3 Things Creatives Need to Flourish

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There are some lessons that are only learned the hard way.

One of those has to do with working with creatives.

I used to think when leading creatives, the key was to free them to create.

I’ve learned — the hard way — that freedom alone for a creative can spell disaster. Nothing gets accomplished. No one is happy.

Please understand. I’m not a creative basher.

I am actually a creative. Not an artistic creative, but an idea creative.

And, it’s true for me too. It’s the way I thought I wanted or needed to be lead. Wrong.

I’ve learned these tips the hard way, attempting to lead creatives — and attempting to lead myself.

Creatives don’t need freedom — or at least freedom alone — they need more than that.

Here are 3 things creatives need to flourish.

1. Clear lines of direction. A clear vision. The box drawn around a certain end goal or objective.

2. The freedom to draw within the lines. (There’s the freedom creatives love.) Limited micromanagement. Maximum empowerment. The freedom to fail. The freedom to dream. All within the broad — very broad — but defined boundaries.

3. Accountability along the way. Someone to check in with them periodically. Motivate them. Give them encouragement. Let them know they are making progress — that they are doing good work.

Without the lines — without the accountability — creatives don’t flourish — they flounder. Things aren’t creative. They are messy.

Creatives love freedom — but it works best sandwiched between clarity and structure.

When those 3 are combined — lines, freedom and accountability — stuff gets done — and everyone is happy.

(Or mostly everyone. If everyone is happy someone’s not leading — creatives or otherwise.)

8 Reasons a Church Plant May Not Grow

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I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t. 

Why is that? 

Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life. 

But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things. 

Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.

You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices. 

You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.   

You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving. 

You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will. 

You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people. 

You waited for them to come to you.  You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.

You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)

You held too tightly to your way.  Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared  with others. 

Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.

25 Things You’ll Never Hear God Say

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Recently I wrote “20 Things God Might Say”. It was a popular post. All were designed to be easily tweeted with a simple copy and paste.

I thought there might be a companion post. I believe, based on Scripture, that we can trust God not to say some things — especially in these days of grace.

Here are 25 things you’ll never hear God say:

“Oh yea. I forgot about her.” #ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Well I don’t know what to do now.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so worried.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just don’t understand him.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t call me again until you turn your life around.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s too big for me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That’ll make me love you less.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“What did you say your name was?”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Forgive me. I made a mistake.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I just need a vacation.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so tired of being interrupted.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“This one’s beyond me.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I can’t take it anymore!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name and number…”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“That little sin won’t matter.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m scared.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I give up!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Since the world is changing so fast, I’m thinking about changing my ways.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I wish I had thought of that!”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I need your help to make it happen.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m so confused.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m all tapped out for this month.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“Don’t blame yourself. That one was my fault.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I didn’t know anything about that.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

“I’m a little behind the times.”
#ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay

Any you’d add?

7 Easy Ways to Put a Not Welcome Sign on Your Church

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I was running recently on a route I’ve run many times, but I missed this sign until this particular run. It was too “good” not to stop and take a picture with my phone.

I saw the sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. As another sign I saw in a store window said recently (which I don’t completely understand) “Closed for Business”. (How can you be closed “for” business?)

None of us would intentionally place a sign like that on our church doors. “Closed for business”. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. Yet I’m certain that some of our practices serve the same purpose.

Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches. All types and sizes.

From personal experience — here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.

Only do “church” on Sunday. Don’t attempt to build community with people who attend — especially not with someone new to “the community”. Let people know by your actions — or lack of actions — that you’re comfortable with the people with you now and there is little room for new friendships. Don’t reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. We recently visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Two months later we have yet to hear from anyone.

Don’t act like you’re happy to see people. Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.

Confuse people. Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker — as an introvert especially — I might have left. Just being honest. I have to be honest even more and say that was somewhat true of the church where I am pastor now. Hopefully we are making strides towards correcting that with signage and people.

Make it uncomfortable for visitors. If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe — or raise their hands — and keep them up until an usher comes by.

Have your own language. Use acronyms. Yes acronyms please. Just pretend like everyone already knows what you’re talking about. Don’t differentiate between VBS and vacation Bible school. Everyone knows that, right? And, use names during the announcements that no one knows but the regulars without any explanation of who they are.

Have closed groups. And don’t start any new ones. When any small group has been together more than a few years — with no new people entering the group — it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel left out when personal conversation begins.

Beat people up without giving them hope. Be clearer about how bad they are than how great the Gospel is.

Those are a few of my suggestions. If you’re looking for a way to put up a closed sign.

7 Examples of Tough, But Smart Leadership Decisions

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Leadership is tough. It’s especially tough when it involves people. :)

It is interesting, however, in my experience, how often the toughest decision is the smartest decision. It’s the one we know we need to make but it’s the hardest one to make. Every leader I know wants to be liked. They want to limit frustration among the people trying to follow. They want to be effective and for people to appreciate and value their leadership. Those are normal human desires.

And, making tough calls seems at times like they may jeopardize some of those things.

Yet, the ability and willingness to make the tough calls — and doing it well — is what often separates the successful leaders from the not so successful.

There are many examples of tough, but smart leadership decisions. You have your own. I’ll just share a few of mine that come to mind.

7 examples of some tough but smart leadership decisions:

If the answer is going to be no. Don’t delay saying it. It’s easier to say “let me think about it” — or to delay saying no for a time, maybe even saying what they want to hear, but if you already know you’re eventually going to say no, the smarter decision — as tough as it is — is to say no now. It saves a lot of grief for you and other people. This includes saying no to good things so you can say yes to best things. One of the toughest calls for me as a leader is telling someone I can’t meet with them. I hate it. I want to accommodate everyone. But, I’ve learned that I’m not always the right person. I sometimes complicate things by getting in the way, and I am not very effective if I don’t prioritize my time. As tough as it is, leader, if you don’t protect your time to do the things you must do, everyone on your team will suffer. If the answer is no — just say no.

Instead of making excuses. Own the problem. I don’t know about you, but I can always find someone or something to blame. That’s easy. Tougher is to admit it. We blew it. We made a mistake. We messed up. And, if the fault is clearly mine — I MESSED UP! People appreciate honesty. It’s smarter, by far, to be transparent than to always pass the buck.

When you aren’t sure what to do next? Admit it. I’ve learned there are usually people on the team who have some ideas that can help me if I’m humble enough to ask. As tough as it is to admit you are in over your head, you’ll gain support by seeking input. Strange as it may seem, you actually add credibility to yourself as a leader.

If you’re about to crash. Raise the white flag. This one seems especially needed for pastors. No pastor I know — and frankly no leader — is comfortable admitting they are facing burnout. The fear is we would lose support. But, the smarter decision is to confide in someone who can help. Getting help before you crash allows you to finish the race. It would be better to limp across the finish line than to be taken out of commission for a permanent injury. Get help now if you need it!

Challenge the sacred cows. Every leader knows that change is hard. And, changing the things people say can’t be touched are the toughest changes. Truth be told, I’ve learned some of these aren’t as sacred as they appear. It was just that no one ever challenged them. But, I’ve also learned that if a leader shies away from change he or she knows has to take place — for the long-term good of the church or organization — everything will eventually become a “sacred cow”. All change — even small changes — will face opposition.

Release your right to get even. That’s so tough — isn’t it? Because holding a grudge is much easier than offering forgiveness. Leadership involves power and every leader is tempted at some time to use that power in revenge. Don’t do it. It never proves smart in the end. A leader is severely injured in ability to attract loyal, trusting followers — who have the potential of becoming leaders — if he or she is ever seen as one who gets even. That leader may have followers, but they’ll turn on a dime against the leader when given a chance.

Take a risk on an unproven person. Good leaders like to surround themselves with competent people. Experience makes life easier for all of us. But, some of the best leadership discoveries I have made came with untested people. We took a risk. Giving a young pastor a chance before they graduate from seminary has proven to be some of my riskiest and yet wisest moves.

Those are 7 examples of tough, but smart decisions I have to make in leadership.

Which of these tough decisions do you need to make today?

Do you have any you’d share with me?

10 Of My Biggest Leadership Mistakes

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I’ve made a lot of mistakes in leadership. One of the primary purposes of this blog is to help others learn from my experience.  So, I want to share some of the mistakes I’ve made. I hope at least one of them encourages other leaders.

These are 10 of the biggest:

Playing salesman more than seeking wisdom. I have had times I was so convinced I was right that I used my skills as a communicator to get people on my side. In hindsight, I should’ve taken more time seeking other people’s insight and wisdom, because I wasn’t right after all.

Listening only to the yea-sayers. The fact is critics sometimes have valid points to make. I prefer they find kinder and gentler ways to share them — and be brave enough to attach their name — but it’s a mistake to only listen to people who agree with you.

Ignoring my gut because the crowd was excited. We were going to launch a capital campaign. We knew we needed to do it at some point. Everyone was excited. Or so they seemed. The momentum was high. But something inside of me said wait. When I went back to the excited crowd, and ask them to pray again, it was unanimous. We were moving forward in emotion — not God’s direction. I learned this one the hard way. Other times I’ve not been that sensitive to my gut or the Spirit’s leading.

Failing to remove the wrong people soon enough. They say hire slow and fire fast. They weren’t necessarily in the church world — were they? Seriously, I’ve waited too long too many times. It only delays the pain.

Rushing too fast to fix things. Some things need time to gel. I have learned that sometimes things get solved on their own. Conflicts are resolved and relationships saved — even strengthened — because I didn’t get involved.

Avoiding a brewing conflict. At the same time, when I know trouble is stirring, and it isn’t going away without my input, yet I refuse to deal with it because it is awkward or uncomfortable, it always comes back to haunt me. Unresolved conflict never just “goes away”. And, when left to brew long enough it can cause irreversible damage to a team.

Talking someone away from their heart. For example, I’ve talked a few people into staying in jobs they didn’t like just because I liked them. It never works. It isn’t fair. It always ends worse than if I’d let them follow their hearts.

Not challenging because I didn’t understand something. I lead areas of ministry I’m not an expert in. Worship. Students. Small groups. Children. Preschool. Technology. Missions. Okay — pretty much everything. I’ve by practice surrounded myself with people smarter than me. But, I have learned it is a mistake to believe that because I’m not the expert I can’t challenge them in their field. I may have to study more, but as a leader, my job is to challenge us to excellence. Therefore, I can — and should — challenge all areas that impact the overall vision. Which is pretty much every area.

Assuming people understand. I don’t need many details. Well, let me be a little clearer. I don’t want or retain many details. But, everyone is not me. Some people thrive on details. They can’t function without them. And, neither personality is wrong. We need both types on our team. I’ve had to learn to communicate in different ways and let others assist me in communicating. And, I welcome questions.

Ignoring the real problems. I’ve been tempting to band-aid the problem because it was too messy to address the real problem. Real problems often involve people. It’s easier to add a rule than get someone upset. But problems never go away until the real problem is addressed.

I’ve been honest with some of my leadership mistakes. Some of them at least.

What are some of yours?

21 Ways to Keep a Church from Growing

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I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.

Here are a 21 ways:

  • Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
  • Develop followers not leaders
  • Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
  • Refuse new people a voice at the table
  • Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
  • Cast your vision — but only once
  • Only do “church” inside the building
  • Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
  • Give up when change is resisted
  • Make excuses when things go wrong
  • Quit dreaming
  • Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
  • Stop praying
  • Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
  • Never challenge people
  • Treat new people as outsiders
  • Always refer to the past as the good times
  • Put more energy into structure than serving
  • Allow gossip to fester
  • The ministerial staff does everything
  • Be stingy investing in the next generation

Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.

What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?