One and Only One Leadership Principle

Leadership Ahead

I received this email recently:

Ron, a question for you.

If you had to pass one and only one leadership principle to others leaders, What would that one principle be and why that one?

That’s a hard question, but I thought for a minute and came to a thought.

Here’s my reply:

It’s not about you.

Why?

Because, leadership is about something bigger than you.

If ever we begin to believe its about us, or our agenda, or our plan…or even more dangerous…our people…we will become controlling, prideful and eventually ineffective.

How would you answer?

The Myth of a Pastor

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This is a guest post by Nathan Joyce. Nathan is the senior pastor at Heartland Worship Center (www.heartlandworship.com) in Paducah, KY. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in pastoral care and counseling. Follow Him: @heartlandpastor, http://nathanjoyce.wordpress.com

The Myth of a Pastor

​Leprechauns, the Yeti, vampires, and the American pastor have one thing in common. They are all subjects of mythology. A rich folklore exists for each of them. However, the pastor is the only one being smothered by myth. Why? Because only pastors are real, and only pastors are dying by trying to live up to the myth that surrounds them.

​If you are a pastor, you need to be aware that your church has built a narrative about you that you can never live up to. It’s not completely your fault, although you are probably contributing to it. The myth was well and alive before you ever arrived on the scene. The focus of this myth is that you are hardly human.

Here are a few possible myths:

1. You can meet needs without having needs. Your calling is to empty yourself in the lives of others, but very little room exists for you to be lonely, hurt, insecure, tempted, and needy.

2. You are the perfect family member. Your marriage should be strong at all times. You are to be a parent like Ozzie Nelson not Ozzie Osbourne.

3. If you happen to struggle, make sure it’s with something minor and in the past. The myth would love to state that you never struggle, but if you must struggle, it needs to be with something harmless. Certainly depression, lust, addiction, and broken relationships are off the list of viable options unless they occurred years ago and have been triumphantly defeated.

4. Your spiritual life constantly sizzles. You have a special “line” to God. Your moral life has no failures, and you always “feel” close to God.

5. You live up to your sermons. Every preacher must decide whether to preach up to God’s standards or down to his own life ability. Many people who hear you think there is no difference.

6. You are excellent at all of the various aspects of ministry. You’re an introvert that can study like a scholar. At the same time, you are an extrovert like a cruise director. You must be funny and stern at the same time. You must be simultaneously creative and well structured.

The result of the myth is that pastors are burning out, falling out, and breaking down morally in record numbers. Souls are empty, leaving pastors susceptible to moral failure and depression.

What can we do?

First, it is up to every pastor to avoid the pride that desires to live up to the myth. It’s not simply a matter of workload management or needing more encouragement (although these can help). The issue comes down to whether or not a pastor tries to live out the myth or if he rests in the truth and grace of God. The myth demands so much energy, while authentic and honest living, including confession concerning our neediness, brings rest.

The heart of the Gospel is that we are helpless and needy. The Gospel does not become obsolete once we are initiated into salvation. It becomes the anthem of our new existence, resulting in a Gospel-spirituality that operates out of the same daily, honest confession of neediness.

Second, our churches must adopt a culture of nurturing the minds and hearts of its leaders. Most churches spend more time and money on landscaping than on cultivating the souls of their leaders. Churches can begin to demand Sabbath, healthy boundaries, strong investments into family time, and regular spiritual feeding for pastors and leaders. Unfortunately, the culture of many churches is skeptical, oppositional, and unrealistically demanding. If churches nurture and safeguard the wellbeing of their leaders, it would be to their own benefit. Inspired, enduring, and motivated church leaders will empower a church as much or more than any other factor.

What other myths have you seen applied to pastors?

5 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts

ideas spinning

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams permission to tell me “bad idea”.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas?

Here are 5 ways that work for me:

Get up and walk – If it is cold I walk inside, but outside is my preference. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. My best ideas rarely happen sitting at my desk.

Whiteboard – Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale…I play with dry erase markers. Literally. Start writing or drawing and it leads to more ideas. Every time. (I also have several doodling apps on my iPad.)

Exercise – Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. And, it’s good for my health. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought.

Hang out with creatives - Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen me. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, nut structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Different environments – Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space…expand the pace (of thought).

Those are a few that help me.

What triggers your creative process? 

5 Suggestions When Firing Someone in Ministry

Unemployment

My post on firing people in ministry created a great deal of interest. As I expected, some felt it made the church seem too much like a business. I get that, but the other fact, and many understood although sadly through difficult experiences, is that if we don’t address this very serious issue, Kingdom dollars are often misused. And, if we are honest, that has been allowed in ministry far more often than it should be. Our command to love or even to be kind shouldn’t cause us to waste Kingdom dollars.

Please read THAT POST before reading this one.

The fact is, in nearly every situation I’m aware of where this type decision is made, it’s not an issue of likability. It’s not that we don’t love the person or their family. If that was the case, all this would be easy. It doesn’t always even mean the person did something wrong. At times, it is a simple issue of chemistry or fit and often the person proves later to be a great fit elsewhere. Making this difficult decision has many times proven best for all parties involved, but admittedly, getting to the point of release is sometimes a most difficult process. As hard and delicate an issue as this is, it is poor stewardship, in my opinion, not to address the issue.

With that in mind, I’ve had several ask me to expand on that post. If you have to release someone from a ministry position, what are some best practices to protect the church and person?

Here are 5 suggestions when you have to fire someone in ministry:

Be certain – Not as much from a legal sense, but from a moral sense, we need to be sure this is the right move. (You need to be legal too and if you aren’t sure in that area ask. I have always consulted an attorney before anyone is released.) The fact is it will be difficult. It may even be messy. There is usually some damage done to the body. You shouldn’t hide from the right decision because of it, but you should make sure you’re making the right decision.

Be generous – This will differ depending on the person’s tenure with the church and the reason for dismissal, but be as generous as you reasonably can be. This could be financial, but it could also be in the way you allow an exit to take place. I’ve had some unique situations to accommodate. Knowing how hard this is going to be for the affected party, as much as possible, be overly generous.

Be graceful – I’ve been involved in a few messy situations involving the release of a staff member. Many times the most gracious thing to the departing staffer is the information that’s not shared. There is always more to the story and everyone wants to know the “more”…sadly many times for the wrong reasons. Keeping that information as confidential as possible extends grace to the person, the person’s family and the church. Grace should also be extended in creating an exit strategy that protects the person’s future employment possibilities, as much as possible. There may be moral or legal issues you feel obligated or legally have to share, but as much as possible, extend grace.

Be honest – Here, I am talking about what you communicate to the person being released. Don’t sugarcoat. Now is not the time. What’s the real reason? Hopefully, by this point, there has been sufficient due process and fair warning, except in cases where an immediate exit is the only option. Either way, tell the truth. I’ve seen churches disguise the real issues in an effort to land a “softer blow”. Many times this only creates more tension, because of the ambiguity and uncertainty of the dismissal.

Be helpful – How can the person improve for their next position? What are the areas they do well? In what ways can you help them land better into their next role? The person won’t always be open to your “help”, but you should be available to help them wherever and however they might be.

This is admittedly hard. No one enjoys this discussion or this process. I don’t even enjoy writing this blog post. We should be Biblical in our approach always, but it’s not Biblical to avoid hard issues hiding behind a label of ministry.

What other suggestions would you have when you have to release a person in ministry?

10 Suggestions for Healthy Grieving

troubled young woman

Part of my work is helping people grieve. Or at least learn how to grieve. It’s not one of my favorite parts, because it always stems from the reasons why they need to grieve. It means hurt. Brokenness. Pain. Disappointment. That never feels good.

Yet the fact remains…part of living in a fallen world…is living among the thorns. We must learn to grieve because there will always be reasons to do so.

As much as we need to know how to grieve, however, I continually meet people who either don’t know how or refuse to allow themselves to grieve. I’ve even met well-meaning believer who believe they shouldn’t. The Scripture is clear. We do grieve. We simply don’t grieve like the rest of the world.

So, here are 10 suggestions for healthy grieving:

Don’t deny the pain – It hurts. Admit it. Be honest with yourself with others and especially with God. If it’s anger…tell it. If it’s profound sadness…say it. You’ve got to grieve at some point to move forward, and you’ll grieve sooner and better if you’re honest about the need.

Learn to pray – Grieving can draw you close to the heart of God. See that as one blessing in the midst of pain. The Scripture is clear…draw close to God and He will draw close to you. He is close to the broken hearted. Use this difficult time to build a bond with God that you’ll never regret having.

Remain active – You may not feel like being around people, but if you’re normally a very social person, discipline yourself in this area. Granted, some people were never very social, even before their grief. We shouldn’t expect much more from them in grief, but even for them, community matters. Don’t shelter yourself from others.

Stay healthy – Eat well and exercise. Sleep as regularly as you can. Stick to a schedule. You’ll need the strength to carry you through this time.

Help others - There is a special blessing that comes from serving others that can help you recover from your own pain. Serve at a soup kitchen. Deliver toys to needy children. Find a way to give back and you’ll invest in the health of your own heart.

Journal your thoughts and feelings – One day you’ll be glad you did. You’ll see the process God has taken you through and the healing He has allowed you to experience. You’ll need these reminders again some day.

Give it time – Grieving doesn’t complete itself in a day…or a week…or even a year. The depth of the pain always is relative to the time of a sense of recovery. And, some pain never leaves us. We simply learn to adapt to it. We learn to find contentment and even joy in the midst of sorrow and loss.

Share your story – You help others when you allow others to see you share and understand their pain. When you hide your story, you deny others of the privilege of healing through your experience.

Get help when needed – Don’t suffer alone. There are times all of us can use professional help. Don’t be ashamed to seek it.

Remember hope – If you are a follower of God…the best days are still to come. Even in your darkest days, remember, one day…every tear shall be wiped from your eyes.

You can get up, recover and move forward again even stronger than you were before, but please don’t fail to grieve. It’s necessary. Vital. Healthy. Natural. Even Biblical. (1 Thessalonians 4)

Praying for you who need to grieve.

What suggestions do you have for healthy grieving?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

The Transition of a Founder: Handing off the Reigns

Meeting handshake

Starbucks Howard Schultz had to return to the helm at Starbucks. Apparently, according to numerous reports, he tried to leave, but came back to attempt to reverse the suffering the company experienced. Dell’s Michael returned to help steer Dell back to health. Steve Jobs once returned to Apple. Other companies, who have founder with lesser known names, have seen their founding fathers return to the helm of leadership. Companies like Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Vonage saw founders return. They all returned to help the company succeed again. In some of these cases things were never the same after the return, but my point is they were forced to return to the companies they founded.

I have a theory.

Companies today will face this dilemma more than companies founded in years past.

Could it be that because companies today begin with such an imprint of their founder in their DNA that it is becoming more difficult to pass the reigns of the top spot to another person? Study Starbucks and you have to study Howard Schultz. (He even wrote a book about it.) Look at Dell computers and you see Michael Dell all over the company philosophy. Even today, as he is trying to rebrand the company that holds his name with a newer identity, his personality appears to drive the process. Companies today are very much an impression of their founders. Google’s corporate “fun” environment apparently IS Larry Page. Every time I’ve heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, interviewed he describes the social network with a passion that only a founder could exhibit.

Companies are launching into their niche faster than ever before. The information age and technology allows for growth at a pace unknown in previous generations. Much of that growth is a direct reflection on the personality and passions of the founder who is seen in the public as the chief representative of the company. Social media fuels that even faster. I’m not sure building around a personality has been the case as extreme as it seems to be today.

As I view this phenomenon within corporate America, I can’t help but wonder if there are implications for churches as well.

Doesn’t Northpoint have the personality of Andy Stanley? Lifepoint certainly embodies the imprint of Craig Groeschel.

What will happen when these leaders attempt to retire? The answer to that question remains to be seen. I have no doubt these two mentioned are thinking about those issues, but are their lesser known counterparts? We certainly are planting lots of churches. And, that’s a good thing.

But, certainly also, we are planting many churches today that share their DNA with the founding pastor. The world of social media elevates the role of the founder in churches too. People follow leaders…personalities. We can agree Jesus is to be that personality…it is Him we are to follow…but even still, society tends to look for individual leadership to follow these days. Hopefully, those churches are preparing to be churches that will last for years to come.

This thought process encourages a few things churches (and organizations) may want to consider in their beginning years:

  • We must be thinking transition of the founder from the founding.
  • We must be careful not to elevate people or personalities over a vision.
  • Whenever possible, we may want to consider easing a leader out gradually, rather than allowing a fast exit of the founder.
  • We must make sure our visions are easily transferable, if we want the church (or organization) to exist long-term.

As with most posts, I don’t have all the answers. I’m, hopefully, just triggering thoughts.

What are yours?

The little tree that could…

tree

I saw this little tree while I was running in our local arboretum this fall.

It made me stop and take a picture. It also made me think.

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but this tree is not very big. Not a whole lot taller than me.

It reminded me of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

And, some other principles about little things.

This little tree, one of the smallest in the park, is doing its part, in a marvelous way.

Displaying God’s glory through the amazing colors of fall.

In fact, this was one of the prettiest trees I saw all season.

It made me look. It made me stop. It prompted this post.

And, I was reminded.

Sometimes it is the smallest that brings the greatest impact.

When God chooses, He can use the smallest, or seemingly insignificant, to bring Him the greatest glory.

Because, ultimately, there are no minor players in God’s economy. He works all things for good.

Don’t overlook the small things in life today.

The small gesture. The one kind word. The small start. The beginning stages. The often overlooked. The gentle whisper.

The small things may actually be the big things.

Do not despise these small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10)

10 Things I’m Learning in Ministry and Life

wisdom road sign arrow

Some are new…some are reminders I’m seeing lived out…

The most mature is often not the one with the most knowledge of Scripture but the one who has learned to most live like Christ.

The longer we sit in the same chair the more ownership we take in it and the less likely we are to want to move from it.

If we want people to grow we have to encourage people to change. Stability isn’t growing. It’s often the level field on the way to a period of decline.

Success in ministry is not always translated into success as a follower of Christ.

Just because they know it doesn’t mean they know how to live it. Or that they live it.

Without a sense of desperation, many people will resist any change you propose.

Pastors are human.

My attitude at the beginning of a day often determines my progress and attitude at the end of the day.

A similar perspective that changes frowns into smiles often changes worry into a prayer…fear into faith…bad days into good.

More talk the talk than walk the walk. And it’s easier. And I’m guilty too at times.

What are you learning these days?

7 Unique Abilities of Good Leaders

man looking

Leadership is never easy. To lead well requires unique abilities.

Here are 7:

Ability to stand alone – You don’t have to always stand alone as a leader. In fact, that should never be the goal, but there will be times it takes others time to catch the vision you are certain you have been called to lead. There will be days when everyone appears a critic. You’ll still have to lead. That’s why not everyone is willing to lead.

Ability to see what others can’t see – Leaders are taking people into the unknown. They see beyond the clutter of today into a bigger picture; a brighter reality. Many times they can view the end goal…as blurry as it may be…before others can. That’s why people need a leader.

Ability to think beyond today – Leadership is different from managing. It’s not about maintaining systems. It’s about what’s next. What’s ahead. What’s yet to be realized. That requires a more heads up rather than heads down approach. Not everyone has that ability.

Ability to cast a vision – People need to know the why behind the what. They need something to inspire them for the difficult days ahead. Good leaders can communicate effectively, share passion and motivate others to endure and succeed.

Ability to include people in the process – Leaders have a unique understanding that they can’t complete the task without the assistance of others. Genuine leaders share credit and acknowledge the contributions of those they lead. There is little room for selfishness or dictatorial control in good leadership.

Ability to make the first move – Leaders aren’t intimidated by fear or the unknown. They aren’t emotionless, but they know the journey to victory begins with the first step…and they will lead others in taking that step. This ability alone eliminates many from the field of leadership.

Ability to stay when others are leaving – There will be times of chaos when everything seems to be falling apart. The leader holds the banner of stability, pointing people back to the vision, reminding them of the rewards for staying the course.

Certainly there are others and I welcome you to share them. I’m also certain there have been great leaders who don’t have all seven of these, but good leadership will requires each of these at some point. And, great leaders, in my opinion, display each one often or when required.

What unique abilities would you add for good leadership?

Leader, do some soul-searching. Upon which of these do you need to improve?