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people leave your church

5 Surprising Reasons People Leave Your Church

In a perfect world, you wish everyone who comes to your church would stay forever.

I get that. I share that desire too.

But the reality is that on this side of heaven people come and go, not just in church, but everywhere.

Think about it: you’ve switched gyms and supermarkets. You’ve bought and sold cars and homes. You’ve even switched jobs. And no, the church is not a commodity, but the law of averages tells you a certain percentage of people inevitably come and go.

Usually, when people leave a church, it’s because there’s a problem, a disagreement or a conflict of some kind.

But I’ve also come to realize people leave churches when things are going well.

As surprising as this sounds, every time you make progress as a church, you’ll lose people.

This comes as a shock to most leaders. And it can be very disheartening, especially if you don’t realize some loss even in great seasons is ‘normal’.

While I don’t have hard data to back these 5 reasons people leave your church, I do have more than a few conversations with leaders from great churches who still experience exits when things are going well. And all 5 reasons listed below are trends I have seen personally where I serve.

So why do people leave even when you’re making progress at your church?

Simple. The people who are at your church today are there because they like it the way it is.

Change that (even for the better), and some will leave.

It will shock you. It will disappoint you. It will leave you scratching your head. And it’s unavoidable. But you need to keep moving or else you’ll be paralyzed by focusing on who you want to keep, not who you want to reach.

So when do people leave when things are going well?

Here are 5 surprising moments that trigger exits when no one is expecting it:

people leave your church

1. A move into a new building

So many people think a move into a new building is a positive step that will only cause growth.

For a church that has momentum, that’s almost universally true. (Although a move into a building will not cause a declining church to grow…I explain why here.)

But even when things are going well, you will lose people.

Some people will love the portable days even better. Some won’t like the new location. Others may not like the design. Others may feel displaced.

For some people, there’s also a sentimental association with past places of worship as well. Maybe the sentiment is because they became Christians there, were baptized there, or even got married there.

For sure, that’s understandable. Most people get past the sentiment, but some don’t. And they’ll leave.

The church has to keep moving though…advancing the mission. After all, you cannot build a future by living in the past.

2. You’ve hired a new senior leader

Naturally, some people leave when you hire a new senior leader—a senior pastor, campus pastor or teaching pastor.

But what’s surprising is some people leave even when you hire a GREAT new senior leader.

People have their own reasons for liking the old better than the new, even when it comes to people.

Often the reasons are personal or preferential, not missional. They liked the only senior leader better, or felt a personal connection with him or her, or even had a friendship with him or her.

Even though a great new leader will lead a congregation into an exciting future, there’s always a small group that will not want to come for the ride.

3. You’ve added new staff

So it should be no surprise that when the leader changes, so does the team—the other staff and many of the key volunteers.

Why does this happen so often?

I learned something a while ago in leadership:

Leaders often behave missionally. Most people behave relationally.

What do I mean by that?

Well, often as a leader, you think and act in terms of the mission.

Most people don’t think or act according to the mission; instead they behave relationally.

So when a new staff member steps in and people sense “oh, this isn’t how it used to be,” they move on.

In the case of new staff (not senior staff…but associate staff), the good news is most people won’t leave the church—they’ll just leave their ministry area for a new ministry area.

I used to be surprised by this trend and often upset by it. Now I just realize that if we appoint a new leader, within a year many people on that leader’s team will change. Again, if the overall situation is healthy, they’ll relocate within other ministries. If it’s less healthy,  people will leave outright.

4. You’ve stopped some old programs

Effective leaders don’t just start things, they also stop things.

They realize good is the enemy of great (as Jim Collins said), and they are willing to cut good things to make way for great things. They certainly don’t hesitate to cut what is ineffective.

Yet it often comes as a surprise that people leave when their program gets cut, even if it gets cut ‘well’ and with sensitivity.

The reason people leave in circumstances like this is because for many people, what they’re involved in becomes the mission. If they run a Tuesday morning coffee club (even an ineffective one), their relationships within that club run deep and perhaps even their identity is caught up in leading that club.

Change that, and they’re left floundering.

Again, healthier people will realize the mission is bigger than them and they will adjust and find a new place.

Others won’t. They’ll leave. Even if the church as a whole is getting better at accomplishing its mission.

5. You announce an exciting new initiative

So let’s say your church announces a new initiative to reach more people, be more effective in the community or even add a location or ministry.

As a leader, you’re pumped. As pumped as you’ve ever been.

Guess what? Some people won’t want to go with you.

There will still be a tiny minority that likes your church just the way it is.

They don’t want it to get bigger. They don’t want it to get better.

They just want it to stay the same.

As exciting as the future is, some people prefer the present. Others live in the past. 

That’s just life. 

How Do You Manage This Tension?

All of this can leave you feeling discouraged unless you realize one core truth.

As a leader, you need to choose your focus. As my friend Reggie Joiner says, you need to decide whether you will focus on who you want to reach, or who you want to keep.

If you think about it, deciding to focus on who you want to reach is the better choice. Some people are un-pleasable, and deciding to please the un-pleasable is an exercise in futility. (In fact, here are 7 kinds of people no church leader can afford to keep.)

But even if the handful of people who might leave aren’t unappeasable, the people you need to reach are far greater in number than those you’re trying to keep.

The people you might lose always have other churches they can go to.

The unchurched people you will reach by changing…don’t.

Don’t burn bridges with those leaving (be gracious…thank them for their time with you), but don’t sacrifice the mission for the sake of a handful of people who don’t like the future.

The challenge, of course, is to reach more people than you lose, and to keep unnecessary to a minimum.

Any Thoughts?

I hope this post comes as encouragement to you. Just know if despite your best efforts, you still see a small group walk out the door, you’re not alone.

Keep making progress. Keep leading. Keep pursuing your mission.

If you’re leading well, who you reach will be greater than who you lose, even if in some moments it doesn’t seem that way.

What’s your experience with this?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

ripping off other preachers

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

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

Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In law, that’s technically a crime.

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

shutterstock_273018893So what can I borrow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You lie

Lying is an integrity issue.

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

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

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

Their boards fired them. Bravo, boards.

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

3. You stop growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, you can.

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

4. You lose touch with God

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

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

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

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

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

5. It creeps into other areas of your life

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

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

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

So what do I do?

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

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

That covers most of us.

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

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

Want to develop as a preacher?

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Scroll down and leave a comment!

insights on burnout

A Decade Later: My Top 10 Insights On Burnout

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

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

So what happens if you burnout?

Can you come back?

Can you lead again?

Can you thrive again?

Is there hope?

10 years ago this summer, I burnt out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

burnout in leadership1. Limits exist for a reason

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

Until they do.

People kept telling me I would burn out.

I thought I was invincible. I was so wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that simply isn’t true.

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

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

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

God is still present…even when he feels absent.

3. Your unresolved past will sink your future

Unprocessed ‘issues’ are deadly.

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

How stupid.

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

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

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

4. Grieve your losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much healthier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

6. Your heart will heal and you will trust again

Your heart gets mangled in leadership because

You trusted people who betrayed that trust

You hoped only to have your hopes dashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to my burnout, I worked on time management.

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

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

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

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

I write more on how to manage your energy here.

9. Sleep is a leader’s secret weapon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some hope for anyone struggling with burnout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want More?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll down and leave a comment!

conflict at church

7 Healthy Ways To Resolve Conflict at Church or Work

So you’re dealing with a conflict and you’re feeling some tension with someone you work with or serve with at church.

Join the club.

But rather than let it linger, address it. The stakes are simply too high.

I’m increasingly convinced many churches simply don’t grow because they suffer from conflict and that many teams never thrive because there’s simply too much tension.

What do you do?

Well, first realize you’re not alone. In the United States, 70% of the people who go to work today will tell you they don’t like their jobs.

So many people I know get frustrated at work. And one of the top frustrations?

The people they work with.

Conflict happens wherever people gather: in families, in churches, at work and in their communities.

I think Christians often struggle with conflict because:

In the name of grace, we feel we need to sacrifice truth.

When we speak truth, we often don’t know how to speak it with grace.

We worry about hurting other people’s feelings when one of the best things we can do is offer honest feedback.

We’re not sure how to support someone we genuinely disagree with.

None of that needs to be.

I have learned, through trial and error, that these 7 strategies below can help me deal with conflict.

I hope they can help you.

shutterstock_330925457

Here are 7 ways that I hope can help you resolve conflict:

1. Own your part of the conflict

Conflict and even bad chemistry is almost never 100% one person’s fault.

Thinking you’re not part of the problem is often the problem.

One of the best expressions I’ve heard of how to figure out the extent to which you might be part of the problem is to ask a compelling question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?

Jeff Henderson asked that question in a great series at North Point Church called Climate Change.

Own what you can. What is it like to be on the other side of you? Ask some people.

2. Go direct 

Often issues are mishandled because we talk about someone rather than to someone.

Your co-worker at the water cooler isn’t the problem, so why talk to him about it?

Jesus was crystal clear on how to handle conflict, but very few Christians follow his practice. In the name of being ‘nice’ (“I can’t tell her that!”), we become ineffective.

Talk to the person you have the problem with. Directly. If you haven’t got the courage to do it, maybe the problem isn’t even big enough to worry about.

3. Believe the best about others

It’s easy to assign bad motives to people. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt.  They might not realize how they are coming across. Believe the best about others; don’t assume the worst.

Believing the best can help you address an issue directly without ruining the relationship. It can turn hurtful into helpful. Here’s an example: “Rachel, you might not realize this, but sometimes your emails can come across as demanding or even demeaning. I’m not sure you’re aware of that, but I just wanted to let you know how they leave me feeling sometimes. I know you probably don’t mean to do that.”

That gives the person an out, and frankly, many times, they probably had no idea they were coming across negatively.

When you believe the best about others, you tend to get the best from others.

4. Explain—don’t blame

How to talk to the person you’re struggling with is where many people struggle.

And those conversations often go sideways because people begin with blame. Don’t blame. Explain. Instead of saying “You always” or “You never” (which might be how you feel like starting), begin by talking about how you experience them.

If you’re dealing with an ‘angry person’ for example, you might frame it this way: “Jake, I just want you to know that when you get upset in a meeting, it makes me feel like the discussion is over and I can’t make a contribution.”

If you’re dealing with gossip, try something like:  “Ryan, on Tuesday when you told me what happened to Greg on the weekend, I felt like that was something Greg should have told me directly.”

Do you hear the difference between explaining and blaming?

Blaming others is a guarantee that the only person who won’t grow is you.

5. Be specific 

Giving one or two specific incidents is much better than making general accusations or commenting on personality traits. “The other day in the meeting” or “In your email on the August numbers yesterday” is much more helpful than “You just always seem so frustrated.”

The more specific you are, the more you de-escalate conflict and move toward a hopeful ending.

6. Tell them you want things to get better 

What the person you’re confronting needs is hope.

At this point, they probably feel defensive, ashamed and (hopefully) sorry.

Let them know the gifts they bring to the table and the good they do.

Tell them you are looking forward to the future and want things to work out.

7. Pray for them

I know this sounds trite, but it’s not.

Don’t pray about them. Pray for them.

It is almost impossible to stay angry with someone you pray for.

It can also give you empathy for them, and at least in your minds eye, it places you both firmly at the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness. It will take any smirk of superiority out of your attitude, which goes a long way toward solving problems.

What Do You Think?

Do these seven steps always result in a positive outcome? No. But I believe they will resolve the majority of cases in front of you in a very healthy way. At least they have for me. (This approach, by the way, is also effective at home and in most relationships in life.)

I don’t get all 7 approaches right every time, but when I practice them, I find that conflict almost always resolves better.

What would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

age of terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

age of terror

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

Doubtless the church is in an era of deep change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Confession and humility are more important than ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I know is this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. External regulations cannot trump internal values

Can you legislate away terror? Not really.

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

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

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

Changed laws do not change hearts.

What changes hearts? The Gospel. Love. Christ.

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

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

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

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

Paul knew this.

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive someone you actually know.

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

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

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

Which is exactly the point.

So go be the church…

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

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

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

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

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

heart is growing hard

7 Warning Signs Your Heart is Growing Hard in Leadership

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

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

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

Not exactly great company if you ask me.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 7 early warning signs:

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

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

Joy doesn’t. Sadness doesn’t.

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

2. You fake your emotions

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

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

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

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

3. You say “I don’t care” a lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

5. Passion is hard to come by

For anything.

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

6. You no longer believe the best about people 

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

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

Why?

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

7. You’re growing cynical

Hard-heartedness and cynicism go hand in hand.

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

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

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

I wrote more about cynicism and curiosity here.

So How Does It Happen?

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

1. You see the patterns, and forget the people

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

Actually, people behave in certain predictable ways.

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

Patterns are discouraging. People aren’t.

2. You over-protect a broken heart 

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

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

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

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

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

4. You accept a harder heart as a new normal

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

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

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

Some Help

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

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

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

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

battle in your head

How to Win the Battle In Your Head

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

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

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

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

You know what I mean, the voices that say:

You’re not up for this.

What’s the point?

You’re not doing a great job.

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

This doesn’t really matter.

Don’t bother.

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

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

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

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

win the battle in your head

1. Win the battle by calling an audible

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Stop focusing on yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Win the battle and find a bigger challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Take a break and come back fresh

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Lean into your energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Pray and have people pray for you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About You?

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

How do you battle them…and win?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

reach millennials

A Different Take on Reaching Millennials

One of the questions almost every church leader I know is asking is “How do we reach Millennials?”—that demographic of young adults now in their late teens to mid-thirties.

It’s a great question.

One of the primary missions of every generation of church leaders is to hand the faith and the church over to the next generation. Practically speaking, churches that fail to reach young adults will struggle far more a decade from now than churches that don’t.

Often the conversation goes quickly to what you need to do in the church to reach the next generation.

But is that actually the right question to ask?

The penny dropped for me recently in (yet another) conversation I had with young adults about the church and the future.

Maybe Millennials are asking a very different question.

And the question they’re asking is good news for almost every church leader, because it’s not only about what you do, how many resources you have, or even your model of ministry. It’s bigger than that.

In fact, Millennials might be looking for something bigger than all of that. The good news? It’s something almost every church leader can offer regardless of church size, budget or staffing.

reaching millennials

The Dinner Party Where No One Agreed…Until

I had a free ranging dinner conversation recently with 8 young adult church leaders (ranging in age from the mid-twenties to early thirties) and I simply asked them, “If you could design a church for your generation, what would it look like?”

The conversation actually turned out quite similar to a number of conversations I’ve had with young church leaders. No one actually agreed with each other. 

One young leader thought messages should be 20 minutes long. Others thought messages should be ‘deep’ and biblical and length wasn’t that important.

When I drilled down, no one could really agree on what deep or biblical meant.

Some thought worship should be longer while others thought this could be an impediment to inviting their friends.

When it came to community groups or outreach, there were mixed opinions on what to do.

After 45 minutes, no real consensus emerged.

This is quite typical among the many conversations I’ve had with churched and unchurched Millennials.

I’d preached at their church earlier that day and so I asked them for some honest no-holds-barred feedback. They told me the message really resonated, so I pushed deeper (come on, you can tell me the truth) and asked them why. My message was more like 40 minutes, after all (not 20) and I’m old enough to be the dad of some of the people around the table. I was really anxious for their feedback.

“Well”, someone ventured, “you were authentic. You told stories. There was nothing fake about what you said.”

“And I did reference Greek once,” I replied. We all laughed because clearly this meant my teaching was ‘deep.’

Then they started talking about what they valued. Things like integrity, transparency, honesty, grace and truth.

And this is when (finally), they all agreed.

That’s also when things really came together in my mind, and resonated with what we’re learning from Millennials where I serve at Connexus, and what I’ve seen elsewhere: when it comes to reaching Millennials, maybe the question we need to ask isn’t ‘what do we need to do?’ as much as ‘who do we need to be?’

Bottom line? Millennials are asking church leaders who they are…  far more than they’re asking what they’ll do.

So what are the implications for all of us who lead churches?

1. Millennials Think Character Matters Most

Character will determine effectiveness in reaching Millennials far more than competency does.

This is both great news and frightening news.

The good news? An authentic experience in a church with B+ worship experience beats a hollow experience in a church with A+ programming.

That’s good news to every church that doesn’t have the expertise, budget or staff to pull off the experience larger churches offer.

But the frightening part is there’s a high-powered magnifying glass aimed at the character of every church leader, and especially the senior leaders.

So how well is your church doing? Here’s a post that can help determine the kind of people Millennials often want to hang around (and a bit of a diagnostic test for your church).

2. Budget Matters Less

The really good news is that things like integrity, authenticity and a deep sense of mission cost nothing financially.  So they are accessible to everyone.

Sure, they will cost you deeply in terms of your personal walk. They will cause you to be brutally honest, to repent, to change, to grow and to trust God at whole new levels, but the cost of discipleship is always worth paying.

But if you live in a space where you think “we can’t reach the next generation because we have no money,” think again.

In fact, here’s a list of other church growth strategies that are absolutely free.

3. Relationships Count to Millennials

What do young adults want?

Your time. Your heart. Your attention. And a chance to actually connect with people.

Churches that elevate community will do better with Millennials than churches that don’t.

So prioritize chances to serve, connect and grow together. A great small group strategy and serving strategy can help so much with this.

Community doesn’t mean that everyone has to know everyone (a myth by which many small churches live and die). But it does mean everyone needs to know someone.

The importance of community is something both Orange and Kara Powell believe is critical to reaching the next generation. I agree. Kara’s new book, Growing Young, which comes out this fall (which I’ve had the privilege of pre-reading) highlights this even more.

Relationship is something every church can be great at.

4. Maybe this is Model Neutral

Every church has a model of ministry. And as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, churches that love their model more than their mission will die.

But does that mean you can only have ONE model (approach) to church that works? Well, no, it doesn’t. Because if Millennials truly appreciate the values of leaders and their faith community more than other things, character can be present in a wide variety of approaches to ministry.

Geoff Surratt is doing some fascinating research on the kinds of churches Millennials love to attend, and he’s discovering that many of the churches doing a great job reaching young adults are very diverse in nature. You can listen to my conversation with Geoff about that on Episode 40 of my Leadership Podcast.

I also shared some of the surprises I found in churches that are absolutely crushing it with young adults in this post.

Findings like this give hope to us all.

5. This is No Excuse to Be Bad At What You Do

All that said, this is in no way an excuse to be bad at what you do.

It’s not a licence for irrelevance, laziness or a justification for the status quo.

This is, after all, a generation that has been marketed to more than any generation in human history. They can smell cheese and incompetence a mile away.

But they can also smell fake a mile away. Being real matters more than doing. But doing still matters.

So continue to do the best you can with what you have. Make the changes you feel called to make, regardless of your church size, budget, setting or denomination.

Continue to make your ministry better, but work harder on your character than you do on your competency.

What Do You Think?

What are you seeing as you interact with young adults?

Or if you’re a Millennial, what are you e?

Contribute to the conversation by scrolling down and leaving a comment.

rapidly changing moral culture

5 Ways Christians Can Approach The Rapidly Changing Moral Culture

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

You’re not alone.

The culture around us is changing.

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

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

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

shares your value system

pays much attention to you

thinks you add anything to the cultural mix?

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

moral culture

1. Be Oblivious to Culture

Some churches appear to be oblivious to culture.

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

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

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

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

This approach produces irrelevance.

2. Hide From Culture

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

So they hide.

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

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

This approach stifles the mission of the church.

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

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

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

 3. Slam the Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

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

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

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

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

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

I hope so.

4. Embrace People and Offer an Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Use the Culture to Reach the Culture

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

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

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

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

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

So what does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want More?

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

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

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

Thoughts? Scroll down and leave a comment.

insecurity as a leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

insecurities

1. Be generous with your praise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Recruit and promote people who are better than you

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the root of much insecurity are two beliefs.

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

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

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

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

That shift will also help you relinquish your controlling tendencies.

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

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

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

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

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

5. Get ridiculously honest with yourself (and God)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want More?

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

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

———

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