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.

As leaders, we focus on what we do and how we do it. We are looking for results, especially in the form of seeing God change lives. We are absorbed by strategy, planning, making decisions, dealing with conflict, helping and caring for people and so much more. However, far too many leaders neglect their inner life. I could fill a page with the names of famous people who were doing amazing things, were loved and respected by many; but neglected their soul, their motivations, compulsions, passions, needs and their character. Even pastors, who talk all the time about the inner life, are well known to have neglected what’s going on inside! Jesus’ harshest words were toward the hypocrites (Matthew 23) who focused on the outward and neglected the inner life.

So leaders concentrate on the whats and hows, but too seldom do we address the why; especially the whys inside us (see Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle). What causes me to do something or not? What is my passion and purpose for what I do? What motivates me is often unconscious and thus a blind spot. Yet, the most powerful parts of our personality, and thus leadership style, are tied not to what we actually say or do, or how we act; rather, it’s tied to why we say or do or act the way we do. Motivations are so powerful and left unaware or unchecked, they can be disastrous. Knowing what motivates us is critical to good self-awareness, which is a critical part of being a healthy person and leader. Self-awareness is essential if we want to avoid personal disaster and want to change.

Maybe there is an aspect of your personality or leadership style you are aware of that you want to change. How do you change it? How do you become a better leader or parent? Most of us opt for “behavioral modification.” That’s when we focus on changing a behavior. In the realm of faith, we often call this “sin management.” That rarely works for very long. Why? Because behind the behavior is a motivation. The motivation, or compulsion, is more powerful than the behavior. So you can sincerely desire to eliminate the habit, sin or behavior; but if the passion is still there, it trumps the effort to control the behavior. If you want to change the behavior, change the motivation that’s inside.

So we invite God to help us change the inside motivation or passion, which leads to outer change. Real lasting change is an inside-out job. It needs to be in that order. God’s truth and God’s Spirit together are the best inside-out change agents ever. We have to be willing to cooperate and collaborate with God to bring about inner and thus outer change.

I could write a book on how we cooperate and collaborate with God to experience growth and change. In fact, such books have been written. But let me address a starting point: What I’ve observed is that most inner issues stay unconscious. They are a part of our blind spots. That’s why I try to mentor and help our leaders grow in their self-awareness. I did a 12 minute video on self-awareness that you can watch to learn more.

Creating self-awareness to discover the inner dangers that lurk below the surface takes intentional effort. Asking for feedback in humility is a basic and standard way to grow your self-awareness. Really listening to others helps us discover our own blind spots. Prayerfully asking God to reveal your less than ideal motivations is vital. I’ve also found for myself that one of the things that is so helpful for me is to use some effective tools that help identify who I am.

There are a bunch of quality tools available. I’ve used the Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) for almost 40 years. I love the Leading from Your Strengths, RightPath, Clifton Strengths (formerly Strengthsfinder) and DISC assessments. All are helpful.

There is one tool that is extremely helpful at getting to the level of motivation and the interior issues of passions, fears and needs. This tool is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram helps you identify your blind spots, since it is so hard to see your own compulsions that create your false self which in turn can hinder you and trip you up. Over time, this tool helps you to grow spiritually and reconnect with the voice of God and his grace that can lead you back to your true self, your “home space” or true type. This tool helps you see that you are not your “gifts”, rather that your identity is that you are first a child of God with unique gift sets. It can help you rediscover the way of Jesus based on godly motivations in your unique personality.

The Enneagram is a valuable tool for your own self-awareness. The process of becoming aware can help you to disbelieve and discard the false self illusions and rediscover your true self based on godly motivations. But beware! The Enneagram will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge you in very vulnerable ways as it helps you uncover the motivations behind our behaviors.

There are tons of resources online to help you explore your Enneagram type. There are many free and for fee Enneagram tests on the internet (see below). Don’t rely only on the tests alone. Because we are influenced by our false self, we can mis-represent ourselves and our motivations when answering the questions. Use the tests to narrow down your basic or main type to a few. Remember, you have a main type, but there are other types that might in fact reflect key aspects of your unique personality.

Take your time to discover your true type. As Alice Fyling suggests: “Date the Enneagram.” Do the work and take the time by taking the tests, reading the reports, and using some of the books and resources below. Ask someone who knows you and loves you to give you feedback. The discovery of your true self is a spiritual journey, not a one-stop event. If you’d like to explore more on the Enneagram, here’s the link to a 16 page Enneagram Overview that I’ve written and developed from some of the sources below:

Enneagram Tests:

My Top Four Favorite Books:

Other Resources:

I make an effort to be a continual learner. I believe effective leaders must be constant learners to grow their own self-awareness, understand our changing culture and learn from the wisdom and mistakes of others. I continually read books and articles, listen to podcasts, attend conferences and ask questions whenever I’m meeting with other leaders to keep learning.

I was listening to a podcast by Donald Miller and Andy Stanley (Episodes #122 and #123) and as often happens, there was one conversation that as soon as I heard it I said in my head; “YES! That’s so true!” Sometimes others put into words what we instinctively know. And their conversation was about a critical part of great leadership that doesn’t get enough attention.

Here’s what Andy Stanley said that we need to be reminded of over and over. People follow clarity more than character. Now, he was quick to assure us that character matters. Further, Stanley noted that people will say that the character of a leader is the most important aspect in their decision to follow a leader. But in reality, people will follow the clear message, or clear vision of a leader, even if they have doubts about his or her character. Why? An effective vision, mission, and purpose are all tied to clarity and people need clarity, not ambiguity. There’s too much noise and too many distractions in our world and anything short of being crystal clear won’t be heard. More than ever, folks want and need the clarity of a compelling vision, mission and purpose. And great leaders provide that.

In the podcast, Miller and Stanley invited us to test the “theory” out. They asked the audience what the vision and slogan was of the last two presidential candidates who won. Almost everyone can remember the themes, slogans and chants of Barack Obama (Change and Yes We Can) and Donald Trump (Make America Great Again). No one remembers the themes, slogans or chants of those who lost. Often (not always) they did not present a clear vision. But this isn’t about politics, so please don’t go down that road. This is about clarity, regardless of whether you agree with a particular candidate or not. People respond to a clear message. By the way, if you want to have some fun with this, go to the list of presidential campaign slogans throughout American history and you can see not just who actually won, but the slogans that are winners and losers – go to Wikipedia Campaign Slogans.

Jesus Clarity

Now to the one who really matters…Jesus. There was never a leader who was more clear than Jesus! The clarity of Jesus literally knocks you over, especially if you have any spiritual sensitivity. That is one of the two reasons why 49 years ago I decided to follow Jesus (the other was that after reading his teachings, I wanted to be like his teachings and like him). Listen to the clarity of Jesus as to why he came and his purpose in Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We remember the clarity of our main priority found in Matthew 22:37-40Love God. Love others. And he was so clear about our mission in Matthew 28:19-20 – Go everywhere and make disciples!

Vision Clarity

Do YOU have clarity in your vision? Do you really know where you are going? Are you crystal clear on where you are leading your church or organization? If I sit with you, can you in 3 minutes or less, give me a clear sense of where you are taking your  organization? If I’m trying to get to know you and your organization, I don’t care about the hows (methods) and whats (programs or services). I want to know if you can tell me clearly where we are going and why I should be a part of it.

Mission Clarity

Is the mission clear? No military can ever succeed without a clear mission. A mission is what we are doing right now. It’s our job. What’s the mission you are inviting me into that will make a difference? Is there enough clarity that I actually, on my own or with others, engage and do the mission? Do you remind me about it over and over?

Discipleship Clarity

Is there clarity about your path and plan to make disciples? If I walk into your church, visit for a few weeks, will I have absolute clarity about my next step is to engage and grow in my faith? Are the steps toward becoming more like Jesus clear? Is there a roadmap that I can follow? It might literally be “step 1, step 2…” We use this process: Starting Point (that’s where you start if you are new or finally ready to start), Discover (to discover your next step), Launching Point (to help launch you into the community or service). It doesn’t matter what the language or program is, but that you have clarity and it is communicated consistently so it can’t me missed. Make it easy to engage!

Message Clarity

I’ve talked about this in previous blogs, but our Sunday messages or sermons must be so clear that they are memorable, actionable and portable. I attended a church whose pastor is well known and respected for great Bible teaching. I went with good anticipation, listened carefully and took notes. After my wife and I left I was so disappointed. The teacher went through a chapter of the Bible with some interesting points. But I left without any clear action I could take and without any key point or organizing principle that I could share with others. It was great information, but it gave me no clear path for transformation or application. Is your message clear?

Organizational Clarity

Patrick Lencioni wrote one of the top five books I recommend for Lead Pastors, Presidents, CEO’s or anyone in charge of their organization. His book, The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business has one main, clear point – clarity is what is core to organizational health. He has four disciplines that create clarity. It’s worth the read!

There is so much power in clarity to lead people to a better place. Have I been clear?…..

Glen

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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!

Speaking Well Matters!

A key part of all Pastors’ work and even for most business and nonprofit leaders is the need to communicate well. There are so many reasons why we have to get this right. For Pastors, you might have heard the old adage – “As the weekend goes, so goes the church.” There’s truth in that. There is way more to a church than the Sunday experience, but that hour plus does set the tone for everything else. Our speaking (in the church, nonprofit or business world) will either motivate, or cause staff and clients to disengage. In the church context, the effectiveness of our speaking takes on eternal consequences. It will help folks listen to the truth, take another step toward following Jesus, or convict someone of the need to make a change. Our speaking matters! So how can speak in the most effective way possible?

 

Speaking Well is Learned

I’ve used a teaching team for the last twelve years, and I believe that is the number one reason why my own teaching/preaching has improved significantly. I share the teaching and speaking opportunities with other men and women. The only way we grow our speaking ability is to speak! This same team also helps whoever is speaking to refine and make each message better. The speaker gets three specific times of feedback in preparation in the two weeks before presenting. We also do an evaluation after the message is given. I’m a much better speaker because of the feedback the team gives me. It is absolutely essential if you want to improve and grow your speaking ability.

To do this well, we’ve created a checklist of things the teacher and teaching team want to look for as we review and evaluate the written preparation and live presentations. These key things we’ve discovered are making a difference. We’ve been growing as a church over 8 percent the last three years. The most consistent feedback we get from folks who are new to our church is that they love the teaching and how moving, understandable and practical it is.

So, I’ve been researching, examining, experimenting and practicing these key things that make for an consistently effective message. Here’s the results of twelve years of work we’ve done with our teaching team. They will help you to say it well, whatever your “it” is!

 

What we Look for in Every Message

  • Is there a strong opening?
  • Is there a strong ending? Is there an emotional connection?
  • Have we given a clear practical application? Is the audience compelled to take relevant action?
  • Have we helped people imagine a better future? Have we inspired them to action, change or growth? Will this message bring about transformation? Do they know the “Why?” of the challenge?
  • Are there good transitions from one idea or point to the next one?
  • Is there one clear main point or main idea? Can you put it in one sentence? What’s the main thing you have to get across?
  • Have we used one main scripture that is clearly explained and applied?
  • Are there sufficient stories and illustrations, including live and video stories of people?
  • Because less is more, what is good but not needed that can be taken out to focus on the main point better? Too much “good” gets in the way of what’s most important.

 

What We Look for in Most Messages

  • Is there or can there be an organizing metaphor – a theme or phrase the runs through the entire message?
  • How can we use appropriate props to enhance the message?
  • Have we shared the gospel or part of the gospel?

 

Delivery of the Message:

  • Did the listeners “feel” the passion, conviction, and boldness of the speaker? Was the pace, tempo and animation able to present the message with passion?
  • Did the teacher engage the listeners emotionally and personally?
  • Is the teacher well prepared in his/her own soul? Was the message well prepared? Was the teacher free and not tied to his/her notes?
  • Did the teacher use good humor? Was there some “fun” at appropriate times?
  • Did the teacher look into the camera sufficiently and address the audiences online and not just in the auditorium? (If applicable)

 

Do the hard work to say it well. What and how you say it matters!

Leading is Hard

Can I try to encourage you today? I’ve been a pastor for 41 years. Yea, I’m old! Or to spin it positively, I’ve got lots of experience! And what I know for sure, is that you and I as leaders always face challenges. Peter Drucker, the management guru, once said that being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs, period. He’s right. Leading a church has challenges at every proverbial corner. Leading a non-profit or business has many challenges as well. What has worked before doesn’t work today. Our culture is going through reconstruction. Life is becoming more complex! All people, including you and I, are broken in some way. Hurting people hurt people. Members or clients are never satisfied. If I go on any longer, I won’t have any hope of encouraging you!

Resilient

So how do we respond to the challenge of pastoring and leading? If you’re reading this, you are likely not ready to throw up your hands…yet! I think the Bible has a clear answer. The answer shows up in a slew of words, but my summary word for all of them is resilience.

Before I define or describe resilience, let’s look at all the Bible synonyms or parallels for resilience:

  • Persevere
  • Endure
  • Patient
  • Long-suffering
  • Steadfast
  • Bear with, Forebear
  • Be strong
  • Don’t grow weary or lose heart

Now, let’s be honest. If we were to try to come up with a list of the 5 character qualities that make for a great pastor or leader, it is unlikely that many of these words would make the list. We’d rather prefer to say a great pastor or leader is competent, skilled, bold, courageous, confident, creative, or trustworthy.  Or we might choose words like integrity, humility, empowering, or great communicator. All these are great attributes. But it would be rare for the word resilient or any of its synonyms to show up on the list. But may I suggest, that the most effective leaders, in the long run, are resilient leaders.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I get that idea from an amazing passage found in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV). I’m going to quote it here and underline those key resilient words: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The passage starts by reminding us that there is a cloud of witnesses watching us. Who are these people? They were listed and described in the previous chapter, Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter is sometimes called the Hall of Faith chapter. If you read chapter 11 carefully you’ll notice these famous men and women of faith who did amazing things didn’t get to see the full promises that God offered them while they were alive. But even though they didn’t see all the results they wanted, they stayed faithful. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you won’t get to see all the results of your hard work and sacrifice. But if you’ll remain faithful and resilient, God will use you to make a real difference, often in ways we can’t see.

The passage challenges us to run our race with perseverance. That means we just keep running and finish the race. It is NOT about being first, but finishing. It’s great to be first when every condition is perfect and we are in top shape. But that is not always going to be the case. Finishing is about faithfulness. We are called to be faithful and let God work through our faithfulness.

How do we keep running and finish well? We fix our eyes on Jesus. We don’t fixate on what good or success has happened. We don’t focus on the failures either. We don’t get caught up in what’s happening in our culture. We don’t compare ourselves to other pastors or leaders or churches or businesses. We don’t even look too long at ourselves. We focus on Jesus! He’s the model in every aspect of life. He’s the one we want to be like. We finish the race following him across the finish line.

And how did Jesus live? He lived with the joy set before him. Here’s what’s surprising: The joy that Jesus experienced happened as he endured the cross. How could enduring a horrible painful execution bring joy? Because Jesus knew that was his purpose. He knew that was what God wanted of him. His obedience unto death was his great joy because of what his sacrifice accomplished. His joy was in his faithfulness!

So the point of those three verses? Do not grow weary or lose heart. What is needed in our difficult job of pastoring and leading? To be strong or to be resilient?

Strong, Impressive or Resilient?

Let me finish with an illustration I read in a book produced by the Barna organization called The State of Pastors. The book makes a case for how important the quality of resilience is for pastors. The book reminds us that the Pyramids at Giza are as strong as we can imagine. They have survived for some 4000 years. They are big, robust, immovable, and basically unchangeable. But if a MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) was dropped on them (may it not be so), the bomb could easily destroy them today. You see, it is strong and impressive, but not really resilient!

Now let’s consider a forest. The west has experienced years of drought and forests are susceptible to fire. If a wildfire burns a forest, it looks devastated at first. But if you go back in a decade or two, you see how resilient the forest is. It starts to grow back. And, as it grows back, it actually becomes a better and healthier forest! That’s resilience.

You and I are not called to be strong or impressive, but resilient. So let me leave you with one more scripture that is one of my favorites. May it encourage you… Galatians 6:9, 10 (NIV) – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

One of the absolutely vital components of a healthy church, business or organization is focus. Back in 2001, Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, shares how focus is a secret to a great company in an idea called “The Hedgehog.” Here’s what Collins says about this idea:

Are you a hedgehog or a fox? In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.

Foxes try to be clever and know and try lots of ways to catch a hedgehog. But the hedgehog has one and only one defense that works every time. It rolls itself up in a ball with its quills outward and its soft inner body protected when danger comes.

Too many churches and organizations try to know and do too many things. The question for you as you lead is simple. What is and what can your group be the best at? What must you be the best at? These are questions of focus. You see, there is no church or group that can be “all things to all people” (Those are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and they have a very different context and purpose).

Some of the best and most effective churches and organizations focus on a few things. Life.Church is an example of focus. They focus on excellent worship, kids and youth, and small groups. That means they say “no” to things others want them to do like concerts or men’s or women’s ministry. Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix has always had a targeted focus or “customer.” They seek to reach unchurched men. If they can win the man, they believe they’ll reach the whole family. Continuing to use the church as an example, your focus might be discipleship, teaching, spiritual formation, targeting a specific type of group, a specific type of community transformation or recovery ministry.

Back about 10 years ago I decided our church needed to offer a traditional style worship service with hymns, piano, choir, etc. It’s a valid style of worship and I was sure there were people who liked this style. Other churches do “traditional” very well. But we were pretty bad at it. And it took tons of works, time, volunteers, and resources away from what we do really well. I made the decision after a year to stop that service. Some people left disappointed and unhappy. But that decision helped us to focus on what God has called us to focus on.

One of my favorite quotes says; “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Jesus knew his main thing. His focus dominated what he did and how he lived his life. Jesus actually told us his main thing; For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lostLuke 19:10. That’s the one thing that really matters to Jesus – reaching lost people. That’s where he spent a significant amount of his time. It was lost people he sought out and hung out with. He had a reputation of focusing on the people the religious folks said were lost. That’s why he told three specific parables about the lost in Luke 15. Jesus was focused.

As leader you need to figure out, with other key leaders in prayerful connection with God, what your “hedgehog” is. You need to figure out what you are best at and what is most important for you to focus on. As I lead our church, I know the things that are non-negotiable to accomplish our vision and mission. Focusing on too many things will sabotage excellence and dilute effectiveness.

And yes, a clear focus has both ups and downs. A clear focus will mean some folks and clients will decide they want something different and go elsewhere. That’s okay. But a clear focus will also attract quality leaders and allow you to leverage your people, finances and other resources to make a clear difference. When you are focused you know exactly who you are trying to reach as new clients or who you want to serve. You learn to say no to the good things that in fact are the enemy of what’s best.

Great leaders have a focus and are tenacious in keeping the main thing the main thing. The attacks on focus will never end. You’ll be tempted over and over to weaken your grip on your hedgehog concept. Resist! You can’t and don’t want to be the answer to every problem in your sphere of influence. Figure out the problem that God is calling you to address and stick to it with all you have.

You’ve heard it said: “We are better together.” Do you buy that? Leadership is about helping others to excel in accomplishing what is needed for a larger cause. Therefore, leadership requires that we connect well with others. Too many leaders do not connect with people, they just direct people. Too many leaders have never learned good connecting or people skills.

A New Command
Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus said he was giving us a new commandment in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The context of this statement is vital. He just announced he would be leaving. He had been preparing his disciples to lead after he departs. They would face persecution as they launched the kingdom of God revolution. They would need each other. They needed to love each other well. While the commandment wasn’t totally new (see Leviticus 19:18), it came with a new standard – they were to love each other “as I have loved you.” If they would love each other as Jesus had loved them, they would have a super strong connection to lead well!

Connection
Leaders must excel in joining with people where love and belonging are experienced. I call this connection. Leading isn’t just about tasks, projects, results and programs. It isn’t just about setting vision and executing new ideas. It must include all of these. Real leadership is about connecting at the human level and leading from that place. Leadership requires a close proximity to those we lead. Jesus again is the supreme example. He didn’t claim Lordship from a distant heaven. He came and lived among us. He loved in a personal incarnational way. He mentored or discipled a group of leaders who changed the world. They loved him and died for him because he first loved them. Jesus connected!

Real leadership might at times have some “command and control” aspects to it, especially in a fire, firefight or crisis. But real leadership, effective leadership, is connected leadership. It is doing Jesus’ new commandment – loving others as Jesus loves us.

What is Connectivity?
Connectivity is a relational place where trust and respect allow two or more people to have an authentic, imperfect, relationship. Vulnerability creates the connection. Trust and respect keeps the connection going. Connectivity requires communication where each person is given grace rather than judgement, trust rather than suspicion. Each person is valued and thus they are heard, even if there are disagreements. In the end, people are built up, nurtured and encouraged by the connection.

How do we Connect?
Let me share the one skill that is critical for connection – listening that leads to empathy. Let me be blunt. There are very few leaders who really listen. It is tempting for leaders to think they have the answers because they are the experienced leader. But there will never be true connection apart from active listening. Just listening is making a connection.

Listening allows a leader to have empathy. In empathy, you feel with someone. You seek to understand what they are feeling and connect to them in that feeling in the present. Empathy is pictured in Stephen Covey’s principle: “Understand before being understood.” It is expressed in the idiom – “Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”

I could add a few more to our list of connectivity behaviors and attitudes such as how to encourage, handling differences, offering grace rather judgement, vulnerability and more. But if you want to lead well and lead your church or organization to a better place, then you have to connect with people. Leadership is about leading people, not leading ministries, groups, projects, events, programs or tasks. Leading requires healthy connectivity within good boundaries. We are better together so connect with others and lead like Jesus!