From Spiritual Growth

5 Ways To Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders

There’s an urgent question many church leaders are asking , as we all try to figure out how to respond as people who attend church now attend less often.

The question is this:

How do you interact with infrequent church attenders who don’t seem to be embracing the mission of your church the way you hoped they would?

I think it’s simple.

You embrace them anyway.

I chose the word ‘embrace’ on purpose. Because I know there’s something deep seated in many of us that wants to reject people if we sense they’re rejecting us. And people who don’t come out to church much on Sunday can feel like rejection if you’re an insecure church leader. (Which, by the way, is many of us on this side of heaven. Here are 5 signs that will tell you whether you’re an insecure leader.)

When I started in ministry in the mid 90s, if someone didn’t attend church for awhile, it was almost always was because they left.

Today, I don’t actually sense that the people who haven’t been at our church for a few weeks or a few months are rejecting us. In fact, when I run into them, they tell me they love our church. And that they can’t wait to get back at some point.

So no, they haven’t left. They just haven’t been lately.

So what do you do?

There are at least 5 things you can do.

Before we go there, post is the third part of a 5 part series on why people are attending church less often.

Part 1: 10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Less Often

Part 2: CNLP Episode 23: Why People Are Attending Church Less Often—An Interview with Will Mancini.

Part 3: 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders

Part 4: 10 Predictions About the Future Church And Shifting Attendance Patterns

Part 5: CNLP Episode 24: Churchless: Why and How America is Learning to Live Without The Church—An Interview with David Kinnaman

If you want to access the podcast interviews easily on your phone or other device, the best way is to subscribe to my leadership podcast for free on iTunes or Stitcher

Now to the 5 things.

1. Develop some empathy

Many of today’s church leaders grew up in church. We remember a time when church attendance was simply the thing you did every Sunday. And as church leaders or volunteers, it’s what we still do every Sunday.

So at times it can be a little hard to empathize with people who don’t see things the way we see them.

Personally, I think participating in the mission of a great church weekly (including Sundays) is one of the best things a Christian can do. Unless I’m fooling myself, I think this is a personal conviction, not just a vocational conviction. If I stopped doing vocational ministry tomorrow, I would still want to participate weekly in the mission of a local church, including the Sunday ministry.

But just because I see it that way doesn’t mean everyone sees it that way.

And…here’s the danger…if you start judging people for not seeing it your way, you almost certainly turn them off. People—especially teens and young adults—can smell judgment a mile away. Judgment creates barriers.

So what do you do instead?

Empathize.

It’s not that hard to do if you realize you probably have an attitude about other organizations similar to their attitude toward your church.

Take going to the gym for example.

I have a gym membership. Truthfully, I haven’t been there in two months. But I spin on my bike trainer at home, do push ups and hike. I watch what I eat and I do other exercise. To me, my goal is fitness and health. It’s not going to the gym. The gym is a means to an end, and it’s not the only means for me.

Am I going to make the cover of next month’s Muscle Magazine? Nope. But that’s not my goal.

Many people think the same way about church. Especially if you’re reaching unchurched people. If a formerly unchurched person shows up 12 times a year, that’s far more than they’ve ever been in church! They might think they’re doing great, and maybe they are compared to how they used to feel spiritually.

So rather than judging them for it, tell them they’re doing great. And invite them in to a deeper conversation about faith and life.

I realize the gym analogy breaks down because I don’t think the Christian faith is an individual pursuit like fitness can be (more on that in part 4 of this blog series). And clearly, I would be in better shape if I went to the gym three times a week and had a personal trainer.

But if you stand there with a scowl on your face every Sunday angry about empty seats, why would anyone want to sit in one?

2. Separate the mission from the method

Somewhere along the way a lot of us end up confusing the mission and the method.

Your mission is to lead people into a relationship with Jesus, not to get people to show up for an hour in a box every Sunday.

Please hear me…I value our time together on Sundays as a church. And I think it’s presently one of our very best vehicles through which to advance the mission of the church (more on that in Part 4 of the series).

But our mission is not to fill seats on a Sunday. It’s to lead people to Jesus.

You should be obsessed with your mission, not with filling seats.

Truthfully, some of us are more in love with the method than the mission. If that’s you, repent. I have. I am.

That shift will create a whole new mindset in your team.

As Will Mancini said, that will help you run offence, not just defence on the issue of declining church attendance.

You’ll start to think of fresh ways to help people on their journey toward Jesus.

And—don’t miss this—if you really help people move into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, they might show up more regularly in your church on Sunday. Ironic, isn’t it?

3. Use technology to help people every day

Church leaders today have an advantage that we simply didn’t have a decade ago.

Social media and even email are great ways to help people deepen their journey with Christ, not just sell your latest program.

What if you started viewing your social media channels and email list as an opportunity to come alongside people and help them grow in their faith?

You have to be careful how you approach this, because if you’re just trying to drive attendance, people will notice.

But if you encourage them, inspire them, challenge them and help them, they’ll welcome your presence.

I wrote a post on how to write email people actually want to read here, and Casey Graham and I touched on using email and technology as a way to reach out to your church in this podcast.  I also outlined 9 great ways to use social media in this post, along with 3 common mistakes many leaders make.

If you run your social media and email content through a helpful filter, people will be thrilled to hear from you. And it will deepen the bond you have with infrequent attenders. They’ll come to see you as a friend, not just one more person trying to sell them something.

Be the favourite person in their inbox, and their favourite thing to see on their newsfeed.

Never underestimate what being helpful does for everyone involved.

4. Start measuring outputs

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me personally from my interview with Will Mancini was Will’s insight that church leaders are programmed to measure inputs, not outputs.

We measure how many people showed up, what they gave, who they brought and even online traffic. But rarely do we measure outputs.

What if the church became as much a sending organization as a receiving organization?

What if you developed ways to measure spiritual growth? Like how much time people spend with God personally each day reading scripture and praying? The stats are surprisingly low. According to a recent study, 57% of Americans read their bible four times a year or less. Only 26% read it more than 4 times a week.

What if you helped the people around your church change that?

And what if you got innovate and started thinking through whether people were better off five years after joining your church than were before? Or whether they feel closer to Christ? Or whether they’re making a difference in their workplaces and neighbourhoods? What if you helped them be the church, not just go to church?

Leaders get passionate about what they measure. So measure thoughtfully.

5. Celebrate wins

It’s strange that when a child takes their first steps, we applaud wildly, but when a Christian takes their first steps, we call them immature.

Sure, so a new Christian doesn’t read their bible every day or attend every week or give the way you want. I get that. Many long time Christians don’t either.

Rather than judging them, why not love them?

Why not celebrate when they take a step?

Send a handwritten thank you note to each first time attender.  Welcome them when they come back. Throw a party when they show up again 3 months later. Celebrate like crazy when someone gives their first $5 gift. Jump for joy when someone decides to serve or high five them when they decide to get in a group.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a big. The point isn’t to get weird.

The point is to celebrate. As Andy Stanley says, what you celebrate gets repeated.

Want to know how to celebrate? Follow my friend Bob Goff.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with a bigger heart than Bob, or who take more delight in things others might ignore or despise. Read his book. Stalk him (okay…don’t stalk him, but do follow him). Let some of his Kingdom of God joy rub off on you. If the church approached ministry the way people like Bob approach life, the church would be a far more attractive and contagious place.

Wait…Can’t You Be More Practical?

What about more practical ideas? Most of what’s above seems so…intangible.

Two years ago, I wrote about 7 more practical ways to respond as people attend church less often in this post. All 7 ideas are still relevant.

But I wanted to focus on the bigger picture…which is really getting all of us to admit that a new day is here.

The trend is not going away.

You can fight it or you can fund it.

History tends to be on the side of people who fund innovation, not on those who fight it.

Why not innovate for the kingdom? (More on that in Part 4 next week.)

The irony in all of this, of course, is that if you really do shift your mindset on this and start helping people, they’ll want to be around you more. In fact…although this might not be your direct goal…your attendance might actually increase.

So…what are you learning?

What’s the hardest part of this discussion for you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

9 Little Character Tests That Tell You Way Too Much About Yourself

Sometimes progress in life can be tough to measure.

You might feel stuck right now. Or just the opposite—you might feel like you’re making incredible progress.

But are you?  How would you know?

Of all the areas in which I want to make progress in this life, character (which is inherently tied to spiritual growth) is the greatest.

How do you know how your character is doing…really?

It’s important, because in the scheme of life, character trumps gifting. The headlines are littered with gifted people whose character (or lack of it) caused their downfall. Your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.

Surprinsgly, your character isn’t just revealed in your best moments. The truth often breaks out in the little moments.

If you want to know how your character is really doing, check yourself in these 9 every day moments we all encounter.

9 Every Day Things That Reveal Way Too Much About Your Character

Before I jump into the list, just know I have failed every one of these tests at some point in my life.

Okay, sometimes I still fail some of them. But you have to have something to work toward, don’t you?

1. What you think when someone takes ‘your’ parking spot

You know that moment when you get to the mall parking lot and see the empty space, only to have someone else dart in? Yes. That moment.

Or the parking space you always park in at work that someone else had the audacity to use yesterday? And no, it didn’t have a reserved sign or anything…but the planet should know that’s your space!!!

What happens inside you in that moment?

That’s your character speaking.

2. How you react to slow internet

So this is a major fail for me. If the state of my character could be entirely summed up by my reaction to slow internet, I should probably be locked up from society at large and I would certainly miss out on heaven. I only throw things on the inside, but inside my little mind, there’s not much left standing.

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life.

Apparently the Holy Spirit and I have some work to do around internet connection speeds.

3. The gap between what you think and what you say when someone compliments you

Christians are famous for false humility. Thanks, that wasn’t me…it was the Lord sounds good but has several problems with it.

First, the Lord probably doesn’t sing or preach as poorly as you do. How many nobody’s-told-me-how-bad-I-really-am Christian singers or preachers have ascribed their gift to God?

And second, let’s say you really are gifted. Even if you are decent at what you do—or great at it— there can be a gap between what you say publicly and what you think privately.

What you say: Thanks. It really wasn’t much. 

What you think: Yes, I kind of rocked it, didn’t I?

What you say: Oh, I’m not sure I deserve that. 

What you think: Yes I do. Finally someone noticed. 

So what do you say when someone compliments you? How about ‘Thank you. I’m grateful it helped’?

And then how about privately thanking God for the way he might have used you in that situation?

That’s a decent start.

As C.S. Lewis said, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

4. How you respond to critics

Haters gonna hate.

But do you hate back? Or start listing off a thousand reasons why they’re wrong? Or try to subtly undermine their reputation?

Critics used to trigger a defensiveness in me that was primal. Now…for the most part…they don’t.

What if when someone criticized you, you said thank you instead (silently or out loud)? There’s usually something you can learn from them. And often there’s a kernel of truth…even if it’s very small.

Even if you have to throw away most of what a critic says, you don’t have to throw away the learning.

5. What you tell yourself when you make a mistake

So what self-talk loop plays in your head when you make a mistake?

For too many of us, it’s unhealthy. It can range from You’re so stupid to You never make mistakes…other people do. 

Neither is good.

Again, mistakes are tremendous learning opportunities. They are rarely fatal.

And one of the keys to success in life is not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get up. To be successful, you only need to get up one more time than you got knocked down.

6. How you react when someone overfills the trash…and doesn’t take it out

This one’s all about the expectations you have about other people.

Yes, there’s an unwritten rule that people who overfill the trash should take it out. Isn’t there? Isn’t there?

And isn’t there a rule about the person who opened the clean dishwasher being the one who has to empty it…because otherwise the little ‘clean’ light goes off and you can mix dirty and clean dishes together…an unspeakable evil.

But there’s also an unwritten rule about not being a jerk about it either when the rule gets broken.

7. Your social media voice

So you’re complex. You have moods, nuances and fascinating parts of your personality that are oh-so diverse. But chances are your friends could sum up your personality with a single adjective.

If you’re not sure that’s true, flip the equation. You can probably sum up your friends’ social media voice in a single word. As in…he’s angry, or she’s so insecure.

If your friend summed up your social media voice in a single word, what word would they use? Snarky? Bitter? Braggy? Kind? Cynical? Hopeful? Petty? Helpful? Jealous?

Yes. You have a voice. What is it?

Your voice may be who you really are or pretend to be. But is it who you are called to be?

8. How you react to other people’s social media voice

So, of course, you do a much better job than other people on social media, don’t you?

Because your voice—my voice—is so beautifully appropriate.

Owned.

(I’m so arrogant.)

Sigh.

9. How you return the shopping cart

It was a random tweet years ago by my friend Jeff Henderson that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Jeff tweeted “You can tell an awful lot about a person’s character by how they return the shopping cart.”

He’s right.

Yep, This is Spiritual

So what does this have to do with faith and leadership? More than we think.

Why not bring your faith into these every day moments…and ask God what’s going on?

It can change more than you think.

In fact, your reaction in moments like these probably says a lot about your actual spiritual maturity.  I believe we need a different kind of spiritual maturity in the church, as I’ve written about here. And often the things we think are signs of spiritual maturity, aren’t (as I wrote about here).

What are you learning about faith and the little moments?

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

5 Pendulum Swings Almost Every Church Leader Can Relate To

Ever feel like you’re two people?

Sometimes when I reflect on who I am, I think I just swing from one end of the emotional spectrum to another.

I’m not talking about struggling with mental health issues or being bi-polar. I have friends who are bi-polar and who struggle with mental health issues on an ongoing basis. I feel for them and pray for them. And although I burned out at one point in ministry, for the most part, I don’t have any ongoing mental health issues. And that subject—an important one—is a very different topic.

This post is about the daily ups and downs and mood swings we all go through as people and particularly as leaders; ministry leaders.

Been there?

One my favourite quotes from the last year is something Kara Powell told me in a recent interview: “Balance is something you achieve as you swing from one extreme to another.”

I still smile every time I think of that quote. So true isn’t it?

Knowing the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership can help you manage the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership.

If you don’t understand the swings involved in leadership, you’ll be tempted to quit before you should. And you’ll likely be unnecessarily confused by the challenges of ministry.

5 Pendulum Swings

So with all that in mind, here are 5 pendulum swings I’ve experienced in ministry leadership:

1. I’m doing an awesome job <——-> I’m doing an awful job

I realized early on in leadership that I’m really not the best judge of how I’m doing. For that reason, I’ve sought out feedback early and often.

And yet I realize that as a leader, you’re often the last to know how you’re really doing. And your self-perception can be off.

Left unchecked, I will often drift toward thinking I’m doing a better job than I am…or a worse job than I am. Neither is helpful for the team I lead.

If I think I’m doing better than I am, I ignore problems I need to deal with.

If I think I’m doing worse than I actually am, my discouragement can negatively impact the team.

To stay somewhere in the middle is ideal. Getting formal and informal feedback from people who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth is the best way to do this.

So the question is…are you getting that kind of honest, real time feedback? If not, what could you do to solicit it?

2. I’m completely overwhelmed <——-> I’m so bored

Leadership can be overwhelming.

I have a fairly high capacity for work, but I still find myself signing up for more projects and work than I can handle in some seasons. I’m not prone to panic, but every once in a while I get that “What on earth was I thinking??” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Then…this almost always happens…once I get to the other side of all that work, I feel a let down..and I get bored, wondering whether I’m actually doing everything I should be doing.

I think many A type leaders can relate.

The key, of course, is to keep the challenges in balance…to load up with a healthy amount of challenge and then keep it steady.

Easier said than done. But most days…I’m not bored. :)

3. Things are going great personally <——–> I’m in the ditch

Of all the journeys in ministry, the emotional journey has been the most surprising and the most challenging personally.

It’s hard not to take ministry personally.  Unless you really work at establishing accurate boundaries, when people leave your church, it can feel like they’re leaving you. When people criticize your message or your leadership, it can feel like they’re criticizing you. 

Add to that my drive to take on big challenges, and sometimes keeping emotional balance is a weekly…if not a daily…task. After burning out 9 years ago, I’m more sensitive to it than ever.

If you struggle to keep your personal journey healthy, I wrote this post about how to get off the emotional roller coaster of ministry. Hope it helps!

4. I love the church <——–> I’m so frustrated with the church

I really love the local church. Seriously, I love it.

I hear from the critics all the time (anyone who blogs does…), but they can’t deter my passion for the local church.

And I love the church I serve too…deeply. Most days, I’m thrilled with it.

If you’re leading a church through change, or if your church needs to change, chances are you’ll spend more than a little time feeling frustrated by your church…and about your church. That’s understandable. Keep loving it though.

If you’ve led for a while and you’re still frustrated by your church, you might discover what I’ve discovered. That I’m not frustrated with the church nearly as much as I’m frustrated with myself.

Why? Because I’m the leader. And somehow I contributed to the problem I can’t figure out how to solve.

Frustrated by your church? Change what’s frustrating you and others.

Frustrated by your church after you’ve led it for a long time? Then change yourself…you’re the one with whom you’re probably most frustrated.

5. Micromanagement <———-> Abdication

Of all the pendulums that swing in my leadership, this is the one I have to manage most actively.

Our church is too big for me to manage everything. Frankly, if your church is even 50 people, it should too big for you to manage everything.

And I can be a micromanager, especially in areas in which I’m passionate. I also happen to notice every little detail…not so much in the things I create, but in the things other people create (I need other people to spot the typos in everything I write).

If I decide not to micromanage, I can run to the other side of spectrum and abdicate completely…losing interest.

It’s a horribly perfect storm to create a demotivating work environment.

So I check this every day. I try to make sure I micromanage less in areas of my passion…and abdicate less in areas where I really have no natural passion. That makes for a much better culture…a leader who is engaged, but not controlling. Passionate, but not constantly interfering.

And yes, it’s a work in progress.

What Are Your Pendulum Swings?

Those are 5 of mine. I promise you there are more.

What about you? What are you always trying to manage?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Pharisees are running your church

7 Signs the Pharisees Are Running Your Church

So are the Pharisees running your church?

Interesting question.

How would you know?

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

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

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

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

Hence my worry.

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

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

 Pharisees are running your church

I’m Not A Pharisee…I’m Just Righteous

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

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

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

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

7 Signs the Pharisees are Running Your Church

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

What are the signs that you might be that leader?

Here are 7.

1. Your leaders like to show off

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

Here’s a key distinction.

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

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

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

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

But at that point, you might not even notice.

Which would be awesome.

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

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

The Pharisees thought they were right.

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

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

There’s the Pharisee.

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

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

Ministry needs money to run on. I get that.

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

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

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

We all need money. And ministries need money.

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

So how do you know you might love money?

Here are some thoughts.

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

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

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

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

4. There’s too little compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you lack compassion…repent.

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

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

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

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

Cue the big buzzer.

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

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

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

6. No one’s closer to God

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

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

Gulp.

So…here’s a question.

Are people closer to God after following you?

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

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

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

Are they?

7. The leaders are jealous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what breaks the power of jealousy.

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

It will break the darkness inside.

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

What Do You Think?

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

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

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

And we have to.

I believe the church is the hope of the future.

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

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

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

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths about Likeability and Leadership

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

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

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

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

Which poses a challenge for all of us who lead.

Do we lead? Or should we be likeable?

Can you lead and be likeable?

And what happens if you choose one over the other?

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

likeability in leaders

3 Hard But Powerful Truths About Likeability and Leadership

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

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

Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about the tension.

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

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

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

Do you see the challenge?

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

So you have a choice as a leader.

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

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

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

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

It’s also a recipe for inertia.

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

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

2. You will have to withstand seasons of being misunderstood

Effective leaders are prepared to be misunderstood.

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

Your motives, strategy and skill will be questioned.

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

There are two extremes that happen when leaders are misunderstood.

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

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

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

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

Simple. Test your motives. Ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. You can lead and still be likeable

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

Not at all.

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

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

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

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

I offer you forgiveness, you accept.

I offer you mercy, you say thank you.

I show kindness, you reciprocate.

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

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

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

But in the end, your character will win out.

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

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

God sees what people don’t.

And sometimes, that’s enough.

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

You will lead better.

And people will be well led.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is What The Conversation Sounds Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Pride in How Much Bible You Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Truth without Grace

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a truth person, we tell people.

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

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

Could you imagine if we all did?

3. Grace Without Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Harshness Toward Outsiders While Cutting Insiders Slack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We simply have it backwards.

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

 

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

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

5. Telling people you’re mature

This one mystifies me.

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Think?

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

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

What have you seen?

What are some false markers of maturity?

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

7 leadership conversations every church leader

7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015

Happy January!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 7 leadership conversations every church leader

The 7 Conversations

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

A few notes:

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

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

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

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

#1 Why Are We Not Growing Faster?

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

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

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

10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing

8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

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

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

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

9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

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

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

#2 Are Our Leaders Healthy….Really?

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

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

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

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

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

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

7 Painful Truths About Leadership and Burnout

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

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

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

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

Here are some posts to kickstart the discussion:

6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks But Never Says Out Loud

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

#4 Why Are Young Adults Walking Away from Church?

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

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

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

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

The Impending Death (And Rebirth) of Cool Church

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

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

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

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

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

7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often

15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person

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

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

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

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

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

5 Things Netflix is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

11 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future

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

#7 What Are We Actually Willing To Change?

I saved the most difficult conversation till last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get Alignment, Agreement and Consensus Around Change

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

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

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

Here’s to Incredible Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Simple But Powerful Ways to Accomplish Far More in 2015

Did you get everything done you wanted to get done this year?

Probably not. Who did?

Making a bigger list probably isn’t going to help you get more done. Often, putting more on your list just leaves you feeling more frustrated.

What most of us need is a new strategy.

Here are 5 things I’ve found have helped me and other leaders get ahead.

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1. Eliminate wasted time

Most people are busy…busy wasting time they’ll never get back.

Let’s just be honest. We all waste time.

I do. You do.

If you want to see want to see what a life without much wasted time looks like, read this profile of 17 year old budding hockey star Connor McDavid.

Since Connor was a kid, he did little else but play hockey and develop his skill set. He skipped prom, doesn’t really play video games and missed a lot of the social life of high school. Except now, at 17, he’s likely to be drafted #1 in the NHL.

It might not be your idea of an ideal life to pursue one thing with your time. That’s fine.

But does binge watching whatever your favourite series is right now really help you become a better person or better leader?

Does scrolling endlessly through Instagram or Facebook half watching lives you’re interested in really make you a better leader?

Often people who have ‘no time’ to spend time with God end up with all kinds of time for binge watching.

So just stop wasting time.

Or at least be intentional with the time you waste.

By intentional, I mean saying to yourself: I’m going to waste 30 minutes. Then go waste it.

Do that and you’ll be far less wasteful. And as a result, you’ll accomplish far more.

2. Stop letting other people set your priorities

How many times have you finished a crazy day and realized you didn’t even put a dent in your most important priority?

Often that happens when you let other people set your priorities.

You do this when you:

Constantly check email

Refuse to turn off the notifications on your phone

Allow people to interrupt you when you’re at work (no that’s not their issue…it’s yours)

When people text you, email you, call you and interrupt you they are asking for you to ditch your priorities for theirs.

Do this 20, 30 or 40 hours a week and you will lead an extremely unproductive, busy and frustrating life.

The best way to overcome this is to only check email a few times a day. Ditto with the phone. And close your office door or even put a sign on it that says “I’m happy to see you at 2:00″, and then budget 2:00-2:30 for interruptions.

Guess what? Half the people who were going to interrupt you won’t even remember what they were going to ask you about by the time 2:00 rolls around.

3. Be proactive

There are two kinds of leadership: proactive leadership, and reactive leadership.

Proactive leaders make things happen. Reactive leaders react to what’s happening.

Which one makes the better leader long term? Quite obviously, leaders who are proactive.

A significant part of leadership is creating something out of nothing…of making things happen that are currently not happening. Whether that’s building a team, advancing a cause or even finding a solution no one else seems to be able to find, leaders make things that don’t normally happen, happen.

No one will ever ask you to do those things.

Consequently, they require proactivity.

Check your to do list.

Are the things that require that kind of proactivity on it?

Is your to-do list really attempting to advance anything meaningful? Or is your to-do list a reflection of point #2 above—it’s merely a response to everyone else’s priorities?

Your to do list should always have some big goals that no one else is going to ask you to work on.

For example, if you’re a preacher, prioritize sermon prep. Why? Because nobody’s ever going to call you and ask you to spend time researching your message. They will call you to ask you to meet with them, pulling you away from your message prep.

Ditto to the big, audacious goals you want to accomplish. They need to migrate to your daily task list.

What’s most important to you? What would significantly advance your ministry?

Spend at least 10 hours a week on that, and things will change.

4. Do your best and worst, first

One of the best ways to keep your day (and your priorities) from being hijacked is to do your most important (not most urgent…most important) task first.

I like to get most of my ‘big thinking’ projects done before 9 a.m. I’m at my best then, and most people aren’t at work. So I can be incredibly productive and get my big stuff done before anything else happens.

I leave my routine things until the afternoon when I’m not as sharp, but when sharpness doesn’t really matter as much as it does when I’m writing a message, writing a series or tackling a high level problem.

You’ve probably also got other things on your to do list that you resent, things you hate doing (maybe like returning a phone call, answering a tough email, or doing something administrative, like an expense report).

Get some of those done early in the day too, right after you’ve expended your best energy on your biggest priority.

Doing something you don’t want to to do early gets a win under your belt and you’ll feel much better about the day. It’s like having a weight lifted off your shoulder. You’ll feel like you can tackle more.

And as a result, you will.

5. Get some sleep and some solitude

The problem is that when most of us are off, we’re not off.

We just run 100 miles an hour at something else; family, hobbies, friends, social engagements, gaming, social media, movies…whatever.

As a result, we cheat sleep.

That’s one of the worst things a leader can do.

Refusing to rest is like trying to run your phone for a full day on 15% power.

I’m a bit of evangelist on sleep because I really think a lack of sleep cuts into every leader’s potential. I wrote about why sleep is a leader’s secret weapon here.

Once you slow down enough to sleep adequately, you might also become more comfortable with another best friend of many top performing leaders: solitude. So many high performing leaders I know begin every morning in silence.

Christian leaders do this in their quiet time. But even non-Christian leaders I know will take time to meditate, or simply sit in silence.

Making time for retreats or for regular silent space to work on it, not in it, are practices of almost all top performing leaders.

This isn’t just a leadership trick. It’s a spiritual discipline.

Solitude has long been a Christian discipline that’s been all but lost. Regain it. In this post, I share 8 reasons why leaders need solitude and ways to find it.

Ironically, you would think that to accomplish more you would need to spend less time sleeping and less time in solitude.

Just the opposite.

Getting a full night’s sleep every night and finding regular, disciplined solitude will make you far more effective.

Now it’s your turn. What helps you accomplish far more?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

self-medication

5 Socially-Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

Let me guess.

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

Welcome to leadership. Especially church leadership.

You run hard. You work long hours.

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

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

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

You end up self-medicating.

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

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

self-medication

What’s Self-Medication?

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

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

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

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

But the results are still numbing.

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

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

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Christian Leaders Self-Medicate

1. Overeating.

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

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

Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.

2.  Working More 

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

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

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

3. Gossip 

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

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

That’s just sinful.

4.  Spending

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

5. Under-the-Radar Substance Abuse

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

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

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

10 Healthy Options for Self-Care

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

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

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

1. A great daily time with God.

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

2. Exercise

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

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

3. A healthy diet

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

4. Proper sleep

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

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

5. Intentional white space in your calendar 

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

6. Healthy friendships

Ministry can be draining.

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

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

7. Margin 

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

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

8. Hobbies

Writing, blogging  and podcasting are my hobbies these days.

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

9. Family Time

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

Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.

10. Coaching and counseling. 

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

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

Better Than The Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

Why You’re Not As Grateful As You Think You Should Be

My suspicion is that most of us are not nearly as grateful as we should be.

You have a lot. I have a lot.

We put on a good face for Thanksgiving, and maybe even update our Facebook statuses outlining our gratitude.

Sometimes we make a list (public or private) of what we’re thankful for, but deep down…there’s a discontent.

And if you’ve read this far, you know it.

So many leaders (and people) I know have a gnawing dissatisfaction that leaves us feeling less grateful than we know we ought to.

So…why?

In light of all we have and God’s faithfulness, why are you not more grateful?

There are at least three things that kill gratitude.

Here are 3 things that show up in my life and the lives of other leaders I track with.

Identify and keep them in check, and gratitude grows. Leave them unattended, and gratitude dissipates:

1. High Expectations

The secret to happiness, as you may have heard, is low expectations.

Think about that.

If you had no expectations of anyone or anything, you’d be happy. And grateful.

This might one of the reasons  those of us who have been on mission trips are always so shocked at how happy the poor in other countries seem to be; they expect little and are grateful for what they have.

I’m NOT justifying poverty, I’m just saying there’s little denying that the poor in the developing world often display far more gratitude than the rich. Unrealistic expectations might also explain why so many rich and middle class people are so miserable.

So…as a leader AND as Christ follower, husband, dad and friend, probably the biggest gratitude killer for me is high expectations.

My expectations of myself are very high. And they’re also high of others.

I think I know what you’re thinking. Well if my expectations weren’t high, then what would happen to my life/organization/mission? 

Great question.

Perhaps there’s a subtle but important distinction between standards and expectations. 

A high standard is not a bad thing. You should set high standards for yourself and for your church or organization.

But when those standards become expectations, only disappointment ensues, because you’re dealing with flawed people.

When you invite people to live according to high standards, you help bring out the best in them. Who doesn’t want to live a better life?

Keeping them as standards (not expectations) allows you to celebrate their success when it happens and to allows you to come alongside them and encourage them in the event of failure.

Think about your last seven days? Chances are every time you got angry or frustrated with someone it was because you expected something and they felt short. Expectations just make you miserable.

Now, keep the standard of behaviour the same, but instead of expecting they would do what you hoped they would do, come alongside them, talk about the standard, and help them reach it.

Totally different isn’t it?

2. The Thirst for More

If you had what you have now back when you were 15, you would have thought you won the lottery, wouldn’t you?

And yet chances are you feel you don’t have enough. As this article points out, almost everyone feels like they need more money to be content, no matter how much money they make.

Advertising in the Western world is built on the idea of discontent. The very thing they sold you last year as the ‘best’ and ‘greatest’ isn’t good enough.

This desire for wanting what you don’t have shows up sexually as lust, financially as greed, in diet as gluttony and in power as ambition.

The reality, of course, is that ‘more’ never delivers what it promises. Or if it does, the satisfaction is temporary and is followed by an even deeper emptiness. Having had what you desired only to have it disappoint you is more bitter than sweet. And, left unchecked, you plunge yourself right back into your quest for ‘more’ hoping that the next acquisition will finally satisfy you. Which, of course, it won’t.

The best way I know how to battle the thirst for more in my life is to call it for what it is—an empty, vain pursuit. For sure, being grateful for what I have is definitely part of it. But simply acknowledging sometimes out loud before God that this chase is bankrupt also helps.

I need to allow God to determine size. I simply need to be obedient. And then if more does come my way, obedient with what I have. It’s God’s, after all, not mine.

3. Comparison

Fuelling the thirst for more and high expectations is comparison.

Think about it. You were fine with what you had…until you saw what someone else had.

Comparison fuels jealousy, envy, greed and selfish ambition.

And while I love social media and the hyper-connectedness we have today, it can pour jet fuel on the envious blaze already ignited in your heart.

The New York Times calls it the agony of Instagram, and they’re right. Scrolling through someone’s oh-so-perfect life can make you feel worthless compared to their perfect chef’s kitchen and artsy dining room table.

Every preacher is now stacked up against every mega-church preacher courtesy of podcasts and online church.

And even if your people don’t compare you, you compare you. Why do we fight a battle we lose every time?

One of my all time favourite Andy Stanley series is Comparison Trap. In it, Andy says the cure for envy is to celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given you.

Bam.

That’s it.

Becoming More Grateful

While gratitude is complex, I know I do best when I

Drop the expectations but keep the standards.

Realize that more can’t deliver what it promises; and

Celebrate what God has given others, and leverage what God has given me.

How about you?

What helps you become more grateful? Because sometimes making a list of what you’re thankful for just isn’t enough.

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