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future mission

3 Things That Are Sabotaging the Church’s Future

Without a doubt, you’ve already realized it’s more complex to be a church leader today than it was even a few decades ago.

With the vast majority of churches struggling in some way, it’s time to rethink our future mission.

Attendance at most churches is stagnant or dropping and even whole denominations are being redefined, because, as I outlined in this blog series, even Christians who are attending church are attending less often.

Add to this the reality that the culture is changing faster than ever, and our response becomes even more critical and the change we need to make becomes more urgent. (Two issues I address in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.)

In many ways, what the church is going through is reflected in other industries like what’s been happening in the newspaper and photography businesses.

Some companies have sabotaged their own future by confusing the issues they were facing. Others have adopted and thrived.

As always in leadership, just a few key perspective shifts can be the difference between thriving and surviving, or between thriving and surviving at all.

futureKodak, Newspapers and the Church

Four years ago, the company that was synonymous with photography declared bankruptcy as Kodak went under, having failed to effectively respond to digital photography.

In many ways, Kodak sabotaged its future by refusing to respond to the massive changes in culture (this Forbes article gives a decent account of how it happened).

Kodak bet too much of its future on the past (film photography). It lost.

Newspapers are also facing epic struggles, with papers shutting down regularly and even iconic newspapers like the Toronto Star struggling to stay afloat.

While the jury is still out on how the news industry will look in five years, the issues are not that different from what the photography industry faced or what the church is facing.

In each case, the risk of self-sabotage by established organizations is huge and the church is not exempt.

What I see happening in Kodak and in some newspapers is something I also see among church leaders.

Here’s are three ways church leaders end up sabotaging the future mission of the church.

By identifying the issues and tackling three key issues now, church leaders can position their churches for a much better future.

1. Confusing the method with the mission

Too many leaders mix up method and mission. That’s one of the things that happened to Kodak and that’s happening in journalism.

It’s also an epidemic in the church world.

This mistake is so easy to make in leadership.

A method is a current approach that helps you accomplish the mission. It’s how you do what you do.

The mission is why you exist.

The problem in most churches is people (including leaders) get very fond of their methods.

You get rewarded for great methods…like the kind of church service you offer, or the programming your church does, or whatever else you’ve become good at. You get rewarded by results and sometimes by becoming known for how well you do things.

Nobody was better at film photography for almost a century than Kodak. No one has a more prestigious paper than the New York Times.

Chances are the people you lead love your methods. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

Which is also why its so difficult to change them.

Change the music you’re known for and prepare to be unpopular for a long time. Maybe even prepare to get fired.

Change the programming people love and get ready for the backlash.

That’s because when people confuse the method with the mission, they see the methods as sacred. Not the mission.

And sometimes, because your methods have made you successful, you come to see them as sacred and are reluctant to change.

But methods are never sacred. Particularly in church.

The mission–and only the mission—is sacred.

The only reason your church claims to have ‘biblical’ worship is because you probably don’t know what biblical worship actually is.  If you were actually transported back to the first century, you wouldn’t recognize how the church worshipped.

Our worship and our programming has always been an adaptation of the mission for the current generation and time.

Are there more-faithful and less-faithful expressions of the mission? Of course.

But often those who protest change the most have confused the mission with the method.

And when you refuse to change the method, you eventually kill the mission.

Just ask Kodak.

This post that outlines 9 things that used to work in the church a decade ago, but don’t today, provides some examples of what happens when church leaders confuse method and mission.

2. Failure to clarify what the real mission is

Imagine what might have happened if someone at Kodak had asked:

Are we in the film business, or the photography business?

If Kodak was in the film business, the future would be dim.

But if Kodak has decided it was in the photography business, the future could have been very different.

Instead, Facebook decided it was in the photography business when it bought Instagram. And Apple decided it was in the photography business when it developed the iPhone.

If you were in the newspaper business today, a great question to ask is this:

Are we in the newspaper business, or the news business?

Again, the future changes when you start asking questions that clarify the real mission.

So as a church leader, what question are you asking?

At Connexus Church, where I serve, we’ve decided that we’re in the business of leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus. That’s our mission.

Our mission isn’t holding services. It’s not music. It’s not even preaching. Nor is it programming. It’s not launching an online campus or doing social media well. Or having an awesome kids ministry. (Even though we’re invested in ALL of these.)

We can change because we’re committed to doing whatever it takes to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.

Our methods—the way we facilitate our services, our kids ministry, our programming, the way we do groups, how we serve—are all designed to support our mission.

If you don’t know what your true mission is, you’ll never find the right method to accomplish it.

3. Unwillingness to change methods to support the real mission

Far too many church leaders are afraid to change their methods.

But once you clarify your real mission, change becomes so much easier.

Think about it. If you have a clear sense of what you are called to do, then:

When you see potential gain ahead, you’ll change your methods to advance your mission.

When you see a chance to reach more people, you’ll change your services and programming to advance your mission.

And of course, when you fail at your mission, you won’t stubbornly cling to ineffective methods.  You’ll gladly embrace new methods to advance your mission.

Once you understand your real mission, it becomes so much easier to change your methods.

Clarifying your mission can also mean your whole attitude toward change is transformed.

You’ll embrace social media and church online because you’re not nearly as worried about who might stay home as you are who you might reach.

You’ll study change and culture and be anxious to try new things to reach people.

Why? Because leaders who understand their real mission see opportunities where others see only obstacles. 

Imagine a day when your team thinks this way.

The Future is At Stake

So can you just ignore all of this and hope it goes away?

Well, that’s kind of what Kodak did.

And just realize…when you become more wedded to the methods than the mission, the good leaders leave.

That’s what’s happening in dying industries. People who work for Instagram would not want to work for Kodak. And reporters for Mashable may never be comfortable at a print daily.

The church has a better mission than any other organization on the planet.

The challenge for this generation of church leaders is to keep the methods fluid and the mission sacred.  The more we do that, the more effective we’ll be.

Want More?

If you want more on the future church, I outlined 10 predictions about the future church and attendance patterns in this post.

I’ve also written about what the church can learn from the rise of Uber and Netflix.

Finally, I take a comprehensive look at the changes the church needs to make in my book Lasting Impact, and outline how to navigate change in the face of opposition in my book Leading Change Without Losing It.

I also speak to church leaders every week about leadership on my free leadership podcast.  You can subscribe on iTunes here.

I hope these resources help.

In the meantime, what are some things you think are hurting the church as we navigate change?

Any other parallels you see between changes in other industries and in the church?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

rise of uber

What The Church Can Learn From the Astounding Rise of Uber

What can you learn as a church leader from the astounding rise of Uber, the ride-hail company born in San Francisco just a few years ago?

Quite a bit actually.

Uber has disrupted a century-old industry (taxi cabs) in a little over 5 years. The City of Toronto has seen a major battle emerge between cab drivers who want Uber banned, the city and Uber itself.

Ditto in New York City and many other cities.

At the heart of Uber’s story (and the controversy around it) is the massive change an industry can undergo in such a short span of time, and how rapid change can spin old models into almost immediate chaos.

If there’s one thing too many church leaders struggle with, it’s change.

There are at least 6 things you can learn as a church leader from the recent rise of Uber.

rise of uber

1. Owning a great taxi cab is no longer enough

In an age where everyone used taxis, having a clean cab, or a slightly less expensive cab, or a larger fleet of cabs that provided quick service was a competitive advantage.

Not so when an industry gets disrupted.

Uber uses ordinary people’s cars and allows users to rate drivers for their friendliness and cooperation. And they offer price that’s meaningfully below a typical cab ride.

In the age of Uber, you can have the best taxi cab in town and still be out of business.

What can church leaders learn from this?

Polishing a current model of ministry to make it better often comes at the expense of true innovation.

And, as I indicated in this post outlining 5 disruptive church trends for 2016, church online will continue to morph into an advance of the church’s mission rather than just a supplement to what we’re already doing.

2. Innovation doesn’t ask for approval

Uber innovated in three primary areas that the taxi industry never did: they lowered the price, enlisted anyone who wanted to drive as a driver and gave consumers the ability to instantly call a car via their phones.

Are there problems with Uber? Sure…many think Uber needs some regulation.

But that’s not the point.

The point is they already won real marketshare before most people even knew what was happening.

Uber is a great example of how innovation changes things rapidly.

Cities and the taxi industry are catching up with Uber long after the love affair between many consumers and Uber began.

This is a note to denominations and even churches with large bureaucracies.

Innovation doesn’t ask for approval.

It just happens—much to the annoyance of existing power structures, which tend to be about preserving what has been.

3. Fighting change doesn’t stop change

It’s rather surprising to see how angry and opposed taxi cab owners have become in their opposition to Uber.

Their opposition has even spilled to violence on the streets.

This is nothing new. The Luddites famously fought the invention of motorized textile looms, smashing and burning the new technology.

They lost.

Fighting change doesn’t stop change.

The best leaders see change and adapt to it, never compromising the mission but reinventing the methods (which is exactly what Uber is doing).

Complaining about change doesn’t change anything either.

What change are you uselessly fighting?

(By the way, here are 7 signs your church will never change.)

4. When you confuse method with mission, you lose

Taxi cabs have been a method of temporary transportation for a century.

But the mission behind the taxi industry is transportation.

Uber never mistook the method for the mission. It appears that the taxi industry has done just that.

We all get wedded to our methods.

As I outlined in more detail in this post, the church is seriously in danger of confusing method with mission.

The cab industry could have become innovative and pioneered Uber-like service and innovation. But it didn’t.

When someone came along with a more popular method, they grew defensive.

Now it looks like the cab industry is far more wedded to their method than they are to their mission.

Know any churches like that?

5. Your past success is no guarantee of your future success

Having the best cab fleet of the 21 century may not matter as much as it did 5 years ago.

Your past success is no guarantee of your future success. Not in the face of innovation and disruption.

The best way to ensure future success is to keep experimenting and keep innovating.

When was the last time your church innovated?

6. Innovation spawns more innovation, while defensiveness spawns death

Very little has changed in the cab industry in the last few decades. Sure, payments have become mobile and now there are TVs in some cabs (but again, TV is hardly a new invention).

Uber was only an idea as recently as 2009. It launched its first service in 2010.

But as young as Uber is, it has introduced black car services, car pooling, transit and is experimenting with fresh food delivery, package delivery and so much more.

That’s because an innovative culture spawns more innovation.

Meanwhile, as outlined above, the taxi industry’s main response is not innovation, but a demand that Uber go away.

Uber isn’t going away any time soon.

And even if Uber disappears, innovation won’t.

Church leaders, take note.

Innovation spawns more innovation. Defensiveness spawns death.

So start innovating.

7. Self-interest will inevitably lose to public interest

The church should be the least self-interested organization in the world.

When we behave this way, the mission will grow.

If you watch the taxi industry’s response to Uber, you can’t help but conclude that the stance they’ve taken seems self-interested. I realize these are people who need jobs and money to feed their families, but their arguments come across as self-motivated.

Ever notice that selfishness and defensiveness are only attractive to the person being selfish and defensive?

Through lower prices, friendly service and convenience, Uber’s winning the PR war because it feels like it’s on the consumer’s side.

Uber has problems for sure (its drivers have already gone on strike), but the difference between the vibe Uber emits and the vibe the cab industry emits is significant.

Self-interest will always lose to the public interested.

Ask yourself: does your church come across as self-interested?

See Anything Else?

I wrote more about the changes the church needs to make in my recent book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

If you want more on how to navigate the change around us, you can download a free chapter of Lasting Impact here or pick up a copy here.

In the meantime, what is the sudden rise of Uber teaching you?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

quirky things

5 Quirky Things That Are Way Too True About Church Life

Did you know you’re twice as likely to be killed by a vending machine than you are by a shark?

Apparently, that’s true.

I’m guessing you’ve never thought about being killed by a vending machine, even though you see them all the time and maybe even use them regularly.

You likely have thought about shark attacks, even though odds are you’ve never seen a shark in the wild while swimming.

Life’s weird like that.

And so is church life.

But once you know something quirky is true, you can better deal with it (like making sure you don’t shake that vending machine trying to get your chocolate bar out).

There is nothing I am more committed to in leadership than the mission of the local church.

I love the local church. And the local church hands down has the most important mission on the planet.

But we don’t always help ourselves. Sometimes we tolerate things we just shouldn’t because we don’t know how to deal with them.

In an earlier post, I wrote about 5 stupid things the church does that interfere with our mission.

Weird and the quirky things don’t help us advance the mission either. Some of them are things we do…some of them are things we encounter as leaders.

Hopefully by being able to recognize them and even—are you ready?—smile at them, we can move through them and make some progress.

quirky things

1. The more off-tune someone is, the more they really, really want to be on the music team

I wish this wasn’t true, but it is. Just ask any worship leader.

Why do worship leaders always need to be the people who tell someone the one thing no one else in a person’s life has ever had the courage to tell them?

Faced with crushing an aspiring musician’s heart, many church leaders decide instead to ignore the tough conversation and instead tell the sound guy to ‘just turn down his microphone.’

I outlined some solutions to this dilemma in this post on why “just turn down his microphone’ is a really bad strategy.

But in a nutshell, the best way to have these conversations is to affirm the intention but refocus the direction.

If you do that, the conversation will sound something like “I’m so glad you want to serve. I’m not sure this is going to be the place for you. Let me help you find a great fit.”

2. The more adjectives in a church name, the stranger the church

Adjectives aren’t inherently bad.

They can be an interesting feature on a dinner menu. When something is hand-fed, organic, locally sourced and maple-infused, two things are true: it will likely be awesome and it will likely be expensive. Apart from the cost, the more adjectives the better when it comes to dining.

But a good thing on the dinner menu can be a bad thing at church.

If you are the First Episcopal Baptist Freestyle Church of the Holiness of the Tabernacle of God, there’s a significantly disproportionate chance unchurched people aren’t going to check out your church.

If you need that many adjectives to explain how different you are from everyone else, everyone else may feel excluded. It just sounds too weird, however awesome your adjectives might sound to you.

A simple church name communicates welcome better than the 12 adjective special from days gone by.

Want to communicate that you’re a welcoming church? Drop some adjectives from your name.

Same goes for a pastor’s title, by the way. If you need to be the Reverend Doctor Brother Pastor X, you’re putting up a wall between you and the people you serve.

3. The longer an email and the fewer paragraphs and spaces it contains, the worse it is

So that single-paragraph, 3 page email with no spaces you got was awful, wasn’t it?

It’s like there’s this secret angry-person email rule book that says the angrier and less helpful you are, the longer you should write and the less space you should put in this document. 

How do you deal with a long, unhelpful email?

Give a short but empathetic reply. Something like “I’m so sorry you feel that way. I’ll take your views into consideration. Thanks, Carey.”

Kills the trolls every time without you being a jerk.

I know what you’re saying…but what if that email is from a key leader that makes a great contribution to our church?

Simple. Key leaders that make great contributions to your church never write emails like that. Ever.

And in the off chance one does…call that leader and schedule a lunch right away. It will probably take less time than a full reply anyway.

For everything else, short, honest, empathetic replies to long emails almost always improve the dynamic.

4. The more mature a person claims to be, the less awesome they are to be around

Ever notice the people who claim to the be the most spiritually mature often are the quickest to judge insiders, outsiders and leaders who don’t think act and behave like they do?

They’re even quick to tell you what God thinks and point out how wrong you are.

Here’s the question that bothers me: Why do the people who claim to speak for God seem to be nothing like Jesus?

Meanwhile, there are people in your church who quietly read the scriptures daily, pray deeply, serve humbly and invite their friends regularly who exhibit all kinds of signs of real spiritual maturity but who never claim to be mature.

I think we have misdefined what spiritual maturity is in the church today. I wrote about that here.

Sometimes it’s best as a leader to ignore the people who claim to be mature and instead, build your church on the people who actually are mature.

Here’s how to tell, by the way, if your church is actually producing disciples.

5. The people who complain the most contribute the least

Too often in church life, the people who complain the most contribute the least.

If you actually had access to the giving records of the people who complain the most, you will often find that lack of charity in their words is matched by the lack of charity in their finances (and deeds).

You can’t advance the mission of the church church on criticism. You can only advance the mission through contribution.

But criticism is always easier than contribution, which is why some people stop there.

Don’t let critics derail the future of your church. Think about what they really contribute…and move on.

Here are 5 healthy ways to deal with your critics. And if you need a little more therapy, here’s a letter I wrote to the person who complains a lot about everything.

Any Other Quirks You See?

Any other quirks you see that you think the church needs to address to get better?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

waste time

5 Things That Are a Total Waste of Time in Leadership

You know the scenario.

You get to the end of a meeting, an experience or a project and say to yourself “That was a total waste of time.”

What’s scary is how often you and I end up saying it.

So how do you eliminate things that are a total waste of time as a leader?

I think the best way is to rule out things categorically.

How do you do that? Just look at the patterns you see that waste your time and simply decide I’m not doing that anymore.

The key is to identify what ‘that’ is.

So here are 5 things that are a total waste of time for any leader.

waste of time

1. Worry

Worry.

So many leaders struggle with it.

And it is almost wholly unproductive.

It’s understandable that leaders have a lot they could worry about.

As I’ve told my team many times, our job is basically to help solve the problems nobody else has been able to solve. That’s why you’re a leader.

Consequently, leadership can be a breeding ground for worry.

But you should do everything in your power to eliminate it.

There’s a world of difference between thinking about a problem and worrying about a problem.

Thinking about a problem will lead you to a solution.

Worrying about a problem leads you nowhere.

Plus, most of what you worry about will never transpires.

As 16th Century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne put it, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

Leaders should think about problems, but not worry about them.

If you’re stuck in worry, how do you get out?

Although I’m not an innate worrier, when I do worry, this has helped me immensely: I make my logic trump my emotions.

If that’s not working, I take it to a group of leaders I trust and lay out the problem for them and get their insight.

Worry hates the light of day.

Once I’ve thought about it and even shared it with others, then I do one more thing:

I focus on what I know to be true rather than what I feel is true.

In a season of worry, feelings are your enemy.

Logic and community are your friends.

So to beat worry, focus on what you KNOW is true, not what you FEEL is true.

2. Meeting with someone who doesn’t need to meet with you

When someone asks you to meet with you, my guess is your default is to say yes.

So is mine.

But play that out. As your church or organization grows, that means you would spend all week every week meeting with people—many of whom didn’t really need to meet at all and most of whom don’t need to meet with you in particular.

Deciding who you need to meet with in advance helps.

My priorities are (in order) our senior staff leaders, our elders, our staff team…and a few key people beyond that. That’s it.

Most leaders waste time meeting with people who don’t need to meet with them.

Do I meet with other people? Yes, but only after those key people have the time they need and after my other priorities are done, which means I do say no a lot (I still hate that, but it’s necessary).

I outline more about meeting people in this post I called Why You Can’t Have Five Minutes of My Time.

While it may sound harsh, it’s liberating and you will get more done. Plus, your church or organization will be positioned to grow as a result. And here’s a primer on how to say no nicely.

And finally, are you addicted to meetings? I wrote this post outlining 5 reasons most leaders spend way too much time in meetings.

3. Over-managing things that don’t need managing

The start-up phase is wonderful and crazy in any venture.

When you’re starting up, everything happens in a frenzy and making it to your next weekend or next milestone is itself a victory.

You don’t have time to manage well because you’re so busy creating.

But eventually, every organization gets out of start-up phase. Which means you have more time for managing.

But too many leaders end up not just managing, but over-managing.

Great management adds value. Over-managing sucks value (and life) out of an organization.

You know those dead-end meetings where you spent forever talking about something that truly deserved 5 minutes? That’s over-managing.

Stop that.

If you can manage something in 5 minutes, manage it in 5 minutes, not 50 minutes.

What should you do with the rest of your time?

Create something new that will lead your church or organization to the next opportunity. Start leading…stop managing the things that will manage themselves.

Over-management, by the way, is one of the reasons so many organizations plateau.

Leadership builds something new. Management organizes what’s already built.

So go build something new.

4. Inefficient email

Email is the currency of business communication today. Spend as little of this currency as you can.

It’s amazing how many hours each day disappear answering mostly pointless emails.

How do you know email is mostly pointless, you ask?

Great question.

Think about the last time you went on vacation and put your auto-responder on.

Yes, there were X hundred emails waiting for you when you got back.

But after attacking your inbox for an hour, you realized you only needed to reply to about 10-20% of them. True?

The world moved on without you.

Why not make that dynamic a reality every day?

Here are some tips to make your email less of a waste of time:

Eliminate reply-alls unless absolutely necessary

Skim read and only reply if you’re adding value to the conversation

Move conversations to face-to-face meetings. Instead of answering 90 emails on a subject, you can clarify the issue in about 9 minutes in a meeting.

Answer long emails with short replies. (This almost always brings an out of control conversation back into line.)

Nobody gets points in heaven for saying “I answered email all day long.”

Let the truly mission-advancing emails get your attention. Minimize everything else.

5. Working when you’re exhausted

A lot of us have more control over our lives than we realize.

If you work in an office setting that doesn’t have fixed hours, exert some control over your workflow.

When you’re exhausted, take a nap. Or go for a walk. Or go home. Or call it a day.

Sure, once in a while, you need to push yourself well past your personal reserves.

But too many leaders try to do this every day.

They show up exhausted. They work exhausted. And they go home exhausted.

Stop that.

Why?

Your brain doesn’t even work properly when you’re exhausted.

What took you 3 hours to do at 7 p.m. might actually take you only 30 minutes at 7 a.m. after you wake up from 8 hours sleep.

That problem you couldn’t figure out all day yesterday finally solved itself in your mind when you went on a walk or took that bike ride.

The next time you find yourself staring at a blank computer screen, walk away. And come back when you’re fresh.

A key ingredient in all this is sleep. I outlined 7 reasons why sleep is a leader’s secret weapon in this post.

Remember this: a rested you is a better you.

Don’t just show up to work. Bring your best to work.

In great organizations, nobody gets paid for showing up.

What About You?

What do you think qualifies as a complete waste of time for you as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

eagles

10 Quotes from The Eagles That Will Challenge Every Leader

Music is the fuel for so much in life and even in leadership.

When I was a kid, Eagles’ music was all over the radio, and thanks to the birth of the classic rock format in music, their music never really disappeared.

While I always liked them, they weren’t one of my go-to bands until I rediscovered them a few summers ago while writing a book. I downloaded one of their albums, then more, and was amazed not only by their musicianship but by their lyrics.

Over the last few years, I’ve not only enjoyed their music in a fresh way, but their lyrics inspired me to think through some of the deeper issues of life and leadership.

Last summer I watched the History of the Eagles documentary—a fascinating study in leadership and human dynamics as the band pretty honestly talks about the tension of being a band and the ups and downs that came with it. It’s actually an intriguing study for anyone who leads a team. And the music is pretty amazing.

Glenn Frey’s recent death not only saddened me, but made me reflect back on his writing. Don Henley and Glenn Frey had a way of capturing life in their lyrics that is both accurate and little too true.

If you’re like me, you’ll agree that leaders can learn from anywhere.

Their lyrics have actually helped me become a better leader; some of their insights really jump out at me.

eagles

I realize songs can be personal things, and no one really knows what the band meant anyway, right?

But each of these phrases have come to mean something to me as a leader and as a Christian (even though the band themselves would not call themselves Christian).

The lyrics below are Ecclesiastes-like observations on life that make me think…again and again.

With poignant honesty, the lyrics reflect the reality of life, ambition, relationships, success and disappointment.

Here are 10 Eagles lyrics that challenge me as a person and leader every time I hear them:

1. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy

That happens, doesn’t it?

It’s so easy for leaders to become self-absorbed.

Often, you end up having conversations with yourself that never end, that loop in your mind again and again. You think about what you’re leading day in and day out.

When that happens, you almost end up taking yourself too seriously.

Eventually, if you’re not careful, leadership can make you obsessed until you’re no longer fun to be around.

Leaders who take themselves too seriously ultimately get taken less seriously by others.

As Glenn Frey sang in Take It Easy: don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.

2. You only want the ones you can’t get

All driven, A-type people, listen up.

These lines from Desperado so encapsulate the struggle so many leaders feel, especially when some measure of success comes your way:

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

Way too true, isn’t it?

What is it that drives us to want less of what we have and more of what we don’t?

There’s a discontent that drives every successful leader that can ultimately prove destructive.

Don’t let the discontent that drives you destroy you.

3. We never even know we have the key

Every leader faces lids. You do. I do.

If you’re the leader, you’re the lid.

Is there a solution?

Well, yes. As the Eagles put it:

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key

This makes me ask the question: do I actually hold the key to an area in which I’m stuck and don’t realize it?

This can happen spiritually (God is willing to do more than you’ve realized), and it can happen in day-to-day leadership.

I outline three ways to break through leadership lids here.

You may be holding a key you don’t even realize. (The lyric is from Already Gone.)

4. You see it your way. I see it mine. But we both see it slipping away.

Stalemates.

They happen happen all the time.

Best of My Love is a song about relationships, but I’ve seen this happen way too often in leadership.

Competing agendas create a stalemate, and neither side wants to engage to the point of breakthrough.

As a result, the mission suffers or even collapses.

You see it your way
And I see it mine
But we both see it slippin’ away

You’ve taken your position on an issue.

I’ve taken mine.

Neither of us is motivated to get past where we stand.

It’s a recipe for collapse.

Here’s what every leader needs to remember: never let your position jeopardize the mission.

5. If it all fell to pieces tomorrow…

A quote from Take It To the Limit:

If it all fell to pieces tomorrow
Would you still be mine?

Leadership and success are intoxicating. This lyric drives at the heart of what matters most.

It’s too easy to sacrifice relationship and even faith amidst the relentless drive of leadership.

If your job disappeared tomorrow, what would be left of:

Your family?

Your faith?

Your personal sense of worth?

Relationships matter more than anything (with God, with each other), but it’s so easy to forget that.

Ask yourself: if you weren’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of your faith, your family, yourself?

6. Half the distance takes you twice as long…after the thrill is gone

Too many leaders lose passion.

The cynicism mounts. The hurts pile up.

As a result, too many leaders fade out or burnout before they’re done.

This lyric from After the Thrill is Gone says it so well:

Time passes and you must move on,
Half the distance takes you twice as long
So you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone

It’s hard to admit out loud that the thrill is gone.

Pride pushes you to think you can handle anything.

Fear keeps you from telling anyone you can’t.

I went through a season of burnout where the thrill was gone, but came back. Here are 7 truths about burnout and leadership.

7. They’ll never forget you ’til somebody new comes along

If there’s one thing social media and 24/7 connection has done it’s this: it’s driven our insecurities sky high.

You actually have a shot a being better known than at any time in history, thanks to our friend the internet.

And sometimes the minor celebrity that comes along with leadership today goes to a leader’s head.

New Kid in Town contains an amazing reminder of how temporary our place is:

They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along

That is so so true.

Success is temporary.

Influence is always given by God for a higher purpose (to serve Him and help others, not to serve you).

A final observation about leadership and significance: Often the people who aren’t seeking to be remembered are the ones we remember.

8. You know I don’t understand why you don’t treat yourself better

By now, you can see dealing with success and fame was a huge issue for the Eagles. Sometimes they handled it well, sometimes it was a huge struggle.

The ability to handle all the fortune and fame was a major contributing factor to the band’s breaking up.

In The Long Run—their last studio album before their breakup—Don Henley sang:

You know I don’t understand why you don’t treat yourself better
do the crazy things that you do
‘Cause all the debutantes in Houston, baby,
couldn’t hold a candle to you
Did you do it for love?
Did you do it for money?
Did you do it for spite?
Did you think you had to, honey?
Who is gonna make it?
We’ll find out in the long run

So…leader…why don’t you treat yourself better?

I’m not talking about perks—I’m talking about you: your heart…your soul.

Often the motive that drives us in leadership needs sifting (even in the church).

Josh Gagnon, pastor of the rapidly growing Next Level Church, and I have an honest conversation about our own insecurities, the emptiness of success and how to take care of yourself as a leader in this episode of my Leadership Podcast. You can listen on iTunes or here.

Leaders who pay attention to the inner journey make it in the long run.

9. One day he crossed some line

Technically, New York Minute is a Don Henley song but the band has performed it together since reuniting in 1994.

Henley captures the story of a man who was gaining the world but lost his soul. As he put it:

But men get lost sometimes
As years unfurl
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore

How do you avoid crossing a line?

Whether that’s a moral or ethical line, a relational line or a decisional line from which there’s no return?

You develop an inner circle of people who will tell you the truth.

I outlined how I put mine together in this post.

10. We are all just prisoners here, of our own device

When you start out in leadership, you think all the obstacles you’ll face are external:

Your title or position

Your boss or team

A limited budget

Finite resources

Constraints imposed by your organization or denominiation

But eventually you realize the biggest obstacles you face are not around you; they’re within you.

As the Eagles sang in Hotel California, we are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

For me, nothing challenges me more than my need to break through the personal barriers I find within myself: spiritual, emotional, relational and mental.

I believe this is an intensely spiritual pursuit.

Few analyzed their inner barriers as openly and transparently than Henri Nouwen did in The Genesee Diary—his inner journey from 7 months in a Trappist monastery in upstate New York. One of my all time favourite books.

Worth a read if you care about your soul.

What About You?

Got any Eagle’s lyrics that have helped you think through life and leadership differently?

Share them below in the comments!

communicator

5 Sure-fire Ways To Get Better As A Communicator When You Plateau

So you really want to get better as a communicator. Great.

But how do you do it? Especially when you plateau?

In the early days as a preacher, speaker or communicator, it’s almost impossible not to get better.

After all, you’re actively learning every time you step behind the mic or podium. You learn a lot quickly and fairly easily.

But eventually, all of us plateau. It might take a year or a decade, but all of us reach the point where we don’t know how to get better.

What makes it more difficult is that most people aren’t public speakers. As a result, there’s a point at which they can no longer give you a meaningful critique.

Ask your best friend, colleague or even spouse what they thought and often you get “That was good” or “That wasn’t your best.”

But the problem is they can’t tell you why.

And if you don’t know why you were good or bad, then you won’t know what made it that way and you clearly won’t know how to make it better.

Knowing something was good or bad but not knowing why is exactly why all of us get stuck.

As a result, you can’t grow.

How do you break through that lid?

I’ve been communicating in public since I was 16 years old. It started in radio, moved to courtrooms (I spent a bit of time in law), then into the church where I’ve been delivering messages for over 25 years, and in the last 15 years into conferences and keynotes and most recently, podcasting.

But I’ve also gotten stuck. For seasons, I’ve not been able to break through to the next level.

So what’s helped me get better?

And more importantly, what can help you?

communicator

If you want to drill down on points 1-3 (below), I recently gave a 15 minute talk to over 20,000 communicators who participated at the recent Preach Better Sermons online conference.

You can watch my talk here. The talk gives much more detail than I can include in this post. But I’ve added two extra tips I didn’t include in my talk…which you can read here.

I’ve learned a lot in the last three years from Preaching Rocket who hosted the Preach Better Sermons event.

Their coaching has made me a much better communicator.

If you want to try out Preaching Rocket, they have a seven day free trial you can access here (affiliate link).

Here are five things that have helped me get better as a communicator every time I’ve gotten stuck.

1. Include a clear call to action to every talk

I know…you’re thinking, a call to action makes you a better communicator? Come on.

But it does.

It’s only in the last 5 years that I’ve realized how critical it is to have a call to action in every talk, largely to the coaching I’ve received from my Preaching Rocket friends.

Why does a call to action make all the difference?

Easy. If people actually do something as a result of your talk, they remember it.

And if you’re a preacher and your call to action is tied to applying God’s word, you actually help them put God’s word into practice and grow in their faith.

Many communicators struggle with making their messages memorable.

Sometimes your messages can be clear and you can even used a prop or visual aid, but they’re still not memorable because nobody did anything different as a result of hearing the message.

If people aren’t different on Wednesday because of what you said on Sunday, change what you say on Sunday.

For example, when I was talking to people at Connexus recently about living in a way today that will help them thrive tomorrow, I had to figure out how to make something vague “pursue health” very specific and actionable.

I walked them through how to set up a fixed calendar that helps them program family, rest and time for God into every week (you can watch the message, called Pursue Health, here. It’s part of the Doing Time series).  It was a hyper practical action step that got a lot of response from people, particularly men. Numerous business people decided to implement a fixed calendar in their life. (I blogged about my fixed calendar practice in this post.)

Don’t blame people for doing nothing after your talk if you never showed them something to do.

It’s amazing how often you can communicate without asking anyone to do anything.

Knowing isn’t the point. It’s what you do with what you know that counts.

So include a call to action every time you speak.

Will everyone respond to each call?

No. But that’s not important.

Over time, many people will take action. And their lives will be different as a result.

2. Solicit user input

We live in an interactive era.

Fifteen years ago, who would have guessed that one of the top websites in the world would feature mostly user-generated content?

Take a lesson from YouTube. Start soliciting user generated input for your next talk, series or message.

User input does three things:

First, It makes sure you’re answering questions people are actually asking. It stops you from guessing. When you know what your audience is thinking and struggling with, you can directly address their challenges.

Second, it creates an instant bond with your audience. They have skin in the game. They’re anticipating your next talk or message because they helped create it and they know you’re going to address issues they’re actually struggling with.

Third, it takes you into places as a communicator you wouldn’t naturally go. We all have ruts and pet topics. Finding out what people are actually dealing with will take you in directions you never would have gone. As a result, you’ll grow.

Want more on user input?

I explain five specific ways to generate user input in this 15 minute Preaching Rocket talk which you can watch here and share some stories about how it’s powerfully changing our message interaction at Connexus where I serve.

Bottom line? When listeners help shape your next message, they can’t wait to hear your next message.

3. Watch or listen to yourself (because everyone else has to)

I admit—watching myself on video is one of the most painful things I do in this life. Perhaps slowly pulling off my fingernails would be worse, but not by much.

And we all hate the sound of our own voice. I still don’t like mine, even though I’m a professional communicator.

Because all but the most narcissistic among us truly hate listening to and watching ourselves communicate, most of us don’t do it.

But that’s a mistake.

You should listen to your messages or talks.

And even if your church or the event you’re speaking at doesn’t record video, you should have a friend shoot your talk on a phone.

And then you should watch it.

And after you’ve watched it, you should watch it again with a friend who loves you enough to tell you the truth.

It will be one of the most awkward things you ever do in your life, but you’ll get better.

You’ll eliminate nervous ticks, speech patterns that don’t help, and awkward body language that distracts.

The reason you want to watch it with a friend is because you’re also a terrible judge of what’s working and what’s not working.

You’ll want to cut out something you do and your friend will say “Don’t do that. That’s the very thing that makes you so endearing/compelling/creative.”

And at other times you’ll say “I think that was pretty good” and your friend will say “Look man, I love you, but that’s got to go.”

You are the worst judge of what you do best. And you’re the worst judge of what you do worst. So pull in an honest friend.

You will be tempted to skip this exercise because it’s so painful.

Don’t.

Make yourself watch yourself. Why? Because everybody else has to.

4. Work ahead

Life is busy, and chances are communicating is something you do in addition to everything else you do.

Preparing for your next talk is also likely the last thing anyone every asks you to do.

They’ll ask you to have lunch, schedule a meeting, pick your brain or go play golf. But they’ll never ask you to work harder on your next talk.

Which is why you need to schedule time in to work on your talk.

And—better yet—work far ahead on it.

I tend to work 1-3 months ahead on my talks. Why?

Because writing a talk is like preparing a stew. The longer it has to simmer, the better it is.

The longer you live with an idea, the more deeply you will own it.

And when you own your ideas, when they live in you, you’ll be a far better speaker.

So work ahead on your next talk.

Your talk will be so much better than the last Saturday night scramble.

Want more, I share some other communicator secrets in this post on how I work ahead.

5. Preach less content more often

For those of us who preach in a local church, this can be challenging, but you should do what you can to preach less content more often.

Let me explain.

There was a day when a preacher used to preach up to 150 messages a year—creating a fresh sermon for Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.

The challenge of course, is that it’s almost impossible to create 150 highly impactful messages in 52 weeks.

In communicating, quantity and quality compete.

One of the current (and welcome) trends in ministry is for preachers to preach less often. With Wednesday night and Sunday night services either disappearing or being shared among a communication team, preachers are preaching less often, which as I outlined in this post on church trends for 2016, is generally a good trend.

Preaching fewer messages translates into preaching better messages for most communicators.

But take it one step further. Preach the same message more than once in multiple venues.

I do that from time to time as a conference speaker. I will re-use ideas and even complete talks and give them in different places.

What does that do? It allows me to polish my talks better.

When you repeat a talk in a fresh venue at a different time, it helps you understand (even better) what worked, what didn’t, and why.

As a result, you grow.

Don’t speak at conferences?

Just take one of your recent messages and see if you can guest preach it at another church. Or present the ideas at a local community group.

Basically, the next time you are asked to speak somewhere, don’t write a new talk. Bring an old talk, polish it and see what you learn.

You’ll learn a ton.

Then take the principles you learned and apply them to writing your next talk.

What About You?

If you want more, you can try the Preaching Rocket free trial for 7 days. Even if you’re a communicator who never ‘preaches,’ I think you’ll get better.

In the meantime, I’d love to learn from you.

What makes you better when you plateau?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

church

9 Things That Worked in the Church A Decade Ago That Don’t Today

So you entered into church leadership full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

And for a season, a lot of those ideas worked.

You saw your ministry grow, people come to faith and the mission advance.

But times change.

And—these days especially—culture is changing faster than ever before.

As a result, the shelf life of ideas, assumptions and approaches is shorter than it has ever been.

What used to work, doesn’t. Not anymore.

The challenge is to know what’s stopped working and what hasn’t.

Not everything that worked a decade ago in the church was great. But the truth is many churches saw growth anyway.

And that’s changing and will continue to change.

What got you here won’t get you there.

Here are 9 things that used to work in ministry a decade ago that aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be.

shutterstock_281195741

1. Relying on an automatic return to church

There was a day when you could fairly safely assume that once young adults got married and had a child, they would automatically come back to church.

Those days are gone or largely gone. (You can catch more about what’s changed in Episode 24 of my podcast where I interview David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group).

The average unchurched person doesn’t think about going to church anymore than the average Christian thinks about going to synagogue. It just doesn’t cross their mind.

Having an exceptional next generation ministry that reaches out to the community is critical.

Want a better way to impact families? I know of no better approach than this.

The Orange strategy is the strategy we use, and our kids’ ministry is the fastest growing ministry at our church.

You can’t assume families will reach out to you, so you need to reach out to them.

2. Appealing to people out of guilt or obligation

The number of people who feel guilty about not being in church on Sunday shrinks daily.

Ditto with the number of people who will serve at a church because they feel they should.

Interestingly enough, Jesus never appealed to people out of guilt or obligation. He invited people.

The future church will as well.

3. Simply being better than other churches

When people went to church, being a better church than other churches got you mileage.

Most people no longer go to church.

Saying “we have a better church” is kind of like saying “we have better, organic, locally grown watercress” at a burger cook-off.

Most people just aren’t going to buy.

Better isn’t going to get you the mileage it used to.

Different will.

The church is an alternative. And an alternative, clearly and effectively presented, will do far better than simply saying we’re better than something you weren’t interested in in the first place.

4. Gimmicks

So true confession. A decade ago we drove a car on stage to get people’s attention.

We also built elaborate sets for every series hoping it would captivate people.

And all of this did. For a season.

But I also came to realize that whatever you use to attract people is what you need to use to keep people.

‘Gimmicks’ every week get old fast.

If you play the ‘next Sunday will be better than last Sunday game,’ you eventually end up losing and lying (because it can’t be).

In addition, eventually people ask “So what? So what if next Sunday is a little bit better than last Sunday? What’s this all about anyway?”

Don’t get me wrong. We still have fun moments, powerful moments, surprising moments and memorable moments, but they’re moments. 

We’ve stripped down our services and moved back to more of the basics: the Gospel, engaging moments and engaging messages.

We can sustain that. And the basics, done really well (with a little extra from time to time) really do engage people.

Why? Because Jesus, authentically and clearly presented, engages people.

5. Inauthentic leadership

People’s fake detectors are set at a higher level than ever.

In a culture that markets everything to death, people are longing for authenticity.

Fortunately, that’s the at the heart of the Gospel.

What has to die, of course, is the leader who acts like he or she has it all together: the plastic veneer we put on hoping nobody sees the real us.

Well, none of us has it all together. And while there shouldn’t be any gaping unaddressed character holes in your life, letting people see the real you (even if it scares you) is essential.

These days, letting people see you’re human is a prerequisite for ministry to fellow humans.

6. A self-centred mission

You have to be careful not to make the mission about your church.

When your church has had a little success, it’s easy to become self-centred.

The people you’re trying to reach aren’t interested in your church.

What they’re interested in (whether they realize it or not) is Jesus. And his mission.

Churches that are obsessed about how big they are, how many programs they offer, and how much better they are than other churches have a limited shelf-life.

The true mission isn’t about your church. It’s about THE church. THAT resonates.

7. Random programming

The bigger your church, the more you will be tempted to add programs and ministries.

Why?

Because people demand them.

Leaders—afraid to disappoint people or lacking an alternative strategy—cave and allow dozens (or hundreds) of random programs to emerge in their church.

These programs can be counter-productive for numerous reasons:

They compete for money, time and attention.

They lead nowhere in particular.

They cause more division than unity (ever try to shut down a women’s ministry or men’s breakfast?).

They become their own mission and compete with the overall mission of the church.

Why does random programming not work?

Simple: because random programming pleases insiders but rarely reaches outsiders.

Instead, be strategic and focused. Do whatever helps move people the most clearly and deeply into a growing relationship with Jesus, and do whatever advances your mission into the city.

Make no mistake: What people become involved in becomes the mission. So choose carefully.

Make the mission your mission.

8. Assuming people know what their next step is

A decade ago, in a more churched culture, it was commonplace to assume that most people knew what they needed to do to become a Christian or to grow as a Christian.

That era is gone.

Now the average unchurched person arrives knowing almost nothing about Christianity, what to do to become a Christian or how to grow as a Christian.

To understand how radically things have shifted, imagine you converted to Hinduism.

How would you know you’ve actually become a Hindu?

What’s your next step?

Exactly.

Just remember that the next time a completely unchurched person begins to attend your church.

At Connexus Church, where I serve, we reorganized our approach to new people around two key phrases: “I’m New” “Take a Step”.

We’re doing everything we can to ensure people understand how to become a Christian, how to engage in spiritual growth and what steps they can take to help them grow.

We even set up two hosted kiosks in the foyer under the phrases “I’m New” and “Take a Step”. Our trained guest services people help orient guests around what step might be best for them to take next.

Leaders, if you’re not clear, no one else is clear either.

9. Relying on what you’ve learned in the past

I suppose at one time there was a day when seminary adequately trained church leaders for what was ahead.

That day has long since passed.

The basics—biblical knowledge, theology and the likes—don’t change dramatically. And shouldn’t. That foundation is reliable years, even decades later.

But there’s a growing gap between what leaders need to know about the culture and what they actually know.

Some seminaries are catching up, but with change happening faster than ever, every leader needs to become a self-learner.

So how do you keep up?

Here are three ways I keep up and try to help you stay current, both as a fellow learner and a content creator.

1. Podcasts

18 months ago, I started a Leadership Podcast…largely because the conversations I was having with key leaders were changing how I approached leadership and ministry.

First, I wanted everyone to be able to hear what key leaders were telling me. And second, I wanted an excuse to have more great conversations with key leaders. Hence, the podcast.

You can subscribe to my leadership podcast for free on iTunes or Stitcher. It’s an interview format in which I interview top leaders about church trends on a weekly basis to stay sharp personally, but also to help you.

Other leaders also have their own leadership podcasts: Josh Gagnon, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Rich Birch, and the great people at Church Leaders. I personally listen to ALL of these podcasts. They help me stay sharp.

2. Conferences

Conferences that really dissect practical leadership are also essential.

Rethink Leadership is a brand new conference in Atlanta I’ll be a part of in Atlanta April 27-29th. You can sign up now for an intimate, senior leaders-only gathering with today’s top leaders like Andy Stanley, Pete Wilson, Reggie Joiner, Jeff Henderson, Leonce Crump, Jon Acuff, Brad Lomenick and more live and in-person.

You can register for Rethink Leadership here.

3. Current Reading

I read a lot of books. Many are timeless in nature (great leadership is). But there are also few can help you digest changing trends in leadership.

That’s exactly why I wrote my latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. It’s all about what’s changing in the church and how to respond.

You can learn more about it or pick up copies here.

Bottom line?

However you decide to stay current, you have to stay current.

What’s Not Working For You?

So let’s help each other. What’s no longer working for you that used to work?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

peaked as a leader

7 Signs You May Have Peaked As A Leader

No leader wants to peak.

And even fewer leaders wants to peak early. I suppose at some point we all peak. But, personally, I’m shooting for that to happen at age 85…or 90.

Yet, peaking happens regularly in leadership; leaders who were great stop being great, even years (or decades) before they retire.

How does that happen?

And–even more significantly–how would you know if that’s you?

Peaking as a leader rarely happens overnight. It happens over a season or a few years.

But there are signs. Ironically, the leaders who peak are often the last to know it.

Here are 7 signs you may have peaked as a leader.

peaked as a leader

1. You’ve stopped learning and want to be the teacher

Being a great leader is really about being a great learner. Great leaders learn daily.

You learn about yourself, about others, about trends. You stretch. You grow.

There’s something inside most of us that asks “When will I be done?”

The answer: never.

Leaders who peak stop learning, and instead, want to become the teacher.

There’s actually nothing wrong with teaching others.

It’s just that the teaching of truly great leaders resonates because they’re still learning. Daily.

2. You feel entitled

When you start out in leadership, you realize you’re entitled to pretty much nothing. Everything has be to earned.

But success brings its privileges.

You might get an office, a parking space, a good salary (finally!), opportunities, perks and even the respect and admiration of your peers.

The best leaders never feel entitled to any of that.

In fact, they consistently use the perks of leadership in service of a mission greater than themselves.

And they do one more thing: they hold it all loosely, realizing that the privileges of leadership came and will one day go.

How do you know whether you’re starting to feel entitled?

Easy…check your gratitude.

Leaders who feel entitled to everything are grateful for nothing.

When perks become an expectation, you’ve peaked.

3. Your stories are about what you did, not what you’re doing or are going to do

Are all your best stories from 5 years ago…or 20 years ago?

It may be a sign you’ve peaked as a leader.

Sure…great things may have happened in the past, but the point is we’re all moving into the future. That’s where leaders take people.

Leaders who have a future are more excited about the future than they are about the past.

Learn from the past. Just don’t live in it.

4. Your heroes and cultural references are from the past

Someone once told me that a person’s favourite music tends to be from when they were 23.

If you’re over 40, you may not like what you hear on the radio these days. But the real danger happens when you don’t know what’s going on in culture anymore, or if you can’t even identify 5 of the artists on today’s Top 40 charts.

When a 23 year old talks about X Ambassadors and you’re wondering what country they’re referencing, or they talk about the Weeknd and you correct their spelling and start listing off what you’re doing on Saturday, they’re less likely to take what you have to say about anything seriously.

I’m not into 50 year olds wearing skinny jeans and pretending they’re 20 (nobody thinks you’re 20 anyway, by the way), but growing older doesn’t mean you have to grow irrelevant.

Staying aware of today’s culture makes you better at leading people in today’s culture.

5. You’ve got instant reasons why new ideas won’t work

Once you’ve done a decade or two in leadership, you’ve made a few decisions.

You might even have a track record of success.

The challenge with success is that it’s easy to become protective of it. It’s easy to fall for the lie that what got you here will get you there.

Almost certainly, at some point, it won’t.

If you’re peaking as a leader, you will end up holding onto your ‘successful’ ideas and ignoring others.

New ideas almost always contain the key to the future. Old ideas usually contain a key to the past.

This doesn’t mean old ideas aren’t worth hanging onto. It just means they won’t get you as far as they once did.

6. You’ve lost your hustle

You know what’s wonderful about the best leaders? They hustle.

Doesn’t matter how successful they are, how old they are or how long they’ve been at it. They hustle.

If you’ve lost your hustle, you’ve lost more than you think.

7. You’ve stopped asking questions

The best leaders ask the best questions.

Leaders who’ve peaked swap out asking for answering.

They love to be the expert. They think they’ve got it figured out.

When you stop asking questions, you’ve stopped learning. Inevitably, you’ll stop leading.

Two Antidotes Against Peaking

So now you see the signs, but what are the antidotes?

I see two: humility and curiosity.

Humility will keep you from feeling entitled or resting on your laurels. It will keep you open and ready to learn from others.

And curiosity will keep you fresh. It will keep you asking questions, keep you learning and keep you listening.

Together, humility and curiosity will keep you leading.

What Do You Think?

Want more?

In this piece, I wrote about 12 often overlooked practices great leaders develop that poor leaders don’t.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you.

What are some other signs that you’ve peaked as a leader? Scroll down and leave a comment.

copy a mega-church

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Copy a Mega-Church

If someone asked you who you’re following in today’s church landscape, you could probably answer with a list of 3-5 church leaders and perhaps 3-5 organizations to whom you’re paying close attention.

Even if you say you don’t have a list, chances are you do.

Your list might simply consist of critics of mega-church leaders or mega-churches.

We all follow someone. Especially in our hyper-connected era.

I am actually exceptionally grateful for what God is doing in many mega-churches and have deep respect for many mega-church leaders. Critics who say “all mega-churches are ______” in my view simply haven’t done their research.

I’m also a massive advocate of adopting best practices from anyone and anywhere (business, church, thought leaders etc).

After all, no one learns in isolation. Very few of us ever come up with an idea ‘no one has ever thought of before.’

In fact, the church at which I serve is a mega-church strategic partner. We have borrowed a TON of insight, strategy and branding directly from North Point and a few others.

And it works. Even in Canada.

So why this post then?

Because there’s a world of difference between adopting best practices and blindly copying.

Here’s the difference.

copy a mega-church

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Blindly Copy a Mega-Church

So why wouldn’t you blindly copy a mega-church?

Here are 5 reasons I’ve both experienced personally and observed widely among other church leaders, and 5 ways to better adopt the practices you see and admire.

For context, I have adopted a TON of learning from mega-churches and many sources over the years, both through transitioning a church (leading three tiny mainline churches into one, growing church that grew to 800) and through church planting (founding a church plant that now reaches 1100 each weekend).

But here are the traps you’ll fall into if you blindly copy your favourite leader or organization:

1. You’ll mix up models

Even back in the dial-up days, some of us used to watch other churches.

I cut my teeth in the late 90s as a budding church leader watching Saddleback and Willow Creek.

Then I went to a conference in 1999 and where I met James Emery White. He asked me about the changes I was making our our three little church and I explained that we were taking best practices from Willow and Saddleback and a bunch of other churches and combining them.

I’ll never forget what he told me.

He said “You don’t understand church models. Those are incompatible with each other. They aren’t the same thing. Carey, you need to become a student of models.”

Guess what? He was 100% right.

So I became a student of models.

While churches like North Point, LifeChurch, Elevation and NewSpring look the same on the outside, they approach ministry differently in many areas: groups, kids ministry, how they structure staff, how they reach out in the community and even the programs they offer.

When you study church models, pay attention to the differences.

Otherwise you might be adopting what you think made them effective, but didn’t. You might end up implementing a fake version of whatever you thought was the original, like buying a Pollo shirt rather than a Polo shirt.

You can’t effectively adopt what you don’t understand.

2. You’ll create an incompatible hybrid

When you mix models, as described above, you can easily end up with a hybrid model that just doesn’t work.

Each effective church you’re studying (be it well known or not) is the product of years of development, prayer, trial and error and fine-tuning until it finally all worked together powerfully.

If you strip a part off one model, borrow another from a second church, randomly select something you like from a third and THEN try to combine into something effective at your church, you’re headed for almost certain failure.

Why? Because there’s a good chance the components you borrowed don’t work well together.

Think of it this way: you can’t easily fix your Android phone with iPhone parts, or your iPhone with Android parts. They’re both phones, but they’re not the same.

If you put most Ford truck parts into a Tesla, it won’t run. They’re both vehicles, but they’re not the same.

In the same way, all the churches you study are churches, but they’re not the same.

You want a compatible system.

Naturally, once you see that certain parts will fit into your system beautifully because you understand the ‘part’ and you understand your system, you can adapt them.

3. You won’t own it

This one’s huge.

It’s easy than ever to attend conferences, read books, skim blogs, follow leaders and borrow a bucketful of ideas.

The challenge, though, is two-fold.

First, the ideas you’re borrowing from the leaders in question was a hard-fought idea. They developed it, revised it, changed it again and reworked it until it finally became an idea worth sharing. It was a part of them before they shared it within anyone. They owned it.

Second—and obviously—you haven’t owned that idea at the same level. And until you do, it might not prove nearly as effective for you as it has for them.

All of that leads us to this: leaders who don’t own their ideas are rarely as effective as leaders who do.

Can you own an idea that you didn’t come up with?

Of course you can.

But usually first, you need to

Wrestle with it

Rethink it back to first principles

Revise it

Test it

Adapt it

Then it’s yours.

Often we steal ideas because we think they’ll work, but we don’t know why they work.

And if that happens, when people ask us questions about an idea, we usually can’t answer them well, if at all.

“It worked somewhere else” is not a convincing line of reasoning.

If you can’t answer a deep line of questioning around an idea, you don’t own it.

4. You won’t change your system

When you’re borrowing ideas from other leaders and organizations, the change you ultimately need to make is deep and structural.

Borrowing a promising idea can be like putting new siding on a house whose foundation is crumbling. It looks great, but you really haven’t solved anything.

As Andy Stanley explains in his classic systems talk, your system—more than anything else—drives your outcome.

Often the change you need to make is deep, systemic and permanent.

As I explain in Lasting Impact, a bad governance system or other structural barriers will restrict the growth of your church.

A pastor who insists on doing most of the pastor care personally will permanently stunt the growth of your church (I explain why here).

If you’re not willing to re-invent everything in your church, you’ll never be satisfied with the change.

Any change usually means a systems change.

5. You’ll ignore context

I’m a little hesitant to mention context because about 99% of the time I hear leaders misuse it.

How? Most church leaders use context as an excuse, not as an explanation.

If you want to be completely ineffective as a church leader, please use your context as an excuse.

I could say more about using context as an excuse (I’m super-passionate about the subject), but I’ve written more fully on it here.

Here’s the bottom line: you can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

That said, there are two contexts leaders routinely miss: theirs and yours.

Think of borrowing ideas the same way you’d think about transplanting a tree: if you want the plant to thrive, you need to match the soil and nutrients of the transplant location to the soil and nutrients of the original location.

And not all plants thrive everywhere. Palm trees tend to do less well in Alaska than in Florida.

Study the source context for the idea:

Is the context a business context?

Is the church in the bible belt or a heavily unchurched area?

Is the church rural or urban?

What’s the ethnic makeup of the organization?

Is it a church plant or an established church?

What makes the leader I’m studying different from me?

Take notes and simply compare and contrast their situation to your situation. This will help you understand the why and the what of the idea or best practice.

Then make any adaptations you need to so the practice or idea thrives in your context.

But don’t use the differences as an excuse why something won’t work. Use it to gain understanding on how to make it work.

Poor leaders list a million reasons why something won’t work. Great leaders find the one reason it will.

Be that leader.

Borrow All The Best Practices and Ideas You Can

So what’s the bottom line?

Borrow (even steal) all the best practices and ideas you possibly can. Especially from successful organizations and churches.

And make sure:

You understand the models you’re studying

All the components of your strategy work together seamlessly

You own it

You’re making the deep system changes you need to

You understand context as way of ensuring your new idea thrives

That’s my best advice in this area.

What are you learning?

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

trust in leadership

How to Tell Who You Can Truly Trust in Leadership

So who can you trust… mean truly trust in leadership?

You’ve trusted people you thought you could trust, only to be disappointed or get burned (sometimes badly).

You’ve decided not to trust someone, only to realize you were wrong and he or she was completely trustworthy, and you missed a great opportunity to grow your team.

Trusting people in leadership can be a disheartening and confusing proposition.

But the stakes are high.

Put an untrustworthy person in a position of influence, and they can do a lot of damage fast.

Misjudge trust, and you will never have the team you need to lead you into a better future.

So…is it possible to tell in advance whom you can trust?

Can you ever build a team that you can stop worrying about, and just, well, trust? 

I believe you can.

Here’s how.

trust in leadership

A Better Definition of Trust in Leadership

First, let’s define trust.

I realize it may seem trite to define trust, but I think trust functions differently in leadership than in life.

Trust isn’t about whether you like someone, have a good feeling about them, or think they have potential.

At its heart, trust is confidence. It’s belief in someone’s reliability.

Trust in marriage is believing that even when you are apart you are faithful to one another.

Financial trust is believing that someone will use your money to your benefit, not theirs.

Trusting someone with your favourite keepsake is believing they will care for it as well as you would.

But leadership is more complex.

Just because you would personally trust someone with your wallet doesn’t mean you should trust them in leadership.

And that’s where many of us go wrong.

Many of us think if a person is trustworthy in life they’ll be trustworthy in leadership.

Not necessarily.

Having great character is a prerequisite to leadership; it’s a devastating mistake to invite people into leadership who lie, cheat, steal and do other untrustworthy things. That’s a given.

But you need a different standard, a more nuanced understanding of trust if your team and organization are going to become all they can be.

3 Ways to Tell Who You Can Truly Trust In Leadership

So how exactly do you assess trustworthiness in leadership, then?

Well, if you’re going to have a team that functions amazingly well that you can fully trust (whether that’s a staff team or a volunteer team), you need to address these three issues.

It’s taken me two decades in leadership to figure out a pattern of trust that’s accurate most of the time.

But once you learn the pattern, it’s easy to utilize.

Is it absolutely foolproof? No, but it’s proven to be a very reliable guide.

So with that said, here are 3 ways to tell who you can truly trust in leadership. I’ve framed it in the form of 3 questions.

1. Are they aligned?

This is the first question because it’s the question most leaders overlook. Ignore it, and it will ultimately sink your ship.

Alignment is critical in leadership. I’m going to assume your organization or church has a specific mission, vision and strategy. Almost every organization worth leading does.

Alignment ensures that your team is all pulling in the same direction.

A person may have outstanding character and a great heart, but if they are not aligned with your mission, vision and strategy, they not be an asset to your team.

In fact, they’ll create conflict.

When you try to steer the ship right, they will try to steer it left. When you want to move forward, they will want to move backward. And eventually, your ship might sink.

Alignment is NOT about putting ‘yes’ people in places of leadership.

Quite the opposite, an aligned team will have vigorous debate about how to accomplish the mission, but you won’t have to go through the frustrating, daily debate of which mission to accomplish.

If you want more on alignment, I wrote about 5 things North Point Church has taught me about alignment here.

2. What are their friends like?

Don’t know who said it, but they were right: Show me your friends and I’ll show you your life. 

One of the best things you can do when thinking about inviting a leader onto your team is to see who they hang out with: like attracts like.

A person’s friendship circle will tell you a lot about the kind of person they are…positively and negatively.

If you admire a potential leader’s friends, chances are you will love working with that potential leader. If you don’t, chances are you won’t.

If you see a circle of high capacity people who are very trustworthy around a potential leader, chances are that leader is trustworthy.

If you see a circle of backbiting, gossip, failed relationships or other struggles, chances are that’s what you’re recruiting.

The character of a potential leader’s friends will tell you a lot about their character.

You don’t need to judge here…you just need to discern.

The health of your organization and team matters too much for you to ignore this.

3. What’s their trajectory?

I love the idea of trajectory in leadership.

Trajectory is simply the path followed by an object in motion. You can predict an object’s future course by looking at its past.

The same is true of people.

Every potential leaders you’re considering has a track record…a past that will indicate how they might perform in the future. This is true even of kids and teens (what kind of student/friend are they?).

Often as a leader, you’ll be tempted to ignore a person’s track record. You’ve fallen in love with them (as a leader). And you’ve convinced yourself that ‘this time will be different….I know he/she just needs a better environment’.

Well, maybe. Kind of sounds like a bad marriage ready to happen, doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t you be wiser to look at their past and ask this question?

What have they done with what they’ve been given?

If they couldn’t make it work before, why would they be able to make it work with your team?

Conversely, if they took a small team and made it healthy and grow, maybe you could trust them with a larger team.

If they’ve been responsible with a little, maybe it’s reasonable to trust them with more. (This sounds almost biblical doesn’t it?)

That’s trajectory: a leader’s past is a preview of their future.

Does that mean you shouldn’t give a person a break? After all, maybe this time won’t be like the last time.

Sure, once in a while you might want to do this. But don’t give that person major responsibility when they’ve been irresponsible in the past. Give them a little bit. And pray for them. And help. And watch. And be honest with how they’re doing.

But never hire out of charity–at least if you want an organization that makes an impact. Charity is charity. Hiring is not. Churches mess this up all the time.

So by all means be charitable and radically generous. Give…and expect nothing in return.

For sure, you should always be helping and ministering to people and learning from people. They just don’t have to be the team you’re counting on to push your mission forward.

If you want to advance your mission, recruit people with the skill set you need for the job. Be charitable. But building a great team is not an act of charity.

Find leaders with a track record you want repeated in your organization.

Want More?

By the way, these three questions work personally too. If you’re wondering whether to invest more time with people, these three questions can clarify a lot.

If you want more on developing high capacity teams, this interview with Chris Lema is worth your time. He drops so many gems on how to develop high capacity talent—from scratch. You can listen below or subscribe to my Leadership Podcast for free on iTunes and jump onto Episode 39 with Chris.

I also write more about creating a healthy leadership culture and building high capacity volunteer teams in my new book, Lasting Impact. Learn more, and even download a free chapter, here.

What do you think?

Any other questions you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!