4 Examples When Strategy Should Drive a Leader’s Decision

There are times the “gut call” comes in handy for a leader. Leaders often must make quick and decisive decisions. Past experience and instinct can help a leader make the call when an immediate decision is needed.

There are times, however, if a leader wants to be successful, when they must use strategy to make decisions. For defining purposes, A strategic decision doesn’t simply react based on how the leader feels – it brings other people into the decision and asks bigger questions, such as why, how, when, where, who and what. The consequences and ramifications of the decision are highly weighed before a leader makes the call.

Protecting the organization’s future and keeping the trust of people often demands strategic thinking, so all leaders must learn how to think strategically.

Strategic thinking comes naturally for me. I have tons of weaknesses, but thinking in a strategic sense is not one of them. If anything, I’m so strategic that it becomes a weakness.

When a leader isn’t necessarily wired to think strategically, it will need to come through discipline – simply learning how and practicing doing so. Thankfully, not all decisions a leader makes requires using strategy, but when it does the leader needs to practice stopping to ask bigger questions about how this decision will impact the future – again, using questions such as why, how, when, where, who and what.

To help you get started, let me share a few examples of times a leader needs to be strategic with their decision.

Here are four times the leader must think strategically:

The outcome is uncertain

I love risk, but the leader must weigh the risk with the future of the organization in mind. Ultimately the leader has responsibility for the overall success of the organization, so a leader has to make final calls as to whether or not a risk is worth the time, energy and resources, which will be invested in it. This requires strategic thinking. Absent of a direct “word from God” the leader needs to be strategic enough to thoroughly vet the decision and it’s potential future implications. IIt doesn’t mean you don’t take the risk or that you won’t lead into an unknown – that’s what leaders do, but taking time to think strategically can often help eliminate possible disasters.

The outcome impacts others

One flaw in leadership is when the leader thinks only about how he or she views the decision and not how the decision affects other people. The wise leader thinks strategically to determine the people aspect of a decision. This is especially where other people are brought into the strategy part of making the decision. If the outcome has an impact on other people, then other people need to be considered before the decision is made.

The issue is subject to resistance

Most change is subject to resistance, but if a decision is automatically going to involve a battle for acceptance, then a leader must strategically plan the way the decision is introduced and implemented. The more potential outcomes and reactions considered the greater chance of success the change can have.

The issue changes an agreed upon direction

When people get excited about a direction the organization is going and they invest their heart and energy into heading in that direction, they are naturally more resistant to a change in the direction. Good leaders think strategically how this change will be received and how it should be communicated so people transfer enthusiasm for the new direction.

Those are just a few examples. There are certainly many others. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a decision backfire against a leader who failed to think strategically. They did what they thought was best – they used their gut – but, there were too many variables at play and the decision came back to bite them – metaphorically speaking.

A good rule of thumb for leaders might be to simply discipline themselves to ask a simple question: Do I need to think more strategically before I make this decision? And, if the answer is yes, start asking more questions and involving more people. It will make you a better leader.

A Key Component of Easter – Post-Easter Evaluation

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Easter is one of a few times a year churches have a unique opportunity to reach people who do not normally attend their church. Most churches spend weeks and – hopefully – months planning for the weekend.

In addition to the normal celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, I love the energy that Easter brings to a church. This energy, if channeled correctly, can fuel a church beyond one weekend per year.

The problem I see with many churches, however, is they stop the work put into Easter services a few days too early. Many churches close the church doors on Easter Sunday, “high-five and give God the glory” celebrate all God did and take a much deserved rest. Nothing wrong with any of this, but if we aren’t careful we leave some of the best work of Easter’s momentum undone.

One of the most important parts of effective Easter services -which help them to last beyond one day – is to spend time evaluating after Easter Sunday.  Make sure you evaluate all areas, from the planning, to the launch, to the publicity, to the recruitment of volunteers, to the actual weekend – and all things in between.

And, while you could do this anytime, as soon as you can evaluate after Easter services the better. We like to do it the week following Easter services. (In fact, I like to start making notes immediately after the services. I tend to forget if I wait to long.)

Most of the time we will meet on Tuesday after Easter to evaluate. Sometimes we are too tired to think on Monday and Wednesday is further removed.

Some of the questions we should be asking:

  • What worked? Where did we hit home runs?
  • What didn’t work? What did we miss?
  • Did our times of services work?
  • How should we adjust our times? Are there places to add services or services we no longer need to do?
  • What was a first-time visitor experience like? Could it be improved?
  • What follow-up with visitors do we need to do now? (This should be planned in advance, but now you review your plan.)
  • What changes would we make next year in things we offered those who attended? (Could be programs for age-graded ministries, special brochures, better maps of the church, etc.)
  • What did we do, which seemed to have the greatest impact?
  • What did we do, which took a lot of work, but seemed to have little or no impact?
  • What groups of people did God bring to the church? (Many times, you’ll see patterns – lots of single moms, young couples, young professionals, etc.)
  • What cool stories did we hear?
  • Are there any random ideas of things we could do to improve the Easter celebration next year?

Don’t close the books on this year’s Easter services until you evaluate.This time next year, you will forget the answers to many of these questions.  This should be one of the best brainstorming sessions you do all year. (If you are a single-staff church or smaller staff, bring key volunteers into this discussion. This is just as important – if not more – in the smaller church.)

Ask the questions, record the answers, then use them to make your church better all year and save that information to improve even more next Easter.

Also, and equally important, you need someone who is good at record-keeping and will be organized to remind you of these things next year. If only the “big picture” people participate you may never seen any improvements implemented. (In transparency, this means I need people not like me. I have great ideas, but I’m not an implementer. Big picture people need to complement themselves with detail people.)

How does your church evaluate Easter services?

7 Seemingly Unproductive Actions Which Are Valuable in Leadership

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times – and that is a good thing.

For someone wired for production and progress – a checklist type person – unproductive time may even seem like wasted time.

I’ll admit, even though this is in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions which don’t always produce visible, immediate results. In fact, some of these actions are often the most productive part of their work.

In order for teams to thrive, there are things which, while they may seem unproductive to some, the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying.

Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors need this reminder. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines we fail to do the more important work – pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying for the work before we do the work? (That’s a sobering question.)

Disciplined thinking.

Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where you and your team are, where you are going, what’s working, and what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm. Every leader at every level needs this time, but the higher a position is in the organization the more disciplined the leader must be to think.

Reading.

I don’t know why – even as I teach these principles – it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (I read the Bible everyday, but as a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book – other than the Bible.)

Investing.

Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors – even those not on our team – is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them. Whenever I meet to “invest” in some other leader I always grow personally as well.

Networking.

Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of my personal networking. Honestly, this is one thing which has made Twitter valuable in leadership. It gives me quick connections with my peers. But, this is why community involvement is important to me. I build a vital network I can glean and learn from. A leader’s overall success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking.

Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action – which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately – seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be. As an added value, the physical movement refuels my body and mind for continued productivity throughout the day.

Planning.

I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but meetings are very tangible actions. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings – and I’m all about it when possible – but the fact is most teams have to meet occasionally and regularly to stay on pace together. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Planning may seem unproductive – even wasted – for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy. As an example of this one, rather than getting started answering emails or heading into meetings, I try to spend a few minutes every day, before the day begins, planning how I will approach the day. (This is where I build my checklist.) I leave feeling far more productive when I’ve attempted to plan my day. Interruptions will naturally come, but I’m more prepared for them when I start with a plan.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive. That’s especially true for me when I do take the walk or put down the book and dozens of unanswered emails staring me in the face, but successful leadership demands we spend time investing in the intangible things which make our teams better.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

The Number One Reason People Resist Change

After years of leading change I’ve discovered some things about the process. One of those discoveries is change will face resistance. All change.

Surprised by this revelation? Not if you’ve actually ever led change.

If the change has any value someone will not agree – at least initially. It’s almost human nature at work. 

There is something in all of us, which initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

And, in addition to this, I’ve discovered the most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest – number one reason people rebel against change. 

If there were one big reason, would it be helpful to know?

Understanding this can help a leader navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone – and often keeps the change process from being effective. 

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion people feel. An emotion.

They may not even be able to describe what they are feeling, but the emotion is more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

And, it may not even be the emotions we naturally think. We assume anger, confusion, or fear. And, while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation those aren’t the most common or at least initial emotions. 

There is one which comes first and impacts all the others. 

What is the most common emotion which causes resistance to change?

A sense of loss

There you have it – and must understand it. People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing? Did your blood pressure rise a bit? Did you “feel” something? 

That’s what people feel in the initial days of change. It’s not usually a good feeling emotion. 

And, translate that sense of loss into the organizational context. 

Loss of power
Loss of comfort
Loss of control
Loss of information
Loss of familiarity
Loss of tradition
Loss of stability

These aren’t always rational emotions. They are often perceived as bigger than they really are.

But, they are real emotions to the person experiencing the emotion of loss.

It doesn’t even matter if people know the change is needed. Emotions are not dictated by reality. But, because change is change – their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

So, they feel they are losing something in the change and it causes them to resist the change. 

I have found, as a leader, if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

The great news from my pastor/leader friends is you already know how to assist people deal with a sense of loss.  

When a leader discounts or ignores a person’s emotions the resistance becomes more intense, because the emotions become more intense. This is actually when some of those other emotions – like anger – are often added. The process of change is then stalled and sometimes even derailed.

Leader, are you paying attention to the emotions of change?

7 Ways I Regain Focus For My Work

I’m fairly productive as a person, but the truth is, I get distracted easily and have a hard time staying focused at times. If I didn’t have notes when I was preaching, I would totally get off track. My mind wanders way too much.

Thankfully, there are a few things which help me gain focus again. Or, at least, they help prepare the conditions to keep me focused. It’s still a discipline on my part, but these things help.

7 things that help me help me regain focus:

Rest

Being well rested when I start my day helps me face the day with a clearer mind, so I can begin with focus. Getting a proper amount of sleep is crucial for me. I recently had some surgery which interrupted a healthy sleep pattern, so this one is even more important to me now. It could be a 10 minute walk or a 10 minute nap, but taking a break from what I’m doing during the day helps me better focus when I return to the work. The more tired I am the more restless my thoughts become.

Deadlines

I work better under pressure. It may seem strange, but it’s true. And, many people do. I sometimes set my own deadlines. If I put a task on my calendar or if I schedule the steps to completion, I’m more likely to discipline myself enough to meet the deadline. Checklists and calendar reminders are my friend.

Passion

If I’m passionate about a project – I mean really passionate – I’ll invest the energy and stayed focused to complete the task. This is true about most things which grab our passion. Without passion for something I give up quickly. So, if it’s something I know I have to do I often ask God to give me passion and enthusiasm. I also return to the roots of where my passion began. I review the purpose of my calling. I remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. (If you can’t remember there are probably bigger issues which need to be addressed in your life.)

Encouragement

It may seem petty, but sometimes one well-worded email can break a period of distraction and push me to focus on the task. It reminds me why I need to discipline myself to move forward. This is why I keep an “encouragement file”. Basically, anytime someone emails me an encouraging email I set it aside. When I need to focus better, especially when doing things I don’t enjoy as much, nothing redirects my energy any quicker than reviewing this file.

Success

Following a big “win” I’m motivated to work for another. Honestly, it’s usually a short-lived window of opportunity, but if I strike “while the iron is hot” I can better “seize the day”. This is one reason celebrating success is so important. It motivates you to focus on another moment like this one.

Exercise

I’m less disciplined, less motivated, and less content when I’m out of my exercise routine. Actually, I’m less happy overall. I recently had some health issues keeping me from exercising as much as I usually do. I could feel the drain of focus. I am having to figure out some new exercises to do. Exercise gives me the stamina to do the things I need to do.

Systems

I’m not a rule follower. I don’t like a lot of structure. However, if there is a system in place, I’m more likely to stay focused to completion. The old saying goes “if you want something repeated systematize it.” The same is true for completion. You’ll be more focused for progress if you develop a system to get you from start to finish. In fact, if someone tells me focus is a problem for them, I almost always encourage them to first look at their system of doing work first.

Do you have a problem with focus? What helps you gain focus again?

5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!

7 Ways to Be a Community Building Pastor

I have a theory of pastoring successfully today.

To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.

I admit “must” is a strong word – and there are few things I’m emphatic about unless they are Biblical, but I do believe in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. And, this means we MUST do something intentional to make it happen. The community has to know – and believe – we really do care for them.

For me, being a community builder makes sense and seems effective in pastoring a church today.

Jeremiah 29:7 greatly impacting my philosophy of ministry years ago. The people were in captivity. The government was not favorable to God. Yet, how did God command His people to respond?

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

The community’s success is tied to ours. We have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth, but the light in the city on the highest hill. This means we must take our light into the world. And, the best way to do this is to be actively trying to make our commnities a better place to life.

So a fair question is how? How can a pastor – or ministry leader – be a community builder?

I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.

Here are 7 ways to be a community-minded pastor:

Know key leaders

I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them – especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And, if your church has a dozen people or more you have more influence than you think.)

Let me be clear, I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.

Listen to concerns

Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community – whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop – listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. And, if you aren’t hearing anything simply ask. Actually, ask anyway. And, don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.

Love what they love

I’ll get disagreement to this one, but I think it’s one of the more effective ways to be a community builder. I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community.

People often feel about where they live – especially if they grew up there – the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not.

And, here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement – to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love – including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners”. The crowd gave a rousing disapproval – and they laughed. It was funny. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective.

I’m in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. I get criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor”, but I’m telling you people like me better – and listen more – when I’m wearing Kentucky blue. God has called me to reach people in this community and I’ve discovered they love when I’m learning and embracing their unique culture and exploring and enjoying the uniqueness which is Kentucky.

When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And, don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister – and part of this – as I would do for any family member – is learning to love the things they love.

Learn the community

One of the best things I did when I moved to Lexington two years ago is go through the Leadership Lexington program. The following year I went through Leadership Central Kentucky. I quickly learned things I might never have known about the community. It’s amazing now how I can answer questions about things we offer in the community that people can’t answer who have lived here for years. Most communities have something like this. Often they are found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent.

You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community.

Cheryl and I volunteer at the city’s visitor center. We are doing this to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.

Build your community network

You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know but people in your network will know them. I’m consistently asking people to connect me with people I should know in the community.

And, this is in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential. I recently had one homeless person tell me of another homeless person I needed to know, because he is an influence in that segment of the community.

I am continually asked to participate in events in the community, because I’ve gained the connections and the credibility to be invited.

Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church

I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us.

Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. It’s the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.

I serve on several local boards – both secular and in other Christian organizations. Obviously we all have only so much time, but I have discovered these commitments are gold when it comes to gaining influence in the community.

Lead your church to be community builders

This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. And, most of all it takes consistency.

This isn’t something we do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle – getting the church into the community – being community builders – so we can eventually be Kingdom builders.

As our community prospers, so will we, and, eventually, so will the Gospel.

What other suggestions do you have to be a community builder?

5 Ways I Expand My Leadership Potential

It takes an intentional effort to improve as a leader. I think the best leaders expand their influence and leadership potential by continuing to learn and grow in experience. You can read books, follow blogs and Tweets, attend conferences, and hang out with other leaders. These are all good practices to improve as a leader.

In my experience, however, my leadership influence grows the fastest when it grows through the people I’m supposed to be leading.

Let me expand that thought. 

Here are 5 ways I expand my leadership potential?

Invest in other people.

It’s amazing, but when I invest in others – they invest in me. I have had several mentoring groups or relationships where I am supposed to be the mentor, but I feel I learned as much as they did. The more I try to help others grow the more I grow.

The leader who sees him or herself as more of an instigator of growth rather than a provider of it is more likely to see the organization’s leadership expand. Invest in others and watch your leadership potential expand.

Allow someone you lead to lead.

When I get out of the way of my team amazing things happen. Now, first, I surround myself with people smarter than me about their area of expertise, but they make my leadership better. I may even get credit for the overall success of the team, but I’m quick to admit I couldn’t have done it without them. And, that is because I couldn’t.

Great organizations have a plurality of leadership. 

Recruit other ideas.

I’ve learned people have better ideas than me – a lot better ideas. Actually, I’m an idea guy. I have lots of them. But, if the team is bigger than one – there’s always one more idea to consider. I’m a better leader – with more potential – when I open the important task of idea generation to more people than me.

Brainstorming should be a regular and promoted part of every leader’s agenda. 

Celebrate another team member’s success.

When I hog the stage – or the recognition – I limit other people’s willingness to contribute to the success of our team. When I share the lime-light I expand my own capacity as a leader – and everyone wins.

Every leader should be a cheerleader. 

Embrace other people’s decisions.

This is more than allowing ideas. It’s giving people a voice in your vision. One of the most dangerous things I’ve seen a leader do is to build an atmosphere of elitism, where no one else is welcome at the table of decision-making. When a leader values a range of thoughts and opinions it makes people feel valued and expands the leadership base of the senior leader and the entire team.

Don’t hold too closely to how your vision is implemented. You can hold on to vision, without mandating the way it gets realized. 

As a team improves, so improves the leader.

The best leaders I know understand when the people they lead are growing in their leadership, it spills over into their personal leadership potential.
When others who are following a leader grow in their leadership capacity and influence, the senior leader’s capacity and influence increases. It truly is one of the win/win scenarios of leadership.

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.

7 Easy Ways to Encourage Innovation on Your Team

Most leaders want to lead an innovative organization.

If you are like me, you don’t necessarily have to be the first to do something new, but you don’t want to be years behind either. As conservative as we might be, as long as we remain true to our core values, we still want to be “cutting edge” to some degree. We certainly don’t want to be stuck in the last decade.

But, here’s the problem.

As leaders, we can’t force innovation. We can’t mandate innovative people. And, if our people haven’t been innovative in a while, then there may not be much innovation going on in our world.

Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person. Great innovation comes from the gut. You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

There are things leaders can do, however, to encourage team members to be more innovative. I don’t even believe they have to be difficult.

Here are a 7 easy ideas to encourage innovation:

Get away from the office as a team.

There is something about a change in surroundings which encourages a change in thought. Take a trip to another church – or if nothing else – go somewhere different in your own city. Creative thoughts are fueled better outside your normal routine and environment. It’s a large investment, but we annually take our staff to visit with another church staff in a nearby city – far enough where must spend the night. Ideas comes from every time we do this. We have also held brainstorming retreats at other churches in our area and local businesses. Again, the change of place often fuels a change of thought.

Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions.

Questions can be gold for fueling ideas and creativity. Ask questions such as, “What are we doing well?” “Where could we improve?” “What should we stop doing?” You could bring someone in to guide this discussion if needed. Be sure to welcome diversity of thought. And, people know if they’re not welcome by the way you respond when they are shared. Create an environment where innovation and outside-the-box thinking is acceptable.

Reward new ideas.

If you recognize new thoughts and celebrate the success of innovation, people will want to be a part of it more. Make it a part of the DNA to elevate the value of innovation. Encourage thinking time. Don’t be afraid of “unproductive time” just to think. Teach the staff to discipline themselves to dream and plan. Make sure to build time to dream into your schedule as a leader. It helps if people know you do this – and if you actually share new ideas periodically – even often. Our team knows when I travel to expect me to return with some fresh perspective – even some wild ideas.

Have times together as a team that are simply fun.

Something magical happens when you get people who work together out of their work zone and into their fun zone. They often still talk work – it’s what they share in common – but they share work in a more innovative and productive way. And, really in a more honest way. Take a day and go bowling. A college near us has a ropes course we did together as a team. Simply having an intentional, but fun lunch together frequently can fuel new thoughts.

Remove obstacles to innovative thought.

There are always communication barriers between team members and senior leadership. Discovering and eliminating them could be an innovation waterfall. One way is to get in the room and have a real problem which needs to be solved – and not already have the answers. In fact, have few answers. Let the answers emerge. People love to solve a problem. Innovation will start to happen.

Invite new people to the table.

It could be people on the team or people in the community, but new people equals new ideas. We’ve often brought staff spouses to the table to fuel our thoughts. And, it could be through a book you read together as a team. Discuss the author’s perspectives together. Periodically meet with community leaders and ask them their impressions of the church. Glean ideas from them of what they are doing to promote innovation in their organizations.

Set innovation timeline goals.

If you want to eventually build a new website, for example, put a date on the calendar for when it MUST be completed. It’s amazing how creative we often become under a deadline.

What are some ideas you have to encourage innovation?