bad seasons, but, it’s a completely different story when the person has lost passion — or never had passion — for the vision. Especially when they demonstrate it by their work.

Work for a competing vision. It’s not that there couldn’t be another vision out there — but this is the one we’ve been called to complete. And, any team will crumble under competing visions. When a team member starts competing, it’s hard to maintain the support of senior leadership.

Always bring surprises. As a senior leader, there’s a surprise everyday. Something is always coming that we didn’t see coming. It’s part of the job — and honestly — it keeps most leader-types energized, even when the surprise presents a new challenge. But, because they are so frequent, a healthy team helps limit them. If someone on the team, for example, knows there is a storm brewing, and doesn’t share that with senior leadership in a timely manner, there is the potential for a bigger, more complicated challenge that might have been avoided with prior information. When that happens frequently, the senior leader may lose confidence in the team member.

Never learn from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders actually expect them as a part of the development process. It’s easy to lose the confidence of senior leadership, however, when mistakes made never produce improvement — or when there is an attitude of indifference towards them.

Cease to follow through. Work has to be done. And, every great idea is just an idea until someone follows through with a plan of accomplishment. That’s what separates great teams from mediocre teams. When team members never complete the tasks assigned, they lose the confidence of senior leadership. (This one deserves a sidebar. If there are more tasks assigned than possible to complete, there could be a problem on the senior leaders side. This is another post, but sometimes you have to “lead up” to help senior leadership understand this, but make sure the problem is too many tasks and not a need to develop as a task master. Make sure you’re doing all you can to get better at time-management, for example.)

Cause your loyalty to be questioned. This one will raise eyebrows, but it’s true. Obviously, this requires a vision worth following, but loyalty towards senior leadership is necessary to complete the vision. I posted recently on some of my most repeated leadership nuggets. One of them, which I will expand upon in a future post, is “Don’t trip over your own humility”. Basically, I described that as don’t refuse to do the right thing because it seems self-serving. And, that’s certainly the case when you expect loyalty of followers. But, it’s necessary to carry a team forward in a healthy way.

Say one thing. Do another. There’s no place where letting our “yes be yes and our no be no” is more important than on a healthy team. And, every good leader knows this. People-pleasers don’t earn respect on a team once they are exposed. And, yes, this does start with senior leadership, but it must be carried through at every level of the team.

These are meant to be helpful. I work with a lot of ministry leaders who report to a senior pastor. I have never met one who didn’t want the support of the senior pastor, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with everything the pastor did. They want to be supported.When you’ve supposedly bought into the senior leadership, you want to be a team player, this is simply a gut honest look at some common ways to lose their support.

And, the same goes for senior leadership. We want people we can support, believe in, and want to work with on our team. And, every senior leader I know is trying to build such a team.

Granted, some are better at this than others. And, frankly, there are lots of senior leaders who aren’t worthy of much of the items on this list. They are difficult to follow, because they are difficult to trust. They may be incompetent, lack drive and be very controlling. Those are subjects of other posts — subjects I write about frequently. I realize if you’re in one of these situations there may be a natural push-back to a post like this. This post assumes that at some point you believed in the senior leadership.

(And, if not, that too is a subject of another post, but maybe this post serves as another reminder to you that it’s time for a change.)

Senior leaders, anything else you would add?

7 Of My Most Repeated Leadership Nuggets

Leadership Arrow

I meet with pastors weekly either in person or online. It fuels me to invest in younger leaders and always challenges me as I learn from them. I’m a better leader because I intentionally invest in other leaders.

(There’s a hint for some of you more seasoned leaders.)

It always seems the so-called wisdom I share gathers in seasons. When I say something to one pastor I usually end up repeating it to another. It could be that the nugget is in my schema or it is another way God stretches and teaches me so He can use me. I learn best with repetition.

But, eventually, once I’ve repeated it several times, I write it down. Then it becomes ingrained in my memory bank.

(There’s another hint there.)

This post is a collection of some of the more recent nuggets:

Here are 7 of my most repeated leadership nuggets:

Copy principles not practices. Principles are almost always transferable. Practices seldom are. You can’t be someone else as effectively as you can be yourself. You’ll lose if you try to compare yourself to someone else’s success. Your success will likely look different from anyone else’s.

Don’t trip over your own humility. It’s great to be humble. I’d advise it if you want to please God. But, don’t refuse to do the right thing because you’re afraid it appears to be self-serving.

Limit your energy to a few key areas. Delegate the rest. I’ve found I’m seldom effective past four or five major initiatives. There are some who think they are super-human. But, they are almost always wrong.

Don’t be afraid to make people wait for excellence. I see leaders burnout and be far less effective because they try to do everything at once. It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s actually healthy.

If you ever lack energy inside the building — get outside the building. I see pastors get so frustrated at the lack of progress. They beat themselves up because things aren’t changing fast enough. They lose their energy dealing with the negativity of change. I say to those pastors, get back to the coffee shops. Talk to people outside the church. Fuel yourself with a world that’s changing faster than we can capture on the nightly news. It’s actually what most of us have been called to do. Make disciples. And, when the disciples in the church start arguing over potlucks, get outside — into the community and refuel your passion with people searching for hope. And, watch your energy rise.

Invest in a few key leaders. You can’t invest effectively in everyone who’s trying to follow you. Jesus had lots of followers. He had 12 disciples.

All of these could be their own complete blog post. I’ve spent as much as an hour talking about each one to pastors.

Which of these would you like me to expand upon in a future post?

Seven Reasons Some Churches Experience Revitalization (While Others Don’t)

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This is a guest post by my friend Thom S. Rainer.

I have a great love for local congregations. To be sure, I’ve never been in a perfect church. They just don’t exist.

But I still love local churches.

One of my greatest joys in the past several years has been to see and work with churches that have experienced significant turnaround. While that turnaround is typically evident in attendance numbers, it is much more than that.

I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches.

These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches:

The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.

Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.

The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.

Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.

Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.

These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.

The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.

Do not count me among those who have their heads in the sand about the state of congregations in North America. As many as 100,000 churches are very sick or dying. Many more also need revitalization.

I hope you can join me for a video consultation on church revitalization at RevitalizedChurches.com. It will almost be like I’m at your church offering you guidance and hope toward the future. You can CLICK HERE to sign up for the four-part overview of the series at no cost.

Yes, I remain an obnoxious optimist about local churches. I am seeing too many indicators of His work to believe otherwise. Let me hear from you. And I hope to see you in the video consultation on church revitalization.

What are your perspectives on the need for church revitalization? What do you think might be missing in many churches?

25 Things Momma Used to Say

Angry mother scolding a disobedient child

Mothers are great. They make the world a better place. My mom is my hero. Where would we be without Momma?

But, I wonder — is there a handbook of sayings all mothers must use?

Did your mother say any of these?

“Whatever floats your boat”

“If I had a dollar for every time”

“I’m always a day late and a dollar short”

“You’re cruising for a bruising”

Followed closely behind by…

“And if you don’t quit it you’re gonna get it”

“Use your head for more than a hat rack”

“These socks won’t pick up themselves.”

“If you keep looking like that your face is gonna freeze.”

“Cut it out before someone gets hurt.”

“When I was growing up…”

“Starving children in Africa…”

“Get outside and play”

“A little “birdy” told me!”

“Am I talking to a brick wall?”

“You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders.”

“I don’t care who started it, I said stop!”

“If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!”

“If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.”

“You will eat it, and you WILL like it!”

“You can’t find it? Well, where did you leave it last?”

“I’m not made of money”

“Don’t give me that attitude.”

“Put that back where you found it.”

“…talk until I’m blue in the face….”

“You’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off.”

Bonus: “Do you know how much I love you?”

What else did Momma say?

7 Ways I Protect My Ministry and Marriage From an Affair

Happy Family Portrait at Park

This is an updated version of a previous post.

It’s needed.

It seems every day we hear of another big name celebrity, politician or pastor that has fallen into the temptation of lust and had an affair. I think it is dangerous for any leader to assume this could never happen to him or her.

Speaking as a man, (I have never been very good at speaking as a woman), I understand that temptation is very real these days. When the mind begins to wander in a lustful direction, it is very hard to control. The failure, I believe, comes more in not protecting the heart and mind before the time of failure.

I know that I must personally work to protect myself, my wife, my boys and my church from the scandal and embarrassment of an affair. I also know — first hand — and I teach pastors frequently — that positions of authority and leadership gain special attention in the area of temptation.

For those reasons, I have placed some rules in my life to protect my heart. Does everyone agree with or understand them? No. Am I more concerned about finishing well than making sure everyone loves my approach? Yes!

Here are 7 ways I’m attempting to protect my heart from an affair:

I never meet alone with a woman besides my wife — or maybe my mother or sister. The key word in that sentence is alone. I do meet with women, but I always take someone along to lunch meetings with a female. I make sure others are in the office when I meet with women. And — very important — I never exercise with other women. (If you need explanation, then you’ve never been a guy going to a gym where girls are in workout clothes. Trust me!) I realize this is not popular with some people. Honestly, some women never understand this. I have had women tell me that I “think too highly of myself”, but my family is too important to me not to take this precaution.

I try not to conduct very personal or intimate conversations with women. This doesn’t mean I don’t discuss serious issues with women — I do, but I am careful in this area not to get into the more personal areas of a woman’s life. There are women on our staff and in our church equal or more capable than me to deal with these type conversations. And, I do not to compliment women on their appearance. The exception would be if I feel she needs the encouragement and her husband or my wife is in the conversation. If a woman is in tears I am careful about prolonging the conversation until others are brought into the conversation. The principle here is that when emotions are flowing, people get vulnerable.

I limit online communication with women. This is grown in importance in recent years. The rise of Facebook and other social media — and texting — has made it easier to interact with people. I try not to cross lines with women in this area. People share private information with pastors and online seems to make that even easier. I give my wife access to my computer and phone and I share with her any conversations that if she read them on her own my seem too intimate.

I try not to stare at women. When an attractive woman catches my eye, I try to quickly bounce my attention elsewhere. Yes, I notice a pretty woman in the room. That’s a reflex. Easy to do. God made some beautiful women. I just know my heart and mind well enough to not allow myself to stare. Trust me. I shouldn’t. I can’t. Have you ever read 2 Samuel 11?)

I hear and understand the debate that a woman should not have to worry what she wears as much as a man should worry about where he looks. Okay, I understand — so this is my response.

I spend lots of time with my wife. The best defense is a good offense. The most certain way to protect my heart is to strengthen my marriage. Cheryl and I spend most of our leisure time together.

I try to always remember my boys. My boys are two of my very best friends, and thankfully, as for right now, they still have tremendous respect for me as a dad and man. I would never want to disappoint them by being unfaithful to my wife. I believe that fact alone should keep me from wrongdoing.

I love my church. I would never want to injure the work God is doing at Immanuel. If I were ever tempted to sin against God in this way, I would hope my love for the church would draw me back.

Do my rules offend you? What are you doing to protect your heart?

You might also want to read 7 Ways I Protect My Family Life in Ministry

7 Suggestions When Your Life is in Drama

drama curtain

Cheryl and I were watching a drama show on television once — I don’t even remember which show it was — but the character’s lives were filled with marriage problems, health issues and work problems. Drama.

Funny how we tend to enjoy shows watching other people’s drama. Maybe that’s because we know our life is sometimes filled with drama too.

But, towards the end of the show, Cheryl looked at me and simply said, “I’m glad our life is not a drama right now.”

Wow! I hadn’t thought about it — but when I considered the definition — ME TOO!

Drama: any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results: the drama of a murder trial.

We’ve certainly had more than our share of drama before and we may be there again. Thankfully most of it involved problems out of our control — we can’t control all the drama that the world brings in life — rather than mistakes we were making. Plus, much of the drama we have had in our life has involved people outside our immediate family. Our immediate family has remained mostly drama-free. That’s a blessing. And, we know it.

The conversation reminded me, however, of some principles I have learned walking through periods of drama in my life, but also with others.

Here are 7 suggestions when life is a drama:

Draw near to God – People tend to go one direction or another during the difficult seasons of life. After years of struggling through trials, I have learned one thing well. Your life is best when your closest relationship is your God relationship. Allow the trials of life to strengthen that bond as you rely on His strength to see you through this season of drama.

Don’t make quick decisions – In the early days of drama you should be careful not to make life-altering decisions until you are certain you aren’t making them with an emotional response. There may be immediate decisions that have to be made. When that is the case, rely on an inner circle of people you trust to help you make them, but delay major decisions until you are able to think rationally about the situation. (Dramatic decisions made in the heat of the moment may keep a television drama viewership high, but it can be disastrous in real life.)

Keep the circle small – As much as you need others around you, not everyone needs to know the intimate details of your life either. Your life is not a television show — even if the script appears so well written for one. I have seen so many people who never feel they can walk with pride in a church or community again because they shared too many details about their struggles with too many people. When the struggles are over they are embarrassed to return to the same circles of people. People love to repeat your drama and they don’t always tell it accurately or with the right intentions. Find a few people you can trust, who will bear your burdens in confidence and point you in the right direction in life. You need these people, but keep that circle small. (Also, in this day of social media, be careful of the details of your life you place on Facebook. Don’t be the Sunday night drama everyone is talking about Monday morning.)

Seek wise counsel – Now is the time to find wise advice. You need a more outside perspective on your drama. It’s great to build these type mentors and/or investors before the need arises. But, even if you have to be awkward in the request — reaching out for help is a sign of maturity. Don’t be afraid of professional counseling. That can be a healthy response to drama.

Work towards forgiveness – Drama most always involves some need for forgiveness. It may be a need to forgive others, yourself, or even God, but you will have injured emotions that need to heal. Part of that healing will likely require some letting go — some forgiveness to occur. Living as forgiving and forgiven people allows God to help ease your pain and strengthen your availability to receive joy by opens the door to complete restoration in your heart. Holding a grudge, remaining angry or bitter, only keeps you from moving forward from the drama.

Protect your heart for the future – Seasons of drama come and go, but we are more prepared for them when our heart is kept close to God’s heart through the calmer seasons of life. I’m learning that all seasons of life contain drama, sometimes the drama is more intense than others, but throughout the whole of life our goal should be to guard our heart for God and people.

Learn from this time – Don’t allow your drama to have a meaningless plot in your life. Learn from this season. There will be other times where life is in drama. If you’re intentional to grow during the drama times of life, you’ll be better prepared the next time.

Where are you now? Is this a season of intense drama — or would your life be more of a sitcom right now? How are you dealing with the drama of life?