Writing a Simple Life Plan, Part 3

By | Encouragement, Family, Innovation, Leadership, Life Plan, Vision | 11 Comments

This week we are writing life plans for the coming year. If you have missed the first two posts, read them HERE and HERE. My desire is that we realize all the dreams and goals we have this year. I’m convinced many of our resolutions…if we make them…are reachable with a little more intentionality and discipline. Many refuse to make resolutions, because they have repeatedly failed at keeping them. The purpose of these posts is to help you start the year on a good path towards reaching those goals.

Today we add another step.

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Writing a Simple Life Plan, Part 2

By | Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Life Plan, Vision | 18 Comments

Yesterday I began a series of post to help you develop a life plan for 2010 I hear people talk every year about resolutions…some make them…some don’t…some hate them…some keep them…most don’t. I’m confident the main reason most do not keep them and many refuse to make them is that they never put a plan of action together or applied enough discipline that would ensure success. Why make a resolution if you can’t ever keep it….right? We don’t like continual failure.

The point of this series is to put some feet to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Yesterday you were asked to list three to five goals you have for the new year. If you haven’t done that or didn’t read that post, start HERE.

If you have your goals listed, today we’ll get more specific with them.

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10 Ways to Process the Emotions of Christmas Loss

By | Christians, Encouragement, Family, Jesus | 15 Comments

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year“.

But, for some people, Christmas can be a miserable time.

Many have lost a loved one, suffered the end of a significant relationship, or even had a severe personal loss of income or health. For them Christmas can be just another reminder of what they no longer have. If we aren’t careful, the joy of Christmas is covered over with the emotions of loss, and rather than appreciating what we have or looking forward to what’s to come, we find ourselves in Christmas misery.

Several years ago, to prepare for a Christmas message, I consulted with two professional Christian counselors in our church Jennifer Degler and Elizabeth Ellis. With their advice and my own counseling background, I offer some practical ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss.

Ideally, Christ is the answer. Apart from Christ there is no Christmas and there is no peace. These suggestions are not designed to take the place of that truth, but rather to give some practical tips to help you deal with loss at Christmas.

Here are 10 ways to process the emotions of Christmas loss:

List your losses – Death, divorce, injury, finances, children moved out this year – whatever they are – write them down. I’ve personally found journaling to be helpful. Admit the pain – write them down.

Share them – Certainly you should share them with God, but maybe with a close friend or with people who have experience dealing with your specific loss. Don’t be ashamed to see a professional counselor. Find support in a Bible study group or prayer group. We were designed for community, especially for times like this.

Grieve the loss – Every loss must be grieved. The intensity of the grief may be determined by the intensity of the loss. Some form of depression is a normal response to grief. We’ve almost created a culture where we think suffering is abnormal. Don’t be afraid to grieve – even publicly at times. It’s okay to be human.

Resist falling into despair – That’s where you live in a false reality that all hope is gone. It’s not. By the way, you don’t do that by ignoring them.

Take care of your physical body– Eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. It’s more important during a sense of loss.

Be aware of negative thinking – Catch negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are positive and true. See Philippians 4:8.

Do something for someone else – There are many opportunities during the holidays to help people. Helping other people reminds us loss is universal and other people are struggling with you. Plus, something about giving fuels positive emotions.

Force yourself to participate in social activities – You won’t feel like it, but social support is critical in recovering from loss. No one benefits by becoming a recluse. In fact, you actually increase the likelihood you will become clinically depressed.

Avoid the comparison game – Don’t compare your losses to other people’s losses. Significant loss naturally makes us focus inward, but that never works. And, it’s dangerous.

Honor you losses with new traditions – Begin some new family rituals that will help you reflect on the good things you experienced with the person you have lost or will help you remember happier days to come.

In my Christmas message, I shared one more suggestion – one I believe is the most powerful of all. It’s this:

We have to learn to worship in tears. You have to learn to worship even in pain. When you realize God is good – even when it doesn’t seem life is good – you are better equipped to face the storms of life, which are sure to come.

Obviously, Christ is the peace of Christmas, and He can fill your brokenness. You can trust Him. This Christmas, let the Christ of Christmas fill the void and loss you have in your heart and life.

You can find all my messages on my Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ronedmondson. The message referenced is titled Obstacles to Christmas Joy: Loss.

The WHAT Test – A Simple Strategy to Think Through Level of Commitment

By | Business, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage | One Comment

The WHAT Test.

Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.

This is a framework I personally use, often verbally and sometimes just in my own mind of discovery working with a team. Through experience I have learned the hard way what happens if I don’t filter something through The WHAT Test.

Here’s The WHAT Test:

Where

Where do you/we want to go?

It sounds simple, but it’s really not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started.

Talk through the end goal. What do you/we want to accomplish? Let’s collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you/we want to go and how you/we will know when we’ve “arrived” at our intended destination.

Sadly I have many times come to what I thought was completion on something I was asked to do, but I didn’t live up to the expectations of others on the team or in the relationship.

How?

How will you get there?

What’s the plan? What are the action steps to get us to our goal? If we are going to be successful, what will it take to get us there?

Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? Who is going to hold us accountable?

This is where you ensure there is adequate strategy in place to accomplish the goal.

Agreement

Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two questions?

This is critical. Unfortunately, I think we often neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board.

What happens many times is we agree to an overall vision on the front end, but then as the process continues and everyone has their assignment there are reservations by someone and we didn’t take the time to understand them.

Once the actual strategy is in place it’s good to renew agreement before proceeding. Make sure everyone is fully on board before you press the “Go” button.

Tenacity

Will you everyone see it through?

This may be the most important one. I often ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through?

This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may, at times, even involve an actual covenant or contract. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas, but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This frequently happens to teams. It can be especially true when relationships are involved.

Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.

Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations, which may not have been spoken. It helps to expose and hopefully avoid on the front end some of the personal obstacles there may be.

Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:

  • Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
  • Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment as a team.
  • Before a business partnership is formed.

At the beginning of an important venture – Take the WHAT Test

WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.

There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.

As I said in the opening of this post, sometimes I do this openly with all parties involved and sometimes I simply force the questions in an informal way, but I have actually called off a project because The WHAT Test revealed I didn’t have the full support of the team. And, when counseling a couple in their marriage, to use that example, if one spouse is not willing to move forward, couple counseling is not going to be very effective. It helps to know where people are in their commitment level.

7 Life-Giving Statements Everyone Needs to Hear

By | Church, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Life Plan | 6 Comments

Words are powerful.

As leaders, the words we use make a difference. A huge difference.

In my post about life-giving statements Jesus made , I shared some things Jesus said, which can encourage us today.

As we seek to be like Him, we have an opportunity within our influence to be people-builders; speaking life-giving words to those we are attempting to lead.

For good and bad, my life has been greatly shaped by words shared with me.

I once had a pastor say, “Ron, you’re a giant killer!” He encouraged me to kill giants for the Kingdom of God. It changed the trajectory of my life. I possibly wouldn’t be serving the church as I am today without those words. They came at just the right time in my life.

And, there have been a half dozen or so other equally impacting “words” in my life.

Words are huge. Especially from someone we trust. My son preached recently about having a “Yes Face” – being the type of encourager who puts wind in other people’s sails. I think you’ll find it helpful and you can watch it HERE.

I’ll be honest. I’m not the best at it. Sometimes I get so focused on completing tasks I forget people are what life is all about. Every task on my list today and any day mean nothing without people. So, I intentionally try to pass on encouragement to people. I especially like to encourage younger leaders as I see opportunity. I try to make it a matter of personal discipline.

Everyone needs encouragement.

And, there are some common encouragements we all need to hear.

Here are 7 life-giving statements everyone needs to hear:

I’m praying for you! Don’t you love to know people are praying for you. I think even people who aren’t believers often appreciate a prayer on their behalf. I’m thankful for those in my ministry years who have made part of their ministry praying for me.

You can do it! In every position I’ve held there has been seasons where I simply didn’t feel I had what was needed to fulfill my role. The voice of people who believed in me – people I trusted – was vital to my success. I’m confident any achievement I’ve ever had has been proportional to the people that supported me in my attempts.

I love you! “All we need is love! Love is all we need.” That’s not just a good Beatles song. It’s like air in our lungs. Of course, God is love. So, there’s not one ounce of our being or moment of our time where God is not all-loving to us. But, we also need the love of others. We were designed for it.

It’s going to be okay! When my boys were little there were times when they needed my presence in their room in the middle of the night. They were afraid. Perhaps they had a bad dream or were worried about something they were facing the next day, but they needed to know it was going to be okay. I’m not sure we ever grow out of needing to hear those words or sense that “presence” of assurance from people we trust.

I believe in you! When I was at one of my lowest points in my professional career I felt like a failure. We had sold a business just to get out from under it with a very little bit of money to start over. I felt I was letting down my family and others. I’m thankful my wife kept assuring me she believed it me. It was a catalyst for my growth and without it I’m not sure I would have recovered – at least to where I am today.

I’m proud of you! Speaking of my wife again, this is one of my favorite things to hear her say. And, she knows it, thankfully. If you’re raising boys or married to one I would say guys cling to these words almost more than “I love you” – in my experience. But, all of us – male and female – need to hear this affirmation.

I’ve got your back! In my first management role I wasn’t trained for what I needed to do. The previous manager had quit unexpectedly and I was put in the position almost by default. I had a semi-retired professional on my team. He was far more qualified than me to be leading, but no longer wanted the responsibility. More than once, however, he said these words to me – “I’ve got your back.” And, I believe if I had ever needed them he would’ve stepped up and covered for me. I certainly sought his wisdom many times and it helped me lead even when I wasn’t fully qualified.

So there you go. Words. Powerful words of encouragement.

Who could you add some life to today?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

By | Church, Culture, Family, Leadership | 61 Comments

I am an introvert. Some people can question whether they are or not. I don’t. I’m certified in Myers Briggs, so I know the language well. I’ve studied the concept, but it didn’t require much study or an assessment for me. I know I’m in the club.

As a pastor, it meant I was more tired when I went home on Sunday. It means I avoid certain crowds unless I have a clear purpose for being there. It means I usually run amd exercise alone and I’m okay with that. It means I’m probably harder to get to know than some people. I get all that. I own it. It’s me.

I realize I have to work harder as a leader to allow my team to know me or what I’m thinking. I can’t allow introversion to be an excuse for poor leadership.

I’ve written before about the struggles of introversion in ministry before and how I adapted with it as a pastor. What surprises me, however, is how misunderstood introverts are sometimes. There are a lot of false assumptions made when someone is introverted; maybe especially an introverted leader. (And, I know lots of pastors – even of very large churches – who are introverted.)

Here are 7 false assumptions, which have been made of me as an introvert:

Some think I’m shy

That may be your word, but it’s not mine. I prefer purposeful for me. Others may call it something else. I talk when there’s a purpose and I’m not afraid to do so. Three year olds are shy when they hide behind their daddy. That’s not me.

Some have thought I must need more courage

“Why I oughta!” (You’ll get that only if you are a Moe Howard – Three Stooges fan.) Seriously, I “ain’t chicken”. Again, when I choose to speak I’ll speak. Choosing not to isn’t a fear. It’s just being comfortable.

It’s been thought that I must not have anything to say

Actually I have lots to say. Have you noticed I blog frequently? I wrote a book even. Have you noticed how often I update Twitter and Facebook? I have bunches to say. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t express it, but many times how I choose to communicate will be different than how others choose to communicate.

In some settings, when I’m quieter than others, it’s been assumed I’m not as intelligent as others in the room

And, that’s probably true in a lot of ways; depending on the subject. I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. And, I listen well. Actually, I have a few degrees hanging on my wall. But, in some ways I think I may be smarter than the one who never quits talking. You know the one. I am less likely to say the thing I wish I hadn’t said, because I didn’t think before I talked. It happens, but not as often as it might for some.

Sadly, some have thought I am arrogant or don’t like people

That is definitely not true. Honestly, I love everyone. I have a Biblical commitment and a personal goal to do so. Whether or not I talk to you will not be a good determination of whether or not I like you. It might even mean I respect you enough to listen more than speak. Maybe.

Some have thought I need someone to talk for me

And, actually I’d rather you not. Now that said, I sometimes let my wife talk for me. She’s good at it too. But, if I have an opinion I think needs sharing, I’ll speak for myself. Or regret later than I didn’t. But, either way, please don’t try to be my voice.

And, some have even told me I need to change, mature, grow as a person or leader

Yea, I had that said a number of times as a pastor. But, let me assure you there’s nothing wrong with me. Actually, there’s a lot wrong with me, but introversion isn’t one of the things. I’m just quieter than some leaders you may know — or your immediate perception of a leader.

Those are some of the false assumptions that have been made of this introvert.

Introverts, what misunderstandings have been made about you?

7 Reasons I Need to Regularly Exercise as a Leader

By | Church, Family, Leadership | 6 Comments

I used to be a runner. I had some knee issues and had to have a partial replacement over a years ago, which has kept me from running as I normally would. Since then, I have tried to substitute the time with other workouts. I learned a few things about myself during this process of healing and rediscovering new ways to exercise.

I have always encouraged leaders to have a regular exercise routine. I think it’s a necessary discipline for a healthy leader. If you aren’t currently an active exerciser, I have even more practical, first hand experience to encourage you to begin.

I would even be bold enough to say, if you are leading, you need some form of exercise.

Here are 7 reasons I need to exercise:

Forced down time – I discovered that my running time, or any time I exercise, is one of the few times each day where I am not answering emails, taking phone calls, or doing something that requires mental power. Exercise forces my mind to be still. My mind is cleared to pray more and to think more. Granted, I’ve learned to answer emails and even write blog posts from the elliptical, but it’s a different kind of activity when I’m exercising. It’s my time.

Physical health – I am better able to maintain my weight when I am exercising. I feel better. I sleep better. My blood pressure tests lower. The doctor’s office loves taking my vitals when I am in a regular exercise routine. (Due to a heavier than normal travel schedule I am actually up a few pounds, just to be transparent, but thankfully it’s a few pounds not 15 or 20.)

Mental stimulation – My best ideas come while I am exercising. I suppose because my body is energized and I’m free from other distractions, I’m so creative while exercising. Some of my deepest, most intimate times with God came when I was on a long run. Even now though, God seems to work in my mind during those times I’m in the gym — possibly because I’ve given Him better access to my mind.

Longevity – Long days are nothing for me when I am in a healthy exercise discipline. It seems counter-intuitive, but I have more energy in the day — not less — when I’m exercising regularly.

Maximum effectiveness – Exercise, while it seems to take time out of my day, actually ends up being the most effective use of my time. It increases my productivity and gives me a better overall attitude towards my work (and life). It’s powerful enough, I’ve learned from experience, that on my busiest days I try to break away and exercise in the middle of the day. The fastest way for me to get out of a productivity slump is to step away from the “work” and hit the gym.

Eat with less worry – I enjoy food. A lot. People will often make a comment I must not enjoy food as much as they do because I seem to maintain my weight. The reality is they’ve never seen me eat. I don’t think you can totally ignore your diet regardless of how much you exercise. I try to be healthier in most of my choices, and I do discipline what I eat (wish I was better at how much), but I pretty much eat what I want. I’m certainly never hungry long. Exercise affords me less guilt in my diet and the occasional splurges I enjoy.

Stress reduction – I find if I’m especially stressed a good sweat gives me a calmer perspective. It’s an excellent way to decompress. It was crazy how much not running, before I found exercise which could substitute, added to me being more tense. My family noticed it. I’m certain the people who work with me did also. I know I did. I’m a nicer person to be around when I’m exercising regularly. It took me a while to associate the cause of additional stress on the lack of exercise, but the return to healthy routines made it clear.

A daily disciplined routine of exercise has been proven valuable to me.

If you are not regularly exercising — especially if you’re a leader — answer this question:

Considering the stress in your life, and how productive you hope to be with your life, could beginning the discipline of exercise be one of the missing ingredients?

Let me be a voice of encouragement to you. Find the exercise routine which works best for you, discipline yourself for 30-40 days, then enjoy the lifetime of benefits.

10 Tips on Writing a Good Letter…When a Letter is the Best Way to Communicate

By | Church, Family | 5 Comments

Writing a letter is sometimes the best way to communicate effectively.

When I was doing professional counseling with people who were experiencing difficulty in a relationship, I often encouraged them to practice the art of letter writing. Most of the time I tried to help them improve their one-to-one communication skills, but some things are easier and better to express on paper than in person.

For example, a letter may be needed when a couple cannot communicate without arguing, or when one person refuses to listen to reason, or if you can’t even get an audience with the other person. It could be best when one person is so intimidating to talk to you can’t get a word in verbally. Or, it could be you are too emotional every time you try to address the issue you can’t get your point across adequately. And, some people express their best thoughts only when they have time to think about them.

It’s not as impersonal as it may seem. It may actual be more personal. Some things seem to convey more importance and get closer attention if they are written rather than simply spoken.

A letter allows you to think through what you have to say and cuts down on reactionary arguments, which naturally come when trying to discuss something controversial. A letter will usually be read several and even many times; further enforcing the points you are trying to make. A letter is harder to dismiss than a verbal conversation.

Please note, I am NOT suggesting an email. This is letter writing. It requires a paper and pen, or at least a printer and paper. Email quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, which can almost be as counter-productive as the verbal communication. It’s too easy to hit the “reply” or “forward” button quickly with emails. Who wants something this personal being placed on the Internet?

This is often a near “final straw” kind of approach, so put the time into it that it requires.

I’m also not advocating that you avoid personal conversations, but if the situation calls for it, write a letter.

Here are 10 things to remember before writing your letter:

  • Spend as much time praying about it as you spend writing the letter.
  • Edit, then edit, and then edit again. (Again if needed.)
  • Write with an end goal to benefit the receiver and the overall situation in mind. (This should eliminate some things you probably shouldn’t say anyway; and you’ll be more Christ-like.)
  • Just as you should do in verbal communication, don’t attack the person; address the issue. Leave personal jabs out of the letter. Try not to start a sentence with “you” or use the word “always”. It puts people on the defensive. (This is what editing is all about.)
  • Try to express your true heart and feelings, but limit your anger emotion. Remember, you are attempting to say those things, which for whatever reason, you aren’t able to say effectively in person. Don’t lose your audience by “going off” on the person.
  • The goal is not to be a martyr; no one responds well to that approach. The goal is to be transparent and communicate effectively.
  • Make sure you dedicate as much or even more time focusing on the part you have played in developing a bad relationship or situation. Consider the other person’s viewpoint. Put yourself in their shoes. Use the sandwich approach. Start kindly, with grace, state your point, then close with kindness and grace – as much as you can. And, if an apology is needed from you, give it clearly and completely in the letter.
  • Be clear about the points you are trying to convey. Read them back to yourself. This is one of the best benefits of letter writing. You have the opportunity to clearly think through your response; so don’t lose your chance here.
  • Before you send the letter, ask yourself: “How would I respond if someone sent this letter to me?”
  • If you aren’t certain about the quality of your letter, give these instructions and the letter to someone else (whom you trust) and ask them to read it. Let them tell you how they would respond if they received this letter.

Remember, this is not a miracle cure, so don’t expect immediate results. The person may not respond the way you would have them to and you may not even know they have read the letter. You can almost be assured they will!

Don’t be afraid to write this kind of letter if you sense it’s warranted. You don’t write this kind of letter often, because it does carry more weight. But if the situations merits it, this can be an effective way to communicate. Chances are if you live a normal life there will be a few situations, which merit the true art of letter writing. Write well!

7 Ways To Honor Your Pastor’s Spouse

By | Christians, Church, Encouragement, Family | 54 Comments

One of the toughest jobs in the church is that of being a pastor’s wife. No doubt I have one of the best in Cheryl. (I would say the best, but I have a co-pastor and he has an excellent one also!) Cheryl has a full-time professional job, is an excellent mom and wife, but the demands on her as my wife are often overwhelming. Still she handles it with grace and a smile.

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7 Ways I Protected My Family Life as a Pastor

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Marriage | 49 Comments

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of his immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. There have been seasons of my ministry where this is the case, especially on abnormally stressful days.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry.

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