Category: Leadership (page 1 of 8)

Jesus the Coach

My childhood was centered around coaches. My dad coached my little league teams and when I entered 7th grade, a retired Marine sergeant was my middle school basketball coach. He terrified us in practice with his gravelly voice and stony scowls.  In high school, we were led by young men wanting to prove themselves in their first jobs as head coaches. Practices were long and hard and there was no grace for bad attitudes or smart-alecky comments.

I did not always like my coaches, but I did respect them. They shaped me as a young man, pushing me to my limits at times. They often yelled and hardly ever smiled, even after a win. We learned how to be serious and focused, how to fight through pain. My parents never let me quit a team once the season started. If we joined the team then we finished the season, even if playing time diminished or the coaches yelled too much.  There was no quick escape.

Sports was also great fun. It was not all drills and grueling practices. We won a state championship and beat teams much better than us. Celebratory dog piles in the middle of the field and getting “District Champion” letter patches on my jacket are all rewards that were earned.

When I became a young man in the workplace, my coaches were replaced by bosses, who had deadlines and quotas. They spoke directly to me and hardly ever smiled. They pushed me to be serious and focused. Fortunately, the sandlots and hardwoods of my youth prepared me for this rough, new world of work. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to be coachable and teachable in my youth.

This was not true for many of the people I met in ministry and the marketplace. Coaching was tough on them as adults because they had never been challenged as children. They quit easily and complained quickly. Coaching did not feel good to them.

Jesus called together a band of untrained, and sometimes unruly men, who stopped what they were doing and followed him through the hot desert. These men were not ready to take the good news to the world when Jesus first met them, so they needed a coach.

Jesus made them a promise:

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19

They were not fishing for men when he met them. They were fishing for Tilapia. They spoke, acted and emoted like hardworking fishermen, accustomed to long hours in small spaces.  Their hands were rough from handling coarse nets and they certainly did not trust outsiders, much less want to give their lives to share good news with them. That would change in just three years, because Jesus was a coach.

He challenged them about their pride. He confronted their greed. He pushed them past their prejudices. He did not tolerate their thin faith.

Jesus was not a drill sergeant or a bully. He was not unkind or rude. He was sometimes angry, but never irate. He did speak directly to the problem, though. He loved his disciples enough to be honest with them. He needed them to grow up and to do better.

We all need a coach, especially ones that love and model Jesus to us. We need people who will confront our pride, our greed, and our self-centeredness  We need coaches who will make us better but not let us quit. We need jostling, disruptive language from coaches who care about us.

Ministry life is not easy but it is easy to fall into sloppiness. We need coaches and mentors who will remind us of our mission and point us to a better finishing line.

 

 

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The Essential Church Podcast

We’re really excited to announce the launch of what we’re calling the “Essential Church Podcast.” For years now I’ve been wanting to create a platform to talk regularly and openly about all of the massive, important issues that local church ministry leaders face on a daily basis—things like worship, preaching, creating a discipleship culture, ministry to our communities, and much more.

Well, now we’ve got one: The Essential Church Podcast. Each week we’ll be sitting down with ministry leaders both inside and outside of New Life to talk about what we’re learning about church life and leadership. We’re doing this NOT as “experts”, but as fellow practitioners in the ongoing kingdom effort that is the local church. Our desire is that your own ministries will be helped and strengthened through it.

We hope you’ll listen in each week. You can follow us on Twitter (@essentialchurch) and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (look up “Essential Church Podcast”). You can also go to our website: www.TheEssential.church where we’ll post episodes, show notes, and all kinds of other cool resources.

If you find any of our conversations helpful, please share them around the web and/or leave a good review for us on iTunes. It will help more leaders just like you find our podcast.

And of course, if you have any suggestions about topics you’d like for us to cover or people you’d like for us to interview, please let us know!

Can’t wait to share this with you.

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Celebrate, Tolerate, Obliterate

Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.

When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.
Roy E. Disney

 

Every team has values, shared beliefs and convictions that guide its decisions and ultimately determine success or failure. There may be nothing more important than a team’s values because they help define the wins, develop strategies and steer us from distractions. Values are the non-negotiable creeds of our organizations, the unchanging True North.

Big Idea If our values are unclear or ignored, our teams will be ineffective or toxic. Great teams have shared values that are celebrated.

Most people on our teams celebrate the shared values. They will strive for unity and are not content with mediocre. They cheer for others who hit the mark and there’s a sense of shared responsibility for the group’s well-being. They’re honest with their struggles, true with their friendship and gracious when sincere efforts fail. Values are discussed, debated and agreed upon regularly. They really admire the team and what the team produces. Promote these people.

Some on our team are just tolerating the values. They’re not rebels, but they’re certainly not disciples. They seem like devotees in meetings, but they rarely champion the team in private. They’re generally peaceful, but seldom passionate which means innovation and proactive problem-solving are both rare. To be fair, this may be the fault of leadership. Maybe, the values have never been explained or consistently modeled. Spend more time with these people.

The third group obliterates the values. They do not admire the other teammates and do not love what the team is doing. They’re always the center of some drama and strife and they’re indifferent about budgets and missed deadlines. They’ve been taught, and taught, and taught, but they do not agree with the values and never will. They do not need to be on the team. Help these people transition.

Most teams can agree on values if we will slow down and ask more questions. Give your team room to debate and adopt the values. Make them clear and easy to understand. Allow the introverts to process and the extroverts to argue out loud.  Create a culture of honest debate and allow everyone to participate. Coach those who want to grow, and don’t feel awful when disagreeable people choose to go elsewhere. Great teams get great results because of great values that are celebrated.

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Four Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7

For the past few weeks, I’ve undergone two separate heart procedures to correct some issues which are common for congenital heart patients like myself. The procedures have gone well and my prognosis is great, but I’ve been absent for many of my normal responsibilities as pastor at New Life.  When I realized I would be absent from leading and preaching, I had two choices – worry about the church or trust the team God has sent us.

This is not the first time I’ve taken a leave of absence. Two years ago, I took a much needed sabbatical and in 2011, I was gone for several weeks after major heart surgery. Each time, I had the same two choices and each time, the team proved trustworthy. How did that happen? It seems more teams implode than trust and grow. How does a team build this kind of trust? How does a group of independent people coalesce into family?

1. Surround yourself with really good people.

Obviously, no one intentionally builds a team of renegades. However, no one haphazardly builds a stellar team, either. We believe character, chemistry and competency are all equally important at New Life. If you fail to evaluate the first two because there is a pressing need for talent or expertise, you may well end up with a team you do not like or who cannot play nice together when you are away. Really good people have high character, robust emotional health and are constantly improving their skills and craft. Trust is earned in drops which means the calendar is your friend. Over time, character is revealed, chemistry is forged and competency is developed.

2. Allow for some messes

Even when there’s an all-star team, there will be some fumbles. If your team is afraid of failing, they will stop experimenting. When they stop being experimental, they stop innovating. The light bulb was not perfected on the first try. The Wright brothers crashed a lot before they flew and Columbus was probably lost when he discovered America. Create a culture of learning where mistakes are evaluated, lessons are learned and your team is encouraged to continue their discoveries.

3. Let them drive the car

There is only one way to really prove trust – leave it to the team and go away. Trust them in your absence. Right now, both of my teenagers are learning to drive. So far, all the lessons have been with me in the car. My prayer life has never been better. One day soon, I will have to give them the keys and allow them to drive solo. I am terrified at the thought, but I know I must let them grow up. Each time I have left New Life, I tell my team to have fun driving the car, keep the scratches to a minimum and keep it out of the ditch. Then I go away and trust them.

4. Give them the credit when it goes well.

Shared responsibilities should equal shared rewards. The surest way to keep good people around you is to constantly shine the spotlight on them when they succeed. Praise them in public, brag on them to your friends, and celebrate their ingenious ideas, especially when those concepts are better than yours. Take the lid off your team and they will rise. Secure leaders have discovered the greatest reward for leading well is having others soar past you.

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Some Thoughts on Politicians and the Elections

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

This is a big election year in our country and politics will be the center of most discussions for the next few weeks, like it or not. I appreciate the sincere people who feel called to the political arena, whether it is a local school board election, representing their neighborhood on the city council or finding the courage to run for a statewide or national election. Politics are important and so are the politicians who inevitably win these contests.

Politicians are primarily representative voices, elected because they best reflect the opinions of the majority. Once elected, they can lead through skillful collaboration and consensus, but personal convictions often have to be compromised to line up with the plurality of voters. That is the very essence of democracy.

The most successful politicians seem to be marketing geniuses, able to harness public opinions into empowered coalitions who keep them in political power. Again, I am not disparaging this call into the public arena, but I suspect many of us have over-estimated the abilities of our political leaders to lead, when they are more prone to react.

That is why we should pray for those who choose to run, and more importantly, for those who are elected. We should ask God to give them wise counselors who will keep them centered on sacred truths. We should pray for politicians to have private, personal convictions that are anchored in Scripture and those beliefs would not be be compromised when they are faced with the inevitable pressures of their office.

We should pray for these men and women to not forget they are called to serve the common good and not their personal ambitions. We should pray for all politicians to know when it is time to graciously exit the public arena. We should pray for their hearts to remain at peace even when they are falsely accused or being lured into contentious and factious arguments that lead to partisan divide, instead of wise solutions.

We should be prophetic voices to all leaders in all parties. The church has always defended the weak in the face of tyranny and stood up for those who deserve justice, especially those who have been silenced by racism or discrimination. Remember, many voters have witnessed and lived in a different America than us. They have valid political views that may not line with up with ours. This is a time for conversations, for listening and not for bullying or intimidating people who disagree with us.

We have the right and privilege of voting. We should never sit on the sidelines and not participate. We can be a faithful witness with our vote if we pray, discern and humbly voice our opinions through the ballot box. Our eschatology compels us to act right now and not sit still, waiting on a rescue. We are active participants, and trusted ambassadors, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Finally, we are commanded to pray for those in authority, even those who did not get our vote. Keep a Christlike attitude before, during and after the election. Let’s be civil in our dialogue and gracious with our opinions. Politics are important, but not fundamental for our hope.

 

 

 

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Some Truths about Sermons, Preaching and Preachers

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, there have been men and women commissioned with the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their congregations. Some have rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others have left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity to preach was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating, sometimes all at once.

What does your pastor want you to know about them? How can we build up those called to speak? What should a congregation know about the sermon that takes up a portion of our weekend?

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we are invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we have poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be with people in prayer and conversation. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you are not tired after preaching, you are not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy that has been expended is not easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

In the Western world, our culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors,”If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That is a dangerous trap for many pastors. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it is ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble.

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has pet ministry projects, social issues, the latest headline outrage or spiritual gift they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the path for truthful answers. The most powerful sermons jump start our disciple-shaping journey, compelling us to study more, to lean into mature relationships and jar us free from apathy or deception.

 

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Celebrate, Tolerate or Obliterate

Every team has values, shared beliefs and convictions that guide their decisions and ultimately determine success or failure. For some teams, values are super clear so decisions are easier and more is accomplished with less time and resources. When values are vague, time and resources are misspent and often wasted.

Big Idea If our team is not celebrating the values, our teams will be ineffective or toxic. If our team knows and embraces the values, a lot will get done with less.

Most people on our teams celebrate the shared values. They will strive for unity and are not content with mediocre. They cheer for others who hit the mark and there is a sense of shared responsibility for the group’s well-being. They are honest with their struggles, true with their friendship and gracious when sincere efforts fail. Values are discussed, debated and agreed upon regularly. Promote these people.

Some on our team are just tolerating the values. They are not rebels, but they are certainly not disciples. They seem like devotees in meetings, but when given the opportunity, they take shortcuts. They are indifferent when goals are not met and are not that concerned about budgets and such. They tend to get by with “average” and are working for a paycheck, to maintain status quo and nothing more.  They are generally peaceful, but seldom passionate which means innovation and proactive problem-solving are both rare. Spend more time with these people.

The third group obliterates the values. They are either immature or just riding on the wrong bus altogether. They’re always in the center of some drama and strife and seem like Pigpen, the Peanuts character who was always traveling in his own private dust storm. They have been taught, and taught, and taught, but they do not agree with your values and never will. If they do not admire the team’s values, they do not need to be on the team. Fire these people.

Most teams can agree on values if we slow down and ask more questions. Give your team room to debate and adopt the values. Make them clear and easy to understand. Allow the introverts to process and the extroverts to argue out loud.  Create a culture of honest debate and allow everyone to participate. Coach those who want to grow, and don’t feel awful when disagreeable people choose to go elsewhere. Great teams are built on great values. That’s worth celebrating.

 

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Leaders Who are Easy to Follow

I want to be a leader who is easy to follow, so I’ve been paying attention lately to those who seem to model this really well.  We should not have an unhealthy desire to please everyone, but we should make it as easy as possible for others to follow us.  There are some outstanding leaders I’ve recently bumped into who are doing just that.  I’m certain there’s more at play in their lives than the five things on my list, but these traits seem to be consistent and common.

1. They are fun

Honestly, fun people are more fun to be around. Leaders who laugh have better meetings, tend to build camaraderie and vanquish the inevitable relational stresses that come from any organization that involves two or more people. All of us love laughter and it is good medicine.

2. They are predictable

Impulsive, unpredictable leaders may seem edgy and cool at first glance, but they are not easy to follow. I heard the story once of a leader bursting into the office one morning announcing to his team that they were all going to the beach for a day of fun. Of course, that sounds like the hero leader, but the team still had to meet their deadlines and get their work done. The day at the beach actually caused more stress to the team because it happened during a really busy time for them. Leaders who are easy to follow are not prone to whims or fancied by fads. They are not boring (See #1) but they are steady.

3. They are fair

Not everyone can be treated the same, but everyone can be treated fairly. Leaders who are easy to follow have established clear boundaries and are consistent when measuring results and performance. Really good leaders can overlook bias and make unprejudiced decisions based on the merits of their team members. If you do good work for this leader, you will get noticed and rewarded.

4. They are active listeners

Most people have to “weigh in” before they will “buy in”, and most of us feel respected when we’ve been heard. Leaders who are easy to follow know how to ask good questions that get the best answers. They are genuinely interested in you and know how to make eye contact during conversations. They tend to linger with their team in unhurried conversations and seldom make people feel rushed or pushed aside.

5. They are kind

Leaders who are easy to follow manage their emotions and control their words. They are not easily angered and are much quicker with compliments than complaints. They praise in public and correct in private. Leaders who are easy to follow inspire and never embarrass. All of us know the sting of being motivated by shame, guilt or fear, but the leaders who are easy to follow have chosen a better way.

 

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The times, they are a-changin’ …

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan

I just spent the week with some great pastors and leaders in the UK and somehow the trip across the pond helped me see more clearly what is happening here in my own backyard. We live in times of great change in the local church, but every generation has said the same about its places of worship. The church was built on the witness of a resurrected Christ, the trustworthy scriptures and the sacraments we gather around to celebrate in community. This has always been sacred space for Christ followers, but everything else is a-changin’.

Like the UK and most of Europe, our country has also moved toward a more secular view of life, distancing itself from traditional churches and the established religious orders. The trends are troubling and challenging for us leading congregations outside the Bible Belt, where churches still seem to hold some traditional influences. If we pay attention, though, we can see the waves of change coming to all of our shores in several key areas.

1. There is a low trust of church leaders

The local church will always be led by imperfect people who have been given delegated authority from God. This authority is maintained only by humble, servant leaders who put the needs of others first.  When this is absent, the office of pastor becomes abhorrent to a cynical culture that is curious about Jesus, but distrustful of authoritarian church polity that resembles the world’s system of corruption. Now, more than ever, ecclesiastical leaders have to be above reproof, completely transparent and accountable or we risk losing the one thing we cannot easily regain – the trust of others.

2. Personal morality has replaced biblical morality

For generations, people seemed to know they needed help to find their way home. Now, we have a generation who have embraced moral relativism, the idea that no one really knows right and wrong, therefore we should tolerate and validate the individual’s moral choices. Today, the teachings of Jesus are sometimes respected but seldom revered. What Jesus gave us is still powerful and life-changing, but we cannot assume the culture will immediately believe the Way is immediately better than their own. We must show them the beauty of a life surrendered to Jesus and not just argue with them about moral conventions. In the beginning and until the end, we must pray the Holy Spirit get involved because that is how we found the narrow path home.

3. We are becoming the minority

The men and women I met this week were mostly encouraged, despite the trends I just described. They spoke of baptisms, helping the poor in their villages and cities, the hope that new churches were soon to be planted and the pure worship that was emerging from their congregations. Leaders were encouraged that new partnerships are emerging promising new strength through cooperation. They did not despise being the minority working the margins of their culture, spending their time with those who had been tossed aside and forgotten.  They found Jesus there, just as their fathers and mothers had found him in generations past.  He was among them, being a faithful God to his faithful community, the maker of heaven and earth, building his kingdom that has no end in a land that was a-changin’.

 

 

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Trust and the Words We Speak in Protest

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 12:18

It seems every week, there is a global or national crisis that demands my outrage. I am often asked why I do not “speak out” on all the ills plaguing our generation, why I am not lending my song more often to the choir of bloggers. I do pay attention and I do care deeply about racial discord, injustice, the immigrant crisis, violence and the need for better systems and laws to protect the marginalized. I pray. I have conversations with serious thinkers. I meet with local and state leaders who can make a legislative difference. I invest my time and money into local solutions like our Dream Centers.

Godly dissent and petition in the public square has its place and role in the pastoral vocation, but I want my published and pronounced words to be wise and helpful. Trust is merited by measured responses, not angry rants. I will not be silent when prophetic protest is needed, but trust is earned and it is fragile.

When we speak, let’s have something to say that is based on facts and scripture and not just emotion and rhetoric. Social media is a powerful tool to communicate quickly to large crowds, but it is a cheap way to build sincere relationships that lead to difficult, but needed change. It is much easier to hide behind a keyboard than to meet face to face with those who oppose you and to find common ground. I would rather my words heal, restore and conciliate than simply go viral.

For those of us who have been given the sacred assignment to pastor people, our vocation requires us to talk about difficult issues with broken people and presumably, permission has been granted for us to speak candidly. That permission is based on trust that has been earned, not given.

Trust is bestowed because we are considered worthy of trust. Our integrity has been measured, scrutinized and witnessed. We are trustworthy. People give us access to vulnerable spaces in their lives which means they are taking a great risk and a lot is at stake.

Trust is earned in deliberate drops and lost in downpours, so we should not take any of it for granted and guard our reputations as sacred. What we say, how we say it, and when we say it matters. Silence is sometimes the voice of wisdom.

 

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