Friday, January 31, 2014

The life of faith

The one common denominator of all great followers of God throughout history is that of faith. As Paul says in Romans 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith.” What really is faith? First it is believing that Jesus is the hope of the world as he claimed in the passages in John quoted in chapter one. He is the way to the Father. When we say yes to God, acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and choose to invite him into our lives we are putting our faith in Him.

At that moment we become children of God, our hearts are cleaned up, the guilt of our past is lifted and we have an eternal destiny of life with Christ, forever. The decision to give God the steering wheel of our lives is the most important decision that we ever make.

In some ways, that is the easy part of faith. The other part of the faith equation is learning to trust God for every day, every situation and every issue that we face. Way back in the dusty pages of history, God appeared to Abraham with a radical message. “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and to the land I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1).”

Now Abraham could not Google the new location to see what it looked like, he had no map to follow, no knowledge of what God had in store for him. What he had was faith in God as God so he chose to take his family and start a life journey based on faith. That is why Abraham is the great example and hero of faith for Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.

Take a moment and put yourself in Abraham’s shoes. I doubt that he was initially overjoyed at God’s message. You want me to do what? You want me to go where? Why? Why me? I’ll bet that Abraham spent months sitting in his tent asking himself a set of questions:

Do I really trust God?
Do I believe that God has my best interests in mind?
Am I willing to trust Him with my future? Really trust him?
Am I willing to take the risk of really following God?

Faith is scary and risky! Faith means that I am saying to God “I am all in.” I trust you, I believe you have my very best interests in mind, I am willing to trust you with my future and I am willing to take the risk to follow you.

This is why life undone is an unlikely gift. It invites us to take a step of faith that we have never taken before to a depth we have never gone before because we have come to the end of ourselves and have no other good choices. Life undone invites us to answer the question, “Are we all in with God and can we trust Him with our future?”

Faith is easy when life is good. Faith is tested and hard when life is undone because now we must grapple with the goodness of God in addition to the plan of God. We may even face moments of doubt (is my faith well founded?) or anger (why would God allow this?) or resignation (is God really in my corner?).

Contrary to what some may think, these are legitimate and good questions because they force us back to God in prayer, force us back to His word and again confront us with the reality of our followership of Him. Every time we again answer in the affirmative our faith is strengthened, based now on a higher level of conviction than before because our faith has been forged in pain and difficulty.

Faith is the decision that we will trust and follow Jesus, no matter what our circumstances, believing that he is good and righteous and holy and has a plan for our lives that is beyond our understanding.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1) and further, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).”

And then referencing Abraham, the writer says, “By faith Abraham, was called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).”

When life comes undone we face Abraham moments. Will we believe, will we trust, will we follow? You may be facing one of those moments right now. Your choice will make all the difference in the world as to how you walk out the difficulties you face. Faith is always a choice. What is your choice?

Countless times in Hebrews 11 we read the two words “By faith” about an individual who chose to follow God when all the chips were down. They include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepphthah, David and numerous others. The common trait in each of these men and women of God was their choice of faith not only in the good times but in the hard and difficult times. Because of their faith they show up on God’s hall of fame in the great chapter of faith in Hebrews 11.

That hall of fame continues to grow. Every time we choose faith over doubt, despair or anger we join those whose names are listed above. Remember, God “earnestly rewards those who seek him.” Those who choose Him, those who trust him!

Faith is directly connected to the peace that Jesus promised in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Where does that peace come from that Jesus talks about? He says “In me” you may have peace. In Me. Our peace is not in our circumstances (they can be very bad). It is not in our conviction that everything will go back to the way it was before (It may well not). It is not in our ability to solve our problem (we may not be able to). No, our peace comes from our trust in the person of Jesus Christ. We can have peace “in Him,” in His presence, in His goodness, in His love, in His promise to be with us, and in His power to “overcome the world.”

When it is all stripped away, when all of our resources are exhausted as eventually they are, there is the one answer we have had all along, God is there, He is with us, we can trust Him. Do you…today? Are you willing to give to God your situation in faith with a simple child like trust and say, “Jesus I am all in. I trust you with my pain and like Abraham I will follow not knowing where I am going?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Manipulative "God talk"

It is amazing how individuals can use spiritual language to manipulate others in the church with the implication that to disregard or defy their demands is to defy God himself. 

Phrases like "I've prayed about this and God is clearly telling us to do such and such." "If we continue to pursue such and such, the curses of .... will fall on us. We need to repent and move toward a new way."

As my friend Quintin Steiff remarks, "These prayer bullies assume extraordinary authority and view themselves as virtual pipelines of the direct revelation of God. Their pride is staggering, they are deadly serious and they are usually unteachable. They are not speaking about the divinity of Christ or the substitutionary atonement of which the Scriptures speak clearly. Rather, it's about some secondary matter or personal preference like a ministry program or policy decision or building program or style of worship. And they are promoting or rejecting some viewpoint."

This is not about being sensitivity to God's leading but rather about outright manipulation. Often such individuals see themselves as prophets whose job is to correct the wrong ways of a congregation or organization but essentially what they want is their own way. They fight for it unfairly with God talk which automatically shuts down dialogue. After all, how do you argue with God?

If someone's God talk sounds manipulative it probably is. Don't allow it. I have run up against a few of these who were essentially narcissists cloaked in spirituality - a deadly combination.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Organizational pride and its impact on ministry

The problem of pride does not just impact individuals. It infects churches and Christian organizations as well. And it's impact is just as insidious.

The root of organizational pride is usually found in a period of "success" sometime in the ministry's history - the glory days if you will. For churches this is usually when they had the largest attendance and they were a big deal in the community. Years later, even with new circumstances and different numbers, those years are remembered and in the corporate memory they are still "a big deal." Even when in decline, years later, many churches believe they are still back in the glory days.

Like individual pride, organizational pride has its consequences. Pride keeps us from seeing our current reality. Pride keeps us from getting help. Pride keeps us from understanding that times have changed and so must we. Pride keeps us from learning from others - after all we are the experts. At all levels, organizational pride is a cancer that erodes our effectiveness and holds us back.

It is also a foolish posture because no organization stays at the top of the list forever. Ironically many ministries have the greatest pride long after the big time is over. And it keeps them from moving into a new future of productive ministry. 

Humility is not only the posture of a mature ministry but it is the key to moving from one period of ministry to another. A humble ministry does not get stuck in a past period of productivity since it has nothing to prove in the present. Humble ministries learn, grow, re-invent and focus on the present and future while prideful ministries focus on that period of success in their past: a crucial difference. 

I have worked with ministries who were immensely successful in a period of their ministry. That success made them resistant to the very changes that were needed to move to a new level of ministry effectiveness. They didn't want to hear that what got you to here will not get you to there. Their pride got in the way of seeing what they needed to see to move forward.

A period of success can fuel pride and in an ironic twist, that pride keeps us from moving forward in the present. Resist it if you are a leader. Humble ministries are far more nimble and change friendly than prideful ministries. Humble ministries have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The churches frightful kodak moment

A very insightful article for those who are involved in ministry or are disillusioned with much of what happens in the American church.

What is your personal gospel initiative?

Everyone should have one: A personal gospel initiative - an intentional strategy for meeting and relating to unbelievers for the sake of relationship and opportunities to share the gospel. 

For many of us this will include neighbors where relationships are a natural. One of my gospel initiatives is a restaurant where I often work and meet for business lunches or breakfasts. Because I am there often (I have my own table - number 40) I also know all the staff and have developed good relationships with them. They know my name and I know theirs. We talk, I have shared some of my books with them and we are friends. Friendships lead to conversations which lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

What would happen if every member of our congregations had a personal gospel initiative? People they are praying for and intentionally relating to with the goal of loving them and sharing Jesus with them? It would vastly outdo all of our programmatic evangelistic efforts (good as they may be). It might even become a lifestyle which is always the goal. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Either we disciple our kids or society will do it for us

Our investment in discipling our kids is one of the most important things that parents do. The sobering truth is that if we don't make the investment, society will disciple them for us - and that is a scary thought.

What does it mean to disciple our kids? First it means that we model for them what a sold out lifestyle for Jesus looks like: living in grace and extending it to others, thinking like Jesus thinks, aligning our priorities with His and seeing people as He sees them and loving them as He loves them. No son or daughter will miss the point when they see their parents living out a Jesus life.

I also believe that the daily interaction with kids is critical, especially when we are able to relate every day issues to a Jesus lifestyle. This is not about rules or legalism. It is about helping our kids understand that there is no part of life where our commitment to Jesus does not touch. For us, these conversations took place regularly at our dinner table where all kinds of issues were freely discussed and whether serious or humorous matters of faith and life were integrated.

As our kids get older, what about asking them if they would like to be involved in a more intentional discipleship process with their parents. Allow them to pick the materials and then meet, discuss, study and pray. Keep it separate from parenting. This is life on life seeking to understand how God relates to us and how we relate to Him. Many kids will jump at the opportunity.

However you do it, remember that if we don't disciple our kids, society will do it for us. That particular outsourcing is the cause of generations of kids leaving their faith and it is very sad. We want to leave an intentional spiritual legacy with our kids.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Passive boards and controlling boards in the church: Both are dangerous

Church boards operate in one of three categories: As passive leaders, controlling leaders and engaged leaders. The first two kinds of board leadership are dangerous for a church and for its pastoral staff while the third is healthy.

Passive boards are those who ignore real issues in the church or with its senior pastoral leadership. These are boards that in the name of avoiding conflict allow their congregation to drift and even go into decline because they are unwilling to address real issues. Many congregations are allowed to plateau and go into decline without the board asking the hard questions as to why it is happening. People leave, giving declines, conversion growth plummets and conflict becomes normative and the leaders of the church don't act, ask hard questions or address the issues.

Often, congregants with passive boards simply move on to churches that are missional. They recognize the problem even as their leaders either don't recognize them or are too fearful to address them. It is a fatal error because leadership passivity will eventually make it very difficult to turn the ship and move back to health. The lack of attention to known problems is often driven by fear, lack of courage and an unwillingness to deal with issues that may cause conflict. In the end it is a failure of leadership and a failure to protect the congregation and the mission of the church. 

Then there are controlling boards who want to micromanage and second guess the decisions and work of a senior pastor and staff. This is equally destructive as good leaders will not say in a culture of control, nor should they. Boards are not meant to do the work that staff are tasked with doing. Controlling boards will eventually cause the church to plateau and pastoral leaders to leave. Decisions that belong with staff are co-opted by church leaders who want to do things their way. Decisions that should be made once now need to be made a second time - with the board. 

Controlling boards do not understand the role of boards which is to guard the health and direction of the church and govern from a high altitude rather then manage the affairs of the church which is the job of church staff. Controlling boards disempower those who serve on church staff and undermine the leadership of the senior pastor. Essentially they don't trust the senior leader to make the correct decisions.

Healthy boards are engaged boards. They engage in the big rocks of ensuring that the spiritual temperature of the church remains high, that the congregation is led, cared for, taught, protected and that people are developed, empowered and released in meaningful ministry. They team with the senior pastoral leader to ensure a healthy ministry and a vibrant spiritual culture. They guard the values of the church and monitor the spiritual results of the ministry. They are always aware of what is happening, ask the hard questions when necessary and ensure that the mission of the church is being fulfilled. They are intentional in their leadership.

As you think about the board in your congregation, which of the three kinds of boards does it represent?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Convictions or cookies: Which drives you?

Cookies are nice! They are the comments or affirmations we get in ministry because of what we do - preaching a good sermon, visiting someone in the hospital, helping those in need. In fact, it is easy to become driven by the cookies because they satisfy our ego and make us feel good about ourselves. I must be doing something important for Jesus is people give me all those cookies!

But: cookies can be dangerous as well. Cookies can motivate us to please others so that we get more cookies. And a drive to please others for our ego needs can cause us to play to people rather than to be driven to please God and to push into places that God wants us to push but people don't.

Hence my question: Are we driven more by cookies than by conviction?  Christian leaders must lead out of a deep place of inner conviction irregardless of whether we get cookies for our leadership. I remember rolling out some new paradigms in the mission I lead ten years ago to the consternation of many who saw it as the flavor of the month and me as out to lunch. If I were looking for cookies they were few and hard to find. And that lasted for quite a while. But what I did have was a deep abiding conviction that where we were going was where God wanted us to go and I said often, "Do not question my resolve!"

Sometimes cookies come and sometimes they don't. We are not called to chase cookies but to move in directions that God wants us to move with conviction and resolve. If I am chasing cookies I will not press into areas that are uncomfortable with either an individual or a congregation. If I am chasing cookies I will become a servant of men rather than of God. I may even compromise my convictions in the process.

I like cookies. But I recognize that cookies don't always serve me well. Convictions serve me much better. Especially those that come from God and are shared by my key colleagues as the direction God wants us to travel. Our best cookies will come from the words of our Lord one day. "Well done my good and faithful servant."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The one thing that is necessary for needed change in any organization

That one thing is not what changes are necessary or even why they are necessary. Those are easy enough to discern. 

No, the one thing that is necessary for needed change in any organization is the courage of leaders to admit the need and have the courage to act on needed changes. Without the humility to admit that change is needed - and that is humbling - and without the requisite courage to act on that need, nothing happens. 

I work with churches and ministry organizations as well as lead ReachGlobal, an international missions organization. The reason I get called in to work with other organizations is that they recognize that not all is well. They are experiencing organizational pain and are looking for solutions. 

Finding the source of the pain is not difficult. Convincing the ones experiencing the pain can be. They know that all is not well. But in come cases do not have the courage to act on the necessary steps to solve the problem - which is usually holding them back from much greater ministry effectiveness. 

Why is this when it defies logical sense? Because it is more comfortable to live with what we have and the way we have been doing things than to take the risk of doing things differently. Comfort often wins out over mission.

Courageous leaders don't settle for what is when they know what could be. They take the risk to act on needed change in spite of their own comfort and what they are used to. The mission of the ministry is a higher priority than their comfort or even long established paradigms. That is the nature of good leadership.

When asked to help an organization my internal question is always this: Do the leaders have the courage to change? If the answer is no, it is best to leave them with their old paradigms. Don't be one of those leaders!

Process in change

Knowing that changes need to be made is half of the challenge. The other half is designing a change process that is most likely to result in your desired conclusion. The key word here is process. When change goes wrong, it is usually connected to a process that is flawed or short-circuited.

Here is a key principle: Most people are willing to change even though that change causes them discomfort, if they can be convinced that the proposed change meets a value of theirs which is higher than their resistance to change. Having said that, remember that the heart acceptance of the change will be determined by where they are on the change curve.

For instance, I have helped numerous congregations change their governance systems to reflect a more empowered culture. Almost without exception, late majority and laggards were negative toward the change when it was first introduced, and even the early majority was cautious.

However, when there is a process that allows people's questions to be answered, and when they are convinced that a change in governance will help the church reach more people for Christ (a high value of believers), most are willing to consider and adopt the changes. That's because the value of reaching folks for Christ is a higher value than their resistance to change.

This is why having solid values are so important to an organization. When change is needed, it is the mission and the values that must be appealed to and if these are a higher value than the inborn resistance to change, people will be willing to consider necessary changes. If you cannot appeal to a higher value, then the argument becomes one of preference rather than one of mission.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When sensitive information needs to be communicated to a congregation

From time to time, church leaders need to share sensitive information to their congregation regarding sinful behavior of a leader or congregant. While hopefully a rare event, when it does become necessary the question is always how much do we divulge and for what purpose do we reveal it. There is no one answer that fits every situation but asking the following questions about what one proposes to share can help frame the communication. 

Is what we are sharing true? We may well not share all that we know but are we being truthful in our communication rather than trying to cover something up?

If the full story were revealed would our congregation be satisfied that what we told them was truthful?

Is the information already circulating? To the extent that information is already known, it may be wise to be more candid than less.

Do we have a redemptive purpose in mind even as we share bad news?

What is likely to come out regarding this situation? How much we share is sometimes a factor of how much information is likely to become public. The more it is likely to become public the more we may need to share.

How does our communication impact others involved if there are any? If there are victims, does our communication violate them in any way? Are they aware and OK with what we intend to share?

Have we vetted our statement with an attorney? We live in a litigious society. Be smart in one's communication.

If there is a threat to others posed by the situation (someone who has abused children, for instance) have we taken adequate steps to protect the congregation?

Have we given guidelines for how the congregation is to deal with the information we have provided?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Practices of healthy boards

In few instances will an organization or a congregation rise above the quality, practices, spiritual sensitivity or missional commitment of its senior board. That is a sobering thought if you are a board member - but it is true and can be verified in almost every instance. Given that fact, there is nothing more important than for us to ensure that our boards are healthy. In fact, I would love for you to share this blog with the board you are serving on and see what it generates in discussion.

Healthy boards practice deep sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. In order for that to be true it means that they set aside regular and significant time for prayer and for the seeking of God's will for their church or organization - and then they listen for His voice. This includes regular time in the word where His voice has already spoken on critical matters. Spiritual leadership requires spiritual sensitivity and time with the One on whose behalf we lead. Without this practice we will not be His leaders in the full sense of the word.

Healthy boards always clarify the key focus of the church and then they stick with that clarity. Specifically, they clarify the mission, the guiding principles by which the organization will operate, the central ministry focus which must be practiced in all they do and the culture they are intent on creating. Once they are clear, everything they do in programming, staffing, initiatives, teaching and priorities is designed to stay in line with the missional clarity they have. Boards that do not have clarity, do not stick to their clarity or keep changing their clarity (which is not clarity at all) confuse their people and dilute their effectiveness. Healthy boards bring great clarity to everything the organization does.

Healthy boards never allow elephants to exist without addressing them directly. Elephants are those topics that everyone knows are present but no one wants to bring up because it will be uncomfortable. Here is a principle to consider. Elephants are elephants precisely because they are threats to the organization and good leaders always address threats to the organization. Ignoring elephants, trying to pretend they are not there or not having the courage to name and discuss them allows those very issues to hurt what you are trying to accomplish. Take elephants seriously. They are the very issues you must address if you are going to move forward in health. If there are elephants on your board you have symptoms of problems.

Healthy boards operate with a board covenant which spells out the rules of engagement in terms of how board members relate to one another. This includes agreement on keeping short accounts, dealing with conflict, the role of robust, honest dialogue in board meetings and the full support of decisions made once they are made. A signed board covenant allows you to create a healthy board culture, define board expectations and hold members accountable if they should go south.

Healthy boards are clear on the missional results they want for their church or organization and evaluate those results on a regular basis. This is why "clarity" is so important above. With clarity you can evaluate ministry results. Without clarity it is impossible to do so because you don't know what you are measuring. It is hard work to determine how you measure results in a ministry setting but it is one of the most important things boards do.

Healthy boards know the difference between management of day to day operations and the core directional issues, policies and thinking about the future. They delegate management of day to day issues to staff or others and keep their focus on the larger picture including the health of the church.

Healthy boards never allow themselves to be divided into factions. All board members are there to serve the ministry as a whole. When boards develop separate factions (If you have them on your board you know what I am talking about) the board is no longer serving the whole but has divided into those who support a part and are fighting for that part (or individual). This in itself is a sign that there are elephants in the room that have not been dealt with and that there is not clarity around which the whole board is focused and that there is not the ability to evaluate ministry success. Divided boards are deeply symptomatic of dishealth. To get to healthy they must really go back to the basics and agree that everyone on the board is there to serve the whole rather than to guard a part.

I have three challenges for you if any of these practices of healthy boards are not practices of your board. First, share this blog with them as a way of sparking some good discussion. Second, my two books, High Impact Church Boards, and Leading From The Sandbox are written for board members to get to the highest level of health possible. The higher the level of health of your board, the higher the missional effectiveness of your organization or church. and that is why we serve as board members. I hope you will take the challenge.

The magic of empowerment

I believe that our need to control others is a result of the fall. Wherever I travel, it seems to be a universal phenomenon.

Control rather than empowerment is the operating mode of much in both ministry and business. It comes in the form of micromanagement, meddling in the responsibilities of others, telling others how they should do what they are supposed to do, frequently changing something already done, giving too much advice, the need to constantly ask permission or get approval and in many other forms. 

All of that is sad when it happens to good people because it disempowers, discourages, frustrates, and smothers the God given capacity and creativity that could be unleashed if empowered.

Unempowered organizations or teams are a sign of poor Emotional Intelligence (EQ) on the part of leaders. The inability to unleash people is a sign of insecurity rather than that of leadership. And insecurity infects many (even high profile) leaders who think that their command and control is actually a sign of leadership. Or, that their ideas are the best and the ones that count so any others must be vetted through them. They may say they are guarding the ministry but what they are actually doing in many cases is guarding their ego's.

In reality, the higher the control factor, the higher the hubris factor - it is about them, not the mission nor the staff working beside them. Further, the higher the control, the less likely the ministry will rise above the skills or abilities of its leader since high control always brings people back to how the leader would do what is done - losing out on the magic of multiple people bringing their creativity to the table for the purpose of maximum ministry results.

There is magic in empowered organizations where good people are unleashed (within clearly articulated boundaries) to use all of their creativity to accomplish what they are tasked with. And when empowered individuals collaborate with other empowered individuals that magic is multiplied and results in significant ministry breakthroughs.

If you are a leader and wonder how empowering you are - there is a simple way to find out: ask your team. If they trust you they will tell you. As you empower you grow as a leader and the ministry will grow in proportion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leadership and dissapointment at God

Christian leadership is not for the faint of heart and we are confronted each day with disappointments and challenges that test our own faith, our own trust, and our own view of God's divine sovereignty and goodness. It is one thing to proclaim all these truths to others. It is another to wrestle with them ourselves.

A good friend dies. Another discovers they have cancer. A ministry plan went askew. We are attacked by someone who should know better. I am talking about the issues that tear at our hearts and cause us consciously or unconsciously to doubt the very God we serve and proclaim. When pain gets personal it can get very personal. And because we are ministry leaders we often have more than our fair share of those personal issues.

We are unlikely to come out and say it. We may not even admit the truth to ourselves but disillusionment with God is not uncommon among ministry leaders. And when it happens, it often has an underlying anger that spills over in unexpected ways and to unexpected people. Our own issues with God become toxic as we struggle with the disconnect between our theology and teaching and personal experience and pain. Anger is the toxic mixture created by that dissonance. After all, there is no anger more personal than anger at God created by our disillusionment in His allowing circumstances that we believe He should not allow.

This is a dangerous moment for leaders because the underlying anger hurts those they lead and those they lead end up walking literally on eggshells.

Where do we go in those situations? We go back to some basic truths and principles that must drive our spiritual leadership and must be the presuppositions from which we think, live and minister.

1. God is good all the time even though we live in a fallen world. His goodness can always be counted on and must be trusted in for if He is not good the very character of God proclaimed in Scripture cannot be trusted.

2. God's goodness does not preclude all of us from suffering. Indeed, we share in the fellowship of His sufferings and our scars become divine scars if we trust Him in the midst of our pain.

3. God's ways are indeed inscrutable to human eyes: majestic, eternal, sovereign and divinely good in ways that we cannot understand this side of eternity. We exist as part of a divine drama on a stage so large and complex that we often can only comprehend a small portion of the story unfolding.

4. There is an eternal purpose in all things that transcends our limited understanding. But that purpose is good and will be fulfilled in the glory of God being known across our globe. Often, failure and pain are the antecedents to amazing glory and eternal success.

5. We play a humble part in God's eternal purposes and cannot personalize His ways as our responsibility. We live with the joy and pain and difficulties of this life. When we carry burdens He was meant to carry rather than us we become weary disillusioned and often angry. They are His purposes, His burdens, and a part of His inscrutable plan. We must leave them with Him.

When we become disillusioned it is usually because we have taken on responsibility we should not take on. And, have usually lost our perspective on the part God plays and the part we play in His purposes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A leadership perspective of growth

Quality and depth of leadership takes time. Many leaders mistake short term successes for long term effectiveness. They are so concerned about their success in the moment and in proving their leadership ability that they don’t think long term toward becoming a leader of deep influence.

This is a principle young leaders need to understand: God wants to bless your leadership. But He wants you to press into Him and into those practices that will make your leadership successful and deep over the long run. The most important thing young leaders can do is to pursue the heart connection with God, building into their lives the reservoir of faith, health, grace, and skill that will carry them for the long term.

Where did the depth of Moses leadership come from? As a young leader he was impetuous and careless and ended up having to flee Egypt even though he had been raised in the royal household. God gave Moses forty years to develop his leadership heart and soul before He drafted him for one on of the decisive moments in Israelite history!

Here is something else to note. Moses looked like a leadership failure early on. Many of us do as well. But not to God. God used that failure to build into Moses a dependence on Him rather than on his own wisdom. It took time but a shallow leader became one of the greatest, deepest, wisest leaders in the history of God’s people.

Where did David’s depth come from? It came from the time he had as a shepherd as a young boy out with the sheep – where he was developing his relationship with God. Then it came through the pain of being anointed king, serving Saul well but becoming the object of Saul’s wrath, having to live like a pariah, constantly on the run, having to rely on the only help he had – God. David’s depth was forged in pain!

Or consider Joseph who was sold into slavery at about 17 and spent ten years in God’s waiting room (most of it in prison) before he emerged ready for God’s leadership assignment at about age 27. And not because he didn’t love and trust God. In fact, it was his followership of God that gave him a position of huge responsibility in Potiphar’s household, and then in the prison where he found himself after being framed. Clearly, however, God was using the prison years to build into Joseph’s leadership exactly what would be needed for his real assignment – a depth that could not be forged in any other way than through hard times.

God is more concerned about the depth of our heart and resulting leadership than the outward success of our leadership and depth takes time. Early in my leadership career I faced what I considered a great failure. God did not! He used that episode to humble me, teach me reliance on Him, press into his grace and that “failure” has informed the last twenty five years of my leadership. Depth does not usually come from success but from failure and pain! It is in the tough times that we are forced, like Moses and David to go deep with God. What looks like failure to us is often just part of God’s plan to develop us as leaders.

My own conviction is that when we neglect building depth into our lives in an intentional way, God will provide us with the opportunity by giving us Moses or Joseph wilderness experiences to encourage us to force into Him. He knows that our long term ministry effectiveness is dependent on it so it is one of his strategies for our leadership development.

As I reflect on my leadership career I can attest that the greatest lessons and growth have come from periods of the greatest pain. I believe there is no other way to develop a leadership of deep influence. That quality of leadership does not come from easy success but hard success along with plenty of tough failure. And remember, early failure does not mean long term failure. Often it is the early failures that actually make it possible for us to be successful in the long run – if we use that failure to develop depth.

Take a moment and reflect on the times in your leadership where you have faced the most difficult moments and how God used those moments to make you a better, deeper leader.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Emotional Intelligence of churches and ministries

Here is an interesting question. We talk much about EQ (Emotional Intelligence) as it relates to individuals but do ministries also have a corporate EQ? I believe that they do: It is the combined EQ level of its leadership and staff and it has profound implications for the overall effectiveness of the ministry. My observations come out of two decades plus of working with ministry organizations.

Here are some of the markers of good and poor organizational or ministry EQ.

How we handle conflict
This is a biggie! I once worked with a troubled church where any disagreement with the senior leader was seen as a lack of loyalty and works like "submission" and "obedience" along with ubiquitous scripture references were bandied around frequently. Then there were "charges" against those whose behavior was seen as "sinful" and "admonitions" to those who had crossed some line.

While this may seem extreme - and it is more common than it should be - there are many ministries that don't know how to deal with conflict, differences, or simply resolve differences quickly and without major drama. The upshot is not only relationships that do not get healed but often conflict escalates rather than de-escalates, becomes a matter of obedience or submission (so now we are in the realm of sin and righteousness) but it steals amazing amounts of time from what could be productively spent elsewhere. 

I am always way when Scripture plays a big part in ministry conflict - used as a defense or hammer. What it often reveals is the defensiveness of the one using it and the spiritualization of what is often just a difference of opinion.

How we handle candid dialogue
This is the corollary. There are organizations that reflecting their leadership are "defensive" organizations, unable to tolerate, invite, listen to and value differences of opinion. Healthy organizations allow the free flow of opinions, ideas, viewpoints and convictions rather than stifle them.

When healthy EQ is present, these organizations actually realize far greater innovation and effectiveness and there is a spirit of freedom. When unhealthy EQ is present there is often fear in expressing one's opinions because it leads to conflict (above) and the inability of the organization to deal with that conflict.

How we treat people
In healthy organizational EQ, staff are valuable individuals who do ministry with - not for - their leaders. There is an egalitarian ethos where all are treated with dignity and their opinions valued no matter where they fall on the organizational chart. Whenever staff feel that they are used for the benefit of leadership or the mission there are EQ issues that are being played out.

A good test in any organization on this score is how we treat people who are at our level or below (organizationally). If there is the same honor and value placed on those who fall below us on the org chart ans there is on those above us it is a sign of good EQ.

How we deal with criticism
This goes to the issue of candid dialogue but to a different level. The ability of people to speak to dysfunction or push back in a healthy manner on one another is a critical EQ issue, especially for leaders who are most often impacted. Healthy organizations have a "nothing to to prove, nothing to lose" attitude that responds to critique non-defensively rather than with defensiveness. When that stance is taken, there are no issues because there is no defensiveness.

When leaders respond defensively there is usually a built in probability of conflict where there did not need to be. Church leaders often get themselves into trouble here by taking critique personally and circling the wagons to defend themselves. Why is that necessary and why should those who attend the church not have the ability to speak into issues that concern them? How leaders respond to critique is a sign of the EQ of the organization as a whole.

Organizational pride or humility
Ministries can be prideful or humble. The truth is that pride is always a sign of low EQ and it negatively impacts the organization because it is not able to see itself objectively. I have worked with churches, for instance, who went through an era where they were a "big deal" in their community. Decades later, even when facing decline of significant issues of health their perception of themselves is that they are still that "big deal." Unfortunately it keeps them from seeing themselves as they truly are and being willing to take a good look in the mirror.

Proud ministries don't partner well with others (they have an attitude that they can always do it better), resist any good ideas that are not their's (thus if they didn't produce it - it is not worthy), talk among themselves about how special they are and how pedestrian other ministries are and have an elevated view of themselves. Humble ministries partner well, are always looking to learn from others, understand the small place they play in the grand scheme of God and rather than lifting themselves up simply seek to do the best they can and encourage other ministries along the way.

It is worth some thinking and dialogue within your ministry as to what the EQ of your ministry is. Of course it takes humility to be willing to do that just as it does for us personally.

Is my leadership about me or about Him?

One of the fundamental differences between Saul’s leadership and David’s leadership in the Old Testament was its focus. For Saul, it was about him. He was king, he had the power and he believed that he could make the critical calls without heeding Godly advice or even God’s advice. Essentially leadership was about him. It was a self centered leadership and a selfish leadership.

Leaders who believe that it is about them become arrogant leaders who believe their own press and believe that since they got into the position it must mean that they are pretty good and have the wisdom to make the calls. One sees this in political leaders on a regular basis – and among many business leaders.

leaders in the God’s arena, however, know that we play by a different set of rules. For us, leadership is a trust. Peter makes this clear when he says to elders of the church, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

What is intriguing in this passage is that Paul eliminates the motives for leadership that drive leaders – money, power and personal agendas. In fact, he makes it clear that our leadership is simply a “trust” given to us by the true leader of the church – Christ. And, he says that the core of our leadership comes from who we are and the depth that has been developed within us when he tells us to lead by being examples to the flock. He is saying that the most powerful influence, the deepest influence that we will have as leaders comes from our lives, and our lives are simply the outward expression of our inner core.

This frankly is the missing element in many who give leadership to the church. They may be good leaders but their lives do not reflect a deep inner core of spiritual maturity, wisdom, understanding and attitudes that come from a deep place within themselves. Often it is not a leadership of deep influence but rather a shallow leadership that is more about their agenda for the congregation than God’s agenda. Not necessarily out of lack of desire to serve well but because the spiritual depth has not been developed that naturally spills out in their thinking, actions and attitudes. It is a leadership that has not been marinated in the things of God.

The reason the distinction between leadership about me or Him is so central to our leadership role is that as leaders of ministries, God has an agenda for how our church or organization can specifically contribute to His work in this world. Understanding that agenda and how we can serve His plan can only come out of relationship, dependence and an understanding of what God wants to do in our world. It is not primarily about our wisdom but about His presence and our understanding of Him informing all that we do as leaders under his Lordship.

Deep influence is about influence that has been deeply informed by our relationship with God, our understanding of his character through scripture, the wisdom that comes from above rather than simply from ourselves, and the personal character, wisdom, and dependence that spills out of our lives because of the deep waters within. The deeper our leadership is informed by God and His agenda and His character within us, the deeper our influence. Our influence is actually His influence lived through us!

This last truth is the greatest reason that we ought to do all we can to go deep with God. Our influence is connected to His influence. We become His agents of influence when our lives are deeply connected and informed by Him. Our leadership is an extension of His leadership which is precisely why Peter calls elders in the church shepherds who work for the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Our leadership is an extension of His leadership. Any eternal influence we have is an extension of His influence. Our effectiveness as leaders is directly connected to the depth of our connection and relationship with Him. Clearly, our leadership is therefore about Him and not about us. The question is whether our leadership reflects that truth.

The rear view mirror

Some things belong in our rear view mirror rather than our worrying, feeling guilty or obsessing about them. Here is a truth that many of us find hard to accept: Some situations we cannot fix, some people we cannot change and some problems we cannot solve. Often when we run up against such walls we feel guilty that we could not make it right, we wonder how we get through to people who don't want to hear and we feel anxious that we didn't do all that we could.

How many supervisors have agonized before, during and after letting someone go who needed to go! As a consultant I have encountered clients that I could not much help and watched good ministries settle for what is rather than what could be. Or, that relative who we want to help but isn't open to input. These situations can be anxiety and guilt producing and we constantly re-saw the sawdust in our mind. Or, we have finally got rid of that highly dysfunctional leader who made our life miserable but we keep dwelling on the pain.

Here is a second truth: God does not expect us to solve all the dilemmas we encounter. People make choices, organizations make choices, and some folks are not interested in hearing or changing. That is not our issue so why do we obsess about issues we cannot change?

There are some phrases that apply here: "It is done, put it behind us," "get over it," "put it in the rear-view mirror and move on." "It is not our responsibility." "We cannot solve someone's problem who does not want to hear." "Some people like their dysfunction and drama." "Let it go."

When we hang on to stuff we cannot solve we take responsibility for things that are not ours. It is wasted energy to be sure and highly unproductive to say nothing of stress producing. Let it go and put it in the rear view mirror where it belongs.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Opaque boards: When boards do their work in private rather than in the board room

There are boards that are transparent and there are boards that are opaque. Transparent boards are those where the key conversations between board members take place in the board room so that everyone is party to the conversation. This is how boards are designed to operate. 

Board members must make decisions and in order to make good decisions they need to have all the relevant information. In addition it is in the give and take of dialogue among good board members that the best decisions are made. It is a commitment to a corporate decision making model.

Unfortunately this is often not how boards operate. In many cases, leaders or powerbrokers on boards use a divide and conquer strategy. Rather than having the key conversations in the board room for all to hear they have private conversations behind the scenes with different board members which in turn influences the outcome of decisions at the board level.

Some would say this is smart politics and it is surely politics. But consider this: the practice destroys the concept of corporate decision making. This is a manipulative strategy designed to get one's desired outcome but not through group means. Not only that but it robs other board members of the information they should have. They don't know of the private conversations that have taken place and therefore are not privy to why people take the positions they take. In this scenario, the only individual who knows everything is the one who has been having the behind the scenes conversations. 

I have consulted with churches and organizations where this practice took place on a regular basis. I call it an opaque process because it is not in the open and it is not transparent. Decisions get made but not in the open - they are made behind the scenes. It is a practice designed to get one's way but not designed to reflect good governance. It disempowers those not in the know and creates triangulated relationships rather than open, honest relationships.

Opaque boards and decision making is never healthy. Avoid it at all costs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Does your staff work for you or with you?

There is a big distinction between having staff who work for you  and staff who work with you. And it is all in the attitude of the supervisor and how they see the staff of the organization.

I meet far too many leaders who think that staff works for them. They can be demanding that staff respond to their needs when they require it - even late night phone calls to solve some travel problem. If they become irritated with staff it is easy to marginalize them, after all they have failed the leader. If they disagree with the leader they may be seen as no longer loyal. As long as staff jump to their requests and give the honor they believe due to them all is well. When that does not happen, they are easily shuttled aside. 

This is not a surprise if a leader thinks that staff are there to serve them. In fact, it is to be expected.

There are healthier leaders who see staff as those who work with them - toward a common goal. While there are levels of leadership, these leaders develop a collegial, open, candid and friendly atmosphere where everyone's work and opinion is valued and appreciated. They understand that they as leaders serve those who work for them. It is a two way street of staff serving one another in order to accomplish something important. It is with not for. 

These are the cultures where staff feel appreciated and a vital part of the enterprise or ministry. And this is where you find healthy leaders whose ego needs do not need to be met by people jumping at their request. In fact, these leaders are deeply sensitive to the implications of their requests and ensure that they do not cause undue difficulty for staff.

In your organization if you lead. Do staff work for you or with you?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Secure and insecure leaders

One of the key indicators of success or failure in ministry is the measure of personal security one has. The higher the level of security, the more likely there will be long term ministry success. The higher the level of insecurity, the more likely there will be a train wreck along the way - or a lot of pain.

The reason for this is that insecurity brings with it behaviors which hurt and compromise relationships while security brings behaviors that build long term healthy relationships. Because ministry is all about relationships insecure individuals end up sabotaging the very relationships that give them leadership capital. Secure individuals are able to build long term healthy relationships.

For example, insecure individuals do not know how to deal with those who disagree with them. They often become defensive when they perceive that others either disagree or are pressing for a different direction. That defensiveness says, "I don't want to hear what you have to say!" Which, of course shuts down constructive dialogue. A secure individual is non defensive in the face of alternate options and communicates "I have an open mind, lets talk."

That goes to the issue of dialogue. Have you ever had to negotiate an issue with an insecure individual? It can be like trying to talk to a wall. It is a one way conversation. There is no sense that the other party is open to what one is tying to communicate. This of course kills relationship. The opposite is true with secure individuals who invite dialogue, there is back and forth, questions are asked and answered and often there is movement on both sides to move toward a common view.

Secure individuals understand that compromise is not a bad thing, in fact, getting to a consensus is a healthy place to be. Insecure individuals frankly don't know how to compromise because they have a set view of what should be and anything that does not fit that view is a threat to their personal well being. Thus insecure people polarize others: they either see them on their side or against them. Even good people who disagree with them find themselves on the out list and again relationship is lost.

Because insecure individuals polarize, they are unable to seek and receive counsel from a variety of people who could speak into their lives or situations. Rather they listen to those who agree with them and therefore contribute to their sense of being right. This automatically disempowers anyone who might take an alternate view - and it is one of the reasons that boards become divided when insecure pastors start to only listen to those who agree with them. Those who don't happen to agree are simply marginalized.

Over time when this happens, those who are marginalized simply leave leadership and often the church. They no longer have a voice and don't feel valued.

The personal security or insecurity of senior leaders has huge ramifications for a ministry as a whole. Insecure leaders end up destroying relationships. Secure leaders build relationships. The first will also hurt the ministry. The second will build a ministry. It is a serious issue.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has a huge impact on our leadership, relationships and influence. Poor EQ causes us to lose coinage with others while good EQ does just the opposite. Think through the following indicators of good EQ and evaluate how well you are doing in these crucial areas.

I am approachable and have a nothing to prove, nothing to lose attitude
I seek to resolve conflict quickly and well
I am self defined but always leave the door open for dialogue with those who disagree and work to keep the relationship
I live with self confidence but not hubris
I am highly flexible
I seek to understand myself well including, weaknesses and strengths and the shadow side
I ask others for feedback on my behaviors
I am a team player and value “us” more than “me”
I work very hard to understand others and put myself in their place
I don’t hold grudges and extend forgiveness easily
I don’t need to be popular but I do desire to be respected
When conflict occurs I take responsibility for my part
There are no issues that are off limits for my team to discuss
I am patient with people and always give them the benefit of the doubt
I have a sense of humor about myself and don’t take myself too seriously

Right people, right seat: often the most important issue

It was a conversation between myself and an executive pastor over a number of issues he faces in his large church. As we discussed these challenges, almost every one of them came down to a singe issue: having the right staff in the right seat on the bus.

We pay far too little attention to the issue of "right staff, right seat." Wrong staff - those who are not suited for what they do, or are placed in a place where they cannot play to their strengths cause huge frustrations for supervisors and the rest of the team. This executive pastor was focusing on the issues he faced but not on the source of the issues which were in almost each case staff issues.

It is amazing how many issues are solved when there is a great fit between a needed role and a staff member who fits that role. No longer is there a need to closely supervise the staff member and there is not the frustration of lack of alignment or sub standard work. When the fit is right there is synergy and effectiveness. When it is wrong, there is frustration and ineffectiveness.

Often when talking to leaders about staff issues they recount their frustrations with a specific staff member and a history of ineffectiveness. When I suggest that the best predictor of future performance is past performance they agree but keep hoping that the situation will change. Usually it will not - unless you can find another role where the staff member can better play to their strengths.

The more supervision that is required, the less likely it is that the staff member in question is in the right spot. Rather than upping the supervision it is probably time to look closely at the job fit. And to realize that trying to make the fit work probably will not work. If the strengths and capacity do not match, nothing you do will make it match.

Remember too that the frustration of the supervisor is often matched by frustration by the staff member. Keeping the staff member in a spot that does not play to their strengths and allow them to be effective, is not in the best interests of the staff member. In other words, making a change solves problems all around but it takes the courage to do so.

The issue is rarely about the character of the staff member. More likely it is about their wiring, strengths and capacity. Entering into a dialogue with them on where they can be best utilized based on these factors, while sometimes difficult, honors them by focusing on where they will be most successful - and ultimately fulfilled.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Four characteristics of dysfunctional leaders who create chaos in their organizations

Ministry leaders often bring significant chaos to an organization when their own EQ (Emotional Intelligence) becomes a barrier to their leadership. It may not manifest itself in the beginning but over time these dysfunctions become issues for their staff, the direction of the organization and the ability of the organization to move to a new level

Defensive leaders face a dilemma. It is not easy for their staff to address issues that need to be addressed, especially if the leader feels that it involves him/her. That inability often creates crisis situations where things finally blow up and then need to be massaged because the feelings of the leader have been hurt. 

The upshot is that issues are never really resolved but often move in a cycle of a blow up, some sort of peacemaking and then another blow up and the cycle goes on. Eventually good people get tired of the drama and choose to move on.

Ego needs
Leaders who confuse their identity with their ministry are usually unable to let go, empower others and allow other voices to speak into situations. Their need for approval, for being at the center of the ministry and a need to control coupled with defensiveness puts staff in a difficult situation. Everything ultimately revolves around the leader and their needs. Ego also needs make it hard for such leaders to see issues in an objective manner because criticism even when constructive is seen as a threat. 

Because of their defensiveness, staff members may regularly play to the ego of their leader in order to get things done which feeds an unhealthy addiction all the while preventing candid, honest dialogue around real organizational issues. The result is a significant amount of drama around the leader and their relationships along with an inability of staff to make independent decisions.

Lack of self definition
The first two dysfunctions feed a third which is the inability of leaders to stake a position that is consistent. Because defensiveness prevents true dialogue and because ego needs drive their leadership, these leaders often move from one position to another - often in the direction of the last individual who stroked their ego. It is why such leaders change their minds often which causes all kinds of issues for staff or volunteers.

Leaders who suffer from these dysfunctions often prefer private conversations with staff or board members rather than laying all the cards on the table in a group setting where they cannot control the outcome as easily. It is a divide and conquer strategy which allows the leader to bond with another individual on issues but not allow the give and take of opinions and options that takes place in a group setting. It comes out of their need to control rather than to allow robust dialogue.

These dysfunctions create a fair amount of chaos, relational issues and drama. Whenever those characteristics are present it pays to look more closely at the EQ of the leader. They set the stage for either a healthy or dysfunctional organization. More importantly these dysfunctions keep the organization from becoming all that it can be. It is literally held hostage by the EQ issues of the leader.

If you are fifty plus this question is for you

Questions are amazingly powerful tools to challenge our thinking and to rock our paradigms. Just one question, if the Holy Spirit has been working in someones heart can crystallize an idea, a dream or awaken a passion that has been dormant. Questions are powerful which is why I love to ask them and see what happens.

Here is a question I often ask of people in their forties or early fifties. By then, they have a pretty good understanding of themselves and they have yet unfulfilled dreams - which often lay beneath their own consciousness: "What do you want to accomplish between now and when you retire?"

That question, to a fifty something has meaning because they know that the years ahead of them are dwindling and fewer than the years behind them. For those truly motivated by influence they also want to make those years count in a larger way than the years that have already passed.

Here is why the question is so powerful. Often, the answer that comes is not consistent with the job or ministry that the person currently is in. Which means that the dream they have is not going to be fulfilled where they are - and the question brings to the surface - often over a period of reflection - dreams that God has laid on hearts that to be fulfilled will mean re-evaluating their current job or ministry.

This does not mean that they are in the wrong place now. God uses our now to prepare us for our future. What it does mean is that in order to fulfill the dream or passion God has laid on their heart that they may need to move to a different ministry platform.

Several years ago a pastor in his fifties came to my office to talk. He had a great church and a productive ministry. But as he looked at his last run his heart desire was to influence, mentor and equip many church leaders. This led him eventually to join ReachGlobal in the capacity of a global equipper of church leaders. His prior ministry was great. His new ministry answered the passion in his heart to equip multiple leaders and expand his legacy.

If you have not asked that question yourself, I challenge you to do so. If you have the opportunity to ask others, try it. Questions are powerful. This one is both powerful and enlightening.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Six areas that every leader needs to have clarity on

A critical factor in leadership development is that of coming to maximum clarity in a number of areas. This clarity frees us from the expectations of others and allows us to lead from a reliable internal compass. Unpredictable leaders or those who change direction often or who are hard to predict lack such internal clarity. As a result they create confusion for those around them as they struggle with their own issues.

Think about these areas of clarity:

One: Clarity around who God created us to be. God gave me a few specific gifts, the same with you. Being clear on how God gifted us allows us to focus in on what we are good at and find ways to say no to those things we are not good at. God designed us the way He did for a specific purpose!

Two: Clarity around how we lead. I cannot lead like you and you cannot lead like me. We can all learn from one another but ultimately we must lead out of who God made us to be. Leadership styles vary and they reflect our wiring and gifting.

Three: Clarity around who we need on our team. Because our skill set is limited we need others with requisite skills to work with us in the accomplishment of our mission. Being clear on what we bring to the table and what we need others to bring to the table is an important skill to develop. 

Four: Clarity about what drives us. For those of us in Christian ministry this is especially important. What motivates me and drives me? Is it more about me or more about God? It is easy to confuse the two and when it is about us we will often use people for our purposes rather than steward them for God's purposes. Understanding our hearts is critical for healthy leaders.

Five: Clarity over a cause worth giving our lives to. Some settle for a job while others pursue a calling. It is easy to settle into mid life with a job and rather than a calling. The best leaders always pursue a calling and never settle for a job.

Six: Clarity of being able to say no and feel good about it. This only comes when we have clarity on our calling, our gifting, our wiring and what it is that God has called us to do at this point in our lives. Until we can say no to those things we are not called to do so that we can say yes to those things we are called to do and feel good about it we don't live with adequate clarity.

Increasing our level of clarity allows us to lead with greater focus and a strong compass. 

Managing the anxiety trap

How we deal with those situations that make us anxious is both a sign of our EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and our faith in a sovereign God. 

Here is how Wikipedia defines anxiety: "Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by restlessness, fatigue, problems in concentration and muscular tension. Anxiety is not considered to be a normal reaction to a perceived stressor although many feel it occasionally."

What makes anxiety interesting is that it is an emotion caused by a perceived threat or issue, not one that has actually emerged. In other words it is stress caused by what might happen, not what is happening. What it can do is trigger words, actions, decisions and responses that get us in trouble - all because of what might happen.

Anxiety robs of time, energy, focus and joy. But like any emotion it can be managed and if one is in leadership must be managed since our anxiety spills over to those who are around us. From a practical standpoint anxiety is wasted energy because perceived threats are not real threats. Yes they might become real and at that time one needs to deal with them but until they do it is a waste of time to worry about them. There are innumerable bad things that can happen but they rarely do.

Anxiety is also a test of our trust in a sovereign God. If He is in control of our lives we should not focus on what might happen but on a good and loving and sovereign Father. We ought to take the advice of God through Isaiah more often: Be still and know that I am God." Only He knows if our perceived threats are real threats and we can leave any of them with Him. They are not threats to Him.

Finally anxiety is a matter of our EQ. Healthy individuals manage their emotions and this includes anxiety. They choose not to focus on what might happen but on what does happen and even then seek to control and manage their emotions so that they don't respond impulsively.

Anxiety is a trap. Don't allow yourself to get caught in it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Looking away from the lamppost

"If you want to understand why some companies lack innovative ideas, think about the man who can't find his car keys. His friend asks him why he's looking for the keys under the lamppost when he dropped them over on the lawn. 'Because there's more light over here,' the man explains.

"For too many companies, that describes their search for new ideas, and it pretty much guarantees they won't go anywhere fast. While a company can marginally improve what it's already good at, it misses out on the breakthroughs - those eureka moments when a new concept pops up, as if from nowhere, and changes a company's fortunes forever.

"Those ideas, however, don't really come from nowhere. Instead they are typically at the edge of a company's radar screen, and sometimes a bit beyond.....In other words, they have to look away from the lamppost." (In Search of Innovation, John Bessant, Katherin Moslein,and Bettina von Stamm, The Wall Street Journal, Monday, June 22, 2009, R4.

I could not agree more with this observation. I find that ministry organizations want to improve - but they are in large part so cautious of change or major new ideas that they tweak endlessly and see very little change in outcomes. Those that look away from the lamppost and are willing to take major risks in a new way of thinking, are the ones that see the major rewards.

The organization I lead, ReachGlobal - the international mission of the EFCA has been seeking to look away from the lamppost in order to seek quantum leaps in our effectiveness. It has been a stretch for some but it is paying off. Some examples....

Instead of focusing our efforts on only partnering with other Free Church movements globally (the old way) or planting new Free church movements (the old way) we now will partner with anyone who has the same theology, ethos and missional goals regardless of the denominational name over the door (the new way). That is a big shift and it has opened up numerous partnerships for us with groups that are healthy, indigenous, self supporting, interdependent and reproducing (the new goal).

We are no longer focused on what we can do by ourselves as missionaries (the old way) but rather on how we can come alongside other healthy movements and leaders, find out what their needs are and serve their needs in order for them to be as effective as possible in the planting of healthy churches (the new way). We are no longer in the drivers seat in many ways (the old way) but are now the servants of those we serve (the new way).

All of that creates another seismic shift. Because we are serving others, we do not control anything, own anything or count anything as "ours." That was the old way. The new way is giving ministry away freely, developing, empowering and releasing others in meaningful, missional ministry without needing to control, to count or own. Interestingly enough, because we are no longer perceived to be about control, ownership or counting as ours, indigenous partners are knocking on our door asking if we can work with them. They know that we will serve them but not control them.

Rather than relying on our expertise as American missionaries (the old way), we are actively inviting into our leadership ranks nationals from other cultures and nations (the new way) who bring with them expertise, knowledge, ideas and insights we could never have imagined. Sure, it rocks the boat and causes waves at times but we are far better off for taking the risk and allowing them to take us out of our comfort zone.

The point is that tweaking our ministries by looking under the lamppost will not give us the innovative ideas and leverage points that are possible if we will take larger risks for greater rewards. But to do that you have to be looking away from the lamppost not under it. Where are you looking?

Helping individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. TJ Addington can be reached at

Monday, January 6, 2014

Architects, contractors and builders

Are you an architect, contractor or builder? Understanding which role you play and then ensuring that you primarily stay in that role can make all the difference in your success.

Architects are those who design ministry philosophy, structures and who connect the dots on mission, vision, guiding principles and end results. Like architects of building projects they do a lot of thinking, dreaming of what can be and look for design options that will best leverage their ministry. Generally there is one key architect in an organization - the senior leader of the organization or of a division.

Architects then find contractors who can ensure that the vision is carried out. Contractors are team leaders who can oversee the building out of major ministry areas. They spend enough time with the architect to ensure that they understand the plan and the blueprint as their part of the building must be in sync with the plans and work of the other contractor teams. No team is independent of the other or the structure is unsound. The larger the ministry the more critical it is that team leaders spend with one another and the architect to ensure alignment and a solid ministry structure. It takes a specific skill for contractors to build great teams of builders, to stay in alignment with other contractors and to always be building in sync with the blueprint.

The vast majority of us are of course builders, working for a specific contractor (team leader) with the skill needed to build out our part of the ministry. Builders must be team players because they work with a team of specialists to accomplish a specific task. They more they understand the whole, however, the greater their ability to ensure that their part fits the whole and to make building (ministry) decisions that fit the overall blueprint.

Architects (senior leaders) get themselves into trouble when they do not design clear and coherent blueprints for the organization and work closely with their contractors (team leaders) to ensure that the plan they have is strong, aligned, feasible and can product the desired result. They also get into trouble when they move out of their architectural role to try to tell the contractors what to do or how to do their work. If you are the senior leader of an organization or division how are you doing on the architectural piece?

Contractors get into trouble when they don't understand or buy into the blueprints of the ministry. Or when they try to build their piece of the building (ministry) without regard to the other contractors and their teams. Contractors play three roles. They ensure that their ministry is in sync with the overall vision and commitments of the organization. They ensure that what they do is in sync with other ministry leaders in the organization. And they ensure that they have a quality results oriented team. If you are a contractor, how are you doing in your role?

Builders get into trouble when they don't work with other members of their team to ensure the best work possible done in the most efficient way possible. Team means everything to a builder who must work on a project in sync with others. Non team players on ministry teams hurt the whole team. They also get into trouble when they don't understand how their piece of the ministry pie fits with the other pieces so that there is a coherent whole. If you are a builder, how are you doing in your building role?

In too many ministries there is not clear architecture, there is not alignment and cooperation between ministries and playing on a unified team is not a reality. This hurts everyone. How is your team, leadership community or senior leader doing?

Oh: unless there is a whole lot of communication, cooperation and goodwill between architects builders and contractors...the process does not work. Architects, builders and contractors who don't talk to one another or listen to one another...get what they built and it is often not pretty!