Life Altering Decisions: A and B is NOT an Option

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Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 1 Kings 18:39 NIV

Elijah had placed himself in a delicate situation. He had challenged the people that he could prove who they should follow. He told them if Baal was God, then follow him, but if God, (The Real Thing) was God, then follow Him!

Elijah placed his own life in jeopardy, because they would have surely killed him had his test failed. He was the last remaining prophet of the Lord. This was an important day!

Have you ever been in one of those situations before, where your next actions could alter the course of your life?

I have….numerous times!

In those situations, what you do next will likely have lasting impact on the rest of your life. The next step is a big one…and it is the one you must take! You are in between two opposing outcomes and the future will be determined one way or another, beginning right now!

Have you ever been there?

Talk about pressure!

Elijah responded with strength, with zeal, but most importantly, with faith!

Elijah put everything on the line for God’s glory…even his very life! Rather than depend on his own strength or understanding, Elijah turned his whole being over to God. With confidence, Elijah trusted God completely.

And, guess what?

God came through! BIG TIME!

(Now is where you should say, “Duh”!)

God didn’t mess around! He came through with a God-sized blessing in Elijah’s life. He could have left Elijah standing there, but He answered Elijah’s prayer. Elijah was willing to lay down his life for God’s reputation, and God did not disappoint Elijah!

Not only did God bring forth fire to burn up the bull, but He burned up the wood, the stones, the soil….and the water in the trench! That was some fire!

But then He is an awesome God!

I don’t know what decision you are facing. I recognize that what you do next…the next step is huge. I also know you have a choice…faith in God or relying on your own strength. A and B is not an option.

Which will you choose?

The Quickest Way to Spur Change

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Do you want to know the fastest way to encourage change?

Expose leaders to new ideas.

In a team environment, where people are empowered to lead, new ideas produce change.

Often faster than any other way.

I’ve tried to practice this as a leader. That’s why I encourage attending conferences when possible. I pass along blogs and podcasts. We often read books together as a staff.

As long as people are allowed to dream…and the leader doesn’t have to control everything…when the team is introduced to new ideas…ideas produce energy and momentum. As team members attempt something new, change happens. Quickly. It doesn’t have to be monumental change to create excitement. Tweaks. Slight improvements. Small adjustments. Those can create an atmosphere and an appetite for change on a team. There is always less resistance to major change when change is a part of the culture.

Recently, our staff took this principle to a new level. We used training budget and our ministerial staff and spouses traveled to Asheville, NC. We went to learn from Biltmore Baptist Church. Pastor Bruce Frank is leading an exceptional team at a church several times larger than our church. Like Immanuel, they are an older established church, but they have figured out some things we are still learning. We toured the church and then each staff member at Immanuel met with their counterpart staff member at Biltmore. We asked questions and explored their story. It was insightful.

It is an experiment. Honestly, I’m not sure how it will work yet, but I’m sure of one thing. It exposed us to some new ideas. We have some immediate changes we are considering. Our team bonded. And, there is new energy and momentum developing. That has to produce some good.

And, that’s a win for me.

Do you want to encourage to encourage change quickly? Expose your team to some new ideas.

How does your team encourage change?

After a great day of teaching…

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Jesus faced the critics…

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58 ESV)

It’s interesting to me when this occurred in the life of Jesus. If you read just prior to this passage, the disciples had finally understood something Jesus taught them. It seems that didn’t happen much in their journey with Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus had just taught them a huge principle. They got it. It was a great day. The best of days. The men He was building into, who would launch the church we know today, understood what was being taught.

That’s a great day for any teacher.

Then the critics came out of the closet.

It never seems to fail. I’ve seen it in ministry, leadership and life. The best days are often followed by the darkest days. Deliver your best message and you’ll shortly afterwards find your harshest critics. Hit the home run and you’ll find some people ready to stop the ballgame.

Don’t be surprised on those days. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t get distracted from what you are called to do.

Those days have value, if you allow them to:

  • They keep us humble.
  • They Keep us learning.
  • They keep us on our knees.
  • They keep the glory shining in the rightful place.
  • They keep us appreciative of the good days.

Are you facing the critics…even during the best of days?

Of course you are…you’re trying to be like Jesus…right?

10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change

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I am almost 8 months into a new pastorate. I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. Many pastor friends questioned me at the time, but now they…and people who follow this blog…consistently ask how the move is going. Thank you. I feel the support.

Honestly, it’s proving to be challenging…maybe slightly more than I thought it would be. But, God is allowing us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say…they look good. God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me. There are many great people here and we’ve assembled a stellar staff team.

Needless to say, I’m in the midst of change. That’s not unusual. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow…or even remain alive. But, some change has come fast. It doesn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church that’s over 100 years old…it’s been fast.

For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I’m learning a few things. I share this not only as an update, but knowing over fifty percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry, hopefully some of what I’m learning I can share with you.

Here are 10 things I’m learning in leading church change:

Don’t try to be the church down the street. You have to be true to the DNA, heritage and culture of the church you lead. That doesn’t mean don’t change, but does mean change should be relevant to context.

Don’t oppose the old. Encourage the new. The old got you to where you are today. It’s not bad. In fact, at one time it was very good…the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)

Celebrate history. People were there years ago, building the church where you serve today. My granddaddy would say, “Don’t forget what brung ya!” I especially love hearing the stories of how the church grew through other times of change.

Many times information overcomes objection. Many times. You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why”, the less they will resist the “what”. (By the way, my interview with Zig Ziglar confirmed this principle.)

It sometimes seems easier to let a church slowly die than to try to change things. There. I said it. But, it’s true. Some people are not going to want the church to change. Period. End of story. And, most likely, they will find a way to let you know. (Most likely that will be some way other than telling you…but you’ll hear it.) But, that doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change…and thrive again.

Change is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others. You might read THIS POST about a recent sobering reminder I had about the relativism of objection to change.

Some days all you’ll hear are the critics. That’s true too. I think Satan even has a hand in this one. You’ll think no one is on your side. You’ll think you’re wasting your time. You’ll have a one-day (or multiple day) pity party. On those days, you’ll need to remember the vision God called you to complete. Keep going.

The degree of pain determines the degree of resistance to change. When people are injured…or afraid…or lack trust, they are more likely to cling to what’s comfortable and resist what’s new. That is true in their personal life or their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain.

The best supporters are often silent. I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even. They just don’t always tell you they are. But, good news, they are usually telling others. And, that’s fueling more growth.

God is faithful. You knew that one, right? Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager. Awesome.

These are some things I’m learning. I’ll share more in the days to come.

What have you learned in leading change?

The Safety Briefing Card and Church Vision Casting

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The airline safety briefing card…

Doesn’t mean much to a frequent flier.

But to a first time flier…it’s gold.

Church, what can we learn from this?

Let me share a recent situation I witnessed that illustrated this principle for me.

I’ve learned my way around an airport over the years of traveling in business, government amd now ministry. So much so that I don’t listen to the directions very well. It gets me in trouble sometimes. i amost missed a flight recenlty because I didn’t hear a gate change. But, mostly, I pretty much know what they’re gonna say…or think I do.

Flight delay, right? I saw if coming.

Safety talk? I could recite it.

I’m like a steward runner up. If ever they can’t perform their duties I’m in.

“Ladies and gentleman, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the safety features of this Boeing Dc9.There’s a safety card in the seat in front of you…”

“Federal regulations require…blah, blah, blah, right?”

If you’ve traveled much…You know the drill.

But recently I was reminded why they do that every time. The same way. Always.

On our plane was one who had never flown before. Ever. He was in his sixties I would guess, but this was his first flight.

And he paid attention to everything. Everything. I watched him read the card. He looked around to “familiarize yourself with the exit signs”. He clung to every word of the steward. He was the model passenger.

Why? It was all new to him.

You see, everyone might be accustomed to the routine, but there’s always a chance, like for this guy, where it’s someone’s very first time.

It was also a great reminder for me as a church leader.

That’s the way it is for some who come to church…every Sunday.

Some could script things. Some could preach should I not be able to fulfill my duties. Some would probably actually prefer that.

But there’s always one (hopefully) who has never been here before. Perhaps ever.

Perhaps they’ve never been to any church…ever. They don’t speak our language of church.

As a pastor, I’ve always been concerned about that one.

And as I read the Bible,that seems like a Jesus characteristic too. He encouraged leaving the 99 found to seek and assist the 1 who was lost.

That’s why it’s important that we tell our vision. Tell it clearly. It’s why we must explain things well. Very well. It’s why we must communicate basic information. Every week. Every time. 

(Even if it’s boring to the rest of us…to someone…it’s gold!)

Thanks for the reminder U. S. Air. And that random guy who was flying for the first time. I hope it was a great experience for you.

Bonus question: What does your church do EVERY WEEK in case a visitor shows up that Sunday? 

A Letter to the Church, from a Pastor

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I’m blessed with so many pastor friends. I have the opportunity, through my blog and personal ministry, to interact with hundreds of pastors every year. After hearing many of their concerns, I decided to write a letter to the church. Obviously, I can’t and won’t attempt to speak for every pastor, but this will represent many.

I actually held onto this post for a while, because I was concerned it would seem self-serving. Thankfully I have good support around me, so this is designed to speak for others. I’m thankful God has given me abundant support in ministry, but I feel the weight of many pastors and ministers.

Dear church,

I want to be honest with you…on behalf of many pastors I know. You want me to be honest, right?

It’s hard to know who to trust. There, I said it. But, seriously, we’ve been burned so many times. As soon as we think we can trust you, we can’t. Many of us simply don’t trust anyone. We keep to ourselves and never really get to know anyone. It’s not wise, but it feels safe.

We love you, but we love our family too. We enjoy having an uninterrupted meal. We like having a night at home. We want days occasionally that are completely ours, to do what we want, with no church responsibilities. No church texts, no church calls, no church emails, no church visits. I know, sounds selfish right?

Saying “no” is hard, especially with your reaction. We know very well that every decision we make is unpopular with someone. And, sometimes, you make it very uncomfortable for us to disagree. We want to be liked as much as anyone. I know, sometimes that makes us seem shallow, doesn’t it?

We need a few people who are in it for Jesus and others, more than for themselves. When we find those people…wow…it makes our day. We feel like we are accomplishing something. Those people fuel us for ministry.

We have to wear many hats. Some we are skilled at and some we are not. You thought seminary taught us everything, didn’t you? No, in fact, we feel very inadequate at much of the things required of us. We need your help, but sometimes it’s hard to ask…because we don’t know who to trust…remember?

We want you to love us in spite of our limitations. That makes sense to us, because you want us to love you that way, but sometimes we feel you love us only as long as we are “performing” as you’d have us to perform. (Wow, did I just say that?)

We feel so responsible…for everything. Church growth. Church discipline. Church health. And, your spiritual growth and personal happiness. I know, ultimately Jesus is in charge of all things, but we feel the weight of our role to see that each of these are completed. That’s a lot of self-induced pressure, isn’t it?

We love you. We really do.

Pastor

Thanks pastors, for all you do. My 93-year-old mentor pastor says it is harder today than ever in his ministry to pastor a church…and he just took another interim pastorate. The pressures are great. People are distracted by many things. The church is often not the revered and loved place in our communities that it used to be.

Personally, I’m thankful for good leadership and staff around me at each of the churches where I’ve served, but my heart goes out to the pastor who doesn’t feel the support of the church and is the only staff member. Remember, you are doing noble work and you are part of something bigger than today, you and even your church! The local church…the body of Christ…is still in God’s plan today…and nothing will overcome that. Praying for you today!

Pray and Don’t Give Up

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Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18:1

Our example comes from Jesus!

We should pray and not give up!

What are you facing today, which you have been facing for some time?
What in your life needs a touch of God?
For what have you been waiting to hear a word from God?
Is there something you can’t handle on your own?
Is there some special request only God can answer?

Jesus would say, “Pray and don’t give up!”

Now, you need to understand, God is not going to contradict Himself. His character never changes. So, if you are asking God to let you have an affair, or to help you cheat on your taxes, don’t expect to get what you want!

But, if your request doesn’t conflict with Scripture, if it isn’t sinful, and it will give glory to God, go ahead and ask expectantly! Pray, and keep on praying until God gives you an answer. Don’t give up!

In my experience, and with what I read in the Word of God, He will either grant you your request (in His time) or His reason for “No” will be far better than what you could have received by a yes answer. Also, it is important to remember that God deals in terms of eternity, not within our finite world.

If you have started to waver from your request in recent days, Jesus reminds you, “Don’t give up!”

God, the great Father, loves to give good gifts to His people.

What is one prayer you consistently have before God?

(By the way, this is a repost from a few months ago. I sensed it was needed again.)

Leaders Book Summaries

This is a guest post by Dave Frederick, Lead Pastor of the Vineyard of DuPage in Carol Stream, Illinois. In addition to being pastor, he has a service designed to assist pastors who, like me, struggle to keep up with the reading we should do. Dave explains that service in this post. My hope is that this is helpful. (Just so you know, this is not an advertisement. I didn’t charge anything for this post. I simply believe in the product.)

Here is a post from Dave Frederick:

Most of my life I’ve heard that “Leaders are Readers,” and I believe that. I also believe that if I was going to put a bumper sticker on my car it would say, “so many books, so little time.” I love to read, and know I should, but life is busy and it can be challenging to find the time. But—it is essential if I am going to keep growing.

One option is to read book summaries instead of whole books. They allow you to invest in your own development, and the leaders around you, easily and economically. Here are 6 benefits to reading summaries:

  1. Book Summaries are roughly 12 pages vs. 200-300 for the average book. The average reader will take 5-6 hours to read a book, but only 15-20 minutes to read a summary. And “the Nutshell,” a summary of the summary, is only two pages!
  2. Book summaries cost less. A monthly subscription to LBS is $6.95/month, or $.23/day. Even buying used books at Amazon costs a lot more than that. LBS publishes 30 summaries/year…you do the math.
  3. I get access to both Christian and secular authors, and get to read more broadly than I would otherwise have time for.
  4. Book summaries are a great way to resource your leaders. I can seldom get my leaders to read a whole book; it’s easy to get them to read a short summary.
  5. Book summaries help you learn more. A Carnegie Mellon study showed that people who read good summaries actually retain more of what they read than people who read the whole book. And isn’t that the point?
  6. Summaries allow me to screen the actual books I do read, so I make sure I am using my reading time for maximum benefit.

In a nutshell, I can learn more, in less time, for a lower cost, by reading summaries, and I can resource my leaders in a way that actually works.

If you’re interested, go to www.studyleadership.com and check it out. Readers of this blog can get their first month free when they subscribe (use Promo Code “Grace”). (Note: there is now a church subscription that allows you to put as many leaders on your subscription as you want for one low price).