Archive for the ‘priorities’ Category

…it’s time to get serious about transformation. You know you’ve waited long enough to transform whatever it is that you think you want transformed (and yes, I said “think you wanted” because if you really wanted it, you would be doing it already.)

Resolutions are weak! They fail because (1) they begin at the level of behavior, (2) are hastily made and typically cliche, and (3) are arbitrarily set. Yet many of us want to change and live healthier, more productive lives. Here’s how:

  1. Begin With Who NOT What. To sustain a change, you need to decide who it is you want to be; what you want others to think about you and say at your funeral. For instance, if I want to be a generous person, there are endless possibilities – time, money, talent, hospitality, credit. But if you simply want to give more money to charity, your decisions will be predicated by your bank statement. Plus, you have to seek out agencies to give to. Trust me, if you decide to live a generous life, it will transform all your interactions not just one.
  2. Structural Change. We are people of habit. If you want to lose weight this year (which is a bad resolution when compared to being healthy), you’re going to need to physically change  functions in your life. Where is the workout time going to come from? Where will you get the money for new shoes, workout clothes, a trainer, gym membership, or a treadmill? Who are you going to give permission to hold you accountable? What are you going to do with your kids while you workout? How are you going eat differently? Do you need to buy organic? Where will the money for healthier (and more expensive) food come from? If you don’t execute a structural change around your transformation, it will fail.
  3. Reward. You’re going to have to reward yourself – no one else will do it! If you’re looking to lose 40lbs, you’re going to have to celebrate losing 2lbs. This is what Chip and Dan Heath would describe as “shrinking the change.” Before you begin, you should determine when and how you will pat yourself on the back. Major changes take a long time, congratulating yourself along the way will help keep you motivated.
  4. Focus On The Good. It’s easy to quit something after you feel you’ve failed. However, that’s the wrong thing to do. Forgive yourself and start anew. Lamentations says the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. God’s willing to do it for you; do it for yourself. If you miss a deadline or going to the gym one week, just go back. And remind yourself that last year you weren’t going at all.
  5. Embrace The Spirit of Discipline. Of course, it’s going to take some discipline to get where you want to go, but often it’s not the discipline itself that thwarts us. We fail because we don’t understand the “spirit of disciplines.” The spirit of disciplines is that change comes from doing small, often boring things repetitiously and change is produced over time.  Whatever you’re doing is going to take time, become boring, and appear as if it’s not working. You must know this going in. If you don’t, the monotony will wear you down. Remember, the change only comes through the tediousness. When you’re bored, it’s beginning to work

Transformation can come for you, it just takes serious, focused effort over time. Go for it! I’m in your corner.



I’m sick of it!

And if you’re a pastor/preacher/minister, you’re likely sick of it too. You’ve seen all the tweets and articles in magazines that act as if the pastor is a singular human in their organization, capable of creating and sustaining wonderful health and growth all by his or her own lonesome.

Here are some of the doozies I’ve heard lately:

  • As the pastor, you should be the happiest person in your church.
  • Pastor, what’s your staff culture? Remember, you set the culture for your staff.
  • If you don’t have 5 evangelistic relationships going on, how can you expect your congregants to have any?

On and on the lists go. It all adds up to this: As the leader of your organization you’re expected to have a great family, exercise daily, be studied in theology, history, culture, music, Bible and the local and national news. You’re also solely responsible for the culture and spiritual growth of your staff and congregation, as well as their intellectual and emotional health and growth. By the way, how up-to-speed are you on fund-raising and systems thinking and implementation? What about addiction, co-dependency, visitation, guest-services, and community activities. Oh, before I forget, don’t you have a sermon to preach this weekend?

The problem with these little maxims is that they are partly true. As a pastor and leader, you do carry some level of responsibility for all these things. Yet there are so many things to be responsible for that no human can do them all well. I don’t mean to be snippy toward our mega-church leaders who hand down their tools of the trade. Rather, I would like them to consider some real-world limitations that many leaders have to deal with and sometimes can’t be overcome. While these considerations run the risk of being labeled excuses, for many people they are the water they swim in. They are real. In nearly 20 years of working near, around and in churches, I know these considerations to be depressingly true.

  1. Many pastors have no say over their staff. Who they are? How well trained? How committed? They can neither reduce salary for underperformance or increase it for a job well done. They do not hire and fire, and can’t even make recommendations to do so. What’s more, for many people, the staff is inherited. Thus, the staff culture is inherited. While a good leader can change the culture, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
  2. Some church systems are anti-leadership.  The pastor is NOT the leader and no one wants them to be. Decisions are largely made by committee. Believe it or not, some folks think that’s the Biblical way to do it, even if it’s not efficient. Plus, it’s not as easy as you think for people who’ve gone through the process of education and the processes of becoming ordained, just to pick-up and leave their church or denomination. This becomes more difficult when children and family are involved.Many were reared in these churches, went to camp in these denominations and are deeply rooted relationally. To leave isn’t merely a job change, it’s a life change!
  3. Many pastors are flying solo. While some have no say over their staff others have no staff at all, save volunteers. Surprising as it may sound to you, sermon preparation takes just as long in a 20-member church as it does a 200-, 2,000-, or 20,000-member one. And the clergy-person in the 20-member church has to oversee building concerns, adult ed, children’s ed, the youth group, processes for spiritual formation, pastoral care and nearly everything else. While some jobs in the church do scale with the size of the organization, some do not, and when you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re doing it all by yourself.
  4. Most ministers aren’t starting from scratch. I’m a big-believer in church-planting, but that’s not what most clergy are doing. Most are working within existing cultures and systems. If you asked them, they could name 50 things they’d change tomorrow if they could. Why don’t they? They have chosen being pastoral over being a CEO-type leader. Pastoring means walking with people, guiding them along — often at a slow pace. I’m struck with a little referred to story of Jacob meeting Esau. As they leave for Sukkoth, Jacob – who was traveling with his wives and children – ask Esau to go ahead of him so that he can care for his children and flock. Jacob tells his brother he needs to slow his pace to the speed of the children. This, my friends, is ministry too — slowing down for the ones who cannot move more quickly. Some ministers choose to do so in order that we all arrive to worship God together.

These are just the beginnings of ministry in the real world. Again, I’m not saying that much of the counsel offered by church leadership gurus isn’t valid. It’s shaped who I am and how I lead. I am saying that I’ve not always been in the kind of context I am now, and I remember what it was like to work within other kinds of systems.

So, I  question whether much of what is flippantly stated in church-leadership conversations is realistic. More so, I question if it’s dismissive of the context the majority of ministers work in. If so, our gurus are speaking to a very small audience. It doesn’t mean that these men and women won’t show up at your conferences and buy your books, it just means that the beautiful meal you’re serving is going uneaten.

Perhaps it may be time for many of us to recalibrate our leadership message from, “what works for me” to “what can work for you.” Maybe we need an orientation that sees ministry in live-action and on-the-ground, rather than from the preaching Pentagon.

Since becoming the senior staff person at an organization I’ve injected my reading and development with a tremendous dosage of leadership material.  I’ve been to conferences, read books, watched webinars and basically immersed my life in leadership. This has been both good and necessary. But there is a sense – as a Christian leadership – that it all a bit too much.

Here’s what I mean.

Many of the teachers I’ve learned leadership from over the past two years are pastors themselves. Their books are about leadership; their blogs, their tweets, their conferences are all about leadership – which is both needed and good. I’m not throwing stones. But here comes the “but”….

What about “following?”

Being a Christian leader, particularly a Christian leader in the church, my first call is NOT to lead. It is to follow. In our current environment it would be easy for fair observers to say that most church leaders see themselves primarily as CEO’s. There is a temptation, I think, to spend so much time thinking and developing our leadership that we neglect our followship (yes, I know that’s not a word). This, obviously, doesn’t have to be the case. And I assume that the good Christian women and men I mentioned above are great followers of God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and appropriately follow their church structure and governance. Yet, still, I want to offer my friends a moment of pause to stave off the leadership idol that many of us are unfortunately falling prey to.

An over-focus on leadership will….

1. …crush your humility! If you’re a leader, you have one thing: Followers. This mean there are people who will – whether rightly or wrongly – privilege what you think, say and do. Done long enough, it’s nearly impossible to not believe that you know more and are better at things than they are. What’s worse is that they’ll let you. Giving push-back to your boss or leader is difficult, especially if your paycheck or perceived “spiritual life” is dependent on it. The antidote is not to believe your own hype and continually place your leadership alongside that of Jesus’ and see how you stack up. You’re not infallible and, likely, not the only person in your organization who can do what you’re doing. God’s entrusted you with this season, steward it well.

2. …will make you think you’re supposed to produce something. Leaders love to produce and I’m a big believer in productivity, but that’s also why we need to remember that God is the one who produces. Turn to the Galatian’s “Fruit of the Spirit” for example. Our family has an orange tree in our back yard. In the spring and summer we have oranges at every meal, but not in the winter. Why? There are no oranges in December. But that doesn’t mean the tree isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing. The “fruit of the spirit” works the same way. The fruit is both inevitable (if you believe the Bible) and gradual (like all fruit). Too many times, leaders fear lack of movement and the stagnation of vision, yet, the wise Christian leader should know better. We should know that production cannot be manipulated or coerced…and it’s not up to us anyway. Sometimes we need to let the ground rest and stop trying to “lead” everything.

3. …contribute to a cult of personality. This one is obvious. How many times have we seen a congregational leader fall and the next thing you know the congregation loses 75% of her members? Who were all these people following in the first place? Well, common sense would suggest they were following the congregational leader. This was the wrong leader to follow, but the preacher (or whoever) was too egotistical to ever tell them to trust more in God than the leader. In the absolute worse cases, these cults-of-personality create a Jim Jones or David Koresh. In any event, and to any degree, the same thing is happening; the leader, in his or her own deficiency of following Jesus aids others in moving away from Jesus.

I suppose I say all this as a check to myself and my fellow Christ-followers who are leaders in organization to realize deeply that perhaps the best thing we can do as leaders in not to lead, but to follow God and get out of the way of His Spirit.


Incidentally, uber-blogger, Scot McKnight has blogged about the same here.

The good folks over at The Weather Channel get far too excited about hurricanes! You’ve seen them. Jim Cantore, standing in boots, winds gusting while reeds sway in the background. Alexandra Steele covering the action with eyes glistening. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were giddy about some beach city on the verge of destruction.
Why are they so exhilarated?

They live for hurricanes!

This is what they got in the biz for; why they went to school. 85-degrees and partly cloudy doesn’t quicken the pulse quite like a Cat 5. So when there’s a tropical depression turned tropical storm turned hurricane, it’s no wonder that they go nut-burgers when the tempests begin to rage.

So what’s your hurricane? Do you have one?

What is it that gets you going, charges you up, quickens your pulse & brings light to your soul? As I wrote previously, nerds are leading us because they have a disproportionate interest in something. If you don’t have a hurricane, I want to suggest that you spend the next year of your life finding out what it is and doing it. My wife routinely spends time jotting lists of things that she likes. She does this as an exercise in hurricane hunting. And once you find your hurricane, you need to go chase it.

Rearrange what you need to rearrange. Adjust what you need to adjust.

Buy what you need to buy. Move where you need to go.
As St. Irenaeus teaches us, “The glory of God is a (person) fully alive.”

Trust me, the best thing you can do for yourself, your spouse, and your children is to live  in the center of your hurricane. Your life has a mission. Whatever else you’re doing is off mission.

I know that life has seasons. And you can’t do everything at once. I’m a realist. At the same time, I know this: If you’re not doing something everyday to move you toward your hurricane, you’re slowly dying inside.

This is the way God made us.

Go find your hurricane.

This week Redwood Church launches new small groups. These groups are a major part of what we’re doing and will do to impact our community and world. In fact, our groups are so crucial that I believe  if our small groups fail, our mission will fail. Our mission, generic as it is, is “To Know Christ and Make Him Known.”

This is how our organization works: To “know Christ” we invite our friends and community to environments for spiritual formation – namely Sunday worship, ongoing teaching environments and small groups. This is where people can “come and see” what Jesus is doing in the lives of our members and discover what God has done in the person of Jesus on their behalf and on the behalf of the world. Then to “Make Christ Known” we commission our small groups to do ministry on their own — it’s a requirement. Yes! We expect our small groups to do ministry without the entanglements of a budget line item, with no administrative hoops to jump through and no executive approval. We could add those hurdles if we wanted to, but we choose to trade on and trust in personal passion, group interests and — wait for it — the movement of the Holy Spirit. My fundamental, rock-bottom belief is that the Spirit of God is among the people of God and the best thing for church leadership to do is clear the way. As I’ve said many times; only church leadership can stop a church from growing!

So, why do I tell you this? Because your organizational structure should be simple, clear and easy.

Many will push back saying, “Where are your retreats, women’s days, pancake breakfasts, monthly service projects, fellowship dinners, etc…?” Well, we have those, but they arise out our core behaviors and are infrequent. As Jim Collins points out, organizations that do more than three things, do a lot poorly. We have deliberately chosen to focus. If you ask our staff members they will tell you not only our mission, but how we do our mission. (They will soon grow sick of hearing me talk about it, I’m certain.)  After they recite our mission statement they can tell you our strategy: “Relevant worship, small group interaction, and local and global responsibility.” It’s that simple, that clear, that easy.

In contrast, I sat in a board meeting for another organization recently. It was not unlike many board meetings I’ve been in throughout the years.  No one in the room could tell me either the mission nor the strategy of the organization. Everyone wanted the organization to grow, do more and have a greater impact on the community, but no one knew what impact or how they were trying to do it. This kind of organizational vagueness is rampant in non-profit organizations and churches, but riddle me this: If you can’t articulate a compelling reason for the existence of your organization, why would anyone else wish to be a part of it?

Crazy as it sounds, your preacher might be a better preacher if they could focus on preaching. That’s right, someone finally said it! Truth is, many churches require so much of their pastor that they hardly have anytime to prepare to preach.

Preparing to preach isn’t necessarily difficult week-to-week, but it is time consuming. There’s language study, historical/critical review, prayer, devotional time in the text, reading, reflecting, constructing, importing creative elements, story-building, writing and delivery. All that takes time, but so does visitation, prayer for the sick, staff meetings and leading, building use and facility concerns, other teaching responsibilities during the week, and hosts of other activities. Many preachers have to handle all these activities themselves, so it’s no wonder that frequently many of them serve up yesterday’s leftovers from the pulpit. It’s easy to flip open the latest book and harvest 3 points here and 5 suggestions there, call it a sermon and go home.

And quite frankly, it’s less costly. The gospel is life-altering! Few people are willing to admit they don’t really care to have their lives altered. Add to that the fact that many preachers pay a heavy price for preaching what’s actually in the text rather than spewing the party line. All that leads to dishing out life-tips and pithy proverbs from the pulpit. A good friend of mine describes his preacher’s messages as “Wisdom for Ole’ Will.” It’s good wisdom, mind you; it’s just not Biblical preaching.

If you ever wonder why your preacher’s preaching is no good or shallow or fluffy or even mean-spirited, you might want to consider if they have enough time for their messages to be otherwise.

One way to change the game and add freshness to the pulpit is to free your preacher to preach. Church leaders need to surround their preacher with encouragement and make it clear to them and to the congregation which tasks their preacher is expected to do well – the first should be preaching. Regardless of the congregants individual druthers, there should be a canon of expectation determined as follows; (1) Things our preacher is expected to do well and (2) Other things they may be expected to do. There is a difference between what someone is expected to do with excellence and what one is simply expected to do. This is basic prioritizing!

There’s a lot happening at every church in America this week, yet only one person (in most churches) will be charged with feeding the entire flock.

And, regardless of what we wish were the case, Sunday morning is our best chance to impact seekers, visitors and Christ-followers alike for Kingdom living and missional impact. Plus, it’s often the only chance we get! Every element of the Sunday experience needs to be clear, powerful and prepared as well as possible. That means your preacher needs to have something worth hearing to say. I’ve known preachers who stay up until 1am Saturday night pasting together a jagged collage of a sermon they had no time to craft during the week. That is both disrespectful to the hearers and dismissive of the Word of God

I’m fortunate to be a place where I can turn on the DO NOT DISTURB light on my phone, shut my office door and craft a message. I hope my church and the Kingdom of God are better because of it. And I wish more of my friends and colleagues were free to do the same. Help them out if you can!


Resources for crafting messages that connect and make an impact.

Fred Craddock’s “Preaching

Andy Stanley  “Communicating For A Change

David Buttrick “Homiletic Moves and Structures

The best way to be stagnant at work, in your career, or in life is to be a complainer. I’ve learned this the hard way. Trust me when I say, no one likes a complainer. As a complainer-in-recovery, I can tell you that if you want to be consistently marginalized, overlooked, dismissed or excluded, be a complainer.

Yesterday I was browsing in my local Barnes and Noble. Two aisles over, a manager was complaining to a co-worker about a third co-worker whom she felt was milking an injury, slacking off work, and forcing others into covering her shifts. There is a place for theses kinds of conversations, preferably the manager would speak first to the offending employee and then to the regional manager about the issue, and all in confidence. But that’s not what happened. This manager, whom I know, found herself in full-throated complaint mode on the Teenage Fiction aisle. Honestly, it made me want to leave the store. I didn’t need to hear it. So I left knowing that this manager would likely never be a regional manager, and why she probably burned through employees.

Here are a three reasons why your career may be static because of complaining:

1. Complaining puts your preferences over organizational goals. When you complain, what you’re essentially saying is that your way is the one that should carry the day. If the compliant truly regards missed opportunities and the betterment of the organization, then there are likely modalities within the community to address those needs. Complaining about what you don’t like isn’t about the organization, it’s about you. Sooner or later, your superiors will notice your misplaced priorities and they will find someone else to do your job.

2. Complaining stokes unnecessary negativity. Both in work and life, disruption and setbacks create their own negative energy. No one wants to work with people who create and nourish unneeded negative feelings. Over time the negativity engendered by constant complaining grants the complainer a poor reputation. You become the “negative” person and in meetings and other setting you can speak freely, but everyone has long stopped listening. Not being listened to, your ideas are dismissed. When you happen to be correct in your assessment, you’ll complain, “They never listen to me.” And you’ll be right.

3. Complainers go to the end of the line. When organizations begin looking for new hires or to promote from within, the last person they want to hire is a known complainer. In all likelihood, regardless of your skill level, someone else has the same skill set. Why hire you and the complaining that comes with you, when someone more cheery is available? I wouldn’t. If you’re a constant complainer, plan on finding your career on hold. You’re just not good enough at your job to overcome the ill-effects that comes with your complaining.

There you have it. Begin now to re-work your complaining nature and you’ll see much of your life and work turn around.