Every leader knows this truth – change is inevitable. If our organizations don’t change, then they will become irrelevant and eventually die. I’ve watched too many churches in my city close their doors recently. I’ve talked to several pastors who know that because their board or church was unwilling to change that they now face insurmountable challenges resulting in people leaving and giving in decline. Healthy change is a necessity, not just for survival, but to actually thrive. 

The changes could be the need to move to a more community-based discipleship process or even just creating a discipleship process. It might mean changing the music style. It might mean changing the preaching style. It could be changing the types of meetings offered or the times they meet. The hardest kinds of change require changing leaders who refuse to move forward for the good of the church. 

Here’s what I’ve come to view as a classic formula regarding change. Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. Change is painful. A wise and thoughtful leader knows they can’t eliminate any part of that formula. So the question is – are you going to face the inevitable and necessary pain of change?

Part of the problem is that we allow our churches, our leaders, our congregation, our staff, and our stakeholders to focus on the change! I know the irony of that statement. But the focus shouldn’t actually be on the change(s), but on the reasons WHY we need to change. 

Change is not the point. It’s a huge mistake to verbally focus on the need to change and the change itself. We tend to start, focus on, harp on, and end with what is changing. So we focus on changing the music style, the meeting times, starting or stopping a beloved program. But that actually gets us off track. The why of the change almost always gets too little attention and time when we need to look at change. What’s the point of the change? Why is it inevitable and necessary? If you don’t remember anything else, remember this – If you need to make a change, focus on the why.

During the time I became the Lead Pastor at our church, our growth had stagnated, meaning that for every new person who came someone else left. There was lots of talk about “closing the back door.” The focus was that if we just the bucket from leaking, then the bucket would get full. It makes total logical sense. But I was convinced the issue was that our front door wasn’t wide enough or attractive enough. People will always leave (move, get distracted, fall away or get mad and leave). What we needed to do was to be more intentional about reaching more of the emerging generations who were not connected to God or a church community. That meant we had to change a lot of things including the worship style, preaching style, have a robust guest service system, add a distinct discipleship pathway and much more. Those are the “whats” that people see, experience, have personal preferences about and get invested in. People get upset and frustrated over changing the whats! So I focused early on the why of change.

I started preaching on the why – we have to do whatever we can do to reach people not connected to God or a faith community. I spoke to our leaders and had them read books about the why like Andy Stanely’s Deep and Wide. I met groups that I thought would struggle most with the changes and talked about the why and how it directly would address what they actually valued the most. For example, I met with our seniors’ group a couple of times a year and remind them that the changes we were making were not ones they would like personally, but were changes that would bring and keep their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Over time, that was in fact the case and our wonderful seniors have been my greatest cheerleaders. 

So we can’t just focus on the what. We have to focus on the why…first, continually, always. But we can’t stop there either. We also have to focus on the process. 

The very nature of change is messy. We need to plan and prepare the best we can for change. But too many leaders get bogged down in trying to get it right and make it perfect so that they don’t actually make the necessary changes. You’ve heard of the paralysis of analysis. Change gets lost in board and committee approvals. Here’s the honest truth about change: We must approach change as responsibly as we can with good planning and communication, but in the end, I love the “philosophy” of Indiana Jones. As he was facing an unexpected crisis he declared:  “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” Bold, brave leaders often, in the midst of change, figure it out as he or she goes.

We live in a world that is accelerating change in every way. So it is foolish to think we can plan out the change in every detail. The fact is that most of us who innovate change do just like Indiana Jones, we make it up as we go! If we waited to figure out everything we need to know, plan every detail and get every single person on board, then we’ll be stuck and the lack of change will keep doing its damage. 

This actually drives us back to the One we need to go to. We start by praying because we don’t know. We seek wisdom and advice from others as we are trying to figure things out. But once we are clear and convicted on the changes that need to happen, we make sure we overcommunicate the why. You can’t overcommunicate the why. You’ll get tired of telling the why long before you have actually over-communicated it. Then you take the first reasonable steps and keep figuring it out as you go.

Next, remember that change is a work in progress. Celebrate the progress, not the change!

Finally, create a culture of change for the future. One of the greatest compliments I got was from a local pastor that I’m good friends with. When I started actually making the changes I mentioned earlier, a number of really good folks left our church to go to his church. He told me that one of the reasons they gave him for changing churches was that our church changes all the time. That was a compliment in my mind. That’s exactly what we want. You see, I want to create a culture that gets used to change and even learns to welcome change. That makes staying current, relevant and ahead of the change curve so much easier for everyone. 
By the way, I host a group called Pastors’ Edge. It’s a monthly group for lead pastors, senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, co-pastors, and campus pastors (pastors who have responsibility for leading the whole church). We meet the first Thursday of the month from 11am-1pm with a free lunch at Journey Church in Tucson, AZ. On October 3rd our topic is Leading the Charge for Change with Bud Brown. Bud will be speaking about how the message of the Gospel never changes, yet every church must continually change and adapt, or it will stagnate and become irrelevant or ineffective. There are key understandings and skills that must be used to lead healthy necessary change. Change will always be hard and painful and there are ways to ensure that the change is worth the pain. If you are in the Tucson area, join us.

I once taught at Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University). I was home one evening grading papers. I read one and gave it a grade and then read the next one on the pile. It had the very same content – word for word. My first question was why would someone copy a paper and then put it right on top of the one they copied it from? 

Now, I didn’t know which person did the cheating. So I called both ladies into my office. I showed the papers and asked who wrote the original and who copied. They were silent and kept looking at each other. I waited. Finally, one said they copied if from another roommate. The other student had done the same. They both copied from a third person and didn’t know each other had the same idea. That’s why they both came in on top of each other. I warned them both about cheating and that if I caught them copying again, they could fail the class and even be dismissed from the college. 

A few weeks later, I caught one of them cheating again, this time on a test. I met with her and asked her why she would cheat again and take such a risk. What I was really trying to do was discover what would motivate such behavior that would cause her to cheat with such consequences. She said he was under great pressure from home to get straight A’s. She said she found college to be much harder than she expected and she could not go home failing or having poor grades. She lived in fear of her parents’ reaction. After a long discussion, I asked her to go home for the rest of the semester. I made sure she understood this was not punishment, but I urged her to work out her relationship with her parents through a counselor. She did just that and came back to school the next semester and eventually graduated from college. She also developed a great relationship with her parents. 

One of the greatest things I learned from my mentor in college was this simple life-changing principle: All behavior is motivated. He got it from the well-known author Larry Crabb. It’s simple and basic. I’ll bet it didn’t blow you away or knock you off your chair. But it’s so profound and so easily forgotten. Someone in your church, organization or even in your house attacks you or unfairly criticizes you and you react in a way that you later regret. People act the way they do for a reason. You react for a reason. The words and tone both you and your detractor used were motivated by something. 

I’ve come to realize in the last few years that there are many in my church who suffer from serious abuse issues that caused trauma. These folks are not just those who were in the military (there are many who suffer from PTSD for sure). So many folks have suffered emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse from others. I’m amazed at how many people come to our church and later report the horrible abuse they experienced from spiritual leaders in their lives who used their power to control, shame, use, and abuse. I give out so many books on spiritual abuse because folks didn’t even know that such a thing exists. But they feel the effects of it. 

A person’s hang-ups, hurts, bad habits or addictions are often a way to cope with the trauma they experience or have experienced in the past. All behavior, good or bad, is motivated by something. We have to get past the behavior itself and understand what is deeper that drives the behavior.

Most of us look at this principle and can agree with it. It makes perfect sense. We become very utilitarian about it. We want to use it to help someone change their behavior and help them discover and address what causes or caused their actions. We use it to change the behavior of that critical person or even our spouse. 

We might even go one more step and look at ourselves and wonder why we did what we did or said what we said to try and discover our motivations. Good reflection can lead to self-awareness that can help us change our behavior.   

We use this principle to keep us from being and staying judgmental. Not that we excuse any bad behavior, but it helps us move from judgment to caring help when we understand or even seek to understand what motivates behavior. 

But we won’t get to these places of clarity until we consistently take the time to understand first. First, understand. That for me is the greatest application of the fact that all behavior is motivated. What a great aspiration. It’s an awareness. It’s a commitment. It’s a learned habit. First, understand before you respond or react. Ask genuine questions (not questions with a point). Seek to understand what motivates or motivated the behavior. That very effort can change how we see and respond to a person and has power to help that person.

I love how Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says it. He reminds us that we are at our best as a leader and as a person when we seek to “understand before being understood.” Our human pride that feeds our brokenness wants others to understand how we feel, why we did what we did or didn’t do first. But the key to great leaders is that they, out of humility, seek first to understand before being understood. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being understood, but when we set that on the shelf, then we can listen and try to understand the motivation that leads to the action. 

I know, this isn’t rocket science. So why is this not our first and natural response – first understand. It’s because of the power of pride in all of our lives. Humility is a choice. Out of humility, we can also decide to first understand. If we do it enough and often, it might even become a habit!

Every person, every leader and every organization has blind spots. No one gets a pass on this. We are blind to these things because, well, we don’t see them! The only way we’ll discover the blind spots is to create a culture and regular systems that give us feedback. The fact is that others see problems in us or in our organization long before we do. However, for the majority of people, feedback is hard to give unless there are safe ways to give it and a culture that truly values the input.

Really good and consistent feedback is rare in any church, business or organization. Yes, fast food restaurants, hotels, and other businesses regularly ask us to fill out surveys, but none of us really believe that our feedback will make any real difference. We just want the free taco or hamburger for taking the time to fill the survey out. 

I believe feedback is vital to become and remain a great leader and to lead a healthy organization. Receiving good, helpful, and consistent feedback requires both a culture that values that and has systems to actually allow it to happen. I can’t repeat that enough! I believe it takes intentional effort to create a culture of feedback in our organizations. 

For example, we utilize a teaching team at our church. This team isn’t just a pool of people who can teach, but it is a team that evaluates and gives feedback to the person who teaches the “sermon” on a given Sunday. The teacher gets feedback for their written message two weeks out. Then after making adjustments, they get more feedback early in the week before the message is delivered. Then a few days before that actual teaching is given, they do a live run through with the team and get more feedback. That’s three times! Finally, the week after they gave the message, the team gives a final evaluation. That’s a lot of feedback, and it is invaluable. I believe I am doing my best teaching because of the great feedback I get from this group. I will never preach without this valuable feedback. We are all so much better because of it.

Recently, we’ve added some new teachers to our teaching team. The process was very challenging and intimidating for these “newbies” at first. However, just a few months into the process, each will tell you that they too would never want to take on the responsibility of teaching without a well-developed feedback process. 

We intentionally seek feedback in other ways, too. After folks who are new hires to our church do their orientation and have some time to actually work at our church, I do a new hire lunch. I do some sharing of my heart regarding our vision, but I spend most of the time asking them for feedback. I tell them they have fresh eyes and will see things that those of us who have been here a while just don’t see. I let them know that I know I (we) have blind spots. They might see things that seem to be inconsistent with our values, beliefs or purpose. So I ask them for feedback in terms of what they like and appreciate as well as what or how we might make improvements. Not only is the feedback valuable, but it also lets them know that I, as the senior leader, want feedback. It’s another way to introduce them to our culture of feedback.

We also gather the appropriate folks to evaluate and give feedback after every big event. We record it so we can review what we learned before we plan that event again. Every other year, I do an anonymous online 360 review that the staff and board of elders do of me. The results and the open-ended comments have been invaluable to help me continue to grow as a leader. These are just a few of the components of our feedback system. 

It takes years of consistent effort to create a culture of feedback. It starts with the leader – the CEO, the “boss,” the lead pastor or whoever has ultimate oversight of the company, church or group. That person has to authentically model the desire for feedback. Here’s what that means for me: I have to listen way more than I talk! I have to ask for feedback and not assume people will give it. When I get it, others have to see that I not only listen to but act on the feedback. If I don’t acknowledge and act on feedback, no one will ever really believe I want it. True humility has to be in place to want, listen to and accept feedback. Then you have to create ways and systems to actually get feedback at all levels of your organization. It takes time but it is so worth it. 

All of us want to grow and learn to give feedback well. It’s both an art and a science (meaning we can learn some proven skills). More important than that, the feedback has to be received well. I highly recommend the book – Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Stone and Heen. They share how one can receive badly timed, poorly delivered or even hurtful feedback well. If you want to create a culture of feedback, as a leader, you have to learn to receive it well in addition to giving it well.

Where do you start? Start by asking for feedback – for you and for your organization. Then really listen and act on it. Look for ways to create a safe culture for feedback. Reward those who give feedback (people repeat what’s rewarded)! For yourself, keep looking for your own blind spots. You may have to ask and you might need professional help. Once my mentor told me he was going to go to a counselor. I asked what issue he was concerned about. He said he didn’t have any that he knew of and that was his concern. He was going to try to discover some of his blind spots! A few years ago I was stuck and knew I had a blind spot that was hindering me from being an effective leader. I went for intensive counseling and spiritual direction. It was the best week and money I’ve spent on myself!

How often do you seek feedback? Do you have a culture that accepts and gives feedback regularly? Is feedback important to you and your organization? How you answer these questions will correlate or parallel your own health as a leader and that of those you lead.

In 2001 Jim Collins came out with his landmark book – Good to Great. In 2005 he came out with a follow up for churches and nonprofits called Good to Great and the Social Sector. There’s so many great applications from these two books. We’ve used many of the concepts in our church over the years. The one that has actually stood out the most to me was Collins’s view of the five levels of leadership. Here’s a summary of the five levels. As you read these, consider where you actually live today and where you want to be in the future. Try to be honest with yourself.

Level 1: The Highly Capable Individual
This is the kind of person who has a lot to offer. They make a contribution because they have knowledge, talent, and skills needed to do a really good job.

Level 2: The Contributing Team Member
This person not only has skills and knowledge, but is a good team member who works well with others to help the team to be effective, productive, and successful.

Level 3: The Competent Manager
This person is able to organize a group of people to execute specific projects, programs, and goals.

Level 4:  Effective Leader
This person leads a department or organization to accomplish a vision by executing key goals. There are lots of top leaders who are able to do this.

Level 5: The Great Leader
This kind of leader can take a good church or organization and make it a great one. This leader has all the knowledge, capabilities and skills of the other four levels but they have one more key asset. They have the unique blend of HUMILITY and WILL that is essential for the greatness of the organization.

Humility and will! This is ingenious. I’ve observed a special and critical connection between these two traits in leadership. I’ve written often about the importance of humility. My third blog was about humility and I called it “The Greatest Trait.” It is the first and most important of my Seven Non-negotiable Traits of a Leader (you can access the videos here – register to get a login permission). Most leaders primarily rely on a strong persona and a strong will to be a great leader. They can view this as being large and in charge. I often remind leaders that they can’t be very successful without humility. A strong will gets things done for sure. No leader will be great without humility.

Humility and a strong will seem to be contradictory at first, but together, they make for a great leader. They are the core of what it means to care for people and get things done. Both are essential for greatness in a church, non-profit, business or any organization.

Think about the greatest leader ever – Jesus. What humility! The very fact that he left the privilege of heaven and came to earth was an act of humility. His willingness to sacrifice his life for those he created was an act of humility (see Philippians 2:6-8). He used all his resources, knowledge, character, his very life, for our benefit.

What strong will, too. Jesus was no wimp. He knew his purpose and didn’t let friend or foe distract him from his mission. In three years he got out his message and trained eleven guys who started a movement that changed the world. Against overwhelming odds, he endured more than any of us will ever experience and overcame every obstacle and challenge to offer humanity a living hope.

What does a level 5 leader really look like and do? How do we lead like Jesus? It takes intentional effort to become a person of strong will and an observable humility. Here are some specific descriptions, attitudes, actions and skills that help us develop and grow our humility and will. What specific things might you add?

Traits of Humility

  • Genuine – you are authentic. There’s no pretense. You are the same person when standing in front of your staff or congregation as you are when you are standing beside an entry level worker.
  • Servant attitude – your focus is not to make yourself successful but to help everyone else be successful. You’re willing to make the costly investments in others to help them grow and develop. You consistently are thinking about others and putting them first. You are about setting up others up for success.
  • Team player – you value and practice collaboration. You know that the best comes from a team with all their unique perspectives and gifts. You work to create not just unity in your team, but you go the extra mile to make sure each team member is appropriately challenged and supported. You model and help each team member be a contributor and to support the contributions of each other. A humble leader channels their ambition into the team rather than himself or herself. Humble leaders hire great people, often who are better than they are, and empower them to lead well.
  • Celebrity adverse – you don’t talk about yourself. You’re not seeking to be the celebrity or be in the spotlight. In fact, you are intentional to put the spotlight on others. Rather than looking for praise, appreciation and affirmation, you work hard to give those same things to others. You look for literally every opportunity to recognize great character, a job well done, an insightful contribution or whatever in others. You look for ways to express and show appreciation. This kind of leader is compelling, but modest. They are never boastful. By the way, in Collin’s research, he found that many of the best leaders never wrote a book.
  • Looking out the window – I love this picture Jim Collins gives. He says as a humble leader you look out the window to others, rather than in the mirror to yourself. You give credit to others when things go well and take the blame when things go wrong.
  • Common words used to describe a humble leader: quiet, modest, reserved, gracious, calm, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated.

Here’s the bottom line question of being humble. Do you lead to make others and the organization successful or do you lead others to make you successful?

Traits of a Strong Will

  • Intense resolve and resilience – you will do whatever needs to be done to make the organization great. No challenge, hindrance or obstacle will dissuade you. While modest and humble, a level 5 leader is anything but weak. They experience fear, but act for the good of others in spite of the fear (hence they are seen as fearless). They are so sold out to their cause that they will endure the lows and hard times.
  • Clear catalyst in achieving results – you are fanatically driven with an incurable need to produce sustainable results. You excel in great ideas and vision, but what makes you great is your ability to consistently execute those ideas.
  • Dedication to the organization – you will do anything that’s legal, moral and God honoring to make your organization great. You are devoted to your work while maintaining your own balance, equilibrium, health and important relationships.
  • Strong work ethic – you model self-sacrifice and others see that you are more “workhorse” than “show horse.” Key to this quality is that you are self-motivated. You set your own goals and standards and do your best to live by them. You have a passion that shapes how invested you are in your team and the organization. Finally, you live by a “whatever it takes” attitude.

So great leaders, or level 5 leaders, have this unusual combination of a very strong will and a humble character. This allows them to aim not for their success, but for the success of the organization, however that success is defined.

If you got this far in reading, let me tell you that this will be my final blog until early July. I take the month of June off as my annual “sabbath.” I use this month to unplug from work and the daily stress of the continual production cycles. I’ve found it is an essential part in keeping me healthy by providing rest and renewal. So, I’ll be back in July!

Every Church Operates by a Set of Values

All churches and organizations have values that apply to their entire community. In this blog, for simplicity of focus I’m going to speak to church values, but these ideas can apply to any organization. Some, maybe most churches have never taken the time to identify their values. They have their belief statement and maybe a vision and mission statement, but they don’t know specifically what their actual values are. Others intentionally created values so they can post them on their website, but they are not the real values that the church or organization lives by. These kinds of values are something the group aspires to embrace, but they are essentially wishful thinking at the present.

Operating Values Create the Culture

If a value is a true operating value and not just an aspiration, then that value drives how we live and act. The real values that are operating in every church or organization are more powerful than a sermon on Sunday, the weekly programs, the policies enacted and the people who lead. That’s right, I’ll stand by that statement. You see, values are core to what creates our unique culture and that culture will win and rule the day every day. Maybe you have heard the famous statement – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” For example, if you preach that we should be actively engaging with lost people not a part of any church, but everything you do as a church is for the church members – you’ve not just sent a mixed message but the value, not the sermon, will teach your people what they are to value.

What are Core Values?

Our core values are the foundational motivations for what we do. They provide our inspiration as non-negotiable guiding principles. These become the “die for” beliefs we will never sacrifice. They inform our decision making and shape what we say “yes” or “no” to. They influence, shape and characterize everything that happens in and through our organization. They give our community it’s unique “flavor” and in our context, collectively sets us apart from other churches (not better, just different). These values remain constant, even though our vision will grow and our staff, strategies, plans and programs will change.

In a church context, values are in addition to,  serve, and are subservient to our Statement of Belief, as well as our Vision, Mission and Ends. The leadership team lives by these values and applies them literally on a daily basis in decision making, HR matters (hiring, terminations, role changes, performance improvement plans, etc.), programming, and more.

Creating Your Core Values

One person can’t create your group’s core values. This is a group effort and a multiple group exercise. It will take time. We recently updated our values. It had been fifteen years since we identified them. Over time, our operating values had actually changed a bit and needed updating. It took us just over six months to do this well. Don’t be in a hurry! Being accurate is more important than being fast. This is a spiritual endeavor. Take time to pray before and during the process. I believe God has created each local church and organization in a unique way and we should attempt to discover and clarify our unique cultures.

Here are some clues to help you discern your unique core values. The key is that you are looking first for what your actual operating values are that you live by. It is okay to add a few “aspirational” values, but if you do, know you have to do the hard work to change the culture to embrace the not yet real value.

One way to discover your operational values is to think about how your members, both long term or new attendees might answer this question: “I’m here, and I stay because we value this or that.” Or how they might finish this statement: “This is what I love about our church…” You can also consider some recent hard decisions you’ve made that were not popular or easy, but your team knew they were right. What were the values that were at play? Look at how your key leaders use their time and how you spend your collective budget. The numbers don’t lie! How you use your time and money is a powerful statement of what you value.

Two Examples of Values

Here’s two of many examples of church values. Don’t even be tempted to copy them, you need to figure out your own unique values. The leadership team at our church (Pantano Christian – Tucson, AZ) just updated our core all-church values this past year. We have posted these on our website (About Us – What We Believe). They are part of our documents that define our church “DNA.” We use them in our introductory Discover Pantano class that helps people decide whether they would like to be an All In Partner at our church. In May, we are going to do a six week teaching series called This Is Pantano where we’ll look at the biblical basis of each and how we can live these out.

We are unapologetic grace givers.

We are all broken, incomplete people in need of God’s grace. We meet people where they are and generously give away the grace we’ve freely received.

What matters most is loving people to Jesus.

Loving God = Loving People. Everyone has value and matters to God. We pursue those who don’t know Jesus to help them write a new life story with him.

Kingdom first.

Being kingdom first drives us beyond our own church community. We strive to join God wherever He is at work. Church is who we are wherever we are.

Radical generosity reshapes our world.

As a kingdom-first church, we share our resources and people selflessly.

The Bible transforms how we live and who we become.

The Bible is our primary source for transformation. We move beyond information to practical and relevant application.

Connected people are changed people.

Community is essential to connect with God and others in order to be transformed.

And here’s The Code from Life.Church:

We are faith-filled, big thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers.

We’ll never insult God with small thinking and safe living.

We are all about the capital “C” Church.

The local church is the hope of the world and we know we can accomplish infinitely more together than apart.

We give up things we love for things we love even more.

It’s an honor to sacrifice for Christ and His church.

We wholeheartedly reject the label mega-church.

We are a micro-church with a mega-vision.

We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ.

To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to do things no one is doing.

We will lead the way with irrational generosity.

We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.

We will laugh hard, loud, and often.

Nothing is more fun than serving God with people you love.

We always bring our best.

Excellence honors God and inspires people.

We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers.

The church does not exist for us. We are the church and we exist for the world.

We will honor Christ and His church with integrity.

If we live with integrity nothing else matters. If we don’t live with integrity nothing else matters.

Leadership, consciously or unconsciously, is often thought in terms of the leader as a kind of hero! The leader must win the day. When he or she does, they are recognized as the hero.  

This heroic view of leadership adds huge pressure to the already challenging task of leadership. Heroes must win! It also leads to the temptation for a pastor to be seen as a celebrity or superhero. Celebrity status comes along with being a hero. Heroes love to hear people say; “We couldn’t have done it without you.” There’s so much pressure on the hero – just watch any superhero movie!

I was recently listening to a podcast by Donald Miller and Andy Stanley (Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – 1/2/19). You might know Donald Miller as an author (Blue Like Jazz, Building a Story Brand, etc.) and the founder of Story Brand. Miller has created his ministry and writings around the idea of stories. In the podcast, Miller talked about the basics of all stories and the key main characters in a story. Let me share some of his insights and thoughts on the story motif:

In any great story there is a hero, villain and guide. Think of the original Star Wars movies – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Yoda. Test it out on the newer superhero movies or just about any story. The villain is the worst in the story. The hero is the second “worst!” Why would we even think that? He’s the hero and that means he’s should be thought of as, well…. the hero! But the hero creates the story because it’s a story of the hero’s failings, doubts, struggles, and temptations. The hero almost always hurts good people on their journey to a rebound and final victory.

But there’s no rebound or victory without the guide who helps the hero overcome his shortcomings and “win.” Think Yoda! There’s no mistaking that Yoda is a kind of spiritual master guide who understands the light and dark sides of the Force.

I’ve discovered in myself at times and in many leaders the mistaken idea that we are to be the hero in the story that God is writing through us. It’s one of the greatest temptations of being a leader. If we do well, we are tempted to see ourselves as a hero. Others will see us as the hero. That offers the temptation to be the celebrity. It all feels good!

Some leaders, right from the start, seek to be the hero and will manipulate life to fit that. For others, the hero role sneaks up on them. The hero role shows up in various forms of pride. The hero-leader is often the first and last to speak. The hero-leader thinks they have to have all the answers and solutions to all the problems. Hero-leaders tends to be focused on how they are performing and struggles to read the room well. Heroes always are looking for validation, attention and position. Heroes are often over-extended, worn out, tired, and empty because the hero has to save the day for everyone and in the end, they think it all falls on their shoulders. Pride is always the greatest temptation and downfall of the hero-leader.

True leaders are more of a guide than a hero (but don’t call yourself Yoda!). The very nature of leadership according to Jesus and the whole New Testament is that of being a servant leaders. A servant leader is about one thing – the success and well being of those they are serving! A leader who is servant first is looking at how he or she can help everyone else be successful. Servants are more in the background than always being in the foreground. Behind the scenes, they want to make others the heroes who, in fact, win the day!

There were people in Jesus’ day that wanted him to be the hero. They wanted to make him king (John 6:15). They wanted a human Messiah-king to heroically overthrow the Romans (The Triumphal Entry). Except he does everything to keep from being the traditional human hero. Yes, he is God. He was present at the creation of the universe. He knows all, is not hindered by time, space, or anything. He has all the abilities of being the super superhero! Yet, he humbles himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:6-8). He goes from sitting as king of the universe to take on the position of a lowly human being. He is a leader, he’s just not looking to be made king or hero. He was never about status or honor.

Jesus practiced his leadership by preparing twelve apostles to change the world. Jesus was more a guide than being one trying to be the hero. He gave his life to launch a movement to save and change the world. He even told his disciples that they would do greater things than himself (John 14:12-14 – this idea always blows me away). He promised to send back the Holy Spirit to do what?…guide us! At the end he gave us the great commission because it was others who would do that work with and through him.

Be honest with yourself. What are you seeking? What’s your view of being a leader? Who are you really in your leadership role? Are you seeking to be the hero or intentionally choosing to be the servant who guides others to success? Who, right now, are you investing in to be better, successful and effective? Who are you guiding and mentoring? These are foundational and sobering questions. Hero or guide?

This blog is an admission of my struggle. I don’t write this as one who is consistently victorious over this frustration. It’s a daily challenge for me. I’m pretty sure it is for you too. What’s this difficulty? It’s ministry, which is really ironic for those of us who feel called to it.

You see, for any of us called to ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the what and forget the who. The “what” I’m talking about is the ministry itself. It is always in our face. It demands our attention 24/7/365. There is always the urgent…emails, calls, texts, hospital calls, counseling appointments, people crisis, an unhappy church attender, staff and volunteers who need attention. Oh, and Sunday is coming! Then add to that the car that needs attention, the room that needs painted and more importantly, our spouse and family who really needs some of our time and attention. The “what” is overwhelming and it can’t be ignored for very long.

In the midst of the urgency of all the ministry stuff, we easily miss who it is centered around. The “who” is Jesus. We get so busy working for Jesus we forget how important it is to just be with Jesus. We assume we can get with him later. We want to spend time with him. But we also know he’ll wait, and he will.

The challenge we face is whether, on a consistent basis, we make the Ministry or the Master our priority. You already know which gets most of your attention. What I’m writing is nothing new to you if you’ve been in ministry for any length of time.

I love the story in John 21. When I was in college, I did a major paper on this chapter in my Gospel of John class. It has always captivated me. You know how it goes. Peter denied Jesus three times. Then after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he finds Peter and his buddies fishing and invites them to breakfast on the shore. During breakfast Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. There’s no missing what’s going on here. Jesus is restoring his relationship with Peter. In a powerful way he allows Peter to reaffirm his love and Jesus is telling Peter that he forgives him and loves him in spite of his failures. What grace!

After each time Peter says that he loves Jesus, the Lord invites him to do ministry. “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” He’s telling Peter to be a shepherd of the church. Jesus has things for Peter to do! You see, a restored relationship with Jesus will restore real and effective ministry. But notice what comes first! The relationship. It never works the other way. It’s not who or what, but who over what.

Then after the failures are put behind and the relationship is restored, Jesus reminds Peter what is perpetual focus is to be. While he’s to do ministry, his focus is not to be on the ministry. He is to follow Jesus. In fact, he made this emphasis twice (John 21:19, 22). Our focus, our first priority, our only priority is to follow Jesus…day in and day out. We follow where he leads us. Wherever!

Is ministry the master or is Jesus the Master? Does the ministry direct your life or is Jesus directing what you do and where you go? Does he direct you to spend time with your family and for yourself along with ministry, or does ministry dictate your how you use your time and effort?

It’s hard to distinguish when we are following Jesus or ministry. I think it’s possible that if we were really following Jesus and not the ministry, we might leave our church ministry and do something Jesus wants us to do. Or, if we are really following Jesus, we might stay in our church ministry even though we’d rather quit! If we were really following Jesus, we might take a risk that could get us fired or for sure would get some folks upset at us. If we really followed Jesus, we’d find that every day would be a life giving adventure, not a taxing one that drains us. If the who comes before the what then we’ll ask Jesus what following him looks like today…and we might be surprised!

I’m convinced from experience and from the Word that if we made Jesus the priority in our life over the ministry, we’d be healthy and full…no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Don’t get so enamored and engaged in the what that you forget the who. Let the who form and shape what the what looks like (What a sentence!). Let the who set the pace of the what. Let the who fill you when the what tries to drain you.

I chose a pretty stark title for my blog. Really? Do we change or die? Is it that black and white, either/or? Yes…eventually. Now, before I go further, I don’t mean that the core spiritual truths of our Bible change. I’m not suggesting God changes his core character. But while the message of the Gospel doesn’t change at its core, the methods and ways we present the Gospel much change and adapt. So our churches, nonprofits and businesses have to adapt and that means our leadership style has to change as well.

You might be familiar the “Diffusion of Innovation” theory. It simply describes that about 2.5% of leaders are innovators. They come up with and launch truly new stuff. Then there are the early adopters of about 13.5% of leaders. Then there are the cautious early majority (34%) and skeptical late majority (34%). These are the folks that take what was once a new idea, method or product and take it to critical mass. Then of course there are the laggards (16%) who might come along eventually kicking and screaming.

I’m an early adopter. I see problems and I look for new and fresh solutions. Let me use a personal example. I ran for almost 40 years. I loved it. But my knees and back were paying the price. I didn’t want to enter my later years a cripple. So I made the very hard decision to stop running. What would I replace it with? The elliptical machines in the gym provided an excellent cardio workout without any stress on my joints. But I was stuck inside. I hated that part. So I discovered an elliptical bike called an Elliptigo. It’s an elliptical machine that I can ride outside. It’s a very hard workout with no impact and I get to enjoy the scenery, weather and smells of the outdoors.

Our culture and world is changing rapidly. You can’t stop that! To have a healthy, life-giving church, nonprofit or business, we have be an adopter of the new – new products and/or new methods. The earlier we adopt, the more healthy and effective our organization will be. And yes, those who lead churches will face some of the greatest resistance to change. But change or die…as I said as I started. Almost every month I encounter a church where a very few in the church will admit that they have not changed, they are aging out and have very little to offer younger people and families. That’s a strategy for dying. Being an early adopter or even a early majority kind of leader is costly. You will face challenge and resistance. But that is what leadership is all about. Leading is not for the faint of heart! Leading is not for those who seek an easy life.

And there are some reasons not to change. Change for the sake of change is just plain stupid. There has to be a clear and compelling “why!” that you can communicate with passion. And communicate you must. The change has to fix a real problem and move our organization forward.

We don’t allow change that is clear inconsistent or contrary to biblical truth and values. And we don’t bring about something new just to be trendy. That will fail in the long run. And don’t make change out of fear. Fear is a terrible motivator.

But being an innovator, early adopter or early majority leader will require some level of risk. And failure is always an options and sometimes happens. But even in failure, be sure you’re trying to address the right problem. If the failure is because you have the wrong problem, admit it, learn from it and reframe the problem.

Leadership requires leading your organization through change. Leadership is risky and messy. But without a leader willing to adopt the new and different, the real people we serve or hope to serve will in the end suffer…and our organizations will start the painful road of decline.

Less is more

Focus multiplies the power of everything. Take light and focus it and you get the power of the laser. But if you try to focus on too many things you experience the law of diminishing return (see below) and you actually accomplish less. This is true in ministry and business as well as our personal and spiritual lives. As 2018 ends and we begin to look toward a new year, let me challenge you to embrace the discipline of focus.

Here’s a truth that I believe powerfully affects every aspect of life – Less is more! Focus provides maximum impact. If everything is important, then nothing is important.

I’ve seen the power of focus work over and over in my ministry work. My best messages are focused. In fact, for every message I develop a short sentence that captures my one main idea. Then, I make sure every scripture and illustration aims at that main idea. After numerous reviews, I find I keep cutting out good material that was not critical to my focused point. Folks will more likely remember a focused message with one main point rather than a message with eight or ten good ideas.

The most effective churches that are discipling people have focused ministries and don’t try to do everything or be everything to all people. They are great as saying “no” to good programs in order to focus on what’s critical. The best parents know how to focus on a few things rather than live scattered lives of non-stop activity. The best businesses know their “hedge hog” or their focused strategy (a term developed by Jim Collins in Good to Great) and live by a few key values.

Here’s what we know from research and from observing life: If you focus on two or three goals you’ll have a reasonable chance at accomplishing two or three goals. But if you try to accomplish from four to six goals, you’ll actually only likely accomplish one or two. And if you try to accomplish from eleven to twenty goals, you’ll likely achieve none of them. That’s the law of diminishing return. There is power in focusing on fewer things at a time. Remember, less is more.

 

WIN – What’s Important Now

At our church, we focus on one key goal that everyone on staff can engage in. We use the acronym WIN which stands for What’s Important Now. A WIN is the single top priority over given period of time that will make a difference for the whole church. It requires the collaboration of all. It becomes our rallying cry. A WIN is a goal that can be accomplished in 3-12 months.

To discover our WIN for a particular season, we ask, “If we accomplish one thing during the next X months, what would it be? What must be true X months from now to be able to look back and say with any credibility that we had a good season?”

 

4X4

We personalize the power of focus by utilizing the 4X4 principle (or 1X1, 2X2, 3X3 or 6X6, etc.). We use this simple goal setting idea with our staff of focusing on a few key things that would make a big difference that are not a part of our normal daily job description or routine. A 4X4 would be focusing on four things over a quarter. Recently, I used a 1X6 where I had one very big goal that I needed to focus on for a six month time period. This is a flexible principle that allows you adjust the number of goals over a variety of time frames. But the key idea is to focus on less because less is more!

 

One Word

About six years ago, I found a new way to apply the less is more principle. It came from a short book titled One Word. The idea is to choose one word to focus on for a whole year. I decided to help our church use this principle and connected it to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Over half of all Americans will make a bunch of New Year’s resolutions. What percentage of people who make resolutions are actually fulfilling them? 8%! And over half of those who make resolutions have failed or forgotten them by the end of January. That’s not a good track record. Now, there’s many reasons why that happens. Sometimes the goals are too big or not specific enough. But one factor for sure is that we have too many resolutions. How can we increase our shot at experiencing real life change and have maximum impact? The answer again is focus!

Here’s how the one word idea works. First, you think about something that you want to change in you or about you this year. Maybe it is an area you want to grow in or become more like. Prayerfully, reflectfully and boldly ask God for one word that will help you accomplish that. Identify one word that will best capture the one thing that would bring hope, change, renewal and newness to you in the new year. It can be a habit to overcome or a discipline to embrace. It can be a character quality you want to adopt or develop more deeply. It can be an action that you want to become more a part of your life. We’ve heard so many stories of real life change because of the power of focus practiced in the one word exercise. Try it! It has became an annual experience that our church looks forward to each year.

Embrace the “less is more” life. Discover that focus provides maximum impact. Say “no” to more and “yes” to less. May your 2019 be a year of powerful God-infused focus.

This blog is directed primarily to church leaders, though there are applications to the non-profit and business world for sure. I believe without a doubt that Jesus’ passion was to reach the lost. That’s why he came. That’s what he said in Luke 19:10 – For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. He told three powerful parables about finding those who are lost in Luke 15. The Great Commission sends us to those yet to be a part of his kingdom (Matthew 28:19,20). But this blog isn’t about trying to convince you of that. If that is not your passion, then you have business to do with the Holy Spirit. What I want to do is talk about how we do that well.

I’m not interested in growing a big church. I hope you’re not either. But I am passionate about reaching lost people and when we do the result is growth! But growth is NOT the goal. People are. There is nothing more important that reaching those who are not really living in God and for God by walking with Jesus. That is my main focus as I lead our church.

Unfortunately that is not the main focus of most pastors, most churches, most church boards and for sure, most church attenders. If we are to keep Jesus’ main thing front and center, then we have to face the fact that we are swimming upstream every day of the year! It take strong courageous leadership making the hard decisions that result in real programs and a culture to consistently reach lost people.

Here’s what I’ve focused on that has helped our church reach people who are new to faith. I’m just going to bullet point them because each bullet point could fill its own blog.

  • Our main filter for every decision we make is how will this help us reach lost people.
  • Our Sunday teaching (both series and messages) is designed for unchurched people to understand. The teaching is biblical, but avoids using churchy words or ideas. It is always relevant, practical and applicable to every person. There are clear powerful actionable takeaways for both believers and nonbelievers in every service.
  • Following that, while the Bible is central to all our teaching on Sunday, we don’t try to go deep into the Bible. The Sunday teaching is intentionally designed to lead people into discipleship and deeper Bible study individually or through our classes and small groups – where it happens best. Our Sunday worship (music, stage, environment) is designed to attract and make sense to unchurched people. When some of our older folks complained about the music, lights and haze, I reminded them it wasn’t for them, but for their kids, grandkids and great grandkids who were not coming to church. Now that their families are coming, they love the music! Our focus isn’t to just please the veteran church attenders – hence the hard decisions we have to make. Rather, we always assume we’ll have first time guests and we want to make sure the experience is understandable and good for them as we want to keep moving them on the path toward becoming a disciple.
  • We are intentional to provide a warm welcome to all guests. We make sure our signs are clear to direct people (guests don’t know the routine or where things happen). We want to greet people multiple times before they get to the auditorium. I try to personally greet as many guests as I can. We have a clear, obvious, simple way for folks to move from visiting to looking deeper to becoming engaged. You have to have a clear “pathway” from the time someone enters the parking lot to the time they become a follower of Jesus. That doesn’t just happen.

Those are the basics. There is much more for sure. And let’s be honest and fair, it was costly for me to introduce and continue to do these things. People left and leave our church when I consistently make the lost a focus in how we do things. I am personally attacked for this focus as folks will say that “I’m not deep enough,” “I’m not biblical enough,” “I don’t care enough about members,” and so on. But when I hear the stories of transformation from some of the 326 new believers that we baptized last year, I have no regrets. Everyone will spend eternity somewhere. I want to use my 1 hour and 10 minutes in a Sunday to help people find God and have an eternal home in heaven, while helping the godly deepen their faith. It is not an either/or deal.

Finally, we are entering the Christmas season. Christmas and Easter are the two times of the year we get the most visitors. Most churches spend a lot of time and resources to celebrate Christmas, as we should. But are your Christmas programs designed to reach lost people? Have you designed your Sunday morning Christmas series and messages and especially the Christmas Eve message to speak to those not walking with Jesus? Don’t miss this opportunity. Jesus came that first Christmas for one reason – to reach the lost!