A Secret Learned in Church Revitalization – (This is HUGE)

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

Some of the most vocal opponents to changes we made in church revitalization were simply rule-followers. That’s huge insight. Don’t miss this. 

These people liked to know we were obeying the written and approved structure of the church. When we didn’t follow them exactly they objected. Sometimes loudly. Often in ALL CAPS.

Let me give you one example. (I’m changing a couple of minor details just to protect identities, but the story is true and principles the same.)

I once wanted to hire a staff member. Personally, I believe the senior pastor should be able to build a team. I realize rules don’t always accommodate that, but this was a church in need of serious revitalization. The only way I could see forward was to have some new faces on the team.

The “rules” of the church (some of them unwritten) said I had to form a committee, begin a search process, take the final candidate to the personnel committee, then deacons, then set up interviews with the church, and then get a church vote. (I’m exhausted just typing all that – and we’ve likely lost a good candidate at this point.) 

This job required unique skills. I knew from experience it would not be an easy position to fill and time was of the essence. Plus, I had someone very qualified I was ready to hire. 

I convinced leadership to move forward and we hired the person. 

And that is when we discovered the objectors. Granted, it was from a few people, but they were very vocal. The most frequent complaint was the ole familiar, “We’ve never done things like that before.” They didn’t think we were following the written (or sometimes unwritten) rules. 

That’s when I discovered the secret. 

Here’s the story to explain how: 

I had one guy who carried the policy manual for hiring procedures in his suit coat pocket on Sunday mornings. (It was thick, so it was hard to hide.) One day, after several tense encounters about the hire we had made, I had a revelation. He kept mentioning those policies. So, I asked him, “George (not his real name), are you upset because of who we hired or because of the way we hired him?” 

He then told me he was upset because we hadn’t followed the rules. I then asked him, “George, so if we changed the rules to the way we just did this hire and then hired someone else you’d be okay?” He said, “Yes, because that would be the rules.” 

Then it hit me. This is the HUGE secret. 

Many times the objectors to change aren’t objecting to the change. They are simply objecting to the fact that you aren’t following the rules.

Often if you change the rules and – and follow them – they’ll support you.

Maybe you don’t need to complain about the rules you have – or try to go around them – perhaps you simply need to write better rules. 

And when you do – people may better support the change. 

Granted, this won’t be the case every time, but since this occasion I’ve found it to be so a number of times. It’s certainly worth considering.

7 Things I Know about People with whom I May NOT Agree

By | Christians, Church, Leadership | 2 Comments

I have learned I don’t agree with everyone. And everyone doesn’t agree with me. 

I could say shame on them, and while that might be funny, it isn’t fair. I’ve been wrong many times before. Many times. 

Over the years, as I’ve taken time to listen and get to know people different from me, I’ve realized I often have as much in common with them as I have differences. Most of us are closer to alignment than the news media or politics might describe. Of course, there are people who are extreme in their viewpoints, but Even they probably share some common desires.  

7 things I can probably assume about most people with whom I might usually disagree:  

They know things I don’t know. I don’t have to agree with everything they think to learn something from them. 

I know things they don’t know. Granted, it takes two people for mutual learning to occur, but I can only be responsible for my side of things. 

(Bottom line: Our experience, background, education, and environment shapes what we know. Or think we know.)

I almost never “win” when I make my goal to convince them I’m right. People naturally become defensive of their positions. That includes me, unless I discipline myself not to. 

I can probably better engage people if they think I actually like them. People respond better when I and am trying to understand them. (There’s an even better chance if they think I love them.) 

Understanding another person’s perspective requires listening. It involves an intentional attempt to hear what they are feeling as much as what they are saying. 

At the end of the day, we want many of the same things. We want to be happy (and for our kids to be). We want to make the world a better place. We may disagree on how to get there, but our end desire is often going to be the same.

I’ve sometime been considered overly simplistic, but it seems to me the more we understand what each of us want, where we’ve developed our point of view, and how our own culture, demographics and beliefs shape our opinions, the better we can work through our differences to accomplish things of value for each of us. 

A Huge Reason We Can Expect Smaller Crowds Upon Church Reentry

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 3 Comments

One reason we can expect smaller crowds upon church reentry is not the virus. That’s part of it for sure. It makes sense. Especially if you’re high-risk you should consider sheltering in place until it’s safe to return. 

But many parts of the country are opening. I’m seeing lots of traffic on the streets. Restaurants are buys again. I haven’t been to a mall or department store, but I hear they have traffic again. 

Many churches have opened for in-person services or are considering when that will be. Still, I would expect to open with a smaller percent of your average. And not because of the fear issue. 

There is one reason we can expect smaller crowds upon church reentry. 

It could even become the bigger reason. 

One reason: HABIT

People have gotten used to worshiping in their pajamas. They like “not” being “late” for church. It’s been easy to “get the kids ready”. Bad hair days are not a problem. You can “worship” from anywhere. I’ve seen the trend in meetings where people could have been in person, yet chose to “zoom” in for convenience. I get it. 

There will be a natural inclination among some to worship from home.

I’m not suggesting we ignore attempts to gather people together again. I am of the mindset that in-person church is Biblical. I don’t think the size of the gathering is mandated, but corporate worship, study and fellowship is a part of discipleship. As well as in-person caring and serving others. 

But I think church leaders will need to begin to recognize this is a part of “new normal”. Prior to this pandemic, some church leaders had been discussing how to engage disengaged people. We need to continue those conversations and take them to a whole new level to our online communities. 

We are discussing this as a church. I don’t have all the answers yet – if you do please share them.

But some questions I’m processing in my mind and with others:

What have we been called to do as a church? (I know that may seem an obvious question, but seasons like this should cause us to ask vision-directive questions perhaps even more than procedural type questions. The answers to the vision questions should drive the procedural questions.) 

Does one large corporate worship service have to occur every Sunday? If not, could two (or more) churches share a building and only try to have one or two larger events per month? 

What are we offering of “value” to people they cannot get online? In fairness, I think for a time there will be a greater appreciation among some for genuine human interaction.

How can we offer “value” online? How do we continue to create something for people to engage online who may not feel comfortable returning to church – or may choose to even more irregularly than before? 

Most of us believe that only attending a worship service is not enough to disciples someone. So, we offer small group Bible studies and serving/mission opportunities. How do we encourage that to people who mainly remain a part of online church? 

What do people need? What do they want? How do we deliver it? 

What’s the best use of my time and our staff/volunteers time? Are we adequately allocated for efficiency, effectiveness, and longevity in this changing landscape? 

I’m open to your input – learning as you are. 

5 Common Derailments in Church Revitalization

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

I’ve been working in and around church revitalization for close to 20 years. The first church where I served as pastor, after entering vocational ministry, was a small, rural church that needed revitalization. I’m currently serving as an interim in another church needing some revitalization. 

I have noticed a few things that seem to get in the way of a church making the turn. When these are present it becomes very difficult, in my opinion, for the church to ever recover and grow again.

Five common derailments in church revitalization:

Arrogance of the pastor.

I share this in love and respect for pastors, and believe it is sometimes done in enthusiasm more than in contempt, but when a pastor assumes nothing good has ever been done in the church, people rebel. It’s like pushing people into a corner to defend themselves. Most likely the church has tried things before. Certainly there have been good seasons in the past or the church wouldn’t still be open. Some of the people the pastor is attempting to lead have likely been leading for years. The more a pastor listens and learns, the more open people are to follow their leadership. 

Power struggles and tired structures.

When the governance or structure gets in the way of moving the church forward it needs to be considered to help the church grow again. Changes needed in church revitalization often expose needless bureaucracy and power brokers. This often means shifting power away from some and giving power to others. This is not necessarily the pastor – or even the staff – but it does mean empowering others to lead. 

Ignoring the past.

This includes the good and the bad. Some needs to be re-energized and some needs to be repented from, but until the past is acknowledged and either honored or dealt with appropriately momentum may never occur. 

Making changes without changing the way changes are made.

This is when the church makes changes, often good and needed changes, but the structure of how decisions like this are made remain the same. If you have to battle the system or structure every time you make a change there will be very little long-term success. Do the hard work to write better rules and the church will be able to make needed changes in a timely and efficient manner – with less conflict. 

Attempting too much too soon.

Change fatigue, the exhaustion that comes from excessive change, is one of the most common derailments of revitalization. People can only accept so much change at a time. Granted, you can also move too slowly, but as a rule we need to change a few things at a time, celebrate, then change some more. There’s a healthy rhythm to effective change management. 

Those are few that I’ve observed. I’d love to hear from you if you have seen others. 

7 Things I Know About (Almost) Every Pastor Right Now

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

In my desire to care for pastors, I’ve observed a few things about pastors during this pandemic. In fact, I can predict some things about you right now, pastor. Or at least most of you. 

Five things I know about (almost) every pastor right now:

Pastors are overloaded with information. There are more articles, blog posts, webinars, podcasts, surveys and forwarded emails and Facebook posts than ever. It is simply impossible to keep up with all of them. Most pastors are on information overload. 

(Frankly, I reduced the number of my blog posts because I don’t always know what to say.  I’m sharing from my experience when I have something to share. We are “building this plane as we fly it“. )

Pastors are hearing differing opinions. They range from we should have never closed our buildings to we should keep our buildings closed until Jesus returns. We must require people to wear masks and masks are going to make us sicker. We shouldn’t sing and we have to sing or it isn’t “church”. Lots of varying opinions and everyone is an expert or read just the right article from one.

Pastors are stretched beyond capacity. One consistent thing I hear from pastors is that they are tired. They are producing far more content than they usually do. The needs of the people we love haven’t decreased. They’ve increased. The burden we feel to care for people is greater now than ever in my ministry.

Pastors are trying to make good decisions. I can’t imagine any pastor intentionally making bad decisions or ones that hurt the church. We’ve never done most of what we are doing these days. Everything is opinion-based. Pastors are “experimenting”. At times, it will be proven a good decision and other times not. 

Pastors are in a unique setting. Each church is different. Every pastor is uniquely wired by God. Churches have different buildings, different people, and different local governing suggestions/requirements. Therefore, it will be difficult for any church to adopt one cookie-cutter approach. 

How much did I get right about you, pastor? 

Listen, I’m here with you. Currently serving in a lead pastor (intentional interim) position, I am overloaded with information, hearing lots of differing opinions, stretched, trying to make wise decisions, and in a very unique setting. We are in this together – even if we are facing different individual issues. 

I do have a few suggestions. (And they are simply opinions too.)

Surround yourself with wise people. Now is not the time to isolate yourself. You may need voices outside your church, but hopefully there are some wise people in your church as well. It might be that you need to glean from people who are not necessarily in a leadership position in your church.

Stay local in your sources as much as possible. While I love hearing from those who are trying to help us with national ministries – and I am listening to them some, our best answers are likely going to come from people closest to our setting. Other pastors in our area and local and state leaders will better understand our unique contexts. 

Don’t be afraid to lead. You will make mistakes, but you might discover the next great you or the next great thing for your church. People are going to have opinions – like they always have. Be open to input from others, seek wise counsel, pray continually, but lead the best you can. Churches need real leadership these days. 

Take care of yourself. You must protect yourself. Put your own mask on (and I’m talking metaphorically not literally) before attempting to help others. Exercise. Rest in between the sprints. Care for your family. (You may want/need to wear a physical mask. I’ll leave that decision to you.)

One thing I’m sure about. We need pastors at their best during times of crisis. And before and after they occur.

(If it helps, I did write 5 Voices Pastors Need to be Listening to Now.) 

A Tribute to Moms With No Children of Their Own – Happy Mother’s Day

By | Christians, Church, Family, Parenting | 3 Comments

This is a tribute to the moms who have no children – of their own.

I’ve posted this thought a number of times, because I’m always sensitive to the “mothers” without children.

You know the ones. For whatever reason, they never had children.

Some never tried.
Others never could.
Some lost their child and maybe some gave them up for adoption.

For many women it’s a hidden pain they carry deeply. Deeper than any wound. The pain is deeper than most of us could probably understand. (Certainly, deeper than I can understand.)

Cheryl and I have witnessed this throughout our ministry. This has been one of the silent, unshared pains we have witnessed in churches where we have served. These are often the “unspoken” prayer requests.

For a Biblical example, I’m reminded of Hannah’s pain in 1 Samuel 1.

They never had children, but they:

  • Care for others sacrificially, simply for the joy of giving.
  • Are willing to fight lions, tigers and bears (Oh my!) for the ones they love.
  • Have more strength than the average man when caring for someone.
  • Are often taken advantage of because of their generosity.
  • Love deeply and unconditionally.
  • Make life special for others – just because.
  • Find satisfaction in the simplest gestures of love.
  • Strive to make the world a better place for those around them.
  • Hide their pain – most of the time – when people take advantage of them.
  • Are always thinking of others and willing to put others ahead of themselves.

Sounds every bit like a mother to me.

Many of them wanted children, but were never given the blessing. And motherhood is a blessing. Just as all parenting is.

They have no children.

But they have a mother’s heart.

They may not have children, not in the natural sense. They likely won’t get flowers, candy, or even a card for Mother’s Day. But in their heart they are every bit a mother.

They love like a mother. Sacrifice like a mother. Serve like a mother. Give – just like a mother gives.

And if God were to celebrate Mother’s Day, I think He would include them in the celebration.

Because in God’s way of doing things, it’s always about the heart.

“Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

This year, as you celebrate Mother’s Day, don’t forget the moms who have no children.

While you’re at it, don’t forget the one whose mother isn’t here any longer. And the one who has a hard story with their mother. And all the others who – as one person celebrates – another person weeps.

Let’s be like our God who is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18) and be sensitive to the needs of others.

Crisis Leadership: 5 Things To Do AFTER the Crisis

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

I have been writing about the times of crisis, especially from the viewpoint of leadership. I’ve written these posts previously, but like most crises, none of us saw this current one coming. I pray God brings each of us through this time quickly.

You’ll want to read the first two posts HERE and HERE. They deal with things to do and things not to do when leading in a crisis.

It’s equally important to know what to do AFTER the time of crisis has passed. Many of us miss these important steps.

Here are 5 things to do AFTER a time of crisis:

Rejoice. Be thankful the crisis is over and a time of peace has come. I have many times prayed fervently during the hard times, but forsaken my “God-time” when everything is going well. Don’t follow my example in this. Let’s remain as desperate for God as we’ve been the last few months.

Share. The Bible is clear we are to allow struggles to help others in theirs. I love how this seems to have brought churches together. Pastors are learning from each other again. That’s a good thing.

Prepare. If you have lived long enough you know that seasons of crisis come many times in life. During the quiet times — when all is going reasonably well — is when we should be preparing for harder times.

Rest. To borrow from the Cheers theme song, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.” Many people never enjoy the peaceful times because they are too paranoid about the next crisis that may or may not even occur. We should prepare for times of trouble, but we should never live in a state of worry. Worry is a sin. And it’s never helpful. After a crisis, and even with mini-breaks in between, rest. Recover. Rejuvenate.

Grow. I have grown spiritually more during the hard times than in the easy times of my life. Crisis-mode teaches us valuable insight into the character and heart of God. Use the down times to evaluate your relationship with God, your life, and see how the two connect. Work on the places you are out of sync with God’s will for your life. Work on your skills as a leader. Become a better person. Some of the strongest character is developed only through times of crisis. Evaluate post-crisis.

It would be nice if you never needed these posts. But crisis leadership is a part of leading. It’s what we do.

Crisis Leadership: 5 Things TO DO

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

In my last post, I shared 5 things not to do in times of crisis. I am writing this with the leader in mind, but I suspect they may be life applicable regardless of the crisis.

As stated, I began with the negative, because in my experience that’s where most people begin when crisis occurs. (Read: 5 Things NOT To Do In Times of Crisis) We often tend to run in the opposite direction from where we should run. Some of the worst decisions I have observed people make (including me) are during the crisis-mode times of life.

Obviously knowing what to do in these times is equally important. How you respond and what you do will greatly determine future realities after the crisis has subsided.

Here are 5 things TO DO in times of crisis:

Stay. I love Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” where he explains how important it is to know when to quit and that time may come. At the beginning of the crisis is not the time. Until you have been able to evaluate the crisis from every angle and you clearly know there is no way out, stay the course. Godin’s book also talks about how those who succeed learn to push through the hard times. Stay in it long enough to know which time it is for you. I share this from very hard personal experience. We sold a business — walking away simply to start over — and looking back we may have recovered had we suffered through it a little longer.

Stand. Stick to your moral convictions and the vision you have for your life. Don’t allow the crisis to keep you from doing the right things, even if those choices seem to be the quickest solutions. Stand with the moral and personal convictions you had before the crisis began. You’ll be glad you did when the crisis is no longer a crisis.

Glean. Learn from others who have gone through similar crises. Someone else’s past situation may not be identical to yours, but the emotional and decision-making process they went through probably will be. Most people after a crisis can tell you things they wish they had done differently. And, most leaders who have led for any significant period of time have either endured through a crisis or, even if they failed miserably, learned valuable lessons they would do for the next crisis.

Examine. I said in my last post not to do this immediately. We tend as leaders to quickly want to blame someone — mostly ourselves. This is never a helpful process initially, but at some point you’ll need to ascertain how you got in the crisis in the first place. If it was a matter of bad decisions, how can you keep from making those same mistakes again? If you keep finding yourself in the same crisis, shouldn’t that tell you something? Sometimes the answer will simply be because we live in a messed-up world or things were out of our control. Don’t be afraid of that answer, but don’t default to it either. We all make mistakes and we have to own them.

Learn. Allow every crisis to teach you something about God, yourself and others. If you have this ambition and mindset you will be surprised how different your approach to suffering through it and dealing with it emotionally will be. God is always willing to use the hard times to teach us important principles about life, ourselves, and ultimately about Him.

I’ve got one more list to come about the times of crisis. And, It’s the one all of us in crisis want to get to eventually. Next post I will share 5 things to do after a crisis.

Crisis Leadership: 5 Things NOT To Do

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 5 Comments

I first wrote a post like this in 2010 following a huge flood that devastated our county. As a pastor of a large church, we were called upon to help our community in recovery efforts. Almost 10 years previous to that, I served as vice-mayor of our city when our downtown was destroyed by a tornado. Now in 2020, I find myself pastoring again – in a different church – in the midst of another crisis.

I frequently encourage leaders to copy principles not practices. But the principles in each of these times of crisis remain the same.

The main takeaway for me is that the way you respond as a leader will almost always determine the quality of recovery for the organization after the crisis.

No doubt you’re well underway with your crisis leadership, so I may be late to the party for COVID-19. Something tells me thought that there will be other times we will need these principles. In the next few posts, I want to re-share some principles I have learned on how to respond during crisis times of life.

I will start with the negative, because typically we begin there when crisis comes. This post will be followed by some ideas of what you should do. Then finally, I’ll share some thoughts on what to do after the crisis period has subsided.

Here are 5 things NOT to do in times of crisis:

Panic. The word panic means “a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior” (Dictionary.com). If you panic when crisis occurs you’ll almost always make bad decisions and cause yourself more pain. Calm down, think and pray so you can make wiser decisions. There is always time to pray.

Quit. When I was in a business that was struggling the worst reaction to my situation was to run from the problem. And, sadly, I did this one frequently. I would disappear for hours. Looking back, it never solved anything. Reflecting on those days, I wish I had stayed the course, because when I gave up, so did those I was supposed to be leading.

Blame. Figuring out who is at fault when you are in crisis-mode is probably not as important as figuring out what to do next. There will be time to analyze later — and that should happen — but don’t become paralyzed with it now. (This includes kicking yourself for being in the crisis.)

Refuse Help. I have learned by experience that, when God is allowing a crisis to occur, He is also stirring people to intercede on behalf of the suffering. It’s amazing how it happens. He may have prepared someone else, through their own season of crisis, intentionally so they can help others.

Don’t deny someone their opportunity to be obedient to what God calls them to do. That may mean swallowing your pride, raising the white flag of surrender and letting them help.

Deny God. People either run towards God or away from God in times of crisis. You can probably figure out which option works best. This is a time to learn to fully rely on God. He’s never taken off guard or by surprise. He always has a plan. It’s always good. Lean into Him.

In my next post, I’ll share 5 things TO DO in times of crisis.

7 Ways To Make Really Fast Leadership Decisions

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

There are those moments in leadership when you have to make quick decisions. If COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that sometimes we just have to move forward with limited information.

Like every decision a leader makes, the decision impact others. These are decisions which are hard to make with plenty of time to make them. Decisions which will be hard to reverse. Decisions which you would usually spend days, weeks or months deciding – but the have to be made now. There is no choice.

You might wish you had more time to make them, but you don’t. Every leader I know has those moments. Unfortunately, the larger an organization grows the more they seem to occur.

During a pandemic, it hasn’t mattered how large or small an organization you lead, you simply had to act – and many times act NOW.

What do you do?

First, my experience is this is still a rare occurrence in leadership – or at least you should attempt to make it so. Many times we feel we have to move faster than we really do. My advice is to try not to make quick decisions any more than possible. Proverbs says, “haste makes mistakes”.

There are times, however, when, as a leader, you simply have to move forward. So, when you do, here are a few ways to make better quick decisions.

7 ways to make decisions fast:

Pray

Sentence prayers work. Ask God His opinion on the matter. He cares about the smallest details of your life. He may be doing something bigger than you can imagine, however, so He may allow you freedom to choose knowing that He will work things for an ultimate good. Ask for His input first though. And, part of this is developing a close enough relationship with God where if He’s trying to speak to you – you will know His voice in your life.

Check your boundaries

Hopefully you have certain lines you will not cross. Does this decision cross any of them? If so, wait. If not, you’re freer to move forward.

Take the emotion out of it

Emotional decisions are seldom rational decisions. Do I need to say this one again? If you haven’t considered the black and white decision, if there is one, do this first. As much as possible, try to remove your personal agenda and your emotional response from the answering of the question at hand.

Phone a friend

Moments like these are why you need people in your corner who can quickly speak truth into your life. I have a few friends who always take my call. Before I “pull the trigger”, I’m pushing the speed dial. God created us for community – and we are better when we operate within His plan.

Pull from past experiences

You may not have made this decision, but you’ve made other decisions in your life. Try to pull in as close a parallel as you can. Glean from your successes and your failures. Often times, God will build upon our past. He’s working from an established plan. Don’t forget this.

Don’t let fear dominate

Fear is always a part of decision making, especially if it involves a risk of any kind. Fear can sometimes be a protector, so don’t ignore it, but don’t let it be the dominate decider either. The hardest and scariest decisions are often the most needed.

Trust your gut

You’ve made good decisions before – haven’t you? Or even if you feel you haven’t, you probably learned from that experience. You will seldom be 100% certain about any decision. We usually have to act upon what we do know. We have a sense of right and wrong which allows us to know when we are making blatant errors. So, go with the gut when it says, “this is the right decision.” Many times you’ll be right. And if not, you’ll learn from that too.

Those are a few suggestions. Keep in mind, you will make mistakes this way. When you have to make quick decisions, you will get burnt at times. I’m not pretending you won’t.

But there are times where a quick decision is needed. When this happens it is called leadership. Don’t shy away from it simply because of the timing.