What a Leader Does in Times of Crisis

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The Apostle Paul was an effective leader. He was the arguably the most successful church planter of all times; managing to plant churches and write books we are still using today.

There is an interesting story in Acts 19 of a time of crisis. I call it a crisis because the sub-heading in my Bible calls it “The Riot in Ephesus.” Have you ever witnessed a riot? It sounds chaotic – like a crisis.

And apparently it wasn’t a small riot. Notice this verse: “About that time there was a major disturbance about the Way.”‭‭ Acts‬ ‭19:23‬ ‭

Major disturbance. Crisis.

What is specifically interesting to me is the response of Paul in the time of crisis.

Read it for yourself:

After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

So, Paul did three things: 

  • Called together the leaders of the people.
  • Encouraged them.
  • Continued working to accomplish the mission.

Paul demonstrates for us the role of a leader in times of crisis – or even in times of uncertainty or times of change. In these times, people need to hear from their leader.

People are looking for assurance everything is going to be okay. They want to know the mission will continue. People want to hear the leader has confidence and is going to help move the mission forward.

In other words, they want leadership.

Leader, if you are in a time of difficulty or exaggerated stress right now in leadership, the worst thing you can do is to run and hide. The best you can do is to reengage the people you are trying to lead.

Gather your people. Encourage them. Keep the mission moving forward.

Leadership helps people process the pain of their circumstances so they can keep going.

All Good Leaders Do 2 Things

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There are two things all good leaders do for their team. These are vital if you want to lead a healthy team.

They help their team say yes.

Good leaders give their team the freedom to dream. They empower the team to take their ministry in new directions. Risks are encouraged without fear of retribution if it doesn’t work.

Good leaders make sure they aren’t so distracted with mindless and burdensome tasks, so they can pursue the things which spark their interest. They help their team move swiftly when change is needed and encourage the team to be proactive rather than reactive. 

And when team members do things differently than the leader would, the leader looks to see if the vision is being attained. If it is, then the leader submits to the leadership of the team. 

They help their team say no.

The team can’t do everything. Neither can the leader. People are limited. Everyone is limited.

All of us can easily get distracted by seemingly good things and fail to do the best things. Good leaders give their team the authority to say no when the opportunity doesn’t align with the vision, they simply can’t complete it with all their other demands, or it is outside their ability to do it well.

And when there is backlash for the decision, good leaders defend their team. Every single time. 

(Granted, some team members will take advantage of this second one. They will always say no. In those cases, we handle the problem with that person individually. And we don’t use them as a reason to create unnecessary rules for everyone else.) 

Leader, does your team have freedom to say yes and no? What could you do to help them more?

When I Do Some of My Best Work

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Some of my best work is done when I can’t understand all that I’m doing.

  • When things are messy.
  • My head is cloudy.
  • I have more questions than answers.
  • My faith is being stretched.
  • I am unsure of my position.

If you wait until you have all the answers – where doubt is removed completely:

  • You’ll often find yourself stagnant on making decisions.
  • Seldom will you achieve “the best you can do”.
  • And the rewards you receive will be less than monumental.

A 64-year-old very successful businessperson told me recently that one of his regrets is not taking more risks in life. And he’s taken a ton in my experience.

Part of living the Christian faith – and especially being a Christian leader – is actually using your faith!

How are you currently having to walk by faith?

Let me leave you with a couple of reminders from Scripture:

One who watches the wind will not sow, and the one who looks at the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. Proverbs 14:4

7 Suggestions for a Stalled Organization

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I talk with leaders regularly who lead an organization struggling to grow. They are trying to figure out how to succeed again. It could be a pastor, a ministry or non-profit leader, or a businessperson, but they want to spur another season of growth.

I understand. Every organization experiences times or seasons of decline. I’ve been the leader in these situations many times.

What you do next – when these seasons come – almost always determines how long they last and how well you recover. 

First, I should say, every situation is unique and requires individual attention. Don’t use a script for your team. Don’t take principles or suggestions, even these I’m sharing here, and think they are a magic pill.

Also, don’t be afraid to bring in outside help. It could be anyone from a paid consultant to trading a friend a favor who leads another team. Everyone can use a fresh perspective at times. Wise leaders welcome input from outsiders. (If I can help you, please let me know.)

With those disclaimers in mind, I can offer a few suggestions to shape your current thoughts.

What do you do when your organization is stalled or struggling for a win?

Here are 7 suggestions:

Admit it

Pretending there isn’t a problem will only make things worse and delay making things better. Most likely everyone in the organization knows there is a problem. This is where the leader must be humble enough enough to recognize and admit the problem.

(I realize an obvious question is “What do I do when the leader isn’t this humble?” This would be the focus of another post, but hopefully this post will help. Perhaps you should email it to them.)

Recast vision

People regularly need reminding why they are doing what they are doing. You should have a vision big enough to fuel people’s energy towards achieving it. If you don’t have one, spend time there first.

If you already do it is probably time to tell it again. And again. And frequently. (For my pastor friends, you have a vision given to you – we know it – we just sometimes get distracted by other things. Tradition. Programs. Systems. Stuff.)

The why behind what you’re doing is always be the fuel for what we do.

Evaluate

Times we are stalled are good opportunities to ask hard questions? What is going wrong? Who is not working out on the team? Where have we lost our way? Where are we stuck? How did we lose our way? What are we missing?

This is a great place to bring in some outside perspective if needed. I have learned often the answers are in the room if we ask the right questions. Sometimes an outsider can help draw them out of the team.

The less you try to protect personal agendas here the greater chance you’ll have of recovery.

Introduce change

You need to try something new. Growth never happens without change. Perhaps you need several somethings new. We tend to hold on even more to our traditions and what has worked in the past in times of stalling, but now is not the time to resist doing something different. Obviously, what you’ve been doing isn’t working, which is the point of the post.

Take another risk – as scary as it is. Explore again. Be intentional and make sure the changes line with the vision, but encourage movement. Movement often spurs momentum.

Fuel potential

There are usually areas which are working and areas which are not. If no areas are working, you may be looking for different answers than this post can provide. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is working when you are clouded by what isn’t working, but you must try.

Often these are things the team is known for or things which are fairly new but are working. Wherever there is a spark of any kind, you must fuel it. This is usually the best place to spur more momentum quickly. Maybe you need to build upon something you’ve taken for granted. In church revitalization, I use the term “rediscover – don’t reinvent”. Build upon the things which are working currently.

Celebrate small wins

When you have something to celebrate, make a big deal out of it. A really big deal. Put your party hat on and cheer together with your team. Don’t go overboard over something people will quickly dismiss as nothing, but if you are seeing any signs of hope, share it. People need the energy of something going well to keep pushing forward for even more success.

Encourage one another

As a final thought, remember, the hard times as a team can actually help build your team for long-term success. Consequently, allow this to be a time you grow together as a team, figure out this together, and help the team to grow and succeed again. Pray for and with each other. Cheer each other on daily! You can do it!

Have you been a part of a turnaround team? What helped?

7 Essentials in Facilitating a Church Merger

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I am a fan of church mergers. It takes Kingdom-minded people to be willing to humble themselves and carry through with the blending of two separate churches. I am always impressed with the people involved. I believe we will see even more of them in the future.

Although I do not have the expertise of my friends Jim Tomberlin or Warren Bird (I highly recommend their work and book on the topic), I have been a student of the “movement” for  more than a decade.

It is a long story for another post, but it was learning about church mergers (and in part this video) that eventually led me to leave a very successful church plant and pastor an established church. We were able to accomplish a successful church merger. 

Just recently my son, Nate successfully led the merger of two churches. I can tell you, biased of course, that it might have been one of the best handled I have observed. 

I have also walked with a number of friends through church mergers. 

Churches merging together could result in saving both churches and it is one way healthy churches are growing today.

In my experience and observation, there are some common practices among mergers that are successful. 

For clarity sake, many times merger is the word used and it is actually an acquisition. Either way, the same pieces come into play. 

Here are 7 essentials in church mergers: 

Budge on non-essentials.

Every pastor has a vision for what they want a church to be. The truth is, however, not everything matters. Be willing to let go of those things which are preferences, but simply not mission critical. 

For example, I watched my son move services to the room of one of the churches he helped merge. It wasn’t the room he actually preferred, but it was one that satisfied the most people. And it has worked.

Don’t budge on essentials. 

Some things do matter and they are worth holding out for. One that we simply couldn’t budge on, for example, was who held title to the building. While this was the messiest one to navigate through it was one of the most important. If one church is going to invest significant resources into another there needs to be an incentive to do so. 

We once lost the opportunity to merge with another church, because they wanted us to agree never to pave any more parking. It wasn’t something we could guarantee long-term. In fact, they needed new parking immediately, in our opinion.

Honor the honorable past. 

There will be things worth remembering and celebrating. If there’s not I would probably reconsider merging. 

Soak up wisdom all you can. 

Learn all the history you can. Listen to people who have been in the church for years. They may not even like the changes that need to be made, but they have valuable insight into the church upon which you can build. I have also found that people are less resistant if they feel they have been heard. 

Take your time. 

As much as you can, go slowly through the process to make sure you cover everything. This isn’t always possible. Sometimes you need to move fast. We once moved in a matter of a couple of months. And there is such a thing as opportunity cost if you delay too long.

But time is a valuable commodity and should be used well. Stretch it out when possible.

Build on individual strengths. 

Find common strengths in both churches that you can share. Don’t assume one church has all the answers. 

For example, if one church has a feeding ministry that has existed for years and it works, two churches together might make the ministry even stronger.

Make sure documentation is legal and clear. 

This is the hard part. You want to handle this delicately and with grace, but you also have to handle the legal and business aspects in a way that protects all parties.

For certain you need an attorney and you may need a professional audit done. Invest in getting professional help, even if that is a mediator between the churches leadership.

(If you are in the process of merger talks and I can help in a consulting capacity, please let me know.)

5 Guarantees of Your First Year in Senior Leadership

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The way you begin a leadership position often determines the success you will have in it. 

That’s such a strong, but important word for new leaders to understand. Having begun new leadership positions many times in my career, I have learned the opening days always impact the effectiveness I have had as a leader. 

And, to top it off, there are things that will naturally happen in the first year of a new position. In fact, I can pretty much offer guarantees about your first year as a new senior leader. They have been true for me every time. 

Here are 5 Guarantees for Your First Year of Senior Leadership:

It won’t be all you thought it would be. 

There will be surprises. Things won’t be exactly as you were told by the people who recruited/hired you. That’s not always their fault. Most haven’t really sit in the position before. I like to say, “You can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit.” That’s true of those who brought you into the position. 

Plus, I have come to believe search committees, teams, boards, recruiters, etc. are better at “selling” the job than they are at pointing out the problems you will face. I’m not saying they are misleading (although some have been in my experience), but they have a position to fill. They paint things in the most positive way possible. It takes a while, but you’ll figure out what they didn’t share with you in the interview process. 

There will be quiet supporters and loud objectors. 

And everyone in between. I’ve learned that some of the people who support my leadership the most simply didn’t take the time to tell me until something happened and they felt the need to do so. But there will be people who have no problem letting you know what they don’t agree with. Some will even let you know with in ALL CAPS. (Those are the best – sarcastically speaking.) 

But most people are just waiting for good leadership. They will go whichever way the vision is well cast. My best advice is to find a few positive influencers and lead with their help and encouragement.

Some things will be harder to change than others. 

And it will take time to discover those things. Many times we enter a new position with newcomer enthusiasm. We have big ideas and the momentum is often present in the beginning to pursue them. Over time the real DNA of the organization that you didn’t understand becomes reality. There will be culturally unwritten rules you never knew and sacred cows, which get in the way of your ideas.

This doesn’t mean you can’t change these, but you will need to be aware of them and how to navigate through them. This always involves asking good questions and listening before you attempt change.

You’ll be misunderstood. 

People don’t yet know you. They may like you, because you’re new, but they don’t have a full grasp of how you’re wired, what you are most passionate about, the things that make you smile or your pet peeves. (And we all have some.)

If something is not clear to people, they will make up their own clarity. They will believe what they want to believe. This makes communication in the first year even more important. You have to continually help people discover how you think and what you are thinking. 

You’ll question yourself. 

I don’t know many senior leaders, especially in the early days of a leadership position, who don’t have occasions where they wonder if they have what it takes to do all they need or want to do. That’s perfectly normal. And if you don’t know this on the front end you’ll think something is wrong with you.

My guess is you wouldn’t have the position if you weren’t qualified. 

Make sure you have people who can speak into your life and remind you of your calling and your abilities. And, of course, as faith leaders we are ultimately to be reliant on God’s strength through us more than our own abilities. 

I could add a final one. You’ll need help. I have had so many transitions in my leadership career. I would love to offer my consulting/coaching services to help you transition and begin well in a new leadership position. Contact me for details and I’ll share more later on this new offering. 

7 Ways to Stop Church Gossip

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As a pastor, I have heard far more “junk” than I care to hear sometimes.

It always frustrates me to watch how gossip begins in the church about other people’s problems. Many times the hardest repercussion of any sin is the gossip which stirs about the people involved. It makes it most difficult to restore a person when they are the subject of every private (behind their back) conversation. Plus, gossip always injures innocent people in the process.

I have been the victim of unfair gossip and know the pain it can cause. In my experience, gossip is never helpful to people or to the Kingdom of God. Gossip has become something I hate, because I have seen it destroy so many people!

Gossip exaggerates every situation. It keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.

(The Bible talks a great deal about this issue of gossip. Consider these passages: Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20 and 1 Timothy 5:13.)

With this in mind, I’m listing 7 suggestions for stopping, or at least slowing, the spread of gossip in the church.

Will you consider each and internalize them as needed?

In other words, if the shoe fits will you wear it?

Together, perhaps we can help stop the deadly spread of this harmful virus!

Here are 7 ways to stop church gossip:

Don’t repeat something unless you know it to be true first hand.

Second hand knowledge is not enough to justify repeating something. You will get something wrong and it will hurt others. By the way, reading it on Facebook does not make it true.

Don’t repeat unless it is helpful to do so, you have a vested interest and permission. 

Never share another person’s story unless you have permission to share or what your sharing is equally your story as to the other person’s. It is almost always gossip if anything is shared otherwise.

Don’t “confess” other people’s sins.

Unless you are in physical danger – share your sins, but not someone else’s. And doing so in the name of a prayer request is not a good excuse.

If you must tell, and have passed the test on the first three suggestions, tell only what happened. 

Do not share your commentary on the situation or your “I think this is probably what happened” or why you think it happened. Just the facts – as you know them to be true.

Choose to pray for others every time you are tempted to tell their story.

Instead of telling their story – instead of spreading gossip – pray for them and your willpower not to share anything you shouldn’t.

When someone tells you something you don’t need to know, don’t allow curiosity to be your guide. 

Stop the person and tell them you don’t want to know. Remember, if they will spread gossip about others they will spread it about you.

Keep the circle of confession limited to the people involved or to no more than needed for accountability purposes.

Even when it is your story you usually don’t have to tell the world. The wider the circle and the more the story is repeated the more likely things will turn into gossip – and, the more people who will be injured.

If my tone seems intent about the issue it’s because I am. I have little patience for gossips. My desire is to see people live in healthy community together. Gossip is a betrayer of this becoming reality.

3 Options When The Job is More Than You Feel Qualified to Do

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When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

I’m not sure that’s a saying anymore, but either way, I love a good analogy to help me think through a topic. And I think the phrase applies in leadership. But I’m not sure getting out of the leadership kitchen when it gets too hot is the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat” – the stress of leadership? 

Do you feel you are in over your head? 

Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and are you, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? 

Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? (Perception is often more powerful than reality.) Are you stuck and wondering what to do next?

I have been there numerous times as a leader.

At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default, I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t.

When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of fast growing churches, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do.

(Don’t tell anyone, but I’m there again in my latest role.)

Many times in my career, the heat in the kitchen has been more than I felt I could bear.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership – using the analogy of the “heat in the leadership kitchen”, I think there are a few options.

In fact, I think you have 3 options:

Get out of the kitchen

There’s always that. Let’s be honest and admit you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role – just not this one – or in this organization.

My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future – when everyone else discovers you’re out of your league or misfit. 

Learn from better cooks

Continuing with the kitchen analogy, perhaps the oven temperature is set too high. You may be using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have.

Chances are good an outside look can see things you don’t see. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) done alone. Find mentors willing to invest in you. This often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it. The best leaders occasionally need help and great leaders aren’t too proud to ask for it.

I’ve also discovered seasoned leaders feel honored to be asked. (And, as a Christian leader, remember God is on your side and He may be waiting for you to surrender before He jumps in to help.)

Improve the kitchen

Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger.

Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader.

I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. Later, I started working on my doctorate. I wanted to keep growing and learning. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out – but there may be other options.

7 Characteristics of Cowardly Leadership

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You remember the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, don’t you? He was supposed to be the king of the jungle, but he had no courage.

I’ve known some leaders like the cowardly lion. I’ve written in a previous post about courageous leadership. It seems a counter post is warranted. And if I’m completely transparent — at times that coward has been me.

Let’s face it. Leading others is hard. There is often loneliness to leadership. Leadership takes courage.

You have no doubt encountered cowardly leaders. Perhaps would even admit you’ve been one too.

Here are 7 characteristics of cowardly leadership:

Say what people want to hear. The might say, for example, “I’ll think about it” rather than “No” – even no is already the decided answer. I get it. It’s easier. But the ease is only temporary and only comes back to haunt you later.

These leaders are also notorious for saying one thing to one person and another to someone else. They want everyone to like them.

Avoids conflict. In every relationship there will be conflict. In fact, healthy conflict is a necessary part of keeping relationships strong. When the leader avoids conflict the entire organization avoids it. Hidden or ignored problems are never addressed.

Never willing to make the hard decisions. Leaders don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They don’t even have to be the one with the most experience. Leaders do have to be able to make the decisions no one else is willing to make.

Pretends everything is okay – even when they are not. When everything is amazing nothing really is. Cowardly leaders gloss over the real problems in the organization. They refuse to address them either because they fear don’t know how or their pride gets in the way.

Bails on the team when things become difficult. I’ll have to admit this has been me. I’ve written about it before, but when I was in business, and things were difficult, it was easier to disappear than face the issues. The learning experience was once I checked-out or when I was disappearing so was my team.

Courageous leaders are on the frontline during the most difficult days, leading everyone through the storm.

Refuses to back up team members. No one wants to serve someone who will not protect them or have their back. People need to know if they make mistakes there is a leader who still support them and can help them do better the next time.

Caves in to criticism. Make any decision and a leader will receive criticism. Even if it is unfounded cowardly leaders fall apart when people complain. They take it personal or refuse to see any value in it. These leaders see every criticism as a threat against their leadership rather then another way to learn and grow.

What would you add to my list?

Let’s be leaders of courage. In fact, I believe courage might need to be in our definition of leadership.

Do you find it scary to be a leader sometimes? What’s the scariest time you face as a leader?

7 Courageous Leadership Traits

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There are many courageous leaders in our world today. Certainly coming to mind are the military and emergency personnel who serve faithfully everyday. I’m living again in a military town (I grew up here) and their willingness to go into harm’s way to protect us always inspires me.

In my experience, it takes courage to lead an organizational effectively too. And I see many courageous ministry leaders. For example, I admire those who lead organizations to thrive even during difficult times. I respect those who attempt church revitalization. And I appreciate those who take a risk to plant a church.

Every leader I know wants to be considered brave, strong and courageous. But what does it mean when we talk about courageous leadership?

I have a few thoughts.

Here are 7 traits of a courageous leader:

Doesn’t bail on the team when things get difficult. Courageous leaders remain steadfast when others are departing. They are willing to lead through the objections of change knowing they’ve been called to lead toward a better reality.

Not afraid to make big requests of others. They challenge people to stretch themselves personally. They aren’t afraid to encourage others outside their comfort zones. And they are willing to use their influence to help accomplish them.

Willing to take the first move into unproven territory. Courageous leaders are pursuing the unproven by willingly taking risks. They step into the unknown and are willing to challenge status quo and “the way it’s always been done.”

Even when the outcome is unclear, courage helps these leaders face obstacles others tend to avoid. Uncharted waters are the courageous leader’s playground.

Move forward by faith. These leaders aren’t running recklessly. They operate in faith. Faith leaders place their ultimate confidence in God and are willing to make an investment in hope.

Make hard decisions regarding people. Leaders with courage entrust others with genuine responsibilities. They are willing to take a chance on people, sometimes empowering others even before they completely prove themselves. Courageous leaders give second chances, often investing in people others are willing to dismiss.

But they are also willing to acknowledge when a team member is no longer a good fit for the team and, as graciously as possible, move forward without them. They never hold on to people to gain or retain popularity or for the sake of protecting a paycheck.

Implement needed changes. Change is never easy. It’s why most of us avoid it, but even when they are uncomfortable or not immediately popular, leaders with courage push forward to lead change with diligence. They challenge the status-quo with which others have grown contented.

To be clear, this does not mean courageous leaders run over people. That never works. There’s a difference in being courageous and being ruthless.

Protect the God-given vision. In the midst of criticism, hard seaons and setbacks, courageous leaders stay the course. They know God has called them to something bigger than today and they hold fast to His plans for their life and the people they lead.

I wish I always lived up to all of these. I commit to strive to do so. Who is with me?

Thanks to all the courageous leaders who are leading well! You are making a difference!