Monday, December 31, 2012

All people matter to God: Check out the amazing diversity of our world.

At the start of a new year it is fitting to remember that the call of the church is to take the Gospel to every corner of our amazingly diverse and needy world. Sometimes, pictures say it better than words and in this case I believe it does. This is a three and a half  minute video from the BBC called Human Planet. Take a look and be reminded of who Jesus died for and the challenge to share that Good News in many places where it has not yet penetrated. 

As you watch, think of the words of Revelation: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb.'"

As a mission leader, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning and fuels my energy and passion. All people matter to God.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guard the gate to your church leadership

How well do you guard the gate in your church to determine that the right people get into leadership and the wrong people do not? Most churches have poor systems for leadership selection - and they pay a high price.

Consider this: the most powerful group in the church are those who choose who will lead. Yet, this group is rarely given any training, little guidance or leadership in choosing the best leaders for their congregation. In fact, serving on the "nominating committee" is often a kind of consolation prize for those who are not on a ballot for something else!

Not everyone, no matter how godly are qualified to serve in church leadership. The quality of our leaders will determine the quality of our ministry. If we care about Return on Mission, we will care deeply about how we choose leaders. Furthermore, it takes only one individual to significantly compromise the working of a good board team.

It is estimated that some 80% of churches in the United States have lost their way and are floundering to one degree or another. That is a direct reflection on who they have in leadership. Get the right leaders along with a strong staff and the church will flourish. Get the wrong leaders and even with the right staff and ministry is significantly compromised. Choose the wrong leaders and have a weak staff and you have the makings of trouble. Never compromise on who you put into church leadership. Their impact is huge.

The New Testament actually has much to say about who we should put into church leadership and it gives us the characteristics of healthy church leaders. Consider these:

Exhibits godly character and lifestyle
This is the most critical, non-negotiable characteristic of a church leader. We are called to lead on behalf of Jesus Christ, as shepherds accountable to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Paul made it clear in First Timothy and Titus that, above all else, a leader's life must be in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Only those deeply committed to personal transformation and authenticity can lead others in that direction.

Has a deep passion for Jesus
The church is about Jesus! He is its leader. We serve as leaders under Him. Thus, only those with a passion for Him are qualified to lead His people. Those we lead will be influenced by whatever passions drive us. It is painfully obvious when church leaders are more interested in power, ego or their own agendas than in leading Christ's people where He wants them to go. Remember, few congregations rise above the spiritual level of their leaders.

Displays personal humility
Leadership in the church differs in two significant respects from how it is practiced in other arenas. First, it is a leadership of service rather than power.  As Peter wrote, "Overseers should be 'eager to serve: not lording it over those entrusted to you.'" Second, this leadership already has its agenda set by the Lord of the church. Our agenda has been set, and our leadership priorities are Christ's not our own.

Genuinely loves people
Ego-driven individuals love themselves, not others. Humble godly individuals love others as Christ loves them, and their leadership is fueled by genuine spiritual concern. The driving characteristic of God's pursuit of us has been unexplainable, powerful, unrelenting love, bathed in mercy, compassion, forgiveness and grace.

Is a lifelong learner
Leaders are learners. They are hungry to understand the leadership task. They are driven to lead well to become more effective. Nowhere is it more important for leaders to be lifelong learners than in the context of the local church. Healthy leaders are learners of God, of effective ministry options and methods and of leadership. Once leaders give up learning as a high value, their effective leadership days are over.

Understands and agrees with God's leadership assignment
I often ask leadership boards if they can clearly articulate their responsibilities. Invariably the answer is no, apart from generalities. It is my belief that God has given leaders specific responsibilities and every leadership board should be able to define its responsibilities.

Grapples with the future
To lead is to be out in front of others. True leadership is primarily about the future and secondarily about the present. While this may seem obvious, most leadership boards spend the majority of their time dealing with present-day rather than future issues.

Focuses on the team
Warning: Never elect or appoint to leadership an individual who cannot graciously work in a team setting - and publicly and privately support decisions that the team has made. Leadership teams require team players. Those who cannot function as a healthy member of a team will destroy the unity necessary for a leadership team to lead (remember humility). Mature, healthy leaders choose to subordinate their egos to the will of the group and deeply value the perspectives and input of others and the collective decisions of the board.

Leads willingly
Good leaders are willing leaders (remember 1 Peter 5). Willing leaders are ready to make the sacrifices necessary to lead, without inner resentment and frustration. It is a mistake to coerce individuals to serve in leadership positions. When we push people to serve before they are mature enough to handle the difficulties of leadership (such as conflict), they often have experiences that cause them to avoid future leadership.

Positively influences others
Real leaders have influence over others, whether they are in positions of leadership or not. This is the key: When considering individuals for leadership, ask the following questions: "Do they already have a positive influence over others? Do people look to them for leadership? Do they lead people closer to Christ and in positive ministry directions?"

Has an action bias
Leaders do things. They have a bias toward action and away from the status quo. They don't always know what to do but they will try things and see what sticks, what works. Leaders are never content with how things are but dream of how they could be - continually looking for ways to accomplish mission more effectively.

Is a purveyor of hope
Leaders are optimistic about the future and convey that optimism and hope to those they lead. They believe that positive things can and will happen because they understand that it is God who empowers and it is He who has promised to be with the Church until the end of the age. Pessimists are not leaders! Pessimists telegraph caution and see all the reasons why things cannot happen.

Rarely will a church rise above the personal, spiritual and missional health of its leaders. Who you select is a key either to mediocrity or to health. No one has all of these characteristics in equal measure but they are key questions to ask about those whom you put into leadership.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Five temptations leaders face

Leadership positions are a mixed blessing. For those wired to lead it is a joy to be in one's sweet spot. However, leadership brings with it a set of very real temptations that trip up CEO's, pastors, presidents and ministry leaders. Given these temptations, the first priority of every leader ought to be health: emotional, relational, spiritual, leadership and skill health. In the absence of that kind of care, there is a high likelihood that a leader will suffer one or more of the following temptations.

Leaders find themselves in a difficult place. They higher one rises in leadership responsibility the more isolated it feels. Good leaders, while collegial and approachable are not "one of the boys," or "one of the girls." They must push the missional agenda with those they lead and while the culture may well be collegial, they are still the leader and their focus on the missional along with decisions they must make will not always leave them popular.

Leaders who are promoted from within their organization quickly realize that the relationships they had with their peers have changed. It must if one is going to lead well.

Isolation, however, is a trap because we were not made to live in isolation. Isolation breeds loneliness and loneliness breeds unhealthy habits and addictions in a desire to fill that hole of loneliness. Leaders must face that temptation squarely and intentionally foster deep, meaningful relationships with peers at their level and friendships outside their organization. Isolation is dangerous so there needs to be a strategy to counter it.

Feeding a dark side
As noted above, feeding a dark side is often the result of isolation. Long hours, loneliness, constant travel, lack of genuine friendships all leave one vulnerable to unhealthy addictions: pornography, affairs, gambling, drugs, alcohol or other risky behaviors. The unconscious justification is "I need an outlet to my hectic leadership responsibilities."

Isolation and dark sides go together. Wise leaders have a deliberate strategy for avoiding isolation and the development of healthy habits that minimize the need to feed the dark side - which is simply a way to fill some emotional, spiritual or relational hole.

Running on empty
Many leaders have bought the lie that in order for them to lead well they need to be constantly on the move, running from one important meeting to another, one city or country to another. One cannot run a sprint twenty hours a day, day after day, and not pay the price.

God did not design us to run on empty. It can feel good - after all I am so important that I have this incredibly busy schedule - my input is needed all over the place: balderdash! Busyness may feed our self importance but it is not a necessity of leadership. Wise leaders set a livable pace, building in relational time, think time, rest time, and they say no to tons of good things in order to say yes to the most important things. Run on empty long enough and your leadership will be compromised

Taking short cuts
It is amazing how many leaders run aground on the shoals of ethical issues. After all, I work so hard, I give so much of myself to the organization, I am owed something too! Above all, leaders must model the highest ethical behavior and go the extra mile to avoid any appearance of ethical short cuts.

Arrogance is both the end result of the first four temptations and feeds them further. Arrogance is an attitude that the rules don't belong to me, I am the one with the needed wisdom, as the leader, I am different, and this ministry or company revolves around me.

Many leaders fall to this temptation. In the end it severely compromises their ability to lead because those around them will not give themselves to an arrogant leader - if they have other options.

Leadership is a high calling and for those who lead well a most satisfying job. But we will only be good leaders to the extent that we are healthy leaders. Healthy leaders live lives of significant discipline with a great deal of self knowledge because leadership 101 is avoiding the five temptations that will unravel my leadership!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Power of No

There is an interesting passage about Jesus in Mark 1:21-39. Jesus was in Capernaum where he healed Simon's mother-in-law, and "healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons." Early the next morning Jesus went to a quiet place to pray. When Simon and his companions found Jesus, they told Him, "Everyone is looking for you!"

Jesus' response is surprising. Rather than doing what the disciples expected, and going to those looking for Him, He replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also." In other words, He said no to the need and expectations the disciples brought to Him because he had more important missional things He needed to do.

Jesus understood the power of "no" because He could distinguish between those things that were good and those things that were critical for His ministry. Jesus was self defining about what He needed to do rather than allowing others to define those things for him.

It should not be lost on us that Jesus said "no" to the disciples' expectation after He had spent time with His Father. Jesus was in the habit of regularly taking time to refresh His intimacy with the Father and to pray through those things He should be doing so that His priorities were in alignment with the priorities of the Father.

Most of us love to please others. It makes us feel good because in saying "yes" to others' requests they feel good about us and we feel good about ourselves. We get our cookies by pleasing others!

I once did a consultation with a senior pastor of a large church. I was there because his staff felt he did not pay enough attention to them and to building a strong team. When I probed the pastor about how he spent his time (activity), one of the things I learned was that he made all the hospital calls - in a large church! When I asked why he said, "Because it makes me feel good." At least he was honest. While his activity was 'good,' it was not focused on what his true big rocks were, which included building a strong staff team (results). His team was suffering because of his focus on the wrong activity - for him.

Yes and No are powerful words with powerful results. Saying "yes" to the right things allows us to focus our attention on those key areas that spell success for us. Saying "no" to the wrong things (nice activity that is not strategic for what God has called us to do) is equally powerful. Lots of good and nice activities seek to distract us from what is key for us. Wise people refuse to be sidetracked by the nice at the expense of the important.

Saying "no" is not easy. When I am asked to consider an opportunity, my usual answer is "I will think and pray about it and get back to you. Rarely do I agree on the spot. Often I will consult one of my trusted colleagues for a second opinion on whether the opportunity is one that is truly important. After thinking, praying and considering my schedule and priorities, I will accept or decline.

I am learning that saying "no" can be very powerful in accomplishing what God has called me to accomplish. Saying "no" allows me to say "yes" to the key missional things God has called me to do. I cannot say "yes" to those without saying "no" to other good things.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Accidental vs intentional living

All of us live somewhere on a continuum between accidental and intentional living. At the end of one year and the start of another it is worth considering where we fall on the continuum and where we desire to be.

Accidental living can be characterized by the following:

-Lives moment by moment
-Often harried
-Little advanced planning
-Does not distinguish between 'big rocks' and 'small rocks'
-Busy without well defined priorities
-Allows life to determine schedule

Intentional living can be characterized by the following:

-Lives within structure
-Seldom harried
-Significant advanced planning
-Distinguishes between critical and non-critical
-Schedule revolves around key priorities
-Mission drives schedule

Do you fall more on the accidental or the intentional side of the continuum? Are you pleased with where you are?

How intentionally we live our lives matters. From a personal perspective, the issue is whether we are using the gifts, time and opportunities Christ has given to us to the fullest advantage. We have one life to live and it goes fast. On the other side of 50, I am on the down slope of opportunity, time-wise, but have greater opportunity to influence others given my stage of life and the lessons I have learned.

I meet few individuals who want to squander their lives, yet the way they go about life does not match their desires. Lack of careful thinking about priorities and schedules, allowing others to determine them, and not living in light of the gifts and opportunities God has given us equal accidental living.

In John 15, Jesus makes it clear that fruit matters to God. The fruit of our lives is directly related to the gifting God has given us and the "work that he prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10). Seeing the reality of this fruit is directly related to how intentionally we live our lives in light of our God-given gifting and priorities.

Healthy leaders and teams are made up of people who refuse to settle for accidental living, out-of-control schedules, unfocused activity or the expectations of others. Rather, they are deeply thoughtful about what God has called them to accomplish, focusing strategic activity on the big rocks of their lives, all of which come out a deep sense of God's call and our stewardship of that call.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012



Guest Writer: Amy, A ReachGlobal misionary in Tanzania
Whenever you drive into downtown Dar and stop at a major intersection, little boys run up to your car.  They are about 10 or 12 years old, and hold a jug full of soapy water and a piece of a broken windshield wiper.  As soon as your car stops, they splash water on your windshield, "wash" the window in about 10 seconds, and then hold out their hands to be paid.

I used to get annoyed at these boys.  I really didn't need my window washed two or three times in a half hour (once at each intersection), and I didn't like that they assumed I even wanted my window washed.  I also didn't like that I am always targeted because I am white.

These boys are most likely all street boys.  Runaways from abusive homes, orphans, or cast out for one reason or another, and now literally living on the street.  Which is the life that very likely my Josiah could have been living, had circumstances turned out differently for him.  And so, a couple of years ago, when one of these boys tried to wash my windshield, all of a sudden, I saw Josiah's face there instead.

And I started to cry.  And instead of shrugging him away, I paid him.  Now I do every time.

Like every other American (and much of the world), I have been thinking and praying and mourning over the terrible tragedy of 20 lost little lives in Connecticut.  But what has struck me about the situation and how it is being presented is that this tragedy is somehow unusual for our world.

Did you know that in the past couple of weeks, 700,000 refugees have fled Congo?  That they are fleeing a militia that has been bombing and burning down their villages, raping and shooting indiscriminately?  Ironically, they are fleeing into Rwanda, country where only 10 years ago, the majority tribe massacred one million of their fellow countrymen/women/children, neighbor against neighbor, and usually with machetes?

Did you know that often in Africa, children suffer a fate far worse than being gunned down by a crazy person; instead they are handed a gun, forced to murder their own parents, and then conscripted into an army to kill their own neighbors and friends?

The United States will corporately mourn those 20 little lives lost on Friday, and rightly so.  But I can't help but ask, why are those little lives so much more valuable than the ones over here?  Why do people care so much about this tragedy, and barely cast a glance at Congo?  Why is anyone surprised that such an event would occur, when it has been happening in the rest of the world since Cain and Abel?

And I'm guessing it's because that people see their own children, or themselves, in the faces of those children from Connecticut.  They can imagine what it would be like to send their own little ones off to school, only to never see them again.  But they can't imagine a crazed, drug-induced militia entering their neighborhood, raping, burning, and shooting their small children, ripping open their pregnant women before handing their 10-year-old a gun and telling him to shoot his mother or die himself.

The American children have names and faces.  The African children don't.

Adopting three African children has broken my heart for other African children in ways that I never imagined, even after growing up here.  I see children here suffering and I see my children's faces instead.  I think about my children starving, alone, frightened, separated from their families by tragedy, fighting in wars.  Or even just living on the street, trying to make enough money for a meal by washing car windows.

So yes, mourn this tragedy, America.  See your children's faces in the newscasts and hug your own children tighter today.  But don't forget the millions of children and families who endure even worse things every day.  Adopt a child.  Sponsor a child.  Send money to churches in Rwanda who are helping the Congolese.

And remember that we're not celebrating Christmas because of the warm fuzzies and fun and sugar plums.   We celebrate Christmas because our world is desperately, horrifically, tragically broken and our only hope is in Jesus Christ.

A thrill of hope; a weary world rejoices.  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A story stranger than fiction

No story is better known. No story better captures the heart of a child - small or grown - than the one we celebrate today. No matter how many times we hear the story it never grows old, it never disappoints, never ceases to evoke deep emotions of wonder, awe and comfort. An angel’s proclamation to illiterate shepherds, a teenage unwed mother, a loyal carpenter fiancee, the evil king Herod, a cold, clear, Bethlehem night without a place to stay. A messy birth in an animal’s stall, alongside a dirty alley in the dark of night. Confused cows watching unknowing as the Son of the universe stares back unknowing at the very animals He had created eons before. A mother, a child, a carpenter, a few agitated animals and the pungent smell of manure.

This is a story so absurd that it could only have been scripted by a Divine hand. No other writer would have attempted such a script. If they had they would not have claimed it to be true: fiction maybe, but not reality. This is not how the One whose voice had echoed off of a billion galaxies would make His entrance. Without CNN and Fox News, into a hovel known affectionately today as Bethlehem but then nothing more than a tiny village on the path to Jerusalem. 

His entrance was marked not by a proclamation to kings but to astonished herdsmen sleeping with sheep. The heavens opened with ten thousand voices – not over Jerusalem the ancient capital – but over a tiny grazing field for a handful of insignificant shepherds. They would be the only witnesses of the grand entrance of a King. No other writer would have written such a script. 

No other author would have taken such a chance. For behind this story there are echoes of another story - equally incredulous. Centuries before in the vastness of eternity past – when infinity kissed infinity, The Master of Infinity spoke into being the universe in which we live - 3,000 of whose stars are visible to the careful eye, 30 billion visible from a large telescope, - the other 90% of the universe still hidden from our eyes. Its splendor an eternal testimony to the Author of the story.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render: O help us to see
Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.
(Walter Chalmers Smith)

The Author’s heart was restless still, lonely in His perfection. A heart full of love is not easily satisfied. Transcendent goodness longed to give away infinite love. Again the Author spoke: A planet was expertly crafted. One among billions. A people wonderfully created – in the image of the Author. Free to love, free to experience the infinite goodness of the Author. Free to revel in His infinite Love. But above all free. Love cannot be forced and remain love.

We are not the sole owners of broken hearts. No heart suffered such sorrow as Infinite Love rejected. Image bearers rejected the Image Maker. The story’s characters fired the Author to write their own script. Unmatched, searing pain pierced the Author’s heart as the loved jilted the Lover. 

Chaos infiltrated beauty. A planet was hijacked and spun out of control. Poverty of spirit supplanted endless joy. Unfulfilled hearts realized the pain of lost love. Without the Author, individual story lines faltered – and failed. Sadness reigned. Darkness descended in seeming endless gloom.

Truth can be stranger than fiction. For in the pained heavens the grieving Author plotted love’s revenge. An awesome revenge that only Divinity could contrive – that only Divinity would contrive. Having lost His loved, the Lover would send His most loved to reclaim His heart’s desire. The rejected Creator would kiss the unfaithful created. Tender mercy in place of deserved destruction. An astonished heaven broke into unbelieving applause. Image bearers would be reclaimed by the Image Maker. Light would once again prevail over darkness. Brokenness would be made whole. Peace would triumph over chaos.

All was silent in the heavens on the chosen night. Angels held their corporate breath. For nine months the Son had been absent, resident in a young girls womb, coming to us not as a king but incognito, just one of thousands of children that would be born on a lonely planet that night – into the darkness that our word had become. Placenta covered the Son of the universe arriving to claim back His beloved: this time, one by one, heart by heart. Tender mercy arriving in disguise: one of us, one like us. On that night, the Author personally entered our story. 

Such humility our world has never known. A stunning reversal for a world gone astray. A Heart full of love is not easily satisfied. Transcendent goodness longing to give away infinite love, arriving under cover of night in order to “shine on those living in darkness…to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:27).

When an author writes, each character is unique; each has his or her own storyline. We, each have a story – unique, unrepeated, singular. Each story has its own joy, its own pain, its own pathos and unmatched quality. But each shares one singular, astonishing feature. We are made in the Author’s image, and He will not rest until we have invited Him to join in our story. 

More astonishing than the script He has authored, the story we celebrate today is that He also wants to enter into your story. This is the most ancient of stories but it is also the most contemporary of stories. The Christmas story is but one chapter in the Author’s divine script. The Author is still writing. And every person who invites Him into their story becomes a separate and unique chapter in His unfinished book. And into each story He brings His light and peace. 

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17.)

Have you invited Him into your story?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An amazing video about God's love for us

Take five minutes and watch this video. And then pass it on. It will encourage you and is an amazing evangelistic piece: Creative and powerful.

Falling Plates 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The gift of God: Emmanuel, "God with us."

It is my favorite name for Jesus. And it encapsulates the amazing and incomprehensible gift of God to us for it literally means "God with us." 

It is fitting that Jesus arrived in the squalid confines of Bethlehem. It was the other side of the tracks - more of a slum than the cute Christmas villages we put up on our mantels. A birth in a stable is a messy affair but our hearts are messy, our lives are messy and many of the situations we face are the result of living in a fallen and messy world. The gift of Emmanuel is that He chooses to enter into our mess, whatever our situation and be with us. In the incarnation He became one of us and through the Holy Spirit daily lives with us.

Think of the worst situation you can imagine, or the one you or a close friend is going through right now and then remember, Emmanuel is with you, just as when He first entered this world in Bethlehem. Not only that but He is walking through whatever situation you have with you. God with us. As Paul said, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8).

The gift of God to us was not only Jesus in the incarnation but Jesus who would for the first time live in each of His followers through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Emmanuel, God with us. It is the gift that keeps on giving, every year, every hour, all the time.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A, B and C team players

Potential or current team members can be categorized as A, B or C Team players. This is not about being a good or bad person, but about being able to play well on your team.

A team players have qualities such as being self-directed, highly competent, committed to team and hard working. They are committed to your values and mission, require little management, and are results oriented. A Team players have high EQ's, they work well with others and have good self awareness.

B Team players are committed to team, work hard, buy in to your values and mission, are results oriented, and have high EQ, but may require more direction. Generally, B team players are not as creative or entrepreneurial as A Team players, but given concrete direction, they will do their work diligently and faithfully.

C Team players may or may not be competent (some are very competent and may even by 'stars'). But they have a fatal flow that disqualifies them from serving on your team. Disqualifiers include lack of tangible results, laziness, lack of buy in or adherence to your mission or values, low EQ that disrupts relationships on the team or elsewhere, inability to work productively as a team player, or immaturity requiring constant management.

Let me say what many in the Christian world are unwilling to say: C Team players do not belong on our teams no matter how 'nice' they are or how long they have been with you. To allow them to stay is to condemn the rest of the team to frustration and to compromise the mission of the organization. Remember, we are using God's resources to further God's Kingdom. We have a responsibility to our donors, to the Kingdom and to the mission of the organization to ensure that we deliver on the mission.

The question one needs to ask about C Team players is whether the fatal flaw can be dealt with so the individual can move from a C Team player to a B Team player. It is possible that people operating at a C Team level in terms of results are in the wrong job (wrong seat) in which case you may want to do some testing and try an alternate job if one is available. What is not wise is to leave an incompetent person in place. Your credibility as a leader will be legitimately tarnished with the rest of your team if you do not deal with performance issues - or other fatal flaws.

Before you decide that someone is a C Team player, ask the question whether they have ever been coached or mentored. And, whether anyone has ever been honest with them regarding issues that are problematic. If not, you owe it to them to put them through a process to see if they can be retooled and brought up to a B Team level.

A and B Team folks are the heart of any good team and organization. In some higher-level jobs, you will need A Team players. In many jobs, a solid, faithful B Team player is exactly what you need. Know that you need and work to fill positions based on that need.

One of the realities of organizations is that someone who is an A or B Team player at one phase of an organization's life can slip to a B or a C at another. Most people have a built in "capacity ceiling" where they cease to be effective.  Thus a youth worker who was a star when she had 20 youth in her group (she could personally relate to 20) starts to slip when she has 60 (she cannot relate to 60 and is not able to build a team to help her).

It may be a case of not being able to multiply themselves so that they can lead a larger number of people or it may be they have just quit growing (an all too common scenario). If coaching and mentoring do not solve the issue, you may have to move them to another seat on your bus or help them, redemptively, find a seat on another bus. What you cannot do is allow someone to function at a sub-standard level without directly impacting the rest of your team and the results of your ministry. At any state of your ministry's life, having the right people in the right seat is critical if the ministry is going to develop to the next level of effectiveness.

Your first responsibility as a leader is to ensure the health of your organization while always acting redemptively when a change is needed. People who are not doing well are usually not in their sweet spot, and they often know it. To leave them there is not fair to the organization, to others on your team, and in the end, is not in the best interests of the one who cannot play at the level they need to play at.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Faith, the public square and Sandy Hook

It should not have passed anyone's attention that in the wake of major tragedies in our country we turn back to God and faith. The President's address to the families and friends at the memorial service for the victims of Sandy Hook was full of Scripture. Why? Because in the end it is a loving and sovereign God that we turn to when life comes undone.

What is ironic is that with God taken out of the public square in so many arenas it is only after great tragedy has struck that we have the option of talking about Him and our faith. One cannot do it in school but at the memorial service for children from the school one can and does. When society has nowhere else to turn it turns to God. When we should have been turning to God all along, at least in public there are many places we cannot.

It reminds us that whether we can address the faith question in public or not, we ought to be doing it in private with individuals on a regular basis. Our society lives with the bifurcation of shunning faith in the public square on a regular basis but needing to turn to it when there is no where else to turn. We, on the other hand need not and should not live that way. It is daily faith and its expression with others that allows us to face whatever undone moments we our our society find ourselves facing.

If faith is the place to turn in tragedy it is the place to turn to when times are good. We should not allow the rules of society or the courts regarding faith in the public square to impact our sharing of the good news one on one all the time. There are many who would shun God from all of life except secret individual beliefs. That this is not a real answer becomes evident every time our nation faces its challenges when the only place to turn to for comfort is Scripture and God and His Hope.

This is ironic. And challenging. But it also reveals that deep down, when the chip are down people know that there is a God that we must turn to. Let's make that God well known and lift His reputation high in our daily interactions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guarding our humility as leaders

Those who experience some leadership success run the risk of starting to believe their own press. After all, if I can make such successful ministry calls and grow a church, team or organization, I must be pretty good. And the better I think I am , the less likely I am to guard a humble spirit which is at the core of leaders of deep influence. How do we guard a humble heart?

First, always remember that our leadership is not about us. Each of us who leads are in a stewardship role. We steward the mission of the organization, the people who work with us (not for us), the strategies that will get us to success and the resources that are entrusted to us. As soon as we start to believe that it is about us, our leadership capital starts to dry up.

Second, surround yourself with highly competent people who will tell you the truth. Leaders are in a naturally precarious position. Many people will not tell their leaders what they are thinking and many leaders do not like to hear bad news. Some leaders actively work to stifle honest opinions. The result is that leaders often do not hear what they need to hear.

Wise leaders develop an ethos of candid conversation both with those close to them as well as throughout the organization. Sometimes it does not feel good because people can be unloving and critical in their critique but the alternative is to not know what we need to know.

Here is where unhealthy leaders flounder on the shoals. Because they see dissent, criticism or contrary opinions as a personal attack on them they stifle honest, open dialogue. Some actually respond in anger when contrary opinions are voiced. In shutting down conversation out of personal insecurity they both lose the intellectual capital of others and they don’t hear what they really need to hear. It is a net loss for the ministry and an indication that the leader thinks it is about him not the mission.

In our organization we have a rule that no issue is out of bounds for discussion as long as there are not personal attacks or hidden agendas. We don’t want any elephants in the room. At one meeting I was at early in my leadership of ReachGlobal I was told that there were many elephants in the room so I simply said, "lets name them.” The thing about elephants is that once you name them they are not elephants anymore.

Third, listen a lot more than you talk. Insecure leaders talk – a lot. They need to convince themselves and others that they have what it takes to lead although no one is fooled by their verbosity. Some time ago I had a lunch with a new CEO of a major Christian agency of which our organization was a member. In a two hour lunch this CEO asked me one question – at the very end. I walked away thinking, “he is not going to last long because it is all about him – not those he is serving. Within two years he was released from his position.

Listening carefully to others is both a posture and a builder of humility. It says, “I want to hear what you are thinking because you are valuable to this organization.” It indicates an otherness rather than selfishness. It sends a loud message that it is about “us” not “me.” I frequently talk to staff of Christian organizations who tell me that staff meetings are about their leader talking to them, not listening to them. It may be a sign of poor EQ, or insecurity or hubris, but it is not a posture of humility.

Listening also grows humility because we realize that there is a lot of intellectual capital beyond our own that we need to pay attention to. Those who listen well are far more likely to lead well than those who don’t.

Fourth, ask a lot of questions of a lot of people. The best leaders I know cultivate the art of asking questions. They are curious; they want to get into the heads of others. They want to learn and to gain different perspectives. Asking questions sends a strong message, “I don’t have all the answers and you are needed.” Ironically many leaders think that asking questions is a sign of weakness but the opposite is true. It takes a strong, self defined and personally secure leader to ask questions. They don’t need to pretend they have the answers and they are willing to be challenged by others.

In fact, questions work exceedingly well when one is being challenged or even attacked. Rather than bite back and escalate the situation questions can engage and deescalate the conversation. Saying “Talk to me about that” or “Unpack that for me” and “Help me understand your view on that” engage the other individual and keep the connection rather than cutting off the conversation with a rebuttal.

This is where good EQ matters. Internally we may be ready to take a big swipe and the individual may even deserve it. But wise leaders often guard their responses (and mouths) in order to manage what could otherwise be a problematic conversation.

Fifth, serve those who serve you. Leaders of deep influence serve those on their team and help them become the best that they can be as individuals, professionals and as contributors to the common mission. A great orchestra conductor helps to pull the very best music out of the group by coordinating, giving feedback, practicing and encouraging. We will only be as good as the team we lead so helping them become all they can be is foundational to our leadership.

Relationship also matters – not as one of the boys or girls – but genuine concern for those who are part of our staff. Staying connected, showing genuine concern and thanking them appropriately means a lot. People want to know that they are respected, appreciated and that their leader is more than just their leader. It is people who make ministry possible!

Too often leaders who are experiencing success move away from staying close to and serving those they lead. There is a temptation to move toward their own priorities rather than continuing to lead their team. After all, they are now important and influential! This results in a loss of leadership capital as their key team members feel abandoned or undervalued. As long as we lead others, the mission we serve and the people we serve must be our highest work related priority. When our personal success gets in the way of our leadership there is a net loss to that leadership. It has become about “me” not “us.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What happens when churches lose their way

Many of us have experience with churches that lose their way. This happens when there is no longer a compelling vision, when there is not a discernible or consistent direction, when focus and clarity have been lost and leaders cannot answer the important questions of direction, mission, vision, and what we are after. It could be defined as mission malaise with serious consequences that are often not noticed until it is too late.

There are several symptoms of churches that lose their way. If you sense this is happening it is critical to deal with it as quickly as possible because the longer it lasts the more difficult it is to bring health and missional focus back.

Here are symptoms to watch for:

A clearly defined direction and vision is no longer being articulated. When this happens you know that whatever ministry vision was once present has dissipated and leaders have not been able to come to clarity on what is next. It is a dangerous place to be.

A restlessness is felt in the congregation by key leaders. Some people are not bothered by lack of direction and missional energy but good leaders are. That restlessness is felt in raising questions of direction and vision and sometimes pressure put on the senior pastor and the board.

Good leaders quietly leave. One of the most dangerous issues for churches that have lost their way is that good leaders and people who have been deeply involved in ministry over the years quietly leave the congregation. They usually don't make a statement but they want to be in a place where there is missional passion. Life is short and they want to be a part of a congregation that is serious about reaching their community and world. The sad thing is that when the church wakes up (if it does), the very people who could have helped them move forward are now gone.

Politics and infighting increases. When people are not focused on missional issues they start focusing inward and often get involved in petty conflicts that would never have arisen if we had more important issues to tackle. Church conflict is often a symptom of a church that has lost its way.  

Plateau and decline. When a church loses its way it usually stops growing, loses ministry energy and often starts to lose people as mentioned above. 

The explanations of leaders for lack of ministry energy, decline and people leaving does not make sense. Pastors and leaders of churches that lose their way often circle the wagons and either cast blame on others (often those who have left), circumstances or spiritualize the issue. When their explanations don't make sense to the average individual you can extrapolate that they know they are in trouble but don't know the way out. 

If your church has lost its way take action sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to deal with the need to re-envision and re-energize ministry the harder it will be. It is never easy to admit that you are in a bad place but until we face reality we cannot move on toward health.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Lesson from Sandy Hook

Americans often think that evil is the providence of other places and other countries. The Sandy Hook massacre has reminded us that evil is among us as well as it exists among all people. And it impacts all of us. In fact, a youngster from a family that attended and EFCA church (my employer) was killed. Evil lives among all of us - a result of the fall. Our nation does not have an exemption from the impact of evil.

Our nation has deep needs. Tragedies like this that remind us of evil. Gridlock in Washington that prevents us from coming to common solutions. Economic issues that are impacting many. If there was ever a time to pray more and be more committed to reaching our communities it is now. 

It is hard to get ones hands around the kind of evil we witnessed yesterday. I never will. But such events make it possible to get our hands around the need our society has for the Gospel of Jesus which transforms lives, communities and institutions. Indeed, I am sure that in the aftermath of this event, the love of Jesus will be deeply evident through His people as they minister to the families impacted. We can join them by praying that God would be a comfort and that open hearts would turn to Him in a time of need.

There will be much debate about how to prevent such events in the future. More programs, gun control, security and perhaps other solutions. The real solution is the Gospel of Jesus. 

In times like this I am reminded of Paul's words to the Corinthians. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows (2 Corinthians 1; 3-5)."

Friday, December 14, 2012

The difference between urgent and strategic

I live with a sense of urgency that the Gospel becomes well known in a world that desperately needs a Savior. Anyone who does not does not understand the eternal implications of an eternity without Christ.

That urgency, however, should never cause us to short circuit our effectiveness by failing to do the hard work of being strategic in our ministries. Many ministry staff are tempted for the sake of urgency to move fast rather than to  plan for lasting and healthy ministry results. Moving fast to meet needs often causes us to cut corners and allow urgent action to overshadow long term results.

This is certainly true in missions where it is easy to see a need, jump in and take quick action without the hard work of understanding the context, developing local relationships and working toward developing church planting movements that are indigenous, self supporting, reproducing, healthy and interdependent. Urgent action rarely gets one to long term effectiveness.

It can be hard in ministry to be patient in developing strategies for long term results. And many do not. The temptation to do something often gets in the way of thinking through how we are proceeding and the unintended consequences of our strategy. Acting impulsively often yields short term gains at the expense of long term effectiveness. It also can create significant chaos and instability for staff involved. 

Whatever ministry you are involved in, think long term and strategic. Allow the urgency to fuel strategic thinking and Spirit dependence. But don't allow the urgent to short circuit long term and lasting results.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dumb things senior leaders do

Complain about their board members
Bad move. First it violates board "rules of engagement," second it will get back to those you complain about and it will destroy trust with those board members and you. I recently heard of a pastor who was actually complaining about a board member of his to staff at another church and it came back to bite him and caused great distress for that board member (as it should) and destroyed any trust that was there. If one needs a healthier board or has issues with a board member, work through the issues on the board but never complain about your board members to others. Just as you would not want them to do that about you.

Create an "us versus them" mentality
This occurs when a leader blames the board for decisions that they or their staff do not like. Wait! The leader is part of that board that made the decision. In fact it is his/her senior team so to blame them is simply not to take responsibility for decisions that they made. In our organization we call this Leadership Default! Any time a leader blames the board for a decision whether subtly or outright he divides the board and the staff and creates an unhealthy us verses them mentality.

Take credit for success
It is a bad thing to do! Yes, organizations need great leadership and the quality of leadership matters. But, the fact is that great leaders create an environment where staff and volunteers can shine and in the end it is everyone involved who was responsible for success. Great leaders always take the spotlight of success off of themselves and put it on all those who made it happen. They are humble, they are appreciative, they thank others and lift others up. They don't have a need to be the one who gets the credit. Where they do, everyone notices!

Blame others for failure
Here is the flip side. When we see success we look out the window at those who created it and lift them up. When we see failure we look in the mirror and take the blame. Great leaders don't blame others but take the responsibility when things don't go well. Hard? Sometimes yes. But then again if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose and if we are ultimately responsible we do the right thing and take the responsibility.

Are defensive
One of the common sins of ministry leaders is defensiveness. I think of pastors who are not administratively or leadership savvy but won't let qualified lay leaders help. Or leaders who need to be right all the time and have the answers (no one does so we need to get over it). Too many ministry leaders are not teachable, are not approachable, are not willing to listen to truth and in the end hurt themselves and the organization they lead by their hardheadedness. I ran into that buzz saw of defensiveness recently with a leader and it was ugly. Defensiveness and lack of teachability is foolish.

Fail to regularly thank volunteers and staff
We can never thank good people enough for their efforts, their prayer, their financial gifts and their work. Not doing so is a sign of narcissism - obviously it is about us. But ministry is not about us as leaders, it is about unleashing others to be successful whether in a professional or volunteer capacity. Thank people often and with sincerity and you will be loved for it.

Don't develop their staff
One of the top priorities of leaders is to develop those who work for them, to help them become all that they can be in line with how God has gifted and wired them. Why is it foolish not to develop staff or volunteers? Because the success of the organization depends directly on how good our staff are, how well they understand their wiring and strengths and how they are deployed in their sweet spot. And it is what Jesus did with His disciples, and it is what He wants us to do with others (Ephesians 4:12). Leaders who do not develop others do not understand leadership, or think that it is all about them.

Don't set clear expectations
When staff don't know what is truly expected of them, they are in a no win situation. If they move ahead on something and show initiative but it is the wrong initiative (the senior leader was not clear on boundaries) they get dinged. Much staff frustration revolves around unclear expectations or expectations that change unexpectedly - usually because the senior leader is not clear either. Clarity for all is a gift. Lack of clarity is a curse. The number one job of leaders is to communicate clarity for his/her team. The number two job of leaders is to ensure that that missional clarity is delivered on.

Criticize staff in front of others
This is one of the most disempowering and dishonoring things a leader can do. There are certainly times when staff need direct and honest feedback but praise should be public and criticism should be private. It is a matter of honor and respect. Staff rarely resent honest feedback in private but will remember it for a long time if done publicly.

Dictate rather than collaborate
I have a friend who thinks that leadership means telling other people what to do! That is rarely good leadership. Rather, leaders build teams, empower people to use their gifts and wisdom and create a collaborative environment where the team functions together under good leadership. Leaders who dictate, or micromanage do not understand the nature of leadership and will not find or keep quality staff.

Treat staff carelessly
Every interaction with staff carries with it a message of respect, disrespect, appreciation or lack of it. It is easy for leaders to treat these relationships carelessly since they have authority. They expect respect but don't always convey it and there is not much staff can do when they don't receive it. Every interaction that is careless, harsh, unkind or sharp costs a leader coinage with staff. Wise leaders treat others the way the desire to be treated.

Ultimately when we do these dumb things we hurt the organization and the staff who work for us. Every once in a while it pays to take a step back and honestly evaluate the quality of our leadership - and perhaps even ask our staff how we are doing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How we respond to the coaching of our supervisor makes all the difference

Healthy organizations build into their system a mentoring/coaching component to ensure that all staff are developing their professional skills on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately many supervisors treat this as a formality rather than an opportunity to develop their staff and many staff treat this as a necessary evil rather than as an opportunity to grow.

All of us should be under authority. It may be the authority of a supervisor or of a board but unless one is self employed, we live with authority. The question is whether we see the coaching and mentoring of our supervisor (or board) as a necessary evil or as an opportunity to grow, learn and develop. Our attitude toward the input of our supervisor(s) has a great deal to do with our capacity to grow.

Good supervisors want to see their staff flourish. The better my staff becomes, the better our ministry so I will do whatever it takes to develop and help my staff flourish. Good staff come to this relationship with both expertise and humility. They are on staff because of their expertise but they understand their limitations as well and desire to grow. Good supervisers have the ability to help staff think with greater clarity about their roles and how best to fulfill them.

As one who is both a supervisor and supervised (by the president of our denomination) I both want to help others grow and I want to grow. With those I supervise I desire to challenge and clarify and see their potential released. In my relationship with my supervisor I also want to be growing and released which requires me to take off my leader hat at times and put on the learner hat. Lets face it, we often like to mentor others more than be mentored as the former puts us in a position of influence while the latter requires a spirit of humility and learning. Of course leaders who cannot follow don't belong in leadership so it is a good balance and regular reminder.

Supervisors who take a mentoring role seriously think about how they can best coach their staff. Staff who take the input of their supervisor seriously prepare carefully for their monthly meeting. When it becomes perfunctory it loses its value. When both parties take it seriously it is deeply valuable.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Personal clarity for 2013

December is a great month to think through the past year and to plan for the next year in our personal lives. God designed our lives with a rhythm on purpose. Each new day turns a new page, each month is a new chapter and each year a new volume. Volume 57 starts for me on January 1 and I want it to count. As the number grows so do the stakes as time cannot be reclaimed. 

Don't move on to 2013 before evaluating and celebrating 2012. Consider these questions:

  • What were the significant events of 2012 and how did they change me?
  • Where did I see significant growth in my  life this past year?
  • How did God prove Himself to be faithful to me?
  • Is there anything I need to confess and put behind me?
  • Are there any relationships that need reconciliation?
Since each year is a new volume and offers new opportunities, these are the kinds of questions I ask each December:
  • What are the key areas of personal growth I need to focus on this coming year?
  • How will I stay fresh in my spiritual life, marriage, family and professional life in the coming year? 
  • I feel God nudging me in specific areas of my life. How will I respond to those nudges?
  • What are the three to five big rocks that I must accomplish in my work life?
  • What is my plan to stay on track?
Whatever volume you are on 25 or 75, don't waste it. Take the time to think and reflect before the new year starts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Signs of weakness that make for strong spiritual leaders

I doubt a book entitled signs of a weak leader would make the best seller list. Of course, the Scriptures were never that trendy or politically correct and what Jesus and Paul considered good leadership practices are often antithetical to common wisdom. Yet, Paul makes a strong statement that "when I am weak, then I am strong." So what are the signs of weakness that actually bring leadership strength Jesus style?

The world celebrates independence while Scripture celebrates dependence on God. When Paul prayed that his thorn in the flesh would be taken away, God said No! It would stay to keep him humble and dependent on Him. Paul got the message and celebrated his weakness because in it he was forced to rely on God's power. Corinthian "pseudo apostles" came in pride and clever words while Paul came in weakness and dependence and the Holy Spirit's power.

The world celebrates personal power and strength while Scriptures celebrate humility. A humble leader puts himself or herself under the authority of God. They recognize and celebrated the gifts and strengths of others and understand their strengths and weaknesses well and don't pretend to be other than they actually are. Humble leaders don't lead alone but allow the Holy Spirit and others to speak into their leadership.

In the world, leaders are served and fawned upon and often live in a bubble of privilege while in Jesus' Kingdom, leaders serve those they lead to help others be successful. Jim Collins definition of level five leadership in Good to Great redefined leadership along New Testament lines. My leadership is only as good as my service to those I lead and the staff who work under my stewardship.

In the world, leaders are celebrated who exert power and authority while the Scriptures celebrated those who exhibit meekness. One of the better definitions of meekness is "power under control." It includes submission to God, teachability, patience in suffering, gentleness, kindness and not needing to platform oneself. Meek leaders are leaders without guile or selfish agenda.

The world often celebrates and practices versions of truth designed to strengthen one's position while Scripture celebrates true truth because God is a God of truth. This often means saying things that are hard, admitting that one was wrong, and avoiding spin which is a redefinition of truth (or untruth). Spiritual leaders are not afraid of truth.

In the world, leadership is often about me. In the Kingdom, leadership is about Him and serving His interests and leading as He would lead. It is leadership as a stewardship which is not about us but about leading on His behalf. It reflects a conviction that life is not about us but about Him and His interests.

Weakness can in fact be strength. We can be strong leaders by the definition of the world or by the definition of the Kingdom.Which definition are you leading with?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thoughts on the incarnation

There is no more beautiful story than that of the incarnation. We have trivialized the incarnation into a nice holiday season with presents and fancy trees when the reality was stark and harsh.

The Son of God, the one who was present at the creation of the world, the one who mankind rejected to go their own way, the king of the universe, was willingly sent by the Father to become a baby in a squalid town, Bethlehem, to grow up in a working class home making furniture. Think of that, the one who had made the world, the mountains, the seas, the animals and the sky, who put the galaxies in their place is now sawing tables and chairs.

In becoming a man, in taking on our humanity, everything changed in how we could relate to God for in becoming like us and living with us for a season we could touch, hear, learn from and relate to the unapproachable God. The Apostle John put it this way, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Never again could men and women say, “I cannot understand God” for now they had met and can continue to meet the Lord of the universe through the person of Jesus Christ.

When at thirty years old, Jesus started his ministry he was clear about one thing. The only way to the father, the only way to salvation, the only way to know God was through him. He declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). There are no alternate routes, there are no other spiritual guides, he and he alone is the route to the Father!

This is not politically correct and never has been. If you read the gospels and the life of Paul you discover it was not well accepted in that day either. For the religious officials in Judea, Jesus could not be the awaited Messiah because he came in poverty and died on a cross in shame. For the Greeks and Romans with all their various “new age” type religions including statues to “unknown God’s” (just to stay on the safe side), a savior who died and rose again was nothing less than foolishness on a grand scale.

In our day, Christianity is vilified and marginalized and alternate spiritual routes are explored and embraced no matter that they contradict one another and have no basis for truth. I am intrigued by how quickly people grab on to numerous alternate spiritual routes that have no validation in history and no internal consistency, but only vague and foggy spiritual language but it is believed as truth while Christianity with its historical grounding, Scriptures and internal consistency is rejected as foolishness.

One of the lies of the evil one is that life is about us. There is another lie: that we can choose our path to God – which is a grand lie indeed since it elevates our wisdom above God’s and allows us to create our own God, our own path and our own spirituality. That is a greater lie than the first one because now life is not only about us but we have the ability to determine its destiny.

If Jesus was trying to create a popular religion he failed miserably. God does not appear as a baby, make furniture, live itinerantly without a home, befriend prostitutes and the sick and the poor and sinners. He does not allow himself to be nailed to a cross so that he can bear our sin on his own body, naked, bleeding, diminished and alone. He would not choose twelve followers who would not qualify for anything other than blue collar work and tell them to change the world (which they did). He would not choose ordinary people like us down through the centuries to keep on changing the world – which he does.

Jesus did not come as a religious guru, or to found a popular religion. He came as the Lord of the Universe, took on our bones and flesh and with truth and grace pointed us to himself as the one who could save us from our sin, give hope to the hopeless, heal the sick and lead us into a relationship with the father – through him. And Jesus and the message of the gospel have been transforming individual lives, one at a time ever since. Not in religion but in relationship.

Anyone who is serious about a relationship with Jesus Christ must confront the claim he made that he is the only way to the father. There are no alternate routes. If he is wrong on that he was not God. If he is right on that he is the only God.