Quick Leadership Tip: Shotgun Your Day

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Here’s a quick leadership tip. Nothing earth shattering. Just a reminder.

Many times we try to accomplish too many tasks in one day and it makes us feel ineffective in all our tasks. I call that the shotgun approach.

Here’s a leadership tip:

Use the rifle approach.

Carefully plan a realistic list of activities for each day, with specific objectives, and rank them from the most important to the least important. Then check off each item as you work through the list, accomplishing as many as you feasibly can per day.

When you’re facing a major project (such as preaching each week), schedule one entire day for nothing but that project. Let nothing interfere unless its absolutely unavoidable. (And, those really are few if we are disciplined.)

You will be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you use the rifle approach to planning instead of the shotgun.

7 Considerations of Whether You’re Ready to be a First Chair Leader

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Recently I wrote a post on how to create environments that attract and retain first chair leaders in a second chair position. Read that post HERE.

The post was well received, but as expected, I received numerous questions after the post. The most common had to do with how to spot a first chair leader — or when a second chair leader should consider being a first chair.

A former intern of mine had a similar question. He’s a great young man, with a bright future ahead of him. I’m so proud to call him friend.

Here’s what he asked:

How long do you typically recommend a young first chair leader sit in the second chair? Obviously it depends on the individual and the leader, but in general there is always more to learn. What process would you go through to evaluate when the young leader seems ready to branch out? Thanks! Miss sitting in the chair under you!

Great question.

I told him I was working on a post. I decided to think through some of my own experiences and some of the observations I’ve made over the years. Frankly, some are based on frustrations I’ve experienced and certainly that I’ve observed or even caused others to feel.

Let me make clear, as if you didn’t know, that this is a subjective post. I couldn’t write a post that would fully answer the question for every person. I can only share some principles I think could help a leader discern if they’re ready or if they need to consider a first chair position. If you were sitting down with me to talk through this issue, I’d probably advise you to think through some of these.

Here are 7 considerations of when you may need to be a first chair leader:

You can’t seem to be satisfied with leadership you are trying to follow. I learned years ago that one way to discern the gift of teaching — I’m always thinking, “I could teach this better” — you may have the gift of teaching waiting to be expressed. The same is often true of potential first chair leaders. I’ve talked with some leaders serving under tremendous first chair leaders who were still continually frustrated. Sometimes it’s not the person they are leading, but an indicator they need to try leading on their own — at least for a season.

You are always pushing past the current limits set for you. You keep hitting a lid. First chair leaders (and many second chair leaders) hate to be capped to a level of achievement. If this is continually happening to you — and frustrating you — it may be time for to move chairs.

You have a different vision than you are being allowed to live. Let’s face it, any healthy organization has a defined vision — one of them — sometimes a few smaller ones that support the one. But, if you have a personal vision that doesn’t fit anywhere in the mix that doesn’t mean any of the visions is wrong. It may just mean you need to go pursue the vision you feel God has given you.

You are dreaming big dreams without an outlet to realize them. Let me be honest, sometimes you have to start something if you want it to be “your” dream. Let me also be clear, I’m a leader, but also a pastor. So the pastor in me says to make sure it’s a God-given dream, but there are times God has something He wants you to do. Not that you will accomplish it on your own, but you may have to be the one to lead the effort. That’s sometimes done from a second chair position, but frequently, if you keep feeling setbacks along the way, it may be you need to change chairs.

You are ready to handle first chair criticism. This is a big one. I chose to mix it here among the others, because it’s a harder one to accept. You often don’t know fully understand this one until you experience life in the first chair, but no first chair doing anything of value is removed from criticism. Leadership involves change — leading people somewhere new. That isn’t always neat, tidy, or even fun. Some days are harder than others. Some days — in fact, some seasons — there appear to be more critics than supporters. And, that, by the way, can be when things are going great overall. Are you ready for that? That requires a gut check honest conversation with yourself, and with others you trust to speak into your life.

You are a self initiator. Do you take the initiative to pursue something new or do you tend to wait until someone spurs you. First chair leaders often need to move forward while everyone else is comfortable sitting still.

You influence others. This is another place where self inspection is important. Do people seem to look to you for direction or insight? Ask yourself, are others following you naturally? In my experience, if people won’t follow you without the first chair position they probably aren’t going to follow you — short of force — if you move into that chair.

This post is intended to help. Actually, I hope it helps the first chair leaders who see people in second chairs around them who may need a little encouragement — even to switch chairs — or to be patient where they are at the time. I hope it encourages some second chair leaders to self-evaluate, ask hard questions, spend some time with God and others and discern their next steps.

There is no guarantee you’re ever ready to be in a first chair position. Again, no post could do that for you, but your response to some of these considerations may help you decide if you fit some of the profile of many first chair leaders I know.

You may recall my former intern asked the question “when”. I closed my reply by telling him I don’t think there is a certain time, but there is a certain maturity for which I would look. And, I think we often know if we are ready, but sometimes need someone to affirm it in us. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak into your life.

You’ll never be fully prepared for a first chair position, any more than we are ever prepared for what’s “next” in our life. But, as has been eloquently said so many times before — Where God calls you — He equips you.

7 Quandaries of Leading Creatives

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Leading creatives can be difficult. In fact, I love having creatives on the teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a definition of a creative:relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creatives’ minds are always wandering. It makes leading a team meeting harder. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied.

And, before you creatives get too defensive…just so you know…

I’m a creative.

I’m not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. And that always confused me and kept me from considering myself one.

But, I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination.

I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh, yea, creatives.

But, when I began to understand these things about myself it helped me understand the minds of other creatives on our team.

And, I love creatives being on the team. They bring new ideas. They stretch others. They add energy. They challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think that’s the word. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries that might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

See what I mean…and see if this is familiar with you — or the creatives you lead.

Here are 7 quandaries of the creative:

1. We don’t like boundaries, rules, policies (and we may test them or rebel against them) —- but we need them in order to be effective.

2. Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense —- other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

3. We have lots of ideas, they are endless, maybe even helpful —- but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format that helps you understand what we are even thinking.

4. Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea —- but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored, and hard to engage in conversation.

5. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them —- but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us.

6. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes —- but as fast as they arrive, they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly.

7. We are tremendously flexible in our imagination, in the things we can dream about or create —- but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

Have you noticed these quandaries? Any others?

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

These quandaries of creatives can actually produce the challenge in leadership — the quandary of leading creatives. Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

It can be difficult. A friend of mine said last week, “The most difficult person to lead is myself.” I agree. It’s sometimes a quandary.

But, it often begins with an understanding — of the quandary — and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

Do you see ways you can help lead creatives through the quandaries?

Consecration: In Ministry and Leadership

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This is a guest post by my friend Greg Atkinson. Greg is an author, speaker, consultant and the Editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. Greg is the author of Church Leadership Essentials and Strange Leadership.

Consecration by Greg Atkinson

Consecration or the act of consecrating means “dedication to the service and worship of a deity.” We serve, lead, and minister from a place and posture of consecration. This is the prerequisite for God choosing to use us in His grand plan.

The book of Exodus uses the word consecrate nineteen times. The book of Leviticus uses it eleven times. It’s used several more times throughout the Old Testament and a few times in the New Testament. Under the direction of king Hezekiah, the priests consecrated and purified the temple of the Lord, clearing out everything that was ritually unclean. Side note: You want to talk about innovation and creativity? Just look at all the work that went into building the temple. Wow.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. —Joshua 7:13 (NIV)

God tells Joshua to tell the people to consecrate themselves in preparation for a coming battle. He says they will not win unless they do it. I’m sure you’ve realized by now, we’re in a war. I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan or Russia, or whatever the current conflict is when you are reading this. I’m talking about the spiritual war we as ministers of the gospel are all engaged in. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If you want to see supernatural innovation in your life and ministry—something that can only be explained by the hand of God and changes people’s lives for eternity, you must be a consecrated servant leader. I’m not talking about being perfect, for we know only One has lived a perfect life. I’m talking about striving for a life of personal purity and holiness and dedicating our whole being to the will of God. Then and only then, will you be able to “stand against your enemies.” This is important because each of you, in your city and community, have strongholds and evil forces at work that are waging a war for the souls you so desperately long to reach. God may be wanting to do a “new thing” in your midst and shower you with the blessing of insight, knowledge, wisdom and discernment, but He is urging you (like He did Joshua) to “consecrate yourselves in preparation
for tomorrow.”

We recently moved into a new building at my church and when we were preparing for our first week in the new building, God gave me the following verse:

Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ —Joshua 3:5 (NASB)

I had an art piece made up and our entire congregation signed it with Josh 3:5 in the middle of the art piece. Many Saturday nights, I will post the Scripture on Facebook and ask people to pray for what God will do in the morning when we gather for worship.

Friends, don’t miss this: consecration is required if you want to see God move. I’m talking about personal and/or corporate consecration. Let’s take a quick look at what the Bible says about Noah.

This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. —Genesis 6:9

Noah was a man consecrated to God, and God used him to change history. Proverbs 3:32 tells us God “is intimate with the upright.” To truly be led by the Spirit, one must be upright and live a life of daily consecration. Out of this can flow all sorts of new ways of ministry and innovation.

[This has been an excerpt from one chapter of Greg Atkinson’s new book Strange Leadership: 40 Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization. Go to the book’s website for more info: http://strangeleadership.com/]

3 Ways to Helpfully Lead First Chair Leaders

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In my post 7 Ways to Attract First Chair Leaders to a Second Chair Position I presented thoughts on keeping a leader who could be the first chair leader (or someday wants to be) in the second chair position. I received good feedback from the post, but some questions, so I decided to write more thoughts on the topic.

I’m still working on a post to identify first chair leaders. I’ve been attempting to do that throughout my leadership career, but haven’t spent much time putting in writing what I have observed. Stay tuned.

Recently, however, I was in a meeting discussing this issue and a specific question was asked I felt I could address now.

A leader asked, “How do I help first chair leaders?”

This team has several first chair leaders, and this seasoned leader is wondering how to best help — and ultimately lead — other seasoned leaders. In a strictly organizational structure or reporting sense, this leader supervises other first chair type leaders, but the reality is, and he readily admitted, they have equal or more experience than this leader has in the area they are assigned to lead. They have a certain expertise in areas they lead this leader doesn’t have. And, many times, he feels they could lead without him in the picture. Yet, this leader is supposed to supervise — lead — them. (That is, by the way, a great start in being a humble, servant leader — recognizing they could do it without you.)

How does he do that in a helpful way?

Great question.

This is not an exhaustive or detailed list. I deal more in principles with this blog, because specifics are harder to answer for each context. And, my previous post shared some other, broader ways. This was the answer that came to my mind at the time. And, it seemed helpful.

Hopefully, if nothing else, it helps shape a thought process. I went to a board and drew out an attempted suggestion of how to lead first chair leaders. (See the picture with this post.)

Do you want to help the first chair leaders you supervise?

Help the first chair leader you supervise draw lines.

That’s right. Draw lines.

Then help them grow within the lines.

Here’s what I mean. Or, at least, I will attempt to share what I mean.

Help them define their purpose. (Represented by the two red lines in the picture.)

These lines represent the scope of what the first chair leader has been assigned to do. They’ve been asked to lead small group ministry, for example. Or, they’ve been asked to lead a missions ministry. Whatever it is they’ve been asked to accomplish, help them draw lines around that assignment — some boundaries if you will — a defined objective. If they are to be successful in what they’ve been asked to do, what would that look like?

Help them realize success. (Represented by the green arrows.)

Help them write clear goals and objectives. Share resources with them. Ask questions to stir their thought process. Give them assistance where needed or requested. Be a consistent cheerleader. Empower them. Don’t control. (See previous post.) Get out of the way when you’re in the way and get in the middle of things when you’re needed and requested to be there. Remember, these are first chair leaders. They can likely handle this without a lot of supervision, but your position, authority and experience may be extremely helpful at times. Be available when needed. Also, you may have to provide accountability at times and be their coach. And, if absolutely needed, you may need to be the hard voice in their life to help them stay on track towards success.

Help them protect the lines. (Represented by a blue “X”.)

There will always be interruptions — competing ideas and agendas — for a person’s time. As a leader of first chair leaders, you can help keep them within the predetermined lines. You can help protect the influences outside the lines. When they are asked to do something that doesn’t line up with the goals and objectives agreed upon, you can defend their right to say no. Of course, we all have to handle interruptions at times and do things we hadn’t “planned” to do, but you can help them discern when to step outside the lines.

Does that help? What other questions does it generate for you?

Should the Position Be Paid or Volunteer?

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I received a great question recently. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t give a good answer. 

Or, at least, not the answer they were seeking. They wanted an answer that would solve the issue. I couldn’t give that answer. 

This individual is being asked to do a part-time job at the church plant he attends. It would be launching a new ministry within the church. As with most plants, there is a limited budget, so they can’t afford to pay him. He agrees with the church’s philosophy to mostly have volunteers instead of paid staff. He believes, however, that this position is too involved to be volunteer — especially for his current life situation. He feels he should be paid if he agrees to take on the challenge, but the leadership disagrees. 

He asked me if I would write a post about when a position should be paid and when it should be volunteer. 

Here is my answer:

I wish I could tell you there are hard set guidelines here, but there aren’t — in my opinion. So much of this issue depends on context. 

The post I would write, and I think I might, would be more on principle than anything. 

It depends on the church and the individual. And, both should be part of the answer. And, the answers don’t always easily mesh. 

First, what is best for the church?

For example. Some churches are almost all volunteer. Sounds like this church plant is that way. So, I would want to know about other similar workload positions in the church. Are they paid or volunteer? 

It’s dangerous to start paying one person and not another with similar workloads, unless there is a valid reason for doing so. It causes tension and disharmony. 

At the same time, churches have to make decisions that are best for the church long term. Once a decision is made to start paying for a position, that usually locks the church into having that position and the ministry for a long time. If that person leaves the church, most churches will look for someone to replace them. It becomes a part of the annual budget process. That is a big commitment, which should be considered. The same is not necessarily true of a volunteer position. 

Then it also depends on the person.

Can that person commit that much time and be volunteer? Some can and some can’t. 

I know one very large church — several thousand people attend each week — that has a volunteeer executive pastor — and he is full time. He’s a self made millionaire and didn’t want the church to pay him. Obviously, this is an extreme example, and most churches couldn’t do that, but there are times the person simply doesn’t need the income for their volunteer efforts. That’s okay — and a huge blessing to the church.

I also know a church that had a single mom as a key volunteer. As her role grew she needed to be paid in order to handle the extra time she could have worked elsewhere and her child care. The church felt it would have been taking advantage of her otherwise. 

A church has to think what’s fair and equitable for the church and all the individuals involved. 

I advised this gentleman that I would probably be asking myself if I could afford to do this for free or, if I’m going to invest my time — in fairness to myself and family, do I need to be paid? 

The church needs to be asking a fairness question too, because it impacts more people than just this one person. If they pay him, will that open up a need to pay others with similar workloads? Will it set a precedent for this ministry and others?

But, that brings up a few thoughts about answering these type leadership issues:

I always try to go with principles first. What’s the larger principle guiding the individual decisions? Sometimes it helps to think in those terms. 

I try to think big picture. Almost every decision impacts more than one person or one situation.  

I am careful not to lock myself into one answer — on non-Biblical issues. One problem I have with a strict policy is that it often keeps the church from individualizing their response based on the unique set of circumstances at the time. In the case above, whether positions should be paid or volunteer, there are always parameters to be considered beyond that which a rule can be clearly written. 

Those are a few thoughts — long answer to a shorter question.

But, aren’t most leadership issues like that? Many times we find it easier to write hard, fast rules than to do the harder work of thinking bigger. Without the rules it’s messier too, but that’s why we need good leadership — to navigate through the messy to get to the best.

What do you think? 

I Say This In Love…

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“I say this in love…”

You can injure a lot of people with that term.

“I say this in love” has caused a lot of damage over the years.

In marriage…
In church relationships…
In work situations…
In families…

It can be in person or online.

It’s often the start of some of the “best” gossip — or unfair judging. Certainly some very hurtful criticism begins this way.

I’ve been the recipient of this kind of “love” and sometimes it doesn’t seem very loving to me.

Sometimes people seem to think they can say anything — in any form — without considering the consequences — as long as they begin with that phrase.

I’ve seen people preface a mean-spirited zinger of a comment with a disclaimer of love, but it’s still a mean-spirited zinger. The way you begin a conversation doesn’t remove the need to be kind, even when offering correction or extending criticism.

We should do all things in love. That’s a command. As believers, we have to learn how to critique, criticize, complain and even rebuke people — in love.

But, let’s make sure we display love all the way through our conversations.

Not just with the first five words.

In a future post, I’ll to help us think through this issue more with some hopefully helpful tips.

Why We Celebrate High Attendance Numbers

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We are celebrating our Easter number this week. It was a incredible day.

Whenever we talk about celebrating an attendance number, I hear the same questions — why celebrate a number? Do numbers really matter? Isn’t it about glorifying God — whatever the number?

Well, yes, it is about glorifying God — regardless of the number.

In fact, our staff set a number we thought we might reach — a stretch goal — made preparations towards reaching that number, worked hard, prayed continually, led the church to do the same, but then we consistently reminded each other that we would celebrate whoever God brought Easter weekend.

And, God blessed us beyond what we imagined.

But, why is the number important? Why count people in the first place?

Here are a few reasons:

Measure of effectiveness – Who builds a house without first counting the costs? (Luke 14:28) We needed a number of how many possibly could show up in order to plan effectively. What if you were planning a meal for 6 people and 15 people actually came? Would you have enough food prepared? Probably not. So we needed a number. But, there was far too much preparation that went into planning the day not to actually count to see where we were most effective. What worked? What didn’t? How could we improve next time? We couldn’t answer those questions well unless we counted.

Numbers represent people – We know that near 90% of our community is considered “unchurched”. They don’t attend church anywhere regularly. Those are real numbers — representing real people. Numbers matter, because setting goals pushes us to be more assertive in reaching unchurched people. If we believe in our mission “leading people to Jesus” — which we do — then why would we not do everything within our abilities to help it become a reality? In fact, to know the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it — would be a sin. (James 4:17) We know we need to be on mission, Jesus told us that, and setting a numerical goal is one way that helps us accomplish that mission even better. So, we count.

Substance of celebration – When people participate in a goal there will always be a natural tendency to want to know “How did we do?”. For example, if you set a goal to lose 10 pounds, you might track along the way how you are doing. And, you don’t celebrate until you make progress towards the goal. The only way to tell how we did towards our goal of attendance is to count. Again, you should celebrate regardless of the number of people who attend, because God is actually in charge of attendance. We do preparations, but He draws people to Himself — Scripture is clear about that — but if you are going to work hard — and expect people to ever want to work hard again — you have to celebrate the hard work. In my experience, planning to celebrate actually motivates people more towards the goal. Which goes back to the other two reasons.

That’s just a few of the reasons that come to mind of why we count people. I’m sure there are others. By the way, throughout the Bible God’s people counted. They got into problems when the motive was to honor man, rather than out of obedience to God. We must guard our hearts in this area. One way I do this is continually reminding myself, as I stated earlier, that we will celebrate regardless — and that God is in charge of attendance. And, by asking myself, am I going to be content with our efforts if we don’t reach our goal? And, yes, God has and will test our motivation.

Do you have any reasons for counting you’d add?