From Spiritual Growth

reaching the next generation

5 Surprising Characteristics of Churches That Are Actually Reaching the Next Generation

Everyone talks about reaching the next generation of young adults.

But what really makes a church effective in reaching the next generation?

I’ve visited a few churches this year that are doing a fantastic job at reaching 18-30 year olds—a vastly under-represented demographic in most churches.

I took notes at all the churches. They all shared surprising characteristics, even though they are incredibly diverse.

The surprise (at least for me)?

It wasn’t their model that made them effective. The churches I studied have different models.

It wasn’t their denomination. One was Roman Catholic and attracting tons of young families. Others were cutting edge conservative evangelical church plants.

It wasn’t their facility. Some were portable. Some were permanent.

In many ways, these churches are bending the rule book established by the mega churches of the 90s and 2000s.

Here are 5 things I’ve seen in churches that are killing it with people in their 20s and 30s:

reaching the next generation

1. Passion over Polish

If you attend enough conferences, you can think that you need polish to pull off effective ministry. Another $50,000 in lights or sound and you’ll be good.

The effective churches I’ve visited and seen recently by no means had the best lights, stage or production. Some had almost no stage and no lights, while others had a pretty decent package, but not nearly the level you see at some churches.

What did they all have in common? Passion.

When it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.

It’s not that polish is bad, but I think it’s increasingly trumped by a raw authenticity that exudes from leaders who will do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel.

Smaller facilities and stage sets were more than compensated for by preachers, worship leaders and team members who exuded passion for the mission.

Passion beats polish.

2. Jesus over God

This may seem either self-evident or trivial, but I believe it’s neither; the churches that were packed with young adults talk about Jesus more than they talk about God.

Of course, Jesus is God and God is Jesus.

But God can mean many things in our post-Christian culture. Jesus is far more specific.

I’ve noticed that churches that talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit are having a greater impact on young adults than churches who talk about God.

3. Progress over Facilities

Several of the churches I’ve visited this year are multisite. And they don’t have massive facilities from which to launch new locations.

Next Level Church in New Hampshire is reaching almost 3000 people over 6 locations. Their largest facility is a 14,000 square foot campus that’s a converted auto repair shop. They’ve done a fantastic job remodelling it, but they’ve done it on a dime and it only seats 400 people. They’re reaching almost 3000 people out of that space across 6 locations.

It’s not the 10 million dollar facility you’d think you need to have to reach 3000 people, but that’s not what Josh Gagnon, their lead pastor, is focused on. (By the way, I was recently a guest on Josh’s Leadership Podcast. Perhaps my favourite interview I’ve given. Raw and so real.)

Josh’s passionate, can-do, no-excuses attitude is in part what’s led them to become one of the ten fastest growing churches in America.

Ditto for National Community Church in DC. They’re doing a superb job reaching young adults with very small permanent facilities. And they’re adding an eighth location without first building out the space they already have.


4. Risk over Certainty

All of the churches I know that are doing a great job with young adults take risks. Big risks.

They’re either at odds with their denomination (I’ve seen a few of these) or are launching locations where no one else would dare plant a church.

They’re figuring out how to accommodate parking and even children’s ministry after they’ve made the decision to open or move. They just want to see the kingdom advance.

And the young adults they’re reaching seem fine with the uncertainty. They just want more space and more locations to invite their friends to.

Lesson? If you’ve got growth and momentum but you’re waiting for certainty before you determine what’s next, you might be waiting too long.

Just act.

5. Mission over Money

The question for many churches is this: does mission follow money, or does money follow mission?

Great question.

The churches I know that are doing a great job with young adults would say ‘money follows mission.’

Do the mission well, and money shows up.

In fact, if you lead with the mission first, everything else shows up: people, money and the resources you need.

Too many churches wait for the day when they have the money to realize their mission.

Realize your mission, and you’ll have the money you need.

What Do You See?

What do you see in churches that are reaching the next generation?

If you want more, listen to my interview with Geoff Surratt on his forthcoming book on churches that reach millennials. His findings (while in beta) are fascinating:

Lasting Impact Releases TOMORROW! Today’s the LAST DAY for the Pre-order Bonuses!

Hey friends…I’m releasing a brand new book to help church leaders deal with issues like reaching the next generation with the Gospel.

The book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, covers 7 key issues facing church leaders today (team health, declining attendance, cultural trends and what the future church will be like to name a few).

If you order now, you’ll get some exclusive, limited time pre-order bonuses included for free:

1. The audio book version of Lasting Impact.

2. The e-book version.

3. Access to an exclusive webinar with me on how to have powerful conversations with your team.

Plus, the first 1000 people to order the book and fill out the bonus claim form will get a limited edition Lasting Impact letterpress poster produced by the legendary Hatch Show Print Shop.

Click here to get your copy now. Hurry, time is running out on the bonuses! Today’s the last day to get all four!



leadership personally

5 Reasons You Should Stop Taking Leadership SO Personally

One of the problems I struggled with for years in leadership was taking every leadership triumph or set back so personally.

I let the dynamics of leadership go to my head and heart too often. My spirits soared when things were good in ministry. They sunk when they weren’t. I took too much of the weight home. Well, not just home. It followed me everywhere I went.

Over time, I’ve learned that there’s a world of difference between taking leadership seriously and taking it personally.

Leaders should always take leadership seriously. It demands our best, and we should give it. Every day.

But to take it too personally creates a roller coaster that ripples out all over the place.

When you take leadership seriously, everyone wins.

When you take it personally, almost everyone loses.

Here are 5 reasons you should stop taking leadership so personally.

leadership personally1. You’re messing up your head and your heart

If you take things too personally, you create an emotional roller coasting no one wants to ride.

As Tim Keller has pointed out, if you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart. And that’s exactly what happens when you over-personalize your leadership.

Your head is never quite right when things are going well, because you take credit for things that perhaps rightly belong to God or to the contribution of others. Or you begin to believe it’s all you.

Conversely, when you fail, you become completely deflated, convinced God can do nothing with you or through you. You fall into despair.

The reality is that you’re not nearly as good as your best day or nearly as bad as your worst.

Healthy leaders know how to separate what they do from who they are, which leads us to the second reason you should stop taking your leadership so personally.

2. You’re confusing who you are with what you do

Far too many leaders confuse who they are with what they do.

Big mistake.

We all know we’re not supposed to confuse our identity with our work, but almost all of us do it.

You are not what you do.

Hear this:

You’re loved.

You’re forgiven.

You’re cherished.

None of this has anything to do with what you’ve done and everything to do with what Christ has done for you. That’s the Gospel.

The error in confusing who you are with what you do arises from the fact that you think you’re loved, forgiven and celebrated because you did your best.

Those who understand Christianity know that the opposite is actually true:

You do your best BECAUSE you’re loved, forgiven and cherished.

Do you see the flip?

You don’t do your best to earn God’s favour. You do your best because you have God’s favour.

Spend a day thinking and praying about that. Seriously, do a personal retreat on that one thought.

It will profoundly change how you lead.

3. You’re overemphasizing how important you are

At the heart of over personalizing leadership is this problem: you’ve unwittingly made it all about you.

Of all the scripture verses that stop me in my tracks, this verse from Galatians 6 is one of the best:

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:3 NLT

You’re just not that important.

As C.S. Lewis said, humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s simply thinking of yourself less often.

When you and I are gone, the world will keep spinning. The Kingdom of God will keep advancing.

Somehow it’s not about me. It never was. It never will be.

I just get to play a part.

4. You’re letting your personal feelings dictate the future of your organization

As goes the leader, so goes the team.

If your personal fortune goes up and down with your church or organization, eventually it doesn’t only impact you; it impacts your organization.


Because when you go down, so, eventually, does your church.

When you suffer, your organization then experiences the the impact of your dysfunctions.

A bad moment can become a bad season, because your reaction to what happens triggers the next happening.

Let’s say last month was a bad month in your organization for a variety of reasons. If you personalize those failures, last month’s results will make this month a bad month for you. And if you have a bad month this month, it’s somewhat likely that next month will be a bad month for your organization because you simply haven’t effectively led your team out of the slump (because you’re still in it).

What could have been a blip on the radar (one bad month) can easily become a slide down into a bad quarter or even a bad year.

And who needs that?

5. You’re ruining the rest of your life

I know that leadership brings a weight that only leaders understand. And to be candid, I still have a hard time not thinking about what I do. I love what I get to do. And I think about it a lot.

But it was far worse when I took my ups and downs in leadership personally.

Why? Because bad days would come home with me. Always.

When your success goes to your head and your failure goes to your heart, you always carry them home.

The people who love you will pay a price for this.

You will be arrogant or sullen…confused as to why you’re not the hero at home you are at work, or, on your bad days, resentful that your family and friends don’t want to join your miserable pity party.

The people in your life who truly love you don’t love you because of what you did at work. They just love you.

So stop ruining their lives. And yours.

Got Another Reason?

What have you learned about taking things too personally in leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The Bonuses on My New Book Disappear In A Few Days!

Hey friends…I’m releasing a brand new book to help church leaders.

The book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, covers 7 key issues facing church leaders today (team health, declining attendance, cultural trends and what the future church will be like to name a few).

If you order now, you’ll get some exclusive, limited time pre-order bonuses included for free:

1. The audio book version of Lasting Impact.

2. The e-book version.

3. Access to an exclusive webinar with me on how to have powerful conversations with your team.

Plus, the first 1000 people to order the book and fill out the bonus claim form will get a limited edition Lasting Impact letterpress poster produced by the legendary Hatch Show Print Shop.

Click here to get your copy now. Hurry, time is running out on the bonuses! They’re gone next Monday. 7.1_ModHmPg_v2

rethink call to ministry

Why It’s Time To Rethink What It Means To Be Called To Ministry

Chances are you’re likely struggling with the same issue almost every church leader is—a lack of truly great leaders for ministry.

Whether I talk to megachurch leaders or leaders of churches of 50 people, they say the same thing: they just can’t find enough capable, gifted leaders who want to serve in a church staff role.

In fact, many have told me they would have more campuses and be able to reach far more people if they just had qualified leaders to lead them.

The leadership crisis is true to some extent of volunteers, although many churches I know have figured out how to get capable leaders into key volunteer roles (if you want more on that, read this).

The deepest crisis is in staffing. The number of  people who want to be pastors, ministry directors, or serve in other church staff roles may be at an all time low.

In past generations, the best and the brightest young Christians often went into ministry.

Today, they go into law, medicine, business and into startups. They never even think of ministry.

Three questions.

What if we changed that?

How would we change that?

What would happen if we changed that?

rethink call to ministry

The Best and the Brightest?

I realize some of you are already chafing at the idea of ‘best and brightest’ and ‘ministry’ being used in the same sentence.

And for sure, I’ve read what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about not many of us Christians being wise in the eyes of the world, or well-born or well-educated. But he was talking about being called to salvation in that passage, not about being called to ministry.

And a little later on in the scriptures, Paul gave us his resume. It’s pretty impressive.

Sure, Paul was arguing that human skill is nothing compared to the tremendous grace he’s experienced in Jesus Christ. But you could make a strong argument that God used Paul’s training and background in law and theology to spread Christianity rapidly under Paul’s leadership.

For every Paul there’s a Moses with a less impressive resume (shepherd guy on a hill). But—wait for it—Moses spent time in a royal court. As did Joseph. As did Daniel.

I’m sure some of the lessons learned in those courts rubbed off.  And reading the stories of leaders like Moses, Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament is, in places, like reading a leadership textbook.

I think when you study the weight of scripture through that lens, you’ll realize God uses a person’s skill and talent for his higher purposes.

After all, if we believe a person’s gifting is from God, then it only makes sense God uses a person’s gifting to work out his plans.

Does God equip the called? For sure. He specializes in doing extraordinary things through ordinary people.

But maybe he also calls the equipped.

Having skills and gifts doesn’t disqualify you from ministry any more than not having them (initially) does.

The Problem with A Subjective Call

Onto the subject of calling.

The way most people talk about calling these days is almost entirely subjective. 

We say things like

How do you know you’re called?

Have you heard from God?

Has God spoken to you?

If the answer is no, many of take that as immediate disqualification from ministry.

There are many problems with boiling calling down to a subjective sense of calling. The first is that it’s…subjective.

If you say you’re called—that you’ve heard from God—who can really argue with that? You just played the God card.

Second, it assumes that every person who is called to work in a church full time has to have a subjective, personal experience of God telling them that’s exactly what they are to do.

What if that’s not true?

I don’t want to get into Bible wars. (You know, where people throw scripture verses at each other.) But I don’t want you to think I’m just making this argument up or that it’s entirely unbiblical.

There may be another perspective that might be far more scriptural than our current view of subjective calling.

Read through Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Paul does not say, if you feel you have the gift of apostleship, then you are an apostle.  Nor does he say if God told you you are an evangelist, that you are evangelist.

He simply says God made some people to be apostles and evangelists. And others to be pastors.

Your feelings don’t enter into it much. Your gifting does.

Similarly, I know people who think they are called to ministry who are actually not very good pastors.

Think about it.

You might feel called. You might be sincere.  But you might also be sincerely wrong.

Because our sense of calling has become so entirely subjective, we have perhaps allowed people who shouldn’t be in ministry into ministry.

Otherwise, why do some leaders who feel called to ministry struggle so much with being effective at ministry?

I realize this might seem far too harsh, but the subject is too important to ignore.

Now consider the opposite.

Why are people who are great at leadership not in ministry?

There are many reasons, but here are two:

Because their peers rarely think of ministry as a great option, they don’t (like breeds like).

Perhaps they didn’t experience a subjective sense of call into ministry.

But consider this. Paul does not say if you have the gift of leadership and feel a subjective sense of calling to lead, then lead.

He says if you have the gift of leadership, then LEAD WITH ALL DILIGENCE. No conditions.

Translation: if you have the gift of leadership…lead. It’s that simple.

So What Qualifies You For Church Leadership Then?

What if we looked at calling a different way?

First, every Christian is called to ministry, whether that’s in a volunteer role or a full time role, we all have a contribution to make in ministry.

But for church staff (which is the subject of this article), I wonder if we’d be ahead if we paid more attention to these 3 factors which I’ve selectively borrowed from Bill Hybels:





Character is such a major factor.

You just can’t lead in Christian leadership with out it.

The character of church leaders should be of the highest caliber. I’ve written extensively on character and believe that ultimately, your character, not your competency, determines your capacity as a leader.

If you want to see how your character is doing, you can try this revealing little test.


This is the factor that has been routinely ignored.

Your competency is a direct expression of your gifting. And the church has often ignored those with the gift of leadership. They have fled to the marketplace and avoided the church.

As a result, in the church:

We hire nice people over truly gifted people.

We hire people in need of work rather than people who can fulfill a mission.

We leave the marketplace to claim some of the best Christian leaders out there.

At Connexus, where I serve, we use gifting assessment tools like Right Path, StrengthFinders and others to determine where a persons’ gifting lies.

Objective metrics are so helpful because, ultimately, today’s changing church needs exceptionally skilled leadership.

But even a gut check can tell you the kind of leader the church needs.

The simplest way to tell if a person’s a leader? Look over their shoulder and see who’s following.

If high capacity people are following the person you’re looking at, they’re definitely a leader. If nobody’s following or the type of person who follows is questionable, well, at least you know what you’re getting.

And one hugely under-represented skill set in the church today is entrepreneurship. As I outlined here, I think the church today has more than enough shepherds. It’s time we found some entrepreneurs. Sure, entrepreneurial leaders are not the only leaders the church needs, but it is an exceptionally under-represented group in the church.

Today’s church demands today’s best leadership.


The third characteristic I think a church leader needs is conviction: conviction that the church is worth the full investment of a leader’s best time, best energy and even entire life.

What if there are thousands of leaders who are convicted that the church is supremely important, but they’ve just never thought their gifts could be put to use in it?

What if you don’t need a subjective sense of calling?

I won’t name them here, but I know personally of three leaders whose names you would likely know who are leading major ministries who never experience a subjective ‘call’. They would all say they simply volunteered.

And God has unmistakably used them powerfully. Their character, competency and conviction are second to none.

If they had waited for a subjective call, they might still be waiting.

And about 60,000 people might not be in church or have a relationship with Christ as a result.

What if there are thousands of leaders who would go into full time ministry if they knew that character, competency and conviction were enough?

What if?

Maybe You’re Called

Listen, to be fair, I had a very subjective call to ministry.

I am not a “God spoke to me this morning” kind of Christian, but I promise you God spoke to me.

My call to ministry in the middle of law school when I was in my twenties was entirely supernatural.

Honestly, I think it’s the only way God would have gotten my attention. I’ll tell you about it over coffee some day if we have a half hour.

But what if that’s not required?

See, if you’re:

a leader who has the character, competency and conviction to do church leadership, maybe you just should. Maybe that’s why you’re reading this.

a student or young leader or entrepreneur who has never thought about leadership in the church, but have the character, competency and conviction, rethink that.

responsible for hiring for your church, maybe ask candidates if they experienced and sense of calling, but don’t let the lack of calling be fatal. Look for character, competency and conviction. Maybe that’s enough.

Please hear this.

Some of you have never felt the call to ministry, but you have the conviction that the local church is the hope of the world. You also the competency and the character.

Maybe that’s enough. Clearly, you’d need to pray deeply about it and seek wise counsel who would affirm that you have the character, competency and conviction for ministry.

But maybe you don’t need the subjective call. Maybe the affirmation of your character, competency and conviction is your call.

Maybe you can volunteer.

So if you’ve got what it takes, step up.

More on The Issues Facing Today’s Church…Here

My new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, covers 7 key issues facing church leaders today.

If you order now, you’ll get some exclusive, limited time pre-order bonuses included for free:

1. The audio book version of Lasting Impact.

2. The e-book version.

3. Access to an exclusive webinar with me on how to have powerful conversations with your team.

Plus, the first 1000 people to order the book will get a limited edition Lasting Impact letterpress poster produced by the legendary Hatch Show Print Shop.

Click here to get your copy now. Hurry, time is running out on the bonuses!



What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

Scroll down and leave a comment!


7 Things Leaders Do That Drive Their Team Nuts

If you lead, you are more than aware of the incredible responsibility you have toward others.

Leadership, by definition, is not a solo sport. You’re leading others, and how you do it ultimately determines how effective you are as a leader.

It also means you need to become exceptionally self-aware of your weaknesses.

If you think about it, the leaders you’ve probably liked the least have been the least self-aware.

In my view, self-awareness is a leader’s best friend. (Here are 4 things self-aware leaders know that others don’t.)

As a short cut, here are 7 common things leaders do that drive their team nuts. I know this because I have driven my share of team members nuts over my years in leadership.

1. Underestimating how much work it takes

You’re in an incredible position of trust as a leader. When you say things, your team does its best to make them happen.

But some leaders are notorious for underestimating how much time a task will take.

Sometimes leaders fall into the trap of thinking they can be like God and simply speak things into being: And the leader said “Let there be a fourth weekend service” and it was so. 

Of course, the leader hasn’t properly estimated the impact this is going to have on the parking team, the guest services team, the kids ministry team, the student ministry team, the production team or the music team.

Underestimating how much work something takes can seem like an initial advantage because it makes seemingly impossible things happen.

But it can also be incredibly demotivating to your team when you significantly underestimate how much work something will take.

Often leaders are afraid to ask how much work something will take because they fear leaders will say no. If you have a good team, that’s almost never the case.

They just want to know that you know and appreciate the effort and will allocate the budget and the staffing the proposal needs. And if you don’t have enough budget or staffing, often your team will say yes anyway and make it happen. They just need your encouragement and understanding of what it will cost them.

If this describes you, next time take the time to sit down with your team and think through how much work it will take to get you there. Then plan for it.

The fix can be that simple.

2. Impulsive, emotion-based decision making

I asked my amazing assistant what I do that drives her the most crazy. This was her pick.

Yep, leaders are passionate. Even impulsive.

They are used to creating something out of nothing. Sometimes that’s good, as in Hey, why don’t we launch two campuses at once? Or hey, why don’t we start a podcast and see if anything happens?

Often, the impulsiveness and emotion are driven from a place of discontent with the status quo. That is, after all, the impetus to change.

I may be bothered by something I think needs fixing immediately. I may be discontent about a situation I think the entire team needs to address immediately.

But, to paraphrase Bill Hybels, not all discontent is holy.

Sometimes my discontent comes from having a bad day, or being moody, or just deciding something on the spur of the moment.

And then I almost always reverse the decision the next day or the next week. Or bump what was priority #1 down to priority #32 because it just isn’t as important any more.

That’s frustrating for people.

I’ve gotten better at this, but when my assistant senses it’s happening, she’s become great at asking “So are you serious about this or is this just how you feel in the moment?”

Often that shakes me out of the moment and I’ll say “Right…I’m probably just upset about something. Let me sleep on it.”  Or I’ll ask her what she thinks (or check with some other leaders) and they’ll tell me I’m just worked up about something and I need to relax.

Just because you’re upset about something as a leader doesn’t mean it should become the top priority of the organization.

3. Being indecisive

I’ve seen indecisive leadership sink more than a few ships.

Your job as a leader is to make decisions that make things happen.

That doesn’t mean you make decisions all by yourself. The best leaders always involve a team in their decision making.

But you still need to make a decision.

What makes decision making hard at a senior leadership level is that it’s only the toughest decisions that make it to you. All the easy decisions already got made long before they reached your desk.

And that can lead to delay.

Delay leads to paralysis.

And paralysis leads to stagnation and decline.

Delayed decision-making demotivates your team.

So make a decision, and create a process for making sure decisions get made regularly and quickly.

Sure, every once in a while you need to take a long time to make a decision. But far too many leaders use that as an excuse.


4. Being too decisive and not valuing input

Every problem has a flip side, and the flip side of being indecisive is being too decisive.

Some leaders make instant decisions without any input from anyone else, and that is also frustrating to their teams.

I think it’s a good practice for every senior leader to be a part of something they don’t lead.

I work with a couple of organizations on the side where I’m not the senior leader or where I sit on the board. It helps me realize what it feels like to not be the senior leader.

So I know that I really appreciate it when CEOs ask for my opinion, when they value my input, when they seek my counsel. Even if I disagree with their decision, I know they consulted others, and that gives me confidence in their decision.

As Andy Stanley has so aptly said, leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say.

5. Creating an unsustainable pace

You can be tempted to burn the midnight oil as a leader. Most great leaders do at one time or another.

But leaders can also create unsustainable pace for their team.

Your team feels guilty about going home long before you do. And when you’re pounding out emails at 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. 7 days a week, it makes your team feel lazy.

It also makes you look incredibly unhealthy.

I have a very strong appetite for work, but I’ve let my team know what my expectation for them is.  Just because I work long hours (on a variety of things) doesn’t mean everyone has to.

One of a leader’s chief responsibilities is to create a sustainable pace for their entire team.

6. Working too few hours

Sometimes leaders end up working too few hours.

That’s perhaps even more demotivating that working too many hours.

Always work as hard as you expect your team to work. Even harder (but see above).

Leaders who phone it in have no place in real leadership.

7. Expecting others to put in more than you’re willing to put in

Leadership requires your all.

If your organization requires donations, contribute—sacrificially.

If your organization requires volunteers—volunteer for something, even though you get paid for your staff role.

Never expect more from your team than you’re willing to personally put in.

That doesn’t mean you should always be first in and last to leave. You have to focus on roles in which you can contribute most. But it does mean you should be willing to go the extra mile.

When a leader is working less passionately fewer hours than their team, the team loses both passion for the mission and respect for the leader.

What Do You See?

These are 7 ways I think leaders can drive their teams nuts.

What would you add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

More on Healthy Teams…Here

My new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, includes several chapters on healthy teams and healthy leadership.

If you order now, you’ll get some exclusive, limited time pre-order bonuses included for free:

1. The audio book version of Lasting Impact.

2. The e-book version.

3. Access to an exclusive webinar with me on how to have powerful conversations with your team.

Plus, the first 1000 people to order the book will get a limited edition Lasting Impact letterpress poster produced by the legendary Hatch Show Print Shop.

Click here to get your copy now. Better yet, order a dozen for your team and make sure everyone gets the bonuses!7.1_ModHmPg_v2



CNLP 052: How Craig Groeschel Stays Healthy, Relevant and Passionate in Ministry

It’s one thing to develop great strategy for effective ministry, but it’s quite another to stay personally healthy and passionate in the midst of leading one of the fastest growing churches in the world.

Craig Groeschel gets personal as he talks to Carey about how he has stayed passionate and healthy over two decades of ministry.

Welcome to Episode 52 of the Podcast.


Guest Links:  Craig Groeschel 

#Struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World

Life Church

Craig on Twitter

Craig on Instagram

Links Mentioned in this Episode

Episode 1; Andy Stanley 

Marcus Buckingham

Perry Noble

Bill Hybels

Louie Giglio

Eric Liddell

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

You can be one of the most influential leaders in your community and still struggle with discouragement and inadequacy. Craig Groeschel tells us how he stays fueled in his ministry.

  1. Discover what keeps your passion white hot. Craig said he grew up going to church but didn’t follow Christ, so he developed a massive passion to bring people to God. “Put me in a room full of lost people, and I come to life,” Craig expressed emphatically. He says you’ve got to find that thing that breaks your heart, and stay close to that to keep you motivated. If you lose that, find something else that creates a divine hunger inside of your heart. Additionally, live in prayer so you can contemplate the goodness of God in your work, in your routine and in your life. If you give yourself permission to be close to God in nontraditional ways, it’s can be liberating.
  2. Take care of your body. Craig is committed to his routine in the gym and in his diet because he knows if he cares for himself, he can bring the best his best self to everything God puts in front of him. “It was more of a spiritual decision than a physical decision,” he said. “I want to bring everything to God to serve Him, so I take it seriously.” It’s also important that you give yourself time off from work, so you can recharge the other elements in your life that make you feel complete, whether it’s your family, your marriage or a hobby.
  3. Learn from everyone and anyone you can. You can learn from anyone because everyone has a story. You don’t have to learn from someone who’s “bigger” than you are. You can find new ways to learn from others if you see the right opportunity to do so. Put yourself around people who give you the gift of disorientation, those who aren’t just one step ahead, but 5 to 20 steps in front of you. Pay the most attention to the places where you find yourself giving pushback, because you can learn the most where you don’t understand the context. Information is everywhere now. There’s no excuse not to learn.

Quotes from Craig

Grow Your Church And Get Exclusive Early Bird Bonuses

My new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, releases October 6th 2015 and is available now for pre-order.

If you order now, you’ll get some exclusive, limited time pre-order bonuses included for free:

1. The audio book version of Lasting Impact.

2. The e-book version.

3. Access to an exclusive webinar with me on how to have powerful conversations with your team.

Plus, the first 1000 people to order the book will get a limited edition Lasting Impact letterpress poster produced by the legendary Hatch Show Print Shop.

Click here to get your copy now. Better yet, order a dozen for your team and make sure everyone gets the bonuses!7.1_ModHmPg_v2

A New Episode Every Week…Just Subscribe

The podcast releases every Tuesday morning. And this month, we’re adding three bonus episodes on Thursdays to celebrate the podcasts 1st birthday.

Subscribe for free and never miss out on wisdom from great leaders such as  Jon Acuff, Mark Batterson, Pete Wilson, David Kinnaman, Caleb Kaltenbach, Kara Powell, Casey Graham, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley. Plus get the one year retrospective bonus episode and two #AskCarey episodes where I answer your questions.

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Next Episode:Ravi Zacharias, Nabeel Qureshi, Alycia Wood and Margaret Manning

How do you share your faith in a world in which people are losing interest in Christianity? In this special episode, Carey interviews four leading apologists, including Ravi Zacharias, about how apologetics is changing and what to do next.

Subscribe for free now, and you won’t miss Episode 53.

Plus, you’ll get the bonus 1 year anniversary episodes and special Ask Carey episodes in September.

In the meantime, got a question?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

character tests

5 Character Tests Every Great Leader Passes

The longer I lead and the more I see, the more I’m convinced that character ultimately determines a leader’s true success.

Moral failure takes out more leaders than it should. But real success is deeper than just avoiding the ditch.

So where does the deepest level of leadership success come from? Ultimately it doesn’t come from a leader’s skill set; it comes from a leader’s character.

Your character determines your true capacity.

Why is that?

Character—far more than skill set—determines how deeply and passionately people follow you. A leader with character is a leader worth following.

A leader who lacks integrity may have followers, but he’ll never gain their full trust or their hearts.

After all, we all know highly skilled leaders who are never truly embraced; they’re merely tolerated.

Character, more than anything else, draws the hearts of people to your leadership.

The greatest leaders are highly skilled people whom other people love to be around. They’re people others admire, not just because they’re smart, but because they’re the kind of person other people want to become.

character testsSo how do you know whether your character passes the test?

In my view, the greatest leaders I know pass all five of these character tests many others fail.

1. Handling success

Often people will ask you how you handled your last failure. And that’s not an entirely bad question.

But how you handle your success is a far greater test.

Failure is, by nature, humiliating. It crushes pride.

Success does the opposite. It naturally inflates a leader’s pride. It’s intoxicating.

It takes both great self-awareness and great self-control to handle success. To not let the reports of your own brilliance or accomplishments go to your head.

The very best leaders remain humble, grounded and even self-deprecating. They don’t claim every perk of office and regularly help people who can’t help them back.

They avoid the gravitational pull of self-focus and, instead, stay focused on the mission before them and before everyone.

The ultimate test of a leader’s character is not failure, it’s success.

2. Being misunderstood

At some point, every leader will be misunderstood.

People will say things about you behind your back (or to your face) that aren’t true. People will judge your motives and get it wrong.

Sometimes you’ll only be allowed to say certain things in public, not because you’re being secretive, but because revealing all the information would make others look bad or would be breaking confidence. So instead, you look bad.

That’s just the territory of leadership.

Leadership is a bit like parenting. You have to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. I’ve been there many times as a leader (and as a parent).

Great leaders have forged enough character to overcome the incessant desire to be liked. (Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about likability and leadership).

They are prepared to be misunderstood for a season, knowing that usually the truth comes out in the end.

And even if the truth doesn’t emerge in a particular instance, great leaders know that the overall track record of their leadership and character will speak for itself over time.

3. How it’s going at home

Success is intoxicating. And leadership is rewarding.

People generally do what you ask them to do. Results can be measured. And progress is steady. Sometimes its even exponential.

If only it was that easy to home.

Many leaders who are successes at work end up being failures at home, and that’s not success.

Your spouse isn’t impressed with your stats. Your kids don’t care about your awards.

They just need you.

They simply want you.

Too many leaders impose the high standards they carry at work on their family at home.

Your family doesn’t work for you.

They love you (or at least they used to). And they want you to love them.

4. Who you are when no one’s looking

What is character?

It’s who you are when the spotlight’s not on you.

The best leaders are the same on stage or in the boardroom as they are in a private meeting.

They’re the same when they’re with one person as they are when they’re with a thousand.

And the truly great ones are the same when absolutely no one is around.

As John Wooden famously said, he true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.

5. Helping people who can’t help you

If you’re not careful, the more successful you become, the more likely you will be to spend time only with those who can help you get to the next stage of whatever you’re trying to do.

You almost naturally become a social climber.

The greatest leaders will resist this pull. It’s not that they won’t spend time with other people who are as successful or more successful than they are. It’s that they will still spend time with people who aren’t.

The greatest leaders regularly find time to help people who can’t help them back.

And not just as a charity project…but because it’s just who they are.

They’re not so impressed by themselves that they can’t spend time with people who might not be impressed with them.

They’re not so caught up in what’s next that they can’t spend meaningful time with someone who isn’t on the same journey.

Sure…they’re still strategic with their time, but they have a deep sense of grounding that reminds them that life is indeed about others, not just about them.

What Would You Add?

The great leaders I know pass all five of these character tests.

What are you seeing? Is there another character test you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

ready to handle more

Want More As A Leader? 5 Signs You’re Ready to Handle It

So you’re probably hoping for more. Almost every leader does.

More people.

More team.

More responsibility.

More money.

More opportunity.

More of, well you know, more of almost anything.

Most of us leader types are rarely satisfied with the status quo.

You may want more, but are you ready for more?

Could you handle it if it came your way?

ready to handle more

When I think back to when I was a young leader, I know there were more than a few seasons when I wasn’t ready for more, even when more came my way.

I was a solo pastor for the first few years, working alone out of my basement because none of the churches I served even had an office.

We had hired a few part time staff, and after a few years of part timers, I was ready to hire our first other full time staff member.

I remember a corporate coach who attended our church asking me “Are you ready to handle leading a team?”

And I remember telling her, more out of pride and bravado than wisdom, that I was, thank you very much.

It was a polite conversation, but I was wrong. Actually, it was just foolish not to take her advice.

As my friend Casey Graham told me, more people make your problems more apparent.

I would learn over the next few years what it meant to lead a team in a rapidly growing church. I could have gone further faster had I listened.

So how do you know if you’re ready?

5 Signs You’re Ready to Handle More as A Leader

Here are the signs I’ve seen in myself and in the leaders around me that signal I might be ready to handle more. And the inverse has been true too—when these signs aren’t present, I haven’t been ready.

Here are 5 signs you’re ready to handle more as a leader and some links if you want to dig deeper:

1. You’ve built a better system

As you grow, you need better systems. A system is simply  a way of operating.

You have a system. Your church has a system – a way of doing things. For most smaller organizations, the system might be as simple as ‘wing it’.  But even if you’re winging it, that’s a system. And it’s a system that won’t scale.

If you drill down and ask around, you would discover that you do have a system, even if it’s not a great one.

And, as we all know, your current system is designed to get you the results you’re currently getting.  If you don’t like the results, change your system.

I wrote about systems that handle growth in this post on how to break the 200 attendance barrier, and again in this post on the systems needed to guide your church beyond 200, 400 and 800.

2. You’re working through your personal issues

Having more won’t make your personal issues go away…having more will make them worse.

You’re going to have more problems as you grow, and the problems will be more complex. This demands a greater degree of focus and leadership and naturally gives you less margin.

That’s a perfect recipe for your unresolved issues to bubble up.

Suddenly you’ll discover you’re more jealous, envious, angry, paranoid, worried, reclusive or fill-in-the-issue-here than you ever thought you were.

As we grew, I found I had to wrestle down my personal issues or I would implode or explode. I spent significant amounts of time in the office of Christian counselors working through my issues.

Obviously, that’s a life long process (sanctification always is). But hopefully you’re not working on exactly the same issues year after year.

As you work through your personal issues, your ability to handle challenges, people and responsibility grows.

3. You’re passing the character test

As I outlined in this post, character, not competency, determines your true capacity.

Character is related to working through your personal issues (above, #2). But it’s deeper than that.

Character is the foundation that a solid ministry and organization is built on. You will only go as far as your character will take you.

If you want a quick gut check on how you character is these days, this post outlines 5 signs you lack integrity.

And this post lists five ways to build your integrity.

You will only go as far as your character will take you. If you’ve been working hard on your character, it’s a sign you may be ready for more.

4.  You have the right senior leaders in place

You’ve heard it said, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, build a team.

That’s just true.

But you also need to have the right team.

I look for leaders with character, who are aligned with the mission, vision and strategy, and leaders who have a spiritual maturity and tactical ability to advance our mission.

If you are wondering why you don’t have more high capacity leaders on your team, this post outlines 6 reasons many leaders lose high capacity volunteers.

And this post outlines 3 key ingredients I look for in people who form my inner circle.

Finally, my interview with Chris Lema, below, explains how to build a high performing team from scratch.

5. You’re more mature than you were a few years ago

Another year older does not equal another year of maturity.

I’ve known some exceptionally mature 25 year olds and some exceptionally immature 45 year olds. I’ll take a mature 25 year old over an immature 45 year old any day.

Maturity is a combination of time, skill and character.

So the question is: are you growing in maturity? Are you wiser than you were two years ago or five years ago? If the answer is yes, you might be ready for more.

We’ve covered the character issues above, but if you’re looking for a short cut to the skill part as a young leader (there are short cuts), this post outlines 7 practical things younger leaders can do to help them excel in the workplace.

More of Everything

The upside, of course, is that if you work on your character, systems, team and skill set, you will be positioned to handle more.

What’s really awesome is that you’ll be positioned to handle more not just in ministry, but at home and in life. The skills are directly transferrable.

Growing in all these things have helped me not only become a better leader, but a better husband, father, neighbour and even friend. I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s good to see progress.

What has helped you get ready to handle more?

Anything you’ve seen that signals someone’s ready for more?

Leave a comment!


The Fastest Path to Becoming an Ineffective Leader

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

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

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

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

He was clearly rattled.

It’s hard to come under fire.

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

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

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


We’re All Afraid of Opposition

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

You work hard on an idea. You

Sweat over it

Pray over it

Revise it

Perfect it

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

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

Didn’t think so.

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

Almost every leader is afraid of one thing: opposition.

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

And your dream for the mission.

Here Comes the Trap

What happens next is critical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we all die a little inside.

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

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

You hear from the critics

A few people leave

More people threaten to leave

You get really scared

So you retreat.

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

And you die even a little more inside.

Except now, your proposal becomes, literally,  unremarkable.

Maybe You Had Something Remarkable

Perhaps you originally had a remarkable idea.

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

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

You’ve chosen inoffensiveness over effectiveness.

And being inoffensive ultimately makes you ineffective.

And Suddenly You’re on the Fastest Path To Irrelevance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does this land you as a leader?

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

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

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

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

Lead Boldly

So what do you do?

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

1. Be Bold

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

2. Lead with Humility

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

3. Take the Long View

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

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

And it will pass sooner than you think.

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

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

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

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

My Guess Is…

…that you are not trying to be ineffective.

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

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

What’s keeping you back from being more daring?

It’s fear, isn’t it?

Fear of being rejected.

Fear of offending people.

Well…just know what’s at stake.

Inoffensive is ineffective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll down and leave a comment.

vacation rules

Some New (And Better) Rules For Your Next Vacation

Ready for your next vacation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well meaning—sure—but still unhelpful.

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

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

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

See if you agree.

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

vacation rules1. Do The Things That Restore You

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

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

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

The reality is that everyone is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wifi or decent internet access.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please hear me. Your day will look different.

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

Then do it.

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

2. Do The Things That Energize You

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

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

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

Ditto for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key is for you to understand which is which.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Avoid What Drains You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is This Just Selfishness?

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

I don’t think so.

It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.

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

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

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

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

That’s It

So those are my current new vacation rules.

1. Do the things that restore you.

2. Do the things that energize you.

3. Avoid what drains you.

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

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

gay marriage church christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gay marriage church christianity

1. The church has always been counter-cultural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

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

Please don’t get me wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

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

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

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

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

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the path crystal clear? No.

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

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

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

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

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

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

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

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


Caleb’s Story

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

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

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

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