Be a Leader, not a Jerk

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One of the sad things that has happened in recent years, especially in the reformed camp of church planting is that pastors and bloggers have become known for being jerks. We have watchdog bloggers, people who are constantly pointing out mistakes in people, creating more and more lines among Christians instead of working together.

Fewer pastors are known as winsome and gracious and more known for being jerks.

If you want to stop any movement, kill any church from having influence in a city, stop any influence you may have long-term with other leaders, be a jerk.

That isn’t the kind of person people follow for a long time. You may get by for a period of time based off of skill, charisma or simply connections, but eventually your colors (in this case, being a jerk) show up.

Here are a few ways to remind yourself as a leader to stay on track and be winsome and gracious:

  1. Remember your brokenness. The fastest way to become a jerk is to think you have it all together, are beyond sin or can’t fall. Remember your weaknesses, your need for Jesus and that you don’t know it all. Because the jerks online tend to be about pointing sin out in others, this is a hard thing to remember, but crucial. You cannot be gracious without experiencing grace.
  2. Spend time with people and read people outside of your tribe. They don’t need to be on your reading lists all the time, but read some business books, some books by those you don’t agree with theologically to learn from them. There should be some discomfort when you read instead of always just nodding your head. While you need to be cautious here, but if you are a leader of a church, your theology should be strong enough to be challenged. Also, those books will also tell you what some of the people who show up to hear you preach think and that can be helpful sermon prep. Otherwise, you end up answering questions no one is asking.
  3. Have some friends who can tell you when you are being a jerk and taking the wrong stand. Whether this is your spouse, an elder, another pastor or blogger, but you need a friend to tell you, “you are being a jerk on that, let it go.” Historically, pastors are terrible friends. We don’t know how to do anything or talk about anything other than church, so we get lost in our world of what other pastors are doing, the latest theology debate, what the blogs are raging about and most people we talk to could care less.
  4. Take the right stands, but not all of them. A mentor told me once, “be careful the hills you choose to die on because you will die on all those hills and you can’t die that often.” Every issue doesn’t deserve a response from you. Every heresy you see online, some can be let go. That person who spouts out bad marriage advice on Facebook in your church, eventually they are seen for who they are. You can let it go. Someone else can step in. Sometimes though, you need to step up and say something, but when you do, be gracious and winsome.

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Why Pastors Should Read more Leadership Books

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A few years ago another pastor told me he was concerned for me because my blog only reviewed leadership books but not a lot of “gospel centered or theology books” as he said. The other day another pastor asked me why I don’t review more of those books and then said, “Do you even read theology books?”

The short answer is “yes I do read them” but I believe pastors (especially ones in my Acts 29 tribe) read too many theology books and not enough leadership books.

In fact, when I shared what churches could learn from Amazon, I got comments about how business thinking and learnings fail the church and pastors need to spend less time learning from CEO’s.

Here’s a few reasons pastors should read more leadership books:

  1. It’s the language people in your church are speaking. If your church is like mine, it is filled with leaders and businesspeople. They respond to strong leadership, budgets, systems, and marketing (and yes your church markets simply by having a website and a place to meet).
  2. The church is like a business. I didn’t say it was a business, but like one. Money comes in and goes out. There are bills. Each church has a target audience. Each church competes with things (ie. sports, trips, activities on Sunday mornings, school, work). Churches do not compete with other churches, but there are a lot of things vying for people’s attention on Sunday’s.
  3. You need to be stretched. Most pastors are very smart when it comes to doctrine and theology. Yes, you should grow in those areas, but most pastors are well on their way in those things. They can counsel people well, preach well, but struggle to lead meetings, handle budgets and build systems for follow up with guests, new givers and new believers (most pastors give me blank stares when I ask what happens for all those things in their churches.

Robert Bruce Shaw in his book Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter said, “My fundamental belief is that if a company wants to see the future, 80 percent of what it is going to have to learn will be from outside its own industry…Leaders need to master the details of their business but also need to remain curious about a broader range of topics that can enrich their ability to seize opportunities and recognize threats.”

I am blown away at the sermon material I get simply by reading the latest business book. A lot of our discipleship ideas have been taken from business books because they are stronger in the areas of developing leaders and a pipeline.

I remember talking to someone and they asked, “But how do you expect your leaders to grow in doctrine if you encourage them to read more leadership books?” The short answer I gave, “well, they do read their bibles.”

If you are looking for a good place to start, here are 10 books I think every Christian leader should read.

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3 Strikes and a Good Idea

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In Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter author Robert Bruce Shaw talks about the 3 strike rule used by Mark Ronald, former CEO of BAE Systems, Inc. The idea comes that not every decision needs to be resolved right away. Even in a fast paced environment like our culture today, you can sit on ideas.

For me, whenever someone says, “I need to know now” my response is almost always, “Well if you need to know now, the answer is no.” I don’t like to feel backed into a corner and wise decisions are rarely made in a rush.

According to Ronald, “any concern that affects the whole organization should be given 3 opportunities for a hearing by the leader and his or her team.” He goes on, “Each time the same issue surfaces, the individual advocating the position has a responsibility to either present new date or analysis that has not been heard before – or to cultivate further support from others who were not present or supportive in earlier discussions.”

One of the things people often do when advocating an idea is bring the same stats, data, passion, etc. to a discussion. Not new information.

According to Ronald, after 3 times though, the idea is dead in the water and not discussed again.

If you can’t get buy in from the people above you after 3 tries, you either didn’t do your homework, the organization isn’t ready for it, or the church will miss an opportunity.

If you aren’t in charge though, you can only control the data you bring in your 3 tries.

Let’s say you are not the lead pastor at your church and you bring an idea to the elders or lead pastor and they shoot it down. Instead of walking away frustrated, saying they have no idea what they are talking about or how they are irrelevant and just don’t get it. Ask them if you can do some more work on the idea and present it again. If it is a valid idea, they should say yes.

The next time you see a problem that you bring to your boss’s attention, also bring a solution with it. Your boss does not want to solve your problems, they want you to. You are the leader of your area, act like it.

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How to Work 5 Days

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I talk with pastors, church planters and people who work outside of the church about productivity, pace, schedule and the stress of work. Over the past several years, I have read almost every book and blog I can get my hands on when it comes to these topics because the balance between work and life is so hard to balance.

Last week I talked with another pastor and he asked, “How do you get everything done that you need to get done by just working 5 days? I can’t imagine not working 6.” In fact, a few years ago one megachurch decided to start putting a theological framework around a 6 day work week. I’m not going to debate that, but from this blog post I think you can determine I think that was not a smart idea.

The short answer is lots of coffee.

Just kidding.

There are a few ways I’ve learned to work only 5 days instead of 6 and how to not take work home regardless of the business you have. Here they are:

  1. Decide you’ll only work 5 days. This may seem obvious but most people simply concede that working more than 5 days is just the lot in life for everyone. We don’t take control of our schedules very well and allow others to dictate them. Work also takes the amount of time you give it, so if you set a cut off time at the end of the day or week that you stick to, work will get done in that time. Don’t believe me? Think about how productive you are before a holiday or vacation. You get a ton done and what you don’t get done gets left (so it probably wasn’t that important).
  2. Talk to your boss about not taking work home. If there is an expectation (written or unwritten) at work that you will take work home, have a conversation with your boss about it. Ask what you could do so that work can get left at work. Don’t dictate terms, let your boss be part of the solution.
  3. Control email and notifications instead of them controlling you. Too many people allow social media and email notifications to drive their lives. In my opinion, you should check email at lunch and before the end of the day and that’s it. Email has a way of determining your to-do list and if you check it first thing in the morning, it can also hijack your focus as you will think about that frustrating email you got. At night, turn your phone off and don’t check social media. 
  4. Do only that which matters. If you hold to working 5 days and sticking to a certain number of hours, this will cause you to cut some things out of your life and make you do only the most important things. This is a good thing. As a leader, you should know what in your church or organization only you can do and do those things. You should be giving away leadership and allowing others to use their gifts.
  5. Leave things undone. You don’t need to do everything. This a myth too many people buy into. Some things that come across your desk, some requests are not worth doing. They don’t move you or your church forward. What things should be left undone? It depends.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • Last week was a whirlwind of a week.
  • On Tuesday, I flew to Tallahassee so I could attend the funeral of Jerad’s (the worship pastor at Revolution Church) dad. Then on Wednesday I drove to Orlando to attend The Magnetic Church Conference which was all about building a culture of evangelism in your church.
  • I learned so much while I was there, still processing it all.
  • Read some great books on the plane: The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary ResultsReady to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success and Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter
  • Stay tuned for reviews.
  • Got back early Saturday morning and then got to have an awesome morning at Revolution yesterday.
  • I taught on marriage and divorce and we had our highest non-holiday attendance ever.
  • On a holiday weekend even!
  • Crazy.
  • Makes me really excited to launch our series on Easter called The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating. 
  • I mentioned that on Facebook last night and got questions like, “will you talk about the resurrection on easter? Will you tie relationships into the resurrection?”
  • I don’t understand those questions. We talk about the resurrection every week.
  • One of the highlights last week was being walked around Epcot by a former Disney Imagineer. If you can ever do that, I highly recommend it.
  • The response to my message yesterday was overwhelming.
  • For me, it was so encouraging hearing from people who have walked through the pain of a divorce and how yesterday was helpful.
  • I think pastor’s often do a poor job of preaching on divorce and having a high view of marriage without making people feel bad.
  • It is possible to give people hope.
  • Watched the football games yesterday with some Packer fans.
  • Needless to say, it was a sad afternoon in our house.
  • Hoping for a good Super Bowl.
  • Not like last year.
  • I was excited to see the nominations for Best Picture.
  • I’ve seen some of them, but excited to see the others.
  • Stay tuned for my opinion on what should win.
  • Tons of great things are happening at Revolution right now as we head into the spring season of ministry.
  • Super excited.
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9 Leadership Principles from Amazon and How They Apply to Your Church

I just finished The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. As a reader and a parent who buys Christmas gifts, Amazon has gotten a lot of my money and time. The book was a fascinating look at their culture and the leader who started that culture.

Two things stood out about Amazon and Jeff Bezos: their focus on the customer and their desire to be the biggest and best store online, hence the title.

Here are 9 things I learned and what pastors can learn from Bezos and Amazon:

  1. “We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.” This is the driving force of everything Amazon does. How many churches can say they have that kind of clarity, and that kind of clarity on reaching people who don’t know Jesus. Churches get lost in committees, programs, finances and lose sight of what we are called to do. We lose sight of those who don’t know Jesus while trying to appease those who are already there. Making discipleship only about growing believers, losing sight of the fact we are called to help those who lost be found.
  2. Looking at things in new ways can enhance one’s understanding. Pastors need to get out of their camps and their bubbles to learn new things and new ways of doing ministry and leadership. If you haven’t learned anything new, been made uncomfortable as a leader recently, that is a problem.
  3. Bezos chose to start his company in Seattle because of the city’s reputation as a technology hub and because the state of Washington had a relatively small population (compared to California, New York, and Texas), which meant that Amazon would have to collect state sales tax from only a minor percentage of customers. Your location as a church says a lot about you and who you are trying to reach. Have you thought proactively about it? Why are you where you in your city? How does that translate into your vision?s.”
  4. Figure out what you can do better than anyone and do that: This was a key part of Amazon’s early strategy: maximizing the Internet’s ability to provide a superior selection of products as compared to those available at traditional retail stores.  Too many churches and pastors try to be someone or some church they are not. Be you. What can you as a leader do that no one else can? What passion, wiring do you have that no other pastor has? Who are you passionate about reaching that someone else isn’t? The greatest companies and churches have this clarity. 
  5. Our biggest mistake was thinking we had the bandwidth to work with all these companies. When you get to complex, disaster strikes. Like most churches, Amazon has had seasons of complexity. Whether they were buying companies or starting new things. When this happened, Amazon got off track and they felt the cost of it. Burnout, turnover, loss of profit. When churches get busy or complex, they get off track. The problem is that you don’t feel the effects of that until down the road when you are playing catch up. 
  6. During one memorable meeting, a female employee pointedly asked Bezos when Amazon was going to establish a better work-life balance. He didn’t take that well. “The reason we are here is to get stuff done, that is the top priority,” he answered bluntly. “That is the DNA of Amazon. If you can’t excel and put everything into it, this might not be the place for you.” While I’ve written about the work-life balance and health and don’t necessarily agree with how Bezos drove his employees into the ground, he was at least clear on his objective as a CEO and company. He was more concerned about the customer than his employees. He was at least clear and clarity is something a leader can never lose. This was so clear for Amazon that stone wrote, “Bezos was obsessed with the customer experience, and anyone who didn’t have the same single-minded focus or who he felt wasn’t demonstrating a capacity for thinking big bore the brunt of his considerable temper.”
  7. Every product, shelving unit, forklift, roller cart, and employee badge has a bar code, and invisible algorithms calculate the most efficient paths for workers through the facility. Pastors and churches need to think about how to be more efficient. Time is wasted in meetings, programs, setting up and tearing down, follow up. Things and people overlap tasks because pastors have not asked, “how can we be as efficient as possible?” Does this matter? Yes because this is a stewardship issue. Every moment I spend on something is stewarding my time for God. It needs to be on the right thing.
  8. Amazon invested heavily in technology, taking aggressive swings with digital initiatives like the Kindle. Amazon also focused on fixing and improving the efficiency of its fulfillment centers. EBay executives searched for high-growth businesses elsewhere, acquiring the calling service Skype in 2005, the online-ticketing site StubHub in 2007, and a series of classified-advertising websites. But it let its primary site wither. Customers became happier over time with the shopping experience on Amazon and progressively more disgruntled with the challenges of finding items on eBay and dealing with sellers who overcharged for shipping. Amazon had battled and mastered chaos; eBay was engulfed by it. Just like #4, eBay tried to be Amazon and Amazon tried to be Amazon. Guess who won?
  9. “When given the choice of obsessing over competitors or obsessing over customers, we always obsess over customers,” he said, reciting a well-worn and, considering the past few years of competition with Zappos, credulity-straining Jeffism. “We pay attention to what our competitors do but it’s not where we put our energy.” I love the laser focus of Amazon and wish more churches had that. Think for a minute about why focus matters. It clears up what you will do, why you will do it, how you will spend your time and money. Now, what is at stake for your church compared to Amazon? Eternity versus selling things. And Amazon has more clarity than most churches.

All in all, I loved this book. Tons of wisdom for leaders in it and a great story about a great company. I thought it was fascinating.

Why You Need to Away Every Year with Your Spouse

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I know what you are thinking, “I can’t get away every year with my spouse. It’s hard enough to take vacation with everything our kids do and we do and the money.”

Yet, the longer you are married, the most important things Katie and I do are weekly date nights and yearly getaways. And before you think I’m crazy about the cost of this, date night doesn’t have mean you go somewhere. Some of our best date nights have been at home.

So why is a yearly getaway so important? A couple reasons:

  1. Life is crazy and all consuming.
  2. It is easy to lose spontaneity in marriage and get stuck in the cycle of life.
  3. Kids have a way of wrecking any romantic moment. They have a radar that tells them when romance is happening and they wake up right then and knock on your door!

So how do you make this happen and pay for it? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Plan ahead. It won’t happen if you don’t plan it. Because of figuring out babysitting and the expense, you will probably have to save up. This also can show your spouse how important this is, that you are planning it.
  2. Go on an off season. I know, it is more romantic to go on your anniversary, but that might be the most expensive time of the year or the hardest to get away, so go when it is cheapest and easiest. And no, that isn’t being lazy, that’s being smart.
  3. Stay in town. You don’t need to take a cruise. Find a groupon deal for a bed and breakfast where you live and go there.

The goal is simple: go away without your kids, just your spouse and do things you each like. It might be a foodie tour of restaurants, sitting at a coffee shop all day or sleeping in.

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What Makes Your Church Unique?

Last year, I made the decision to re-read some books that were highly influential in my life as a leader and pastor. The reason is that I read many of them when I was a student pastor and knew more than the lead pastor I worked for. Now that I’ve planted a church and I am the lead pastor with a growing staff, I’m in a different place. I’m also hopefully a little more humble than the first time around.

One of those books was Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini. This book is like having Will come to your church and consult for you. It is jam packed with insights and learnings on how to create vision, cast it and move a church forward.

What I love about this book is that it is set on finding what makes your church unique, not the latest copy of the megachurch in your town or the last conference you went to. Which is what most ministry books set out to do. Which isn’t wrong, but I’m not sure it is as helpful to a pastor. The reason is simple, as Mancini points out: most effective pastors know what makes their church unique, and they did it. Then they write a book about it and a bunch of pastors copy it and now their church isn’t unique, they’re just using someone else’s vision.

Let me be clear, you should steal ideas from pastors and authors, but not visions. That is what God communicates to you in your city through your team.

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Every day, local churches step either closer to or further away from becoming the movement that God designed them to be.
  • Church culture is the combined effect of the interacting values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions that define the life of your church. Church culture is foundational to the life and witness of every church. Unfortunately too many church leaders fail to recognize or understand the implications of this reality.
  • Too many goals threaten to make any one goal unclear.
  • Clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear. Being clear as a leader means being simple, understandable, and exact.
  • The higher the leader goes, the harder the leader must work to stay clear.
  • You won’t do ministry that really matters until you define what matters.
  • Don’t tell me that you are excellent or relevant; tell me what makes you excellent or relevant.
  • The absence of strategy, as I am defining it, is the number one cause of ineffectiveness in a healthy church.
  • The most powerful position in the organization is the role that can choose the metaphors and tell the stories.
  • The greatest mistake in vision casting is not recognizing that vision is always a solution to a prior problem.
  • Without a mind-blowing goal in front of them, your people will never have a reason for risk taking, collaboration, and heroic sacrifice.

Here are some helpful questions for leaders and churches to discover their uniqueness and vision:

  • Leaders: What are the unique strengths of the leader(s) in your church?
  • Gifts: If each person has unique spiritual gifts in your church, what does the collective gift mix look like?
  • Experiences: What shared experiences do your people have in common?
  • Values: What values drive decision making in your church? What unique convictions do your people share?
  • Personality: If you were to describe what makes your church distinct from every other church, what would you say?
  • Evangelism: How do your people talk about the Great Commission? How does your church nuance it?
  • Recovery: What sins and sin patterns have your people been delivered from? What patterns of worldliness are they most tempted by?
  • Motivation: Is there a deeply motivational rubric behind how your church sees its mission (for example, community, service, prayer, or worship)?

To me, this is one of those books that you chew on, come back to and chew on some more.

What Kind of Preacher are You?

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There are all kinds of preachers out there. If you preach every week, you probably gravitate towards a certain style that you like to listen to and a style that you have personally. There are times that you will move in and out of styles on a weekly basis and sometimes within the same sermon, but you will by and large live within a certain style.

Here are a few I’ve seen:

  • The prophet. This is the in your face, yelling preacher. This one is often angry and typically reformed. There are times this is necessary in a sermon and some churches need to hear this style of preaching. Sin is confronted and not sugar coated.
  • The apologist. This is often the preacher that is filled with a list of facts, data and historical information to show the truth of Christianity. They are most comfortable when they are giving a lecture that feels like a class.
  • The evangelist. This is the preacher that is always about evangelism, always about making a choice to follow Jesus.
  • The inspirer. This is the preacher that hopes you’ll leave with new information, make a change in your life, maybe even take a step to follow Jesus. You will feel good after this sermon and feel like you can do anything.
  • The comforter. When you hear a preacher like this, you just feel like you got a warm hug.
  • The storyteller. This is the preacher that has a story for everything and is always telling stories.
  • The guilt ridden. This is the preacher that when you walk out you feel like you are the most horrible person on the planet.

I’m sure there are more styles, but you get the picture.

What is interesting about each style is that they usually have parts of the Bible connected to them. The evangelist hangs in Romans or the gospels. The comforter is always in Psalms or the gospels. The prophet can’t get enough of the letters of Paul.

This matters for a pastor because each one has his sweet spot. When a pastor gets out of that, he will need to prepare differently. For me, I find preaching from the Old Testament or Paul’s letters easy to do, the gospels are a challenge for me. I have good friends who are different. What happens if a pastor isn’t careful is they will preach only what they are comfortable with, so it matters to know what your style is.

You also need to know so that you can find other communicators not like you to help you grow or bring into your church.

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How Churches can Learn to Think Like a Freak

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I’m learning that thinking and making decisions constitutes the majority of your time. You are constantly putting out fires, making choices, deciding what your church will or won’t do, what will get money, what will get time and effort, and what won’t.

In talking with older pastors or pastors of larger churches, the pastors who can think well do better.

In that vein, I began looking for books that can teach a leader to think better and make better decisions. Enter Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner that was named by Amazon as one of the best business books in 2014.

Here are some things I took away to improve at thinking and making decisions:

  1. Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them—or, often, deciphering them—is the key to understanding a problem, and how it might be solved. A reason must given for acting. Churches often fail at incentives, pastors think people should do what they say in a sermon because it is in the Bible (and they should), but tell them why. Help everyone understand the incentive to doing it. This doesn’t mean giving them a health and wealth gospel, but there are blessings and benefits to following Jesus and taking God at his word.
  2. Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so. Most decisions in a church are incorrect because they aren’t measuring the right thing or solving the actual problem. Make sure that you are measuring what needs to be measured. A helpful book on that is Innovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results by Will Mancini.
  3. A growing body of research suggests that even the smartest people tend to seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality. This is what the Heath brothers call the curse of knowledge and many pastors and churches suffer from it. Often, to get the right answer or an answer that will help your church or life, you have to clear your mind of what you think is right. This can come from asking different questions, thinking about what someone else would do if they hadn’t started the ministry, program or church. New information is not always bad and can often lead to a better answer.
  4. It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are I love you. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say I don’t know. That’s a shame, for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to. Christians are terrible at saying, “I don’t know.” Leaders are just as bad at. Yet, most of the time you don’t know. You don’t know what to say in a meeting, to a person you are counseling, when you are sharing your faith. So say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” It’s okay to admit it. If you don’t know and provide an answer, everyone will know that you don’t know and will lose respect for you.
  5. Just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. The longer you are a leader, the more something you lead grows, the more people want your opinion on things, not just your area of expertise. Yet, you are an expert at something, not everything. I’m starting to learn the need to continue to specialize my knowledge and skills and stay focused on those areas where I add the most value and not get distracted.
  6. Whatever problem you’re trying to solve, make sure you’re not just attacking the noisy part of the problem that happens to capture your attention. Find the root cause of a problem. Churches are filled with the squeaky wheelThe person who complains about everything, always says, “We need to have ___.” Or, “why don’t we do ___.” “My last church did ___.” “My last pastor did ___.” This person is usually loud, has some influence and so most churches acquiesce to them so they will be quiet. Yet, that doesn’t actually solve the problem. Starting a new ministry or program won’t always solve the problem. Why? Because the problem churches are solving is the squeaky wheel, not the need. For example, starting a men’s ministry will not solve the problem of men looking at porn. How do I know? Millions of men look at it and thousands of churches have men’s ministries.

In terms of making decisions and learning how to think through problems more fully, this is a great book. While not written by Christians, it was highly entertaining and incredibly insightful.