From Life

The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having

I was listening to a podcast recently that confirmed what many of us have intuitively known for a long time.

People are having spiritual conversations every day…they just never think of turning to a preacher or the church for answers.

I’m not talking about people who have other religious backgrounds. I’m talking about your neighbours, your friends, maybe even your family members as well as cultural leaders and thought leaders in our cultural context who are unchurched.

It’s not that people aren’t interested in spirituality; it’s that they don’t think the church can help them.

It’s completely worth the 45 minutes for you to listen to this conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea. (The direct iTunes link is here). Lewis is a pro-athelte turned podcaster and Prince Ea has dedicated his life to fitness, inspiration and music.

As you listen to this conversation, you’ll see how much the dialogue has completely shifted. Lewis is clearly looking for answers to spiritual questions, and Prince Ea is giving them, but the conversation is completely different than any conversation I’ve ever heard in any church.

Jesus comes up once, but they quickly move on to having dinner with Buddha instead.

Truthfully, most of the people they reference in this conversation are people I’ve never read…or even heard of.

The dialogue is moving, friends, and we preachers and church leaders are increasingly not a part of it.

A Shrinking Audience

If many preachers and church leaders were musicians, I’d say we’re increasingly cutting records nobody’s listening to, let alone buying.

Yes, that’s a bit harsh.

And I write this in a year when our church is seeing a year of encouraging growth—mostly from unchurched people.

But I’m painfully aware that we have over 250,000 people within a 30 minute drive of our locations who are completely unchurched.

Who’s talking to them?

I think that’s crickets I hear.

I say this not so much as criticism as I do out of a sense of burden.

I just think we need to get better at this. need to get better at this. We all do.

6 Steps Toward Having the Conversation No One is Having

So how do we get better at this?

Here are 6 steps that I think can lead us toward the evangelism conversation far too few of us are having.

1. Listen to voices that don’t simply affirm what you already believe

Look, it’s great to listen to people who believe what you believe…to have your faith strengthened or your skills sharpened.

But don’t stop there.

Listen to people who disagree with you, people who think differently than you, people who don’t believe what you believe.

And I’m not talking about people who watch Fox News watching CNN or MSNBC as an alternative. Or people who listen to John Piper checking out Rick Warren for radically different views.

I mean just listen to people who don’t share your faith system at all.

Podcasting makes this so easy.

I love creating my podcast for church leaders every week (you can subscribe for free here, btw) and I love listening to other preachers and Christian leaders, but I make it a discipline to listen to other, non-Christian voices.

I have to get better at this, but simply listening to people who agree with you doesn’t make you a better thinker or preacher.

2. Listen to Top 40 radio

My personal music preferences don’t tend to lean toward Top 40 anymore. I like current music, just not the stuff the people I’m trying to reach are buying.

You might find yourself in a similar position as a Christian leader.

Making yourself listen to music your unchurched friends are listening to helps you get into their world.

Yes, you’ll find the music morally objectionable. And you won’t like the beats. But I’m not asking you to like what unchurched people are listening to…just to listen to understand it.

Music contains so many clues to the value system of our culture, the struggles of our culture and the hopes of our culture. A culture that I assume you’re trying to reach with the ultimate hope of Jesus.

If you want more on music and approach to church, Rich Birch and I talk about how even contemporary church music isn’t contemporary anymore in Episode 8 of my leadership podcast.

3. Read what your unchurched neighbour is reading

So this isn’t an excuse to dive into 50 Shades of Grey, but when was the last time you checked out the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers?

Or the New York Times Best Seller List?

The spiritual dialogue has moved, and the clues to what it looks like are found all over today’s best seller lists.

4. Understand the culture’s vocabulary

Even one listen to the conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea will show you how much the dialogue has shifted.

Their conversation sounds nothing like anything I’ve heard from any church platform lately, but they’re asking all the questions Christians ask.

This doesn’t mean you should start talking street if you’ve got no street in you. You’ll come off as inauthentic, awkward and even weird. Avoid that.

But people will be able to tell if you’re trying to connect with them where they’re at.

Ask yourself some tough questions:

Would any message I’ve preached be easy to understand by anyone who had never been in church?

Am I answering questions people are actually asking?

Do I even know the questions people who have never been to church are asking?

Can I convey the answers in language anyone can understand?

5. Explore all the language of scripture

Most of us get stuck using only a few of the metaphors for God and faith that the scripture uses.

We might love preaching about the blood of Jesus, but to our culture, that seems increasingly weird. I’m not saying you should never use it, but if you do, try to explain why it matters.

And look for other metaphors. The Apostle Paul was masterful at this, engaging and quoting Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in front of a group of Greeks who had never read the Hebrew Bible.

He started with their language, rather than his. And culled from scriptural metaphors that would make the most sense to them as outsiders before getting to the resurrection.

So what are you favourite metaphors? Just listen to your last 20 messages or conversations and you’ll figure it out.

Then as you read your bible, get ready to get surprised at how many different ways scripture describes God or even salvation.

The metaphors Scripture uses to describe God are far richer than most Christian leaders realize.

6. Get around some people under the age of 30

If you want to hit the deep end quickly on understanding culture, this is it.

I was talking to Perry Noble recently and he completely surprised me by telling me he meets monthly with a group of high school students just so he can stay current. And he gives them his cell number so they can stay up to date.

This is a leader who leads one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America who finds the time to meet a dozen times a year or more with students so he can stay fresh.

If Perry can do it, you and I can probably find the time.

Whether you decide to meet with junior high kids, high school students, a group of millennials outside the church or whomever you choose to meet with, the point is this: meeting with teens or young adults who understand culture, where it’s at and where it’s going keeps you from becoming irrelevant.

I usually do random meetings with young adults, but this kind of structured intentional meeting really challenged me.

The truth is churched people will ask you to meet with them all day long. So will people your age.

Students never will.

Unchurched people never will.

Millennials never will.

So make the time.

The Goal?

Want to know where the hope lies in all of this?

Let me show you.

As most iTunes users will know, if you locate a podcast or even album on iTunes, it tells you what people who listen to that podcast also listen to.

Look at what I found under Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness Podcast.

I found Michael Hyatt.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.58.14 AM

Michael is a giant in the leadership world these days, as are John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss and other others listed.

But Michael is also a Christian. And he speaks about his faith often and openly in his writings and on his podcast.

The church needs more leaders like Michael who not only respond to culture, but influence it That’s exactly what Michael is doing…largely because he’s so great at leadership.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a day when people who are listening to podcasts on spirituality see a church’s or Christian leader’s podcast come up under the “Listeners also subscribed to…” section of an iTunes page?

What if that was you?

Or your church?

The better we get at understanding and addressing our rapidly change culture, the more frequently this will happen.

Two More Resources

If you want to drill down more on this subject, here are two more resources I’ve put together.

Blog Post: 5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting in Our Culture

Podcast: Churchless. Why and How America Is Learning to Live Without The Church: An Interview with David Kinnaman (also below).

Let’s Get Better At This Together

Got books you’ve read that have helped you get better at connecting with the culture?

Music you listen to?

Podcasts you’ve listened to?

Scroll down and leave a comment listing what you’re reading, listening to or discovered.

We can all get better together.

vacation rules

Some New (And Better) Rules For Your Next Vacation

Ready for your next vacation?

YES, say most people…even if the last one wasn’t that long ago.

Anyone who’s ever taken a vacation knows that you can come back replenished or exhausted, excited or defeated, or restored or depleted.

It all depends on how you use the time you have.

I just came back from two weeks of vacation, but was amazed by how much vacation ‘advice’ I got.

People told me I needed to go off social media completely. That I wasn’t allowed to do any writing. That I had to completely unplug. That ministry was completely off limits while I was away.

Much of the advice, I think, is wrong…or at least wrong for me.

Well meaning—sure—but still unhelpful.

In fact, I’m becoming convinced that much of the advice you read or is given about vacation is written by people who hate their jobs and think one size fits all when it comes to relaxation.

I realize not everyone has a job they love, but there’s something wrong when work is something you endure to make it to the weekend or to those magical weeks off that happen oh so rarely.

The advice I got bothered me enough that I decided to take a stab at some new vacation rules. There are only three.

See if you agree.

And see if these rules for your next vacation don’t make you feel much better when you come back from your next stint away.

vacation rules1. Do The Things That Restore You

One of the goals of vacation is to come back restored. No matter how much you love your job, leadership is stressful and you really do need a break.

But we have all ended up on vacations that drain you so much that you need a vacation after your vacation.

So how do you do that? How do you come back restored, replenished and rejuvenated?

The reality is that everyone is different.

Some of my friends take all-inclusives and claim it’s the best thing ever.

Others travel and see every historic site in the city, snapping pictures as they go, and swear it’s the only way to vacation.

Still other friends go camping and say they come back exhilarated. (I personally believe camping was invented by the devil. If God made us smart enough to build hotels and houses, after all, isn’t it unfaithful to revert to the bush? But I digress…)

All three options above, frankly, are unattractive to me. If I followed their prescription, I’d come back bored (all inclusive), exhausted (the uber site seeing trip), angry (the camping trip) and not restored at all.

Over the years I’ve learned that certain things restore me and certain things don’t.

The same is true for you. What works for your best friend may not work for you.

So now, on holidays, I personally look for the following things, knowing that if I have them, I come back feeling great.

A place where I can be with my wife and or wife and kids (our kids are young adults now, so they’re not always with us).

A place where no one knows me or my family or (alternatively) where we’re with just a handful of our extended family or best friends.

An opportunity for a few hours every day all alone, by myself with few to no interruptions (increasingly, I’m an introvert).

A vacation with no set agenda (don’t need to be anywhere or do anything at any given time).

A place where we don’t need to cook, but can make a few things ourselves if we want to.

The flexibility to do spontaneous day trips if we feel like it, or not.

Wifi or decent internet access.

I realize this might sound like purgatory to some of you or a nightmare scenario for others.

I’m not telling you this is how you need to spend your vacation. I am telling you this is how I best spend mine if I actually want to be restored.

My wife Toni has a list that would look a little different. She’d have more adventure and socialization than I would. And she has no desire for internet access at all unless we’re researching a day trip.

So we have worked really hard over the years to make sure each of us gets the environment we both need to come back restored. Ditto with our kids.

Often I’ll start the day with the question “What do you need today to make this a great day for you?” Toni usually asks me the same thing.

With a full day ahead of us, we can usually figure out a way to make sure we both get replenished.

Please hear me. Your day will look different.

The question you need to answer is what do I need to do to come back restored? 

Then do it.

Stop living some else’s vacation and start living yours.

2. Do The Things That Energize You

Do you have any idea what energizes you and what drains you?

As I’ve matured as a leader I pay more and more attention to this every year.

The reality is certain activities and even environments restore me; others drain me.

Ditto for you.

One of the best things you can do for yourself as a leader (and human being) is to figure out what restores you and figure out what drains you. Then spend as much time as you can on what restores you, and as little time on what drains you.

This is great work advice (at least as far as you can control what you do with your time), but it is essential vacation advice.

Let’s face it. Certain people energize you. You leave feeling great and think How did two hours slip by so fast?

Other people drain you. You leave a 30 minute meeting feeling depleted and like the 30 minutes actually lasted a month.

That’s not good or bad. It’s just true.

The same is true with activities. Certain things get you really excited. Other activities make you feel like you’d rather poke out your eyes with a hot stick.

The key is for you to understand which is which.

I actually outlined how to create an energy management list in this post if you want to create one for yourself.

I make sure in every vacation that I spend time doing things that energize me.

For me these days, that everything I listed above and also includes blogging (at least a bit), writing (I started the intro to a new book) and even a Periscope session for leaders and listeners. I even thought through some fresh angles on ministry.

Why did I do these things on my vacation? Because I felt like it. And because I felt better after doing it than I did before.

These things give me energy. Your list might be completely different. That’s okay.

If you can figure out what gives you energy, you will come back replenished.

Just don’t let other people judge you for doing what you love to do.

3. Avoid What Drains You

All of us have things we have to do but leave us feeling diminished and depleted.

And similarly, we have people who drain us as I indicated above.

I would strongly urge you to avoid as many draining activities and people as you can while on vacation.

For example, I really detest email. I know it’s necessary, but I really don’t like it. I love putting my auto-responder on that says I’m going to be away for a few weeks.

I’m also blessed with a great assistant, and I have her go through my email while I’m away to answer as much as possible. That way when I get back, I’m not digging out from hundreds of emails.

I no longer feel any guilt for unplugging from email, even while I might selectively show up on social media or my blog when I’m away. Or in church (because I love our church and the local church).

And I try to surround myself with people who energize me, knowing I’ll have to be back to connect with all kinds of people in just a few short weeks.

Is This Just Selfishness?

The thing I’ve struggled with over the years—and even as I wrote this post—is this: isn’t this just really selfish?

I don’t think so.

It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s essential.

Jesus practiced it all the time (he kept disappearing to rest and to pray and connect with his Father, even when people still wanted to see him).

Leaders who don’t practice self-care burn out, as Perry Noble and I learned the hard way and talked about in this interview below. 

If you practice self-care regularly (not just on vacation), you’ll find you will stay far away from burnout and you’ll avoid the trap of self-medication which so many Christian leaders fall into.

That’s It

So those are my current new vacation rules.

1. Do the things that restore you.

2. Do the things that energize you.

3. Avoid what drains you.

Pretty simple, but for me at least, very effective.

Got any rules or insights you would add? Scroll down and leave a comment.

gay marriage church christianity

Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders From a Canadian

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states, setting off a flurry of reaction by Christians and virtually everyone else on social media and beyond.

Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful background post to the shift in opinion that led to the decision and included links to a number of other leading articles in his post.

The social media reaction ranged from surprising to predictable to disappointing to occasionally refreshing.

I write from the perspective of a pastor of an evangelical church in a country where same sex-marriage has been the law of the land for a decade.

That does not mean I hold any uniquely deep wisdom, but it does mean we’ve had a decade to process and pray over the issue.

I hope what I offer can help. It’s my perspective. My fingers tremble at the keyboard because my goal is to help in the midst of a dialogue that seems far more divisive than it is uniting or constructive.

There will be many who disagree with me, I’m sure, but I hope it pulls debate away from the “sky is falling/this is the best thing ever” dichotomy that seems to characterize much of the dialogue so far.

The purpose of this post is not to take a position or define matters theologically (for there is so much debate around that). Rather, the purpose of this post is to think through how to respond as a church when the law of the land changes as fundamentally as it’s changing on same-sex marriage and many other issues.

Here are 5 perspectives I hope are helpful as church leaders of various positions on the subject think and pray through a way forward.

gay marriage church christianity

1. The church has always been counter-cultural

Most of us reading this post have been born into a unique season in history in which our culture is moving from a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture before our eyes.

Whatever you think about history, theology or exactly when this shift happened, it’s clear for all of us that the world into which we were born no longer exists.

Viewpoints that were widely embraced by culture just decades ago are no longer embraced. For some this seems like progress. For others, it seems like we’re losing something. Regardless, things have changed fundamentally.

But is that really such a big deal? For most of the last 2000 years, the authentic church has been counter-cultural. The church was certainly counter-cultural in the first century.

Even at the height of ‘Christendom’ (whenever that was), the most conservative historians would agree that Christianity as embraced by the state was different than the authentic Christianity we read about in scripture or that was practiced by many devout followers of Jesus.

Being counter-cultural usually helps the church more than hurts it.

If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough.

We’re at our best when we offer an alternative, not just a reflection of a diluted or hijacked spirituality.

2. It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values

As the Barna Group has pointed out, a growing number of people in America are best described as post-Christian. The majority of Canadians would certainly qualify as having a post-Christian worldview.

The question Christians in a post-Christian culture have to ask themselves is this:

Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

If you believe sex is a gift given by God to be experienced between a man and a woman within marriage, why would you expect people who don’t follow Christ to embrace that?

 Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

Most people today are not pretending to be Christians. So why would they adopt Christian values or morals?

Please don’t get me wrong.

I’m a pastor. I completely believe that the Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way.

When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I 100 percent agree.

I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same.

But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus?

Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?

First, non-Christians usually act more consistently with their value system than you do.

It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe.

Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans.

But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically. Think about that.

3. You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time

If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.

Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).

I know you want to believe that’s not true (trust me, I want to believe that’s not true), but why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality.

Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust and a long list of other dysfunctions.

If you believe gay marriage is not God’s design, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along—sex outside of its God-given context.

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.

And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it. (I wrote more here about how to get the hypocrisy out of our sex talk in church.)

At least be consistent…humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage.

The dialogue is possible. (Andy Stanley offers a great rationale for sex staying inside marriage here.)

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

We also talk about our greed, our gluttony, our jealousy and our hypocrisy as Christians. It’s amazing. Jesus brings healing to all these areas of life, including our sex lives.

4. The early church never looked to the government for guidance

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 about 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, didn’t look to them for change.

Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, he 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 US, 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.

5. Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship

Even the first 72 hour of social media reaction has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

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

Judging outsiders is un-Christian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church.

Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others.

Paul also reminds us to drop the uppity-attitude; that none of us were saved by the good we did but by grace.

Take a deep breath. You were saved by grace. Your sins are simply different than many others. And honestly, in many respects, they are the same.

People don’t line up to be judged. But they might line up to be loved.

So love people. Especially the people with whom you disagree.

Those are a few of the things I’ve learned and I’m struggling with.

The dialogue is not easy when culture is changing and people who sincerely love Jesus sincerely disagree.

I think there’s more hope than there is despair for the future. The radical ethic of grace and truth found in Jesus is more desperately needed in our world today than ever before.

Is the path crystal clear? No.

But rather than being a set back, perhaps this can move the church yet another step closer to realizing its true mission.

I was tempted to close comments off on this post, but I will leave them open just to see if we can continue the discussion constructively and humbly.

Rants and abusive viewpoints (on either side) will be deleted.

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

If you want to leave a comment that helps, please do so.

But please spend at least as much time praying for the situation and for people you know who have been hurt by this dialogue as you do commenting on this post, on others like it or on your social media channels.

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

That’s what we all really need. And that’s what will move the mission of the church forward.

————

Caleb’s Story

To help you navigate the issue a little further, I’m adding the interview I did on my Leadership Podcast with Caleb Kaltenbach into this post.

Caleb was born to parents who divorced to both pursue gay relationships. Caleb grew up to become a Christian and a pastor, and has spent his adult life fighting for the relationship with his parents. It’s a fascinating, moving story of grace in the midst of disagreement.

Your can listen here in the browser window below, or click here to listen to Episode 33 on your phone or other device.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunes, Stitcher or Tune In Radio.

young leader mistakes

5 Early Leadership Mistakes I Made (That You You Don’t Need To)

I love it when leaders share their success stories. It’s great to pick up transferable principles and try to work them into your life.

But there’s a part of me that likes it even more when leaders share their mistakes.

When someone shares their mistakes, I feel like I can relate to them. It reminds me I’m not alone. And it shows me we’re really all in this together.

People admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses.

So let me share with you some more of my weaknesses as a leader. Some of these mistakes, I made starting out, while some I still struggle with.

I’ll bet you can relate.

young leader mistakes

For all five mistakes listed below, I’ve had to adjust the sails and learn new behaviours that make me more effective at what I’m called to do.

The best part, of course, is once you’ve noticed the mistakes you naturally make, you can learn new skills to manoeuvre around them. It’s the self-aware who grow the most.

Here are five leadership mistakes I’ve made that (now) you no longer need to:

1. Thinking a leader needs to have all the answers 

As a young leader, I was afraid people would notice that I was young and didn’t know as much as I should. I took me a few years to become comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”

Wish I’d learned that right off the bat.

Ironically, people already know that you don’t know.

And when you say you don’t know, it actually creates empathy and a better sense of team.

Now more than ever, I fully realize how much I have left to learn. If you want to drill down more on finding your confidence as a young leader, listen in on my conversation with Clay Scroggins, who at age 34 recently became the leader pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta working under Andy Stanley.

Clay is tremendously transparent about his struggles as a young leader. That’s one of the reasons I admire Clay so much. And likely one of the reasons why he’s leading so much so young.

2. Trying to be too original 

This characterized my first 7 or 8 years of leadership.

I didn’t know you could take what others have done and simply implement it (I’m not talking about plagiarizing sermons or stealing proprietary ideas here – but about ministry models and strategies that you’re free to use).

I’d go to a conference and feel I’d need to change something enough to put ‘my spin’ or ‘our spin’ on it.

Well, sometimes your spin on a great idea makes it worse. If you really have an original idea that’s going to change things – use it.

But there are smarter people who are further along than you from whom you can borrow.

Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to borrow. Give credit, and don’t stifle your ALL your creativity in the process, but it’s okay to take the best ideas and put them to work in your context.

You don’t need to be unique. You just need to be effective.

3.  Using people to accomplish tasks

I feel so bad about this one.

I’m a task guy. Early on, sometimes I saw people as a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

It’s a goal of mine to do what great managers do – not use people to get tasks done, but to get ‘people done’ through tasks.

When you use people you lose people. When you value people, they stay. So stop using people.

4. Depending too much on my own strength

Being an A-type personality has strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I wish I had developed a better sense of team earlier and I wished I had sought out mentors earlier.

I’m still also trying to figure out the balance between Jesus’ teaching that human effort accomplishes nothing and that we need to serve and lead with all diligence.

I love how St. Augustine phrased it over a millennium ago: Work like everything depends on you. Pray like everything depends on God.

5. Pointing out what’s wrong – not what’s right 

This is something I still struggle with daily.

I immediately notice what’s right and wrong, and gravitate toward fixing what’s wrong.

I’m king of this. And ironically, it motivates me to get better.

But it can end up being de-motivating to the people around you. I’ve had to learn to celebrate the wins (there are a ton of them when you look), point out what’s right and high five the team.

It doesn’t take much strength to point out what’s wrong. It always takes strength to point out what’s right when you see what’s wrong.

Only once you’ve celebrated what’s right should you move to what’s wrong. Otherwise you knock the wind out of people.

Honestly, this is still a daily discipline with me. And I don’t always win at it.

What About You?

Those are five leadership mistakes I’ve made. How about you?

What are you struggling with? How are you overcoming?

What are you stuck on? Scroll down and leave a comment.

pastors moral failure

5 Reasons Pastors Fail Morally (And What To Watch For in Your Own Life)

Twice this week so far, I’ve heard of church leaders who are moving out of leadership because they had affairs.

Last weekend, another well known pastor had to step down after admitting to having had an affair. Yesterday I got a call from someone about another leader who had an affair and is stepping back.

It’s heartbreaking.

My heart is broken for the pastors and their families. For the church, for their ministries and for everyone who followed them and was impacted by their leadership. My heart is broken for the Kingdom of God.

I don’t know either person in question well, so I’m in no position to comment on the specific situations let alone judge (we should be so so careful of that anyway).

But I do personally know a few pastors who have had to leave ministry because of some kind of moral failure, and I’ve sat down and had some heartbreaking conversations with people who have experienced a moral failure or been on the other side of a moral breakdown.

I also know my own heart and the strange mix of grace and sin that makes us human.

So, once again, I ask myself

Why does this happen?

Why does it happen so frequently—not just to preachers, but to many business leaders, politicians and other people in the spotlight?

What do I have to watch for in my own life?

I don’t think for the most part pastors and leaders who fail morally set out to fail.

They didn’t begin in leadership by hoping “one day I hope I have an affair/steal money/destroy my family/ruin my church/disillusion many/lose my soul.

In the beginning, most pastors and leaders have excellent motives…and then something happens.

While I’m sure the pattern varies between people and situations, I’ve seen some patterns I’ve learned to check in myself.

I share them in the hopes they can help every leader before they get into an even slightly compromising situation, let alone an affair or other morally tainted situation.

pastors moral failure

5 Signs I Might Be Headed for a Moral Failure

So, as I reflect once again, here are 5 reasons I think pastors fail morally and reasons that might push me or you past the edge.

I write them in the first person (as awkward as it sounds) because this post is intended to help those of us still in leadership, not to judge those who have fallen out of it.

So because the person whose spirit I most need to watch is mine, I phrase things personally. I also realize that even talking about the fact that this could happen to any of us is one more guard rail against it happening in my life. And I pray it never happens.

So with that in mind, here are the conditions that perhaps set up a leader for moral failure.

1. I’ve chosen isolation over community

Sin usually happens in secret. And the only way to keep secrets well is to cut yourself off from true community.

Isolation can be a very natural drift in leadership. But as I’ve argued before, loneliness and isolation are not inevitable; they are choices.

I have to make sure someone in my life knows what’s really going on. And just because not everybody needs to know what’s going on in your life and in your thought life doesn’t mean no one needs to know.

Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is a tool of the enemy.

To live transparently with handful of people who know who you are, where you are and what you’re inner life is really like is difficult, but it’s far easier than picking up the pieces after your life has fallen apart.

Who really knows what’s going on?

And if you don’t have anyone you’re talking to, you can hire someone. Telling a counsellor is far better than telling no one. And counsellors have helped me so much over the years.

Here is how I’ve developed my inner circle, including a group that knows the ups and downs of what I’m carrying in my life.

Bringing darkness into the light breaks its power.

2. I’ve stopped confessing my sins

I am convinced that confession is a lost art.

As a leader, I have to make sure that I continue to confess my sins before God daily.

When I confess my sins, I need to not only look for the obvious, but for the cracks. For small sins that could become much bigger. For motives that aren’t pure. For thoughts that run off in dangerous directions.

I need to bring it all before God.

If you want more on why we don’t confess our sins, I preached recently about it in Part 3 of the Pursued Series, which you can watch here.

In the meantime, ask yourself: when was the last time you confessed your sin before God?

Admitting your tendencies to God and even weeping over them is much easier than explaining to your wife and kids what happened one day.

Confession is designed to stop what sin starts.

3. I’m not thinking of the consequences

When you sin, you desire the action but not the consequences.

But sin always has consequences. Often horrible consequences.

Keeping the consequences in mind can be so so healthy.

I can’t imagine having to explain to my wife, my kids, our elders, our staff, our team and to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of others who trusted me how I betrayed their trust.

The fear of having to have those conversations can be very healthy and quite motivating. It should be motivating.

I just would never want to betray the trust of the people I love the most and many others who would perhaps lose their faith because of a moral failure on my part.

Thinking about the consequences of a sin is a great way to ultimately avoid committing of a sin.

4. I think the rules don’t apply to me

Perhaps this is why leaders fall more frequently than others.

You begin to think the rules don’t apply to you, or that they shouldn’t apply to you.

So you ignore them, skirt them, rewrite them or spit in their face.

This is so, so dangerous.

Leaders who avoid accountability still eventually have to give account for their actions—when they get caught.

Isn’t it better to give account for your actions daily than to simply give an account for your actions when you get caught one day?

Accountability and transparency are vital in leadership. And if you cultivate a great inner circle (point 1) you will be a far better leader day to day.

5. I see failure as my best escape

When I first started out in ministry, I met with a pastor who had just had to resign because of an affair. He was 20 years my senior, and we met for lunch.

I asked him why he had an affair, and he told me in part it was because he couldn’t handle the pressure of ministry anymore but couldn’t find an easy way to get out. The affair forced him out.

Years later I would discover the pain of burnout personally. Nine years ago I burnt out (a burn out triggered by physical and emotional exhaustion).

I was so burnt out an escape from my life looked appealing. By the grace of God, I knew enough to keep my head in the game even though my heart had stopped working. As a result, during my darkest months, I kept saying to myself “whatever you do, don’t do anything rash—don’t cheat on your wife, don’t quit your job and don’t buy a sports car.”

And again, by the grace of God, I didn’t cheat, quit or buy a sports car. (Although as Perry Noble and I discuss in this interview about how we both burned out, the sports car option still looks attractive….maybe one day.)

The bottom line is this. If you’re burning out, an affair or a rash, irresponsible decision is NOT the only way out.

Nor is it even a good way out. There are many other, healthier options.

If you’re looking for more resources on burnout, Perry Noble and I put this page of free resources together to help church leaders. You can survive, and even thrive, again one day.

What Are You Learning?

What are you learning about temptation, leadership and moral failure?

As to the comments section, just so you know, self-righteous, judgmental comments will be deleted. As I wrote when Mark Driscoll’s controversy broke last year, no one write or prays with clean hands.

No one. Not me. Not you.

But with the aim of helping people and seeking grace before a fall happens, not just after, what are you learning? Scroll down and leave a comment!

3 Current Cultural Crises That Provide Great Opportunities for Leaders (If You Seize Them)

As a leader you likely seize opportunities many others miss.

But in this particular moment in history, there are opportunities before us that few are seizing well.

I was originally going to write this post for church leaders (that’s my context), but I think it has wider application for all leaders.

Our culture is undergoing radical transformation.

One day when historians write about our moment in time, they’ll refer to the change happening around us as being on a similar scale to the Christianization of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the invention of the printing press, the Protestant Reformation or even the Industrial Revolution.

The change is that significant.

And in the midst of the change, there are 3 opportunities not nearly enough leaders are seizing.

Leaders who seize these opportunities will have a rare and elevated influence in the future that other leaders won’t, because they’ll address three crises in our culture in a way others won’t.

3 Crises Wise Leaders Will Address

So what are the crises smart leaders will address? Here are three I see in front of us:

1. A crisis of meaning, not information

Information used to be rare.

As recently as a few decades ago, information was difficult to find and usually had to be purchased. You had to buy a book, purchase access to a talk (or the talk itself), or pay for access to an expert who would share information with you for a price.

Getting published was difficult and expensive. And access to publishing content of any kind (books, music, video, audio, let alone your thoughts and opinions) was controlled by industry experts who decided who got air time and who didn’t.

The last decade has fundamentally changed that in two ways:

1. You can find almost any information or content you want for free. When was the last time you googled something you couldn’t find an answer to without paying? Exactly.

2. Everbody’s a publisher. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram and other platforms have turned anyone and everyone into content producers, and self-publishing has turned every half serious writer into an author.

As a result, the crisis in our culture no longer centres on access to information. We have more information than we know how to process.

The crisis in our culture isn’t a crisis of information, it’s a crisis of meaning.

You’ve felt this every time you’ve scrolled through your social media feed and thought “there is nothing of value here at all”.

In fact, on some days, the constant rants, drivel, trivial observations, bragging, self-promotion and complaining has made you think about giving up social media all together.

The challenge for leaders moving forward is not to produce more content. The challenge is to provide meaning. 

I believe the future belongs to leaders who broker meaning in the sea of endless content

It follows, then, that the key to providing meaning isn’t more, it’s better. More content will simply get lost the constant chatter.

More without meaning will make you less relevant. You become yet another unhelpful voice.

Better is not nearly as easy as more. Better requires thought, reflection, digestion and ultimately resonance (it’s resonance that tells you your content is connecting).

This provides a huge opportunity for church leaders. Who better to provide meaning than the leaders called to share timeless truth in an era starved for meaning?

And for business leaders the opportunity to stand out with your customers, your peers and your clients is right in front of you.

Just know that the race to produce more will compete with the need to produce meaning.

Leaders who read widely, digest, think, and above all publish content that actually helps people find meaning will become THE leaders in their field.

2. A crisis of connection, not followers

It’s not that difficult to gain followers, fans or even make ‘friends’ these days.

We subscribe, like and follow dozens, hundreds and even thousands of causes, businesses and people.

As a leader, it’s one thing to be followed.

It is quite another to connect with the people who follow you.

Followers are fickle. They can go as easily as they come. They can unlike as impulsively as they liked.

Whether you’re leading something virtual or something that requires physical presence (I lead in both contexts), it’s easy to focus on gaining followers without realizing they’re losing connection.

Connection will win the future.

There are a lot of lonely people on social media who have 1000 followers and no one to actually connect with.

There are more than a few people who attend whatever gathering you’re hosting who feel completely disconnected from anything and anyone in the room.

We are more networked than ever before, yet we’re more isolated than ever before.

Having a million followers does not produce a million connections.

Ironically, if your goal is to simply gain followers you will eventually lose followers. And even if your followers stay with you as a statistic, you will not have their hearts. Which means you won’t have them.

Our church, for example, is home to over 2000 people. We just moved into a new facility and are experiencing another growth spurt. While it’s exciting to grow, it’s even more critical to connect.

So as we grow larger, we are hyper focusing on personally connecting as many people as possible. Our groups and personal connection points at our church have never been more important.

We’ve also talked to all our communicators in different environments to help us all focus on the more personal, human, and even imperfect sides of our personalities.

As you get bigger and have access to more resources, it’s critical to stay grounded, humble, personal and approachable.

People simply want to connect with people and with God.

Leaders who provide connection will own the future.

3. A crisis of direction, not options

A third crisis before us is a crisis of direction, not options.

As this New York Times piece points out, we have more options than we have ever had in human history. And it’s paralyzing us.

When people have the option to do ten things, they often choose to do nothing.

In the same way that information can be overwhelming, too much choice can be disorienting. The very thing that promises freedom (choice) actually brings bondage.

Smart leaders will stop providing options and instead provide direction.

Leaders who provide direction will still offer choice, but choice among a narrower range of options that leads somewhere meaningful and ultimately beneficial.

Again, you are helping broker meaning in an age of information and choices.

Providing direction can be difficult in leadership. In an age where people are programmed to demand options and endless choices, it takes courage to decide you won’t offer a sea of options just to make people happy.

Leaders who get over their natural desire to be liked will (as I wrote about here), ironically, end up being being far more admired than those who give into the pressure to please.

Deciding ahead of time on a few options that provide the best outcomes for the people you’re leading will result in more traction, not less.

But it also means you have to do the hard work of

1. Determining ahead of time where to lead people.

2. Making mid-course adjustments when your way turns out not to be the best way.

3. Having the humility to admit when you’re wrong.

4. Being willing to withstand the constant criticism you will get for not offering more.

But if you can withstand all of this, you will be far more effective.

Naturally, you need to lead people in a direction that ultimately helps them most…this is not about you moving people through hoops to get to a place that pleases you but helps few.

But if you really lead people to a place that helps them, they’ll be incredibly grateful. And they’ll tell their friends.

Our culture craves direction. Few leaders currently have the courage to offer it.

What Do You See?

These are three cultural crises I see emerging in our generation.

What do you see?

How would you address it?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Carey and Toni Nieuwhof

20 Honest Insights on Making It To 25 Years in Marriage

This month, my wife Toni and I celebrated 25 years of marriage.

I love her more than I ever dreamed of.

And it’s also been a totally different experience than either of us thought it would be.

I love this picture of us leaving our wedding reception, because in many ways it show us stepping out into the world when we honestly had NO IDEA what life would bring us. We just had hopes and dreams.

Carey and Toni Nieuwhof

I have no data on this, but I think leaders perhaps struggle in their marriages more than others do.

Anecdotally, at least, I hear from leader after leader who says it’s been tougher at home than they thought it would be. And Toni and I have had our share of struggles for sure.

If you’re looking for a post on marriage that outlines how couples should do 5 things that will make their marriage perfect, you need to read someone else’s blog.

The truth is, marriage is work. Hard work. But it’s wonderfully hard work.

Both of us have felt more pain than we ever knew was possible, and more deep joy than we ever realized existed.

I love her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything (except Christ, of course).

Our love has grown richer and better over time, but we’ve also had a few seasons where we wondered whether love had vaporized. There were seasons where the only reason it wasn’t over is because Jesus said it wasn’t over.

So we stayed. And our emotions eventually caught up with our obedience.

Through it all, Christ has kept us together and brought us a more wonderfully fulfilling relationship than either of us knew was possible.

On the other side of deep pain is deep joy. You’ve just got to make it there.

So what’s the key?

Well, there’s no one key, but here are 20 honest insights about making it to 25 years in marriage.

Some are observations. Some are directives. Either way, I hope they help WHEREVER you are in your marriage.

1. Love is a decision, not an emotion

My dad always told me that love is an act of the will. He was right.

Culture says that love is an emotion. It’s something you feel, not something you do.

Culture couldn’t be more wrong.

True love is a decision…a decision to place someone else’s well being above yours. To stick through the tough times. To love when you don’t feel love.

God isn’t thrilled with you all the time, yet he loves you. It’s a decision, not an emotion.

2. Your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience

There have been a few seasons in our 25 years where we stayed together simple because we were being obedient. (I’d say Toni had to exercise her obedience more than I did.)

So you stay when you feel like leaving. You stay when you feel like doing something irresponsible.

You just obey what you believe God has called you to do in the situation. I believe God has called me to stay married to one woman for life, and Toni believes God has called her to stay married to one man for life.

And in the process of being obedient, we both discovered something incredible: your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.

Though the joy may have left for a few days, a few weeks, and once or twice, for a season, it came back. Deeper, richer and more abundant than we ever expected.

3. Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions

So you can see I’ve learned not to trust my feelings, because like the rest of creation, my feelings were victims of the fall.

A quick lesson: don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.

Sometimes we defied stereotypical Christian advice and went to bed angry. But at least we went to bed together. And reason usually returned with the dawn.

Thank goodness on those days when emotion clouded judgment we just decided not to decide.

There’s wisdom in that for life, not just for marriage.

4. Live your story…not someone else’s

You will be tempted to compare yourself to other couples and other ‘leadership’ couples you admire. That can be healthy. It can also be horrible.

Live your story.

I’ve heard famous preachers say they’ve never had a fight about money. I promise you we have.

You can feel terrible about that and think “what’s wrong with me?”, or you can bring that before God and work it out together.

One of my all time favourite Andy Stanley series is The Comparison Trap. If you struggle with ‘why aren’t we more like X?”, watch it.

5. Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook lie

Nobody’s life is as great as they make it out to be on Instagram.

If you’re comparing your real life to someone else’s posted life, you will implode.

Not much more to say about that. You know what I mean.

6. Don’t put pressure on your spouse that only God can bear

I heard this from Tim Keller a few years ago (do not have a source…sorry).

With the disappearance of God from more and more of our culture, people have lost a sense of the divine and the majestic.

Consequently, our desire to worship—no longer directed toward God—gets directed at our spouses and children. It places pressure on them they were not designed to bear, and many marriages and families collapse from the pressure.

Pinterest has placed a ridiculous amount of pressure on wedding receptions and even home decor that the average family can’t live up to. The kind of majesty that used to go into a cathedral now goes into a two year old’s birthday party.

There is something fundamentally flawed with this, and the sooner you take that pressure off your spouse, off your kids and off yourself, the healthier you become.

7. You probably married your opposite

All those things you loved about your spouse when you were dating are the some of the things that will drive you crazy when you’re married.

We just get attracted to our opposites.

Knowing that is progress in itself, and will help you delight in your spouse (when he or she isn’t driving you crazy over said opposites).

8. Counsellors are worth it

Toni and I first started seeing a counsellor when we were in our mid thirties. I should have gone when I was in my twenties.

I don’t know where I’d be as a person, husband, father and leader without the help I’ve had from some incredible Christian counsellors who have helped me see where I need grace and redemption.

I resisted going to counselling. If you’re resisting, stop. There’s freedom on the other side.

9. Progress starts when you see that you’re the problem

We had a great couple of first years, but when tension arose I thought none of it was my fault.

After all, I had little conflict as a single guy, so who had to be bringing all this tension in my marriage? Couldn’t have been me.

I could not have been more wrong.

Now I just assume I’m probably the problem. And I usually am. It’s simpler that way…in life and leadership.

10. Your unspoken assumptions can sink you

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything…or so we think.

In the kitchen, I take an ingredient out, and then I put it back. And wipe the counter. Then I take the next step in cooking whatever I’m cooking.

Toni takes everything out, makes a glorious meal, and cleans up later when the food is cooking.

assumed my way was the right way. But there’s no right and wrong here, just different.

Yet we didn’t know what was driving our kitchen tension until we named it. Now we can laugh at it (most days).

When you surface the assumptions…you mitigate the conflict.

11. When you agree on values, you’ll agree a lot more

Because it’s often the little things you fight about, it’s important to understand where you agree on the big things.

Big things would include your faith, your approach to parenting, your philosophy of life, your priorities, your finances and more.

When you agree on your values, you’ll agree on a lot more.

12. Remember that if you leave, you take all your unresolved problems to your next relationship

This is simply true, and you’ve seen it 1000 times in others.

And you think you’ll be the exception to the rule.

You won’t be.

13. Pray together

Pray together. Out loud.

Yes it’s hard. Yes it’s awkward.

Yes, men resist it. And yes, pastors resist it.

Do it.

14. If you’re a guy, lead your marriage spiritually

My wife and I met in law school. A progressive, left-leaning law school.

Had I even suggested in any way that I was the spiritual head of a home, I would have been laughed out of the school. Or maybe arrested.

But 25 years in, there’s no question I need to lead my wife spiritually. My leadership needs to reflect Christ’s leadership (a servant’s attitude motivated by love), but it’s still leadership.

Most men resist taking spiritual leadership at home. Most male leaders resist taking authentic, Christ-motivated loving leadership at home.

Start leading in love.

15. Go on weekly date nights

In the early days we had no money for date nights. We went anyway.

When your kids are young, it’s especially important because most of your conversation is ‘transactional’ (you cook…I’ll drive the kids to soccer).

In the rough seasons, sometimes we’d spend the first half of date night resolving arguments we couldn’t finish in the hum of every day life. Not fun, but probably healthy.

But we had some awesome date nights too.

Don’t have time? Don’t have money?

Well, if you broke up, you’d date your new girlfriend.

So instead, date your wife. Your kids will thank you for it.

You’ll thank yourself for it one day too.

16. Don’t make your kids the centre of your family

In today’s culture, kids have become the centre of many homes.

Parents have stopped living for Christ and for each other and started basing all their decisions around their kids.

There are two problems with that.

First, your kids eventually leave…leaving you with a gaping hole.

Second, putting your kids at the centre of your home communicates to them that they’re more important than they are. And they know it. As Tim Elmore has suggested, this approach produces kids with high arrogance and low self-esteem.

Child-centered parenting produces self-centred kids.

The best gift you can give your kids is a Christ-centered, healthy marriage.

17. Take personal vacations WITHOUT the kids

We were one of the few couples among our friends who did this, but every year Toni and I would get away even for a night or two WITHOUT the kids.

Our friends would tell us it had been 3, 5 even 10 years since they’d done it.

I’m so glad we took the time to do that. It renewed and remade us. We made significant progress on our relationships so many times we did that. Plus…so much of it was fun.

18. Take family vacations every year

We also took family vacations every year. Often they weren’t glorious. We did what we could afford.

But our kids (now 23 and 19) tell us it was one of their favourite things growing up and something that really bonded our family.

I wrote more about why and how we took those vacations in this Parent Cue post.

Bottom line? You don’t have to go to Disney…you just have to go.

19. Figure out how to be a couple again BEFORE your kids grow up

When our then 16 year old drove off in the car with his brother on the day he got his driver’s licence, Toni and I were left standing in the living room waving good bye.

Then we looked at each other and said “Oh my goodness…before we know it, they’re going to be gone.”

We realized we had WAY more life ahead of us where it would just be us.

So we started new hobbies we could enjoy together (snowshoeing, hiking, cycling) and really worked on our friendship.

My favourite thing to do on my days off is to hang out with my best friend.

20. Open the gift of sex…it’s from God

There’s so much funk about sex. For the record, I believe marriage is the context God designed for sex.

The irony of course is that too many married couples lose interest in sex. I’ve met way too many people who tell me (because I’m a pastor I guess) that they live in a sexless marriage.

Significantly, our culture only glamorizes sex outside of marriage.

When was the last time you saw a married couple on TV or in a movie in a love scene? Right…you can’t remember.

You’re probably even thinking gross, I wouldn’t want to see that. (Not that any of us should be watching steamy scenes, but you get the point).

And now you see the problem.

Why, in our culture, is it not weird when a couple at a bar in a movie hooks up or a wife whose husband is out of town gets it on with her boss, but it is weird when two people who have committed to each other for life have sex?

Why?

Married people: sex is a gift. Open it.

The more emotionally, relationally and spiritually close you get to your spouse, the better it gets.

Okay, that’s about all I’m comfortable saying about sex. :)

What About You?

I could not be more excited about the next 25 years. It feels like we have a foundation for more joy, less pain, and more of Christ…together. It hasn’t been easy…but it’s been completely worth it.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have made it through 6 months, a year, 10 years or 50 years of marriage.

What are you learning? What’s helped you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Carey Orange 2014

Anticipating the Change You’re Not Expecting (Orange Conference 2015 Talk Notes)

This week I’m excited to be speaking at the Orange Conference in Atlanta Georgia.

As a way of serving those who attend my talks (and couldn’t be there but want to track with what’s happening) I’ll be posting the outline to each talk I give here on the blog.

Even if you don’t attend the conference, I hope you can glean a few insights from them that might help you lead better now.  And if you’re in the session, you won’t have to guess what that pesky blank you forgot to fill in was all about.

Here’s my talk outline for my Anticipating The Change You’re Not Expecting session, along with some additional posts and references if you want to go deeper.

Carey Orange 2014

Overview

Anticipating the change you’re not expecting.

Yes, we know that’s contradictory. But think back through the past few years: how many times did something blindside you when you should have seen it coming? The key to navigating personal and professional change lies in studying the people and organizations who’ve traveled further down your road.

Discover ways to learn from their lessons by doing your homework and looking ahead.

Introduction

1. At some point along the journey, most of us get blindsided.

 a. Leaders who see the future are in a better position to seize the future.

b. Knowing what’s coming is most of the battle.

4 Changes Most Leaders Aren’t Expecting

1. Growing Cynicism

a. Knowledge brings sorrow.

 b. You project past failures onto new situations.

c. You decide to stop trusting, hoping and believing.

d. The antidote to cynicism is curiosity.

2. Burnout

a. Most people don’t burnout overnight.

b. Passion fades.

c. Your heart grows hard.

d. Rest no longer refuels you.

e. You simply can’t function any more.

f. The antidote to self-medication is self-care.

3. Irrelevance

a. Irrelevance happens when the speed of change outside an organization is greater than the speed of change inside an organization. – Rick Warren

b. When you’re young, the current cultural dialogue is your native tongue.

c.  Culture never asks permissionto change. It just changes.

d. The older you get the harder this gets.

e.  Organizations that don’t change becomes museums to another era.

f. The antidote to irrelevance is change.

4. Ineffectiveness

a. Churches become ineffective when, over a long period of time, leaders begin to love the method more than they love the mission.

b. Leaders become ineffective when they fail to grow both their character and their competency.

c. Reinvention and renewal are the antidotes to ineffectiveness.

Two Questions to Help You See the Future So You Can Seize the Future

1. What am I not seeing that I should be seeing?

2. Who can help me see what I’m not seeing?

 Want More?

Here are some related posts that can help you dig deeper on this subject.

6 Reasons Leaders Grow Cynical (And How to Fight the Trend)

How Perry Noble Hit Rock Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches (Episode 2 of the CNLP)

9 Surefire Ways to Make Your Church Completely Ineffective

For further resources, access the free archive of thought-provoking, practical interviews with today’s top church leaders on The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.

Leadership Hacks

5 Ultra Simple Leadership Hacks That Can Help Anyone

Sometimes leadership can seem so overwhelming.

In reality, though, leadership is simpler than it first appears.

In many ways, great leaders master some very basic things that other people miss. The advice in this post is so simple you might be thinking “well, my mother used to tell me to do that”.

Maybe that’s the point.

You can have a PhD in leadership and read everything there is on leadership and still not be effective.

And yet there are leaders who have little formal education but who lead powerfully and effectively every day.

Often, these leaders gain influence because they’ve mastered a few basic skills others miss.

Here are 5 of my absolute favourite basic leadership skills that are far too easy to overlook.

Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader. Leadership Hacks

1. Make someone else the hero

Few of us have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The narcissists make it all about them.

Insecure people focus on themselves because they can’t bear to give anyone else air time.

And even people who lack confidence can end up being selfish because their lack of self-esteem means no one else gets attention.

How do you escape the trap of narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence?

Just make someone else the hero.

If you’re a preacher, like me, make sure you point to God, not to yourself when you speak. Worry more about whether people connect with God than whether they connect with you.

What else does this principle look like?

Well, if you’re a writer, make your reader the hero. The filter through which I try to run every post I write on this blog is what I call a “helpful” filter. I want the post to help you as a reader. I want you to win.

Think about it. You and I love leaders who point beyond themselves to someone else. Why not be that leader?

So when you struggle with narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence (and we all do…me too), step aside and make someone else the hero.

It works. Every time.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

If there’s one piece of advice I want my sons to remember, other than everything I taught them about Jesus, it’s this:

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

It puts you ahead of about 99% of the planet.

Think back on your last week. Who frustrated you most? Probably the people who didn’t do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.

Now picture the people you lead. Who are you most likely to promote, reward or even want to hang out with? The people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

Doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it is the basis of trust. It’s also the basis for confidence.

Hey…sometimes I’m still the guy who didn’t do what he said he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. But I try so hard not to be that guy.

So what do you do if you struggle in this area? Just stop promising and start delivering.

When your walk catches up to what your talk would have been, reintroduce your talk.

3. Focus on outcomes

Also in the ‘please stop driving me nuts’ category are people who focus on process, not outcomes.

I realize it’s axiomatic these days to say the journey is more important than the destination. But not always. Really. Come on. What fun is the journey if you end up nowhere with any meaning?

It’s frustrating when you ask someone if something is done and they tell you

Well I emailed him.

She never got back to me.

I’ve called 5 times.

I think they must have changed their address or something.

And they feel like the project is complete because they tried.

Trying isn’t the same as doing.

Often, I feel like saying “You didn’t hear the question. The questions is Is it done?

A few years ago, I started encouraging the leaders I work with to stop focusing on process, and start focusing on outcomes.

When you focus on outcomes, you eventually stop emailing someone who never returns emails and you text them instead, or call them, or go to their office, or release them and find someone who will help you get the project done.

If you focus on outcomes, you’ll also have a shot at mastering #2. If you don’t, you never will.

And getting things done actually makes the journey more enjoyable, at least in my view.

4. Look people in the eye

Sure, this is an “I don’t need a blog post to remind me of this”. (So is the next point, by the way.)

But do you ever notice how hard it is to actually look someone in the eye—to make them the sole focus on your attention?

I’m pretty sure I’m ADD and it’s so hard for me not to focus on shiny objects, moving parts or anything else in the room. Or my phone for that matter.

But the most effective leaders always look someone in the eye.

Sometimes I’m in a conversation with someone and I’ll create a voice in my head that just keeps repeating “Look them in the eye…look them in the eye.” It helps.

I’ll even position myself in a restaurant or coffee shop so I face a blank wall, not the door or a TV. Otherwise, I just instinctively look at whatever is moving.

Watch for it…the very best leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.

Practice that this week.

5. Smile

Everyone has a default expression. It’s hard to know what yours is because you never see yourself as others see you.

I learned years ago that my default facial expression is…uptight. If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.  I’m also a fast walker, so I tend to look uptight and annoyed.

How’s that for a guy who’s leading you?

People have given me very helpful advice like walk slowly across the room and smile. 

I know that’s so basic, but remember, you’re programming against your default here, so it’s not easy.

I have to remind myself to smile when I teach, to smile when I greet people and to smile in conversations.

It makes a huge difference.

Apparently Michael Hyatt has a similar issue and in this post outlined 5 positive impacts of smiling more as a leader.

So smile. :)

What Would You Add?

So that’s my short list of ultra simple leadership hacks. What are some you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

pray

Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems

Every once in a while I hear from a leader who says “We don’t any need more ideas/strategies/conferences…all we need to do is pray.”

Well actually, writing this blog, quite often I hear from people like that.

Maybe you have people like that at your church.

You even know the conversation.  Every time you suggest “Why don’t we try reformatting our services/changing our kids ministry/reaching out into the community” they shoot back with “what we really need to do is just pray” (or “what we really need to do is get back to the Bible…”) as though that settled the discussion.

It puts you in a horribly awkward position.

If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.

If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.

I mean who really wants to come out against prayer?

Not me. Not you.

And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.

Can it be that something that sounds so spiritual can actually stop some very spiritual work?

In the name of God, some leaders might end up opposing the work of God.

And it’s all done in the most holy-sounding way.

Who’s right? How should you respond?

 pray

We Need To Pray

So before you freak out, I haven’t become an atheist.

Far from it. It’s not an exaggeration to say I pray every day. I also read the scripture daily and love it deeply.

I also believe I need to pray more. I agree that the church needs more prayer.

Finally, I believe all authentic, effective ministry is rooted in prayer.

But saying “All we need to do is pray” really misses how God actually works.

If all we needed to do was pray, we could lock ourselves in a closet and never come out. But I’m not sure that’s how God has moved historically.

What begins in prayer should usually end in some kind of action.

 

And We Need To Do More Than Pray

While prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.

The walls of Jericho ultimately fell down because having heard from God, people obeyed God, marching around the city for a week, blasting trumpets and shouting.

Come to think of it, that kind of sounds like a strategy doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, the scripture is filled with strategy if you look for it.

 

Strategy Is Not the Enemy

Sometimes church people behave like strategy is the enemy.

It’s not. It never has been.

Strategy is not the enemy.

Apathy is.

Overly simplistic thinking is.

But strategy isn’t. A great strategy is actually a companion to a great prayer life.

Strategy is inherently biblical. For example, God noticed that Moses had a bad leadership strategy that was ultimately going to wear out both him and the people. So God used Moses’ father-in-law (of all people) to give him a new strategy that required tremendous reorganization.

Jesus intentionally organized his community of disciples into concentric circles of 70, 12, 3 and then 1. His prayer resulted in action…thoughtful action.

Finally, the early church continually rethought its strategy as the church grew and the mission expanded (see Acts 6Acts 13 and Acts 15 as examples).

We’re Supposed To Love God With More Than Our Hearts

So what’s the point?

Strategy should be a good word in the church. And it should be a good word in your church.

That means you should have the tough conversations.

You should surface disagreements (even pray through them).

You shouldn’t skirt tough issues.

It also means you need to lead.

Leadership requires your heart but it doesn’t stop there. It requires  your soul, your strength AND your mind.

So use your mind. And your strength. And your soul.

So Next Time

So next time someone interrupts the conversation and says “What we really need to do is pray”…what should you do?

I think you might agree…and say “I agree. We should pray.”

But then add.

“And after we pray, let’s get working on the most important issues facing us. The mission is just too important to ignore them.”

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.

It’s time for the church to act. And to get the best strategy we can find to accomplish the mission God has given us.

Have you ever run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way?

What’s been effective as you’ve navigated this?