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ripping off other preachers

Why You Should Stop Ripping Off Other Preachers (The Led Zeppelin Scenario)

Ever get jealous of a line or idea that another preacher or communicator came up with you wish you had thought of?

Me too.

It’s tempting to think of stealing it and to hope no one notices you didn’t think of it.

Well, all I can say is we preachers ought to be thankful that we don’t face the kind of lawsuits Led Zeppelin did recently accusing them of stealing the introductory riff from Stairway to Heaven off a lesser known band.

The jury found there wasn’t enough evidence to show Led Zeppelin borrowed the introduction for its mega-hit from a song called Taurus by L.A. band Spirit.

So, good for Led Zeppelin. Other bands have not been so lucky. And whether you’re vindicated or not, any band sued racks up tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs to prove your innocence.

The Led Zeppelin case reminds me that plagiarism (stealing someone else’s work and passing it off as your own) is a serious offence.

Ever wonder what would happen if preachers were held to a similar standard?

With the proliferation of podcasts, free sermon downloads and constant connectivity that describes our era, plagiarism in the church may be at an all-time high.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard lesser-known preachers steal other preachers key ideas and pass them off as their own—with no attribution.

In law, that’s technically a crime.

Now before you go all 1 Corinthians 6 on me and tell me that Christians should not sue one another (I agree), or point out there’s nothing new under the sun or that we’re all in this together, hear me out: I’m with you.

But just because we’re all part of the same Kingdom doesn’t mean we should go ripping each other off and claiming a thought was our idea.

I propose a rule for preachers that goes something like this:

Write your own stuff. And if you didn’t, tell people you didn’t.

That’s it.

Because if you don’t, there are at least five things you’re messing up as a leader.

shutterstock_273018893So what can I borrow?

There’s actually nothing morally wrong with borrowing other people’s great ideas.

But be honest and tell people you didn’t think of it yourself.

If you don’t think this is an epidemic, please know I’m not even close to being the most well-known preacher on the planet, nor the best-known writer. But my team has found other preachers preaching our local series verbatim, with no permission and zero attribution. Even the jokes were re-used. (Note, we happily share our message series with churches that ask. This particular guy didn’t ask.)

Ditto with my blog. My team has found other bloggers who have taken my content, pasted it word for word into their blog, and written their name above the post as the author. (We’ve asked them to take it down.)

So what’s the problem with idea-theft, sermon-theft or writing-theft? Well, clearly it’s not financial. Few of us stand to make millions (or even hundreds) off of having original message or blog ideas. It’s a free economy that way. And we ARE in this together.

But here are 5 things that are simply wrong about plagiarism:

1. You want people to think you’re smarter than you actually are

Let’s be honest…the real reason we borrow other people’s ideas and make them appear to be ours is so it makes us look smarter than we are.

Don’t think you can give credit and still seem smart?

Just listen to Tim Keller. In virtually every message, Keller references a book he’s read or a thinker he’s borrowing from. He does this regularly and generously.

And guess what? Keller’s one of the sharpest thinker’s alive today. Also one of the smartest.

Quoting other leaders doesn’t make you seem dumb. It actually makes you look smart.

It’s evidence you’ve read more than a few tweets, and that you’ve dug deep into the heart of history or current events. It’s a sign you’re not lazy.

Ripping people off is lazy. Learning from other authors and thinkers isn’t.

2. You lie

Lying is an integrity issue.

People assume when a speaker, artist or writer shares something, it’s their take on an issue.

I know of several pastors who have been fired by their board for stealing sermons they claimed were their own.

One literally downloaded another pastor’s messages every week and preached them verbatim. Another borrowed different sermons from different sources but never attributed them.

Their boards fired them. Bravo, boards.

If you steal money, you get fired. If you steal ideas, maybe you should be fired too.

3. You stop growing

Of all the leaders and communicators who have their ideas ripped off, Andy Stanley is likely top of the list. He’s one of the most quoted leaders alive today in the Western church, and for good reason. He’s brilliant.

I had a chance to talk with Andy on my Leadership Podcast and I asked him about how he felt about others ‘stealing’ his material and ideas. I loved his answer (you can listen to the episode here or on iTunes—Episode 1).

Andy said—so accurately—that preachers who preach other people’s messages forfeit the growth that comes with preparing a message from scratch. They miss the angst, the frustration and the tremendous reward that comes from wrestling down ideas until they come out in a powerful and helpful way.

Andy’s so right. Preachers, when you start stealing, you stop growing.

You also lose your own voice. If you’re like me, you may not be the biggest fan of your own voice, but it’s a voice God gave you and that God loves.

Further, if you’re simply a copycat, my suspicion is a younger audience will eventually tune you out. Why? Because Millennials can smell a lack of authenticity a mile away.

You may not be quite as clever or articulate as your favourite preacher, but you’re real. And real resonates.

But wait, you say, can’t you buy Andy’s sermons so you can reteach them at your church? Can’t you download Craig Groeschel’s messages and reteach them at your church? Both legally?

Yes, you can.

There can be strategic purposes for doing so. But when you do, give credit. Don’t lose the edge you gain by wrestling through your own ideas, your own reading of God’s word, and finding your own voice on a regular basis.

4. You lose touch with God

When you plagiarize, you lose touch with God in at least two significant ways.

First, the sins of lying and stealing are themselves a barrier. Confession stands between you and God.

Second, stealing ideas required zero reliance on the Holy Spirit for inspiration, direction, courage or insights.

Ironically, in trying to make your content better, you’ve made it worse. You’ve robbed it of its true power. The real power in preaching comes not from our words, but from what God does with our words.

Do the hard work. You and everyone around you will be better for it.

5. It creeps into other areas of your life

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s generally true that when you compromise in one area of your life, it doesn’t take much to start compromising in other areas.

Sin is like a weed; it grows fast and you never have to water it.

The best way to tackle sin is to pull it out by its root, before it creeps into other areas of your life.

So what do I do?

What should you do in a hyper-connected era when you and I are exposed to more ideas in a day than our grandparents were in a month or year?

First, use other peoples’ ideas generously. Just give credit where credit is due. Quote. Attribute. Link back.

That covers most of us.

But what about those preachers who realize they’re guilty of knowingly stealing entire messages or lines of thinking and passing it off as theirs..and no one has confronted them on it (yet)?

I would strongly encourage anyone in this category to come clean. Talk to your board. Explain what’s been happening, and tell them you want to stop. See a counselor if you need to (there’s something inside that drove you there in the first place), and start writing fresh.

Want to develop as a preacher?

Here are some free resources you can use to become a better communicator. I share the process I use for preparing messages in this 5 part blog series.

I have also learned so much about message preparation, delivery and communication best practices from Preaching Rocket (affiliate link).

Preaching Rocket can help you get started preaching from scratch. Or, even if you’ve been at communication for years like I have, it can help you grow.

You can sign up for a 7 day free Preaching Rocket trial here.

What do you think?

Am I being too hard on us as communicators? What’s been your experience?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

insights on burnout

A Decade Later: My Top 10 Insights On Burnout

Burnout is almost an epidemic among church leaders today, and it’s increasingly common among business leaders as well.

Even young leaders are burning out. No longer is burnout an “I’ve been at this too long” kind of phenomenon.

So what happens if you burnout?

Can you come back?

Can you lead again?

Can you thrive again?

Is there hope?

10 years ago this summer, I burnt out.

It was the first time my fatigue pushed me over a cliff and left me unable to get back. It was more than physical exhaustion…it was emotional exhaustion. I had led for 12 years, but clearly, I had not processed my leadership properly. My first decade in leadership pushed me past the brink of burnout.

If you want more about my story, I write about the descent into burnout in this post and about my recovery here.

In addition, Perry Noble and I talk about burnout on Episode 2 of my leadership podcast (Perry’s story is fascinating).  Perry and I also put together some free resources to help leaders going through burnout.

Personally, I’ll never forget the depth of the despair.

And yet, a full decade later, I have never felt better, never felt more alive, and never been more productive in my life.

Here are 10 ways my burnout changed the way I lead, and 10 insights that can help any leader lead better (whether or not you’ve burnt out).

burnout in leadership1. Limits exist for a reason

As a young leader, it’s so easy to think limits don’t apply to you. In some ways they don’t.

Until they do.

People kept telling me I would burn out.

I thought I was invincible. I was so wrong.

I have a much greater respect for God-given limits: limits for how much I can do, what I should be involved in, and even how much sleep I need.

I’ve discovered that when I respect limits, I ironically get far more accomplished. The desire to burn through all limits many leaders feel, is, in the end, counterproductive.

2. God is still present, even when he feels absent

It’s hard to feel God’s presence when you’ve hit bottom.

There were months where I simply went through the motions—praying, reading my bible and following God as best as I could, even though I felt nothing.

There were moments in which I felt there was no way God could be present because clearly I had failed him, or I wouldn’t be feeling the way I did.

But that simply isn’t true.

God was very present when I was burning out. In fact, he was doing some deep work in me: prodding, shaping and refining who I was. You could even argue he was preparing me for what was ahead.

Did it have to be as painful as it was? Of course not. Had I listened earlier and heeded the warning signs, I probably wouldn’t have burned out.

But God is sovereign, and his faithfulness doesn’t depend on me.

God is still present…even when he feels absent.

3. Your unresolved past will sink your future

Unprocessed ‘issues’ are deadly.

My wife had urged me to go to counselling for a few years before I actually went. I was too proud to go. I sent people to counselling. I didn’t go to counselling.

How stupid.

She saw issues I couldn’t see. Others saw issues I couldn’t see. I had issues…things that were driving me to hurt others unintentionally.

The truth is we all struggle with unresolved issues. The sooner you deal with them, the better everyone around you is.

Your unresolved past will sink your future, unless you deal with it.

4. Grieve your losses

A mentor once told me that ministry is a series of ungrieved losses. He was right.

Think about how much loss is involved in leadership. Someone leaves your church. A staff member quits. A decision doesn’t go your way. You lose a friend.

Many leaders pretend it doesn’t hurt when the reality is it does.

Worse than that, we don’t know what to do with our losses. So we just go back to work.

For years when I read the scriptural stories of how people grieved, I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with these people? Why did they take 40 days to grieve the death of Moses? Couldn’t they just get back to work?”

Little did I realize that taking the time to grieve your losses is one of the healthiest things you can do.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in August 2006 crying. It’s like all the losses I ignored for decades couldn’t stay inside anymore. And once they left…I found closure, even healing.

Now, I pay much more attention to feelings of loss. I pray about them. I process them. Occasionally I do shed tears over the deeper ones. And then I move on.

So much healthier.

5. If God wants to go deep, it’s because he wants to take you far

The #1 question I had in the middle of my burnout is will this ever end? 

It took me three months to start functioning semi-normally again. Within a year, I was at 80%. But it took a full 5 years to be at 100% of normal, which wasn’t the old normal, but a new normal (the old normal would have landed me back in the ditch again).

I realized God was doing some soul surgery in me that went very deep. I believe he wanted to get to the root of some heart issues that would have held me back from doing what he wants to accomplish with my life.

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to encourage other leaders going through burnout, spending some time to pray and talk with them, sometimes at length.

The question they always ask is this: when will this be over? All of us A-types want burnout over quickly.

My standard answer these days is “don’t rush it and don’t delay it. Let it take as long as it takes.”

Why?

There’s a promise underneath the pain. If God is doing surgery, it’s because he wants to bring healing.

It’s also a sign of his love. If God wants to go deep, it’s because he wants to take you far.

6. Your heart will heal and you will trust again

Your heart gets mangled in leadership because

You trusted people who betrayed that trust

You hoped only to have your hopes dashed

You believed only to discover what you were hoping for never happened

That’s the natural stuff of leadership, but in the process, your naiveté and innocence are lost.

As a result, it’s hard not to grow cynical. It’s hard not to let your heart grow hard.

How do you thrive long term when leadership can be disappointing?

For me, it’s a combination of realism and optimism. Yep, it can be hard. Yes, there will be disappointments. But despite that, I will believe again. I will hope again. I will trust again.

Here’s something I’ve discovered: leaders who thrive see life for what it really is but keep their hearts fully engaged.

7. Your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience

When you’re burnt out, your emotions stop working properly. You sometimes feel nothing. Or you feel a deep despair. And at other times, you feel emotions but they are not proportionate to what is going on around you or what you should be feeling.

I think a lot of leaders simply quit because their emotions have stopped working.

What I’ve learned is that obedience is greater than my emotions.

I stayed in ministry because I believe God had not released me from my calling. So I just obeyed.

The amazing thing is, eventually, your emotions catch up to your obedience. As you get healthier, the emotions begin to work the way they should. Sometimes they work better than they ever have.

8. Managing your energy is more important than managing your time

Prior to my burnout, I worked on time management.

Since I burned out, I still work hard on optimal time management, but I’ve discovered a much better approach: energy management.

Your energy waxes and wanes throughout the day. Rather than fight that, I’ve learned to cooperate with it. I’ve discovered that there are probably 3-5 hours a day when I’m at my best (for me, that’s usually in the morning).

I’ve moved all my most important work to those hours when I’m at my best.

Doing what you’re best at when you’re at your best unlocks a world of potential many leaders miss.

I write more on how to manage your energy here.

9. Sleep is a leader’s secret weapon

Exhaustion was a major reason I burned out. Not the only reason, but a major reason.

Now, I guard my sleep zealously, when I’m at home or on the road. I’ve embraced naps. And I watch my fatigue levels like a hawk.

I’ve come to realize that most of us are like our phones. You start off in the morning with 100% charge and at various points in the day, you need to be plugged back in.

A quick nap at lunch can recharge me for a few hours. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night has become essential for me to perform at my best at work and at home.

If you want more, I wrote a blog post on why sleep is a leader’s secret weapon.

10. Your best days may actually be ahead of you, not behind you

Here’s some hope for anyone struggling with burnout.

When I was burning out, I was mostly convinced my best days were behind me. With a decade’s distance from my burnout, I can see that wasn’t true in the least.

I came back from burnout (again, here are the 12 keys that helped me), and I’ve accomplished more in the last 10 years than I ever imagined was possible.

I planted a church that has grown into the largest church I’ve ever been a part of.

People told me all through my 30s that I should write a book. I never did. In the last 6 years, I’ve written three.

My blog has grown to millions of readers a year, I launched a weekly leadership podcast, and I’ve had the chance to speak all over the world.

If you had told me God would open up doors like this when I was in the depth of my burnout, I would never have believed it.

I’m not sure I could have handled what God brought my way before I burned out. There were things he needed to do inside me before he did things through me. I see that clearly now.

The point is simply this…if you’re burning out, keep moving through it. Maybe your best days are ahead of you, not behind you.

Want More?

I included a full chapter on personal health and team health in my new book, Lasting Impact. You can pick up a copy for you and your team here.

In addition, listen in on my interview with Perry Noble, Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church who burned out while leading a church that reaches tens of thousands of people. Perry tells you not only why he burned out, but how he came back.

If you prefer, you can listen to the podcast on your phone or another device by subscribing here. Once you’ve subscribed, just look for Episode 2, which is my interview with Perry.

Additionally, don’t miss the free resource page Perry and I put together to help leaders who are burning out. You can access it here for free.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunesStitcher or Tune In Radio.

Those are my top 10 insights on burnout a decade later.

What’s helped you move through your toughest seasons? What are your top insights?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

age of terror

Thoughts on How to Be the Church in An Age of Terror

Like me, you hope and pray that tragedies like the one we just witnessed in Orlando will stop and go away…forever.

You wish you could wake up in a world in which children could go to school, friends could go to movies, athletes could run marathons, music lovers could go to concerts and people could go to night clubs and churches without the fear of violence.

Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be ready to happen any time soon.

In an era of randomized terror, it’s extremely difficult to protect ourselves from acts of violence in shopping malls, schools, churches or movie theatres…it is infecting and affecting our ordinary, every day life.

Which is exactly what it’s designed to do. And hence, it’s terror.

In many ways, terror and evil have been part of the fabric of human life forever. My father was born into a world in which Nazi soldiers regularly marched feet away from his living room window while his older brothers hid in the hayloft. Terror is no stranger to previous generations or present generations in many parts of the world.

But living in this emerging reality in the West is new to most of us. And we are left, emotions swinging and raging, wondering how to respond.  Wishing it would go away. Even when in all likelihood, it won’t.

And so we pray, even when we are not sure what to pray or how to pray and often when our prayers consist more of tears, fear and desperation than they do of words. We are heartbroken. And we suspect our hearts will be broken again….soon.

How do we respond as Christians? As church leaders? As pastors and neighbours? As parents? As citizens?

Clearly, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or dark depth of what’s happening. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Nor is there an election result that can fix this once and for all.

But there are some reflections which I hope and pray can be helpful for Christians and church leaders. What you do is important. And how you respond, in the small and the large things, matters so much.

Here are a few things that have been circulating through my heart and mind as the tragedy in Orlando hits home.

age of terror

1. What the church is doing is more important, not less important

Doubtless the church is in an era of deep change.

Given the rise of terror and violence in the West, the days of playing church or simply going to church are drawing to a close.

This is the time to be the church, because what Christians have to offer is a radically different ethic and alternative to hatred and violence. The Gospel is a needed ethic in our culture, and it’s being lost in the noise.

You can debate parts of the scripture all you want, but one thing that is undeniable is that Jesus said his followers would be known by their love.

This, more than anything, is what Christians need to be known for.

Families need this love. Victims need this love. Perpetrators need this love. Children need this love.

The Gospel moves us to love when all that is left is hate.

So what you’re doing this Sunday, not just in response to what happened but in advance of what might happen next, is so important.

Our culture needs the love found in Jesus more than ever. What you’re doing next weekend matters more than you realize.

As the Gospel spreads from person to person, life to life, community to community, nation to nation, we are transformed.

Preach the love of Christ like you were changing the world. Because you are.

2. Confession and humility are more important than ever

Confession and humility are increasingly rare in the West. And in the church. And yet they are two characteristics of Christianity that run to the core of our faith.

The opposite of confession is blame…and that’s an instinctive reaction most of us have. Lack of humility pushes people (and nations) into stand-offs that deepen the divide and escalate the ruin.

The truth is, other religions aren’t the only religions that have spoken hate. Christians have spoken hate as well. We need to repent.

We are perfectly capable of hating and killing each other without intervention from foreign groups that hate the West. And sometimes, we do.

We need to pray, and repent, and carry deep inside of us the knowledge that we too are broken. We too need a Saviour. We too need grace. We too are forgiven.

That posture can’t change everything, but it will change more than you think. It can deeply alter the dynamic and dialogue at a micro-level. When the micro-dialogue and the micro-dynamics changes, it is only a matter of time until the macro changes.

3. Faith is a dividing line that ultimately can become a uniting line

The reality, of course, is that if you’re a Christian, there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only an ‘us’ and ‘us.’

The early church realized that when Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women and every ethnic nation imaginable came together under Christ. It was tremendously radical then. It will be just as radical now.

We live in an age where faith is increasingly seen as divisive and extreme. More and more people feel that way about Christianity as well, as David Kinnaman and I discuss in Episode 82 of my leadership podcast (you can listen here).

Yet Christianity, which man see as divisive, is ultimately unifying because it ultimately unites radically different people groups under the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.

4. The only ethic that will ever work is the ethic of love

A generation ago, Martin Luther King Jr. faced a situation that had some parallels. The civil rights movement was hardly yet a movement as the young black preacher began his ministry. The controversy over busing had just begun in Alabama.

One night when King was preaching, someone threw a bomb inside the house where he wife and infant daughter were inside. His family was unharmed, but his front window had been blown out and there was a huge hole in his porch.

As he rushed home, a crowd of several hundred blacks had gathered as had the mayor and the police.

As Charles Duhigg tells the story (in his book, The Power of Habit), someone shoved a cop, a bottle flew through the air and a police officer waved his baton. All the ingredients for a full riot were there. The tension had been building for weeks. Well, actually, for centuries.

King stood up on his porch and told the crowd “Don’t do anything panicky….He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Then, as he got everyone’s attention, King spoke these words:

“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in word that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’…We must meet hate with love.”

As Duhigg notes, this was a turning point for the civil rights movement. People put down their fists and their weapons. When hate became instead, an embrace, it became a very difficult force to stop.

The only ethic that will ultimately work against hate is love. And no one should be more loving than those forgiven in Christ.

It would be wise to study King and the civil rights movement again in detail to see not just results, but strategy. The strategy of love appears to lose at first, but ultimately wins.

5. Christians lay down their lives in the face of evil

Should Christians take life? There is little point on this blog to getting into long debate about gun control or state violence.

I would assume that only a few of us who read this are actually legislators, and that none of us who read this have ever sat in the Oval Office or at 24 Sussex Drive to receive a briefing as the leader of a nation. We cannot understand the complexities of leadership or government from the seats in which we sit. Or at least I can’t.

But I do have to figure out my personal response. And so do you. So do Christians.

What I know is this.

That when Jesus himself was hated enough to be unjustly tortured and killed, he willingly gave his life. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t even enter a defence at his trail.

In fact, he did something more profound than defending himself, he forgave his torturers.

Actually, it went deeper than that. The very act his captors used to kill Jesus is the act Jesus would later use to extend to them forgiveness and salvation.

Meeting Jesus, this crucified Saviour, would later lead Saul to move from killing Christians out of hatred to planting churches across the known world.

Ultimately, Paul gave his life for the sake of the Gospel.

The ultimate Christian response to hatred is not to take someone’s life for hating you, it’s to lay down your life for their sake.

You can kill the body. But you cannot kill love. You cannot kill forgiveness. You cannot kill grace.

It is to those things we must cling in these days.

6. External regulations cannot trump internal values

Can you legislate away terror? Not really.

I’m all in favour of better laws, smarter laws, and doing all we can to make sure evil does not win.

But laws alone cannot defeat evil. Laws, in fact, can barely contain it.

Ultimately the problems we are facing are not issues of law, they are issues of the heart.

Changed laws do not change hearts.

What changes hearts? The Gospel. Love. Christ.

When a heart is transformed, it’s value system is transformed. Forgiveness dissolves anger. Love dissolves hate.

As a result, a person’s value system changes. This is where the hope is. This is where the key to future lies.

Why? Because internally-owned values trump externally-imposed rules every time.

In a community where love has won, laws are barely needed. In a community where hate lives, laws do almost no good.

Paul knew this.

So how does that love gain a foothold in a culture threatened with hate?

The way people will discover that love is when they meet a Christian who behaves like an actual Christian.

And that means that this begins with you and with me.

You may have never met a terrorist. You may not have even know many Muslims.

But the truth is there are people you don’t like, and probably a few that you hate. Start there.

Forgive someone you actually know.

And then when it comes to adding your voice to the public dialogue on social media or in private conversations, don’t fuel hate to people groups and other religions…instead, extend love.

The most radical thing you can do today is to extend love in the face of hate.

It will require all you have. In fact, you will not be able to do it. You may actually need a Saviour to help.

Which is exactly the point.

So go be the church…

So go be the church…the real church. The authentic church. The church Jesus had in mind.

Repent. Confess. Humble yourself. Forgive. Love. Hope. Trust.

Turn to Christ for the strength you don’t have. He has it.

Church…we may actually have the things that can change the world.

What you’re doing this week matters more than ever.

heart is growing hard

7 Warning Signs Your Heart is Growing Hard in Leadership

If you’re like me, the longer you serve in leadership, the more intentional you have to become at keeping your heart open and fully alive.

Hardness of heart is a condition that people on the wrong side of God and people develop. Biblically, Pharaoh suffered from it. Israel did on occasion. And the Pharisees specialized in it.

Chances are, the boss you couldn’t stand suffered from it as well.

Not exactly great company if you ask me.

So it’s a little bit vulnerable to admit you struggle with it. But I do. I’m on constant guard about keeping my heart open and alive.

One of the greatest casualties in leadership is the human heart. So many leaders see their hearts grow hard over time. How does it happen?

Well, like a physician or paramedic who sees illness or tragedy every day, you develop a way of dealing with the pain. And some of that’s healthy.

But if you don’t monitor things carefully, you can move into full seasons where you don’t feel much of anything at all. Your heart can grow hard.

shutterstock_405547558

How do you know you’re there, or heading there?

Here are 7 early warning signs:

1. You don’t really celebrate and you don’t really cry 

A hard heart is flat heart. Not much gets in.

Joy doesn’t. Sadness doesn’t.

And while you don’t want to be unstable or imbalanced, it’s actually normal and healthy to feel the ups and downs of life and leadership.

2. You fake your emotions

Truthfully, we’ve all done this in seasons. And sometimes you need to.

When you’re the leader, you ‘have’ to lead in the public eye, and sometimes that means smiling when you’re not happy, showing empathy when you don’t feel it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a lie nor is it inauthentic if it only happens once in a while. When that happens occasionally, you’re simply being a leader, not a liar.

But when faking your emotions become a pattern, it’s a sign something is deeply wrong. And that kind of faking can’t last if you want to lead and live well.

Fake your emotions enough times and your leadership will stop resonating with the people you lead. Why? Because you’ve stopped becoming an authentic leader. And authenticity is a non-negotiatable leadership quality, especially in our culture.

3. You say “I don’t care” a lot

Maybe this is more personal than universal, but a sure sign my heart is in trouble is when I hear myself saying “I don’t care” repeatedly.

If someone’s upset, I say I don’t care.

If someone disappoints me, I say I don’t care.

If something doesn’t work out the way I hoped, I say I don’t care.

If my actions are going to hurt someone, I say I don’t care.

To me, this is a huge warning sign that there’s a problem, because I should care. Even if I can’t change the outcome, I should care.

If you really don’t care about the people around you, eventually they’ll stop caring about you.

 

4. So much of what’s supposed to be meaningful feels mechanical

Another sure sign of a hard heart is that you feel like a robot.

What’s supposed to be meaningful has become mechanical. You’re doing your job. You’re getting things done, but it’s just mechanical.

From your personal friendships to your family to work, the feeling’s gone.

5. Passion is hard to come by

For anything.

Your heart and your passion level are deeply connected. Sometimes you’ll try to rekindle your passion when what you really need to do is go deeper, and fix your heart.

6. You no longer believe the best about people 

You know you’re in danger when you meet someone for the first time and you’re thinking about what’s going to go wrong, not what’s going to go right.

And the stakes are high when you stop believing the best and assuming the worst.

Why?

Leaders who stop believing the best about people stop receiving the best from people.

7. You’re growing cynical

Hard-heartedness and cynicism go hand in hand.

Cynicism is simply the death of optimism. And it happens slowly over time.

If you find yourself growing cynical, how do you battle back? Easy…become curious.

Ever notice the cynical are never curious and the curious are never cynical?

I wrote more about cynicism and curiosity here.

So How Does It Happen?

How does your heart grow hard? Here are a few ways I’ve seen hardness of heart get triggered in me:

1. You see the patterns, and forget the people

In my first few years in ministry, all I saw were people. Then I realized people behaved certain ways.

Actually, people behave in certain predictable ways.

Unchecked, that can lead to cynicism when you realize the people who say they want to change (and at first you believe them), don’t change. If you become fixated on the patterns of human behaviour, not the people beneath them, your heart will grow hard.

Patterns are discouraging. People aren’t.

2. You over-protect a broken heart 

People promise and don’t deliver. Your hopes were bigger than what happened. You trusted someone and your trust was misplaced.

Really, that’s just life. It happens to everyone. But how you respond is so critical. It’s easy to shield yourself from people. It’s easy to stop trusting, stop loving, stop believing. But that would be a mistake. It kills your heart.

3. You stop looking for what’s good in people and situations

Because life has its disappointments, and people are still people even after they become Christians (it’s amazing how that happens), it’s easy to focus on personal and organization shortcomings.

If you keep that up, it can be all you focus on. Keep looking for flickers of light. Your job as a leader is to spot the hope in any situation anyway, to find a way when it looks like there’s no way. So keep looking.

4. You accept a harder heart as a new normal

A hardened heart isn’t inevitable, but it does take intentional effort to guard against one. When you feel your heart becoming hard, you need to take action and fight against it.

All that said, I’ve also discovered this: if you work at it, your heart can stay supple.

When you pick away at the callous, something wonderful God created still beats underneath. And you enter a new season of life wiser, but very much fully alive.

Some Help

If you want more, I encourage you to listen in to a conversation with Perry Noble, in which he and I talk about burnout (it’s Episode 2 of my Leadership Podcast on iTunes) A hard heart can be a sign that you’re burning out. Perry and I talk about the burnout we both experience, and we put a free resource page together to help.

I also wrote about building healthy teams in my latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. You can learn more about the book or get a copy here.

How’s your heart? Is this something you have to struggle with too?

If you had to pick one thing that hardens your heart, what would it be?

battle in your head

How to Win the Battle In Your Head

Of all the challenges you face as a leader, one of the most intense is knowing how to win the battle that goes on in your head.

Leadership is above all a mental (and therefore spiritual) game.

You can have all the hard skill sets in the world—a fantastic education, tremendous insight, wisdom, the ability to rally a team, to build things and to get things done—but if you don’t know how to deal with the voices in your head, you can go down in defeat.

Sometimes you don’t need anyone to take you out of leadership. You’re perfectly capable of doing it yourself, just by listening to the voices in your head.

You know what I mean, the voices that say:

You’re not up for this.

What’s the point?

You’re not doing a great job.

Just do something else with your life…it will be easier.

This doesn’t really matter.

Don’t bother.

Most of us have a series of messages (like these) that play back over and over again in our mind, like a mixed tape. Yours may be similar or a bit different, but they’re there. 

Sadly, too many of the voices in your head try to defeat what God wants to accomplish in you and through you.

Win the battle in your head, and you can win the battle in leadership. Lose it, and you can lose everything.

So how do you ultimately win? Here are 6 things that have helped me as a leader.

win the battle in your head

1. Win the battle by calling an audible

The problem most of us experience with the battle in our heads is that it’s been going on for so long, we hear the negative voices as a kind of white noise.

When I’m struggling with thoughts in my head that aren’t helpful and can’t get clarity, I call an audible. I name (sometimes out loud) the reality that all the actual opposition I’m facing is in my head. 

Personally, I find by saying something as simple as “wait…this is ALL IN MY HEAD” can be tremendously clarifying.

It’s not real…not yet. I’m just thinking it.

And—remember this—the stuff that’s in your head is only as real as you let it become.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a great starting point.

2. Stop focusing on yourself

I often find when I’m losing the battle in my head that  I’m focusing on myself, not on the mission.

Self-focus is helpful when it’s tied to self-awareness, and you’re confessing, changing, building or growing as a leader. Beyond that, it’s increasingly less productive.

Self-focus beyond self-awareness as a leader becomes selfish.

So ask yourself: is my self-focus helping me or hurting me? Am I growing as a leader, or am I just finding a new rut to get stuck in?

If your self-focus is not productive, drop it. Because selfishness is never productive in leadership.

You know this to be true: the selfish leader is rarely self-aware, and the self-aware leader is rarely selfish.

3. Win the battle and find a bigger challenge

The voices that play in my head get worse when I’m bored…when there’s no challenge that’s dominating my time and attention.

Sometimes the fact that the voices are present and there’s a malaise is evidence to me that its time for a bigger challenge.

That doesn’t mean quitting your job or looking for something new. It just means upsizing the scale and importance of your current mission.

Fortunately for church leaders, we have the biggest mission on planet earth. Nothing could be more exciting, challenging or worthy of our lives.

If you’re not excited about the mission of the church, you don’t understand the mission.

Refocusing on the mission of the church is a very effective way of silencing the negative voices in your head.

4. Take a break and come back fresh

Occasionally, the problem isn’t that you’re not working hard enough, it’s that you’re working too hard. You’ve gotten lost in the long drone of day-to-day leadership.

Instead of staring at a wall and letting the dialogue in your head ramp up to another level, take a break and do something not related to your job.

Go for a run. Hop on your bike. Take a hike (literally). Watch a movie. Game a little. Cut your lawn. Have dinner with a friend and DON’T talk about work.

Take a nap or go to bed an hour early (going to bed earlier is almost always more energizing than sleeping in).

The mental distractions these activities offer provides a break from the long drone of leadership.

Every leader needs a break from the long drone of leadership. So take one today.

5. Lean into your energy

You get an equal amount of energy every day, but you never bring the same amount of energy to each hour.

You likely have a 3-5 hour window every day where you’re truly at your best. Your energy is high. Your mind is sharp, and your enthusiasm runs deep.

The problem is that often, you squander that energy on unproductive things, like a meeting that went too long, or email that made your eyeballs numb, or small tasks that could have been saved for later.

The key to maximum effectiveness as a leader is this: do what you’re best at when you’re at your best. That’s what top performing leaders do (here are 12 other traits of top performing leaders).

If your key strength is communication, do your writing or thinking in that 3-5 hour window. Save the administration for later when your energy is lower.

Or if your key work is building into your best people, get them in a room when your energy is at its best.

For me, my best hours are between 5-10 a.m. I try to do my most important work in that window.

Discover your peak hours by monitoring your energy level and then doing what you’re best at… when you’re at your best. (I wrote more about how to do that here.)

6. Pray and have people pray for you

Prayer is so important to Christian leadership, but it’s so often neglected.

I admit, I would lean toward participating in a strategy meeting over a prayer meeting any day, but that’s also a critical mistake. If we’re being 100% dead honest, you might lean in the same direction (and if you don’t—great).

Praying about the battle in your head is a necessary and powerful step every leader can take. And it should be the first step.

Also, when the battle wages on, it’s a good idea to have other people pray for you.

When I entered a period of burnout a decade ago, the prayers of close friends and family were instrumental in helping me see the light of day again.

Prayer fixes my mind on Christ and lifts me above the problems I’m facing at any given moment.

Here’s what I’m learning as a leader: fixing your mind on Christ fixes your mind.

What About You?

What voices do you hear in your head that want to take you off-mission and out of the game?

How do you battle them…and win?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

rapidly changing moral culture

5 Ways Christians Can Approach The Rapidly Changing Moral Culture

Ever feel like the world you stepped into when you began in ministry no longer exists?

You’re not alone.

The culture around us is changing.

You can debate when the collapse of Christendom in the West began, but there is little doubt we are witnessing a massive shift away from the cultural consensus that existed even a few generations ago.

So as a church leader – as views on sexuality, family, parenting, drugs, finance and other values change – how do you respond? What do you do when the world for which you trained—maybe even the world where your approach was once effective—is disappearing before your eyes?

What’s the key to responding when the world around you no longer

shares your value system

pays much attention to you

thinks you add anything to the cultural mix?

I see at least five approaches emerging, some that are helpful and some that aren’t.

moral culture

1. Be Oblivious to Culture

Some churches appear to be oblivious to culture.

Walk into a church like this, and you won’t be able to tell whether it’s 2016, 1996 or 1966 for that matter.

The sermons are theoretical and not at all practical, nor do they engage the realities of the world people inevitably will walk back into Monday morning.

The music is remarkably stale and sounds like nothing you’d hear anywhere else. No one looks like they would be comfortable visiting a trendy local restaurant. It’s the same old, same old, and this church seems old.

What happens if you’re oblivious to the culture around you? If you’re indifferent to the culture, it should be no surprise that the culture is indifferent to you.

This approach produces irrelevance.

2. Hide From Culture

Unlike churches that are indifferent to the culture, churches that hide from the culture are aware of what’s going on around them. But they’re scared. Really scared.

So they hide.

You’ll hear Christians in this camp vow to never do anything ‘secular.’ Sometimes Christians set up their own networks as a safe cocoon from others.

They live on GodTube and Faithbook. They have ‘Christian’ alternatives to everything you can think of.

This approach stifles the mission of the church.

Effectively it’s a retreat and runs counter from the church’s mission to advance.

As a result, many in this camp don’t actually know any non-Christians.

You can’t reach the world you don’t know, understand or love.

 3. Slam the Culture

This has become a very popular approach over the last few decades, perhaps peaking when the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S. last year.

I continue to be baffled as to why Christians insist non-Christians adopt our moral views. Why on earth would Christians expect non-Christians to act like Christians when…they’re not Christians?

If you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

For those intent on slamming the culture and the governments for their views, I’ll reiterate what I said in my post on same-sex marriage.

Having a government that doesn’t embrace the church’s values line for line actually puts Christians in some great company—the company of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Jesus spent zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.

The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land.

He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them. 

Paul constantly suffered at the hands of the authorities, ultimately dying under their power, but like Jesus, he didn’t look to them for change.

Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, Paul wrote letters from prison talking about the love of Jesus Christ.

Instead of looking to the government for help, Paul and Jesus looked to God.

None of us in the West are suffering nearly as radically as Jesus and Paul suffered at the hands of a government. In fact, in Canada and the U.S., our government protects our freedom to assemble and even disagree with others. Plus, it gives us tax breaks for donations.

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

Maybe the future North American church will be more like the early church, rising early, before dawn, to pray, to encourage, to break bread.

Maybe we will pool our possessions and see the image of God in women. And love our wives radically and deeply with a protective love that will shock the culture. Maybe we will treat others with self-giving love, and even offer our lives in place of theirs.

Maybe we’ll be willing to lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus.

That might just touch off a revolution like it did two millennia ago.

Perhaps the government might even take notice, amazed by the love that radical Jesus followers display.

I hope so.

4. Embrace People and Offer an Alternative

Of all the approaches I’ve noticed, this is the most encouraging in my view. And it’s the one I also try to embrace.

There’s much about today’s culture we may not like, but that’s no excuse to stop loving people within the culture.

In an age when so many churches push away people they don’t agree with, the field is ripe for Christians willing to embrace their neighbours.

To actually love them. Kind of like Jesus told us to.

Does that mean we have to agree with everything they do? Of course not.

But (…think about this…) the church is uniquely positioned to offer a radically beautiful alternative to the culture in so many key issues, like our sexuality, how we handle our money, what we do with our bodies, and in basic disciplines like confession and self-control.

When culture truly becomes post-Christian (as it has in Canada, where I live), it’s often not that people are rejecting Christian teachings, it’s that they don’t even know what those teachings are. And they’re surprisingly open to Christianity if the Christians they meet are loving and generous people.

Many are open to a new way to live. Here are just a few alternatives core to Christianity providing an intriguing counter-cultural viewpoint:

In an age where sex is anything you want it to be, Christianity teaches that sex is sacred and that we value the who far more than the what, which changes the what and the how.

In a culture where greed and debt have become the norm, Christ-followers can model and teach generosity and life that isn’t measured by what we accumulate. Teaching young families to save and give is truly countercultural these days, and deeply biblical.

In an era when the family is morphing and even fragmenting before our eyes, Christians can offer support and mentor kids and teens and extend friendship and tangible support to parents and adults who are alone. (Orange is fantastic at helping churches do this.)

Do you see the pattern? There are so many other areas where we can embrace people who are different than we are and humbly come alongside to help.

In the meantime, if you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

5. Use the Culture to Reach the Culture

The culture around us isn’t the only culture around. Your church has a culture too. And it can be a bridge or a barrier to reaching people.

From the outset, I’ve believed the most effective strategy we can follow is to adapt our culture within the church so it becomes a bridge to the culture around us and not a barrier.

It’s time for churches to cut the weird, the irrelevant and the ineffective. Our mission is too important.

When you adapt your music and your communication style to make your church accessible to the unchurched, you don’t necessarily water down a thing (at least you don’t have to…we don’t). You simply make what you’re sharing accessible and understandable.

If you want to make your church more effective, use the culture to reach the culture.

So what does that mean?

Whether you use mainstream music in your service or not, having music that sounds like music people today listen to helps people today feel comfortable and engaged.

Communicating in clear and accessible language is just good hospitality – it works the same way in creating more effective preaching. Leaving people confused and bewildered after 45 minutes of “deep” teaching might not be the best strategy if you want to see lives changed.

The point is not to change what we say, but how we say it. Not to change what we believe (at all), but to express it in a way that helps people understand it.

And above all, this means genuinely loving people outside our community and sharing the teachings and hope of Christ in a clear and compelling way.

Churches who have adapted their style of ministry to be more reflective of the culture around us almost always get critiqued for it. I’ve been criticized for years for leading a church intentional on adapting ministry style to connect with people outside our comfortable community. But you know who levies the criticism? Christians. But they’re already reached.

So go reach some people who haven’t heard about how deeply Jesus loves them. And use the culture to reach the culture.

Want More?

If you want more, Caleb Kaltenbach has written a two part article on how the Apostle Paul engaged culture (Caleb’s piece spurred me to write this one).

If you’d like to drill down even deeper, I have more on this topic in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

The new Team Edition is now available featuring 8 videos that can help optimally frame the conversations for your team. And if you buy the Team Edition before May 31st, 2016, you’ll get access to a private Facebook Group for Team Edition leaders hosted by me. But hurry…today is the last day!

Thoughts? Scroll down and leave a comment.

insecurity as a leader

Some Simple Practices That Will Get You Over Your Insecurity as a Leader

So you struggle with insecurity as a leader. Join the club.

It’s not fun to struggle with insecurity, but it is great that you see it. Self-awareness helps so much in leadership.

In my last post, I outlined 5 signs of insecurity in leadership.

So, beyond recognizing your problem, how do you overcome your insecurity?

As I’ve wrestled this issue down in my life, I’ve made several key transitions that have helped significantly. They’re easy to understand but difficult to do. The key is to simply do them again and again.

When you do these things, your insecurities begin to dissipate. Good habits displace bad impulses.

Here are five changes that can help you deal with underlying insecurity.

insecurities

1. Be generous with your praise

This might sound trivial, but it’s not. Insecure people are often jealous people.

One of the best ways to combat jealousy is to privately and publicly commend and compliment others. Especially if you don’t feel like it.

If you’re afraid of building others up because you think it might diminish you in some way, that’s the perfect time to do it. Don’t remain silent.

Don’t give them a back-handed compliment (“It’s about time he did something good!”) and don’t qualify the praise (“It was pretty good given her track record”).

Publicly celebrating the success of others will move you much closer to what Jesus was talking about when he commanded us to love enemies and people who persecute us.

Most of the people you hesitate to compliment aren’t close to being enemies.

So in those moments when others make a difference (there are many), smile and acknowledge it, privately and publicly. Be generous with your praise.

2. Recruit and promote people who are better than you

I had to wrestle this one down a number of years ago as we added staff and key volunteers. I had to hire people who were better than me at so many things. In fact, I’m only ‘best at’ a few things in our organization.

My goal in life is to give more of those things away.

Another way I had to deal with this head on is when we started Connexus Church as a strategic partner of North Point Ministries. That means when I’m not teaching, Andy Stanley is.

If you really want to wrestle down insecurity, just put the most gifted communicator around on the screen when you aren’t teaching.

It will quickly teach you to celebrate what others are amazing at, and experience contentment with the role you also play.

3. Give thanks for who you are instead of lamenting over who you aren’t

At the root of much insecurity are two beliefs.

First, that God somehow got it wrong when he created you. And second, that you need to compensate for this.

That’s why insecure people are jealous or resentful of others and why we somehow feel we need to ‘right’ the situation by withholding praise, refusing to hire or recruit better people because it might make us look bad, and trying to control things so they work out in our favour.

Why not start each day thanking God for how he created you?

Why not say “God, you have given me everything I need to accomplish what you’ve asked me to accomplish and you’ve given others exactly what they need to accomplish their mission”?

That shift will also help you relinquish your controlling tendencies.

Realizing God has given you all you need makes you both grateful and dependent.

4. Stop comparing yourself with others. Start learning from them

Constantly comparing yourself to others is a losing game no matter how you try to play it. You end up feeling inferior (wrong) or superior (sinful) to others every time you compare. It corrodes your heart.

So how to do you interact healthily with others? Learn from them. Plain and simple. You grow by being around other people, so grow.

What do they do well? What could you do differently? What are the charts and numbers telling you? How can you develop from what you’re learning?

5. Get ridiculously honest with yourself (and God)

I had a powerful moment in my journey a number of years ago. It was one of those moments where I wasn’t reading the scripture, the scripture was reading me.

This passage in James stopped me dead in my tracks. It described exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

Instead of blowing it off and ignoring it, I admitted (to my shame) that it described me. I prayed about it.

The next day I went back to the same text, praying as I read through it again.

I didn’t leave those four verses until the ugly things they described relinquished their grip on my heart. It took over a week.

Every time I’ve read that text in the years that have passed, I stop and give thanks to God for what he dealt with inside of me in that season.

I’m so grateful. But you don’t get to that kind of breakthrough without ridiculous honesty about what’s really going on.

So level with yourself. And with God. Everyone else knows your weakness. So does God. Why not admit it?

We are masters of self-deception. Dead-honest confession stops that.

These five strategies have helped me. What’s helped you? What are you learning?

Want More?

If you want more on how your church can create a healthier leadership culture, I wrote about that in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

The new Team Edition is now available featuring 8 videos that can help optimally frame the conversations for your team. And if you buy the Team Edition before May 31st, 2016, you’ll get access to a private Facebook Group for Team Edition leaders hosted by me.

———

I’m on a sabbatical in May, and (for the most part) running past articles that have slipped off the mainstream but in my view can still help leaders. — Carey

insecure leader

5 Signs You’re An Insecure Leader

Ever wonder if you’re an insecure leader?

There’s a bit of irony in that question. Insecure people by nature wonder about things like that. I know because part of my personal leadership journey over the years has been spent battling insecurity.

It’s the same for many of us. Most leaders I know struggle with some level of insecurity. In my next post, I’ll share some strategies that can really help get past the struggle so many of us face.

But in the meantime, how do you know whether insecurity occupies some real estate in your life?

Because self-awareness is a major step toward personal change, here are five signs you might be battling insecurity as a leader.

insecure leaer1. You are constantly comparing yourself to others

You and I have lots to learn from other people, but insecure people aren’t driven so much by a desire to learn as they are to know whether they are better or worse than others.

There is a world of difference between tracking with someone to grow and learn and tracking other people or organizations to see how you stack up.

One is healthy, the other destructive.  As Andy Stanley says, there is no win in comparison. In fact, there’s just a lot of sin in comparison.

2. Your sense of self-worth is driven by your latest results

I’m a results-driven guy. I want to see this mission expand and I want to see things grow.

Some of that is good. And some of that can warp any sense of security you have.

You know you’re an insecure leader when your opinion of yourself rises and falls with your attendance, performance, blog stats, comment thread, reviews or what others say about you.

Preachers, you aren’t nearly as good as your last message, or as bad.

I do monitor all of these things, but I’ve had to learn not to obsess over them.

God’s opinion of me doesn’t equate with people’s opinion of me.

I need to learn from trends and learn from others, but I cannot let someone else determine my worth.

3. You can’t celebrate someone else’s success

This trait is a tell-tale sign that you are insecure.

Why can’t you just give a compliment?  Why can’t you be genuinely happy when someone else succeeds?

Life is actually not a zero sum game – at least not life in God’s Kingdom.  For you to win, someone else does not have to lose.

If you can’t compliment a competitor, why not?  If you can’t celebrate a colleague, is it because you are worried others might think they are better than you?

You do not need to be the only one who is ‘great’ at something.

4. You make no room for people who are more gifted or competent than you

This is where your personal traits inflict direct harm to your organization (not that the other traits don’t, but this one has a direct and lethal impact).

Insecure people always feel a need to be the most gifted person in the room. As a result, the number of gifted people in any room they’re in drops accordingly.

One sign of a great leader is someone who can attract and keep people more gifted and competent than themselves.

The future will belong to people who can forge great alliances, make great partnerships and attract great people.

5. You need to be the final word on everything

Insecure people end up being controlling people.

Insecure people don’t need experts because they want to be the expert. Know-it-alls weren’t much fun in kindergarten; they are less fun in the adult world.

Leaders who need to be the final word on everything end up leading not much more than themselves.

The truth is most of us are only great at one or two things, and even then, you became good at it with the help and advice of others.

When you value the counsel and input of others–especially on the things you’re best at–you embark on a path toward greater wisdom.

Those are some signs I’ve seen that mark insecurity in myself and in others.

How about you?  What have you noticed? Scroll down and leave a comment.

Want More?

If you want more on how your church can create a healthier leadership culture, I wrote about that in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

The new Team Edition is now available featuring 8 videos that can help optimally frame the conversations for your team. And if you buy the Team Edition before May 31st, 2016, you’ll get access to a private Facebook Group for Team Edition leaders hosted by me.

———

I’m on a sabbatical in May, and (for the most part) running past articles that have slipped off the mainstream but in my view can still help leaders. — Carey

worship wars

5 Ways to Battle The Never-Ending Worship Wars

So let me guess: someone recently complained about the music at your church.

It doesn’t matter what style of music your church features or how traditional or edgy your music is; complaining about music is almost a universal phenomenon in the church today.

Some of that is generated by church shoppers (I outlined 5 characteristics of church shoppers here), but the problem is more pervasive than hearing from a few church shoppers.

It’s endemic to human nature and to our consumer driven culture that basically says everything revolves around me. While I think consumer Christianity will die in the future (here’s why), we’re not there yet.

Before we get started, please know this isn’t a slam against any particular style of music in the church.

In fact, I admire all churches that are innovating to become more effective in their mission.

But here’s the challenge.

Many leaders have almost spilled blood getting their church to change in the area of music (or making sure their church doesn’t change).

And yet, despite the battles fought over music, many churches are still not much further ahead in reaching people because of it.

Why is that?

There are five problems I see church leaders struggle with when navigating the sensitive and emotional issue of worship style in church.

worship wars

1. You become so focused on pleasing the people you have that you lose sight of the people you’re trying to reach

Whatever your music style, many church leaders are overly worried about how ‘their people’ will handle the change.

This is healthy. Leaders who don’t care how their congregation thinks eventually end up leading nobody.

But it’s also a trap. When peoples’ reactions become an overriding fear, the mission shifts away from reaching new people to keeping the people you have happy.

As a result, leaders:

Abandon change to keep people happy.

Compromise vision to try to satisfy the discontent.

Stop innovating to try to placate people.

These attempts at making people happy virtually never work (I wrote about the problems people-pleasing leaders face here).

What to Do

So what do you do to combat your people pleasing focus?

Focus on who you’re trying to reach rather than on who you’re trying to keep.

And when you’re communicating a change to your congregation, focus on why you’re making the change (to reach people) and far more people will accept what you’re trying to do (changing the style of worship).

If you want more on this subject, I’ve written more on leading change here.

2. You define ‘contemporary’ relative to how you used to worship

Let me name the elephant in the room. Most of what passes for ‘contemporary’ worship isn’t that contemporary at all.

Sure, the church has changed. And there may have been some battles over the change.

But walk into many self-described ‘contemporary’ churches and it feels like 2004, or 1994, or even 1984. The church isn’t actually ‘contemporary’ (contemporary means ‘occurring in the present’).

Tony Morgan makes a great point in The New Traditional Church: If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).

But most church leaders don’t like that style of music or are afraid their church wouldn’t.

What to do

Be honest. Don’t call yourself contemporary if you’re some paler version of it. Self-awareness and honestly actually matter if you’re trying to reach unchurched people.

Sadly, well-meaning self-deception runs rampant in church leadership today.

Be truthful about what you’re doing. If you are, it might just make you frustrated enough to make you change again.

In the meantime, realize that despite all the change, you might still be miles away from being relevant to the people living around you.

3. You’ve become stuck in “No Man’s Land”

I learned about No Man’s Land in churches from James Emery White.

It’s a term that describes churches too contemporary to please the traditionalists and too traditional to reach people who connect with a contemporary approach.

I have no desire to ignite a furious debate about ‘blended worship’ (a combination of traditional and contemporary styles).

Can it work? I’m sure it can, done right.

But you don’t have to get too far into the conversation with most church leaders who are in a blended format to realize it’s not an overriding passion to reach the outsider that fuels the change, it’s fear that if they go too much further there will be an apocalypse.

What’s the bottom line? Most blended worship happens because leaders are afraid to go further, not because leaders think it’s the best option.

The attempt to make everyone happy usually makes no one happy.

In my view, the last 10 percent of change is the hardest. When we transitioned from traditional to blended to full-out ‘contemporary’ music a decade ago, the last 10 percent of the change was harder than the first 90 percent. I think that’s how leaders get stuck.

Again, I’m not saying blended services are a bad thing (we’ve chosen to not embrace that strategy at Connexus for very specific reasons). I’m just saying if you end up there, make sure that’s where you want to be because you believe it’s the most effective way to accomplish your mission.

What to do

Don’t get stuck somewhere you’re not called to be.

Finish the change or make sure where you’re at is honestly the very best way to fulfill your mission.

4. Style has become an end in itself, not a means to an end

Your style of music and service should serve the mission. It is not the mission.

Once again, this nails all of us: traditionalists, innovators and everyone in between.

Our goal is not to arrive at a particular worship style. It’s to accomplish the mission Christ has given us.

I love how our church does music.

But 40 years from now, I don’t want to be sitting around in a retirement home with my friends complaining that young people today don’t sing enough Hillsong Young and Free, play cover tunes at church or make pour-over coffee.

The church should always change, and it needs to change on your watch.

How do you address this? 

Be committed to constant change. Don’t rest.

Your style as church helps you achieve the mission. It is not the mission.

5. Older leaders make decisions that belong to younger leaders

Far too often in the church, I have seen older leaders make decisions that rightly belong to younger leaders.

There is a role for middle-aged leaders and older leaders. They bring wisdom to the table and a seasoned viewpoint almost impossible to find in someone who is starting out.

I’m not slamming others. I am almost the oldest person on our staff team.

Even though I’m fairly up to date on culture, music, and technology, I’m no longer the guy who should be calling the music, design or cultural shots at our church.

I’m not sure most leaders over 40 should be. Not if you want to impact the next generation.

Sitting around the table at our service programming meetings are leaders who are 10-30 years younger than me (we almost always have a teenager in the mix).

I trust their judgment more than mine when it comes to how our services will connect with the people we’re trying to reach.

I have just seen too many leaders in their 40s, 50s and 60s make decisions that alienate younger generations and then sit around and ask where all the young people went.

Don’t be that leader.

What to do

Ensure you have younger leaders around your leadership table and empower them to make the decisions that drive your organization.

It’s really not more complicated than that.

Want More?

If you want more on how your church can have healthier conversations, I wrote about that in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

The new Team Edition is now available featuring 8 videos that can help optimally frame the conversations for your team. And if you buy the Team Edition before May 31st, 2016, you’ll get access to a private Facebook Group for Team Edition leaders hosted by me.

That’s what I see. I’d love to know what you’re seeing and experiencing.

What challenges do you see around music in the church? Scroll down and leave a comment!

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I’m on a sabbatical in May, and (for the most part) running past articles that have slipped off the main stream but in my view can still help leaders. —Carey

prayer works

Why Christians Should Stop Saying “Prayer Works” (And 2 Other Things)

One reason people stay away from Christianity is not because they don’t know any Christians.

It’s often because they do.

Our actions and our words as followers of Jesus have the power to attract or repel people from Christianity.

The number of people who never go to church or follow Jesus keeps growing. And their thinking keeps changing too (I’ve outlined 15 characteristics of unchurched people here).

So what can we do about it?

Well, in addition to modeling humility, grace, truth, love and so many other things that describe the earliest Christ followers, we Christians can watch our words.

This post was originally inspired by a piece by Scott Dannemiller wrote, in which Dannemiller urged Christians to stop saying “feeling blessed” whenever something good came their way. He makes a thoughtful, insightful argument around that.

In that vein, here are three other things Christians should really stop saying.

prayer works

1. Prayer works

Should we really stop saying that prayer works?

Well, yes and no.

Most people who say prayer works these days really mean God did what I wanted him to do. As if prayer was a button to be pushed to release exactly what they wanted from the vending machine.

Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued.

Prayer does ‘work,; but it works very differently than we’d like. It still ‘works:’

When we can’t trace out any direct result from our prayer.

When the opposite of what we prayed for happens.

In those moments when we feel very distant from God.

When we bang down the door of heaven for years and are not sure anything is going on up there at all.

There are scores of people inside and outside the church whose spirits are crushed because they prayed (fervently) and:

They didn’t get the job.

Their mom died of cancer.

Their child was born without a heartbeat.

They ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled.

Prayer doesn’t ‘work’ because I got what I wanted and they didn’t.

The parade of saints across the centuries would have been shocked to see prayer reduced to God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it. God is not a puppy to be trained or a chef in the kitchen who prepares food to suit our every whim. He is sovereign.

As Richard Foster says:

For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer—nothing draws us closer to the heart of God.

Do things happen supernaturally when we pray? Well, yes they do. But often in ways we cannot understand or even trace out.

I think Christians can take consolation in the fact that when we pray, we often don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, yet the scriptures tell us the Holy Spirit will translate the prayer into something better than we could phrase in the moment.

So pour your heart out to God. Pray about the things the scripture says are close to God’s heart. And when something ‘goes your way,’ be grateful and offer it back to the God who gave it to you.

And when things don’t go your way, understand that God is still very much in control and very much loves you. Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.

2. God told me to …

Often, you hear people (and pastors) say things that start with, “God told me to … .”

The longer I follow Jesus, the more hesitant I am to say God told me to do anything specific. Maybe that’s an issue I need to work on, but it springs from my observation that I’ve seen this misused far more than I’ve seen it used well or authentically.

In fact, I’ve often noticed that the more outrageous the claim, the more likely someone is to say, “God told me to … .”

When I hear someone claim God told them to do something, I feel like saying:

God told you to do that? Really? God himself spoke directly to you and told you to specifically build that building for which you have zero money? Or leave that church that you were in deep conflict with without resolving things? Or buy that house that’s way out of your price range? Wow!

Are you sure it wasn’t the pizza? Or the voice in your head that often tells you to do the things you simply feel like doing?

For the record, I believe there are times when God does speak to people today. But let’s be realistic. What made me put this phrase on the list is the number of times I have heard the phrase used to describe a decision that is:

Selfishly motivated (come on, admit it … you’re justifying your impulses).

Contrary to scripture (the scriptures pretty clearly suggest that what you’re doing is sinful … or at least isn’t wise).

Designed to shut down debate (does anyone really think they can win a “God told me” debate?).

I’m not saying God never tell us anything directly, but I am suggesting it happens far less than most of us claim.

So what’s a better course?

Say something like, “Based on what I know from scripture, I believe this is the best/boldest/wisest course of action.”

That makes sense. And then you can have an intelligent discussion.

And you don’t pull the God card to justify something about which Christians and others can have a legitimate discussion.

Or, if you’re just trying to shut down debate, just be honest. I wanted to do it, so I did it. There. Now you said it and everyone will feel better.

If you’re dead honest, you might even realize you made a crazy decision.

3. I could really feel God’s presence

You’ve heard this before. We live in an emotional age and we’ve arrived at a place where many of us feel like we’ve become mini-authorities on when God is present and when God is not.

But analyze that.

The truth is, we tend to feel God’s presence more:

When the band played our favourite song.

When the band played five of our favourite songs in a row.

When the room was packed.

When the decision went our way.

When we felt happy during our quiet time.

Is God only present when we feel him?

Or better yet, is God’s presence synonymous with our ability to detect it?

Well, of course not.

So why do we insist on speaking like it is?

Nowhere did God promise that the Holy Spirit is a feeling or an emotion.

Jesus did explain to us that the Spirit is a Person and moves freely. The Holy Spirit is bigger than our emotions and not subject to our editorial commentary about whether he is present or not.

I have had moments when I believe I felt the presence of God palpably.

But God is just as present:

On our worst days as he is on our best days.

When we are uncomfortable as when we are comfortable.

When we are hurting as when we are healing.

And sometimes … the room was just full, and the band was just really good.

We need to learn to trust in God’s presence especially in those moments we suspect he’s absent.

What if?

What if Christians started having more intelligent, less consumer-oriented, deeper conversations with people?

What if our relationship with Christ was grounded more deeply in God’s character and less in the constantly shifting circumstances we see around us?

I’m thinking the dialogue inside and outside the church would be so much healthier for it.

What do you think?

Any other things Christians should stop saying now? Scroll down and leave a comment!

Want More?

If you want more on how your church can relate to a constantly changing culture, I wrote about it in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

The new Team Edition is now available featuring 8 videos that can help optimally frame the conversations for your team. And if you buy the Team Edition before May 31st, 2016, you’ll get access to a private Facebook Group for Team Edition leaders hosted by me.

_______

I’m on a sabbatical in May, and (for the most part) running past articles that have slipped off the main stream but in my view can still help leaders. I actually lost this article from my site two years ago in a site redesign along with another one I just re-published. Fortunately, ChurchLeaders.com had also featured it and it’s great to be able to re-run it on this site. —Carey