By Carey

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to audiences around the world about change, leadership, and parenting.


CNLP 014: Why Sex is So Seductive – An Interview with’s Ryan Russell

Sex takes down more than its fair share of leaders and families.

So why is sex so seductive?

How do you open up an honest dialogue about sex with your kids or with your church?  I interview’s Ryan Russell.

Welcome to Episode 14 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Ryan Russell

XXXChurch on Facebook

XXXChurch on Twitter

Ryan Russell’s website

Ryan Russell on Twitter

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Lance Armstrong Opens Up

Perry Noble

CNLP 002: How Perry Noble Hit Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches & How He Battled Back

Craig Gross

Ron Jeremy and Anti-Porn XXXchurch Pastor, America’s Ultimate Odd Couple

Open: What Happens When You Get Real, Get Honest and Get Accountable by Craig Gross and Adam Palmer

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

It’s tough for someone to be honest with their struggles, especially when sex is involved. There’s a lack of transparency ­­– people will talk around it, but they won’t talk about it. Here’s how you can start a conversation about sex in a healthy way:

  1. Start small. Any healthy conversation starts small, and it grows. It’s like having a conversation with your kids. The first time you may have a conversation about sex with your kids, it’s one-on-one. It’s comfortable. It’s an introduction, a shorter conversation, but it’s not the end of the conversation. The same model can be used when shepherding or leading a church. That conversation starts smaller and becomes more frequent with a broader audience.
  2. Start with someone you trust. Get comfortable with your church staff and your eldership and develop a plan to pass the message along to other ministries. When you open up the conversation as a leader, you give permission to have the conversation others don’t know how to start.
  3. Lead with love. Starting with a condemning message will push people away from the conversation. Accountability is a critical component for people, but the hardest part is the initial conversation, and the second hardest part is having those conversations before, not after temptation sets in. So many people see accountability as a negative thing. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve gotta confess when I’m busted.” Rather than making it a shameful thing, make being open a positive experience. It can be desirable to live a transparent life and answer to what God has called us to be. In the end, the focus should be on relationships, not on outcomes.

Quotes From Ryan

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe.

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as Derwin Gray, Ron Edmondson, Jon Acuff, Rich Birch, Ted Cunningham, Tony Morgan, Craig Jutila, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

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Appreciate This? Rate the Podcast.

Hopefully this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast in iTunes and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn Radio as well.

Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had 150 reviews so far across all platforms. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all!

Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Dom Russo

How do you turn around a declining church without blowing it apart?

Dom Russo talks about how he leveraged the past to help bring a church into a new future, more than doubling the size of his church in size in two years.

Subscribe now, and you won’t miss Episode 15.

Got a question?

Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

5 Socially-Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

Let me guess.

You’re so busy caring for others (people in your church, your kids, your family, your friends) that you haven’t really taken great care of yourself lately, have you?

Welcome to leadership. Especially church leadership.

You run hard. You work long hours.

And you’re so busy caring for others you forgot to care for yourself.

Usually when I ask church leaders how they’re doing personally, they admit they don’t take great care of themselves.

And when you don’t take great care of yourself, guess what you end up doing in almost every single case?

You end up self-medicating.

Every leader has a choice between self-care and self-medication, and subconsciously, many choose the ‘polite’ version of self-medication.

Do you? And how would you know if you did?


What’s Self-Medication?

I had never heard of the term ‘self-medication‘ until I got married.

But my wife Toni is a health care professional and she uses it to describe what people do to cope with the stress, anxiety and difficulty in life.

When stress and life overwhelm you, you will either choose to respond to it in a healthy way (self-care) or an unhealthy way (self-medication).

And when you think of self-medication, don’t just think of pills or alcohol. As we’ll see below, there are some very ‘socially-acceptable’ ways even for Christians to self-medicate.

But the results are still numbing.

The choice is yours, but the first reality is this: Self-care is so much healthier than self-medicating.

The second reality is just as important: If you don’t intentionally choose self-care as a leader, you’ll end up self-medicating.

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Christian Leaders Self-Medicate

1. Overeating.

Being overweight or even obese is almost normal in some Christian circles.

As someone who has to watch my weight very carefully (and who does not understand how anyone can be a natural bean pole), I empathize. And I also know I often eat when I’m not hungry, but when I’m upset or just bored.

Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.

2.  Working More 

Again, working too many hours is socially acceptable, even rewardable in some circles.

As a recovering workaholic, I know. But all work and no play doesn’t just make you dull, it makes you disobedient.

It’s ironic, but the way some leaders cope with the stress associated with work is by working more. It numbs the pain.

3. Gossip 

It’s just a theory, but I think when we feel bad about ourselves, we say bad things about other people.

Often church leaders who have failed to care for themselves end up with enough toxin inside that they want to take down others. In many churches, prayer requests are thinly disguised gossip sessions. And too often Christians would rather talk about someone and their terrible misfortunes than help them.

That’s just sinful.

4.  Spending

Whether it’s retail therapy at the mall, ordering more of your favourite pursuit online, or the constant climb into a bigger house, a better car, the latest tech or the latest trend, Christians can easily numb their pain endlessly accumulating things that end up in a landfill site one day.

5. Under-the-Radar Substance Abuse

Sure, you’re probably not going to develop a cocaine addiction. But sometimes it can be more subtle than that.

Whether it’s a drink every day when you get home or an overuse or misuse of your legitimate prescription, Christian leaders can fall into the classic pattern of turning to a substance rather than turning to God for relief.

So if you don’t want to end up self-medicating, what do you do?

10 Healthy Options for Self-Care

The best thing you can do as a leader is take good care of yourself.

When you carve out time to take care of yourself, you’ll always be in a better position to take care of others.

There’s nothing truly new in these ten options, but when you do them they have a staggeringly positive impact on your personal health and well being, spiritual and otherwise.

1. A great daily time with God.

Whatever method you use (here are some ideas), time with God matters. And your personal walk with God is often a casualty of ministry. Why is that? Shouldn’t be!

2. Exercise

Being out of shape physically means you will never be in top shape mentally or emotionally. I don’t like exercise either, so I invested in a road bike.

I get asked all the time what I ride, so here you go: a 2009 Specialized Roubaix. And I bought it used (1/3 of its original price). It doesn’t have to break the bank.  And yes, I love it!

3. A healthy diet

You are what you eat. Dumping the processed foods for whole foods can make a big difference.

4. Proper sleep

If I don’t get 7-8 hours semi-regularly, I feel it. Sadly, sometimes others do too.

I really think sleep is one of the most-underrated leadership secret weapons there is. Here’s why.

5. Intentional white space in your calendar 

You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! I wrote a post on time management that links to many time management tips here.

6. Healthy friendships

Ministry can be draining.

When was the last time you hung out with a friend you didn’t need to ‘minister to’? Who makes you laugh until you cry?

Go hang out with them. Regular doses of life-giving relationships can make such a difference.

7. Margin 

I am kindest when I have the most margin. This is true in terms of my calendar, but also true of finances.

How can you be generous with your heart, time, money and attitude if you have nothing left to give?

8. Hobbies

Writing, blogging  and podcasting are my hobbies these days.

You can be much more interesting than that. Take some pictures. Take up hiking. Get crafty. Study the constellations.

9. Family Time

Take a road trip, go out for dinner. Have some fun!

Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.

10. Coaching and counseling. 

For about 12 years I’ve had coaches and counselors who have helped me get through road bumps and life issues. Invaluable.

Yes I pay them money, but it’s an investment in my family, my church and my life. I’m different and better for it.

Better Than The Alternative

I know at the end of my life, I will be so much better for pursing the path of self-care rather than the path of self-medication.

One takes intentional planning, but it’s so worth it.

Eventually leaders who don’t care for themselves but still avoid self-medication end up burning out. If you haven’t heard Perry Noble’s incredible story about burning out while at the top of his leadership game, don’t miss it. Perry and I have also put together a lot of resources here to help leaders who think they might be burning out.

What are you learning about self-care? How have you seen people self-medicate?

I’d love to hear what you’re learning on this!

7 Things You Can Do If You Want Things to Change…and No One Else Does

So what do you do if you want things to change and pretty much no one else does?

Your team doesn’t appear to be listening. 

The leaders or board above you are opposed.

The culture in your organization is stale 

That’s a tough situation in which almost every leader finds themselves from time to time.

Clearly, you should pray. God uses our circumstances to push us closer to him.  But what practical responses should you formulate?

Many natural instincts are unhelpful in situations like this. Being impatient, critical and blaming others is counterproductive.

So what do you do?

There are at least 7 things you can do if you want to things to change and no one else does.

what to change when you can't change things

1. Cast Vision

Nothing attracts people and resources like vision. And vision always precedes people and resources.

If you’re having trouble attracting people and resources to a better vision of the future, it might be because you simply haven’t cast a clear enough vision of a preferred vision.

It eventually becomes difficult not to follow a visionary leader. And if your vision is faithful to scripture and a sensible interpretation of where to head in the future, it will likely be compelling.

Will it always work? No. (See below for that.)

But far too many leaders quit before their vision is even articulated in any kind of compelling way.

You shouldn’t get angry at people for not following a vision you never told them about.

2. List All The Reasons You See For Change

Maybe change you want to make is obvious to you, but that doesn’t mean others see it.

So list every reason you see for the change. In writing.

You don’t have to show it to anyone. Just write it out for yourself.

This will do two things:

1. You’ll become privately convinced of the strength of your argument. Note: this cuts both ways. If there are few good reasons for the change, you could also talk yourself out of it (which would, of course, relieve your angst).

2. You’ll be more convincing when you talk about the change you’d love to see. Not that you’d walk around saying “And here’s another reason….” But if you’re cogent and make sense in conversation after conversation, you might change the tide of the discussion.

So grab a piece of paper or your Evernote, and make a list.

3. Change Yourself

You’re human. You’ll be tempted to focus only on the changes you’d like to see.

But the best leaders also see a great opportunity in a stalemate. They focus on changing themselves.

A stalemate is a great opportunity to grow in character and skill. If you become the healthiest, most self-aware, kindest member of the team, people will be attracted to you and what you have to say.

And you won’t be as busy trying to change them. Which might be a nice turn of events in some cases.

4. Change What You Can

So you can change yourself. And the best leaders will do that.

But there are probably some things you can also change. And yes, you’ll be tempted to rail against the things you can’t change. But again, why focus on that?

Ask yourself this: What can I change?

You’re in charge of something. Change it.

You might argue that you don’t have permission to change anything.

Sure you do. You can change the culture. Even if you’re in charge of a volunteer team of 5, make them the 5 best loved people in the church or organization. Create a super healthy team. Accomplish all you can accomplish. Do everything you’re capable of doing. Even a little more.

Others might sit up and take notice, realizing everyone would be better off if they did what you’re doing.

And even if no one notices, the 5 people you work with will notice. And they’ll be so thankful for it.

5. Publicly and Privately Support the Team

So you’ve got some personal growth happening and you’ve changed whatever is within your control.

You’ll still be tempted to rail against the leadership that just doesn’t get it.

Or you’ll be publicly loyal but privately critical—all smiles during the meeting but venomous over coffee.

Big mistake.

Integrity would demand that you be the same in public and in private.

Plus it’s a decent strategy. As Andy Stanley says, public loyalty buys you private leverage. When a leader knows you’ve been supportive, they’re more likely to listen to you, even if what you have to say (to their face) is critical.

If you’ve got an issue with someone, share it with that person directly. Otherwise, keep quiet.

6.  Weigh Your Options

Does this always turn out well? No, it doesn’t.

But churches (and every organization) would be so much healthier if people followed the course above.

So what happens if you’ve done all this and more and, still, nothing changes?

At this point I think you weigh your options. You need to decide whether you can live within a glass ceiling (things above you will likely not change), or whether it’s time to move on.

This is the time to prayerfully weigh your options, call in wise counsel and get them to give you advice and look at the pros and cons of staying v going.

When things don’t change, it might be time for you to make a change.

If it helps, I outlined 5 signs it’s time to move on in this post.

7. Make a Decision

Too many leaders I know get stuck in perpetual discontent because they refuse to make a decision.

When I ask them how long they’ve been disgruntled they’ll often tell me ‘for years’ or ‘since the beginning’. Really? Then why are you still there?

Either make peace with the limits you see, or move on.

The key is to make a decision. Decide to stay or decide to leave.

If you stay, accept the limits and play within them. Do all you can with all you are able to influence and control but know you’ve settled for something less than you once hoped for.

Or you might head into the brave frontier of the unknown.

Either way, decide. Because either way, you’ll be happier than you would be if you simply stay perpetually frustrated.

What Do You Think?

What have you learned about what do you if you want things to change but no one else does?

Scroll down and leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

CNLP 013: The Emptiness of Success, the Promise of Evangelism and the Multi-Ethnic Church—An Interview With Derwin Gray

So is success…empty?

Why is it that the highs we all experience when we succeed at something never seem to outlast the lows or the hollowness that comes afterward?

Derwin Gray has more than a little experience with that emotional journey.

From making millions in the NFL, to leading one of America’s fastest growing churches, best-selling author Derwin Gray shares how success disappoints, and also explains how he’s positioned his church plant in Charlotte to reach thousands across racial boundaries.

Welcome to Episode 13 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Derwin Gray

Derwin Gray at Transformation Church

Derwin Gray on Facebook

Derwin Gray on Twitter

Transformation Church on Facebook

Transformation Church on Twitter

Christianity Today

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future by Derwin Gray

Hero: Unleashing God’s Power in a Man’s Heart by Derwin Gray

Coming Soon – The High Definition Leader: Building Multi-Ethnic Churches in a Multi-Ethnic World by Derwin Gray

The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast archive

Kenny and Elle Campbell’s Youth Ministry Answers Podcast

Stuff You Can Use

The Orange Conference 2015

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

Keeping your staff, volunteers and leadership honest in your church presents challenges. If you have people on your staff who are dependent upon you for their financial well being, they won’t always tell you about your blind spots.  Here are three ways you can make sure your feedback circle stays honest and true when you’re successful:

  1. Have people around you who keep you grounded. Surround yourself with wisdom and maturity. Derwin says to keep people around you who have life experience, people who aren’t dazzled by something that’s new, but dazzled by something that’s true. When you have people who can point out mistakes, it creates a healthy environment that encourages Gospel integrity.
  2. Be approachable. Create an environment where dialogue and approachability are possible. Christians say they don’t want a pope or pastor, and they want a plurality of leaders, yet they think pastors do everything. Maintain the lane you stay in, but don’t act like a celebrity. Have conversations with church members, be a servant and help others.
  3. Establish what you look for in leadership, and make it multi-ethnic. Being a pastor is emotionally hard work; you take criticisms and shots. Derwin says Christians don’t understand the importance of ethnic diversity in church leadership because they’ve been raised on an individualistic, reductionist gospel. Jesus developed the church to embody His kingdom on earth, and it’s not a segregated kingdom. Don’t just let those of other ethnicities hold token positions, but encourage a multi-ethnic environment that offers variety.

Quotes From Derwin

Congratulations to our First Podcast Contest Winner!

First of all, a big THANKS goes to those of you who participated in our first podcast contest! Listeners left more than 100 comments in response to questions that related to each episode, and many of you gave new insights and fresh ideas that will help others lead.

Congratulations goes out to Joe Robideaux! Joe has won free admission to The Orange Conference 2015 and join me and Jon Acuff backstage for coffee!

Thank you again for participating in our first podcast contest. We enjoyed hearing from our listeners and readers and look forward to having more contests in the future, so stay tuned!

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe.

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as Ron Edmondson, Jon Acuff, Rich Birch, Ted Cunningham, Tony Morgan, Craig Jutila, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

Subscribe via



TuneIn Radio

Got 60 Seconds? Rate the Podcast.

Hopefully this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast in iTunes and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn Radio as well.

Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had over 125 reviews so far across all platform. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all! Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Ryan Russell

Sex takes down more than its fair share of leaders and families. Why is sex so seductive? How do you open up an honest dialogue about sex with your church or with your kids? Episode 14 features my interview with’s Ryan Russell.

Got a question? Leave a comment!

5 Things That Give Pastors A Bad Name With Unchurched People

I’ve been a pastor since I was 30 years old, but even now, I still don’t really like telling people what I do.

I have a heart for unchurched people and am always trying to find a way to build bridges and tear down barriers. But I feel like telling people I’m a pastor or lead a church almost automatically creates a barrier—a barrier that seems to grow with every passing year.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel there’s a funk associated with the idea of being a pastor that might be a combination of

ConfusionI’ve never actually met anyone who works at a church (that’s especially true in an unchurched country like Canada, where I live).

SuspicionSo what’s the deal with all those church scandals and are you in any way related to them?

IrrelevanceSo what exactly would you do all day or why on earth would your organization exist?

Pity..You really couldn’t do anything else with your life?

It’s easy to point your finger at high profile pastors who fell or who have given the church a bad name, but that lets the rest of us off the hook too easily.

Sure, we can use the negative association to vision cast and correct assumptions (and I try to do that), but what if pastors had a good name in most communities?

So let me ask a pointed question: Is there anything you or I do–as regular, average pastors–that hurts rather than helps the cause of the local church?

I think so. This matters because the more we become aware of them and address them, the better we’ll become at fulfilling our mission.

 What gives pastors a bad name

5 Things That Give Pastors a Bad Name

Please hear that I love the local church. And I love local church pastors.

The vast majority are hard working, mostly underpaid, sincere people who really love Jesus and want to make a difference.

But our blind spots can be our worst enemies. Identify them, and suddenly you can be more effective.

So here are 5 traps I try to avoid as a local pastor who loves the church and loves the people we’re trying to reach.

1. Speaking weird

I started to fall into this trap early in my ministry, and realized I had to correct it right away.

If you speak in code, you’ll have a hard time connecting with unchurched people.

If you find yourself saying brother, sister, amen, fellowship, tribulation and the like, it tends to bring less credibility to what you do.

Sure, that might work in your church circles, but if you’re trying to reach your community, it’s a barrier.

I also think the more titles you have, the weirder it gets. People ask all the time what to call me. I say Carey. I don’t even list my degrees anywhere (although I have three of them). I realize traditions differ, but I’m trying to connect with people who don’t go to church.

Here’s my rule. If you can’t talk to someone on the street the way you talk in church, you have a problem with the way you talk.

So don’t speak weird.

2. Pretending to be something we’re not

Unchurched people are tired of the hypocrisy. And, honestly, church people are weary of thinking of their pastor as someone who has it all together.

A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven. You struggle as a pastor spiritually. So do I. Sometimes we feel close to God. Sometimes we don’t.

Few of us have perfect marriages. And we need to say sorry as often as the next person.

What would happen if pastors were simply more authentic? Not as in super-raw authentic, but appropriately transparent. (I wrote about my personal rules about what to share and what not to share publicly in this post.)

Churches spent the ’90s and 2000s trying to be relevant.

Authenticity is the new relevance. Cool church isn’t nearly as powerful as authentic church.

So be honest. Talk about your struggles (appropriately).

3. Being known for what we’re against, not what we’re for

Many pastors—famous and not famous— have become known for ranting against the world.

Yes, there’s much to wring our hands over.

But I believe the general thrust of the of the Gospel is that Jesus loves the world and died for the world as an outpouring of that love.

You can think through that theologically, but also practically (most theology is practical in the end anyway).

Who would you rather hang out with? Someone who hates you, or someone who loves you, (even if they disagree with you)?

That’s a no brainer for all of us.

People gravitate toward love. You do. I do.

So…what if instead of being known for what we’re against, the local church was known for what we’re for?

I am tremendously inspired by what Jeff Henderson and the people of Gwinnett Church have done with their #ForGwinnett campaign.

They want to make significant inroads into their community, and they want to be known for what they’re for as a local church, not what they’re against.

You can check out their Facebook page to see the highlights of their #ForGwinnett campaign.

4. Being Experts on Things We’re Not Experts On

Local pastors are always being asked “What’s your opinion on [fill in the blank]?”

Many of us are scared to say “I’m not sure”. So we’re tempted to offer an ill-considered viewpoint on something we don’t fully understand. Even worse, some of us can gain social media traction through those ill-considered opinions.

I may have spent thousands of hours reading the scripture and studying theology, but that doesn’t make me an expert on everything except maybe coming to faith and growing in faith. I think I can speak into that.

I’ve also spent lots of personal time studying leadership, change and parenting. While I’ve got a lot left to learn, I can speak with a bit of expertise into those areas.

But I’m not an expert on the vast majority of issues. Do I have opinions? Sure.

But I’m not sure those opinions are helpful to the average person.

Increasingly before speaking into any issue I ask myself “Will this help move a person closer to Jesus or further away from Jesus?”

Many of our half-thought-through and even deeply held ‘opinions’ in all likelihood move Christians and non-Christians further away from Jesus.

So why offer them at all if they’re not core to the scripture or the Gospel?

Instead, why don’t we all get comfortable saying “I’m not sure” or even better, “What do you think?”

Then just listen.

You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how you listening might actually help move someone closer to Jesus.

5. Claiming Privilege

Sometimes there’s a really good reason you need a reserved parking spot. But often there’s not.

You just want it.

Or worse, you think you deserve it.

Right now I have the smallest office of any staff who have an office. In the new facility we’re building, I have an office but it’s not the biggest one.

Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The more I claim privilege, the less I’m like Jesus.

The challenge of course, is that many of us are privileged economically or socially. So it will be a daily struggle.

But sharing what you have with others, taking the low place and serving alongside others can make a big difference, even if after it’s over, you retreat to an office to write your message in silence.

What Would You Add?

These are 5 things I see that give local pastors a bad name with unchurched people.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear what you’re learning.

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The Top 2 Ways Most Leaders Misuse Their Gifting (And How to Fix It)

We’re all gifted at something.

Sometimes in the name of false modesty we pretend we’re not really that gifted. But that’s just not true.

You’re gifted at something:



Coaching people









Your gift is your greatest asset.

And chances are, you’re misusing it.


Misuse #1. False Humility

Does acknowledging your gifting—or developing it—make you egotistical?

Not necessarily.

Many Christian leaders are awkward when it comes to even admitting they might be gifted at something. We slough it off. We pretend we’re not good at it.

And when we do it, we lie. That kind of humility is a false humility.

Get your theology right.

Your gift is the very thing God gave you to help you accomplish what he wants to do through you.

In other words, your gift isn’t just about you. It’s about you learning to serve God and to serve others.

Consequently, embracing your gift isn’t inherently selfish. It can be selfless. You can go on an ego trip. But it’s not inevitable.

Your gift, developed and used well, will help, encourage and even change the lives of others.

Finally—don’t miss this— your gifting says more about the Giver than it does about you.

Your gifting is a reflection of God’s handiwork.

So why wouldn’t you embrace it and use it to serve him and serve others?

Misuse #2: Underdevelopment

Being truly gifted at something can be your principal strength, but it can also become your chief weakness.

How does that happen?

It happens as soon as you begin to neglect your gifting precisely because you’re so naturally good at it.

And as a result, the most heartbreaking way I see leaders misuse their gift is simply through their failure to develop it.

Let’s say your gift is communication.

You might be able to ‘cheat’ by spending 5 hours developing a weekend message, whereas someone else might have to put in 20.

What’s unfair is that sometimes, your message will be better than their message even though you put in 5 hours and they put in 4 times the effort.

The loss in this, of course, is not that people won’t like your communication. They’ll like it. You’re gifted.

The problem is you will never realize your potential.

Regardless of what your gifting consists of, you’re just always going to be a little bit better than the average person in the area of your gifting.

You’ll even receive kudos along the way for being so relational, compelling, clear, inspiring, visionary, strong, merciful, encouraging, helpful or generous.

But you’ll never develop your gifting fully.

You’ll only scratch the surface. If that.

And you’ll never know what you could have been capable of.

Doesn’t matter what your gift is.

It could be spreadsheets, managing people, working with kids, serving the poor, or even the gift of giving—simply spend more time developing it and you will realize the full potential of your gifting.

So what’s the alternative?

Match Your Gifting With Skill

The people who really realize the potential of the gift God has given them are the people who match gifting and skill to become truly great at what God has called them to do.

Here’s how to do that:

1. Spend time on your greatest strength as though you weren’t gifted at it. 

I know that’s a strange way to say it, but here’s what you’ll do if you’re not careful. You’ll cheat. You’ll turn 20 hours of prep into 5 because you can get away with it. So just don’t let yourself do that.

Prepare as hard as you would for something you have to do that you fear failing at. And in the process, you will stop being just good at what you do–you will begin to uncover what you could be excellent at.

2. Focus the majority of your time working on your principal gifting.

Performance reviews don’t help us much when they focus on ‘3 weaknesses you can improve on’.Marcus Buckingham and the strengths movement have helped us see that clearly.

Sure, there are some things you have to do that you’re not good at.

But imagine what would happen if you could spend 80% of your time doing what you’re best at–and what likely produces 80% of your ‘results’ or best moments. Delegate, eliminate and reposition as much as you possibly can to play to your strengths. When you focus on your gift, great things can happen.

So what will you do this week with the gift God has given you?

Anyone Can Get Better

As Malcolm Gladwell has persuasively argued in his book, Outliers, the key to becoming best in your field at something is not simply raw gifting, it’s the combination of gifting and 10,000 hours of practice. (If you haven’t read Gladwell’s work on this, this interview clip is a great 2 minute summary of his thesis.)

The easiest way to become the best you can be at something is to practice it every single week, maybe every day.

I’m still working on this myself.

The reason I can communicate easily is because I’ve been speaking publicly since I was 16 when I walked into a radio station and asked them to hire me (strangely, they did).

But even 30 years into my life as a speaker, I can’t rely on my gifting to take me through my next 20 years. Even now, I am constantly rearranging my calendar constantly to get more study time and more prep time and more thinking time so I can get better.

Similarly with writing. Blogging several times a week has made me a better writer, so when I write my next book, I’ll hopefully be a better writer than I was the last time I wrote. And better writing makes me a better preacher and better speaker.

I’ve still got a long ways to go as a communicator and writer, but I’m trying to set aside increasing amounts of time to develop those gifts further.

You–and the rest of the people you love and lead–might never know what you’re missing if you do.

So go…work on your gifting.

What are you learning about developing a skill set to match your gifting? Why do you not spend more time working in the area of your gifting?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

Why You Need to Play Favorites In Leadership (And Even In Ministry)

One of the biggest challenges you will face as a leader is figuring out how to treat people.

So what do you do?

Most of us decide we’ll simply treat everyone the same.

After all, it seems like the right thing to do. Anything else is just…wrong, elitist or even unChristian.

But treating everyone the same is one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.

The most effective leaders play favorites. They

Don’t treat everyone the same.

Won’t give access to everybody.

Spend very little time with low performers or problem people.

Most of us want to do the opposite. We long to

Treat everyone the same.

Give access to everyone who asks.

Spend much of our time trying to help problem people or low performers because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

So why are these bad practices as leader?

There are at least 3 ways NOT playing favorites harms your leadership and 3 ways to start doing it effectively.

 why leaders should play favourites

3 Ways NOT Playing Favorites Harms Your Leadership

So how does not playing favorites harm your leadership?

It harms your leadership (and ultimately your organization or church) in several key ways:

1. It creates time pressure you can’t manage.

Most of us leaders like to think we have super human stamina, but we don’t.

After all, it doesn’t take long before you have more demands on your time than you have time. You’re probably already there.

So what do most people instinctively do? We work more hours to fit it all in.

Bad strategy.

Time is fixed. It’s finite. You only get 168 hours a week.  And you should probably not work more than 60 of them if you’re going to be in this for the long haul.

Working more hours to meet all the demands on your time will fail you fast as a strategy.

Here’s what’s true.

When you give access to everyone you end up serving no one effectively.

You get stretched too far. And when you get stretched too far, you eventually break. You burn out (here are 9 signs you might be burning out).

So trying to meet all the needs around you in a growing ministry is a perfect strategy for personal burnout.

2. It limits the growth of your church (or organization) to 200-300 people.

Not playing favorites is also a perfect strategy for stunting the growth of your church or organization.

You simply can’t lead a larger church the same way you lead a smaller church. Yet many people insist on trying by doing all the pastoral care themselves, giving everyone access, helping to make every decision and trying to be all things to all people. After all, it’s only right to treat everyone the same.

In my view, this is the chief reason why the vast majority of churches never grow beyond 200 people. (I outline the other 7 reasons churches don’t grow past 200 in this post).

A gifted leader can grow a church to 200 people based on his or her personality and personal span of care, but that’s it. Then they burn out or the church gets frustrated because, now larger, the pastor isn’t keeping up with the demands anymore, and things implode or the church retreats back to a smaller size.

The same dynamic happens when you’re running a small business. Most businesses stay small because their founder doesn’t know how to build, empower and release a team.

The problem with treating everyone the same and giving access to everyone is that your church or organization doesn’t scale.

And if anything is designed to scale bigger, it should be the church, given our mission to bring Christ’s love to the world.

3. It makes you unfaithful.

Here’s the irony.

My guess is the main reason Christians struggle with playing favorites is that we instinctively think it’s not biblical.

Just the opposite. Not playing favorites makes you unfaithful.

I know, I know….what?????

We are not the first leaders to struggle with scaling our leadership and treating different people differently.

Moses tried to treat everyone the same, and and it almost killed him and it wore out the people he led (just read Exodus 18).

The solution? Moses had to learn not to treat everyone the same.

He appointed leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and ten. The result was that the people’s needs were met and Moses got to lead for the rest of his life. His leadership (finally) scaled.

If you start to look for it as you read, you’ll see organizational principles throughout Scripture (how did Israel become a great nation after all?)

For example, even in the New Testament, Jesus and early Christian leaders didn’t treat everyone alike.

Jesus actually walked away from people who need to be healed in order to get food and rest.

Jesus organized his disciples into circles according to potential impact…groups of 70, 12, 3 (Peter, James and John) and 1 (Peter) and intentionally spent the most time with those inner circles.

The early church reorganized, moving their key teachers and preachers away from daily tasks and appointing new leaders, which fuelled new growth.

Loving everyone does not mean treating everyone the same way.

So if you want to be more biblically faithful, start treating different people differently.

3 Ways to Play Favorites Effectively

I realize this is completely counterintuitive for most Christians.

But before you dismiss it, at least consider it.

So how should you start to play favorites?

Approach the shift with humility, with grace, and with prayer. But realize that to steward your gift of leadership effectively, you’re going to have to make the same tough calls that Moses, Jesus and the early church leaders made.

Here are three ways to play favorites in a way that helps everyone:

1. Spend the most time with your best leaders.

If you never think about how you spend your time, you’ll spend most of your time fighting fires.

You’ll ignore your best leaders (because they’re low maintenance) and spend all your time trying to prop up your weakest leaders or with people who simply always have problems (you know who I’m talking about).

The people you spend the most time with don’t have to be the smartest people or the richest people by any stretch (see below), but you should spend most of your time with the key people you’ve trusted most deeply to carry the mission forward.

Chances are they won’t ask for more of your time because they manage and lead themselves well. But they should get it anyway.

Like Jesus, spend most of your time with the people you are trusting to lead the mission and cause forward.

2. Release others to help others.

So do you just ignore everyone else, heartlessly?

Of course not.

Release others to help others.

The other shadow side of not playing favorites when you’re the leader is that your insistence on being the centre of everything disempowers other gifted people.

As you build a team, release others to help others. Moses did this. By organizing around leaders who could lead thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, everyone was cared for. Including Moses.

Think about that.

If you want to personally help everybody, you will eventually help nobody.

3. Make Time For Anyone, Just Not Everyone

Probably the biggest objection to playing favorites is that it will lead you to favoritism. As in well now you only hang out with rich and powerful people, right? 

And that would be a mistake. James 2 could not be clearer that we should not favor the rich over the poor.

So how do you handle this if you’re restricting access and deciding to play favorites?

Make time for anyone, even if you are not going to make time for everyone.

I keep some open appointments on my calendar for people who don’t fit my ‘closest’ leader categories.

It will help you stay in touch and help people realize this isn’t an elitist thing at all.

And for sure, you will likely get more requests than you can accommodate (I do), but it means you will stay in touch with a wide variety of people even if you can’t do it all the time.

So even when you play favorites, you can still make time for anyone, even if you don’t make time for everyone.

I Realize This is Counter-Intuitive

I realize this is counter-intuitive. If you want to drill down further,

I wrote a little more about the skill set leaders need to manage their time and leadership well in these posts.

A 6 Step Strategy on How to Say No Nicely

Why You Can’t Have 5 Minutes of My Time

The Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time (And 10 Time Hacks to Help You) 

In the meantime, what are you learning in this area? What’s difficult for you in making tough calls like this? What have you learned that can help other leaders?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

CNLP 012: Strategic Leadership Lessons From Disney – An Interview with Steven Barr

What can your church or organization learn from Disney? More than you might think.

Disney is not just a fantastic family vacation, it’s an amazing leadership organization that has sharpened many leaders.

In today’s interview, I talk to Steven Barr, Executive Director of Cast Member Church in Orlando—a church created to minister exclusively to Disney employees, who are known as ‘cast members’.

Steve and I talk about Disney’s leadership strategies, how his church is reaching millennials and how to do niche ministry for particular groups of people.

Welcome to Episode 12 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Steven Barr

Steven Barr on Facebook

Steven Barr on Twitter

Cast Member Church 

Cast Member Church on Facebook

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Disney World 


The Reedy Creek Corporation

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

It can be a challenge when you’re learning about the needs of your employees or the group within your church you’re trying to lead.  Here are three things that can get you started on the right track.

  1. Believe in your people.  Everyone needs sometime to believe in them. Disney instills that value in its employees, as does Cast Member church. Coming from a place of, “We want you to be successful” changes the conversation and the outcome. Every person is worth the investment, worth the coaching. When you tell someone, “You can do this,” it instills in a team member the desire to improve.
  2. Scale care. Just because you’re a large organization doesn’t mean you have to be an uncaring organization. Empower your managers and leaders to care for the people around them, and you will have a caring organization or church. People need to know they matter. And while you personally can’t care for everyone, everyone can care for someone.
  3. Share your vision, strategy and values until they are contagious. Disney is so focused on vision that it’s owned by all 67,000 employees. Every one of them thinks like an owner and picks up trash. The value of keeping the park clean is so contagious, even guests will pick up trash if they see it lying around. That’s a contagious strategy and value system.

Quotes From Steven

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe.

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Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had 125 reviews so far across all platforms. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all!

Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Derwin Gray

So is success…empty?

From making millions in the NFL, to leading one of America’s fastest growing churches, best-selling author Derwin Gray shares how success disapoints, and also explains how he’s positioned his church plant in Charlotte to reach thousands across racial boundaries.

Subscribe now, and you won’t miss Episode 13.

Got a question?

Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Why You’re Not As Grateful As You Think You Should Be

My suspicion is that most of us are not nearly as grateful as we should be.

You have a lot. I have a lot.

We put on a good face for Thanksgiving, and maybe even update our Facebook statuses outlining our gratitude.

Sometimes we make a list (public or private) of what we’re thankful for, but deep down…there’s a discontent.

And if you’ve read this far, you know it.

So many leaders (and people) I know have a gnawing dissatisfaction that leaves us feeling less grateful than we know we ought to.


In light of all we have and God’s faithfulness, why are you not more grateful?

There are at least three things that kill gratitude.

Here are 3 things that show up in my life and the lives of other leaders I track with.

Identify and keep them in check, and gratitude grows. Leave them unattended, and gratitude dissipates:

1. High Expectations

The secret to happiness, as you may have heard, is low expectations.

Think about that.

If you had no expectations of anyone or anything, you’d be happy. And grateful.

This might one of the reasons  those of us who have been on mission trips are always so shocked at how happy the poor in other countries seem to be; they expect little and are grateful for what they have.

I’m NOT justifying poverty, I’m just saying there’s little denying that the poor in the developing world often display far more gratitude than the rich. Unrealistic expectations might also explain why so many rich and middle class people are so miserable.

So…as a leader AND as Christ follower, husband, dad and friend, probably the biggest gratitude killer for me is high expectations.

My expectations of myself are very high. And they’re also high of others.

I think I know what you’re thinking. Well if my expectations weren’t high, then what would happen to my life/organization/mission? 

Great question.

Perhaps there’s a subtle but important distinction between standards and expectations. 

A high standard is not a bad thing. You should set high standards for yourself and for your church or organization.

But when those standards become expectations, only disappointment ensues, because you’re dealing with flawed people.

When you invite people to live according to high standards, you help bring out the best in them. Who doesn’t want to live a better life?

Keeping them as standards (not expectations) allows you to celebrate their success when it happens and to allows you to come alongside them and encourage them in the event of failure.

Think about your last seven days? Chances are every time you got angry or frustrated with someone it was because you expected something and they felt short. Expectations just make you miserable.

Now, keep the standard of behaviour the same, but instead of expecting they would do what you hoped they would do, come alongside them, talk about the standard, and help them reach it.

Totally different isn’t it?

2. The Thirst for More

If you had what you have now back when you were 15, you would have thought you won the lottery, wouldn’t you?

And yet chances are you feel you don’t have enough. As this article points out, almost everyone feels like they need more money to be content, no matter how much money they make.

Advertising in the Western world is built on the idea of discontent. The very thing they sold you last year as the ‘best’ and ‘greatest’ isn’t good enough.

This desire for wanting what you don’t have shows up sexually as lust, financially as greed, in diet as gluttony and in power as ambition.

The reality, of course, is that ‘more’ never delivers what it promises. Or if it does, the satisfaction is temporary and is followed by an even deeper emptiness. Having had what you desired only to have it disappoint you is more bitter than sweet. And, left unchecked, you plunge yourself right back into your quest for ‘more’ hoping that the next acquisition will finally satisfy you. Which, of course, it won’t.

The best way I know how to battle the thirst for more in my life is to call it for what it is—an empty, vain pursuit. For sure, being grateful for what I have is definitely part of it. But simply acknowledging sometimes out loud before God that this chase is bankrupt also helps.

I need to allow God to determine size. I simply need to be obedient. And then if more does come my way, obedient with what I have. It’s God’s, after all, not mine.

3. Comparison

Fuelling the thirst for more and high expectations is comparison.

Think about it. You were fine with what you had…until you saw what someone else had.

Comparison fuels jealousy, envy, greed and selfish ambition.

And while I love social media and the hyper-connectedness we have today, it can pour jet fuel on the envious blaze already ignited in your heart.

The New York Times calls it the agony of Instagram, and they’re right. Scrolling through someone’s oh-so-perfect life can make you feel worthless compared to their perfect chef’s kitchen and artsy dining room table.

Every preacher is now stacked up against every mega-church preacher courtesy of podcasts and online church.

And even if your people don’t compare you, you compare you. Why do we fight a battle we lose every time?

One of my all time favourite Andy Stanley series is Comparison Trap. In it, Andy says the cure for envy is to celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given you.


That’s it.

Becoming More Grateful

While gratitude is complex, I know I do best when I

Drop the expectations but keep the standards.

Realize that more can’t deliver what it promises; and

Celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given me.

How about you?

What helps you become more grateful? Because sometimes making a list of what you’re thankful for just isn’t enough.

Scroll down and leave a comment!

CNLP 011: Overcoming Discouragement, Dissatisfaction and Overwhelm in Leadership – An Interview with Pete Wilson

Ever want to give up?

No matter how successful you are you, you still struggle.

Pete Wilson, lead pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville—a church plant that’s grown to over 5,000 on 5 campuses—talks about seasons in which he’s had to overcome discouragement, dissatisfaction and being overwhelmed as a leaders.

Pete’s insights can help any leader going through whatever season they’re facing.

Welcome to Episode 11 of the podcast.

AND, don’t miss my podcast contest! This is the last chance to enter. Cast your ballot today! 

Scroll all the way to the bottom to enter to win the grand prize: admission to the Orange Conference 2015, plus coffee with me and Jon Acuff.

Pete Wilson Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast


Guest Links: Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson at Cross Point Church 

Pete on Twitter

Pete on Facebook

Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever by Pete Wilson

Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson

Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing by Pete Wilson

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide? by Andy Stanley

CNLP 002: How Perry Noble Hit Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches & How He Battled Back

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

It’s not uncommon to face fatigue and frustration when you hold a leadership position in church. Sometimes the path that you’re on may align with what God has in store, but there are ways you can keep your faith and sanity in check when you hit a rough patch.

  1. Abide in God. Sometimes you think, “Does God know? Does God care?” You look back and you see that God really has been for you. And when things don’t go your way, you assume that God wasn’t with you, but remember: He bears the fruit in your life and in your ministry.
  2. Find a way to commemorate the good seasons and physically mark them. When you think of the good times, you’ll say to yourself, “Ah, I remember that season! I remember what God did during that time!” If we don’t find ways to remember what God has done for us in the past, we’ll have a hard time trusting Him with our future. Those prompts remind us to be thankful for everything God does in your life, and prompt us to trust Him. He has been faithful in the past, and he will be faithful in the future.
  3. Create space in your life. In our culture, we give in to the idol of busyness. Pete says that one equates busyness with importance because one thinks that the busier they are, the more important they are, and that’s not really the case. The reality is, the busyness is an enemy of awareness. We stay so busy, that we become unaware of what God’s doing in our life, our soul and what really matters. So, if you want self awareness to increase, the busyness has to decrease. What you’ll find in creating space is time that’s not constantly hurried, you become more self aware and you hear God more clearly.

Quotes From Pete

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe.

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as Ron Edmondson, Jon Acuff, Rich Birch, Ted Cunningham, Tony Morgan, Craig Jutila, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

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Got 60 Seconds? Rate the Podcast.

Hopefully this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast in iTunes and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn Radio as well.

Your rating and review helps gets the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

We’ve had over 100 reviews so far across all platform. Leave one and I may feature yours on my podcast page. I read every one and appreciate them all! Thank you for being so awesome.

Got a question?

Next Episode: Steve Barr And a Church For Disney

Next week’s guest is Steve Barr, Lead Pastor of Cast Member Church in Orlando, Florida, a church created to reach Disney cast members (employees).

Not only a great episode for Disneyphiles, but for any leader trying to figure out how to do a better job reaching specific targets and demographics.

Enter HERE to Win Coffee with Jon and Me, a Ticket to Orange Conference 2015 & More!

Hey…it’s the final week of the contest. The GRAND prize draw happens next Monday, December 1st.

When you enter by leaving a comment in the show notes of the blog, it’s also your ballot to win the grand prize.

The grand prize is a free ticket to The Orange Conference 2015 in Atlanta in April of next year. Not only does it get you in for free, but you get a coffee with me and Jon Acuff backstage!

We are selecting the grand prize winner from all of the comments shared!

So…enter to win by answering this week’s question ­­– 

What has helped you overcome personal discouragement?

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Your comment is your ballot for this week’s prize AND the grand prize of a free ticket to Orange Conference 2015 and coffee with Jon Acuff and me. Go!