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7 Things Every Growing Church Struggles With

It’s easy to believe that there will come a day when your church will never struggle and you’ll never struggle as a leader.

As tempting as that is to believe, it’s just not true.

Every church struggles. And every leader struggles. And—yes—even growing churches struggle.

Last week I outlined the struggles smaller churches experience in my post 5 Things Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Struggles With. Having started ministry in very small churches, I can relate to each of those struggles personally.

But your struggles as a leader or as a church don’t go away when your church starts to grow. They simply change.

I’ve always said I’d rather have the challenges associated with growth than I would the challenges associated with decline (and that’s absolutely true), but it still means you have challenges.

As our church has grown from a handful of people to 1,100 people who now attend and 2,300 people who call our church home, we’ve navigated all of these challenges. So has almost every church that’s grown.

Here are 7 things every growing church struggles with.

growing churches struggle

1. The pastor being less available

I began ministry in a church of 6 people (and that was a normal Sunday…a bad Sunday was 2 people). When your church is really small, you’re pretty much available to do anything anyone needs. How can you argue you’re not available when you lead a tiny church?

But as your church grows, you need to begin a transition away from being available all the time. If you don’t, you will implode or your church will stop growing.

You can be generally available to 20 people.

You will wear yourself out trying to be consistently available for 200 people.

You’ll die trying to be available to 2000 people. Frankly, you’ll never even serve that many people because it’s humanly impossible, even if you worked 7 days a week, 20 hours a day. People will just walk away, their calls unanswered and their needs unmet.

As my friend Reggie Joiner says, the problem with needs-based ministry is there’s no end to human need.

Your church will struggle with the pastor being less available as it grows.  But it will struggle even more if you don’t restructure to grow bigger.

To reach more people, you need to be available to fewer people.

I wrote more about scaling your ministry through different stages in my new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, available here.

2. The pastor not doing everything

A companion of being less available as a church grows is the reality that a pastor can’t do everything.

Many pastors of small churches start out as jacks of all trades: preacher, pastor, chaplain, wedding officiant, funeral officiant, bible study leader, team leader, curriculum designer and even friend who drops by.

When your church is small, it’s natural for the pastor to do almost all the work, because it seems there is no one else available to do it, and no money to outsource it or to hire anyone else.

When I started in ministry, in addition to preaching, teaching and vision casting (my primary gifitings) I also designed and printed the bulletins, created any computer graphics, performed weddings and funerals, visited in hospital, led the church bible study and was actively involved in our kids ministry. I was only mediocre at most things on that list, and terrible at a few.

As our church has grown, my role has become narrower and narrower.

At 200 Pastoral care became a groups and congregational responsibility. So did bible study (which became small groups instead).

At 400, I let go of graphics and design entirely (thankfully).  I also go out of direct involvement in student and children’s ministry as we hired people (I still share the the vision, but no longer own the responsibility).

At 800, I stepped back from leading and attending most meetings and almost everything else to focus on preaching, teaching, vision casting and senior leadership.

The struggle here is dual: you will struggle with letting go, and people will struggle with you letting go.

If you want to grow, you have to let go.

And, of course, as Andy Stanley says, by doing less you’ll accomplish more. Far more.

This sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

3. Not knowing everyone’s name

People who are part of a small church panic about not knowing everyone’s name as a church grows.

Time to challenge that assumption. Why panic?

Truthfully most people don’t know everyone, even in a church of 50.

Human reality dictates we can only truly know about 5 people deeply and about 20 people well.

Which again leads to small groups and serving teams. You can (and should) organize hundreds and even thousands of people to be known in smaller circles of groups and teams.

The point or church is not for everyone to know everyone. The point is for everyone to be known.

I think I have a personal capacity to know between 1,500 to 2,000 people by name and then my mind fries. Our church (and my life) has grown beyond that. At one point I tried to know all of our volunteers by name, but even now, I get stumped (the volunteer name tags really help me).

If you’re leading a growing church, embrace that. Create a church where everyone who wants to be known…is.

You will reach far more people if you do.

4. Shifting from leading people to leading leaders

If you’re going to lead a growing church effectively, you have to begin leading leaders instead of leading people.

That’s a hard shift for many people, including church staff.

There’s a temptation to want to be known and recognized by everyone you’re leading. The truly great leaders are prepared not to do that.

They realize that their greatest success will be found in leading staff and volunteers who can, in turn, lead others.

Which also means sometimes they get the credit rather than you. Which again, is fine if you’re committed to becoming an effective leader.

If you’re not fine with others receiving the credit, you’ll eventually stunt the church’s growth to the level of your insecurity.

If you struggle with insecurity, by the way, this is an amazing conversation with Josh Gagnon, who leads a top 5 fastest growing church in America and has had to battle his own insecruities in doing so.

But you must shift from leading people to leading leaders if you hope to reach more people.

5. Adding systems

This is a hard one for any entrepreneurial leader (like myself). I love freedom and even spontaneity.

But for your church to ever sustainably pass 500 in attendance, let alone 1000, you have to have systems.

Many entrepreneurial leaders are afraid of systems and structure because they think it means the creation of bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy stifles mission. Great systems fuel it.

Like an office tower designed to house thousands of people, great systems and structure support the goals of the organization with lean but solid processes around finances, management, discipleship and even the weekend services a church offers.

Without structure, freedom collapses into chaos and disorganization.

The novice leader values freedom from structure. The mature leader values freedom in structure.

Without great systems that foster care for people, you won’t care for people.

6. Saying no

‘Yes’ gets you to initial growth; ‘No’ gets you to sustained growth.

Many pastoral leaders are people pleasers. As I argue here, that can be deadly.

Most great organizations become effective not just because they decided what they are, but fundamentally because they decided what they are not.

As you grow, more and more people will show up with ideas about how to make things better.

Having a clearly defined mission, vision, strategy and culture will help you decide what to say yes to and what to say no to.

The leader who says yes to everything ultimately says yes to nothing.

7. Dealing with critics

So once you start growing, all the critics will disappear, correct?

Sorry to break the news…but just the opposite. They’ll line up.

You’ll have internal critics who want things to be the way they used to be. After all, the people heading for the Promised Land always want to go back to Egypt.

But the critics are not just internal, growth attracts a growing number of external critics.

Our generation seems to specialize in encouraging leaders and organizations to grow and then criticizing them when they do.

And before you accuse others, there’s a 99% chance you’ve thought or said something negative about a large church pastor you resent.

Growth attracts critics. It just always does.

So how do you process the criticism when you’re the one being criticized?

The best way to process what your critics have to say is to understand why they say it.

First, take whatever good there might in what they said and reflect on it. You’re not perfect. You can learn and develop from it.

But then process why the critics are often so mean-spirited.

What usually fuels a critics’ animosity toward success and growth? Three things:


A need to justify their own lack of progress


Once you understand that a critic’s arguments are often less about you than they are about them, you’re free to show compassion and even concern for them.

Want More?

I wrote more about the issues the stop and fuel growth in my new book Lasting Impact.

And I’d love to hear from you. What other struggles have you seen or experienced in growing churches?  Scroll down and leave a comment.

leadership myths

5 Stubborn Leadership Myths You Should Abandon Immediately

How do you know you haven’t fallen for a leadership myth that simply isn’t true?

Answer: sometimes you don’t.

Too many leaders hold a few damaging core beliefs that simply aren’t true.

Myths are everywhere in our culture.

It’s not that hard to roll our eyes at people who fall for urban legends.

That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate Snopes.com, a site dedicated to debunking urban legends.

Remember the stubborn myth a few years back about hotel operators using hotel key cards to download all your personal information? Because I stay in hotels regularly, so many people warned me about my hotel key. Thanks Snopes…..

But there are also leadership myths: But there are also leadership myths: things that many leaders believe that really aren’t true.

I think we’ve all fallen for a few.

But how many stubborn leadership myths are you still falling for?

Once you abandon them, you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.

leadership myths

5 Leadership Myths You Should Abandon

Here are 5 that I hate to admit I have fallen for at one time or another in my leadership.

1. Success will happen overnight

Who hasn’t fallen for this? And if you don’t believe it, you’ve secretly wanted it, haven’t you?

Yet there are very few overnight successes.

Whether it’s bands like PassengerThe Band Perry or even the Beatles, musicians often struggle in obscurity and near defeat for years before they break through.  Same for writers, businesses and many other leaders.

Even North Point Church, launched in 1995, actually declined in attendance from its initial launch over its first few years before rebounding and becoming the story many church leaders know today.

Just ask any of the founders: they’ll tell you those first few years were lean and very difficult.

So what do you do?

Set realistic expectations. Work hard. Celebrate progress, even incremental progress.

As Winston Churchill (whose life was characterized mostly by disappointment prior to Word War 2) said, success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

2. Smart work, not hard work, will win the day

Okay. Working smarter is better than simply working harder. Very true.

Working 100+  hours a week is the answer to very few problems and completely unsustainable for more than a season. If you can be more efficient and more effective, by all means do so.

But smart work is no substitute for hard work. Working smarter doesn’t mean you can put in a few hours, hit cruise control and coast to victory.

You will always have to work hard on your leadership. You’ll always have to work hard on leading yourself, your team and your mission.

That might not mean 70 hours a week, but it won’t mean cruising into the sunset. When you stop growing, so do the people around you.

And eventually, the good people will leave. They want a leader to push them and push the mission forward.

3. I will get universal buy in

This myth is so seductive.

There will be a day when I become a good enough leader that I will announce our next move and everyone will applaud wildly, right?


That day will never come.

You might get most people to buy in, but you will never get everyone to buy in.

This kills most leaders because it causes them to procrastinate. The myth makes them ‘wait’ until all the conditions are right to launch their big move.

Conditions will never be perfect. ‘Everybody’ will never buy in.

Sometimes you just need to lead.

If you want to read more about how to lead change in the midst of opposition, I wrote Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies that Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change While Facing Opposition to help leaders lead without universal buy in.

4. There’s a silver bullet

So there’s one thing that will turn everything around right? A silver bullet? A model I can just embrace and press play and everything will magically be wonderful? Right?

If I only became a North Point strategic partner, my church would automatically grow….

If I only had person X on my staff, all our problems would be gone….

If we had a brand new building, it would solve all the issues we’re facing…



As my friend Casey Graham says, systems trump silver bullets.

And they really do. If you have a problem, the system you’re using created it.

To change the outcome, change the system. There is no easy way out.

5. One day I will arrive

No you won’t.

And if you do, you’ll arrive to learn you’ve missed the point.

Effective leaders keep growing. They never stop.

One of the characteristics of great leaders who stay fresh is curiosity (I wrote about how to become a more curious–and less cynical–leader in this post). They are just relentlessly curious, and the curiosity keeps them growing.

Organization that become complacent, like people who become complacent, inevitably decline.

The more successful you are, the more you will be tempted to think you have arrived.

That’s why the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

Busting those 5 leadership myths have helped me grow as a leader.

How about you? What myths are you busting through?

Leave a comment!


5 Things Every Small To Mid-Sized Church Struggles With

Of all the subjects I deal with on this blog, church size generates a LOT of reaction and emotion.

This post on why most churches never break the 200 attendance mark struck a deep nerve.

As I outline in my new book, people clearly have strong opinions and emotions about the size of churches that can (and should) be overcome.

But I can also totally relate to the dynamics of leading a smaller church.

When I began in ministry, I spent about 3 years leading a small congregation (under 100) that grew into a mid-sized church (under 500) and then grew into a larger church.

I remember the emotions that swirl around small and mid-sized churches. I also have lived through the struggles those congregations face.

This post (like the last one) is written for church leaders and teams that want to reach more people. If you don’t want to grow, this post won’t help you much.

It’s critical that as church leaders we understand the tensions we’re facing. In the same way that diagnosing that pain under your kneecap when you’re trying to run a race is helpful, diagnosing what you sense in the congregation can be critical to taking your next step forward.

Overcome these tensions and you’re closer to progress. Avoid them or fail to deal with them and you can stay stuck a long time.

So, here are 5 problems every small to mid-sized church encounters.

shutterstock_2915936241. The desire to keep the church one big family

This pressure is huge.

Many people believe that the church functions best as one big family.

The reality is even when our church was 40 people, those 40 people didn’t know each other—really. Some were left out, others weren’t.

Even at 100 or 300, enough people will still believe they know ‘everyone’. But they don’t.

When people told me they knew everyone I would challenge people (nicely) and say “Really, you know everyone? Because as much as I wish I did, I don’t.” They would then admit they didn’t know everyone. They just knew the people they knew and liked and often felt that growing the church would threaten that.

The truth is, at 100-300, many people are unknown. And even if ‘we all wear name-tags,” many of the people in your church don’t really have anyone to talk to about what matters. The one big family idea is, in almost every case, a myth.

Once you get beyond a dozen people, start organizing in groups. Everyone will have a home. Everyone who wants to be known and have meaningful relationships will have them. And a healthy groups model is scalable to hundred, thousands and even beyond that.

2. The people who hold positions don’t always hold the power 

In many small churches, your board may be your board, but often there are people—and even families—whose opinion carries tremendous weight.

If one of those people sits on the board, they end up with a de facto veto because no one wants to make a move without their buy in. If they are not on the board, decisions the board makes or a leader makes can get ‘undone’ if the person or family disapproves.

This misuse of power is unhealthy and needs to be stopped.

In the churches where I began, I took the power away from these people by going head to head with them, then handed it back to the people who are supposed to have the power.

In two out of three cases, the person left the church after it was clear I would not allow them to run it anymore.

It’s a tough call, but the church was far better off for it. When the people who are gifted to lead get to lead, the church becomes healthy. When we got healthy, we grew.

3. The pastor carries expectations no human can fulfil

In most small to mid sized churches, the pastor is expected to attend (if not conduct) every wedding, funeral, hospital call or meeting, visit people in their homes, write a killer message every Sunday, organize most of the activities of the church, be present for all functions AND have a great family life.

In other words, the pastor carries expectations no human can fulfil.

The key here for those who want to grow past this is to set clear expectations of what you will spend your time on.

I visited people in their homes and in hospital for the first two years, but then we went to a groups model. I explained (for what seemed like forever) how care was shifting from me to the congregation.

I stopped attending every church event.

We developed a great counseling referral network. And I started focusing on what I can best contribute given my gift set: communication, charting a course for the future, developing our best leaders, casting vision and raising resources.

Many small church pastors are actually more burnt out than large church pastors.

Small church pastors, please realize this: if the key to growing your church is to work more hours, you’re sunk. Work better and smarter with clearer boundaries and expectations. Don’t just work longer.

Once you master that, you can thrive, even as your church grows.

If you want more on burnout and recovery, this post has some helpful insights on burnout and what to do to get over it.

In addition, Beth Marshall from NewSpring Church explains how pastoral care can and should scale as your church reaches hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of people in this podcast below. You can listen on the player below on download the podcast on your phone here via iTunes.

4. Tradition has more pull than vision

This is not just about traditional churches—it’s true of church plants too.

The past has a nostalgia to it that the future never does.

Even the recent past. Remember how great the church felt when it was smaller, more intimate and met in the living room/school/old facility?

The challenge for the leader is to cast a vision that is clear enough and compelling enough to pull people from the familiar past into a brighter future.

5. The natural desire to do more, not less

As you grow, you will be tempted to do more. Every time there are more people/money/resources, the pressure will be strong to add programming and complexity to your organization.

Resist that. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Often the key to reaching more is doing less. By doing a few things well and creating steps, not programs, you will help more people grow faster than almost any other way.

The two books that have helped me see this more than any other resources are Andy Stanley, Lane Jones and Reggie Joiner’s Seven Practices of Effective Ministry and Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church. These two books helped our team resist the pressure to do more simply because we could.

Complexity is often the enemy of progress.

What tensions do you face or have you faced in small to mid-sized churches?

How are you handling them? Scroll down and leave a comment.

And if the subject of small churches versus large churches still bothers you, have a listen to this interview I did with Karl Vaters. The direct download off iTunes is here.


7 Effective Ways to Battle Discouragement In Leadership

If you talk to most leaders long enough to get a real answer to ‘So how’s it going?” you will quickly discover that a surprising number of leaders are disheartened.

Even discouraged.

For several years now, I’ve done a new reader survey for anyone who signs up to receive my blog via email.

You know what hundreds of leaders facing many different situations have in common?  They’re discouraged. 

Sure, the problems are specific (and they provide fuel for the subjects I try to address on this blog), but underneath so many of them is a single issue: so many leaders are demoralized and dejected.

Add ministry to leadership and it gets even harder. I’ll be the first one to admit that a large part of the battle in leadership is this: overcoming discouragement.

If you don’t develop a strategy, you won’t stay in leadership long.

So the big question is, how do you overcome the tough seasons?

How do you overcome discouragement in leadership? Here are 7 things that have helped me.

shutterstock_1856330061. Remember your calling

Most of us didn’t get into ministry—or even leadership—without some sense of calling.

I know for me, personally, my call into ministry was definitely something I sensed from God, not anything I dreamt up myself (I outline some of the story behind my call to ministry in this message).

Even if you volunteered for ministry and don’t have a dramatic call story, your gifting is evidence that God has equipped you for ministry. And the truth is, we’re all called to ministry, whether we work at a church or not. (That’s why it’s so critical for the church today to rethink what it means to be called to ministry.)

God got you into ministry. He’ll get you through it.

Remember that. It will grow your trust in God.

2. Shift the weight

There is a weight to leadership that every leader feels. And some of that is healthy. If you don’t feel the pressure of leadership, it can be a sign that you’re not engaged.

Things become unhealthy, though, when you bear all the weight of ministry.

Jesus promised that you don’t need to do that. If you’re truly leading in him, you still bear a burden, but it’s a light burden.

How do you do that?

My rule in leadership is this: Take full responsibility for all you can do. And then trust God with the rest.

It’s Christ’s church, not yours. Remember that.

It relieves so much pressure.

3. Do what an emotionally intelligent person would do

Some days (and in some seasons) my emotions get the best of me. And when they do, I want to revert to the behaviour of a 3 year old, not the behaviour fitting my stage of life.

How do you combat that?

Well, quite literally, on my worst days, I ask myself “What would an emotionally intelligent person do?” I imagine what they would do, then I do everything I can to do it. Try it. It works.

Emotional intelligence is all about developing a self-awareness of how your attitudes and actions impact others, and leveraging that to further the team and others. Self-aware leaders are always aware of key things that other leaders simply aren’t.

As Daniel Goleman points out in his classic book, Emotional Intelligence, emotionally intelligent people rarely let their state of mind bring others down. They’ve developed behaviours that compensate for their emotional state so they don’t drag other people down with them.

4. Find some quick easy wins

Leadership can be frustrating. Often you’re working on long-term initiatives that present more hurdles than breakthroughs. And in ministry, the business of life-change can be very difficult to measure.

Sometimes you just need to win at something as a leader. If you can’t see a win in your day job, then go win at something else.

What do I mean? I mean something really small by which you can measure immediate progress:

Cut your grass.

Wash your car.

Clean off your desk.

Take a great friend out to lunch.

Go for a walk, run or ride and count the calories with your favourite fitness app.

The point? Do something you know will succeed and that can be seen.

Your car was dirty? Now it’s clean. Your grass was long? Now it’s cut.

That’s so unlike the progress you can measure in most senior leadership jobs.

Small measurable wins will give you the emotional satisfaction you need to go back and tackle the things you’re not sure are going to succeed or that are inherently difficult to measure.

5. Call a friend

Sometimes you just need someone who understands.

The challenge is many leaders don’t know who to call.

You shouldn’t always complain to your employees or board, because they work with you. And seeking affirmation from the people who work for you can be a critical mistake.

When I’m deeply discouraged, I often call a friend who:

Can understand because he has led in a position like mine before.

Doesn’t work with me directly so it doesn’t create a funk in the organization.

Honours confidences.

Often, even 15 minutes with someone who understands and empathizes helps so much.

Don’t have any close friends? Just remember, loneliness is a choice; it’s not inevitable.

6. Get some rest

I would love to figure out who actually said this, but someone observed that 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep.

So true.

If you’re discouraged, get some rest. Shoot for eight hours straight. Take a nap.

I’m convinced that sleep is a secret weapon the most effective leaders keep in their arsenal.

As I wrote about at some detail in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations that Can Help Your Church Grow, since my burn out 9 years ago, staying on top of sleep has been one of the most important things I do to stay fresh and effective in leadership.

You are at your most kind and optimistic when you’re most rested. You’re also at your best in leadership.

So rest.

7. Don’t quit

People make stupid decisions when they’re discouraged. Don’t be one of those people.

Never make long term decisions in a bad season; make them when you’re in a good season. And if you’re not in a good season, wait. 

I am also fully convinced that far too many leaders quit far too early.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon: often in my leadership, I have been most tempted to quit right before a critical breakthrough.

I almost quit writing this blog two or three times before I started blogging regularly 36 months ago.

I almost quit early in my leadership when we were 95% of the way through the changes we were making the opposition got so loud.

I felt like quitting my marriage when we were in a particularly dark season. (But we pushed through and now have an exceptional marriage that seems to keep getting better.)

Then I look back and think “I’m so glad I didn’t pack it in.”

Remember. You are most tempted to quit moments before your critical breakthrough. So don’t quit.

What About You?

What do you do that helps you push through a discouraging season in leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


Why So Many Church Leaders Struggle With Their Faith

There’s a secret many leaders won’t readily tell you.

One of the most difficult aspects of Christian leadership is keeping your relationship with God fresh and alive.

It’s amazing to me that a frequent casualty of Christian leadership is a leader’s personal walk with God.

I have had to regularly engage this battle for two decades now. So have so many leaders I’ve talked to.

I realize if I don’t engage the battle, I’ll lose it.

How does it happen?


The Struggle Starts Innocently Enough

Drifting away from the God who loves you happens innocently enough:

You start out in ministry with enthusiasm and passion.

You get ‘burned’ a few times by people and the challenges of leadership, and your heart grows a little hard.

You confuse what you do (your work) with who you are (a follower of Jesus) and the line between what is personal and what is vocational become blurry.

You end up cheating your personal devotions by reading the passage you’re working on for Sunday. Or not reading much scripture at all.

You end up so focused on strategy and execution that the mystery and supernatural aspect of Christian leadership gets lost.

The services you lead become technical and clinical rather than life-giving and awe-inspiring because you’re focused on executing them well.

You find yourself singing words that used to mean something and preaching words that once sounded more personal and alive than they currently do.

You still believe in your head, but you’ve lost your heart.

I have drifted into or close to that territory in seasons, and as soon as I do I realize it’s a terrible and unsustainable place to be in, let alone stay in.

A Searing Question

I have tried to keep this issue front and center in my life because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who gains the world (or even a small slice of it) and loses his soul.

A few years ago I landed on a question that forces me to be 100% honest about where I am with God.

The question:

If I wasn’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of my faith?

In other words, if ministry came to a dead halt:

Would I still passionately love God?

Would I have lots left to pray about?

Would I want to lead people to Jesus?

Would I wake up grateful?

Would I still confess my sin?

Would I live out of an overflow of my relationship with God?

If the answer to these questions is “I’m not sure” or “no,”  I have a problem.

And so, I try to foster a personal relationship with God that runs independently of anything I do in Christian leadership. I try to remember that God loves me, not what I produce.  That in the end who I am matters so much more than what I do.

So What Helps?

There are several components to staying healthy spiritually over the long term. You need a close circle of friends for support and accountability (I wrote about how to develop an inner circle here).

You need to pray.

But here’s what I find. It’s so simple you might dismiss it, but I can’t. It’s just always true:

The more I engage the Scriptures, the more I engage God.

When I read the Bible personally, I grow closer to God. When I skip or skim, I don’t.

And this is also the area in which I find many leaders and so many Christians struggle.

5 Ways to Keep Your Scripture Reading Fresh

So in the hopes of helping, here are 5 ways to ensure your reading of scripture stays fresh. At least these work for me:

1. Find Your Best Personal Time. 

For me, it’s a no brainer. I’m always best in the morning. If I try to spend time with God at night, I fall asleep (it’s nothing personal, I also treat late night movies, friends and family the exact same way after 10:00 p.m.)  I love having time with God between 5 and 6 a.m.. I’m fully awake, engaged and present.

What’s your best personal time? Give it to God. You’ll grow.

Okay, I better come clean. I have a bias. I think everyone should become a morning person. I think there are inherent advantages you don’t get any other way. I started becoming a morning person in my early 30s and have never looked back. Think you can’t do it? Michael Hyatt shows you how.

2. Find the Medium that’s Best for You. 

I’m a reader, so a written Bible has always equaled awesome for me. But a few years ago I discovered that I had stopped reading my bible in a fresh way because I had been reading it for so many years. The words didn’t feel fresh anymore because they had become so familiar.

Around that time I had bought my first iPhone. I downloaded the YouVersion app and suddenly I found I was reading the Bible as though it was the first time. Every word looked new, even though I had read it before. And that meant my connection with God and the Bible was stronger. The only thing I changed was the media. Now I read it off my tablet with the same effect. Experiment with mediums. See which one works best for you. If you don’t like reading, get an audio bible and listen.

3. Get a Translation You Can Understand. 

Many new Christians I talk to think there is something sacred to the King James Version of the Bible. There isn’t. It’s a beautiful translation that works powerfully for people with a solid command of 17th century English, but that’s not me.

There are many great translations out there. I personally prefer the New Living Translation. The TNIV (Today’s New International Version), the Message and even the English Standard Version are used by many people effectively.

4. Use a Reading Plan. 

Random reading can get you started, but it often doesn’t keep you going. Like many others, I use a reading plan. Here’s a sampling of the hundreds available.

Year after year (including this one), I come back to the One Year Bible. Nothing has kept me more engaged with God on a daily basis than that. It’s about 15 minutes of reading a day (so it’s a commitment), but for me there has been nothing better. I love it because I simply look for the daily readings and they’re all laid out. No flipping pages all over the bible. If it’s July 6th, all the readings for the day are laid out. So whether you use a paper bible or an App like me, it’s all there for you. So easy to use. If reading through the Bible in a year is not something that will help you, there are a ton of other reading plans out there.

5. Take time to Reflect and Pray. 

A combination of prayer and some kind of reflection time is advised. Some people love to journal. I’ve tried to journal, but I’m not sure it’s me. Other people reflect on their life and issues when they pray. I often do when I cycle. If you make your prayer time a time of asking God to help you apply what you’re learning and apply what you’ve read, you will never run out of things to pray about.

Whatever you do, keeping your relationship with your Saviour fresh and alive is critical.

After all, if your relationship with God dies, you lose your authority to lead, not to mention your passion and joy.

What has helped you? What would you add?

slowly imploding

5 Signs Your Character is Slowly Imploding

There are few better friends for a leader than self-awareness.

You’ve seen leaders who think they’re doing great when, in fact, everyone around them begs to differ.

How do you not become that leader?

One of the best things you can do is monitor the signs of any pending crisis. And among all the things to watch, one of the best things you can monitor is your character.

After all, in leadership, your competency will take you only as far as your character can sustain you. Character, not competency, determines your capacity.

So how do you know the state of your character?

Here are five signs I’ve watched in my own life and seen in the lives of other leaders that help me determine if my character is in check or if it’s slowly imploding.

slowly imploding

1. There’s a growing gap between what you say publicly and how you live privately

Character rarely implodes suddenly. Instead, there’s almost always a slow erosion until eventually your character implodes.

Consequently, wise leaders keep an eye on any gaps between what they say publicly and how they live privately.

Quite obviously, this extends to hidden vices like drinking too much, porn use and the like.

But it goes deeper than that. There are socially acceptable ways Christian leaders self-medicate that should grab our attention (I wrote about them here).

It also extends into any gap you see between your words and your deeds.

When you preach grace but snap at your wife, kids and staff, that’s a problem.

When you teach financial responsibility but your personal finances are a mess, that’s a problem.

When you say you care about people but you make zero time for anyone in need in your personal life, that’s an issue.

What’s the solution?

Never say publicly what you’re unwilling to live privately.

This is why people have had problems with preachers for years. Most people suspect preachers don’t live up to their talk. Often they’re wrong (I’m amazed by the integrity of many Christian leaders I meet), but sometimes they’re right, not because there are hidden vices, but because the talk is out of proportion to the walk.

So speak honestly from the front. Make sure your talk matches your walk. Be honest about any flaws you have, and speak from your weakness as much as your strength. If you want guidelines on how, I wrote about how to be appropriately transparent in this post.

And if you have a growing gap that needs to be addressed, address it. Get help. Tell a friend. Go see a counsellor. Get on your knees.

And in leadership, try to make sure that what you say publicly is how you live privately.

Any growing gap shows your character is slowly imploding.

2. Your emotions are inappropriate to the situation

A sure sign of something being wrong with your character is emotional responses that are disporportionate to a given situation.

You fly off the handle over small things.

You feel nothing when people tell you something sad or upsetting.

You can’t celebrate someone else’s success.

Those could be signs of burnout, or they could flag something deeper—a character issue.

Your character is at its best when Christ takes over the deepest parts of who you are–your heart, mind, soul and strength. And when he has control of these things, your reactions become much healthier.

You rejoice when people rejoice.

You mourn when they mourn.

You can celebrate someone’s success and not be jealous.

You feel compassion for someone when they’re down and don’t gloat or think they deserve it.

The only way my character stays at this level is if I submit my heart and life fully to Christ on a daily basis.

But when your emotions are disproportionate to the situation, it’s a sign of danger ahead.

3. You have less and less grace to give

When my character has been at its weakest, a sure sign is that grace is in short supply.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards as a leader. There’s a tremendous amount wrong when those high standards cause you treat people like dirt.

Frankly, on a spiritual level, grace runs out in your life when God runs out in your life.

If you need more grace, you need more God.

If you have less and less grace to give, it’s a deep sign your character needs some serious work.

4. Your leadership has become about you

Great leaders serve people. They don’t believe people exist to serve them.

When your character begins to implode, you will forget that.

Usually at the heart of a character implosion is unresolved pain. And pain, by its nature, is selfish.

Think about it. If you hit your elbow in the next ten seconds, you will completely forget about this blog post and anything else going on in your life and focus only on the pain.

Why? Because pain is selfish.

If you’re a selfish leader, it’s because there’s unresolved pain in your life.

So get on your knees, see a counsellor, get help.

When you resolve the pain, you’ll lead well again.

After all, when your leadership becomes all about you, you’ve stopped leading.

5. You keep justifying your bad actions and decisions

There’s a certain point in the journey where you realize there’s a problem but refuse to deal with it.

How do you know you’ve hit that point?

When you start justifying your bad behaviour and decisions.

You start saying and believing things like:

If you had this much pressure in your life, you’d do it too.

Nobody understand how lonely I am.

It’s impossible for me not to be this way given everything I’m carrying.

Well, believe that if you want to…but also believe that your complete implosion or erosion of authority is much closer than you think.

Leaders who justify their bad behaviour lose their authority to lead.

Conversely, leaders who recognize it and seek help almost always get better.

Some Hope

If you’ve read through this and now have that sinking feeling, there’s hope.

If you get help, all of these conditions are reversible.

And what’s really great is I think leaders who have been broken this way but then get healthy actually become better leaders than they were before.

It creates a humility and vulnerability in you that helps you lead from a place of great strength.

So get help. And look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It shines pretty bright.

I wrote an entire chapter about becoming a healthy leader and leading a healthy team in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. You can learn more here.

In the meantime, what are you learning about the collapse of character in leaders?

Any other signs you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

church survival guide

The Post-Modern Church Leader’s Survival Checklist

Question: What does it take to survive in today’s church leadership environment as culture moves away from Christianity and into a more pluralistic, post-modern environment?

Answer: More than it used to, and likely more than you think.

The good news is that you easily discover not only what it takes to survive in today’s leadership culture, you can discover what it takes to thrive. 

After two decades in church leadership (with a few more to come…I hope!), here are ten things that leaders who are thriving these days almost always have in common and almost always have in abundance.

And, conversely, leaders who are missing most of these generally don’t survive in our changing culture.

The good news is you can thrive—not just survive—in today’s church culture if you pursue the right things.

church leader's survival checklistHere are 10 things that I would put on the post-modern church leader’s survival checklist.

As you’ll see, few of them directly tie into the cultural shift happening before us as Western culture shifts away from Christianity. You can read more about that here or in even greater detail in my new book, Lasting Impact.

Instead, the checklist I offer here is tied to the personal strength and resilience a leader brings to their calling.

Why is the checklist so personally oriented?

When a movement becomes counter-cultural (as is increasingly the case with Christianity), it takes greater leadership skill and resolve to make an impact than it otherwise would.

In some ways, it’s like leading into a head-wind rather having the tail wind your predecessors may have enjoyed.

As a result, seeing results might take longer. Leadership is probably going to be harder. It’s certainly going to be more complex.

But it definitely will be worth it, and the potential for impact is huge.

With that in mind, here are 10 things church leaders need to thrive in our post-modern, post-Christian context:

1. A few great friends with whom you can be 100% honest

Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it much harder.

When you’re transitioning a church (and these days, we’re ALL transitioning churches because change is so rapid), it’s important you have a trustworthy few with whom you can be 100% honest.

You can’t publicly or even privately complain about the situation you’re facing with the people you’re leading. It’s bad leadership.

You do need a few people who understand your situation and who can empathize, pray with you and correct you (you’re not always right and your attitude needs adjusting from time to time).

In this respect, I usually find I connect best with peers who hold a similar position and responsibility in another city. They get what I’m struggling with, and I can play the same role for them.

2. Leaders who are one or two steps ahead

Having a few friends with whom you can be 100% honest is different than finding a few leaders who are one or two steps ahead of you.

The first group functions as friends and colleagues, the second as mentors.

You don’t have to piggy back your leadership on someone famous. Too many leaders hold out for that opportunity to be mentored by Andy Stanley or Perry Noble, and then decide they can’t settle for anything less.

Guess what? That will probably never happen. (It was also one of the reasons I started my leadership podcast, so you could be mentored by leaders like Andy, Perry and Craig Groeschel, even virtually. Best of all, it’s free).

But nothing is stopping you from finding a pastor or church leader who is just one or two steps ahead of you. Maybe you’re trying to break the 200 attendance barrier and he’s got a church of 300. Ask to go for lunch and come with great questions and an open notebook.

Maybe you’re looking to handle more volunteers than you’ve ever handled? Find the ministry leader who’s handling twice the number you are and ask her for lunch. You’ll learn a ton.

Mentors are closer than you think and more accessible than you think.

3. People who give you energy

This group isn’t necessarily people with whom you can be 100% honest. They’re not even mentors. It’s different.

This group is about people you personally find energizing.

I frequently ask ministry leaders, “When was the last time you went out for dinner with a couple who left you feeling completely energized and replenished?”

The blank looks and the looks of shock and disappointment on leaders’ faces tells the story.

We don’t do this nearly enough.

Ministry is giving. And because ministry is giving, it can be draining.

Your leadership is like a bank account. You can only give so much without becoming overdrawn. Be overdrawn long enough and you go bankrupt.

Go find some friends who energize you. Then hang out!

4.  A bullet-proof devotional routine

You got into ministry because you love Jesus. But far too many leaders fall out of love with Christ while in ministry.

Why is that?

As Bill Hybels has famously pointed out, too often we let doing the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ within us.

The best way I know how to keep your passion for Christ fresh and alive is to develop a bullet-proof devotional routine.

By bullet-proof I mean it needs to work at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation, when you’re at your most stressed and when you’re at your most relaxed.

I outline mine here.

5. Exceptional clarity around how and when to say no

The enemy of great leadership is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.

The more successful you become, the more opportunity you will have. At first, your temptation is to say yes to everything. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for a crack at some things.

But saying yes to something good means you’ve likely said no to something potentially great.

Doing a few things extremely well always trumps doing many things adequately.

If you’re struggling with how to say no (and most of us are), here are some guidelines I use.

6. Regularly scheduled work-on-it time

The problem with most of our jobs is that they are largely reactive unless you decide they won’t be.

You can spend an entire day answering emails, responding to messages and attending meetings you didn’t call only to hit 6:00 p.m. and realize you didn’t move the mission forward one iota.

Long terms, this will kill your ministry.

Realize that in a post-Christian culture, momentum doesn’t come naturally.

The most effective leaders always budget significant blocks of time to work on their ministry, not just in it.

Here are 7 work-on-it things you should start budgeting more time for starting this week if you want to be effective.

7. A diversified learning menu

The challenge for many of us in church leadership is that we listen to the same voices over and over again.

You become a fan of a certain preacher, a certain theologian and you read and listen to only them.

I find I often learn the most from people who are least like me.

Sometimes the answers to your problem lie outside your discipline, not within it.

8. A great marriage or healthy personal life

It’s hard to lead well at work and at home. Usually one suffers at the expense of the other.

You either use your best energy at work and have none left for home.

Or you use all your energy on your personal life and have little left for work.

As a result, married leaders who excel at work often end up with a less than ideal family life, and single people who pour their heart into their ministry end up with a much reduced personal life.  (I wrote about what I’ve learned in my marriage here.)

Neither is a great scenario.

If you pour the level of intentionality into your life that you pour into your leadership,  you will have a better life.

9. A hobby that takes your mind off things

One of the challenges of leadership in ministry is that it requires both your mind and your heart. And the great leaders always throw their heart and mind fully into it.

Which means it can be hard to turn things off when it’s time to go home. Keep that up, and the result is burnout, something both Perry Noble and I experienced.

I talk to too many leaders who just can’t seem to turn it off.

Which is why having a hobby or something else that takes your mind off of work is one of the best things you can do.

What works? Anything that will take your mind off of your day job. That can be cycling, cooking, wood working, hiking, art, or watching a movie. Anything that gives your mind a break.

10. Enough financial margin

If there’s one thing the future will require, it’s more sacrifice.

This seems a bit tough in an era in which many church staff are underpaid and many are bi-vocational.

But developing financial margin is critical. Having no margin severely limits how you can respond to the opportunities in front of you.

I think more of this will be required in the future than in the past as church budgets struggle and as governments inevitably take away tax savings from churches and church staff.

The bottom line is this: the more margin you have, the more opportunities you can seize.

The less margin you have (as a person or as a church), the more those opportunities will pass you by.

What Do You See?

What’s becoming essential to you as a leader as times change?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

over your head

How to Lead When You’re In Over Your Head

Here’s a leadership secret.

Almost anyone who has ever led anything significant has felt like they’re in over their head at one point or another.

You might be there right now.

I hear from young leaders all the time or leaders who have moved into new roles who tell me they’re overwhelmed by the responsibility of leadership. One young leader put it this way:

I’m basically…new to all of this and feeling completely over my head. Knowing I am called to be here and not knowing how any of this is going to work, [the] leadership issue for me is feeling so very very insecure on so many levels.

I get that. I’ve felt like I’ve been in over my head many times:

From my teens right through my thirties, I was often the youngest leader around a lot of leadership tables and had to learn how to lead with people much older and often much wiser than me.

I was in law before ministry. First year law school was overwhelming for a liberal arts major, but I found a way through.

I really never saw myself as a pastor, and had to figure out how to lead a church in real time when I got called into ministry.

I really had no idea how to write a book. I’ve now been able to publish three, including my latest, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversation That Will Help Your Church Grow.

I had no idea how to launch a book (apparently books don’t launch themselves), but learned on the fly and saw my latest book become a #1 Amazon best-seller in multiple categories.

Whether you’re trying to launch something new, moving into a new and overwhelming role, or just being the young leader around a seasoned table, everyone gets overwhelmed.

So…how do you lead when you’re in over your head?

What follows are 5 guidelines that have helped me.

over your head

1. Stay humble

Humility is a leader’s best friend.

It’s one thing to be in over your head but pretend you’ve got it all figured out. Your insecurity will drive you to pretend you know something. Don’t.

It’s such a bad strategy; the quickest way to alienate the people around you is to pretend you know what you’re doing when you don’t.

People will lose confidence in you quickly and begin to dismiss you as arrogant.

On the other hand, don’t repeatedly throw yourself under the bus either saying things like “I’m no good at this” or “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

That’s not true humility. That’s a lack of confidence.

Instead, just be truthful and express a humble confidence in the long term outcome. Say things like “This is new to me, but I’m sure we can figure this out together.”

Or “The learning curve is steep right now, and I’m grateful for a good team around me. We’ll get this done somehow.”

Sometimes when you’re really shaky, any confidence you’re expressing is in God, not in yourself.

I realize that’s good theology in every season, but sometimes the only confidence you will have is in God. That’s more than okay.

2. Get a great team of people around you who are smarter than you 

You really can’t do this alone.

The more alone you are, the more difficult it will be.

So…get some mentors to build into you. If no one’s offering (they rarely do), just ask.

Recruit the next and brightest leaders you can find and mobilize them.  Here are 5 tips on how to attract and lead leaders who are better than you.

3. Become an avid learner 

Just because you don’t know something now doesn’t mean you can’t ever know it.

Become an avid learner.

Get up early. Read everything you can. Take notes from everyone around you. Live and lead in active learning mode.

You need a steep growth curve in this stage.

Make sure you spend time every day learning and growing.

And don’t spend so many hours working in leadership that you can’t work on your leadership.

4. Grow comfortable saying “I don’t know”

Insecurities run deep in most of us. And often our fear is that when people realize how little we know they will reject us.

But when you tell them you don’t know, two things happen.

First, they’re glad you realize what they already know—that you don’t know.

Second, they probably like you a little bit more because your admission you don’t know makes you more relatable, more human.

Don’t rest at “I don’t know” though. Tell them you’ll find out and report back. But at least admit it. Don’t bluff.

5. Trust God 

Yes, I know this sounds a little cliche. But it’s so true.

Many of us experienced a specific calling into ministry. If so, you need to trust God to get you through it.

In the absence of a clear calling (as I outline here, not everyone receives a ‘call to ministry’ in the transition sense), if you are serving in the area of your gifting and passion, long term things almost always get better.

Sometimes you just need to trust the Giver, not the gifts.

The tension in leadership is you will be tempted to trust the gifts more than you trust the Giver. You’ll so badly want the gifts that you don’t have or that are underdeveloped that you’ll grasp at them unwisely. Or when you develop a skill and become great at something, you’ll forget the Giver and place all your confidence in the gift. Both are mistakes.

Great leaders always trust the Giver more than they trust the gifts.

If the gifts you need aren’t developed yet to the point they need to be, just keep working. Be diligent. Don’t give up. Trust that the God who got you into this will get you through it.

Naturally, sometimes we’re in over our heads because we’re doing something we’re not gifted for, called to or equipped to handle. That’s a whole different subject.

But most of the time, we just need to persevere a little longer.

What Are You Learning?

What have you learned about leading when you’re in over your head?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


How To Tell If Your Church Is Actually Producing Disciples

One of the frequent criticisms I hear of churches that are trying to reach people who don’t attend church is that they fail to produce ‘disciples’.

Honestly, this is a criticism that, off and on, has been levied at our ministry for years. And it bothers me.

I know it’s a criticism that has followed many of you as well.

So…how do you engage it? Better yet how do you respond to it?

For a while I wasn’t sure how to answer back.

Over the years we’ve worked hard on our discipleship process, engaging people in groups, serving, giving and inviting non-Christians to explore Christianity. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better all the time.

And yet any process begs the question: how do you know if you’re producing spiritually mature disciples or not? How do you measure?

Finally a few years ago I stumbled on a test that for me, at least, answers the question as well as I’ve heard it answered. I’m hoping it clarifies things for you and your team as well.

discipleshipFirst, Some False Tests

I’ve written about how the church today is getting discipleship wrong in this post and again here.

If you listened to many in the church these days, you’d think knowledge equals maturity. The more you know, the more mature you are.

Scripture suggests that’s a false test. After all, as Paul points out, knowledge puffs up; love builds up.

Knowledge makes you arrogant. Love transforms you.

This sheds light on one of the greatest puzzles of the church today: why is it that the Christians who claim to be the most spiritually mature are often the most:






And even angry?

When did an arrogant and judgmental heart become evidence of Christian maturity?

It’s not.

And it never was.

In fact, as I argue here, many things Christians think are signs of spiritual maturity actually aren’t.

A Much Better Way to Tell

So how do you know whether your discipleship strategy is effective—whether it’s producing followers of Jesus who are maturing?

Enter Jesus. He summed up the proof of discipleship as succinctly as anyone.

I was reading through this passage again a few years ago that I finally realized Jesus gave us the test that defines discipleship exceptionally well.

He simply said: “By their fruit you’ll recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”

In other words, look at someone’s life for the evidence.

What evidence? Evidence that the Holy Spirit is transforming someone, or as the ancients used to say, evidence that someone is being sanctified.

That sounds great, but what does that look like?

Back to Paul. He actually defines what it’s like to be transformed by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5.

He begins by listing the fruit of people who are NOT being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Paul says people who are not under the direction of the Holy Spirit have lives characterized by, among other things:



Sexual immorality


Impurity and debauchery

Fits of rage





So…look at the people who are following Christ in your church and ask yourself: is this what their lives look like?

If so, you have some work to do on your discipleship strategy because it’s not producing what the Holy Spirit produces in people’s lives when he’s at work.

So what does the Holy Spirit do in peoples’ lives?

When the Holy Spirit gets a hold of someone, he produces:










So, (here’s the test again) look at people who follow Jesus in your church and ask “Is this what characterizes their lives more than it did a few years ago?”

If the answer is yes, you have an effective discipleship strategy.

If the answer’s no, you have some work to do.

You can’t set perfection as your standard because we live on this side of heaven.

Will everyone who claims to be following Jesus ‘be there’? No.

Will everyone stick around? Nope, you’ll lose a few. (If you have no back door you’re either running a cult where no one is allowed to leave or you’re really not growing.)

But people SHOULD be more like Christ than they were.

And that’s the point.

Their character and heart are being re-shaped by the Holy Spirit. That’s effective discipleship.

As the ancients knew, sanctification (the process of being made holy) is a life-long process. God isn’t done shaping you until you’re dead. And even then, he has plans for you.

Bringing This Home

The more I thought about Jesus’ teaching (by their fruit you’ll know them) and Paul’s definition of fruit, the more I realized that maybe despite the critic’s claims, we actually have an effective discipleship strategy.

Why could I say this?

I looked at the people we baptized 3 to 5 years ago and ask where they are now and what they’re like now.

First, most of them are still around. They’re still following Jesus. AND, when I see where they’re at in their lives, they actually are more loving, more patient, more kind. They’re exercising more self-control (sometimes remarkably so) and many would tell you they have far more peace.

They also display less immorality, less envy, less divisiveness, better control of their temper and greater humility.

Guess what?

The scripture tells us that that’s the Holy Spirit at work. They’re being discipled. They’re becoming mature. 

The Irony

The irony I see (and I have to be careful how I say this), is that often the people who slam churches for not producing disciples are the people who display the fewest fruits of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, their accusations are often characterized by anger, hostility, pride and sometimes jealousy (their criticism often targets growing churches). At a minimum, you don’t get the sense that their question is motivated by love.

You see the incongruity, right?

The people who claim to be the most spiritually mature fail the biblical definition of maturity.

And the people who don’t claim to be spiritually mature often pass it.

What Do You Think?

It’s just something to think about the next time someone claims yet again that your church fails to produce disciples.

And it’s a great way to evaluate your own ministry.

Just look for the fruit. You’ll see it. One way or the other, your ministry is producing something in people’s lives.  Wise leaders know what it is.

What are you learning about discipleship in your ministry? Scroll down and leave a comment.

Today’s The Last Day To Get The Free Audio Book Version of Lasting Impact!


Hey friends…last week I release my brand new book to help church leaders deal with issues like reaching the next generation with the Gospel.

The book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, covers 7 key issues facing church leaders today (team health, declining attendance, cultural trends and what the future church will be like to name a few).

Today’s the last day to get the audio version of the book for free.

Click here to get your copy now and make sure you fill out this bonus form to get the free audio version of the book. Hurry, time is running out on the bonus!

lasting impact

How to Skillfully Navigate That Critical Conversation You Don’t Know How to Have

There are always conversations you need to have but you don’t know how to have. It’s true in life and it’s very true in leadership.

How do you tell the person who’s not working out that they’re not working out?

How do you talk about the fact that so much needs to change in your church?

How do you get your somewhat resistant board to open their minds to new possibilities?

As a leader, you’ve probably already flagged more than a few issues you would love to talk about with your team.  Issues such as:

Why is our church not growing faster?

Why do people seem to be attending church less often?

How healthy is our team (really)?

Why is it so hard to attract and keep high capacity volunteers?

Why are young adults walking away from the church in record numbers?

What’s happening in our culture that we might not be responding to?

What are we actually prepared to change around here?

In my time in leadership at Connexus, we’ve had every one of those conversations.  And they’ve resulted in our church growing from a handful of churched people to over 1000 people each weekend, 60% of whom had no previous church background—all in a region where 96% of the population don’t attend church.

I believe:

Having the right conversations can change your trajectory.

There is more hope than you realize.

The potential to grow is greater than the potential to decline.

Your community is waiting for a church to offer the hope they’re looking for.

Your best days as a church are ahead of you.

Maybe the future belongs to the churches that are willing to have the most honest conversations at a critical time. That’s what my new book, Lasting Impact  is designed to facilitate.

lasting impact

So how do you have the conversations that will lead to real breakthrough for your church?

How do you get started? What do you say? And what happens if people disagree or things get heated?

5 Tips on How to Have That Critical Conversation You’re Too Afraid to Have

Here are 5 tips that can help:

1.Frame the issue thoughtfully and in advance

People hate to be caught off guard by a challenging conversation.

Understanding what’s on the table before you get to the table helps so much.

Obviously, if you’re dealing with personal conflict, a short window of notice is helpful (Hearing “Hey, we’re going to talk about your poor performance next month” isn’t helping anyone.) But a heads up the day before (“tomorrow we’ll review what happened last week”) can help everyone prepare.

If you’re talking about a chronic issue that your church needs to address or a topic that can help lead you into a better future, framing the issue well and framing it in advance is critical. It helps everyone show up having thought through what’s at stake.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote each chapter of Lasting Impact the way I did. My hope is it will  frame the issues for your team in a way that makes the conversation healthy and meaningful.

2. Stay clear about what you’re discussing

I personally find one of the greatest challenges of having conversations with leaders is keeping people focused.

Even if you frame the issue well in advance, meetings can veer off on rabbit trails before you know what’s happening. Frankly, this seems to be a characteristic of many leaders (I’m the king of rabbit trails in meetings).

How do you combat that? Write down the exact points you want to cover to keep you and your team focused.

And don’t just keep it to yourself. State what you hope to accomplish in the meeting so when you leave you know you made progress.

So what does this look like?

If you’re navigating a longer, multi-meeting conversation, your goal might be to ‘introduce the topic’ or to ‘establish whether we want to tackle this issue’.

If you can accomplish the discussion in a night, your objective might be to decide on three possible courses of action or to create a 6-month action plan.

If you know ahead of time what you want to accomplish, you are far more likely to accomplish it. People will also feel their time has been much better spent.

3. Attack problems, not people

If you’re really having an intense discussion (and you should be having these if you want to make progress), emotions may get heated.

When they do, make sure you attack problems, not people. It can be so easy to personalize conflict. We do it in our marriages all the time when we say things like “You always…” or “You never…”.

Big mistake.

Let the people you’re talking with know that you’re for them, and what you’re trying to do is to attack a problem together.  The fact that you disagree might actually be an advantage because it can help you get a more varied perspective on the problem.

When my emotions get charged, I just have to remind myself over and over again to affirm people and attack the problem.

You’ll make far more progress when you do.

4. Empathize with opposing views

I went to law school. It’s instinctive to me to dismiss an opposing point of view immediately. I can even come up with 5 reasons why their idea is a bad idea pretty quickly.

But when you do that, you don’t gain ground; you lose it.

A better approach is to actually show empathy for the opposing point of view.

Instead of saying “I can’t believe you won’t let that tradition go. That’s crazy!” what about saying “I can understand why that would be difficult to give that up. I’m sure if I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way. But what do you think about the people we’re trying to reach? Do you think our old strategy is the best strategy with which to engage them?”

Then just listen.

Do you see the difference?

When you empathize with your opponents, you often create allies. And even if you don’t, you’ve given their point of view dignity and respect. And you’ve gained the respect of the others listening.

5. Find an outside voice to help

It’s one thing for you as a leader to float your ideas. And often you need to do that.

But it can also create tension because many leaders create problems by insisting their ideas are the best or only ideas. It takes skill to avoid making the conversation personal.

As a result, again and again in my time in leadership, I’ve brought in consultants, gone to conferences and solicited outside voices to help us arrive in a new place as a team.

It’s a smart strategy not just because you get the insight that comes from a fresh voice, but because the person you listened to isn’t a member of your team. As a result, disagreeing with them does not feel as risky as disagreeing with each other.
While it costs thousands of dollars to bring in a consultant or to take a team to a conference, reading a book together can often accomplish the same results for a fraction of the cost. Our teams have read many books together over the years.

That’s Why I Wrote Lasting Impact

When I wrote Lasting Impact, I crafted every chapter with team discussion in mind.

I hope the book can give teams and boards a chance to agree or disagree with someone who’s not the room in the hopes that you can agree together on what God is calling you to do next. Plus, I tried to cover the 7 issues almost every church of every size needs to tackle as they try to move forward.

As a special bonus, if you order your copy of Lasting Impact before 11:59 p.m. on Monday October 12th, you’ll get the free audio version of the book for free. Just go to www.lastingimpactbook.com after you order and fill out the bonus claim form.

Here’s hoping your future is filled with great conversations that will move your mission forward.

In the meantime, what’s helping you have great conversations with your team? Leave a comment!