4 Words of Advice for a New Leader

Elegant leader

I consistently talk to new leaders about the beginning days of a leadership position. In my opinion, the opening days of any job are some of the most important. Apparently others think so also. Recently someone messaged me on Twitter to ask, “What words of advice do you have for a newbie leader? I’m beginning my first pastoring role after years in student ministry.”

It has just been a few years ago I was a “newbie” myself. I speak with more passion, and perhaps even more authority on the subject, because I learned along the way. I Tweeted him back and said “Learn the people first – go slow to change – think intentional in all you do – pace yourself.”

And, that was enough for Twitter. This is my blog, however, so I assume I should explain a little further.

Here are 4 pieces of advice for the new leader:

Learn the people first, before making major changes.

Relational leadership is always most effective, but especially for a new leader. The people need to learn to trust you. They need an opportunity to feel you are committed and connected to them. They want assurance you have the best interest at heart for them and the church or organization they’ve loved and served longer than you have. They need to experience you listening to them for their input. Value – and love people – first and foremost. It’s not only effective – it’s the right thing to do.

Go slow with change when it’s time.

The older the church or organization – or the longer they’ve needed change – the more important it will be you take time to implement change. Know the key players, communicate, communicate, communicate, and help people understand why the change is needed. All change is resisted. Let me say this again – ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED. At some level, someone will not like every change you propose, but fast change is most powerfully rejected. Understand every change comes with an emotion. People are resisting for a number of reasons – anger, fear, uneasiness, uncomfortableness. This doesn’t mean don’t change. Most likely they’ll expect and even want some change, and some of this change may need to come very fast, but listen and learn the things you can change immediately and things where you’ll need to move more slowly. Get lots of input from others. Collaborate. A healthy change process takes time to do well.

Think intentionally in all you do.

The more you can strategically plan your moves, especially in the early days of a new leadership position, the more you can help steer them to a positive outcome. In every area of your leadership, take time to think through the best way to handle the situation. Again, get input from key people. I love a good whiteboard strategy session. When you have to make changes or implement your vision, invite key, trusted people into the room and brainstorm the best way to approach it. Plan your approach. Prioritize. Strategize. You’ll have plenty of surprises along the way, but if you’re intentional in the decisions you have control over, you’ll be better prepared to handle the unexpected.

Pace your leadership for long-term success.

This is so critical. You won’t often know the length of your tenure as leader, but you should script yourself to be there for the long haul. This means you shouldn’t try to accomplish everything in the beginning. Spread some of your enthusiasm and energy over the first year or more. It will keep momentum going longer, keep you from burning out and the church or organization from wearing out, and introduce an expectation of change – which will make change easier to make in the future. Also, think for the church or organization beyond even you – this is the honorable thing to do for any leader – don’t make it all about you. How can things keep building, healthy, vibrant and growing for the years ahead? When you set worthy visions and goals which carry people forward, help them dream and give them hope, they will want to follow your leadership. Finally, protect your soul. As the Scripture says, “Above all else guard your heart.” You will have lots of obstacles – all leaders do – you want to weather them to remain effective. And, get help when needed. (Which for me is pretty much daily.)

I’m pulling for you new leaders! Of course, my best advice – Go with God! He knows best. For another post on advice if give to young pastors – look at THIS POST

Have you ever been the new guy? What would you advise?

7 Specific Suggestions for Dealing with Stress in Life and Leadership

A tired woman sitting on the desk

Stress is very much a part of life. Having traveled to many cultures, however, I think we may sometimes “specialize” in stress in America. It almost seems we look for ways to bring more stress in our life.

Yesterday, I shared some general ways to deal with stress.

Today I’m following up with some specific things I do, which help me deal daily with stress.

You can read yesterday’s post HERE.

Here are 7 specific tips I have for handling stress:

Plan each day.

I know some will resist this because of the word I’m about to use – but, get a checklist for every day. I think  we should begin each day with a predetermined win for the day – and for me, this involves completing a realistic checklist of accomplishments. Ask yourself – what do I need to complete today?  Learn to plan what you can actually do. Don’t overcommit. As you get more disciplined, you can add some “stretch” items to the checklist. I try to do the harder ones or the ones I least enjoy doing first – so I get them out of the way. Complete an item or move it to another day. Keep in mind, if you keep moving items you are either not making good use of your time or planning too much for effectiveness. The more you plan days you can complete the less stressful individual days will be and, ultimately, the more effective you will be. 

Switch projects.

When I’m really stressed about a specific project, I like to take a break and work on something different – at this point, hopefully something I can easily complete. Now obviously this can become a problem if you never complete the stressful project, so use it as a help not a crutch. Sometimes, however, the energy created in making progress on another project will fuel you for the stressful project.

Review your time commitments.

This is huge. We tend to over-commit. Monitor all the ways you spend time. If you were going to create a monetary budget for the first time, financial planners would have you track everywhere you spend money. The same principle applies here. If you’re always stressed chances are good you have a time management issue on your hands. There are often things we continually do which bring us the most stress. Sometimes you may be able to delegate them – other times you may not even need to do them – and, at times you simply need to quit procrastinating, knock them out, and move on to something else. Figure out the problem areas, begin to address them with a good, disciplined approach, and you’ll decrease stress.

Practice redirection of thoughts.

Stress is often caused because we let our minds think about the wrong things. We have a natural bent towards worry, which always leads to stress. Some of us are more prone to this than others. When stress hits you – read a Psalm. Listen to a song. Recite poetry. Look at pictures of your family. Pray – (Because, ultimately, God is in control and you can trust Him.) Turn off the news and social media, which tends to add to stress most of the time. Take a moment to reflect on something of greater value in your life than the thoughts which are causing the most stress. When it’s people who are causing me stress, I sometimes pull out my “encouragement file”. Every leader needs one. These are encouraging notes or emails people have sent me through the years. Changing your thought process often lowers your stress. 

Move your body.

Stress seems to germinate in my mind when I am still for too long. Take a walk. Stretch your muscles. Head to the gym. I have found the more the stressful season the more exercise I need – even during the middle of a busy day. When I come back from time in physical activity I’m more energized to attack stress and win!

Talk to someone who listens and cares.

Sometimes just walking to another office and venting – or phoning a friend – will relieve a stressful moment. Others, especially those who know me and care for me, can see things from a perspective I can’t see. They can speak into my day. They can help redirect my focus and give me a fresh start. Again, I mention prayer. We have to learn how to communicate with our Creator. One of my friends always says, “Prayer doesn’t always change my circumstances, but prayer always changes me.” 

Stop and dream.

This may sound corny, but it works. What’s something you can look forward to? It may be at the end of the day, the weekend, or a year down the road. Knowing there’s something to look forward to beyond today helps me handle current stress. As a husband, I’m always intentionally trying to have a mini-vacation on the calendar for my wife and me. I know she and I both need it in our marriage to handle the daily stress grind. Again, don’t let this become a distraction to progress. You’ll have to discipline yourself back to the task at hand, but,in my experience, typically people who stress the most (people like me) are wired for progress more than process. We stress when things aren’t getting done fast enough and we tend to overcommit. I’m not sure our basic wiring will ever change, but sometimes, in the midst of a stressful moment, stopping to “smell the roses” lowers our stress level, gives us more fuel for the journey, and makes us more efficient – and more happy!

Those are a few tips. I hope they are helpful. 

What tips could you add?

7 General Suggestions for Handling Stress in Life and Leadership

depressed

The world is stressful. And, as I view the world, it is not getting any easier. There seems to be little relief in sight. If anything, life seems more stressful today than even a few years ago. It may be getting worse – not better.

I’ve written about the subject previously, but it keeps coming up in discussion, so here we go again.

What should we do? How do we handle the stress of daily living?

I want to offer some general suggestions today and then follow up with a post tomorrow with some specific suggestions. I hope they help.

Here are 7 general suggestions for handling stress:

Have a greater purpose than today.

If life is all about your current situation – when times are good you’ll be good, but when times are bad – life will be very bad. You have to live your life with a greater purpose. What’s beyond today? Where are you headed? What’s the future look like for you? Do you have a plan beyond the stress of today? It will help free your mind from stress when you can lift your focus. Of course, mine is an eternal purpose! And, I recommend it, but there must be something you are living for beyond the stress of today.

Direct your thought life.

It is a discipline to think of the glass as half full. Stress often comes through what consumes our mind. Garbage in – garbage out. In times of extreme stress, we have to pull from a predetermined and preconditioned ability to look to the bright side. The Apostle Paul said it like this, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Stay as physically healthy as possible.

Stress attacks weakness. Exercise and eating healthy are always good ideas, but it becomes monumentally important during stressful times of life. We tend to do the opposite. We skip our workouts and grab junk to eat. In the process, we starve our bodies of energy and our brains of needed nutrition and activity.

Forgive easily.

We don’t often attribute this one to stress, but the lack of forgiveness injures you more than the person who injured you. Holding a grudge leads to bitterness. Bitterness leads to stored-up destructive emotions – which is a recipe for stress. Pile on the normal stress of life and you’re going to be one stressed out person. Let go. Forgive. Never hold a grudge for long. Forgiveness leads to freedom – and the more freedom you find the less stress will have an impact upon you.

Ground yourself in truth.

You need some roots in something which will sustain you during times of stress. God’s word is my foundation. I read it everyday. I memorize it. I sometimes write a verse down so I can see it during the week. Here’s a good verse: “He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) Or, “When I am afraid I will trust in You, in God whose word I praise.” (Psalm 56:3-4) Find your verse – your truth – and cling to it; especially during stressful seasons.

Be a giver.

This one never makes sense to people until the try it, but people who cling tightly to what they have stress when they have less. The more we try to control what we have the more it leads to frustration when it seems to be in jeopardy. Giving does something spectacular in our hearts. It frees us to experience joy. (Again, you have to try this one for it to make sense.)

Celebrate often.

Take time to laugh. Decompress. Unwind. Choose the bright side of life. It is there even on the worst days. Sometimes I get up from my desk, put my headphones in my phone, crank up a fast worship song – and dance. I know – so much for being a Baptist preacher, right? But, it breaks the hold stress has on me at the time. Also, surround yourself with positive people when you can. Don’t surround yourself with negative people and don’t give them the same leverage in your life. Find a community of hope. This is what church does for me.

As I said, these are broad suggestions. Tomorrow I’ll share some specific suggestions for handling stress

What’s your remedy for stress?

7 of the Quickest Ways to Frustrate People on a Team

Office life: business team during a meeting

With every team or organization I have led there have been people who get frustrated with someone else on the team. In full disclosure, sometimes others have been frustrated with me.

Frustration is common among relationships. It happens within the healthiest of families – and the healthiest of teams. We certainly shouldn’t strive to frustrate others, but we shouldn’t be surprised when we do.

I have learned there are some actions, which can frustrate people faster than others. This might be a good time to do some self-reflection. As you read these, don’t be quick to think of others – although certainly there will be some of this too – but consider your own actions when you (or I) may frustrate people on your team.

Here are 7 of the quickest ways to frustrate another team member:

Promising to do something and not following through.

One of the quickest ways to frustrate people is to make a commitment and then not do what was promised. People are depending on each other on a team. When one person “drops the ball” – especially consistently – it impacts everyone. The Scripture says it something like this: “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” It’s better to commit to less and complete them than to take on assignments and never see them to the end.

Saying one thing to one person and something different to another.

Healthy teams are built on trust. Trust is developed with time and consistency. No one likes a people-pleaser. This person is often popular for a time, but they lose favor as soon as they’re found out to be two-sided in their opinions.

Never being serious.

This is the person who embarrasses you by making awkward comments and includes you in them like you are part of it. Teams should be fun, but this person makes everything a joke – and other people are often the brunt of them. They delay meetings with their constant antics. It can be funny for a while, but it wears thin quickly, as it begins to delay progress towards a goal.

Having an excuse for everything.

This is the person who can’t complete the task, but doesn’t want to admit fault, so they blame it on something else – or someone else. They refuse to ever admit fault. There is always a reason. They actually may become frustrated with you if you dare challenge one of their excuses. They expect you to just keep believing them.

Always having a trump story.

You know the type. You went on an exciting adventure – it was a great vacation – and the person who, often before you finish, has to share with you their vacation which was far better than yours. Or, what they accomplished at work is always far superior to what you accomplished. They can’t let anyone receive recognition grander than they receive.

Complaining consistently.

You may be just as frustrated with things at work as everyone else, but the one person who always complains sucks even the slightest joy from the room. They sew negativity into the team and try to bring everyone down to the pit of despair with them. They don’t like the vision, the plan of action, or those charged with leading them. They are naysayers. They overreact to everything and blow it out of proportion. These people weigh heavily on the morale of the team.

Only looking out for themselves.

This person really isn’t on the team, because the very definition of team involves shared progress towards a goal. They may be on the team by position, but in actions they are very much independent of others. They look out for themselves first. If they can take advantage of an opportunity – they will – even to the detriment of others.

Let’s build better teams!

Those are just some of the more frequent ones I’ve observed. Have you ever been frustrated by anyone on your team with one of these? Have you been the cause of any of these frustrations?

What are other frustrations you’ve seen people bring to a team?

One of My Most Repeated Principles of Leadership – and Life – Which Can Make Your Life Better

I don't know

How’s this for a title? One principal for a better life? Really?

Yea! Really.

And, it is a very simple principle – one every leader knows, but one we often forget. But, understanding this principle can dramatically improve every relationship in your life – and, if you’re a leader, it will improve your leadership – every time. Guaranteed!

Wow! Another emphatic statement! But, it’s true.

Learn this principle and place it into practice and see what I mean. Our staff hears this consistently because it’s so true.  

Here’s the principle:

Are you ready?

Write this down:

People only know what they know.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s big.

It’s not just big – it’s

HUGE

Of course, it takes practice to learn and let a principle this important work in your life, but the reward is worth it.

Let me give some examples:

If an employee isn’t meeting your expectations – tell them. Do it with love. Do it gracefully. Share it in a way which attempts to build them up rather than tear them down, but they may think you’re completely pleased if you’ve not said anything.

People only know what they know.

If your spouse is continually hurting your feelings – be kind, be loving, be graceful, forgiving, and helpful, but let it be known. Communicate your feelings. Chances are they are not doing whatever “it” is on purpose, but out of ignorance. They don’t know.

People only know what they know.

If a child says the wrong thing at the wrong time – Be affirming. Make sure they know you love them first. Assure them you’re in their corner and “for them” either way, but teach them from the experience you have had in life. Likely, someone had to teach you.

People only know what they know.

If a boss seems completely out of touch with reality – guess what? He or she may be. They probably need others to speak into their life. Be respectful. Be kind. Be genuine. Don’t share with others until you’ve shared with them, but share what’s on your heart with love.

People only know what they know.

If a new believer doesn’t quite measure up to the standard you’ve set for a believer. Don’t bash them or judge them or make them feel more guilty than they possibly do. Love them. Disciple them. Help them understand the way Christ would act. It may be they don’t hold or even know the standard Christ set.

People only know what they know.

Insert your own scenario, but before you get upset with someone – before you lose your patience – before you hold it against them – before you give up on a relationship – remember:

People only know what they know.

When people don’t know – and we assume they do – it leads to frustration, anger and disappointment. Communication is key to healthy relationships. 

How could implementing this principle change some relationships in your life?

10 Personal Resolutions Guaranteed to Improve Your Ministry Leadership

Close up of businessman with arms crossed on chest on modern city background

The best leadership, in my opinion, comes out of the resolve a leader has made in his or her heart.

The resolve of a leader is a pre-determined approach to way a leader will lead. These are personal convictions, values, personally held beliefs, which shape decisions a leader makes and the way responds to others.

Your personal resolve – about anything – always determines the way you respond and your actions towards it. (I recently preached on how this principle impacts our spiritual life. You can listen to this message HERE.)

Most often these resolutions are made even prior to being in a leadership position.

The resolve of a leader is powerful. In fact, if  leader wants to improve his or her leadership, he or she must often improve first their personal resolve.

So, do you want to improve your leadership?

Here are 10 personal resolutions guaranteed to improve your ministry leadership:

I resolve to never compromise my character in my search for progress.

I resolve to consistently be walking by faith – willing to risk for the sake of God’s call on my life.

I resolve to pray earnestly before I make major decisions and solicit others to join me in discerning God’s direction for our team and my leadership.

I resolve to extend grace freely, empower others, and realize mistakes made and learned from are a part of healthy discipleship.

I resolve to protect my family time – never compromising it in the name of ministry.

I resolve to make my personal health a priority and discipline myself to stay as healthy as possible.

I resolve to allow trials and turmoil to draw me closer to Christ and shape my character for good.

I resolve to love the seemingly unloveable – even those with whom I do not agree – responding to darkness around me with the love and light of Christ.

I resolve to pray for my enemies, extend grace liberally, offer forgiveness readily and never hold a grudge.

I resolve to surround myself with wise and moral influencers, allowing at least a few people access to know and speak into the deepest and most private parts of my life.

Which of these resolves do you need to make at this point in your ministry leadership?

Be honest.

7 Things I Miss About Church Planting in an Established Church

Cultivation in pot. growth concept.

I only have four church experiences in vocational ministry. One was a traditional church where God allowed us to bring a renewed energy and growth. I was a part of two successful church plants. And, for the last several years, I’ve been involved in revitalization of a historic, established church.

God has been so good to us in each of these churches – we have seen growth in the church and the people. We have loved every experience and the people in each church.

Recently, I was reflecting with one of our staff members who has never served in a church plant. As we shared stories, he was fascinated by how different things were at times in church planting versus the established church. 

Our conversation reminded me – as much as I love the established church – there are some things I miss about church planting – just being honest.

Here are 7 things I miss about church planting:

There are few “pew sitters”. 

Everyone has a job in a church plant – especially early in a plant, everyone feels needed. They know if they don’t do their part – Sunday will not happen. There’s an “all hands on deck” attitude each Sunday. Ownership is a shared mentality.

People far from God feel welcome. 

People come to a church plant with less reservations or wondering if they will be accepted. Even though most – at least many – established churches would welcome them just as easily. I know ours will – thankfully. But, perception can be a huge front door barrier. I’ve stated numerous times in our established church – sometimes the steeple can be the biggest hindrance. Don’t misunderstand, I love and appreciate our building and the opportunities it affords us as a church. I even love our steeple, and I’m thankful for the sacrifices of those who built it long before I arrived. There is great tradition and symbolism involved. But, there is something about the rawness of a church with no building, meeting in a high school, theater or rented storefront, which invites people who don’t feel they “fit in” a traditional church setting. 

You see people raw. 

I heard a cuss word almost every other Sunday in church planting. And, it was a part of normal conversation. They didn’t know “church’ was a place for “nice” language. If they got drunk the night before – they told you. If they were struggling to believe in God – you knew it. There was no pretense. I would rather we all had “clean” language. Drunkeness is a sin. God can be believed without reservation. But, it was refreshing to know where people really stood. There was no passive aggression or pretense – something I see often in the established church – afraid, perhaps, they wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.  

People bring visitors every week. 

People were so excited about the church they brought their friends. What a novel idea! Sure, it happens in the established church too, but it seemed to happen more frequently in a church plant. People in the established church often feel they’ve exhausted their contacts, all their friends are already in the church, or the newness and excitement of inviting has long since past. (Obviously, this is one of the major mindsets to challenge in church revitalization.) 

Small steps are celebrated. 

In an established church there are so many “mature” Christians – certainly people who know all the expectations of the church and appear to follow them – a newcomer far from God can often feel they don’t measure up at all. In a church plant, which often reaches people far from God, every baby step seems to be a major step. 

Change is expected. 

It’s not rejected. It’s not resisted. There are no politics or the “right people” you have to talk to before you implement. Everyone knows it’s part of the process. It’s in the DNA.

Rules are not cumbersome. 

Granted, there were times we probably needed a few more rules in our church plant. As our church and staff grew, we needed more structure. But, the longer we are together as an organization – any organization (including the church) – the more structured we become. And, sadly, the more protective we become of the structure also. Tradition forms and its much harder to adapt to what’s needed and new.

Those are a few things I miss about church planting. It’s an exciting time in ministry and, as hard as it is, it’s very rewarding. My prayers go out to my church planting friends. 

There’s probably a companion post needed next of the things I’m enjoying about the established church. There are certainly benefits to an established church. I actually encourage many pastors to consider church revitalization even over church planting. I’ll work on this post. Share some of your own if you want to help fuel a future post.

7 Pillars of Long-term, Successful Leaders

19th century engraving of classical Greek pillars

I love observing leaders. I consistently strive to be a better leader and the best way I know to improve is to watch and learn from other leaders. Whether they have more experience, have learned things I haven’t learned or they reinforce principles of leadership I know – I improve observing other leaders. 

In my observations, there are some common traits among the most successful, long-term leaders. It can be easy to lead for a season, or a special project, or even for a decade or more. But, leaders who last and are successful for multiple seasons, multiple decades – often in different environments or organizations, with different people – these leaders are rare. And, they have shared characteristics. 

I call these traits the pillars of leadership. 

Pillar:
1. a firm upright support for a superstructure
2. a supporting, integral, or upstanding member or part

In my opinion, I believe you’ll find these pillars among all truly great leaders.

Here are 7 pillars of long-term, successful leaders I’ve observed:

Vision

Great leaders believe in something bigger than today. They are going somewhere. And, they believe it’s a worthy enough vision they are willing to help others get there. They have a vocabulary around their vision. They know how to engage and rally people around the vision. 

Commitment

Great leaders remain rock-solid in their dedication to their cause and their people. They stick to what they feel in their heart God has called them to do. They are unwavered by public opinion or the “mood of the day”.  They aren’t only present in the good seasons, but weather the storms of time. Their faith keeps them grounded. 

Decisiveness

Great leaders make decisions – even the difficult ones – even the unpopular ones. People are willing to follow them, because they know they won’t sit on the sidelines while the world passes. They aren’t exclusive in making decisions – great leaders encourage collaboration – but they won’t compromise principles either. They are firm in their convictions and willing to stand for them when others won’t. 

Courage

Long-term, successful leaders don’t jump ship when times get difficult. In fact, some would say you don’t realize you need a leader until times are hard. These leaders confront reality head-on; leading through needed change to a better reality. They don’t cower to pressure to conform or fail to say what needs saying. Equally, they aren’t hogs of attention. They don’t need to receive all the credit in order to lead the people to victory. 

People

Great leaders realize others matter. They know there is no leadership without people to follow. They believe in the value of those on their team and are willing to invest in them. They aren’t users of people, they are people-builders. They love people and love to see them succeed. They recognize and reward other people’s contributions. 

Passion

It’s what gets a leader up in the morning ready to face another day. They believe in their call to lead. They are zealous to see it come to reality. They have a contagious enthusiasm. They are positive-minded and believe and hope in the days ahead. 

Character

Great leaders are strong in what matters most – their character. They have integrity, high morals, and qualities others can and want to follow. And, they are consistent over time in protecting their character to be above reproach. 

Obviously, in my specific role as a pastor, these are pillars worthy of my quest to achieve. I certainly see them in my Savior – the best leader I know – Jesus. I’m striving to get there. I want to possess the pillars of leadership. Who’s with me?

What would you add to my list?