Quit Taking Credit For A God Thing!

A few weeks ago, in preparing a message for Grace Community Church in which I celebrated the victories we have seen in the last year at Grace, God convicted me for my line of thinking.  I was preparing to remind people of the strategy of the church, as we do at the beginning of each new fall season, to encourage them to continue giving their time and resources to further the vision.  I believe God gently reminded me that apart from Him, we would have no vision and we would certainly have no success.

Clearly what has happened at our church in the last four years is bigger than any vision, strategy, staff or volunteers could produce.  If we duplicated everything we are doing today elsewhere, we would have no guarantees of success without God’s intervention.  No doubt about it, what we are experiencing at Grace Community Church is a God-thing!  I also know that we are just a small part of all God is doing in many places around the world.

It was a needed reminder and one I wonder if other leaders, especially some of the big name leaders, need to hear.  The greater the success a person has and the more accolades a leader receives, the easier it becomes to begin to take credit for that success.  So, in simple terms, let me encourage you, if the shoe fits, to…

Quit taking credit for a God thing!

We can share wisdom and strategy from what we have learned.  We can write blogs and books to encourage others.  We can be invited to speak around the world about our successes.  People can look to us as “experts” in our field, but let’s be honest as leaders.  Most of us who are experiencing tremendous growths in our churches are…

  • Not better leaders
  • Not better speakers
  • Don’t have a better strategy

Than some who are doing the same things we are doing, but not experiencing similar results.

I will continue to share my experiences.  Frankly I think I have been called to, but honestly, when you look at what is happening in our church, what looks like a God-thing, quite possibly is…actually, there is no question in my mind that it is.

Have you ever been guilty of taking credit, if only in your own mind, for something that truly God has done?

My Two New Heroes (Ben Stroup and Dave Ferguson)

If you want to get on my good side, one sure way is to brag on my boys. If you want to become my hero, invest in them.  Both of my boys are incredible young men.  Both have sensed a calling into ministry at some level.  Both are sorting out what their next steps are that God wants them to take.  Anyone who helps them figure out life at this point ranks high on the list of people I admire.  Using that philosophy I have two new heroes.

Ben Stroup is investing in our oldest son Jeremy by allowing him to intern at Lifeway.  Jeremy is a senior at Austin Peay State University majoring in Corporate Communications with a minor in Leadership. He needs to complete an internship in each. Ben has accepted Jeremy into his department for the leadership internship and is already stretching Jeremy with new ideas and challenges. I look forward to watching Jeremy mature under Ben’s mentoring.  Ben is one of the brightest young men I know in ministry these days and Jeremy can learn a ton from him.

Dave Ferguson
is investing in our youngest son Nate at Moody Bible Institute where he is a freshmen.  I have written about the emotional part of letting Nate go (Read a post HERE), but knowing that he is able to grow in his heart for ministry was an important issue for me.  Going from being extremely active in our church plant to being in the center of Chicago knowing no one was a concern for him and me.  Dave has reached out to Nate months before he even arrived in Chicago.  His emails and connections have encouraged Nate beyond what Dave will ever know.  As connected and popular as Dave is, and understanding the demands of his position well, I am impressed with his accessibility to an 18 year old freshmen in college.  It says a lot about his character and heart.

I hope I can return the favor shown to me by these two fine men by investing in someone’s else’s son.  God bless you both for being Kingdom builders.

Who are you investing in today?

I Don’t Have All The Answers!

As our staff and church has grown, my role is changing.  I spend much more of my day interacting with staff members about their particular area of focus.  Lately it seems I am saying a lot of, “Let me connect you with _________”, as I refer people to another person on our team.

It is a hard reality for me sometimes, but the larger our church grows the more I have to realize…and need others to realize…

I don’t have all the answers.

The good thing is that we have a children’s pastor to know specifics about children’s ministry.  We have a community group pastor who knows specifics about group ministry. Thankfully, in each of our critical areas of ministry we have an expert in that field of ministry who knows details of the ministry.

I frequently get asked very specific questions about certain ministries and my general nature is to provide an answer to people quickly, but the fact is I usually don’t have one anymore. I know generalities, but I don’t know specifics.  I can talk about the vision for a ministry, but not always about the specific elements of the plan to complete the vision.

As our organization grows and changes, so is my individual role within it.  As God stretches me with new responsibilities, I’m attempting to adjust accordingly.

Leaders, are you adapting to the changing environment in your organization?

This Too Shall Pass (The Best Is Yet To Come)

Sometimes all I need is a verse or a phrase of Scripture to get my mind flowing and wrap my arms around all God is teaching me at the moment.  I had one of those moments last week.

Reading in 2 Kings chapter 24, verse 1, the first four words of the verse rocked my world (for a moment).

“In his days, Nebuchadnezzar” 2kings 24:1

In his day Nebuchadnezzar was a king.  He was a well-known King that brought havoc to the Israelites. He was a greatly feared and powerful leader.  At his word nations and people’s could be destroyed (except where God intervened of course).  As greatly as he struck people in fear and awe in his day, I am not too afraid of Nebuchadnezzar today.  The fact is he is dead.  No more. Gone.  Out of sight.  As big and bad as he was then, he is no longer a threat today.

It was a great reminder and one that I needed to read at the time.  Regardless of the circumstances of my life at the time, no matter how desperate the situation may appear, this too shall pass.  Better days are ahead, and in reality, for the believer at least, the best days are yet to come.

I must say that my life is pretty good these days.  God is blessing my immediate family.  Cheryl and I have good health personally. The church is going great, but as a pastor I feel the weight of those around me.  These are hard times for many.

Are you going through a difficult time today?

Read the words of 2 Kings 24 and verse 1 today.  Don’t read too far.  Only four words are needed to remind us that in spite of all our struggles, this too shall pass.

The best is yet to come!

The Encouragement Of Personal Branding

Gold, brandOne trend in organizations today that I am not sure existed even ten years ago is the freedom employees have to promote their personal identity on company time. Companies today seem to allow and actually encourage employees to brand themselves separate from the organization.  Whether it is with a personal blog or through authoring a book, employees can have a larger personal following and name recognition than the top leadership of the organization and at times even greater than the organization.  This is true in the corporate world and the church world.

There are obvious fears or concerns for organizations with this trend.  The more a team member becomes known the more likely it is that he or she will be recruited by another organization.  Also, a concern would be that the increased popularity of the individual could distract from his or her responsibilities to the organization.  Furthermore, though probably not admitted by most senior leaders, there could be a jealousy factor if a subordinate becomes better known and gets more recognition than the leader.

Personally I welcome this change in organizations.  When we started Grace Community Church our worship leader Daniel Doss already had some national recognition and we encouraged his continued growth and success independent of the church.  This sometimes meant we had to adjust schedules to accommodate his outside interests, but I always felt it was for the overall good of the church. Today I am excited about the potential several of our staff members have in creating their own personal brand through their blog and influence and I want to encourage their efforts to market their ministry on a broader scale, even independent of the church.

While I recognize the concerns and know I ultimately have the responsibility to see that the ministry of Grace Community Church is realized, I see several advantages for organizations in allowing personal branding:

It allows great leaders to stay with the organization longer.  If a leader has potential, he or she will naturally look for more opportunities to express his or her leadership skills.  Personal branding allows an avenue for personal growth, while the employee remains with the organization.

It creates a win/win for the organization. As a team member grows personally and he or she receives recognition independent of the organization, the team member’s personal growth means he or she has more to offer the organization and brings more attention, insight, and expertise to the organization.

Allowing personal branding creates a healthier and more rewarding environment within the organization that allows it to occur, which can help the organization attract and retain better leaders to the organization.

Do you see this trend? Can you think of examples of organization where this is happening?  Do you agree or disagree with an organization encouraging personal branding?

My Primary Role As A Pastor

It was a tough day. A couple weeks ago my office seemed to have a revolving door. We have so much activity and excitement in the church right now, but the normal demands of ministry have not slowed to allow margin for the extra work required of me. In the midst of administrative and managerial responsibilities I also encountered a number of hurting people. I was confronted several times with issues where another person had wronged one person and they wanted me to help them change the other person they sense was mistreating them. It has always fascinated me when people expect the pastor to enforce morals on people in order to change them.

One of the principles I have learned in life and ministry is that RULES NEVER CHANGE PEOPLE. It doesn’t matter how many you have, how strictly you enforce them, or even how loyal people are to obey them. Rules alone never change a person. Rules are often necessary to protect people and bring order to chaos, but for people to change a heart has to change. Truth impacting a person’s heart changes people, not rules. I fully realize God uses people in this process, but I believe our role is more about directing people’s attention towards Christ, than it is enforcing their behavior.

The greatest role I have as a pastor, in my opinion, is to introduce people to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, help them learn the truths of His Word, help them become growing followers of Christ (disciples), but then allow God’s Spirit to change their heart, which will ultimately change their life.

I am praying today for more opportunities to spur hearts towards the life-changing message of Christ.

10 Random Ideas To Encourage Innovation

For the past several posts I have written on the idea of creating organizational cultures that encourage innovative leaders.  I firmly believe it is a mistake of leaders to feel they can force innovation or even create innovative people.  Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person.  Great innovation comes from the gut.  You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

Even if that is true, however, there are things leaders can do even in a culture of innovation to encourage team members to be more innovative.  Here are a 10 random ideas to help.  Feel free to add some that have worked in your organization.

  • Get away from the office routinely as a team.  There is something about a change in surroundings that encourages a change in thought.
  • Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions.  (For an example our staff did recently read THIS POST.)
  • Reward new ideas/Recognize new thoughts/Celebrate success – People will want to be a part of it.
  • Encourage thinking time.  (Read a couple posts about that HERE and HERE.)
  • Have times together as a team that are simply fun.
  • Remove obstacles to innovative thought, such as communication barriers between team members and management.
  • Talk about current culture and how changes can impact your organization’s culture.
  • Be accessible.  It encourages team members to share new ideas with you more often.
  • Welcome diversity of thoughts and opinions, even if they are different than yours.
  • Set innovation goals, such as “make changes to the website next year this time.”

    I encourage you to innovate and come up with better ideas than these and share them with us here.

    (For more thoughts on innovation, read that category HERE.)

    What to do if employees don’t respond?

    My recent post asking the question, “Does Your Organization Produce Innovative Leaders or Managed Followers?” had automatic, built-in questions I anticipated receiving after the post, so I prepared an answer in advance.  Indeed the most common question is basically:

    If you have an environment conducive to produce innovative leaders, but still people do not take initiative on their own, what do you do?

    This is a great question.   I would encourage you to survey your employees to make sure you have the environment you think you have.  If this is not realistic, perhaps you could bring in an outside perspective, such as a consultant or a friend who knows your organization well and understands these principles and get his or her perspective.  Make sure you are open to honest feedback.  Once you have done that, ask these questions about the employees who refuse to take initiative:

    • Do they have the skill required for the task you are asking them to do?
    • Do they have the resources required for the task?
    • Do they trust that they are in the environment you claim to have?
    • Do they trust the leadership of the organization?
    • Are your expectations realistic?

    If all those answers are yes, then you are forced to ask:

    • Are they are good fit for the organization or their position?
    • Can they do what you want or expect them to do?

    It is at this point leaders often have to make difficult decisions regarding a person’s future with the organization, but usually these type decisions end up being best for the organization and the individual.  Many times an employee  already senses their inability to live up to the potential you have placed on the position and is miserable in their current role in the organization.

    What do you think? I welcome your feedback.

    (For more on the subject of innovation in leadership, I have set up a special category of previous posts in this area of thought.  Click HERE to read some of those posts.)

    Stress Results and Not Details

    If you want employees to ultimately accomplish the vision of the organization and actually take initiative and ownership in that vision, then leaders need to strive to…

    …Stress results and not details…

    That is a hard concept for many leaders.  They own their vision. They have in their mind what they want to achieve.  They have pre-determined exactly what a win looks like.  They can almost detail it out in their heads.  Therefore, if a leader is not careful he or she begins to stress the details of that vision as opposed to stressing and rewarding people for results achieved.

    Previously I posted on the need for leaders to be willing to “give their vision away”.  If ultimately what you want is the end goal accomplished, allow others to add their personal touch to their work, let them strive for excellence, dream their own dreams, and own their work. Then watch as they soar to accomplish your vision.  It may not look exactly as you thought it would, but chances are it will actually look better than you imagined.

    Leaders, do you stress more results or more details?  If you are in a work environment, would you rather your boss stress details or results?

    Does Your Organization Produce Innovative Leaders or Managed Followers?

    A friend of mine called recently to discuss his business.  He wants his employees to assume more ownership for their work and take more initiative on their own, without having to be asked to do something.  He wants to lead an organization that produces innovative leaders, not a bunch of managed followers.  Knowing a little about his workplace, I asked him an important question.  “Have you created an environment conducive to produce the kind of employees you say you want?”

    The way an organization is structured (often called the DNA of the organization) determines the type of employee it attracts and retains.  An atmosphere that produces innovative leaders, for example, has more to do with the culture of the organization than it does specific programs or activities the organization does. Leaders determine, therefore, whether they will create an environment that can produce innovative leaders or whether they will be an environment that merely produces managed followers.  Here are some general characteristics of those two environments:

    One that produces innovative leaders

    • More rewarding
    • More entrepreneurial
    • More freedom
    • More encouragement
    • More open-minded
    • More creative
    • More informal
    • More changeable
    • More risk-taking
    • More trusting

    One that produces managed followers

    • More oversight
    • More corporate
    • More rules
    • More controlling
    • More closed-minded
    • More defined
    • More formal
    • More static
    • More penalties for failure
    • More critical

    I realize there are not clear-cut divisions between the two types of environments.  Obviously “more” is a subjective word, but if you apply these broad characteristics to most major corporations you can probably tell which ones attempt to encourage innovation and which encourage a more compliant environment.  If you are a leader, ask yourself which of the two descriptions fits your organization best. Then ask yourself if this is the environment you want to lead.  (If you really want to know the correct answer, let your employees answer a survey anonymously.  You may be surprised at their response.)

    What other characteristics would you add to the lists above?

    (My next few posts will have further thoughts on this issue, including some specific activities to help foster innovation among your team, but remember, it begins with culture, not activities.)