Author Archives: rickwhitter

5 Quick (and Easy) Things You Can Do to Improve Your Leadership Skills

design1. Strategic Reading. No one who leads has a lot of extra time to read everything. And so much of what is available is redundant or shallow. Find your theme, do your research and read. Read less but read deep. Don’t try to retain everything or read too much, but read, and do so strategically.

2. Network with Similar Souls. You need to know you’re not alone. Isolation is dangerous. You need to be encouraged and you need to encourage another leader. Find a friend with whom you can commiserate. Make one another better.

3. Network with Someone who is Different. Don’t sleep with the enemy but find someone who opposes you, stands for the “other side” of things. Don’t argue; dialogue. Don’t seek to change them, seek to gain info, understand more deeply, and learn.

4. Commit to Grow (until you die). When you stop improving, you start failing. Keep learning new things; stay challenged. This requires humility and passion.

5. Serve someone. Don’t look for someone who can pay you back. Don’t serve to be seen. Find someone who doesn’t deserve it. Serve them. Keep quiet about it. Service is the core of leadership.

Ok, I misled you. I said in the title that these things are quick and easy. They are neither. In actuality, these things are hard, sometimes very hard. However, the more you practice them, the quicker and easier they will become. And the impact they will have on your leadership skills makes them well worth the effort. Put them into practice, you and those you lead will be glad you did.
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A Call for Humility

IMG_2194There is irony in anyone writing an article on the topic of humility. How does one become arrogant and presumptuous enough to address the need for humility in others? Indulge me for a moment.

Andrew Murray said, “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” It seems that not enough of heaven is living in our world today. We know that until the Kingdom of Christ is established, we will struggle with the human dilemma of pride. But the pain of division, strife and war, much of it caused by our arrogance, is staggering. It seems that some adjustments must be made.

We think that our way is superior. We believe that we are better than others. We dare to assume we know more about others than they know about themselves. We have the nerve to determine the best course of life for those around us. We presume that our opinion is God’s opinion. “The proud wish God would agree with them. They are not interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.” (Ezra Taft Benson) The whole time, we ignore our lack of humility.

Humility may be defined as “a modest view of one’s importance.” We are not to demean or disrespect ourselves. But the Bible instructs us to not think too highly of ourselves. (Romans 12:3) It is a struggle for many. We think our opinions are always right – it is human nature.

But the damage that is done in relationships by a lack of humility is immeasurable.

Not only does a lack of humility destroy relationships, it destroys us. “Time and time again does the pride of man influence his very own fall. While denying it, one gradually starts to believe that he is the authority, or that he possesses great moral dominion over others, yet it is spiritually unwarranted. By that point he loses steam; in result, he falsely begins trying to prove that unwarranted dominion by seizing the role of a condemner.” (Criss Jami, Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile)

I feel compelled to ask you, please consider a more humble approach to life. If you spend time pointing out the faults of others. If you assume that you know more than others know. If you think that you are superior to others. If you disrespect others. If you refuse to consider that you could be wrong. If your opinion is God’s opinion. There is a problem.

The problem with humility is, if it is missing, one may not detect it. We can spot it in others, but we can’t detect it in ourselves.

A moment of quiet reflection: Take a few minutes to sit still and listen to the Lord. Allow Him, if necessary, to point out areas where you may be suffering from a lack of humility. I promise you, I am doing this right now and I have much work to be done in this area.

And hence, as I write about humility, I must be humble enough to consider that I could be all wrong!


Poison for Pastors

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Socrates’ hemlock.

The Borgia family’s arsenic.

Claudius’ “nightshade.”

These are some famous poisons and the victims done in by them.

Their effects were swift, and effective. The poison did its job; the people died.

Just as sure as these historical figures were contaminated to death, modern pastors are being poisoned. Hopefully the Deacon Board is not involved! Yet subtly and painfully, the toxins are working to destroy the hearts and lives of countless ministers of the Gospel.

We may assume a pastor’s poison to be sexual or involving money or some other type of moral corruption. But the venoms I am concerned with today are perhaps more subtle, yet more common. They do not destroy the organs like the chemical poisons do; rather, they destroy the spirits, hearts and souls of their victims.

Let’s discuss 3 very common enemies (poisons) of today’s ministers.

Cynicism

While not as newsworthy as an illicit affair, cynicism has destroyed more than it’s fair share of pastors.

Cynical is defined as: distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

If you’ve met a few ministers, odds are you’ve seen this on display. A cynical attitude is impossible to hide. It usually shows up when others are optimistically discussing a concept, a new idea, or a vision for the future. Cynics have lost the ability to trust. So they reject optimism as impossible or unlikely.

The reason so many pastors become cynics is simple: they have endured too much disappointment.

Skepticism

Closely related to cynicism is skepticism. A skeptic is “a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.” They question the authenticity and validity of things that others believe to be accurate and trustworthy.

It is easy for a pastor to become a skeptic. They may still hold to the integrity of the Scriptures (although some do not) but the behaviors of the people around them have caused these Pastors to learn to doubt. Mistrust is a rallying cry for many in today’s culture. There is no benefit of the doubt; people are guilty until proven innocent.

It is sad to see good leaders project such a negative and poisonous attitude. But it is common.

Following closely behind cynicism and skepticism is:

Sarcasm – “a harsh or bitter derision or irony.” Sarcasm is made visible with a sneer, with a cutting remark or with a verbal taunt. Sarcastic leaders are dangerous in that they often openly share their sarcasm. I have heard more than one preacher reveal his sarcastic heart while preaching the Word of God. It is not a pretty sight.

Though these poisons are different, they share the same source – pain.

Leading is painful. Leaders get hurt. It is impossible to avoid the pain that is associated with leading. So the solution is not to hide from pain.

In my opinion, there are 2 approaches to protecting ourselves against the poison of pastors:

Prevention and antidote.

Pastor friends, please protect yourself, not from the pain of leading, but from the hardening of your heart that comes as a result of the pain. You already know Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Keep your heart safe. Keep it tender. Keep it vulnerable. But keep it free from poison. If you fail to keep the poison out of your heart, you ministry, life and future will be contaminated.

But the truth is, many of us are in need of the life-saving antidote. We’ve already been poisoned and we are feeling the effects. We’re now searching for remedies. We need an antitoxin to nullify the effects of skepticism, cynicism and sarcasm.

The antidote for these poisons is the Holy Spirit. He can make all things new. He can heal our brokenness. Only the Holy Spirit can reverse the effects of these soul toxins.

Leaders, if we do not address these issues, the outcome will not be good. Not only will we destroy ourselves but others will also suffer.

  • Cynical leaders lead bitter followers.
  • Skeptical leaders produce faithless followers.
  • Sarcastic leaders develop hopeless followers.

We can and must do better. If you need help, reach out. You’re not alone.

Prayer: Father, make our hearts tender before you. Heal our brokenness. Forgive us for becoming hardhearted. Remove the poison from our systems. Teach us to love and trust and serve once again. And protect us from future attacks of these dreaded poisons. In Christ’s name, Amen.

(all definitions from dictionary.com)


How Can We Get More People at Church?

32327067_10156408424934214_8372441171867205632_nWe beg, we plead, we guilt trip and we promote. Still, the vast majority of people in our communities will never set foot in our churches. Some statistics reveal an all-time low in church attendance. We can blame the people – their priorities are wrong and they don’t love God. Or we can consider offering a more “entertaining” worship experience. But does this actually solve the problem?

I talk with Pastors who get discouraged when they put on a community event on Saturday and no one from the event shows up at the church the next day. The reason they aren’t there on Sunday is because you invited them to an event on Saturday. If you can connect the event with an actual worship service, your numbers may increase. But we still may not see the long term result we desire.

In my opinion, the best way to get people to attend your church is to minister to them before they attend. By “minister”, I mean actually making a difference in their lives. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

We must understand that “hyping” a worship service probably doesn’t help in the long run. Without coming across as critical, some churches appear to prefer a hard sell approach. Making all kinds of promises about having the most exciting service in town is counterproductive. It may result in a quick bump in attendance but eventually people will tire of the hype. Additionally, if you try to impress people into coming, you’ll then have to impress them to keep them coming. And I have visited the website of a church I planned to visit. The pictures portrayed an exciting atmosphere and the verbiage described an energetic and life-transforming ministry experience. Then I visited the church. Let’s just say that some churches may get sued for false advertisement.

Big promises had better be fulfilled or irreparable damage could be done. But big promises, even fulfilled, don’t necessarily result in more people showing up at church.

Here is a key to this entire topic: more people at church shouldn’t be the goal. More ministry is the goal. And more ministry results in more people in church services. So everybody wins.

Let’s understand that people simply coming to church may not be the solution. For the average person who is unfamiliar with church, the idea is frightening. They don’t know what’s going on, they are uncomfortable and the experience can feel awkward. And once the service concludes, they hightail it out of there. So, they’ve, “been there and tried that”, with no plans of coming back. All that work to get them there is wasted.

Now let’s get back to ministering to people before they arrive at church. This is almost always accomplished in relationships. Pastors must know people outside the church. They should be involved in the community. They should have friends that don’t attend their church. Church members and leaders should be fully engaged in community life. This means we can’t spend all of our time at the church.

So Pastors, ministry leaders and church members: think about who you know outside of the church. Now, what needs do they have that you can address? Pastor, they probably don’t need you to write and deliver an excellent sermon and they won’t be impressed by your level of ministerial credentials. Your advanced degrees mean very little to anyone other than you. Church leaders and members: hurting people in the community are not looking for another commitment or something to do on Sunday morning. People need something more.

At the risk of putting off some, let me use some alliteration to make my point.

If you hope to minister to more people, embrace the “3 C’s.”

Connect: Get to know people. Don’t stay in your church building. Get out into the community. Know and be known.

Care: People can spot ulterior motives a mile away. If you are connecting with someone just so you can get them into your church, well – please don’t. Genuine care is impossible to fake and impossible to ignore.

Compassion: Connecting and caring is motivated by true compassion. Everyone needs it. As spiritual shepherds, Pastors must be moved by hurting sheep. Church members who practice grace and mercy are a church’s greatest advertisement. Compassion opens the door to effective life-changing ministry, and at times, is ministry itself.

I believe that, at this time in our culture, more people are being brought to Jesus outside of the church building than inside. This certainly is the New Testament model for evangelism. If we lead people to Christ before they even arrive at church, our desire to assimilate into the family them will be easier.

We all want a full church. But more than that, we want people to know and love the Lord. The best way to see this happen is to love people right where they are. Think about it; it’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him – He came to us!

Be blessed!


Not Everyone Wants You to Succeed

30705103_10156353004229214_3194911651212840577_nMost people in the church are good. The vast majority of the people whom I have served as a pastor or in ministry in general had pure motives and could be trusted. But there are a few, just a minority, that seek to destroy, or at least are happy when destruction comes.

A church member once told me that she has purposefully not spoken to me in 2 months. She wanted to see how long it would take me to approach her. She was testing me – and I failed. Apparently she couldn’t take it any longer and let me know that I messed up. I apologized for my oversight. I hadn’t neglected her on purpose. There were about 500 other people in the church with whom I was trying to interact. Clearly, she wanted me to fail – she set me up – and it worked.

As a college student, I worked part time as a church janitor. For the record, this was the best ministry training I ever received. One of the Deacons secretly placed a toothpick in the corner of the restroom floor as a way of checking to see if I was doing my job. Thankfully, I had been doing my job and the Deacon let me know. But I often wondered what other traps he had set for me.

Once again, most folks are good folks and want others to succeed. But there are a few snakes in the grass. They are the saboteurs; the underminers. They set traps and lurk in the corner, waiting for the next victim.

What is the motivation for this type of behavior?

Some want others to fail because it makes them feel better about their own failure.

Some want us to fail so they can swoop in like a vulture to steal away what we have worked for.

Some are wicked and seek to destroy anything good.

Clearly, these people are dysfunctional. And they can ruin the lives of others.

What are we supposed to do about this?

Guard yourself! Be aware that not everyone is on your side, even if they repeatedly say they are.

Be slow to trust people. Don’t place your reputation in the hands of unproven individuals.

Work hard so as to remove any opportunity for these people to try to make you look bad.

But more than any of these things…

Keep your heart soft and your spirit tender.

My motivation for writing this article is to try to help prevent colleagues from becoming bitter about the pain they endure. Too many leaders who have been in the game for a while get injured. They drop their guard and get blindsided. The result is, they become overly sensitive, defensive and suspicious. Over time, the heart becomes calloused. This is an attempt at self-preservation but the result is self-destruction.

When we begin to expect the worst out of people, this is what we will experience. Let’s understand the concept of self-fulfilling prophets. They are the people who state that a project or person will fail – and they do everything in their power to assure that they are correct. If we are not careful, we can adopt this as a leadership style. If we expect people to stab us in the back, we can create the opportunity for that to happen. Don’t allow your pain to provide ammo for those who are trying to hurt you more.

Don’t allow yourself to expect the worst. Don’t get bitter. Forgive those who hurt you, even if they don’t want or deserve it.

If you can survive the attempts to make you fail, your success rate will increase. But more importantly, you will maintain a pure heart, which is vitally important for success. In fact, these days, having a pure heart may be THE definition of success.

Add to all this, the knowledge that God wants you to succeed! So much so that He provides a surefire way to insure it:

Study this Book (the Scriptures) of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8 (NLT)


Encouragement for the Dis-Couraged Leader

designI purposefully hyphenated the word discouraged.

The prefix “dis” is defined this way: “a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.” (dictionary.com)

So, a person who is discouraged is the opposite of courageous. Perhaps not cowardly, but certainly far from brave.

Unfortunately, this describes many leaders I know. Confidence eludes them. Optimism is a million miles away. Is this because they are poor leaders? I don’t think so. I think the source of discouragement is much deeper than a performance consideration. But rather than dig into the cause of discouragement for leaders, I want to spend a moment exploring reasons to be encouraged.

Think about this:

You see only with your eyes. The true measure of your work is probably unseen physically but it is revealed spiritually. In other words, you don’t know the good you are accomplishing. Don’t get too down over a lack of measurable progress. I think you are having a greater impact that you realize.

You are not called to be successful in the eyes of the world; you are called to be faithful to your God. Our culture measures success by the amount of money and fame we possess. Like the weather, these things can change in a moment. God defines success by faithfulness. You’ll never be a celebrity, but you will be rewarded for obeying the Lord – whether or not you are famous.

You are not alone. Leading is the loneliest job in the world and sometimes the solitude can result in discouragement. Jesus has promised to be with you to the very end. And you have colleagues who care about you. Maybe they are too busy to let you know, but you are important to them. And by the way, don’t be too busy to check in on your leader-friends.

Your discouragement can actually become a tool to help others. Most of the people you lead are currently dealing with a similar issue. They are looking for a way through the puzzle. Who better to lead them than one who has recently escaped from the maze of discouragement? If you stay stuck in the trap of being downcast, they will stay stuck with you. Lead yourself and others out of the cloud of discouragement.

Your hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. One of the sources of discouragement is fatigue. We simply get tired of pushing the rock up the hill with no end in sight. Anybody can be happy when everything is going well. But true leaders have to forge ahead against the wind and in the face of lots of opposition. This can wear you down. But please be aware that the investments you are making now will have big results. It is a spiritual law that cannot be broken – you reap what you sow. If you will be faithful, even in the little things, God will multiply it.

One day, when the journey is finished, I believe that you will receive the ultimate affirmation. The Scriptures tell us that, if we remain faithful, we will stand before the Lord and will hear His words: “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in the small things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter in to the joy of the Lord!” How awesome is that? While you may not see the finish line, it’s close. Don’t give up!

Rather than offer a lot of spiritual-sounding clichés, here is something practical: It’s the leaders in the world who make things happen. It’s not easy (it if was, everyone would do it!). If you are compelled to be a leader, you must lead. The only other option is quitting and then you become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Steel yourself; prepare your heart. Strengthen your backbone. Develop greater courage. And if you need help with this, reach out to another leader. They get what you’re going through.

Finally, glean from the truth of this passage: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again–my Savior and my God!” (Psalms 43:5)

Dis-Couraged Leader, encourage yourself! Lead on!


An Artificial Mission

IMG_1633We must stay on Mission!

Dictionary.com defines Mission this way:

  • the business with which a group is charged.
  • any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed:
  • an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation:

This is the “why” of what we do. Mission is our meaning, our purpose, that which drives us, the thing that keeps us moving forward. Mission is not just a group or organization thing. Every individual should be aware of his or her God-given mission. You’ve been put on earth for a particular reason. This is your “Mission.”

But, without doubt, all of us get “off mission” from time to time. We create our own “artificial mission.”

Inc. Magazine says: “As every company gets older and matures, especially around its tenth anniversary and after, it can be become difficult to remember the reasons why it was founded in the first place. When you look to those organizations that have been around 30 to 50 years and older, it can be really hard to believe you’re talking about the same place.”

This is true of companies, of churches, and of individuals.

We all experience “mission drift.” This is where we slowly and sometimes subtly veer away from our mission and lose sight of our intended goal.

So, What Happens to Mission?

For those who are called by God to do a work in the world, our Mission is sacred; it is a calling from God. Because of the nature of our Mission, it is perpetually under attack. There is an enemy of the Mission. He will do anything necessary in order to sidetrack you.

This is when what I refer to as the war of attrition can occur. After a season of resistance, pushback and opposition, the Mission can soften. We lose our edge. We can get sidetracked – defending the Mission, debating the details of the Mission or trying to validate how important the Mission really is. Rather than living on Mission, we tolerate substitutes.

Now, enter the concept of the subtle creep of the Mission. It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. The drift is unintentional and difficult to discern, but it is persistent. And the results are just as devastating as an abrupt and intentional abandonment of the Mission.

“Getting eaten by a whale or nibbled to death by minnows results in the same thing, although one demise is easier to diagnose.” Steve Haas, World Vision

Peter Greer and Chris Horst wrote a great book entitled, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches. They say, “Without careful attention, faith-based organizations drift from their founding mission. It’s that simple. It will happen. Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations routinely drift from their purpose, and many never return to their original intent. Harvard and the YMCA are among those that no longer embrace the Christian principles on which they were founded. But they didn’t drift off course overnight. Drift often happens in small and subtle ways. Left unchecked, it eventually becomes significant.”

Here is the my main point today:

When we begin to fail in regard to fulfilling our Mission, we create an alternative mission.

Because we don’t know how to refocus on the Mission, we create a reactionary mission. We may feel guilty about our lack of progress. We may get frustrated about the lack of positive movement. We may feel pressured to produce something of substance. We need a break from the pressure. So we develop a “pseudo-mission.”

An alternative or reactionary or “pseudo” mission can look like: finances, politics, or the latest natural disaster. Granted, these things are important and should certainly be someone’s mission. But if they are not your God-given mission, don’t allow them to take over your focus.

When churches get off mission from the Great Commission (to make Disciples), they adopt another vision. This mission may be politics. It could be social justice. Perhaps homelessness or prolife issues or acceptable Bible versions can take center stage. But, even though these are important topics, they are not The Mission of the Church. Substitute or counterfeit missions succeed in one thing: to pull us off Mission.

I am learning a great deal about this topic from Todd Wilson’s book, Multipliers; Leading Beyond Addition. Todd discussed the possibility of having a substitute mission that becomes an idol. When we place a secondary issue above that which God prioritizes, we create false idols. Wilson reminds us that church historians have shown that every Christian has two callings: a primary calling and a secondary calling. All Christians share the primary calling of making disciples. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 details this. Our secondary callings, (passions, drives, interests and burdens) which drive our activism, must be kept in proper check – subservient to our primary calling.

I love the way Wilson explains this. God gives us our secondary calling to help fulfill our primary calling. It must never be turned around!

What this means to me is Christians must never focus only on:

Politics

Social welfare

Race relations

Pro-life movement

Homelessness

Recovery

Parentless children

Substance abuse

Addictions

Gun control

Elder care

Bus ministry

Feeding the hungry

Church Planting

Church growth

Leadership development

Education reform

Door-to-door witnessing

Divorce recovery

Youth Ministry

You get the idea.

These issues are all necessary and important and vital to our work. But they are not The Mission; they are part of the mission – perhaps a secondary mission.

The thing about substitute mission is it leaves you feeling empty. You work diligently to accomplish it, but once it is accomplished, there is no fulfillment. Or you work hard and expect everyone else to assist. But they don’t because they have their own secondary mission (and get frustrated at you for not helping them!) This is because the substitute is… a substitute. Only The Mission and the accomplishment of it will bring us to true completion.

There is One Mission: Make Disciples. That’s it.

You have one job. You have one Mission. You also have a secondary mission. I don’t know what your secondary mission is but I’m guessing you do. Whatever it is, do that. But please focus on the primary Mission. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t allow your Mission to get hijacked. It’s too important. If God commissioned you with that mission, the world needs it.

No more artificial mission!