5 Really Bad Reasons to Plant a Church

I love church planters. When I moved into church revitalization part of the concern I had in doing so was I might not have a foot into church planting. That would be tough for me. After two successful plants and having worked with literally hundreds of planters, I think it’s in my blood. (Interestingly, I learned a few years after my first plant that my mom served on the core of a church plant during her years before marriage. It’s truly in my blood.)

Thankfully, I still have lots of avenues to be a part of church planting from an established church. We are a lead church in the planting of churches in Chicago through the North American Mission Board. We have several planters who still connect closely with our church. I’m still involved with Exponential – the largest church planting conference. And, planters still ask for my help on a regular basis.

But, for years I’ve been concerned about one thing I see in the church planting movement. And, I am simply being transparent here.

I seem to find some planters – or want-to-be planters – who are in it for the wrong reasons. The fact is we need people called to ministry in the established church. We need them in church revitalization. Not everyone needs to be a church planter. 

But, the bigger issue is without the right reasons, if we are not careful, a church plant could become just a part of a growing fad and no ultimate good will come from it. People will waste valuable time, energy and resources when they simply were never called to plant. And, that’s not good for the planter or the Kingdom.

So, we must be careful to plant for the right reason. And, more importantly, not the wrong reasons.

Let me give some examples of wrong reasons. There are surely others. 

Here are 5 bad reasons to plant a church:

You’re running from authority.

I’ve worked with some people who didn’t want to follow the rules. In fact, I am that person sometimes. While this may be a good mindset for an entrepreneurial type, and church planters certainly are, it is not a good reason to start a church. When this is the reason – just offering this as a heart-check – it is often out of pride and arrogance. God can never honor that. 

You’ll have authority in a church plant – or at least you should. One of the quickest ways to burnout and flame out is to refuse it. If you’re smart you’ll give away authority and not be a power-broker. All of us need some authority and accountability in our lives.
You want to do things your way.

I understand. Really. Especially if you worked for a controlling leader or for someone who had no passion or vision. You have energy and momentum around a dream and need to explore it. I get it. Bravo! I applaud seeking after something which grabs your heart. 

But be careful. Sometimes a desire birthed in good can quickly become something birthed in rebellion. And, when this happens, many times you close yourself to ideas other than your own. You then become the controlling leader you resented. And, you will limit the vision you are seeking to you. You limit what you control. Make sure you’re not planting just so you can exclusively do things YOUR way. 

You want to be close to momma.

Or momma-in-law. This one sometimes hits too close to home. And, I get it too. You love your family. There is free babysitting. Loving a family is a good thing. 

 But our callings are bigger – and stronger – than the comfort of home – or the cool city where we can find the best coffee shops. Sometimes God gives us huge latitude in location. 

Certainly we need planters all over the place. And, home may be exactly where God wants you to plant. God may allow you to plant exactly where you “want” to plant. I hope He does. 

Sometimes, however, God’s plan sends us where we don’t necessarily want to go. Sometimes He calls us to leave our comfort zone. But, make sure in whatever you do the decision is always His – and not yours alone. 

Your buddy is doing it.

It’s popular to plant a church these days. As I said, I still attend church planting conferences. There are actually lots these days. And, that’s a good thing. We need lots of new churches. Tons. And, church planting attracts a lot of people. 

Some of your friends may be desiring to plant a church too. It seems to be the buzz these days. 

It’s just never a good reason to plant a church because everyone else is doing it. It needs to be your calling – not anyone else’s.

You’ve got the cool factor.

I meet some really cool people planting churches. I needed to clarify this because I was almost 40 when I planted my first church and I had long passed the day I could wear skinny jeans. 

Church plants – anything new – attracts cool. (It’s funny, when I attend church planting conferences there are lots of similar looks. Styles change but church planters keep up with the styles.) 

But, cool does not make a good church planter. It doesn’t hurt – I should be honest – but it isn’t a reason to plant a church. And the fact is we need cool people in the established church also. Church revitalization needs cool too – perhaps even more.

So why plant a church?

There is really only one reason to plant a church.

You are fully convinced God has called you to plant a church.

The Leader’s Crisis of Belief

Every Leader Must Push Through

A Leadership Crisis of Belief

Every leader at some point faces a crisis of belief in their leadership – or what her or she is attempting to lead.

Questions such as:

Will this work?

Is there a better way?

Will people support this?

What will be the fallout from this?

Can we afford this?

Can we afford not to do this?

Do I have what it takes?

Should I give up?

Should I keep going?

The crisis of belief period is real. And, it’s normal. Don’t think you’re unique – or weak – because you have doubts just before the big push. In my estimation, only arrogant or prideful leaders never struggle in this area.

It’s part of leadership. It often comes after the dream is well set and things appear to be in motion. When you’re just about ready to pull the trigger – the questions come.

In every new venture.

With every bold move.

With every meaningful change.

With every act of faith.

With every major change.

With every new risk.

You will question yourself. You will question your team. You will question the idea, the resources, and the outcome.

We need only look to Biblical examples such as Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon, and Peter. When the push becomes real and faith becomes the only option, human nature often kicks in, the enemy ramps up his attacks, and our minds try to convince us we do not have what it takes.

If it is something really worth pursuing, almost every leader will face the crisis of belief – sometime.

Are you there now?

What you do next will likely determine success or failure!

If you’ve prayed and done your homework. If you’ve included others. If you are prepared as much as you can be. If you believe this is something worth doing. Press into your faith. Trust God. Trust in the leader He has made you to be. Trust your team.

Push through the crisis!

I’m praying for you. You can do it!

7 Hidden Costs of Attempting to Eliminate Risk

Every leader I know attempts to limit a certain amount of risk when making decisions or leading change. We should attempt to have good systems, adequate resources, and even contingency or emergency plans. We don’t want to jeopardize the organization – ultimately the people – we are trying to lead.

The problem for some leaders, however, is they confuse limiting risk with attempting to eliminate risk. I’m not sure we can ever fail-proof anything completely, so it’s a futile attempt at best. The bigger problem, however, is what we end up missing out on in the process of attempting to eliminate risk. There are hidden costs involved in a leader who is overly cautious.

Here are 7 hidden costs of attempting to eliminate risk:

Limited growth. Personally and corporately, without a certain amount of risk there is no potential for growth. Growth happens in environments where the potential to fail is prevalent, accepted, and not scorned.

Unfulfilled dreams. Dreams are made of the seemingly impossible. The bigger the dream the greater the risk. Healthy teams and organizations have big, lofty dreams pulling them forward.

False reality. Life is a constant risk. If a leader has as a goal an attempt to eliminate it they are essentially playing tricks with mirrors and fancy lights. They’ve created an unacheivable expectation for people who follow.

Underutilized resources. “Playing it safe” may make more sense on paper. It may even feel comfortable, but often when resources are stretched is when the greatest growth potential occurs. Ask the question – “What would we do if we were forced to change and there was no money available?” It’s amazing how creative people can become.

Wasted time. The time you invest trying to eliminate risk could be used to leverage risk for a greater gain. All of us only have so much time, so leaders must be diligent stewards of it.

Expensive opportunity loss. Whenever you choose not to do something because of the risk involved, there is always a loss associated. The organization will miss out somewhere on something by not moving forward soon enough. The greatest discoveries often involve people who are willing to assume the greatest risks.

Diminished momentum. The fact is risk fuels momentum. There is something inside of most of us – especially the entrepreneurial or leader types – who thrive on achieving those things which seem impossible. When the chance of failure is high so are the components which fuels momentum.

Leader, you can never fully eliminate risk – and this is one of the hard parts of leading. The time you spend attempting to do so will take precious time from doing other things, which probably can reap higher reward. Risk is a reality to be managed not a problem to be avoided.

(This is absolutely true when leading in the church – perhaps more so, because we are to always be faith-driven. Faith always, by definition, deals with a level of the unknown.)

7 Leadership Principles Life Has Taught Me

Happy for you to learn from my experience

I love principles. Perhaps this is one reason I spend so much time reading Proverbs. Principles aren’t always “guaranteed”, but they are often proven by time and experience.

Principles can help us learn from one another. We can benefit from another person’s experience.

Here are a few principles of ministry I’ve experienced:

Just because you can do something better, doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. We shouldn’t be afraid of critical thinking or observations. Granted, some people are terrible at suggesting ideas. They always come across as being negative. Filter through personalities for nuggets of insight which can help you improve.

It’s not about you. This is huge for leaders to grapple with and will keep your ego from injuring your reputation. Leadership is about something bigger than you. People follow visions which carry them to something of value beyond what they can see today. People will have a hard time developing loyalty and buying in if the vision is no bigger than your personality.

Don’t try to handle a problem or make important decisions when you are angry or highly emotional. This is true whether the emotion is bad – or even if its a really good emotion. This means, as leaders, we must develop the discipline of waiting to respond. We must think things through before we speak them. We must guard our tongues “in the moment”. It’s better to make people wait for an answer than to give an answer you will later regret. We often make the wrong decisions and move too quickly when we act out of an emotional response to immediate circumstances.

Not everyone will agree with you or even like you, because you are the leader. Even if it is the right thing to do is no indication that everyone is going to love it. There’s no need for leadership apart from change and so all leaders are change agents. Change is hard and always produces some emotional response – good or bad. If you’re making good change (and you’ve been open to the insight of wiser people) don’t let the negative emotions curtail your leadership.
People only know what they know. People naturally resist what they can’t understand. This makes continual vision-casting a premier function of leadership. Some of a pastor’s “best” sermons will need to be ones where change is introduced or conflict is challenged.

You limit what you control. Period. The more people with real authority, empowered to make decisions, the greater opportunity you’ll have for Kingdom impact.

Your greatest fear will likely be in an area where God can most use you. We tend to prefer safe zones, but God tends to call us into the places where faith is challenged, character is built, and His glory is most magnified.

Have you seen some of these in your leadership? Feel free to add some of your own in the comments.

In Faith Leadership, Some Days We Walk Blindly

A personal experience

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005.

I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal.

I wrote, “God, at 41 years of age, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party”. Yes, even pastors have those.

The reason I’m certain it was, is because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and, even today, is accomplishing more than we ever dreamed possible for them as a church.

I don’t share this to bring attention to myself or our accomplishments. And, I wouldn’t suggest a church needs to grow at that pace to be successful. God may use you, as leader, in completely different ways than He has ever used me. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share my story because it points to an important principle in ministry which is true for all of us. I’ve seen it so many times. I wish I had a journal entry for each season.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

In fact, sometimes it can be months or years after our obedience before we realize the good God was allowing us to be a part of leading.

And, I’m not sure we’d be as successful – in God’s eyes – if we did.

Walking in the unknown keeps us humble. It keeps us in prayer.
And, best of all, it keeps us desperate for God’s hand to be upon us. It truly becomes His work and not our own.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

I’m not suggesting you may not need some people speaking into your life. You may not be able to see the good you’re doing, but don’t falsely assume the silence of God is the approval of God either. Allow others to speak into your life. Remain teachable. Make sure you’re solid on God’s plan, but hold your own plans loosely. Others may have better ideas than you.

But, if you are striving to be obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm. I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit – soon – from your labor, as you continue to trust Him. But, until then don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is always up to things we can’t even imagine.

God is using you, Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

You simply are having to walk by faith. Faith walking is never for sissies, but always rewarded by God!

Leadership Development for Dummies

Here's all there is to it.

Sorry if the title is crude. No implication about anyone here. But leadership development may not be as difficult as we often make it out to be. So why not share the oversimplified version?  The dummy version. 

One of the number one questions I get about leadership is how to develop new leaders within an organization. The task can often seem overwhelming. Few organizations or churches I know are viewed as experts in the field. Ours certainly isn’t. 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Perhaps all of us can figure this out. 

Leadership development begins with an underlying understanding that the success of any organization depends greatly on the leader’s willingness to delegate responsibility to others in the organization. This attitude – especially among top leadership – is vitally important to developing new leaders. 

The more a leader tries to control, the less likely others will be to help him or her accomplish the vision. Of course, without people willing to follow a leader, there is no leadership development.

(For pastors who reject this idea, please read Exodus 18 or Acts 6 – or just follow Jesus through the Gospels.)

Here is my simple formula. I believe the best leadership development is accomplished by allowing others to gain experience by doing. Basically, this means we must find ways to allow others to lead.

In fact, delegation can be simplified into two words.

INVEST and RELEASE

Invest

Personally spend time with and mentor others so they understand the vision of the organization and have the resources, skills and authority to accomplish their assignment. Allow them to ask questions, to take risks, fail, and begin again. 

Release

Let people lead. Allow them to add their strengths, creativity and energy to accomplishing the vision. Give them real responsibility and authority. Don’t micromanage.

I realize this is a very simplified answer to a very complicated process, but perhaps simplifying leadership development is needed to ensure we tackle this necessary part of growing a healthy organization.

And, you can easily monitor whether leadership development is occurring in your church or organization with my simple model. Simply ask yourself – look around – is anyone being invested in on a regular basis. Then, more important, is anyone being released to lead? 

If you have any questions, or need a model to follow, simply pay more attention to Jesus. It’s exactly how He did His leadership development.

Are you holding other potential leaders back because you will not release them to lead?

The Speed of Change is Relative

A huge reminder to leaders attempting change

This is a reminder to leaders who are attempting to lead change. If you miss this one principle you can greatly damage the effectiveness of change or even your reputation as a leader in the change.

It’s simple, but it is powerful. Huge.

Here it is:

The speed of change is always relative.

See, I told you – simple. No rocket science here, but you must understand this when leading people through a change process.

As the leader, or someone on our team, I may feel like we are moving at a snail’s pace. It’s taking forever. We are spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere fast.

At the same time, others may feel we are moving at rocket speed. Change is coming so quickly they cannot process it in their mind. They feel the world – or this change – is out of control.

Perception to the speed of change is relative to:

  • A person’s propensity or aversion to change.
  • The degree of comfort established in what we are currently doing.
  • Who or what initiated the change.
  • The perceived size of the change.
  • The degree of personal risk involved.
  • How the change is implemented.
  • My understanding of or buy-in to the “why” behind the change.
  • The level of personal sacrifice involved in the change.
  • The trust established in current leadership.

When you hear people talking about how fast or slow things are changing, remember their response is relative to their individual context.

Understanding this one principle will help the leader be more sensitive to the reaction of others. It will help him or her with casting vision effectively. It will protect the leader from the perception of “running over people” with change.

This one understanding will make you a better change leader.

Think of this principle – the speed of change is relative – in your present context.

How fast are things changing in your life right now? Do you wish they were changing faster or slower?

7 Characteristics of Effecitve Change Agent Leaders

If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.

Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.

I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.

Here are 7 characteristics of good change agents:

Flexible

It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.

Courageous

Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism – worth hearing – and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk which clouds progress.

Relational

Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.

Strategic

A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.

Creative

Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change often happens because someone chose to be creative. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. This takes creativity.

Intentional

Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.

Thorough

A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.

Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?

3 Critical Ways Every Leader Must Spend Time

Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader.

Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

It also seems to me leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on that one – often to the neglect of the other two.

All three are needed. All three.

Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 critical ways every leader must spend their time:

Time reflecting on past experience

If a leader doesn’t evaluate where they have been and what has been done, he or she will soon be disappointed with where they are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations. This includes celebrating success. People need this too.

Evaluation should be done after each major events but also on a regular basis evaluating overall activity of the organization should be considered.

A leader can’t get frozen on this one though – always thinking of what has already happened. At some point it’s time to move forward.

Time focusing on current obligations

A leader must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect routine tasks. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership. This may also include simply catching up with co-workers, even in social conversation.

I find personally if I don’t operate with some scheduled time for current obligations I will get dreadfully behind and end up not being effective for anyone.

Honestly, this one is a drag for me at times. I’m wired for what’s next. But, sometimes the routine stuff I do is huge for other people. And, necessary for me.

Time dreaming about the future

Leaders must spend time dreaming of the future. If a leaders doesn’t, no one else will either. This is critical to an organization’s success. I believe the larger an organization grows or the leader’s responsibilities expand the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

This comes natural for some leaders and not for others. Personally, I love this one. Again, if it’s not natural it must be scheduled. Planning a few hours a week to read, brainstorm, interact with other creative leaders can make a big difference. Several times a year it may be important to spend a day or more away from the office with the sole purpose of dreaming of what’s next.

The place in the organization and season of responsibility will determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for very long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader.

Here are a few questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

7 Suggestions for Pastors When a Good Staff Member Leaves the Church

This post came to me after hanging out with one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with. I hated when we parted ways professionally.

Let’s be honest, pastors. When you have great staff people, the team is set and everything is going well, it’s hard when someone leaves. Even when they are leaving for a better opportunity – it often stinks.

Replacing quality people is one of the hardest things we do as pastors.

How should you handle a staff member who leaves for other opportunities?

Here a 7 suggestions for my pastor friends:

Think bigger picture. 

You’re a Kingdom builder. You are on a mission. You are called to part of a grander plan – God’s plan – more than you are to one local church. You and every staff member (volunteer and attendee) in your church are simply part of this plan.

Grieve. 

It’s okay. You likely invested a lot personally into the person. You are probably going to miss their friendship – and their work. Whoever replaces them will not be the same. (They may actually be a better fit for the season you are in now.) It will be different either way. Change is hard for the church – and it’s difficult for us too at times. Believers don’t grieve like the rest of the world (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve. We grieve with hope always in mind, but grieving is a healthy way to deal with loss. 

Don’t take it personal. 

Most likely it is a reflection of what God was doing in the staff member’s life – and possibly in the life of the church. It may have nothing to do with you. If it is personal then it is a good time to evaluate where and who you are and why someone felt they needed to leave.

See the opportunity in something new. 

I used to have a boss who when someone would threaten to quit he would call them in and have them stick their hand in a bucket of water to see how much the difference one hand made in the level of the water. It didn’t make much. I know, because I once had to do it. I’m not saying it was the gentlest of approaches – and I have never used it personally, but it was certainly humbling. I never forgot it. The point he was making was everyone can be replaced. Everyone. And, sometimes new can even be better. Transitions are difficult, but afterward new can create opportunities for the church you never dreamed of – but God did.

Invest in people. 

Not positions. You have to see your role as a people-builder more than a position builder. It’s great to have the best student ministry in the history of the church. It’s better to have a student minister you believe in and invest in personally who is open, just as you should be, to being wherever God may lead. Rejoice in this with them. (As much as it hurts, this includes the worship pastor, the small groups or discipleship pastor, and the key volunteer leaders in the church.) 

Keep in touch. 

Stay in touch, as much as the other person will allow, in what God is doing in their life in this new season. Chances are you and your leadership were a part of this season also. Rejoice in what God allowed you to be a part of doing in someone else’s journey. 

Celebrate what God is doing new. 

Celebrate the work God is doing in the person’s life who left and what He is doing in the church afterward. Celebrate on the way out for one person and on the way in for another. The more you can celebrate the healthier the environment will be you are trying to lead.

These are just a few suggestions. I’ve been there – and, I’m sure I will be again. Saying goodbye can be difficult. It shouldn’t be devastating if we approach it correctly.