A Potential Problem With a Servant’s Heart

Teenagers Serving A Meal To A Man

I was talking to the Executive Director of a homeless ministry recently. Everyday they feed hundreds of meals. Every night the ministry boards dozens of men and women. They clothe people. They help prepare people for job interviews. It’s an amazing ministry, doing great work.

But everything isn’t great.

The leader is tired, the budget is stretched, and the volunteer base is thin. Everyone is worn out emotionally and physically.

What’s the real problem? The real challenge? 

It was easy to diagnose as an outsider.

The leader is too busy serving to ever lead.

She never has time to recruit volunteers, let alone train them. She never has time to do board development. She never has time to fundraise. She never has time to cast the vision. She never has time to plan and dream. She never has time to invest in anything that lasts bigger than today.

And, she never has time to take care of herself. Ever.

All things she verbally recognizes she needs to do.

It’s the real problem. It’s the real challenge to the ministry.

And, if she’s not careful…and I hate to be the one to say this to such a wonderful ministry — eventually, it has the potential to tremendously cripple the ministry. In fact, the future of the ministry, in my professional organizational leadership opinion, is in jeopardy now. And, she is personally a time bomb waiting to explode in burnout.

And, she is one example. But, she is not unique. I’ve seen it many times. I see it among my pastor friends.

Show me a constantly over-worked leader. Show me continually stressed volunteers. Show me a thin budget. Show me a ministry with more demands than the resources or people to meet them…

And, I’ll show you a ministry that is headed for certain trouble unless something is addressed.

It reminds me of the hardest thing I’ve seen for ministers to do who love doing ministry — people with a servant’s heart.

If he or she has a heart to serve others. If he or she loves helping people — connecting with people — ministering to people…

The hardest thing to do…

Is to step back and see the bigger picture.

They have a hard time stopping ministry long enough to explore longer-term issues. They have a hard time doing, what seems to be at the time, unproductive work. People need to be fed. People are hurting. That’s why the ministry exists, right?

And, I get that. I’ve lived that. I even applaud the heart. It’s that heart that possibly prompted them into the ministry. It’s a great heart.

The problem is that it isn’t sustainable long-term. Even Jesus “slipped away” from the crowds. Even Elijah needed to be strengthened.

My advice:

Be willing to stop feeding one so you can feed dozens more in months to come.

Spend time developing the board. Spend time recruiting more volunteers. Spend time raising more funds. Spend time casting the vision to the community. Spend time caring for yourself. Spend time relaxing at the feet of Jesus.

It will seem you’re neglecting the ministry for a time, but in the big picture, you’ll be building a better and stronger ministry. And, you’ll be a healthier leader.

What do you need to stop doing now so you can see even more done later? 

7 Ways the Leader Sets the Bar

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The leader sets the bar for the organization.

If you are a leader of an organization then you have the awesome responsibility of establishing the parameters by which your organization will be successful.

Now, as I feel the need in every post like this, Jesus sets the bar. Period. He is our standard. But, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that God allows people to lead, even in the church. And, as Christian leaders, we set the bar in our church for many of the things that happen in the church.

A mentor of mine always says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. He didn’t make up the saying, but he’s learned in his 70+ years experience how true a statement it is. Are you leading with the idea that you are setting the bar for the people you are trying to lead?

Here are 7 ways the leader sets the bar:

Vision casting – The God-given vision to the people is primarily communicated by the senior leader. Others will only take it as serious as you do. Keeping it ever before the people primarily is in your hands.

Character – The moral value of the church and staff follows closely behind its senior leadership. Our example is Jesus, and none of us fully live out that standard, but the quality of the church’s character — in every major area of life — will mirror closely to the depth of the leader’s character.

Team spirit – If the leader isn’t a cheerleader for the team, they’ll seldom be any cheerleaders on the team. Energy and enthusiasm is often directly proportional to the attitude of the leader.

Generosity – No church — and no organization for that matter — will be more generous than that of its most senior leadership. There may be individuals who are generous, but as a whole people follow the example of leadership in this area as much or more than any other.

Completing goals and objectives – The leader doesn’t complete all the tasks — and shouldn’t — but ultimately the leader sets the bar on whether goals and objectives are met. Complacency prevails where the leader doesn’t set measurable progress as a value and ensure systems are in place to meet them.

Creativity – The leader doesn’t have to be the most creative person — seldom is — but the team will be no more creative than the leader allows. A leader that stifles idea generation puts a lid on creativity and eventually curtails growth and change.

Pace – The speed of change and the speed of work on a team is set by the leader. If the leader moves too slow — so moves the team. If the leader moves too fast — the team will do likewise.

Team members will seldom outperform the bar their leader sets for them. Consequently, and why this is so important a discussion, an organization will normally cease to grow beyond the bar of the leader.

Be careful leader of the bars you set for your team.

When “This Kind” Can Only Come Out By Prayer

Here Are My Prayers

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

The disciples had tried to drive out the demon. They had watched Jesus many times before. It didn’t seem at the time like something they couldn’t do. Jesus had said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”

Everyone was watching, too! What would they think if they weren’t able to get rid of this evil spirit? People might have thought less of them. They may have said, “You’re not really His disciples.” or “Look at you, you can’t do anything by yourself.” or “Where’s your faith?”.

Have you ever been afraid of what others would think about the amount of your faith?

So, humbly and privately they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (verse 28)

Fair question, wouldn’t you agree? Why couldn’t they perform what seemed to be a simple task? Why couldn’t they do what they had been trained to do? What they had apparently already been given power to do?

“This kind”, Jesus said, “can only come out by prayer.”

Now there are plenty of commentaries on this passage, but what we can’t escape is the missing ingredient. Prayer.

I need to ask you to consider this next part of the post. The first part was about the disciples. This part is about you.

What are you trying to do today that can only happen…with success…by prayer?

Oh, you may be very spiritual. You may have great Biblical knowledge. You may even know the pastor personally. (Like that’s a big deal or something!) You may be a committed follower of Christ. You may have the “good attendance” pin. You may have a testimony. You know, the kind where everyone says “ooh” when you share it. You may be an example for others to follow. You may even give God the glory for great things He hath done!

But…you see — this kind — the kind you’re dealing with now — can only come out by prayer!

Today — whatever it is — no matter what people might think or say — turn it over to the God who loves you beyond your ability to understand! Let Him know you need Him and Him alone. Tell Him you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing!

PRAY! Pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Then get out of His way and let Him do His work!

You may now want to read THIS POST on prayer — Hezekiah’s example of effective prayer.

Is there something BIG that I can pray with you about?

12 Common Mistakes in Ministry Leadership

Erasing Oops !

I had the occasion over a couple months to ask some senior people in ministry the same question. Some were long retired. Others had 30, 40 even 50 years experience, but are still serving today. All would be considered to have finished — or be finishing — well.

Here was was the primary question:

Looking back, what were some of the biggest mistakes you made in ministry?

If you had it to do over — or you were advising me and others — what advice would you give?

The answers were so similar. I found myself putting check marks beside some of them. The wisdom was timeless. Even profound. Yet simple.

Here are 12 common mistakes in ministry leadership:

Failing to delegate.

Not seeing beyond yesterday or today.

Ignoring the real problems.

Refusing help when I needed it the most.

Not protecting my family enough and/or not continuing to date my wife.

Sacrificing my personal time with Jesus for my working for Jesus.

Celebrating only the spectacular.

Pretending everything is amazing.

Dreaming small dreams…or having no dreams at all.

Creating poor systems or having no systems at all.

Having too much structure or not having enough structure.

Not being vulnerable enough to a few close friends.

It was amazing to me how many of these are themes I consistently write about today. There is truly “nothing new under the son”. It was also encouraging what you can learn if you’re simply willing to ask. I’ve been a wisdom seeker all my life and I highly recommend it. Feel free to try this experiment at home with more senior ministers you know.

Of course, all of these have a story associated with them — as all good principles do. You could share your own. In fact, why don’t you?

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made — or are making — in ministry?

How a Man After God’s Own Heart Responds to Naysayers

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Those who seek my life lay their snares;

those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

I have become like a man who does not hear,

and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait;

it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Psalm 38:12-15

Contrary to some leader’s advice, I listen to critics. I understand we have to lead with those who believe in the vision, but I always feel I can learn from everyone — even those who disagree with me. I allow those I’m supposed to lead to cast objections to my plans and open myself up for correction — and yes, sometimes it hurts.

King David seemed to lead this way. We see several instances in his life where he was open to correction and criticism. He allowed those he was leading to speak into the situation and challenge his plan in 1 Samuel 23. Totally rare in those days. In 2 Samuel 16, David appears to take being cursed by another man, a man named Shimei, like a man — like a man after God’s own heart. Kings in those days — especially with the power of David — didn’t have to allow others to correct them — especially not with such violent accusations.

As a leader, David did not shelter himself from criticism or correction.

But, there’s a reality in leadership we can’t ignore. David, a “man after God’s own heart”, must have understood it.

Leader, you will never make everyone happy.

Some of us will try. Some of us take it personal when everyone isn’t happy with us. Some of us dislike conflict more than others.

But, the truth is, some people will always disagree with the decisions you make, because they disagree with you. They can’t buy into your vision, because they haven’t bought into you as the leader. That’s natural. It’s normal. It was even true for Christ in His leadership.

We should be open to input of others — even negative input. We should build collaboration as much as possible. We should do all we can to bring people along. We should make sure what we are doing is honorable.

But, at some point we move forward. And turn a deaf ear to the naysayers.

Because — in the end, David was leading for an audience of one. That’s how a man (or woman) after God’s own heart leads.

Thank you David for that gentle reminder.

We need it. Often.

7 Ways to Make Bad Decisions

hiding mistakes

I’ve made lots of bad decisions in my life. That includes my time in leadership — both in business and ministry, but I’ve also made plenty of bad decisions in family and personal situations. None of us set out to make bad decisions, but sometimes the way we make them can significantly increase or decrease the chance the quality of our decisions.

Granted, I’ve learned from every bad decision I’ve made. And, I’ve even repeated a few of them a few times — and still learned something. But, as much as I can, I want to make better decisions — the first time.

In my experience, there are a few common factors that lead to me making a bad decision.

Here are 7 ways to make bad decisions:

Make them too fast – I’ve learned that haste does indeed make waste. I make lots of decisions each day. I would be a poor leader if I couldn’t make most of them quickly. I’d always be stalled from my potential. When the potential outcome is significant, however, the more time I can give to it the less likely I am to make a mistake — certainly the ones that could have been avoided with more thought. Learning when to wait, seek God, the counsel of others and for better personal discernment is part of maturing, but can help us avoid some of the more costly bad decisions.

Make them too slow – Equally true, there are times when a fast decision is easy; even prudent. If I know the right answer — if it has a Biblical basis, for example, or my conscience is clearly convicted — but it is simply hard to implement, I’ve learned that waiting seldom makes the decision easier and often only complicates the process. I’m more likely to make a bad decision the longer I wait.

Make them to keep people happy – The right decision is seldom the popular decision. People pleasing as a decision motivator rarely accomplishes matters of worth. It often makes the worst decision of the options available.

Make them when angry – I don’t know about you, but I don’t think clearly when my emotions get in the way. If I’m angry — or emotional in any other way — I tend to overreact or under react. Emotionally based decisions, especially immediate decisions, are often ones I tend to regret later.

Make them alone – “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) A part of leadership involves standing alone at times, but rarely are we really alone. We should always walk in the counsel of God’s Spirit, and, in my experience, even when I have to make the decision seemingly alone — if I’m making wise decisions — it’s not really that I’m alone. I’m just ahead of where others know we need to go, but haven’t yet been willing to go. Building a collaborative environment as much as possible helps me avoid bad decisions.

Make them reactionary – Ultimately we want to work from a plan. We want to make decisions before the decision is needed. We want proactive decision-making. That’s obviously not always possible, but in my experience, I’m more likely to make a bad decision when I’m reacting to a situation, rather than having thought about the scenario and my response beforehand.

Make them out of fear – We are called to walk by faith, yet fear is often a more powerful initiator. But, I’ve learned, when I decide because I’m afraid to — or not to — do something, I almost always make a mistake. Following my faith gut, even when afraid, is part of leadership. And, part of life.

I’m sure there are many other ways to make a bad decision. These are some of my personal examples.

Which of these get in your way the most in making good decisions?

What are some ways you end up making bad decisions?

5 Thing I Have To Do, But Don’t Like Doing…as a Leader

leadership

A friend asked me once to name the things I do as a leader because I have to do, but don’t necessarily like to do. He even had a term for it. He called it the “underbelly of leadership”.

It was a great question, so I decided to share my answer here.

Here are 5 things I have to do as a leader, but don’t always like to do:

Managing – I much prefer leading a vision to managing the process of accomplishing the vision. I love big pictures, but stress over details. Part of my role, however, as a leader is to insure that the vision is actually accomplished and not simply painted. Many start. Few finish. Leading often starts very well. Managing effectively gets it done.

Correcting – I would rather receive the “Best Boss” award by being “Mr. Nice Guy”. Part of the leader’s responsibility, however, is to offer constructive criticism — and sometimes correction — so that the team gets better and the organization continues to improve.

Waiting – I know patience is a fruit of the Spirit, but it is the fruit I struggle with the most. I want accomplishment and I want it quick. I have to recognize, however, that fast is not always best and that others on my team are wired differently from me for a reason. They balance me well.

Submitting – I would rather have it my way. (Did I just admit that?) The fact is, however, there are smarter people than me on our staff about some issues and if things are only done my way we will be limited to my strength and not the strength of the team.

Failing – I like to win. I want success and progress. It is how I am wired and the desire for a win keeps me focused on accomplishing the vision through strategy and diligence. The fact remains, however, that some of my greatest growth times in life and leadership have come through times of failure. I have to allow failure in my life and in the life of our team and help us to learn ways to improve through failing.

Leaders, how would you answer the question?

What do you do because you have to do it, not necessarily because you want like to do it?

Are you a People Pleasing Pastor with your Board?

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This is a guest post by my pastor friend Charles Stone. Charles is lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada. His recent book People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership is a must read for pastors struggling with this issue or who want to lead growing churches.

Are you a People Pleasing Pastor with your Board?

Skinny, nerdy, and lacking much athletic ability, I grew up trying to get people to like me. Although I didn’t compromise my Christian values to gain popularity, I used other techniques to gain approval. Those techniques included profusely offering compliments to others, smiling a lot, and avoiding ruffled feathers. Slowly I developed people pleaser tendencies that followed me into ministry. Several years ago after I realized that I was becoming a people pleasing pastor, I began to change how I relate to my board that I’ve described below. Although I’ve made progress, I’m still in recovery.

For my just released book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I researched over 2,000 pastors and saw myself reflected in many of their stories. In one phase of on-line research pastors could anonymously record their pleaser stories. I gathered over 100 single spaced pages of stories, many of them heartbreakers. Here’s one pastor’s story that struck a chord in me.

For the first three years after coming to First Church, in the fall I would bring a list of recommended goals for the coming year for the church board to consider adopting for the church.  The third year I did it, the board asked me to discontinue this practice as they did not want the church to be a “pastor-driven” church.  They stated that someone other than the pastor should drive the goal-setting process.  This was a hard blow for me as I saw it as a rejection of me as their leader.  They wanted me to be their chaplain, but not their leader.  I honored their request and stopped bringing recommended goals to the church board.  However, I never really got over that experience and I have remained fearful about trying to take an active leadership role with the board ever since.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why I feel bored here and want to move on, but have no idea where to go next.

I felt the pain of this pastor because I’ve been tempted at times to replace my leadership role as a pastor with people pleasing. However, at my new church in London, Ontario, I have an excellent relationship with the board that I attribute to these new behaviors. I feel like I am fully free to lead yet not people please.

1. I listen a lot. I don’t assume I know it all. Having moved from the U.S. to Canada, I not only am having to adjust to a new church, but to a new culture as well. I’ve adopted a posture of listening and learning and in the first 60 days I’ve met with over 100 people in various venues simply to listen. The word has gotten out that I really want to listen. It has given me solid credibility with the church.

2. I over-communicate. Each week I send our board a quick summary of my week’s activities and learnings. I’ve also added a new feature in our weekly Sunday bulletin called, “Where’s Waldo (a.k.a. Charles).” In a paragraph I share a synopsis of what I did the week prior. An 80 year old church member told me that she enjoys reading what I’ve been doing. She said she never knew what a pastor did during the week.

3. I’ve become intensively collaborative. Many U.S. pastors have come to Canada and have failed because they’ve assumed a very dominant top down leadership style. It does not work in Canada (and probably not as well in the U.S. as it once did). I’ve  enjoyed listening to other’s ideas and incorporating their suggestions into my leadership. I’m not people pleasing in doing so. Rather, I’m honoring how the body of Christ should work together.

I still have a ways to go in my people pleaser recovery. But I’m making good progress and enjoying the journey.

What have you discovered that has helped you avoid people pleasing tendencies?

Related posts:

Are You a Pleaser Leader? Take this quiz and find out.

How Prevalent are People Pleasing Pastors?

Watch a promo video for the book here:

People Pleasing Pastor: Book Promo from Charles Stone on Vimeo.

12 Tweetable Principles in Ministry Leadership

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The change you most need to initiate will often be the hardest change to make.

The loss of power will always be a key objection to change.

People aren’t always taking this as seriously as you are. Remember, you aren’t taking their work as serious as they do either.

All criticism stings. Some more than others. Even when you need to hear it…it hurts.

Being a bad fit for the team doesn’t make someone a bad person.

The power of ministry is never limited when it comes from the right source.

Some of your greatest partners in ministry are often silent partners. When you need them most, God will reveal them.

Your greatest fear will likely be in an area where God can most use you.

Just because it is the right thing to do is no indication that everyone is going to love it.

You build greater loyalty in people when you share a common vision, not when you share common personalities.

People naturally resist what they can’t
understand. That makes casting vision…continually…a premier function of leadership.

You limit what you control.