I recently returned from a beach destination wedding. Someone has to do those you know. Cheryl and I tacked on a few days of vacation since we were at the beach. It was refreshing.
As I was finishing my last vacation run — vacation runs are the best — a friend texted me. He’s a great leader and we’ve talked often about leadership issues — and the stress of leadership. When he learned I was heading home from vacation, he asked me a powerful question. I’m not even sure he knew how powerful, but knowing him, he was probably asking with intentionality.
He asked, “Excited to be going back or dreading it?”
My friend wanted to know — and encourage me to think — if my vacation had been successful. He knows the purpose of vacation.
What is the purpose of vacation? Another way I might ask this question: What are the goals of a vacation?
Here are my thoughts.
5 goals of vacation for the leader:
Rest – God has actually given us a Biblical command to rest — to Sabbath — as if He knows something about what we need. (Duh!) You may not “rest” like everyone else, but everyone should rest. This particular friend who texted me was also returning from vacation. He does something that I think shows he understands his need for rest. He leaves his work cell phone with his administrative assistant when he goes on vacation. How cool is that? I know because I texted him while he was gone and she texted me back. Intentional. Love it. Rest should be a huge goal of taking a vacation. We all need it.
Reconnect – Vacation should allow us time to restore relationships to maximum health. With God. With family. With ourself. The busyness of life can strain relationships. Vacation gives you the opportunity to pause and get back to optimum health with the most important relationships in our life. On vacation, I talk to God more. I spend deeper quality time with Cheryl. We date more intensely — ask each other more questions. In years past, I got to spend more time with my boys on vacation. (I’m an empty nester now.) But, vacation helps me reconnect to those I love the most.
Play – We all need to play — regardless of our age. We fuel all the rest of these with this one. As I said already, I run more on vacation. That’s my form of play. But, when I run, I’m better equipped for all the other goals. You may not be a runner, but you have things you enjoy doing that aren’t work. (I tweeted from vacation that a friend of mine got a Lego set for Father’s Day. Cool playing to come for that dad!) Playing enhances my mental energies, my creativity, and my enjoyment of life. Making time to play — with whatever you enjoy doing — is a great goal for vacations.
Dream – What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to doing in the future? One of Cheryl and my greatest enjoyments on vacation is dreaming about where we see ourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, into retirement. We also dream where we could see our boys and their families. We dream about careers, personal interests, places we’d love to travel. Dreaming stretches our mind and heart towards each other and energizes us about our future together. A great vacation goal is to take time to dream.
Rejuvenate – Vacation should help you reengage with your work when you return. That’s the understanding my friend had about vacation. And, it is a huge goal. This will be hard to say to some, and some may disagree, but if you leave vacation dreading going back to work, it maybe you don’t know how to do vacation or you’re in the wrong job. It’s work. I get that. We all have Mondays we dread. The day back doesn’t have to be the most fun day at work ever, but a goal of vacation is to help us recover so we can gather more energies to do the work we were designed to do.
Does that describe your vacation?
What goals do you have for vacation?
As a leader, there have been numerous times when I have been in over my head with the challenges and opportunities I was facing. God seems to call me to huge tasks.
I suspect if you’re a leader, you understand. I think He does that to many people! It keeps us humble. And, dependent — on Him!
Regardless of how comfortable a leader may be in his or her position…
- There are times when the leader has no answers…
- He or she has exhausted every bit of knowledge gained…
- The current strategies don’t seem to work anymore…
- The situation is beyond the current plans and systems…
- People are complaining…
- It seems you’re on a treadmill — getting no where…
- Some days you leave thinking you accomplished nothing — maybe even most days…
Ever been there? Did you think someone was talking to me about you?
When the leader doesn’t know what to do and/or doesn’t have a clue what to do next, here are some suggestions:
Admit – The first step is to be honest with where you are currently as a leader. Pretending to know the answers when you don’t know them will not solve the problem. Most of the time, the people you are leading already know your inadequacies. Come clean. You’re overwhelmed. No shame. All of us have been there at times.
Pause - It’s okay to take a break to clear your head. It could be an afternoon, a day, or a week, but sometimes you just need to get away from the situation long enough to gain a fresh perspective. I often disappear from the office Thursday afternoons on especially difficult weeks. I may take a long run, mow my grass, pray or read. The busier the season — the more overwhelmed I feel — the more I need to pause. I know it sounds counter-productive. It’s not. At all. It’s life-giving.
Seek help – Find a mentor who has walked where you are currently walking. I have several older men I call when I’m maxed out with stress. There is a benefit in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you about a matter. This is the time for the believer to rely more than ever on his or her faith; trusting that the God who called them to the task will be faithful to complete it. (1 Thess 5:24)
Learn – Leaders should always be teachable. Again, assuming or pretending to have all the answers only slows or curtails projects and is quickly be discovered by others. Stretch yourself and learn something new. Read. Definitely be reading. Attend a conference. Listen to some TED talks or sermons from pastors you admire. Feed your mind. It needs some new energies.
Improve – Make better checklists each day. Spend more time planning. Learn to better delegate. I always say, you have to get better before you can get bigger. As you learn improvements needed, be willing to change. The tighter you hold onto methods that aren’t working the longer you’ll delay moving forward. Push through the overwhelming period and become a stronger, more capable and better leader. You can do it!
Do you need help? Are you overwhelmed? Start the process towards getting better.
I’m pulling for you — and I’ll trade you a prayer!
I’ve never been a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sometimes you need a change and nothing is “broke”. It just isn’t as good as it could be, it’s keeping other things from being better, or it’s soon going to be broke unless you change.
But, there are times not to change — certainly when you are not ready to change.
Here are 7 times not to change:
When there isn’t a compelling purpose - There should always be a why. It might be as simple as if you don’t change you’re going to be bored out of your mind — but have a reason before you change.
When there are no good leaders behind it – You need people who buy into the change. If a change has value you can usually find supporters. They may be few. They may do nothing more than speak up for the change, but if no one can get excited about the change, you probably need to raise up some supporters before moving forward. (There are rare exceptions to this one, but again, they are rare.)
When you haven’t defined a win – Changing before you know what success looks like will keep you running in a lot of ineffective directions without much progress.
When the loss is more expensive than the win – Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it. You can’t justify the people and resource expense for the potential return.
When the leader isn’t motivated – There are times to wait if senior leadership can’t get excited or at least support the change if push back develops. Eventually, without their support, you’ll be less likely to experience sustaining, successful change.
When too many other things are changing – Any organization or group of people can only handle so much change at a time. This requires great discernment on the part of leaders to know when there is too much change occurring and it is best to wait for something new.
When an organization is in crisis mode – When a ship is sinking, fix the leak or bail some water, before you choose your next destination. When things are in crisis, is not the time to make a ton of changes. There may be needed changes to get things moving again, but catch your breath first, make sure a core of people is solid behind the vision, and take careful steps to plan intentional, helpful and needed change.
This isn’t intended as a checklist. I would never want to stop someone from making needed changes. I love change. But, I do want to encourage better change. I hope this helps.
If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.
Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.
I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.
Here are 7 qualities of good change agents:
Flexible – It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.
Courageous – Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism — worth hearing — and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk that clouds progress.
Relational – Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know that ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.
Strategic – A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.
Creative – Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say that I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change happens with creativity. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. That takes creativity.
Intentional – Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.
Thorough – A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.
Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?
Every leader needs to balance the tension of “leading for me and leading for the organization.”
I balance it everyday.
Here’s what I mean.
I’m sometimes going to lead for me. My preferences. My tastes. My individual style is going to be reflected in the church. That’s part of leadership.
I’m certain leadership of the people looked different under Moses than under Joshua. (Joshua apparently didn’t have a stick. )
If my leadership is effective at all it will have an impact on the church. At the same time, I have to be very careful as I lead, and with the structures we implement, and the vision I cast, that I’m not being egocentric. We have a bigger vision at stake. Hopefully the church lasts much longer than me.
I know the church is going to resemble me. It is going to reflect my leadership.
But the church doesn’t need to look like me. It should look like Jesus.
Do you see the difference?
This is a tension for every organization. Christian or not. Non-profit or for profit.
Consider Apple. Apple resembles Steve Jobs. It should. He built the company. He’s a mastermind behind it all. But it didn’t need to look like Steve Jobs. It needed to look like Apple. Imagine what would happen now if it had only been built around Steve Jobs. Apple looks like Apple. That’s a good thing if you like Apple products.
I see too many planters and pastors shaping the culture to look like them. It’s dangerous. It’s not sustainable. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s Biblical. When they leave the church will likely struggle with an identity crisis.
Here are some ways I attempt to balance this tension:
- If the decision has long-term implications I include multiple voices.
- I try not to always have an answer to every problem.
- I surround myself with really smart people. And, give them authority to question my judgment.
- I step back often to observe a bigger picture.
- I’m trying to shape paradigms of good leadership more than specifics of structure.
- I try not to micromanage.
- I empower people to make decisions without my stamp of approval.
People want to follow a vision that is bigger than today. They want progress. And, granted, to accomplish that, people want and need a leader. I believe God even allowed things to be set up that way. The tension is to not use that felt need of people as an opportunity to build my own kingdom.
Here’s a very practical example of how that is currently playing out in our church. Our church governing structure needs some tweaking. The current system, with a monthly business meeting on a Wednesday night, where major decisions eventually have to be made, attended overwhelmingly by seniors — who by the way are among the most faithful members of our church — is not sustainable long-term. The younger generation of people are not buying into that system. They don’t care about the business of church as much as the mission of church. In 10 years, unless we make changes, the room will be much smaller and it will be difficult to get anything done effectively with our current structure. That’s not being cruel. It’s being realistic.
In recommending that we need changes, I have suggested a team that is cross representative of the church, made up of laypeople in the church. I’ve offered resources and other church models for them to consider. But, then I’ve tried to get out of the way, as much as possible. I’ve even suggested, should anyone think this is personal to me, that they make changes effective the day I leave office as pastor. (I’m not anticipating they will do this but I’m that serious about not shaping a church to look like me.)
The bottom line in this illustration is that I’m in a church that’s 105 years old. That is over twice my age. I hope this local church body survives long after I’m gone (unless of course Jesus returns.)
That will be easier if I’m not the identity of this church – Jesus is.
Those who succeed in the future workplace must be innovative. Adaptable. Able to change quickly.
You knew that, right?
It’s not an option these days.
It’s mandatory just to keep up with the pace of change. We can wish for days gone by, but to keep up, leaders will have to stretch themselves and work smarter.
In fact, when hiring decisions are made these days, most leaders I know (including me) look for these abilities as much, if not more, than experience or education. We need generalists, who can fill a plethora of responsibilities. If you can’t keep up with the speed of change, and adapt accordingly you’ll have a harder time advancing in your career in the future.
How can a leader keep up? What can you do?’
I am constantly learning how personally, but I have always been conscious of my own need to continue growing as a leader, so I’m sharing from my experience and some of what works for me.
Here are 7 ways to stretch yourself:
Read something different from what you normally read. If you love to read history, occasionally read a book of fiction. Pick up a tech magazine, even if you’re far from being a techie. Read the comics, or the opinion page, or a biography — whatever something is different from what you usually read.
Hang out with people not like you. One of my favorite ways to stretch myself has been to surround myself with many different personalities and interests among my friendships. I am introverted. I have some very extroverted friends. I’m not usually loud in a crowd — and a few of my close friends are always the life of the party. I’m conservative. I have some very liberal friends. Honestly, it’s sometimes more comfortable to only hang out with people who think like me, but I realize I’m missing opportunities to grow when I do.
Move forward on something with uncertainty. This will be a challenge for some of you reading this. For others it’s easy. It comes fairly easy for me. But, the fact is rarely will we have all the answers when making decisions. That eliminates faith when we do, by the way. Take a new risk on something. It’s the surest way to stretch yourself.
Attempt something you’ve never done. That goes with taking a risk, but not only something that you consider “risky” — try to do something beyond what you think you can do. Take a college class, even though you’ve been out of school for years. Learn a language or to play an instrument. Take up photography or baking. Try to do a home repair — with just the help of the guy at the hardware store. If you’ve never done it — all the better. The more different from you it seems — the greater the stretch.
Spend more time on opportunities than on problems. This is huge, because problems tend to weigh us down and discourage us. Opportunities challenge and encourage us. Yes, fixing problems is exhilarating for some of us (like me), but only getting back to ground zero pales compared to finding new potential for growth. We can’t avoid handling problems, but we can discipline ourselves to focus more energy towards advancement rather than repair. Try it. In my experience, when I do this, some of the problems I thought needed so much of my attention no longer do.
Schedule and discipline time to dream. Dreaming can quickly become a lost art in a sea of mediocrity and repetition. We get so caught up in systems, routines and processes that we fail to imagine what is yet to be realized. I try to schedule a few hours a week of blank calendar time and shut everything down to think and pray. Sometimes I take a walk. Sometimes I read. Always I try to think of something new.
Stay physically active. Numerous studies I’ve read indicate what my experience already knows. I stretch my mind when I stretch my body. And, the more I stretch my body, the more I stretch my mind.
I realize an obvious question some of my ministry friends are wondering. How does this apply to the church?
Well, I personally believe the church should be well led, well-managed, efficient and productive. We have the greatest mission challenge ever extended. We are in a life-changing profession. Why would we ever sacrifice quality or settle for less than best in carrying out our work? So, of course this impacts ministry. We must continue to stretch ourselves to become better servant leaders.
What ideas do you have to stretch yourself as a leader?
I read an article recently that suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective senior leader. Obviously — and hopeful I am correct — I disagree. In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.
I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor. But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.
Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:
I think first and speak later. I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.
I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership. This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely — and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.
I create intentional moments. My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders — introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it — because I truly love people — even though it is draining.
It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture. You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations — I certainly do when I’m connecting with people — but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.
Processed randomness. People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like that frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too — by those who get to know me. Some of that comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. That quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.
I network intentionally. I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose — and I love people — I really do. More than that, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.
I tend to listen well. People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.
Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am — it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.
How does introversion make you an effective leader?
I’ve planted two churches. In each plant, God overwhelmed us continually with what He did among us. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of such healthy environments God uses to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I have learned a few things in the process. Some of these were new insights and some of were things I had confirmed, but all are things I would suggest other church planters consider.
Here are 5 lessons I learned in church planting:
Don’t shy away from leaders, even though they are churched — you’ll need them – When we started, if a person showed up who regularly attended another local church, we shied away from them. We weren’t rude to them, but we really didn’t pursue them as we did other visitors, simply out of respect of other churches. What I have learned, however, is that many times this was standing in the way of something God was doing in the person’s life. At the same time, we were suffering from a leadership void not having enough people ready to lead in a church setting. There’s a huge difference in recruiting and accepting people churched people into a church plant.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money — you’ll need it - I know this is a problem for many church planters, because a perception is that people church plants reach are repelled by money talks. Granted, some people wrongly feel that all churches talk about is money and so they push back anytime money is mentioned. We can know and tell people that Jesus talked much about money (some say more than any other subject), but in an attempt to be attractive to unchurched people, church plants often avoid any money talk whatsoever. What I learned, however, is that it takes money to minister to people. Additionally, part of the spiritual growth process of a person is how they view and handle money and one of my roles is to help them mature in this area. I can’t do that unless we talk about it. And, the pushback when we do, if handled with truth and grace, is far less than I expected it to be.
Surround yourself with some encouragers — some days they’ll keep you going - The work of church planting by itself is tough and places a strain on the planter and his or her family, but church planting also has plenty of naysayers. The church world can be very competitive and church planters are not always the most popular pastors among the established church world. And, because things are new and in the discovery phase of building a church, not everyone will agree with every decision. (That’s in every church setting.) I’ve learned I needed enough people around me who believe in me and the vision of the plant so that on the days when I was down they could encourage me to pick my head up and keep moving forward towards what God had called us to do.
Know what to control and what to let go of — you’ll be stretched if you don’t - There are some things to hold on to very tightly, such as vision or senior leadership positions, but I learned to let go of things such as how the vision gets implemented or what color we use for rugs in the preschool area. (I never would have stressed about that last one — but you get the idea.) The more I allowed others to do and take leadership of, the greater success we had in reaching our overall vision.
Embrace hurting people — as much as it hurts - We extended so much grace to people — and we were burned a few times. I have been personally hurt by people to whom I invested so much love and support, who quickly fell back into their old way of life. I know God rewards this sacrifice, but it still stings. The fact is however, that some of the best leaders we developed over the years were hurting, broken people when they arrived. God still does miracles with people when we extend His grace and truth. (And, those have to be extended on an equal basis.)
I am not sure these are unique experiences to church plants — in fact, they are true now that I’m serving in church revitalization, but certainly church planting was where these paradigms were shaped in me. It was a learning process every day — as all leadership positions are, but my hope is that others will learn from our experience.
Which of these do you most need reminding of today?
I was in the business world longer than I’ve been a pastor, so I’m still relatively “new” in the field of vocational ministry. I do have many years of experience with life and leadership. It has been amazing to watch how those principles have transferred for God’s glory into the work in the church.
One of my favorite things to do is to invest in other church leaders. I am frequently asked by pastors what my best leadership advice is for them. I don’t know how I could contain all I’d share in a single conversation or post. Plus, I’m still learning. I learn something new everyday.
So, this post is random. And, this post is not exhaustive.
Here are 10 Tweetable pieces of advice I share with pastors:
1. Don’t trade searching for a “Word” on Sunday for searching for a personal relationship with God. That’s where you’ll get your “word”.
2. Don’t allow a need to protect your reputation to keep you from welcoming accountability. You need it!
3. Never compromise one Biblical principle to keep another (shepherding the flock/caring for your family). Your family needs you and so does your church.
4. Don’t waste energy on those people who aren’t trying to help you build a ministry, but trying instead to tear it down.
(A pastor friend of mine once said, “Seek your need for affirmation among the people to whom God has sent you to minister.”)
5. Allow criticism to shape you, but not control you. Every leader doing anything of value attracts critics.
(BTW, criticism often has some elements of merit, so don’t dismiss it completely, but realize the source of your critics, their intent and how it fits with the vision God has given you.)
6. Don’t get so comfortable to where you refuse to walk by faith. God called you to a life of faith-walking.
7. If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.
8. As a leader, you’ll seldom make everyone happy. In fact, if that’s your goal, you might consider whether or not you’re a leader.
9. The more you know and trust the heart of God, the less you’ll stress when you don’t know or understand the ways of God.
10. I’d rather lead with character than competence. I can surround myself w/competent people, but no one can make up for my lack of character.