One Very Sobering Leadership Principle

There is a sobering leadership principle every leader needs to know. Often we learn it the hard way, so I think it might be helpful if I prepare you for it – in case you don’t know.

The fact is:

Who you are in your private life impacts who you are in your professional life.

The the two parts of your life are inseparable.

How many pastors, leaders, or public officials have seen their whole professional world come crashing down around them, because of something which was hidden in their private life? Chances are you know a few names.

You can try to manage two identities – pretending in public everything is okay in private. And, it might work for a time. It never works long-term.

Who you really are will ultimately be discovered. Your personal junk will impact your public world.

Eventually.

“For there is nothing hidden which will not be disclosed” – Jesus (Mark 4:22)

The only real, sustainable solution to this principle is to protect your public life by continually working to protect and improve your private life.

Here’s a sobering question (for you and me) to accompany a sobering leadership principle.

What in your private life has the potential to derail your public life? And, what are you going to do about it?

Cyber Threats to Churches: What Would Your Church Do?

This is a guest post by my friend Lincoln Kaffenberger.
Lincoln was a member of our church plant, served as a military officer, and now works as an information technology professional in the financial sector. He has over a decade of experience helping organizations understand the threats they face and make informed, risk based decisions.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1 Peter 4:12

Cyber-attacks are already a common part of daily life for businesses. Unfortunately, they are becoming a common part of life for churches too. Many churches are unprepared for common cyber-attacks that businesses regularly experience. Too often church leaders simply consider cybersecurity an IT issue without considering the organization-wide impacts a successful cyber-attack could have on their church’s ability to function, its reputation, and its congregation. Times have changed. Cybersecurity is now an organizational issue that pastors and other church leaders must care about.

There have been several examples in the past few years of churches that have been victims of cyber-attacks. Churches have lost the money in their bank accounts, had their congregants’ and staffs’ identities stolen, have had their websites defaced and brought down, have had sensitive information put at risk of being exposed, and have been victims of an increasingly common type of cyber-attack – ransomware. Any one of these events can hurt the trust a church has with its people and community and hinder its ministry to those outside the church.

One way churches can improve their security in a meaningful, cost-effective way is to do tabletop exercises working through plausible cyber-attack scenarios. Churches should consider both the most likely and the most dangerous cyber threat scenarios to understand what the impacts of each could be. By working through these scenarios in a low stress environment before a cyber-attack happens, church leadership can rehearse their response plans, identify gaps in their plans, and ultimately improve their security. Additionally, table top exercises serve as educational events for those in a church who are not as familiar with cybersecurity.

Some questions church leaders should ask when they think of different cyber-attack scenarios are:

  • Could this scenario happen to us? What conditions would have to exist for this scenario to be feasible?
  • If this scenario happened, what would the impact be to our reputation and credibility? How would we rebuild our reputation and trust with our congregation and community?
  • How would we respond? Who would we turn to for help? Who could we call?
  • How could this attack have been prevented? Could we detect this attack at its early stages?

There are five possible cyber threat scenarios that have affected churches recently:
1. Cybercriminals empty the church’s bank account;
2. Hackers deface the church’s website with politically charged images;
3. The Church is a victim of a ransomware attack that denies the church access to their files;
4. Pastor’s accounts get hacked and the hackers publicly release sensitive information;
5. Church Staff and Congregants Identities Stolen After Church Database Breached.

These scenarios each represent a kind of attack or a kind of harm that a cyber-attack could bring to a church. If church leadership walk through these five scenarios and answer the questions as an organization, they will discover their level of exposure to cyber risk, better understand what the holes are in their cybersecurity, be better positioned to respond to a cybersecurity incident, and importantly be ready to adopt and create a culture of security within the church that allows it to do the Lord’s work securely.

Resources and Recommendations

In addition to conducting tabletop exercises with these threat scenarios, the following are other resources that can help improve your church’s cybersecurity. First, every leader should start by securing themselves by following the “Cybersecurity Basics for Individuals.” Next, leaders should ensure their churches are following “Cybersecurity Recommendations for Organizations.” These will not provide perfect security, but they are a good start to a more cyber secure online ministry.

Cybersecurity Basics for Individuals:

“UPDATE Protocol” from Marc Goodman’s “Future Crimes”:
a. Update frequently all operating systems, firmware, apps – everything
b. Passwords should be unique, long, strong, stored securely (e.g. password manager), and use multi-factor authentication
c. Download programs and files only from trusted sites; be wary of “free software”; enable “white-listing” settings on Windows or Mac so only approved programs run; pay attention to app ‘permissions’
d. Admin login has the highest permissions and shouldn’t be used to do normal activities like surfing the internet; have a separate ‘user’ account for checking email and surfing the web
e. Turn-off your devices (or at least their internet connection) when not in use, which reduces the opportunity for criminal attacks by 1/3rd
f. Encrypt your data while on your devices using Bitlocker and Filevault programs to encrypt hard disk on your Windows and Mac respectively. Encrypt your data while in transit using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Cybersecurity Recommendations for Organizations:

● Identify and protect your most important digital assets – your cyber crown jewels

● Establish policies and procedures for your church’s information security – here is an example

● Have a cyber incident response plan – Create an incident response plan if one does not already exist: NIST’s 800-61 is a good resource to begin with – https://www.nist.gov/publications/computer-security-incident-handling-guide

● Follow cybersecurity best practices by implementing the Center for Internet Security’s Top 20 Critical Security Controls. Many times, doing the basics of security such as properly configuring devices, requiring everyone to follow secure practices, and reducing exposure will require very little money but pay huge dividends. Other security measures such as malware protection may be discounted for churches. In some cases, churches can receive donated or discounted security technology – http://www.techsoup.org/bitdefender

5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

In my career, I work with a lot of people in a lot of settings. You might say my job involves a lot of relationships. In the process, I have learned the key to healthy relationships is communication.

Communication is an art of sorts. Some are better at it than others.

I have seen relationships destroyed because of poor communication. I know marriages which could improve if we improved the communication in the marriage. I’ve seen people avoid other people, because they know how the communication will go when they encounter them. I’ve known people who are short on quality relationships, and, honestly, many times it is because they never learned or don’t practice healthy communication techniques. Careers are made and destroyed by a person’s ability to communicate effectively – or not.

So, sincerely, this post is intended to help. I want to share some things not to do in attempting healthy communication. We are all guilty or some of these at times – this blogger/pastor included.

Here are 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication:

Don’t always have a bigger story.

This is the one I’ve been guilty of the most of these five. Someone is telling you their story and their experience reminds you of your experience. So, naturally, you interrupt their story, or don’t appear to be listening closely, because you want to share your story. But, remember, right now they are sharing “their” experience. It is important enough to them to share it with you. Don’t try to trump their story. It is rude and it shuts them down. Discipline yourself to wait for the right opportunity – and be okay if it doesn’t come – sometimes your only role is to listen.

Don’t talk more than you listen.

This will address the person you’re thinking of in the first point that is always sharing their story. They never listen. They don’t give you a chance to share yours. If this is you stop talking and listen. Ask questions. Show genuine concern. Be interested in what others have to say too. You’ll find people more interested in what you have to share when it’s your turn.

Don’t always be negative.

All of us are negative at times. Life is hard and it impacts us. That’s partly what friendships are for – to share our burdens with one another. But every conversation and every comment we make shouldn’t be negative. It makes it difficult to build a sustainable, healthy relationship, because sometimes the other person needs you to be positive on the day they are especially negative.

Don’t consistently have the last word.

Sure you’ve got one more word to share. We get it. Most likely you’ve already proven that point. But, sometime let the other person say the final word. It’s humbling for you – and good – for you and them. And, the conversation. And, the relationship.

Don’t speak before you think.

This is so important. Maybe the most important one. It includes the saying, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything – or nothing at all.” (If you want to be like Thumper.) If we could catch our words before they exit our mouths, filter them through the power of love and grace, then release them, we could keep from injuring those with whom we are trying to communicate. And, relationships could thrive apart from the injury of inappropriate or awkward – often even mean-spirited words.

Okay, be honest, upon which of these do you need to improve?

Remember, I shared mine. Now your turn.

7 Quick Tips for Handling Stress

Stress is all around us. Every day I encountered burned out and stressed out pastors. Regardless of your career, it appears life is more stressful than ever.

I would say learning to handle stress may be one of the more important things you can do to lead effectively and long-term.

I hope this post can help a few stressed-out leaders.

Here are 7 ways I handle stress:

Prayer – God really does answer this request. When I’m really stressed out, I get alone with God. Prayer doesn’t always change my situation, but it always changes me to remember who is ultimately in control.

Time management – Most times a well planned schedule will greatly diminish stress. I try to plan my activities at the beginning of the week in a way which allows for unexpected interruptions, yet still also allows me to complete the tasks required of me.

Exercise – This may be my best secret for battling stress. The more stressed I am the more I need to run. I’ve been known to disappear on a busy day to get some exercise.

Disciplined life – There are activities and habits which simply add to stress. If you stay up way too late and never get enough rest, your stress-factor will increase. When I’m especially stressed, I try to build in down time and time just for me.

Balance – I have learned to say “No” to some things and balance my time between all the things that pull for my attention. I find when I try to be all things to all people I am not much good to anyone.

Addressing known problems quickly – If a relationship is causing stress, the sooner I deal with it the less likely I am to stress about it. If I need to make the hard decisions – I make the now. The sooner I deal with those things I know I need to the less long-term stress it brings.

Asking for help – When I am really at my limit with stress, I am not too proud to tell someone. I have learned to delegate well and allow people the freedom to speak into my life as needed.

What tips do you have for people to lower their stress? How do you handle stress?

The One Trait Every Leader MUST Possess

I’ve meditated quite a bit on this question: What is a leader’s most important trait? Is it charisma? Is it intelligence? Is it wisdom? Is it people skills?

Well, while I believe there are many traits and qualities a great leader must possess, there’s one that stands out among all others. In fact, the longer I think about it, I quickly realize that most every trait builds on this one trait!

A leader’s most important trait is DISCIPLINE.

Discipline allows me to:

Block out distractions
• Manage emotions and impulses
• Overcome bad habits and addictions
• Prioritize
• Manage myself and others
• Lead by example

Whether it’s leading, praying, fitness, reading, writing, studying, preparing, speaking, scheduling, calendaring, or managing relationships or priorities…discipline is needed!

OK, Shawn, I’m convinced. I need more discipline in my life. How can I become more disciplined?”

How do we get it?

1. Start with one area of discipline.

Don’t try to get better at everything overnight. Start with becoming more disciplined in your fitness, or your reading, or your studying, or your __________. Just become more disciplined in one area! Here’s why that’s important:

One area of discipline tends to flow over into another area.

2. Plan your calendar.

Spend some time each week and a few moments each day planning and reviewing your calendar. Block out chunks of time to allocate to your priorities and don’t allow anything to get in the way.

If we don’t plan our day, our day will plan us.

Be unavailable and inaccessible sometimes. We can’t be available to everyone all the time. We can be available to everyone, just not all the time!

3. Say NO to the GOOD and YES to the BEST.

Learn to say “No.” Go to the mirror right now. Look in that mirror and say “No, I’m not going to be able to do that.” There. You needed to stretch that muscle. Keep stretching it!

Don’t just focus on trying NOT to do something. Focus on saying YES to something better!

4. Ask God for it.

Self-control is a FRUIT of THE SPIRIT (Gal 5:22-23). Ask God to fill you anew with His Holy Spirit and help you lead yourself. Start praying for self-control. Ask God to help you order your days in a way that honors Him!

When it becomes a spiritual enterprise for us, it becomes more urgent to us.

Is this a trait that you possess? If it’s not yet a strength for you, what’s one step you can take this week to get better at discipline?

This is a guest post. By my friend Shawn Lovejoy. Shawn is the Founder & CEO of CourageToLead.com a coaching ministry for leaders. He loves coaching leaders through what keeps them awake at night. CourageToLead employs multiple coaches all over the U.S to work one-on-one with leaders and ministries. Shawn’s book: Be Mean About The Vision: Preserving and Protecting What Matters, released in April 2016. Shawn lives in Birmingham, AL with his wife Tricia, and their three kids Hannah, Madison, and Paul.

7 Ways We Put a Not Welcome Sign on Our Church

I was running once and saw this sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. Anything which seems exclusive to the people already on the inside makes me as an outsider seem unwelcome. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. It’s probably a very welcoming church. I also know there are circumstances which make some churches have to limit their parking. Again, probably not the intent, but the sign seemed so harsh to me as someone unfamiliar with the church.

As I continued running I kept thinking about that sign and implications for those who saw it. It then brought to mind signs I’ve seen in store windows – which I don’t completely understand. The signs say, “Closed for Business”. How can you be closed “for” business? Seems more like you’d be closed “from” business. If you’re closed you’re closed.

Of course, none of us would intentionally place a “Closed for Business” sign on our church doors. But, it was a great way to jar my thoughts about some practices churches occasionally have, which, intentional or not, serve essentially the same purpose.

Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches in all types and sizes.

From personal experience – here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.

Only do “church” on Sunday.

When we make no effort to build community with people who visit we let people know by our actions – or lack of actions – that we are comfortable with the people in the church now. And, there is little room for new friendships. (This could include not reaching out to people we haven’t seen in a while.) Not long ago, while out of town, Cheryl and I visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Months later we have yet to hear from anyone.

Don’t act like you’re happy to see people.

Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. And, don’t talk to people you don’t know if people actually make it inside the building. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.

Confuse people.

Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker – as an introvert especially – I might have left. (Just being honest.) I have to be honest even more and say that could have somewhat been said of the church where I am pastor now. After years of add-on projects it can be a very confusing building. Hopefully we are continuing to make strides towards overcoming that with signage and people.

Make it uncomfortable for visitors.

If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe – or raise their hands – and keep them up until an usher comes by. We once attended a church which made visitors stand up, introduce themselves, and tell why they came that day. Talk about awkward. Again, that’s extreme, but it certainly caused me to review how we make visitors feel welcome – and don’t.

Have your own language.

Use acronyms – for everything. When we pretend everyone already knows what we are talking about – don’t differentiate between VBS and Vacation Bible School – we make outsiders feel left out of the conversation. (Even with the name of it can be confusing as to what it really is without some description being given.) Another thing which is very anti-welcome is to use personal names during the announcements no one knows but the regulars. (“We’ll meet at Sally’s for the ice cream social. See Joe if you want more information.”)

Have closed groups within the church.

And, don’t start any new ones. It could be any group – Bible studies, service groups, but when any small group has been together more than a few years – with no new people entering the group – it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel very left out when personal conversation begins.

Beat people up without giving them hope.

And, for this one I had to go all theological on you. But, when we are clearer about how bad people are than how great the Gospel is we can make outsiders – who may not yet be living the life we would suggest for them – like they don’t belong and have no chance of getting there. We should teach on sin – and not just certain sins, but all sin, including what I call the 3 G’s – gossip, gluttony and greed. But my goal is to always let people leave with the hope of the Gospel. It’s actually the only hope we all have.

Those are a few of my observations. Again, none of us would purposively place a “Closed for Business” sign on our churches – so we must be careful we haven’t done so by our unintentional actions.

Defining Healthy in Church Leadership Culture

I remember talking with a young hurting pastor just after he resigned from his church. For several years he had attempted to restore a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with some definite goals they wanted him to achieve. They knew their very existence depended on change. He felt he had almost a mandate.

The church began to grow. Things were exciting – or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually only a few people with power still supported him. Even those who once supported him refused to back him with changes they had previously agreed were needed.

He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-term pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy even mean in church leadership?”

Great questions. And, after working with dozens of churches, I understand why he would ask them. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking similar questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church staff and leadership culture. There are some healthy church environments – whether a single pastor and all volunteers or multiple staff members. Large church or small there are healthy cultures. They may not jump in the air every day with enthusiasm, as the picture with this post indicates, but people do enjoy being a part of the team.

In the purest form, the case could be made the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established.

But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Others work together for the common good of honoring Christ and form healthy environments. I’ve seen and been a part of both.

I’m often asked questions such as this – on how we know when something is healthy. This is always subjective, but I have certainly learned you know when something is unhealthy. I don’t know if I can define healthy in a single definition, but I’ve given the issue some thought as it relates to the working environment.

A healthy church culture doesn’t mean…

  • There aren’t bad days.
  • There won’t ever be tension or stress.
  • That everyone always agrees.
  • There aren’t relationship struggles.
  • All problems are solved.
  • The pastor is always right.
  • Problems or issues are ignored.

Work is still work and people are still people. Being healthy doesn’t not mean there aren’t real struggles at times.

A healthy church culture does mean…

  • People can disagree and still be friends.
  • Tension is used to make relationships stronger.
  • Meetings are productive and purposeful – not burdensome and certainly not hurtful.
  • Rules add healthy boundaries – empowering creativity rather than stifling or controlling.
  • You work as a team to find solutions.
  • The pastor, staff (and their families) are never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • The rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

Those are just a few of my observations.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment? Have you been in a healthy one? What would you add to either of my lists of observations?

An Elementary Approach to Facing Conflict

I’ve seen a lot of conflict in my life. From parents and couples in my office for counseling to employment situations where two people can’t get along. I’ve even seen a fight in the grocery store because someone thought someone else cut line. And, I’ve been to more than one church business meeting gone bad.

As an observer, I’ve learned a few things about facing conflict. Primarily, I’ve observed the way one person responds often determines the way the other person responds. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

When you are backed into a corner and facing potential conflict you have a choice. You can come out fighting or you can be smart, plan your response, and help turn the situation for good.

In fact, the secrets of facing the fire of conflict should be elementary.

Here are 3 elementary approaches to conflict:

Stop

Stop and think. What is the best approach? What do you really want to accomplish? Based on your time to reflect – how should you respond?

The opening moments are always critical in any conflict. You can quickly back someone or yourself into a corner. Cornered people move into a self-protection mode, fail to react rationally, and the sense of what’s best is lost.

It requires practice, but take adequate time to plan the best way to approach the other party. It may require you being silent when your prone to speak, but this one step often avoids much of the unnecessary and unproductive conflict. (As an example, Jesus took time to make a whip before driving the money changers out of the temple. John 2)

Drop

Drop the right to win. That’s hard, but if you want the conflict to be resolved you have to start with the attitude that you want the best resolution – even if you don’t get everything you want in the outcome.

When you come into a potential fiery situation with a have-to-win attitude you cloud your ability to work for the best results. Self-centeredness always gets in the way of healthy conflict. Be humble and agree you are going to do what is best, even if that means you don’t get your way.

This doesn’t mean you give in to the other party, but the goal in conflict should not be to win personally, but to reach the best solution for everyone.

Roll

Roll out the best approach. Use the appropriate strategy, skills and temperament to resolve the conflict. This means you hold your temper, watch your words, and value the other person’s viewpoint.

I realize it takes two or more people to make this happen, but when one party is willing to do the first two it makes accomplishing the best so much more likely.

Go into every potential conflict with a humble desire for the best solution to be accomplished.

Stop, drop and roll.

One Hard Truth of Leadership

There is one truth about leadership every leader must understand, but is difficult to receive by some leaders.

The probability is good you won’t like this truth either.

Not everyone will agree with you – or even like you – if you are a leader.

That’s hard, isn’t it? All of us – at a certain level – like to be liked. We want people to agree with us. We prefer cheers to jeers. No one enjoys being the bad guy. (Unless you’re really the bad guy.)

The truth, however, is if you lead anything, someone will disagree with your decisions and you will divide people into different opinions. There will be supporters and detractors.

(Keep in mind, there has never been a president of the United States – or any country – with 100% approval ratings.)

Leading is hard, because it takes people into the unknown. Leadership challenges status quo. It stretches people and organizations. It brings change and change is always attached to an emotion.

Leaders must be prepared to lead towards the vision of the organization, even when it means losing approval ratings.

The only way to avoid this truth is to never lead.

Here is a strong word I would say to those who want to lead. And, I say this in sincere honesty and an attempt at humility. I don’t say it to dissuade you from leading, but simply to help you discern whether you should or not.

If you are someone who needs people to agree with you or who relishes popularity more than your desire to make hard decisions and do the right thing for the organization, then I suggest you choose something other than leadership in which to invest your energies. A friend of mine says you should sell ice cream if this is the case.

And, if God calls you to be leader. Lead strong – and lead well.

You Can Do Better – Doesn’t Mean You Did Wrong

A Leadership Principle

Part of my job as a leader is helping people I lead get better at what they do – which can only happen if I’m continually improving myself. Continual improvement, though, often involves letting others know about areas I see where they can improve.

Correction, however – even when it is constructive – can be difficult for some people to receive. Granted, much has to do with my delivery of the “encouragement” to improve, but I’ve found some people especially struggle to receive anything with an appearance of correction.

It may be they don’t want me to believe they made a mistake or that there is any room for improvement in their work. I get that to a point. There’s a part of all of us which strives for approval, and, that’s especially true with perfectionist personalities. Some people seem to feel if something needs changing about their performance, then whatever they did wasn’t completely right.

(Frankly, some struggle to be corrected out of pride – which isn’t a personality trait. It’s a sin, but that’s the subject of another post.)

But, for others, while they may be embarrassed to be seen as having done something wrong, what they actually did may not have been. The opposite of right is wrong. And, that’s not the case most of the time.

It’s not that they did something wrong. It’s that I really believe they can do something better.

For some people, I have to remind them of an important leadership principle:

Just because you can do something better, doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

Unless the person was blatantly or intentionality making mistakes or not giving it a good effort…

They did what they’ve been taught to do.

They did the best they knew how to do at the time.

They gave it everything they had – so far.

We all have areas where we can improve. We can always get better. We can improve upon the way it’s always been done, learn new ways of doing things, and do things better the more we try.

Just because something can be done better, doesn’t mean it was being done wrong.

Part of healthy leadership is helping people know and learn the difference.

One way leaders can do this is how Jesus shared to the seven churches in Revelation (or most of those churches). He applauded what He liked about them and then shared where they needed to get better. As leaders, we must develop people’s trust in our leadership, so they don’t fret when we offer suggestions for improvement – they receive them with the purpose for which they are intended. When we have a “we are in this together” team attitude we will less hear criticism and more hear improvement.

And, improvement is good for all of us.