Sunday, November 30, 2014

I unapologetically believe in miracles

Today I prayed for a friend that has a stage four brain tumor and unapologetically prayed that God would fully heal him. Yes it is a foolish prayer - unless one believes that God does and can heal even the most difficult disease. He may or may not choose to heal my friend this side of glory but that is not going to stop me from asking God to heal him here and now - for the sake of His glory. And to pray with boldness and faith.

I know that the world view in the west makes us hesitant to believe that God can do miracles today. OK, we believe they happen in India and other places but not here. And the more dire the situation the harder it is to believe that He can heal, which is ironic since He is God and Lord of Lord's and the almighty who has everything under His Lordship. His miracles are all over the gospels and they spill over into the early church and James, His brother writes to us, "Is any one of your sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up (James 5:14-15)."  Nor does James distinguish between a fever and a brain tumor.

I have some credibility in this department which I suppose helps make me bold. When I was hovering between life and death seven years ago this December, God healed a broken mitral valve in my heart that was torn and leaking torrentially. To do surgery was certain death at the time and to do nothing was certain death but my family put out a blog appealing for prayer and fasting and over the next two weeks God healed and it is whole to this day. Every time I go to the cardiologist they ask, "when did you have surgery?" My answer is never. God healed me and they give me a doubtful look until they read my records and agree it was a miraculous intervention. The fact that I am alive today is miraculous and a sure sign of God's mercy and undeserved grace. 

Erik Metaxas recently wrote a book entitled 

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life. In his interviews and presentations he has been laughed at, had things thrown at him and basically treated with contempt for his belief that God can and does reach down into our world today and does the impossible, that which we call miracles. I suspect many evangelicals are equally skeptical but I am not. In fact, I expect God to do the unexpected and the miraculous as he has in many situations in my life. Let me be clear, He is sovereign and He chooses when He is going to intervene miraculously but that He does I have no question. Without it I would not be writing this blog.

Which leads me to where I started. I am not afraid to pray boldly for God to do what no one else can do. That is His specialty. I have seen it, I read it in His word, I have been the recipient and I choose to take Scripture at its face value. So Phil - this is what I pray for you as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Our hope is in God and in God alone. And we can trust God to be good and to be faithful, no matter what the outcome. 

What do we think Paul meant when he wrote these powerful words: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever (Ephesians 4:20-21)." Read those words carefully several times and then ask yourself, "What is God capable of doing in our lives and in our day?"

If you want to join me in praying for Phil (boldly) you may access their blog, Good Things From the Hand of God.

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How we react to crises says much about our theology and maturity

This is true for all of us but it is especially true for leaders. Our reaction to crises - which are inevitable - says a great deal first about our theology and then about our maturity. 

Bad things happen. It is never a question of if but only of when. And when they do, our reaction to them say a great deal about us. Why suggest that it says much about our theology? Because if God is sovereign over all things and if our trust is to be in Him it changes how we view those "bad things" that come our way. As the verses I memorized as a child put it, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

There was a time when leadership crises could fill me with anxiety. Today not nearly as much. I have learned that God can be trusted in them and that I don't need to "lean on my own understanding." This is theology put into practice as I have experienced His intervention over the years. Anxiety in the face of crises indicates that I have taken on His responsibility while calm indicates that I am trusting Him.

This goes to our own personal maturity as well and the ability to control our emotions as leaders (Emotional Intelligence). Stress, anxiety or the need to act impulsively in the face of crises generally hurts our ability to deal with it well and it certainly raises the level of anxiety and stress in those we lead. Would you rather have a leader who is calm and rational when bad things happen than one who is stressed and filled with fear? Remaining calm is both a personal discipline and an application of our theology. We choose a path of calmness so that we can think well and respond properly. We can do that because we trust in a sovereign God who always has things under control. 

There was a day when I feared the bad things that could happen. Today I expect them to happen from time to time and I respond with much less inner anxiety than I once did. That is growth in both theology and practice.

 All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

God is never surprised by our surprises

Perhaps the hardest moments of our lives come when we are surprised by events that rock our world: A medical diagnosis, the betrayal of a friend; losing our job or a loved one - whatever the cause the surprises are surprises of pain, uncertainty and often deep shock. It is in those moments that we need to remind ourselves that God is never surprised by our surprises, in fact He knew about them long before they become known to us. He is never taken by surprise and He also knows how He is going to redeem our situation for His eternal purposes.

Bad news that comes as a surprise is hard to cope with precisely because we have not had the time to come to terms with it - to process the news and its implications. It is precisely at those moments that we need to remember that God has had all of eternity past to know, understand and anticipate the moment when we face our greatest uncertainty. The certainty of His knowledge and goodness is a game changer in our uncertainty. 

His certainty is expressed well in Psalm 139:6 where the psalmist writes "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Our surprises are never His surprises. In fact, if the events of our lives were written in his book before one of them came to be, the implication is that God's eternal purposes in our situations are sure and that what appears to be random events of fate to us is never so to God. For if He knew the events that would overwhelm us He also knew beforehand how He would show His goodness and His sovereignty in the midst of them. There is much we cannot be certain of in our lives but we can be certain of Him.

As I reflect back on the surprises I have encountered in my 58 years, I can see in retrospect much of how God used them to guide the journey I am on. Some of them were not pleasant and some not fair but what surprised me did not surprise Him and He redeemed those events for His purposes in my life in amazing ways. It is that fact that gives me perspective when the surprises come. 

Leaders need to understand this principle in their leadership role. Our lives are filled with surprises that we did not anticipate. Yet the confidence that God is not surprised ought to give us a settled heart as we deal with those surprises. God is not panicked and neither should we be.

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving as a lifestyle

Scripture is replete with admonitions to remember God's goodness to us and to live with hearts of thanksgiving. One of the most well known admonitions is found in Psalm 100:4 'Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." 

Even when we are living with uncertainty and anxiety we are admonished to live with an attitude of thanksgiving: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6). Our Lord wants us to choose thanksgiving as a lifestyle, not an occasional event.

Thanksgiving as a lifestyle allows us to:

-Live with optimism as we remember always the faithfulness of God and His amazing goodness to us

-Push back fear and anxiety as we are reminded of who God is and of His power to deal with our situation

-Live with joy every day as we are constantly reminded of all He has done and the promises He has given

-Be people of hope who infect others with hope 

-Live with extraordinary faith as we reflect on His work in our lives in the past 

A lifestyle of thanksgiving starts with a choice to continually and daily thank God for all He has done. That choice soon becomes a habit and that habit has a profound impact on our emotions, our joy, our outlook on life and how we view even the most difficult circumstances. And, it is infectious to those around us as we become purveyors of hope and faith. 

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Getting it all on the table

I recently sat through a meeting that was honest, hard, candid and helpful. It was honest and candid in that everyone had a chance to speak into the issues fully. It was hard because there were hard issues put on the table. It was helpful because what was inside and impacting the thinking of people toward one another was said, making it easier to deal with the real issues. 

Because there was goodwill toward one another there were no words spoken in anger but many with conviction. What really mattered was the mission of the organization and that was put at the center of the discussion. Everyone had a chance to speak and they did.

This kind of dialogue happens too seldom. We dance around issues, we pretend all is well and we don't say the truly honest things to one another. It is unfortunate because in the end the organization does not reach its full potential. Truth and honesty bring clarity and understanding while stuffing it causes ambiguity and misunderstanding. But it takes courage to put issues on the table and trust that it will be heard and not used against us. That is the mark of a healthy team. Easy? No! Freeing? Yes!

Life is too short to pretend or hide. And neither move the mission forward. People of goodwill, however can have this kind of candid dialogue because they care for one another and the mission and are willing to have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations to get there relationally and missionally. It may get tense at times but it does get the issues in the open so that they can be discussed and hopefully resolved.

Getting it on the table is not something to be feared but to be embraced. Without this there cannot be resolution. With it there can be.

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Moving from baggage to luggage

Think of baggage as those things that hold us back. It may be that we are running in the wrong lane, personal debt, unresolved issues or anything that unnecessarily weighs us down. It is all those things that create unnecessary dissonance in our lives and weight us down. All of us have baggage that we carry around.

Luggage on the other hand is what we take with us to help us in our travels to make the journey easier and more enjoyable. It is the skills we have, the relationships that fill us and the role we play when it is fruitful and enjoyable.

Here is the question: do you have more baggage in your life or luggage? To be more specific, what are the pieces of baggage that currently hold you back and keep you from being all God made you to be? What can you do to shed the baggage and exchange it for helpful luggage?

We pick up baggage over the course of life and it takes an intentional effort to relive ourselves of the baggage and therefore the burdens that it entails. Make a list of your baggage and then ask yourself what you can do to shed it or resolve it. A journey requires some well chosen luggage but not a lot of baggage. 

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Top blogs on conflict and reconciliation

Incarnation and reconciliation 

Conflict, reconciliation, Jesus, the church and us

Reconciling irreconcilable differences

Lessons I have learned in helping churches resolve conflict

When churches need to reconcile with staff and members who have been treated badly

Unfinished business

Conflict: Walk toward the barking dog

Conflict avoidance creates greater conflict: Four ironies regarding conflict

Five mistakes to avoid in negotiating conflict

Seven things to understand about church conflict

Church conflict: Finding the core issue and the common source

De escalating conflict

Living in peace with one another

Conflict and problem avoidance create sick churches

Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner

Church conflict, christian character and the reputation of Jesus

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Appealing to our vanity

From time to time I receive "notice" that I have been chosen as an outstanding contributor in some field and that upon the acceptance of my application (and significant fee) I may be approved to be included in this exclusive list of names to be listed in a fancy volume so that I can purchase it and put it on my shelf. 

Of course, this is not about my great accomplishments but someone making money but the fact that they publish said volumes year after year is indication that there is no shortage of vanity to take advantage of. My latest accomplishments seem to be in the field of HR which my own HR office would find highly comic, and highly suspect.

Studies show that we consistently overrate our abilities and wisdom and underrate out weaknesses and mistakes. No matter, we know better and often think of ourselves more highly than we should.

Those in Christian service who see success often start to buy the press they (we) receive. It is a dangerous path to walk down. The leaders I admire the most are the most ordinary of people, real people, who have not allowed anyone to place them on a pedestal, who discount the adulation they receive because they both know themselves well and know who gave them any gifts they possess. It is their humility and humanity (and these two go together) that endear them to others. 

Pride is one of the most often named sins in Scripture because God hates the haughty but loves the humble. The humble, after all, reflect the character of Jesus (Philippians 2). The humble reflect the character of God who has no need to be humble in any sense. As the beatitudes say, "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." I have made it an "unseen practice" when people are praising me to inwardly say, "Jesus it is all yours and any praise that comes to me is your deserved praise." I cannot claim credit for gifts that God gave me to steward. He was the source and His is the praise. It is why I am always uncomfortable in that situation.

It is easy to think we are humble. It is a lifelong discipline to stay humble, especially for those who are in the limelight. I will always remember the funeral of my mother in law, one of the most humble people I ever met. The place was packed. Not because she was somebody in circles that "mattered." Rather because from behind the scenes, she lived out her faith in humble acts of kindness that endeared her to all who came to her service. I receive accolades in this life. She may receive more of them in heaven. 

Guarding ourselves against vanity and practicing humility is one of the more important disciplines for those who end up in the lime light. 

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You cannot see the picture if you are inside the frame

How often we are blind to the issues within our own organizations that in retrospect we wish we had seen. It is often a challenge to see what we need to see without a great deal of intentionality because you cannot see the picture if you are inside the frame. All of us live and work within certain frames and it is difficult to see the whole picture from our vantage point. It is the very reason we bring in consultants. They may not be brighter than us but they can see the picture better than we can.

There are ways to mitigate against not being able to see the forest for the trees. One is to intentionally maintain an outside perspective by asking how others would see our organization. Or, what would I say if I were a consultant to my own organization? Another is to routinely question why we do things the way we do, or "if we were building this today how would we design it?" Usually we would design it differently than it is designed today. Should we do something about that? In other words, we intentionally seek to look at our way of doing things from the outside rather than just assuming we do them well.

This is also why the best leaders spend time with other leaders asking them about issues that they wonder about. Many leaders never do this because they simply assume they have it down. None of us have it down perfectly or are exempt from learning from others. Run of the mill leaders are not inquisitive but the best leaders are.

Finally this conundrum of perspective is why it is so critical to create an organizational culture of openness, candid dialogue and the ability to question the status quo. It is the absence of this kind of culture (usually due to the insecurity of a leader) that keeps our own staff from naming issues that need to be seen. Staff will not go where they are not invited or allowed to go so leaders either create this kind of culture or don't depending on their own EQ.

There is one thing I can assure all of us. None of us see perfectly from inside the frame. That fact in itself ought to humble us and give us pause. And cause us to work diligently to see as much of the picture as we can.

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I wish many adults knew and understood

"This is your heart. It goes in your belly so you can hear 


My Grandson Gavrel

I know my church board is healthy when....

There are a number of key indicators of a healthy church board. If you are serving in this capacity, consider these indicators as you consider your own board.

I know my church board is healthy when...

  • There are healthy relationships between all board members - even when there are differences of opinion
  • We are free to put all issues on the table with the exception of hidden agendas and personal attacks
  • A concern for what would please Jesus is front and central all the time
  • There is a healthy balance between business and prayer
  • Meetings are focused and generally stay within the set time constraints
  • I want to go to board meetings!
  • There is clarity about ministry direction and we seek to move in that direction
  • We do governance work and allow staff to do their work without interference
  • We place a high priority on learning and growing
  • There are no elephants in the room
  • Unhealthy behaviors on the board are not tolerated
  • We have a vision that goes beyond us and is Jesus and Kingdom centered not us centered
  • There is a deep concern for the spiritual growth of those in the church as well as for those in our community that do not yet know Jesus
  • We are willing to tackle hard issues but always with the grace of Jesus
  • We know one another well enough to tolerate and appreciate one another's differences
  • We are never satisfied with the status quo but are always looking to the future and where God wants us to go
  • We pray for one another outside of board meetings
  • We have a board covenant that speaks to how we work with one another
  • There are no unresolved conflicts between board members
Simple indicators but indicators of health. It is worth taking a few minutes as a board and asking the questions!

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I am sad this evening

I am no stranger to health issues which is why it saddens me when others are suffering from them. I spent the afternoon at a hospital visiting a friend whose brain function is unknown after a fall. I had the privilege of praying for him and as I did he opened his eyes and tried to focus, it seemed, but I don't know.

A few days ago I received news of a senior team member of ReachGlobal who has an aggressive brain tumor. It has not left my mind since I heard it. I am praying for full healing as I prayed for my friend in the hospital but I am grieving for the uncertainty he faces along with his family. They are expressing their faith in the title of their blog (Good Things from the hand of God). That is the kind of faith we all need to live with. Nevertheless I grieve as I pray in faith.

And then there is a dear friend who informed me that she has been diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. She is my age. I grieve and I pray. And then there is a dear friend of mine from college (it seems like yesterday) who just entered hospice care after fighting ovarian cancer with everything she had for seven years until she knew it was time and she could not fight anymore. 

I am reminded of the number of times in the Scriptures it talks of those who visit the sick, who care for the forgotten and I think of the many who ministered to me and my family during times of life threatening illness. They encouraged, they ministered and they prayed. We can never make enough home or hospital visits to the sick and suffering. We can never extend enough love to those who are physically hurting. We can never pray enough for those who are dependent on our prayers because they don't have the strength to pray themselves. 

We who have health ought to never take it for granted and it will not last forever. Thank God for it. And remember those who do not. Minister to them, pray with them, be bold in your prayers. Love them and their families. It may be the most important and unknown ministry you will ever have. Our family will never forget the friends who stood by us during long hospital stays. I will be forever grateful. Jesus was honored by their faithfulness. It is never a wasted opportunity.

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons I have learned in helping churches resolve conflict

After many years of working with churches that find themselves in conflictual situations, I have come to the conclusion that there are six non-negotiable principles if there is to be a successful outcome.

First, an outside facilitator is usually necessary. The nature of conflict is that people take sides so it becomes very difficult for anyone from within to play the role of a neutral mediator. In fact, the larger the conflict the more critical it is that the individual you bring in is trusted by both sides to have the best interests of the church at heart. The sooner you bring someone in when it is clear that the situation is dangerous the better.

Second, the issues that are fueling the conflict need to be brought into the light. Conflict thrives in the shadows, in gossip, in cliques, in assumptions and behind the scenes. Bringing all the competing agendas, attitudes and positions into the light and allowing all members of the congregation to understand what is being said, what is happening and what the issues are takes the mystique out of the situation and allows everyone to respond from a position of knowledge. It also removes the power of those who have an agenda but have not been willing to make it public but have instead been putting on pressure from behind the scenes. Getting everything on the table allows all stakeholders to understand what is going on and to have a voice in solving the issues. Ironically, those who are most vociferous in their opinions overplay those who agree with them when in fact, if all facts were known, the majority would not agree. 

Third. Reconciliation is always preferable to disunity. This is actually a hard concept for many who have taken a position in church conflict. First, our natural tendency is to take a hard line and once we have told others about our own line-in-the-sand it is humbling to change our position. Second, the longer conflict goes on, the more we see the members of the opposing side as evil, dishonest, disingenuous, people with bad motives and once we demonize people it is hard to ever think that reconciliation is possible. 

To not be willing to consider reconciliation is to make a mockery of God's reconciliation with us and His call for us to be reconcilers. Speaking of church conflict, this is what Paul had to say to the Corinthians. "I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10)." 

In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul writes, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Having said that, I acknowledge that sometimes it is not going to be possible to reconcile and stay together. Sometimes it means that we part ways and speak well of one another.

Fourth, ground rules need to be established. One of the most incendiary fuels in all conflict is the absence of ground rules - what is acceptable and what is not. For a list of the ground rules that I recommend, see my blog, Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner. Or if you want to keep it very simple, look back at the passage in Ephesians 4:1-6 where he says be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. When you think about it, these characteristics are almost always lacking when conflict is taking place. What gets in our way? Pride, wanting to get our own way, anger, and our emotions.

Five, you probably will not convince everyone. There are people who don't want to reconcile. There are people whose pride is far greater than their humility and they have no desire to seek a win/win solution. In working with churches in conflict, I don't do very much to try to convince the unconvincible even if they have the loudest voices. I am looking for people of peace and reason who are willing to work together to see the church come together in unity. This does not mean that the issues that have caused disunity are swept under the rug. To the contrary, as principle two states, they are all on the table and those that need to be addressed are addressed. To do that successfully, however, it requires men and women of peace and reason, whose personal agendas do not cloud their emotions.

Who is most likely to leave in church conflict? Those who have taken a hard stand and cannot or will not compromise that stand. Frankly, it is good for them to leave because they will simply contribute to ongoing conflict if they are not willing to come together with the rest of the congregation.

Sixth: It is a process. Church conflict does not start overnight and it does not get settled overnight. It may take a year in some cases to bring the church back to health. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the trauma of either a church split (which damages churches for years to come) a powerplay by a faction in the church (which causes huge trauma to a church and a significant lack of trust) or not dealing with it at all which dooms the church to later issues.

What is needed for a healthy process is a willingness of the congregation to work together recognizing that how they handle their differences will either enhance or diminish the reputation of Jesus. If His reputation is at stake - and it is - I will do all I can to enhance it.

Additional blogs on church conflict:

Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner

8 Reasons in my experience that churches experience major conflict

Church conflict: Finding the core issue and the common source

Seven things to understand about church conflict

Church conflict, christian character and the reputation of Jesus

All of T.J. Addington's books are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Leaders who neglect this discipline pay for it dearly

There is one discipline that no leader can do without but too many try. It is that of developing meaningful relationships with key staff and leaders or people of influence in their organization. For instance, I regularly talk with pastors regarding board members that they are having difficulties with and inevitably there is also an absence of a meaningful relationship.

This is not about lobbying these individuals. It is about understanding them and they us which only happens in the context of time together. Relationship is the foundation of understanding and where we have meaningful relationships we are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt rather than judging their motives.

My take is that many leaders are so busy doing their thing and building whatever they are building that they are too busy to be bothered by the time and attention it takes to develop meaningful relationships. Eventually this catches up with them when fault lines appear in the ministry and the very people who the leader needs to help them through have lost their confidence and there is no relational glue to hold it together.

This also pertains to leaders with their key staff. It is easy to neglect relationships with staff members, just assuming that all is well. But in the absence of relationships those staff members have no great incentive to stand by their leader when there is difficulty or conflict. This often catches senior leaders by surprise but it is often too late by the time they realize the situation.

All good leadership is based on relational equity. Without relationship there is little or no equity. If you lead anything, make sure that the discipline of meaningful relationships is high on your agenda.

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coming on January One

It is not out till January one but I have the first copies and it looks great. Thank you NavPress and Tyndale. 
Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

What I know about leadership today that I didn't know then

Learning to lead well is something that is learned the hard way over time. I took time recently to consider what I know today that I didn't know well enough as a young leader. It is a long list which simply says how little I knew about good leadership as a young leader. The raw stuff was there but there was and is a lot to learn. If you fit that young leader category, these may be things to consider.

  • Many issues are not as urgent as I think they are. Relax and don't equate all issues to have the same urgency. 
  • Flexibility is critical for good leadership. Most of life is not black and white and compromise is critical in getting things done. 
  • Necessary or desired changes do not need to take place immediately. As a leader I can only move as fast as those I lead can follow. I need to be patient and sensitive in leading through change.
  • I don't need to take differences personally. It is about the mission, not about me. Pushback and disagreements are healthy as long as we can come to healthy solutions.
  • The key to everything is relationships. It pays to develop relationships even with those who disagree with me. Mutual respect and understanding comes through relationship.
  • Anxiety is wasted energy. Don't worry about things that one cannot control. The worst is unlikely to happen anyway.
  • I can be wrong and it does not hurt my leadership. Develop a "noting to prove and nothing to lose attitude" and one gains freedom.
  • Just be myself. I cannot lead like anyone else. God made me who He made me and I need to lead from who He made me to be. Learn to be comfortable in one's own skin.
  • Don't die on anthills! It is painful and unnecessary. There are some hills to die on but not very many. Be wary on which one you take your stand on.
  • Don't judge motives. We usually don't know what they are and almost always when we attribute poor motives to others we are wrong.
  • Relationships are everything. Influence comes through relationships so press into those hard with those one needs to work with even if they seem to be detractors. 
  • My own inner life must take precedence over all other things. The healthier I am emotionally, spiritually and relationally, the better my leadership. The inner life always comes first.
  • I don't need to change the world - and cannot. What God does want me to do is influence my small corner of the world.
  • God is sovereign. When I carry around great anxiety and worry I am trying to do His job. I can relax knowing that He is always ultimately in control.
  • Not all things get fixed this side of heaven. God is always sovereign but He does not force people and there are situations and people issues that I will not be able to fix.
  • Humility is at the core of all good leadership. Arrogance and thinking more of myself than I should will get me into trouble. We all overestimate our gifts and importance and underestimate our faults and shadow side.
  • Emotional intelligence matters a lot. The more I grow my EQ, the better my relationships, leadership and personal health.
  • God died for the Bride and not the brand. God wants me to focus on His kingdom and not my particular evangelical brand. I should appreciate all of his players and not just a few.
  • I don't need to compete but to be faithful. I am not in competition with others but rather called to be faithful to what He wants me to do. 
  • It is OK that not everyone likes me. In fact, if everyone likes me I am probably not leading well. Popularity is not the end goal of leadership.
  • I am only good at a few things. It is how God created me (Ephesians 2:10) and it is why I very much need others around me. Their gifts make up for my many deficits.
  • I can never give enough credit away. As a leader I give credit to the team and take responsibility for the failures. It is what leaders do.
  • God can guard my reputation. Which means that I don't need to - even when people are obnoxious or hurtful.
  • If I am threatened by others that is my problem not theirs. The question is "why do they threaten me and what does that say about my own inner health?" To the extent that I lack personal security I need to press into those EQ issues.
  • Perceived failures are usually just opportunities for growth. What we define as failure, God is simply using to grow us into who He wants us to be.
  • God can superintend my ministry path. He knows where I will be most useful and influential. I don't need to seek success but be faithful to where He has called me.
  • Position does not equal influence. I can have as much influence as He wants me to have from whatever position or platform God' gives.
  • Success must be measured from His perspective rather from the world's perspective. God does not measure success the way the world does. My job is to use the gifts and opportunities He puts in front of me for maximum Kingdom advantage. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Characteristics of gracious leaders

I love meeting gracious leaders. There is a quality about them which endears them to both insiders and outsiders alike. They possess a set of important characteristics that all leaders can emulate and learn from. Here are some of the most important.

When they are with you they are focused on the conversation rather than thinking about other things. Being present in the moment when with others is a discipline that says, "you are important," "I am interested in what you are saying." Too many leaders do not allow themselves to be fully present but are rather obviously thinking about other things.

Gracious leaders like to listen and ask questions. In other words they are focused outwardly toward others rather than inwardly toward themselves. They engage in your life, your ministry, your family and you!

Gracious leaders are generous in their praise, thanks and appreciation and sparing in criticism. When they do need to press into an issue they do it gently and clearly but you always get the sense that they care about you and want you to succeed.

They don't hold grudges and have short memories about negative events in the past. Gracious leaders have a way of focusing on the positive while not ignoring the negative. They keep short accounts, let you know what you think even when course corrections are needed and then move on.

The language of gracious leaders is uplifting, encouraging and life giving. That last quality is critical. Think about those you interact with that discourage or drain you. Gracious leaders are the opposite. After interactions with them you are filled and encouraged because gracious leaders are life givers rather than life takers. You want to be around them as a result.

Gracious leaders may be busy but they are never too busy to take the time to stop, acknowledge others and to interact with them. They give the impression that their staff and constituency is supremely important and do so because it is genuinely true as outward focused individuals.

Gracious leaders can be gracious with others because they are comfortable in their own skin and at home with themselves. In other words they have paid attention to their own hearts and inner lives and as a result that healthy inner life spills out in their relationships with others. Their graciousness is both a discipline (how I treat others) and a habit (because they are healthy internally). 

In many ways the Fruit of the Spirit encompasses the character of a gracious leader. It is a worthwhile exercise for leaders to regularly ask themselves if their relationships are characterized by the fruit of love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. The more we focus on these and develop our inner lives around them the more gracious we will become.

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The scourge of sex trafficking: It is happening right now somewhere near you!

One of the great scourges of our day is the trafficking of women and children around the world for the purposes of prostitution and pornography. And it is probably taking place in your community whether in the open or behind the scenes through Craigslist, Backpage and a host of other internet portals. In fact, while we hold the slavery trade of the past as abhorrent, it is estimated that there are more slaves trafficked today than at the height of the slave trade. 

And in many places in the world it is out in the open. This picture from Mong Kok, in Hong Kong at the entrance to a brothel on a public street.

The globalization of our world and the ability to ship goods, services and people around the world has only heightened this scourge. Trafficked women can be found not only in the large cities of our world but in places like North Dakota where the oil fields are bringing in men from across America to work. In other words, this is not an isolated phenomenon to places like Bangkok but it is ubiquitous wherever there are men who are willing to pay for sex. 

Consider these statistics from Equality Now:
  • At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.
  • About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.
  • Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
What lies behind these statistics are lives ruined, people made in the image of God desecrated and untold misery. They are someone's daughters, boys and girls. Unfortunately in many countries there is little done other than lip service to the problem as corrupt and complicit authorities either profit from this trade or have compromised themselves in it and will not speak out. 

Christ followers have long been the conscience of social ills of our world. This is not an issue we should be ignorant about or afraid to talk about. Pressure needs to be put on governments world wide to actually act rather than sign UN treaties on the matter and then turn a blind eye. Ways must be found to rescue these individuals and help them rebuild their lives, one at a time, into what God designed them to be.

If you want an accessible book to help understand the problem of global sex trafficking, I recommend Slavery Inc. the untold story of international sex trafficking by Lydia Cacho

The International Justice Mission IJM is on the forefront of dealing with this evil issue. Their web site is a great resource. 

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When making decisions are you thinking five years ahead?

All leaders make decisions on a regular basis. Often, however we are thinking of the present as we do so - which is legitimate. But, every decision made now has implications for the future which is why we should apply the five year test: "How will our current decision affect us five years from now?" In other words, good decisions are not only made for the present but must take into consideration the future as well.

Let me give an illustration from the world of missions. A mission agency decides that to make significant inroads in a majority world country it will start paying pastors what seems like an insignificant amount of money per month (say $150). They jubilantly watch all kinds of individuals sign up, start churches and they think, "Wow, a small investment for a great return." Yet five years later it has now become a burden to the agency as they can no longer sustain what they once thought was a strategic decision and they have discovered that these churches only reproduce themselves when there is another $1,800 to invest.  Had the decision been made with an eye to the future it might have been evident what the unintended consequences are. 

Many decisions have long term consequences so a good question on major decisions is not simply, "What is the impact now" but also "what will be the impact five years from now." 

This is just as powerful a practice in our own personal lives. Decisions about time with family have long term consequences as do financial decisions and any number of other personal decisions. Wise individuals take the long view of life rather than simply living in the moment. The long view requires more discipline but in the end it is far more productive and rewarding.

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Arrogance or humility in leadership is found in how we treat staff

While many have been watching high profile evangelical leaders who have treated staff and congregants poorly, the truth is that this happens all the time in otherwise good evangelical churches and Christian ministries. I routinely see this first hand as I consult and hear regularly from people who have experienced heavy handed treatment. I would say that there is more pain from poor treatment of staff in the church and ministry world than in the corporate world. This is partly because they can get away with it as people are not likely to cause division by broadcasting the issues.

Mistreatment of people is a sign of leadership arrogance. Often boards are complicit as well when they do not verify what they are hearing from their senior pastor or allow what they know to be heavy handed tactics. Here are some common ways that arrogance is demonstrated in the treatment of staff and/or congregants.

One: Staff who try to raise legitimate issues or engage in legitimate dialogue are shut down by senior leaders through intimidation or threats. This is far more common than many people realize. The threat can be for their job (and there are many ways to threaten one's job subtly), it can be around causing division (by a difference of opinion?), ridicule, or a pattern of simply firing those who disagree. When there is fear within a staff culture there is clear indication that intimidation is taking place and there are many churches where this is the case.

One of the most egregious kinds of intimidation is a gag order where staff are not allowed to talk about issues with themselves, with members of the congregation or with elected leaders and  their leadership will not let them into the process of ministry decisions. They are essentially left without a voice, without a place to go with their concerns and live with the fear that if they voice their concerns they will be called to task. All such gag orders are a sign of poor leadership, they are dysfunctional, they lead to toxicity and a culture of mistrust and eventually good people will choose to leave. 

A second sign of arrogance in leadership is when staff are let go without due process. Even with "at-will" employment in many places I am amazed that there are not more lawsuits for staff being fired by senior leaders for highly questionable leaders (I just want them gone) without due process. Sometimes the fired staff are not even told why they are being let go. Due process means a process where the issues are explained, there is the ability for the staff person to defend themselves and if necessary there is a third party present. I have seen countless examples where staff are "gotten rid of" by senior leaders who either don't like them, don't like their opinions or simply want to fill slots with sycophants who will do their bidding - all without true due process.

Even when there are performance issues, the first question should be, has this person been coached and mentored and can we help them get to where they need to go. If many senior leaders were treated like they treat their staff, they would understand what it feels like to be at the capricious will of a dysfunctional leader and it does not feel good. 

Another way that arrogance is expressed in treatment of staff is very simple: not listening to staff, not soliciting their views, and not engaging them in the process of ministry decisions even though they are stakeholders and will be impacted by those decisions. I am always amazed when senior pastors (many when they first arrive and are going to solve everything that is bad in the church - from their perspective) make sweeping unilateral decisions without even engaging their senior staff. It is a fast way to lose all coinage with staff. And it is highly disempowering. 

Why do I call behavior like this arrogant? Because it is clearly all about the leader and what he/she wants and not about the staff. Anytime we mistreat staff we are using our authority and power in ways they were never meant to be used. Nor did Jesus operate this way. Humility is a recognition that we need each other, honor each other, build team and always treat others with fairness, integrity and dignity. Humble leadership may take more time to get some things done but it will build to last with a reservoir of trust. Arrogant leadership can move fast but at the deficit of trust and through using and abusing staff along the way.

A word to elected leaders. Behaviors like this are usually blissfully ignored by boards. Why? Their leader is getting things done or they simply don't want to address it. Ultimately if such behaviors are taking place on your watch you are responsible even if not the agent. Poke around a bit and make sure that your staff culture is as healthy as you are told it is. Often it is not. I know because eventually I get called into situations when they come apart and I always wonder why leaders either did not know or did not intervene.

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Letter of apology to two staff members who where unfairly let go from a group of present and former elders. Worth reading

I was fascinated by a letter of apology from current and former elders at Mars Hill Church to two members of their staff who were put on trial some years ago, found guilty without due process and publicly humiliated them by their communication to the entire church which included "rejection and disassociation" from the church and members of the church. Now, members of the board at that time and new members are calling their actions sinful and asking the forgiveness of these two former staff members. As I read their letter it raised some issues for me.

First, when you shut down legitimate discussion in an organization and take dissenting viewpoints as "sinful" or "disloyal" or "causing division" and shut those voices down with threats, intimidation or termination we create a toxic workplace where candid dialogue is not allowed. Ironically, the issues that these two men were raising, were the very issues that allowed the church to get into trouble and eventually led to the downfall of the church.

As the elders wrote to them, "you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely."

Any leader that tries to shut down discussion by intimidation is a toxic leader and it is their toxicity that needs to be addressed rather than legitimate discussion over legitimate issues. In our organization we allow "Robust Discussion" on any issue with the exception of personal attacks or hidden agendas. If your organization practices any kind of intimidation for candid discussion, take heed. Often it is the senior leader who leads the charge because they are threatened by voices that disagree with them.

Second, there are thousands of church leaders who owe an apology to staff members that they have treated unfairly, badly and without due process. I was saddened by friends of ours who were fired from their pastoral position without any due process or even conversation around the reasons for the decision. I suspect the senior leader was threatened and led the charge. He had stated he did not want them there. Then when the same was done to him by the elders he wined about what had happened to him. They had simply done to him what he had done to others.

There are many deeply wounded staff who have been unfairly treated by their senior leader and boards have allowed it to happen. If you are guilty of this, please don't ignore the pain you caused, the lack of due diligence you allowed or the actions you were a party to. Make things right. Jesus will one day hold us accountable for how we have treated those entrusted to us. One friend who read this letter from Mars Hill wept because of the pain they had experienced and wished someone would reach out and make it right. Sadly it probably will not happen.

Take a few moments and read this letter of apology 

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God's meta story and a tale of two kingdoms

Fundamental to understanding the meta story of God is to recognize that with the fall and God’s redemptive story there are now two kingdoms at play on our planet. There is the kingdom of evil and the Kingdom of God and the two are at war with one another.

Consider the names given to Satan and his minions: “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is the prince of one Kingdom. Jesus, however is the king of another kingdom and He defeated Satan on the cross once and for all, even though Satan continues to fight a rearguard war until Jesus returns to rule over all things. But make no mistake, he is defeated but not yet silenced.

Peter puts this in perspective for us when he writes that we are “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1), and “aliens” (1 Peter 2:11). We were born into this world, but through our “new birth” (1 Peter 1:3) we are now “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9) who once lived in “darkness” (the kingdom of this world) but now live in “his wonderful light” the kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:10). We were born into one world – that ruled by Satan but are now citizens of a different world, that ruled by Jesus.

When Peter uses the word “darkness” to describe the world ruled by Satan and “his wonderful light” to describe the Kingdom of God he is contrasting the utter darkness of Satan and his rule and the magnificent righteousness of Jesus and His rule. As God’s people we live in the light but remain physically in a broken world.

Here, of course is the challenge. Jesus did not take us out of this world when He rescued us. This was intentional. As Jesus said in John 17:15-18, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” 

We were born into one world – that ruled by Satan but are now citizens of a different world, that ruled by Jesus, who has sent us back into the world with His message of hope, redemption and mercy. We are now called to join Jesus in the re-imaging of hearts gone bad and a world gone bad.

I am a third culture kid (TCK). I grew up on Hong Kong until I was 15 and then came back to the United States. I grew up in a culture that was not my home culture and then came back to my home culture which was not the one in which I grew up. I feel most at home in Asia but my home is not there. I live in the United States but it is not my heart culture. Thus the designation, a third culture kid. At 58 I still live with the ambiguities of growing up in a culture not my own and coming back to one not my own. I am torn between the two and like many others who grew up in a country not their own, I have to negotiate the two dissimilar cultures.

This is a picture of our own lives as we negotiate the culture in which we were born (the kingdom of darkness) and the culture into which we have been adopted (the kingdom of Jesus) and must negotiate the two until the day in which we see Christ face to face. It is not easy negotiating the two and yet this is one of the things Jesus showed us how to do in the incarnation. He demonstrated what it looked like to follow the Father while living in the Evil One’s world and in doing so how to be salt and light in that darkness. Jesus engaged the world as He shared the Good News of the Kingdom but he lived by the values of His Father rather than by the rules of a fallen world. He engaged with people but not with the mores of the world.

When Peter wrote his letter to Christians who had been scattered by persecution and called them “strangers in the world,” (1 Peter 1:1), he was acknowledging the difficulties of living as God’s people in a fallen world. He was also acknowledging the clash of the kingdom of evil and the kingdom of light and challenges of negotiating these two very different kingdoms. 

Some Christians over the ages have chosen to withdraw from the world and to see the world as evil. Jesus on the other hand showed us what it is like to engage the world and to see people as His image bearers however tarnished and what it means to join Him in ReImaging images gone bad. Jesus is not in the business of hiding but in the work of engaging and restoring.

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 discount on orders of ten or more.

Cracks in the atheist edifice in China - a very encouraging update from the Economist Magazine

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A short article that every married man ought to read: It is profound

This article from Gary Thomas's blog is a must read for all married men. One simple thought that can change your relationship with your wife forever.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ministries are either built to last or built to fail - think about Mars Hill

It was fascinating but not surprising news this week that one of the famous ministries of our day is dissolving with the resignation of its founder, Mark Driscoll. Come New Year's day, 2015 the Mars Hill Church of Seattle will cease to exist although some of their satellite locations may choose to become independent churches.

There are some lessons to be learned from this. The first is that it is always perilous to build a ministry around one individual rather than a team that is in Jim Collin's terms "Built to Last." Any ministry dependent on one individual faces a crisis if that individual dies or leaves. Such ministries often revolve around a single leader because that leader is fundamentally unwilling to delegate responsibility and authority to others. In my view, no local church should be organized this way and when it is it often reflects a narcissistic leader who needs to control. Clearly there was not a healthy culture at Mars Hill which almost always reflects the DNA of its leader.

Well built ministries have leadership teams not a single leader and they are designed to function well even if the senior leader for some reason leaves that ministry. That structure reflects a greater concern for the mission and the ministry while structures built around an individual reflect a greater concern for the wishes and control of that individual. The first is reflective of a kingdom mindset and the second of a egotistical mindset (with a few exceptions). All ministries built around one individual are fragile entities!

My second observation is that Mars Hill lacked what every good church should have and that is local leadership that is empowered to hold its senior leader accountable and to rein in problematic behavior. Certainly in a church that size there are many highly qualified leaders, yet in the main the board of overseers was from the outside with neither the ongoing context or the ability to shepherd the pastor, let alone ensure that the church was healthy. 

For current leaders to make the decision they have made indicates clearly that they had few good options which is a reflection of the damage Mark did in the past several years, the lack of a structure that was built to last and of a strong leadership team that should have been able to weather the storm. And in case you think this is piling it on, think of the hundreds of staff and thousands of congregants for whom the church was their livelihood or place of worship and you start to understand the enormity of the corporate pain that must be present this week at the news that your church will disappear in two months. Not because there was a planned transition but because the leadership of the organization was so poor there were no good options left.

I also hope, thirdly that all of us in ministry take heed of the lessons of this sorry tale. Our character as leaders counts. Our words, attitudes, decisions and treatment of people matter a lot. I am amazed at how many people responded to Mark's behavior as OK (after all we are all human). Yet the Scriptures are clear that those in Christian leadership bear a far higher level of responsibility for their behaviors and character than others. It is one thing to have a bad day - we all have them. It is another to have a pattern of behaviors that violate Scriptural guidelines and not be called on it. To give Mark a pass because he built a large organization misses the point that success (defined by the world's definition) is never an excuse for not living up to the calling we have in Christian leadership. 

Taken together, the decision this week goes to a failure of leadership by Mark and leaders, a failure to build a healthy organization and a willingness to overlook important issues because people came in large numbers and gave generously. The speed at which it came apart in the end is indicative of deep fissures and a poor foundation. 

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 discount on orders of ten or more.