Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Most Stupid Thing I Ever Heard

I hadn't been a senior pastor very long when I first encountered what I believe to be the most stupid thing I've ever heard. I was having a conversation one day with another pastor who lived near me.  As we talked about our ministries, I related to him how effective my staff was and that they were responsible for the success of many of the things we were doing. His response was both memorable and ridiculous. He said, "Well, you know, Jacob leaned on his staff and died"...a reference to Hebrews 11:21. Now I know that this was his attempt at humor, but the underlying serious tone was unmistakeable.  Since that time, I have heard this statement again, and again, and every time I hear it, there seems to be an undercurrent of contempt for staff members. It's almost as if those who say it forget that they are the ones responsible for assembling their team. As a senior leader, if your team is truly incompetent, that's truly your fault.

To me, statements like these reveal a couple of root problems that exist in both the corporate world and the church world.

There exists a culture of contempt between senior leadership and staff. Just because a leader has stories of staff members who have gone awry in the past doesn't mean that every staff member in the present should pay for it. It should also be noted that, as leaders, we will reap what we sow. If we sow into the climate of our organization an attitude of mistrust and suspicion, we can't be surprised when we're treated that way in return. It's simple: leaders should take pains to hire worthy staff in the first place, and then be willing to replace those who need to go. What we don't need is to become bitter.

There also seems to be, especially in the church, a deficit of staff-building savvy.  I've seen it time and again where unwise hires were made that resulted in organizational pain in the long run.  There's not much margin of error in hiring of staff...issues and deficits that are either ignored or overlooked in the beginning will probably come back to haunt us in the end. 

The question is, what does a healthy, functional staff look like, and how can I build one?

I have been tremendously blessed with an amazing staff of people who possess an uncommon commitment to God, our church, and to me as a senior leader.  We all carry a passion for the vision of the church, as well as a passion for our community.  Each member of the staff functions with a great deal of freedom and delegated authority, not just delegated responsibility.  As a result, our church has become healthier and stronger than it has ever been. We are growing, we are changing, and we are effectively reaching our community with the Gospel.

Not only is our staff effective in it's ministry dynamic, it is healthy in it's relational dynamic.  We are colleagues, but we are also friends.  From what I have observed over almost 20 years in ministry, we have a staff culture that is incredibly unique.  We truly function as a family.

This culture wasn't developed overnight, and yours won't be either.  The key really has been the philosophy we have employed in building our staff.  I will address that philosophy, next week.  I want to wrap up this post by mentioning a couple of staffing philosophies that seem to be common, but very ineffective.  I call them "plugging the holes", and "filling the roles".

"Plugging the holes" works like this:  Every staff vacancy is viewed as an obstacle rather than an opportunity.  The main concern of senior leadership is that there are things that are going undone, and someone is needed to fill the gap.  This approach is very reactionary in nature and if decisions are made based on this thinking, they probably won't serve the long-term goals and purposes of the church or organization.  The "plugging the holes" philosophy doesn't bother to take into account the way the position in question relates to the other staff, and the organization as a whole, and leadership will often be satisfied to put someone in place who can simply 'get the job done'.  At the end of the day, that's about all that will happen under this paradigm because the overall impact that this hire will have on the group as a whole has been ignored, and conflicts will follow. 

One other issue that often arises with "plugging the holes" is this:  we end up bringing into leadership what Jesus called a hireling.  This is the person who isn't committed to the organization, or to it's people.  His or her only commitment is to themselves and keeping their position for the gain it brings them.  They won't sacrifice for you, the organization, or it's people, and if tough times come, they will run. 

Now, "filling the roles" is a more pragmatic approach, but still flawed.  Under this model, senior leadership understands that each member of the staff impacts the whole and not just their particular area, and even values the role they play and the contribution they make.  This is a giant step forward from "plugging the holes", but still falls short of excellence in one major way.  Individual performance is still the main emphasis, not team performance.  In this scenario, the senior leader probably believes that the best individual performer possible, placed in each role, will equal a top-notch team.  That may or may not be the case, however.  Ask any coach...great individual performers don't always make great team-players...and in team sports, it takes the team to win the game. 

According to Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, the church (and really other organizations in general) are teams.  We function correctly in concert.  So, our goal as leaders should really be to build an effective team.  Let's meet back here, next week, and talk about that!

Happy leading!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Addition and Subtraction

Leaders live two dimensional lives.  While we are very much connected to our professional world, we are equally, and more importantly, connected to our personal world.  Probably every leader would love to become more effective in his or her professional world while becoming healthier and happier in his personal world.  Sadly, we often fail to see how this can even be a possibility.  In our normal paradigm of leadership, we sacrifice one of these areas to service the other.  And, if we're being honest, it's usually the personal that we sacrifice for the sake of the professional.  So, we end up succeeding professionally, while failing our families and failing ourselves as our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships with God and others pay the price. 

Surely there is a balance.  Surely there is a way to be healthy and happy personally while being effective professionally.  No doubt there are many dynamics that can contribute to such a balance, but I stumbled onto one dynamic recently that has made a difference for me, and it might be beneficial for you as well. It involves a hound dog.

You're wondering how a hound dog fits into the spiritual and professional vision for this blog.  It's not as much of a stretch as you might think.

We have been promising my 5 year old daughter, for months and months now, that we would allow her to have a dog.  (She love animals more than anything.)  The day of reckoning finally came and we found a dog we were all happy with...a blue tick beagle.  So, now, my wife is happy because it's a small dog, I am happy because it's a hound, and my daughter is happy because it wags it's tail and licks her face.

I was reluctant to bring a dog into our newly constructed home that, heretofore, had been free of any animal presence.  Before we even got the dog home, however, I was attached.  Of course we have experienced all the inconveniences of a 5 week old puppy, and there have been a great many adjustments to our routine...but it's good.  It is very good.  I've now realized that we (I) needed a pet.

This got me to thinking...sometimes we need to be willing to add healthy dimensions to our lives.  I know, I're schedule is busy, the valuable real-estate of your mind is already overbooked, and you can't imagine adding one more piece to your puzzle.  I know that's what you're thinking because I thought the same thing.  However, there are things that are not yet part of our lives that may hold a key to our personal health and happiness, or our professional effectiveness.  If we're not willing to add healthy dimensions to our world, we may continue to fall short of the life God has planned for us.

I needed a dog.  I needed the daily diversion, the distraction from the ultra-deep responsibilities of ministry.  I needed a cold nose and a warm tongue to press up against my face every time I walked in the room.  Our family needed something in common that we all loved and felt connected to. 

You may need to make some additions to your life, as well.  It may be a pet, it may be a hobby, it may be a relationship, it may even be a new professional venture.  I know that beginning this blog has opened a new door of effectiveness to my life and ministry because over the past few months it has connected me to professional people, particularly outside of ministry, who have been blessed by my perspective.  I needed to add a blog to my professional world to increase my effectiveness.

So, an appropriate addition can benefit your personal health and happiness, as well as your professional effectiveness.

I've learned something else:  subtractions are just as important as additions. 

It's amazing how that when something becomes part of our lives, it's hard for us to ever detach from it.  I won't reference any annoying Disney movie songs here, but there are unhealthy things in your life, and you need to learn to let them go.  I have subtracted many things over the years.  Maybe the very first thing I learned to subtract in the ministry was worry.  Leaders can be worriers.  Choose not to be one.  Worry accomplishes absolutely nothing except draining you of your energy, optimism, and faith. 

There are other subtractions that can be made from your life.  One of those is organizational involvement.  If you're like me, you're a  part of numerous organizations, and lead some of them.  No doubt these things are good...but are they good for you?  You need to reevaluate whether the investment of time, energy, and stress you're putting into that organization is worth it.  A word of aren't the best judge of this.  Ask your spouse, ask a friend, ask a colleague, and most importantly, ask the Lord.  Jesus was presented with several opportunities that He simply didn't take.  Remember what Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:23:  "...everything is lawful for me, but not everything is beneficial..." (paraphrase).

When you've detected the 'boat anchors' in your life, the required action is clear, explained in Heb. 12:1 (KJV), "...let us lay aside every weight...".  That makes it plain...putting our lives on a diet is our responsibility.  No one else can lay aside your weight. 

So subtraction is a command of scripture.  It's almost as if God understands how detrimental it is for us to carry unnecessary weight in our lives, so He commands us to lose it.

It makes sense...when I make the appropriate additions and subtractions to my life, I end up living in balance.  Balanced leaders...the world needs a few more of those.

Happy leading!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Over and Under (Part 3)

We wrap up our discussion of mentoring and being mentored with a quote from Jesus that came as He sent the disciples out to minister on their own.  He told them in Matthew 10:8 (NIV), "Freely you have received, freely give."

You probably can accept the idea that you need a mentor in your life...someone to be an influence, and an example to you...someone to call out the greatness in you, and challenge you to live up to your God-given potential.  You may not, however, realize that you should be that person to someone else.  If you have ever received, you are also responsible to give.  Think about it:  why would you want to deprive the generation that follows you in ministry, or business, of the opportunity to utilize your wisdom and experience?  If they possess the advantage of this knowledge, they can extend the life of your influence well after you are gone.  This was precisely Jesus' leadership approach.  He replicated Himself in the lives of His disciples, and then told them that they would do His works, and even greater works, when He left them.  As a result, His ministry has been extended to this very day.

I've heard so many times, from people of all ages, "I don't have anything to offer".  You may have thought the same thing.  What you meant was this, "I don't believe I have any special expertise, or outstanding experience worth sharing."  Here's the deal, though:  If you have ANY expertise or experience, no matter how basic it may seem to you, it will be revolutionary to someone who needs it.  You're underwhelmed by your skills because you're familiar with them...they are old-hat to you.  But to the person who is in need of those skills, they are like gold.  So, lose the false humility and accept the fact that you have something that someone needs.  At the very least, if you are a believer in Jesus, then you have, living inside you, what EVERYONE needs.

Remember what we looked for in a mentor in last week's post?  As a mentor, you possess something those under you don't.  It may be experience, it may be a history of success or failure, it may be skills, and it is always perspective and objectivity. You have something to offer, after all.

So, we repeat our questions from last week:

First, 'who'?
Who are you going to mentor?  Should you take applications, or recruit whoever happens to be standing around?  No.  It's easier than that.  If you are in leadership, there are those folks who are drawn to you.  There are even those who seem to find an excuse to wander into your office, or randomly call or text for no apparent reason.  But there is a reason.  The fact is that they want to be around you because they see something in you that they need.  You will draw a majority of your mentoring subject from these kinds of relationships.

I began mentoring folks when we were in youth ministry.  There were kids that just wanted to be around us...more than others did.  They showed up at our offices after school, they wanted to go wherever we went, they even ended up at our house when they were on dates.  They had questions, they had ideas, and they also had a purpose.  Somewhere along the way we realized that we needed to take advantage of this dynamic and pour into these kids.  I'm glad we did.  Right now, at least six of those 'kids' are in full or part-time ministry.

Now, 'how'?
There are really only two requirements to make a fruitful mentoring relationship:

1. Availability
As we mentioned before, in scripture, you always found Joshua with Moses...even in his meetings with God.  This means that Moses made his life available to Joshua.  Those whom you are mentoring need an upgraded level of access to your life.  You can't ignore phone calls from them.  You can't put everything in your schedule ahead of them...they are a priority.  Yes, it can be inconvenient.  Yes, there are sacrifices.  The inconvenience and sacrifice will be worth it, however, when you see those you are mentoring begin to grow and succeed.     

2. Transparency 
Now, when you have the attention of someone you are mentoring, by all means, steward that gift wisely.  Don't waste your time and theirs by putting on a show.  They don't need to see the 'cleaned-up' version of you, they need to see the real you.  They need to see how you respond to conflict, how you push through frustration, and overcome real problems.  They need to know that you have human emotions so that you can show them how to channel those emotions.  They need to understand your thought processes and your problem-solving style.  None of this can be done by presenting a facade.  Remember, they don't need to be impressed by you, they need to be equipped by you.

Moses equipped Joshua for his life and ministry.  Joshua extended the ministry of Moses.  This is the beauty of mentorship, both over and under.

Happy leading!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Over and Under (Part 2)

The Biblical record suggests that Joshua was a man of physical ability, superior intellect, strong character, and military prowess.  In other words, his potential for leading God's people was off the charts.  For that potential to be realized and translated into leadership success...leadership that would bring the people of God into the promises of God, however, would require an impetus.  There was a final ingredient that, when added, would propel Joshua into the position of an effective leader.  It is the same ingredient that we must add to all of our abilities, and all of our training.

Deuteronomy 34:9 says this:
Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him, doing just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

This key ingredient for Joshua was the mentorship of Moses.  Moses provided for Joshua something that only came to him through relationship and impartation...the Spirit of Wisdom.  This is exactly why those of us in leadership should actively pursue a relationship with a mentor over us...because we need their wisdom.  God uses our education, God utilizes our abilities, but our education and abilities are only employed successfully and appropriately to the degree they are deployed with wisdom.

So the reality is, you need a mentor.  In fact, you probably need more than one.  While that sounds like a good idea, two questions have probably already risen to the forefront of your consciousness:
1. Who?
2. How?

Don't let the 'who', and the 'how', of mentoring keep you from such a's not as complex as it sounds.

First, the 'who'.
Here's the secret to identifying the mentor(s) the Lord may be putting in your path:  He or she must possess something you need, but don't have.  It may be experience in one or more areas.  It may be a tremendous history of success, or they may have a tremendous failure to their credit.  They may have connections to helpful people, resources, or opportunities.  They may even have a gift that is not really in your arsenal.  Most of all, they will have perspective that you have not yet developed, and the ability to see you and your situation objectively.

Once you understand this secret, look around.  Who has the Lord already placed in your life that could fill this role.  And remember...a mentor doesn't have to be perfect, and they don't have to be an expert in all areas, they just need to be proficient in one.  Joshua didn't need Moses to be a military genius, he needed him to be a spiritual father.

If you don't see a mentor(s) positioned near you, pray about it, and then consider those folks you know and admire from a distance.  Is there someone who's effectiveness you would like to emulate?  If you feel a release from the Lord, pursue them.  Let them know exactly what you're after and see if there is divine favor on the relationship.  If there is, you've found a mentor.

Now, the 'how'.
We find, throughout scripture, that Joshua was continually by Moses' side.  He was present.  To make the most of a mentoring relationship, be in the mentor's presence.  In my church, we run a ministry development program for folks interested in both volunteer and vocational ministry.  One of the major components of this training includes six weeks spent shadowing and assisting each member of our pastoral staff.  They see where we go, what we do, how we respond and minister to people, as well as what kind of situations and decisions we are faced with on a day to day basis.  They are present, and  because they are present, they learn.

Making the most of a mentoring relationship also requires a skill that all have not mastered yet...listening.  If you're doing all the talking, you're not being mentored.  Yes, you need to bring good questions to the table, but then you need to shut up and listen.  In fact, I've learned the most from my mentors when I find a way to get them talking and just sit back and listen.  You will catch not only the specifics of their approach to leadership, but also the spirit of their leadership as they talk...don't minimize this aspect of the relationship, maximize it.

Next week we tackle the idea of how to mentor those under us.  For right now, though, answer these questions:
-Who are my mentors?
-Do they possess something that I do not?
-Am I maximizing these relationships?
-Who is God leading me to pursue as a new mentor?
-What are my action steps to pursue this relationship?

Be excited about being mentored.  As you are mentored, you gain access to wisdom that is above and beyond your own, and your followers reap the rewards.

Happy leading!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Over and Under

Moses and Joshua.

Which one was more important to the other?  It's an impossible question to answer because these men were totally interdependent. Each man's success required the success of the other. Joshua needed Moses as a mentor to build his foundation as a leader, while Moses needed Joshua as a successor to complete his assignment. One without the other would prove ineffective. This is the principle of 'over and under'.

It means that those in ministry and leadership should always pursue  mentoring from those over them, and practice mentoring those under them. This two-way connectivity allows the older generation to access the strength and passion of the younger, and the younger generation the opportunity to access the wisdom and experience of the older.  A missing link weakens the entire chain.

Why is pursing a mentor that is over me important?

Over 140 college credit hours,
23 bible and ministry classes, and 3 levels of ministry credentialing...this is the professional training I've received to prepare me for a career in leadership.

10...this is the number of mentors (other than family) who have made significant leadership investments into my life.  Pastors like Marvin Gorman, Dr. Ron Phillips, Glenn Dorsey, Robbie Holcomb, Mike Glover, and Boyd Smith. Professors and teachers like Al Skoog, David Neiderbrach, Kelly Dame, and David Hall. All of them going above and beyond their formal assignments to make sure I was well-equipped for mine.

These 10 relationships did more to prepare me to lead people than all the formal education did. So why do we invest so much time and energy into formal education while neglecting mentoring relationships?  We need a balance of formal education and practical impartation.

Now, pursuing a mentor over us affirms that we realize our need to receive, but we must also realize that others need us to give. For that reason, we must not neglect to mentor those under us.

The fact is that no matter how young or 'new' to ministry or leadership we may be, there is always someone who can benefit from the experience and wisdom we've gained up to this point. And as we pour into someone 'under' us, we are, like Moses, borrowing someone else's strength to extend and complete our own assignment.

We will spend the next 2 posts discussing how to develop over and under relationships.  In the mean time, be on the lookout for someone 'over' you that has something in their life or ministry you would like to emulate.

Happy leading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Managing Millennials

As a leader, if you have Millennials on your staff or team, and you aren't one, you need help. How can I make such a broad-based assessment of teams I know nothing about?  It's because I do know something about staff and volunteer teams are comprised largely of them.  Here's what I know:  Millennials think differently, communicate differently, respond differently, and have different needs than any generation previous to them.

If your primary experience has been with leading boomers, busters, and gen-xers, I don't have to go far out on a limb to predict that you've had some challenges relating to the younger folks on your team. There is no way that I can even begin to tackle all the issues you may need to have resolved, so I just want to make a couple of suggestions that may help you move toward more fruitful relationships.

1. Listen
Remember, Millennials think, communicate, and respond DIFFERENTLY, not WRONGLY. The world they were raised in looked very different from the one you were raised in, and as a result, they see things differently. We don't have the luxury, as leaders, of relating to all our team members in the way most comfortable for us (unless we want to weed our teams down to people exactly like us). This means we "old dog" leaders must be willing to learn a new trick. The answer for our generational conflicts isn't to leave a group behind, but to learn from them. This requires a skill we might not be as thrilled about developing, but our teams sure will appreciate when we do...LISTENING. The divide between you and your millennials won't be bridged by more talking, it will be bridged by more listening. Ask purposeful questions that will give you real insight into their world, and then be quiet. Even be bold enough to ask the question, 'how do you need to be led?' This will prove more fruitful than the frustration-fest conversations you've been having.

2. Learn
Don't be scared of a little education. Do some reading on the millennial mindset and see if there are some easy adjustments you can make in leading them. For instance, it is well-documented that millennials thrive on immediate feedback, and lots of it. This means instead of restricting 'evaluation' to a formal time and space, we should be providing constant evaluation in real-time, giving our team the opportunity to put our insights to work for them immediately.

It is also widely accepted that millennials desire, even demand, authenticity. If they don't feel a genuine connection to you as a leader, to your heart and your vision, you will lose them. The days of facade-oriented, surface level relationships with team members are over. This is, quite frankly, a good thing. Mark 3 outlines the leadership style of Jesus in verse 14 as He calls His disciples to Himself. Mark records that He ordained them to BE WITH HIM and to preach. The first order of business for Jesus as He developed His team was to cultivate authentic relationship...everything that followed was based on that. For us this means that we can choose to invest in open, honest, conversations that reveal who we are at a core level to our team members. That authenticity will build trust and loyalty and create the success we need in our church or business.

Two key questions:  Can you listen to your team?  Can you learn something new about how they perceive and respond to life?  If your answer is yes to both, then you are positioned to succeed in managing millennials.

Some helpful articles:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cleaning the Computer

Those involved in the ministry know that ministry comes a great deal of mental weight. Information, responsibilities, prayer requests, to do lists, concerns about people and their issues, ideas God is giving you, etc... The brain can become a tangled web of thoughts that becomes difficult to navigate, and heavy to carry around. Here are my top 5 suggestions for 'Cleaning the Computer' or de-cluttering the ministry mind.

1. Make silence a priority during your personal prayer time, and do it early in the day.

2. Offload all possible information onto digital means. Keep a device handy, enter ideas, prayer requests, to do items, etc... immediately. Never say, "I have to remember that", always make your device remember for you.

3. Make others responsible for what they need from you. If they ask you to do something for them, make an appointment, call them back, etc... tell them to contact you to follow up. This way, if you forget, their follow-up contact will remind you and make you deal with it. Meanwhile you have peace of mind knowing that you won't leave someone hanging. That individual has similar interactions with a very few people. You, as a minister, have dozens of these kinds of interactions going at the same time...make the other person responsible.

4. Stop scrolling facebook and twitter. Utilize them for communication only. Your newsfeed only adds weight to your life.

5. Read blogs & articles, don't read the comments