Thursday, September 20, 2018

Five board lessons from the recent Willow Creek events

My objective here is not to revisit the specific controversies of Willow Creek but to draw some lessons for those of us who serve on church boards to consider. For my part, I am drawing on decades of working with church boards as well as having served for years on various boards. The recent issues at Willow Creek simply serve to illustrate my observations. I suspect that the good people who serve(d) in leadership at Willow would agree with most of these observations.

One. You can have as sophisticated a board structure as you desire and still get into deep weeds. If you google Willow Creek and church governance you will see all kinds of advice for how churches should structure their governance. They used Policy Governance and wrote about running great meetings. In the end none of that mattered when the board could not hold the senior pastor accountable and failed to guard the health of the church. 

There are governance structures that will make ministry easier and some that will make ministry harder but the structure itself is only as good as the people who are leading. The bottom line is that governance structures while important are not a substitute for wise leaders. Sadly, the very ministry that held up its leadership paradigm as a model (Willow Creek), ended up with its whole leadership team resigning with no credibility left. It is a warning to all boards. 

I am very curious what the dynamics were at Willow that prevented people on the board who asked the right questions from staying in leadership. When discerning people ask discerning questions and they get shut down by the rest of the board it is a sign of a dysfunctional and unhealthy board and organizational culture.

Two: Any structure that prevents board members from asking questions of a senior leader and verifying their answers is flawed. I have encountered situations where in the name of Policy Governance, the board was not allowed to press into staff issues, or even ministry philosophy and they acquiesced to the senior leader's pushback.  Even while the senior leader was mistreating staff, creating a toxic workplace and making ministry decisions that alienated huge portions of the congregation. When it all came apart, the boards no longer had any credibility and had to step down. 

Only after the fact, and after huge damage had been done did these boards realize that they had failed to ask the hard questions, insist on answers and verify those answers. 

Three: Unhealthy pastors can and do use their boards to protect them and to silence discerning members of the congregation who are asking penetrating questions. When you try to silence others you either create a cult like atmosphere and healthy people leave, or there is a blow up when the voices persist (Willow Creek and Mars Hill), and finally leaders must confront it. Certainly not all voices in any organization are created equal but when people of good reputation and discernment speak up as they did at Willow Creek and Mars Hill they are ignored at the board's own peril. As they discovered.

One other observation. Boards cannot be intimidated by their senior pastor. If they are they will not be a healthy independent board. 

Four: Unhealthy governance systems or groups will eventually cause significant issues in the congregation. In the case of Mars Hill, the church ended up disbanding. In the case of Willow Creek, the leadership resigned. Think of the pain felt by the congregation in both cases. When there are unhealthy pastors or boards, that health issues will eventually be felt by the congregation. 

Five: Sometimes a board needs an outside voice(s) in order to help them see beyond their desire to protect the pastors, themselves or the church and to do the right thing. In the middle of a crisis or when people feel under siege, poor decisions are often made. What might have happened at Willow if the board had brought in and listened to a wise outside voice. Someone who has stature in the Evangelical community. This is not a sign of weakness but a sign of maturity. If nothing else an outside voice of reason and wisdom can verify the board's approach - or challenge them. 

Six. A sign of a healthy leader is their willingness to be accountable to a board even if they disagree with some of their decisions. Healthy leaders solicit the opinions of others, listen to their authority, respect it and abide by it even when they may disagree. If a senior pastor will not abide by board decisions or allow the board to make those decisions beware! It means the board has authority in name only and not in reality.

See also Willow Creek and governance. A watershed moment

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

London Bridge is down: A fascinating article about an end of an era

Given the advanced age of Queen Elizabeth there are numerous contingency plans for her death and funeral. Some of us will grieve personally. In my case, I was her subject from 1960 to 1971 while living in Hong Kong. Each day in school, rather than a Pledge Allegiance we sang God Save the Queen. I have been schooled in the history of he monarchy and the UK and have a very soft spot in my heart for her and what she stands for. Whatever our upbringing, Queen Elizabeth has been an influence in our world for many years. The following article describes what will happen in minute detail upon her death.

London Bridge is Down: The secret plan for the days after the queens death

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The rare magnet of grace

We live in a harsh world. It is not just our differences and the polarization of our society but it is the attitudes that accompany our differences. Attitudes of derision, anger, ill will, verbal assaults and relational separation. Such a context makes it all the more remarkable to meet people who practice the grace of Jesus toward others.

Extending grace to those we think don't deserve it is the most counter intuitive act we could perform. The only reason we can do this is that we recognize God did the same for us and we of all people did not deserve His grace. Not then and not now. But He extends it regardless because that is who He is.

Grace is wonderful when extended to us by God and others. It can be inconvenient when we are called to extend it to those around us. Especially those who irritate and anger us. Those who have hurt or failed us. Those who have committed some sin that we can condemn them for because it is worse than our own sin (in our eyes). But the thing about grace is that it is by definition unmerited favor. It is reserved only for those who don't deserve it. And none of us do! 

I had an uncle by the name of Warren. I always loved to be in his presence because he was a person of grace. Never condemning, always loving and accepting. There was no hint of condemnation in him. In this he was like Jesus. And very different from many Christ followers I know. 

Personally I don't believe the church has much of a greater understanding of grace than the rest of our world. We can be just as condemning, exhibit the same animosity toward those whose views do not match ours and perhaps even more judgmental of others since we can use the cudgel of Scripture to put others down. And we do. Just listen to the conversation of many. 

Of course we have a Scriptural excuse. We need to be people of grace and truth like Jesus was. We are very good at the truth part, which is where our attitudes of judgement come from. But we are very weak at grace, extending unmerited favor. 

And we forget that even when sharing truth, Jesus was normally very gentle: the woman at the well; the woman caught in adultery; the rich young ruler. Our truth can be hard and cutting. His was soft and gentle which made it all the more remarkable and caught his audience off guard. Even His truth was filled with grace. Truth if not communicated with the fruit of the Spirit is not God's truth.

I no longer assume Christ followers will be people of grace which makes it all the more beautiful when they are. While I too fail at it many times, I want to learn to be more like Jesus in this - and my uncle Warren. And to live out the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 4:32-5:2. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

That is grace! Who can you show some grace to today?

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Do you have a book in you that is just waiting to be published?

Today it is easier than ever to publish a book. So if you have a non- fiction book that is waiting to get out, I would love to talk with you. I can help you in each step of the process including:



As the author of 5 books and four in process I have a passion to see others share their wisdom. 

You may also be the leader of a business, church, ministry or non-profit and want to codify who you are, tell your story and inspire both staff and customers. We can help you with that as well. 

You may contact me at 615.840.1676 or I look forward to talking with you.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at
"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Whose perspective do you have in mind today? Yours or God's?

" are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s."
Jesus to Peter, Mark 8:33

In this passage, Peter makes a perfectly reasonable statement. Jesus has been talking about his death and Peter said, "Hey Jesus, don't talk that way - you are the Christ - why talk about death?' (ok I am speculating on what Peter actually said but we know he rebuked Jesus for his words). You and I would no doubt have felt the same way whether we said it out loud or not.

In Jesus' reply to Peter he says, "Look, there are two kinds of interests here: Man's and God's. And you, Peter are not thinking of God's interests but man's. My interests are different than your interests (my paraphrase)." This is an interesting statement and one that each of us ought to consider in our own thinking and decision making.

In the Lord's prayer we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." With those words we are again making the distinction that God's interests are not the same as man's interests in many cases. Consider:
  • I have a preferred future for my life but so does God. His plan is to see me become like Him and join Him in His work. He is more interested in helping me develop His character than He is in my success (by the world's definition).
  • The code of morality in our society is often very different from God's. Honesty, truth, fairness and integrity are paramount to God's character but are often peripheral matters to those around us. Often getting to where we want to go is more important than how we get there.
  • We are always up to something but so is God. And what He is up to is far more important than what we are up to. Joining Him in His work in our world is the path to life significance and meaning.
Jesus' point to Peter is one worth considering.  On any given day we are faced with all kinds of decisions, priorities and choices. In all of those we should be aware that God's interests may be different than ours. And we ought to consider the question: Is my decision based on my interests or His?

One other thing. The interests of God may seem foolish to those around us at times. The plan of God for the crucifixion certainly seemed crazy and foolish and a failure of what Jesus was sent to do. Which is why Peter offered Jesus his (mistaken) perspective: "Get a grip Jesus, that's not a good plan." But as God says in Isaiah 55:8, My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. Followers of Christ seek to discern what His ways are because they are the right ways.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Disturbing trends for Christianity in China

As China's president Xi Jinping continues to consolidate his power there are very troubling signs of the repression of the church. In recent days major house church movements have been banned, Churches have been told to replace pictures of Jesus with pictures of Xi Jinping, there is a plan to prevent on line ministries and China is seeking to restrict Christian activities with 26 new rules.

For an overview of these developments, read this article from Christianity Today

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dealing with the gut punch of discouragement

Discouragement is an affliction all of us deal with as life throws us curveballs that hurt, create anxiety and complications. Life is not fair and has never been fair, living in a fallen and complicated world. And sometimes the bad news bunches up and comes all at once. It can be like a gut punch that leaves our minds in a knot for days. 

There are many who believe that as followers of Jesus we should not experience pain, sickness, poverty, or other realities of life in this world. But what do you make of Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble.” That is a defining statement—and one that all of us know to be true. There will come a day when God will redeem this sinful, fallen, and troubled world, but that day is yet to come. In the meantime, we live with the results of the rebellion against God in the garden.

At the same time, Jesus says, “in me you may have peace.” You won’t escape trouble, suffering, hardship, pain, hurt, difficulty, but “in me you may have peace,” in spite of those things. That is a game changer! How many people do you know who have a sense of peace in the middle of their pain or suffering? I know a few, and their sense of peace in the midst of their difficulty is a magnet to others who want to know where that peace comes from.

How then do we deal with very real pain and discouragement? First, acknowledge that the pain and hardship is real and that life is not fair. Bad stuff that is beyond our control happens.

Second, pray for the peace of Christ in the midst of the situation. Even before we ask God to resolve our difficulties, we need to experience His peace based on His promise, His goodness and His presence in our lives. If He is good and if He is faithful and if He is with us and has our lives in His hand we can trust him in the middle of our situation.

Third, ask God to intervene. He has the ability to do what we cannot do: change hearts; minds; situations and circumstances. He may not answer as fast as we desire or in the way we desire but He will answer in a way that glorifies Himself. Here is something to remember: We don't know when faced with trouble what God is up to - in us, in others or in His Kingdom work. But we can be sure that He is up to something that will bring Him glory. That also means that He is in control even when life seems out of control.

Finally, choose to live in trust that He will show us a way through in His time and in His way. We can live in anxiety which is exhausting. Or, we can live in His peace trusting Him with the outcome. This is a choice we make based on God's word and His promises. But that choice makes all the difference in our attitude today.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."