From Spiritual Growth

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The Fastest Path to Becoming an Ineffective Leader

I was talking to a leader this week who has come under fire from a group in his church who is opposed to the change he and his team are making.

I won’t go into the details, but it’s a change about 99% of you reading this post would advise he make. It’s actually not even that controversial. It’s common sense.

You know what he’s doing? He’s leading.

But he’s getting a crazy amount of pushback from a tiny group of people, less than 10% of his community (as I wrote about here, the opponents almost always a tiny group even when you think they’re not).

He was clearly rattled.

It’s hard to come under fire.

It’s painful to have people spread untrue rumours about you.

It’s tough to see your popularity (even with a small group) sink.

At the core of it, he’s dealing with one of the hardest dynamics any leader faces: opposition. And handling rejection poorly creates the fastest path to becoming an ineffective leader.

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We’re All Afraid of Opposition

Here are the dynamics around rejection and opposition most of us face.

You work hard on an idea. You

Sweat over it

Pray over it

Revise it

Perfect it

And you hope—really hope—that when your idea is unveiled, people will like it.

Before you dismiss that, and announce “I don’t care what people think!” have you ever unveiled an idea or project you sincerely hoped people wouldn’t like?

Didn’t think so.

So the desire to have your proposal accepted is pretty universal, isn’t it?

Almost every leader is afraid of one thing: opposition.

And not just personal opposition, but opposition that rejects your ideas as well. Your hopes. Your strategy. Your dream.

And your dream for the mission.

Here Comes the Trap

What happens next is critical.

When you announce your idea and it’s met with opposition—any opposition—most of us freeze.

That’s the position my friend was in. He was discouraged, dejected and rattled. (That’s actually a sign of a healthy heart by the way. It’s good to be bothered by criticism. Only pathological people aren’t.)

Faced with push back, even from a splinter group, here’s the mistake most leaders make.

Afraid of rejection, you and I revise our ideas until we think they have the greatest chance of acceptance.

And in principle, that’s a good idea. Who wants to introduce something that ultimately only 5 people on Planet Earth are going to find helpful?

But often, in the process of trying to get people to buy in to our initiative, we take the edges off of it.

We dilute it. We compromise. We talk about what’s acceptable, not about what’s best.

And we all die a little inside.

So, because you’ve been rattled, you then re-introduce your slightly watered-down idea/product/change/innovation hoping that people applaud wildly.

Except they don’t. People still don’t like it.

You hear from the critics

A few people leave

More people threaten to leave

You get really scared

So you retreat.

You revise your plan. You sand more edges off. You compromise more fully. You try to offend as few people as possible.

And you die even a little more inside.

Except now, your proposal becomes, literally,  unremarkable.

Maybe You Had Something Remarkable

Perhaps you originally had a remarkable idea.

And criticism, at its heart, is a sign that what you’re proposing is remarkable. Think about it: the presence of critics indicates you might have a truly remarkable idea.

Do you see what you often do when you water down your bold changes as a result of criticism? You change a remarkable initiative into an unremarkable one.

You’ve chosen inoffensiveness over effectiveness.

And being inoffensive ultimately makes you ineffective.

And Suddenly You’re on the Fastest Path To Irrelevance

And that’s why far too many leaders end in a place where they are too afraid to be bold. Too afraid to try something new. Too afraid to even dream.

They reduce potentially great initiatives to the least offensive form they can find, hoping everyone will buy in.

Except that your ability to attract new people just went out the window.

The only people who really like your new idea are a small core of the people who already liked your old idea…and any growth potential is jettisoned.

Here’s the lesson far too many leaders never learn about trying to offend as few people as possible:

If you attempt to offend no one, you will eventually become irrelevant to everyone.

Where does this land you as a leader?

With worship services that are bland enough to inspire no one, including almost none of the 40 or 400 people who are there but who strangely want to keep it that way.

Adopting mission statements so drab they could have been lifted from an HR manual.

With a vision for the future that looks far too much like the past.

It’s not that difficult to head down the path to irrelevance.

Lead Boldly

So what do you do?

Four things can help a leader usher in bolder change and avoid irrelevance:

1. Be Bold

Don’t stop dreaming. Introduce some bolder changes. Incremental change brings incremental results. Bolder change will bring bolder results.

2. Lead with Humility

No one likes an arrogant person; even fewer people like an arrogant leader. Being bold is not a licence to offend. Leading from a place of humility can help you broker change far better than leading from a place of arrogance.

3. Take the Long View

A key difference between leaders who successfully navigate change and those who don’t is the ability to stick out the initial waves of criticism.

The fact that some people don’t like your change is natural. Take the long view and realize that this too shall pass.

And it will pass sooner than you think.

4. Focus on Who You Want To Reach, Not Who You Want to Keep

If you focus on the 10% of people who don’t like the change, you will lose the thousands of people you can reach by making the change.

Again, this is not an excuse to be stubborn, arrogant or bullying. But it is permission to be courageous. To be true to your convictions, and to lead with some conviction and even some occasional daring. I share more specific strategies on how to effectively lead change here.

If your mission is as important as you say it is, it deserves your best leadership and courage.

My Guess Is…

…that you are not trying to be ineffective.

It’s just that gravitational pull we all feel in leadership to please everybody is almost always counterproductive. Sometimes, you even end up being nothing to anyone.

So what’s keeping you back from acting on your best strategy?

What’s keeping you back from being more daring?

It’s fear, isn’t it?

Fear of being rejected.

Fear of offending people.

Well…just know what’s at stake.

Inoffensive is ineffective.

In your attempt to offend no one, you just might become irrelevant to everyone.

My friend called me at just the right time. He hasn’t retreated from his team’s initiative. And he shouldn’t. He’ll keep leading, and his church and community will be better for it. And he’s leading humbly with grace.

Maybe you’re at the cross roads where the push back is becoming so intense from a small group that you want to throw in the towel.

If you have a great idea that you and the team believe is great, hang in there. Just hang in there.

After all, inoffensive is ineffective. And neither you nor your organization want to land there.

What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

vacation rules

Some New (And Better) Rules For Your Next Vacation

Ready for your next vacation?

YES, say most people…even if the last one wasn’t that long ago.

Anyone who’s ever taken a vacation knows that you can come back replenished or exhausted, excited or defeated, or restored or depleted.

It all depends on how you use the time you have.

I just came back from two weeks of vacation, but was amazed by how much vacation ‘advice’ I got.

People told me I needed to go off social media completely. That I wasn’t allowed to do any writing. That I had to completely unplug. That ministry was completely off limits while I was away.

Much of the advice, I think, is wrong…or at least wrong for me.

Well meaning—sure—but still unhelpful.

In fact, I’m becoming convinced that much of the advice you read or is given about vacation is written by people who hate their jobs and think one size fits all when it comes to relaxation.

I realize not everyone has a job they love, but there’s something wrong when work is something you endure to make it to the weekend or to those magical weeks off that happen oh so rarely.

The advice I got bothered me enough that I decided to take a stab at some new vacation rules. There are only three.

See if you agree.

And see if these rules for your next vacation don’t make you feel much better when you come back from your next stint away.

vacation rules1. Do The Things That Restore You

One of the goals of vacation is to come back restored. No matter how much you love your job, leadership is stressful and you really do need a break.

But we have all ended up on vacations that drain you so much that you need a vacation after your vacation.

So how do you do that? How do you come back restored, replenished and rejuvenated?

The reality is that everyone is different.

Some of my friends take all-inclusives and claim it’s the best thing ever.

Others travel and see every historic site in the city, snapping pictures as they go, and swear it’s the only way to vacation.

Still other friends go camping and say they come back exhilarated. (I personally believe camping was invented by the devil. If God made us smart enough to build hotels and houses, after all, isn’t it unfaithful to revert to the bush? But I digress…)

All three options above, frankly, are unattractive to me. If I followed their prescription, I’d come back bored (all inclusive), exhausted (the uber site seeing trip), angry (the camping trip) and not restored at all.

Over the years I’ve learned that certain things restore me and certain things don’t.

The same is true for you. What works for your best friend may not work for you.

So now, on holidays, I personally look for the following things, knowing that if I have them, I come back feeling great.

A place where I can be with my wife and or wife and kids (our kids are young adults now, so they’re not always with us).

A place where no one knows me or my family or (alternatively) where we’re with just a handful of our extended family or best friends.

An opportunity for a few hours every day all alone, by myself with few to no interruptions (increasingly, I’m an introvert).

A vacation with no set agenda (don’t need to be anywhere or do anything at any given time).

A place where we don’t need to cook, but can make a few things ourselves if we want to.

The flexibility to do spontaneous day trips if we feel like it, or not.

Wifi or decent internet access.

I realize this might sound like purgatory to some of you or a nightmare scenario for others.

I’m not telling you this is how you need to spend your vacation. I am telling you this is how I best spend mine if I actually want to be restored.

My wife Toni has a list that would look a little different. She’d have more adventure and socialization than I would. And she has no desire for internet access at all unless we’re researching a day trip.

So we have worked really hard over the years to make sure each of us gets the environment we both need to come back restored. Ditto with our kids.

Often I’ll start the day with the question “What do you need today to make this a great day for you?” Toni usually asks me the same thing.

With a full day ahead of us, we can usually figure out a way to make sure we both get replenished.

Please hear me. Your day will look different.

The question you need to answer is what do I need to do to come back restored? 

Then do it.

Stop living some else’s vacation and start living yours.

2. Do The Things That Energize You

Do you have any idea what energizes you and what drains you?

As I’ve matured as a leader I pay more and more attention to this every year.

The reality is certain activities and even environments restore me; others drain me.

Ditto for you.

One of the best things you can do for yourself as a leader (and human being) is to figure out what restores you and figure out what drains you. Then spend as much time as you can on what restores you, and as little time on what drains you.

This is great work advice (at least as far as you can control what you do with your time), but it is essential vacation advice.

Let’s face it. Certain people energize you. You leave feeling great and think How did two hours slip by so fast?

Other people drain you. You leave a 30 minute meeting feeling depleted and like the 30 minutes actually lasted a month.

That’s not good or bad. It’s just true.

The same is true with activities. Certain things get you really excited. Other activities make you feel like you’d rather poke out your eyes with a hot stick.

The key is for you to understand which is which.

I actually outlined how to create an energy management list in this post if you want to create one for yourself.

I make sure in every vacation that I spend time doing things that energize me.

For me these days, that everything I listed above and also includes blogging (at least a bit), writing (I started the intro to a new book) and even a Periscope session for leaders and listeners. I even thought through some fresh angles on ministry.

Why did I do these things on my vacation? Because I felt like it. And because I felt better after doing it than I did before.

These things give me energy. Your list might be completely different. That’s okay.

If you can figure out what gives you energy, you will come back replenished.

Just don’t let other people judge you for doing what you love to do.

3. Avoid What Drains You

All of us have things we have to do but leave us feeling diminished and depleted.

And similarly, we have people who drain us as I indicated above.

I would strongly urge you to avoid as many draining activities and people as you can while on vacation.

For example, I really detest email. I know it’s necessary, but I really don’t like it. I love putting my auto-responder on that says I’m going to be away for a few weeks.

I’m also blessed with a great assistant, and I have her go through my email while I’m away to answer as much as possible. That way when I get back, I’m not digging out from hundreds of emails.

I no longer feel any guilt for unplugging from email, even while I might selectively show up on social media or my blog when I’m away. Or in church (because I love our church and the local church).

And I try to surround myself with people who energize me, knowing I’ll have to be back to connect with all kinds of people in just a few short weeks.

Is This Just Selfishness?

The thing I’ve struggled with over the years—and even as I wrote this post—is this: isn’t this just really selfish?

I don’t think so.

It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s essential.

Jesus practiced it all the time (he kept disappearing to rest and to pray and connect with his Father, even when people still wanted to see him).

Leaders who don’t practice self-care burn out, as Perry Noble and I learned the hard way and talked about in this interview below. 

If you practice self-care regularly (not just on vacation), you’ll find you will stay far away from burnout and you’ll avoid the trap of self-medication which so many Christian leaders fall into.

That’s It

So those are my current new vacation rules.

1. Do the things that restore you.

2. Do the things that energize you.

3. Avoid what drains you.

Pretty simple, but for me at least, very effective.

Got any rules or insights you would add? Scroll down and leave a comment.

gay marriage church christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. The church has always been counter-cultural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

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

Please don’t get me wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

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

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

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

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

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the path crystal clear? No.

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

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

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

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

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

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

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

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

————

Caleb’s Story

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

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

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

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

pastors moral failure

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

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

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

It’s heartbreaking.

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

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

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

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

So, once again, I ask myself

Why does this happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pastors moral failure

5 Signs I Might Be Headed for a Moral Failure

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

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

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

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

1. I’ve chosen isolation over community

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

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

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

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

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

Who really knows what’s going on?

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

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

Bringing darkness into the light breaks its power.

2. I’ve stopped confessing my sins

I am convinced that confession is a lost art.

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

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

I need to bring it all before God.

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

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

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

Confession is designed to stop what sin starts.

3. I’m not thinking of the consequences

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

But sin always has consequences. Often horrible consequences.

Keeping the consequences in mind can be so so healthy.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps this is why leaders fall more frequently than others.

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

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

This is so, so dangerous.

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

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

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

5. I see failure as my best escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are You Learning?

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

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

No one. Not me. Not you.

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

5 Signs Your Passion Level in Ministry is White Hot

If there’s one characteristic I see in successful leaders, it’s passion.

The more church leaders I connect with, the more I see this trend: leaders of growing churches (and growing organizations) have a white hot passion for their mission.

You can hear it in their voice.

You can see it in their eyes.

It spills out of them.

If you want to see it in action, listen to this message by Perry Noble. His personal passion for the mission of his church oozes out of him as he speaks.

It echoes one of my favourite quotes from John Wesley: Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.

By contrast, leaders of stuck or declining churches or organizations generally do NOT burn with drive, desire or passion.

In fact, I can’t think of a single leader of a growing church who isn’t passionate about their mission.

The problem for most of us is we can’t tell what kind of leader we are. We live in our own skin. It’s hard to get an objective read on our passion level.

I think there are 5 ways you can tell if you’re truly passionate about what you do.

Will your passion level always be white hot? No.

My passion level has gone up and down in seasons, but overall, for me to be effective as a leader, it has to be high.

I know that in the seasons in which my passion has been white hot, I’ve led the best.

Here are 5 signs your passion level is white hot.

1. You have a hard time shutting down

Passionate leaders have a hard time shutting down. They are obsessed with the mission.

This isn’t workaholism…that’s different.

I’m talking about people who care so much that it becomes part of who they are.

And yes…I realize there’s a ton of potential pitfalls in being obsessed with your work or even having your identity wrapped up in it.

But I don’t think Jesus spent most of his days pining for 4:00 so he could go home and watch Jeopardy after dinner or work on perfecting his golf score.

Yes…he took breaks and rested. But his burden was always for people and for his Father.

To be transparent, I’ve grown a little weary of people who call for ‘balance’ in life and in mission. As I outlined in this post, most leaders who make a significant difference don’t live balanced lives; they live passionate lives.

Of course, there is a ton of meaning outside work, but too many people forget there is a ton of meaning inside work and ministry.

Obviously, to make life work, you need clear boundaries. The best leaders leaders find clear boundaries, but as a rule, they have to restrain themselves from putting too much time into the mission.

If you want to see what happens when you put TOO much time into the mission, you can listen to Perry Noble and I talk about our periods of burnout in this interview. Plus there’s a ton of helpful resources on this page to help anyone who’s burning out.

The goal isn’t burnout—it’s passion. And passion can be hard to turn off.

That’s actually a good thing!

2. You invest on your own dime and your own time

I think what you do on your own dime and your own time speaks volumes about your heart.

If work is something you do only when someone else is paying or when you’re officially on the clock, it speaks volumes about what you really value.

I’ve worked in churches that have had no budget and I’ve probably over-invested in the ministry at the expense of my family. That’s not what I’m talking about.

But truly passionate leaders don’t mind picking up the check personally, or taking part of a ‘day off’ to work on a project or help someone out once in while.

If you’re only working when you’re working or paying when someone else is picking up the tab, chances are your passion isn’t white hot.

3. Possibilities excite you more than problems weigh you down

Passionate leaders are always more excited about the possibilities than they are weighed down by problems.

In every organization there are problems, and sometimes there are BIG problems.

But passionate leaders are determined to remove problems—even big ones—and get moving because the possibilities are so exciting.

Where other leaders see only obstacles, passionate leaders see opportunities.

If you see more problems than possibilities, it will be hard to motivate a team to follow you.

So how do you get your eyes off the problems?

Leaders who focus on the possibilities find the problems tend to take care of themselves.

Leaders who focus on the problems find the possibilities eventually evaporate.

Choose your focus carefully.

 

4. You can’t stop investing in people

Don’t get me wrong, passionate leaders have hobbies and pursuits that have nothing to do with work.

They cycle or fly fish or BBQ or run marathons or camp or do yoga.

But passionate leaders can’t help but see people through the lens of their life mission. They pray for their neighbours. They throw parties for unchurched friends.

They hang out with people who are far from God because it’s part of who they are, not just a part of what they do.

They become beacons in their community and people who want nothing to do with Jesus come to them for advice.

They can’t help but bring the love and hope of Jesus in some way into every aspect of their lives.

5. The mission is something you GET to do

We have a very negative view of work in our culture (especially Canadian culture). That can seep into our world view as church leaders.

Not every day is going to be a picnic in ministry. You will have headaches and frustrations.

Some days you will drag yourself in. You will make yourself do what you’re called to do simply because you’re called to do it.

And even though I’ve said “Love what you do and you’ll never work another day in your life” before, I agree with Jon Acuff that the saying isn’t 100% true. (Read Jon’s awesome perspective here).

Some days are work. And that’s okay.

But overall, leaders who have a white hot passion for their mission realize work is something they get to do, not something they have to do.

The difference in your attitude will leak to your team and to your congregation.

And Christians, we GET to do this! God could have brought hope and forgiveness to people any way he wanted to, but he chose you.

Ministry is a privilege, not a burden.

Do what you love…and you’ll love what you do.

What do you think?

What are some signs you’ve seen that a leader’s passion is white hot?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church

You hear it all the time.

I’m done with church.

I don’t really need to go to church…my relationship with God is personal.

I’ve had it with organized religion.

The church is a man-made invention, not God’s idea.

I completely understand why a growing number of people are bailing on church. Even people who used to lead in the church often stop attending (here are 9 reasons why church leaders do that).

We’ve spent a lot of time working through the issue of declining church attendance (and growing disillusionment with the church) on this blog and in my leadership podcast. (For a summary of the issues, here’s a piece on the 10 reasons even committed church attenders are attending church less often).

I get it.

The church is far from perfect. Life is complex. There are growing options. And the post-modern mind distrusts most things organized or institutional.

But as trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake.

While writing off the church passes as sophisticated thinking, it’s actually the opposite; what if it’s a simplistic and even reductionistic line of thinking that leads nowhere constructive?

The church isn’t even biblical, is it?

People argue the idea of church isn’t even biblical.

So let’s start with the basics.

First if you’re a Christian, church is not something you go to. It’s something you are.

You can’t disassociate from church as a Christian anymore than you can disassociate from humanity as a person.

You don’t go to church. You are the church.

Second, the church was not a human invention. Half-reading the New Testament with one eye closed will still lead you to the inescapable conclusion that the church was God’s idea.

In fact, most of the New Testament is not about the teachings of Jesus. It’s about the work of the church that Jesus initiated and ordained. I won’t fill this post with scripture verses that prove my point, because, quite frankly, you’d have to get rid of the majority of the New Testament to argue that the church was a parenthetical, made-up organization.

If you want to get rid of the church, you also need to get rid of Jesus.

You can’t have one without the other.

Maybe what bothers you should actually amaze you

I understand that the idea of the church being imperfect makes some people despair.

But rather than making us despair, the fact that Jesus started the church with imperfect people should make us marvel at God’s incredible grace.

That God would use ordinary, broken human beings as vessels of his grace, and delight in it is awe-inspiring. He’s proud of how his grace is beating through your imperfect-but-redeemed life and through the church (have you ever read Ephesians 3: 10-11?).

The idea that God would use you and me is pretty amazing. He had other options.

He could have spoken to the world directly, but instead chose to use broken people to showcase his grace to a world in need of redemption.

For sure, community is messy.

People sin. Leaders are sinful.

Most of the New Testament is not a story of an idealized church where everything worked perfectly all the time (just read 1 Corinthians any time you’re frustrated with your church).

Most of the New Testament is a story of Jesus using his followers to spread his love in spite of themselves and as they overcome obstacle after obstacle.

The fact that Christ uses flawed people to accomplish his work on earth is actually a sign of his grace, not a sign of his absence.

The church’s story, as twisted as it gets at times, is a beautiful story of God’s grace, God’s power and God’s redemption.

So, by the way, is your life, which reflects the story of the church more than you would want to admit.

The church gives the world a front row seat to the grace of God.

The ultimate consumerism isn’t going to church…it’s walking away from it

People criticize the church today as being consumeristic. And to some extent, churches cater to consumerism—often to our detriment. I agree that consumerism is a problem for Christianity.

But ironically, much of the dialogue about why people are done with church pushes people deeper into Christian consumerism than it pushes them into deeper discipleship: Here I am, all alone, worshipping God on my schedule when it’s convenient for me.

Listening to a podcast of your favourite preacher while you’re at the gym or on the back deck and pushing three of your favourite worship songs through your ear buds does not make you a more passionate Christ follower.

It usually makes you a less effective one.

Disconnecting yourself from community is actually less faithful than connecting yourself to a flawed community.

If you think the church today isn’t enough (and arguably, we need to reform it), then do what the early Christians did.

If you want a more biblical church…don’t gather weekly, gather daily. Before dawn.

Get up before the sun rises to pray together with other Christians before you go to work. Pool your possessions. Don’t claim anything as your own.

Be willing to lose your job, your home, your family and even your life because you follow Jesus.

Then you’ll be more authentic.

And notice that the early church did indeed gather. 

Gathering always leads to some form of organizing.

To pretend the church doesn’t need to be organized is as logical arguing that society doesn’t need to be organized.

Because community is inevitable, organization is inevitable.

Our ability to organize and to accomplish more together than we can alone is one of the crowning achievements of humanity, and our ability to work together makes Christian effort far more effective. 

It’s also part of God’s design for how we should interact while we’re on this planet. Come to think of it, heaven is a community too.

The only one who wants us to believe that we are better off alone is our enemy.

If you really think about it, it’s actually a very clever tactic.

The church has helped even those who resent the church

Finally, if you’re reading this article and you have any modicum of faith in Jesus, may I suggest your faith is actually the result of the mission of the church.

Very few people come to know Jesus because he appears to them supernaturally when they are alone and calls them by name.

Does that ever happen? Sure. But not to 99.9% of us.

Almost all of us who follow Jesus have had our lives changed by a flawed body called the church that Jesus so passionately loves and calls his own.

Think about that.

We need more church

Do we need more churches? Yes.

Do we need more humble churches? We do.

Do you we need authentic, transparent leadership? Absolutely.

Does the church need to change? Without a doubt.

The church needs continual reformation and transformation.

So what will the future look like?

Will we gather in quite the way we do today in the future? In some ways yes; in others, no.

Hopefully we gather more frequently and work through our differences at a deeper level and impact our communities more powerfully.

These two posts offer 10 predictions about future church attendance and 11 traits of churches that will impact the future.

But regardless of how the church gathers in the future, we will gather…we need to gather.

We Christians need each other, probably now more than ever.

And even if you don’t think you need other Christians, I promise you you do, and so does our world.

Now, more than ever, the world needs Christian working together humbly under Christ to lead people into a growing relationship with him, in whatever innovate and fresh forms that takes.

The church is not dead.

Far from it.

Maybe it’s just beginning to take shape for a brand new era that desperately needs it.

Carey and Toni Nieuwhof

20 Honest Insights on Making It To 25 Years in Marriage

This month, my wife Toni and I celebrated 25 years of marriage.

I love her more than I ever dreamed of.

And it’s also been a totally different experience than either of us thought it would be.

I love this picture of us leaving our wedding reception, because in many ways it show us stepping out into the world when we honestly had NO IDEA what life would bring us. We just had hopes and dreams.

Carey and Toni Nieuwhof

I have no data on this, but I think leaders perhaps struggle in their marriages more than others do.

Anecdotally, at least, I hear from leader after leader who says it’s been tougher at home than they thought it would be. And Toni and I have had our share of struggles for sure.

If you’re looking for a post on marriage that outlines how couples should do 5 things that will make their marriage perfect, you need to read someone else’s blog.

The truth is, marriage is work. Hard work. But it’s wonderfully hard work.

Both of us have felt more pain than we ever knew was possible, and more deep joy than we ever realized existed.

I love her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything (except Christ, of course).

Our love has grown richer and better over time, but we’ve also had a few seasons where we wondered whether love had vaporized. There were seasons where the only reason it wasn’t over is because Jesus said it wasn’t over.

So we stayed. And our emotions eventually caught up with our obedience.

Through it all, Christ has kept us together and brought us a more wonderfully fulfilling relationship than either of us knew was possible.

On the other side of deep pain is deep joy. You’ve just got to make it there.

So what’s the key?

Well, there’s no one key, but here are 20 honest insights about making it to 25 years in marriage.

Some are observations. Some are directives. Either way, I hope they help WHEREVER you are in your marriage.

1. Love is a decision, not an emotion

My dad always told me that love is an act of the will. He was right.

Culture says that love is an emotion. It’s something you feel, not something you do.

Culture couldn’t be more wrong.

True love is a decision…a decision to place someone else’s well being above yours. To stick through the tough times. To love when you don’t feel love.

God isn’t thrilled with you all the time, yet he loves you. It’s a decision, not an emotion.

2. Your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience

There have been a few seasons in our 25 years where we stayed together simple because we were being obedient. (I’d say Toni had to exercise her obedience more than I did.)

So you stay when you feel like leaving. You stay when you feel like doing something irresponsible.

You just obey what you believe God has called you to do in the situation. I believe God has called me to stay married to one woman for life, and Toni believes God has called her to stay married to one man for life.

And in the process of being obedient, we both discovered something incredible: your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.

Though the joy may have left for a few days, a few weeks, and once or twice, for a season, it came back. Deeper, richer and more abundant than we ever expected.

3. Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions

So you can see I’ve learned not to trust my feelings, because like the rest of creation, my feelings were victims of the fall.

A quick lesson: don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.

Sometimes we defied stereotypical Christian advice and went to bed angry. But at least we went to bed together. And reason usually returned with the dawn.

Thank goodness on those days when emotion clouded judgment we just decided not to decide.

There’s wisdom in that for life, not just for marriage.

4. Live your story…not someone else’s

You will be tempted to compare yourself to other couples and other ‘leadership’ couples you admire. That can be healthy. It can also be horrible.

Live your story.

I’ve heard famous preachers say they’ve never had a fight about money. I promise you we have.

You can feel terrible about that and think “what’s wrong with me?”, or you can bring that before God and work it out together.

One of my all time favourite Andy Stanley series is The Comparison Trap. If you struggle with ‘why aren’t we more like X?”, watch it.

5. Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook lie

Nobody’s life is as great as they make it out to be on Instagram.

If you’re comparing your real life to someone else’s posted life, you will implode.

Not much more to say about that. You know what I mean.

6. Don’t put pressure on your spouse that only God can bear

I heard this from Tim Keller a few years ago (do not have a source…sorry).

With the disappearance of God from more and more of our culture, people have lost a sense of the divine and the majestic.

Consequently, our desire to worship—no longer directed toward God—gets directed at our spouses and children. It places pressure on them they were not designed to bear, and many marriages and families collapse from the pressure.

Pinterest has placed a ridiculous amount of pressure on wedding receptions and even home decor that the average family can’t live up to. The kind of majesty that used to go into a cathedral now goes into a two year old’s birthday party.

There is something fundamentally flawed with this, and the sooner you take that pressure off your spouse, off your kids and off yourself, the healthier you become.

7. You probably married your opposite

All those things you loved about your spouse when you were dating are the some of the things that will drive you crazy when you’re married.

We just get attracted to our opposites.

Knowing that is progress in itself, and will help you delight in your spouse (when he or she isn’t driving you crazy over said opposites).

8. Counsellors are worth it

Toni and I first started seeing a counsellor when we were in our mid thirties. I should have gone when I was in my twenties.

I don’t know where I’d be as a person, husband, father and leader without the help I’ve had from some incredible Christian counsellors who have helped me see where I need grace and redemption.

I resisted going to counselling. If you’re resisting, stop. There’s freedom on the other side.

9. Progress starts when you see that you’re the problem

We had a great couple of first years, but when tension arose I thought none of it was my fault.

After all, I had little conflict as a single guy, so who had to be bringing all this tension in my marriage? Couldn’t have been me.

I could not have been more wrong.

Now I just assume I’m probably the problem. And I usually am. It’s simpler that way…in life and leadership.

10. Your unspoken assumptions can sink you

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything…or so we think.

In the kitchen, I take an ingredient out, and then I put it back. And wipe the counter. Then I take the next step in cooking whatever I’m cooking.

Toni takes everything out, makes a glorious meal, and cleans up later when the food is cooking.

assumed my way was the right way. But there’s no right and wrong here, just different.

Yet we didn’t know what was driving our kitchen tension until we named it. Now we can laugh at it (most days).

When you surface the assumptions…you mitigate the conflict.

11. When you agree on values, you’ll agree a lot more

Because it’s often the little things you fight about, it’s important to understand where you agree on the big things.

Big things would include your faith, your approach to parenting, your philosophy of life, your priorities, your finances and more.

When you agree on your values, you’ll agree on a lot more.

12. Remember that if you leave, you take all your unresolved problems to your next relationship

This is simply true, and you’ve seen it 1000 times in others.

And you think you’ll be the exception to the rule.

You won’t be.

13. Pray together

Pray together. Out loud.

Yes it’s hard. Yes it’s awkward.

Yes, men resist it. And yes, pastors resist it.

Do it.

14. If you’re a guy, lead your marriage spiritually

My wife and I met in law school. A progressive, left-leaning law school.

Had I even suggested in any way that I was the spiritual head of a home, I would have been laughed out of the school. Or maybe arrested.

But 25 years in, there’s no question I need to lead my wife spiritually. My leadership needs to reflect Christ’s leadership (a servant’s attitude motivated by love), but it’s still leadership.

Most men resist taking spiritual leadership at home. Most male leaders resist taking authentic, Christ-motivated loving leadership at home.

Start leading in love.

15. Go on weekly date nights

In the early days we had no money for date nights. We went anyway.

When your kids are young, it’s especially important because most of your conversation is ‘transactional’ (you cook…I’ll drive the kids to soccer).

In the rough seasons, sometimes we’d spend the first half of date night resolving arguments we couldn’t finish in the hum of every day life. Not fun, but probably healthy.

But we had some awesome date nights too.

Don’t have time? Don’t have money?

Well, if you broke up, you’d date your new girlfriend.

So instead, date your wife. Your kids will thank you for it.

You’ll thank yourself for it one day too.

16. Don’t make your kids the centre of your family

In today’s culture, kids have become the centre of many homes.

Parents have stopped living for Christ and for each other and started basing all their decisions around their kids.

There are two problems with that.

First, your kids eventually leave…leaving you with a gaping hole.

Second, putting your kids at the centre of your home communicates to them that they’re more important than they are. And they know it. As Tim Elmore has suggested, this approach produces kids with high arrogance and low self-esteem.

Child-centered parenting produces self-centred kids.

The best gift you can give your kids is a Christ-centered, healthy marriage.

17. Take personal vacations WITHOUT the kids

We were one of the few couples among our friends who did this, but every year Toni and I would get away even for a night or two WITHOUT the kids.

Our friends would tell us it had been 3, 5 even 10 years since they’d done it.

I’m so glad we took the time to do that. It renewed and remade us. We made significant progress on our relationships so many times we did that. Plus…so much of it was fun.

18. Take family vacations every year

We also took family vacations every year. Often they weren’t glorious. We did what we could afford.

But our kids (now 23 and 19) tell us it was one of their favourite things growing up and something that really bonded our family.

I wrote more about why and how we took those vacations in this Parent Cue post.

Bottom line? You don’t have to go to Disney…you just have to go.

19. Figure out how to be a couple again BEFORE your kids grow up

When our then 16 year old drove off in the car with his brother on the day he got his driver’s licence, Toni and I were left standing in the living room waving good bye.

Then we looked at each other and said “Oh my goodness…before we know it, they’re going to be gone.”

We realized we had WAY more life ahead of us where it would just be us.

So we started new hobbies we could enjoy together (snowshoeing, hiking, cycling) and really worked on our friendship.

My favourite thing to do on my days off is to hang out with my best friend.

20. Open the gift of sex…it’s from God

There’s so much funk about sex. For the record, I believe marriage is the context God designed for sex.

The irony of course is that too many married couples lose interest in sex. I’ve met way too many people who tell me (because I’m a pastor I guess) that they live in a sexless marriage.

Significantly, our culture only glamorizes sex outside of marriage.

When was the last time you saw a married couple on TV or in a movie in a love scene? Right…you can’t remember.

You’re probably even thinking gross, I wouldn’t want to see that. (Not that any of us should be watching steamy scenes, but you get the point).

And now you see the problem.

Why, in our culture, is it not weird when a couple at a bar in a movie hooks up or a wife whose husband is out of town gets it on with her boss, but it is weird when two people who have committed to each other for life have sex?

Why?

Married people: sex is a gift. Open it.

The more emotionally, relationally and spiritually close you get to your spouse, the better it gets.

Okay, that’s about all I’m comfortable saying about sex. :)

What About You?

I could not be more excited about the next 25 years. It feels like we have a foundation for more joy, less pain, and more of Christ…together. It hasn’t been easy…but it’s been completely worth it.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have made it through 6 months, a year, 10 years or 50 years of marriage.

What are you learning? What’s helped you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

meetings

5 Signs Bad Governance Is Stifling Your Church’s Growth and Mission

You probably almost didn’t open this blog post, did you?

Governance?

Who cares about governance?

Well, if you care about church growth and accomplishing your mission, read on.

I’m convinced bad governance is a key contributing factor as to why many churches don’t grow.

And, conversely, I’m convinced that good governance is a key factor as to why some churches do grow.

In fact, there’s a good chance bad governance is frustrating you right now…and you might not even know it.

Bad governance…or maybe more charitably, unhelpful governanceis pretty much the norm in church world. Even if you have decent people on your board or boards, the system itself is sometimes the obstacle.

I’ve never heard a conference talk on how governance can help a church grow. I’ve never seen a webinar on it. Apart from this really good blog post and this great book, I haven’t seen much at all.

But if you spend 3 minutes going over these 5 issues, I think your church could end up poised for greater growth. Or at least you’ll have better insight into why things aren’t going the way you hoped they’d be going.

Bad governance is the silent killer of many great church missions.

meetings

Don’t Be So Emotional

Before we jump into the signs that bad governance is stifling your church’s growth, a few words.

I realize that many denominations pride themselves on governance as much as they do on theology. I get that.

So as you read through this you might be tempted to think I’m being unbiblical in my critiques or even insensitive to your denomination’s approach. As a former member of a denomination, (I lead a non-denominational church now), I can empathize.

Yet many forms of church governance are not so much biblical as they are historical, which means they should be open to change. Most governance systems were designed to work in an era when churches were smaller, when communities and cities themselves were smaller, and when we were not living in a post-Christian era.

This doesn’t mean all vestiges of historic church governance should be ousted. But I’ve seen many cases where church governances hurts the mission of the church more than it helps the mission of the church. What worked 200 years ago has stopped working today.

Churches that are willing reformulate governance (within the parameters of scripture of course) will do far better than those who don’t.

So as we go through these 5 signs related to bad church governance, try not to get defensive. Stay open. There’s too much at stake not to rethink everything in the church.

5 Signs Bad Church Governance is Stifling Your Church’s Growth and Mission

So how does governance hurt the mission rather than help it? Here are 5 signs your governance is working against your mission, not for it:

1. Your board or congregation loves to micromanage

Small churches are notorious for wanting approval on every decision, from the paint colour in the kids ministry rooms to every hire in the church, to every minute curriculum change.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

Why?

Once you reach a certain size, ministry becomes complex enough that two hours a month or even a monthly congregational meeting isn’t nearly enough time to meaningfully review the issues before the congregation.

Just think about it for a second.

A pastor or staff member will have spent 160 hours working on issues in a month…minimum. A board member might spend two. A congregational member might spend an hour..or, more likely, about 30 seconds, before passing judgment.

How can a board make a decision on every item in the allotted time? How on earth can a congregation?

Yet it’s not that hard to find board members and congregational members who have opinions on everything…no matter how ill-informed those opinions might be.

Boards and congregations that micromanage keep their churches small because of their need to control every decision.

Churches in which boards micromanage rarely grow beyond 200 attenders because the issues facing churches larger than that require boards to stop micromanaging (here are 7 other reasons churches never break the 200 attendance mark).

Micromanaging shrinks the size of the congregation back to the size in which everything can be ‘controlled’.

One more thing on micromanagement.

Great leaders never say “Please micromanage me.”  So if you want to repel great leaders, micromanage them.

2. Your congregation demands consensus

Somewhere along the way someone got the idea that everyone has to agree with every decision.

I think that someone is crazy.

Where on earth did the idea that we need consensus on every decision emerge?

If Moses had waited for consensus before leaving Egypt, the Israelites would still be in slavery.

Consensus kills courage. Churches that look for consensus will never find courage, and churches that find courage will rarely find consensus…at least initially.

When you drive for consensus, decisions get watered down to the point where all the risk is gone, and any boldness evaporates. You get churches that come out in favour of yard sales and Mother’s Day. And that’s about it.

Look, if you and your spouse can’t agree on where to go on vacation, how do you think you’ll get 200, or 2000, people to agree on anything significant as a church?

Almost nothing gets accomplished if everyone has a say.

So should you ever try for consensus? Well, yes, but likely at the board level. John Stickl has a fascinating approach to consensus style leadership in a mega-church context that he explains in Episode 29 of my leadership podcast.

3. Your board or congregation doesn’t trust the staff

This sounds so basic, but it’s so often missed.

For a church to grow and be healthy, there has to be a high level of trust between the staff and the board and congregation.

Naturally, that trust has to be earned by the pastors and staff.

But it’s amazing to me how many people in churches distrust their pastors and staff for no good reason. Churches that cultivate a default assumption of suspicion, not trust, will always pay a price.

The best leader I know on this subject is Andy Stanley, and if you haven’t listened to his 20 minute podcast on trust v. suspicion, you should.

Bottom line?

If you don’t trust the staff, fire the staff. If you trust them, let them lead.

4. Your staff hates the board

I realize hate is a strong word. But I’ve met enough church leaders who loathe their boards to know the problem goes both ways.

Sure. Look. I know you don’t have your ‘dream board’ yet.

You inherited a board when you stepped into leadership. We all did.

When I began in leadership, the three small churches had a total attendance of 45 people (adding all three together), but had 18 elders (I’m not making this up).

The average age of the eldership was about 70, and they had all presided over churches that had been stuck for decades. There were some great people on the board. And there were a few who were not ideally suited for leadership.

That could have been a recipe for disaster.

But why not see it as an opportunity instead?

You have to start cultivating a relationship with the people you have in leadership before you can work with the people you want in leadership.

If there are toxic board members, you can deal with that. And over time you can build a better board.

But if you hate your board after 3 years of leadership, it’s not your board’s fault, it’s yours.

You haven’t done the hard work of cultivating a relationship of trust or moving unhealthy board members off.

So get started. Be a great steward of who you have, not who you don’t have.

5. Your board focuses on complainers

If your church board meetings usually begin with “So and so isn’t happy about X”, you have a problem.

Sometimes boards feel it’s their responsibility to speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

That might be true for widows and orphans. It’s not true for the cranky church member who is opposed to everything.

As my friend Reggie Joiner says, great churches focus on who they’re trying to reach, not who they’re trying to keep.

Why do so many churches struggle with trying to please people?

That’s great question. Here are a few blog posts and a book I’ve written on the subject of handling opposition to your vision:

Leading Change Without Losing It: 5 Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition

3 Hard But Powerful Truths About Likablity and Leadership

Why You Need to Stop Thinking Your Church Is For Everyone

Boards (and congregations) that focus on who they’re trying to reach will be much healthier and do much better than congregations that focus on complainers.

What Do You See?

I realize this is tough medicine and may come as a shock to some leaders, but I do think bad governance in the silent killer in many churches.

What do you think? What are you seeing?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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7 Ways To Respond When You Want to Punch Someone—And You’re a Christian

Feel like you want to punch someone? Or at least not deal with them anymore?

What do you do when the person in question goes to your church?

How do you handle that tension when you’re a…Christian?

It’s strange, but being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you good at resolving conflict. In fact, many Christians and many churches are terrible at it.

Unresolved—or poorly resolved—conflict sinks a lot of potential in the church. It also causes thousands of staff and volunteers to leave every year. And it makes millions of church goers simply miserable.

Fun isn’t it?

Chances are you already know exactly what I’m talking about. Even better. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

In the United States alone, 70% of the people who will go to work today will tell you they don’t like their jobs. I don’t think that’s just an American issue. It’s a people issue.

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

The people they work with.

Ditto for church world (no stat…I’ve just visited enough churches to feel comfortable saying that).

Sometimes the people we’re most frustrated with are the people we work with (staff and volunteers) and the people we worship with.

How do you fix that without becoming a jerk or letting the tension simmer unresolved?

Punch someone

Why Do Christians Struggle With Conflict So Much?

Before we jump to how to resolve conflict, let’s understand why we have it.

First, on this side of heaven conflict is inevitable. But that said, here’s why I think Christians often struggle with conflict:

In the name of grace, Christians sacrifice truth.

In the name of truth, Christians sacrifice grace.

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

And in the end, we’re not sure how to support someone we genuinely disagree with, we swing the extremes: we avoid the situation or we blow it up.

None of that needs to be.

7 Healthy Ways to Resolve Tension and Conflict

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

I hope they can help you.

They can work with coworkers, with a boss, with a volunteer, with a friend—with anyone you have a relationship with.

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

1. Own your part of the problem

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

One of the best expressions I’ve heard on 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.

You can listen to the message for free here, and a scroll through the small group questions in and of itself is instructive. Own what you can.

So…what is it like to be on the other side of you? Ask some people.

2. Go direct

Issues in the church are often 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. Or else just be quiet about it.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt 

The person you’re upset with might not realize how they are coming across. It’s okay to say that out loud.

“Rachel, you might not realize this, but sometimes you 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.”

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

Giving a person an out and the benefit of the doubt preserves their dignity.

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 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?

5. Be specific

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

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 mind’s 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 Are You Learning?

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 can 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!

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7 Keys to Leading High Capacity Volunteers (Orange Conference 2015 Talk Notes)

This week I’m excited to be speaking at the Orange Conference in Atlanta Georgia.

As a way of serving those who attend my talks (and couldn’t be there but want to track with what’s happening) I’ll be posting the outline to each talk I give here on the blog.

Even if you don’t attend the conference, I hope you can glean a few insights from them that might help you lead better now.  And if you’re in the session, you won’t have to guess what that pesky blank you forgot to fill in was all about.

Here’s my talk outline for my 7 Keys to Leading High Capacity Volunteers session.

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Introduction

As a leader, you aspire to attract, keep and grow a team of high-capacity volunteers. But are you dreaming the impossible dream? Learn to keep your vision grounded by starting with a look at the flipside: where and why you’re losing your top volunteers.

Then take a guided tour through the 7 key ways to get your best people on board… and keep them there.

7 Keys To Leading High Capacity Volunteers

1. Give them a significant challenge.

a. People with significant leadership gifting respond best to significant challenges.

2. Continually communicate your mission, vision and strategy.

a. Mission and vision unite.

b. Strategy begins as divisive, but ultimately aligns a church.

3. Be organized

a. Few things are more demotivating to a volunteer than discovering the staff person didn’t set you up to succeed.

b. Some people will put with disorganization, but high capacity leaders will ultimately give up.

4. Refuse to let people off the hook

a. Your organization will drift to the level of accountability the team leader establishes.

b. Ask yourself, whom would I rather lose: highly motivated volunteers or poorly motivated volunteers?

5. Play favorites

a. Spend 80% of your time with the people who give you 80% of your results.

6. Surround high capacity people with high capacity people.

Like attracts like and like keeps like.

7. Pay them in nonfinancial currencies.

a. People gravitate most toward where they are valued most.

b. 5 non-financial currencies:

 I. Gratitude

II. Attention

III. Trust

IV. Empowerment

V. Respect

Want More?

Here are some related posts that can help you dig deeper on this subject.

7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks But Never Says Out Loud

How to Get Your Volunteers to Own Your Mission Like Staff (CNLP 020 With Frank Bealer)

6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

For further resources, access the free archive of thought-provoking, practical interviews with today’s top church leaders on The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.