From Life

advice to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s

25 Random Pieces of Advice for Leaders in Their 20s, 30s or 40s

I may or may not have a big birthday this week. Okay…I may.

Believe it or not, turning 50 has not been as traumatic as I thought it might be. Actually, it’s been remarkably satisfying and gratitude-inducing. I have so much for which I’m thankful.

If you’re a younger reader (which most of you are), I have some great news. At 50, I have as much or more energy than I did a decade or two ago, a much better sense of who God created me to be, and I’m surrounded by people I don’t deserve. And I’m honestly more excited by the next 20 years than I’ve ever been about the future.

But maybe the best part of turning 50? You see things you just couldn’t see at 20, 30, or 40. Okay, maybe you can see them. I couldn’t.  At least not as clearly.

In light of that, what follows are life and leadership tips I picked up in my 20s, 30s and 40s that I’m so thankful I did.

How you live your life up to age 50 likely matters more than you think.

advice to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s

How You Live Your 20s, 30s or 40s Matters

I was recently talking to a friend who had turned 50 a couple years ahead of me. He surprised me by saying that your 50s and are largely pre-determined by how well you lived your 30s and 40s.

Live your 30s and 40s well, and your 50s turn out great.

Live them poorly, and all the problems and issues you never resolved when you were younger sabotage your later years, even beyond your 50s.

When he said that, I gulped. Literally.

I’d seen that reality so many times in my life but never connected the dots.

So in an attempt to help you live your 20s, 30s and 40s well, here 25 random pieces of advice I hope can help.

1. Deal with your issues early

You have issues. Everyone does.

As tempting as it is to believe otherwise, it’s not your wife, husband, kids or job who are causing all the pain in your life. You are the common denominator in everything that’s happened to you. So deal with you.

Go see a trained Christian counsellor. Hire a coach. Read some books. Do what it takes to deal with your junk.

2. Invest in coaches and counsellors who make you better

On that note, most people who need counselling say they can’t afford it. It’s like couples who can’t afford a date night but then spend thousands of dollars on divorce later because their relationship fell apart.

If you need counselling to deal with issues, it’s an investment. Ditto with coaches who can bring out the best in you.

It’s not just an investment in you. It’s an investment in everyone you impact.

3. Get off the fence

Indecision plagues too many people.

Make the best decision you can with the information you have, then humbly pursue it with everything you’ve got.

4. Study and practice faithfulness

Faithfulness is rare. Not just in marriage, but also in life.

Culture teaches us to dispose of anything or anyone we don’t like.

So do the opposite.

Learn how to be consistent, loyal, and steadfast, holding to what you know is right even when you feel like doing the opposite.

5. Live like God loves you and everything you read in the Bible is true

Most people wish someone loved them unconditionally. Someone does.

So live like it.

And while you’re at it, live like everything you read in the Bible is true. Doubt your doubts. You won’t regret it.

6. Be generous when you have no money

Don’t fall for the lie that you will be generous one day when you have money. If you’re not generous now, you won’t be generous then.

Practice generosity with every dollar you receive and everything you have. Then if you ever have money or possessions, they won’t own you.

You will have released their grip from your life long ago. And you will look behind you and already see you’ve been able to make more of a difference than you imagined.

7. Choose a few awesome friends and stick with them

Friendships can be confusing in your 20s, 30s and 40s. Friendship circles change when you leave school, get married and even change jobs.

In the midst of all that change, find a few friends and stick with them for life.

Most people can only handle 5 really close relationships in their life. Choose those 5 well and build into those relationships deeply.

8. Cultivate a circle of people around you who make you better

In the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to intentionally pursue friendships and relationships with people who are smarter, more skilled and simply ‘better’ than me.

One of the best ways to become a better person and leader is to spend time with people who are better than you.

9. Get comfortable being around people who are smarter than you

Deal with your insecurities. Get comfortable being around people who are smarter than you.

It will make you better, but it’s also the key to creating an exceptional team.

If you always have to be the smartest person in the room, you’ll eventually end up in a pretty vacuous room.

10. Relentlessly pursue self-awareness

Self-aware people make the best leaders and frankly, are the easiest people to hang out with in life. Chances are your favourite people are people who are deeply self-aware.

But self-awareness doesn’t come naturally. I’m naturally blind to the impact I have on other people around me.  So are you. If you want more on this issue, here are 4 things self-aware leaders know that others don’t.

11. Make peace with your weaknesses

You’ll never be great at everything.

The sooner you get used to that, the better off you’ll be. Eventually you’ll stop trying to cover up and stop feeling so bad about yourself. That’s progress.

12. Pour increasing amounts of energy into your strengths

Once you realize you’re only great at a few things, you’re free to become even greater at them.

Pour your time, energy and resources into what you do very best. That’s the difference between being good at something and being best in the world.

13. Get comfortable with solitude

Solitude is a thoughtful leader’s best friend. It also is a key to self-awareness.

If you really want to grow as a person and as a leader, and grow in your relationship with God, get comfortable with solitude. I wrote more about solitude and how to practice it here.

14. Wrestle down your pride

Pride is ugly. It gets you into trouble again and again.

The only person to whom your pride looks appealing is you. Think about it…you don’t like pride in anyone but yourself.

So pray it out. Beat it out. Do what you need to do to wrestle it down.

15. Fight cynicism

The more you know, the harder it gets to stay hopeful (the Scripture points this out by the way).

Cynics never change the world; they just tell you why the world doesn’t change.

Don’t be one. Check the cynicism that’s growing inside you.

16. Kill selfish ambition

Ambition isn’t bad. In fact, it can change the world.

Selfish ambition is bad. It can destroy the world.

So be ambitious, but be ambitious for the sake of a cause that’s far bigger than you are.

17. Don’t give into stupid temptations that will come your way

You will be tempted to do stupid things. Don’t.

Don’t have an affair, take short cuts or cheat to get ahead.

It’s so not worth it.

18. Find the high road and live on it

The high road is the hard road. But it’s the best road.

People will try to pull you off the high road again and again. Don’t.

Take it. Every time.

19. Don’t wrestle with a pig

Conversely, the low road has virtually no reward.

Years ago someone dropped this gem on me.

Don’t wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig liked it.

So so true.

19. Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency

Competency is not the main key to success. Character is.

Your competency will take you only as far as your character can sustain you.

20. Persevere through the dry seasons

Your time with God will go flat. Sometimes you’ll think what you believe is a farce.

Even marriage, family and friends go through seasons where everything seems boring.

Hang in there. Your emotions eventually catch up with your obedience. So be obedient.

21. Discover what refuels you and do more of it

Some things give you energy in life, some things drain you.

Figure out what refuels you. Then do more of it.

Your choice, over the long run, is self-care or self-medication. Choose self-care.

22. Book appointments with yourself

Your calendar will naturally fill up with urgent things other people believe are important.

And you will watch a decade or more pass by without doing anything really significant.

Book appointments with yourself to do what really matters, whether that’s taking a day off, being with your family, writing an important talk, or taking time to think.

Then when someone asks you if you’re busy, you can truthfully say “I’d love to help, but I have a commitment.”

23. Trust again

Your heart will get mangled and you’ll be tempted to stop trusting people altogether.

Don’t.

Trust again. Hope again. Believe again.

You’ll be so glad you did.

24. Be bold

Be bolder than you think you should be.

Too many dreams die of timidity.

25. Don’t let fear win

Yep…you’re afraid.

Go for it anyway.

Fear gets the best of far too many leaders. Don’t let it get the best of you.

What About You?

There’s a lot more I could have written about, but 25 random piece of advice is enough for now.

You’ve probably got some great advice too. I’d love to hear it. That’s what the comments are for. Scroll down and leave one. :)

performance review

9 Things I Learned From My Most Recent Performance Review

Remember report card time?

It always freaked me out a bit. Teachers would get to evaluate my life and tell me how well I was doing (or not doing). I always had a love/hate relationship with report cards. I loved them when I liked the results…not so much when I didn’t. I especially didn’t like them when they told the truth about some areas I needed to work on.

And yet as a young leader, I began to crave feedback. When I was in law, within a month of starting at the firm I knocked on a senior partner’s door and asked for an evaluation. Why? Because I’d never worked in law before and had no idea whether I was doing a good job or not. By that time I’d figured out feedback was critical to leadership.

And yet I still think annual performance evaluations or 360˚ reviews can be intimidating for many leaders. It hurts to hear the truth sometimes.

And we’ve all heard of leaders who have carefully created a climate in which no one reviews them, formally or informally. They utilize their power to become unapproachable. Keep that up long enough and people stop bothering.

If you’ve ever done that as a leader, you might think you’re winning, but you’re not; you’re losing.

Not having your performance assessed is a terrible mistake unless you have zero interest in growing as a leader, Christian or human being. Oh…and it’s also a great strategy if you want all the good leaders around you to leave.

But other than that, it’s not advisable.

As nerve wracking as a performance review can be, you can learn so much from it. Here’s how.

performance review

9 Things I Learned

Here are 9 things I learned during my recent performance review:

1. The more open you are, the more you will grow

Performance evaluations are gifts. You need to see them that way. Yes, the fact that you are not perfect will hurt. But the more open you are, the more you will grow.

Saying a prayer as simple as “God show me what you are saying to me in this and help me to grow as a leader” can really help you get the most out of an assessment.

2. The truth is a leader’s best friend

One of the best things you can seek as a leader is the truth—as beautiful, awkward or disappointing as it may be.

The truth is a leader’s best friend, even if it hurts.

So seek it. Crave it. Long for it.

When people criticize you, see it as a gift.

If you have trouble hearing criticism and are always defensive, here are 5 ways to help criticism sting less.

3. The more defensive you are, the less people will tell you the truth

Defensiveness kills great leadership and great leaders.

Although the performance assessment tool we use (keep reading for details) gives people ‘anonymous’ or blind feedback options, if you create a culture of fear around you, people won’t want to give you ‘anonymous’ feedback in case they think you can figure out wrote what.

This atmosphere around you starts long before any review.

The less defensive you are as a leader, the more people will tell you the truth. And, remember, the truth is your friend.

4. You will always have weaknesses

As much as you might hate it, you will always have weaknesses. For some reason I want to be a perfect leader.

But I’m not. I’m flawed.

Get used to it. And ask God and others What can I learn from my weaknesses? 

5. Your weaknesses aren’t things you should brag about

Sometimes you hear leaders brag about their weaknesses (as in “I don’t like people at all.”)

While that can be funny, the fact that you can’t organize your way out of a wet paper bag or that you alienate people is probably not something to brag about. It can be great to acknowledge. Great to let people know you need their help.

But it’s not a badge of honour.

6. Your strength has a shadowside

Everyone’s personality and profile works this way…your strength generates an opposing weakness.

For example, in my case, results and performance dominate my top ten strengths.

But being an achievement-oriented person means sometimes I can leave people in the dust if I don’t work at it.

Many ‘results’ people struggle relationally. And many relational people struggle to get high performance results.

I have worked relentlessly on this weakness, but my leadership coach has helped me see that this is something I will always have to work on.

It’s a tension to be managed. I may never ‘solve’ this one. Hopefully I’ll just gradually get somewhat better each year.

7. Your greatest progress will come from the feedback you like least

Some of the comments you receive might make you wince…maybe even want to bury them.

Don’t.

Your greatest progress as a leader will come from the feedback you like least. Embrace them as a gift from God. Thank him for the growth opportunity.

8. Your team will benefit if you talk about the good and the bad

Sometimes you feel like deep-sixing things like performance reports. Instead, why not be open about them?

I’m going to share mine with my direct reports and elders and ask them to tell me how I can learn and grow from them.

This will do two things. First, it will give me better insight into how my leadership impacts them, both good and bad.

Second, it will give them greater insight into what I’m best at and worst at, and we can position our church to better build into my strengths and minimize the impact of my weaknesses.

You want your organization to reflect a leader’s strengths, not his or her weaknesses.

9. Run even harder into your strengths

Performance reviews are also like report cards in the sense that if you got a 92% in English and a 56% in math, you might be tempted to dump any homework on English to focus exclusively on math.

At some point you need to admit to yourself, I will probably never win the prize in math. I need to pass, but I won’t be a world class leader.

But I have a shot at being brilliant at English.

So go be brilliant.

You have a gift. Develop it. Tune it, hone it, sharpen it and master it.

As for your weakness? Be sensitive to how your weaknesses impact others.

Maybe great leadership is this: Fully develop your strengths. Work at taking the sharp edges off your weaknesses.

The Performance Assessment Tool We Use

In case you were wondering, our church uses the RightPath 360˚ for our most thorough leadership review. Essentially, you get your direct reports, managers, peers and a few outside voices of people who know you to give extensive feedback on your leadership in the areas of

Results

Emotional Intelligence

Trust

Development of Others

One thing I love about a RightPath 360˚ is that it not assesses you numerically on a matrix, but it gives ample space for your reviewers to leave open comments.

Those are tremendous gifts if you’re interested in growing. You actually learn what other people really think of you.

What About You?

What are you learning about performance reviews, leading team and being open to criticism and correction as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often

It comes up in a surprising number of conversations these days. And no one’s quite sure how to respond to it.

The issue? Even committed church attenders are attending church less often.

Sure, the trend has been happening for years (gone are the days when people attended 50 out of 52 Sundays), but the issue is reaching a tipping point in the church today.

I first wrote about this two years ago in a post called 7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often. In the last 24 months, the conversation has come up far more often and, to many leaders, feels much more urgent.

This isn’t a post about why people have left the church (that’s a different subject.) This is the first in a series of posts about church attenders who love God, appreciate the local church and are even involved in the local church, but who simply attend less often.

This post is the first part of a 5 part series on why people are attending church less often:

Part 2: CNLP Episode 23: Why People Are Attending Church Less Often—An Interview with Will Mancini.

Part 3: 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders

Part 4: 10 Predictions About the Future Church And Shifting Attendance Patterns

Part 5: CNLP Episode 24: Churchless: Why and How America is Learning to Live Without The Church—An Interview with David Kinnaman

If you want to access the podcast interviews easily on your phone or other device, the best way is to subscribe to my leadership podcast for free on iTunes or Stitcher

So why all this attention?

This trend isn’t going away…in fact (as the podcasts will show) it’s accelerating,

It impacts almost every church regardless of size, denomination or even location.

It probably marks a seismic shift in how the church will do ministry in the future.

Of course, church attendance is never the goal. But attendance a sign of something deeper that every church leader is going to have to wrestle with over the next few years.

The first key to addressing what’s happening is to understand what’s happening.

So…why are even committed attenders attending less often? There are at least 10 reasons.

1. Greater affluence

Money gives people options.

If your church is at all engaging the middle class, the upper middle class, or a suburban demographic, an interesting trend is developing. The middle class is shrinking, but as this New York Times report shows,  it’s shrinking (in part) because more of the middle class is becoming upper class. Both US and Canadian personal disposable incomes are at all time highs.

There are simply more affluent people than there were decades ago, which may in part explain why so many “average’ people indulge their obsessions with granite counter tops, designer homes and decent cars, even without being mega-wealthy.

Naturally, this leaves a huge theological void about ministry to and with the poor, but it helps explain what’s actually happening in the suburbs and increasingly with the re-urbanization of many cities as the affluent move back downtown. Please…I’m not arguing things should be this way. I’m simply showing that this seems to be what’s happening.

And again…people with money have options. Technology options. Travel options. Options for their kids. And, arguably, that affluence may be one of the factors moving them further away from a committed engagement to the mission of the local church. It’s perhaps fuelling some of the reasons outlined below.

2. Higher focus on kids’ activities

A growing number of kids are playing sports. And a growing number of kids are playing on teams that require travel.

Many of those sports happen on weekends. And affluent parents are choosing sports over church.

It’s as simple as that.

3. More travel

Despite a wobbly economy, travel is on the rise, both for business and pleasure.

More and more families of various ages travel for leisure, even if it’s just out of town to go camping or to a friend’s place for the weekend or a weekend at the lake.

And when people are out of town, they tend to not be in church.

4. Blended and single parent families

Fortunately, more and more blended families and single parent families are finding a home in church.

So how does this translate into attendance patterns?

Church leaders need to remember that when custody is shared in a family situation, ‘perfect’ attendance for a kid or teen might be 26 Sundays a year.

Similarly, while the affluent might not be in church because of access to reliable transportation, single parents (who, not always, but often, struggle more financially) might not be in church because they lack access to reliable transportation.

So here’s the strange twist. People who have a car are often not in church because they have a car. People who want to be in church are often not in church because they don’t have a car or because it’s not their ‘weekend’ for church.

Sadly, people who want to get to church simply can’t.

By the way, I lead a church that virtually requires a vehicle to get there. I love how we often see people with reliable transportation helping out those who don’t have a vehicle. That’s at least a partial remedy to this problem.

5. Online Options

Many churches have created a social media presence and many podcast their messages like we do at Connexus. Churches are also launching online campuses that bring the entire service to you on your phone, tablet or TV.

There are pros and cons to online church (I outline 7 here) and there’s no doubt that churches with a strong online presence have seen it impact physical attendance.

But whether or not your church has online options doesn’t make the issue go away. Anyone who attends your church has free access to any online ministry of any church.

Online church is here to stay, whether you participate or not.

6. The cultural disappearance of guilt

When I grew up, I felt guilty about not being in church on a Sunday.

The number of people who feel guilty about not being in church on Sunday shrinks daily.

I regularly meet people all the time who haven’t been in months but LOVE our church.

If you’re relying on guilt as a motivator, you need a new strategy. (Well, honestly, you’ve always needed a new strategy…)

7. Self-directed spirituality

People are looking less to churches and leaders to help them grow spiritually, and more to other options.

We live in a era in which no parent makes a visit to a doctor’s office without having first googled the symptoms of a child’s illness and a recommended course  of treatment. Just ask any family physician. It drives them nuts. (Google, doctors will tell you, is not a complete replacement for medical school.)

Similarly, when was the last time you bought a car without completely researching it online?

In an age where we have access to everything, more and more people are self-directing their spirituality…for better or for worse.

Similarly, another characteristics of the post-modern mind is a declining trust of and reliance on institutions.

The church in many people’s minds is seen as an institution.

I don’t actually believe that’s what a church is. I think it’s a movement…not an institution. But many churches behave like an institution, and the post-modern mind instinctively moves away from it as a result.

8. Failure to see a direct benefit

People always make time for the things they value most.  If they’re not making time for church, that tells you something.

Even among people who say their love the church and who say they love your church, if declining attendance is an issue, chances are it’s because they don’t see a direct benefit. They don’t see the value in being there week after week.

That could be because there isn’t much value (gut check). Or it could be because there is value that they simply don’t see.

Either way, failure to see a direct benefit always results in declining engagement.

So what are you doing or not doing that leaves people feeling like there’s not that much value?

9. Valuing attendance over engagement

I’ll talk about this more in the podcast interviews and in the next posts, but when someone merely attends church, the likelihood of showing up regularly or even engaging their faith decreases over time.

At our church, I find our most engaged people—people who serve, give, invite and who are in a community group—are our most frequent attenders.

More and more as a leader, I value engagement over attendance.

Ironically, if you value attendance over engagement, you will see declining attendance.

10. A massive culture shift

All of these trends witness to something deeper. Our culture is shifting. Seismically.

Church leaders who fail to recognize this will not be able to change rapidly enough to respond to the shifts that are happening.

If you want more on how the culture is shifting, I outlined 15 Characteristics of Unchurched People Today here and outlined 12 Cultural Trends Church Leaders Can’t Ignore (But Might) in this post.

Change is unkind to the unprepared, so prepare.

That’s why I’m so passionate about this upcoming series of blog posts and podcasts.

What Would You Add?

These are 10 reasons I see for even the committed church attender attending less often.

What do you see?

Really looking forward to the dialogue on this subject over the next two weeks.

Before you leave a comment, remember, we’re talking about why people who love the church aren’t attending as much.

This isn’t the best place to go on a rant about everything that’s wrong with the church. I’ll have other posts about that, and remember, I love the church and am committed to us fulfilling our mission better than ever, even if that means radical change…which it likely does.

So what are you seeing in your church? Leave a comment!

9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself

Sometimes progress in life can be tough to measure.

You might feel stuck right now. Or just the opposite—you might feel like you’re making incredible progress.

But are you?  How would you know?

Of all the areas in which I want to make progress in this life, character (which is inherently tied to spiritual growth) is the greatest.

How do you know how your character is doing…really?

It’s important, because in the scheme of life, character trumps gifting. The headlines are littered with gifted people whose character (or lack of it) caused their downfall. Your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.

Surprinsgly, your character isn’t just revealed in your best moments. The truth often breaks out in the little moments.

If you want to know how your character is really doing, check yourself in these 9 every day moments we all encounter.

9 Every Day Things That Reveal Way Too Much About Your Character

Before I jump into the list, just know I have failed every one of these tests at some point in my life.

Okay, sometimes I still fail some of them. But you have to have something to work toward, don’t you?

1. What you think when someone takes ‘your’ parking spot

You know that moment when you get to the mall parking lot and see the empty space, only to have someone else dart in? Yes. That moment.

Or the parking space you always park in at work that someone else had the audacity to use yesterday? And no, it didn’t have a reserved sign or anything…but the planet should know that’s your space!!!

What happens inside you in that moment?

That’s your character speaking.

2. How you react to slow internet

So this is a major fail for me. If the state of my character could be entirely summed up by my reaction to slow internet, I should probably be locked up from society at large and I would certainly miss out on heaven. I only throw things on the inside, but inside my little mind, there’s not much left standing.

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life.

Apparently the Holy Spirit and I have some work to do around internet connection speeds.

3. The gap between what you think and what you say when someone compliments you

Christians are famous for false humility. Thanks, that wasn’t me…it was the Lord sounds good but has several problems with it.

First, the Lord probably doesn’t sing or preach as poorly as you do. How many nobody’s-told-me-how-bad-I-really-am Christian singers or preachers have ascribed their gift to God?

And second, let’s say you really are gifted. Even if you are decent at what you do—or great at it— there can be a gap between what you say publicly and what you think privately.

What you say: Thanks. It really wasn’t much. 

What you think: Yes, I kind of rocked it, didn’t I?

What you say: Oh, I’m not sure I deserve that. 

What you think: Yes I do. Finally someone noticed. 

So what do you say when someone compliments you? How about ‘Thank you. I’m grateful it helped’?

And then how about privately thanking God for the way he might have used you in that situation?

That’s a decent start.

As C.S. Lewis said, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

4. How you respond to critics

Haters gonna hate.

But do you hate back? Or start listing off a thousand reasons why they’re wrong? Or try to subtly undermine their reputation?

Critics used to trigger a defensiveness in me that was primal. Now…for the most part…they don’t.

What if when someone criticized you, you said thank you instead (silently or out loud)? There’s usually something you can learn from them. And often there’s a kernel of truth…even if it’s very small.

Even if you have to throw away most of what a critic says, you don’t have to throw away the learning.

5. What you tell yourself when you make a mistake

So what self-talk loop plays in your head when you make a mistake?

For too many of us, it’s unhealthy. It can range from You’re so stupid to You never make mistakes…other people do. 

Neither is good.

Again, mistakes are tremendous learning opportunities. They are rarely fatal.

And one of the keys to success in life is not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get up. To be successful, you only need to get up one more time than you got knocked down.

6. How you react when someone overfills the trash…and doesn’t take it out

This one’s all about the expectations you have about other people.

Yes, there’s an unwritten rule that people who overfill the trash should take it out. Isn’t there? Isn’t there?

And isn’t there a rule about the person who opened the clean dishwasher being the one who has to empty it…because otherwise the little ‘clean’ light goes off and you can mix dirty and clean dishes together…an unspeakable evil.

But there’s also an unwritten rule about not being a jerk about it either when the rule gets broken.

7. Your social media voice

So you’re complex. You have moods, nuances and fascinating parts of your personality that are oh-so diverse. But chances are your friends could sum up your personality with a single adjective.

If you’re not sure that’s true, flip the equation. You can probably sum up your friends’ social media voice in a single word. As in…he’s angry, or she’s so insecure.

If your friend summed up your social media voice in a single word, what word would they use? Snarky? Bitter? Braggy? Kind? Cynical? Hopeful? Petty? Helpful? Jealous?

Yes. You have a voice. What is it?

Your voice may be who you really are or pretend to be. But is it who you are called to be?

8. How you react to other people’s social media voice

So, of course, you do a much better job than other people on social media, don’t you?

Because your voice—my voice—is so beautifully appropriate.

Owned.

(I’m so arrogant.)

Sigh.

9. How you return the shopping cart

It was a random tweet years ago by my friend Jeff Henderson that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Jeff tweeted “You can tell an awful lot about a person’s character by how they return the shopping cart.”

He’s right.

Yep, This is Spiritual

So what does this have to do with faith and leadership? More than we think.

Why not bring your faith into these every day moments…and ask God what’s going on?

It can change more than you think.

In fact, your reaction in moments like these probably says a lot about your actual spiritual maturity.  I believe we need a different kind of spiritual maturity in the church, as I’ve written about here. And often the things we think are signs of spiritual maturity, aren’t (as I wrote about here).

What are you learning about faith and the little moments?

What would you add to this list? Scroll down and leave a comment!

IMG_2073

The Critics Will Win If You Let Them: 3 Lessons For Church Leaders From Canada’s Love/Hate Relationship With Target

Just under two years ago, Target expanded into Canada, opening 133 stores quickly.

Last month, Target announced they’re pulling out. By May 2015, all their stores will be closed…26 months after opening, having taken a $7 billion USD loss. Over 17,000 jobs are also disappearing. Ouch.

I think church planters and church leaders can learn something from what happened.

Sarah Bessey has already shared some lessons for church planters on Target’s withdrawal from Canada, and her assessment of cause is in line with much of what you read in the media and what I’ve heard from other Canadians about the subject. It’s worth the read (thanks Sarah!).

Do I think Target made some missteps? Absolutely.

But I think there’s another dynamic at work that fewer people are talking about. And it applies to church planters and church leaders too.

What’s the dynamic?

Canadians have a love/hate relationship with Target, and it reveals dynamics almost every leader has to struggle with regularly. Pay attention to these dynamics, and you can lead through them.

Ignore them, and you might succumb to them.

IMG_2073

1. What people say they want…is not always what people want

Many Canadians begged to have Target come to Canada for years. No trip to the US was complete for many Canadians without a visit to Tar-jay and a report back to friends at home about ‘the amazing deals we scored on such awesome stuff.’

When Target showed up, many Canadians had mixed reactions. We claimed the selection wasn’t the same. The prices were higher (see below). People complained that Target was out of stock on many items. And in the end, not enough Canadians bothered shopping there.

It appears that what people say they want is not always what people want.

So what’s the application?

Application

A leader’s job is not to discern want people want…it’s to discern (in prayerful community with other leaders) what people need.

For example. Many people say they don’t want change. They like things the way they are, they just want different results (like growth) (I wrote about what happens when people want their church to grow, just not change, here).

There’s some tension in that, isn’t there? If you keep doing what you’re currently doing, you’ll get the results you’re currently getting.

So how do you handle that?

The truth is MOST people actually want change. They just want well-led change. And the truth is most people need change. They just need well-orchestrated change.

That’s your job as a leader…to take people where they need to go, despite how they initially feel. It’s often a difficult job.

That’s why your job is not always to give people what they want. It is to lovingly, prayerfully lead them where they need to go.

If you want to learn more about how to lead change when facing opposition, I outlined 5 specific strategies for that in my latest book.

2. Rumour > truth.

Another common complaint by Canadians was that Target’s prices were higher than they should be and higher than Walmart.

First reality: it’s Canada. There are 30 million people spread out over half a continent, not 300 million. Prices are always higher here (have you shopped for a car or house recently people?) ALL prices are higher.

Second when Target arrived its prices were in a dead heat with Walmart.  And in fact, by mid-2014 Target had consistently lower prices than Walmart. 4% lower.

I’m not sure most people believe that, but truth often loses to rumours.

Another claim is that Target was constantly out of stock. Maybe I just shopped at the wrong Targets, but I never found that to be the case.  I’m not saying it wasn’t an issue in some stores, but you would think the way some people talked that walking through Target was like walking through a ghost town where nothing was left but a few bare furnishings.

A kind of group-think can take over, and, soon enough, what’s true matters less than what people think is true.

Truth will lose to rumour if you let it. So don’t let it.

Application

It’s a leader’s job to constantly remind people of what’s actually true. I wonder what would have happened if Target ran a campaign that compared prices, or addressed stock issues more intentionally.

What rumours persist in your organization or church that you can intentionally engage? Instead of going on the defensive, just continue to (thoughtfully) remind people what’s true.

3. The critics will win, if you let them

After the initial Canadian love affair with Target ended so abruptly on their arrival, the critics—ranging in tone from hostility to indifference—appear to have won the day.

Which is weird. Ever really analyzed critics?

Sure, sometimes there are well-informed critics. But often people who have accomplished very little with their lives are completely convinced they can run a multibillion dollar business far better than the CEO. Or their favourite pro team better than their coach. Or the nation better than anyone. (To which I always say, then get off your couch and do something with your life.)

Criticism is always easier than contribution. Leadership means contributing, not just criticizing. I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating. As the character Anton Ego said so poignantly in the movie Ratatouille:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. 

The other thing every leader need to know about critics is this: critics are almost always in the minority. Although I have no data on this, I’m quite sure there were more people who actually shopped at Target than there were critics. As I argued in Leading Change Without Losing It, the number of critics is usually surprisingly low; maybe 10-20% of any given group.

But critics are loud.

And the mistake most leaders make is that we confuse loud with large. Just because a group is loud doesn’t mean a group is large.

But the loudness of a group can kill a great initiative—if you don’t know how to handle it as a leader.

Application

So how do you handle the critics?

You listen to the critics.

You thank them.

Maybe you even empathize with them (If I were you, I might not like the music at our church either…thanks for letting me know!)

You learn from them.

And then you lead. 

Remember, if the critics are really only 10-20% of the group, it’s irresponsible of you as a leader to sacrifice the future of 80-90% of your group for the sake of a vocal minority. If you have a great vision, proceed.

Far too many God-given dreams have died because leaders grew afraid when they heard the voices of a few critics.

Don’t let the critics kill the future.

 

Any Insights?

At the end of the day…Target is just a retail company (one I liked…but it’s just a store after all).

But, church leaders, what you’re working on lasts into eternity. The stakes are so high.

What are you learning about love/hate relationships in your leadership?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Scroll down…I’d love to hear from you!

Pharisees are running your church

7 Signs the Pharisees Are Running Your Church

So are the Pharisees running your church?

Interesting question.

How would you know?

And perhaps, more appropriately, how would you know if that was you? 

You could argue that the since the religious leaders nailed Jesus to the cross, there’s no way you would have done that.

But seriously, how would you know? If you really read the Bible—I mean really read it—it’s pretty challenging.

I read stories like Matthew’s calling in Matthew 9 and think, I might have been frustrated by Jesus too. When a person hangs out with hookers, criminals and other morally sketchy people, I’d question him as well.  Which of course, would squarely puts me in the company of the Pharisees.

Hence my worry.

How do you know the Pharisees aren’t running your church?

How do you make sure that Pharisee isn’t you?

 Pharisees are running your church

I’m Not A Pharisee…I’m Just Righteous

In many Christian circles, Pharisee is just a bad labelWe throw it at someone we don’t like, we disagree with or generally think should suffer.

But as I pointed out in this piece (The Top 10 Things Pharisees Say Today), the Pharisees are more nuanced than commonly thought to be.

Part of the tension we lose in the dialogue today is that the Pharisees really tried to be righteous. They knew their Bibles as well as anyone. Their devotion was, purportedly, deep.

And Jesus said they missed the boat. His most scathing words were reserved for people who claimed to be speaking for God.

7 Signs the Pharisees are Running Your Church

So what are the signs that the Pharisees are running your church?

What are the signs that you might be that leader?

Here are 7.

1. Your leaders like to show off

Check those stats. Did you see how many downloads that message got? How many likes that photo picked up? Or that visitor who said he thinks you’re as good as that mega-preacher guy?

Or, worship leaders, think about your mad guitar skills or your new V-Neck or fierce beard.

Or admin types…check out the bullet proof system I put together.

Sigh.

We all want to be better, or cooler (even though cool church is dying), don’t we?

But sometimes in our pursuit to improve our skill, we lose our soul.

Here’s a key distinction.

When you’re focused on how you’re doing more than you’re focused on how the people you’re serving are doing, you’ve kind of lost the game.

When you’re more focused on your performance than you are on the mission, there’s trouble ahead.

Stop showing off. Stop trying to get better for the sake of trying to get better.

Focus relentlessly on serving God and serving people, and an amazing thing might happen. You’ll likely get better.

But at that point, you might not even notice.

Which would be awesome.

2. Everyone thinks they’re a little better than everyone else

One of the big differences between the Pharisees and the ‘sinners’ Jesus hung out with, is how they felt about themselves.

The Pharisees thought they were right.

That’s dangerous territory for leaders because often we think we’re right or that our positions (theological or philosophical) are right.

So, do you think your view is simply better than others? Or that you’re better than others? A little less sinful? A little more together? A little smarter? A little wiser? Spend a lot of time criticizing others and asserting how right you are?

There’s the Pharisee.

3. There’s this love of money thing going on

Money. Could there be a more fun topic in the church?

Ministry needs money to run on. I get that.

As a general rule, underfunded ministries are ineffective in the long run. This is true of any ministry or charitable organization. I actually agree with Dan Pallotta that the most important causes in the world should be the most generously funded. (If you haven’t heard his TED talk, stop reading this blog post and watch it.)

And in church world and non-profit world, there’s a constant push to expand the mission, so there’s regular pressure on giving.

And I think talking about money in church can be wonderful. I really do. Giving, after all, is a spiritual discipline. In the same way I need to read my bible, pray, serve and invest in people who don’t know God, I need to give. All of these things are part of what I do as a Christian.

We all need money. And ministries need money.

But when you start to love money…you’re in trouble.

So how do you know you might love money?

Here are some thoughts.

When you’re excited about what the money is doing for you, not what it’s doing for the mission, you’ve crossed a line.

When you refuse to have any financial accountability or wise people (to whom you’re accountable) speak into the details of your financial life, you’ve allowed money to become a master, not a servant.

Or, answer this: if your church cut your wages, would it also cut your joy (assuming you could find enough money to live on elsewhere)?

Money makes a wonderful servant in ministry, but a terrible master.

4. There’s too little compassion

In some leadership circles, lack of compassion is worn as a badge of honour.

I used to joke about mercy not being one of my spiritual gifts. Okay, sometimes I still joke about my natural lack of compassion.

Ironically, sometimes a lack of compassion helps you lead well. If you are too empathetic and overly sensitive to how people feel, you will get dashed on the rocks of leadership. Jesus had to push past a lot of competing voices to accomplish his mission. So did Moses, Paul and myriad other leaders.

But as committed as Jesus was to truth, he was exceptionally compassionate. He was frequently moved with compassion. And he rebuked the Pharisees for their lack of it.

God’s compassion is why you’re a Christian in the first place.

And if you haven’t noticed, people outside the church aren’t much attracted to compassionless, self-righteous leaders.

If you lack compassion…repent.

I have repented and am repenting. I’ve got a long way to go, but God will make the compassionless more compassionate if you ask him.

5. Leaders expect others to do what they don’t do

Practice what you preach is one of the oldest mantras around. And yet, if you’re a preacher, it can be very hard to do.

You can convince yourself you’re exempt, or you’re just being ‘obedient’ and teaching what you’re supposed to teach, when you know you’re only half walking the walk.

Cue the big buzzer.

Pretending to be something we’re not and claiming privileges we don’t extend to others are 2 of  5 things I listed here that give pastors a bad name with unchurched people.

And remember, those of us who teach actually get held to a higher standard than others.

So, teach with fear and trembling. And humility. And accountability.

6. No one’s closer to God

Strangely enough, the Pharisees were anxious to win converts. So am I.

Yet Jesus condemned the Pharisees, pointing out that they travel over land and sea to win a single convert but in the process, they make him twice as much a son of hell as they are.

Gulp.

So…here’s a question.

Are people closer to God after following you?

Sure, not everyone will be. We’ve all read the parable of the sower.

But after 3 to 5 years, do most people look more like Jesus or less like Jesus? Or to use another metaphor Jesus used, is there fruit? If you claim to be growing an orchard, where are the apples?

Sure, we’re not perfect. We’re being sanctified over time by the Holy Spirit. But overall, people should be moving closer to Jesus.

Are they?

7. The leaders are jealous

Spend even a few minutes in the Gospels, and you’ll see the Pharisees and other religious groups get jealous of any advance any other group makes.

Each group wanted to be on top. If the Saducees won, the Pharisees lost. If Jesus made more disciples than they did, their blood boiled.

So how’s your heart with that church down the road…the one that’s growing?

How’s your heart when you hear some other church picked up yet another one of ‘your’ families?

Hate it when other people they tell you they love listening to X’s podcast at the gym?

The jealousy thing even infected John the Baptist’s disciples. But John got it right…it’s not about him. He must decrease. Christ must increase. 

See what John did there? He said it out loud. He gave public recognition and praise to Jesus.

That’s what breaks the power of jealousy.

If you’re jealous, publicly praise whoever you’re jealous of. Celebrate them.

It will break the darkness inside.

That will also give you a clear heart and mind to get on with your mission. After all, you likely live in a region where there are thousands…okay, tens or hundreds of thousands…of unchurched people. Focus on that.

What Do You Think?

Before we jump to commenting, please know, I write this not to make the church worse, but in the hopes that in some tiny way it makes the church better.

I need to look in the mirror. Everyone who leads a church does. Far too much is at stake.

The church has enough critics (just read through the comments on this blog, any newspaper piece on religion, or pretty much any online place that talks about the church). But if we take the criticism we usually reserve for others and prayerfully apply it to ourselves, we’ll get better. We will.

And we have to.

I believe the church is the hope of the future.

So we just need to get better and healthier. And when we do, we’ll be far more effective.

Any additional signs you see that show that you may have turned Pharisee?

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

how to control your calendar

6 Ways to Control Your Calendar So It Doesn’t Control You

StevensTimIf you struggle with time management, you don’t want to miss today’s guest post by Tim Stevens, a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.

Previously, Tim was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Tim just released his latest book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

———–

Mark Batterson wrote, “If you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you.”

Alan Lakein said, “Time is life. It is irreversible and irreplaceable. To waste your time is to waste your life, but to master your time is to master your life and make the most of it.”

Scott Peck is credited with saying, “Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

And I’ve heard a hundred preachers say, “Show me your checkbook and your calendar, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

I agree with all these statements. Leaders who don’t have control of their calendars will constantly be spinning out in the dirt without making much progress. Life will seem frantic and hurried, yet it will be difficult to pinpoint what they are actually getting done.

how to control your calendar

I’m not the king of time management, but I do live and die by my calendar. Everything that is important in my life goes on my calendar.

Here are six principles that help me:

1. Put priority items on your calendar first

Perhaps you’ve seen the illustration where the presenter tries to fill a jar with a combination of big rocks and little rocks. If the presenter fills the jar with the little rocks first, he is not able to fit very many big rocks in the jar. However, if he fills it with all the big rocks first, then he can add many of the little rocks in and around the big rocks.

The analogy breaks down if you go very far with it, but the foundation is true.

You must put priority things (e.g., time with your spouse and kids, vacation, strategic planning, and vision time) on the calendar first.

Otherwise you’ll never find time for those priorities.

2. Stack your meetings

If it’s within your control, try to schedule all your meetings on the same day or two each week.

I knew I wouldn’t get much productive work done on those days, but I was going to have some great conversations, help move the ball down the field on some projects, and keep my staff moving forward because of our connections.

Stacking your meetings will keep you from getting bitter about meetings ruling your life, and it will leave you with a couple days where your schedule is relatively open.

3. Schedule your rest

If you don’t plan for rest and renewal, it won’t happen.

My calendar will always fill up if I don’t plan for some down time. I’m always amazed when I hear people say, “I’m going to try to take a couple days off next week. I just have to see how the week goes.”

What? Are you kidding? You can’t wait for the right time to unwind or take a vacation with your family. It will never happen.

Get the dates on the calendar months in advance. Always be looking at your schedule for busy seasons ahead. Make sure you plan some time in the middle of those seasons to unwind and get centered.

4. Manage your travel schedule

If you don’t travel, skip over this one. But many leaders have to be on the road.

A few years ago I noticed my travel schedule was getting out of hand. One year I was gone eighteen nights, the next year it was twenty-five, then thirty-two, then forty-seven. This was not a good trend.

Because my kids were younger, and because my wife was not able to travel with me often, I was unwilling to see that trend continue.

So I sat down with my wife and my boss, and we figured out that thirty nights away from home was a reasonable number for me during that season. Any more than that, and my priorities started to get out of whack.

If it was much less than that, it was more difficult for me to get my job done. I don’t think the number thirty is magical, but I do think it’s important for anyone who travels regularly to find the right amount that balances family, business, and personal health.

5. Go home before the work is done

This is difficult whether you are in business or the church world. (In ministry, we convince ourselves someone might go to hell if we go home too soon!)

When you go home before the work is done, it means you are leaving something really good behind. But you can’t wait until your to-do list is complete or until the phone stops ringing before you head home to your family.

The work is never finished. Just go home!

(Note: If you are a slacker, then please ignore this point. You actually shouldn’t leave until your to-do list is done.)

6. Leave room for people and leave room for God

It is easy to fill up your calendar and not leave room for what God might bring along your path.

I had a friend who called these “Godadents” instead of accidents. If my calendar is booked solid, I don’t have the flexibility when someone drops by my office or a crisis comes up that needs attention.

I try to monitor this by blocking more time than is needed for appointments, leaving a buffer between appointments, and keeping my door open as often as possible.

This is just as important for Christian business leaders. Part of your calling as a follower of Jesus is to love and care for people—and that begins with the people already in your life. Make room to ask your employees about their lives, their dreams, and their hurts.

John Maxwell summed up calendar management this way: “The key to becoming a more efficient leader isn’t checking off all the items on your to-do list each day. It’s in forming the habit of prioritizing your time so that you are accomplishing your most important goals in an efficient manner.”

FairnessIsOverrated[1]-2What are you learning about controlling your calendar? What interferes with your desire to manage time?

Scroll down and leave a comment! And remember to check out Tim’s new book, Fairness Is Overrated

One Single Word Every True Leader Embraces…That’s Far Too Easy To Abandon

There’s a single word every true leader uses regularly, that far too many leaders abandon early into their leadership.

In fact, the more successful you become, the more tempted you will be to abandon it.

Others abandon it too. Leaders who become conservative (not politically, but attitudinally) are likely to abandon it. So is the fearful leader.

Yet every great leader clings to it. It’s one of the things that makes them great at leader.

So what’s the word?

The word is attempt.

Here’s why it matters more than you think.

attempt

 When Something Good Sounds Bad

I was just recently reminded of why leaders abandon a great word.

After I did an interview I did with Josh Gagnon, founder of Next Level Church (which grew from 0 to over 2000 people in four locations in just 6 years….in New England), I heard from a number of church planters who were inspired by the interview. (You can listen to Josh’s story here.)

Here’s what I wanted to say to the church planters: “I love what you’re attempting.”

But the 140 character universe we live in, I didn’t use attempt because I thought it would be heard negatively, as in nice attempt…too bad it won’t work out.

So I said I love what you’re doing instead.

But their attempt is actually what I admire most. Really admire.
We need more leaders who attempt things.

We need more leaders who risk, who believe, who experiment…who attempt.

Attempting something is difficult, because if it’s truly an attempt, you have no guarantee it will work.

Which is why so few people do it.

It’s easier to play it safe…to stop risking…to cut the losses.

Stop attempting things things consistently enough, and you eventually stop leading. You’ll simply manage what you’ve already built.

Here’s What’s At Stake

Want to know what’s at stake?

More than you think.

Whatever you decide to attempt, there’s so much at stake.

If you’re not attempting, you’re not trusting.

If you’re not attempting, you’re not innovating.

If you’re not attempting, you’ve stopped believing.

If you’re not attempting, you’re no longer blazing a trial.

And ultimately, if you stop attempting, you’ll stop inspiring.

And the reason you’ll stop attempting is because you’re simply afraid to fail.

Everything Remarkable Started as an Attempt

Almost everything that’s truly worth noting started as an attempt.

And more accurately, everything remarkable usually happened after numerous failed attempts.

This is true for things as diverse as:

Human aviation

The invention of the light bulb

Tablet computing

Climbing Mount Everest

Putting a man on the moon

Nothing truly remarkable happens with out some kind of attempt, often repeated attempts.

What Are You Attempting?

So the question for you to ask (honestly) is simple.

What are you attempting?

I don’t mean what are you doing. You can do a lot of things without creating anything of value.

But what are you doing that’s risky enough to fail?

What honestly deserves to called an attempt?

If you’re stumped, you’ve stopped leading.

If you realize this is a gap, address it by attempting something.

You know it’s truly an attempt only when you are completely uncertain whether it will succeed.

So….what will you attempt this week?

Any thoughts on why leaders embrace of shy away from attempting great things?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Christmas Joy

5 Tips To Help Ministry Leaders Get Their Joy Back At Christmas

So as Christmas approaches, how are you doing? Really?

Let me guess. You probably barely have enough time to even skim this post.

Which is why I wrote it.

This post is for all of us who ‘work’ in ministry.

It’s for all of us who are on staff, for elders and for volunteers who work so hard that they might as well pay you.

It’s Christmas, and while we sit on the best news to ever hit the planet – the coming of the Messiah – Christmas, like every major holiday for ministry leaders, can be a time of mixed emotions.

The biggest casualty of Christmas for those who work in ministry?

Your heart

Too many Christian leaders drag themselves through Christmas, with smiles painted on, only to collapse after the final service is done.

As my friend Jon Acuff says, it was probably never Jesus’ intention to create a holiday church leaders resent and can’t wait to be over.

Christmas Joy

You’re So Busy Helping Others Celebrate….

Why do so many Christian leaders lose their joy at Christmas?

It’s simple. You’re so busy helping others celebrate Christmas that you lose any sense of celebration yourself.

I know because I’ve been there. This year we’re doing five Christmas Eve services. For our team, it’s exhausting. For years I came home on Christmas Eve exhausted and could spend most of the Christmas holidays “recovering”.

It can make celebrating with your family challenging, because you spent all your energy helping others.

This Christmas, I want to encourage you to fight back and make sure you carve out time to personally celebrate the thing we so desperately want others to celebrate.

Over the years, I’ve found some ways that have helped me celebrate Christmas personally and with my family.

I realize there’s nothing you haven’t heard before in these tips, but having them all on one screen and seeing they actually are doable is hopefully helpful.

5 Simple Tips for Ministry Leaders at Christmas

1. Make some quiet time

I got up just before 5 this morning and spent some time alone in God’s word. Just for me.

I do this almost every day, but I do it because it makes all the difference in the world. But it’s easy to miss when life gets busy.

The reason it’s so important is that my first hour sets the course for the entire day. Which, of course, ends up setting the pattern for your life.

I’ll get up early on Christmas Day too to have a personal, private celebration. That will keep my heart fresh to help others celebrate.

2. Add a private, family celebration

We go to church as a family, but before we open presents Christmas morning, we pray, read the Christmas story and have some personal time together.

I completely love what our church does at Christmas (our church rocks Christmas, seriously), but I want to mark it personally with my family too.

I think when the personal, family and public celebrations happen, my personal joy is at it’s deepest.

3. Be off when you’re off

“Off” looks different for all of us. But the reality is most driven leaders have trouble being ‘off’.

Put your email on auto-responder. Shut down the stuff that drains you. Turn your phone off, or at least turn off all the notifications.

And just be off.

4. Don’t overschedule

The week between Christmas and New Year’s can be a swap out of one kind of work for another, and you can run into the new year exhausted.

Even if you happen to be ‘off’, you can run yourself ragged with parties, family commitments and pressure.

We keep lots of white space on the calendar on purpose. To refuel, recharge and reconnect.

5. Do something fun!

Fun happens for me when I connect with the people closest to me, when I get exercise (biking in the summer, hiking and snowshoeing in the winter) and when I work on projects that are just recreational.

For me that sounds a bit weird, but it’s just true: I love writing, thinking through big issues I don’t spend enough time on and tackling new challenges. I’ve got a healthy dose of what’s fun for me (and us) on tap for the holidays. I also plan to outline a new book. Yep, for me, that’s fun.

I find when I do these things, my heart comes back more deeply engaged with God and with others.

My hope is that for those of you who are struggling, you get your joy back this Christmas.

If you suspect you might have a more serious case of burnout going on, make sure you don’t miss the resource guide Perry Noble and I prepared to help you recognize and work through burnout. Plus you’ll want to hear Perry’s story about how he recovered from burnout and even depression.

What do you do to recharge?

How do you avoid making your heart a casualty at Christmas?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

self-medication

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?

self-medication

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!