Let’s Own the Problem

design-1We frequently complain about the condition of the world. I often hear pastors and leaders grumble about the condition of the church they serve. Family members freely voice their disappointments with their family. Employees criticize their supervisors. It seems to be the way of the world.

But here is a thought: Let’s own the problem.

By “owning”, I am referring to the opportunity we have to accept responsibility, perhaps not for creating the problem (although at times we are guilty), but rather, for discovering the solution to the problem.

Sometimes, we like to remove ourselves from the work. We observe a big dilemma and the only answer is a lot of hard work – so we stand on the sidelines and shrug our shoulders. Or, we inherit a bad situation and it’s frustrating to see what a mess someone else has made. In these cases, it is easy to exonerate ourselves from responsibility.

I want to make 2 points very clear here:

  1. Leaders must be willing to clean up messes they did not make

and

  1. If you refuse to be the solution to problem, you are part of the problem.

Pastor, if you’ve been at your current church for more than 3 years, you own the problems, whether or not you created them. No more blaming your predecessor or the church members. If the church has a bad reputation in the community, repair it. If the leaders have no vision, train them. Politicians cannot continue to point fingers at the other party. We didn’t elect you to blame; we elected you to lead. If your neighborhood park is rundown, you can fuss about it on Facebook, or you can organize the community, raise some money, and go to work. Own the problem!

Keep in mind that God has a strategic plan for your life and if you are living in obedience to Him, He has you right where He wants you. Did He place you where you are only to be an observer? In His infinite wisdom, did He create you to be a complaining bystander? No, He put you in your current role so you can bring solutions to problems around you. You can no longer afford to be one who only points out problems – you must now be a solutions-oriented leader!

Moses didn’t enslave the people but God asked him to lead them out of slavery.

Joseph didn’t create the famine but God sent him ahead so he could rescue the entire nation.

Paul didn’t create the storm in Malta but God used him to save all 276 on board the boat.

Please notice that, in the cases above, owning the problem was painful. It cost the problem solvers a great deal. They suffered. But each of them accepted their role. And countless people were eternally indebted to them.

Let’s not minimize the cost of owning today’s problems. Let’s also not mistake this concept for becoming a “fixer.” You are not the Messiah; it is easy to get out of balance in your quest to bring answers. But within the proper parameters, one person can have an incredible positive impact on the dilemmas of this world.

One of the biggest responses we will hear from this proposition is: “the problem is too big for me. I don’t know what to do. It’s out of my scope of capabilities…” Keep this in mind: God can do anything. If you are on His side, if you are working on His team, He can bring the solution. But many times, YOU ARE THE SOLUTION! By this statement, I mean that God has placed the person with the perfect gift mix in the critical place to have the greatest impact in the process of removing of the obstacles that hold people back. You are that person. Let’s accept our role as problem solvers.

Problem solving is an art form. It requires great faith, vision and people skills. Not everyone possesses these gifts, so those that do must exploit them. Until we engage, develop and deploy these problem-solving skills, the problems will persist, and increase.

Keep this in mind: if you can’t or won’t engage the trouble, if you refuse to take ownership, perhaps God will appoint someone else who will.

Until we see ourselves as “owning” the issue, unless we take the reins to lead our way out of a problem, we will continue to make excuses – and the problems will plague us as well as the people we love. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s own it.

A Bigger Leadership Plate

IMG_3641These days, leading ministry may be compared to the Thanksgiving meal we are all anticipating. We get a plate and start loading it up. When we run out of room, we get a bigger plate. If that plate proves to be inadequate, just grab the turkey platter!

Ministry leaders regularly fill their leadership plates with duties, responsibilities and expectations. When the plate gets overloaded, we generally try to increase the capacity of our leadership plate. This approach can become a dangerous trap! Too many ministry leaders have been victimized by the inability to say no to opportunities. A very frequent self description by ministry leaders is: overwhelmed!

Rather than grabbing an even more massive leadership platter, may I suggest we exercise some discretion? Learn to say “no” to some of the items being offered. Keep your favorites, but let some other things go. Find some responsibilities you can release – to someone who perhaps can do them even better than you. While these opportunities are important and you may love them, adding them to an already full plate can make you sick – literally.

Don’t let your ministry “eyes” be bigger than your ministry “stomach.” Be balanced, plan ahead, and be reasonable.

Unless you are a competitive eater, Thanksgiving will result in satisfaction and gratitude. If you have no restraint, you may find yourself enjoying a food coma.

Ministry leader, use restraint. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t allow the pressures of your calling and the expectations of others to overload your ministry plate. No one else can do this for you; you must take ownership of your ministry plate. Are you an overwhelmed leader? You’d better take control! Your discipline will result in healthy productivity!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Can you Play the Theme Song from Charlie Brown?

Several years ago, I knew a guy who could play the song on the piano, and he could play it very well. At many church social events, he would find his way to a nearby piano and begin to play the song. People would stop and listen and laugh along and talk about how awesome he was. He kept doing this for a while, until people got used to it.

This happy little song brings about warm feelings for many. They think of holidays as a kid. The title of the song is “Linus and Lucy” and it was released in 1964 by jazz pianist, Vince Guaraldi. I’m guessing the song will stay in your head the rest of the day.

At one event, I talked to the guy at our church about his remarkable talent to play the piano. And he told me something unusual. This was the only song he knew how to play. He never took lessons, he didn’t study music. He explained that, as a kid, he spent a lot of time alone. His parents had a piano, so he taught himself how to play that song – only that song. So, apart from the occasional show off session at church social functions, his talent was useless. It served no productive purpose. In addition to being really unusual, it always seemed like such a waste to me. Obviously he had some natural ability. If he had honed those skills and invested his time and energy in something in addition to that one song, who knows what he could’ve done?

Many leaders are “one song leaders.” They have one skill; one talent. Maybe they can sing well or preach powerfully or perhaps they are a good-looking person with a magnetic personality. They ride this talent as often and as far as they can. But much like the guy who could play only one song, they are limited in their effectiveness because they never develop anything more than their “go to” skill. They are able to put on a show, and initially attract a crowd, but eventually people get used to the same old offering and begin to ignore him or her.

Here is the sad part. That guy kept playing that song although people were no longer impressed. This was the only way he knew to get attention, and it no longer worked. I wonder how many of us are still doing the same thing that used to work – but it no longer works? Listen, sometimes, what was effective 10 years ago may no longer be effective today. That is why good leaders grow. They develop new abilities. They are smart enough to recognize when the same old song isn’t cutting it anymore.

Leaders, this is no time for pride or stubbornness. If what you are doing is not working, you need to adjust. If you find fewer people willing to follow, learn a new song. Even better, learn how to “play the piano”, not just one song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call for Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Everyone Wants You to Succeed

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

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

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

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

What is the motivation for this type of behavior?

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

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

Some are wicked and seek to destroy anything good.

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

What are we supposed to do about this?

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

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

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

But more than any of these things…

Keep your heart soft and your spirit tender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouragement for the Dis-Couraged Leader

designI purposefully hyphenated the word discouraged.

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

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

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

Think about this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dis-Couraged Leader, encourage yourself! Lead on!