From Mission

bad news

6 Ways To Stop Bad News From Hijacking Your Leadership (And Your Joy)

Tired of hearing bad news all the time?

Even in growing and ‘successful’ organizations, leaders receive a disproportionate share of bad news.

Why is that?

As I tell my staff team all the time, we get paid to solve the problems no one else knows how to solve.

Sure, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; there are lots of incredibly smart people who are not on staff who solve problems in our ministry every day. But to a certain extent, if you’re a leader, your job is to solve problems. And often, they’re big ones.

Which means you’re the one who daily absorbs a lot of the tension on behalf of others.

And if you’re like me, you go through seasons in which you think to yourself “Can’t anybody tell me some good news?”

Eventually, bad news even impacts your spirit.

Ever wonder if there’s a better way to handle it?

There is.

bad news

While there are many ways to approach bad news, here are 6 that have really helped me as a leader.

 1. Name reality—even if it’s brutal

As Jim Collins has famously said, it’s a leader’s job to confront the brutal facts and name reality.

That’s hard to do. Because instinctively, most people want to pretend bad news isn’t true. It’s just easier to live in denial.

But pretending something isn’t true doesn’t make it false. But many leaders try anyway.

Which is always a mistake, and as Collins points out, often a fatal one.

The best leaders jump on all the facts and direct their course accordingly.

2. Don’t let the bad hijack the good

Bad news is a hijacker. If you let it, it will steal your joy.

If you’re like me, a bit of bad news can hijack your mood, your motivation and even your day.

launched a leadership podcast a few months ago and people have been incredibly (and I mean incredibly) supportive. I always encourage people to leave a review, and so far many have. People have said some amazing things. Of all the reviews, only one listener has really said anything moderately critical, which it totally that person’s right (she had a valid point).

But guess what I’ve done? I’ve almost memorized that one critical review (I’ve read it so often).

So…of the 128 reviews so far on iTunes, why didn’t I memorize 10 (or 127) of the positive ones? What’s wrong with me?

Likely the same thing that’s wrong with you…I let the bad hijack the good.

When you let the bad hijack the good, you kind of invalidate all the good.

I’m not talking about not reading the negative or ignoring it. I’m just saying, don’t let it trump everything else. There’s a lot of good out there. Really.

3. Don’t hide the truth

So things aren’t going the way you want them to go.

It’s one thing to admit how things are going to yourself; it’s another thing to acknowledge it to others.

I still have to fight the instinct to keep bad news a secret. You know why I want to keep it a secret? Because I think it reflects poorly on me as a leader.

Ironically, being honest about bad news doesn’t make you a poor leader, it makes you a better one.

So who should you tell?

The right people, which is basically the people who are in a position to do something about the bad news.

Maybe it’s your staff, your key volunteers, your board…whoever. Tell them. Honestly.

You’ll have to fight the urge to bury the truth or shade it or spin it. Fight it with everything you’ve got. Everyone will be far better for it.

Just because you shouldn’t tell everybody doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell somebody. The right people need to know.

4. Unload the gun

It’s tempting to want to shoot the messenger. Don’t.

You may have an emotional reaction. You’re human. Just don’t share that reaction with the person who told you.

Many leaders end up feeling lonely, isolated or misinformed because people are afraid to tell them what they don’t want to hear. This is exactly how that happens.

So instead of getting angry at them, thank them.

Similarly, when you share the information, avoid blame. Don’t shoot people or events or culture or whatever you’ll be tempted to shoot at something or someone to justify the bad news.

Take responsibility.

If you want to see what happens when you stop making excuses for bad news and start making progress, listen to Josh Gagnon’s story about how Next Level Church in New England has grown to 2,000 people in four locations in 6 years in a region famous for ignoring the Gospel. They refuse to make excuses, blame others, or otherwise justify failure. It’s inspiring.

5. Decide on an action step as soon as possible

Now that you’re out of the excuse business and the hiding business, it’s time for action.

One of the reasons bad news linger as long as it does is because we take no action over it. Like a bad odour in your kitchen garbage, you can complain about it or you can simply take the trash to the garage.

The best thing you can do with bad news is to decide on an action step.

There’s always good information inside bad news.

Not growing? Diagnose the problem as quickly as you can (here, for example, are 10 reasons why churches don’t grow) and work to a solution.

Someone angry with you? Figure out why, own it, and walk into their office or pick up the phone and apologize.

Givings down? Stop complaining and devise a strategy.

The faster you decide to act, the faster your mood will change.

Knowing about a problem is entirely different than solving a problem. Even though not every problem has a clear solution, doing something is major progress.

In some cases, the action step might be to decide there is nothing you can do about the problem and the best thing you can do is leave it and move on. But even that’s a step. A much better step than moaning about an issue for another week, day or even hour.

6. Make ALL news your friend

I’ve been using the term bad news throughout this post. But as my friend Rich Birch once told me, there’s no such thing as bad news, only news.

He’s right.

Bad news can make you think you’re worse than you actually are. And good news can make you think you’re better than you actually are.

So why not just treat all news simply as news?

That way, you’ll be able to spot the warning signs in good news (they’re always there) and the hope in bad news (yep…it’s there too…you just have to look hard).

When all news is your friend, you can roll up your sleeves and get to work. Which is exactly what you’re called to do as a leader.

What Do You Think?

What are you learning about bad news, good news and your responses as a leader?

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

Pharisees are running your church

7 Signs the Pharisees Are Running Your Church

So are the Pharisees running your church?

Interesting question.

How would you know?

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

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

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

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

Hence my worry.

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

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

 Pharisees are running your church

I’m Not A Pharisee…I’m Just Righteous

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

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

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

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

7 Signs the Pharisees are Running Your Church

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

What are the signs that you might be that leader?

Here are 7.

1. Your leaders like to show off

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

Here’s a key distinction.

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

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

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

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

But at that point, you might not even notice.

Which would be awesome.

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

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

The Pharisees thought they were right.

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

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

There’s the Pharisee.

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

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

Ministry needs money to run on. I get that.

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

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

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

We all need money. And ministries need money.

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

So how do you know you might love money?

Here are some thoughts.

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

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

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

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

4. There’s too little compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you lack compassion…repent.

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

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

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

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

Cue the big buzzer.

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

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

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

6. No one’s closer to God

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

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

Gulp.

So…here’s a question.

Are people closer to God after following you?

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

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

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

Are they?

7. The leaders are jealous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what breaks the power of jealousy.

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

It will break the darkness inside.

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

What Do You Think?

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

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

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

And we have to.

I believe the church is the hope of the future.

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

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

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

how to make your church ineffective

9 Surefire Ways to Make Your Church Completely Ineffective

Very few leaders go into church leadership as pastors, staff, board members or volunteers hoping to be ineffective.

And yet so many churches and church leaders end up that way—ineffective.

You might be stuck in a church like that right now. Or even if you would say your church is ‘effective’ overall, there’s a very good chance there are areas of your ministry that aren’t. Or maybe you realize you’ve become less effective than you used to be.

Why is that?

Sometimes it’s because people have lost faith or lost their faithfulness. But often that’s not the case.

I see many churches populated with people who love God but have become completely ineffective.

And often the issues are behind that are practical, and fixable.

If you’re willing to go where most leaders don’t go, that is.

 how to make your church ineffective

9 Ways to Make Your Church Ineffective

What do I mean by ‘ineffectiveness’? Great question.

I simply mean not accomplishing what you set out to accomplish.

For most of us in church world, that means something like leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus and growing by becoming a church unchurched people love to attend.  At least that’s what we’ve set out to accomplish (it’s kind of the universal mission of the church). I imagine you are not that far off.

So, with that in mind, here are 9 ways to lose your effectiveness in ministry.

1. Don’t dream

The church should be the place where dreams are born and where dreams soar.

In far too many cases, churches have become the place where dreams die.

People with imagination, hope and optimism get squashed enough times that they stop dreaming.

And eventually, an ineffective church is marked as a place where people have long since abandoned thriving and are focused on merely surviving.

Want to be ineffective? Kill dreams.

2. Focus on yourself

Ineffective churches are almost always self-focused.

The natural mission of the church (and almost every healthy organization for that matter) has an outward thrust to it.

But many unhealthy organizations lose their focus on outsiders and instead focus on insiders.

I realize you might be pushing back on this and thinking Well, we can’t just ignore our insiders…we can’t ignore ourselves.

Change gears for a second. Do you know any people who focus exclusively on themselves?

That’s right. We call them self-absorbed, or selfish. And nobody really thinks hanging out with them is fun.

Why would anyone feel differently about a church that behaves that way?

3. Try to keep everybody happy

Trying to keep everyone happy is a recipe for misery. Yet so many churches serve dinner from that cookbook everyday.

You can’t keep everybody happy. You won’t keep everyone happy.

In fact, you will do the opposite: you will make everyone miserable. It doesn’t work in your family, so why would it work in your church?

Operating out of your convictions, with some empathy and sensitivity for those who see differently, is a far better approach.

Still not convinced?

I wrote more about why your church isn’t for everyone in this post.

I honestly wish more churches would just get on with trying to reach a certain group of people, realizing that in the process they will reach far more than that.

4. Squabble

I really want to walk into a great church fight. Said no unchurched person ever.

Squabbling, faction and division in the church has killed our evangelism efforts as effectively as anything.

So stop it. Just stop it.

Confess. Repent.

What if our churches became places of humility, grace and forgiveness?

Could you imagine?

5. Make mediocrity your standard

So solve a few problems and you’ll be more effective.

But as long as you’re mediocre, you’ll never reach your potential.

And for some strange reason, churches seems to love mediocrity.

Barely good enough seems to be good enough for many church leaders. Rather than try to do something well, churches have become famous for doing almost nothing well.

Why?

I think at the heart of it is a tension between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

This often comes up in places like a music team when someone who can’t sing wants to sing, and many church leaders cave to the pressure. (There’s a strategy around that, by the way.)

Last year, our church adopted 6 values. One of my personal favourites is “Battle Mediocrity: Am I allowing what’s good to stand in the way of what could be great?”

I could camp on that all day.

6. Treat every Sunday like just another Sunday

If you’re bored heading into next Sunday, why wouldn’t everyone else be?

In the church, every Sunday is resurrection Sunday. The same power that was at work to raise Jesus from the dead is the same power that is at work in us. (And no, I didn’t make that up.)

If every Sunday is boring to you a leader, maybe you haven’t read the Bible. Or don’t know God. Or don’t get amazed by seeing what happens when God gets involved in someone’s life.

7. Never articulate a strategy

Passion is one thing…and you’ve got to have passion.

But passion combined with an effective strategy is explosive.

Many churches are afraid to articulate a strategy because it’s divisive. Leaders are afraid that not everyone will like it. And that’s true. But see point #3 above.

Ironically, you will eventually become more effective because your strategy is a little controversial. In fact, a clear strategy is one of the secrets to creating a highly motivated team.

Finally, if you have a clear strategy, your team will become more passionate about it. (You can’t become passionate about fuzz, after all.)

This post will walk you through the process of getting your church passionate about your mission vision and strategy.

But first, of course, you need to articulate a strategy, as scary as that might sound.

8. Avoid all risk

Christians teach their kids stories like David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and then spend all their time trying to make sure no one gets hurt, nothing gets lost, and everyone is ‘safe’ in the end.

The disconnect is profound if you think about it.

Read the Bible. Live the opposite way: Don’t trust God. Play it safe. Live an insignificant life. Risk nothing. 

How do you know whether you’re trusting God or just being stupid? I outlined that distinction here.

But for the most part, we’re just not trusting God nearly enough.

9. Decide you don’t like unchurched people

Too many churches have defined themselves by what they’re against, not what they’re for.

If you really don’t like the people you’re trying to reach, why would they hang out with you? Seriously.

That’s one of the reasons I love what Gwinnett Church is doing with their #forgwinnett campaign.  Seriously, you should check it out..

Do you love your neighbours? Really love them? Or do you judge them, look down on them, think you’re better than they are?

Love ‘em, and you’re likely to reach them.

Don’t and you won’t.

Not judging unchurched people is one of the 9 signs you’re ready to actually reach unchurched people. (Here are the other 8).

Any Other Ways?

Any other sure-fire ways to make a church completely ineffective?

Or, alternatively, what you have done that has helped?

Scroll down and let me know in the comments!

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths about Likeability and Leadership

So you probably want people to like you. Who doesn’t?

Often when people say they don’t care whether people like them, it’s because they used to care whether people like them, but they got burned and as a result have become a bit jaded, closed and maybe even cynical.

If we’re gut-honest with each other, most of us would rather be liked rather than not liked.

The rise of social media makes this tension even more present daily. Did anyone ever post a picture or update and not want it to be liked or shared? Social media is turning already insecure leaders into like-aholics.

Which poses a challenge for all of us who lead.

Do we lead? Or should we be likeable?

Can you lead and be likeable?

And what happens if you choose one over the other?

This is a tension that ruins a lot of leadership potential. But it can be managed. Here’s how.

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths About Likeability and Leadership

The tension between likeability and leadership is much older than social media. Every leader in every generation has had to struggle with it at some level.

While you may never resolve the tension, understanding it and keeping it in front of you will help you navigate it better.

Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about the tension.

1. If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead

Leadership requires you to take people to destinations they would not go without your leadership.

Stop for a moment and, if you would, re-read that sentence.

Do you see the challenge?

Leadership is inherently difficult because it requires a leader to take people where they don’t naturally want to go.

So you have a choice as a leader.

You can focus on leading people, or focus on being liked.

When you focus on being liked, you will instinctively try to please the people you’re leading. And when you do, you will become confused.

Pleasing people is inherently confusing because people don’t agree. One person wants it one way. Another wants it another way.

And soon, you’re bending over backwards to make everyone happy, which of course means that in the end, you will end up making no one happy, including yourself. It’s actually a recipe for misery for everyone.

It’s also a recipe for inertia.

If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead. You will never have the courage to do what needs to be done.

By the way, if you’re a real people pleaser by nature, here’s a post outlining 5 ways people pleasing undermines your leadership.

2. You will have to withstand seasons of being misunderstood

Effective leaders are prepared to be misunderstood.

There will be seasons in leadership in which you will be misunderstood.

Your motives, strategy and skill will be questioned.

It happened to Moses. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul. It will happen to you if you’re leading.

There are two extremes that happen when leaders are misunderstood.

Some leaders think everyone else is wrong and they’re absolutely right.

Some leaders believe the critics must be right and question themselves…to the point of quitting the change or quitting entirely.

We’ve all seen leaders who are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Not fun.

So how do you ensure you’re not that person without becoming the person who caves or becomes paralyzed in the face of opposition?

Simple. Test your motives. Ask yourself:

Is this change really going to help people? Or am I doing it for a selfish or questionable reason?

If the change isn’t faithful, helpful or going to help people in the long run, abandon it.

If it is faithful and it’s going to help people in the long run, stick with it.

Leadership is a little like parenting. You do things your kids dislike because it’s good for them.

And in leadership, you lead people through seasons they don’t want to go through because in the end, it’s good for them.

And if it’s good for them, most of them will thank you in the end. Your job is to get them to the point where they benefit from the change.

Which is why you need to learn to endure being misunderstood when the misunderstanding arises from a legitimate change that, in the end, moves the mission and the community to a better place.

If you struggle with opposition to change, I outlines a detailed five part strategy on how to navigate change in the face of opposition in my book, Leading Change Without Losing It.

3. You can lead and still be likeable

So, you might think, you’re basically saying I have to be a jerk  or a cold, calloused human being to lead?

Not at all.

Just because you’re leading people to a place they would not naturally go doesn’t mean you have to abandon grace, humility, kindness, forgiveness or mercy.

In fact, the more you embrace characteristics like mercy, kindness, forgiveness, grace and humilty, the more effective you will be at leading change.

The trick is that there might not be an immediate pay back.

There’s a tendency in all of us that longs for the dynamic of ‘offer and acceptance’.

I offer you forgiveness, you accept.

I offer you mercy, you say thank you.

I show kindness, you reciprocate.

There will be entire seasons of your leadership in which you will offer all of the above and more and people will not reciprocate.

You have to learn to be okay with that. Even when you’re not okay with it.

When people don’t respond in kind, you must still be gracious, still be humble, still be kind, still be forgiving, even if it hurts. And it will hurt.

But in the end, your character will win out.

Usually, if the change is a good one and you have led well, people will ultimately see it was a good move. And they will eventually be thankful for it and often for you.

Sometimes—even if the change is good—there will be a few who never thank you and still don’t like you. That’s okay, because you took the high road. You can look in the mirror with some satisfaction knowing you did all that you could and did it with all integrity. You fought the good fight.

God sees what people don’t.

And sometimes, that’s enough.

So do the things that make someone likeable without worrying whether people will like you.

You will lead better.

And people will be well led.

What are you learning about leadership and likeability? Anything you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and let me know what you think in the comments.

how to control your calendar

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

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

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

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

———–

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

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

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

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

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

how to control your calendar

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

Here are six principles that help me:

1. Put priority items on your calendar first

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

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

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

Otherwise you’ll never find time for those priorities.

2. Stack your meetings

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

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

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

3. Schedule your rest

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

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

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

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

4. Manage your travel schedule

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

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

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

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

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

5. Go home before the work is done

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

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

The work is never finished. Just go home!

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

6. Leave room for people and leave room for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity…That Actually Show You Lack It

The issue of spiritual maturity seems to provoke one of the super strange conversations in the North American and Western church today.

Here’s the bizarre part: some Christians end up criticizing other Christians for not being ‘deep’ enough or committed enough to be ‘real’ Christians. (The fact that this may not sound bizarre to you is, in itself, evidence of how bizarre this has gotten.)

There is apparently a certain subset of Christian who have maturity figured out, and the rest of us, well, not so much.

And yet often, what we call spiritual maturity…isn’t.

In fact, at least five of the common claims we make about having spiritual maturity actually show you lack it.

This is What The Conversation Sounds Like

So, to be clear, how exactly does this issue surface in conversation?

In leadership circles, the dialogue often starts with a question such as “what are you doing to disciple your people?” (emphasis on disciple, often said with a deeper voice than normal) or a dismissive statement like “so you’re attracting people, but then what?”

And it’s almost always said condescendingly, as though some people own the maturity franchise and enjoy watching other fellow-Christ followers squirm while they try to come up with answers that will only show how immature they really are.

I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation many many times, because, well, our church reaches a lot of people who ordinarily don’t show up at church.

5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity…That Actually Show You Lack It

Before I outline the list, please know I’m not claiming to be ‘mature’. I’m not even claiming I understand the issue entirely.

I’m just saying there’s something broken in our dialogue and in our characterization of spiritual maturity.

As for me personally, I would hope I’m maturing, but have I arrived? Not a chance.

Discipleship is an organic, life-long process. It has something to do with what the ancients called “sanctification”. The process of becoming more and more holy, a term, which stripped from it’s strangeness, simply means to be ‘set apart’. Basically, it means you’re different than you were. And that process continues until you die. I’ve outlined a few of the markers of more authentic spiritual maturity in this post, and again here.

In the meantime, if you want to keep growing, here are 5 signs that pass for spiritual maturity in our culture that probably show you lack it.

1. Pride in How Much Bible You Know

Since when was it a good thing to be proud of how much bible you know, and to look down on people who didn’t know?

As Paul points out, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Clearly he knew what he was talking about.

Some Christians strut their biblical knowledge like it was an accomplishment. That’s so wrong. 

I won my share of sword drills (remember those?) when I was a kid, and I take time to read and study the scriptures pretty much every day, but as far as I can tell I’m supposed to use that knowledge to function as a bridge to people, not as a barricade showing everyone else how righteous I am. Because, incidentally, last time I checked I wasn’t that righteous.

Use the bible as a bridge to the culture, not as a barricade against it.

To do otherwise puts us on the same ground as another religious group Jesus had strong views against. (Here’s a list of the Top 10 Things Pharisees say today.)

And it was never about what you know or don’t know, but about what God knows and who God loves.

2. Truth without Grace

In a similar vein, being all about truth is a problem as well.

I love how John phrases the arrival of Jesus: that Jesus came filled with truth and grace.

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that truth is never separated from grace, and grace is never separated from truth.

He was always grace-filled as he spoke what is true…in that the truth is always designed to lead toward grace.

Yet someone ‘mature’ people feel it’s okay to land on one side of the equation.

I’m a truth person, we tell people.

No…maybe you’re just a jerk. (And I say this as a guy who leans on the truth side of the equation.)

Whenever I am tempted to speak truth, I always have to come before God to ensure it is equally motivated by grace.

Could you imagine if we all did?

3. Grace Without Truth

The opposite of course is also true. In the same way truth isn’t truth without grace, grace isn’t grace when separated from truth.

Some ‘mature’ people on the other side of the theological spectrum avoid the truth side of the equation as though love floats with no backbone.

No, grace has a backbone. We nailed it to the cross.

You cannot separate grace from truth anymore than you can separate truth from grace.

It is an incredibly difficult line to find, but we must find it.

Grace without truth isn’t maturity any more than truth without grace is truth.

Clearly, we need a Saviour on this issue. And it’s a good thing for us He embodies both.

4. Harshness Toward Outsiders While Cutting Insiders Slack

Many people who consider themselves spiritually mature love to talk about how awful the world is.

And it is pretty terrible. Pick a headline almost any day. It’s awful.

God identified that as early as Genesis 6 (and if you take our theology seriously, he always knew it would be this way, which is a little mind-bending if you think about it). The passage from Genesis is worth quoting:

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.  So the Lord  was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

So what did God do? He started again. What followed was an ark and a rainbow.

And ultimately God’s decision on his heartbreak was addressed in Jesus who came, as our favourite but often totally-missed-the-point verse tells us, God so loves the world and gave himself up for it not to condemn it but to save it.

So why do so many Christians behave like God hated the world?

Because the world is corrupt and sins, is the answer we hear back.

But the truth of the matter, Christian, is that you are corrupt and you sin.

But instead, we rail against the world’s sins as though it shouldn’t be sinning while cutting ourselves tons of slack on our moral failures.

What would happen if we started talking about church sins like gossip, gluttony, division and faction with the same conviction we use to talk about sexual sin?

I wrote about that in more detail here. (Perry Noble also wrote an great blog about why we turn a blind eye to a church sin like obesity but rail on about homosexuality.)

So…what if the church started to take its own sin more seriously than we take the world’s sin? I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Finally, if you’re still not convinced, study Jesus. You will discover he extended invitations to notorious sinners and outsiders, and reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day.

We simply have it backwards.

If God so loved the world, who decided we shouldn’t?

 

And if you were trying to win people to open their lives to a loving God, why do you think leading with judgment is a great strategy?

Very few people get judged into life change. Many get loved into it.

5. Telling people you’re mature

This one mystifies me.

I’ve had more than a few people pull me aside over the years and ask “So what do you do for spiritually mature people like me?”

Stand back while people like you part the Red Sea I guess.

Telling people you’re mature is like telling people you’re wise…it’s kind of proof you’re not.

The most mature people, in my view, also tend to be the most humble.

If you’re strutting your maturity, it’s pretty clear you’ve got some growing to do.

What Do You Think?

I hope you can hear that this is borne not just out of frustration, but also out of love for God, for the church and for the world.

I’d love to see the conversation about spiritual maturity become more healthy.  As I’ve shared here, I think the church today is getting discipleship wrong. I’ve also argued we need a different kind of maturity in the church.

What have you seen?

What are some false markers of maturity?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. And let’s shoot for grace and truth in the discussion, okay?

7 leadership conversations every church leader

7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015

Happy January!

So…what conversations are you planning on having with your team this year?

One of the things I love about a new year is the Top 10 lists that help us look reflect back and plan ahead. They can certainly provide fodder for worthy leadership conversations.

In that spirit, I’ve already shared my Top 10 Posts of 2014 and the Top 5 Podcasts from my new leadership podcast. Here are a few other lists worth checking out from Brian Dodd, Thom Rainer and David Kinnaman and the Barna Group.

It’s great to measure what’s resonating (usually top 10 lists are based on views or listens), but there’s also another category of conversations every leader should take seriously: the conversations you should have, not just the conversations you want to have.

To some extent, it’s the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important.

The best leaders figure out what conversations they need to have and then do whatever it takes to ensure they happen.

In my view, here are 7 conversations every church leader and their teams should have in 2015.

You might already be having some of them, and if so that’s amazing. Maybe the posts can help.

And if you’re not talking about these subjects yet, let me just encourage you to begin. Maybe the posts below can act as a springboard.

 7 leadership conversations every church leader

The 7 Conversations

These topics below are in no particular order, and they’re based on what I think are some of the most pressing issues church leaders face (or should be facing).

A few notes:

1. I frame each conversation as a question because questions, not statements, make for the best conversations in my view.

2. I frame the conversation briefly and then offer between 2-10 posts I’ve written in the past that might be helpful in assisting you and your team in the conversation. Naturally, you’ll find some more relevant than others, but it makes for a quick guide to what I hope will be helpful posts on the subject in question.

3. The team you discuss this with might be different, depending on your circumstance. In a big church, it would be your key staff and perhaps elder board. In a smaller church, likely all staff, elder board and maybe a few volunteer leaders would be involved. If you are super small and barely have a structure, I’d just pull in a few key promising leaders and start there. I would strongly recommend NOT making these conversations the stuff of congregational meetings. If you’re puzzled about that, here’s my reason why.

So with that in mind, here are 7 conversations I’d love to see every church leadership team have this year.

#1 Why Are We Not Growing Faster?

There’s no question that church growth is a felt need issue among church leaders. I meet very few church leaders who hope their church declines in the next year.

But before you stop at conversation #1, realize the other six are all tied to growth. Unhealthy churches won’t grow. Churches that fail to release high capacity leaders struggle with growth. Churches that ignore the culture will struggle. You’ll see the pattern if you look.

Here are some articles that can help you pinpoint why your church might not be growing, or might not be growing as quickly as you’d like:

10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing

8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

5 Things That Won’t Make Your Church Grow, Despite What You Might Think

5 Telling Questions to Ask If Your Church Isn’t Growing

7 Reasons Churches That Want To Reach Unchurched People…Don’t

9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

The focus, of course, is not on growth for growth’s sake, but for the sake of being effective in our mission and vision of reaching people who need to know the love of Christ in their lives.

I’m passionate about church growth because the world is at its best when the church is at its best.

#2 Are Our Leaders Healthy….Really?

Healthy leaders create healthy churches. And a lot of our leaders aren’t healthy.

I’m passionate about this because I became unhealthy as a leader who was, by many accounts, ‘successful’.

If you only do one thing as a team on this issue, listen to Perry Noble tell his story about burnout.

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

Perry Noble Podcast Episode Show Notes (tons of helpful links here)

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

7 Painful Truths About Leadership and Burnout

Even if your church doesn’t study this issue this year, I’d so strongly urge you to study it yourself. The only way you will ever last in ministry over the long haul is to stay spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally healthy.

#3 What’s Keeping High Capacity Leaders from Engaging Your Mission?

One of the biggest tragedies in many churches is that high capacity leaders stay unengaged in the mission. They might attend, but they don’t engage as volunteers or even really dig in as donors.

Why is that? Why do the best leaders often lend their leadership to things other than the mission of the local church?

Here are some posts to kickstart the discussion:

6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks But Never Says Out Loud

What’s at stake in this discussion? Engaging your best leaders will take your mission to a whole new level. It simply will.

#4 Why Are Young Adults Walking Away from Church?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or if you follow the amazing people at Orange, you know this issue bothers me and many leaders.

Few people summed up the issue as well as Kara Powell did this year in her podcast interview. I’ll also include other links that could help from the blog:

CNLP 004 Why Young Adults Are Walking Away From the Church And What You Can Do About It – An Interview with Kara Powell (iTunes link here.)

5 Reasons Many People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials)

The Impending Death (And Rebirth) of Cool Church

My favourite quote from Kara’s interview was this: “It’s not doubt that’s toxic to young people’s faith. It’s unexpressed doubt.” What if your church became a safe place this year for people to express their doubt? Just imagine….

#5 How Do We Respond as People Attend Less Often?

As we shift further into a post-Christian culture in North America, people feel less guilty, less loyal and more free to do what they want with their time.

The rise of online options for people means physical attendance and participation seems less desirable.

Here are a couple of articles that can jump start the conversation with your team:

7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often

15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person

The jury is still out on where this is all heading, and there are no clear answers. But to not have the conversation is to bury your head in the sand. I would love for 2015 to be a year of big breakthroughs on this topic.

#6 What Cultural Shifts Are We Ignoring and What Are We Losing as A Result?

Culture keeps changing, but the church doesn’t. That’s a mistake.

Here are a few articles that encapsulate some of the cultural change happening around us.

12 Cultural Changes Church Leaders Can’t Ignore, But Might

5 Things Netflix is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

11 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future

Revivals Are Dead: 5 Things That Will Never Be The Same Again

#7 What Are We Actually Willing To Change?

I saved the most difficult conversation till last.

You can have every conversation listed above, but if you’re not willing to change, you’ve wasted your breath.

And the reality is, most churches, people and organizations struggle with change.

So while you’re having the other conversations, make sure you have this one. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

As you read through this rather long list, don’t miss the interviews with Ron Edmondson and Dom Russo from my leadership podcast as they explain how they’ve led change in very traditional settings:

Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Navigate Change When You’re Facing Opposition (For the Kindle version, click here.)

Planning On Closing Anytime Soon? 21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

What To Do When People Want Your Church To Grow…But Not Change

CNLP 010 How to Rapidly Navigate Change in A Traditional Church Context—An Interview With Ron Edmondson (iTunes link here.)

CNLP 015 How to Turn Around a Declining Church Without Blowing It Apart—An Interview with Dom Ruso (iTunes link here.)

The Single Best Way to Lead Change When You’re in A Very Old, Traditional, Or Resistant Setting

How to Get Alignment, Agreement and Consensus Around Change

How to Lead Change When You’re NOT the Senior Leader

7 Things NOT to Say When You’re Leading Change in Your Church

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

Here’s to Incredible Conversations

Well that’s my list of conversations and conversation starting posts for 2015.

I know this is a ton of stuff, but if you bookmark the page or clip it to Evernote, hopefully you can use it as a resource you come back to as a team again and again.

So…here’s to some incredible conversations that I pray will advance the mission of the church this year.  In my view, the mission of the church is just too important not to have these conversations like these.

I’d love to hear your comments, so please scroll down and leave one.

I will come back to this thread again and again in the comments, so if you and your team have questions, fire away.

Christmas Joy

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

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

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

Which is why I wrote it.

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

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

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

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

Your heart

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

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

Christmas Joy

You’re So Busy Helping Others Celebrate….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Simple Tips for Ministry Leaders at Christmas

1. Make some quiet time

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

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

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

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

2. Add a private, family celebration

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

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

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

3. Be off when you’re off

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

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

And just be off.

4. Don’t overschedule

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

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

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

5. Do something fun!

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do to recharge?

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

Scroll down and leave a comment!

The Impending Death (and Rebirth) of Cool Church

Everything has its season.

And the season of the cool church is, in many ways, coming to an end.

There was an era when simply being a cooler church than the church down the road helped churches reach unchurched people.

There was a day when all you had to do was improve the church you led to gain traction.

Trade in the choir for a band. Turn the chancel into a platform. Add some lights, some sound, some haze. Get some great teaching in the room. And voila, you had a growing church.

But we’re quickly moving into a season where having a cool church is like having the best choir in town: it’s wonderful for the handful of people who still listen to choral music.

Somethings changing. And a hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and great sound gear are probably not going to impact your community like they used to.

So what’s changing? Plenty.

 

Cool Isn’t Enough (Anymore)

You might think I’m against churches have bands, lights, and creating a great environment. Not at all. In fact, as we speak, our team is building a facility for the church at which I serve that facilitates all of that.

If you are going to gather people, gather well.

My point is not that you shouldn’t.  My point is that it’s no longer enough.

And maybe it never was.

The mega-churches many of us watch today didn’t get to be as effective as they are simply by being cool.

If you really study how most large churches have become effective in leading people to Jesus (and yes—haters step aside—many large churches are effective in leading people into a real relationship with Jesus Christ), they have always been about more than just lights, sound and show. There’s substance. More substance than critics would ever give them credit for.

Are mega-churches universally healthy? No.

But neither are many small churches. In fact, sometimes the dysfunction in small churches eclipses that of medium sized or large churches.

As Geoff Surratt has so helpfully pointed out, you can’t say that just because a few mega-churches have collapsed that they are all the same. Churches like North Point, New Spring, Cross Point,  SeaCoast and Life Church, to name a few, have developed great leaders on their local campuses and across their teams. They’ve moved far beyond a structure based on one ‘famous’ name.

So why would cool church be fading into the sunset?

3 Reasons Cool Church Isn’t What It Used To Be

Decades ago as cool church started to take root among very large, rapidly growing churches, many other, smaller churches and church plants followed suit.

And for a season, it ‘worked’.

Getting some awesome lights, better sound, better music, and a slightly more hip communicator grew churches.

Sure, some of the growth was transfer growth, but a big percentage of what many churches experienced was not transfer growth. People invited their friends and their friends came back.

So what’s changing?

But now most cities have a great selection of cool churches. Many towns have at least one.

It’s no longer unusual to have a band in church. It’s not even that novel to have lights and great sound or to play all the cool songs.

And…in the process of all this imitation, three things happened:

1. Cutting edge keeps changing…fast

What was novel isn’t novel as novel for long anymore.

The rise of technology and social media means that you now hold access to pretty much anything you want in your hand whenever you want to.

You used to have to hire experts or do some exploring to find cool things.  Sometimes you even had to travel. Now you just download an app, watch a video, stream a song or follow whatever trend you’re passionate about in the moment—whenever you want to. Instantly. Usually for free.

Consequently, there’s kind of a trend-fatigue or indifference happening. Trends are shorter, less interesting, and we’re all growing oh-so-bored with what’s novel.

Which means that it’s harder than ever for churches to be cutting edge because cutting edge keeps changing.

2. Indifference to church has grown 

As this helpful Barna research points out, even in the US, people are increasingly indifferent to church.  That’s certainly been true in Canada, Europe and in places like Australia and New Zealand for a while.

So a decade ago having a cool church would have gotten you more traction than it does today.

If people aren’t into church, it doesn’t matter how cool, hip or trendy your church is, people won’t be that interested.

You behave this way. If you’re on a health kick, you’re not going to order the burger and fries, even if they are the best in town. And if you’re not on a healthy kick, the spinach, arugula, kale salad with tuna isn’t going to capture your imagination, no matter how healthy it is.

3. Imitation killed innovation

Of all three points, this one probably bothers me the most.

To begin with, when churches imitate each other, we rarely borrow all the best practices—we just borrow the ones that are easy to see or seem obvious.

But what’s made growing churches grow is deeper than the cool factor. Consequently, leaders who finally get what they were longing for—a cool church—are often shocked to discover they don’t deliver what they promised.

And in the process of all that imitation something even more important is lost: innovation.

What’s needed now more than ever is church leaders willing to pioneer….to go deep into a culture that keeps changing to reach people who are increasingly resistant.

What’s needed most as we look at what’s ahead is innovation. And it’s sorely lacking among many church leaders.

Should you never imitate? No…that’s not wise either. To refuse to borrow best practices from others is arrogant and, to a large extent, futile thinking.

The point is simply this: don’t let imitation kill innovation at your church.

Irrelevance Isn’t the Answer Either

So should you run from all things cool, trendy or hip?

No.

Relevance is better than irrelevance.

The answer to the challenge of keeping up with relevance is not to return to irrelevance.

Relevant church has many critics, but to not bridge the cultural gap is even more ludicrous (in my view) than trying to bridge it and maybe failing.

To agree to be irrelevant, ineffective and bad at what you do is a terrible option.

So what do we do as we head into the future?

5 Keys to Rebirth

The church can take many forms. But for all those leaders who, like me, believe in gathering people together for the sake of a larger mission, what does the future look like?

I think you stay relevant (and maybe even a bit cool), but you go beyond that. Dig deeper.

Here are 5 keys I see to a future of greater impact. In many ways, they are the new cool. Authenticity is the new cool. The mission is the new cool. Hope is the new cool. Community is the new cool. And so is experimentation.

1.  Authenticity

Sometimes under cool is an inauthenticity. Dump that.

Authentic resonates. People are looking for what’s real, what’s true and what’s authentic.

Here’s a post on how to be an appropriately transparent leader without oversharing.

2. Prioritize the Mission

The church has always been about something bigger than itself. At the centre of our mission is Christ.

A church that is focused on a larger mission will never become self-obsessed. Cool can carry with it a sense of narcissism.

You lose your narcissism when you lose yourself in a bigger mission.

And that, by the way, is something Millennials are longing to give their lives to.

3. Deal Hope

We leaders are dealers in hope.

And Christianity provides more hope than anything.

I’m 100% behind making messages practical, applicable and helpful. I think the Gospel is that. But it is also much more than that.

If all we have is this life, we’re to be pitied more than anyone (pretty sure the Bible says something about that).

In an age where all most people see is that which is imminent, people need to be ushered into the presence of Someone who is transcendent.

Christianity at it’s best has always been about both imminence and transcendence.

4. Elevate Community

I’m all for lights, sound, relevance and even video walls if they help the mission.

But as my friend Reggie Joiner says, the church will never be able to out-Disney Disney.

And that’s true, we will never have the budget or resources to entertain or engage the best. But even if we did…what would be the point?

While we can’t out-Disney Disney, no one should be able to out-community the local church.

God is in the people business. He loves us. And the goal is to connect people with Christ and with each other.

As your church grows bigger, it also needs to grow smaller by connecting people relationally. I know we’ve said this for years, but it’s never been more urgent.

5. Experiment

Experimenting is the key to innovation.

And, as we’ve seen, in an age of imitation in the church, innovation has been sidelined.

Bring that back.

Do what you do now, but start experimenting on the side to see what’s really going to make the biggest impact in the future.

The truth is I don’t think anyone knows what that is right now.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

If you’re looking for more, here are 11 traits of churches that will impact the future.

What Do You Think?

What are you seeing in the church today.

It’s easy to criticize, but what can you add in terms of contribution?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

self-medication

5 Socially-Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

Let me guess.

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

Welcome to leadership. Especially church leadership.

You run hard. You work long hours.

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

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

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

You end up self-medicating.

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

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

self-medication

What’s Self-Medication?

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

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

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

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

But the results are still numbing.

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

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

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Christian Leaders Self-Medicate

1. Overeating.

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

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

Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.

2.  Working More 

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

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

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

3. Gossip 

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

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

That’s just sinful.

4.  Spending

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

5. Under-the-Radar Substance Abuse

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

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

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

10 Healthy Options for Self-Care

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

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

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

1. A great daily time with God.

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

2. Exercise

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

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

3. A healthy diet

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

4. Proper sleep

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

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

5. Intentional white space in your calendar 

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

6. Healthy friendships

Ministry can be draining.

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

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

7. Margin 

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

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

8. Hobbies

Writing, blogging  and podcasting are my hobbies these days.

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

9. Family Time

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

Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.

10. Coaching and counseling. 

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

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

Better Than The Alternative

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

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

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

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

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