From Spiritual Growth

8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today

Ever ask yourself as a church leader, do I worship something or someone other than God? 

It’s a great question to ask and great heart check.

I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that you do have idols you worship instead of God. At least I do.

Once you identify them and root them out, you’ll become a better leader.

idols, worship

You’re An Idol Factory

I get challenged about my personal and leadership idols every year when I read through the middle part of the book of Isaiah.

Chapter 44, for example, is all about the futility of worshipping idols, which in those days, was mostly wood or stone carvings.

So what’s an idol today? You don’t need wood or stone to create one.

An idol is anything that takes our focus and reliance off of God.

John Calvin was dead on when he said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

Discard one, and you’ll simply create another.

 

8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today

The list could be much longer than 8, because Calvin was right.

But here are 8 I struggle with or have seen other leaders struggle with.

These are in no particular order, because, well, any idol is bad enough to be #1:

1. Strategy

So I’m a strategy wonk. If you read this blog, you know that.

I think many churches fail for lack of a clear, coherent strategy. I wrote in detail about how mission, vision and strategy interrelate here.

But strategy is no substitute for trust.

As valuable as strategy is (and it is), no strategy is a substitute for trusting God.

Strategy makes an excellent servant and a terrible master.

2. Skill

By all means get better at what you do. Learn, listen, polish and perfect your skills.

Skill alone can get you far, but the church is a supernatural thing.

God changes hearts. You can’t. I can’t.

You know what’s better than a skill set? A surrendered skill set.

Having a B level set of skills that’s surrendered is better than an A level set of skills you’re trying to use without God.

3. Size

There is no merit in size.

Some leaders think only bigger is better. But idolizing big can be a thin mask for ego. (Your self-worth rises and falls with big.)

Some idolize the romanticism of small. Yet idolizing small can be a thin mask for insecurity. (You love small only because you will never be big.)

There is no magic to size. Focus on getting healthy, and size will take care of itself.

Or to switch metaphors, pull some weeds, till the soil, plant some seeds, and trust God to grow things at the pace and to the size he wants.

4. Stats

I love stats too much.

I watch attendance, baptisms, givings, group participation and volunteer rates like a hawk and then am disappointed if they don’t meet my exaggerated expectations.

I watch my blog and podcast stats too much, and—if I’m not careful—I’ll even allow them to dictate my emotions.

Before you gloat a little, ignoring stats can be another idol.

Being the slacker-who-doesn’t-care/I’m-too-hip-for-that leader can close you off to God as readily as being the leader who rises and falls with the numbers.

Stats tell you things. But they don’t measure your worth. Or God’s faithfulness.

Watch them. But don’t believe they’re a barometer on how awesome (or awful) you might be.

5. Alliances

I wish I had a better title for this, but ‘alliances’ simply refers to the group we do ministry with.

In some cases it’s your denomination, or a church planting group. Or my case, as a North Point Strategic Partner, it’s North Point Church.

Alliances are often strategic and helpful. They have been for me.

But they are not your saviour.

It’s tempting to think “If we join X group, our church would take off.”

No…it probably wouldn’t. Just so you know.

Alliances help. But they will not save. God does that.

6. More

Too many times, I’ve caught myself worshipping the idol of more.

If I had more staff….more money…more lights…more team…more square footage…more fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-your-current-obsession-is, then our church would be awesome.

Nope. God is awesome.

And again, there’s nothing wrong with having more. It’s just that more will not be your salvation.

Faithfulness is measured in what you do with what you have.

And if you steward what you have well, guess what? Often (not always, but often), you eventually end up with more.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have. That’s better leadership.

7. Progress

I seem to be far more addicted to progress than God appears to be. Or at least what would define as progress (I’m quite sure God makes more progress on things than I do.)

I often think I would be the worst biblical character.

I would not be good with being in prison for years like Joseph or Paul. Or wandering the desert for 40 years like Moses while people complained. Or waiting to be king for what must have seemed like an eternity to David.

If every graph is not up and to the right, I get worried.

But God seems to use wilderness seasons in your life and in the life of your church to grow your character.

Besides, if your platform ever outgrows your character, you’re doomed anyway (I wrote about that here).

I know God has used seasons where I’m frustrated with progress to grow me.

I am still a reluctant convert to patience and trust. But I am thankful God is patient with me, even when I am not patient with God.

8. Balance

Some of you may be frustrated by now because this appears to be yet another leadership post written by yet another driven leader.

I know. I get that. Those are my demons.

But there is another idol lurking under the guise of work-life balance that’s worth identifying.

Often in the pursuit of a ‘balanced’ life, people can lose passion and commitment.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for rest, balance, margin and a life that doesn’t drain the life out of you.

But balance can become code for barely working. Balance can become a synonym for not throwing your heart or weight into anything. (I wrote more about the trap of work-life balance here.)

If that’s a temptation, just understand that’s an idol too.

We have a God who asked us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Most of the people I know who have accomplished significant things are not balanced people.

They are passionate people.

So be passionate in your work, in your family life, in your rest, and in all you do.

When you do, you will glorify God.

Those are 8 idols I see and often struggle with in leadership.

What do you see?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Painful Truths About Burnout and Leadership

Ever wonder if you’re burning out as a leader?

Or maybe you think it’s just a season and you’ll push through it.

That worked for me…until it didn’t work any more.

8 years ago I experienced burnout for the first time. It was like I fell off a cliff and lost control of my heart, mind, energy and strength.

If you’ve ever been there, you know what it’s like. And if you haven’t, give thanks.

But most leaders get to some level of burnout at some point in their journey. Sometimes you lose passion and energy for the things you used to love. And sometimes, you just don’t want to get out of bed or realize you can no longer do what you used to love to do.

Regardless of how much we hate the fact that we can burn out, here are 7 painful truths about leadership and burnout.

How Burnout Got Perry Noble and How it Got Me.

Before I jump to the 7 truths about leadership and burnout, let’s open the dialogue a bit more.

Tomorrow on my Leadership Podcast, I release a new episode with Perry Noble about the burnout, depression and anxiety he has gone through as leader of one of American’s fastest growing and largest churches.

I hope Perry’s exceptionally candid, honest conversation helps you. It is rare to have a leader speak this honestly and this openly about his struggles, including the suicidal thoughts he experienced and his views on taking medication for depression.

You can make sure you don’t miss tomorrow’s episode by subscribing to the podcast here.

I tell my story of burnout in this post, and also share 9 signs you’re burning out.

Additionally, in this post, I talk about how I recovered and outline 12 keys to getting back.

The bottom line?

Burnout is tough…and it impacts more leaders than you think.

I really hope the dialogue around this podcast episode and the posts mentioned helps many leaders.

 

7 Painful Truths About Burnout and Leadership

Here are 7 painful but unavoidable truths about burnout and leadership.

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5 Things Long Term Leaders Master (And Quitters Never Do)

Very rarely does success come from jumping from one venture to another every few years.

And very rarely does long term impact happen from short term tenure.

And yet in ministry and in life, people often jump from venture to venture or church to church hoping the next fit is better than the last fit, only to be perpetually disappointed.

One of the things that characterizes most leaders who make an impact in our generation is staying power. Andy Stanley has been at North Point since he started it 19 years ago.

Rick Warren has served at Saddleback for three decades. Craig GroeschelPerry NobleSteven Furtick and so many more have all had or are working on long term ministries.

 

Many Leaders Leave Before Their Critical Breakthrough

In my view too many leaders leave too often before critical breakthroughs happen.

Most people who become ‘overnight’ successes have put in a decade or more before anything really note-worthy has happened.

I’m not saying leaders should never leave. In fact, here’s a post outlining 5 signs it’s time to move on.

It’s just if you go too early, you can miss out on so much.

 

5 Things Long Term Leaders Learn to Master

Here are 5 things every leader who stays long term learns to master:

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5 Things Every Church Leader Can Learn from the Mark Driscoll Situation

So let me start here.

I struggle with pride.

Do you?

Doesn’t everyone?

Pride is at the root of all sin. It is pride—the pursuit of self, of knowing better, of being right—that caused our fall in the first place. It is a daily struggle for me.

My heart broke this weekend as I read of the latest developments at Mars Hill Church as their Pastor, Mark Driscoll, temporarily stepped down. There’s a very (from what I can tell) balanced and fair article about the events here in Christianity Today if you want some background.

I need to say I don’t know Mark Driscoll. I’ve never met him.

And this is not a post where I’m going to pass any level of judgment on Pastor Mark or Mars Hill. He needs our prayers as does his family and church (My heart really hurts for his family in a season like this. They love their husband and dad. So does Christ.)

And even as I say “he needs our prayers” I realize that often in Christian circles we say that with a sense of superiority, as though he needs our prayers or she needs our prayers in way that I don’t.

Not even close to true.

No one prays with clean hands. I don’t. You don’t.

I need your prayers as desperately as Pastor Mark. So do you. So when we pray, we need to pray as those who come alongside each other before a merciful and just God and a Saviour we all so desperately need.

We are in this together.

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10 Things Your Kids Will Learn from Your Marriage

I’m on vacation with my family, and today’s post is a guest post from Doug Fields.

Doug is one of the leaders who has set the pace for student ministry leaders over the last number of years, and he’s weathered the tensions that inevitably arise between leaders and ministry only to come out strong in both areas. Doug recently coauthored the book Married People with Ted Lowe.

By Doug Fields

When I speak on marriage, I’m always asked if I intentionally taught my kids about marriage.

The answer is yes… and, no.

Yes, there are times when we’ve talked specifically about marriage (either ours or ones that our kids have observed). But, for the most part, Cathy and I have been wise enough to know that our kids are constantly watching and learning from us without us having to do a lot of talking.

Our actions (both good and bad) are always teaching them about marriage.

I would be thrilled if my kids had a similar type of marriage that Cathy and I share… it’s definitely not perfect, but we’re both very proud of what we’ve developed over 27+ years.

 

10 Actions My Kids Have Caught Over the Years

Here are 10 actions that I know my kids have observed from us over the years:

 

1. Affection

Cathy & I are very affectionate and I like having my kids see me holding their mom’s hand, hugging, kissing, cuddling, etc… as often as I can.

 

2. Saying “I’m sorry”

 I want to be quick to use this phrase and I want my kids to hear me say it (and I have to say it a lot more than Cathy).

 

3. Affirmation

This is my primary love language so it’s easy for me to dish out encouraging words.

My kids get a lot of verbal affirmation, but they also hear me directing it toward my wife (which is really easy).

 

4. Attraction

I think Cathy is hot… and, I make it known around our family. I’ll regularly say, “Isn’t your mom beautiful?”

 

5. Time

Our kids know that we like to spend time together. When they see us steal time away to sit in the backyard and talk, or go in the hot tub, or go on a date night, or sneak away for the weekend…that’s a good message I want them to see.

 

6. Laughter

We laugh a lot in our house and my wife’s cute sense of humor cracks me up. I like having my kids see that my wife makes me laugh.

 

7. Respect

Opening the door for Cathy, saying “thank you” and “please” and showing her simple signs of respect.

 

8. Faith conversations

We’re not always praying in front of our kids, but they hear and see our faith conversations and know that we’re always talking about Jesus and what it means to be a follower.

 

9. The value of friends

Our house is well worn from the traffic of friends in/out of our house.

We love having people over and the Fields’ house is a regular hangout for some incredible friends.

 

10. Servanthood

I know my kids have had a better example in Cathy than with me because she’s the ultimate servant. Always asking, “How can I help? What do you need to make life better?” Serving one another is seen in the daily, little things and there’s many opportunities to serve.

 

Kids are always watching their parent’s marriage and yet too many marriages underestimate the power of modeling!

Children are taking daily recordings of what a marriage looks like and those recordings are definitely influencing and shaping their view of marriage.
Question: Do you have intentional actions that you’re modeling to your kids? Do you have some actions that are different from the ones I’ve listed?

If you do…leave a comment!

Special Offer This Week

My friends over at Orange Books are offering some great deals this week.

You can get any of the deals, any day this week, but, as a leader who’s passionate about people’s marriages, I wanted to highlight today’s featured deal:

 

9780989021333.ePUB

Buy one copy of the book Married People, and get all of this:

• “Why Marriage Ministry Is Doable for Every Church” (Orange Conference 2014 breakout by Ted Lowe, audio file)

• “Married and in Ministry” (Orange Conference 2014 breakout by Ted Lowe and Doug Fields, audio file)

• an annual subscription to MarriedPeople E-ZINE

Plus, when you tweet or share any of the deals on Facebook, you’ll be entered to win a prize.

Just go to to orangebooks.com, click on the Married People book and place your order.

So…what are some things your kids are picking up…for better or for worse? Leave a comment.

Ever Wish You Could Pick the Brain of Your Favourite Leaders? (I've Got a Brand New Podcast Coming!)

As you’ve heard me mention all summer, we have exciting things planned to help you lead like never before.

And one of them is this. I’ll be launching a brand new podcast next month.

You can subscribe right now to get access to exclusive content and new episodes.

Can I tell you why I’m so excited about it?

As a young leader, I always wished I could just pick the brain of leaders I admired.But I didn’t know many. And the ones I listened to from afar were always on stage and inaccessible to me. You know the drill. Been there, right?

Over the years I’ve been able to meet some of the leaders I used to watch from the back row —plus a ton of leaders whose names you might not recognize who have some amazing insights.

So many times when I’ve been talking to those leaders I think to myself “I wish ________ could be in on this conversation!” or “I wish everyone could hear this!”

Well, starting next month, you (and your team) can!

The guest list is pretty amazing (I’m so excited…I’ll reveal it in a few weeks…earlier if you subscribe).

The podcast will feature some of the top names in leadership today as well as people you may never have heard of but who offer some exceptional leadership insights (I love that part!).

My goal…to bring you some of the best conversations happening in leadership today. And all of it’s designed to help you and your team lead like never before.

So…if you want inside access and want to be the first to hear what’s coming down the pipe, subscribe to my podcast today by clicking the button below.

Can’t wait!

Anyone you’d like to see me interview on the show?

Leave a comment!

By subscribing , you’ll receive updates, exclusive content, and new episodes from The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.

Is Church Online a Front Door—Or a Back Door—for Your Church?

It wasn’t that long ago you actually had to work hard to access anything you missed at the church you attended.

You had to show up in person to pick up a CD (or cassette…remember those??) or ask someone to mail you a copy. Or you simply missed out.

Fast forward to now, and almost every church has their messages available online.

Many also have podcasts and even apps. At Connexus, where I serve, we have all three.

And like a growing number of other churches, next year we’ll launch on online campus—a full broadcast of our morning services like North Point Online or Cross Point’s Internet Campus.

It’s always good to ask some questions when things are changing quickly.

What are the rapid rise of messages online and experiences online doing to the church and to people’s faith?

Are they acting as a front door to ministry and attracting people, or are they acting as a back door for people slowly leaving the church?

In other words, is the option of church online moving people closer to Christ, or further away?

It’s a great question every church leader should think through.

 

So What’s Happening, Exactly?

When the option of churches podcasting and launching online campuses became real 6-8 years ago, it looked like it was all upside for the local church

A chance to reach more people.

An opportunity to get the Word out.

A chance to reach people who are scared of walking through a church door.

More exposure.

And, in many ways, all that upside is still there and amazing.

But another trend has emerged that no one really saw coming. Or at least I didn’t.

A growing number of Christians seem to be watching the local church rather than being engaged in the local church.

It’s not usually a huge number, but talk to even the mega-church people behind the scenes and they’ll tell you that as many as several thousand who used to attend in person aren’t any more. They’re watching from the comfort of a bed or beach instead.

While this hasn’t killed attendance by any stretch, it has dented it. The churches that offer numerous online gateways are still growing, but they are also seeing a smaller exodus of Christians no one is sure what to do with.

And it’s alarming for many more reasons than it being downward pressure on a growth curve.

 

4 Questions About Church Online For Christians

If you’re a Christian and your primary experience of church is online, my question is “why”?

Here are 4 questions I would ask:

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6 Subtle Ways Leaders Undercut Their Influence on Social Media

You probably see it every week—leaders who undercut their influence.

Sometimes they blow it completely through one or two dumb moves. And sometimes you end up thinking “I’m not really sure I want to follow them anymore” but you’re not exactly sure why.

The loss of influence is subtle, but real.

Because of constant—even daily— exposure, social media makes influence easier to gain…and that much easier to lose.

Almost every ministry leader I know is on social media today. And so is almost everyone they lead.

So the opportunity to squander your influence is that much higher.

And often we do it without even realizing it.

 

Leadership Is Influence

Before we jump into how leaders lose influence on social media, a word on why influence matters.

Properly construed, influence is not actually about ego at all.

Gaining and building influence is critical for all of us who lead because, as John Maxwell has famously said, leadership is influence.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Lose your influence and you’re not leading anyone.

Build influence and you can take people places they wouldn’t ordinarily go, which is the essence of a leader’s job.

Moreover, if you’re a follower of Christ, you believe the influence you’ve been given is a trust.

You’re not leveraging influence for your sake, but for the sake of cause much bigger than yourself.

Which is why it’s so sad when ministry leaders squander trust or undermine influence.

 

6 Ways Leaders Undercut Their Influence on Social Media

So how do leaders undercut their influence on social media? Here are 6 subtle ways I’ve seen it happen.

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8 Signs Your Vision Isn't Going to Catch On

So you have a vision for the future. Virtually every leader does.

But how do you know whether your vision is going to catch on—whether it will capture the imagination of people and actually move them forward into a different future?

I mean that’s a tall order.

And any leader who’s even spent a few minutes up front casting vision has asked themselves whether their vision will catch on or not.

Sometimes even after you unveil the vision, you live for months waiting and wondering whether it is resonating widely or whether it’s simply going to fizzle and die.

Is there a way to know whether your vision will catch on, or whether it will sputter on before it dies out?

I think there is.

 

8 Signs Your Vision Isn’t Going to Catch On

In my experience, a vision needs at least 8 ingredients for it to resonate with people. This isn’t scientific…it’s just experience.

I know when things haven’t caught on the way I had hoped in the past, I’ve gone back to these elements to ensure they were in place.

Hopefully they can help you craft a clear and compelling vision for your organization  or ministry area that resonates.

Here are 8 signs your vision isn’t going to catch on:

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