Playing it Safe — Not My Style — And, Often Not God’s Plan

A few years ago, I observed a characteristic in me I hope is not permanent.

After our boys moved out of the house, we moved to a downtown condo. The condo sat on a hill, overlooking the river district of our community. We loved the view, but it presented a problem on windy days. We had to weatherize our front porch every time we suspected a storm, turning over the furniture and making sure everything was secure.

One night Cheryl heard the wind picking up and asked if we should prepare the porch. What she really meant was I should get up and prepare the porch, but I love the gentle way she “suggests” such things. Getting up at 1:30 AM to step onto my front porch in my boxers has never been my idea of fun, but I do like a happy wife, so I headed out to do my job. When I got back into bed she thanked me to which I replied:

“Better safe than sorry.”

Instantly the thought occurred to me. I would have never used this phrase a few years ago.

“Better safe than sorry” has never appealed to me before. Sounds like something my mother would have said to me.

I like risk-taking. I embrace change. I lived my life running to things others say can’t be done or they aren’t willing to try. 

Even more, I’ve made a commitment to walk by faith — but this is more than a spiritual decision. It’s a personal wiring. It’s in my DNA.

In fact, I’m scared of “better safe than sorry“.

What happened to me? Am I that old? 🙂

So, I came up with an immediate plan.

Shortly after this, my oldest son and I have went skydiving!

We jumped out of a “perfectly good plane”.

I had to! I couldn’t stand the thought of resting on the safe side.

What’s the purpose of this post? You’re wondering, right?

Well, if you’re like me, the older you get, the more likely you are to play it “better safe than sorry”. You want to be comfortable. You want to pay your bills and keep your children in the right schools and plan for retirement and live in a safe neighborhood. I get it. And, all of those are okay. There’s nothing wrong with living a so-called “normal” life.

Unless God calls you to something else.

And, if God is calling you to something bigger than your ability to understand — I have some strong advice. It’s wisdom! It’s strongly Biblical.

Don’t play it safe! Play it by faith!

I’m not suggesting you don’t weatherize your house. I’m certainly not suggesting you jump out of a plane. 

But, I am suggesting you be willing to do everything God asks you to do — even when it’s scary, the future is uncertain, and you don’t have a clue how in the world you are going to do it.

Regardless of your age – or your fears. 

And, maybe you do need some disciplined risk-taking to stretch your ability to make the big moves again.

God never promised a safe-life. He promised an abundant life. God never asked us to “play it safe”. He asks us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. He never promises a risk-free life. He promised a victorious life — as we trust in Him!

Be honest: Are you more likely to prefer a risk or the safe side?

Leadership Advice: Be Careful Making Decisions from an Ivory Tower

I was talking with with a pastor recently. He has made some decisions he feels are best for the church. In listening to him, I think he’s probably making good decisions. They are needed from the perspective of where he sits in the organization of the church. His next step was to present the changes to the church.

I asked him how the staff felt about the changes. He said he hand’t told them yet. He had handled it with the elders and they supported him. They would find out with the church.

What? What?

Again, I said, “what”?

I watched this happen when I was in manufacturing. When decisions, which affect the assembly line, are made in the boardroom they seldom work and are always resented. The quality of work diminishes and production stalls.

I watched it happen when I was in sales. When sales procedures are handed down as edicts, without including the input of salespeople, morale is damaged, which ultimately has a negative impact on sales.

In this church and several churches I’ve consulted with over the years, I’ve realized it also happens in churches. When the pastor, or a body of senior leaders, make decisions, which impact the children’s ministry, for example, without the input of people who are actually doing children’s ministry, resentment builds, momentum stalls, and people resist the changes.

I have some advice for ministry leaders — really all leaders.

Be careful making decisions from the so-called “Ivory Tower”.

Many leaders lead with a top down approach, passing down decisions without consulting with those who have to live with the decisions made. It’s easy in leadership to forget real people have to implement your decisions. It’s not helpful, inefficient and, frankly, it’s unkind.

Don’t stand in the tower. Get out among the people you lead. Learn from them and let them give input into the decisions made in the organization.

Great leaders build decisions from the ground up, not from the top down.

5 Suggestions of How to Add Good Structure to an Organization

I think there is value in unstructured growth. We shouldn’t be afraid of growth we cannot understand. It’s messier, harder to contain, even uncomfortable at times, but it also keeps leaders energized, maintains momentum, and helps spur exponential growth.

As the organization grows – as strategy changes – additions in structure have to be added. Adding structure, however, can be a painful and disruptive process if not handled carefully. We must add structure strategically.

Too many churches are stalled because when things got messy they simply added a new rule.

The fact is structure should never be too inflexible. It should change with the organization. It should even change at times with the people who are in the organization.

How do you add good, helpful structure?

Here are 5 suggestions to add good structure to an organization:

The change should make sense with the organizational DNA.

We have to be careful altering something in a way which could disrupt the fiber, core, or root foundation of the organization. DNA is formed fast, but changed slowly – and sometimes never. It’s who an organization is and who people have come to expect it to be. It’s hard to disrupt this without disrupting future potential for growth. The structure we will add or change in church revitalization will likely look different from the structure we had in church planting. And every church and organization is unique. 

The structure added should not impede progress.

This seems common sense to me, but I’ve learned this is not always the case. Structure should further enable the completion of the vision, not detract from it. Notice I said progress not grow with this suggestion. It could be you need some temporary structure which slows growth for a season. When I was in city leadership there was a time we needed to slow the pace of growth so we could catch up with infrastructure in the city. I can. We saw that as progress. If it slowed growth forever it would no longer be progress. An organization which never grows will eventually die – hence the following suggestion. The key is structure should consider the future potential for long-term sustainability of the organization. 

It should accommodate or encourage continued future growth.

Again, this should make sense. The problem is we don’t always ask those questions. Structure’s purpose should be to help the organization continue to grow over time. Structure should make things more efficient — not less. Enable not control. 

It should hit the center of acceptance.

Not everyone will agree with any change, but if the structure is universally opposed then it may need to be considered more closely before being implemented. This goes back to the suggestion about DNA. You shouldn’t make change based solely upon popularity – it needs a better thought process than simply what people like. Leadership is never about making people happy. But, at the same time, if you want the structure to be sustainable and helpful it must meet general acceptance – which leads to the last suggestion.  

People should understand the why.

This may be the most important. People are more likely to accept structure when they can identify the value to them and their area of responsibility — but at least the value to the overall organization. I once interviewed Zig Ziglar. He continually said, “If people understand the why they will be less opposed to the what.” I’ve learned how true this principle is over the years. We took a year to make one structural change so people could clearly understood why we were making it. Some still didn’t. Most did. And, it was a widely accepted change in our structure. 

What would you add to my list?

10 Principles of God Leadership

How would we lead if we led as God inspired us to lead?

What does godly leadership look like?

I put some thought into this question recently. Actually, I’ve thought about it for years.

I should tell you I believe God is okay with us using good leadership principles in the church — even business principles. He gave us a mind. He made us creative. He said He makes Himself known in all creation. And, we are told all things were created for Him and by Him. I think we can find great leadership principles — the best — and implement them in doing His work.

But, there are principles clearly spelled out in Scripture. These are simply leadership principles, but rather principles for life. And, of course, these trump all the others. In fact, all other principles are built upon the principles of God’s word. The point of this post, however, is any good life principle from God’s word is a good leadership principle — or rather — a God principle. 

So, what are some characteristics of God leadership?

Here are 10 Principles of God Leadership:

Seek God’s will before your personal desires or ambition. Matthew 6:33

Be Humble. 1 Peter 5:6

Serve others. Matthew 23:11

Walk by faith. Hebrews 11:6

Practice Patience. Romans 8:25

Consider the interest of others even above your own . Philippians 2:4

Submit to authority. Ephesians 5:21

Be Teachable — seek wisdom from others. Proverbs 4:7

Believe the impossible can happen. Luke 18:27

Empower others to do what they can do. Ephesians 4:12

What would you add to my list?

7 Causes of Team Idleness – and a Few Suggestions to Help

Team idleness

Team idleness is a term I use to describe when a team is failing to move forward towards its desired goals and objectives.

Team idleness does not always mean the wrong people are on the team — it could. It doesn’t always mean the team has the wrong goals and objectives or the goals and objectives are unrealistic. It could.

It simply means things have stalled. Period. The term means for a span of time there is no — or very little – forward progress for the team. Idleness. It could be a month or several months. Things aren’t desperate – yet. They’ve simply slowed.

Every team, regardless of their health, can go through times of team idleness.

I have witnessed team idleness many times in organizations with which I have been associated – in business and in the church. I can assure you most teams will deal with team idleness at various times through the life of the team.

What causes team idleness? What causes a team to stagnate?

Here are a 7 thoughts – and a few tips along the way:

No fresh ideas.

If new ideas are not coming to the table frequently the team becomes stale and progress slows. One way we address this is to periodically schedule times where the only agenda is brainstorming – dreaming – answering the question “what’s next?” Also, reading books together, attending a conference, or visiting other healthy organizations or churches can help generate new ideas.

Burnout.

If team members are overworked or in need of a break their energy level will slow. This has to be encouraged and allowed in the structure. For me it’s essential I discipline myself to rest frequently. I try to personally lead by example here. Shared values and shared workload help here. There should be no Lone Rangers on a healthy team.

Lost vision.

If a team loses sight of the big picture goals and objectives they can lose interest or get off course. Vision-casting is an essential task of every leader – and it needs to be done frequently. Celebrating also keeps what’s valued ever before the team.

Misplaced team members.

Again, I didn’t say wrong team members. It could be, but many times idleness is caused when a vision outgrows members of the team and other times when team members outgrow the vision. People sometimes need a reassignment of duties or a change of focus. They need new goals which further stretch them. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally shift the organizational structure and chart. 

Lack of Resources.

If there are not adequate resources to complete the task the work becomes frustrating and the team stalls. While we need to be stretched and walk by faith, it’s equally important not to push people beyond where the structure can support them long-term. Unreasonable expectations – over time – cause team members to naturally slow their individual productivity, which impacts the entire team. Leaders must make sure the team has the resources they need to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Poor training.

Sometimes people are asked to perform beyond their level of understanding. No one is helping them get to the next level and so they stall waiting for further investment into them. I have found it rare for people to voluntarily ask for more. Leaders must recognize potential in others and intentionally develop the people around them.

No accountability.

Teams idle when they stay the same for too long. Frankly, sometimes things stall because no one is pushing things to continually grow or holding people to higher standards of excellence. Growth and momentum are seldom self-produced. Change, at least good change, never comes without purposeful efforts. Leaders must become champions of new innovation and continual progress individually and for everyone on the team.

The problem with team idleness is it doesn’t stay simply at idle. You know that leaders. Idle turns to decline and often quickly. Idleness will come naturally. Our goal should be not to rest there long.

Have you served – or do you serve – on an idle team? Tell us about it.

5 Reasons I Recommend the Evernote Application

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite productivity applications. It’s called Evernote.

Honestly, I thought everyone knew about Evernote. You are either using it already or you know what it is at least. Recently, however, I was speaking at a conference, I mentioned Evernote, and several people asked me afterward what I was talking about. I was shocked.

So, here goes.

Evernote is a note/picture/voice taking productivity application used on laptops and mobile devices. I actually wrote a very simple — most simple — e-book about it. No pressure (I said it’s simple, but you can find it HERE.)

I can’t imagine my life being as organized or “mobile” without it now.

If you aren’t familiar with it, I want to share some of the reasons I use and love Evernote:

5 reasons to love Evernote:

Efficiency

Evernote allows me to put a note, picture, or voice recording into the application and then automatically syncs with my other devices. Whether I’m using my iPhone, iPad or my MacBook or Google Chrome laptop. I input once and am updated on all my devices. It is cloud-based, so it does it quickly and without error. I place my notes into files which are searchable and specific to the subject matter. Every blog post, sermon or meeting now starts as a separate Evernote file. I have over 1,000 files now.

Convenience

Evernote is with me wherever I go. For example, I carry my phone with me when I’m walking the dog. I can quickly put thoughts which come to me into a file in Evernote as I walk. (She’s sometimes slow!) If I see a picture, I can snap it and place it in an Evernote file for later use. If I’m at my desk — those same files I was using in Evernote while walking the dog are with me. I also store documents this way if it’s something I need easy access to while away from the office. I keep insurance information, certain church documents I have to occasionally refer to, etc. in separate files. Just yesterday I needed a Tax-ID for something. I did a quick search in Evernote and produced the information. It saved me from having to do something when I got back to my office.

Creativity

Evernote fuels my creativity, because it allows me the freedom to think in the moment. And, I think in the moment a lot. I no longer have to wait until I get back to my laptop to brainstorm. I’m less likely to forget ideas, because I can record them as soon as they come to me in an appropriate file.

Reliability

I never have to lose a thought again! There is seldom a time where I would not have one of these devices with me, so whenever I have a thought, I always have a place to record it, which again, automatically syncs with the other devices. In honesty, a few times I’ve had the application freeze or fail to sync, but Evernote saves even those mistakes for me to filter through. My actual information has never been lost.

Access

Evernote is a free application! You can’t beat the price for such a productive tool. I choose to do the paid upgrade — which is minimal in cost but offers unlimited storage — but it’s not mandatory and most people seem to be able to use the free version with no issues.

There are “tricks” to Evernote I don’t use often and many I’ve probably not even discovered. You can email notes to yourself, for example, using a specialized Evernote email address and it places it right in your application. I’m very simple with it. It’s simply my filing system for all the information I have to keep up with.

If you are looking for a way to stay more organized and be more productive, check out Evernote.

Do you use Evernote?

10 Inexpensive Ways to Develop People on Your Team

When budgets are stretched, development often is pushed to the back burner or cut altogether from the budget. This is dangerous for a team, which wishes to remain healthy and continue growing. If a team is not learning and improving, it will soon struggle to maintain any level of success.

It’s important, therefore, to find ways to develop even with stressed budgets.

Here are 10 inexpensive, or less expensive, ways to offer development to a team:

Bring in a leader – It may be cheaper to bring the expert to you than it is to attend a conference. Find someone from whom your team can learn and pay his or her expenses to visit the team.

Send a representative – You may have to draw names to decide who, but pay for one person to attend a conference with a catch — they have to bring information back to share with the team.

Read a book together – The number of leadership books easily outnumber the months a team will be together. Find some good ones, read and digest them as a team.

Use local resources – Most likely, there are businesses or universities in your community that have development offices or procedures to develop people, with people already skilled who can inexpensively invest in your team.

Online or teleconference – Technology allows for some great online conferences. Gather the team around a computer and learn without leaving the office. Additionally, if you have a telephone, you have the makings of a great way to connect with other leaders. Arrange for a joint call with one and let the team ask questions and then process the interview together.

Pool Resources – Join forces with another church to accomplish any of these ideas. Learn from each other. Swap responsibilities to lead a development activity. Share the costs of bringing in a speaker and do a combined mini-conference of your own.

Visit other churches – Allow the team to visit other churches in the area, either individually or as a group. Sometimes the quickest ways to promote change is to introduce leaders to other environments. It is a great way to develop new ideas and improve upon what you are doing as you see what others are doing firsthand. Be sure everyone goes expecting to bring something back to the team they have learned.

Learn from each other – Chances are good that everyone on your team has something to offer that can make the team better. Take turns sharing with each other something you already know or are learning.

Scavenger hunt – Assign each team member to find the best development idea and share it with the rest of the team. Whether online, in a book or through networking, seek out new ideas and improvements you can learn from one another and share it with the team. The process of sharing the idea discovered will prove to be development.

Trial and Error – The best development may be putting systems in place that allow the team to take risks, but then evaluate the success or failure in an effort to learn from them and grow. Teams should be doing this anyway, but teams often fail to intentionally learn from the process of doing normal work.

Development isn’t cheap, but it’s a necessary part of continuing to be a healthy and growing team.

Make this post better. Think development with me.

What low cost ideas do you have to offer development to a team?

3 Places to Find New Church Leaders

I was working with a church recently facing a growth barrier. They have experienced rapid growth and now the staff is stretched beyond what they can do. There are holes of responsibilities not being filled. My opinion — and they agree — is they can’t continue growing unless something changes.

The “genius” suggestion I gave them is t genius. It’s commonsensical. They must rise up new leaders, empower them with authority, and spread the load of responsibility.

Duh! I sometimes (seldom) get paid for this stuff.

Yet, in every church, sometimes finding volunteers feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Can I get a witness?

The obvious question: Where do we find these people?

Great question!

I suggested they look for three types of people:

People currently “doing” who need to be leading.

These are people who are consistently serving. They are the reliable ones you couldn’t do without. They have been given responsibility, but never been tapped for authority. Not all “doers” have the capability of being leaders, but many do if given the opportunity. Seek them.

People serving in one area, who could lead in another area.

These are people who are serving in the children’s ministry, for example, who could be leading in the parking ministry — or vice-versa. Many times people are serving in one area, because there is a need, but they could easily be stellar leaders in another area. Discern them.

People leading outside the church.

There are often people in the church who are tremendous leaders in the secular world, but they’ve never been given an opportunity to lead in the church. Recruit them.

People come to your church and see things working. They don’t know you need help, because everything appears to be working. There doesn’t seem to be a place for them. In my experience, you’ll have to ask the best leaders to join your team.

Be intentional.

How do you find new leaders?  What would you add to my list?

7 Things We’ve Learned about Reaching Millennials

The statistics are staggering. The older a child gets today, the greater his or her chances are of disappearing from the church. The church must intentionally plan to reverse this trend.

I was a part of a church plant built around a desire to reach people who may not have previously been interested in church. We were amazed at the number of young people we reached. Defying statistics.

I’ve now updated this post, because we are currently in a growing, revitalized established church and — amazingly — our fastest growing group is the millennial generation. Again, defying statistics.

It must be more than structure or age of church — or even style of worship.

Along the way, we’ve learned a few things — and these are the things which regardless of type of church have remained true. 

Here are 7 thoughts for the church to reach millennials:

Love them – Young people today seem to crave genuine, no strings attached, healthy love from other adults — and they want it to be unconditional love — through the good times of their life and the times they mess up. And, they want us to love first, without qualifications added.

Be biblically true – Millennials don’t want fluff or sugar-coating. They want an authentic, honest approach to the Bible. Whether they believe all of it yet or not, they want the people who teach to teach what they believe — and then be willing to discuss it with them as they explore.

Be culturally aware and relevant – This generation has been exposed to the problems, challenges, and changes in the world. And, changes are coming fast. They are more socially conscious than in years past. They want the church to be addressing the needs they see in the world around them.

Give them a place to plug-in – They want to make a difference. They want to be a part of change. They want you to support them in their pursuits. They want to serve somewhere they believe is doing good work and makes a positive impact on the world — and they may even want to help lead the effort.

Value their ideas and input – You have to allow Millennials to do things their way — often with technology — within groups of friends — sometimes unscripted. A church which is bent on protecting the past over creating the future turns young people away from the church.

Be genuine/transparent with them – The overused word is authentic, but this generation wants to learn from the mistakes of those older than them. Pretending as if we’ve always been wonderful doesn’t help them deal with the issues they are dealing with today. They need living examples of battling life’s temptations, struggles, and fears.

Guide them – I love this about them — they are wisdom-seekers. They want help making life’s decisions, but they want it done in a way that helps them understand wise choices, but gives them freedom to choose their own path. Young people today crave older adults who will walk with them through the obstacles they face on a daily basis; while extending love, grace and support.

What would you add to my list? How is your church reaching Millennials?

Again, notice I didn’t say anything about music. It’s a bonus if you give them worship styles they enjoy, but I’m not convinced it’s as much a necessity if the others on this list are kept.

7 Ways to Better Ensure Your Email Gets Read

When our youngest son was in college I realized he wasn’t reading all the emails he should have been reading. A few times we almost missed paying some fees he had due for college, which could have made him miss some deadlines for school.

You see, Nate’s a busy college student. He’s consumed with school work, church activities, and a host of social activities. If you want to lose his attention quickly — send him a really long email.

And, I don’t think it’s just my son. I see it as a trend among a younger generation. They don’t read all the emails they receive. I talked to one millennial recently who said if his inbox gets too full he just deletes a bunch of emails — without reading any of them. He figures they’ll text or call if they need something quickly — or send another email.

I hear some people my age — the age who received some of the first emails long after we were adults. Some would say that’s rude. Inconsiderate. Uncaring. Unprofessional.

And, yet, I feel a certain kindred spirit with our younger generation.

I can’t complain, especially because of my son, because he’s wired like me. He is always busy doing something, hates unproductive time, and some emails — if they tend to ramble — simply don’t capture his attention. I realize it’s ultimately our problem, not the sender, but to us it almost seems a waste of time to process an email which could have been written with the same information in a much shorter form.

Just being honest. I don’t read all the long emails I need to read. At least not in their entirety. Sometimes I miss details, because the email was too long to process or was so poorly written. I never check my Spam folder. I quickly divert emails to other people if I think I’m not the right recipient. And, an email in all caps — please no.  

That’s my honesty. And, for some one who holds responsiveness to such a high value it bothers me not to thoroughly read and respond to each one. It seems, however, I constantly get a ton of chapter length emails. Over the years the volume of email keeps growing yet my time to focus on them hasn’t. It has prompted me to think through what I believe helps an email get read. I certainly want my emails read. If I’m sending it I must believe it’s important enough for someone to take time to read it.  

If you want to ensure I read your email — and maybe other busy people —  people like me who receive literally several hundred emails a day — I want to share some suggestions. Please understand, I’m being brutally honest here trying to help. I realize some who read every line of every email they receive can’t understand. But, everyone is not like you. Yet, I assume you want your email read also.

Here are 7 ways to better ensure your email gets read:

Make sure your name is clearly listed in the FROM line

I am more likely to read an email from an individual than I am an organization or a group. I know it’s probably not fair, but if it’s coming from an “organization” I assume it applies more to the masses than to me personally. If I’m covered up with emails I’ll pay more attention to the ones that are from a person rather than an institution.

Make the recipient — ME

I’m less likely to read an email addressed to a group, even if the group is summarized by your name. I’m okay with being in the BCC line for a hidden group list, but if I see a group of 20+ addresses in the “To” line I’m probably assuming it’s not as important I read it.

Write a great subject heading

“Hey” is probably not a great one. The subject line needs to capture the reader’s attention enough to want to open the email — and read it. Give me some clue the general purpose of the email and what I can expect to learn from it. And, a FWD message rarely excitedly grabs my attention — especially if FWD is in the subject line.

Get started immediately with the main idea

Similar to the rules of writing a letter, you should instantly begin dealing with the subject of the email. If you’re inviting me to something — say that immediately. If you have a suggestion — tell me you do. You can explain later, but you need to hook the reader into the email early.

Give pertinent details, but don’t write a book

Please — don’t send an email just to ask me to call you. That’s so unfair that I have to wonder what you want. Tell me the basics in the email. Just don’t tell me the basics and everything else you every thought about the basics — plus three stories to go along with it. Again, the length of an email is critical to ensure it gets read. I often suggest people write bullet points. Sometimes they help make the email easier to read.

Another way, especially where the email has to be longer is to have two sections. The first section has “just the facts” section at the top with bullet points of pertinent facts,followed by a longer section for those who may want to read more detailed explanations. The person can read all they have to know in a couple minutes and then scan down to learn more details about items about which they are interested.

Finally, I especially appreciate if the absolute most pertinent information — such as dates, times, or the one single question or point you’re making — is highlighted or made bold in the email.

Read before sending

Before pressing send, read the email aloud. Listen for how it sounds. Email can be terribly misunderstood and this helps. Also, look at the overall length of the email. Would you read it? Or, would the length encourage you to put it aside for a later read — or skip it altogether? Remember many — maybe most — may read it on a smart phone and the email will appear even longer.

Give the option to ask questions

Close your email with the opportunity to ask questions if the reader wants more details or information. Even better — if appropriate — provide links in your email to websites or pages with additional information.

The more emails we send and receive, the more important it becomes that we write better emails. Writing emails which are to the point and concise ensures a greater chance of them being read. I would assume this would be a goal if we are going to take the time to send one.

Now your turn to be honest. When you receive a really long email, how do you respond?

What would you add to my list? What ideas do you have for writing emails that get read?