I feel led to plant a church…What do I do now?

Rural chapel

About once a week…or sometimes more frequently…I get an email or Tweet from someone who says they feel led to plant a church. They almost always have the same question.

What do I do now? What’s my first step?

After answering dozens of times, I decided to put my thoughts in a post.

Step one: Run as fast as you can!

Just kidding. Although that does give you a testimony like Jonah. Just kidding.

Here are 5 immediate steps I would recommend:

Check your heart – Are you sure planting is what you are being called to do…or is it a desire because everyone else is doing it? It’s fine if you are. We need church planters. But, we also need people willing to help established churches thrive. It’s hard work to change what’s established already…but so is church planting. Make sure you know what you’re getting into is what God’s drawing you into.

Check your spouse’s heart – Church planting is not a sole venture. No ministry is for that matter. If you are married, you will need to be on the same page with your spouse. No. Doubt. About. It. Trying to do this without complete buy in from both parties will destroy one or the other…the plant or the marriage.

Determine where you feel called to plant – That’s an important beginning step. Much of your future steps will depend on this one. Many times you already know this and I think God gives tremendous latitude in this. We need churches lots of places. But, this will be one of the most difficult decisions you make if you don’t know. I once thought I wanted to plant in New York City. I still might someday. But, when I spent time talking to God about this, I sensed Him releasing me from the desire and pointing me in another direction.

Find others interested – This is critical. If you tell me you can’t find anyone…and I hear it often…I’d seriously question how successful you are going to be. Just as with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, in my experience, God is always “reserving” (1 Kings 19:18) people who He plans to use in the vision He is shaping in you. To build a body you need those who are part of the body to start.

Find experienced help – It can be a denomination, another church, or an experienced pastor or mentor, but don’t do it alone. Let me say that a little clearer. DON’T DO IT ALONE. Too much has been learned about church planting to miss out on someone else’s experience.

Those are my first 5 initial suggestions. What would you suggest?

Leadership and Life Inspiration from T. J. Maxx

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Everyone has had this experience or at least witnessed it happening. You’re exiting a store after a purchase and an alarm goes off all around you. Lights flash. People stare. You (or whoever it happens to) are embarrassed. 

The store clerk failed to remove one of the security tags from an item you bought, stuck the item in the bag and sent you on your way. It was an innocent mistake. No one is mad. Normally. You simply return to the counter, they remove the tag and you’re on your way again. No harm. No foul. 

But, for a split second, you’re embarrassed. It feels like people are thinking something about you that isn’t true.

You stole something.” And yet you didn’t. 

Or even…

You’re an idiot.“And yet you’re not. 

Those alarms usually place us initially on the offensive. Even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you feel like everyone thinks you did.  

Of course, sometimes people did steal something, which is why the systems exist in the first place. But, for you, because of an honest mistake, it became a nuisance. 

Recently, Cheryl and I were out of town and witnessed this happen at a T. J. Maxx store. Yet, instead of obnoxious piercing noises and flashing lights, we heard a polite, easy to understand voice recording say: 

Excuse me, but we must have forgotten to remove a security tag from one of the items you purchased. Please return to the cashier’s desk and we will be happy to assist you.” 

I loved it. The lady “caught” simply returned to the counter. She appeared to be surprised, but unalarmed. People seemed to laugh about it. No one seemed to be looking for a criminal. Instead they looked for an honest mistake. 

It seemed to communicate…

We are not assuming you did something wrong. We simply want to correct our error.”

Genius. 

Someone at T. J. Maxx has been thinking.

Most people who set off those alarms aren’t criminal in their actions. They are innocent people. T. J. Maxx is thinking for their paying customer. A relationship they want to keep and protect.

It was a great reminder to me of something I remind myself and our team frequently. 

The way you approach an issue of concern often determines how it is received.

Do you have an issue to address with someone that could prove to be uncomfortable?

Consider these suggestions:

If the relationship is valuable enough to keep and protect…

Write it down and consider how it sounds initially. Put your response to the issue in print…for only your eyes to see at this point. Does it sound unsensensitive or alarming? Would it immediately put you on the defensive? If so, consider rewording to a softer, kinder approach. 

Practice how you will say it. Pay special attention to your tone and body language. You can be truthful…and you should be…without being degrading and accusatory. Practice grace and truth.

Prayerfully address the situation. Pray to change your heart towards the issue first. Pray for your approach…perhaps even more than you pray for their response.

Because, your approach will often determine their response.

Thanks T. J. Maxx for the inspiration.

5 Suggestions When People Leave a Church

church crowd

One tough reality of being a pastor is when people you thought were supportive leave the church. For a variety of reasons, people will leave.

Make any change and someone is not going to like it. Life changes and relationships often impact a person’s church attendance. Misunderstanding and unmet expectations cause some people to leave. There are a variety of reasons. I wrote about some of them HERE.

The point of this post is addressing how we respond as pastors and church leaders.

How do you respond when people leave?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Accept it happens – It actually happens in churches where everything seems to be working at the time. Regardless of the reason…people leave. We shouldn’t be surprised simply because they do or think it can’t or won’t happen in the church in which we minister.

Admit it hurts – God is in charge of numbers. I get that. People are responsible to God and not the church. I get that too. People may leave because it’s the best thing for them spiritually. I totally get that also. The bigger issue is whether or not a person leaves “the” Church or “a” church. If they are attending another church we should take comfort in that, but pretending it doesn’t still sting a little is like saying you didn’t feel the bandaid being ripped off your arm. You are human. It hurts. It is difficult not to take personally. Depending on the circumstances or way it happens it may hurt more sometimes than others but it always hurts.

Analyze the reason – This requires asking the hard questions, and admittedly, this too can hurt, but it’s helpful to know even if the answer is you. It requires humility to admit you’re not the church for everyone nor the minister everyone wants to shepherd them. But, you can’t address what you don’t know and there are often valuable lessons to be learned from why a person chooses to leave a church.

Adjust if necessary – Don’t be afraid to admit you could be wrong. If people feel the church wasn’t meeting their needs try to discern if it’s them or the church. If it was a matter of style they didn’t appreciate that’s one issue, but if it’s something lacking from the church’s offerings…that you should have…you may need to make some adjustments. Be willing to learn.

Attune your vision – Okay, it was obvious I was looking for an “A” word, but this is actually a good one. Attune means “to bring into harmony”. And that’s often necessary when people disappear from the church. Most likely their absence will affect others. You may need to realign people to the vision, especially when those leaving were previously and visibly committed. Assure people you are listening, and genuinely be listening, but in the end stay true to the God-given vision God has called you to lead.

Again, no one wants people to leave, especially if they are leaving upset with you or the church. But, it is a part of church leadership. Learning to process it will make us better equipped to minister to the ones who stay…and the new people God will bring.

Pastor, help me out with this post. What tips do you have for addressing this issue of what people leave the church?

(Update: the comments are already making this post better.)

7 Suggestions for Hiring the Right Person

Interview

I’ve hired dozens of people. Probably more like hundreds. I spent more of my time in the business world than ministry, and in that world I hired many people. Even in ministry though, I’ve had the honor and humbling responsibility of shaping several church staffs.

I don’t share this to brag on my abilities, but to make a point of credibility in the manner. I’ve had success in hiring people.

In the last year, I have had the opportunity again of adding to a church staff. I can honestly say we have one of the strongest teams of people I have ever known…in ministry or in business. I am frequently asked my “secret”… as if there is one. How do I find so many good people?

I don’t have a process, but I have learned a few things about hiring the right people. I’ve been blessed with a good amount of discernment, mostly through making similar decisions with good and bad results. That’s the purpose of this post. I’m sharing some suggestions from my experience.

I previously posted similar thoughts on this topic HERE.

Here are 7 suggestions for hiring the right person:

Put resumes aside – I’ve frankly only used them a couple times in my career. Granted, I keep my resume up to date and I think you should also, but a resume is not much more than an extended business card. It answers initial questions and may initially stir interest, but I have never hired anyone based on a resume alone…and frankly…the strongest resume is rarely the strongest candidate.

Ask people I trust – I am diligent about networking with people, because I know someday I may need the connection. I can’t always depend on what I read on a piece of paper (a resume), but I can almost always depend on the advice of a friend. I’ve told my boys they will possibly never have a job in their life where they didn’t know someone who helped them get the job. Relying on personal recommendations has been critical for me finding the right people.

Listen carefully – People are often talking. I run into people all the time who know people who know people. You do too. If I’m in the process of looking for someone, every conversation has the potential to discover someone. Of course, you have to be in the right conversations to hear such information, but I’m intentional enough to create dialogue…or steer conversations in that direction. I have learned that finding the right person is that important that it should play an important part in present conversations.

Use discernment – Obviously, because someone is thinking it, this includes prayer. (But, my hope is that you’d be prayerful in each of these steps.) But, I have learned that I can depend on my gut if my gut is properly centered. If I am in a good place spiritually and mentally, I can more easily discern the choices between numerous seemingly good people. And, that’s often the problem. Many times I have numerous good candidates. Deciding the right one is the hardest decision.

Think strategically – I try to think strategically about the person, the vision, and the person’s role and fit within the overall team. I have turned down good people, because they weren’t the best person at the time. This is a critical step. You can hire the one who appears to be the best candidate and because they were mismatched to the team it turns out to be a disaster.

Hire for heart – I will always hire  for heart over skills. I always choose character over competence. Granted, we need both but one trumps the other in my experience. I want qualities such as passion, honesty, follow through, commitment, integrity, and loyalty. This is another place a resume isn’t much help. It’s also where a recommendation from others can help. (Not their references…but someone you know.) By the way, especially in ministry, but I also hire for the heart of the spouse. If I wouldn’t hire both I don’t hire one. You’ll just have to trust me on that one if it doesn’t make sense.

Ask experts – There is usually someone in your field who knows people you don’t know to whom you should be talking. That could be someone in ministry, a denominational leader, or a professional consultant. I don’t have to know them to ask them for suggestions. They often know someone looking or someone who would be a good fit. They are usually honored to be asked. (This is not an advertising post, but my friend William Vanderbloemen leads a company dedicated to staffing the church. They do great work. A search company like this can many times speed up the process or help find the right person.) Finding the right person is too important to leave it to the “hunt and peck” method of shifting through multiple resumes.

Those are a few suggestions. Again, read my previous post also. What suggestions do you have?

The Structured Removal of Faith

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This is an opinion post. In fact, this is an opinion blog. Unless I’m quoting Scripture you can dismiss everything I write as one person’s opinion. Mine.

But, this is an opinion post about a problem I’ve seen. 

It’s a problem I see in churches.

It’s a problem I could see us having in the church I now pastor…if we aren’t careful.

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God. 

Let me explain.

I pastor a 104 year old church. We know structure well. Real well. If a church can deal with an issue in 104 years, we’ve probably addressed it by policy. We have a committee that can handle it.

Don’t misunderstand. Contrary to what some believe, I appreciate structure…to a degree. I once planted a church that ran from it and we discovered soon that without it not much got accomplished. We had lots of enthusiasm and growth, but we couldn’t sustain it for long. We needed more structure.

Structure helps build systems and processes that help us meet the demands of a growing church. 

Also, don’t misunderstand and think that I run to structure either. I don’t. My basic DNA is to resist it more than embrace it. I’m much more a big picture, risk taking, defy establishment type person in my temperament. I just have learned by experience the need for structure.

Structure…healthy structure…helps organizations and churches maintain excellence. It’s designed to be an asset not a hindrance. I’m reminded of the structure Jethro shared with Moses. Gold. Joseph created great structure to carry out the work of God that would ultimately save Joseph’s family. And the Israelite nation. Invaluable.

The problem is when we begin to rely on structure as the answer, more than the vision God has called us to attain. Ultimately we can begin to rely on man made structure more than we rely on the King of kings to guide us into the unknown. If we aren’t careful…wait let me leave the structure of this paragraph to better make a point…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

If you’ve been in church very long you know this is true. In some churches, if God were to call us to move in some new area, even if we were certain we had direction from God, it would take us months to get the idea beyond the committees of the church and to a church vote. We have often allowed systems and policies to navigate us more than relying on the Spirit of God. We can do it in budgeting, in planning, and in carrying out the traditions and work of the church.

Of course, this can happen in any church…regardless of the age or structure…but the longer we’ve been doing something the more comfortable we seem to get at doing it. The longer we rely on our structured way of doing something, the easier it becomes to continue that structure, and the more challenging it becomes when we are called to new levels of walking by faith. (This is true in our personal life also.)

Am I wrong? Have you seen this?

It’s a conviction I am currently living with as a pastor of a very highly structured church with a rich history of seeing God do incredible things. I am keenly aware that generations before us have walked by faith to get us where we are today. It is a learning process for me. It’s a balance between the practical issue of the structure in place and the calling to walk by faith I believe God has placed on my life. And, just being honest, it is sometimes a tightrope walk between the two.

Recently, I was asked the question (again)…What is the church I pastor doing now that is totally dependent on God? I’m still thinking of a good answer.

So I’m ever mindful…

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

And, for that balance, the scales are already tipped in my personal life and calling. As for me and my household, we will serve The Lord. We will walk by faith. So, I’m praying God will show us His will…so we can once again walk by faith.

Pastors, weigh in to this discussion.

Have you felt the tension between structure and faith? How do you deal with it personally?

And, What is your church currently doing that is totally dependent on God?

7 Sure Ways to Grow as a Leader

maturing plant

Do you want to grow as a leader? Do you want to keep growing?

Here are 7 sure ways to grow as a leader:

Desire growth – Sounds simple, but we tend to seek what we desire most. If you truly want to grow as a leader you will continually find ways to do so. Check your heart. Do you really desire to grow as a leader?

Accept correction – No one enjoys hearing they did something wrong, but many leaders view all correction as criticism rather than an opportunity to grow. Growing leaders realize that correction helps them improve so they can do better next time. (Proverbs 12:1) Check yourself. Can you take correction, even when it stings a little to hear, and turn it into something good?

Listen to wiser voices – Experience is the best teachers. And, all of us are surrounded by people who have grown wise through their experiences. Growing leaders glean all they can from other people. Would others consider you a wisdom seeker? Can you name specifically the voices you are learning from these days?

Invest in others – Growing leaders learn or reinforce leadership principles while helping others learn them. Sometimes it is not until we talk through an issue with others that we find clarity in the issue ourselves. (“Give and it will be given back to you”…) Ask yourself…Am I helping to grow other leaders? Am I allowing others to learn from my experience? Coul you name those people if asked?

Recognize weaknesses – And strengths. When you become more aware of what you do well and what you don’t, you grow as a leader. You start investing more energy in the strengths and seek to minimize the weaknesses. Can you admit there are some things you simply aren’t good at doing? Are you confident enough to recognize your strengths?

Refuse mediocrity – Growing leaders push themselves beyond the limits of normalcy. Average is common. Exceptional takes work. Are you seeking to go beyond what’s expected? Are you holding yourself to standards nothing short of your very best? (Isn’t that even Biblical?…”Whatever you do…do as if unto the Lord”.)

Embrace failure – Falling down. Getting back up. Falling down. Getting back up. Growing leaders have learned this is a part of maturing as a leader. In honest evaluation, would you say you have allowed failure to shape you as a leader, or hold you back from all you could be as a leader?

I am certainly not suggesting this is an exhaustive list. I am advocating that growing as a leader requires intentionality on the part of the leader. It doesn’t automatically happen.

What are you doing to grow as a leader these days?