Can Kickers, or the Hezekiah Syndrome: Selling out Future Generations

27459680_10156150146009214_7268989353369031812_nIt’s commonly referred to as “kicking the can down the road.” This is when a leader refuses to deal with an issue that will have negative ramifications – later. The idea is, as long as I am gone when everything hits the fan, I’m good with that.

One of the most notorious cases of “can kicking” happened a few thousand years ago. The Bible tells the story of King Hezekiah who foolishly showed off all of the national treasures to visitors from a distant land. Isaiah (who was a prophet) addressed the trouble that would come as a result of Hezekiah’s mistake:

Then Isaiah spoke to Hezekiah, “Listen to what God has to say about this: The day is coming when everything you own and everything your ancestors have passed down to you, right down to the last cup and saucer, will be cleaned out of here—plundered and packed off to Babylon. God’s word! Worse yet, your sons, the progeny of sons you’ve begotten, will end up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” (II Kings 20:16-19 MSG)

This is a little shocking. How, in good conscience can a king show such disregard for his family and descendants?

Take another look: Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” In other words, I really don’t care about what happens to people in the future – I’m OK.

Prototypical “kicking the can down the road!”

In a nutshell, here is the root of the Hezekiah syndrome:

Selfishness: when leaders care more about their wellbeing than that of those they lead, the phenomenon occurs.

Shortsightedness: when leaders can’t anticipate the long-term results of their decisions, those in the future may suffer.

When leaders don’t care about those who will come behind them, careless and even cruel decisions can be made.

When leaders are too weak to make decisions that are good for their progeny, the Hezekiah syndrome will reveal itself.

And this last “root” is worth focusing upon.

It is possible that leaders in 2018 may make decisions (or refuse to make decisions) that will hurt their children, grandchildren and many generations to come. If I am hurting the future by ignoring an issue today, shame on me.

If you are a leader and you observe a problem that may hurt others down the road, and if you have the capacity to address that problem, it would be a dereliction of duty to let it go. True, the results may not come about on your watch but it is immoral to be able to prevent future pain and not do so.

Leaders, our children need us to be strong. Our grandkids are counting on us having a backbone. If we see a problem that is fixable, fix it!

Now, apply the principles of the Hezekiah syndrome to your family, your business, your church, your community, your country… Your descendants will thank you!

What if My Church isn’t Spiritual Enough?

designIf you’ve been attending a church for any significant length of time, you’ve experienced it: the service where nothing seems to flow. It feels tight. The music isn’t engaging, the sermon is dry, the crowd is down, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions rather than entering into the presence of God. I think this type of experience is inevitable although we should never accept it as OK. But what if this type of service has become the norm? What should one do if the spiritual climate of the local church is tepid at best. Long stretches of dead services are a sign of real trouble for a church. What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me?

How long has it been since someone came to Christ in your church? How long since there has been a significant move of the Holy Spirit? I am not talking about a “feel good” service where everybody was happy. I mean a time when God was so evidently present that everyone knew it, and responded, and lives were changed. I think a key question that church leaders should ask, without fail, while evaluating the effectiveness of a worship experience is: did the people encounter God? If they did not, it’s time for something to change!

The truth is, too many churches are stuck is a rut of mundaneness. Week after week nothing remarkable occurs. The people have stopped expecting anything to happen. There is no sense of urgency, passion has faded and everything is predictable. We might describe the church as “not anointed”, boring, cold, or, as a former pastor used to say, “dry as cracker juice!”

What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me? What should we do when this happens?

I would like to approach this topic from the perspective of a church member. Perhaps later I will address church leaders and pastors on the subject.

In my opinion, a key mistake many of us make is to perceive the church as an organization. It can easily appear as another institution. While it may be reasonable to do so, we must see the church as something so much more.

God strategically established the church as an organism; the living breathing Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to explain the deep spiritual nature of the church and he utilizes the body metaphor to do so. When we gather on Sundays for corporate worship, it is so much more than another institutional meeting. God has summoned the Body of Christ to gather for the purpose of worshiping Him!

There are many reasons why this body metaphor is important, especially when considering the dry times that we inevitably experience. Among the greatest reason is – we each play a key role in the health of the Body of Christ.

Regarding church services, there is a huge difference between spectators and participants. Worship was never intended to be a “spectator sport.” Of course, ministers play a key role in leading worship services but the Bible identifies little if any distinction between clergy and laity. Everyone in the church should play a key role in church services.

Think of it this way: your spiritual development is not primarily your pastor’s responsibility. While they are to shepherd you, you must assume the responsibility for your own discipleship. This is also true when it comes to worship services. Sure, the pastor leads but if folks don’t follow, it will be a disconnected experience. Everyone has the responsibility to make the church gathering better.

I think some church members require a higher level of spirituality from their church services than they require for themselves. Keep in mind, the “church” is made up of individuals and the church is only as spiritually developed as the individual people are. We are simply a sum of the parts. Of course, Christ is the Head of the Church but we are the various parts of the Body. If each of us will pursue spiritual maturity, our churches will also move closer to God. If we come to church with an attitude of expectation and surrender to the Lord, great things are bound to happen. On the other hand, if we come to services disinterested and apathetic, nothing will happen.

So, rather than feeling as though the church is lagging (and sometimes complaining about it), perhaps we should focus on ourselves. No more, “I’m not being fed” or “I wish we had a more exciting church”. Rather, accept the responsibility to be a positive influencer; make the church better. Do whatever it takes to bring life to the Body of Christ.

We are the Church! Let’s enjoy it.

We Live in a Name-Calling Culture!

26815563_10156093646594214_7222317202598643064_nLike a nightmare revisit to Junior High, we are now bombarded in the media with people calling other people by ugly names. It is not only tolerable, but in some circles, quite fashionable to refer to others by using derogatory titles. Those who complain about the politically correct emphasis under which we live must be delighted. Apparently, you can call someone whatever you want as long as you think it is true (and it drives home your ideological point).

Think about it, words like, snowflake, extremist, troll, radical, elitist, and misogynist, show up in the news many days. Deplorable, fascist, teabagger, Trumpkin left-wing, nut job, Libtard, SJW (Social Justice Warrior), and so on are widely acceptable names that we hear frequently in public. Hashtag any one of these names and run it through Twitter – you may be surprised how often they show up.

There is a whole slew of names I wouldn’t dare put in print because they are so distasteful and offensive. Yet, they frequent our headlines and lunchroom discussions.

This is not a new phenomenon. But something about this type of language is relatively new: we’re not in Junior High anymore.

When the leaders of our country blow up social media most days by referring to their political counterparts in disrespectful ways, we can readily expect the citizens to follow. As I have found myself repeating a lot recently, people follow leaders. Think about that for a minute.

For the Believer in Christ (a name I prefer), there is a better way.

Consider what these passages indicate:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9

Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. Ecclesiastes 10:12

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

These verses indicate that we are not to use our words to hurt others. Our tongues can be a blessing or a curse, but they cannot be both. If you are a Christian (another term of endearment), sanctify your mouth. In others words, say only the things that build up other people. I am not indicating that we pretend that bad people are good. But there is no good accomplished when we call one another names.

There are several obvious problems with name-calling:

  • It is an effort to make others look bad. This is a well-known defense mechanism – we try to make ourselves look good by making others look bad. By the way, this doesn’t work.
  • It is an attempt to control a situation. I think name-calling is a bully tactic.
  • It hurts individuals. Many of us still live with the ugly results of monikers that were placed on us as children.
  • It makes us sound unintelligent. Educated people have improved vocabularies, and not so we can more effectively offend one another.
  • It reduces the chance for healing in relationships. It is nearly impossible to reason with a person whom you have destroyed with your words.
  • It sometimes ends intelligent dialogue. Once some names are applied, the conversation ends.
  • It is disrespectful.

In my opinion, when we spend our time identifying others by degrading or demeaning terms, we are revealing a weakness in our own hearts. Recall what Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

For the Believer, there us a higher calling.

If an individual does not know Christ, our calling is to reconcile them to Him. Can we possibly accomplish this by insulting them with a profane label?

We can do better. Please don’t follow our politicians. Let’s allow our spirits to mature. Of course there are those with whom we disagree. But let’s focus on how we may minister grace to them rather than humiliate and degrade them.

Love you all!

Things Christians should stop saying about the President

26220008_10156078309834214_8874137867936784925_n1. He is better than the alternative

2. God placed him in office

3. He’s not perfect, no one is.

4. Don’t judge him, that is for God alone.

5. He’s the President, not a Pastor.

  1. This statement may be true, but how pitiful is it that we have accepted that no decent and moral person can lead us? We cannot allow our leaders to be less than morally good and decent people.
  2. Absolutely, without doubt, God placed our current President in office. He has placed all leaders of all times in office. This is by no means an indication that God approves of the behaviors and attitudes of the President.
  3. Our President is not perfect. But He is the leader of the free world. It is acceptable to expect a leader to behave in ways that we can follow. Leaders – followers, think about it.
  4. We cannot judge anyone, only God knows the heart. But the Bible is very clear that a tree shall be known by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Only God looks at the heart. But we utilize our common sense and judgment in every other relationship. Why cannot we do the same with the President?
  5. We do not expect our President to be a pastor but we would hope that he/she could lead us into a healthy and productive life. Is it too much to ask that our leader be a person of kindness, integrity and composure? It is not too much to expect that we can expose our children to our national leader without embarrassment.

Saying the things listed above makes Christians sound uninformed. It is much more helpful to enter into intelligent dialogue. Politics and religion are not the same thing. We must stop equating one with the other. It is entirely possible that God doesn’t have a preference of political parties because neither reflects perfectly the Kingdom of God. That is why our hope is not in the systems of this world.

“My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jesus in John 18:36)

My Goals for 2018: Less

 

designLess excess.

Less idle time.

Less excuses for a lack of progress.

Less careless communication.

Less “me time.”

Less hurt caused by my decisions.

Less stress.

Less blaming.

Less junk food and sitting.

Less ignoring individuals I come across.

Less driving.

 

Less is more.

 

The Christmas Gift That Everyone Needs

24293970_10155971182684214_1901089510484304777_nRegardless of how hard we try, the gift-giving season can create pressure. Whether it is trying to figure out what to buy that person “who has everything” or how to answer the question, “what would you like for Christmas?”, Christmas gifts can cause stress. This is so sad, considering the simplicity that is intended by the idea of gift exchange.

If we did not know better, we would ask for and try to purchase gifts that have real meaning. Peace in the world, an end to starvation and sickness, universal love and joy… none of us are naïve enough to even dream of such gifts. So in their place, we spend lots of money on gadgets and trinkets and ugly Christmas sweaters!

At the risk of appearing idealistic, I want to offer an idea for a gift that everyone needs. This gift is the purpose behind the concept of Christmas. This is the reason that God sent His Son, born of a virgin, into this world.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

The baby Jesus came as a sacrifice. He didn’t come to earth at that time to start another religion or to set up His earthly Kingdom or to overthrow the government. Jesus came to die, to resurrect, to ascend to heaven and to eventually come back. The purpose of the incarnation was to redeem humankind and to reconcile us back to God. This process of the coming of the Savior is what provides the possibility of our salvation.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

If we will be honest, it’s not the boxes of candy or Chia Pets or cheap cologne that we want and need. We need to see souls saved. If I could have anything I want for Christmas this year, it would be for friends and loved ones to come to know Christ. The problem is, asking my family for such a gift would be unfair. You see, they do not have the ability to wrap up this gift and put it under our tree. We can’t give the gift of salvation for Christmas. Or can we?

Salvation cannot be purchased online or in a crowded department store. There is only one source where forgiveness of sins and new life can be found – in a relationship with Jesus. So, is it possible for us to give the gift of a saved soul? Perhaps, if we learn how to focus on this most important gift throughout the holiday season.

Rather than scouring the store shelves for the perfect gift, let’s give the gift of a redeemed life. Instead of stressing out over the holidays, let’s model how a true Christian behaves. We can show and share the love of Christ with those we meet. We can focus on the salvation of lost souls in every event, church service, social gathering and family get-together.

You can participate in giving the gift of a lost soul for Christmas. If you don’t currently live for Christ, make the decision to do so today. If you do live for Christ, let that relationship show in every possible way this Christmas season.

Christmas 2017 has the potential to be the best ever, but not by spending a boatload of money for things we don’t need. Let’s invest ourselves in seeing people come to Christ this Christmas season.

We all need the gift of a saved soul!

 

 

Dangers for Pastors (part 3)

24301207_10155971895294214_2209181443603559335_nWe will wrap up the theme of dangers for pastors with today’s post. I don’t for a minute think that we have covered every possible topic available. I simply need to move on to some new ideas.

The basic thesis is, the most dangerous thing in a pastor’s life and ministry probably has nothing to do with physical threats or the concern of someone coming into the church to hurt people physically. There are more subtle, sneaky ways that our enemy can destroy us.

In addition to the 24 things listed in the previous two posts, let’s consider these dangers:

Not evaluating. Whether out of neglect or intimidation, many pastors never stop what they are doing long enough to evaluate what is working and what is not. We may be left to assume that everything is going well and everyone is happy. We can even adopt the mentality that, “if it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it.” I have real concern about this approach to ministry. First of all, pastors may not know if everything is going well. Simply because people tolerate something doesn’t mean it is working. Secondly, pastors are sometimes the last to find out when something is broken. I think it is very important for a pastor to lead the way in evaluating the effectiveness of every aspect of the ministry. Measure it. Get input from others. Create open dialogue about how to make things better. Do yourself a favor – don’t make others be the ones to ask for an evaluation.

Forgetting motives. Religion is known for ritual. While there is nothing wrong with ritual and, in fact, ritual can be very healthy for people, we should continually be asking why we do the things we do and why we do them the way that we do them. It is common to do things in the church without ever considering the “why.” We set our schedules based on history. We have particular ministry events because we have always had those events. We sing music, teach classes and provide training – sometimes because it’s the only way we know how to do ministry. But WHY do we do ministry that way? Why is Prayer Meeting on Tuesday night? Why do we pass the offering plate rather than ask people to come up to the front to give? Why does the Youth Group meet in the basement? Why do we sell fried chicken to pay the bills? Rather than becoming paralyzed by asking the “why” question, we may find ourselves liberated. Many traditions in our churches have no meaning. If they are significant, by all means do them. If there is purpose, be intentional about it. But if much of our ministry is being done only because that’s the way it’s always been done, well – there is a whole new world of exciting and effective ministry awaiting us! Remember the WHY!

Copying ministry. It’s only natural; we learn how to do things by observing others. In ministry, we can be exposed to a particular ministry practice that really seems to be working. It is tempting to try to duplicate that at our church. While I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with doing this, we may be doing our church a disservice. Pastor, don’t try to preach like the well-know television preacher. Don’t steal sermons from other pastors. Don’t have a goal to be like the church across town. You are an original. Your church is unique. The people that God has entrusted to your care need and deserve something specifically designed by God for them. My friend Dwayne Harris said that we are in danger of, “losing the individuality of our calling. If not careful, we can find ourselves trying to mimic and duplicate the success of others, as opposed to discovering God’s individual and unique design for our personal ministry.” A pastor whom I respect greatly said, “I think one danger in every Pastor’s life is loosing His identity. Becoming someone else rather than what God would want him to be. There is a danger of one patterning their life after someone whom they deem to be much more qualified than themself.” (Harold Miller) While this may sound like intense pressure (who has time to come up with all original stuff?), if all you offer folks is what you got somewhere else, they don’t need you, do they? Seriously, this is not only about job security but don’t be a spiritual middleman (or woman). Hear from God directly for the people you serve. Know them and the issues they are dealing with. Find something fresh from God’s Word that applies to their lives.

Being Emotionally Needy: I must exercise care on this one. While Pastors are people too, and they have needs that must be addressed, it is a dangerous thing to lead a church so one can receive the affirmation they need. If we are not in a good place emotionally, we can find ourselves rising and falling, based upon the interactions we receive at church. Darrin Brown tells us, ”be careful of the pride of success and the discouragement of failure. Do not define success or failure by man’s expectations, but in obedience to God and His word.” We can sometimes feel successful because someone said we did a good job. And we can be defeated and feel like a failure when criticism comes. Pastors must be emotionally stable enough that they don’t require others to build them up, or allow others to tear them down. Get your affirmation from your family and from the Lord. Don’t allow your self-worth to be determined by those whom you serve.

Worshipping Success: My friend, Jason Daughdrill discusses this in an eloquent way. “Success… it’s a dangerous blessing. Passionate obedience, which usually is the catalyst for success, can quickly be traded for maintenance/performance pressure to keep up the successful image others around you are celebrating. Your production begins to overtake your person.” How true is that! We can be guilty of continually raising the bar of what others expect of us. The show must get flashier. People won’t respond unless you keep all the plates spinning. We create an atmosphere of performance, competition and showmanship. This will lead to a crash! Pastor, please recall, only God defines success. He’s our audience of One.

Thinking that People “owe” you something: The spiritual climate has changed in our culture. Like it or not, most people feel no obligation to attend church, support the church financially or be responsible for its operation. These things used to be a given in many churches; not any longer. And as a result, some pastors feel as though the people in their community should attend the church, regardless of what is offered. We’ve all dealt with the consumer mentality that has invaded our churches. While this is certainly a bad thing, gone are the days when we can offer up a subpar worship experience and expect people to support it. People have choices. There are many churches they can attend and some of them believe that church attendance isn’t even important. So, if and when people don’t come to church, don’t blame them. Don’t criticize them as “carnal.” Don’t get offended – just find a way to get them there. In my opinion, this is not by entertaining them; it is by providing an encounter with God.

Cultural ignorance: Pastors are priests. By this I don’t mean that pastors wear a clerical collar, take a vow of celibacy and give their life to the Catholic Church. I mean that we are to be in touch with the people. We are supposed to understand their lives, have similar experiences, and be able to identify with their struggles. When a pastor is unaware of the world around them, when they lose touch with current lifestyles and cultural trends, they create a distance between them and those they lead. Too many people think their pastor doesn’t live in the real world. Even things as simple as popular music, movies and world events are opportunities for pastor to show that they are aware of what’s going around them. My next point will deal with Pastors who go too far the other way, but please be aware that, if you want to minister to people where they are, you have to know where they are. You can’t live in an isolated cave and expect people to identify with you.

Cultural saturation: On the flip side of cultural ignorance is cultural permeation. This happens when a pastor spends too much time participating in things outside of the ministry. When a pastor knows all of the lyrics of the top 10 songs, when they can quote limitless movie lines, when they are absorbed with social media…their follows may have need for concern. Most of us have heard a pastor talk about seeing a movie that everyone knows is inappropriate. As previously stated, pastors must know the world in which their followers live. But too much exposure to secular culture can cause church members to lose confidence in their pastor’s spirituality. I think the goal here is balance. Don’t live in a cave but don’t live in the gutter.

Refusal to utilize social media: There are only a handful of pastors who still refuse to participate in Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. While this may seem innocuous, don’t assume so fast. Social media is the communication method of choice for millions of church members as well as those we hope to reach. Pastors who refuse to engage in social media may be like the missionary who refuses to learn the language of the people group they are trying to reach. Of course, we all know full well the nonsense that happens on the Internet and we have heard a lot of stories of how social media has gotten people into trouble. But, in my estimation, social media is like relationships: some are good and some are bad. We must know with whom we should connect, we should exercise wisdom and we must practice restraint and discretion. Pastor, don’t eliminate a bunch of people because you don’t speak their language. Take time to learn.

Neglecting Self Care: For number 10 (my final point), I must discuss a huge danger for pastors. It has to do with neglecting one’s spiritual health while caring for others. So many pastors have burned out because they were so busy ministering to others that they forgot to take care of themselves. When helping hurting people, we sometimes pick up their hurt. Some expect us to be impervious to discouragement. Many times we don’t feel free to express when we are in trouble. All of this can lead to a very dangerous spiritual condition. We pray for others. We read our Bibles to prepare for ministry. We go to church often. None of these things guarantee our spiritual vitality. When discussing this danger, Mike Thompson said, “Doesn’t matter if we “transform” an entire city and remain personally unchanged. It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.” In my opinion, this is the most diabolical and subtle danger for pastors. I think it happens to everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time. I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. So we must build safety nets into our lives. We must have relationships that hold us accountable. We need a safe place to confess weakness and sin. Avoid sliding backwards at all costs, but once it has happened, arrest it!

I trust you have heard my heart in this little series, Dangers to Pastors. 34 things made the list! And there are thousands more! Perhaps one day someone will develop this into a book – I think there is a great need. And a special “thank you” to all my friends and colleagues who pitched in on this effort. You folks have a lot of wisdom, I appreciate you sharing!

To any pastor out there: please don’t go this alone. If you need someone to talk to, let me know. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can. I pray that something that we said makes your life and ministry easier, more productive – and safer.

Hear the Word of the Lord:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Dangers for Pastors (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!

Dangers for Pastors

designRecent violent tragedies in churches around our country remind us of our vulnerability. This can be a frightening time to lead a church. I know a lot of pastors who have their head on a swivel right now.

In my opinion, it’s not an armed gunman that poses the greatest threat to churches and pastors. The odds of an attack by a terrorist at your church are miniscule. But on a daily basis, you are exposed to grave danger. Churches are scrambling to put security in place and they should. But be aware that there are 1,000 ways the devil seeks to destroy you and your church and none of them involve guns. While we should have a security plan in place, it is absolutely crucial that every pastor protect themselves against less obvious, but just as deadly attacks.

My original plan for this article was to create a list of potential hazards and write a paragraph about each. I came up with 13. As I dialogued with some friends, it became apparent that the topic deserves a little more. So, I’ll launch with the original plan and then proceed with more in-depth ideas.

Pastors, look out for…

Ministry becoming a business. Like any other job, ministry can be stressful. After years of dealing with highly important issues of eternal nature, we can devolve things into a bottom line – and that bottom line isn’t souls saved. We must pay the bills. Especially in larger churches, legal matters, real estate, tax laws and human resources concerns can blind us to the spiritual nature of our work. When this happens, we will soon find ourselves disheartened. God did not call us to run a business. Although the church must be viewed as a business that runs above reproach, ministry is spiritual at its core and must function that way.

Becoming hard-hearted. I am not aware of any ministry veterans that don’t struggle with this issue. Part of our work is dealing with trauma: deaths, crises, family turmoil, etc. can wear one down. If we do not intentionally focus on keeping our spirits tender before God, we will become cynical, jaded, and skeptical. I find that few things do more damage to a minister than a hard heart. It is necessary to stay tender before the Lord.

Accepting status quo. Keeping the ministry machine running smoothly and keeping church members happy can be a full time job. When most of our time and energy is expended simply to survive, growth can unintentionally become a back burner issue. God did not call us to maintain – He called us to make disciples. He appointed you where you are to advance the ministry. Maintaining is not good enough.

No strategic plan. Let’s be honest for a moment with this query: what is your plan to build your ministry? If your answer is, “have church services”, you may want to dig deeper. A strategic plan is a wonderful gift that God provides for us so that we can prepare for what He is about to do. I agree that the Holy Spirit must direct us but He does reveal His plans to us if we will pursue Him. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean that we fly by the seat of our pants. Seek God today for what He wants to do tomorrow.

Selling out to money. It is a very deadly thing for a church and pastor to become money-focused. For many pastors, the members who tithe the most have the most influence. Ministry decisions are made, not based upon what the Spirit is directing but upon what can be afforded. I believe in budgets but I do not believe that budgets should dictate ministry. I wrote another article on the problem of churches amassing bank accounts with no plan to invest them into ministry. You can read that here.

Stop learning. Bible College and seminary are wonderful tools. Pastors should be well educated in matters of Scripture and ministry and leadership. However, there should be no such thing as a pastor who has completed his/her training. Pastor, if you haven’t read a book outside of the Bible for the last few months – I suggest you start.

Displacing family. Much has been said on this topic. Don’t neglect your family for ministry. Your family will fail as well as your ministry. Your family is your first ministry!

No plan to rest. It is a very dangerous thing for a pastor to have no day off – no Sabbath day of rest. Perhaps you think you can work week after week with no vacation, but the end is coming – sooner than you think. Those who refuse to retire because they are too insecure to do so are only hurting themselves and their flock. You are not superhuman – the church survived without you for generations and, if necessary, can do so again.

Doing all of the ministry. This is a real trap for small church pastors. No one volunteers to lead a much–needed ministry so the pastor does it. Rinse and repeat. I understand the dilemma. But if this becomes a pattern, the church is doomed to stay small and the pastor is destined to burn out. If you find yourself here – slowly wean your folks off of their expectations that you must do everything.

No personal, only professional spirituality. Time for some quick self-evaluation: do you pray and study outside of your ministry responsibility? If not, your personal relationship with God is suffering. Fix that and you may fix many of your ministry issues. Don’t fix it and you are in grave danger!

Comparing yourself to others. If you are remotely competitive, it is natural for you to measure your success as compared to others. My advice – just stop. God called you to be you and to do your work. You won’t be like anyone else.

No original ministry ideas. Why do you do ministry like you do? Odds are, you saw someone else do ministry that way. I would suggest you examine every ministry activity through this lens: God called you to do what only you can do. Perhaps God uses other people to give you good ideas but don’t get stuck there. God is quintessentially creative and He never runs out of fresh ideas. Just ask Him, dream big and take a risk.

Assuming a call is enough. If a stranger were to ask you about your qualifications for ministry, what would you say? Being called by God to do ministry is a foundational necessity but it is not enough. I believe that every Believer is called into some type of ministry but the vast majority of people never take the necessary steps to fully engage in ministry.

These are just a few simple ideas. We’ll be digging deeper on the topic in coming days. Please stay tuned. I’d love to hear your idea on other dangers for pastors.

Fight for Your Thanksgiving!

23316716_10155903720379214_4923807824414387164_nThanksgiving is a season when we can feel either very grateful or very guilty (we can feel guilty because we don’t feel grateful). We all know that we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have – all of God’s blessings – and the good things we enjoy in life. But what if we just don’t feel thankful? What if life is just too painful right now to express feelings of gratitude? If this is the case, I wouldn’t suggest that you share it with many people – they may not understand!

No one would argue that the Lord has been good. Even in difficult times, He cares for us, provides what we need and gets us through. When life is at its worst, God is at His best! So how can it be that anyone would not experience overwhelming feelings of gratitude for all that He has done and continues to do?

Let’s recognize the spiritual nature of gratitude and the impact that it can have. Thankfulness is more than warm, fuzzy feelings. Thankfulness is a gift from God that enables us to recognize blessings. He has provided this gift to every person who has reasoning skills – even unbelievers. But thankfulness is also a great spiritual weapon. For the Christian, an attitude of thankfulness serves the purpose of glorifying God. A truly grateful person is a spokesperson for the Lord. They freely share their feelings about all that the Lord has done for them. Others see and hear this praise and they are inspired to follow suit. So imagine the damage that can be done when a Christian loses their gratitude. Their voice of praise is silenced and countless other people are negatively influenced.

Thanksgiving is under attack. Clearly, the enemy of our souls has very effectively created an atmosphere of entitlement in our culture. He has convinced millions of unsuspecting souls that they deserve the good things that they enjoy. A partner to entitlement is greed. In our nation, it is common for people to, rather than being grateful for what they have, want more and more! If it were a mathematic equation, it may read something like this: Entitlement + greed = selfishness. It is nearly impossible for a selfish person to be grateful.

I want you to know the importance of your thankfulness. Gratitude is such a valuable weapon that the devil will do nearly anything to steal it from you. He has succeeded in many people. He wants to blind us to God’s goodness. He is trying to make us feel insecure. He attempts to make us hard-hearted. His goal is for us to become jealous, covetous, envious, and ungrateful. He knows this: Lack of gratitude means a lack of future blessings. The story of the 10 lepers in Luke 19:11-19 proves this fact. If Satan can make you ungrateful, he can prevent you from receiving many future blessings.

Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the fact that we go through hard times. Certainly, we all suffer times of grief and mourning. Yet, these experiences do not negate God’s goodness. When a person expresses their sincere gratitude to the Lord, they are not in denial. They simply realize that the Lord has been good, and, in spite of their circumstances, He is worthy of our praise.

Allow me to encourage you – fight for your thanksgiving! Even if you don’t feel like it, express your gratitude. This is not hypocrisy nor is it simply positive thinking. It is your commitment to show appreciation to God beyond your emotions. Use the gift God has given you to thank Him! By doing this, you will: 1) Give praise to our worthy God, 2) defeat the enemy in your life, 3) influence others to be grateful and 4) develop the habit of thankfulness, opening the door to future blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.

5 Steps to Getting What You Want

22894146_10155869087324214_375210395447557660_nIf you find yourself thinking about meeting a goal or completing a project, read on.

While deciding what is a worthwhile goal in life can be difficult, it is oftentimes even more difficult to actually make that thing happen. This post is not intended to be a cure-all for people who are stuck in life. But if you need a boost to reach a goal, give the following a try.

  1. Identify: what is it you really want? Not something you think will make you happy, but what you want. This must be something that has meaning and value to you. (clue: What did God design for your life?) If you are wanting something that is damaging to yourself or someone else, your wishes are misguided. Try again.

Set a goal.

(Robert Rubin developed the idea of SMART Goals. Specific (simple, sensible, significant). Measurable (meaningful, motivating). Achievable (agreeable, attainable). Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive). You may read more here.

An example of a smart goal: “I want to complete a college degree within 5 years.”

  1. Pieces: what pieces must be put in place in order to make the above happen? These must be specific, action-oriented steps.

Example:

Enroll in college

Explore potential colleges and degree programs

Explore finances required

Graduate

Pay tuition

Discuss with family members who will be impacted

Talk to a college admissions department

Make application to the college(s) of choice

Start taking classes

List the necessary pieces, as best you can, that will move you toward your goal.

  1. Prioritize: decide which pieces are most important.

Example:

  1. Explore potential colleges and degree programs
  2. Discuss with family members who will be impacted.
  3. Talk to a college admissions department.

Etc.

You’ll never reach your goal if you can’t do the most important things first.

  1. Decide to act: when will you take the step? Until you commit to do it and follow through, everything is on hold.

Example:

I will explore colleges online today.

I will talk with my family tomorrow.

Talk to a college admissions department on Tuesday

Etc.

Until you take action, your goal is just a dream

  1. Now, repeat #’s 2-4 until you arrive at your destination.

Example:

Determine which pieces you must put into place

Prioritize the pieces

Act – put a piece in place and move forward

Continue this cycle until the goal is met and the degree is earned

We realize this is an over-simplification to reaching goals. However, it is a useful tool to get you moving forward. Give it a try with weight loss or spiritual development or a better marriage. I’d be interested to hear if it works for you.

 

Should a Church Have a “Nest Egg”?

designSome churches have money in the bank. A few have a lot of money in the bank. There is nothing, in my opinion, inherently wrong with that. An emergency fund is a great idea, and none of us know the future so a few months of operational funds is probably a great idea.

But I have great concern about churches that hold on to a fund and refuse to invest it in ministry. I know of several churches and organizations that hold a large amount of money in the bank while the needs of the ministry go unmet. I do think it is wrong for a church to have a large account while people need help.

What can happen:

A fund can become our hope. Some churches no longer practice stewardship because they have money in the bank.

A fund can become our trust. We no longer rely on God to bless the church – we have money to take care of that.

A fund can become a god that we worship. I have personally witnessed churches fight and divide over what to do with money in the bank.

A fund can earn interest that can prevent us from sharing it, because we don’t want to lose the interest.

I even know of groups that loan these moneys out to brothers or sisters – at a significant percentage rate.

Something is wrong with this picture.

No, I am not a proponent of giving away all of the church’s funds. We shouldn’t enable the entitled. Jesus said that there will always be needy people so we can’t fix everyone’s problems. Since these funds belong to God, we are required to handle them with great caution. But that leads me to my basic point:

God does not provide money to the church so we can keep it safe in the bank. He provides money so we can do ministry.

The Parable of the Talents is all the evidence we need. When God puts money in your hands, He expects you to multiply it by investing it into ministry. See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.

I do not want to give money to a church that hoards it. When people are in need, the church must find a way to utilize the money to help people.

Consider these Bible verses on the topic:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16-17

If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:11

And perhaps the most direct: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17

With all of the scrutiny being placed on churches, we must be fiducially responsible.  More importantly, the money belongs to God, not to us.  He states unequivocally how He feels about selfishness.

So if a church has an account for the building fund, or for missions or for a special purpose – that is a great thing. But churches that are holding a sum of money that is not earmarked for ministry should be challenged to invest it into effective ministry. If you need help with some ideas on where to invest your money, contact me – I have a few ideas.

 

It’s Time for Christians to Lead

designThis is the time for Christians to lead.

Our culture is suffering the effects of deficient leadership. The bar of expected decorum and etiquette has been lowered to the ground. Integrity and common decency are passé. There is deep division racially, politically and economically. Ideological rhetoric is drowning out reason. Few are naïve enough to trust authority, and skepticism about religion is at an all time high. Many are too jaded to even hope for hope. The world needs help, now.

This is the time for Christians to lead. We say we have the solution; His name is Jesus.

Step up.

Why Mentoring Matters

designMentoring matters because we need help! As individuals, we need help in finding a meaningful place where we can invest our lives. Potential mentors need help because they can’t accomplish everything on their own. The culture needs help to make this world a better place in which to live.

Mentors serve others as coaches, advisors or trainers. We provide ideas and encouragement. We help other people develop their strengths and improve on their weaknesses. Families, organizations and communities benefit from the work of mentors. Many of the greatest leaders on earth enjoyed the advantage of having someone personally train them.

John Maxwell said, “One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.”

Not compelling enough?

Consider:

If no one serves as a mentor, everybody starts at ground zero and has to learn everything by him or herself.

If no one serves as a mentor, organizations are left to start from scratch when there is a leadership transition.

If no one serves as a mentor, vision and wisdom dies when the leader dies.

If no one serves as a mentor, emerging leaders miss valuable training and struggle unnecessarily.

If no one serves as a mentor, organizational progress is stymied – we all pay the price.

The world is a better place because of mentors. Among some well-known mentor/mentee relationships are General Colin Powell: mentored by his father, Luther Powell; Dr. Martin Luther King: mentored by Benjamin E. Mays; Henry David Thoreau: mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Quincy Jones: mentored by Ray Charles.

I want to encourage you to be a mentor. Regardless of your age, skill level or experience, you know more than someone else. Regardless of your field of service or expertise, you have something of value to share. You have the responsibility to share your knowledge with others.

Here are few ideas on becoming a mentor:

Identify: How do we find the right person to mentor? If they are open and teachable – there’s your person. Talk with them about your idea and see if they have interest.

Idealism: forget about finding the perfect person to mentor. You’re better served to find someone who is already close to you and who trusts you.

Improvement: those who enjoy the tutoring of a mentor increase their performance. Training pays off!

Investment: like a great stock, infusing others with valuable resources such as knowledge results in great dividends for everyone involved.

Intentionality: You must make a commitment to make mentoring happen. It will not just occur automatically.

Innovate: don’t feel like you must follow a curriculum or be bound to a program developed by others. Be yourself and go with the flow.

Inspire: be sure that your goal is to make the life of the other person better. Motivate them, challenge them and help them to grow. Of course, you will also grow through the process.

Influence: when a friend knows you care enough about them that you are willing to mentor them, you will influence them to be the best they can possibly be. Who knows, perhaps you can alter the direction of someone’s life.

Mentoring matters. It’s worth your effort. Someone is waiting for you.

The Pain of Weak Leadership

designWe have studied the leadership principles that state, “the leader sets the pace of the team.” Another way of saying this is, the quality of the team is determined by the person who in charge. While there are a few exceptions to this rule, I believe the principle is true.

I firmly believe that the pain of our current culture is an indication of weak leadership. While no elected official has the power to stop a mass murderer or to prevent natural disasters, leaders have the responsibility to affect positive influence to the point that the culture shifts in a positive direction. The current trend of our culture indicates, in my opinion, weak leadership.

The world is screaming for stronger leaders, integrous leaders, leaders with character. And more leaders!

What happens if we don’t respond?

Proverbs 29:2 “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” NLT

This is a season of groaning. Our flags remain at half-mast much of the time. Rather than moving the people toward God, many leaders divide the people, bicker over political ideologies and posture themselves in an effort to look good. When things go wrong, people need someone to follow. Huston Smith said, “The most powerful moral influence is example.” People are desperate for someone to lead them out of this state of horror. Godly example is what we need. Where are the leaders that God has called?

We can’t blame the current leaders – they have simply stepped up to lead when other more qualified people have refused to do so. (See Judges 9:8-15) If we must blame someone, perhaps we should blame the strong people who are called to lead but refuse to do so.

And leaders – when we complain about our families, communities churches, or country – we must realize that we are incriminating ourselves. If the organization that I lead fails, I must assume the responsibility to fix it.

I’m calling out my friends. If God has compelled you to lead – please do so at the highest level possible. You’re not the leader of the free world but you lead your family. You can’t impact global change but you can lead your church to renewal. You can’t solve the world’s pain but you can lead yourself in being a stronger and better person. This is not a time for leaders to take a back seat. We can’t retreat. We can’t burn out and leave the task to others. The world can’t take much more of this.

“Someone must do something!” That someone is you.

“Bigger Faster Leadership” by Samuel Chand

624771576_1280x720I just completed reading Sam Chand’s book, “Bigger Faster Leadership (Lessons from the Builders of the Panama Canal)” Chand does a masterful job of using the canal project as a metaphor for today’s leaders. All of the planning, hard work, set backs…for the goal of a much more effective form of transportation – a great analogy.

This is neither a critique nor a book review. I am simply providing some of the best quotes and ideas, and occasionally offering my response. Be aware, I give little attention to the actual canal project. Rather, I focus on the leadership principles derived from the project. I trust that my providing this material will not keep you from buying the book! I recommend you buy I and read it.

chapter 1 “How Do You Define the Need?”

Chand visited the Panama Canal and learned of its history, development and significance. From his visit, he developed a series of thoughts relating to leadership systems. “The size and speed of an organization are controlled by its systems and structures.” The only way organizations can grow bigger and move faster is by accelerating the excellence of their systems and structures.” For our purposes, we should examine our systems and structures for ways to become more effective in leadership, so that the organizations we lead may become healthier and stronger.

Some quotes:
Ch. 1, “How Do You Define the Need?”

“Compelling needs have always inspired bold action.” (2)

“A leader’s vision is the result of being gripped by a palpable need.” (4)

“After the vision becomes clear, the next question is: ‘who do I need to help me meet this need and make the vision a reality?” (mentor, coach, or model) (5)

“Systems aren’t just building, programs, products and budgets. They are the processes that create and use buildings, programs, products and budgets to facilitate change.” (6)

Five distinct phases of the lifecycle of any organization:
The entrepreneurial (discovery) phase is the exciting beginning, when every dream seems possible.
The emerging (growth) phase is when the vision begins to take definite shape, leaders are empowered, and the organization sees real progress.
The established (maintenance) phase is a time when leaders take a deep breath, enjoy their success, and watch their systems function well. But this phase is also dangerous because it can easily lead to complacency.
The erosion (survival) phase is evident when the organization shows signs of decline, and the earlier vision seems unreachable.
The enterprising (reinvention) phase is the result of a deeper grasp of the need, a renewed vision, fresh enthusiasm, and new strategies to meet the need. Giving an existing organization as fresh charge of vision and energy is difficult, but it’s essential for future flourishing. (8)

“The task of leadership isn’t just to give people goals but to help them utilize effective systems and structures to reach those goals.” (10)

“Many businesses and churches have fallen in love with ‘the way we do things around here,’ so they seldom if ever evaluate systems and structures according to the pressing need and the compelling vision. Culture changes and the delivery systems become antiquated in a hurry. We need to stay alert and nimble, always keeping the vision fresh and open to creative new ways of fulfilling it.” (10)

“When we feel stuck, we won’t just put our heads down and try harder, hoping for a different outcome.”(13)

“The systems that brought you to this point may not be the ones to take you to where you believe God wants you to go.” (13)

“Systems must continually adapt to the needs and opportunities of the moment, Static systems gradually lose relevance, but dynamic systems anticipate evolving needs.” (14)

“Casting vision is more than ‘what’; it must also include a clear and powerful ‘why’ or people involved will lack passion and the plans will be stiff and rote.” (15)

“Long seasons of stagnation can be mind-numbing. Instead of trying harder with the same systems and structures, I recommend conducting a thorough analysis; clarify the need and the vision so you’re captured once again by the what and why, and then spend plenty of time figuring out how you can reconstruct your systems and structures so they can support more size and speed.” (16)

Chapter 2, “How Do You Handle Colossal Failure?” There are some fantastic leadership principles that I think you will like.

We need to recognize the insidious nature of comparison that often lurks undetected in our minds and hearts. (24)

Success needs to be viewed in the context of our realities, not by comparing ourselves to the biggest and fastest-growing organizations in our field. (24)

It’s wise for leaders to compare their current growth to their original vision, not the success of other leaders. (24)

The question is: What progress have you made in fulfilling that (original) vision? (25)

The clear majority of the failures I see in my consulting role with pastors and business leaders are from misplaced expectations and faulty systems and structures. (26)

When the numbers turn down, unexpected setbacks happen, or conflict ravages an organization, some leaders immediately try to put the best face on it. They say, “everything is fine,” but plenty of people know it’s not the truth, so the leader begins to lose an organization’s most valuable commodity: the people’s trust. (27)

For many leaders, past success blinds them to potential future problems. (29)

Pastors, boards, and leadership teams in churches traditionally focus on the ABCs: attendance, buildings and cash. These are certainly important, but we often fail to measure factors that reveal the heart and health of our churches, such as the number of first-time guests, the proportion of guests to regular attenders, the conversion rate of guests who become regular attenders, the conversion rate of those who join small groups, and most important, the number of volunteers actively engaged in ministry. These factors reveal the “stickiness” of the church. Too often pastors become frustrated because they don’t see overall growth, but they don’t peel back the layers to measure and evaluate the crucial connections people need to make. (30)

When I consult, I talk with people at all levels to feel the pulse of life. Quite often the top leaders are full of vision and passion, but those who are down the organizational chart often don’t get up in the morning dreaming about how their role can change the world that day. They have tunnel vision, focused on their narrow role and their stated responsibilities. (31)

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to notice long-simmering conflict between team members and wade in to resolve it. Sadly, some leaders don’t have the courage to make this move. (31)

It’s irresponsible of us as believers, and especially as leaders, however, to ignore perpetual troublemaking and assume “it’ll work out somehow.” We have a responsibility to the team and the organization to take more decisive action. (32)

All leaders wear two hats. Pastors wear the hats of shepherd and a CEO; business leaders wear hats of a coach and a boss. In both arenas, I’ve seen countless leaders who found excuses to wear only one hat. They may have avoided wading into the other person’s life because they don’t like conflict, or a past conversation blew up and ended badly. Whatever the cause, avoiding reality always creates much bigger problems – for the leader, for the team, and for the person who is incompetent or divisive. (32)

Good leaders need to delegate clearly and efficiently. This means they clearly define the team member’s responsibility and make sure all the resources are available to get the job done. (34)

A vision without a plan is just a hope, and a plan without a deadline is only a wish. (34)

We need to be our team’s biggest cheerleader – not faking it, but genuinely appreciating them and their contribution to the cause. (35)

The lessons you learn from your disappointments and failures before forty determine how God will use you for the rest of your life. (37)

Chapter 3 of “Bigger Faster Leadership” asks the question, “Where do you find fresh passion and purpose?”

Sam discusses the initial failures in the project to rebuild the Panama Canal. He shares some great details on dealing with disappointments.

Below are some quotes from the chapter along with a few of my takeaways.

“When disappointments stalls a leaders plans, he or she often should craft a new vision and take bold action to move the organization forward. The courage to take an honest look at setbacks is essential. Leaders may be tempted to engage in gloom and despair, but they must find a way to see disappointments as turning points, not dead ends.” (p. 41)

Isn’t that the truth! I think one’s ability to recover from failure marks the difference between average leaders and great leaders.

“When we experience significant setbacks, we may wonder if the dream is dead. We need to dig deep to find that blend of optimism and tenacity, We ask ourselves, “Is the need still there? Is the vision still alive? Can we find a way to fulfill it?” Halfhearted statements won’t do. The people around us need to see in our eyes and hear in our voices affirmation that we still believe – we believe the need must be met, we believe we are the people who can lead the effort, and we believe in the people around us.” (p. 42)

When we fail as leaders, I think it is necessary to place the unmet need of the organization above our feelings of insecurity and frustration. Our unchecked emotions can dismiss us prematurely from our incomplete assignment.

“In my consultations with leaders around the world, I’ve noticed four kinds of people in their organizations: Wanderers never see the vision, but they don’t care. Followers see the vision, but they don’t pursue it on their own. Achievers are gripped by the vision, and are intrinsically motivated to take action; and leaders are compelled by the vision to gather others to pursue it with them.” (p. 43)

This awareness helps us to develop realistic expectations for the people we lead. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to embrace and pursue the vision. Yet some will. We need to know who those people are.

“We learn that agreement doesn’t necessarily equate to loyalty, and disagreement doesn’t necessarily mean the person is disloyal. In an atmosphere of trust, disagreements aren’t interpreted negatively; they’re just part of the process of fine-tuning the direction of the organization.” (p. 44)

Insecure leaders must have unanimous agreement. This is not realistic. We need supportive disagreement in order to improve. I think that a grace-oriented culture encourages us to trust others enough to disagree when necessary.

”Recasting a new vision is usually more challenging than casting the original one.” (p. 45)

I concur. The courage to try again once we’ve experienced failure will be met with even greater resistance. People will come out of the woodwork to remind you of past failures.

“All change involves loss. So acknowledging the losses before they happen gives the leader credibility in the eyes of his or her team.” (p. 45)

#Truth. People tend to be skeptical of “Pollyanna” leaders.

“When we get a refreshed vision for our organizations, we multiply disruptions, at least at the beginning. If we anticipate them, we’ll have the opportunity to prepare our people to handle them.” (p. 45)

My experience is, people do not respond well to surprises; it weakens our believability as a leader. Wise leaders let their people know that disruptions are a part of the transformation process.

“Perceptive leaders predict the need to make changes before the decline occurs.” “The leader’s task at this point is to explain that momentum will erode if they don’t use it to catapult to the next level of growth.” (p. 46)

Chand utilizes the Sigmoid Curve to explain the need for timely change. He concludes that point A, while things are still going well, is the point at which we need to engage in change. Too many leaders wait until point B (which is too late). Momentum is the key.

sigmoid

“Many pastors, and some business leaders, value peace above all else. Chaos makes them uncomfortable, and creating chaos is unthinkable!” (p. 47)

“That’s the double-edged knife of a leader: help people to live in peace, but stir up enough chaos to make change happen.” (p. 48)

This is a tough truth. Christian leaders are usually compelled to seek peace. There is no getting around the idea that change means chaos.

“When I teach teams to use conflict constructively, I explain the conflict can be a PLUS. They need to PAUSE to focus on the situations and person without being distracted. Then they should LISTEN carefully, paraphrasing the other person’s points. Ask questions and take time to UNDERSTAND the other person’s position and then validate the person’s feelings. Then SOLVE the problems together as a team, or if only one is responsible for the decision, at least the other person feels understood even if he or she disagrees.” (p. 48)

I really like this reminder, It is simple and perhaps too idealistic but it provides a chance for everyone to settle down and process the problem logically, rather than being pushed by emotions.

“Another limiting factor is that many leaders are so busy they don’t have enough margin to step away, talk to a mentor, pray, and dream of bigger things.”

So true. Too many of us are like firemen running around putting out fires with no time to plan or grow.

Chand encourages us to identify people who encourage us to think more deeply and who challenge us to grow. We need to intentionally spend more time with those friends.

“If you don’t build time to dream into your schedule, you’ll always be operating on last year’s hopes and vision. Dreams don’t just happen. We need to carve out time and space so we can imagine what God might want to do, and as we spend more time in His presence, we can listen.” (p. 53)

This may be my most valuable takeaway from this chapter. I can’t be so busy and stressed as a leader that I am too busy to hear the subtle voice of God.

Chapter 4 “How Do You Craft The Right Plan?”

“As leaders, we should realize our filters exist. Even our strongest commitment to objectivity has at least tinges of subjectivity.”

I believe the quicker we are to recognize our biases, the quicker we can improve.

“We never receive input and analysis in an objective bubble; we always have predispositions that shape our receptivity and our ability to process information.”

“The leader often has a good idea of the what, but he usually doesn’t have a good grasp of when, where, who, how, and how much. The planning phase must be pushed down to the level where many skilled, passionate, creative people give their best efforts to craft a comprehensive plan.”

This is actually very liberating to a confident leader! He/she doesn’t have to have all of the answers.

“The leader articulates the need and the big idea of meeting the need, but he enlists others to create plans to identify the size and the speed, and then to create the systems and structures to achieve those goals.”

“Leaders may ask too quickly: “Is this big idea realistic?” This question needs to be asked at the tactical level. If it’s asked too soon, it short-circuits the essential process of dreaming big dreams. By their nature, big dreams don’t seem realistic at all! But on the other side, if a vision isn’t keeping a leader up at night, it’s not big enough.”

“To begin the planning process, carefully choose a team of wise, optimistic, experienced, creative people. The members should have diverse perspectives – not so radical that their demands will burn the house down, but different enough to produce sparks that will ignite the best discussions.”

“A lot of leaders feel the pressure to be “the decider” much too early in the process, but their primary job isn’t to be the decider at all.” (p. 59-60)

“Haste stops the dreaming process, limits creative thinking, and sends the wrong message to the team that the real goal is having a final plan neatly copied and put in a binder.” (p. 61)

“In this process, the leader’s goal isn’t to build consensus around his own ideas. Instead, he’s mining the wisdom of his team to produce a much better plan and a much higher level of passion to accomplish it.”

Once again, self-esteem and confidence on the part of the leader is indispensable. Insecurity is one of the greatest enemies of a leader.

“I’ve seen a team’s lethargy – and sometimes real damage to the organizational culture – that occurs when leaders don’t involve their teams in a creative process. For instance, a pastor may read an article about the latest great idea: small groups, multisite churches, leadership pipelines, a new kind of sound system, or whatever it may be. He or she announce the new initiative and then tell someone on the team, “Visit this church (or read this book or watch this video) and make this happen at our church.” When this happens, there is no vision exchange, no creative involvement of the entire team, and very little buy-in, even from the person who is assigned to pull it off. The team member is just following orders.” (p. 63)

And these types of leaders come up with “innovative” ideas often – and they usually fail. This leaves the team unwilling to get excited about projects.

“Too often leaders in business, churches, and nonprofit organizations walk into meeting and announce, “This is what I’ve decided we’re going to build,” or from a spiritual angle, “This is what I believe God wants us to build.” When a leader jumps too soon from the dream to the plan, the people on the team don’t have the opportunity to dream, and they don’t feel affirmed in their unique contributions as builders.”

Extreme caution should be used before a ministry leader declares, “the Lord told me…”

“It’s helpful to distinguish between planning and preparation. Planning is concrete; it answers the what, who, when, where, how, and how much. Preparation is usually intangible and answers the why questions.” (p. 64)

“Most of the leaders I know excel in planning, but they are often deficient in preparation – for themselves, their teams, and their organizations.”

“When their people feel valued, they gladly share innovative ideas, wisdom and experience.”

Trust creates this kind of confidence.

“Creativity always produces a fair share of irrelevant and unproductive ideas, but it also has the potential to generate the best ideas.” (p. 65)

Chapter 5 “What’s In Your Suitcase?” highlights:

This chapter focuses on the need for leaders to be able to anticipate the future and prepare the organizations they lead to be effective into the future.

Below are some quotes from the chapter followed by a few of my reactions.

“One of the most important traits of outstanding leaders – at all levels of organizations – is the ability to anticipate the opportunities and challenges of the future.“ (p. 75)

My current role provides a real challenge when it comes to anticipating the future. Being responsible for leaders in multiple locations and cultures makes predicting the future difficult. Chand’s encouragement to work on this skill is motivating me to get to work.

“Leaders desperately need to get in front of the wave – for the sake of their own sanity so they aren’t overwhelmed, as well as for the future of their organizations. Those who are paying attention ask, “Where is all this going so fast?” “How does this affect our organization?” “How do we need to recreate our systems and structures to prepare for what’s coming?” and “What do we need to do to get in front of all of this?” (p. 77)

I think some of us are so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do today that we have no time to look forward. Many times, my head is down because the terrain is dangerous. When this is the case, the future remains unknown to me.

“(Robert P.) Jones and other commentators assert that the church is losing a generation of young people. Why is this happening? In a rapidly changing and closely connected culture, the church is viewed as out of step with issues important to Millennials, such as immigration, racial justice, economic opportunity, health care, and the rights of those the church has traditionally considered misfits and outcasts – the kinds of causes the church championed for two thousand years.” (p. 78)

This is an especially painful realization for us. It seems that some church leaders have spent so much time standing for their values that we have lost sight of God’s values. We are praying the price with a generation that is losing interest in our ministries.

“All great leaders see farther than others, and they see challenges and opportunities sooner than others. I want to be that kind of leader.” (p. 77)

Me, too, Sam!

“When I hear leaders and their teams resist new ideas because “we’ve never done it this way before,” I know they’re stuck in the past- they moles, not giraffes. If I hear them complain about all the limitations of people, space, money, and time, I know they’re paralyzed in the present – they’re turtles, not giraffes.” (p. 79)

While I can do without the animal analogies, this is great insight. It’s too easy to get trapped in the past or in the present. We’ve got to move forward if we’re going to reach this generation. He uses the analogy of a giraffe that can see farther than any animal in the jungle.

Chand dedicates a few pages to the idea of “futuring”, the ability of a leader to scan the future horizon and lead forward. He co-authored a book back in 2002 with the title “Futuring.”

“The question we ask each person on the futuring team is, “If we were to pacj our suitcase today to be ready for tomorrow, what do we need to throw out and what do we need to include?” Futuring leaders instinctively ask this question, and nurturing leaders can learn to ask it.” (p. 81)

Chand distinguished between futuring leaders and nurturing leaders. I think most pastors are nurturers but we must also be able to see into the future and make tough decisions today.

This is great!

“Leaders who are too wedded to the past spend a lot of time warning people about the threats in the culture and the dangers of change in the organization, they are defensive and reactionary. Those who are focused on the present are comfortable with the status quo and are thrilled with incremental growth. But those who are committed to the future analyze what will be and dream about what their organizations might be like. They don’t start with a plan; they start with a ruthless analysis of the challenges in the future, which generates and sees anticipated problems as golden opportunities.” (p. 84)

This is great perception. I can see myself and others in these descriptions. I suggest we all take a look and not be too quick to be defensive.

“…be honest about the possibility that the culture we’ve created, with great care over many years – is focused on the past or the present more than on the future.”

“If we aren’t hemorrhaging for the vision to become a reality, they’re (followers) not going to bleed.”

“No matter how large we grow, and no matter how intricate our communication systems may become, our message to the people in our communities must be clear enough to grip their hearts.” (p. 84)

I love the focus on clarity and intentionality.

“Too many leaders pick people to fill slots to meet immediate needs. This is shortsighted. Instead, we need to conduct a rigorous process to find people who will meet the needs in the future.” (p. 85)

I have been guilty of appointing a leader because they were available. The ideas presented challenge me to do better for the good of the organization that I serve.

“Many of us have lived in the Christian subculture so long that we don’t know how to speak the language of the people who seldom walk through our doors.” (p. 86)

The best way I know to combat this problem is to intentionally immerse oneself into the culture. If we are regularly exposed to and aware of the language nuances in our community, we will soon discover our need to grow and change in order to remain relevant.

“If we’re not prepared, we can be knocked off the road or stopped in our tracks. No matter how well we anticipate the future, we’ll always encounter the unknown. Count on it, it’s guaranteed. Fragile leaders won’t make it, and lonely leaders won’t make it very far. We need to build our spiritual, emotional and relational muscles to be strong when we face the inevitable adversity.”

The faster things change, the more adept leaders must be at adapting. If we get stiff or stubborn, we’ll sink. If we’re too weak to change, we won’t survive. Let’s be strong and confident enough to know when, where and how to change in order to be effective as leaders.

Chapter 6 “You Didn’t Expect This, Did You?”

 In this chapter, Chand uses the disease carrying mosquitoes of the Panama Canal as a metaphor for the problems (sometimes hard to detect) that leaders face.

“Leaders have mosquitoes problems, too. We face seemingly insignificant ‘bites’ of setbacks and opposition that can turn healthy environments into sick ones. In every organizations,, ‘mosquitoes’ are more than annoying; they create fear and distrust, distract people from their tasks, and can wreck the whole endeavor.” (p. 92)

“What are the mosquitoes in your organization? Simply understood, mosquitoes are bad attitudes, and carriers are those who are infected by these attitudes and spread them.” “The individual bites may not appear dangerous at all. In fact, they are almost imperceptible. If we look closely enough, though, we can see the damage. Each bite can infect our employees, staff and volunteers with a contagious, negative attitude that surfaces in countless ways.” (p. 93)

“The leader’s challenge is to notice the mosquitoes – and the carriers – before they can infect others.” (p. 96)

“People of integrity are always willing to ask, “Is it me? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?” (p. 97)

Chand discusses how mosquitoes destroy trust in an organization. “Teams can go through almost anything if they trust each other.” (P. 101)

Chapter 7 “How Do You Handle Opposition?”

 In this chapter, Chand explains the prevalence of opposition in leadership and distinguishes between resistance and ridicule.

“Sooner or later, every grand, bold vision encounters significant opposition. We may assume that opposition is always destructive, but it can be a powerful force that crystalizes our imagination, focuses our plans, and drives us to succeed.”

“I find it helpful to distinguish between resistance and ridicule. Resistance is disagreement, and it often comes in the form of opposition to an idea or a plan, but ridicule has a strong emotional component.” (p. 108)

“Suffering may make is hard and bitter, but it can make us humble, tender and wise.” (p. 109)

“Leaders face opposition from three distinct sources: procedures – how things get done; prerequisites – why things are done; and personnel – who gets things done. If we respond well, our experience of resistance can have benefits in all three areas.” (p. 110)

“We can be confident without being cocky, patient without being passive, determined without being dogmatic, and assertive without being aggressive.” (p 112)

“The people that ridicule us are watching us closely to if we’ll get angry and defiant (the fight response) or cower in fear (the flight response). They seldom expect us to respond with strength, wisdom, grace, and creativity.” (p. 114)

“When we’re under the strain of resistance and ridicule, we often choose exactly the wrong solution.”

“Friends show us that opposition, and even genuine failure, isn’t the end of the world.” (P. 118)

Chapter 8 “How Can You Make Your Systems Hum?”

This chapter revolves around the idea of placing the right people in the right positions in our organizations. Chand utilizes the metaphor of a ladder. The higher we climb, the more important it is to have the right people holding the ladder.

In my opinion, Chand could have done a better job of communicating these concepts without making the leader look like the one being served. It’s a little distasteful to think of others living to hold my ladder. Perhaps it would have been better to describe the holding one another’s ladder. Regardless, it is a good point.

“If leaders have unqualified people holding their ladders, they won’t be able to climb very high. The ones who help us climb six feet up a stepladder may not be the ones who can hold it securely so we can climb twenty feet up and extension ladder. And the ones who help us climb twenty feet may not be the ones who have the strength, skill, and commitment to help us scale a forty-five-foot ladder.” (123)

“No matter how beautifully we construct our systems to achieve more size and speed, we’ll feel as though we’re running in mud if we don’t have the right people in our structures.” (p. 125)

We don’t discard those faithful, committed men and women (who cannot continue to hold our ladder as we climb). Instead, we make sure we find a place for them that fits their talents and capacity. At some point, all of us reach the limit of our capacity, so limits aren’t a character flaw in any way. Some people may not be on our team any longer, but they can serve incredibly well at the level we just left, where other leaders in our organization are climbing higher – just not as high as our ladder. It is, I believe, a dictum of leadership to understand a simple but crucial principle about reaching your desired future: those who got you here may not be the ones to take you there.” (p. 125)

“Churches, businesses, and non profits organizations aren’t the armed forces, but it may serve us well to at least look at the strengths of different cultures to see what we might learn from them. One of the principles we might learn form the military culture is that turning a blind eye to incompetence or a bad attitude inevitably leads to a disaster down the road.” (p. 126)

“It’s never a mystery who need to be let go and replaced in any organization.”

“It doesn’t take long for trust to erode when leaders are too timid to take necessary action. When leaders don’t make tough decisions about people who are a drag on their teams, they lose leadership equity with the rest of the team. Every decision raises or lowers the leader’s equity, and the refusal to address the elephant in the room knocks a big hole in the bucket. At that point, equity doesn’t seep out; it flows out.” (p. 127

“One of your primary roles is to equip and empower those you lead, How well are you performing this role?” (p. 128)

“Do the people on your team have mentors? Are these mentors inspiring them and challenging them to grow? When wads the last time you asked people on your team to describe the impact of their mentors? Mentors aren’t optional because people without mentors are destined to become stagnant in their growth.” (p. 129)

“Why do people on your team come to work every day? What is it that causes the light to come on in their eyes? What brings out the very best in them? Exceptional leaders and members of leadership teams don’t do what they do for money, acclaim or power. They work hard and cheerfully, facing heartaches and overcoming disasters, because they believe two inconvertible truths: the organization gives meaning to their lives, and the people they work with re honorable people who value the same meaning.” (p. 133)

Chapter 9 “How Can You Utilize People with Different Talents?”

In chapter 9, Chand speaks in great detail about he importance and advantage of engaging a wide variety of diverse leaders in an organization. This is a real challenging topic for me in my current role. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Mediocre leaders gather people around them who are mirrors, reflecting only what the leader thinks, says and does. But gifted leaders know the value- and the messiness- of complexity and diversity in their plans and their ladder holders.” (p. 137)

”Differences can be a team’s greatest strength.” (p. 140)

“Too often, leaders subconsciously are looking for people to join their boards and hire for their teams who are just like them. They don’t mean to be narrow; they just are. If we have the courage to admit our propensity to select people who consistently validate our worldview and values, we can then choose to broaden our reach and include people who maybe very different form us.”

I admit it – this is an area of weakness for me. I think due to some feeling of insecurity, it just feels better when everyone agrees with me and affirms my position. But I have gotten stuck many times in this going nowhere cycle of agreement.

“To achieve more size and speed, leaders need to broaden their canals. To broaden them, they need to think more expansively. To think this way, they need diverse, creative teams who stretch their minds and hearts. Change requires courage.” (p. 142)

“Leaders, go beyond what is comfortable and familiar to you. Recognize the hidden talents and perceptions of people who aren’t like you. Draw them out, affirm them, enlist them their contributions. As you listen to different voices around your table, you will expand your reach, sharpen your product, and raise the quality of your services.” (p. 143)

Gone are the days of the know-it-all leaders. If we are not collaborating with those different from ourselves, we are dead in the water.

“This is the work of alignment, so that the team members complement each other’s efforts instead of competing.” (p 145)

“Proper placement prevent problems; Poor people performance prevents prosperity.” (p. 147)

Chapter 10, “How Can You Produce Creative Tension?”

In this chapter, Chand challenges leaders to embrace the positive aspects of tension in their organizations. Most leaders tend to disapprove of tension but there is great value to be gained by understanding healthy tension and the good is produces.

“When entrepreneurs stride toward growth in business and pastors pursue the expansion of God’s kingdom, tension is a predictable result.” (p. 152)

“Most people in our culture think of peace as the absence of tension; Jesus’ peace is confidence in God’s presence, care, and calling in the midst of tension. That’s the kind of peace we want. That’s the kind we desperately need.”

“all gifted leaders have a very different perspective; their bold vision inevitably creates tension, so they expect tension, and they use tension to bring out the best in everyone around them.”

“Tension points are the places where opposite forces are at work, where flexibility is essential, and in animate objects, where growth happens. Every physical thin in the universe has tension points, and organizations can only grow and thrive if we recognize them and use them appropriately. Trying to avoid them weakens the system and ultimately leads to a collapse – sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.” (p. 153)

“There is no such things as a meaningful, tension-free relationship unless one of the people is dead.”

“One of the traits of a dynamic, healthy organization culture us that people are unafraid to share their ideas. But this kind of culture doesn’t happen naturally. It must be modeled, cultivated, and nurtured by a leader who welcomes disagreement and doesn’t insist on having the right to answer or the last word.” (p. 154)

“The question for leaders isn’t how to avoid tension, and it isn’t even how to resolve tension. Resolutions may seem like the highest goal but it is not. The question is: How can you create and manage tension to bring out the best in your team?” (p. 155)

“We need to redefine ‘tense”. When I use it to describe a meeting, I mean that we had a robust exchange of ideas, people weren’t afraid to voice their opinions, the culture promoted freedom of expression, disagreement was invited, decisions were made or not made as people heard and understood, and no one felt intimidated or overwhelmed, as it all took place.”

“It will take time to train a team to relish tension, but it’s worth the effort.” (p. 156)

“If we insist on having our way, and if we insist that we’re right, we won’t be able to disagree without hurting the people around us. We’ll perceive every challenge as a threat instead of an invitation to explore another point of view. With stability, security, and wisdom, we can love those who disagree with us, we can listen carefully to them with an open heart and without defensiveness, and in most cases we can support the person responsible for making the decision even is we would have made a different one.” (p. 157)

“We need to teach our teams that the decision-making apparatus needs to be respected. Some decisions may be by a vote, others by consensus and still others by the person in charge. Whatever the case, the entire team owns the decision. This means we welcome disagreement and the free exchange of ideas within the team, but when the responsible person makes a decision, everyone supports it to those outside of the team. They don’t nod at the end of the meeting and then walk out and tell a friend how dumb the idea was.” (p. 158)

Chapter 11 “Does It Ever End?”

“Some emerging leaders believe that if they can ever achieve their grand plan for growth, they can then hit the autopilot button and coast to ever-higher levels of size and speed. Wiser leaders know it doesn’t work that way. When they hit their highest goals, they certainly celebrate, and they may take a few days to relax, but they’re soon back at the job because their work never ends.”

This principle is worth the price of the book. For true leaders, the only finish line is when we leave this earth. Don’t get disappointed by thinking the work will one day stop.

“Many leaders strive for stability and consistency, but I would argue that these aren’t the right goals. Too often they lead to stagnation and eventual erosion.”

We’re born with the desire for comfort. Leaders have to fight this tendency. It’s in the hard work and challenges that we grow, produce and make the world a better place (p.165)

“The supreme yearning for stability is a sign of a stagnant organization, and perhaps toxicity. It never leads to growth. It doesn’t stimulate new ideas, it doesn’t challenge the status quo, it doesn’t inspire anyone, and it doesn’t force people to find ways to work together to fulfill a goal no one can accomplish alone. Leaders who become stagnant are defensive and react against every challenge. They hire people primarily for personal loyalty rather than finding people who will add spice to the mix.” (p. 166)

We see this too often. A leader who has lost sight of the vision is sometimes so defensive, there is no way to discuss it without starting a fight.

“Like Roosevelt, all great leaders are dreamers, and like him, great leaders find people who share their dreams and become deeply committed to making them happen. When they encounter people with passion but limited skills, they find a place somewhere for them to serve faithfully and well. When they find people with skills but no passion, they try to inspire commitment and zeal for the cause – and if the people don’t respond, the leaders replace them. But people with great ideas never threaten gifted leaders.” (p. 167)

I studied this principle known as situational leadership. The leader adjusts his/her approach based upon the skill and passion of the other individual.

“Gratitude is never out of season. It reminds all of us who we depend on, who is the source of our growth and joy, and who we trust for the future.” (p. 168)

“We don’t build trust by insisting on unanimity and instant compliance, but by valuing the input of every person on the team and providing time – within limits – for people to push back and give input. This is the kind of environment that stimulates the next wave of ideas that lead to creativity, energy, and growth.” (p. 169)

“My experience consulting with leaders in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and churches, I can confidently say that the single factor that has led to growth is consistent and effective leadership development.”

I wrote my Master’s thesis on leadership development in the local church. I sure could’ve used Chand’s work back then!

“The church needs to have a vibrant presence in the community – not just a building in the community. The church is most powerful when its people are woven into the fabric of the community: loving, serving, and caring in schools, businesses, government, sports activities, and touching those in need.”

Love this quote!

“The church’s leaders often use the number of people in the congregation as the primary benchmark of success, along with the size of the buildings and the cash in the bank account. But the true mark of success is the size and strength of the core of leaders who shoulder the burden and spread the joy of God throughout the ministry of the church.” (p. 170)

We sometimes measure the wrong thing – I believe – because they are easier to measure. It takes strong focus but we must get better at counting the things that matter.

“In a survey of leadership teams in hundreds of churches around the country, the Vanderbloemen Search Group and the Unstuck Group identified three practices that had the biggest impact on developing a strong core of leaders:

  • An intentional strategy of leadership development
  • A significant financial investment in staff development
  • A specific person who is responsible for developing leaders.

(p. 171)

“Leadership development doesn’t just happen. Organizations need a comprehensive plan to expand the number of people in the core and sharpen their skills and effectiveness. This plan can’t be an add-on; it must become central to the strategy.” (p. 172)

Again, something I discussed in my Master’s thesis.

“A common misconception is that leadership training occurs in classes. In fact, knowledge can be imparted in classes, but training happens in the field as people are exposed to real-life situations and coached by someone who sees potential, accelerates growth, and helps people overcome confusion, difficulties, and failure.” (p. 173)

“Great leaders come from a hothouse of growth, where the gospel message, motivations, and methods are modeled and imparted by loving, talented man and women. Leadership development is the way healthy organizations maintain the growth they’ve realized, and it’s how they continue to grow.” (p. 175)

Chapter 12 “What’s the Next Big Dream?”

“Why do some leaders wait so long to launch a new wave of growth? There may be many reasons. Some simply don’t realize their organizations are eroding in front of their eyes, others are afraid of the pushback they’ll undoubtedly feel if they launch a new initiative, and a few are simply exhausted and lack the energy to lead the charge. Whatever the reason, these leaders and their organizations miss the opportunity to increase their size and speed because they fail to revitalize their systems and structures. (p. 179)

We sometimes confuse waiting on God with too scared to try something new.

“Are true leaders ever satisfied? Is a certain level of size and speed enough? Are there no more mountains to climb and no new lands to discover? Is incremental growth acceptable, or is it time to launch something that will propel the organization to a higher level?” (p. 180)

There is a certain level of inner dissatisfaction in the life of every great leader. Left unchecked, it can get us into trouble; ignored, it can lead us to frustration.

“Look more deeply to discover the real needs in people’s lives. They don’t need a new building, program, or product, but the building, program, or product may be an effective way to meet their need.” (p. 183)

Church leaders – pay attention to that one.

“Go to conferences and listen to the great things other leaders are doing, talk to your friends who are doing wonderful things in their organizations, and read articles and books about bold initiatives, but don’t jump to conclusions. Stop to reflect on the needs those organizations are meeting. If the same needs exist in your world, consider meeting them, but come up with your own plan to fit your community and circumstances.”

“Think, talk to wise people, and stay focused on the pressing needs in your community. If you’re not meeting a real need, your plans will generate little initial enthusiasm and even less momentum to sustain the effort. A vision that captures hearts propels the organization forward. With it, you lead motivated people; without it, you drive people and demand compliance. When the vision isn’t based on a need, leaders must continually sell people – especially their staff teams – to keep them pumped up, but sooner or later, trust erodes and the team becomes resistant.”

Vision based on need. Simple, yet brilliant.

“When a leadership team is galvanized by the prospect of meeting needs in the lives of people in the community, team members daydream about new ideas almost as much as the leader does. They dive into their work with infectious enthusiasm, sharing their hearts with everyone they meet and creatively overcoming challenges. They do research because they want their efforts to be successful, and they gladly enlist others to join them in the work.”

(p. 184)

This is a key truth in this chapter. When people know they are making a difference, they get motivated and inspired. Ideas flow, creativity grows and everybody improves.

“Find a good coach or mentor. We’re better when we have a partner, someone who will tell us the truth no matter what that truth may be. We need someone who knows well enough to point out our strengths so we work from them, and who is honest about the yellow and red flags they see in our lives. We need more than a friend; we need a thoroughly objective, insightful person who has been where we want to go and knows how to help us get there.”

I love this. Mentoring is not a new idea but Chand communicates it is a compelling way.

“Be a continual learner. Great leaders are sponges who soak up information. Read challenging books, listen to brilliant speakers on podcasts, and talk to leaders in other fields to see how their expertise might cross-pollinate you and your organization.” (p. 186)

Leaders must be lifelong learners!

“Our work as leaders is infused with the same nobility, vision, and difficulty. In our organizations, our task is to bridge the divide between what is and what might be, to bring meaning to those who have lost hope, to bring value to people who want a better life, and to make human connections richer and more meaningful. Our work as leaders is no less than this, and our challenge is much like the one faced by those who looked at the jungles of Panama and wondered, “Can we really do this? They answered, “Yes we can.” That’s our answer too.” (p. 189-190)

Taking people from where they are to where they need to be – that’s the goal of a leader.

 

Dealing with a Chronic Kvetcher (Complainer)

designDefinition of kvetch (intransitive verb): to complain habitually, gripe.

We all know one or more kvetchers. He is the guy in the neighborhood who is always grouching about something; the gal you work with who whines about everything; the bellyachers, gripers, crabs and grumblers in our lives.

What a pain!

In my life and work, the issue needs to be addressed this way: what are we to do with the church grouch? (However, I think these principals can apply universally) Every church in which I have worked and I believe most churches in the country have at least one, and in some cases, several people who feel it their duty to complain. “The music is too loud.” “The room is too cold.” “The parking lot is full.” “The children are too noisy.” “The pastor preaches too long.” While some of these complaints may be legitimate, there are a few people who can only see the negative and are happy to communicate their disapproval to anyone who will listen. It can become a serious problem with significant ramifications if left unaddressed. Leaders do not have the luxury of overlooking the negative potential of allowing a crab to do his or her thing in the church.

Before we deal with solutions, let’s discuss a few of the intricacies of an attitude of complaining.

  1. Chronic complaining reveals the weakness of character. Francis Jeffrey said, “The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.” While this is harsh, I think it is spot on. We seldom meet very successful and productive people who are grouches. Too much griping may rat you out as a weak thinker. Ouch!
  2. Chronic complaining annoys others. Think about it: we all know someone who, as they approach the crowd, elicits a collective but silent, “oh no, not him/her!’ There aren’t many social or organizational settings where it is fun or productive to listen to someone bellyache. The negativity is just too much sometimes, right?
  3. Chronic complaining discourages others. Nothing sucks the momentum out of a room like a guy who fusses about stuff. While leaders must be strong enough to value constructive criticism, we are discussing those who enjoy bringing others down to their level of doldrums. Be advised, uncontested complainers will destroy your healthy organizational climate.
  4. Chronic complaining makes matters worse. Like worry, complaining has no positive, results-oriented qualities. And habitual grumbling clouds the vision of people who are working hard to make things work. I personally have been distracted from important, potentially life-changing opportunities by individuals who successfully throw a wrench into the organizational machine through their moaning.
  5. Chronic complaining costs us relationships. If you are committed to complaining, those who have a choice will walk away from you. Family may be stuck, work associates may not have a choice, but no one wants to spend time around a crab. “Complaining is dangerous business. It can damage or even destroy your relationship with God, your relationships with other people, and even your relationship with yourself.” (Joyce Meyer)

This is why I said earlier that leaders (or family members or colleagues) can’t allow the complainer to dictate the future for others.

Now the question becomes – How should we respond? What, if anything, are we to do about chronic complainers?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Remember that people are hurting. When someone spends a significant amount of time complaining, this is an indication of a deeper problem in their life. Perhaps they are ill or in pain. Maybe they are lonely or depressed. Those who have been deeply hurt by others may feel the need to deal with offense; and that can impact their relationships with others. When this is the case, we must be patient and must seek to help.
  • Complaining is a good way to get attention. Think about it. There are folks who have no one to listen to them. The old adage about the squeaky wheel getting the grease has valid application here. If maladjusted people can garner attention only by grouching, they probably will grouch. While I want to say it gently, some people create their our miseries. Monica Johnson expressed it this way, “Many of our choices have led to the predicaments we are presently complaining about.” If this is the case, perhaps we shouldn’t reward the bad behavior of crabbing by listening, but instead, pay attention and give credence to them at other times. It may not work but it surely can’t hurt.
  • A effective way to control others is by making them so uncomfortable and awkward that they don’t know how to respond. Chronic complainers know this. Complainers are sometimes manipulators – sometimes we’ll give in to them just to shut them up – and they know that. So, the answer? Stop giving in; stand your ground and stop enabling the complaining.
  • Recognize that complaining is a spiritual problem. Complaining can reveal a lack of gratitude, insecurity about one’s condition or a desire to control the lives of others. Chronic grouches sometimes suffer from feelings of insecurity – so they live with the need for attention. The best way to get attention sometimes is by whining about something – anything. While we can’t solve the insecurities of others, we can affirm them to the point that they don’t get the response they desire from complaining.

In any case, there is something spiritually that is missing in the life of a complainer. If we recognize this and deal with it as such, solutions may be discovered.

In a brief 3 point conclusion, allow me to offer this:

  1. Pray for complainers. They need God’s love and grace. Rather than complaining about them (!), ask God to help them. And ask God for more grace to deal with them.
  2.  Offer solutions. If you have the time to invest, address the issues of a complainer one by one. Sit down with them, have them document their grievances and respectfully answer them. I have shocked and disarmed a few grouches by my willingness to logically discuss their concerns. Develop solid answers and present them to them. Point by point, show them that you are sympathetic but that you insist on a solutions–oriented approach to the problems. The truth is, many chronic grouches do not want solutions – they want to complain. This approach will reveal the truth.
  3. If none of this works, walk away. Now, I am not talking about abandoning a spouse or neglecting a friend in need. I am talking about distancing yourself from the yuck that is involved with complaining. If you are not in a personal relationship with this person, leave. If they are a family member or if you are forced by circumstances to endure them, distance yourself by not allowing them into your head. Walk away by making yourself impervious to their negativity.

One final challenge: join me in assuming that we are one of the crabby people – just possibly. I don’t want to be that guy that people dread being around. Zig Ziglar says, “Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining – it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.” If you are the town grouch – work on it! You and I can do better!

Philippians 2:14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Have a positive outlook. God is good. He loves you. Live your life in a way that reveals your gratitude for all that He has done for you.

This Was My Pulpit

IMG_7183It’s been said that some of the best sermons aren’t delivered in church behind a pulpit but, rather, in everyday life situations. I tend to agree.

I have nothing but respect for the spiritual responsibility of preaching the sacred Gospel. Men and women of faith have been the mouthpiece of God for generations. This is in obedience to the Scriptures that command us to preach the Word. Pastors, Elders, evangelists and missionaries will continue to declare the truth of the Bible from pulpits around the world until Christ returns.

However, this week I was not the preacher in the pulpit; I was the preacher in disaster relief. I was privileged to be able to serve with a team of volunteers who ministered to the people of Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

I did not preach with words. I preached with a hammer and crowbar. I was responsible for removing rotting wood from the floors of a home that was occupied by two elderly ladies. The work was hot, smelly, time-consuming and strenuous. I had several hours to myself so while I worked, I prayed, worshipped and contemplated.

The inspiration came to me that the floor was my pulpit for the week. I was living out in real time the words that I speak on Sunday. I speak the Gospel on Sunday; this week, I got to live out the Gospel. The preaching was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, I am not the best preacher in the world but I struggle even more with my construction skills. But it’s hard to mess up demolishing a floor. Though monotonous and painful, I offered this service to God – to an audience of One.

True ministry is not glamorous. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. But true ministry serves the purpose of glorifying God and bringing hope to people.

I don’t plan to quit my day job. But it feels good to put some works to my faith.

None of us are interested in listening to a preacher who doesn’t live what he preaches. That thought puts me in a quandary. How can I talk others into doing something I do not do?

IMG_7172You may be wondering what the second picture is. I fell through the floor. While carrying a heavy box, the rotten floor gave way. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt. And my buddies had a good laugh at my expense. So, this kind of preaching can be dangerous but still humorous.

6 Things I Look for in Millennial Leaders

designAs a Boomer leader, one of my greatest joys is to engage with emerging leaders. The energy and excitement that younger men and women bring to the table is a vital part of my personal leadership strategy; they keep me fresh and continually learning. Young leaders provide necessary elements to our processes that cannot be found elsewhere. From a practical point of view, if I hope to impact the future, I must connect now with those who will actually be leading in the future. On a personal note, when I was a young leader, older leaders poured so much into me that I would be remiss to not pay back what was provided for me.

When I connect with a young leader, I look for at least 6 things. Among them are:

Energy, cultural relevance, creativity. cooperation, commitment and stability.

Energy: it’s no secret that organizations need the vitality that millennial leaders bring to the table. There is no substitute for the intensity that youth provides. Our organizations need the pop that Millennials bring.

Cultural relevance: It’s nearly impossible for seasoned leaders to stay current with the nuances of our rapidly changing world. One way to do this is to remain in close contact with empowered young leaders. Nothing is more embarrassing than using a word that used to mean one thing but now means something completely different! When I am with younger leaders, I love to just observe them as they communicate. This helps keep me in the loop and remain relevant to the culture we are serving.

Creativity: Successful organizations utilize the services of people who think in new and fresh ways. What works in communications today more than likely won’t tomorrow. Today’s emerging leaders bring innovative and visionary ways of seeing the world. I need that in my life and in my leadership.

Cooperation: I am looking for young leaders to cooperate with the processes in which I am involved. While it’s not reasonable to demand unquestioned alliance, those whose demeanor is one of collaboration and contribution make incredibly valuable team members that we can’t function without.

Commitment: One of the biggest struggles in leadership is to identify people who will stick around. No one likes the idea of investing significant resources of time and energy into a relationship that can be quickly abandoned. I am looking for Millennial leaders who know how to stick with a worthwhile relationship.

Stability. A common criticism of younger leaders is that they are unstable and flighty. I think this is an unfair critique. There are many young leaders who can be counted upon. They are steady, dependable and trustworthy. I look for that when I am engaged with emerging leaders so that their impact can remain long-term.

Young leaders make me better and I hope I make them better. Of course, there are many more attributes that we should value when considering young leaders. Most of all, I hope that we can make more progress toward multigenerational leadership structures that will change the world!

(This article is also published in https://www.forgelead.org/single-post/2017/09/05/6-Things-I-Look-For-in-Millennial-Leaders.)