From Mission

character tests

5 Character Tests Every Great Leader Passes

The longer I lead and the more I see, the more I’m convinced that character ultimately determines a leader’s true success.

Moral failure takes out more leaders than it should. But real success is deeper than just avoiding the ditch.

So where does the deepest level of leadership success come from? Ultimately it doesn’t come from a leader’s skill set; it comes from a leader’s character.

Your character determines your true capacity.

Why is that?

Character—far more than skill set—determines how deeply and passionately people follow you. A leader with character is a leader worth following.

A leader who lacks integrity may have followers, but he’ll never gain their full trust or their hearts.

After all, we all know highly skilled leaders who are never truly embraced; they’re merely tolerated.

Character, more than anything else, draws the hearts of people to your leadership.

The greatest leaders are highly skilled people whom other people love to be around. They’re people others admire, not just because they’re smart, but because they’re the kind of person other people want to become.

character testsSo how do you know whether your character passes the test?

In my view, the greatest leaders I know pass all five of these character tests many others fail.

1. Handling success

Often people will ask you how you handled your last failure. And that’s not an entirely bad question.

But how you handle your success is a far greater test.

Failure is, by nature, humiliating. It crushes pride.

Success does the opposite. It naturally inflates a leader’s pride. It’s intoxicating.

It takes both great self-awareness and great self-control to handle success. To not let the reports of your own brilliance or accomplishments go to your head.

The very best leaders remain humble, grounded and even self-deprecating. They don’t claim every perk of office and regularly help people who can’t help them back.

They avoid the gravitational pull of self-focus and, instead, stay focused on the mission before them and before everyone.

The ultimate test of a leader’s character is not failure, it’s success.

2. Being misunderstood

At some point, every leader will be misunderstood.

People will say things about you behind your back (or to your face) that aren’t true. People will judge your motives and get it wrong.

Sometimes you’ll only be allowed to say certain things in public, not because you’re being secretive, but because revealing all the information would make others look bad or would be breaking confidence. So instead, you look bad.

That’s just the territory of leadership.

Leadership is a bit like parenting. You have to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. I’ve been there many times as a leader (and as a parent).

Great leaders have forged enough character to overcome the incessant desire to be liked. (Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about likability and leadership).

They are prepared to be misunderstood for a season, knowing that usually the truth comes out in the end.

And even if the truth doesn’t emerge in a particular instance, great leaders know that the overall track record of their leadership and character will speak for itself over time.

3. How it’s going at home

Success is intoxicating. And leadership is rewarding.

People generally do what you ask them to do. Results can be measured. And progress is steady. Sometimes its even exponential.

If only it was that easy to home.

Many leaders who are successes at work end up being failures at home, and that’s not success.

Your spouse isn’t impressed with your stats. Your kids don’t care about your awards.

They just need you.

They simply want you.

Too many leaders impose the high standards they carry at work on their family at home.

Your family doesn’t work for you.

They love you (or at least they used to). And they want you to love them.

4. Who you are when no one’s looking

What is character?

It’s who you are when the spotlight’s not on you.

The best leaders are the same on stage or in the boardroom as they are in a private meeting.

They’re the same when they’re with one person as they are when they’re with a thousand.

And the truly great ones are the same when absolutely no one is around.

As John Wooden famously said, he true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.

5. Helping people who can’t help you

If you’re not careful, the more successful you become, the more likely you will be to spend time only with those who can help you get to the next stage of whatever you’re trying to do.

You almost naturally become a social climber.

The greatest leaders will resist this pull. It’s not that they won’t spend time with other people who are as successful or more successful than they are. It’s that they will still spend time with people who aren’t.

The greatest leaders regularly find time to help people who can’t help them back.

And not just as a charity project…but because it’s just who they are.

They’re not so impressed by themselves that they can’t spend time with people who might not be impressed with them.

They’re not so caught up in what’s next that they can’t spend meaningful time with someone who isn’t on the same journey.

Sure…they’re still strategic with their time, but they have a deep sense of grounding that reminds them that life is indeed about others, not just about them.

What Would You Add?

The great leaders I know pass all five of these character tests.

What are you seeing? Is there another character test you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

church is going extinct

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct

In all the conversation among church leaders about the future of the church and declining attendance, the question remains, how’s your church doing?

Sometimes that can be difficult to discern.

Unless you’re in a free fall right now, it can be hard to know whether your congregation will thrive, survive or take a dive in the next decade.

But like most things in life, there are signs right now that will point to the direction in which you’re headed.

And if you can know now, why wait?

I am a firm believer that The Church (capital C Church) will survive and even thrive, but it will look different than it does now.

But in the meantime, amidst a rapidly changing culture, many individual congregations are endangered species. They could easily become extinct.

Change always brings dislocation, death and renewal. Personally, I want as many churches as possible to be on the side of renewal.

And that starts with an honest assessment of where you are as a church today.

church is going extinctI believe there are signs you can observe today that will tell you whether your church is going extinct.

These signs are quick gut checks that you can assess easily that will hopefully lead to deeper conversation and change.

If you want to go deeper, listen in on my conversation with Thom Rainer who outlines some other characteristics he sees in dying churches. You can listen on iTunes here or tune in below.  (You can  also check out more from Thom here on his blog.)

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct

If your church is showing one or two of these signs, some change is in order to optimally position your congregation for the future.

If it’s showing more than half of the signs, then in my view there’s some serious work to be done. If it’s showing most or all of the signs, it’s time for some prayerful and radical repentance and reinvention before it’s too late.

1. No sense of urgency

Growing churches have an exceptional sense of urgency. Stagnant and declining churches don’t.

If every Sunday is just another Sunday—and you don’t have a burning sense that lives and eternity hang in the balance—then you’ve lost the edge that all great churches, preachers and movements share.

2. Urgency about the wrong things

It’s not that dying churches don’t have any sense of urgency. In fact, they will often feel urgency about two things: the budget and survival.

If your motive for growth is financial, you should probably close your doors or open your heart. Unchurched people can smell it a mile away when you see them as simply a means to an end.

Resources and people follow vision. If your only vision is to stay afloat, the end is near.

3. Decline has made you cautious

Growing churches take risks. Stagnant or declining churches don’t.

Churches that aren’t growing often end up in preservation mode—they try to converse what little they already have rather than risk it to grow again.

This is a critical mistake.

Ask yourself, when was the last time we took a real risk? If you can’t answer that, you’re far too cautious.

4. Success has made you cautious

It’s not just stagnation or decline that makes leaders cautious, success does it too.

Sometimes you become so successful you become afraid to break the formula. So you become cautious. You stop innovating. You risk little.

The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

5. Your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future

Stuck or declining churches are nostalgic churches. They remember when everything was amazing, which clearly isn’t today.

To figure this out, listen to the way people talk. Is there an excitement for what’s next, or mostly a longing for what was?

When your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future, you’re in trouble.

6. You don’t understand the changing culture

Stagnant and declining churches often see a gap develop between them and the culture.

Because nothing has changed in a decade—or several decades—the world is seen at best as something they don’t understand, or at worst, as an enemy.

Outsiders who come in see a church like that as, at best, quaint, and more likely as irrelevant and misguided.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. The church should love the world enough to reach it.

7. You haven’t got new leaders around the table

Look around you. Are most of the people on your team the same people who were there five years ago?

I’m not advocating for high turnover in staff, but in far too many churches there is no plan to renew leadership.

Churches who position themselves for future impact intentionally integrate new voices and new leaders around the table.  I try to keep a balance of established, trusted voices and new voices around our table.

If all the people around your table are the same as 5 years ago, you might just all be 5 years older, not 5 years better.

8. You mostly listen to the voices of current members

When you make decisions, who are you listening to?

Hopefully, (naturally) to the voice of God and to scripture.

But when it comes to human voices…whose wins the day?

Too often, the voice of current church members drowns out the voice of the unchurched people you’re trying to reach.

In fact, smart church leaders will intentionally hang out with unchurched people and bring their voice to the table. How you do that is up to you. That you do it is critical.

9. Your conflict is about all the wrong things

There will always be some level of conflict whenever human beings gather, so what’s your conflict about?

Dying churches spend their energy fighting each other and fighting change.

Growing churches spend their energy fighting for new opportunities to reach unchurched people and speaking up for the change that will impact their lives.

10. Any growth you have is transfer growth

But wait, some will say, we’re growing. We had some new members last year!

That’s awesome. But who are you reaching?

If your growth is mostly transfer growth, you’re pulling from an ever-smaller pool of people.

If you’re reaching unchurched people with little or no church background, the future is much brighter.

11. The core team is not fundamentally healthy

How does your leadership get along?

Do you like hanging out with each other? Do you resolve conflict directly, quickly and effectively?

Are you growing in your faith and in your skill set?

Are you living in a way today-physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally—that will help you thrive tomorrow?

Are you aligned around a common mission, vision and strategy? (Here are five things North Point has taught me about team alignment.)

If you can answer yes to most of those questions, you’re healthy.

If not, there’s some work to do.

But here’s the truth: health at the top is health at the bottom. Dysfunction at the top is dysfunction at the bottom.

If you want a healthy church, grow a healthy leadership team.

Other Signs?

Those are 11 signs I see that a congregation might be going extinct.

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

 

Want More Conversation?

Interested in helping your church grow and get healthy? My new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, launches next month (September 2015).

Sign up here to get all the details when Lasting Impact releases so you don’t miss a thing.

I’m also on Periscope (I’m @careynieuwhof) and will be Periscoping some Q and A on this post the week of its release.

ready to handle more

Want More As A Leader? 5 Signs You’re Ready to Handle It

So you’re probably hoping for more. Almost every leader does.

More people.

More team.

More responsibility.

More money.

More opportunity.

More of, well you know, more of almost anything.

Most of us leader types are rarely satisfied with the status quo.

You may want more, but are you ready for more?

Could you handle it if it came your way?

ready to handle more

When I think back to when I was a young leader, I know there were more than a few seasons when I wasn’t ready for more, even when more came my way.

I was a solo pastor for the first few years, working alone out of my basement because none of the churches I served even had an office.

We had hired a few part time staff, and after a few years of part timers, I was ready to hire our first other full time staff member.

I remember a corporate coach who attended our church asking me “Are you ready to handle leading a team?”

And I remember telling her, more out of pride and bravado than wisdom, that I was, thank you very much.

It was a polite conversation, but I was wrong. Actually, it was just foolish not to take her advice.

As my friend Casey Graham told me, more people make your problems more apparent.

I would learn over the next few years what it meant to lead a team in a rapidly growing church. I could have gone further faster had I listened.

So how do you know if you’re ready?

5 Signs You’re Ready to Handle More as A Leader

Here are the signs I’ve seen in myself and in the leaders around me that signal I might be ready to handle more. And the inverse has been true too—when these signs aren’t present, I haven’t been ready.

Here are 5 signs you’re ready to handle more as a leader and some links if you want to dig deeper:

1. You’ve built a better system

As you grow, you need better systems. A system is simply  a way of operating.

You have a system. Your church has a system – a way of doing things. For most smaller organizations, the system might be as simple as ‘wing it’.  But even if you’re winging it, that’s a system. And it’s a system that won’t scale.

If you drill down and ask around, you would discover that you do have a system, even if it’s not a great one.

And, as we all know, your current system is designed to get you the results you’re currently getting.  If you don’t like the results, change your system.

I wrote about systems that handle growth in this post on how to break the 200 attendance barrier, and again in this post on the systems needed to guide your church beyond 200, 400 and 800.

2. You’re working through your personal issues

Having more won’t make your personal issues go away…having more will make them worse.

You’re going to have more problems as you grow, and the problems will be more complex. This demands a greater degree of focus and leadership and naturally gives you less margin.

That’s a perfect recipe for your unresolved issues to bubble up.

Suddenly you’ll discover you’re more jealous, envious, angry, paranoid, worried, reclusive or fill-in-the-issue-here than you ever thought you were.

As we grew, I found I had to wrestle down my personal issues or I would implode or explode. I spent significant amounts of time in the office of Christian counselors working through my issues.

Obviously, that’s a life long process (sanctification always is). But hopefully you’re not working on exactly the same issues year after year.

As you work through your personal issues, your ability to handle challenges, people and responsibility grows.

3. You’re passing the character test

As I outlined in this post, character, not competency, determines your true capacity.

Character is related to working through your personal issues (above, #2). But it’s deeper than that.

Character is the foundation that a solid ministry and organization is built on. You will only go as far as your character will take you.

If you want a quick gut check on how you character is these days, this post outlines 5 signs you lack integrity.

And this post lists five ways to build your integrity.

You will only go as far as your character will take you. If you’ve been working hard on your character, it’s a sign you may be ready for more.

4.  You have the right senior leaders in place

You’ve heard it said, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, build a team.

That’s just true.

But you also need to have the right team.

I look for leaders with character, who are aligned with the mission, vision and strategy, and leaders who have a spiritual maturity and tactical ability to advance our mission.

If you are wondering why you don’t have more high capacity leaders on your team, this post outlines 6 reasons many leaders lose high capacity volunteers.

And this post outlines 3 key ingredients I look for in people who form my inner circle.

Finally, my interview with Chris Lema, below, explains how to build a high performing team from scratch.

5. You’re more mature than you were a few years ago

Another year older does not equal another year of maturity.

I’ve known some exceptionally mature 25 year olds and some exceptionally immature 45 year olds. I’ll take a mature 25 year old over an immature 45 year old any day.

Maturity is a combination of time, skill and character.

So the question is: are you growing in maturity? Are you wiser than you were two years ago or five years ago? If the answer is yes, you might be ready for more.

We’ve covered the character issues above, but if you’re looking for a short cut to the skill part as a young leader (there are short cuts), this post outlines 7 practical things younger leaders can do to help them excel in the workplace.

More of Everything

The upside, of course, is that if you work on your character, systems, team and skill set, you will be positioned to handle more.

What’s really awesome is that you’ll be positioned to handle more not just in ministry, but at home and in life. The skills are directly transferrable.

Growing in all these things have helped me not only become a better leader, but a better husband, father, neighbour and even friend. I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s good to see progress.

What has helped you get ready to handle more?

Anything you’ve seen that signals someone’s ready for more?

Leave a comment!

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Is The Smartphone Killing Weekend Church Services?

As almost everyone by this point has noticed, even committed church attenders are attending weekend church services less often.

Online options are one of ten reasons I’ve previously outlined on why even committed Christians are attending church less frequently (here are the other 9).

But just how seriously is technology digging into attendance and what can a church leader do in response?

The question is challenging because the change happening around us is so rapid, and those who fail to respond will likely be left clinging to a model that worked a decade ago.

weekend church services

I’ll Just Listen When I’m Running

You only have to be in your twenties to realize how much things have changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, there was no smart phone. Computers still mostly used cords to access the internet, and internet was painfully slow (at least by today’s standards).

If you wanted to listen to a message by a pastor who didn’t live in your town or access pretty much any Christian content, you had to order a CD, wait for it to arrive and listen then. Some churches were still rocking cassette ministries.

Fast forward to today.

Your phone has more power than any device you owned in the 2000s. It’s always connected, and as a result, so are you.

Consequently, you (and millions of others) have access to any preacher, anytime and anywhere, including all the influential communicators. For free. Which is what a growing number of Christians are listening to.

And even in small churches, parishioners now have access to their pastor’s messages on iTunes.

Throw a few bucks into the mix and you can even grab your favourite worship tunes.

Which means that the two ingredients that have been the mainstay of church services for millions of people in Western Culture—a great message and some music— have become largely downloadable.

The implications of this are huge.

Many Christians are thinking ‘why bother going at a set hour and fight traffic when I can listen when I’m running?”

It’s a great question.

And to simply dismiss that approach as unfaithful is a bit simplistic.

This is a great season for leaders to dig deeper and ask why do we do what we do? That’s true any time change comes.

It’s also the conversation we’ve been having at Connexus Church where I serve.

Some great questions for any church leader to ask include:

What makes the gathering of the church unique?

Why do we gather anyway?

Are there aspects of our gathering that you simply can’t download?

Will technology eventually kill the weekend service?

Those are questions we’re all better off answering sooner than later.

The internet is not going away any time soon, and church leaders who ignore it do so to their peril.

For sure, as Will Mancini discusses below, the conversation should just not be about running defence—ignoring the internet and trends and arguing the only faithful response is to attend.

You can listen to Will’s insights on the player below or go straight to iTunes to listen to my conversation with him (it’s Episode 23).

But with that in mind, the question remains, what do we do with our online presence and our gatherings?

Toward Downloadable and Non Downloadable Experiences

For starters, I believe the church will always gather. (I outlined that among 10 predictions for the future church).

We always have and we always will.

Perhaps the best strategy is to increase your online presence as much as you can while deepening your in-person gatherings.

We need downloadable experiences AND we need non-downloadable experiences. It’s both and, not either or.

A greater online presence allows your ministry to impact people every day through social media, online messages and more.

Given that virtually every unchurched person in your city is online, it provides a portal to the unchurched in your community few could have imagined a generation ago.

In other words, something leaders could only dream of two decades ago is at your fingertips (literally), and it’s not even that expensive.

So the upside for online impact is staggering.

But that doesn’t make the church entirely virtual or downloadable.

Is there something that happens when the church gathers that doesn’t happen when you listen to a message when you’re at the gym or in the car?

For sure there is.

5 Things You Can’t Download

The times we’re in will make us drill down further on what elements of our life together are unique to physical gathering and which aren’t.

As we all intuitively know, there are some things you can’t download.

Leaders who understand and focus on these ingredients will always lead better churches than leaders who don’t, no matter how robust their online ministry might be.

So while this is early thinking (the dialogue will only get better with time), here are 5 ingredients I don’t think you can download.

I conclude each point with a leadership question that can serve as a filter or guide as you plan your services, gatherings and experiences.

1. Community

You might be able to download an artfully captured message and awesomely engineered music, but you can’t download community—at least not the deepest form of community.

And that’s what the church should be best at.

Don’t get me wrong, online community is great. I have thousands of connections online with people I would otherwise never meet. Some of the connections mean a great deal to me.

But they are not nearly as deep as the connections I have with people I know in my local church. People I meet with face to face. People I’m doing life with.

Churches that deepen community will always do a better job of getting people to gather than churches who don’t.

Consequently, if you still see church as a random gathering of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people, perhaps you’re creating an experience that can be downloaded.

But if you give people meaningful spaces in which to gather, to build relationship (small groups remains incredible for this) and to experience things together as a community, you will be getting back to the kind of experiences the early church knew and that will define the future church.

And don’t miss this—churches that broker authentic community create experiences the world is craving

Before you think you’ve passed the test, dig deeper.

Many churches claim to be great at fellowship, but they’re not. They’re great at cliques.

But a church that brokers authentic community for dozens, hundreds or thousands is offering people something nothing else can compare to. Especially because Christ is at the centre of that gathering.

It’s the community so many are longing for but no one seems to know how to find.

Leadership Question: Are we moving people toward authentic community in everything we do as a church?

2. Presence

One of the theological questions this discussion raises is this: “Is God present differently when the church gathers than he is in our personal lives?”

I think the answer is yes.

If you look at how God moved in the early church, it was often through groups of people. It’s not that God wasn’t with people individually—he was, and is—it’s just that the corporate presence is different and powerful and often changes the world.

I agree that often we misuse and abuse the concept of God’s presence as church leaders. We think God was present because the room was full, because the preacher was strong, or because the offering was good.

It’s not nearly that simply or straightforward.

But sometimes God is present—meaningfully, powerfully—when the church gathers.

While you can’t engineer God’s presence, but you can pray for it and anticipate it.

When we gather for communion, when we invite God to be present, when we make space in our services for God to speak…something often happens that you can’t quite control.

Even practically speaking, the focused attention a physical gathering demands can draw people into greater connection with God than those moments when we distractedly listen to a message at home while we’re frantically making dinner for the kids.

And remember…unchurched people long for an experience with God. If the church can’t facilitate that, who can?

The church should be the best in the world at moving people into the presence of the living God.

Churches that facilitate this will simply reach more unchurched people than those who don’t.

Leadership Question: Have we invited God into this and left space for him to move? 

3. Movement

The church is not an institution or even an organization; it’s a movement.

And movements by nature gather people and make an impact.

Cycling down a road all by yourself, listening to the latest podcast certainly is peaceful, but wouldn’t you rather actually be part of the movement?

If your church is gathering for the sake of gathering (you’ve lost the mission), there will be no sense of movement.

But the closer your church is to the mission of the original church, the greater the sense of movement will be.

The church at its best is a movement of saints and sinners, saved and unsaved—people from every walk of life and socio-economic background whose lives are being intersected by a saviour who rose from the dead.

The church at its best is an outward movement that changes families, cities and nations.

Leadership question: Is there any sense when we gather that we are part of the broader movement of the Kingdom of God?

4. Invitation

Perhaps the most exciting part of leading in the local church for me is that we never have a Sunday where only Christians gather.

We’re a church that we pray unchurched people will love to attend, and they do. It’s been a decade and a half since we had a service without an unchurched guest present.

The ministry of personal evangelism is important and a bit undernourished these days.

Even the person who’s best at personal evangelism ultimately wants to connect their friends to a wider circle of Christians.

It’s hard to invite your friend to a podcast. It’s easier to invite them to church.

And every Christians who feel insecure or ill equipped to talk to their friends about Christ (which is most) can still easily say “why don’t you come to church with me.”

The crisis in the church today is that most churches are not places anyone would want to bring their friends to.

Imagine if that changed.

Churches that facilitate gatherings that work for outsiders and insiders will be the most effective. If you want to know what that looks like, I think the best explanation is found in Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide.

Leadership question: Are our services great experiences for the churched and the unchurched alike?

5. Service

In the same way you can’t download community or invitation, you can’t download serving people either.

The church is one of the greatest places in the world to serve.

To serve each other.

To serve children.

To serve teens.

To serve unchurched people.

To serve the brokenhearted.

To serve the poor.

If all I do is download my favourite Christian content, the only person I end up serving is myself.

If volunteering at church becomes less about staffing positions and filling slots, and truly becomes about serving each other in love, the world will take notice.

When the church gathers to serve, we break the gravitational pull of selfishness.

Leadership Questions: How do our gatherings model serving one another in love?

 

What Would You Add?

 

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21 Things You’ll Never Regret As a Leader

If you’ve led anything for any length of time, you already have some regrets.

You wish you could get back some situations, redo some moments and in some cases, start over again.

Why is that? If you look for common threads, you’ll often discover the problem was not in the situation, it was in how you responded to it.

Put another way, it was who you were when the hammer dropped.

But you can also look back on other situations and see you handled things well. That you really have no regrets.

Challenges come and challenges go in leadership. The difference between great leaders and poor leaders is often how their character responds to crisis.

Great leaders adopt practices, attitudes and positions that they quite simply never regret.

And that’s the key: there are some things you do as a leader that you’ll just never regret.

While I haven’t gotten every situation right in leadership (far from it), I took some time to make a list of 21 things I’ve never regretted doing as a leader. My guess is when you’ve done them, you’ve never regretted them either.

And if you and I keep doing them, we’ll have far fewer regrets moving forward.

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21 Things You’ll Never Regret

1. Throwing your heart into whatever you do

I’m increasingly convinced that a white hot sense of passion is one ingredient in churches and other organizations that are doing an outstanding job these days.

Far too many leaders are phoning it in. If that’s you, hang up.

Fully engaging the task before you with all your heart is one of the best shots you’ve got at making an impact.

2. Taking the high road

It’s easy to get pulled down into mud…arguing, jostling and getting caught up in cheap accusations that lead nowhere good.

Don’t.

Take the high road.

You know what that is.

Be kind. Don’t fight back. Prepare to be misunderstood. Forgive. Show grace.

The high road isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best road.

You simply never regret taking it.

3. Saying you’re sorry

It’s easy to apologize when you’re new or just starting out. Everyone expects you to make mistakes.

It’s harder when you’re the leader.

It’s hardest when you’re a successful leader who’s been leading a long time.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re above reproach. You’re not.

In fact, I think the leader should be the FIRST to apologize (I outlined why and how to apologize well here).

So apologize.

4. Praying for your team

You will never regret praying for your team.

Pray for them by name. Ask them what specifically you can pray for.

A leader who prays for his team is a leader worth following.

5. Pushing through your fears

It’s not that great leaders have no fears. Pathological people may have no fears, but otherwise we pretty much all face them.

Great leaders push through their fears.

In this post, I outlined 5 signs that fear is undermining your leadership.

5. Smiling more

You’ll never regret smiling more.

I know I look grumpy unless I remind myself to smile. I’m actually not grumpy most of the time…I just look that way.

So smile.

6. Saying an encouraging word

Very few people I know would say they are over-encouraged.

Okay, no one I know has ever told me they’ve exceeded their lifetime dose of encouragement.

Encouragement costs you nothing as a leader but it means everything to the person you’re encouraging.

Think about that.

7. Saying thank you

Ditto with thank you.

When a leader starts acting entitled, followers lose heart.

Treat everyone—including staff—like they were volunteers. Thank them regularly and sincerely.

Even your staff have other options. They can quit. And if you fail to show gratitude, they will.

8. Helping someone who can’t help you back

Leadership ushers in responsibilities, but it also brings some perks.

At some point you might command a slightly higher salary than others, have access to expense account others don’t, or even have more control over your time.

Don’t use the perks of leadership solely for your benefit. Help someone who can’t help you back.

Buy them something. Be generous with your time. Open your home. Give them access to something or someone they couldn’t gain access to without you.

Can they pay you back? No, they can’t.

And that’s the point.

9. Finding a few great mentors

Leadership can be a lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be.

Finding mentors is something you’ll never regret doing.

I look for leaders who are a stage ahead in life who are the kind of people I want to be.

10. Developing some replenishing relationships

Ministry can be draining. So can leadership.

You give all day and often go home exhausted.

Often, people will seek you out in your off time asking for ‘just a little more’.

My wife and I realized years ago that we need to have some friends who truly replenish us…the kind of relationships where time passes quickly and you leave feeling better than when you came.

11. Deciding ahead of time what your priorities will be

I am amazed at how often I have to re-establish priorities in leadership.

Deciding ahead of time what you will do and not do, when you will be off and when you will work, whom you will meet with and who you won’t, will help you keep first things first.

If you don’t do this, you will never have enough time and always be disappointed with the results you’re getting.

12. Adopting a fixed schedule

One of the best leadership moves I made was moving to a fixed schedule.

What I mean by that is I follow the same rhythm to my work every week with very few exceptions. I pre-determine writing time, meeting days and more.

Although the post is a few years old and some details have changed, I outline how to move to a fixed schedule here if you want more information.

13. Discovering what fuels and drains you

Ever wonder why some days you go home feeling excited and other days you go home exhausted—and yet you worked the same number of hours?

Some activities drain you and others fuel you.

Figuring out which does what can change the effectiveness of your leadership so much.

Great leaders will spend more and more time on the things that energize them and less on the things that drain them. It’s that simple.

I outline how to determine that in this post.

14.Investing in your personal leadership development

You can think of conferences, coaching, books, courses and development programs as expenses, or as investments.

If you think of them as investments, you will become a far better leader.

The best leaders never hesitate to invest in their personal development.

Becoming better is never a waste of money.

15. Taking meaningful vacations

Even when my wife and I were starting out and we had no money, we found money to take even a simple annual vacation.

It’s one of the best investments we’ve made over the years.

I say meaningful vacations because you’ll be tempted to cheat.

You’ll be tempted to say “3 days is enough”. No it’s not.

You’ll be tempted to say “We can just stay home and relax.” And maybe you can. But I just want to catch up on household projects when I do.

Taking a meaningful vacation doesn’t mean you have to drop thousands on Europe, but it does mean you need to rest and recharge. I wrote about my new rules for vacation in this post if you want more.

16. Developing a hobby you love

I could almost be a ‘work is my hobby’ guy. Maybe you could be too.

I love what I do and even writing this blog and doing my leadership podcast are “hobbies.” Work just doesn’t feel like work to me most days.

But I also realize I need interests outside of ministry and leadership. At least if I’m going to stay healthy and balanced.

It took me a bunch of false starts, but I’ve eventually settled on cycling and BBQing as hobbies (I’m a Big Green Egg enthusiast).

Despite what you think, you need a hobby.

17. Becoming an early riser

While there’s still a debate about whether early risers really do get the worm, I’m sold on getting up early.

I think you’ll never regret becoming an early riser because you simply get 1-3 hours to accomplish things when no one is texting you, bothering you or slamming your inbox.

Guess when I write this blog?

I think one of the keys to success is simply beating the patterns most other people follow. For me, getting up at 5 gives me (and you) a 2-3 hour advantage over almost everyone—and everything—else.

Try it.

18. Getting to bed on time

I am also a sleep evangelist. Having cheated sleep through my 20s and 30s, I repented.

I try to get as close to 8 hours of sleep I can every night. I really believe sleep is a secret leadership weapon.

There’s evidence that people who are sleep deprived operate with a similar impairment level to people who drink too much.

Leaders who are rested always bring more to the table than leaders who are tired.

19. Eating better

Diet can have a tremendous impact on mental clarity, alertness and even your quality of sleep.

Sugar and carb crashes happen to far too many leaders.

Cutting down on sugar and carbs has helped me not only lose weight, but feel much better throughout the day.

 

20. Working out

For years I resisted working out, but in the last ten years I’ve taken exercise more seriously.

It’s still a discipline, but finding something I love (like cycling) has really helped.

And most of the productive leaders I know take their health and working out at least somewhat seriously.

21. Carving out a daily time with God

Why is that the first thing to go in the lives of many Christians is our time with God?

Anchoring myself in scripture and prayer at the beginning of every day is a discipline I’ve never regretted.

 

You lead better when you hear from God.

What Would You Add?

I realize this can sound like a bit of a moralizing list, but just scan back through the headlines.

You really wouldn’t regret any of these, would you?

And that’s the point. Sometimes the key to better future is simpler than we think.

What would you add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress

The church has more than its share of critics these days.

Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the church, which is never healthy.

And, of course, the church will inevitably run into criticism.

What we’re doing is counter-cultural and will never be met with universal applause. The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, got John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus and the prophets killed, just to name a few. While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected.

But other times we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way.

Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot.

Here are 5 things that, in my view, would help the mission of the church become more authentic and more effective if we could just stop doing them.

1. Being So Weird Online

Too many Christians come across online as either

Toxic (Hello angry ranters, trolls and haters);

Cynical (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you); or

Syrupy (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world)

Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness?

It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus you also need to become socially awkward.

I know people might say “no, I’m just being authentic”. But being authentic does not mean being weird. (I shared my personal criteria for what I share online in the name of authenticity in this post).

I think a general rule is if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online.

If you go to post something and you think, well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone, that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it.

Similarly, if you think “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it.

If you’re always angry or cynical or all you do is complain online and you think “well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it, or be like that.

And if you think “well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue.

Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, okay?

2. Commenting on Politics

Part of the weirdness is political.

God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an independent.

God is God.

When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church.

Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government.

As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader.

I know some will say “well, God has opinions about things happening today”.

I’m sure he does.

But when authentic Christians sincerely share different views on subjects, we should be very careful about speaking for God.

And, after all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore.

You might be worshipping yourself.

3. Handling Conflict So Poorly

The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it.

Yet we often side step. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people.

We avoid conflict. Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth.

If we just handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively and bravely, we would be so much better.

If you really want to see how to restore someone in love, listen to this message by Andy Stanley on judgment and helping others who are sinning. It’s brilliant.

If we handled conflict more healthily, our churches would be so much healthier.

And a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.

4. Ranking Sin Selectively

Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own.

We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications.

But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarrelling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them.

I would suggest that just as many congregations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness and quarrelling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin.

I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness and our quarrelling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously.

Imagine what the church might look like if that happened.

And we haven’t even touched gossip, gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain.

Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins.

So here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin.

You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they.

You might actually be able to help them.

5. Judging Outsiders

This is a pet peeve of mine.

As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians.  Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.

I completely get the urge to judge our neighbours and even the world. Things bother me too.

But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it.

Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In first year law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty.

I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea.

That made me feel better.

But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty.

I got nervous again.

“Well what if you think he’s guilty but he says he’s not…doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?”

I’ll never forget his answer.

“You’re confusing you’re role, Carey. You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

So…Christians, the world has a judge. And it’s not you.

He’s fairer than you. More just than you. More perfect than you. And far more accurate.

In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sister in the world to their heavenly father through Christ. That’s your job.

Take some comfort in that. And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.

What Else?

Any other self-defeating, stupid things you wish we’d stop doing in the church?

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

How Weekend Church Services Will Change In the Future

If you’re breathing, you know our culture is changing and that the church is undergoing a massive transition.

The question is, what do you do about that?

How do you lead in the midst of it?

And if you’re leading a church, how do you respond?

Questions like that have a lot of church leaders soul searching these days, including me. That can only be good for the mission of the church and for the future.

I frequently write about the subject of the current and future church on this blog because I care about the church deeply. Several months ago I wrote a 5 part series on why people attend church less often and how the church can respond. You can access that series here.

This is a follow up to that series.

While the way forward is not clear and will change, I offer these 5 guidelines on how our weekend church services will change in addition to the 10 predictions I made about future church attendance patterns here.

Naturally, not all might be accurate. But I hope they help further the dialogue in your mind and in your church.

1. Preaching And Teaching Will Go Hand In Hand

Most pastors lean toward preaching or teaching. Few do both regularly or well.

What’s the difference between preaching and teaching?

Without going all seminary for a moment, a broad distinction would be that preaching is announcing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and teaching is the instruction and building up of people who have become Christians.

For sure, it’s more nuanced than that. But the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes even in the early church the terms were used interchangeably, but the main distinction is between proclaiming the Gospel and instructing Christians.

There’s no doubt there’s a resurgence in teaching ministry. Many of the churches that are reaching people under 30 are doing it with strong teaching ministries. John Piper has a lot of Millennials listening. So do Louis Giglio and Jon Tyson.

This shouldn’t be surprising.

Churches that are reaching people with no church background have a developing issue. At Connexus Church, where I serve, over 50% of our growth is directly from people with no church background or attendance.

That’s amazing, but the question is how do you give people background to the faith they’re adopting while continuing to communicate in a way that expands the mission?

For sure, you can move off Sunday with teaching into small groups and other venues (and the internet gives us options for content creation that didn’t exist 15 years ago). But the fact remains that the Sunday morning message is when you simply have most people’s attention.

The challenge, of course, with having a predominantly teaching ministry, is that the church becomes about insiders and you miss reaching outsiders.

The challenge with having a predominantly preaching ministry is that the church can become all about outsiders and you miss teaching insiders.

The future church will have to have a both/and approach.

The communication skill set that will be most highly effective will be a preacher who can both preach in a way that motivates insiders and teach in a way that is accessible to outsiders.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to teach and preach moving forward. I think every preacher has to, regardless of your leaning.

By the way, Jon Tyson’s short summary of his methodology for sermon prep is not a bad lens through which to view the dual purpose of preaching and teaching. You can read it here.

2. The Gathering Will Become the Sending

For the many churches that have adopted an attractional model, the unspoken expectation is that people gather predominantly to come and see.

Combine that with a highly individualist consumer culture, and that’s how most people will view church: a place to gather, consume and leave.

Naturally, that’s a huge mistake, but it reflects the era we live in.

How do you combat that?

Instead of seeing Sunday only as a gathering, wise leaders will also see it as a sending. Tiffany DeLuccia had some great thoughts on this over at Tony Morgan’s blog recently.

The gatherings of the early church were not just a place to worship, learn and encourage, they  involved a sending out into the world to change the world.

The Reformed four-fold pattern of worship embodies this so well. While the church gathers, it also sends.

The goal of a service is not to applaud the message or talk about how amazing the music was. The goal is to go back out into the world for which Christ died better equipped to live out and share our faith.

Figuring out how not just to dismiss people when the service is over but to send people out in the world equipped to live and lead differently is critical.

Church is not a spectator sport. It’s a place of transformation.

Future churches will embrace that.

3. The Gathering Will Be More Of An Experience….Less of a Show

As people have more and more options and freedom with their time, and as guilt dissipates, people are trading in Sundays for what they think are better options.

Many churches have responded in the last decade by adding more lights, better sound, better video and fun moments in their services. I get that, and it’s not as inherently bad as some critics would say it is. The majority of churches who are doing this are reaching more people and seeing more people come to Christ than churches that don’t.

And yet when you live in an age when you can listen to any message on your phone when you run and stream your 3 favourite worship songs any time any where, the urge to gather seems less appealing to a growing number of people.

As I argued in this post, cool church is dying and something else is emerging.

What’s emerging, I think, is a more authentic church. And what’s emerging is more of an experience than a show.

When people show up at a church these days, they want to experience God, not just sing a few songs and hear a helpful message. They want God more than they even want advice.

This hunger is a good hunger. It will get us thinking about how to facilitate an experience of God for hundreds or even thousands of people.

I’m not talking about manufacturing something that isn’t there, but somehow facilitate that magnificent, imminent and transcendent experience between God and his people that the church has facilitated for millennia…and to do it in a way that connects with this generation.

That is not going to be found in a formula, but rather will be found on our knees, open and hoping to experience God ourselves in a way that radiates out as we minister to others.

You can’t podcast an experience…not fully.

When God is present, there is something about being in the room together with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of believers and unbelievers that is unique.

We have to recapture that kind of experience using the best of the past and the best of present.

4. Tradition and Innovation Will Become Companions

There has been a battle in much of church culture between tradition and innovation.

The traditionalists don’t want to innovate.

The innovators want little to do with tradition.

This trend has fresh wrinkles as it’s clear that some younger Christians, as has been prominently articulated by Millennials like Rachel Held Evans, are leaving evangelicalism and returning to tradition.

What many church leaders are realizing is that both tradition and innovation can be stale and dead.

Neither has to be.

Tradition needs innovation and innovation needs tradition.

In the future, tradition and innovation will become companions.

Innovative churches will recapture some of the best of tradition that has been lost, and traditional churches will blow off the dust and innovate, keeping the best of what they have and changing everything else.

Tradition and innovation have been somewhat mutually exclusive conversations and communities in the last few decades. Fusing the two could perhaps produce some incredibly healthy dialogue moving forward.

5. Community Will Matter, Greatly

The more connected our culture becomes, the more disconnected we feel.

In the future, the church will function more like a community.

Not just random individuals who gather in common space for an hour (the worst caricature of megachurch).

And not a community of insiders indifferent to the world (the worst caricature of insider church).

Instead, the future church will be a community of people who serve together, give together, invite friends together and do community beyond Sunday as well as on Sunday. And above all, it will be a community that is continually welcoming new friends and new family.

Among practically every person under 30 I talk to or listen to, there’s a palpable longing for authentic community—a desire to connect in person, for real, in depth.

Jefferson Bethke articulates the longing of many his generation so well in this Church Leader’s podcast episode (it’s so worth the listen).

The church that figures out how to bring old and young together at the table, Christian and non-Christian together in backyards, and the mature and the just-starting-out together in friendship will become a light to many in their community.

Naturally, the churches or groups of churches that figure out how to do this well for hundreds, and even for thousands or tens of thousands, will be able to see communities and regions transformed.

Community has been the hallmark of the church at its best for years. It will continue to be the hallmark of the church for the future.

Want More?

This is a huge topic very much in transition as we speak.

For those of you who want to dig deeper, in addition to the original blog and podcast series, here are some interviews from my Leadership Podcast I’ve done with church leaders on the changing nature of church.

Rich Birch on Whether Contemporary Churches Are Losing Their Edge

In Episode 8 of my podcast, Rich Birch and I talk about whether contemporary churches are losing their edge.

Geoff Surratt on Churches That Are Reaching Millennials

In Episode 40, Geoff Surratt and I talk about reaching millennials and look at specific churches that are doing a great job.

John Stickl on Leading a Church As a Millennial Leader

John Stickl took over a mega-church at age 29, and a few years later is reaching thousands more, many of whom are millennials. In this interview, he shares their vision and strategy.

Josh Gagnon on Adapting Church To Culture in New England

Josh Gagnon is another Millennial mega-church leader who talks about how to make church work in New England and on using tradition and reach unchurched people.

To access these interview for free on your phone or other devise, just subscribe.

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

What Do You Think?

I think healthy dialogue always makes the conversation and the future better. I’d love to know what you think will characterize the future church.

Please know I also write this post as one committed to the future of the local, organized church. I realize there are many who are ‘done’ with church (I wrote a response to people who are done with church here).

I’m not sure how helpful it would be to use the comments to list how awful the church you used to go to is. So please don’t rail against the church leaders who are doing their best to lead a local church or even the people you know who aren’t doing their best or are poor leaders. We have enough of that online as it is.

But for those who want to make the local church better, or want to imagine a church they and their friends would attend, what would you add to this post?

gay marriage church christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gay marriage church christianity

1. The church has always been counter-cultural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

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

Please don’t get me wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

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

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

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

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

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the path crystal clear? No.

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

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

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

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

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

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

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

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

————

Caleb’s Story

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

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

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

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

young leader mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll bet you can relate.

young leader mistakes

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

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

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

1. Thinking a leader needs to have all the answers 

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

Wish I’d learned that right off the bat.

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

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

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

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

2. Trying to be too original 

This characterized my first 7 or 8 years of leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Using people to accomplish tasks

I feel so bad about this one.

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

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

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

4. Depending too much on my own strength

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

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

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

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

This is something I still struggle with daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About You?

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

What are you struggling with? How are you overcoming?

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

pastors moral failure

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

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

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

It’s heartbreaking.

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

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

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

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

So, once again, I ask myself

Why does this happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pastors moral failure

5 Signs I Might Be Headed for a Moral Failure

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

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

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

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

1. I’ve chosen isolation over community

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

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

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

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

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

Who really knows what’s going on?

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

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

Bringing darkness into the light breaks its power.

2. I’ve stopped confessing my sins

I am convinced that confession is a lost art.

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

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

I need to bring it all before God.

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

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

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

Confession is designed to stop what sin starts.

3. I’m not thinking of the consequences

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

But sin always has consequences. Often horrible consequences.

Keeping the consequences in mind can be so so healthy.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps this is why leaders fall more frequently than others.

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

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

This is so, so dangerous.

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

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

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

5. I see failure as my best escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You Learning?

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

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

No one. Not me. Not you.

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