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.

If God Gives You Influence…

A Reminder to Pastors and Church Leaders

If God gives you influence the enemy gives you attention!

We shouldn’t be surprised when we see pastors and church leaders struggle. They are human – imperfect humans.

I have witnessed over the years – watching others and with my own experience – it’s often in the seasons where everything seems to be going so well when temptation is greatest.

Should we be surprised? I think not! We’ve been warned – and told how to respond.

Be self‑controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9

Pray for a pastor or church leader today. And, drop them a quick note to let them know you did.

8 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again if Planting Another Church

I have been involved in church planting for most of my ministry career – whether as a planter or as a supporter of planting. I love the process of planting. I love the energy and the enthusiasm a new church brings to a community.

Having planted two churches, I’ve learned a few things. Some of the things I’ve learned are things I wouldn’t do again if were were planting another church.

If you are planting now – or in the future – I hope these are helpful.

Here are 8 things I wouldn’t do again if planting a church:

Limit God’s vision.

In our first plant, we started as a church to reach one section of town. As we grew, God seemed to lead us to a different target geographically. In our second plant, we started in one location, relocated, then ended up in two different locations – in each move reaching entirely different segments of our community. God continued to refine and shape our path as a church. Who we were a few years in was not necessarily who we thought we would be as a church.

Fail to challenge people to grow in their walk with Christ.

I don’t know that we shied away from this – it certainly was our heart and our vision to make disciples, but in the early days, we were very conscious of reaching the lost. I wouldn’t change that either – and I’m still trying. Reflecting back, however, we may not have been as bold as I wish we had been in challenging people to grow. In addition to growing in weekly attendance people need to grow individually. It wasn’t enough to know Jesus – we needed to strive to be like Him – even when it involved change in them and their daily lives.

Shy away from talking about money.

So many people think all a church does is talk about money. We attempted to avoid this stigma from day one. We concentrated more on serving than we did giving. (And, both are needed.) In the process, we neglected to develop our core givers those first couple of years, we put ministries on hold we should be pursuing, and we robbed people of the opportunity to become generous givers and consequently to feel the reward of trusting God completely.

Resist leaders from other churches.

We wanted to plant a church for non-believers, but we needed leadership to be successful. When leaders from other churches came, however, we were hesitant to plug them in for fear we would be seen negatively by other churches. In the process, we missed out on quality leadership and we denied people the right to follow their own heart.

Expect everyone to be as committed a few years into the plant.

The fact is, life changes. Some people are starters and some are finishers. Some of the original people will grow bored with things as they are and or they may even disagree with some of the directions the church plant goes. Some will become overwhelmed, tired, or simply feel led elsewhere. They had a great impact in our beginning, but they sought opportunities elsewhere in later years – and it’s okay. Be thankful for the investment they made in the beginning.

Worry about the external critics.

In both plants, it seemed our biggest critics were from other churches in the area. They didn’t agree with our style of worship, our teaching (which we tried to make very Biblical), or even the need for us to exist. I let it bother me too much the first couple years. Then I had a wise planter give me some advice. I still hold on to it today for other applications. He said, “Ron, seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to”. The people we were reaching with the church plant – the hurting, lost, wanderers – were so thankful we had obeyed God to plant. The more I focused on them the greater sense of accomplishment I felt in my obedience to God. 

Wait long to reproduce.

We were 5 years old when we launched our second campus. I see churches do this in their second full year. There are so many in our city who need hope. Taking a risk on my own comes easy, but sometimes I’m too careful when representing God – as if He can’t handle something so large. When God leads, I want to move quickly. We saw several opportunities to launch other locations we passed on because we didn’t feel “ready”. I’m not sure we ever would have been. 

Delay the need to add structure.

We were a church plant. We were often escaping the structure and traditions which keep so many churches from growing and reaching outsiders. But, with growth can quickly come chaos without some carefully planned policies and procedures. You want to add smart structure – and always want to be open to frequent and even constant change, but even church plants need a few systems to guide the organization. And, the best way to do this may be to find people to help you do it. With a background in business I was a natural to do this, but I hated the management part of it – so we didn’t do it as well as it could be done. We were running well over 1,000 before we hired someone as an administrator. We should have done this earlier. If a church is 400 or 500 hundred in attendance this becomes a full-time job. If the plant is smaller – recruit part-time help or even volunteers. 

Have you ever been part of a church plant? Anything you could share with us?

5 Helpful Questions When Attempting  to Discern God’s Will

When options are plentiful

I am often asked how to know if the plans we make are God’s will for our life. I’m not referring to which cereal to have for breakfast. For the most part I think God would simply say choose your favorite (and, like a good parent, try to steer you to a healthier option). I’m talking about those life-altering decisions, such as career choice, relationships, or decisions requiring huge steps of faith.

Most of us want to do God’s will, and yet, as I view Scripture, God seems to give us a tremendous amount of freedom to choose the paths in our life. If you’re like me, you’re fully capable of making a mistake. I’ve made many doing things my own way.

It seems easier for me when I have some sort of structure through which to process a decision. Years ago I began to ask myself questions when facing major options in my life.

Here are 5 helpful questions I often ask myself to help discern God’s will:

Does what I’m doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?

Always start here, because God’s Word will never contradict what He’s asking you to do. God is always true to Himself and His Word is always true and relevant. We may differ in interpretation of a passage, but if it’s clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we clearly know His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with the counsel of others?

God uses others to confirm His will. I am thankful for the people in my life, including my wife and sons, who have helped shaped the path of my life. Often they see things I can’t see or believe in me when I can’t believe in myself. God sends the body of Christ to encourage, challenge and strengthen the body. (Don’t be confused, however, with times God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy. See Noah for an example of one of those times.)

Does what I am doing conflict with the spirit within me?

God sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. He guides us with an inner peace or a holy unrest. If Christ is in you, He will not leave you to make a decision completely alone. Often God provides a peace or a lack thereof when He is trying to confirm His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with my life experience?

God uses our experiences in life to teach and mold us to His will. Often it isn’t as unusual of a path when we look back over our life experiences. Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also, but consider the life of Joseph. God continually used his past experiences to shape his future.

Does what I am doing conflict with my passion for life?

God tends to work with the things which fuel our fire. He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. When I look at Bible characters like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul it appears their calling matched their wiring. Paul was zealous for whatever he did. God used his passion for good. What’s your greatest passion? God may work within it to confirm His will.

Try those questions together and see how they line up to help discern God’s will as it relates with your the options before you.

I should encourage you in closing with this – I fully believe God works all things for good even when we miss His will in individual decisions. You can make a bad decision, but God retains the right to finish your story His way. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

You may want to read 7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

5 Qualities to Seek in the Heart of a Leader

As evidenced from the heart of Joseph

In this post I’d love to consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for the heart. I want a heart which honors Christ more than self, one which desires to grow and learn, and one which is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others.

The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ – not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

The part of Joseph’s story I want to point out has to do with what identified him with the heart of leader. I submit his heart is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination

Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity

When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment

Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality

Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation

Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

The hope of this post is you would reflect on your own leadership – consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?

Handle Little Things Before They Become Big Things

Cheryl and I were in a grocery store out of town some time ago. We turned the corner from one aisle into a main aisle and instantly saw a gentleman slip and fall. He wasn’t injured – or at least he said he wasn’t – but it shook him up quite a bit before he scrambled to his feet. We then noticed he had slipped on something liquid on the floor. Someone standing around said the spill had been there a while. As I expected, within minutes every manager in the store, easily identified by their store shirts and badges, were on the scene – making sure the man was okay and the spill was throughly handled.

As I left the store, I saw managers roaming the store, picking up everything they could find on the floor. There was plenty to find. The store was dirty from what appeared to be a very busy day of shopping and trash was everywhere. I had noticed it as we walked around the store, but it was even more obvious now.

It was a good reminder of a leadership principle.

Good leaders take care of little things before they become big things.

I’m not suggesting a leader be a micro-manager. To the contrary – I’ve written plenty on this blog to indicate otherwise. I am suggesting the leader needs to always be observant of the things others can’t see or aren’t looking for, which can impact the success of the overall vision.

I started working in the grocery store when I was 12 years old. The store’s owner seemed to always know what was going on in the store, often pointing out things needing to be fine I or other employees hadn’t noticed and, in our opinion, didn’t matter. It was sometimes aggravating to this teenager, but years later, when I worked in retail management, reflecting back it began to make sense to me why  my boss had responded as he did. I began to copy his intentionality. I refused to do any paperwork on Saturdays, for example. The busiest shopping day was reserved solely for customers. I made sure I was roaming the store constantly, looking for anything which might be a problem or an opportunity. I was usually the first to recognize a customer looking for an open register or if the store’s temperature was too hot or too cold.

As a pastor, I had an intern who shadowed me for the summer. His initial observation was I paid attention to details. I remember explaining to him part of my job was to look for things others didn’t see. I can’t catch everything, but as the leader I certainly need to be looking for anything which could make or break a successful day in the experience of a visitor. This could be the spill on the floor, a long line at children’s check-in, the missing volunteer or the visitor who looks like they are struggling to find their way in our building.

A couple years ago my younger son was preaching for me one Sunday. We arrived at the church and I instantly spotted a trash can overflowing with garbage. I quickly began to address the issue. My son said, “Dad, I thought you weren’t a detail person. How did you notice the trash can was full?”

I assured him I am not a detail person – unless the detail has an impact on the people who may walk on our campus each Sunday. That is a detail which matters. I want to take care of little things before they become big things.

I have learned it well. It could be with spills on the floor – or with people on the team. Big things often start small – so pay attention to the little things which matter. 

One way I do this is to simply ask myself a question, such as: If this continues – and gets bigger – how much of a problem is it going to be? Things are almost always easier to deal with when they are smaller than when we let them become “big things”. 

By the way, this principle applies in other areas of your life also – such as in your marriage – your parenting – or your personal disciplines. 

Leader, what seemingly little things do you need to address before they become the big things?

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus

These Inspire Me

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni. There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership. I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. I have been known to choose the teams I support by the coach that leads them. I love leadership. It is so needed these days – especially in our churches.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus that inspire me:

Jesus was willing to invest in people others would have dismissed.

Consider the disciples. They were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

Consider how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. No micro-management it appears.

Jesus had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

The King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

Jesus was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

Jesus was into self-development.

Jesus constantly slipped away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

He very purposefully prepared the disciples to take over the ministry. He pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

Jesus held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

He was willing to jeopardize Himself personally by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

Jesus celebrated success in ministry.

He rewarded people generously who were faithful to Him and His cause.

Jesus finished well.

Any questions whether His ministry was effective? Still working today.

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

3 Tips from Jesus Recruiting Methods

In John Chapter One, I see three methods Jesus used in recruitment. I think these may be helpful to those of us trying to recruit more volunteers – especially those of us who are leading teams during a transition or start-up phase.

Recruiting the right people is paramount to the success of any organization and Jesus obviously was the best.

Here are 3 tips of a Jesus recruitment methods:

Recruit, experienced transitional people.

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and then of Jesus (John 1:35, 40).

It’s common for a leader – especially a new leader – to want their “own” team. It makes sense to surround yourself with some people you know are loyal to you and you can train with your way of doing things. 

When developing a team or starting a new team, however, it’s also good to have someone who may have even more experience than you in what you are doing. You need individuals who know how to do what needs to be done, can be influencers to the rest of the team, and who have proven their loyalty on other teams. These people are valuable assets to any team.

In my current role, the associate pastor offered me his resignation before I arrived. He had been at the church 15 years or so and had weathered good times and bad in the church. I refused to accept it. Instead, I encouraged him to move into a larger office – next to mine – gave him greater decision-making authority, and worked to earn his trust. He has been invaluable in my success at the church. I’m confident I have a loyal friend for life.

Allow the team to help recruit the team.

Andrew found Simon — Philip found Nathanael. (John 1:41, 45) Apparently, Jesus allowed some of the disciples to help recruit other disciples. The team helped add to the team.

This is a great reminder when you are building a team, adding other team members, or replacing a team member. Get your team involved in recruiting. Their support will increase for the new recruits – and, by spreading the search process – you’ll have an increased chance of finding better people.

When I arrived in this current position, I made sure I had hiring authority. I think it’s critical for a leader’s success. I would have been foolish, however, not to include others in the selection process, so I had several people interview and meet with the new staff members prior to them joining our team. My wife was one of those who assisted me. They helped me by lending credibility to the new staff and making sure I was being wise in the decisions we made.

Recruit people who are ready for a challenge.

Some of the disciples Jesus recruited were apparently already looking for the Messiah. (John 1:38, 41, 45) They were ready for Him when He came, because they were already seeking something. Jesus recruited with big asks – basically, “Drop everything else and follow me!” I’d say this is a big ask.

Obviously, I’m not Jesus, but I believe it is important when looking for new people on a team to find people who will buy into your vision as a leader, who will remain loyal over time and who are ready for a challenge. If you have to talk them into something, or gain their initial trust after the hire, you’ll waste valuable time before they completely commit. (This doesn’t mean there aren’t deeper levels of trust to be gained over time, but initially they should be convinced this is where God wants them to be.)

One practice I have continually used in recruiting new team members is to talk them out of taking the position – after I’m sure they want the job and I want them to take it. I want to help them test their hearts. I want them to know the unique challenges ahead (as far as I know them at the time). I don’t hide anything – even the less than glamorous parts. We have hired several staff members on faith the first year. The budget did not support them, but we believed God would provide. He did. This was almost always the case when I was in a church plant. If they are still interested after they know all the down sides of the position then I know we will make a great team.

Perhaps some of the recruiting methods of Jesus can help you in your recruitment.