From Strategy

Leadership Hacks

5 Ultra Simple Leadership Hacks That Can Help Anyone

Sometimes leadership can seem so overwhelming.

In reality, though, leadership is simpler than it first appears.

In many ways, great leaders master some very basic things that other people miss. The advice in this post is so simple you might be thinking “well, my mother used to tell me to do that”.

Maybe that’s the point.

You can have a PhD in leadership and read everything there is on leadership and still not be effective.

And yet there are leaders who have little formal education but who lead powerfully and effectively every day.

Often, these leaders gain influence because they’ve mastered a few basic skills others miss.

Here are 5 of my absolute favourite basic leadership skills that are far too easy to overlook.

Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader. Leadership Hacks

1. Make someone else the hero

Few of us have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The narcissists make it all about them.

Insecure people focus on themselves because they can’t bear to give anyone else air time.

And even people who lack confidence can end up being selfish because their lack of self-esteem means no one else gets attention.

How do you escape the trap of narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence?

Just make someone else the hero.

If you’re a preacher, like me, make sure you point to God, not to yourself when you speak. Worry more about whether people connect with God than whether they connect with you.

What else does this principle look like?

Well, if you’re a writer, make your reader the hero. The filter through which I try to run every post I write on this blog is what I call a “helpful” filter. I want the post to help you as a reader. I want you to win.

Think about it. You and I love leaders who point beyond themselves to someone else. Why not be that leader?

So when you struggle with narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence (and we all do…me too), step aside and make someone else the hero.

It works. Every time.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

If there’s one piece of advice I want my sons to remember, other than everything I taught them about Jesus, it’s this:

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

It puts you ahead of about 99% of the planet.

Think back on your last week. Who frustrated you most? Probably the people who didn’t do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.

Now picture the people you lead. Who are you most likely to promote, reward or even want to hang out with? The people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

Doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it is the basis of trust. It’s also the basis for confidence.

Hey…sometimes I’m still the guy who didn’t do what he said he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. But I try so hard not to be that guy.

So what do you do if you struggle in this area? Just stop promising and start delivering.

When your walk catches up to what your talk would have been, reintroduce your talk.

3. Focus on outcomes

Also in the ‘please stop driving me nuts’ category are people who focus on process, not outcomes.

I realize it’s axiomatic these days to say the journey is more important than the destination. But not always. Really. Come on. What fun is the journey if you end up nowhere with any meaning?

It’s frustrating when you ask someone if something is done and they tell you

Well I emailed him.

She never got back to me.

I’ve called 5 times.

I think they must have changed their address or something.

And they feel like the project is complete because they tried.

Trying isn’t the same as doing.

Often, I feel like saying “You didn’t hear the question. The questions is Is it done?

A few years ago, I started encouraging the leaders I work with to stop focusing on process, and start focusing on outcomes.

When you focus on outcomes, you eventually stop emailing someone who never returns emails and you text them instead, or call them, or go to their office, or release them and find someone who will help you get the project done.

If you focus on outcomes, you’ll also have a shot at mastering #2. If you don’t, you never will.

And getting things done actually makes the journey more enjoyable, at least in my view.

4. Look people in the eye

Sure, this is an “I don’t need a blog post to remind me of this”. (So is the next point, by the way.)

But do you ever notice how hard it is to actually look someone in the eye—to make them the sole focus on your attention?

I’m pretty sure I’m ADD and it’s so hard for me not to focus on shiny objects, moving parts or anything else in the room. Or my phone for that matter.

But the most effective leaders always look someone in the eye.

Sometimes I’m in a conversation with someone and I’ll create a voice in my head that just keeps repeating “Look them in the eye…look them in the eye.” It helps.

I’ll even position myself in a restaurant or coffee shop so I face a blank wall, not the door or a TV. Otherwise, I just instinctively look at whatever is moving.

Watch for it…the very best leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.

Practice that this week.

5. Smile

Everyone has a default expression. It’s hard to know what yours is because you never see yourself as others see you.

I learned years ago that my default facial expression is…uptight. If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.  I’m also a fast walker, so I tend to look uptight and annoyed.

How’s that for a guy who’s leading you?

People have given me very helpful advice like walk slowly across the room and smile. 

I know that’s so basic, but remember, you’re programming against your default here, so it’s not easy.

I have to remind myself to smile when I teach, to smile when I greet people and to smile in conversations.

It makes a huge difference.

Apparently Michael Hyatt has a similar issue and in this post outlined 5 positive impacts of smiling more as a leader.

So smile. :)

What Would You Add?

So that’s my short list of ultra simple leadership hacks. What are some you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

pray

Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems

Every once in a while I hear from a leader who says “We don’t any need more ideas/strategies/conferences…all we need to do is pray.”

Well actually, writing this blog, quite often I hear from people like that.

Maybe you have people like that at your church.

You even know the conversation.  Every time you suggest “Why don’t we try reformatting our services/changing our kids ministry/reaching out into the community” they shoot back with “what we really need to do is just pray” (or “what we really need to do is get back to the Bible…”) as though that settled the discussion.

It puts you in a horribly awkward position.

If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.

If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.

I mean who really wants to come out against prayer?

Not me. Not you.

And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.

Can it be that something that sounds so spiritual can actually stop some very spiritual work?

In the name of God, some leaders might end up opposing the work of God.

And it’s all done in the most holy-sounding way.

Who’s right? How should you respond?

 pray

We Need To Pray

So before you freak out, I haven’t become an atheist.

Far from it. It’s not an exaggeration to say I pray every day. I also read the scripture daily and love it deeply.

I also believe I need to pray more. I agree that the church needs more prayer.

Finally, I believe all authentic, effective ministry is rooted in prayer.

But saying “All we need to do is pray” really misses how God actually works.

If all we needed to do was pray, we could lock ourselves in a closet and never come out. But I’m not sure that’s how God has moved historically.

What begins in prayer should usually end in some kind of action.

 

And We Need To Do More Than Pray

While prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.

The walls of Jericho ultimately fell down because having heard from God, people obeyed God, marching around the city for a week, blasting trumpets and shouting.

Come to think of it, that kind of sounds like a strategy doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, the scripture is filled with strategy if you look for it.

 

Strategy Is Not the Enemy

Sometimes church people behave like strategy is the enemy.

It’s not. It never has been.

Strategy is not the enemy.

Apathy is.

Overly simplistic thinking is.

But strategy isn’t. A great strategy is actually a companion to a great prayer life.

Strategy is inherently biblical. For example, God noticed that Moses had a bad leadership strategy that was ultimately going to wear out both him and the people. So God used Moses’ father-in-law (of all people) to give him a new strategy that required tremendous reorganization.

Jesus intentionally organized his community of disciples into concentric circles of 70, 12, 3 and then 1. His prayer resulted in action…thoughtful action.

Finally, the early church continually rethought its strategy as the church grew and the mission expanded (see Acts 6Acts 13 and Acts 15 as examples).

We’re Supposed To Love God With More Than Our Hearts

So what’s the point?

Strategy should be a good word in the church. And it should be a good word in your church.

That means you should have the tough conversations.

You should surface disagreements (even pray through them).

You shouldn’t skirt tough issues.

It also means you need to lead.

Leadership requires your heart but it doesn’t stop there. It requires  your soul, your strength AND your mind.

So use your mind. And your strength. And your soul.

So Next Time

So next time someone interrupts the conversation and says “What we really need to do is pray”…what should you do?

I think you might agree…and say “I agree. We should pray.”

But then add.

“And after we pray, let’s get working on the most important issues facing us. The mission is just too important to ignore them.”

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.

It’s time for the church to act. And to get the best strategy we can find to accomplish the mission God has given us.

Have you ever run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way?

What’s been effective as you’ve navigated this?

5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting In Our Post-Christian World

Almost every Christian leader I talk to has a passion for reaching people who don’t know Christ.

But as we’ve seen before, our culture is changing so rapidly before our eyes that many of the methods we’ve used to tell people about Christ become less effective with every passing month.

If you keep using methods that worked decades ago to talk to people outside the Christian faith about Jesus, you might see some fruit. But I’m quite certain you’ll lose the vast majority of people you’re trying to influence, and I’m positive you’ll lose the vast majority of people under age 35.

In the post-Christian, post-modern age in which we live, the methods of evangelism have to change in order to keep the mission alive.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the post-Christian mind looks like, this study from the Barna Group outlines 15 criteria that delineate the trend.

So what’s changing in evangelism? More than you might think.

While there are many things that are shifting in how we should approach evangelism in a post-Christian, post-modern world, these 5 stand out to me as shifts I’m seeing not just in the ministry I lead, but across many churches:

1. Embracing the question is as important as giving an answer

For me, evangelism used to be mostly about helping people find answers. In fact, I’ve been very anxious to get people to answers. I still am.

But, often, in the process of getting people to an answer, I would fail to really embrace or honour their question. Increasingly, that’s a massive mistake.

Almost no one likes going into a store and asking a question only to have a customer service person blow past your question or make you feel stupid. In fact, your most positive experiences have likely been those in which someone listens to your question, takes it seriously, appreciates it, and then tries to respond to it thoughtfully and helpfully.

Too often, Christian apologists rush past the question to get to an answer.

Church leaders who embrace people’s questions will be far more effective in the future than leaders who don’t.

Listen to the difference:

“So when I die, will be in reincarnated?”

Answer: Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. So no, not at all. You’ll be resurrected in Christ. 

or

Answer: That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Actually, the Christian experience focuses on resurrection. Would you like to talk about that? 

Which answer would you rather hear?

 

2. Steering the conversation is better than pushing for a conclusion

One of my favourite environments at our church is Starting Point. It’s an eight week small group experience for people who are new to Christianity, new to faith or returning to church after an absence.

Our best Starting Point leaders are not the people with all the answers or the leaders who are always trying to ‘close the deal’.

If you have 12 people in a conversation, you’re likely to have 12 different world views, many of which might seem “Christian” but in truth aren’t.

Our best Starting Point leaders are people who can steer a conversation.

They don’t freak out at people’s questions, no matter how strange they might be.

They listen without judgment.

They affirm a person’s intentions.

Our best leaders listen, don’t judge, thank people for their input, and then gently steer the conversation back toward truth.

Listening, empathizing, and then steering the conversation back toward truth will often get you much further with post-moderns than slamming on the brakes and telling them they’re wrong.

3. Being open is more effective than being certain

Don’t get me wrong, Christians can be certain. Ultimately, Christians must be certain because our faith is certain. Our faith stands on a sure and certain ground.

But, when talking to post-moderns, coming across as certain is far less effective than coming across as open.

I mean, people will be able to tell that you have a depth of conviction if they spend more than a few minutes talking to you.

But leading with that conviction all the time can be counter-productive.

The person who is always certain thinks they’re being convincing when the opposite is often true. You’re less convincing because being perpetually certain makes you appear anti-intellectual, closed and a bit arrogant (see below).

If you’re open to people and their views, they’ll be more open to you. Even if underneath all that, you’re certain. Because you likely are.

4. Arrogance, smugness and superiority are dead

For too long, Christian apologetics has carried with a tone of arrogance, smugness and superiority.

If you want to repel anyone under 40, lead with that.

Arrogance is so ingrained in many Christian cultures that Christians don’t even see it or hear it anymore.

Humility is attractive. Humility is what makes Jesus so much more attractive to people than the Pharisees who lack it.

Arrogance is only ever attractive to the arrogant.

Arrogance also a sin. So repent. Get over your smugness and superiority.

Humbly love your God, love your community, and love the people who don’t know him. God does.

5. The timeline is longer

I’m so A-Type I’d love to conclude everything in about 35 seconds.

Increasingly, evangelism doesn’t work that way.

Ever notice that people who come to faith when pressured often leave it after a few years? And that, conversely, the people who come to faith on their own timeline tend to be flourishing years down the road?

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself, and he will. But he didn’t promise to do it in 3 minutes, or during a 90 minute service or even an eight week class.

You need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.

It kind of took the disciples 3 years to figure out who Jesus was, didn’t it? Why do you think your church will be any different?

Don’t get me wrong, we can’t lose our sense of urgency in the mission. I feel that urgency every day. Sometimes I think I feel it more every day. But we need to give people space and we need to give the Holy Spirit space to do His work.

So give people time and space to come to faith. Apparently, God does this too.

How About Your Context?

I’m not saying high-pressure evangelism never works or that God has stopped using it entirely.

I’m just saying I’m seeing it becoming increasingly less effective and that another methodology that shares the same end appears to be even more effective.

What are you seeing about how evangelism is changing in your community?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

alignment

5 Ways An Aligned Team Is A Better Team (What I’ve Learned From North Point)

Ever wonder what would happen if you got everyone in your church or organization moving in the same direction?

For the last seven years, I’ve led a North Point Strategic Partner Church and have learned so much about the benefit of having an aligned church. One of the key benefits of a simple church model (which North Point and its partners practice) is alignment.

Alignment happens when you have a team of people – from the top leadership right through to the newest volunteer – pulling in the same direction not only around the same goals, but using the same strategy.

Seems simple, but it isn’t.

Everybody I talk to is in favour of aligning their organization (why have hundreds of people working at crossed purposes?), but few people seem to be able to pull it off.

Rarely have I seen an organization more intentional about alignment than North Point.

When people approach us as a partner church, few leaders ever ask us about alignment. But as they are leaving after some time with us, they inevitably remark on the level of ownership the staff and volunteers have.

I agree. Team and organizational alignment is a powerful thing when it happens.

That’s the power of alignment. To get very different people rallied around a common cause is a wonderful thing.

An aligned team, quite simply, is a better team.

alignment

Here are five benefits to working in an aligned organization:

1. Alignment creates a badly needed dividing line 

Being everything to everyone is pretty much the same as being nothing to everyone.

Few organizations struggle with this more than the church. Alignment forces you to be about a few defined things rather than about everything (aka nothing).

Once you choose the things you are going to do and align around it, the people who want you to be about everything will sometimes leave, but that’s okay.

Being aligned almost always means you will accomplish more.

2. Alignment forces out personal agendas 

I learned this early on from Andy Stanley.

When the organization’s agenda becomes clear and the main priority for everyone, it forces out competing personal agendas.

Everything from politics to selfish personal goals get squeezed out.

Why does alignment do this? Well, alignment forces out personal agendas, because leaders commit to something bigger than themselves.

3. Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus 

Critics of alignment say that alignment means you snuff out independent thought and, in its extreme form, create a culture of yes people. I disagree.

Most high capacity leaders actually want to work in an environment that is going to produce results.

Alignment around key objectives does that.

Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus.

4. Alignment removes all excuses

We’ve had several staff join us our team who used to be part of other, less aligned organizations.

Within a year, they had the same experience I did once we got our teams fully aligned: all your excuses for a lack of progress disappear.

You can’t blame anyone else because everyone actually supports you and your agenda—because there is only one agenda.

This allows you to realize your potential, but the excuses you used to use for lack of results are gone. And church leaders can be notorious excuse makers.

5. Alignment allows you to harness more creativity, not less

Counterintuitively, having a common mission and strategy means that your team can harness greater – not lesser – creativity.

Because you agree on direction and priorities, you spend significant time getting creative about implementing your vision.

You no longer waste hours debating what to do. Instead, you can spend hours getting better at what you’ve agreed you’ll do.

What About You?

If you are facing internal or external resistance to alignment, I want to encourage you to move past that resistance. You’ll be so glad you did.

That’s what I’m learning and enjoying about being part of an aligned organization. What are you discovering?

Reinvention: The 5 Different Leaders You Need to Become To Stay Effective

You’ve heard it said here more than a few times, you are the hardest person you will ever have to lead.

How do I know that? Because I’m the hardest person I have to lead.

It was 20 years ago this year that I moved my then-young family up to just north of Toronto to begin ministry. Although the form has changed as I moved from a denominational context to planting Connexus Church, there have been a core of leaders who have been with me from the very start.

The ministry has grown from 45 people in attendance and 100 people who would have called our original churches home in 1995, to 1000 in attendance and 2200 people who call our church home today.

The one thing that’s been constant in all of it is change.

And the one thing that’s been even more consistent is that I’ve had to change as a leader.

In many ways, our church has had 5 different pastors over the last two decades. They just all happened to be me.

Why? Because I had to keep reinventing myself and my leadership again and again to remain effective as a leader and as a Christ follower.

The same is true of you.

If you’re going to lead over the long haul, you need to reinvent yourself again and again.

If you don’t, you’ll simply stagnate as a leader and drift toward ineffectiveness. And something inside you will die too—like your soul.

So how exactly do you reinvent yourself? And what do you need to reinvent?

Here are some thoughts.

Stage 1: The Instinctive Leader

Most leaders start out operating from their instincts or defaults.

Your instincts will get you places. And they’ll work for you for a season.

After all, you’re new. And sometimes the combination of a fresh face and the passion you have when you’re young will get you a long way in leadership. At least at first.

My instinctive leadership style is aggressive, clear, focused and direct (I was a lawyer before I was a pastor…so forgive me). Those are strengths, and they helped a lot in the early days.

If you think about it, you’ll be able to recognize your default leadership instincts. Just look at how you naturally behave.

Following your instincts is almost always how every leader behaves within the first few years of leadership.  It will get you started, but they certainly won’t take you all the way.

 

Reinvention 1: The Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Many of you were already chafing at my instinctive leadership style (aggressive, clear, focused and direct). And, honestly, it rubs some people the wrong way.

Your first reinvention as a leader has to happen when you realize your strengths have accompanying weaknesses.

The best leaders aren’t just intelligent, they’re emotionally intelligent.

The key to emotional intelligence is self-awareness.

As a result, wise leaders develop ‘learned behaviours’. Learned behaviours are simply behaviours you adopt to compensate for the edges of your strengths. For example, I’ve had to learn to listen, to be gracious, to be compassionate and to value the input of others.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit I had to learn those things, but it’s true.

There are behaviours you have to learn too. If you’re not sure what they are, just look for characteristics that are the opposite of your gift set or, better yet, ask people around you. They’ll tell you.

Reinvention 2: The Leader of Leaders

If you’re a bit gifted, it will easy to rely on your own charisma, gifts and skills to help grow the ministry. Don’t make that mistake.

Growing things all by yourself just doesn’t scale well, and it’s not sustainable. Eventually, things will implode and you’ll end up leading only the people you can personally impact directly.

If you’re going to lead well over the long haul, you have to learn to lead others well. And more than that, you have to attract highly capable people to leadership.

In fact, you have to learn to lead people who are better than you.

That’s big task, but it’s a necessary reinvention.

I outlined 5 ways to attract leaders who are better than you in this post. And I also outlined 6 reasons many leaders lose high capacity people in this post.

Reinvention 3: The Healthy Leader

Everybody has issues. And after a few years in leadership, yours will unmistakably surface.

Your personal demons and issues will infect your leadership, your marriage and your home life. There’s just no escape.

If you’re at that stage right now, there are three stories that might really be able to speak to you:

Perry Noble, on how depression and anxiety almost took him out of leadership.

Craig Jutila, on how his drivenness almost cost him his marriage and his family.

Justin and Trisha Davis, on how their personal issues almost killed their family and cost them their ministry.

Your personal demons will either take you, or you will decide to take them. It’s up to you.

As I share in some of the interviews above, I’m so grateful God gave me the grace and insight to deal with my personal issues along the way.

Reinvention 4: The Life-Long Student

If you’re waiting for the day when you arrive as a leader, you’ll be waiting forever.

As a leader, you should never stop growing. Growing your character is more important than growing your skill set, and yet growing your skill set is also a must.

Many leaders would rather be teachers instead of students. That’s a critical mistake. The leaders who want to be teachers, not students, will never be teachers worth following.

The best teachers are the best students. So be a student.

Do whatever it takes to grow your skill set. Read books and blogs. Listen to podcasts. Go to conferences. Connect with leaders ahead of you. Learn whatever you can.

You’re never done. And if you really want to lead well, you’ll realize how amazing that realization actually is.

Reinvention 5: The Change Agent

In the first 5-10 years of your leadership, you will likely have introduced a lot of change. You moved out the old and brought in the new.

Which is where most leaders get stuck.

Many leaders have the courage to change what someone else introduced. Few have the courage to change what they introduced.

Effective leadership means changing what you introduced. It means looking the people you lead in the eye and saying “For a season, that was the best way to do things. The season’s changed, and we need a new approach.”

As I’ve shared before, leaders need to marry the mission, not the method.

In light of the massive cultural shift happening around us, leaders are going to have to get more and more comfortable with changing what they’ve already changed.

What Do You Think?

Those are 5 reinventions I see most effective leaders move through.

What are some reinventions you’ve had to go through personally? What have you seen in others?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

secrets leaders won't tell you

11 Secrets Most Church Leaders Won’t Tell You

Leadership is a journey…a journey that’s probably different than you thought it would be before you stepped into leadership.

When I was young, I always thought leaders had it all figured out. That the uncertainty would one day disappear once I had more life and leadership under my belt.

But as you eventually learn, it doesn’t really work that way.

In fact, I think most leaders struggle more than they let on. I know personally, at one point or another, I’ve struggled in each of the areas listed below. But, at the time, because I didn’t want to tell anyone how I really felt, I kept mostly quiet.

Looking back, I realize for too long I kept far too much of it to myself.

You know what keeping it to yourself does, right?

It leaves you isolated. And the silence gives fear power—power it should never have.

secrets leaders won't tell you

11 Secrets Most Church Leaders Won’t Tell You

Just to let you know you’re not alone, and to break the power of darkness by cracking some daylight, here are 10 secrets most leaders won’t tell you:

1. I’m less secure than I appear

The together exterior doesn’t always match the fragile interior.

Security is a journey for sure…a tough one. Most people don’t like insecure leaders. But insecurity is a trap…the more insecure you are, the more you resist telling anyone you’re insecure. And the more they dislike you.

If it helps, I outline 5 signs you’re an insecure leader in this post, and 5 ways to become a more secure leader here.

I think the best way to start dealing with your insecurity is to admit it, and deal with it. Counsellors’ offices and best friends are great places to start with that by the way. So is prayer.

2. Getting close to God isn’t easy

There’s a particular pressure on pastors and church leaders to have a ‘great’ relationship with God.

But the truth is, our relationship is just like anyone else’s relationship with God. It has ups and downs.

Even as a church leader, you go through dry seasons. Okay, maybe especially as a church leader, you go through dry seasons spiritually.

I think church leaders struggle with God in different ways than most people. I outline those ways here.

3. I’m lonelier than I let on

Leadership is complex and involves going through seasons of unpopularity. It also involves making tough calls that can make you the goat, or at least feel like a goat.

Add to that the fact that most of us who are driven type leaders don’t do relationships easily, and sometimes it’s lonelier than it needs to be.

4. It’s hard at home sometimes

Let’s just say it. Our Instagrams lie. It’s not always easy at home.

It’s gotten better over the years, but there have been seasons in my leadership where my family got too much of my unfiltered stress. Not fair. Not fair at all. But true.

Home is hard. Work is hard. Put the two together in an ill-thought through combination and it can be lethal.

I really believe that, in the long run, everything rides on how you lead at home.

5. The criticism hurts

We pretend the criticism doesn’t hurt, but it does, whether we admit it or not.

We put our poker faces on, but deep down it stings.

Tell God.

Tell somebody.

And don’t let your family bear the brunt of it every time.

There are ways to make criticism sting less, but acknowledging it hurts is a great first step.

6. I’m afraid to ask for what I really want

I’ve usually been pretty forward in my leadership and I’m grateful for an incredibly honest dialogue I have with my staff and elder team where I serve.

But there are seasons where I’ve been afraid to ask for what I really want. And even as I type those words I think “That sounds so selfish.”

But sometimes you just need a vacation. Or, especially when your family is young and you’re just starting out, you need a raise. Or you need more staff. Or you need someone to have your back. Or you need a friend. You’re just afraid to ask.

You know what I’ve found? Almost every time I’ve asked, someone said “Why didn’t you ask sooner? We’d love to help.”

See what secrets and silence do?

7. I’ve thought about leaving even though I’m staying

You’ve thought about leaving, even though you’re staying…true? Of course it’s true, unless you just started last Tuesday, and even then…

Everyone goes through seasons of doubt and questions about the future.

But when you sit in silence with this one for too long, you end up waffling. Not staying, but not leaving either. You end up putting in half an effort, and you’re half the leader you could be.

Brad Lomenick offers some great insight in Episode 27 of my podcast about how to know when it’s time to go, and I outlined 5 signs it’s time to move on in this post.

8. My secret job is nothing like this job

One of the reasons leadership is hard is because you deal with so many intangibles. It’s brain work. People management. Conflict management. Getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

On bad days, many leaders I know dream of doing something entirely different. For a season, my escape job was to stack boxes in a warehouse. Because at least if you moved a box, it stayed moved.

9. I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing

Eventually you reach a level of leadership, either because you’ve been at it long enough or because whatever you’re leading got big enough, that you realize there are no clear answers. There just aren’t.

You surrounded yourself with the smartest people you could and you realize that even the smart people don’t know what to do.

That’s where real leadership begins—when you feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you keep doing anyway.

That’s how history gets changed. You were just the last person standing, even though inside it felt like sheer confusion.

10. People seem to believe in me more than I believe in myself some days

When you’ve been through #9 enough times, you will be ready to give up believing in yourself. But you look around and realize other people keep believing in you.

That’s exactly what you need. You’re likely leading very well if enough of the good people keep believing in you.

So when you stop believing in you, keep believing in the people who believe in you.

11. I thought we would have made more progress by now

You don’t want to say it out loud, but you really do think you would have made more progress by now.

You look at all the overnight successes and think “How come that wasn’t me?” This only works, of course, until you look more closely at the overnight successes only to realize almost all of them were 5-15 years in the making.

The fact that your vision is bigger than your reality is paradoxically a sign that you’re a good leader.

So keep being mildly disappointed, because it will always spur you on to more.

And one day when it’s over you’ll look back and be amazed at how much you actually accomplished.

What Are Your Secrets?

What thoughts do you have that you have a hard time admitting to anyone else?

I’d love to hear them.

And what’s yours experience with these 10?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

weekend attendance

10 Simple Changes You Can Make to Help Boost Weekend Church Attendance

There’s no doubt the church is undergoing a massive cultural shift as people attend church less often, and even regular attenders show up less frequently than before. (I outlined that trend in detail in this five part blog series.)

As much as everything is changing and we need to respond to that, almost every church still holds weekend services and likely will for years to come.

So, in the meantime, what can you do to help reach more people? What can you do to boost weekend church attendance?

Before you think this is just a numbers game, realize it’s also a spiritual issue.

To me, declining attendance is a spiritual issue because I believe that disconnected people rarely grow spiritually.

Connect people and they grow. Disconnect people, and they don’t.

So, naturally, I’m motivated to connect people.

Can we connect people outside Sunday? Absolutely. By all means connect people through groups, other gatherings, in local mission and so much more.

And yet this truth remains: the weekend service is, functionally, a primary way most people connect with the church and connect with God.

So to ignore Sundays is to ignore a reality that impacts hundreds of millions of people every week.

weekend attendance

10 Changes You Can Make to Boost Weekend Attendance

So if you’re holding weekend services, what can you do to bump weekend attendance positively, knowing that it will help people connect better to God?

Here are 10 ideas that are relatively simple to implement:

1. Invite, don’t assume

I think many leaders still hold the assumption that if you attend church, you’ll be there weekly. As we’ve seen before, that’s just not true anymore.

So instead of just closing the serve and assuming everyone will be back, invite people to come back. Close the service by saying something like “Next week we’ll be (fill in the blank) and we’d love for you to join us.”

When you change your language this way, you raise the anticipation level.

2.  Facilitate an experience more than a show

As worship has changed over the last generation, in many ways it has become as much of a ‘show’ as it has anything else.

As both David Kinnaman and John Stickl have pointed out on recent leadership podcast episodes (episode 24 and 29 respectively), millennials are far less attracted to ‘the show’ (highly produced, highly generic services) than their boomer parents and grandparents.

If you’re in a large church, the show will be the experience killer. People don’t want to attend something that they can access just as easily via podcast.

If you’re a small church, mediocrity (poorly produced, poorly executed services) will be the experience killer. It’s hard to draw people back to something that’s consistently underwhelming or poorly done.

I think the future will belong to leaders who can facilitate compelling gatherings (large or small) that usher people into the presence of God.

John Stickl provides great insight on how to usher millennials into the presence of God in a megachurch setting. It’s worth the listen.

3. Employ more than one or two senses

I’m a verbal, logical learner, so my default it always just to talk or write.

But I realized a long time ago I need to engage visual learners and other learning styles.

Increasingly, our team is using media like this in our services to help people connect with the full message and impact of the Gospel. In my teaching, I’m using more infographics and images in addition to words to communicate points.

This goes far beyond music, images and words.

Even communion is sensory, something that can’t just be reduced to a few words or yet another bottom line.

Lighting levels, haze and even incense can add to an experience.  You can’t podcast any of those things.

4. Make the next step beyond Sunday clear

Many leaders don’t point to anything beyond the next Sunday’s message (if they do that).

I’m increasingly passionate about helping people find their next step.

Recently at Connexus Church, where I lead, we introduced a Next Steps kiosk at our locations. We staff it with some of our best volunteers who understand our mission and love connecting with people.

We train them to read where people are at and make recommendations on which next step is best for them. For some it may be baptism, for others it might be Starting Point or group, for still others it could be serving or inviting a friend.

The goal is to get people to engage by taking a step. Why? Engaged people grow faster. It’s as simple as that.

They also tend to show up more (but that’s a by-product of their growth).

5. Teach in series

Many preachers now teach in series, but there’s a surprising number who don’t. Next Sunday still consists of whatever the preacher thought up on Monday afternoon (or Saturday night). Bad idea on about a hundred levels.

Teaching in 3 to 10 week message series gives people something to look forward to. Plus, it gives you something new to feature every month or two.

Additionally, series are memorable. I am amazed at how many times people tell me about a series we did years ago that impacted them. They remember the name, the bottom line and even the artwork.

Plus, a new series gives everyone a fresh chance to invite a friend.

6. Angle your messages as connected parts (think ‘episodes’)

If you teach in series, it means you won’t be as tempted to ‘cover all the bases’ in one sermon. You have a series for that.

I try to cover ONE idea per message. No more, no less.

That means you can pick up where you left off the week before after a brief recap of where the series has gone so far.

Rather than pushing people away, that draws people in. It’s why series like Suits, Downton Abbey or House of Cards are so successful. You can’t easily jump into the middle of a season—you need to watch from the beginning.

I’m not suggesting you make your message hard to access for first time attenders. Not at all. Just let them know there’s more that addresses the questions they’re asking.

It will drive people to your podcasts or website to catch up on what they missed, and make them want to come back.

You can still make the message ‘work’ as a standalone, but building continuity with other parts of the series makes it an experience people want to come back to.

And because you’re changing series every 3-8 weeks, you have lots of opportunity to start fresh throughout the year.

7. Give people homework

One aspect of teaching so many preachers miss is application. We give too much information and not nearly enough application.

Preachers, ask yourself, what are people going to do with this message on a Tuesday? If you can’t answer that, don’t preach it.

Sometimes I work harder on the application than I do on other areas of the message. Why? Because people remember what they apply. And because application is everything.

Don’t just ask what people need to know. Ask what people need to do. Then answer that, clearly.

8. Encourage everybody to bring somebody

People who invite people to church with them tend to not miss church.

I would strongly encourage you to elevate the value of inviting and bringing friends. Forget the weekend attendance that might bring.

It’s also one of the best ways for people to grow spiritually. Sharing your faith grows your faith.

Finally, it moves your church far closer to accomplishing its mission; sharing the hope of Christ with the world. Why wouldn’t everybody bring somebody?

9. Specifically invite people to follow you on social media

If your church has a social media presence on Sundays (most do), talk about it!

As I outlined in this post, most of us don’t. What a mistake. Stop greeting people like it’s 1999.

By encouraging people to connect with you via social media, you can connect with them all week long.

10. Make volunteering a great experience

If your volunteers hate serving, they’ll be looking to escape from your church any time they don’t have to be there.

Here’s a post that explains why many churches lose high capacity volunteers.  Here’s another one that outlines 7 questions every volunteer asks but never says out loud.

You want your volunteers to love serving so much that it creates a contagious environment.  In Episode 20 of my leadership podcastFrank Bealer from Elevation Church explains how what Elevation Church does to get thousands of volunteers as passionate about their mission as staff.

Turn around your volunteer culture, and you will have a far more irresistible weekend gathering.

What About You?

Those are some things we’re thinking about and doing around our leadership table to respond to the trend of declining attendance we’re all seeing.

What are you doing? What has enticed you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

bias for action

Why Leaders Who Hold THIS Bias Are The Most Effective Leaders

You probably have something exciting that you’ve been thinking about doing for a long time.

Every leader has dreams, goals and hopes.

The challenge is you haven’t done anything about it…yet.

And as a result, so few leaders end up with a track record of accomplishment.

Why?

Because almost all of us struggle with something the most effective leaders in their field don’t struggle with.

What is it?

It’s a bias so few leaders have. But the great ones all possess.

bias for action

Three Friends — One Bias

A few years ago, I began to notice a trend among some friends that were accomplishing a lot.

One good friend was launching a business and was frustrated with the lack of traction he was seeing that week. So he decided to host a webinar…ten days later. Believe it or not, 600 people joined him for it.

I had another friend launched a weekly podcast eighteen months ago, as a side-line to his full time job. This was at a time when I was still thinking about launching a leadership podcast. At the time I was thinking a monthly podcast was a huge commitment. But he launched…weekly. Convicting.

Now to a third friend.  He’s a prolific reader (40-50 books a year) and a super smart thinker and speaker. I told him he needs to write a book. He said he had thought about.

I urged him to do it and so did another friend. Within a few weeks he had sent me draft chapters to review. Amazing.

What do all three leaders have in common?

A bias for action.

Maybe You’re Hallucinating

This challenges me because I tend to think about things a lot before acting.

For example, I thought about hosting a podcast for two years before I launched this one (and, yes, I ended up going weekly in the end).  To date, I’ve only thought about hosting a webinar.

And my next book has been three years in the making (it releases in 2015…thanks for your patience…stay tuned).

Shipping is more important than dreaming. If you don’t act, you’ve got nothing. All you’ve got is a desire.

As Thomas Edison famously said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

 Action is Stunning

Action is stunning because so few people actually do it. So few people act on their dreams.

Often the difference between you and the leaders you admire is they acted. You didn’t.

And you know what a desire becomes when it’s never acted on, don’t you? It becomes a regret.

Far too many people waste their potential, squander their vision and languish in mediocrity because they just don’t act.

So why don’t you stun someone this week? Act.

I’ll bet you even stun yourself when you do.

Press Start

Here’s my hunch. You know exactly what you need to do. 

Come on…you know what it is:

That change you need to make in your church

The project you need to launch.

That book you need to write.

The blog you need to get started on.

That team member you need to deal with.

That unchurched neighbour you need to have over for dinner.

That series you need to find the courage to preach.

So what’s holding you back?

Be honest.

Maybe it’s fear.

Or a lack of confidence

Or the belief you might fail.

Well….

The only way to get past fear is to move through it.

The brave aren’t the brave because they don’t feel fear. They’re brave because they pushed through it.

The only way to gain confidence is to do something. So go do it.

Truthfully, your dream is failing right now. You have nothing to lose by acting on your dream except the 100% guarantee of failure that comes from not acting on it.

Now…before you leave a comment (scroll down to add to the conversation), decide what you need to act on.

Then act.

A bias toward action is a bias every effective leader has. So get moving.

fear; lose their nerve

5 Reasons Leaders Lose Their Nerve When They Need It Most

Every leader battles their nerves.

By nature, leadership is going to require you to do things that push you past your comfort zone pretty much every day.

And in seasons leadership will push you further than you’ve ever gone. You’re a leader, so you have to make decisions few others ever have to make.

And-frankly—sometimes leaders lose their nerve.

You know you’ve lost your nerve as a leader when you just can’t find the courage to do what you know needs to be done. Your head tells you one thing, but your emotions disable your ability to do it.

Why does this happen to so many leaders? Why aren’t we more carefree, more risk-ready and more willing to try something? And what can we do about it?

Here are 5 reasons I’ve seen leaders lose their nerve. I also realize these are the factors at work in me when I’m tempted to pull back from doing what I know needs to be done.

fear; loss of nerve

1. Over-focusing on the possibility of failure

We all fear failure, but leaders who lose their nerve develop tunnel vision: they only see fear.

Leaders who successfully keep their nerve see the potential for failure (only fools don’t). But they go further. They pray. They strategize around it (and good strategy is immensely helpful in ensuring success).

But then they do one more thing: they muster up the courage to push through that fear. If fear’s a big thing for you, here’s a recent post that outlines 5 signs fear is getting the best of you as a leader.

Leadership – and especially ministry – attracts its share of people pleasers. The problem with leading change is that you end up disappointing people.

If you are unwilling to be unpopular – even for a season – you will lose your nerve and fail to lead change effectively.

2. A belief they don’t have what it takes

This is a hard one. Somewhere along the line you develop a belief about yourself. And fundamentally, you believe you have what it takes, or you don’t.

Believing you have what it takes is not a cocky arrogance or the naive belief that everything you touch turns to gold, but a (hopefully) quiet confidence that you can do this with God’s help.

Many leaders struggle with insecurity (I blogged about that here and again in this post.)

The truth is, if you can push past your fear, and you lead with some deep faith and some wisdom around how to lead people, you do have what it takes.

If you can get past your insecurity, you’ll be surprised at how much courage, wisdom and ability God will provide you.

I love the way Henry Ford put it: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

3. An obsession with disappointing people 

Nobody likes to disappoint people, but a surprising number of leaders, especially church leaders, struggle with wanting to be liked.

I won’t say a lot more about it here because I wrote about the problems with likability and leadership in this post, but people-pleasing leaders will rarely lead with the courage the situation requires.

If you can make one shift in this area, make this one: instead of worrying about disappointing people, worry about disappointing God.

I realize, theologically, that God is not disappointed with you. But if you struggle with disappointment, directing your disappointment somewhere healthy is a good thing.

So what’s the best way to ensure you stay faithful to your calling and avoid disappointing God? Stay on target with your mission; do what it takes to accomplish it.

4. A forced comfort with the status quo

Another way leaders lose their nerve is to convince themselves that the status quo isn’t that bad.

We’re doing better than some other churches, you tell yourself. I can live with this, you think.

Ever heard yourself say these things? Ask yourself if you really believe them. You probably don’t.

Saying I can live with this over and over again may be a sign you’re dying as a leader.

So don’t lose your nerve. Navigate the change you are called to bring about.

5. The inability to get past the pain of past failures

Once bitten, twice shy. Everyone’s got their scars from past battles. But failure once doesn’t mean failure forever.

Maybe your idea wasn’t bad at all. Maybe your strategy just needs rethinking.

Or maybe you did colossally fail.

So what? Get over it. Get on with it.

So many leaders lose their nerve because they remember how much failure cost them in the past.

Keep thinking like this and you are one step away from becoming that person who says We tried that once…doesn’t work around here.

Talk to a friend, see a counselor, pray through it. Get past the pain and on with the future.

Which of the five reasons leaders lose their nerve resonate most with you?

What other reasons do you see? I’d love to hear from you!

Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Things People Blame The Church For…But Shouldn’t

There’s a lot of church bashing that happens these days. I get that. Some of it is deserved.

Like me, maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of people feel justified in dismissing the church as anything between a complete disappointment and otherwise useless.

Doubtless people have been hurt in the church and hurt by the church, and for that I feel terrible.

But it’s one thing to have a bad experience or a series of bad experiences. It’s another to hang on to them for far longer than you should, especially when you have a role in them that you refuse to see.

So in the hopes of clarifying a few things and helping us all move through whatever hang ups might be lingering, here are 5 things people blame their church for…but shouldn’t.

1. The church didn’t stop you from growing spiritually

Most church leaders have heard this before from someone who’s new at your church. I went to X church for 2 years but I just didn’t grow there. Now I’ve come here. Hopefully I’ll grow!

I’ve heard this so many times at one point I believed the logic. Until I realized that we were this person’s fifth church in 6 years, and they didn’t grow at any of them. Which makes you ask the question…is it really the church, or could it be them?

I came to the realization years ago that I’m responsible for my spiritual growth. Nobody can make me grow. And honestly, no one can keep me from growing because no one can actually control my thoughts, my heart and my mind. I can offer them to God in free surrender whenever I want.

Understand, the church can help, but it’s not responsible for your spiritual growth. You are.

2. The church didn’t burn you out

You meet a lot of people in ministry, both paid and volunteer, who will tell you the church burned them out. As someone who has burned out while leading a church, it would be tempting for me to say “For sure…my church burned me out. You should see the demands people made on me as a pastor and leader!”

But I would never say that.

You know who burned me out?

I did. 

I am responsible for my burnout. I pushed too hard for too long. I didn’t deal with underlying issues. I burned myself out.

Now, granted, I think ministry can be confusing, and I think it’s easier to burn out in ministry than in other vocations (for the reasons why that is, read this post).

But I’m responsible. And so, honestly, are you. For more on burnout, start with this post.

3. The church didn’t make you cynical

I’ve heard many Christians say “I’m so cynical after working at/attending several churches.”

And for sure, any student of human nature can become cynical.

But the church didn’t make you cynical. You let your heart grow hard. You chose to believe certain things about people, about God, about life, and it built a crust around something that used to be alive and vibrant.

The biggest challenge in life is to see life for what it really is but keeping your heart fully engaged. God loves to help people do that.

I fight cynicism daily. And if anyone makes me cynical, it’s me…not you, not God, not culture, not the church. I want my heart to be alive and celebrating each day. That’s a choice I make with God’s help.

4. The church didn’t cause your unforgiveness

It’s easy to hold a grudge. Get hurt (and yes, I’ve been hurt by people in the church too) and hang onto it long enough, and grudges will form.

Soon you’ll not want to hear someone’s name, let alone run into them in the supermarket.

Too many people in the church or who walked away from the church carry unforgiveness and blame the church for it.

What are you hanging onto from a bad church experience that you need to let go of?

Forgiveness is the one of most Christian things people can do. Yet it’s what far too many Christians withhold from one another.

I love how Mark Twain phrased it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

5. The church didn’t make you lose your faith

I hesitate to write this one. I’m a church leader. I do everything I can to help people find faith in Jesus Christ.

I also realize I’m far from perfect, that our church is not perfect, and that there never will be perfection on this side of heaven.

It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I went to church but it was so bad/so hypocritical/so shallow I lost my faith.” I realize we don’t always do a good job. In fact, sometimes churches do a terrible job. Sometimes I do a terrible job.

But as you’ve seen throughout this piece, nobody else makes you lose your faith. That was or is a choice you made. It is.

And it’s a choice I make every day. To believe when there are more than a few reasons not to. To love when people don’t love me back. To forgive when it’s easier to hang on to the hurt. To trust when there’s probably a few reasons to stop trusting.

So if you want to believe again…believe again.

A Challenge

Now let me give you a challenge. I realize many of you have been hurt by the church. I realize many of you have grown cynical. And that’s true of people who have left the church and who are in the church.

Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.

The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organizations, but they’re also chosen organizations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.

I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world has enough cynics and critics.

We need people and we need leaders who deal hope.

Would you be one of them? Maybe get involved again? Or join a church and decide to work toward a better future? Or start a church of your own? That would be incredible. Really…it would! We need more optimists and more people ready to make the world a better place.

I’d love to hear what you’re taking responsibility for in your life, and how you’ve decided to make a difference.

Scroll down and leave a comment!