Thursday, March 28, 2019

Avoiding the activity trap

One of the most strategic things each of us can do - and insist from our staff is that we not fall into the activity trap. Simply put, the activity trap is the mistake of believing that activity is synonomous with results. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Think for a moment about people you know. Some of them seem to be always busy but the results from their work are, well, meager. Others, may or may not seem busy but the results of their work are significant.

I have watched senior leaders and even CEO's fall into the activity trap, endlessly busy with "important things" but truly meager in terms of the results of their work. Often if it were not for some good folks around them they would be seen as the "emperor without clothes." Sometimes they can fool outsiders who see the activity but insiders have a hard time figuring out what they really produce.

What makes the difference between those who see meager results and those who see significant results?

The difference is that those who see the best results understand that activity does not equal results. Activity is simply being busy. But if that activity is not carefully focused on specific outcomes one is simply left with activity.

General or unfocused activity yields general and unfocused results. Specific and focused activity will yield specific pre-determined outcomes that help the organization realize its objectives. In the first case the activity is focused on activity while in the second, the activity is focused on outcomes. It is a critical difference.

I am not indicating that those who live with unfocused activity are not doing good things. The question is whether the activity is focused on the good things that will yield the results they are after.

A problem with typical job descriptions is that they actually are a list of activities rather than a description of necessary results. That is why I believe it is far better to have job descriptions with Key Result Areas which are the outcomes wanted for the position than to have a list of activity. With Key Result Areas any activity included in the job is actually focused toward a few definable results that spell success for the job.

One of the ironies is that those who choose to do less often actually accomplish more because they are more focused than those running at a heavy pace.

To avoid the activity trap we should be able to answer these questions:

Do I know what specific results I want from my work? For instance I have five Key Result Areas that spell success for my work. Can you define what spells success for you?

Is my daily, weekly and monthly activity focused on achieving the specific results I have identified?

Do I have a strategy for making sure I stay focused? After all it is very easy to drift and a strategy for staying focused is important.

If you are a supervisor, can your reports answer these questions?
For further exploration, take a look at these blogs:

Intentional Living

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

Creating cultures of excellence

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Rebound: Rising from failure back to purpose and destiny

This is a must read for all those who have experienced failure in their lives and want to reclaim their God given purpose and destiny.

Some quotes from the book:

"I've often thought how the church appears so embarrassed over the appalling failures among our own that we forget the fallen ones themselves. Somehow God had a perfect balance - He always does. God is more concerned about the bruised and beaten person who fell and those wounded from his fall than that the incident took place."

"God has not abandoned you or His plans for you. He has made provision for everyone who sits in the shadows questioning if they've let their best days slip away. The God who created you has not given up on you, and if He hasn't who are you to give up on yourself?"

"I often wonder how many resurrected failures are still not walking out their God given purpose because no one has loosed them from their past. Religion has taught us to steer clear from associating with those who reek from failure lest we appear to condone their past behavior. Sadly, some within the community of faith abhor the lingering smell of the grave. Others stand at a distance for fear the stench will get on them by association. Isn't it strange that Jesus faced the same problem and baffled the religious community when He ate with sinners and tax collectors? Those with a questionable stench loved being with Jesus because He did not treat them like second-class grave dwellers. Even after all they had done, Jesus gave them hope of living the life God intended for them all along."

"The Bible is the story of a God who is a generous Father pursuing sons and daughters who have failed. This story, my friend, is your story. God has waited patiently for the chance to pursue you. And now, in His quest, He comes to apprehend you, not by condemnation, but by His love and kindness. At last, here you are not ridiculed, but kissed, being fitted for a robe, a ring and shoes."

"It's time for you to walk confidently out of the shadows. Your confidence is not in your performance, but in Christ alone. Don't give shame the pleasure of keeping you confined and limited. Like Peter who stepped over the sides of the boat and into the water, fasten your eyes on Jesus; then get up and get out."

"If you have people who want to live in your history, let them; but don't for a minute think you have to live there with them. You cannot move into your destiny if you don't let go of your history. Surround yourself with people who define you by your purpose rather than your past."

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

Creating cultures of excellence

Saturday, March 23, 2019

10 Signs that you attend an unhealthy and spiritually abusive church in the wake of Harvest Bible Chapel

As I have been thinking about the events at Harvest Bible Chapel, Mars Hill, Willow Creek and a number of other large congregations that are walking down the same path I have been reflecting on some common traits of dishealth and spiritual abuse. The sad thing is that these behaviors are antithetical to what a healthy church looks like (think the book of Ephesians) and the fruit of the Spirit. Sometimes this spiritual abuse is found mainly on staff, other times like Harvest Bible Chapel and Mars Hill, it is or was pervasive. These afflictions are not confined to any church size but rather a mindset among leaders, usually led by the senior leader. If you observe a number of the following characteristics in your church be wary!

A strong leader who others cannot question
The pastors of the above congregations and those like them have leaders who are a "force of nature" that others, even elders and staff, find hard if not impossible to challenge. In fact, these individuals often have a very black and white mentality toward people: If you agree with them you are a friend. When you disagree with them you become an enemy. This is how they see people in life: Either friends or enemies with no grey in the middle. Staff, elders and those who are close learn quickly that if you cross a certain line you are done and your job or ministry is in jeopardy.

Use of a board to manipulate and legitimize behavior
Boards are used in these churches not to evaluate issues or guard the health of the church (on the last score, firing the dysfunctional leader would be in order) but to legitimize the wishes of the senior leader and provide a kind of "spiritual cover" to them where they can hide behind the decisions of the board. Ironically, while these individuals talk as if the board has real authority and power the reality is that they don't. It is the senior leader who has the authority and power. Even now, at Harvest Bible Chapel it is clear that the board still does not have freedom to act as a board even though James MacDonald is physically gone.

An inordinate degree of secrecy
Decisions are made with secrecy in many of these situations. When people ask questions about budgets, ministry decisions or things like discipline and resignations they are told, "trust your leaders," "there are many things you don't know," "these are Godly men (or women) with the implication that you therefore should not question them. In fact, the Godliness of the board and pastor are often way overblown as it is simply a cover for their decisions. After all if they spent all this time in prayer and Scripture study who can question them? The truth is that in these boards, there is not time given to Scripture study or prayer beyond the formal necessities. It is far more about self preservation, politics and scheming than it is a spiritual group.

Lack of truth
Secrecy is not the only issue. There is a consistent lack of truth in these situations. Decisions are spun to fit the narrative of the leadership whether it has any relation to truth. Even here, those in the know don't dare speak out making them complicit in the lies being told. The thinking is that the "little people" don't have the ability to handle the reasons for the decision so just like Washington there is a lot of fake news that comes from church leaders.

Disparagement of critics or those who ask questions
Remember that those who disagree are seen as enemies, especially if they cannot be brought around to the party line. The group think in these situations is massive and it is very difficult from a relational standpoint to buck the party line or to question what everyone else seems to agree with. In reality many may not agree but they are unwilling to speak up as it disrupts the unspoken code that we should agree with the party line. Why else are so many former staff members or board members from Harvest Bible Chapel only now speaking out when they have left their positions or the church. The same can be said for Willow.

These dynamics extend to the congregation as well. When congregants ask legitimate questions they are told that the Godly elders have looked at the situation and after a great deal of prayer and deliberation (usually a falsity) they have chosen the best path. In other words, don't question our decisions. In many cases, financial transparency is not present as well. This is nothing less than manipulation and intimidation at its worse, a shutting down of legitimate discussion, and an attempt to evade any kind of accountability as the pastor, senior staff and board of Harvest Bible Chapel did for decades. Congregants learn quickly that they don't want to create waves and choose to simply follow. Those who do insist on asking questions eventually are driven out of their staff or board position or out of the church.

The liberal use of charges, church discipline, public rebuke and shunning behaviors
Here is the cost of speaking up, of disagreeing, asking questions and not going away. These churches will ensure that you go away but with your reputation in tatters, your character impugned and your joy destroyed. Spiritual sounding charges with lots of scripture and long letters or phone calls are designed to bring people back into the party line. When that does not work, church discipline is applied and made public as a rebuke and manipulation tactic to bring people back to the fold with their "repentance." When these tactics don't work, people are shunned and other members of the church told not to speak to them as they have been given "over to Satan," because of their sin.

This is done with maximum public exposure through announcements from the pulpit, video messages to the church, email or letters, all designed to impugn the reputation of the "guilty" and to justify their behaviors which are indefensible. This is not only politics at its worse but with the use of spiritual language is designed not only to justify but to intimidate the whole congregation to toe the party line. The more people are intimidated, the more cover the senior leader has (and the board) because people are not going to challenge them. In the case of Harvest Bible Chapel, dissidents whose information is now proven to be true, wrote a blog called "The Elephants Debt," because of the massive financial mismanagement of the church. James actually sued them to shut them down until he discovered belatedly that there was this thing called "discovery" which would force him to open his books. That caused him to drop the lawsuit.

Frequent use of language like submission, obedience and trust
When words like this are used often in a church it is a sure sign that leadership are seeking to shut down discussion. Congregants are told that they should "submit" to the leadership of the church. While Scripture says that, it says a whole lot more about the character and behavior of leaders which in these cases is of course ignored. Trust us, obey us, submit to us and if you don't you are in violation of Scripture and subject to discipline and action by the board. Congregants are never to submit to lies or dysfunction.

A culture of fear on staff and on the board
Fear is the end product of these behaviors which is why it is a spiritually abusive system. That fear is a tactic by leaders to intimidate staff into doing what they want done. Years ago I was told by someone who was there of an annual event at Willow where staff members had to get up in front of Bill and other staff and share their ministry results and goals. Many were harshly criticized in public by Bill, which was devastating to them. My friend, a church leader from another church was impressed. He learned much from Bill! I remember saying, "I would never work for a leader like that." Angry, manipulative, coercive, verbally abusive leaders are not fit to lead. None of these behaviors exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. In these systems, a spirit of fear prevails and serves the purposes of the leader.

Bodies pile up
When many people are left in the wake of a ministry, and good people at that, one needs to ask the question why? I once did a conflict intervention with a church of a thousand and interviewed nine individuals who had left staff in the past 18 months. All their stories were the same and they all revolved around the senior pastor. The board had never asked any questions! When the bodies pile up it is a sign that something may be amiss and that it is time to ask some questions.

A closed system
All of this describes a closed system that does not allow anyone but the senior leader to truly think for themselves. It is rotten to the core as a system and is designed to eliminate accountability, force compliance and allow the senior leader to get their way. People don't even realize how sick the system is until the senior leader has been gone for a period of time.

Don't ignore symptoms like this in your church if you should see them. They are warning signs that something is amiss and many people will be hurt if not addressed.

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

Creating cultures of excellence

Thursday, March 21, 2019

8 financial principles for churches and non profits

There are eight financial principles that if followed, would maximize the ministry of congregations and non-profits without breaking the bank. In fact, most not for profits suffer from a belief that there is never enough money. And that to do more you need to have more. It is not generally true. Often, to do more you need to do things differently rather than simply raise more money. Think about these eight principles.

Absolute clarity
One needs to be clear, absolutely clear, on what they are about. Doing good or nice things does not a non-profit make. Doing specific things that are clearly part of a mission does. You may ask, "What does absolute clarity have to do with finances?" Everything when you consider the next principle.

Mission critical
If something in mission critical you do it. If it is not mission critical you don't. No exceptions! The reason that too many non-profits suffer from too few funds is that they are trying to do too many things - some of which are not mission critical. Keeping the main thing the main thing all the time allows you to focus exclusively on those things that are missional. This is why absolute clarity is so important.

Hire well
While many things are important in the hiring process such as fit, character and gifting, the more intellectual capacity you have on staff the more you will accomplish. Hire well and don't just settle for an available person. There is a reason that some staff members accomplish more than others: They have a high degree of intellectual capacity and are able to see ways to get things done that others don't. Look for the best!

Pay well
We cannot afford to pay well! Not true. You cannot afford not to if you want to do something significant. In fact, the reason so many churches and non-profits have nice but mediocre staff is that they pay poorly and actually end up needing more people to do what a well qualified individual could do. In the end they pay the same amount because they need to hire more individuals. But they lack the intellectual capacity that would help them be the best. 

Staff lean
You can only staff lean if you hire really well. But if you do hire well you need fewer staff and that is a secret of the best ministries and non-profits. They find ways to accomplish their work with fewer paid people. They think leverage rather than assuming that new things require more money and more people.

Volunteer staff
Some of the best staff are volunteers. And certainly in the church, volunteer staff should be the norm. We ought not hire staff in the church to do the ministry but rather to release others in ministry. That is the message of Ephesians 4:11-12. Because not for profits are cause based, they can recruit individuals who believe in their cause as unpaid staff. That is simple leverage.

Strategic flexibility
Clarity on mission is not the same thing as strategy. Our mission remains fairly constant but our strategies will often change. Never get locked into strategy because times change, contexts change and often we find new ways to accomplish the mission that are more efficient and effective. Be flexible on strategy and clear on mission.

Leverage well
Looking for ways to leverage your work for maximum results at minimal reasonable cost is key to all successful non profits. This is not about being cheap. It is about being smart. Just as any business looks for ways to leverage itself for maximum profitability, so non-profits look for ways to leverage for maximum results at minimal costs. 

The best non-profits stand out because they do things differently than the rest of the pack. They think differently, hire differently, leverage differently and strategize differently. 

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

In the balance between grace and truth why does a "hard truth" prevail in so many evangelical churches?

Most evangelical churches are not safe places for people to honestly share their struggles because those struggles are met with an attitude of judgement by fellow believers who ironically struggle with their own undisclosed demons. Just as many "dress up" to go to church, looking their best, we tend to hide behind a mask of righteousness, pretending all is well when in fact we struggle regularly. Is it any wonder why so many personal issues go unresolved that could and should be resolved among God's people?

This also goes to our preaching where truth is proclaimed with vigor but grace is not nearly as present. We should celebrate truth and obedience to Jesus. It is what we are called to. The problem is that we are also still sinners who struggle and are not without sin (1 John 1, Romans 7). And thus in desperate need of God's grace and encouragement. When we call people to obedience but do not acknowledge common struggles with sin and when we do not offer solutions and help for that sin, we create the illusion that those around us must not struggle with the issues we struggle with - when in reality they do. 

Empathy toward others in the church is a large part of the grace equation. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It includes compassion, sympathy, concern, tender heartedness, mercy, gentleness, affection and love. These are all part of the grace equation for God as we see in the example of Christ in the Gospel's. 

God's truth is most powerful and transformative when His grace is also present. It is because of His grace that we are able to deal with His truth. These characteristics are also the very pieces of church culture that make it a safe place to reveal our true selves and live in authentic community. Is it any coincidence that Jesus came in grace and truth in that order to live among us (John 1:17)?

I am saddened by how often I see Christians castigating other Christians with harshness and a lack of grace. One movement does it to another. We do it to each other in the church. We often do it from the pulpit. Truth proclaimed in harshness may be truth but it does not reflect Jesus. The harder the truth (and there are many in the Gospel) the more grace must be present. To those who proclaim that they are bearers of truth I say this: Unless you exhibit the grace in equal measure to the truth you proclaim you do not reflect Jesus. 

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

"As long as it's healthy": What can we learn from early Christianity's resistance to infanticide and exposure?

"As long as it's healthy": What can we learn from early Christianity's resistance to infanticide and exposure? 

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Before you act,
consider the
your action might bring.

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

                                            Creating cultures of excellence

Sunday, March 17, 2019

ECFA suspends Harvest Bible Chapel's accreditation - from Christianity Today

See this article from Christianity Today - and I am curious with all the information that was swirling around why it took the ECFA so long to act. 

ECFA Suspends Harvest Bible Chapel’s Accreditation 

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

                                            Creating cultures of excellence

How to kill the passion of your staff

Why do some ministry staff have a high and contagious level of passion for what they do and other staffs have low and non contagious levels of passion?

Certainly some of it has to do with how individuals are wired personally. But, much of it has to do with the ministry environment in which they work - for environments and culture will either fuel or kill passion in those who work in them.

Passion killers are those things that will diminish rather than fuel ministry passion.

There is the passion killer of ambiguous missional purpose. Organizations that do not have a compelling reason for existence that everyone understands and shares will diminish rather than fuel passion for ministry. General ministry purpose yields general ministry efforts with general ministry results. Lack of focus and clear definition of what we are all about will not generate much passion. No wonder such a high percentage of churches in our world exist without much excitement or energy around them.

There is the passion killer of control and micromanagement. Good people want to be developed, empowered and released rather than controlled or micromanaged. Control diminishes passion because it devalues people and essentially says "I can't trust you to do your job by yourself." It disempowers and discourages and over time diminishes enthusiasm for one's work. Leaders who control or micromanage by definition kill passion.

There is the passion killer of poor leadership. Leaders set the pace for the missional focus, health, level of energy and commitment and the synergistic working of a team. Where leaders don't provide that kind of directional leadership and cohesion passion begins to diminish. Poor leadership yields poor followership and teams will rarely rise above the passion and commitment and example of their leader. For passion to remain high it must start with the leader of the team.

There is the passion killer of living with the status quo rather than being willing to take a risk for ministry leverage. Organizations that will not take a risk diminish the passion of those who long to do something different in order to get greater ministry results. When the answer is "no" we don't do that here, passion leads from discouragement! Trying new things always fuels passion while living safely does not. Safety over innovation kills passion!

There is the passion killer of unresolved conflict and lack of team cohesion. Teams, congregations, and organizations often live with high levels of negative stuff that is not resolved. Everyone knows that it is present but no one has the courage to face and resolve it. Over time, that diminishes the passion of good people whose desire to see something happen for Christ is discouraged by the dis health they are surrounded by'

Then there is the passion killer of leaders who are coasting toward the end of their ministry life, who don't really know where to go anymore but who are determined to hang on till the end, leaving staff without direction or real purpose. This is a real problem among pastors who have lost their ability to lead but who don't know what to do next and simply hang on. They may be great people but they are no longer leading and their lack of leadership diminishes passion among those they should be leading.

There is also the passion killer of leaders who are more about building their own success and legacy than working as a team. These leaders may have narcissistic tendencies and it is all about them. Their narcissism diminishes passion in others quickly as team member realize that they are simply being used rather than part of a cohesive, unified ministry team. It is about the leader and not about the mission. Some very large organizations, and churches, suffer from this passion killer.

There is the passion killer of politics and turf wars. Politics kills passion because the energy of turf wars takes away from team spirit, common direction and pits groups against one another. It also fuels cynicism as good people wonder why their leaders put up with such silliness. 

Organizational culture and its leadership will either fuel or diminish passion. I would love to hear from readers on passion killers they have observed in their ministries.

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

                                            Creating cultures of excellence

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

This simple practice will boost the morale of your staff significantly

It is not unusual for me to conduct staff audits in churches, non-profits or businesses. One of the most common complaints is also one of the easiest to solve: Leadership does not listen to us! Now think about that. It takes no money or resources to listen and dialogue. It does not affect your bottom line or your budget. But it does have a huge impact on morale.

Both listening or not listening to staff has a magnifying effect on morale. When leaders do not make this a regular practice, even small things become magnified because that small irritation is compounded by the perception that leaders don't care. What might be a minor issue becomes a larger issue when leaders don't listen. That is further compounded by the fact that in the absence of listening, staff talk to one another and the gossip circuit further magnifies whatever it is that created an issue in the first place.

The magnifying impact of listening or not listening works the other way as well. What staff want to know is that their leaders are aware of issues that exist, that leadership cares about their opinion and that they are willing to ask for feedback on a regular basis. Listening means I care. It also means I value your input and I respect you. It means that I have time for you. Even if you cannot solve the issues that are shared with you (some are easier than others) the fact that you cared enough to listen changes the attitude of staff. They know that you care! Often, leaders can resolve an issue which creates a great deal of good will. Not only did you listen but you did something about it.

There is one cost to listening - but it is a wise investment: Your time as a leader. A common complaint about leaders is that they live in a bubble, spending their time with other leaders and oblivious to what is happening at lower staff levels. I know this to be true from interviewing hundreds of staff members over the years. This is often a valid complaint. It is often the case that leadership teams are in fact oblivious to issues because they are not talking to people that they would not normally encounter in their leadership suites.

What does listening look like? First it means that leaders do management by walking around. Don't stay in the leadership suites. Go where your staff are and ask them what their concerns are. Ask what their happiness factor is and what would make it higher. Ask what they would change in your culture if they had the chance. As you listen, follow up with questions of clarification. Because you are a leader you will be treated with some deference. So you will have to work harder at pulling candid answers out of those you talk to.

Do the same thing in small groups. Let them know that you want candid feedback and ask questions that are designed to elicit thoughtful responses. Take a small group to lunch without their supervisors so they don't feel constrained in their responses. Take notes and dialogue. Thank them for their input and let them know that you will be thinking about their comments and suggestions. If there is low hanging fruit that you can respond to in the short term, do so and they will know that you heard them. And remember, you are listening, not talking!

Most leaders overestimate how much time they spend listening to staff. Keep a record and become disciplined regarding this discipline and you will be amazed at the benefits to the organization. And, you will learn a whole lot that you didn't know before.

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

                                            Creating cultures of excellence