Friday, November 29, 2013

In loving memory

Our most faithful dog Starbucks passed from this earth this past week after eleven years of faithful friendship at the Addington home. God send her to us at just the right time and she was bar none the best pet one could have.

We often take for granted the richness of God's gifts to us. Starbucks was one of those gifts. No matter how stressful our day, she was always there wagging her tail (I love you), giving small licks (give me some love) and wanting to be with us wherever we were (please let me snuggle with you). Every day she would welcome me home at the same place at the top of the stairs and if I had been gone for weeks it did not seem to matter in the least. Ever forgiving for all slights she waited for another chance to wag her tail and express her love. Many early morning blogs were written with her next to me on the couch.

Today there is a strange emptiness in the home and in a corner of our bedroom where she kept faithful watch over her "charges." She walked with our family through a decade of life and change: kids going to college, two near fatal illnesses, a job change and all the mundane stuff that makes up life but which she brought greater richness to.

Ironically, given what I blog on she was a very self defined dog. She knew what she wanted and was never shy to seek to get it. If she wanted something she would sit and give one an intent stare for as long as it took for us to figure out what we were supposed to know and do. If we got it wrong she moved not an inch. I suspect she felt we were hard to train. And like her owners she did not easily change her mind. We will forever remember her and appreciate what she brought to our lives. Another gift from a loving God whose creation is amazing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I am so very thankful

Dear Father:

I have so much to be thankful for this year. Every perfect gift comes from you. You are the source of my hope, the ever present help in trouble, the One who has walked with me through every joy and sorrow I have experienced. You are my rock, my salvation, my savior, my hope, my forgiver and everything I have. You are the great I am!

I thank you my family - all of them and how they enrich my life and challenge me.

I thank you for my Christian family who walk through life with me - fellow pilgrims on the journey.

I thank you for my friends for life who know me for who I am and still love me deeply. Examples of You and Your love.

I thank you for the friends I have seen leave this earth this year who I will one day see again with You. They are examples to me and were Jesus to me.

I thank you for meeting the needs I have. My daily bread is your gift. All that I have is from You and is Your provision.

I thank you for being with me through difficult times. The pain is often real but your presence is even more real.

I am thankful for the disappointments I have encountered this year for they give me the opportunity to trust You.

I thank you for hope. Hope for tomorrow, next week, next month and next year and hope for eternity with You and experience your grace and provision in their midst.

I thank you for the incarnation so that I can know you through Jesus in so real a way. Your visitation to this earth changed my life forever.

I thank you for grace and forgiveness. I need it so very much every day and You are always there and always faithful.

On this Thanksgiving day I simply thank You. You are my greatest gift on every day. 

What keeps you awake at night?

What keeps you up at night or wakes you up and prevents you from going back to sleep?

Often the Holy Spirit wants us to pray for a specific issue in our lives or in the lives of others. It is amazing how often God wakes us up at a specific time to pray for a specific need for someone we may know. During one long hospitalization of my own, people reported on the blog that the Holy Spirit kept waking them up at 3:00am in the morning. Because those came in from around the globe, God literally raised up a 24 hour prayer covering at 3:00am in the morning.

There is another reason we may wake up.

My experience is that we can avoid issues that the Holy Spirit wants to get our attention on with our schedules and busyness. But one cannot avoid the night. When He chooses to get our attention at night, when we wake up, there is no place to hide and we face ourselves more candidly than we sometimes want to.

Most of us are very good at avoiding areas of life where we need spiritual renovation. It is not comfortable to peel away layers of our lives that we know deep down are not healthy. It is far easier to ignore areas of dishealth than to admit that they exist and that we need to deal with them. But the Holy Spirit does not let us off that easy because He wants us to be whole, healthy and spiritually alive. And one of His strategies is to gently encourage us to face ourselves - often in the middle of the night when our distractions are at a minimum - and we have nowhere to hide.

Often our busyness is a strategy to hide from issues and closets in our life that need urgent attention but we would rather not face.

Whether it is a situation we struggle with or an area of our lives that needs attention, those issues that wake us up and keep us up are areas that we need to press into with intentionality.

If it keeps you awake, pay attention. It will help you get to sleep!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Low organizational EQ and its impact on staff

Here is an interesting question: Do organizations have a corporate EQ? I firmly believe the answer is yes and it is the sum of the EQ of its leadership and staff. Poor EQ in an organization leads to poor decision making and acceptance of behaviors which would not be permitted in a healthier organization.

A reader of this blog recently wrote me about an organization he had worked for and made this statement which goes to the heart of the issue: "So often there is just wholesale action with so little consideration of the effect. The EQ of the whole organization is unbelievably low." Notice the connection here between wholesale action, lack of consideration of the impact and low EQ within the organization as a whole. 

What are some of the signs of poor organizational EQ? One of them is allowing staff to stay in place even when they create relational chaos around them. I have seen ministries suffer significantly because of one highly dysfunctional leader who created chaos for those who worked for him but was protected by those above him. 

Organizations with low EQ often lack the ability to talk about the elephants in their midst. Thus even when significant issues are present those impacted by the dysfunction do not have the ability to talk to and be heard by those who could deal with it. One of the key signs of poor EQ is the inability to handle conflict: talk about it, deal with it and resolve it. The more organizational elephants there are the lower the organizational EQ.

Making decisions without thinking through the ramifications is another sign of poor organizational EQ. Have you ever watched a ministry make a series of sweeping changes that made no sense and had major unforeseen (by them) consequences? People with good EQ think through the ramifications of what they do with great care and solicit the input of those who can give good counsel. They are rarely caught unawares of the consequences of their decisions. Those with poor EQ tend to make decisions without adequate thought and get caught in the backdraft of those decisions.

Poor EQ also keeps organizations from admitting when they are wrong just as it keeps individuals from the same. When bad things go wrong there are two ways out for ministries with poor EQ. The first is to spin the situation the best they can which often lacks key elements of truth. The second is to spiritualize the situation and play the "God card." "God is leading us to do such and such" which sounds great but is often more about not solving problems earlier and now needing to spin the outcome. God gets blamed for a lot of bad decisions by ministries! 

Spirituality is not necessarily a sign of good EQ.  Sometimes it simply gives a veneer of spirituality to an otherwise toxic workplace. In my experience there are few things that create greater cynicism than poor EQ covered with a veneer of spirituality by leaders.

Truth is a sign of good organizational EQ while spin is a sign of poor EQ. Ironically people usually see through the spin and the only ones fooled are the individuals (leaders) who are creating the spin.

A key indicator of good or poor EQ in individuals is how they treat those around them. The same is true with ministries and organizations. Poor treatment of people internally and externally is a sign of poor EQ. It may be in not protecting them from toxic leaders, in not keeping their commitments, in not dealing with problems which then leave staff or others vulnerable or poorly managed transitions that leave people hurt. 

Those who work for ministries with poor EQ pay a high price, as do those from the outside who also get caught in the dysfunction. It is a sad but not uncommon scenario. If you are in such a situation and find it "crazy making" don't be fooled that it is you who is responsible. You may well be working in an unhealthy environment where the organizational EQ is creating chaos and dishealth. 

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

The ten top traits I look for in leaders

Leaders come with many different kinds of wiring and lead with varied styles. I celebrate those differences. When hiring or promoting, I care much about how a person leads but I care even more about what lies behind their leadership. There are ten traits that I look for in leaders that are for the most part personal traits that spill over into how they lead.

A Kingdom heart
In ministry settings a kingdom heart is crucial. Our leadership is not about ourselves but about Jesus and what He wants to accomplish on this earth. A kingdom heart is one that understands we are not building something for ourselves but for Him.

Humble leaders can focus on others and the mission because they are not building a kingdom for themselves. Humble leaders have the capacity to live and lead with personal transparency and have a "nothing to prove and nothing to lose" attitude. They are open and non-defensive when challenged.

There are two ways one can live: intentionally or accidentally. The best leaders understand how God has wired them, what He has called them to do (and not do) and organize their lives around the most important rather than simply responding to life. Everything about their priorities and time management is intentional and focused.

Clarity is required for intentional living. Clarity about how God has gifted and wired us, clarity in our leadership priorities and organizational clarity all contribute to the ability to be deeply intentional. 

Those who lead others and expect them to be accountable must be accountable themselves. To lead one must be willing to follow! Lack of accountability is about hubris while accountability is about humility and a healthy commitment to health. This includes accountability for results

The best leaders are deeply reflective people: about themselves, others, the organization, methodology and life in general. They are thinkers rather than simply doers. Their actions come out of thinking and reflection rather than simply responding to events around them. They are thinking, reflective practitioners.

The best leaders are deeply inquisitive, always asking questions, probing people in their organization and in others, desirous of learning and growing. They ask the question "why" often and don't assume that conventional wisdom is always wisdom. 

Team focused
Healthy organizations are formed around teams that work synergistically together under good leadership with accountability for results. Thus leaders must be willing to work with and through team rather than working independently.

Leaders give themselves away to help others be successful and the organization reach its objectives. They are servants to those they lead and understand that it is as others succeed that they succeed. Thus they mentor, coach and help others grow with a generous spirit.

Healthy EQ
Unhealthy EQ is the greatest killer of leadership as it creates relational chaos in its wake. No matter how brilliant an individual is, if there are EQ issues, they will not end up on one of our teams. Healthy EQ, on the other hand builds healthy relationships which leads to healthy collaboration and the building of healthy teams.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Challenging the status quo

It is easy to be a part of the pack going in the same direction, content with the status quo and believing in conventional wisdom. It is far harder to question the status quo and to believe that conventional wisdom is definitely conventional but rarely wisdom.

I am drawn to those who challenge the status quo rather than join it, who question conventional wisdom rather than blindly buy into it and who are willing to risk new ways in order to better fulfill God's purposes. If I am going to follow anyone, it will usually be those that don't follow the crowd.


Conventional wisdom says that if you can convince people to live a certain way, with certain habits that they will become like Jesus. Yet the church has miserably failed with performance based Christianity and has not seen significant spiritual transformation take place among its people. Now, wise leaders are asking the question, how do we get to transformation of the heart rather than settle for conformity of the life.

Conventional wisdom says you need to dumb down the gospel if you are going to grow a church. Gospel light sells. Yet, some of the fastest growing churches are full of people who actually want to know what God says in his Word and they preach it boldly. Which produces the more mature believers?

Conventional wisdom says that missionaries should not give those they minister too too much responsibility too soon. They might mess something up. Yet, some missionaries follow the example of Paul and develop, empower and release new believers into ministry quickly. Which produces more fruit?

Conventional wisdom says that a church must program for everything and everyone and in a multitude of options, it will flourish. Yet many very large churches keep it very simple so they do the key things that help people grow and then give people time to be involve in ministry outside of the church. These often have far more influence for Christ than those who program aggressively.

Conventional wisdom says that we ought to do all that we can do to create and fill ministry slots in the church so that everyone is using their gifts. Of course we often totally ignore wiring and gifting when filling those slots - and we please the evil one by tying up our congregations inside the four walls of our church where they will be relatively ineffective at reaching the community.

Yet, those rare churches that focus on helping people do ministry in line with their gifting and wiring and to use them where God has actually put them six days a week see amazing things happen. In resisting the temptation to make ministry about the church they release people into ministry exactly where God wanted them to be to the chagrin of the evil one.

Conventional wisdom says that to be successful a church must be edgy in its worship. Yet, congregations that give options find that all kinds of people participate because they find a worship style that works well for them.

Remember conventional wisdom is always conventional. It is often not wisdom. Rather than simply following the crowd in ministry, ask yourself if there is another way that might produce even better results? Ask what the underlying assumptions are of the conventional way. Ask what the alternatives might be. Ministry pace setters do not live by conventional wisdom. They know it is often not wisdom at all.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fraud thriving in US churches but you wouldn't know it

Does your church have adequate safeguards against financial fraud? Forbes Magazine has an article on this topic that is worth reading if you are a church leader. 

Fraud thriving in US churches but you wouldn't know it

For the gold standard of financial accountability, visit the ECFA site. They have multiple tools and information on ethical and safe financial practices for ministries.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cling tighter, even if just for a moment

Guest Blog by Chip (Steven) Addington, my son, who just returned from a trip to Haiti with the ministry Healing Haiti.

On my first full day In Haiti we went to an orphanage for developmentally or physically disabled kids. Our job was to take several of them to a local hotel pool and help them with water therapy. Really just a chance for them to stretch their limbs, and be out of the orphanage. The kids couldn't walk so this is some of their only exercise.

When we arrived at the orphanage and met the kiddos we would be helping at the pool, someone handed me a little boy, and he clung to me. A little guy named Maxum, he was completely blind until an operation few months  ago, and still can't see much. He has severe mental challenges, he can't speak, and can't understand much speech. He was put Into my arms and there he clung for the next couple of hours.

He is the sweetest little kid. His only communication are smiles or little fits and cries, hugs and little kisses when you hold him. He loved the pool, just floated around with me and grinned as I tossed him up in the air. For the last hour all he wanted was to be held and hugged, he cried when I handed him off, while I went to the bathroom. So I just held him, and let him cling to me, and I to him.

Little Maxum like all the kids at that orphanage were abandoned, some fished out of trash piles. As soon as Maxum was placed in my arms, and as soon as I felt him take a breath and wrap tightly around my neck, I thought "my God I would die for protect this kid" so fast was my love for him. Especially knowing he had been abandoned. As we drove to the pool in the caged back of a truck, every bump made me clutch him tighter. Making sure he wouldn't hit his head or strain his neck. I had to remind myself to hold loosely enough for him to breath.

When ever he clung tighter I would do the same, trying to tell him in the only language he seemed to know that he he was safe and loved. His intense little squeezes would only last a moment. A second of energy expended that gave me the power to hold him close for another hour.

My instinct and desire to keep this child safe and to hold him tightly, shielding him from the world around came on in seconds. I knew I only had him for a couple of hours.

Imagine now how God feels for you. Someone he crafted with great care and toil. A child he knows to the very core, for all of eternity. A person he has traveled with and felt every pain they have.

How much tighter must He be holding you.

Cling tighter, he will feel it, even if it's just for a second. and he will do the same.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

the ten dysfunctions of missions in the local church

I have written extensively on the topic of missions - in large part because I am a missions leader (ReachGlobal). The mission world is going through a period of major and needed change and it is my conviction that this must also happen with the mission committees or ministries in the local church. The following are my version of the ten dysfunctions of missions in the local church.

Not having a coherent plan
In many congregations, missions is a collection of people supported, places visited with short term teams or projects that while all nice are not designed to fit into an overall strategy or ministry plan. We do not run other church ministries this way and we should not run missions this way. 

Not connecting mission efforts to the overall ministry of the local church
Mission efforts are often the most isolated and siloed of the ministries in the local church. In fact, missions should be integrated into the overall mission of the church with its ministry philosophy and focus. It should not be an addendum to other ministry efforts but be in alignment with them.

Supporting missionaries you would not hire all things being equal
Don't support people that you would not hire in your own setting if there was an appropriate job for them. Just because someone has a "call" to go the the mission field does not mean that you are "called" to support them. Mission dollars are precious: use them wisely.

Living in the past
Missions has radically changed as the world has changed. The typical missionary today is not the guy in a pith helmet living in the jungle but more likely to be living in a large city somewhere in the world and the world moves to the city. Their primary job is often not hands on evangelism or discipleship (other than what all of us are called to do) but equipping national believers to do what they can do better than we can. 

Not differentiating between strategies of addition and multiplication
The last dysfunction applies here. Many mission committees don't understand that strategies of multiplication on the mission field look different than strategies of addition. It is critical to understand that ministries of multiplication - where national leaders are being equipped and supported will yield far more ministry results. 

Assuming that there is no longer a need for western missionaries
The great commission is a call for the church to go - until the end of the age. The moment we stop sending people and only send money is the day when we abandon the call of God on the church. While the job of missionaries has changed in the globalized world the need for missionaries from all people to all people has not and will not change until Jesus returns.

Misunderstanding of the economics
"I cannot believe what it costs to send missionaries" is often heard when churches see support schedules. What they forget is that their own staff have many "hidden costs" in benefits, support staff and the largest one of all, expensive facilities. When missionaries raise support there are not hidden costs as they must raise funds for travel, living costs, retirement, ministry costs and salary. It is all in the open and often actually cheaper then the staff in local churches when you build in the costs that are hidden above.

Devaluing leaders on the mission field
"We won't support you because you are not doing real mission work but leadership." Really? Can you imagine staff in the local church not having leadership? Mission efforts are important enough to be strategic, focused and targeted and that requires good leadership. Leaders actually maximize ministry results and are worth every dollar invested.

Unwillingness to support administrative staff on the field
Similar to the last dysfunction, this one says we won't support you because you are doing administration or teaching or supporting the other staff on the field. Not only do we not say that in our own context but it takes even more support internationally when one is dealing with the issues of living cross culturally, often in hard circumstances. It is the support staff that make it possible for other staff to be on the field.

Redefining missions
There is a dangerous tendency today to redefine missions around things other than the core mission of the great commission to see disciples made and churches planted. Missions should always be holistic as Jesus was but at the core and center must be the Gospel and the local church which is God's chosen instrument to reach the world.

For other key blogs on missions, see Top Mission Blogs: Getting to strategic mission strategies

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Leading by modeling

We often think of leading by telling and certainly leaders share, dialogue and sometimes tell. However, we often underestimate the power of what we model on a day to day basis. 

There was a reason that Jesus lived and ministered with His disciples. In doing so they experienced Him, observed Him, saw His interactions which often surprised them (sinners, Samaritans) and watched His dependence on the father. They did not know Him to be from the Father simply because He said He was. Rather they knew because they saw the evidence in His life.

Staff, family and friends watch us before they listen to us. In fact, much of the cynicism around Christianity and leaders comes from the fact that how we live does not match the words we use. Our lives are far more powerful than our words although both are necessary. Our words are authenticated by our lives.

Live the talk. Doing so brings influence with those around us. It is why Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine carefully. One without the other is not authentic. When both are present it is a powerful combination.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

When there is fear in your organization

Fear in any organization is a sign that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. It could be over a changing marketplace that has put people's jobs in jeopardy, a manager who takes retaliation on those who choose to tell them what they think (yes it happens in ministry as well), a product launch that didn't go well or a department that has a toxic environment. Whatever it is, where there is fear there is an issue that needs to be addressed by leaders. It happens in ministries and the secular workplace.

The cause of the fear may not seem rational to leadership but that does not mean that the issue does not need to be addressed. Often fear is the result of anticipated organizational changes or a known issue that raises feelings of uncertainty for staff. Leaders forget that they know more than their staff and have context for what is happening while staff often do not. Whether it feels rational or not to leaders, fear is something that needs to be addressed.

Leaders cannot always say everything they know but they should be as candid as they can be in addressing the source of fear where it exists. People respond well to candor and a discussion on even difficult issues a business or ministry is dealing with. They trust candid leaders while those who withhold information are less trusted. "Just tell us what it is and we will deal with it" is the desire of most staff.

Of course, if the fear comes from a dysfunctional leader and their behavior that dysfunction needs to be addressed at its source. Again there may be a need for a candid conversation with those involved and an apology by a staff member who has caused the issue.

When there is fear: Don't ignore it; be candid about the issues that have caused it and if necessary deal with leaders whose behavior brings fear with them. Fear is a symptom of something that needs to be addressed.

Seven Ways to kill ideas and innovation

It is not hard to kill new ideas or even the willingness to share them. Think of these seven responses that are guaranteed to shut down such discussion.
  • "That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard!"
  • "We have never done anything like that before."
  • Body language that says, "You have to be kidding."
  • "I will think about it" - and that is the end of it.
  • Ignore it
  • "That will never work."
  • "Leader such and such will never go for that."
There is hardly an invention in history that someone in the process didn't think was a really dumb idea. Every organization has an ethos that either welcomes new ideas or resists them. Which represents the place where you work? 

This matters because change, ideas and innovation are essential to ministry success - or in any other arena. As the context of our world changes, our strategies must also change even though our core mission does not. Lack of flexibility brings with it a withering of effectiveness. 

If you are a leader, do you invite and encourage ideas and innovation? How many innovative ideas have been initiated in your organization in the last 36 months?

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Do you own your decisions?

One might be tempted to answer that question with an automatic yes but not so fast. Owning our decisions means that we also own the implications of our decisions for others along with whatever consequences of that decision are.

Whenever our decisions impact others around us it is critical to ensure that they understand what we are thinking, doing and deciding and that we have taken their concerns and the impact on their lives into account. I only truly own my decisions when I am willing to take responsibility for how those decisions impact others. When I ignore the impact on others I am not taking true responsibility for my decisions.

Decisions also have consequences. Sometimes they are all good but sometimes they have unintended consequences that we had not considered. It is easy when something goes wrong from a decision we made to blame others or imply that we were not fully responsible for what happened or the decision made. We are currently watching this play out in the political arena over Obama Care. 

We own our decisions when we take responsibility for the consequences of that decision. Sometimes that means we must clean up unintended consequences, admit we had not anticipated something or even rescind the decision. But whatever we do, we take personal responsibility and do not blame others or circumstances for what happened. It is the right thing to do and it is a mark of an ethical individual.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The paradox of choice

Choices are wonderful things! To be able to have options from which to choose for careers, use of our time, where to go to dinner, where to take the next vacation or what to read next.

Have you noticed that with the choices young people have for careers that they keep putting off that choice to a later age? How do you decide among so many options?

But there is a paradox involved with all the choices we have. It is that people are not happier or more satisfied for the plethora of opportunities. In fact, in direct proportion to the choices we have our busyness has increased, we have spent ourselves into massive amounts of consumer debt and there is no discernible increase in satisfaction in our lives.

A paradox indeed!

Our choices have left us with less time to think, for friends, ministry and family (for that one you need to make choices between the ubiquitous cell phone plans which is often the only way friends and family connect in a meaningful way today).

The greater our choices, the greater the wisdom needed to negotiate those choices without losing our compass on the important things of life, family, time for God, time for friends and no, I don't need that new toy if I cannot pay for it - and even if I can....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Seven suggestions for those in new leadership positions

New leadership positions are a wonderful challenge for leaders but they bring with them significant dangers. The challenges are obvious but the dangers often are not. They include moving too quickly, reading existing staff wrong, alienating people because we don't understand them and their concerns, violating a culture we are not familiar with and the list could go on. All of these are unintentional but they can cause new leaders to lose precious favor at the beginning of their tenure.

Thus I have several suggestions for new leaders.

Consider waiting a year to make major changes. We are often in a hurry but unless you are solving an immediate problem that must be solved, waiting a year to make major changes gives you valuable time to listen, develop relationships and get a lay of the land. The better one knows the organization and its people the less likely one will make a decision that they will later regret. 

Don't make promises when people lobby you. You are new and people are nervous about change. People will often jockey for your ear in order to secure their position or paradigm. Listen but don't commit. One needs to preserve their options as the picture unfolds.

Be realistic about staff. The only way to properly evaluate staff is to see them in action over a period of time. What you see when you arrive may or may not be what you are really getting as people will be on their best behavior with a new leader. Watch, listen, and evaluate with an open mind. People you might want to write off may be jewels and people who look good at the start may well not be.

Dialogue often and ask lots of questions. Before you tip your hand on where you desire to go dialogue and listen to people to get a true view of who they are and what their philosophy is. Many people will tell you what you want to hear. What you really want to hear is what they really think. 

Find some folks who will give you perspective. Organizations have cultures and you want to understand the culture you have walked into. If you can find some trustworthy individuals who can tell you why things are they way they are you have vital information about how you go about change and where the potential mines are. Some of those mines are people who if crossed can be difficult (or lethal). The more you know the better off you are.

Get advice from trusted advisers outside the organization. We should not fear making radical moves but we should fear doing it poorly. Talk to trusted friends or advisers who can give you perspective from outside your organization. They can be more dispassionate than those inside. They can also tell you things that an insider may not have the courage to share.

Seek God's wisdom constantly. Ask and you shall receive! Don't do this alone but always in a prayerful and listening spirit to the Holy Spirit who know all things. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If we built our ministry today how would we build it?

Organizational structures often remain the same while ministry philosophy or methodology changes. It is a mistake since our structure should always reflect our current methodology and philosophy.

Why do we live with this anomaly that how we organize does not reflect our current needs, priorities and focus? Because we develop a deep blindness to how we do what we do as it has become second nature to us and we don't even realize that our internal organization is outdated and not designed to get us to where we want to go.

Here is an exercise that can help you determine whether your structure is designed to help you achieve your missional focus. On the far right side of a large whiteboard define with clarity what you are focused on as a ministry. To the left of that clarify the current strategies you use to achieve your desired results. 

Next, ignoring completely your current organizational structure ask the question, "If we were building our ministry today, how would we do it to achieve our desired outcomes?" What are the key functions we would need to help the organization achieve its outcomes. Then draw a picture of what it would look like. Finally, compare that picture to your current organizational structure and ask if you need to make changes.

Structures grow over time. Often we end up with structures that reflect an earlier day in our ministry and do not reflect current needs. Ask the questions and see where you end up.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Convictions that matter!

All of us have values or practices or beliefs that define who we are, who we become and how we lead. Our convictions define both who we are and what our organization becomes.  Here are a few of mine.

Nothing to prove, nothing to lose
If I have nothing to prove and nothing to lose I will not respond defensively when someone pushes back, will allow robust dialogue and will be open to ideas, feedback and opinions.

Walk toward the barking dog
When there are issues, I will appropriately confront them. We can run from the barking dog, hide from the barking dog or walk toward the barking dog and resolve issues. I choose the latter.

Robust dialogue
There is no issue that cannot be put on the table with the exception of hidden agendas or personal attacks.

It means "Keep mouth shut" and prevents me (usually) from saying too much too fast. Better to listen, ask questions than to react.

Ask questions rather than give answers
It is better to ask then to tell. Doing that helps the other party come to their own conclusions rather than I as a leader telling them what to do. It empowers and grows other leaders.

Reflect as much as I act
Leaders act but they do so out of deep inner thought and reflection. Acting without reflection is foolish. Reflection without acting is ineffective.

Nurture the core 
Who I am as a leader comes out of what I am inside. Nurturing the core is the first job of any leader who desires to have deep influence with others.

Live with clarity and intentionality
We can live accidentally, responding to life as it comes or intentionally with a plan. I always want to connect the compass (my priorities) with the clock (my calendar).

Say no often
No is a powerful word that allows us to focus on those things that God has called us to rather than be distracted by what others want us to do.

Autopsy without blame
Bad stuff happens. When it does, we will do an autopsy to understand what went wrong but not for the purpose of blaming someone.

Sh*t Disclosure Rule. Bad stuff happens. When it does, tell me or your leader so they are not surprised. We will help deal with it but we need to know.

Do not question my resolve
As a leader I am committed to leading the organization into missional waters. We will go where we have said we will go. 

No elephants
Elephants are only elephants when they are unnamed. When we name them they become mere issues that we can discuss. We want no elephants in our organization.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The 20 countries where Christianity is growing the fastest.

This article is definitely worth a look!

Pray for the Philippines

Take a look at these videos from the BBC. The devastation is vast. Please pray for the people of the Philippines and for the church there that will be ministering to one another and to their communities. ReachGlobal will be one of those channeling aid in the coming days.

“ReachGlobal has teams on the ground, working to assess effective response strategies.

To learn more or to give, visit the Philippines Typhoon Response page.”“ReachGlobal has teams on the ground, working to assess effective response strategies.

Resource scarcity and its gift to ministries

I often work with ministries that have limited resources or that find themselves in place where historical resources are no longer available. The immediate thought is that we must prepare for the "worst possible situation." It is a message of bad news and frequently discouragement. 

I disagree! 

Let's start from a theological perspective. Ministry belongs to God so my assumption is that He provides what we need while not always what we think we need or what we want. There is a difference. Certainly we need to do our part but in the end what we have came from Him and I have to believe is what He wants us to have at the moment. There are also times when our constituents see flaws in our ministry and choose to give less or not at all which should cause us to look closely at our ministry.

Further, hard times bring out one of two responses in leaders. They get discouraged, beat up their congregation  (you did not give enough) or themselves and panic. The other response is to actually bring out the very best leadership because the financial situation requires it. 

Winston Churchill was at his absolute best in the crisis of the Second World War not before or after. Challenging times should focus leaders like never before to get to the core of their mission and ask the question, what would it look like if we did things differently with the dollars we have. In many if not most cases they realize in that process that they were not operating with all the right people and with the greatest inefficiencies possible. When money is good, we get comfortable, when it it scarce we must rethink what is truly necessary. It is in the lean times that we find the most leveraged ways to do ministry frequently pushing us toward effecient multiplication.

In working with one ministry short of funds I asked them to consider several questions:

One: What do we think God is saying to us?
Two: If we were to build our ministry today from the ground up what would it look like?
Three: Does our current structure lend itself to what is mission critical or doe it more reflect who we were in the past?

This caused robust dialogue and we started to see the organization in light of new paradigms. I don't see scarce resources as a negative but as a net positive. It is not the worst case scenario but a significant opportunity to do more with less and within what God provides. In lean times we are forced to be the best stewards and the best leaders.

A prescient analysis of what the church is all about from Francis Chan

What really is the church? Check out this video from Francis Chan!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Would you take a demotion to get into your sweet spot?

It is an interesting question. There are times when people are advanced into a position that is not truly the lane they were made for. They have the position, salary and title but they are not happy, not fulfilled and not where God made them to be.

Would you have the courage to take a demotion to get into your sweet spot if that were you? This pastor did! Take a read.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Relational Equity

In many ways, the quality of our relationships is the acid test of God’s transformative work in our lives. As the Apostle John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). The same Apostle in His Gospel records Jesus as saying, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:22-23). In other words, people will know we are Christians by our extraordinary and unselfish love for one another.

Transformation of our hearts is directly connected to the transformation of our relationships. It is a full understanding of God’s grace in our lives which becomes the ground for us to extend that grace to others on a regular basis and it is grace that allows us to love and it is love that transforms relationships. When I fully grasp how Christ loved me when I was unlovable, forgave me when I did not deserve forgiveness, is patient with me when I don’t deserve his patience, continues to forgive me when I blow it – when I fully grasp the unconditional love of Christ to me – it is then that I can extend that same love to others. My ability to extend grace to others is directly connected to my understanding of the grace God has extended to me.

Transformed relationships are about treating people as God treats us, seeing them as God sees us – as individuals made in His image and of infinite worth, wanting for them what God would want for them – to reach their full potential - and extending the same value and honor to others that God does to us. While the culture of the world is to use others for our benefit, Christ followers see relationships as an extension of our relationship with Him which always wants the best for others.

This is an especially critical issue for leaders who have authority over others and whose words, actions and decisions impact others. Because leaders have an agenda – and all leaders do and must, and because leaders are result oriented – and good leaders are, there is always the temptation to use people to achieve that agenda rather than to develop a common mission and together get there through serving people and helping them flourish in the role they play.

This is always a balancing act because leadership means that we must achieve results, resources are always in short supply and getting the right people in the right seat on the bus is part of leadership. Relational stewardship in leadership is all about finding the right gifting for positions, building healthy teams and then developing people into the best they can be. Rather than using people, this is all about developing people and helping them become the person God designed them to be.

Leadership is all about relational equity. We regularly make deposits and withdrawals to that equity: Withdrawals when we disempower or in some way break trust and deposits when we treat people well and empower them. Thus transformation of our relationships is a key component not only to the love we are called to live out but to our leadership and the influence we have with others. Without healthy relationships, influence is deeply compromised.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"I am not looking for a job. I am looking for a vision."

Profound comments from a 50 something Christian leader who is searching for what God has for him next. He is not in a hurry. He will not settle. He knows who He is and who he is not and he wants to be in a place of maximum influence, in his lane, for the next run.

Too many people are looking for a job rather than for a vision to give their lives to. Too many ministries lack a God sized vision that people want to give their lives to. Vision attracts the very best. Jobs attract those who have settled!

To be clear, most of us start with jobs in ministry. But as we mature, as we understand ourselves better, as we become aware of how God has wired and gifted us we start to yearn for convergence where we can be all that God made us to be so that we are spent and used up for Him in a good way. If it is a good job we look for in the first half it is vision that attracts us in the second half.

Do you have a job today or are you chasing a God sized vision? If it is just a job, think about chasing a vision.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When leaders are in a hurry to change things

I often tell leaders who are in a hurry to bring change to their team and organization, "Hurry up and slow down already!" This is especially true for leaders who are new to an organization and see all of the things that could be different, the issues that might have been ignored by a previous leader and the potential for better ways of doing things as seen through new eyes.

Why hurry up and slow down? Because major change (even if the correct change) brought too quickly can create a great deal of chaos from the speed of change, the lack of processing people through the change and the inability of staff or constituents to keep up with the change.

Change agents don't realize that most people have a built in resistance to change. People seek stability, not instability. Because change agents don't have that issue they often don't get it that others do. Fast changes are like a major earthquake: the ground is shifting, it feels dangerous and they don't know where to turn. 

Given that fact, the greater the change the more processing of people is necessary. They need to know what change is being proposed and why, they need to know what change is happening and when and they need to know what change has happened and what the implications are. It is all about process, process, process and that requires a lot of communication, dialogue and all of that takes time which is why fast change is often counterproductive.

Our hurry to bring change is rarely helpful. Our resolve to see change is! Resolve is about knowing where we need to go and being committed to going there. The pace is determined by how fast our folks can adapt and respond to the suggested changes.

Remember that change is a process, not an event and that those who bring it must bring the requisite skill in helping their people navigate the whitewaters of change. Knowing what one needs to do is the easy part. Working the process is the hard part. So my advice: hurry up and slow down already!

Monday, November 4, 2013

When pastors stay too long at the detriment of the church

This will not be a popular blog among some pastors. It is possible for a pastor or any leader to stay too long and in the process to allow the ministry they lead to grow stale. I have watched it on numerous occasions and often to the detriment of the ministry they led well for many earlier years.

The symptoms for the church itself are usually a lessening of its missional energy, and a slow loss of people, often key people over time. Often at this stage, church leaders are restless and both leaders and people cannot identify with clarity where the ministry is going or how it is going to get there. 

The challenge is that the senior leader often does not want to leave even when church leaders start to put pressure on them. After all they are in their fifties or sixties and they know they are not very marketable in another senior pastor position. Thus they push back and the church itself often suffers. The longer the church moves into decline, the harder it is to renew its vision and missional life. In the meantime it is the very people that are needed to revitalize the church that quietly exit one at a time.

When do long pastorates become a liability?

  • When the senior leader gets stuck in how they have always done things and continue to do the same thing as the world changes around them.
  • When the senior leader has taken the church as far as they can take it and are frankly out of ideas or skill to take the ministry to the next level.
  • When the senior leader does not bring in a new generation of young leaders who bring a different generational thinking, new ideas and new energy. This includes the development of a preaching team so that the needs of a younger generation are met.
  • When the senior leader does not continue to grow in their latter decades and lose their ability to lead well. 
Not every pastor can go the long route in one church and keep the ministry vital. Often they too need a new challenge in new circumstances and certainly they should not stay when the church has plateaued or gone into decline - in numbers, vision, missional vitality, energy and spiritual vitality. Those who can go the distance in one place must intentionally grow and change along the way.

The unlikely gift of pain

I experienced my first real failure at age 28. My dreams were broken, the vision for my life in shambles, I had resigned from my church after four years of deep pain, had no idea what I would do next and was suffering from clinical depression. What I did not know then was that my “failure” would be used by God to mold, direct, soften and sharpen, and forge things in my heart that could not be forged except through pain.

It was not a fair suffering by any stretch of the imagination. One of the lessons I have learned over the years is that “fair” is not God’s greatest concern for our lives. His greater concern is that we become what He wants us to be for the sake of what He wants us to do. Life was not fair for Moses, Joseph, Paul, Jesus, David, Esther, or most of the great characters of Scripture.

In every case there was a testing of the soul, a forging of character, a decision that had to be made whether to trust in the midst of suffering and the learning that can only take place through pain. As a focusing agent, nothing does it like pain – regardless of the source of that pain. As a young leader I did not know the cost of leadership in terms of suffering and pain. As an older leader I realize that the lessons learned in suffering and pain would not have been learned in any other way. Suffering is both the cost of leadership and a prerequisite of becoming a leader of deep influence. There is no other way.

As I survey my life over the past thirty years I can trace all the major themes of my life to periods of deep pain. It was in those times that God most forged character, faith, heart, soul and mind. I would not willingly choose to repeat those periods of pain but I would also not trade them for anything. Without the pain I would not be who I am today. As one who wants to have deep influence I can say with honesty: “Thank you God for the pain I have endured. You used it to make me who I am.”

A sage of the faith once wrote, “God cannot use a man greatly until He has first hurt him deeply.” This is not a statement about God’s character but about what it takes to mold our character. A reflection on the great men and women of Scripture reveal periods of great pain and brokenness which made them who they were. One of the prices of developing great influence is the presence of suffering in our lives.

Peter, speaking to those who were suffering because of their faith put suffering into an eternal perspective. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Peter is clear that suffering is not a random event but is intimately connected to what God wants to do in our lives – to refine our faith and make us the kind of people who are genuine and authentic which results in praise, glory and honor to God.” There is an authenticity to the faith of those who have gone through deep waters and rather than abdicate to bitterness and a diminished life, follow even harder after God, trusting Him when it makes no sense to trust and learning his sufficiency in their pain.

Paul, understood the deep connection between understanding Jesus and suffering. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

To know Jesus is first to understand what it means to be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). While health, wealth and prosperity are proclaimed today as God’s will for all of His people, Scripture says that those who suffer share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and the writer of Hebrews encourages us with the truth that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). If the very Son of God was molded by suffering how can any of His followers not assume that they too will be molded by the same?

Think about this. Without the dark nights of the soul, David would never have been able to write the Psalms, the place all of us turn when we suffer our dark nights of the soul. Without his wilderness experience, Moses would never have become God’s most humble leader with whom he spoke face to face. Without Abraham’s willingness to follow God not knowing how it would turn out he would never have become the paradigm of faith for all the generations after him. Without suffering, the messiah would not have become the bearer of our sin!

When all is said and done, God is more concerned about the refining of our faith and lives than He is for our comfort and ease. The picture that Peter uses of faith “refined by fire” is the picture of the heating of metals in the forge so that the dross floats to the surface and can be scraped off to be thrown out – leaving something pure and beautiful behind. Pain and suffering do for our hearts what the fire does for precious metals like gold. There is no other way to purity metal and there is no other way to purify and mold our hearts.

When I packed my truck on a September day to leave my pastorate, I had no money, no job to go to and no hope. I was devastated, sad, tired, depressed and had a lot of questions for God for which I was receiving no answers. My name and reputation were being trashed, lies were being told and I could not answer back but had to leave my reputation with God. At that moment I was in survival mode unable to see beyond the pain – and there was nothing at that time to see! It was a simple hanging on to God and that is all. There was no great faith, no assumption of what He would do. I was just trying to survive my faith.

I now have the perspective of 30 years to look back on those painful days. It was through that pain that my theology of grace became a lifestyle of grace where I no longer needed to prove myself to God or others. It was because of those circumstances that I ended up at the national office of the EFCA, something I had no desire or intention to ever do. It was through my dark night of the soul that I started to consult with church boards and staff on healthy leaders, intentional leadership and empowered structures which in turn birthed two books, High Impact Church Boards, Leading From the Sandbox and two others.

Through the tough days I learned that God would be faithful if I would just trust Him. I let go of my need for “justice” (sometimes vengeance) and left that issue with Him. My depression led me to counseling and medication which in turn gave me great empathy for those who suffer from emotional pain on a regular basis. Slowly over time, the pain gave way to mercy, grace and a spiritual perspective and memories that once tied my stomach in knots for days became merely parts of my biography that informed who I was today. Over time, the perspective of my pain turned from that of hopelessness and suffering to one of God’s gracious grace in my life that forged a more perfect me – the me God designed me to be.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Choosing to live generously

One of the outstanding characteristics of Christ followers is that of generosity. It is what stood out in the early church and it is the thing that often surprises non-Christ followers today and gets their attention.

What is generous living? It is a willingness to share what we have with those around us, to meet needs that we can meet and seeing our resources as belonging to God and not to us. It is also a culture that can be encouraged in our congregations.

Mary Ann and I, for example, for years have chosen to rarely sell possessions that we no longer need but to give them away. Our vehicles are available to others who may need them. Our giving includes individuals who are in need that God has laid on our hearts to help. Our frequent flyer miles often go to others who need tickets. All of us have different opportunities and abilities to be generous but all of us can be generous. It is a matter of our mindset and seeing whatever God has given us as His to use on His behalf.

Generosity does not just apply to our goods. It applies to our time! Paul calls it "being rich in good deeds" (1 Timothy 6:18). A meal to those who need it, praying for those who are hurting, a visit to someone in the hospital or retirement home, a word of encouragement. Everyone can be rich in good deeds. Each of us has certain skills that can be generously shared with others.

This is all about living with open hands and open hearts. Like God, when He sent His Son. Like Jesus in the incarnation. Isn't it interesting that Jesus gave His very life for us and we often hang on to our stuff and live selfishly rather than generously.

Paul told Timothy to "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Friday, November 1, 2013

Deconstructing the American church

We often do not realize how much the church in the United States is driven by the culture of our nation rather than by the culture of God's Kingdom. Let me share some examples!

For many church leaders success is defined in the American church by numbers of people, size of budgets, wonderful facilities, large staff and excellent programming. All of those are societal definitions of success rather than New Testament definitions of success which are about God's people actually looking like Jesus and non believers crossing the line to belief. Within my own denomination there are pastors who are driven to have their congregations hit a thousand so that they can become a part of the "K club." Does Jesus value the large church over the small church? Does church size in itself have anything to do with success?

Transformation of lives where we understand and live out grace, where we think like Jesus, prioritize our lives around His priorities and see people and love people as Jesus sees them and loves them is a Kingdom definition of success. Size is not - except in our culture!

It is what drives our nation and often it is what drives our ministries. We are used to being served when we are called to serve. We are used to being comfortable when we are called to the often uncomfortable life of a pilgrim. 

We are used to being entertained and pity the pastor who cannot do so. So much of our nation is about me and we rather than about what I can do to serve others, serve God and enhance His Kingdom. Just as the quarterly reports drive our consumer society so our numbers and whatever we need to do to enhance them drive many ministries. Most church growth is simply the reshuffling of believers from one venue to a better venue - until an even better one comes along.

Consumers expect to be made comfortable, get what they paid for, be served and entertained. Think about Jesus and His expectations and life. It was not a consumer mentality but a God oriented mentality committed to the concerns of His Father and not even of Himself (notwithstanding that He was God). Yet we often feed the consumer side of the church!

I spoke to a pastor recently about why they had made changes in their ministry. He candidly admitted that he did so because another large church in the area had planted an venue in his neighborhood and they needed to differentiate themselves. We compete in all areas of life in our nation and it is usually no different in the church. Cooperation, a sign of unity, is of far less value to us regardless of the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for the same (John 17) then winning - being better.

I could go on and I don't have all the answers. What I do believe is that we need to deconstruct the American church and reconstruct it on New Testament and Kingdom values: The making of disciples, calling people to a life of followership, serving others, caring deeply for the lost, loving on our communities, using our gifts for His purposes, a true stewardship of our resources, time, energy and abilities and lives that actually look like that of Jesus.

All of us live in a society that has its own set of values. Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom has a different set of values - hence for instance, The Sermon on the Mount. Discerning leaders are clear as to which values belong in His church and in our lives. The ability to discern the difference between the two sets of values is a critical skill of church leaders.