Monday, September 30, 2013

Which world are you living in: The world of mindset or the world of methods?

There is a major difference between the world of "mindset" and the world of "methodology." Think for instance of the last decades of the church where successful churches would market their methodology and other congregations would rush to put that methodology into place in their own church. Whether preaching style, music, small groups or some other ministry facet, many are quick to chase methodology that they think will get them to the next level.

Methodology matters but a whole lot less than we think. What matters much more is the mindset that we bring to our ministry leadership. Mindset trumps methodology every time. Let me explain.

In our rapidly changing world where we minister in different contexts (just think of the differing generations and needs of those generations in the local church or the different situations we face in missions depending where in the world we are) methodologies will need to be exceedingly flexible. Even methods that may be powerful drivers of our ministry today will most likely not be in ten years. 

When I talk to ministry leaders I am far more interested in their mindset than I am in their methods. In fact it is their mindset - the underlying philosophy of their ministry that tells me the most about who they are. Mindset determines ministry methodology, not the other way around.

I will often ask ministry leaders what the central focus of their ministry is: What do they do all the time as staff? One answer is to say, "We provide the very best programming possible and believe in excellence in all we do." Another might say, "We are always encouraging our people to develop relationships with non-believers and to have influence in their circle of relationships." 

Think about those two mindsets: The first is primarily about a methodology to bring people into the church while the second is about a mindset to get their people outside the church and into meaningful relationships. How they do it will vary but the mindset is a very different mindset than the first. Methodology should serve the mindset, rather than the other way around.

Your mindset sets the stage for the results you want in ministry. Strategies follow from mindset rather than the other way around.We often confuse the two but the distinction is critical.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Jenga Syndrome

Jenga: (It is a fun game) how many pieces of wood can you take out of the stack before it collapses? Ironically it is often ministry success that causes us to slowly remove critical infrastructure from our lives until like the tower above, it falls into a bunch of pieces.

Ministry success brings added obligations and added obligations must crowd something else out. There is limited space in any life. We may start to crowd out key friendships, margin for rest, time with God, opportunity to think and read, time for community and any number of the very things that give our lives satisfaction, meaning and more importantly grounding. This does not happen quickly: like the frog in the kettle it sneaks up on us slowly until we wake up one day and find ourselves in trouble.

Here are the calls I get. "T.J. I can't do this any longer. I am tired, wiped out, empty and confused about what I should do next. Maybe I should leave my church and do something else." There is a weariness in the voice, and a loss of ministry passion and direction. 
And ironically it comes to very successful ministry leaders.

How do we avoid the Jenga syndrome as our ministries grow and we experience success?

First we need to be clear about what practices keep us healthy and grounded, personally, emotionally and spiritually and refuse to allow these practices or the space needed for them to go away. I have ten such practices that I intentionally make space for. What are yours and how are you doing with them?

Second, and this is a big principle. Never take on new responsibility without getting rid of another responsibility. The Jenga syndrome is largely a failure to understand that you cannot add responsibilities and obligations without jettisoning some other obligation. When we don't, a Jenga piece gets pulled out of our lives and often it is one of those practices that keep us emotionally, physically or spiritually healthy. We have limited time and space in our lives so something must give.

In fact, I believe that we ought to be able to identify a few critical responsibilities in our lives (four to five major ones) and that if something else is going to be added, one of the existing ones needs to be changed.

Third, resist the temptation to develop a co-dependent relationship with your ministry. We know what co-dependent relationships do to other relationships: they do the same thing when we allow this to happen with our ministry.

In a co-dependent relationship with our ministry, we think we are indispensable and whenever there is a crisis or a need, we are in the middle of it. We have not learned how to separate ourselves or our emotions or our person hood from the ministry we are a part of. The result of co-dependent relationships with our ministry is that we get hooked into too many situations and obligations.

Co-dependent relationships with our ministry start to suck us dry and the Jenga syndrome kicks in because something in our lives must give.

It is a rare individual who can see ministry success on a regular basis and stay grounded and healthy. I hope you are one of them. If you feel like you are suffering from the Jenga Syndrome, start backing up, get some help or counsel because the alternative is, well, the pieces coming apart and that is something you don't want.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The weight of a leaders words

The two boys God gave me were highly sensitive growing up to the words and reactions of their parents. I remember one time giving one of them my "look" and he responded "Don't yell at me!" Actually I had not said anything but I had communicated with my body language and he had felt the message! 

Leaders are not parents to those they lead but like parents, their words have extra weight than the words of others.

Leaders often do not appreciate how their words can hurt, wound, lift up or encourage those in their organization. Because they are leaders their words have extra weight which means that what they say and how they say it impacts people deeply, positively or negatively in significant ways. Their words carry more weight because people don't want to let them down and staff feel it deeply when words spoken carelessly come their way.

This means that leaders have a higher responsibility than others to filter and control their words (yes emails) and reactions so that they do not negatively impact others or send messages they don't want to send. 

Leaders should remember:

  • Words of affirmation are huge.
  • Careless passing words that construe disappointment or cynical can hurt.
  • You can say a lot with body language. Be aware and careful.
  • Measure your responses to control your emotions so that your emotions don't get in the way of the message.
  • Think before one speaks: both about the message and the way it is delivered.
  • If you are going to say hard things because you must, think carefully about how you do it and focus on behaviors rather than on motives. 
  • Your words carry extra weight so use them carefully!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When God breaks our heart

I spoke recently to an individual whose heart was turned inside out by a trip he had taken to a really tough place in our world. Knowing that I travel a lot and have seen a lot he asked me, why do you think I feel this way. My answer was this: "Because your heart just became more like the heart of Jesus and His heart breaks every day for the pain, violence, sin and hopelessness of so much of our world."

Here is a principle: We don't get to choose what breaks our heart. God chooses. We simply are asked to respond to that brokenness and choose to show up and do something about it. 

I know of people whose heart was broken by the loss of a child and chose to minister to others who suffered that pain. I know of many who have become involved in matters of justice or mercy or poverty or orphans or widows or the disabled as God broke their heart. When God breaks our hearts over something He is often asking us to respond to issues that break His heart as well.

The question is whether our hearts are open to be broken or whether we have steeled ourselves from the pain and brokenness of our world. Tender hearts are like God's. Hard hearts are not.  Such is the challenge to us from Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

What breaks your heart and what are you doing about it?

In praise of small churches and their leaders

The vast majority of churches in the United States - and around the world are relatively small - and often undervalued. Because numbers are seen as the sign of success in the United States it is the mega church that gets the praise. However, the majority of believers worship in relatively small congregations and they are led by pastors as committed as those who lead large churches.

There are many advantages to a smaller congregation. It is more like family, relationships are stronger, and it is harder to get lost in the crowd. Pastors of small churches are closer to their people and often more intimately acquainted with those they lead.

Nor is there any less creativity in smaller churches. One church I know in North Dakota is providing the preaching for three tiny congregations in rural areas that are losing population via video. They have kept the doors open in communities that would otherwise lose their church because they cannot afford a pastor. They also have a staff member who travels to those communities each week to be hands on as a pastor.

I admire those pastors who are called and faithfully serve smaller congregations. They do not get the spotlight and no one flocks to their conferences. But they pastor faithfully in circumstances often more difficult than larger congregations with their resources and staff. They join the vast majority of pastors down through the centuries who have served small congregations.

Never equate success with size! It is interesting to me that the vast majority of missionaries in our organization come from smaller churches. The larger the church the fewer people they send into full time ministry. Many smaller churches are far more missional than their larger counterparts who focus on programs and attractional ministry. It is very possible that smaller churches are better able to focus on life transformation because they are more relationally based. One can hide in a large church but not in a small or mid size church.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Living an integrated life and saying no to compartmentalization

One of the greatest challenges in life is to live an integrated life where our values, practices, spiritual commitments and convictions are the same in all realms of life. Often this is not the case and it is why many Christ followers seemingly follow one set of rules in the marketplace and another in the church and can excuse behaviors or practices at work that they know do not please God.

Stephen Green, in his book Good Values: Choosing a Better Life in Business puts it succinctly. 

“Compartmentalization -– dividing up life into different realms with different ends and subject to different rules –- is a besetting sin of human beings.

"Compartmentalization is a refuge from ambiguity; it enables us to simplify the rules by which we live in our different realms of life, and so avoid – if we are not careful – the moral and spiritual questions. One of the most obvious and commonplace manifestations of the tendency to compartmentalize is seeing our work life as being a neutral realm in which questions of value (other than shareholder value) or of rightness (other than what is lawful) or of wisdom (other than what is practical) need not arise. 

"But there are many other ways in which we compartmentalize our lives. Work, family, friends, society – these are different (though often partially overlapping) realms of life, and it is all too easy, in a thousand ways, to play to different rules in each of them. 

"These different realms of being also overlap with the inner realm of the self (though none of them completely): by what star does that inner self navigate? And would it even know when it is off course? Compartmentalization helps to shut such questions out"

Compartmentalization creates a divided self because it allows inconsistency within our own lives. A divided self is not a whole or healthy self for it is by definition at odds with itself. That dissonance creates issues of conscience in the short run and a dimmed conscience in the long run. Eventually the dissonance becomes normal and we are no longer sensitive to what is truly right and what is truly wrong.

It is easy to spot compartmentalization in the lives of others. It is harder to spot it in our own and is one of the reasons we need to surround ourselves with others who can and will challenge us to follow Jesus in all areas of life.

Compartmentalization is responsible for giving Jesus a bad name as those who watch us see that our espoused values are not lived out in our lives. One of the best things we can do is to identify a set of values that we believe reflect Jesus well and live them out in every sphere of life. No compartmentalization, no dissonance, just wholeness! 

How self defined are you?

A key component of good EQ is the ability to be “self defined.” A self defined individual is one who understands who they are, is comfortable with who they are and can clearly articulate their own positions in a way that does not force others to agree and does not demonize those who disagree.

It is the ability to say, “This is what I think, (and why), now tell me how you see it.” In doing this the leader has made his or her position clear along with their rationale and has opened the door for honest conversation that can hopefully lead to a shared understanding.

Central to being self defined is to do so in a way that allows dialogue to take place even with those who might strenuously disagree with us. Some leaders cannot do this. They can state their position but cannot stay connected relationally with those who disagreed with them – thus the conversation is over without any resolution.

The ability to have a position and stay connected with others who disagree is a key component to healthy relationships. It is usually in on-going dialogue that one comes to mutually acceptable conclusions as long as we are dealing with people who also have a level of EQ health. Discussions with those who lack EQ often go nowhere. Thus our ability to understand the EQ of those we are dealing with becomes a factor in how we deal with them.

Self definition requires leaders to think well before they state a position. But their flexibility and invitation for dialogue also leaves the door open to further discussion and modification of their views. This is why a non-defensive attitude on their part is so critical. If staff know that they can honestly push back without repercussions and know they will also be heard it is often possible to come to a more refined position that works for everyone.

Self definition is a powerful leadership tool because it goes to the values, convictions, attitudes and actions that a leader has and the more consistent these are the more security those who work for them have. They know what to expect, they know what the guiding principles and convictions are and they know that these are not going to change.

For instance, all of my staff know that when something really needs to get done I will say “Whatever it takes.” Part of my own self definition is the conviction that when it is the right thing to do I will always default to that principle. Therefore, they know that they have the permission to do the same when something critical needs to happen.

The more defining the leader is the more clarity staff have on how they operate within the organization or team. My convictions on partnerships, multiplication, empowerment and team, for instance are clearly understood and become guides to staff on how they operate. My own self definition as a leader is a secure foundation for those who work with me.

Leaders who lack such definition, and are unpredictable are difficult to work for because there is not an accurate compass for others to follow. This is the case with leaders whose idea of the day becomes their mantra until the next idea pops up. Unpredictable leaders are difficult if not impossible leaders to follow.

Being self defined also means that we can separate ourselves from the issues of others and not fall into the trap of enmeshment or triangulation in relationships. We take responsibility for the issues we have with others and seek to help others resolve what they need to resolve but we are able to separate ourselves from those issues and not become drawn into them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moving from ambiguity to clarity

The single most important job of a leader is to ensure maximum clarity for the organization he/she leads. Without absolute clarity your people will not know what defines you, what your mission is, where you are going and what the desired end result looks like.

One of the five dysfunctions of ministries is that of ambiguity. And it is the reason that so many ministries are not more missional and effective in what they do.

This is especially true with churches. Often, churches grow to a certain size and then plateau. While many do not realize it, one of the key causes of a church to plateau is lack of clarity on mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and the desired end result (for more information on these four areas, see Leading From the Sandbox).

Why would ambiguity cause a church to plateau? Because general clarity yields general ministry with general results. Ambiguity or lack of clarity prevents the staff from being deeply missional (we are not really clear on what we are about), aligned (around what?) and focused on clearly defined results (we have not defined those). Lack of clarity does actually cause a church to start to stall at some point and before it can move forward it must come to clarity on the four areas above. This can be true in a church of 500 or a church of 4,000.

Focused, aligned, results oriented ministry depends on a high degree of clarity regarding who the ministry is, what the culture we are trying to create is, what we need to do day in and day out and what our target is. In the absence of clarity, staff will simply do what is right in their own lives but one will not have a focused, aligned, results oriented ministry.

Interestingly enough, when a senior leader walks through the process of clarifying the essential issues (mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and preferred result) they often discover that they don't have all the right players at the table. In the absence of clarity they have assembled some good people but not all of whom want to or can live with focused, aligned, results oriented ministry. They have not had to live there in the past and now they have a great deal more accountability for how they do what they do. In fact, they are part of the reason that the church has plateaued. Some staff would far prefer the comfort of ambiguity over the accountability of clarity.

Maximum clarity combined with truly missional staff will provide great lift for a ministry organization. If you need help in getting to clarity, Leading From the Sandbox is all about that. It is job one of a good leader and it will make all the difference in the effectiveness of the church or organization you lead. While this is a simple principle it is one that is largely not understood or practiced.

Clarity if job one for leaders!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dealing with unhealthy or dysfunctional leaders

Coming out of some recent blogs on dysfunctional leaders the question was put to me in response, how does one confront unhealthy leadership behavior? It is a complex question since these leaders often don't play fair but I have seen this done well and I have seen it done poorly. What I will say at the outset that it is not easy. However, since an organization reflects the ethos and culture of a leader, their unhealthy behavior will directly impact the health of the organization and if not addressed for years after they are no longer in leadership.

Let me remind us of what some of those unhealthy behaviors are: The need to get one's own way, passive aggressive behavior, dividing people into camps (those who are for me and those who are against me), marginalizing those who don't agree with them, significant defensiveness, narcissism couched in spiritual language, using the God card (God told me), lack of accountability to a board or spiritual authority, inability to deal with conflict in a biblical way, words and actions which demean others, creating a culture of fear, an inability to lead, manipulating people to get their way, forcing their way through the strength of their responses and arguments which run over others and I could go on. At the bottom of this blog you will find a series of links to blogs that deal with these behaviors.

The first thing to do when you are feeling uncomfortable with a leaders behavior in any of these or other areas is to tell them how you feel. If it happens in private I would address it in private. If it happens in a board or committee meeting I would most likely address it there by saying something like, "Stu, when you respond the way you just did it feels like other opinions are not valued or that we cannot have robust dialogue around these issues. Is that your intention?" Honest feedback is critical to getting to issues with unhealthy leaders if they are going to have a chance at modifying their behavior.

If the issue is a pastor, or organizational leader, you may well need to have an executive session of the board to put the cards on the table. The goal would be to have an honest conversation, and to talk about a plan of action which must include leveling with the leader you have issues with. Certain behaviors should simply not be tolerated when they negatively impact others or hurt the organization. You may choose to get them coaching or help but what you cannot do is allow the behavior to continue. 

The marketplace is far better at this than ministries where in the name of "grace" we don't honestly confront problematic behavior. And remember, we are not judging motives but we are naming behaviors that are unacceptable. In the name of honoring our spiritual leaders we often overlook behaviors that are problematic but frankly that is why we have a plurality of leadership in the church. No one gets a pass on truly dysfunctional behavior no matter who they are.

The more severe the dysfunction, especially when it borders on pathology the more difficult it is to get through the defenses of an individual. Narcissism is a good example. A highly narcissistic individual may never understand or accept that they are in need of help. The higher the defense mechanism within an individual, the more difficult it is to address the behaviors because they are convinced that the issue is not with them. Pathological liars, for instance, believe what they are saying even when it makes no sense to others. 

Some individuals are simply living in an alternative reality field which cannot be penetrated no matter how much you desire to address it. I have come across leaders whose behavior has been deeply egregious and they are totally unable or unwilling to take responsibility or to admit issues that others around them see all too well. It is a sad reminder of our unlimited ability to deceive ourselves which is why all of us need healthy relationships, accountability and the humility to listen to others.

If there is an impasse between the leader and the supervisor or board don't hesitate to bring in a wise leadership counselor who can help put the elephants on the table and as a neutral party help bring resolution. I have often played this role with elder boards either by Skype or in person. In one case of a deeply dysfunctional leader the elders knew something was wrong but just didn't want to face the hard reality until someone gave them permission to say "this is unacceptable."

One thing to keep in mind is that with dysfunctional leaders, once people have been negatively impacted by them they often refuse to serve in leadership and often migrate out of the church or organization. After all why stay if it means one will be marginalized, not listened too or treated badly. Often those in leadership wake up one day to realize that some of their best people have left because they did not deal with the issues sooner. Ironically, the very people you need to bring the organization back to health are not with you anymore. 

The operative phrase in the title of the blog is that one should not neglect to deal with the dishealth in leadership where and when it exists. Not to do so is to abrogate our oversight or leadership responsibility to the detriment of the ministry. It is hard and needs to be done wisely and with grace and truth. The more unhealthy the leader, the more push back you will get which tells you that they are unwilling to live under Biblical accountability and authority which is a non-negotiable or those of us who serve in leadership. Or that they are unable to see their issues which is a fatal flaw that must be addressed - usually with termination.

Some blogs to consider:

Spiritual narcissism

Ambition, money, power and ministry

Why humility is so important in leaders

Five temptations leaders face

Guarding our humility as leaders

Nine overlooked but unhealthy character issues in leaders

Self Deception

The dangers of arrogance in leadership

The EQ factor in the leadership equation

Enemies of a leader's heart

Five danger zones for leaders that contribute to leadership failure

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The art, gift and maturity of graciousness in leadership

Think of the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self control. Then think about the critical way in which we often communicate in meetings, personally or worse in email.

I recently saw a communication (email) from a staff member to his supervisor, both had fairly high level roles and thought "Oh My!" I would never send that to my supervisor or for that matter to a staff member who reported to me. It was blunt to the point of being unkind, black and white in its analysis and made assumptions that I suspect were not fair. It was unkind and very inappropriate.

Now we have a  no elephants policy in ReachGlobal where anything can be put on the table with the exception of personal attacks or hidden agendas. That is not a license to be unkind, unfairly critical or to disempower others by our attitudes, words or actions. In fact, the freedom to speak candidly raises the stakes in doing it well if we are going to be heard.

This goes as well to comments we make to others about different leaders and divisions. It is easy to be critical but have we walked in their shoes? Have we talked to them to discover the reasons for why they do certain things? Have we worked with them on potential solutions? 

Good leaders are critical thinkers but not critical people. They are also flexible in their analysis understanding that there are a variety of perspectives and issues that inform any action. I will never put a non critical thinker into a leadership position. Nor will I put a critical person in a leadership position. Leaders who cannot live out the essence of the gifts of the Spirit in their leadership role will never be good spiritual leaders.

The sign of a good leader is the ability to be circumspect in their thinking, communication and relationships. It is the ability to hold an opinion loosely - knowing there may be information you don't know. It is also the ability to speak candidly but without the kind of strong words that elicit reactions that shut down discussion. It is truth spoken with grace.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Great article from the Wall Street Journey on the perils of "Wannabe cool" Christianity.

This article says a lot about many churches today. And it is not the kind of church I seem to read about in the New Testament - contextualization aside. It is well worth a read!

The Perils of "wannabe cool" Christianity

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why dysfunctional leaders often have an advantage over others

Many of my associates agree with me that there seem to be a higher percentage of unhealthy/dysfunctional leaders in the ministry arena than in other leadership arenas. I suspect that there are several reasons for our inability to deal with many of these situations and it goes to a central principle: Many dysfunctional leaders have an advantage over those they lead.

One: How do you question God's "call" for even someone who is dysfunctional? Of course, just because they have a call does not mean we should allow them to accommodate that "call" in our ministry organization or church. But such God talk is a powerful inhibitor to dealing with unhealthy leaders. It amazes me constantly how often boards know that they have a problematic leader on their hands but simply don't deal with it. 

Two: Dysfunctional leaders often don't play fair which leaves the rest of us at a disadvantage. I have seen cases where pastors are at odds with their boards but threaten to take the issues public with the congregation which is a threat to split the church. Most leaders won't go there - they are in a lose/lose situation and the senior leader is not playing fair. 

Three: Dysfunctional leaders are often very strong individuals who need to have their own way and whose strong personality literally intimidates those who might disagree. I call these folks "forces of nature" and most people will back down in the face of that pressure. Wherever you have a pattern of intimidation by a senior leader in order to get their way it needs to be dealt with because it is not fair play.

Four: Dysfunctional leaders are often very good at talking and debating. Most of the population is not leaving them at a huge disadvantage in trying to have a conversation when there are differences of opinion. Monopolizing the conversation is a means of retaining control of the agenda and the outcome.

Five: Dysfunctional leaders often use the "I know what the ministry needs" language which suggests that those around him/her have lesser ability to discern what is good and right. This is why God designed church leadership as a team, not an individual. 

These five tendencies give dysfunctional leaders an advantage over others whether other staff or boards. Unless they are called on it! And they should be. Don't let this kind of behavior in ministry leadership go unchallenged. It is unhealthy, about the leader, and will lead to unhealthy consequences.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A very real gospel for very dark places - with YouTube link

From 1960 to 1971 I had the privilege of living in Hong Kong. Just blocks from where I lived in Kowloon City, near the old Kai Tak Airport (for those who remembering flying into) it was a slum of buildings called the Old Walled City. It was about 6.5 acres and was home to some 33,000 people. 

By the treaty that ceded Hong Kong Island and 12 square miles of Kowloon to Britain, and then the New Territories, this 6.5 acre site which was once a walled city remained the sovereign property of China. As a result, Hong Kong authorities had no real ability to police what went on inside. It became a warren of gangs, illegal activities, brothels, opium dens and the home to those who wanted to avoid the authorities. It was a rare occurrence that the police entered and when they did it was only in groups for their own safety.

As a youngster I went into the Old Walled City with an elderly Mennonite missionary who worked there. It was an experience one will never forget. Later on a missionary by the name of Jackie Pullinger worked in the city and was a light for the gospel in a very, very dark place.

Before Britain returned Hong Kong to China, Beijing asked them to tear down the slum that was the Old Walled City so they did not need to deal with it when they assumed control of Hong Kong. It is now a 6.5 acre park.

However, the story of the gospel in that dark place is deeply moving and I would urge you to take a few moments and watch this YouTube video of the slum and Jackie's take on how the gospel can transform even the most evil and dark places. As you watch think about the places where you know the gospel needs to penetrate today. It is a moving piece of history and ministry from Hong Kong - my home in my heart forever.

You cannot watch these five minutes and remain unchanged! If you do not see the video picture click here!

The challenge for leaders in their fifties and sixties

Leaders in their fifties and sixties face some unique challenges. How they handle those challenges determines whether they continue to grow as leaders and lead well or coast toward retirement.

It is easy for all of us to move toward our comfort zone and lose the leadership edge as we age. Furthermore, somewhere in their fifties someone who has led fairly well is often situated with a comfortable job, salary and having paid their dues can go on autopilot and for a time, no one will notice. For a time - but not forever.

The temptations are many. There is the temptation not to take on new challenges because of the physical and mental energy that new challenges take. There is the temptation not to make hard choices that will require one to cause waves. There is the temptation to not continue to pour oneself into new learning but to rest on what we have learned in the past. There is the temptation to stay where one is even when we know that we are not leading well because we are paid comfortably.

It takes a wise leader to realize that they are too comfortable, need a new challenge and are willing to take the steps to continue to grow, develop and stay energized. That does not necessarily mean a new job - although it may. It does mean a focused effort not to move into the comfort zone or to coast but to stay in the game as long as we are leading.

The signs of coasting include boredom, not taking on new initiatives, not pressing the missional agenda as we once did, questions from staff like "where are we going?" and the inability to make hard calls that need to be made.

When we are no longer willing to pay the price of hard calls that are necessary to be made we have moved from leading to comfort. One pays a price for hard calls, whether it be staff transitions or strategic decisions and when we are no longer willing to pay that price we have lost our ability to lead - even though we still have the title.

Leadership is a trust. Leaders are stewards of that trust. Good leaders don't violate that trust by moving into the comfort zone. Many do.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Coaching those with poor EQ

It is not easy to coach those with poor EQ (Emotional Intelligence) precisely because it usually means that they do not understand how their actions, words or attitudes impact others. In fact, part of good EQ is understanding ourselves and how we are perceived by others and how we impact others. If my own self awareness is low it is very hard to understand why I might have a negative impact on those around me.

So how does one coach those whose self awareness is low? While not easy I have several suggestions.

First, and this is not easy, it is critical to have an honest and direct conversation with the one being coached on how they are negatively impacting others. Because their self awareness is low they will probably not have a flash of understanding and thank you for your concern. Rather, they will likely become defensive or seem clueless as to what you are talking about. Since they are not very self aware your news will be news to them and they often will not initially believe you.

That is why it is critical, second, to give them very concrete examples of what you are talking about: "Tim, in that meeting when you....this is how it was perceived by others and this is why they reacted negatively to you." Concrete examples are absolutely essential if you want someone with poor EQ to understand what you are talking about. They are likely to push back and say something like "well that is who I am" or "I am just being honest." While both may be true they need to understand that how they did what they did was disempowering to others and not acceptable in your organization.

Third, people with poor EQ often need very practical tools for avoiding problematic behaviors. So for instance, one friend I have been coaching tends to shut down when criticized - a bad thing for a leader to do. My suggestion to him was simple. When tempted to shut down, immediately engage. In other words the emotion to shut down should be a trigger and a reminder to engage, the very thing that will allow him to change the perception that when challenged he goes silent. Giving practical tools for dealing with EQ deficits can change the equation for one who wants to grow.

Fourth, give ongoing, direct, fast and candid feedback (in private) whenever problematic behaviors emerge. It is the very thing needed because philosophical discussions about EQ don't work with those who have deficits. They need clear examples. This can be followed up by the question, how might you respond differently in the future in order to get a different outcome? Again, that goes to developing their response toolbox.

Finally, if you are dealing with significant deficits be clear that their behaviors will not work in your organization and they need to get very serious about resolving them. Some need to understand that if they do not manage themselves better they may actually need to move on. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Theology and leadership dichotomies

I am always bemused by the artificial dichotomy that many believers seem to have between spirituality and leadership or theology and leadership. It comes up in statements like "You cannot run a church like a business" as if all business principles are exclusive from church management: HR; budgets; plans; accountability; staff reviews; healthy teams; and the like. I want to say "really?" "Have you thought about that?"

Just recently one of those reviewing one of my books on Amazon wrote this: "He gives some good practical guidance but seems to be more from a CEO perspective than a theological one." Now that assumes that the Bible has nothing to say about leadership and teams or that good leadership and healthy teams are just that and have no spiritual significance. Do good leadership and healthy teams not matter in the ministry arena? I suspect many in the ministry arena wished their leaders had just an ounce of CEO perspective in them!

Why do we make such dichotomies? If you have ever served in a ministry capacity you know that leadership principles matter as much there as they do anywhere else. I suppose some need a proof text for everything but that is not what the Bible is for. I suspect the stakes are even higher in the ministry arena on the leadership side as the end results are eternal rather than temporal.

It is said of David that he led them with "skillful hands and integrity of heart." There you have the both and rather than the either or. Skillful hands has to do with good and wise leadership while integrity of heart has to do with the spiritual underpinnings from which that leadership came.

Don't dichotomize what God does not. It is black and white thinking that does not do justice to Scripture or the realities in which we live.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Emotional Intelligence and the Holy Spirit

Daniel Goleman (a great author on this subject) did not invent EQ - God did. Emotional intelligence is all about managing our emotions so that they do not get us into trouble and allow us to keep healthy relationships. 

In that light, the Fruit of the Spirit, for instance takes on new meaning. "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control." All of these would be considered good EQ! The acts of the lower nature (Galatians 5) would be considered bad EQ: fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy..and the like.

Think of some of the admonitions of Ephesians in this regard:

  • Be completely humble and gentle
  • be patient, bearing with one another in love
  • Make every effort to keep the bond of peace
  • put off falsehood and speak truth fully
  • Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs
  • get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice.
  • Be kind and compassionate
  • Forgive one another
All of these behaviors are pleasing to God and all are signs of good emotional intelligence as we manage our emotions and reactions in ways that are productive rather than unproductive.

So think about this: Christ followers above all should have some of the best cultivated EQ because for us it is both a matter of obedience to Jesus and we have the Holy Spirit to help us make it a reality in our everyday experience. 

Good EQ is not a secular concept but a deeply biblical one. Growing our EQ is part of growing into who God designed us to be through His Holy Spirit. As a student of EQ in the secular literature and the Scriptures I am constantly reminded that EQ is a deeply biblical principle. 

Avoiding emotional triangles

One of the signs of healthy emotional intelligence is the ability to be "self defining" - having one's own view and opinion of situations and people without being "drawn into" the opinions or issues of others. Both emotional triangles and enmeshment are signs of poor EQ, whether by the one who does the triangulation or the one who is drawn into the triangulation.

For instance, it is not unusual for someone who has an "issue" with another individual to seek to draw other people into their "issue" by speaking ill of them (often subtly to first see if there is resonance) and looking for others to join them in their opinion. This makes the one with the "issue" feel better (they have others who now share their opinion) and it allies others with them against the one with whom they have an issue. It can be very subtle but the results are not!

This often happens in families, in workplaces, in ministries and in congregations. It divides people, hurts relationships and can cause relational chaos on a team or within a group. And it is a sign of poor emotional intelligence on the part of the perpetrator as well as those who choose to join the perpetrator.

Individuals with healthy emotional intelligence keep their own counsel on people and situations. They do not allow themselves to be drawn into alliances with others against others. They are able to think for themselves and understand that they are responsible for their relationships with both parties and they do not allow others to define those relationships for them.

In addition, they immediately recognize when someone tries to "draw them in" that what they are hearing is probably not reality - that there is a reason that they are being lobbied toward a certain view or attitude. In fact, rather than being drawn in, emotionally healthy individuals immediately recognize that they are dealing with someone with poor EQ and they are wary of the information they are receiving.

How can one deal with situations where one is being subtly lobbied to agree with one party against another (triangulation)?

First, understand that your responsibility is for your relationships and that you need to be "self defined" and come to your own conclusions about people and situations. Healthy self defined people do not allow others to define reality for them.

Second, realize that anyone who triangulates is not operating out of healthy emotional intelligence and rather than solve the issue they have with others they instead seek to ally others with them against those with whom they have issues. Think about the difference between those two approaches! Which would be the biblical approach?

Third, do not give sympathy to the one seeking to triangulate which only feeds their unhealthy practice. Instead, ask clarifying questions that might help them understand that their perspective may not be the only way to look at the individual they are unhappy with and encourage them to deal with the relational disconnect rather than to draw others into their issue. When we give sympathy in the absence of personal information we become complicit in the problem.

Fourth, ask who could meet with the one with the offense and the one who is being marginalized by the one with the offense to bring understanding and reconciliation. Their willingness to deal with their issue when called on it will tell you a lot about their real motives.

Don't get caught in the deadly web of triangulation. It is unhealthy, it destroys relationships and it hurts ministry. Furthermore it is a sign of poor emotional intelligence and the inability to be self defining.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What would happen in our churches if.....

What would happen if...

We challenged all of our college age kids to take one year to do some kind of holistic ministry either nationally or internationally?

We offered every high schooler an adult mentor who would meet with them, pray for them and encourage them?

We offered every newly married couple an older married mentor couple?

We told people that generosity with God was a joyful way to live?

We helped all of our people use their gifts in meaningful ministry rather than simply filling ministry slots we have created?

We encouraged ten percent of our congregation to give two weeks to ministry either locally, domestically or internationally every year?

We valued our seniors as much as we did our young folks?

We showed everyone how they could form their own prayer team to pray for them regularly and for them to be transparent with?

We encouraged every family to develop a relationship with a family from another racial group?

We asked every small group to do four compassion projects locally each year?

We focused on life transformation more than programming?

We did less programming so people could develop relationships with each other and unbelievers?

We read through the Bible as a congregation every other year - the whole thing?

We challenged people to see people as God sees them and love them as He loves them - starting with one another?

We became known for the church that loves people and helps them in practical ways?

What would you add?

Simple concepts - Powerful outcomes

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Don't be stupid when hiring

When we are looking for staff we often do so with rose colored glasses. After all, we have a position and we find out that there is someone who fits "exactly" what we are looking for!

A word to the wise: Candidates never looked so good as when they are looking for a job and organizations never looked so good as when they are looking for staff! Which is a recipe for not doing due diligence and making stupid mistakes. Even many of the best have paid dumb tax on this one.

On occasion, when hires have gone really wrong I have asked those who did the hiring if they had actually talked to the former employers and inevitably the answer is no. Why? well the staff member did not list them as references or they were told not to talk to them. After all, whatever happened there was not relevant to the job they were being hired for. It is exceedingly nuts not to speak to former employers even if one chooses to hire in the face of a bad reference from them. Not to do so is to run a great risk of trouble that could be avoided if one had done so. 

Everyone has those who will be advocates for them. I am glad for that. But when hiring you want to know the unvarnished truth because you are going to get the unvarnished individual once you hire them for a job. Remember no one is as good looking as when they are looking for a job. So find out what you are getting after you offer them a job. And never neglect to talk to those they have worked for previously regardless of whether the candidate wants you too or not. While some may not give you much information the more guarded their response the more concerned one ought to be.

Also, never overlook character issues in the face of brilliance in some area. No matter how brilliant someone is (or appears to be), if there is a character flaw it will get them into trouble and therefore you as well. Once they work for you, whatever flaw that is will become a liability to you!

The more impressive someone looks the more diligence one needs to do to find out whether what you are seeing is healthy or not. Many of the most narcissistic leaders are the most impressive in presenting themselves. In fact, they are so blind to their own issues and so skilled at presenting themselves that those they are selling themselves to have no clue as to the dysfunction that is behind the mask. Make sure that what you see is what you are actually getting.

My own experience is that those we get into trouble with the most are those who present themselves the best. Real people are real when they present themselves. Those who sell themselves make me deeply cautious and the more I am sold the more skeptical I am. And the more exploring I do.

I would ask a candidate one other question: Is there anyone from your previous job that you need to resolve issues with - especially in ministry settings? If the answer is yes, it may be a clue that all is not well. I might even ask if I could talk to the individual for a reference to see what I hear. Until they are hired, you are in the drivers seat when it comes to references.

We like to think the best, especially when we need someone's skills. To put it bluntly: Don't be stupid when hiring. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When ministries die

Nothing lasts forever and every organization has a life cycle that if not reinvigorated regularly ends at some time in it demise. This is particularly true of local churches that go into serious decline. But also for other ministries. It is not a bad thing and actually can be a good thing.

As Henry Cloud eloquently puts it in his book Necessary Endings, something must end for something else to begin. We face those necessary endings in our own lives and it is always the genesis of something new. 

I once did a church consultation with a congregation of about 30 existing in a 2 million dollar facility. While they were nice people there was no way that they were going to revitalize the ministry. I suggested that they close down and do a restart with a new group in a new location. Even though they had once been a congregation of 500 they wanted to know what evidence I had that they were not healthy.

When it is time to close down, celebrate what God did through the ministry over the years. While the ministry may not be vital now it probably was at one time and it leaves a legacy of changed lives and even though gone its ripples will continue in the people it impacted and those they in turn impact.

And if you can, gift what is left over to another ministry that is starting and you will see your legacy continue.

It is OK and often necessary to let a ministry die. From the ashes comes new life, new paradigms and new opportunities.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How do you know your vision is meaningful? Five questions

I am always intrigued by vision discussions. When I ask the question of a group of leaders regarding their vision I often get embarrassed smiles: either they don't have one or cannot remember it and must dig up some document that explains it. In one case recently I was given one that was two long paragraphs and therefore meaningless as no one could remember what was in it.

So how do you know when your vision is meaningful? 

First, is it directly connected with your mission and what you actually do? If vision and mission or vision and work are not connected it is not meaningful.

Second, is it short enough that everyone can remember it? If it cannot be put on the back of a tee shirt it is too long.

Third, does it actually excite people and inspire them to some meaningful action? 

Fourth, is it bigger than you? Vision that is easy to pull off is not vision. Vision is something that you must stretch for, and in ministry trust God for. 

Fifth, is it easy to communicate and do others get it easily and quickly? 

In ReachGlobal we are asking God for one million disciplemakers impacting 100 million people with the Gospel and 100 Acts 19 locations where the Gospel penetrates an entire city or region, not just a neighborhood. 

What is your vision?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Signs that we are not as humble as we think we are or try to portray

We all like to think we are humble and I have met some very humble individuals. I have also met many who think they have humility but whose behaviors would indicate otherwise. Before we take pride in our humility, think about these signs that we might have some work to do. Each of these is about "me" and the more we are about ourselves the less humble we actually are.
  • I need to have my own way
  • I don't like criticism or pushback
  • I get angry easily
  • I tell people what to do rather than ask questions
  • Accountability irritates me
  • I don't listen well
  • I marginalize people who disagree with me
  • Loyalty to me is a non-negotiable for  staff
  • I feel that the rules don't always apply to me
  • I blame others for failures and take credit for success
  • I exaggerate my accomplishments and resume
  • A good idea is my idea
  • If necessary I will shade the truth to achieve my goals
  • I have an inflated view of my gifts and an inadequate view of my shortcomings
  • I treat others as a means to an end rather than with the grace and honor they deserve
  • I rarely if ever apologize
  • I will only resolve conflict if I believe it will come out in my favor
  • I tell people what I want them to know and withhold information I don't want them to know
  • I don't treat everyone with honor and respect

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No guilt but a lot of opportunity

I recently returned from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a nation that is the heart of central Africa. A country that has great natural resources but is a country rife with corruption, poverty, human rights violations (especially in the North East) and human needs that stagger the imagination.

I had the privilege of speaking to 78 denominational presidents and their vice presidents on the subject of transformation: How the Gospel transforms individuals, communities and institutions through the changed hearts of people. They were an amazing group who work in a very tough neighborhood. And they want to see Congo changed by the power of the Gospel.

During my time there I visited a place called the Tabitha center which takes impoverished and troubled young women, teaches them how to sew as well as life skills along with the hope of the Gospel. Started on a shoestring, it aims to open new centers across Kinshasa as God provides the funds. Once up and running it is essentially self supporting from the clothing that is made and sold.

I never come home from trips like this unchanged. By the world's standards I am a wealthy individual. I even have a house for my car! God has been incredibly good and I have the opportunity to share that goodness with those who are less fortunate.

It is easy to forget in our western world how blessed we are and how many needs the world has. It is easy to become immune to the massive needs of our world. But each of us can contribute in some way to change a few lives and share some needed hope. Each of the girls above have a story of hopelessness turned into hope. It does not take much and it goes a long way.

My encouragement is that we all share what God has given in ways that make a difference, for this life and for eternity. 

If you desire to help open another Tabitha center in Kinshasa, feel free to email for more information.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I can't figure this one out and I suspect Jesus is perplexed as well

I spoke to another long time friend yesterday who is looking for a new church. Not because he does not love his current church, or the pastor or the theology. This is what makes it so difficult for him. He does not want to go. He is being forced to leave because the music is so loud that it literally gives him pain. Yes he has tried the earplugs and such and has been told he can sit outside in the foyer which to him is like being banished. He and his wife are in great pain because of all the deep friendships and their long time church family. But they have concluded they have no choice.

What I cannot figure out is why we are so insensitive to a segment of our body that we cannot accommodate those for whom the music is way, way too loud. This friend has no problem with the style of music per se. He does wish there were alternatives for him and a whole group that feels that way in the church. But of course they are older and don't count.

This congregation has several services so it is not as though there are not options to do differing worship experiences, even if one is just acoustic. I know many many churches who provide different worship experiences for differing groups. It seems, however that this issues is not on the radar of many congregations and that because of that they are sending a strong message to many seniors and others who are not of the the loud band persuasion that they are not valued.

Of course it is driven by younger pastors for whom the music fits. What, I wonder will they think when their own ears start to change and they are no longer comfortable with the loudness and they become uncomfortable themselves. While this is not just an age thing, it is clearly a problem for many seniors whom our church youth culture and its practices is unwilling to accommodate. These are the faithful who have stuck in there for many years and in many cases made the church what it is today.

Most pastors I talk to about the issue blow it off. They just don't care. I would think that would perplex Jesus who cares for everyone. Our desire for numbers and success is sometimes at the expense of the very people who we should be ministering to. Marginalizing those who cannot take the loud music is no different that marginalizing other groups in the church - especially if the church has the ability to do differing worship styles.

I know this is not politically correct but think about it from Jesus point of view. I suspect He may be perplexed as well.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Resisting Gossip: Winning the war of the wagging tongue

We all know the damage that gossip can make. Finally there is a clear, simple resource for your church that deals with the insidious but common problem. I highly recommend this book for every congregation that desires to be healthy and Christ like.

My endorsement of the book sums up my thoughts: “Matt Mitchell tackles one of the most common, destructive but least talked about sins. While gossip destroys, Matt suggests alternatives to gossip that build trust and relationship and that are practical and helpful. Our words, good and bad, are powerful, and this book can be a helpful tool in prompting God’s people to consider their words, attitudes and practices. I highly recommend it.” 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why frustration can be a good thing for leaders

Leadership frustration is not a bad thing. In fact, it is usually an indicator that something is up that needs attention. It is not unlike a fever when we get sick, an indication that something is wrong with our health. And like a fever, leadership frustration should also not be ignored. It is an important symptom that needs to be addressed.

Consider these four kinds of frustration.

Frustration with a staff member
Ongoing frustration with a staff member always needs to be addressed. It may be that they are in the wrong spot, have not been able to keep up with a growing organization, are not team players or have an attitude problem. Whatever the issue, that frustration cannot be ignored as it is a symptom of some kind of dysfunction in the system that if ignored has a ripple impact across the organization.

Frustration with decision making
When it becomes hard to make decisions it is usually an indication that the leadership system of the organization is outdated and does not reflect present realities and needs to be addressed. Permission withholding cultures create frustration while permission granting structures makes decision making and leadership a friendly experience. When it becomes frustrating to make decisions, you know that it is time to look at your systems.

Frustration with boards
When there is tension between senior staff and boards it almost always indicates a lack of clarity of roles between boards and staff. This lack of clarity can be addressed by policy governance but it does need to be addressed because while clarity may be the bottom line issue, it is easy to assume bad motives when staff and boards go sideways. 

Frustration and all is well
This is the most difficult frustration. Being frustrated when things are going well. Often this is an indication that we are no longer challenged in our leadership role. That may mean it is time to leave for a new challenge. It also could be that it is necessary to rethink our role and refashioning our job so that we are playing to our strengths and using our gifts to their maximum. Again, unaddressed, 
being underutilized impacts our own attitudes and happiness and therefore those who we supervise.

Frustration is a symptom. Don't ignore it, just as you would not ignore a fever.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The best ministry is relational.

It is easy to forget in a day of unprecedented technology - email, blogs, twitter and the like that the best ministry is relational - face to face. It may take longer but it is certainly more effective.

Think of the difference between Old Testament days when God communicated in various ways but rarely face to face to the incarnation when God, in the form of the Son, Jesus, came and dwelt among us. It was that deeply relational connection with Jesus over three years that prepared the disciples for their future ministry.

In our driven and out of control schedules we often miss the importance of relationship or even of face to face communication. Even in my world of having staff around the world Skype makes it possible to talk face to face where one can see one another, look into one another's eyes and read one another's faces. 

God is a personal God and we are in a personal ministry of representing Him. Given the choice choose personal communication and face to face over emails and impersonal communication.