How My Personal Prayer Team Is Structured

I once tweeted, “Meeting with my personal prayer team. I’m confident I’ve underestimated their influence in my ministry. Every pastor should have one.”

Following that tweet, I received numerous replies asking me questions about the specifics of who this group is, what they do, how often we meet. I didn’t realize how unusual this was, but have since shared this concept on podcasts, at conferences, and with other pastors.

The idea really started many years ago when I was a layperson. A group of my prayer partners formed our own pastoral prayer team. We would pray during the church services and make appointments with church staff members to pray for them. It was a great marker in my spiritual growth and it seemed to be valued by the ministers.

When I became a pastor myself, knowing the importance of prayer, I decided to be intentional in soliciting people to pray for the church and my ministry. I have done this various ways. I’ve emailed individuals and groups with specific prayer requests. I’ve had Sunday morning meetings before church and recruited a few people to pray during each service. I’ve had a few men that I met with in accountability/prayer groups.

In the past decade or so I started something new. It’s become my preferred model, simply because it’s intentional, it’s highly functional with my schedule, and I’ve seen the results of prayer working in my ministry.

Here is my current prayer team approach:

I personally recruit people in the church who meet with me regularly. The size of the group has varied. My goal would be for this group to never be larger than 10 or so, simply so we can function well as a group when we meet. Much larger and we would lose the intimacy of the group we have now. I have never had fewer than three people.

We don’t really meet in person a lot. The most would be a few times a year and then only as my schedule allows. My assistant sets these meetings up for me at my request.

My part of the meetings last less than 1 hour. I think it’s important I not make this a burden in my schedule. That sounds harsh, and like I don’t value prayer, but it’s really a matter of purpose for this group. This group prays. They don’t “meet”. They only meet so they can better pray. I think that’s critical to the process.

Most of the time we correspond by email. I try to email them every 6 weeks to 2 months, just updating them on things for which they can be praying.

  • Issues we are dealing with as a church
  • Staff issues (Sometimes I share names and specifics. Sometimes generalities)
  • Personal issues, especially those which directly impact the church.

In regards to the church, some items are general and some specific, but I rarely use names when talking about church matters. As confidential as this group is I still think that would be unfair. This group is not as much about individual prayer needs within the church. We have a separate prayer teams in the church for those needs. This group is my personal prayer support group, so items within the church are more centered towards things I personally lead, opportunities or initiatives I feel God is guiding us towards, or personal issues of concern I have within the church, my family or with me.

I try to give them enough detail with each item on the list and I always allow them to ask me questions about anything. I want them to have the tools to pray.

You may be wondering who is on my prayer team.

  • People I have personally recruited. This is huge. This team can’t be one necessarily voted on by the church. These are people I have selected.
  • People I can trust to hold a confidence. This is of utmost importance. (I’ve never had a “leak” from this process.)
  • People I believe are fervent in prayer, and they would be doing so whether I asked them to or not.
  • People who are humble, not looking for any spotlight or attention. I may introduce them to people as a part of my prayer team, but I never announce who is on the team publicly.
  • People I would go to personally to request prayer aside from this group (You probably could name those people in your church now)

I have found that often these people are not on any other team or committee in the church. They may or may not be eloquent of speech. Some are. Some are not. They are simply people of prayer – and that is what I am looking for in this group.

This is not a committee or team where members rotate on or off after a term of service. These are prayer warriors. As long as they are willing to serve, and are functioning within the request of confidentiality they remain in the group.

What’s the benefit?

Do you have to ask?

There have been so many times I put out a prayer request to this group and within a matter of time I see the fruit of their prayers.

One example:

Months before God began stirring my heart towards a change in ministry assignment, I had asked my group to pray for our staff. I knew several were receiving requests to consider other positions. I asked them to pray for our staff to be wise and discerning of God’s direction in our lives. I didn’t know at the time that I would be the one God would deal with next. It was out of my realm of possibilities to take another church at that time, but this group was already praying for the possibility. I’m convinced their prayers aided in making my transition process so incredibly smooth. We may not have been as successful as we have been without these prayers.

I’m reminded God still answers the prayers of His people.

You don’t have to do it my way, but if you’re a pastor you need people you can trust praying for you in every area of your life. Yes, you need your entire church praying for you. I’m for more corporate prayer. I believe, however, you need a smaller group around you to share more personal requests. When we look at the model of Jesus, He seemed to have a prayer support structure within the disciples, even calling a few of them frequently away from the 12 to meet with him in more private settings.

10 Difficult Lessons Experience Taught Me

Some of life’s greatest lessons come packaged in a hard personal experience.

I’ve learned a few things in life, but truly, the greatest things I know came through mistakes, failures and disappointments.

Here are 10 hard to learn life lessons:

  • A “lesson in humility” teaches far more than an “ego boost”.
  • Often, in my experience, what I don’t want to do is the very thing I need to do the most.
  • The best friends sometimes say the hardest things to hear.
  • Sometimes it’s not until you give up the right to control that a breakthrough comes.
  • People are more honest with you if they can predict your reaction.
  • We hurt most the ones we love the most.
  • Very few people can really comply with “don’t tell anyone”.
  • You never get a second chance at a first impression.
  • God’s way is better than my own.
  • Rebuilding trust is more difficult than keeping established trust.

12 Challenges for the New Year To Make Your Life Better

The verdict appears mixed among the people I know of whether of not they make resolutions for a new year. And, I understand, many have tried before – it didn’t work – and so now they are like “why bother?”.

I believe there are probably some principles in place as to whether or not a resolution succeeds. For example, is it reasonable? Is it measurable? Is it sustainable? Do you have accountability in place? But, I wonder if the term itself is a problem for some people. RESOLUTION. I hereby resolve! Sounds kind of formal, almost intimidating, doesn’t it? I hate to say I’m resolving to do something where chances are good I won’t.

I do believe strongly, however, we should work towards continual improvement in our life, whether this begins at the first of the year or in the middle doesn’t matter as much. But, the new year does provide a nice, clear place to start.

So, I want to offer a spin on the old resolution tradition and offer a new word.

Challenge.

How does that word resonate? Do you ever challenge yourself to do better? It’s easier than saying I resolve to do this. You’re not saying you will – you may not even be able to – it will be a challenge, but you’re willing to give it a try.

Let me give you some examples, some which may be challenges for you want to consider. I can almost guarantee if you meet just a few of these challenges your world will be better. You won’t need to meet all of them, just the ones most “challenging” to you. But, you’ll have to trust me in this – meeting them or even improving upon them – will brighten your life.

Here are 12 challenges for the new year:

Quit trying to be someone else

God made you to be you and He didn’t make a mistake. The more you live the you He intended the more you’ll enjoy the benefits and blessing. There’s something you can offer this world no one else can. Comparison only leads to disappointment.

Quit trying to carry all your burdens

And, the challenge here for you may be to quit trying to carry everyone else’s burden. God designed you (and me) to be insufficient without Him and to have a relational need for others. Sometimes the best thing you can do is admit you can do it anymore – and ask for help. In your weakness He is strong, but you’ll have to admit your weakness before He usually allows His strength to kick into full gear.

Start embracing today

You can keep hoping your life improves – that this would happen or that would happen. The Apostle Paul said he had learned “the secret of being content”. I’ve personally defined contentment in my life as “being satisfied with where God has allowed me to be in life – right now.” When you begin to find contentment TODAY becomes a great day – in spite of the challenges it holds. Perhaps your greatest challenge in the new year will be embracing where God has you now and waiting more patiently for what He will bring in the fullness of time.

Let the past go

As much as we can learn from history, we shouldn’t be bound by it. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”. So simple, yet so profound! It speaks volumes to me. If the tree fell there it lays. You can’t do anything about it now. It’s done. Finished. On the ground. All you can control now is your response to the tree which fell. If grief is holding you back by all means grieve. It’s healthy to mourn a loss. (Get help if needed.) But, at some point you will need to move forward. If it’s regret then reconcile the loss. If it’s guilt, or disappointment, or anger – whatever “it” is from your past deal with it now. Admit the tree fell. It hurt. It stinks. You probably wish it hadn’t happened, but, I challenge you to move forward in the new year.

Accept God’s grace

It’s always more than we deserve. You can’t earn it. It’s amazing grace. But, denying or refusing it ignores the beauty of it. Is the guilt of your past keeping you from enjoying all the blessings of being a child of God? Has there never been a time you received the gift of salvation? Have you been living more like a prodigal in exile than a child of the King? If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. If the Son has set you free you are free indeed! I challenge you to embrace grace in the new year.

Live free of grudges and bitterness

The lack of forgiveness is a hidden destroyer of joy, peace and happiness. Someone reading this is holding on to a grudge, some bitterness, maybe anger – and it’s keeping you from fully enjoying life. Every time you hear a person’s name or see them you are reminded of the injury they caused. And, it’s hurting you more than it is them. Chances are they’ve moved on and you’re still struggling. Isn’t it time to let it go? (Let it go could be a “Frozen” song you need to sing to yourself.)

Remember other people exist

Don’t be selfish or always command your way. People, even the best people, will never perform to all of your standards. Honestly, is it even fair to expect it of them? They may not even agree with you as to what is important. You cannot hold people to unrealistic expectations and not be disappointed often.

And, here’s a note to those of us disappointed with the things of this world. As followers of Christ, we can’t expect that everyone sees the world as we do. Of course, there are biblical principles through which we view the world and live, but can we really expect people who aren’t believers to embrace them?

Admit mistakes readily

Sincere humility is an attractive quality and it helps to free you from future regrets or guilt. We all can have “perfectionist” tendencies, yet none of us is perfect. If you want to live with less self-induced stress this year, admit you don’t have all the answers and sometimes you have none.

Give generously

Giving opens the heart to joy and contentment. Something happens when we give to others which causes us, though we have less, to feel like we have more. And, there are many needs around us. I challenge you to give more in the new year and see how it makes your life better!

Protect your heart

“Above all else” the Bible says. Where your heart is there your treasure will be also. Most likely there are activities, or people, or places where your heart is most easily injured. You may not be able to avoid them, but you can be aware so you can “guard your heart”. And, when you are aware you may be injured you will build guardrails to lessen the damage.

Take a new risk

The adrenaline of attempting something you’ve never done before fuels you for future success. It could be something you’ve always wanted to try or something you know God wants you to do, but, for whatever reason, you’ve resisted. Especially if it’s God-honoring, not sinful, will make your life or other’s life better, then what are you waiting for? Don’t let fear or thoughts of your inadequacies be your chief motivators in the new year. I challenge you – GO FOR IT!

Think and act eternally

There is more to this life than the world we know today. Thankfully, I might add. Jesus said to “store up treasures in heaven”. Whenever possible, I challenge you to consider the eternal consequences of the decisions, investments, and actions of your life. Jesus said to live in this world, but not be of this world. How are you making a difference in the world to come by your world today? The more intentional you are the more treasures you build for a future reward.

Which of these challenges are you willing to accept?

(I posted this in a similar form a few years ago.)

7 New Year Resolutions Which Could Change Our World

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.

In fact, with a whole lot of improving – it might become contagious – and we might just change the world.

Here are 7 new year resolutions which could change the world:

Let’s resolve to begin everyday with a prayer, a smile, and a humility check.

A 3 part checklist. What if we woke up every morning and began by talking to God – recognizing His power and asking Him to direct our steps, make sure our smile is our attitude, and humbly enter the world not expecting anything other than to be a blessing? It will require discipline – but how we begin a day almost always determines how we end one.

Let’s resolve to return evil with good.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. A grudge or sarcastic remark seems so much more fulfilling – in the moment. But, over time, it causes more harm than good – mostly to us – often even more than “them”. Imagine your world when you influence others by how you don’t respond when they “push your buttons” the wrong way.

Let’s resolve to never let the sun go down on anger.

Anger emotions grow overnight. They blossom into more intense anger emotions. We may not be able to resolve all disagreements, but we can drop the right to get even and resolve to be at peace as much as it depends on us. We will awake with level ground to build better, healthier relationships with others. Oh, what a world it would be if we had less anger.

Let’s resolve not use social media as a forum to bash others.

Or even as a forum period. It divides people rather than bringing them together. Let’s resolve for a kinder, gentler Facebook – rant-free even – where we simply stalk – I mean check in on old friends. Let’s act like people – real people -may actually see what we write. And care. And, let’s post in a way which encourages and builds each other up – almost like that’s in the Bible somewhere. (It might even be somewhere around 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – check me on this one.)

Let’s resolve to develop our patience muscle.

Wow! I put this one in the middle so maybe you (or my wife) would skip over it quickly. Just kidding. This is one I need – we all need. I’m not sure we can completely master it this year, but, with intentionality – and Christ’s strength – we can keep getting better. What if we thought about the most common things which test our patience – such as the traffic on the drive home at night – and we asked God to help us deal with it before we experience it – each time? Just a thought.

Let’s resolve to remember it’s not about us.

This one alone would surely change the world. What if we placed into our schema – into our immediate thought process – a simple understanding – OTHER PEOPLE MATTER – just as much as we do? Does it make a difference when you think someone values you? Of course it does. What if we valued others and demonstrated to them by how we treat them, what we say to them, our facial expressions, or even our thoughts toward them? Think it might change a few of our relational encounters this year? I think it might. Certainly seems worth trying.

Let’s resolve to listen more than we speak.

Ouch – if needed! It’s hard to value others when we are doing all the talking. (It’s also hard to hear from God.) It requires an act of humility when we remain silent at times we want to speak. Many times disagreements, arguments, even serious issues like prejudism or racism, have more to do with misunderstanding or miscommunication than anything. When we listen we demonstrate value – but, it also guards the tongue, protects relationships, and we might actually learn something.

Of course, ultimately the change the world needs is the Gospel, but who knows? Maybe if we change the way we treat others – including other believers – others might actually want to hear our Gospel.

I realize I’m simple-mindet, but I do, henceforth, resolve.

Who’s with me?

7 of the Most Dangerous Church Cultures I’ve Observed

I was talking with a couple of pastors about leading in church revitalization and growth. Both of these pastors are seasoned church leaders – having far more experience in total than I have in vocational ministry.

Mostly I listened to their stories. Both are currently in difficult pastorates. One of them serves in a church that has a history of very short-term pastorates. The other is in a church that has seen a roller coaster trend in church attendance – every time they get in a season of growth its followed by a season of decline – sometimes rapid decline.

Frankly, I prefer to have conversations about opportunities and possibilities than about challenges and frustrations. But, get a few pastors in the room and there will be some war stories. Leading towards health in a church can be a battle sometimes.

Just like it’s been said numerous times – leading people is easy if it wasn’t for the people.

I tried to encourage them in their call and offered a few suggestions for them in their current situations. But, the conversation stayed on my mind for days afterwards.

A few days after this conversation, I was talking with another pastor friend reflecting on what I had heard in the previous conversation. I didn’t share names or specific situations, but it led us to a discussion about church cultures.

Every church has its own culture.

Both of the pastors in the original conversation just seemed to find themselves in some very bad church cultures.

I’ve seen lots of different cultures while consulting and working with churches for over a decade.

Regardless of what some believe – there are some healthy churches.

And, there are some who are not so healthy.

It’s always breaks my heart to encounter a church that is ready to implode. Frankly, some churches live in that tension continually. Some cultures are dangerous – toxic even.

Why do some churches seem to have such a hard time keeping church staff for any significant length of time? It usually has something to do with the culture of the church.

Why are some churches more resistant to change than others? It will almost always reflect back to the culture of the church.

Why do some churches have a history of church splits? Culture.

This friend in the second conversation said to me, “There’s a blog post for you. You need to talk about some of those dangerous cultures.”

Sadly, according to numerous statistics, more churches are in decline or have plateaued than are growing. Certainly not all growing churches are healthy. I would never define a “healthy” church exclusively as growing church. I do believe, however, most healthy churches will eventually grow.

Some of that health in a church depends on the culture of the church. How do people respond to church leadership? How do they respond to each other? How do they react to change? How are decisions made? What upsets people most? What is the atmosphere — the mood — of the church during the week and on Sunday? How does the church treat vocational staff?

All those are usually relative to and indicative of church culture.

So, I decided to post about some of the more dangerous church cultures I have observed. Most likely you’ll have some of your own to share.

Here are 7 of the most dangerous church cultures:

Selfish – Some churches are filled with people who just think they have to have it their way. And they fold her hands – and sometimes hold their money – until they get it.

Prideful – This is a culture that is proud of their heritage – which is a good thing – but is resting on their laurels. They refuse to realize it’s no longer the “good ole days”. Their pride keeps in the past keeps them from embracing the future. They resist any ideas that are different from the way things have always been done.

Rigid – A rigid culture would never kill something – even if it isn’t working. These churches do tradition well. They don’t do change well. Try to change – and it’ll be the death of you.

Cliquish – I’ve heard this from so many people who felt they just couldn’t break into the already established groups within the church. In this culture, it takes years for people to feel included, find a place of service, or begin to lose the “new person” label.

Bullying – Sometimes this is disguised and called church discipline, but in some of the stories I’ve heard I would tend to call it legalistic. If it’s a “one strike you’re out” culture or people are made to feel they can’t be real about their struggles for fear of retribution – the picture of grace that Christ died on the cross to provide is diminished. People are encouraged to put on masks to hide their struggles.

Stingy – In this culture, there is a greater concern that the balance sheet look attractive than meeting the needs that God brings their way. This church rarely walks by faith because that seems too irresponsible.

Depraved – This one may in some ways be a summary of the previous six — because there is sin in all of these cultures — but I wanted to expose it on it’s own. If the Bible is left in the rack attached to the pew and no longer the foundation guide for the church – the culture will obviously suffer. Church culture can begin to decay whenever the focus is more on things like money, programs, buildings, even worship style – as good as all of those can be – rather than on living our lives as children of God for the glory of God. Whatever distracts us from the very core of the church – our Gospel mission and calling – will injure our church culture.

Those are from my observations. And, I think we must be aware of them if we want to lead our churches to health.

What dangerous cultures have you seen?

I should mention again, especially to those outside the church, those who have experienced pain from these type churches, or those entering into the ministry. There are healthy churches. There are healthy church cultures. There are no perfect churches, but there are some who have staff with long tenures, where change is manageable and where people truly live out the Biblical model of church.

Please don’t read this as a slam against the church. As someone who loves the local church, I hope to lend help through this blog in the majority of posts I share. In other posts I try to expand on thoughts and experience I have in helping to change church cultures.

3 Ways for Christians to Respond to Tragedies

I wrote this in response to the shootings in Oregon a couple years ago – almost two years exactly. Some thought it was helpful, so I share it here in light of the shootings in Las Vegas, which has been called “the worst mass shooting in U.S. recorded history.”

3 ways for Christians to respond to tragedies.

These are three, which come to my mind this morning. Certainly we can assist where we have resources and there is need, but we can always do these three.

Pray sincerely.

Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for the people who live in the area. Tragedies like this always shake a community even more than the broader world. Pray for the response of government and law officials. Pray for our world.

These are desperate times. Pray for the Gospel to have opportunities to shine through darkness. “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

Remember our position.

This world is not our home. It’s what we preach every week in our churches. We who believe are here on temporary assignment. We are pilgrims on a journey – passing through as we head towards our eternal home.

Our God is on His throne. He is not surprised. He is not unprepared. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4)

Overcome evil with good.

What if with every tragedy and every negative news report believers decided to do something good for others? Not requested. Unexpected. Just random acts of goodness in the name of Jesus Christ.

What if we displayed peace and joy in the midst of sorrow? What if others who have no faith saw us who believe responding in faith? “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)

It is natural for children to respond with fear when they see these type tragedies. I wrote an article in hopes it is helpful dealing with children during tragedies.

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.

What To Do When You Don’t Have Words to Say

Helping People Grieve...

I have done a few too many funerals for children when the parents are still living. Every funeral is difficult, but these are some of the hardest.

One teenager comes to mind. I went to school with his mother and his father is a dear, personal friend. He was supposed to start college the following week, but tragically died in a car accident. He was a well-loved, funny, popular boy and the funeral home was packed with people paying their respects. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of students wrestling to understand why this happened to their friend. The receiving line for the family lasted for numerous hours over a couple of days.

I remember a number of people asking me the same question as they proceeded through the line: “What should I say to the family?”

What can you say to grieving parents, family members and friends at a time like this?

In times like these, there usually are no words, which can fully bring comfort to devastated people in the initial shock of their loss. They are hurting. They are hurting with a pain whose depths most of us can never imagine.

When there aren’t words to say – say nothing if there’s nothing to say – just be there.

Of course, you’ll speak. So, tell them you’re sorry, but don’t try to make explanations. Don’t try to give them a why. Don’t try to have fancy words of wisdom.

Give them a hug – and hold them until they let go.

Cry with them – and assure them you care.

Pray for them – and do this continually after you leave their presence.

When there aren’t words to say – just be a friend.

I’m reminded of the great sufferer Job. When he had lost literally everything he had – his wealth, his family, his health – and the respect of his wife – his friends came. And, they sat with him for seven days and said nothing. 

Sometimes your presence is the greater gift in times where there are no words.

In fact, when someone you love is hurting, the presence of a friend in those initial days of grief may be more valuable than the words of a counselor, or pastor, or any other professional.

Words will come in days to come – and, then you may need the professionals to help you say the right things, but initially, just be present.

When was the last time you were in a situation where there was simply nothing to say? 

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Personal Success

Advice to young leaders

I get asked frequently by young leader what I would you attribute most to my success in business, ministry or life.

Great question. I love people who think. It takes intentionality to achieve much of the success we do in life.

My first thought when I am asked, however, is usually “What success?”.

When I look back at my life, in many ways, I see a life scarred with personal failures and setbacks. But, over the years I have learned God has blessed me greatly – much in spite and much because of my personal failures.

Let me be clear about something, one of my missions in life is to help younger leaders succeed, so this is my sole motivation for answering this question. I am still very much a work in progress, but as I reflect on where I am midway in my life and career (and approaching a little beyond midway), I can clearly point to some things which have helped me succeed personally.

Here are 7 things which have brought me personal success:

God’s grace

I can’t deny it. It’s really all grace. I do not deserve the favor I have found. His grace has been amazing in my life. And, the more I have pursued Him, allowed Him to have His will in my life, and credited all to His glory the more grace He seems to extend. He’s a generous God.

Other people

I have had so many people invest in me. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been intentional with networking and wisdom-seeking – always having mentors in my life whom I recruited, but I’ve had great people in my corner to help me along the way. Nothing of value is done without the help of others. And, if your goal is to be a leader – there is no leadership without people.

A little luck

Honestly, I don’t believe much in luck. It IS all grace. I think God is always at work around us, and He certainly has been in my life, but sometimes we find ourselves in “the right place at the right time”. Learning how to capitalize on those times has been key for me. Seize the day and seize the moments. Every moment and every connection you make is an opportunity – and sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Purpose

I have usually known what I ultimately want to accomplish. I believe you hit more targets when you have them in site. Sometimes this has been a few months down the road or a few years down the road, but I’ve most always tried to keep some direction in front of me – as much as God will allow me to see at the time. And, you may even get it wrong, but you’ll learn from this too and find a better purpose.

Intentionality

Probably if there were one word to describe how I want to live my life it would be this one. Since I was in high school, I have intentionally pursued opportunities to accomplish where I felt God was leading me. But, I’ve been intentional in every area of my life, not just in my vocation. I think it is critical to living a balanced life (as much as we can achieve balance) and for attaining personal success.

Tenacity

I have weathered a few storms – actually, many storms. My list of failures, setbacks and disappointments is long – some I caused and some which were beyond my control. Every time, again, by God’s grace, I have gotten back up, refocused, learned valuable life principles and moved forward. The longer you dwell on the past and missed opportunities the longer you delay future success.

Commitment to help others

I believe this is huge. I genuinely love helping other people succeed. It’s been a pulling force in my life to do much of what I do. The purpose of this blog, for example, is for this reason. (I seldom look at my analytics. It doesn’t matter except in the sense I’m trying to be purposeful and intentional.) And, here’s the thing – my personal investment in others has always returned to me tenfold.

So, there’s my attempt at an answer to how I have attained any success I have.

What has gotten you where you are today?