Making Good Changes in a Highly Structured Environment

The best

We had a situation recently where a staff member felt the need to make a change in his area of ministry. It would save the church lots of money, is more in line with our vision, and would have a greater Kingdom impact. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

It’s the best decision.

Problem? It’s changing the way something has been done for years and something that is very popular.

We are a 104 year old church. Every church acclimates towards a defined structure…an established way of doing things…some traditions. Even if that tradition is continual change (which this church is not), every church (and every organization) forms a unique DNA of how things are done. In our setting, it’s developed into a highly structured environment of systems and procedures, which makes change more difficult than in some churches. This is not atypical of an older, established church.

We talked about what would have to be done in order for this change to be successful. Who to talk to. Which committees need to weigh in. Who the influencers are in this area of ministry. Part of being an established, highly structured church.

His statement hit me hard. It’s one I think we often confuse in making organizational changes, probably especially in the church. (Which is often very slow to accept change.)

He said, “I just hate having to be so political in making what we know is the best decision.”

I completely understand his concern, but it’s in that statement that exists the confusion.

I said to him, “You have already made the right decision. That’s what we will do. We just have to be strategic in the implementation.”

And that is what it takes to make disciples…to grow a church…to stop stagnation.

Make the right decision.

The best decision. Use collaboration not control, but do what is best for the church or organization.
Not the one that makes you popular, or even the one that causes the least conflict, but the wisest, most promising decision. That’s good leadership.

But be strategic in the implementation.

Take your time. Establish trust. Build consensus. Talk to the right people. Even compromise on minor details if necessary. Accommodate special requests if possible and if it doesn’t affect the outcome. Be political if needed. It’s part of the process, especially in a highly structured environment. (Does that describe any churches you know?)

Structured environments shouldn’t keep you from making the right decisions involving change. They just alter the implementation process.

Knowing this difference provides freedom to visionary pastors and leaders in highly structured environments. You can make the change. You can. You’ll just have to be smarter about how and when you make them.

Do you understand the difference in decision making and implementation? How does that shape your process of making change?

3 Ways to Fuel Momentum

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I am frequently asked how we spur momentum where I lead. I have been blessed to be part of some tremendous seasons of momentum in the churches where I have served as pastor or planter. We are in another season of momentum now.

I am quick to point out that God is ultimately in control of His church. I get no credit and don’t want it. But I am also not afraid to point to what God has done through His people. In my experience, He often allows the body to lead. I believe He has gifted us with uniqueness and imagination for a reason. I believe the parable of the talents is an example of the way God wants us as church leaders to make wise decisions with what He has given us. (That even sounds Biblical. 1 Corinthians 12:27)

With that disclaimer, (which is always necessary in a post like this) how do we stir momentum? How does the body, functioning together, spur momentum?

In my observation, there are really 3 basic ways momentum is encouraged.

Here are 3 ways momentum is fueled:

Innovation – I’m using this term to highlight improving existing. This is development. When you take what you have and attempt to make it even better people notice and it makes room for more excitement…more enthusiasm in the body…more momentum.

Creativity – Dreaming. Brainstorming. Ideas. Randomness. This can be temporary, even one time activities. We can’t be more creative than the Creator so don’t be afraid to “think outside the box”. Creating something unusual or something that has never been tried before gives momentum explosive potential.

Change – Change means new. New creates immediate energy. Momentum. Every time. New classes. New services. New times. Even new people in leadership. Change spurs momentum.

Those are the 3 momentum fuels I’ve observed.

It should be noted that not all momentum is positive momentum. There is such a thing as negative momentum and it can often grow stronger and faster than the positive kind. So beware. Be careful. Be smart. But, even still, be consistent with trying to spur momentum.

In my experience though, you can often reverse negative momentum with more positive momentum. Which, by the way, requires more innovation, more creativity or more change.

It’s not easy. In fact it’s hard. That’s why it requires leadership. But, figuring out what causes momentum isn’t difficult either. Of course, with any principles, knowing and doing are two different issues. But, at least now you know what I have observed, by experience, about fueling momentum.

And, I’m confident someone has better observations than me. So share!

7 Casualties of a People Pleaser in Leadership

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Leadership is hard and every decision a leader makes is subject to opinion. Different opinions. Lots of different opinions. Every hard decision a leader makes excites some and upsets others. At the same time, most of us who have positions of leadership want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader. That leads many leaders into becoming victims of people pleasing. When we fall prey to pleasing people as a goal, we seldom lead people into what is best and are led more by opinion polls than vision.

Every pastor and leader I know agrees that people pleasing is not a good quality for a leader. Talking with hundreds of pastors every year, however, I’d have to say that this has to be one of the most frequent weaknesses pastors admit to me. For the pastor, when our aim is to please people, many times we are motivated more by what people want than even what God wants for the church. That’s dangerous. Hopefully I don’t have to build that case.

But what are the people casualties of people pleasing? What are the organizational casualties?

Here are 7 casualties of being a people pleaser:

No one is really ever satisfied – When the leader tries to please everyone the reality is that no one on the team finds that for which they are looking. No one. In an attempt to let everyone win…no one really does.

Tension mounts among the team – People pleasing pits people against one another as the leader attempts to please everyone and team members are conditioned to jockey for positions with the leader aimed at pleasing them. It creates a political atmosphere among the people who should be working together.

Disloyalty is rampant – One would think people pleasing builds loyal supporters, but actually the reverse is more true. People don’t trust a people pleaser, because they quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular. The people pleaser says what people want to hear more than what needs to be said.

Burnout is common – I’ve observed team members trying to function under a people pleaser. They feel they have the leader’s support, but then it’s pulled from under them as the leader tries to please someone else. It’s tiring.

Frustration abounds – People pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions. Frustrating.

Mediocrity reigns – Second best under a people pleasing leader becomes the new goal not a consolation. Lackluster results ultimately lower standards. In an effort to please everyone the team compromises what “could be” for what keeps people temporarily happy. (Emphasis on the temporarily.)

Visions stall – Visions are intended to take us places. Noble places we’ve never been. That involves change. And, change is hard. People don’t like change. People pleasers like people to be happy. You see where this one is going?

Be honest. Ever worked for a people pleaser? Ever been one?

What results did you see?

Fear Devotional, Part 3

Fear

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:15 NIV

Sarah couldn’t believe God’s plan for her life was to have a child. So she laughed at His plan.

She was too old. It had been so long. Could God do this? Would God even use someone like her for such a plan?

It was probably scary to simply trust by faith…she had been disappointed many times…she didn’t want to hurt again…so she laughed.

Sarah’s probably not alone in her fear. Was she?

I’ve had those kinds of fears. Many times.

Chances are you have also. You know God is calling you to do something, but the thought of actually obeying God in the matter freaks you out…scares you to death. You know what it’s like to fail. You don’t feel you have what it takes. Could God do this? Would He do it with you?

Walk by faith…or laugh at the plan? Trust or run. Face fears or fold to them. Those are your options.

But know this…

Faith believes something that you cannot see.

The unseen or unknown is scary, so fear is a natural reaction to God’s plan for your life. God calls us to the unknown. God is always calling us to the unknown. His ways are not our ways. His plans are usually larger than we have imagined. God calls us to walk by faith, facing something we cannot see, and that in turn brings fear into our hearts.

So, what’s the fear that will require faith for you to accomplish?

Perhaps there is a better question:

If you are obedient, what kind of glory will God receive through your faith in Him?

Don’t laugh at what you sense God is calling you to do (or at least not for long). God calls people to tasks beyond our ability or understanding everyday! Maybe this is your day!

Walk closer to faith than fear. I’m praying for you.

7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

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I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize that makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.)

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers. Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role – The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday…I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works…some can catch on that the message actually has to be written…but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

Various opinions of how a pastor should pastor – Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here. Thom Rainer recently wrote an interesting post on this issue and how many hours a week accomplishing expectations would mean a pastor should work. Read it HERE.

People lose their filter when talking to a pastor – It amazes me what people feel comfortable telling a pastor. It is beyond the expected confidentiality issues one expects. It could be criticism of the pastor or gossip about someone else, but many don’t hold back their opinion no matter how harsh it may be. And they don’t clean it up before they present it. I had a pastor tell me recently that one man in his congregation blasts him every Sunday about something in a very hurtful way, yet this man claims to be one of his biggest supporters. The pastorate appears to be a “safe” place to unload raw, gut honesty. Unfortunately, however, I think some people believe the pastor has no feelings or is expected to be “tough enough” to handle the jabs and process the rumors.

The job is never finished – I guess I knew this, but not to the degree I do now. Job security is in the fact that the job is never completed. There is always one more thing I could’ve done when I go home at night. Lives keep falling apart. People keep sinning. Marriages are in trouble. It could be overwhelming, and I could refuse to rest and neglect my family if I wasn’t disciplined, and if I didn’t have a keen awareness that Jesus is ultimately in control. My heart goes out to (and it is part of the motivation of this blog) pastors who haven’t learned or aren’t practicing this discipline or this truth.

Everything isn’t always as seems – People are hurting. Many of those hurts are hidden. You can’t “judge a book by the cover” when it comes to people. There are always two sides to an issue. Everyone has a story and it isn’t always the story you are thinking. Being a pastor has taught me it is unfair to judge people by what you think you know until you know the whole story. I’ve better realized the importance of extending grace before I know, and even if I never know, the full story.

Sunday is coming – Every single week. I never realized how fast the weekend comes around until I became a pastor. Don’t misunderstand…I’m glad it does, it’s my favorite day of the week, but I just never realized how fast it does so until now.

Some people love their pastor – And, I’m so thankful. It’s amazing how supportive and encouraging some people can be. I honestly believe they would do anything for Cheryl and me. Most pastors have people like this in their church. (These are Kingdom-building people!) I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days. If you’re one of those pastor supporting types…on behalf of all pastors…THANK YOU!

Those are a few things I didn’t know, as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

5 Common Derailments in Ministry Leadership

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One of the hardest things I do in ministry is interact with those who are no longer in ministry, but wish they were. They’ve been derailed. They messed up and got caught or the guilt got the best of them. In my experience, it usually takes the first of these for the truth to be known.

You should first know that I’m huge on applying grace, but the reality is that we lose good, effective ministry leaders because they begin to make dumb mistakes. From watching this process over the years, there appear to be some common reasons this occurs. My purpose of this post is to expose some of them, hopefully to catch some before its too late. Do any of these apply to you?

Here are the 5 most common derailments in ministry leadership:

Thinking it couldn’t happen to me – It can. It can. It can.

Refusing to listen to others – In my experience, God will attempt to rescue those in jeopardy. Refusing to listen dismisses the voice of God.

Overestimating personal value – Pride goes before the fall.

Underestimating the worth of others – Genuine humility is a protector of character.

The slow fade – It never starts at free fall. Allowing temptation to become little sin and little sin to become big sin. That’s where it always starts.

That’s what I’ve seen. Do you need the warning?

You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. No temptation has seized you except what’s common to man. When tempted, God provides a way out.

Perhaps this post is one way.

I’m praying for you. I’ll even be a safe place if needed, but I’m hopeful you’ll find one. Don’t be a statistic. Be an overcomer of temptation!

Fear Devotional, Part 2

Fear

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Genesis 3:10 NIV

Fear, apart from the holy fear of God, entered the world at the fall of man. Prior to the sin of Adam and Eve they had no fear. They didn’t fear for their safety. The didn’t fear how they would provide for their family. They didn’t fear the ills of health. Cancer wasn’t a fear.

They trusted God because of their deep, intimate relationship with their creator. After sin entered the world, sin came. Destruction arrived. Chaos. Disappointment. Uncertainty. As a result, fear was ushered in also.

The fact that you are afraid, therefore, should be no surprise. If you are facing something unknown, or something you know is bigger than you, you can expect fear. It’s a very natural human reaction.

So, think for a moment… of what are you afraid?

That’s okay to admit….really…it’s even understandable. We live in a scary, mixed up world and fear is the result of the times in which we live.

I want to encourage you, however, to live counter-cultural. (That’s the way believers are to live anyway.)

Be brave! Stand strong!

First, admit you are scared! It may be the necessary step to finding the faith you need to be obedient to God’s call on your life.

Then surrender. Quit. Give up. Tell God you’re done trying. You’re finished hiding in your fears. Your public confession today is fear. Real, honest fear.

Then trust again. Renew your faith. Take a fresh and deep breath in the reality that God is on His throne. He hasn’t moved. He’s in control. And you can trust Him.

For today, live fearless. Not in your strength. If you’re like me you stink at that consistently. Live fearless in the reality that He is God. And everything is going according to His will.

For bonus points and encouragement, read Psalm 121.

Be honest, what’s your biggest fear these days?