Leadership Means Hard Conversations

Tough

At some point as a pastor, you will get an angry email, someone will put you down on twitter or social media. Their criticism may be completely out of left field, false and have no bearing in reality. It may be right on.

How you handle it often has very little bearing on the truth or falsehood of the criticism.

The reason is that the criticism is reality to the person making it.

Another tough conversation that happens for a pastor and leader is letting a staff member go or replacing a volunteer on a team. What often follows this decision is anger and frustration.

In that moment, you as a leader can lash out at someone and tell them they are wrong. Or, help them to see where you are coming from or try to learn from it and help them learn from it.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Understand where the other person is coming from. As a leader, it is easy to get angry and not see where someone else is coming from. In our sin, we want them to only see our point of view, but our point of view is just that, ours. It isn’t even the correct point of view, it is just ours. It might be right, partially right or completely wrong. Before having a hard conversation and during it, try to see from the other side. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t try to come up with an answer while they are talking. You may be wrong. You may have made the wrong assumptions about them before the conversation. There might be something happening in their life that has caused them to lash out, maybe there is a reason the ball got dropped on something. Often, when something is going wrong in someone’s life, they lash out at the closest authority figure in their life, and for many Christians, that is a pastor.
  2. Help them understand where you are coming from. In a hard conversation, after understanding where the other person is coming from, you need to help them understand your perspective. This is equally as hard as it will be for you to see it from their side. Maybe there is a reason for your reaction, for your distance, for the change you’ve made. If so, explain it to them. If you no longer see them because you aren’t part of a meeting anymore, explain it. If someone has outgrown their role or doesn’t have the leadership capability, tell them. Too often, leaders will simply make changes without explaining them clearly. One of the things this is most difficult in is when you have to remove a volunteer or a staff member who isn’t cutting it anymore.
  3. Help them see the big picture. This piece is what sets leaders and followers apart. Leaders are tasked with seeing the whole picture, the whole forest, followers are not. That’s okay. It is the job of a lead pastor to see how student ministry fits into the vision, how it affects kids ministry, community, worship, etc. The leaders of those areas are not tasked with thinking about how their area affects another area. It is nice if they do, but that isn’t their role. A person often does not see how a change that might be uncomfortable for them can be good for the whole church. Your job as a leader is to help someone see that. Sometimes this can be helping someone understand why they have to make an appointment to meet with you instead of just dropping by like they used to. This could mean helping a leader see why you won’t fund their idea or continuing doing something “you’ve always done.” It is difficult when this loss is personal for someone and that is why these conversations are so important.

Does this always work and end well? No and sometimes you have to prepare for those losses and see that when someone leaves angry at you, that is God protecting you and your church.

Often it does end well.

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How to Be Married and Stay in Ministry

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It seems on an almost weekly basis there is another story about a pastor who can’t keep his pants on and sleeps with someone he isn’t married to or another ministry couple who splits up for any number of reasons.

Every one of them is simply heartbreaking to read.

To be sure, being married with any job is hard. Being in ministry isn’t necessarily harder than being married to an accountant, but it makes it different. Being a pastor’s wife has its own unique challenges.

Katie and I have celebrated 12 anniversaries as a couple and 6 birthday’s with Revolution and there are 8 things we’ve learned about being married in ministry and how to survive (while these are applicable to all couples, they are especially important for a pastor and his wife):

 1. Deal with your baggage quickly. Everybody has hurt and baggage from their past. What many people don’t realize is how much that hurt, when not dealt with, how it affects your present and future. You quickly see yourself through the lens of your baggage. You hear what people say through the lens of that baggage. Most fights in marriage come from someone hearing a parent or sibling or teacher in the voice of their spouse. Because of the emotional stress that can come in ministry and church planting, past baggage has a way of popping its head into many situations.

2. Grow together spiritually. Most pastors do not have a plan for how they will grow spiritually or how they will lead their wife spiritually. They spend all their time counseling others, leading bible studies, preaching, teaching and yet, when you ask, “How will you grow spiritually? How will you as a couple grow spiritually?” Sadly, many pastors give you a blank stare. An easy way for you to help your wife grow spiritually is to help her find good books to read. On a regular basis Katie and I will talk through areas she’d like to grow in and I’ll be on the lookout for books in that area.

3. Spend time together. Most ministry couples think that because they are spending time together working on the church or their church plant they are spending time together. You aren’t. You are together, just not actually building into your relationship. You’re working. You need to carve out time just for you as a couple and then as a family if you have kids. No church talk, no church work, no church thinking. Yes, it’s your calling, I know. It is also your job. Turn it off.

4. Understand the season you are in. Many church planters have young kids and so they find themselves in stressful seasons that seem to come one after another. Ministry seasons run long and it is easy if you aren’t careful to pile them on top of each other. Sit down and figure out when you will be the busiest in the year and when it is the slowest. For me, the slowest month is June because every school in Tucson is off, so I take my summer break then. If you are in a busy season, name it, talk about it as a couple. Make sure you plan to rest before it and after it.

5. Take a break. Along with identifying the season you are in, you should be taking a weekly day off, a weekend off from preaching, a retreat day each month. I know, church is so busy and you are needed by everyone so you can’t take time off and no one preaches as good as you do. I know. All of that is also a sin because you didn’t die on a cross for anyone and you aren’t building your church, Jesus is. So, take a break. Protect your schedule because no one in your church will, it isn’t their job. You are in charge of your schedule. On top of that, most church planters are workaholics when they don’t have to be. No one knows what you do all day and yet most planters easily put in 60-70 hours a week. Delegate, take your day off, play with your kids. A lot changes when a leader decides to use his schedule wisely instead of letting it use him.

6. Spiritual warfare. While every Christian experiences spiritual warfare, there is a heightened level of it for a leader in a church. Whether that leader is paid or unpaid. You are moving towards the front lines of the battle and your target is bigger. For a leader, this typically is anything that keeps peace from being in the home. Poor sleep for kids, night terrors, sickness, petty battles from friends and family.

7. Get some friends and hobbies. I’ve written before about how pastors can make the worst friends, but pastors typically don’t have any hobbies outside of ministry or reading leadership or theology books. Those aren’t hobbies, that’s your job. When we planted Revolution church, I started mountain biking and it not only helped me get healthy, it kept me grounded in my stress level. It might be birding, coaching your kids team, hunting, working on a car, or knitting. You need a hobby and some friends who won’t talk about church to do it with. You need a place where you aren’t the pastor or the pastor’s wife, just a person.

8. Have a vision for your family. Every good pastor has a vision for their church. They can tell you what the preferred future is, where things will be in 12 months or 18 months. If you ask that same pastor where his family will be in one year, what the goals for his family or vision for his family is, you will get a blank stare. At any given moment, you should be able to say the goals your family has for the next 2 – 6 months. What are you trying to accomplish? This vision helps you decide what kind of vacations you take, what activities your kids do, what gets your time. Here’s a post to help you put yours together.

While it seems like every week another pastor falls out of ministry, his marriage going up in smoke, or another pastors kid makes the headlines for hating Jesus. Staying married and loving it while in ministry is possible.

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The Magic Bullet of Recruiting

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Every church and ministry team needs more volunteers. There is always a shortage, whether that is for a sound team, set up and tear down or kids ministry. There is never enough people.

When this happens, people in churches begin looking for the magic bullet of recruiting.

What most ministry team leaders think is the magic bullet is, an announcement from the pulpit.

It makes sense because the thinking is, “if people knew of the need, they would serve.”

This is faulty thinking. The reason it is faulty is because the ministry leaders are often high capacity people with a servant’s heart who see a need and meet it. This is a small percentage of people in any church. Most people see a need and think, “someone should do something about that.” The reason someone is a ministry leader is because they are doing something about it. 

Here’s another problem with the pulpit announcement: the perception.

Let’s say you make a plea for kids ministry volunteers. You have to say yes to whoever signs up then. You can’t deny the creepy guy or the unqualified person who hates kids. You are also telling every mom who does not know the church well, “they will let anyone back there with the kids.” The other perception you give when you make plea’s from the stage is you communicate to your church, no one serves around here.

So, what is the magic bullet of recruiting?

Ready?

It will seriously blow your mind.

Here it is.

Ask.

That’s right. Ask someone.

One of the main reasons people don’t serve in a church is because they don’t feel like they are qualified. They don’t know enough, aren’t talented enough, don’t have enough time or any number of fears.

When you ask someone, you are able to tell them, “I believe you can do this and I’m going to help you.”

The vast majority of people who serve every week in any church do so because someone asked them.

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Other People Determine Your Success

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The longer I’m in ministry and the larger Revolution gets I’m more and more convinced that those who can work well with others go farther and are more successful.

Often, the goal for many leaders or people is to show they are the smartest person in the room.

I worked at a church who had a talented graphic artist. He knew more about graphic design than anyone else in the church (and it was a large church). He also let it be known that he knew more than anyone else. He always complained to pastors about the ability or lack of ability of others. Put down what other people did, etc.

Whenever he talked about a situation he disagree with, he always made himself sound like the martyr or the only person who cared.

What was interesting about all of this was that he was not a nice person. He didn’t play well in the sandbox. Behind each ministry team he was on were a sea of bodies. All people he just couldn’t work with. People who did not understand he was smarter than they were, had more experience than they did and all around, did their job better than they did.

Why didn’t people see this? he would complain.

The reality was, people did see this. They saw how talented he was, how much experience he had, but no one cared because ministry is a team sport.

When we decide that we are smarter than the team we work with or the people around (and you may be the smartest person), you keep yourself from growing and becoming all that you could be, but you keep others from it as well.

How do I know?

I used to be this way and still struggle to fight against it.

Here are a few ways to know if you are hindering yourself:

1. You are the only one that cares. People with this elevated sense of themselves are the only ones who care. They are the only ones who are passionate. You may never say this, but your body language or attitude communicate to everyone else, “you don’t care as much as I do.” When a team or volunteers sense this, they check out. Why? Because they do care. As much as you? Maybe not, but they care. Your job as a leader is to help them care. Also, if you are on a ministry team at a church and not the leader, your leader cares even though you might think you are more passionate than they are.

2. No one does it as well as you do so you can’t let go. This is a struggle every leader has. Sometimes, this is a struggle people on a team have because they think (or they know) they are more talented than the leader. It takes humility to be on a team and be more talented than the leader. It takes humility on the part of the leader to have people on their team who are more talented than the leader. If you are a leader and someone can do something 70% as well as you can (or better), give it away. Stop holding them back, stop holding yourself back and stop holding your team back. If you are on a team and you can do something better than your leader, don’t passive aggressively tell them, be honest with them.

3. You think others are ruining the ministry or your work. Unless a law is broken, one incident or weekend at a church will not destroy all the work you’ve done. Often though, the smartest person in the room (which is the person we’re talking about, who thinks they can get by on talent, hard work and knowledge) thinks others are ruining things by what they do. Yet, they aren’t. They are simply doing things differently. This is one reason most churches stay small, they are led by people who are not willing to allow others to use their passions and gifts.

4. You find yourself bouncing from one job or ministry role to the next. Often, when someone doesn’t work well with others, they have a history of changing teams, ministries, churches and jobs. It is always “the other people” or “the situation.” You’ll hear things like, “They didn’t appreciate me.” “I wasn’t challenged, I was bored.” “They didn’t understand me.” You’ll hear about office politics that kept them from advancing or how someone was jealous of them. You’ll hear a lot about the fault of other people and nothing about what they did to leave a trail of short stay’s in jobs. At some point if you are this person, you have to admit that it isn’t them, it’s you that’s the problem and the unhealthy one.

5. The same problems follow you. What is amazing about life, jobs and teams is that a problem that you have on one team has a miraculous way of following you to your next team because, wait for it. You’re there. I knew one leader who changed teams and jobs numerous times in a short period of time and was so frustrated, yet she couldn’t see that she was the consistent piece in every situation. Each team she was on it was the same story, she couldn’t get along with anyone and she never understood why she kept running into the same problems. If you find yourself running into the same problems wherever you go, look in the mirror and see what is there.

In many ways, this blog post is are the lessons I’ve learned over the last 10-12 years of leadership. I was the guy in all of these points. I thought I was the smartest person in every room I entered and I made sure people knew it. I thought I cared more than others, that I could get by with my knowledge, talent and hard work and that would lead to success, but that is a lonely way to live because eventually you get passed over for promotions or leadership opportunities and no one wants to work with you.

In their book Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, the authors use a phrase for healthy leaders and healthy groups (they call them tribes): I am because we are. For you or your team or church to reach its potential, you must be able to work and play well with others. You must grow in your “relational intelligence.”

But I’m an introvert, or I’m a strong personality you might say. Doesn’t matter. If you want to be all that God has called you to be, you must grow in this. Or else, you’ll never get as far as you could.

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How to Ace an Interview

Four candidates competing for one position. Having CV in his hand

Over the past 6 months, I have sat through countless interviews for our church. While interviewing with a church can be different than interviewing with a school or hospital, or any other company, there are some similarities.

If you are about to interview for a job, here are some things I’d suggest you do and don’t do so you’ll get the job:

1. Be alert. When you are interviewing, be alert and prepared. If you are tired, don’t interview. Remember, the interview is your best impression you are giving to someone. Don’t look or sound sleepy. If you don’t sound excited, I as the person interviewing you won’t be excited about you.

2. Ask them questions about the church or job. I am amazed at how many people ask me no questions about the church or myself. I realize you can learn a lot about a job online, but ask questions you know the answer to. If only to see if they will tell you what you read online. This shows me you are interested in the church and vision and not just a paycheck.

3. Ask them questions they ask you. If they ask you about your strengths, weaknesses, experiences, ask them the same questions. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Your immediate boss in any job will determine the level of joy and excitement you have, not to mention they will determine how much you advance in a job so be sure you like them and know them before saying yes.

4. When they ask about your ideal job, be sure your answer includes the job you are interviewing for. I asked someone to describe their ideal job on a church staff and they didn’t mention anything about the job they were interviewing for. Seriously. If your ideal job isn’t the job you are interviewing for, look for something else. If the job is a place holder until you find your dream job, any interviewer worth their salt will know.

5. Don’t speak poorly of your previous job or employer. One of the biggest things that will make me stop an interview process has to do with how an applicant speaks of their past employer. I know, you are leaving the church, which means there is a chance you have anger or hurt. If you haven’t dealt with it yet, you aren’t in a good place and would not make a good person for a church staff. Deal with those issues and let go of them. Want to impress someone interviewing you? Speak highly of the place you are leaving.

6. If you are sending the church or company anything (video, resume, picture, materials) make sure they are the highest quality. When we hired a worship pastor I put in the job listing to send me a video of you leading worship. I was blown away by the caliber of every video I got. Some were incredible, some looked like my 7 year old made it. What you send to a job says, “This is my best work.” If it isn’t, don’t send it because I will believe it is your best stuff.

7. Let the church or company bring up money. I had a mentor in college tell me, “If an applicant brings up money before we do, I take them off the list.” I know, money matters and determines a lot. At the same time, I don’t want you on my team for the money, but because you believe in it. Also, salaries and benefits are always negotiable. Most places post a low offer, so negotiate it to your needs.

8. Look presentable. If you are doing an in person interview, dress for the job. If it is a video interview or on the phone, check your equipment. There is nothing worse than talking to someone and having equipment fail. You look unprepared. When going to an interview, dress a level above the job you are applying for, goes a long way.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done a mind dump, so here goes.
  • A ton has happened in the last 2 weeks.
  • I got to spend some time away with Katie and the kids in the mountains.
  • So relaxing.
  • I love being in the outdoors and in creation.
  • So refreshing.
  • I got to speak at Exponential West this last week and do a breakout on planting a church and not killing your marriage, and one on building a strong team.
  • I love being around church planters and encouraging them.
  • Their passion for evangelism and seeing people follow Jesus is inspiring.
  • It was also great taking our new worship pastor Jerad with me.
  • Katie got to help shoot another wedding this past weekend.
  • I love seeing her photography grow and see others affirm her talents and gifts.
  • We announced yesterday that we hired a new Kids’ Pastor at Revolution.
  • After a long 6 month process, God had someone right in our church waiting to step up.
  • So excited about having Bill Rozier join our team.
  • He brings a ton of wisdom, passion and leadership that is sorely needed in our kids ministry.
  • If that wasn’t enough, Revolution is going to 2 services this Sunday!
  • Such a good season in our church and my life.
  • Makes up for how terrible my Steelers looked yesterday.
  • Besides my Steelers, I could not be more excited about life and ministry right now.
  • Time to get back at it…

When You’ve Been Betrayed

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All of us have been betrayed. A spouse who walked out, cheated. A parent who left. A child who hurt us. It might be someone you work with or a member of your church. It could be someone who changed the details of a deal that you agreed to.

All of us have been been betrayed.

And when it happens, it hurts.

The reason is simple. The only way to betray someone means you have to be close to someone. While you can feel let down by a national leader or role model, betrayal only happens in close proximity.

Ministry is a major place for betrayal and when it happens in a church context, it hurts.

A lot.

Last week I spoke at Exponential West and at each of my breakouts I talked to several people who were in the midst of betrayal or just walked through it. Here are some things I reminded them that may prove helpful to you when you find yourself betrayed:

  1. Jesus was betrayed. While this sound trite and Christianese when you have been betrayed, it should provide us comfort. Jesus knows what it is like to be betrayed. He knows what it is like to have friends fail him, walk out on him, lie and abandon him. This has helped me to walk through betrayal and misplaced trust.
  2. Their true colors will be seen. Our first inclination when we’ve been hurt or betrayed is to get back at someone. We want people to know that we are hurt, that they lied to us, we want to ruin their lives and name in the way they’ve ruined our lives. In the end, if someone doesn’t have character, it eventually comes out. If someone is lazy, eventually everyone knows. While they may not know as quickly as you’d like, everything comes out.
  3. It’s for your goodIf Romans 8 is true, and I believe it is. Then when we are betrayed, God is and will use it for our good. In the moment, this does not always provide the comfort that it should, that’s more about us than God though. It is true and it does bring comfort for us. When you are betrayed, it is an opportunity for you to grow. You are able to see blind spots, or places you didn’t pull boundaries, or situations you didn’t give enough oversight to. Regardless, when you are betrayed, it can be a wake up call to get better at something and this is good.
  4. Take the high road, your true colors will be seen. In the same way that their true colors will be seen, so will yours. Again, not as quickly as you’d like, especially if you are in the right, but they will. If you have character, that will be shown, if not, that will as well.
  5. Don’t be bitter. Bitterness is waiting you when you are betrayed. Don’t give in to it. While God is working in all things, pray against bitterness, let go of the person and situation as quickly as you can (even though this may take months or years). Start. Ask people to pray with you against a hard heart. For Katie and I, when betrayal happens we pray Ezekiel 36:26 for our hearts, that God would replace our heart of stone so that it does not become hard.

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The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection

Most of the books I review tend to be helpful and provide good insight into a topic I find interesting. A few books I read would fall into the truly life changing, life altering category. Books that shape me and my preaching, marriage, leadership or life. To fit into that category, it must be a book that I think everyone should read. Tim Chester’s book You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions was one. The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection by Richard Plass & Jim Cofield is another one.

The authors walk through why we fail at relationships so often and show how that begins the before we are even born, but then our inability to deal with what our lives have been like and how to move forward. Many people cannot work well with others, can’t engage in their family or marriage, struggle to make work connections and all because of something in their past that has not been deal with. This isn’t to say that it is easy, only that, to live in true freedom and be our “true self” as the authors put it, we must deal with those things.

For me, this book was incredibly eye opening into my own heart and relationships.

Here are some things I highlighted:

  • Loneliness is one of the most universal experiences.
  • We are designed for and defined by our relationships.
  • We are structured by and for relationships. Our relationships determine whether we have and enjoy life.

  • To be appropriately close in relationships flows out of our capacity to trust others and ourselves well.
  • how important people in our life feel about us is remembered not “in words, but in our emotions, body, and images in our gut-level way of knowing.”
  • Not every emotion needs expression, but every emotion needs recognition.

  • God chose to create us with the capacity for relational connection. God also chose to develop and nurture this capacity by relational connection. Reflect on that for a moment.
  • It’s impossible to change what is false if we don’t take responsibility for it.
  • We are masters at creating an image, but we are novices at recognizing and repenting of the image we have created.
  • God longs for us to express our giftedness and to believe that he delights in us.
  • We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God.
  • Our truest identity is not a self we create but the self that God creates and freely gives to us in Christ.
  • The greatest gift any of us can give another is a transforming, receptive presence.
  • True-self living requires the willingness to embrace and tell our story. All of our story.
  • Our story is composed of three things—events, emotions (surrounding the events we experienced) and interpretations (what we think we learned from the events and emotions of our lives). Events and emotions don’t become a story without an interpretation. Our interpretation is the script of our lives. It becomes my identity, and I become my interpretation.
  • Whatever we do not own will eventually own us.

  • God sees and knows us more fully than we can see or know ourselves. His interpretation of me leads me into a truer way of being me. His interpretation of me reinterprets my interpretation of me. What we discover from God’s story is that God longs for me and I long for God. We discover our true self in Christ.
  • We cannot make peace with others without making peace with our past.
  • we are nurtured by relationships. In the community we learn what it means to live out the story of redemption. In the community the Spirit of God resides, encouraging, teaching and guiding its members into a deeper love for God and others.

  • Soulful relationships are a gift that requires our intentionality.
  • Strong relationships are the fruit of doing certain things well.
  • We learn to give love by first receiving love.
  • We cannot engage well with others without accepting our limits and losses.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. This is one of those books that you should stop reading what you are reading and buy this book.

Being a Pastor’s Wife

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Many churches (and pastors for that matter) do not know what to do with pastor’s wives, how to treat them, what role they play or how important they are. It is a hard role to live in and stay in. Everyone has a lot of their own expectations of what the wife of a pastor should be like, yet, they are all different.

While Revolution (and myself) has struggled just like every other church to figure this out, I believe Katie and I have figured some things out that we have put into place which will prove to be invaluable in the future. While this is not exclusive to pastors, any leader in a church and for that matter, any husband can do better in understanding their wives and how to engage them.

Below are 6 things Katie and I have learned that I hope will be beneficial for you:

  1. Pastor Your Wife as Much as You Pastor Your Church
  2. Without Her, You Fall Apart
  3. What Role a Pastors Wife Plays in the Church
  4. Spiritual Warfare in the Home
  5. “Just” a Wife & a Mom
  6. Handling the Loneliness

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Discipleship in Daily Life

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Discipleship can be one of those tricky words. It carries the idea of becoming more like Jesus, but how do you know when you’ve reached it? I think this is one reason so many churches create discipleship classes because then you can at least cross things off your list.

The problem is that you can attend all the classes, read all the books and still not be anything like Jesus.

The question a disciple needs to wrestle with is: When people see me, do they see Jesus in my life? Do they look at me and think, “That’s probably what Jesus would be like at the soccer game, at Starbucks, around the dinner table or interacting with a cashier after a long day.”

In this way, discipleship takes on a daily meaning in addition to having applicability.

I think one of the failings of the church has been our ability to separate discipleship from life. By doing this, we’ve allowed people to think they can’t do it or that it isn’t for them. It is for spiritual people, women, kids, pastors, or theologians.

But, if my calling as a disciple of Jesus is to disciple my neighbor to Jesus, then I can do that by working on a car with him on the weekend. I can open up seats at my table and have people around it so we can spend time together, talk about life, our joys and sorrows and see how God is working. I can brighten someone’s day simply by showing up, giving a smile or saying hello.

Discipleship has then become something I can do and can see the tangible benefits for me and others from it.

What’s interesting in the gospels is how often Jesus helped people or served them or did something with them when he was discipling them. He didn’t sit them down and open a book, he walked, ate, laughed, cried, gave a hug or simply was there. He did things that we do every day, but he did them with gospel intentionality. 

The thing that I’m often telling my church is, “Look where you spend time, look at the places you go every day, every week. Look at the people you run into, the circles of relationships you are in. How can you go there with gospel intentionality? How can you go there knowing that God placed you and not someone else there?”

When we realize that, we begin to see divine appointments pop up and we see how God can use our lives and we see how God is using our lives.

All because, we live life with gospel intentionality. 

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