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learn about you as a leader

What People Learn About You as a Leader Without You Saying A Word

As a leader, people are always anxious to figure out who you really are.

It’s understandable. A leader’s primary commodity is trust. People follow leaders they trust. Violate that trust, and people stop following you.

Many leaders talk a good game. And that’s understandable.

Yet habits and actions reveal more about any leader than words. And that’s what people study. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” And that’s exceptionally true in leadership. 

So what actions are people looking at? What are they really studying to see whether you are a good leader to follow?

In my experience, there are at least 5 things that reveal who you really are as a leader. It’s also easy to overlook these 5 things, or to convince yourself that what you say will compensate for what you do if what you do falls short.

Yet nothing a leader says eventually outweighs what a leader does. Your actions—not your words—create your leadership and your legacy.

without using words

So what should you be watching as a leader?

1. Whether you deliver on your promises

You never need to open your mouth for your team to determine whether they can trust you.

Trust, after all, is confidence.

The best way to establish confidence as a leader is to do what you said you’re going to do when you said you’re going to do it.

The challenge, of course, is that’s much harder to do than it seems.

Be careful about what you promise.

Be even more careful about how you deliver. It is far better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to offer assurances that mean nothing.

And if you mess up, own up. People respect that.

And then do everything in your power not to repeat the same mistake again.

2. Whether you truly value your family or their family

I was talking to a leader the other week who was trying to figure out how much time to take off when there was so much to do at his rapidly growing church.

As we discussed this, it occurred to me that how he valued his family would signal whether he wanted his staff to value their families.

Most team members want a senior leader to go home at night to see his family.

The late night, early morning and all weekend emails actually discourage your staff.  So do the seven day work weeks.

Even if you tell your staff “you take time off, I need to work,” they rarely feel secure in taking that time off.

Unfortunately, it took me years to learn that my working longer hours communicates to the team that it’s never safe for them to take time off.

How you value your family signals to your team whether you value their families.

3. What your real priorities are

You don’t need to tell people what your true priorities are; they can see them.

Often there’s a disconnect in many leaders’ minds between what they think their priorities are and what they actually are.

What reveals your real priorities?

What you spend your time on.

What you spend your money on.

What you measure.

What you reward.

You can say someone or something is important, but if you never fund it, never spend time on it, never assess results or reward progress, people will rightly conclude it’s not a priority.

If you say reaching young families is a priority but you budget $500 a year for it and refuse to put your best staff or volunteers on the project, it’s not a priority.

As a leader, your calendar and your organizational budget reveal what you value most.

4. Whether people matter to you

Leaders juggle so many issues that it’s hard to not be constantly distracted or pre-occupied when talking to someone.

It’s easy to become a leader who brushes people off, looks impatient and simply sees people as a means to an end.

People aren’t a means to an end; they’re actually the end. Ultimately, we’re all in the people business.

When you meet someone, ask yourself:

Did you stop? 

Did you listen?

Did you look them in the eye?

Did you follow up?

How you treat people is a sign that they matter. Or a sign they don’t.

5. What you’re really like when the pressure’s on

Most of us like to grade ourselves on our good days or on our average days.

And that sets the tone of a lot of your leadership.

But what do people really watch for?

How you handle things on bad days.

How you responded during your last crisis will tell you exactly where your character is at.

Most of us will look back to the last crisis and wince. But that’s okay: it establishes the baseline from which progress needs to be made.

Crisis reveals character, and, as much as you wish it wasn’t true, your team is watching you intensely on your bad days.

What Else?

If you want more on character, heart, health and leadership, I wrote a full chapter about it in my best selling church leadership book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

In the meantime, what do you look for in other leaders?

And what do you look for in yourself?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

sermons are boring

7 Real Reasons Your Sermons, Writing or Ideas Are Boring

If there’s one thing you never set out to be as a leader or communicator, it’s boring.

And yet everyone who communicates, preaches or even tries to persuade someone of an idea has discovered that sinking sense that you’ve lost your audience.

How exactly does that happen?

I’ve been communicating professionally since I was 16 years old in radio, law and for the last two decades, preaching and speaking, and over the years have become a student of what engages people and what doesn’t.

I learned the principles below because at one point or another, I violated all of them.

Here are 7 factors that disengage an audience that are so easy to miss if you’re not looking for them.

boring sermons

1. You haven’t understood or empathized with your audience

There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ audience; you really can’t connect with your audience if you don’t understand them.

Recently I spent some time with a friend talking about a conference we’re both speaking at.

Because I knew the audience better than he did, he spent 40 minutes asking me exactly who would be in the audience, what their hopes and fears are, what they struggle with and how he should approach them.

I was amazed by this for a few reasons.

First, my friend is a multiple New York Times bestselling author and speaks to large influential audiences all the time. If anyone could just waltz in and speak, he could.

Second, even though he has far more offers to speak than he can possibly accept, he is infinitely interested in the audiences he speaks to.

The fact that he’s so in demand, so good at what he does and that he cares deeply about his audience is likely all connected.

The more deeply you care about your audience, the more deeply they’ll care about what you say.

2. Focusing on what people need to know, not on what people want to know

There’s a tension for every communicator between talking to people about what they want to know and talking to people about what they need to know.

If you want to draw a crowd, it’s easy to focus on what people want to know.

But every communicator knows sometimes you just need to tell people what they need to know, even if they don’t want to hear it.

That’s an especial challenge for preachers.

If you always preach about what people want to know, you’ll likely miss what people need to know.

If you only focus on what people need to know, people have a way of tuning you out.

When people tune you out, it might not be evidence that you’re being faithful (as many preachers claim). It might just be evidence you’re being ineffective

So what do you do?

Here’s where I’ve landed. I try to discern what people want, and then I deliver what people need.

For example, few people want to hear about what the Bible has to say about money or sex.

But as a communicator, if I drill down on why God gave us instruction in this area and look for the benefit God intends to bring to people’s lives through it, I’ve then isolated what people will want to hear and can better deliver what they need to hear.

3. You haven’t described a problem people want to solve

The problem with a lot of communication is that it doesn’t start with a problem.

Too often, communicators or writers just start.

Your audience is asking one question: why should I listen? Why should I read further? I have problems to solve and you’re not helping me.

Counter that explicitly.

If almost always start any talk I’m doing describing a problem people face—at work, at home, in their relationship with God or in their relationship with each other.

How do you do that? Describe the problem in detail: ie. You’re so frustrated with God because He says he’s a God of love, but you read the Old Testament and beg to differ. And you wonder if you can even trust a God like that.

If you really want people to drill down on the issues, take the next step. Make the problem worse. Describe it in such detail that people are no longer sure there’s a solution to it.

If you want to see this in action, I spend the first ten minutes of my message on violence in the Old Testament explaining the problem and then ‘making it worse’ before I address it.

You can watch that message here.

4. You didn’t expressed an old idea in a fresh way

For the record, Solomon was right, there isn’t anything new under the sun.

None of us truly speaks about anything new.

As a result, it’s easy to fall into cliches and common descriptions of issues everyone’s trying to address.

For example, I almost called point 2 of this blog post “You’re answering questions nobody is asking.” But I realized that as you skimmed the article you would think “I’ve heard that a thousand times” and tune out.

So I changed the expression of the point to “Focusing on what people need to know, not on what people want to know.”

It’s a little fresher.

Again, that’s not a brand new idea, but it’s a more unique expression of it.

If your ideas are simply retreads of other people’s ideas, people will tune out.

5. You haven’t crafted your words well enough to make them memorable

I spoke to a couple a few weeks ago about a series I preached four years ago.

They’re in their twenties, so that’s almost one fifth of their life in the past.

They quoted the bottom line of that series to me and asked me to use it again at their wedding.

The bottom line was simply this: Like is an emotion. Love is a decision. 

It’s hard to believe someone remembers something you said four years earlier, but it happens.

They then told me they want their life together to be built on a decision to love each other, not an emotion they’re feeling. What’s so powerful to me as a pastor is that single line contained the direction for an entire six part series whose ideas they were able to recall. (If you’re wondering, that isn’t available online right now. It might be again soon.)

The power of carefully crafted phrases is that they’re memorable, and memorable phrases keep going to work years after you’ve finished speaking them.

How do you craft memorable phrases? I outline the process here.

6. You don’t personally own the message

There was a season when cool church was enough.

But people are tired of slick. They’re suspicious of polish.

In many ways, authentic is the new cool.

One of the keys to authenticity is personally owning everything you say. People want to know you believe what you’re saying.

In a world of spin where so much is sold, people are looking for real.

Be real.

When you own the message—when it comes from the core of who you are—it resonates.

So own your message.

That means you’ve processed it deeply enough that it has become part of who are, not just something you say.

7. You’re relying too heavily on your notes

In public speaking, people won’t believe you own the message if you’re reading it.

It comes across as a press release. Or a statement someone else prepared. Or something you think they should believe, but you don’t believe yourself.

I know that’s tough for people who are tied to manuscripts.

Please hear me: reading from your notes doesn’t mean you’re insincere, it just means people often think you are.

So is there help? You bet.

If you want to learn how to free yourself from speaking with notes, I shared a 5 step method on how to do that here. It’s exactly how I got freed up from my notes.

Want the heart of it?

It’s this: don’t memorize your talk. Understand it.

You don’t memorize your conversations before you have them because you understand them.

So understand your next talk.

You can always talk about things you understand.

Want More?

Personally, my go-to resource for learning how to improve my preaching has become Preaching Rocket (affiliate link). I have learned so much from Jeff Henderson and the team there over the years.

If you want to sample Preaching Rocket for free,  you can check out their free 7 day free trial offer here.

In the meantime, let’s share some learning. What are some other things you’ve seen that lose an audience?


5 Things Great Leaders Know About Their Emotions That Others Don’t


Some days you orobably think it would be better if you could lead without them.

You get excited about a new idea only to become discouraged when no one else thinks it’s a great idea…or it doesn’t work.

As a church leader, you spend most of Monday wishing Sunday had been different, and it’s rarely healthy.

You get one nasty email and it ruins your day week.

Your bad day at work becomes a bad night at home.

Your mood dictates too much of the tone at the office.

Misunderstood and unaddressed emotions sink more leadership potential than most of us realize.

If you don’t understand your emotions or know how to manage them, you will never reach your leadership potential.

And yet emotions are absolutely necessary for great leaders.

So how do you manage your emotions?

There are 5 practices effective leaders adopt when it comes to their emotions. Knowing them can make a huge difference in your leadership.


So what do effective leaders do with their emotions?

Well, great leaders:

1. Never let today’s emotions drive tomorrow’s decisions

When emotions drive decisions, you almost never make great decisions.

For sure, great decision making is a combination of the head and the heart.

But think about all the terrible decisions you’ve made when you were emotional:

You said terrible things.

You fired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You hired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You lost your temper in a meeting.

You broke up.

You ate too much.

You drove so fast you got a killer ticket.

You almost quit.

You did quit.

Wise leaders know that. They realize that rash things they do today impact tomorrow.

They have come to realize that no matter how they feel in the moment, a good night’s sleep, some prayer, discussing the matter with wise friends and even some distance will make for a better decision down the road.

I had to learn this the hard way, but it’s such a good principle: Don’t make tomorrow’s decision on today’s emotions.

2. Refuse to let emotions distort reality

Emotions distort reality.

It’s never as bad as you think when you’re emotional. And it’s likely not as great as you think either.

Emotions make you see negative things more negatively than you should, and positive things even more positively than you should.

Even positive emotions can hurt you when they are detached from reality. If you’re overly positive, you can ignore reality, miss impending dangers and gloss over problems that actually require your attention.

Time is your friend when it comes to making wise decisions. Putting a little distance between your emotions and your decisions is a great strategy.

So is wise counsel. Great leaders trust the judgment of other people as much as they trust their own.

And when they’re emotional, they trust the judgment of others more than they trust their own.

3. Won’t let emotions spawn selfish behaviour

Bad days or bad emotions are most often fueled by pain.

A stinging email triggers a deep hurt. A bad staff situation eats away at your joy. A season without momentum erodes your self-confidence.

You end as a leader in pain. And pain is selfish.

In the same way that stubbing your toe makes you forget about whatever else you were doing until the pain is resolved, your emotional pain (no matter its source) makes you more selfish as a leader.

People in pain:

Don’t listen well to others.

Withdraw and sulk.

Blame others.

Eventually turn every conversation to a conversation about themselves and their needs.

Want others to share their misery or sadness.

Seek attention.

And selfish leaders are never effective leaders.

Effective leaders know that.

The best way to get rid of your selfishness is to get rid of your pain.

Pray about it. See a counsellor. Drill down on your issues.

4. Let emotions fuel passion

Emotion isn’t all bad.

After all, who wants to follow an emotionless leader?

In fact, when you look at churches that are doing a great job of reaching adults under 35, passion is an indisputable characteristic (here are the other 4). Passion is directly fueled by emotion and is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to fake.

Consequently, great leaders realize there is no sustained or contagious passion without emotion.

You are attracted to people who are passionate, or at least you can’t easily dismiss them.

When you lead with passion, teach with passion and preach with passion, your leadership becomes far more magnetic.

Plus, passion ends up fueling you. It’s what makes you get out of bed in the morning and drives you on.

Effective leaders are emotional, but they ensure that the emotions that drive them in leadership are the emotions that positively impact others.

5. Keep their hearts fully engaged

Your heart gets beat up in leadership, and as a result it’s easy to pull your heart back. To never engage. To stop trusting. To withdraw.

Effective leaders simply don’t do that.

They realized that the great leaders push past the hurt, the cynicism and the pain and keep their hearts fully engaged.

They decide to hope again, to trust again and to believe again.

Why? Because when your heart is engaged and alive, you become a better leader.

When you feel a full range of emotions (both positive and negative) you can empathize with people who are hurting and celebrate with people who are celebrating.

You can walk with a group or congregation through a hard time and celebrate joyfully in the great moments.

To do that, you need to keep your heart healthy and in tune.

I wrote about the top 10 habits of leaders who effectively guard their hearts here.

And if you think your heart isn’t, here are some signs it might be burn out and some resources to help you get your heart back.

What Are You Learning?

If you want to drill deeper, I wrote more about the impact of emotions on leadership in my best-selling book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

Managing your emotions in leadership is one of the things that distinguishes great leaders from the rest.

What are you learning about managing your emotions as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Church shoppers

5 Key Differences Between Church Shoppers and the Unchurched

Every week you hope to have new people at your church.

But there’s a world of difference between reaching the unchurched and attracting serial church shoppers.

I’m fortunate to be part of a church where we’ve had first-time guests every single weekend since we launched eight years ago.

While it’s easy to think of a visitor as simply a ‘visitor,’ not all visitors are the same.

Like many of you, our goal is to reach the unchurched. And in nearly every community, there’s a growing number of unchurched people to reach.

But there’s another group entirely that shows up at your church regularly: church shoppers.

Serial church shoppers are not the same as the family that moved and is looking for a church in their new community who might try five churches before settling. Nor are they the same as family that is leaving a church they’ve been part of for years, has exited well (here are some thoughts on how to do that) and is looking for a new place to call home for a long time.

Families moving to your community and Christians who transfer well out of another church can be welcome additions to any local church.

But serial church shoppers are different. They’re consumers.

If you end up facing a true church shopper, you might discover that they’ve been to 5 different churches in the last 10 years, and will soon have another one (that’s not yours).  Or you might discover they’ve never settled down anywhere and have 3 churches they sample regularly, when it’s convenient.

As a leader, being aware of the difference between church shoppers and who you truly want to reach is critical.

I have seen far too many church leaders waste time and energy trying to please church shoppers, to no avail. Do it regularly, and it will take you completely off mission.

Trying to appease a serial church shopper is an exercise in pleasing the un-pleasable.

Here are 5 key differences between church shoppers and the unchurched every church leader should know to ensure your church stays on mission.

Church shoppers1. Church shoppers think their job is to evaluate; the unchurched are looking to learn

A church shopper comes into every church with an evaluation mindset.

Is this my kind of music?

Is the preaching good?

Did the people notice me?

Do I like this place?

It’s not that unchurched people don’t ask the same questions. They do. And be honest. To some extent, we all do.

But a church shopper thinks the church exists to please them. After all, that’s why they left the last eight churches.

An unchurched person might start with evaluation, but they ultimately don’t stay there. They want to learn. They want to grow. They want to challenge and explore, and most are very open to a much deeper journey than one that starts and ends with evaluation.

Church shoppers ask, “Did I like it?” And the moment they don’t, they’re done.

If you really boil it down, serial church shoppers think their mission is to criticize, not contribute.

2. Church shoppers move quickly from love to hate; the unchurched warm up to you gradually

It’s not uncommon to have a church shopper tell you how much they love love love your church on the first Sunday.

But over the years I’ve seen this pattern: people who love your church immediately and go out of their way to tell you how it’s the best thing ever rarely feel that way for long.

In fact, they often end up disliking your church just as strongly. And they’re vocal about it.

The unchurched (and healthy Christian transfer growth) is different. They might like your service, but they’re a little more reserved in getting involved or even letting their heart buy in.

In my experience, the people who begin a little cautiously or at least moderately and who gradually warm up turn out to be the healthiest church members in the long run.

Contrast that with a church shopper. Sometimes it seems like everything church shoppers love about your church today they will dislike tomorrow.

3. Church shoppers want your church to be like the last church (that they left); unchurched people don’t

I continue to be amazed at how often a church shopper will tell you how much they didn’t like their last church but then ask you why your church isn’t more like that church.

Our old church had a men’s ministry.

Our old church had more singable music.

Our old church had far more mid-week activities happening.

Which makes me want to ask: “Then why did you leave?”

It’s actually a good question.

The unchurched, if they have any concept of a ‘last church’ are usually opposed to some stereotype of church that revolves around judgmental preaching, boring services and outdated methods.

Often they’re railing against a straw man from the last generation. And they appreciate the alternative you’ve created.

4. Church shoppers blame the church when things go wrong; the unchurched take responsibility

Somehow, the fact that a church shopper doesn’t like any church never seems to be their fault.

It’s always the church that lets them down.

In preparing to write this post, I put feelers out on social media, asking what frustrations people experience with church shoppers. Jason Stockdale, who pastors the three month old Hills Church in Memphis, shared this story from another ministry he was part of:

A couple had been to 4-5 churches over the last 2 years, I followed up with their “connection card” when they visited. They claimed they never could get “connected” at any other church, but really liked our church the few times they had been. Proceeded to then tell me the son plays competitive baseball 6-7 months out of the year and the dad often travels with him on the weekends, the daughter plays competitive volleyball and soccer (pretty much year around) and the mom travels on the weekend with her. The mom worked nights as a nurse so they had no nights during the week available to get connected in a group and were rarely ever going to be at church together as a family.

I did everything I could to get them involved in one of our Sunday morning small group classes we offered, they lasted about 6 months and then he called me one day and said they were going to start looking for another church, they just didn’t feel connected to ours.

I think every church leader can relate. Sure, shift work is tough, but there are other choices in the mix that might have prompted more introspection and ownership.

Sadly, I suspect the pattern for this family might repeat itself again and again.

Why is it the people you do the most for are the people who claim you failed them?

In my experience, the unchurched, by contrast, take far more responsibility if things don’t work out. They’ll say “Hey, I’m just not sure this is the right thing for me. Keep doing what you’re doing. But I think I’m out.”

Sure, that’s disappointing, but it’s healthy.

Before we leave the subject of responsibility, here are 5 things people blame the church for…but shouldn’t.

5. Church shoppers want to lead THEIR ministry; unchurched people want to get involved in THE ministry

If a church shopper gets involved for a season, they’ll often want to lead THEIR ministry rather than get involved with your ministry.

Maybe it’s a group or something they did at their old church, or a special cause they’re passionate about.

Often with serial church shoppers, ministry involvement is more about them than it is about the mission.

Unchurched people are usually fine getting involved with the wider mission of the church. They’re content with finding their part in a larger story. They don’t have to be the story.

What Do You See?

Am I saying that ALL church shoppers are unhealthy and ALL unchurched people are healthy?


There’s likely a story under some serial church shoppers’ experience that explains the behaviour.

And is every unchurched person healthy?

No, not at all.

But I will take a genuinely unchurched person over a serial church shopper any day, not just because that relationship is far more on mission, but because it actually has the potential to change a life.

Serial church shoppers are more interested in changing a church than they are in changing their life.

Here’s to staying on mission. And if some serial church shoppers settle down in the process, that’s amazing.

In the meantime, what has you spinning your wheels when you could be reaching the unchurched instead?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

church culture

A 5 Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture

Every church has a culture. Yours does. Mine does.

If the culture is healthy, amazing things happen.

People love being there.

People grow.

Great leaders come and stay.

Your church becomes attractive to the community and more fully accomplishes its mission

 But sadly, for many churches, the culture isn’t healthy.

Culture is invisible but determinative. You can’t see it, but it defines so much.

A bad culture will consistently undermine an amazing mission, vision and strategy.

As Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Think about it:

Culture is the reason you love shopping in some stores and despise shopping in others.

It’s why you love some airlines and pass on others.

It’s why some families always have fun when they’re together and others can’t stand to be in the same room.

So the question becomes: how do you create an amazing culture?

church culture

I’ve worked hard on creating a better church culture over the years.

As I’ve gotten healthier, our church has gotten healthier.

Two years ago we finally wrote down six cultural values at Connexus Church, where I serve.  It took us a year to define what those values were. You can access them here (scroll down when you reach the page), and I’m emailing a PDF copy to everyone on my email list if prefer your own version (subscribe to my email list here). I also preached through our cultural values in this weekend series called Doing Time.

So how did we get there?

We started with a one day off-site where our leadership team brainstormed around some of the concepts outlined below. Then, for about an hour or two each month during our leadership team meetings, we refined the concepts and the language behind our values until we came up with our final six.

Throughout the process, two resources were particularly helpful for us:

Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage

Andy Stanley’s two-part Leadership Podcast episode, Defining Your Organization’s Culture.

Although this resource wasn’t around two years ago, Craig Groeschel has a fantastic new leadership podcast and his most recent episode is on creating a values-driven culture. It’s a must-listen.

Capturing your organization’s culture is helpful because it allows you to reproduce it and export it as you grow. If your culture is healthy, it will become one of your greatest assets.

If you want an easy way to acclimatize every new staff member, board member, volunteer or person to your organization, having defined, memorable and repeatable values is one of the most effective ways to do it.  If your organization’s cultural values are NOT written down, acclimatizing new team members can take a year, or actually, it might never happen.

You can cut that time in less than half and double the buy-in by having your culture defined. Having a healthy, exportable culture is a key to every effective organization’s growth.

What follows is a 5 step guide on how to create a healthy church culture that echoes throughout your organization, even if you’re starting with a bad culture.

Step 1: Identify and eliminate the toxins

Church culture isn’t naturally healthy because people aren’t naturally healthy.

As a leader, one of your chief jobs is to figure out why your culture isn’t healthy and change that.

Look for the toxins that are making your culture unhealthy.

Conflict, selfishness, personal agendas or even toxins like a lack of passion for the mission can be lethal in a church.

If you want to drill down further, I outline 6 warning signs that your church culture is toxic in this post. And I outline 6 early warning signs that a person is toxic in this post.

You can’t eliminate what you don’t identify, so identify the things you want gone from your culture.

Step 2: Model the change you want to see

Here’s a sobering reality for all of us who lead: your church will only be as healthy as you are.

Expecting a church to be healthy when its leader isn’t is like expecting an athlete to run a marathon with a missing heart. It’s not possible.

Any conversation about church health starts in the mirror for a leader.

As I discuss in detail in my book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, healthy leaders produce healthy churches.  The healthier you are as a leader, the healthier your church will be.

The same goes with all the change you want to see.

As a leader, you need to embody the things you want your organization to embody.

Want to see a church that invites people on Sundays? Then invite people on Sundays.

Want to see a church that gives generously? Then give generously.

Want to see a church that has deep passion for the mission? Then exude passion.

You see the point.

As a leader, culture starts with you.

Step 3: Start with WHO embodies your values

So how do you find your values? There are a lot of words in the English language. You have to choose just a few of them to define you.

Further more, how do you avoid meaningless platitudes like “Value Excellence” which sound great but practically mean nothing.

On that first off-site day we did, I had a spontaneous thought that ended up moving our team forward immensely.

Rather than start with what we valued, I decided to start with who embodied the best of our church.

Let me explain.

I went to the whiteboard and asked “Of all the people who attend our church, who best embodies what we’re about and WANT to be about in the future?”

Immediately, names started coming to all of us. I wrote them down.

Your church has these people too: they are amazing. They are all you want to see in a church member and more.

Then I asked a simple question: “Why? What is about them that makes them the embodiment of our mission, vision and strategy?”

I’ll come back to those answers in Step 4.

But before we move on, I also created a second list.

Next we made a list of people who, honestly, didn’t embody our mission, vision and values, or to put it more positively, who are the people we would need to really encourage along in order to get them in line with our real mission? We actually wrote their names down (and then I burned the list).

And we asked the same question: “Why? What is it about them that makes them the opposite of what we want to accomplish?”

I know that’s dangerous.

Maybe it’s even sinful.

But it’s true. And you know it’s true.

And it was SO clarifying.

Figuring out who you value helps you discover what you value.

Step 4: Isolate the unique principles

Figuring out why some people embodied our mission, vision and strategy and why some people didn’t was a break through for us. It helped us get to the values that we, frankly, valued. And those we didn’t.

When I asked our team why the people who best embodied what we’re about and WANT to be about in the future were their top choices, the team started saying things like:

Because they serve so selflessly

Because it’s not about them

Because they are so generous

Because they are always considerate of other people

Because they make it happen

Because they are all about our common mission, vision and strategy

Those were the first clues as to what our cultural values were.

“Make it Happen” actually made it to the list of final values a year later. We just love people who are willing to do what it takes no matter what the obstacle, and we didn’t want to lose that value as we grew.

Similarly, when I asked our team why the people who didn’t embody our mission, vision and strategies make it on the list, our team started saying things like:

Because it’s always about them

Because they criticize but don’t contribute

Because they don’t actually value unchurched people

Because they want to be served, rather than serve

Again, that helped us understand what our values were.

Try it. On a sheet of paper write the names of ten people who embody what your church is all about and what you WANT it to be about. And then write down why.  Do the same for people who AREN’T what your church is all about, and again, write down why.

You will learn a ton about what you value. Then burn the lists and save the principles.

For a few hours each month, we chiselled away at the principles we unearthed that day until a year later, after a lot of debate, discussion and prayer, we had our final six values.

Step 5: Create memorable, exportable language

It’s one thing to know what your values are as an organization.

It’s another to phrase them as a way that’s memorable and exportable.

In our case, we decided to create a two word phrases for each value (i.e. “Battle Mediocrity”) followed by a question (i.e. “Am I allowing what is good to stand in the way of being great?”).

Having 6 two-word phrases allows the values to slip into every day language, and the question makes the application personal.

We also wanted the values to be both prescribe and describe our church. In other words, we want it to be accurate enough that people say “for sure, that’s you,” but aspirational enough that it keeps us motivated to keep getting better.

However you do it, having short, memorable phrases will help the values spread through your organization.

It means you can bring new staff and volunteers up to speed much faster and that as you expand, what you value will remain shared.

Does sharing your values this way work? Well, as I mentioned, our values proved so popular with our volunteers (who kept telling us they wished their workplace/family operated the same way) that I ended up preaching through them on the weekend. You can watch the Doing Time series here or listen via podcast.

What Have You Learned?

That’s what I’ve learned about how to define and reproduce cultural values.

Again, I’ll email out the PDF of our cultural values (including a frameable artistic version we did for our church) later this week to my subscribers. You can get that by subscribing here.

What are you learning? Scroll down and leave a comment.

church culture is toxic

6 Warning Signs Your Church Culture is Toxic

Every church has a culture. But how do you know if your church culture is toxic?

More importantly, how would you know whether you’re creating a toxic church culture as a leader?

I’ve interacted with many church leaders (and readers of this blog) and the sad reality is that there is no shortage of toxic church culture stories and experiences.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it certainly isn’t always that way.

Leaders are the architects of culture.

You create a culture whether you intend to or not.

Part of shaping a healthy culture is being aware of the signs of toxic culture and the signs of health.  I blogged about the early warning signs that a person may be toxic here. But organizations have different signs than individuals do.

So how do you know if your church culture is toxic? Believe it or not, the Bible gives incredible practical advice. The longer I lead, the more I use Galatians 5: 16-23 as a health check for me personally and for anything I lead. It describes what’s healthy and what’s not, for me as a leader and for the church.

Below, I outline 6 warning signs that are practical applications of that text.

By the way, this is part 1 of a 2 part series on culture that I’ll conclude later this week.

My next post will be on how to create a healthy church culture, and later this week, I’ll email a free PDF of our mission, vision and cultural values at Connexus Church, where I serve, to everyone on my email list. If you want to connect by email, you can sign up to my email list for free here.

In the meantime, here are 6 signs your church culture in toxic.

church culture toxic

1. The politicians win

One sure sign of a toxic culture is that you have to play politics to get anything done.

You know things have gotten political in your church when:

Decisions rarely get made the way they’re supposed to be made.

Most decisions happen outside of meetings or any agreed-upon process.

You can’t get a yes without offering something in return.

You have to continually lobby to be heard.

If you’re always jockeying, lobbying and courting favour to get the right decision made, it’s a sign your organization is unhealthy.

In the local church, having to play politics to win is a sure sign there’s sin.

When you do what you say you’re going to do the way you said you’re going to do it, you bring health to an organization.

2. What gets said publicly is different from what happened privately

Another sign things are becoming toxic is when what gets said publicly is different than what happened privately.

When there’s spin on every issue and nothing can be said publicly without ‘agreeing’ on what gets said first, things are bad.

For sure, there are times where a situation is delicate and you will want to ‘agree’ on what gets said publicly to honour everyone involved, but in too many organizations few things that get done privately can be announced the same way publicly.

And to be sure…when you’re crafting any kind of a public statement, you want to pay attention to the words you use and perhaps even find agreement on them.

But the end product should never be the opposite or even different than what actually happened

I have good fortune of being part of several healthy organizations. I love it when people pull me aside and ask (in hushed tones), “So what’s the real story?” and I get to tell them “Actually, that is the real story.”

Living in that kind of culture really helps you sleep at night too.

3. You deal with conflict by talking about people, not to people

The golden rule of conflict is this: talk to the person you have an issue with, not about them.

In too many churches and organizations, the opposite is true.

People talk about people rather than to them.

The church should be the BEST organization in the world in dealing with conflict. Often, we can be the worst.

The next time you want to talk about someone (i.e. gossip), talk to them instead. If you can’t or won’t, there’s something wrong. Pay attention to that.

Want to know what’s wrong most of the time? You’re gossiping. That’s what’s wrong.

Trying to resolve conflict by gossiping about the person you’re angry with is like trying to extinguish a fire with jet fuel. It only inflames things.

Sure, occasionally you need advice from a friend about how to approach a situation. When I’m in that situation, I try to assume the person we’re talking about will hear everything I say. Even if they don’t, the fact that they could speaks volumes.

Do I always get it right? No, but it’s a great integrity check, and I try to live by it.

If you want more, I outline 7 steps for dealing with conflict in a healthy way in this post.

4. Church fights are normal

Conflict is normal. Church fights shouldn’t be.

Yet so many congregations are in perpetual fighting mode. One day it’s the music. The next it’s the carpet. The next it’s some staff member everyone ganged up on.

Failure to get point #3 right above is the way churches come to see fights as normal.

Another reason churches fight regularly is because personal preferences have trumped organizational mission.

Essentially, members decide that what they want is more important than what others want or the church needs to make progress.

When that happens, it essentially pits one selfish person or group against others.

And when that happens, everything dissolves.

If your church is in conflict there should zero mystery as to why it isn’t growing.

5. There’s an entrenched ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality

The church should always be a ‘we,’ not an ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Fundamentally, being a Christian causes us to die to ourselves and rise to something bigger than ourselves.

Some Christians forget that.

Whether the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality exists between factions in your church or between your church and the community, it’s always fatal to health and growth.

The job of a leader is to raise vision high enough and urgently enough for all of us to become bigger than any of us.

United, the church will always accomplish more than we will divided.

6. No one takes responsibility

So who’s going to fix your church?

No one.


Anybody but me.

As long as things are someone else’s fault, things will never get better.

A final sign your church is toxic is that no one takes responsibility. Instead, people just blame everyone else.

You can blame the culture, the pastor, the leader or anybody, but until you take responsibility, things will never get better.

Blame is the opposite of responsibility. Leaders who stop the blame cycle and take responsibility have the potential to usher in real change.

But, you say…”I’m not responsible for all of it.” True.

But you’re likely responsible for some of it. Own what you can. Own all you can.

If no one else does, still take responsibility.

You’ll get healthier. And if they don’t, you’ll leave and will eventually join a healthier church.

Health attracts health.

Want More?

Want more?

Craig Groeschel has a fantastic podcast episode on culture you can listen to here.

I’ll finish up the conversation in my next post, and remember if you’re interested in our culture values as a church (in which we try to seed health), just subscribe to my free email list here.

In the meantime, what are some signs of a toxic culture you see?

How would you make it better?

sermon myths

6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust

Preaching is one of the most demanding tasks required of communicators.

You’re not just giving a ‘talk,’ you’re communicating the Word of God—faithfully (you trust). And you do this in front of groups of people who have more communication options and sources than at any point in human history.

Not an easy task.

In addition, when it comes to preaching, everyone has an opinion.

As a result, preachers get more than their share of feedback. Sometimes it’s helpful. Sometimes not so much.

So to wrap up my five part communication series, I thought I’d finish by busting some sermon myths.

The rest of the blog series covers topics like creating sermon series that connect with unchurched people and learning how to speak without using notes:

Part 1: How to Design a Message Series That Engages Unchurched People

Part 2: How to Craft a Killer Bottom Line for Your Next Talk

Part 3: 7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes

Part 4: A 5 Step Method For Delivering a Talk Without Using Notes

Part 5: 6 Sermon Myths We Need to Bust (This post)

I’ve learned a lot about communicating through preaching for over two decades, but I’ve also been tremendously helped the last few years by Preaching Rocket (affiliate link).

I’ve been through their entire coaching programming and it’s been fantastic for me both as a preacher and a conference speaker.

If you want to explore it for yourself, you can try Preaching Rocket for free for 7 days.

So what sermon myths should we bust? Here are 6.

sermon myths

1. Sermons need to be short because people have tiny attention spans

Now that human beings apparently have a shorter attention span than goldfish (8 seconds), there’s pressure on preachers to be shorter.

Long sermons are almost always seen as a thing of the past.

I think we’ve framed the issue incorrectly.

We think that shorter equals more engaging.

It doesn’t. You can be short and boring. Or you can be longer and highly engaging.

Is there a perfect length for sermons?

No way.

15 minutes of boring is 15 minutes too long. 40 minutes of fascinating is fascinating.

The average feature film hasn’t gotten any shorter in length. In fact, they’ve actually grown longer. The latest Star Wars instalment and the Martian both did just fine at over 2 hours each.

The issue isn’t length. It’s engagement.

Your sermons don’t necessarily have to be shorter. They do need to be engaging.

2. Clear preaching is watered-down preaching

Many preachers have worked hard at becoming clearer in their communication.

Personally, I think that’s awesome.

But people mistake ‘clear’ for ‘watered-down’.

Does watered-down preaching exist? Sure it does. But clear preaching is not inherently watered-down preaching. It’s just clear.

But being clear when you preach doesn’t mean you’re gospel-light. Clear preaching is not inherently watered-down preaching. It’s just clear.

More than any of us would care to admit, we’ve sat through a 45 minute message and then, an hour later, found ourselves completely unable to recall a single point that was made.  What we experienced was a rambling message filled with obscure references and void of application to real life.

But because we don’t know what to call that, we too often call that style of preaching ‘deep.’  It’s not deep. It’s confusing.

As any preacher will tell you, it takes far more skill and hard to work to be clear than it does to be confusing.

Don’t criticize a preacher because he or she is clear.

In a culture in that is increasingly becoming post-Christian, clarity is our friend, not our enemy.

The last thing I want is for someone to walk away from the Gospel because they didn’t ever hear it. So be clear.

3. Thorough planning eliminates the Holy Spirit

As a church grows, it becomes more structured.

As I outlined in my last book, Lasting Impact, and in posts like this one, this is a good thing. You need to structure bigger to grow bigger.

Part of that means preaching preparation happens far earlier than in many cases.

I personally plan our series months in advance and write my messages weeks in advance. It helps our team function far better.

One criticism of advanced planning is that it removes the Holy Spirit from message preparation.

I’m not sure that logic holds up.

That critique implies that the Holy Spirit shows up when you’re panicked and unprepared more than he does when you work ahead. If you take it further, the argument would be that the more panicked and unprepared you are, the more spiritual you are.

Too many preachers say they’re relying on the Holy Spirit when in reality, they didn’t prepare.

The Holy Spirit can and will show up a month in advance of your message like he will the night before your message.

In fact, you may have more time to listen to him a month before than you do during your Saturday night scramble.

Does advance preparation mean you can never make last minute changes? Of course not.

But your team will thank you and ultimately your congregation will thank you if you show up studied, prepared and rested.

4. You should judge your message based on how well you did

So I’m a recovering performance addict.

In my early years of preaching, I was obsessed with ‘how well I did.’

Too often, that became a defining characteristic of my evaluation. It led me to ask questions like

Did people like me?

Did they think I was funny?

Did they think I was a great communicator…or just a good one?

Insecurity and narcissism are close cousins, you know.

Here’s an imperfect but better set of questions:

Did the message faithfully communicate the text?

Did it connect with people?

Did they respond to the stories and the humour?

Did it help anyone? How?

How can I grow as a communicator?

The early questions were far too much about me and not nearly enough about the content or the audience.

As someone once told me, stop focusing on how well you’re doing as a preacher and start focusing on your audience. So true.

Take it further as a preacher: focus on Christ and your audience.

When you lose yourself as a communicator, you find yourself.

5. Topical preaching isn’t faithful preaching

Some people argue the only preaching that’s faithful is biblical, expository preaching.

I think expository preaching can be amazing. But by that standard, Jesus was a failure.

Jesus was a more thorough student of the Scriptures than anyone who ever lived. Yet his primary mode of communication wasn’t verse-by-verse exposition of the Old Testament.

He told stories. He engaged people. He addressed issues in their lives.

Topical preaching isn’t the only way to preach, but it’s a helpful way to preach.

Preachers have a responsibility to cover the major issues in the Christian faith and the scriptures in their preaching.

If you’re going to engage truly unchurched people, one very effective way to do it is to frame what people need to know in the context of what people want to know.

So if you want to cover the scriptures’ teaching about love, do it from the angle of relationships, marriage, break ups or the like. That way, you cover what they need to know but engage them based on what they want to know.

That’s not unfaithful. It’s just effective.

Topical preaching may not be the only way to teach, but it’s an important way to teach.

6. The listener’s job is to evaluate what they got out of a message

Critics. Got to love ’em.

And we’re all critics.

Too many times I’ve listened at a message rather than to a message.

And that’s because somewhere along the way many of us have bought into the lie that we need to evaluate a church by what we get out of it.

That’s not Christianity. That’s consumerism.

You get out of a message what you put into a message.

Lean in.


Look for God.



If you can’t find anything to apply in a message, it’s because you didn’t put in enough.

Finally, I need to remember that criticism is a form of lazy arrogance.

If all I do is criticize a message, it says “I put in 1/100th of the effort you did, but I could have done better.”

If you could have done that much better, then do it.

Any Other Myths?

If you want to be a better communicator, don’t forget to explore the rest of the series (links above) and to try Preaching Rocket for free for 7 days.

In addition, here’s my conversation with Jeff Henderson on how to become a better communicator, from Episode 16 of my Leadership Podcast.  (You can subscribe for free on iTunes.)

Got a myth you want to bust?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

way too busy

7 Important Things Every Way-Too-Busy Leader Forfeits

So let me guess. You’ve got too much to do today.

Welcome to leadership.

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership for any leader is time management.

You can read time management books and posts (I’ll give you some resources at the end of this post), but if you don’t care about why something matters, you’ll rarely change your ways.

So this post is about why being way-too-busy is a problem. It’s about what you’re missing when every day is slammed.

In the first ten years of my leadership, everything I did seemed hurried. I hated sitting still. I think I was afraid of becoming lazy (although that’s the last thing anyone might ever call me).

But there’s a difference between laziness and stillness. Laziness produces nothing. Stillness produces meaning, thought and even confession.

There’s also a difference between hurry and urgency. Urgency, most days, is your friend in leadership.

Decisions need to be made. The mission must advance. And, as Seth Godin and Steve Jobs remind us, real artists ship.

But almost nothing good happens in a hurry.

I’m still committed to high output, but not at the cost of these 7 things.

In fact, if you get rid of the ‘way too’ in ‘way-too-busy,’ you’ll lead a far more significant life.

way too busy1. Creativity

You can’t be creative in a hurry.

As Craig Groeschel helpfully points out in his new leadership podcast (you should subscribe by the way), creativity happens in the margins.

Every notice your best thinking happens when you’re doing something else? Like taking a shower? Or going for a walk? Or cutting your grass?

I cycle for a number of reasons, but one of them is because when I’m out on a 60-90 minute ride and my mind is relaxed, I come up with my best insights and ideas.

This isn’t just anecdotal, it’s apparently also scientific.

Running from meeting to meeting and event to event kills creativity.

2. Intimacy

Ever try to rush a date with your spouse?

Big mistake.

There’s a difference between a 10 minute meal at Burger King and a three hour evening at your favourite restaurant.

They’re both food (well, one is, sort of).

Intimacy can’t be rushed. That’s true of time with your spouse. And it’s true of your time with God.

Intimacy and time are inherently linked.

Which is why way-too-busy people rarely have close relationships with anyone, including God.

3. Meaning

The crisis of our day isn’t a lack of information; it’s a lack of meaning.

We have access to more information than we’ve ever had, and yet our depth is lacking.

One of the greatest contributions you can make as a leader is to bring insight—to offer meaning in a world of information.

That can only be done if you set aside time for prayer, reflection, reading and digesting what you know.

4. Peace

One of the reasons I hated slowing down when I was younger is because every time I did, there was an uneasiness that would surface.

I realized later that there were some things God wanted to deal with in me.

Through counselling, prayer and the help of friends, I dealt with the unhealth that was impacting my leadership, my marriage and even my parenting.

After I dealt with that, I began to crave time alone. I began to love silence.

What I discovered in the silence was peace.

Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of God.

5. Self-awareness

The best leaders are self-aware leaders.

Self-awareness takes time. It takes time to ask others what their experience of you has been. It takes time to reflect, to pray and to think about why you’ve ended up where you’ve ended up.

It takes time to banish the excuses and take responsibility.

If you’re always busy, you’ll never become self-aware.

If you want more on self-awareness in leadership, here are four things self-aware leaders know that others don’t.

6. Kindness

The first thing to go when I’m rushed is my kindness.

Busyness has a way of making you both impatient and ungracious.

You are rarely kind when you’re in a hurry.

In the same way lack of money impacts generosity, lack of time impacts kindness.

If you want to be more kind, be less rushed. There’s a direct correlation.

7. Purpose

Busy leaders mostly think about ‘what’ and ‘how’. They rarely think about ‘why,’  largely because they don’t take the time to do that.

And yet, as we’ve seen, meaning is one of the greatest contributions you can make as a leader.

The more unhurried time you take in leadership, the more you will be able to clarify and direct purpose.

You’ll even eventually discover why you do what you do.

And when you see that clearly, you’ll clarify meaning and purpose for everyone in the organization.

The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of any organization grow old quickly. ‘Why’—especially in the church—never gets old.

If you want to inspire a team over the long haul, purpose is far more motivating than strategy.

A Question Every Leader Should Ask

So how are you doing…really?

It’s hard to know, isn’t it?

Here’s a question I’ve come to ask myself over the last few years: Am I living in a way today that will help me thrive tomorrow?

If not, adjust.

Want To Get Better?

So what are some practical ways to readjust your time and priorities?

I wrote about burnout and creating a healthy leadership culture in my latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

Believe it or not, your emotional, spiritual and relational health as a leader are actually factors that can keep your church from growing.

And even more than that, your health will determine the health of your team. As I write about in Lasting Impact, healthy leaders produce healthy churches.

Here are some other resources that can help too:

It’s About Time (Parts 1 and 2): The Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Time Management and Other Tech Hacks, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (also below)

How Perry Noble Hit Rock Bottom, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (also below)

7 Secrets to Becoming Far More Productive With Your Time

Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time

How Managing Your Energy Can Make You a Much Better Leader

Margin, by Richard Swenson

What About You?

What have you forfeited in leadership when you’ve been too busy?

What’s helped you get better?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

future mission

3 Things That Are Sabotaging the Church’s Future

Without a doubt, you’ve already realized it’s more complex to be a church leader today than it was even a few decades ago.

With the vast majority of churches struggling in some way, it’s time to rethink our future mission.

Attendance at most churches is stagnant or dropping and even whole denominations are being redefined, because, as I outlined in this blog series, even Christians who are attending church are attending less often.

Add to this the reality that the culture is changing faster than ever, and our response becomes even more critical and the change we need to make becomes more urgent. (Two issues I address in my new book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.)

In many ways, what the church is going through is reflected in other industries like what’s been happening in the newspaper and photography businesses.

Some companies have sabotaged their own future by confusing the issues they were facing. Others have adopted and thrived.

As always in leadership, just a few key perspective shifts can be the difference between thriving and surviving, or between thriving and surviving at all.

futureKodak, Newspapers and the Church

Four years ago, the company that was synonymous with photography declared bankruptcy as Kodak went under, having failed to effectively respond to digital photography.

In many ways, Kodak sabotaged its future by refusing to respond to the massive changes in culture (this Forbes article gives a decent account of how it happened).

Kodak bet too much of its future on the past (film photography). It lost.

Newspapers are also facing epic struggles, with papers shutting down regularly and even iconic newspapers like the Toronto Star struggling to stay afloat.

While the jury is still out on how the news industry will look in five years, the issues are not that different from what the photography industry faced or what the church is facing.

In each case, the risk of self-sabotage by established organizations is huge and the church is not exempt.

What I see happening in Kodak and in some newspapers is something I also see among church leaders.

Here’s are three ways church leaders end up sabotaging the future mission of the church.

By identifying the issues and tackling three key issues now, church leaders can position their churches for a much better future.

1. Confusing the method with the mission

Too many leaders mix up method and mission. That’s one of the things that happened to Kodak and that’s happening in journalism.

It’s also an epidemic in the church world.

This mistake is so easy to make in leadership.

A method is a current approach that helps you accomplish the mission. It’s how you do what you do.

The mission is why you exist.

The problem in most churches is people (including leaders) get very fond of their methods.

You get rewarded for great methods…like the kind of church service you offer, or the programming your church does, or whatever else you’ve become good at. You get rewarded by results and sometimes by becoming known for how well you do things.

Nobody was better at film photography for almost a century than Kodak. No one has a more prestigious paper than the New York Times.

Chances are the people you lead love your methods. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

Which is also why its so difficult to change them.

Change the music you’re known for and prepare to be unpopular for a long time. Maybe even prepare to get fired.

Change the programming people love and get ready for the backlash.

That’s because when people confuse the method with the mission, they see the methods as sacred. Not the mission.

And sometimes, because your methods have made you successful, you come to see them as sacred and are reluctant to change.

But methods are never sacred. Particularly in church.

The mission–and only the mission—is sacred.

The only reason your church claims to have ‘biblical’ worship is because you probably don’t know what biblical worship actually is.  If you were actually transported back to the first century, you wouldn’t recognize how the church worshipped.

Our worship and our programming has always been an adaptation of the mission for the current generation and time.

Are there more-faithful and less-faithful expressions of the mission? Of course.

But often those who protest change the most have confused the mission with the method.

And when you refuse to change the method, you eventually kill the mission.

Just ask Kodak.

This post that outlines 9 things that used to work in the church a decade ago, but don’t today, provides some examples of what happens when church leaders confuse method and mission.

2. Failure to clarify what the real mission is

Imagine what might have happened if someone at Kodak had asked:

Are we in the film business, or the photography business?

If Kodak was in the film business, the future would be dim.

But if Kodak has decided it was in the photography business, the future could have been very different.

Instead, Facebook decided it was in the photography business when it bought Instagram. And Apple decided it was in the photography business when it developed the iPhone.

If you were in the newspaper business today, a great question to ask is this:

Are we in the newspaper business, or the news business?

Again, the future changes when you start asking questions that clarify the real mission.

So as a church leader, what question are you asking?

At Connexus Church, where I serve, we’ve decided that we’re in the business of leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus. That’s our mission.

Our mission isn’t holding services. It’s not music. It’s not even preaching. Nor is it programming. It’s not launching an online campus or doing social media well. Or having an awesome kids ministry. (Even though we’re invested in ALL of these.)

We can change because we’re committed to doing whatever it takes to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.

Our methods—the way we facilitate our services, our kids ministry, our programming, the way we do groups, how we serve—are all designed to support our mission.

If you don’t know what your true mission is, you’ll never find the right method to accomplish it.

3. Unwillingness to change methods to support the real mission

Far too many church leaders are afraid to change their methods.

But once you clarify your real mission, change becomes so much easier.

Think about it. If you have a clear sense of what you are called to do, then:

When you see potential gain ahead, you’ll change your methods to advance your mission.

When you see a chance to reach more people, you’ll change your services and programming to advance your mission.

And of course, when you fail at your mission, you won’t stubbornly cling to ineffective methods.  You’ll gladly embrace new methods to advance your mission.

Once you understand your real mission, it becomes so much easier to change your methods.

Clarifying your mission can also mean your whole attitude toward change is transformed.

You’ll embrace social media and church online because you’re not nearly as worried about who might stay home as you are who you might reach.

You’ll study change and culture and be anxious to try new things to reach people.

Why? Because leaders who understand their real mission see opportunities where others see only obstacles. 

Imagine a day when your team thinks this way.

The Future is At Stake

So can you just ignore all of this and hope it goes away?

Well, that’s kind of what Kodak did.

And just realize…when you become more wedded to the methods than the mission, the good leaders leave.

That’s what’s happening in dying industries. People who work for Instagram would not want to work for Kodak. And reporters for Mashable may never be comfortable at a print daily.

The church has a better mission than any other organization on the planet.

The challenge for this generation of church leaders is to keep the methods fluid and the mission sacred.  The more we do that, the more effective we’ll be.

Want More?

If you want more on the future church, I outlined 10 predictions about the future church and attendance patterns in this post.

I’ve also written about what the church can learn from the rise of Uber and Netflix.

Finally, I take a comprehensive look at the changes the church needs to make in my book Lasting Impact, and outline how to navigate change in the face of opposition in my book Leading Change Without Losing It.

I also speak to church leaders every week about leadership on my free leadership podcast.  You can subscribe on iTunes here.

I hope these resources help.

In the meantime, what are some things you think are hurting the church as we navigate change?

Any other parallels you see between changes in other industries and in the church?

Scroll down and leave a comment.


10 Quotes from The Eagles That Will Challenge Every Leader

Music is the fuel for so much in life and even in leadership.

When I was a kid, Eagles’ music was all over the radio, and thanks to the birth of the classic rock format in music, their music never really disappeared.

While I always liked them, they weren’t one of my go-to bands until I rediscovered them a few summers ago while writing a book. I downloaded one of their albums, then more, and was amazed not only by their musicianship but by their lyrics.

Over the last few years, I’ve not only enjoyed their music in a fresh way, but their lyrics inspired me to think through some of the deeper issues of life and leadership.

Last summer I watched the History of the Eagles documentary—a fascinating study in leadership and human dynamics as the band pretty honestly talks about the tension of being a band and the ups and downs that came with it. It’s actually an intriguing study for anyone who leads a team. And the music is pretty amazing.

Glenn Frey’s recent death not only saddened me, but made me reflect back on his writing. Don Henley and Glenn Frey had a way of capturing life in their lyrics that is both accurate and little too true.

If you’re like me, you’ll agree that leaders can learn from anywhere.

Their lyrics have actually helped me become a better leader; some of their insights really jump out at me.


I realize songs can be personal things, and no one really knows what the band meant anyway, right?

But each of these phrases have come to mean something to me as a leader and as a Christian (even though the band themselves would not call themselves Christian).

The lyrics below are Ecclesiastes-like observations on life that make me think…again and again.

With poignant honesty, the lyrics reflect the reality of life, ambition, relationships, success and disappointment.

Here are 10 Eagles lyrics that challenge me as a person and leader every time I hear them:

1. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy

That happens, doesn’t it?

It’s so easy for leaders to become self-absorbed.

Often, you end up having conversations with yourself that never end, that loop in your mind again and again. You think about what you’re leading day in and day out.

When that happens, you almost end up taking yourself too seriously.

Eventually, if you’re not careful, leadership can make you obsessed until you’re no longer fun to be around.

Leaders who take themselves too seriously ultimately get taken less seriously by others.

As Glenn Frey sang in Take It Easy: don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.

2. You only want the ones you can’t get

All driven, A-type people, listen up.

These lines from Desperado so encapsulate the struggle so many leaders feel, especially when some measure of success comes your way:

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

Way too true, isn’t it?

What is it that drives us to want less of what we have and more of what we don’t?

There’s a discontent that drives every successful leader that can ultimately prove destructive.

Don’t let the discontent that drives you destroy you.

3. We never even know we have the key

Every leader faces lids. You do. I do.

If you’re the leader, you’re the lid.

Is there a solution?

Well, yes. As the Eagles put it:

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key

This makes me ask the question: do I actually hold the key to an area in which I’m stuck and don’t realize it?

This can happen spiritually (God is willing to do more than you’ve realized), and it can happen in day-to-day leadership.

I outline three ways to break through leadership lids here.

You may be holding a key you don’t even realize. (The lyric is from Already Gone.)

4. You see it your way. I see it mine. But we both see it slipping away.


They happen happen all the time.

Best of My Love is a song about relationships, but I’ve seen this happen way too often in leadership.

Competing agendas create a stalemate, and neither side wants to engage to the point of breakthrough.

As a result, the mission suffers or even collapses.

You see it your way
And I see it mine
But we both see it slippin’ away

You’ve taken your position on an issue.

I’ve taken mine.

Neither of us is motivated to get past where we stand.

It’s a recipe for collapse.

Here’s what every leader needs to remember: never let your position jeopardize the mission.

5. If it all fell to pieces tomorrow…

A quote from Take It To the Limit:

If it all fell to pieces tomorrow
Would you still be mine?

Leadership and success are intoxicating. This lyric drives at the heart of what matters most.

It’s too easy to sacrifice relationship and even faith amidst the relentless drive of leadership.

If your job disappeared tomorrow, what would be left of:

Your family?

Your faith?

Your personal sense of worth?

Relationships matter more than anything (with God, with each other), but it’s so easy to forget that.

Ask yourself: if you weren’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of your faith, your family, yourself?

6. Half the distance takes you twice as long…after the thrill is gone

Too many leaders lose passion.

The cynicism mounts. The hurts pile up.

As a result, too many leaders fade out or burnout before they’re done.

This lyric from After the Thrill is Gone says it so well:

Time passes and you must move on,
Half the distance takes you twice as long
So you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone

It’s hard to admit out loud that the thrill is gone.

Pride pushes you to think you can handle anything.

Fear keeps you from telling anyone you can’t.

I went through a season of burnout where the thrill was gone, but came back. Here are 7 truths about burnout and leadership.

7. They’ll never forget you ’til somebody new comes along

If there’s one thing social media and 24/7 connection has done it’s this: it’s driven our insecurities sky high.

You actually have a shot a being better known than at any time in history, thanks to our friend the internet.

And sometimes the minor celebrity that comes along with leadership today goes to a leader’s head.

New Kid in Town contains an amazing reminder of how temporary our place is:

They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along

That is so so true.

Success is temporary.

Influence is always given by God for a higher purpose (to serve Him and help others, not to serve you).

A final observation about leadership and significance: Often the people who aren’t seeking to be remembered are the ones we remember.

8. You know I don’t understand why you don’t treat yourself better

By now, you can see dealing with success and fame was a huge issue for the Eagles. Sometimes they handled it well, sometimes it was a huge struggle.

The ability to handle all the fortune and fame was a major contributing factor to the band’s breaking up.

In The Long Run—their last studio album before their breakup—Don Henley sang:

You know I don’t understand why you don’t treat yourself better
do the crazy things that you do
‘Cause all the debutantes in Houston, baby,
couldn’t hold a candle to you
Did you do it for love?
Did you do it for money?
Did you do it for spite?
Did you think you had to, honey?
Who is gonna make it?
We’ll find out in the long run

So…leader…why don’t you treat yourself better?

I’m not talking about perks—I’m talking about you: your heart…your soul.

Often the motive that drives us in leadership needs sifting (even in the church).

Josh Gagnon, pastor of the rapidly growing Next Level Church, and I have an honest conversation about our own insecurities, the emptiness of success and how to take care of yourself as a leader in this episode of my Leadership Podcast. You can listen on iTunes or here.

Leaders who pay attention to the inner journey make it in the long run.

9. One day he crossed some line

Technically, New York Minute is a Don Henley song but the band has performed it together since reuniting in 1994.

Henley captures the story of a man who was gaining the world but lost his soul. As he put it:

But men get lost sometimes
As years unfurl
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore

How do you avoid crossing a line?

Whether that’s a moral or ethical line, a relational line or a decisional line from which there’s no return?

You develop an inner circle of people who will tell you the truth.

I outlined how I put mine together in this post.

10. We are all just prisoners here, of our own device

When you start out in leadership, you think all the obstacles you’ll face are external:

Your title or position

Your boss or team

A limited budget

Finite resources

Constraints imposed by your organization or denominiation

But eventually you realize the biggest obstacles you face are not around you; they’re within you.

As the Eagles sang in Hotel California, we are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

For me, nothing challenges me more than my need to break through the personal barriers I find within myself: spiritual, emotional, relational and mental.

I believe this is an intensely spiritual pursuit.

Few analyzed their inner barriers as openly and transparently than Henri Nouwen did in The Genesee Diary—his inner journey from 7 months in a Trappist monastery in upstate New York. One of my all time favourite books.

Worth a read if you care about your soul.

What About You?

Got any Eagle’s lyrics that have helped you think through life and leadership differently?

Share them below in the comments!