10 of the Greatest Leadership Questions Ever Asked

Have you ever heard the phrase, “There are no bad questions”?

In leadership, this might be true.

I have learned in my years of leadership – I only know what I know. And, many times I don’t know much. There are often things among the people I am trying to lead which I need to know – and, for whatever reason – I won’t know unless I ask. Which means I must continually ask lots of questions.

One of the best skills a leader can develop is the art of asking the right questions – and, even better – at the right times.

Here are 10 of the greatest leadership questions ever asked:

How can I help you?

What is the biggest challenge you have to being successful here?

Do you understand what I’ve asked you to do?

What am I missing or what would you do differently if you were me?

What do you see I can’t see?

How can I improve as your leader?

If we had authority to do anything – and money was no barrier – what would you like to see us do as a team/organization?

Where do you see yourself someday and how can I assist you in getting there?

What are you currently learning which can help all of us?

How are you doing in your personal life and is there any way I can help you?

You can rephrase these for your context and within the relationships you have with people with whom you serve. You can certainly add your own questions. But, if you are attempting to lead people, may I suggest you start asking questions.

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed it, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post.

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. It’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success

Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner personal struggle

I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ

Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself

The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences where God brings a new opportunity my way. This is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord – Here am I – send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call

After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences?

What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

5 Ways Ministry Has Changed in 20 Years

It's gotten harder...

I began this blog a number of years ago for one primary reason of encouraging other ministry leaders. I came into ministry later in life – after a long business career – and, so I’ve always seen the role differently from some who have been spent their career in ministry.

Recently I was reflecting on how ministry has changed in the 15 years I’ve been in vocational ministry. This reflections was a result of two conversations. One was with a man who wondered with me why things can’t be like they used to be. Specifically such as why many ministers (like me) don’t preach three times a week anymore – and why the pastor doesn’t make all the hospital visits. The other was during the interview with Pete Wilson, who recently resigned from his church after recognizing the signs of burnout. During our conversation I remember saying, “Pete, ministry has surely changed in the 20 plus years since you entered?” He agreed.

But, how? How has ministry changed? What’s so different about being a pastor today versus 20 years ago?

I’m certain this is a list under development, but I decided to jot down some thoughts.

Here are 5 ways ministry is different over the last 20 years:

Access to the pastor has dramatically increased.

The volume of communication has to have dramatically increased for ministers as it has for all of society. I get hundreds of emails every week. My church interacts with me on Facebook dozens of times a week. A large number of our church has my cell number – and are free to text or call me regularly. I get Twitter DM’s daily. I am even contacted through LinkedIn by people who attend our church. I can’t imagine people handwriting that many notecards in days past or even typing out that many letters. It means I get more suggestions, questions, and complaints. And, honestly, it probably means I get more encouragement. But, certainly with social media and technology improvements the pastor is easier to find than ever before – and all of this communication takes time for the pastor to respond.

The type of ministry we do has dramatically changed.

I’ve read numerous articles – and talked to educators – about how the teachers role has changed from the 50’s until today. God bless those who choose to serve in public schools. The classroom has certainly gotten more difficult to manage in recent decades. It has become more difficult, because society has become more difficult. Running in the hall and chewing gum being some of the biggest discipline problems of the past. Now they deal with drugs and guns in the school. And, the same is true for ministry. Who would’ve thought pastors would be dealing with guns in the church. Or abductions of children from preschool. Security has become a major issue for pastors. And, this is just one of many examples of how societal changes have impacted the role of a pastor’s work.

(And, frankly, hasn’t every career changed in the last 20 years?)

Family needs have changed.

Pastors have to deal with children who are facing pressures every other child faces. And those pressures are bigger today than they were 20 years ago. According to one Time magazine article I read, anxiety among children has dramatically increased in the last 30 years. Nine of ten children ages 8 to 16 have accessed pornography, many wile supposedly doing homework, according to another study. Time management is much more of an issue for families today than it was when my kids were at home. All of those impact the ministries of the church and the interactions a pastor has with families. 

People are less committed and the message is less received.

It takes far more energy to get someone in the doors of the church then it would have 20 years ago. The competition for time is so much more severe. Travel ball, dance competitions, and community activities which used to never occur on Sunday are drawing people’s attention. And, keeping people engaged during a sermon is so much different. People can now watch a message – great messages – 24 hours a day. And, they can follow the world on their phone while we preach. 

Leading people is harder.

It just is. I’ve been in leadership for over 30 years. Leading people used to involve loyalty and commitment simply because of position – or paycheck. This was true whether someone had a paid or volunteer position. This isn’t always the case anymore. It’s made us lead better, but it takes far more time than it used to take.

Bottom line. The world has changed. And, so have the expectations and demands of ministry.

Please understand, I’m not complaining. I work for God – if I’m going to complain it will be to Him. (I’ll be like the grumbling Israelites.) I’m simply pointing out an observation. Working with 100’s of pastors every year – seeing the stress they face – watching many churches treat them horribly because they don’t meet all their expectations of time and commitment – I simply want to speak into something I see.

During pastor appreciation month – pray for those in ministry. Support them as you can.

Pastors, what other ways has ministry changed for you since you’ve been in ministry?

7 Reactions to Grief Which May Surprise You

Over the years I’ve walked with dozens of people through the stages of grief. Grieving is mostly associated with loss – it could be the loss of a job, a relationship, or even a life. Whenever we lose something we value we grieve. It’s natural, healthy, and expected.

I have learned no two people grieve exactly the same way. For me, for example, I’m often a delayed griever. I may not even cry at the immediate loss of a loved one, but in the days to come – as I process the loss – tears may flow at seemingly random times.

There are no rules of how to grieve. The only encouragement I give is to grieve with an end in mind. Grief should ultimately lead us to a deeper trust in God as we seek Him for comfort in our grief. But, the way you grieve will be different than the way I grieve.

I’ve also discovered there are reactions to grief which often surprise people about themselves. I’ve spoken with parents who see their children experience significant grief for the first time – and they are surprised by their actions. We really don’t know how we will respond in grief until we are placed in the position of deep sorrow. This is especially true the younger people are and the less experience they have with grief.

And, there are certain reactions to grief which we simply don’t expect. Everyone expects sadness, for example. But, some of the other emotions may catch us by surprise. That’s what this post is about.

Here are 7 parts of grief we don’t always expect:

Regret. You wish you to spent more time with the people you lost. Or done things differently when the business fails. You think of things you should’ve said you didn’t say.

At some point you must reconcile the regrets with truth. Time has past. There is nothing you can do to go back in time. “Back to the Future” was a movie, not reality, which is why Cher sang “If I Could Turn Back Time”. One of my lifetime and favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.” The past is the past. How are you going to be in the future? There’s a valid question to work towards in grief.

Anger. At God. At other people – even unrational anger. Even at the person you lost.

I’ve known people who hold on to anger for years. It makes them miserable and everyone around them miserable. They held to a part of grief – a very natural part – but, never reconciled their pain to God. In time, the goal should be to leave all hurt at the foot of the Cross, allowing God to soften even the most angry heart.

Confusion. You can be the most together person ever and you may still struggle to understand life when wrestling through grief.

During the immediate days of grief a person should be slow to make decisions which have long-term consequences. Allow people you trust – maybe even a counselor – to help you make sense of life for a while. In time, and with God’s help, life will become clearer again.

Frustration. It seems as those some people simply don’t understand. They don’t say the right thing. They don’t come through as they’re supposed to. You can become frustrated at close family members, extended relatives, friends, even the church.

The truth, as I’ve discovered, is sometimes people don’t know how to respond. Plus, in time of grief we might have unrealistic expectations of others. We can forget others have their own issues they are working through in life. Life keeps moving, although for you it might seem the earth has stopped turning.

Comparison. When you are suffering it may seem no one has ever suffered as much as you are. And, they don’t understand the level of your pain. This is natural also in the early days of grief, but if left there we can almost respond to others unfairly, ignoring pain in their own life. It isn’t usually true we suffer alone – everyone has pain in their life, but grief is full of lots of unexpected emotions.

Actually, there can be a healthy side of comparison if we use it with the right intent. One thing I like to do as a pastor is connect those in grief with someone who has experienced a similar loss, but is further along in the process. Grief support groups can be helpful for this. In time it may be comforting to know there are those who do understand. I think this is part of what Galatians 6:2 means when it commands, “Share each other’s burdens”.

Doubt. The most faithful person can develop deep questions of personal faith. They may wonder where God is – why He allowed what He did. God is always trustworthy and always good, but our emotions can can cause us to believe otherwise in times of grief.

This one may require the assistance of others, but certainly involves saturating our hearts and minds with truth. I find the Psalms especially helpful in these moments. I love the truth of Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God truly does care.

Disillusion. I’ve witnessed people in grief transfer some of their emotions into other aspects of their life. They may develop distrust of people they previously trusted. The point here is we transfer emotions – and because emotions can be unpredictable – we don’t always transfer them well.

Here is another one where it is helpful to have someone who can walk through these days of grief with us. A trusted friend is so important – someone who knows us well enough to encourage us – even challenge us when we prolonged too long in irrational thought.  Grief may lead us to be more wise in our discernment, but it shouldn’t lead us to a place of paralyzation to enjoying life in the future. Ultimately, even the deepest pain should guide us to a place of hope and joy. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

I think it’s helpful to know these may be reactions to grief. If you are experiencing some of these, you might consider whether they are an expression of grief.

Any you would add from your experience?

Remember Where You Came From

A Key to Leading Organizational Change

There was a saying when I was growing up an older generation used often – I don’t hear it as much anymore.

“Don’t forget where you came from.”

And, if you were one of my relatives – talking to me – you might have said it with emphasis.

“Don’t forget where you came from – boy!”

I think there’s a good leadership principle here too.

“Don’t forget where you came from.”

An organization will have different leaders. Different styles. Different approaches.

But, it should never forget where it came from.

The church where I pastor has over 100 years of history. Most of those were before me. (103 of those years.)

We’ve seen tremendous changes and tremendous growth in the four years I’ve been here. I’m honored. Pumped. Encouraged.

I’m convinced, however, one of the reasons we’ve grown is we’ve tried not to forget this principle.

We have held numerous celebrations of the past. We hung banners in our halls celebrating the decades long gone. We invited past leaders back to celebrate milestones with us. I consistently remind people this didn’t start with me. I tell stories from the past.

If you are attempting to grow in an established environment and culture, you need to celebrate from where you came.

Celebrate the past.

Celebrate the past leadership.

Celebrate the triumphs.

Celebrate the pain.

Okay, maybe celebrate is a tough word for the painful times – and, there may have been leaders you would rather not celebrate, but the past is the past. It’s important to remember where the church has been, even if only what the church was able to overcome. These were likely significant days in somone’s life. 

I watch too many leaders who think they can turn change on a dime ignoring all which happened in the past. This seems especially true if the most previous leader left in more difficult times. It’s sometimes easier to create new energy if you can ignore the past. I’m not convinced, however, it’s the healthiest or best way.

Leadership may be able to move quickly in a new direction, but people usually can’t. They need closure. They need time. They need to remember – and for their leaders to remember – from where they came. Those times were important monuments in their life.

If you’re leading in an established environment, recognize, honor, and remember the past. It’s what got you where you are today – good or bad. Not only has living this principle worked well for my leadership – it’s been effective – I’m personally convicted it’s the right thing to do.

Remember where you came from, boy. (Or girl)

The 4th “C” of Adding Healthy Team Members

I believe there is a fourth “C” to finding good team members. Unfortunately, I had to discover it the hard way.

You’ve possibly heard of the 3 C’s of finding the best team members. I think Bill Hybels is often credited with them.

Chemistry
Competence
Character

Bill Hybels appears to be a genius leader. I agree with all of them. They are each important. People need the chemistry to mesh with others well on the team. They need competence to do the job well. And, of course, they need character to keep from injuring the quality and integrity of the team. All vital attributes of finding healthy team members.

But, I believe there is a fourth “C”.

It may be semantics. Some may say it’s covered in one of others – maybe chemistry. I think it’s unique.

The fourth “C for me is Culture.”

That’s right.

Culture

Culture involves things like what people wear, office hour expectations, the unwritten rules, and the way things have always been done.

I’ve hired people I like personally – we had good chemistry – they had competence and character- they were even friends – but we found out we didn’t belong on the same team. We see things differently. Our culture preference is different.

One of my close pastor friends leads so much differently than I lead. He’s a good leader. He leads a healthy church, but his style is different. It creates a different culture than one I would create.

I hope he would say the same for me. I strive to be a good leader. I attempt to lead a healthy church. But, I’m different.

Some people will fit better under the culture my friend’s leadership creates. Some people will fit better under the culture my leadership creates.

This goes without mentioning the cultural individuality of the churches we both lead have existed long before either of us became pastors. Or the unique settings and community of the churches.

Not long ago there was a person I desperately wanted on our team. He had chemistry, competence and character. But, the more we processed together it simply wasn’t the right culture. As much as we would have loved working together, he would have been very unhappy in the days ahead.

And, so what’s the purpose of this post?

Hopefully the application of this speaks for itself, but just to be clear.

When you hire – consider character, competence and chemistry. Those are important.

But also consider culture. Is your culture a good fit for the person?

When you consider where to work — consider character, competence and chemistry.

But also consider culture. Is it a good fit?

Culture matters.

5 Suggestions When You Find Yourself in a Miserable Work Environment

About once a week I talk with a minister – usually a younger minister – who is miserable in their current context. It isn’t always because the workplace is miserable. Sometimes it’s a misfit for them personally. Sometimes it is an unhealthy culture or a controlling leader.

Many times, even if they’ve only been there a short time, they seem ready to quit. Most of us have been there at some point in our career.

There are many things I love about the youngest generation in the workplace. They are intent on making a difference. They are family-oriented. They want to do meaningful work. I love all that.

One difference, in my observation, is how they respond when they find themselves in one of these miserable situations. Many seem to check out too quickly. They are ready to quit – give up – even before something else comes along, as soon as they discover they are miserable.

I’m sure this is true of other generations, but there were generations who endured an entire career in less than ideal situations. They saw work as – well – work.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advising this either. Why spend 40 years in a miserable environment? Life is too short. Work doesn’t have to be miserable. And, there are healthy places that understand and appreciate the change in workplace attitude, especially being introduced by younger generations. That’s a positive.

But, what should you do when you find yourself in a miserable situation? How should you respond? Rather than quit, what other options do you have?

Here are 5 suggestions when a work environment is miserable:

Soak up all you can. 

You’re learning valuable lessons, even when you don’t enjoy the place where you’re working. I’m not sure you can see them at the time, but it’s true. It won’t be a wasted experience if you learn from it. Some of my best leadership skills came from watching leaders do leadership the wrong way. I once had a boss throw a huge sales book at my head because of disappointing numbers. I learned from that. Throwing things doesn’t work. 🙂 (And, many other principles were learned from that leader.)

Dream your next big dream.

Don’t quit dreaming. Invest your energies somewhere you enjoy outside of work. Create something inside or outside the place where you work that you can get excited about. Start your own ministry or company in a garage on your days off. Some of the best we know started this way. These extra energies will keep your heart filled, which is critical. (Above all else guard the heart. Proverbs 4:23)

Work to make life better.

You may be the one positive voice encouraging others on your team. Chances are others are miserable too. Some people have better game faces. Even if this is your only purpose in being there, it’s a worthy cause.

Strengthen your patience muscle.

Sometimes the staying power takes more strength than leaving. It builds character. It builds tenacity. You may be the senior leader someday and find yourself miserable again. Leading at the top level brings that sometimes. The captain of a sinking ship isn’t supposed to jump ship. 

Pray and watch.

Pray for discernment. For change. For delivery. For relief. For small moments of encouragement. And watch. For doors to open or things to change. God is doing something – working a plan – even when you can’t see His hand.

Are you miserable?

I’m not suggesting you stay forever. That doesn’t seem wise to me. I’m also not suggesting you quit — at least not immediately.

I am strongly suggesting you not waste the opportunities this time is presenting. Begin to see every moment of your life – good and bad – as character-building, life-shaping opportunities. 

5 Quandaries of Leading Creative People

And, a few thoughts which could help

Leading creatives can be difficult. In fact, I love having creatives on the teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the top Google definition of a creative:relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creatives’ minds are always wandering. It makes leading a team meeting harder. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied with their work – and often with the work of others.

And, before you creatives get too defensive – just so you know…

I’m a creative.

I’m not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. And this always confused me and kept me from considering myself one.

But, I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination.

I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh, yea, creatives.

But, when I began to understand these things about myself it helped me understand the minds of other creatives on our team.

And, the main reason I love creatives being on the team is they bring new ideas. They stretch others. They add energy. They challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me, however, was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think this is the word I’m trying to illustrate. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries which might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

Consider what I mean – and see if this is familiar with you – or the creatives you lead.

Here are 5 quandaries of the creative:

1. We don’t like boundaries, rules, policies (and we may test them or rebel against them)  but we need them in order to be effective.

The fact is we need deadlines. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them, but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us. We need to know what a win looks like. We need – dare I say it – structure. We don’t need needless rules – we need healthy rules which empower more than limit or control – but, we produce our best for organizations and teams under some restrictions.

2. Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

Which is why even within the deadlines we need freedom to decide how and when we do our work. Creative flow doesn’t always happen in cooperation with standard office hours.

3. We have lots of ideas – they are endless. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes. As fast as they arrive they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly, but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format which helps you understand what we are even thinking.

Which is why having us on teams can be beneficial, especially when there is more than one creative on the team. We like to process our ideas – often out loud – with others. And, even when we don’t feel like it – we probably really should. It helps eliminate confusion later. Brainstorming can be loads of fun and beneficial with a room full of creatives. (We will need more structured people to help make sense of things.)

4. Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored.

Long meetings lose us. Long emails never get read. Details make our heads explode. Leading creatives really does necessitate creative methods of leading.

5. We are tremendously flexible in our imagination – in the things we can dream about or create, but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

It’s true. I admit it. We actually like change, but can resist on changing our “masterpiece”. Don’t be afraid though to challenge us to improve. It is often just the push we need to get to our best work.

Have you noticed these quandaries? Any others?

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

These quandaries of creatives can actually produce the challenge in leadership – the quandary of leading creatives. Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

It can be difficult. A friend of mine said recently, “The most difficult person to lead is myself.” I agree. It’s sometimes a quandary.

But, it often begins with an understanding – of the quandary – and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

Put Your Mask on First

Leadership advice from airline safety

If you’ve spent any time flying commercially, you’ve most likely memorized the flight attendants instructions prior to take off.

Perhaps this will sound familiar:

Oxygen and the air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.

Years ago I was listening (I usually tune these announcements out – sorry) and one line jumped out at me.

If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.

I was instantly reminded of an important leadership principle. This is probably something you already know, but it’s always good to be reminded.

Leader, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t continue to lead at the level needed to help your team be successful. You certainly can’t lead a team to be healthy if you are living an unhealthy lifestyle. The healthier you are – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally – the more health you can bring to the team.

Just like on the airplane, you can’t help your team if you are having trouble breathing on your own.

Be honest.

What is one thing you would need to change in order to live a healthier life?

Grab your mask – get some needed oxygen – get the help you need, whatever it is, so you can lead at your best again.