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recent exit

Some Thoughts About The Recent Exit of Two Megachurch Pastors

Like many of  you, I was deeply saddened to learn of Pete Wilson’s recent resignation as the Senior Pastor of Cross Point Church.

In Pete’s own words (you should read and watch them for yourself), he’s tired, broken and has led on empty for too long. So he’s stepping back.

This comes, of course, just a few months after the exit of Perry Noble from NewSpring.

If someone had told me in January of this year that both Pete and Perry would leave ministry this year under tough circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

Their departures have a lot of people talking and a lot of people thinking. Hopefully, it’s also got a lot of people praying.

It also has pastors reflecting.

I’ve been in conversations with people in church leadership. Many of us are asking what it means, and whether it can or will continue to happen to more of us.

Some writers and social media commentators have taken cheap shots. Man, that breaks my heart. I hope this post is the opposite of taking shots at anyone.

The mission of the church and its leaders is too important to do that.

I offer these few thoughts with the sincere hope this makes all of us a little better in the church. I also offer it out of a deep love and respect for Perry, Pete and all of you in church leadership.

exit megachurch

1. Pastors aren’t fake; the struggle is real

When a megachurch pastor resigns because he’s burned out, or because he’s experiencing personal problems, critics often rush in to claim that pastors are fake.

Look, most leaders who get into ministry aren’t fake.

It’s not that pastors are fake; it’s that the struggle is real.

I know Perry and Pete personally and I have only detected sincerity in both of them.

They started churches because they love Jesus. They led out of a love for Jesus. They sincerely wanted to reach people and did reach people who will actually be in heaven because of what happened.

I think I’m on firm ground to say they still love Jesus, very much.

Pete and Perry are the real deal. They’re not the plastic hair/shiny suit type of preacher. They got in this and stayed in this for the right reasons.

I’ve also felt the push and pull of ministry and life. And it almost took me under.

The struggle is real. After a decade in ministry, I burned out too. (Actually, Perry and I talk about burn out in this interview.)

By the sheer grace of God, I came back and am now in a place where, while I have struggles like anyone, I feel healthy and extremely grateful. (While this isn’t a universal prescription, here are 12 things that helped me come back from burnout.)

Often when you see a leader exit, it has nothing to do with whether that leader is sincere. It has everything to do with the fact that the struggles he or she is facing are real.

2. It’s hard to lead anything

It’s hard to lead anything, let alone a church. Or yourself.

Leaders face pressures non-leaders don’t always understand.

And leaders of large organizations face even more complex problems.

When you lead a large ministry or organization, it comes with problems and challenges 99% of the population never wakes up to most days.

Add to that the pressures of life, marriage, family, relationships and the task of leading yourself, and you have a recipe that requires tremendous personal stamina, humility, growth and development.

Sometimes critics say large churches are bad because they seem to generate outcomes like the ones we’ve seen recently.

The reality is that small church pastors also leave their ministries, experience burnout and suffer moral failure every day.

You just never hear about it because those stories don’t make the news. (Please note, neither the exit of Pete or Perry involves moral failure.)

Large churches aren’t inherently bad. Small churches aren’t inherently good.

Churches just have people in them. And that makes it…well, complex.

3. God loves and uses broken people

Are Perry and Pete broken?

Yep.

And so am I.

So are you.

Too often we hold up perfect pictures of what our life is supposed to be like.

We all remember Eden somewhere in the back of our minds. It’s like we all know what it was like, and what it will be like in heaven.

But this isn’t Eden and this isn’t heaven. The war’s been won, but we’re living in a battlefield somewhere in between what was and what will be.

As a result, our lives are a complex mixture of sin and grace. Of brokenness and redemption.

This is true of pastors too.

We don’t have a direct line to God any more than you do. Our marriages aren’t ‘easier’ just because we’re in ministry (actually, you could argue that they’re harder). Our souls aren’t inherently more virtuous.

Pastors aren’t better people; they’re just called people. Called to the same calling to which non-pastors are called but in a specialized role.

Sometimes I wish people would actually read their bibles. We think we have to be perfect for God to use us.

But then there’s scripture…

Noah got drunk and partied naked after God delivered him and his family from death.

Moses came into ministry after he murdered someone.

Jacob raised perhaps the most dysfunctional family imaginable.

Judah slept with his daughter-in-law only because he mistook her for a prostitute.

David was a fantastic king. And then he saw Bathsheba.

Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived in Old Testament times but really struggled with sex. And God. And cynicism.

Elijah saw one of the most powerful displays of God’s power in history, and then promptly fell into a self-pitying depression.

Jonah ran away from God again, and again, and again.

Peter denied Jesus.

Thomas doubted even when he saw Jesus with his own eyes.

Paul was a little insecure (just read 2 Corinthians).

The early church as described in Corinthians is a study of dysfunction.

Early Christians stopped believing in the resurrection (Read 1 Corinthians 15).

The amazing part is this: God used it all.

I know we preach on this stuff but it’s like we don’t expect it to apply to us.

As my friend Reggie Joiner and I wrote a few years back, God doesn’t use perfect pictures. He uses broken people.

Why does God use broken people? Because those are pretty much the only people he has.

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is an excuse to start sinning.

I want to stay faithful to my wife, be a compassionate father and be a healthier, better leader because I know it honours God to do that. Plus, life honestly goes better if you avoid those pitfalls.

But the fact that we are imperfect shouldn’t be a reason to say we can’t lead.

Clearly, there are activities and conditions that would and should take us out of ministry for a season or longer, but we have to get over this idea that leaders need to be perfect.

Christ is perfect. We get to partner with him.

If you’re thinking well, I’m just more righteous than all this, you need to know that puts you in great company. That’s exactly what the Pharisees thought.

What Now?

I hope and pray the day will come where we see Perry and Pete back in strong and vibrant leadership in the local church. The story isn’t over for either of them. As Perry often famously said, if you’re still breathing, God’s not done with you.

I also hope and pray that honest, helpful dialogue will help many more of us avoid hitting the crisis point that tips us out of leadership, if even for a season.

This is not a ‘do these 5 things and it will bullet-proof your ministry’ kind of post. Because the issues are far more complex than that.

But as for me, I want to develop the practice of getting the help I need before I need it. Yesterday, I went back to my counsellor not because I have any burning issues, but because I want to see them before they start. As a close friend has told me, sometimes you need to go to a counsellor not because you have a bad marriage, but because you want a good one.

I want to stay close to my inner circle, telling them more things more often. Walking closely with people who love me enough to call me out and tell me the truth.

And finally, I want to stay even closer to God. It can be difficult to have an intimate relationship with God when you do his work every day (I know that’s hard to understand if you’re not in full-time ministry, but trust me, it is). So I’ll keep pressing closer knowing he loves me because I’m me, not because I lead.

I’m not saying my friends didn’t do any of these things or didn’t want to do them, I’m just saying I know that when I do them, I’m healthier.

Any thoughts on this, friends? Abusive or negative comments will be deleted. This isn’t the time or the place for that. Cynics, please go somewhere else.

But for those of us who love the church and its leaders, what are your thoughts and what has helped you when you’ve run into the challenges of life and leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

control freaks

What Everybody Ought to Know About Control Freaks in Leadership

It’s amazing to me how many leaders I know tell me they struggle with control.

I come by the subject honestly because I, too, am a recovering control freak.

Most people have a love-hate relationship with control. Control freaks love it when they’re in control. But others hate working for them.

People who like control seem to have a natural ability to get into leadership positions. Or sometimes they just create one.

So can you recover from being a control freak? Is there a way out?

The answer to both questions, fortunately, is yes. And it helps to see what’s really at stake.

control freaks

The first step, predictably, admitting you have a problem.

For years, I resisted the control freak label. Maybe that’s what you’re doing.

You’re not a control freak. You’re just:

Passionate

Detail oriented (of course, only very selectively about the things for which you have the most passion)

Good at what you do (okay, you don’t say that one out loud…but control freaks, you know what happens when you delegate to other people who just can’t get the job done, right?)

Control freaks get things done. In fact, maybe you use your success to justify your addiction to control.

In the early years of my leadership before I realized I had an issue, our church grew explosively. So you would think: Well, God blesses control freaks, so just leave me alone.

And yes, of course he loves them.

But apparently Jesus didn’t model control freakishness very well for those of us who want to follow in his footsteps.

He only ministered for three years, building into some questionable characters he called disciples. He poured his life into them and then left the planet and put them in charge.

A number of years ago I finally admitted I have a problem (only after about 1,282 friends had gently hinted that I might). And I began to let go.

Don’t get me wrong, the impulses are still there.

But learned behaviour has a wonderful way of compensating for impulses that no leader should act on.

When I struggle with wanting to seize control, I keep these 5 insights in front of me.

These five things help me remember that controlling everything means you will eventually end up leading nothing significant.

1. Control is often a substitute for a lack of clear strategy or alignment

Leaders use control as a substitute for clarity.

If you don’t know with absolute clarity what your organization is doing, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there (mission, vision and strategy), you can never truly align a team.

As a result, you end up defaulting to control because people ‘just don’t get it’ and as a result you can’t trust them (or so you think).

The reason you can’t ‘trust’ people of even stellar character is not because they aren’t trustworthy, it’s because you haven’t stated the mission, vision and strategy clearly enough in a way that it’s repeatable and reproducible.

People run off in the wrong direction because you never made it clear what the right direction is.

Create clarity, and you will feel the urge to control dissipate.

2. Control is often a substitute for an inability or unwillingness to delegate well 

You tell yourself the reason you control is because you gave the job to someone else and, well, they just didn’t do a good job.

Ever think you maybe just didn’t train them well?

Just get good at delegation. Again, clarity is your friend here.

The clearer you are, the better you train others, the more razor sharp your strategy is, the more your team will knock it out of the park.

When you grow your team, you grow your mission.

3. Your need for control and the size of your organization are inversely proportional

If everything needs to flow through you, you will not only bottleneck your organization, you’ll kill the potential of the mission.

If you insist on staying in control, you will shrink the size of your organization to your personal capacity. The capacity of a team of leaders is always greater than the capacity of a single leader. What you can do through many is always greater than one you can do through one.

The more you need to control, the smaller your organization will stay.

The more you can release (around a crystal clear mission, vision and strategy), the more it will grow.

It’s really this simple: A leader’s need for control and the size of an organization are inversely proportional.

4. Control repels great leaders

If you want great leaders to flee your organization, control them.

They’ll leave. If you want to attract great leaders, release them with a clear mission, vision and strategy (and give them input to shape it).

As long as you micromanage everything, you will only have do-ers in your organization, not lead-ers.

5. The more you let go, the healthier the organization gets

I absolutely love it that over the last decade, I get to go to events our church staff and volunteers have pulled together and have little to no idea about how the event came together or even what’s going on—that’s how involved I was in the planning.

And you know what? They’re the best events we’ve ever run.

The more I get out of the way, the stronger our team and organization get.

Sure, I play a role, but I clearly don’t play every role. Nor should I.

I love being a “guest” to the exceptional things our team does. And they love leading and helping people lead. It’s just healthier. And because they have a clear sense of mission, vision, strategy and even culture, amazing things happen. (Here’s a 5 step guide on how to create an amazing team culture.)

The more I let go, the healthier our organization gets.

What Do You Think?

When I feel the impulse to control, I remind myself of these five things.

What are you learning about control? How are you learning to release your grip?

bad day

7 Simple but Effective Strategies to Get You Through a Bad Day

Ever have a bad day?

Of course you do. You’re human.

As much as you don’t like days like that (does anybody?) they’re inevitable in leadership.

Someone sends you an email that sets you off.

A crisis hijacks the day you were going to spend getting a project done.

Unexpected bad news pours in.

You experience conflict with a teammate.

You simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

It happens.

When I began in leadership, days like that often cost me more deeply than they had to.

I would sometimes say things I regretted.

I occasionally took my frustrations out on people around me.

My family suffered if I came home and allowed my mood to ruin the atmosphere.

In fact, when I look around me, I see too many leaders who let bad days undermine their leadership again and again.

When leaders allow their moods to ricochet through the organization, a bad day can lead to several bad days for others. It can foster conflict among team members. And it can jeopardize their home life.

So how do you deal with a bad day?

Here are seven strategies I’ve adopted that can help with a bad day.

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1. Ask yourself: What would an emotionally intelligent person do? 

Emotional intelligence is all about developing a self-awareness of how your attitudes and actions impact others and leveraging that to further the team and others.

As Daniel Goleman points out in his classic book, Emotional Intelligence, emotionally intelligent people rarely let their state of mind bring others down. They’ve developed behaviours that compensate for their emotional state so they don’t drag other people down with them.

So quite literally, on my worst day, I ask myself “What would an emotionally intelligent person do?”

I imagine what they would do, then I do everything I can to do it.

Try it. It works.

2. Don’t act on your emotions

Emotionally intelligent people don’t act on their negative emotions.

Those who lack self-awareness in the moment will.

It’s a mistake.

You’ll say things you regret. You’ll do things you’ll wish you could take back.

So when you’re having a bad day, don’t act on your emotions. Don’t do anything stupid.

Don’t let anyone ‘have it’ because you’re in a bad mood.

If the worst thing that happens on a bad day is that you have some angry thoughts, at least they remained thoughts and refrained from becoming actions.

3. Don’t make any significant decisions

Actions are one thing. Decisions are another.

The worst time to make decisions is when you’re upset or feeling down. Your emotions will lead you to decide things you’ll regret.

So just decide not to decide anything that day.  

Here’s the rule I’ve adopted in life in and leadership when I’m in a bad space: Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.

Think about how many stupid decisions you could have avoided. The vows you might have never made. The bridges that would still be intact and burn-free.

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

4. Divert to accomplish a short term win

Chances are good that you can accomplish something positive, even if you don’t feel like it. Do something mundane like cleaning out your inbox. Organize a drawer. Get some routine work done.

While your head may not be in the right space to slay any big dragons, divert yourself to something manageable so you can find at least one or two short term wins.

You still need to earn your keep on a bad day.

If you’re still struggling, go for a walk or a run or a quick bike ride. The physical change can provoke a mental shift that can also rescue your day.

5. Confide and pray

You should tell somebody about your bad day. But tell the right person. Your emotions will probably lead you to want to tell the wrong person.

Talk to a close friend or your spouse (appropriately). Bottom line: talk to someone who is willing to help you and pray for you.

And pray about it yourself.

My prayer on bad days sometimes is as simple as “God, this is your church. You got me into this. Get me through this. Help me to see my part in all this.” That’s a decent prayer to pray on a bad day.

Bad days get worse on their own. They get better with friends.

6. Call it a day

If you’re having a really bad day, call it a day, early.

Staring at a blinking cursor doesn’t help anybody.

You may have to put a few more hours in later in the week but it’s worth it. If I’m struggling, I’ll often just pack it in and start early the next day. Often, I’ll accomplish far more in two great hours than I would have in four hours on a day when I was struggling.

Feel guilty about leaving early? If you have the freedom to set your own hours, don’t. Often leaders will think of value in terms of the hours they put in. This is a mistake.

Don’t judge your work by the hours you put in, but by the output you produce.

If you can produce a better outcome the next day, do it.

6. Get a great night’s sleep.

Don’t dismiss this. Sleep is so important.

Go to bed early. Shoot for 8 hours. You will feel so much better in the morning.

Watch what happens to your emotions when you sleep for eight hours. They get healthier. 

You’ll be much better positioned to deal with lingering issues when you’re well rested. And chances are your funk will disappear.

Sleep is the secret leadership weapon no one wants to talk about.

Naturally, if your bad day becomes a bad week or a bad season, you may have something else going on. I blogged about getting through bad seasons and burnout here.

What helps you get through a bad day? What doesn’t?

Let me know in the comments.

jerk leader

10 Signs You’re Just a Jerk…Not A Leader

So you lead. You’re in charge…at least you’re in charge of something or hope to be one day.

But how do you know you’re leading effectively…and that you’re not, well, a jerk?

I mean we’ve all been around leaders who are extremely difficult to be around.

Think about how badly leaders are often viewed.

Over the years, boss has even become a bad word. If you’re a pushy kid, you get labeled as bossy and people stay away. Hollywood simply needs to put the word “horrible” in front of the word “bosses” in a movie title and everyone smiles because they can relate. Who hasn’t had a horrible boss?

And yet, sometimes there’s a fine line between being an effective leader and being a jerk. The strength required to be a leader can sometimes push you up against the hard edges of your personality.

When you reach that point you fail. You not only destroy others, you ultimately destroy yourself.

Here are ten signs you’re actually being a jerk, not a leader.

jerk

1. You’ve made the organization all about you

Hey, there’s no doubt your leadership gift probably brings something to the organization or church in which you serve—maybe even a lot.

Leaders, after all, make things happen.

If you want to be a jerk, make the organization about you.

Make sure you’re front and center all the time. Think about how grateful people should be to have you.

Be incredulous at why more people don’t thank you for your leadership. Imagine that you should be paid more.

Just think of  yourself as undervalued and indispensable. Jerks, after all, think it’s all about them.

2. You think that people work for  you

If you’re a jerk and not a true leader, you’ll believe people work for you. 

Contrast that with what the best bosses do. The best bosses think of themselves as working for the people around them.

They prefer to serve rather than be served.

If you keep thinking people work for you, few people will want to work for you.

3. You never say thank you

Jerk leaders rarely say thank you. After all, why would you say thank you when people are just doing their jobs?

Jerk leaders rarely take the time to tap someone on the shoulder and tell them they noticed the difference that team member made today.

And why thank the employee who worked late to get the project done? After all, shouldn’t they just be grateful to get a paycheck?

Great bosses often take the time to hand-write a thank you note.

They high five people.

They look team members in the eye and tell them how much they appreciate them.

They put their arm around people and say thanks.

Great leaders realize nobody has to work for them. Which is why people do.

4. You’re demanding

One sure way to be a jerk is to demand things of people.

It’s one thing to have high standards (great leaders have high standards), but to remain a jerk, make sure you always communicate those standards in a way that demeans people.

Always focus on what you want from people. Never think about what you want for people.

5. You keep the perks of leadership to yourself

Leadership does have perks. Maybe you know some people other folks would love to connect with.

Maybe you get the nicer office or have a slightly bigger budget than others. Or people send you gift cards once in a while because you’re the boss man. Or you have a nice parking space (which you shouldn’t by the way… here’s why).

To stay a jerk, just make sure you never share anything with anyone. Keep it all to yourself. Whatever you do, don’t be generous.

6. You keep yourself front and center

If you’re a jerk leader, you think you’re so valuable to the organization (see point 1) that you do whatever it takes to be at the center of everything at all times.

You don’t develop young talent. You’re too insecure to share your platform with others. You never push other people into the spotlight. (Insecurity causes a lot of leadership problems by the way. Here are 5.)

You’re never going to retire anyway, or even if you do, it doesn’t really matter if the organization crumbles when you go, does it?

Besides, no one else on your team has dreams, gifts or hopes. Why would you pay attention to that?

Think about it: Great leaders don’t build platforms; they build people.

7. You take the credit and assign the blame

If you’re a jerk leader, there are two surefire ways to anger your team.

First, take all of the credit for anything good that happens in your organization.

Make sure you mention how it was your idea and whatever you do, don’t mention your team or how hard they worked on the project.

Second, when things go off the rails, wash your hands of it. Look surprised and then appear concerned.

Blame something else.

Blame someone else.

Blame anything else.

You weren’t responsible anyway. Except for all of the good things, of course.

8. You never have your team’s back

Is there really any value in public loyalty? Didn’t think so.

If you want to alienate your team, speak poorly of them when they’re not in the room.

For example, when you disagree with a decision a team member made, make sure you tell anyone who will listen how much you disagreed with it.

And when someone complains to you about what a team member did, make sure you pull them aside and in hushed tones tell them how disappointed you were with their decision too, and that you don’t understand why they would do that.

For bonus points, never privately speak to the person with whom you disagree. Just smile when you see them.

Great leaders don’t always agree, but they always disagree privately behind closed doors and they support you publicly, no matter what. That builds a team.

As Andy Stanley says, great leaders realize that public loyalty buys you private leverage.

9. You make all the decisions

One sure sign of a jerk leader is that you infuriate other leaders on your team by personally making as many decisions as possible.

You never let them exercise their leadership gifts or become thinkers in their own right.

And when they do make decisions on their own, you meddle frequently.

You even pull out your pocket veto regularly. Especially if you’re acting on partial information and don’t have the whole story.

10. You act like a martyr

When your team is angry with you (as they should be), one sure sign you’ve moved to the jerk column is that you pull out the martyr card.

Nobody has it as hard as you do. True?

Nobody is as misunderstood.

I mean, who puts in as many hours for a thankless job? And who really understands you?

Nobody. Of course.

To keep jerk status, make sure you tell everyone how hard you work, how lonely leadership is and how you haven’t taken a vacation in X years.

Great leaders realize leadership has a cost, but they don’t expect others to share it. This is exactly why many people are willing to share the cost with a great leader.

The Jerk Inside Me

How do I know jerk leadership so well?

Because I have a jerk inside of me I need to suppress every day. My guess is you might too.

Fortunately, Jesus introduces a completely different paradigm for leadership.

If you want to be a Christ-like leader, just do the opposite of these ten things. You’ll be well on your way.

And Christ promises to help you.

If you’re like me, it takes supernatural strength to lead in a Christ-like manner. But there’s no better way to lead a team (or your family).

Include Your Team on Decision Making

If you want to include your team on decision making and help them own the challenges before you, my last book (Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow) is 100% designed to facilitate team discussion and problem-solving on the biggest issues facing church leaders today.

Plus there’s even a full chapter on creating a healthy team.

You can buy the book and/or the team edition video series (for team discussion) here.

Want to see a sample? Download a free chapter here.

What Do You Think?

What other characteristics of jerk leaders have you seen?

How is this battle at work in your life?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

insecure leaders

5 Things Insecure Leaders Wrongly Believe

Ever notice that so many of the challenges you face as a leader happen in your mind?

Me too.

Why is that?

Well, so much of leadership is actually not a battle with others, it’s a battle with yourself.

And a good portion of that battle arises out of insecurity.

Barnabas Piper and Todd Adkins interview me this week for their 5 Leadership Questions podcast. You can listen here. This week’s release is Episode 113 (I was also a guest previously on Episode 80).

Barnabas and Todd asked me to comment on 5 lies leaders believe (especially church leaders).

The conversation was fascinating…as it mostly goes back to insecurity. And I thought it was worth a blog post.

Here are 5 lies leaders wrongly believe.

insecure leaders

1. I must know everything about everything

This trips up so many leaders, and it was a tough one for me when I was starting out.

Most leaders who think they need to know everything feel that way because they know they don’t.

That insecurity can be paralyzing.

The funny thing is…when you fake an answer, people can tell you don’t know. Rather than gaining confidence in your leadership, your guesses, fake answers and ‘covering’ actually causes people to lose confidence in you.

One of the most glorious answers a leader can give is “I don’t know.”

Period.

You don’t need to be defensive.

Just look them in the eye, securely, and admit you don’t know. You don’t even need to go the uber-achiever route and say, “But I’ll find out.”

You might say “I don’t know, but what do you think?” Or “I don’t know, but I’m sure we have someone here who might. Let’s see.” Or you might just say “I don’t know.”

When you do that, you elevate the team. You actually build up the ability of others to contribute.

Frankly, I trust people who tell me the truth far more than people who cover their insecurity with guesses and partial knowledge.

2. I must be prominent and lead from the front

I think in the early days of leadership, most of us instinctively want to lead from the front.

Frankly, during the first decade of my leadership, I was too insecure not to.

But over the last decade, as I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and who I’m not, I’ve been able to do a better job leading more people than ever with less ‘up front’ time than ever.

In fact, in the last few years, I’ve been thinking constantly about what John the Baptist said:  “He must become greater. I must become less.” Naturally, this applies to Christ, but I think it also applies to others.

That’s why I’m fixated on handing off our ministry at Connexus to the next generation… and that my role doesn’t always have to be front and centre.

Every church planter needs to ask this question: “Is what started with me going to end with me?”

The more secure you are, the easier that becomes to answer that with a no. I’m working on it. Hard.

So…if you want to build a ministry that endures, don’t build it around someone who will die.

3. I must prove myself constantly

Ask yourself this: to whom are you trying to prove yourself? To God? To others?

If it’s God, you’re already approved. That had something to do with a cross on a hillside out of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

And we all know leaders (even Christian leaders) who are constantly trying to prove themselves.

You know what happens?

Leaders who try to prove themselves lose themselves. You actually never discover who you are because you’re not comfortable enough to look inside and discover what’s already there.

My favourite leaders are those who have developed a quiet confidence. They know what they’re good at and what they’re not, but they’re not loud about it. They consistently and humbly play to their strengths and have no difficulty admitting their weaknesses (see point 1).

If you can’t admit you’re wrong because you’re always trying to prove yourself, remember: People admire your strengths but resonate with your weaknesses.

When you can accurately (and even quietly) lead well and admit your mistakes, people trust you.

4. My follower’s success is a threat to me

So many leaders feel threatened by the success of the people around them—even the people they lead.

Big mistake.

You shouldn’t feel threatened by the success of your followers. You should celebrate it.

A leader’s success is ultimately tied to the success of their followers.

Great leaders don’t build great platforms; they build great people.

So how do you do that?

Well, start by murdering your insecurity.

Brian Houston had one of the best answers I’ve heard on this subject. When I interviewed him on my leadership podcast (you can listen to it here), I asked Brian how he’s managed to keep so much talent around him over the years.

I loved his response. He said, “You raise the ceilings.”

Raise the ceilings, and you’ll eventually be surrounded by giants.

If you want to learn more about developing a great leadership pipeline, the team at LifeWay Leadership (where Todd and Barnabas serve) has developed a number of resources to help you begin developing a generation of new leaders at your church.

  • Free E-BookletDeveloping Your Leadership Pipeline
  • Free Leadership App – featuring blogs, podcasts, training videos, and more
  • Pipeline – A Conference for Church Leaders – October 13-14 in Nashville, TN

I’ll be delivering one of the keynotes at the Pipeline Conference in October in Nashville. Join me and 6,000 other leaders this October.

5. I emphasize mission, vision and values enough

On the podcast, I said this one is perhaps the only statement of the five lies that doesn’t arise out of insecurity.

As I’ve thought about it further, now I’m not so sure.

You know what insecure people are? They’re self-focused.

Their needs end up trumping the needs of the organization.

And here’s the truth: you will get tired of casting vision, talking about the mission and celebrating values.

So the question becomes, do you do what you feel like doing or do you do what’s best for the mission?

Great leaders never only do what they feel like doing: they do what furthers the mission of the people they lead.

An insecure leader will flit from feeling to feeling. A secure leader will wake up and do what’s best, even if she thinks she’s done it 1000 times.

Secure leaders can focus on something bigger than themselves because they’re over themselves.

What Do You Think?

I’m a huge podcast fan. I hope you listen to the 5 Leadership Podcast Questions podcast.

I also host a weekly leadership podcast you can listen to for free every week. In fact, if you subscribe for free, you’ll never miss an episode and have access to my back catalogue at your fingertips.

I interview today’s top leaders like Brian Houston, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Jenni Catron, Mark Batterson, Louie Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, Kara Powell, Chris Brown, Jon Acuff, Lewis Howes and many more. You can subscribe here.

On Episode 61 of my podcast, Josh Gagnon, pastor of one of the fastest growing and largest churches in the history of New England, and I have a gut-honest conversation about how even successful leaders struggle with insecurity.

I’d love to know if there are other lies you’ve noticed that insecure leaders believe.

Just scroll down and leave a comment!

suck at vacation

Why Driven People Suck at Vacation (And 5 Ways To Fix It)

So summer is here and you’re trying to take some time off.

Ever notice that’s what driven leaders say all the time?

I’m going to try to take two weeks off.

I’m gonna try to unplug.

I’m trying to relax.

We A-types suck at vacation, don’t we?

It also really sucks if you’re married to us. Or we’re your parents.

How bad is it?

So bad that I included the “5 ways to fix it” subtitle to this post to get you to click on this article because you’re so driven you wouldn’t read an article on how to vacation unless it included a to-do list.

How do I know this?

Because I’m one of you. I’m actually finishing this post at an airport while everyone else talks and I’m trying to wrap it up because the flight we’re boarding has no wifi.

Yep, I’m speaking my native tongue.

Being a driven kind of person, the idea of doing nothing but resting is unsettling for me.

But I also understand how important it is.

Sabbath is God’s idea. And, as I discovered when I burned out, if you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

I know people who can take time off easily… they don’t worry, they’re never tempted to check email, they can easily shut down social media for a week, and they find a hammock to be relaxing.

That person is not me.  I think a few of you can relate.

What’s frustrating is that you hear people give advice all the time about powering down, not checking email, getting offline and just relaxing…vacation is easy for them. But not for some of us. 

So over the years I’ve developed these 5 vacation rules that, if observed, make shutting off all the devices and truly taking a break easier.

They help me, as a driven person, relax better.

suck at vacation

1. Prepare for your vacation, don’t just take it 

I used to run into my holidays full speed, and it would take me half my holidays to unwind.

Take some time before your holiday to prepare for your holiday. Use your evenings to rest up before you leave.

Pack ahead of time. Build the anticipation. When I do this, I can start day one of vacation fully rested and ready to enjoy.

Last year for the first time, I took a week off before our family left for a week together, just to unwind alone and be ready for them when they were free. It helped.

2. Equip your team, and yourself, for your break 

Leaving work behind is hard work.

I wasn’t good at this for years.  Now I spend time before leaving asking “what does my team need while I’m away so they can run optimally and so I can rest?”

If all of that is lined up, then they have what they need and I can get what I need: peace of mind, knowing everything will be okay.

The next step is even more important: let go.

I did this recently when my wife and I went to Australia. I spent almost zero time online (except TripAdvisor or Instagram for fun), fought no fires and let my team handle everything. We had two of the best weeks we’ve had together in years.

But more than that, great things happened back home. The church grew. And my podcast had the single biggest month in its almost two-year history (I lined up all the episodes before I left and gave my team the job of posting them).

You know what I learned? When you let go, things grow.

Early in my leadership, I never would have believed it. Now I do.

3.  Delegate authority and responsibility

While this is good practice all the time, make sure you leave behind real decisions, real authority and real responsibility.

My team can call the shots while I’m away. My assistant handles my email for my entire vacation.  If you don’t have an assistant, use an autoresponder and plan to spend your first or second day back sorting through email.

If you plan for it, you won’t worry about it while away.

4.  Find out what fuels you

I have friends who love to vacation at bed and breakfasts, chat with the locals and make new friends during their holiday. For me, that would be the opposite of vacation.

My ideal vacation is where I go somewhere with my family,  I don’t know anyone, and I don’t need to talk to anyone who might know me.  I suppose it’s a way to refuel for living in a world where so many people know me and I get stopped for conversation virtually everywhere I go (happens to a lot of us in ministry).

I also know it’s important for me to be in an environment that refuels me.

Camping is my nemesis. Give me a good hotel and some day-trips any day and I’m good to go.

We’ve worked it through as a family to the point where when we do the kind of vacation we’re currently doing, everyone comes back rested and recharged, ready to go.

If you don’t know what fuels you, even your vacation can drain you.

5. Pick a goal for your holidays

My drivenness can make me feel like I waste time while away. Obviously, one of my goals is to spend meaningful time with my family; I also use vacation time as time to connect with God.

But I’ve learned if I pick some goals for my holidays, it makes me feel better and enjoy my time alone and with my family more. Your goal can be as simple as reading a few books, taking some pictures, or even a fitness goal.

I feel less restless and more rested if I set a few goals.

Do you suck at vacation?

How about you?  What vacation rules do you have?

Or do you just unplug and think us A types are crazy?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

ripping off other preachers

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

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

Me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In law, that’s technically a crime.

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

shutterstock_273018893So what can I borrow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You lie

Lying is an integrity issue.

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

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

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

Their boards fired them. Bravo, boards.

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

3. You stop growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, you can.

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

4. You lose touch with God

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

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

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

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

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

5. It creeps into other areas of your life

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

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

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

So what do I do?

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

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

That covers most of us.

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

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

Want to develop as a preacher?

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Scroll down and leave a comment!

insights on burnout

A Decade Later: My Top 10 Insights On Burnout

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

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

So what happens if you burnout?

Can you come back?

Can you lead again?

Can you thrive again?

Is there hope?

10 years ago this summer, I burnt out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

burnout in leadership1. Limits exist for a reason

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

Until they do.

People kept telling me I would burn out.

I thought I was invincible. I was so wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that simply isn’t true.

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

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

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

God is still present…even when he feels absent.

3. Your unresolved past will sink your future

Unprocessed ‘issues’ are deadly.

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

How stupid.

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

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

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

4. Grieve your losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much healthier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

6. Your heart will heal and you will trust again

Your heart gets mangled in leadership because:

You trusted people who betrayed that trust.

You hoped only to have your hopes dashed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to my burnout, I worked on time management.

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

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

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

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

I write more on how to manage your energy here.

9. Sleep is a leader’s secret weapon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some hope for anyone struggling with burnout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want More?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll down and leave a comment!

age of terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

age of terror

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

Doubtless the church is in an era of deep change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Confession and humility are more important than ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I do have to figure out my personal response. So do you. So does anyone who identifies themselves as Christians.

Here’s what I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. External regulations cannot trump internal values

Can you legislate away terror? Not really.

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

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

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

Changed laws do not change hearts.

What changes hearts? The Gospel. Love. Christ.

When a heart is transformed, its value system is transformed. Forgiveness dissolves anger. Love dissolves hate.

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

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

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

Paul knew this.

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

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

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

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

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

Forgive someone you actually know.

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

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

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

Which is exactly the point.

So go be the church…

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

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

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

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

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

heart is growing hard

7 Warning Signs Your Heart is Growing Hard in Leadership

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

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

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

Not exactly great company if you ask me.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 7 early warning signs:

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

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

Joy doesn’t. Sadness doesn’t.

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

2. You fake your emotions

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

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

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

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

3. You say “I don’t care” a lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

5. Passion is hard to come by

For anything.

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

6. You no longer believe the best about people 

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

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

Why?

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

7. You’re growing cynical

Hard-heartedness and cynicism go hand in hand.

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

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

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

I wrote more about cynicism and curiosity here.

So How Does It Happen?

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

1. You see the patterns, and forget the people

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

Actually, people behave in certain predictable ways.

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

Patterns are discouraging. People aren’t.

2. You over-protect a broken heart 

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

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

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

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

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

4. You accept a harder heart as a new normal

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

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

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

Some Help

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

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

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

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