The Most Important Trait for Success

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What is the most important trait for success?

Do you know what separates the winners and the losers when it comes to leadership and succeeding?

It isn’t what you think.

I was listening to a podcast interview recently where Thom Rainer was interviewing John Maxwell, and Rainer asked Maxwell what is the most important leadership trait for success, and Maxwell replied, “Consistency.”

I had to rewind it.

Consistency.

If you ever read a biography about an athlete or watch stories on the Olympics about those who make it and win, what you will hear is the story of a person who got up early everyday, ate a strict diet, everyday. Did the same stuff, everyday. Practiced, practiced and practiced some more. They were consistent.

That isn’t exciting, sexy or anything. That isn’t about vision, team building, recruiting or fund raising.

Yet if you think about it, it fuels all of leadership.

It fuels vision. No one will follow you to that next great hill, that next great destination, if they don’t trust you and believe in you. They won’t follow you as far if you are new compared to having a track record. Are you consistent? If so, people will follow you further.

It fuels team building. People want to be a part of a team that has a great track record. They want to be with a leader that has been around and accomplished a lot. They are hesitant to follow someone with a lot of turnover on a team. They want someone – wait for it – consistent.

The same goes with recruiting.

Now comes fundraising. This is crucial in church leadership. Your ministry has a ceiling, and it comes from a variety of places, but one of those places is finances. The leaders who are able to raise the most money have a track record of handling money well. They have a track record of being in one place, having a strong team, strong vision, strong character.

They are consistent.

It fuels leadership.

It fuels success.

People may say a lot about you as a leader, but would they say you are consistent? Are you the same person everywhere?

Here’s something that can frustrate you as a leader. You want to start something new, and people don’t want to come along. You think it is them. They just don’t see what you see. They aren’t as spiritual, they don’t have big enough faith. We as leaders tell ourselves all kinds of things about why people don’t get on board with something, and the things we tell ourselves are always about the people.

What if you haven’t been consistent, and people are hesitant? What if the reason people don’t want to give is they aren’t sure you’ll complete the project and stay?

Leadership is vision casting, team building and all those things. But it starts and ends with character and consistency.

Seasons in Life, Leadership & Church

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I grew up in a farming community, so everyone was very aware of the seasons and what those seasons meant for life. Certain things happened during certain times of the year. You planted, watered, prepped the dirt and harvested plants at certain times. If you did it at the wrong time (too early or too late), you could harm the crops and miss what could be.

Life, leadership and church are the same. There are times when things are high (harvesting the crops) and times when you are prepping the dirt (getting ready) or pulling out weeds, and it feels like nothing is happening.

Then, like a farm, you start over.

When you start a church (or a new chapter in life), you are clearing the field, getting the seed ready, tilling the ground. Things like building a team, building in that team, getting the word out, working through logistics and schedules to get a church off the ground. This is hard work. There is no shortcut through this, although I meet plenty of church planters who want to skip this. It’s easy to see why; it is hard. Long hours, you see very little fruit because you are planting, you are weeding, you are watering. Some younger leaders can relate to this season as they work under a pastor, waiting for the time to plant a church. Many guys see this as “biding their time” but need to see it as the time of pruning, the Spirit of God working in and on them for what lies ahead. This season is mostly behind the scenes. The work that is being done is often being done in hearts, lives and in meetings as people work to shore up systems and how things are done.

In our lives this is trying to get a career off the ground, trying to finish school, pay your dues at a company, working to get your marriage off the ground, trying to figure out kids, how that all works as you parent. This is the beginning of things. This is hard work. In this season most dreams, most goals stop because of the difficulties.

Don’t miss this: this is not a wasted season. If you don’t do this hard work, preparing, studying, reading, getting ready, you can’t actually plant a crop. You can’t start a business, you are unprepared to start a family. We too often rush into things we are not ready for.

Then you water, you clear the weeds away, making sure the crop gets sunlight, plenty of fertilizer and water.

This is the time that you start to see life. The first person to become a follower of Jesus, the first baptism, first marriage saved, you launch something in your church. This is exciting, this is what you hoped for. For many guys, though, this can be depressing because it is slow. You will see plants come up that just die. You will see weeds that overtake plants. Or plants that don’t grow to what they should be. Leaders you poured into who walk away, marriages you counseled only to have them quit. Moments of betrayal and feeling stabbed in the back, feelings of God abandoning you. At this point you will probably hear of how God is working in the church down the street. Don’t despair; they are in a different season.

You are in your season, they are in their season.

Your marriage starts having small wins, you begin to see eye to eye, you’re connecting again. You get pregnant after a long, difficult season of infertility. Your work is beginning to get noticed, you get some accolades, a promotion, get accepted for that master’s program.

Like a church, you can start to get jealous at this point. Someone else seems to have an easier time. Their child isn’t as difficult, their marriage (while yours is great) is better.

The next season is the harvest. Plants are growing, you are reaping rewards from your hard work. In this season you have unprecedented momentum. You can do little wrong. Every idea you try seems to work. Your sermons click, community groups multiply, money is great, staff is getting along. There is a buzz about what God is doing in your church. You might even be getting noticed in your city, people are talking. This is the season you hear about on twitter, blogs and at conferences.

This is where you can look back with some accomplishment on a project that has taken awhile. Maybe you had a lot of work you had to do in your marriage, you sell a business, a business is finally humming and hitting on all cylinders, you graduate, and all the work you put into your schooling is done. It is a season of accomplishment.

This is the season everyone wants to live in.

The reality, though, is that this season comes to an end, and then you start over. What often keeps pushing you through this cycle is the reality that the harvest season does come.

So how long do these seasons last? It depends. Some leaders, churches, careers and marriages get stuck in an early season and never reap any benefits. Some after going through the great feelings of the harvest and seeing things start over simply throw up their hands and quit. Most people seem to stay stuck in an early season and wonder why life is so hard.

The important thing for a leader is to know what season they are in personally and where their church is so they can lead effectively and know how their church is doing. People need to be reminded that hard seasons do not last forever, but they also need to be reminded to enjoy the seasons of growth and momentum.

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How to Figure out God’s Will

God's Will

Every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else.

This truth has had an enormous impact on how I live my life, how I make decisions, how we do our calendar as a family and how I lead Revolution Church.

But how do you know what to say yes and no to? That’s the most common question I get from someone who has read my book or has heard me say this in a talk. Honestly, it’s different for each person.

Too often we focus on what we want to do in the next day, week or month and then make a decision based on that. Let me frame it a different way for you: What kind of person do you want to become in the next month? In the next half year? One year from now, who do you want to be?

Will this involve doing something? Yes, but it changes the context.

For example, if a year from now you want to be closer to Jesus than you are today, a stronger disciple, then you will make the choice to say yes to community, yes to serving in your church, yes to reading your Bible, and yes to inviting people to church. That will then determine what you say no to.

Often we hope that something will happen. We will simply become kinder, more generous, thinner or smarter without putting in the work or even be willing to make a choice towards something. If you want to become a person who is known for ________, then you will have to make decisions for that to happen. A wish and a hope are not enough.

Take your marriage or another relationship. What if six months from now that relationship was stronger? It would mean that what you are doing right now would have to change. You would need to make more of an effort, you would have to say yes to giving time and energy to that relationship and saying no to something else (ie. golfing, sleeping in, working too late).

We often think we have no power over where our life goes, what our marriage becomes, the relationship we have with God or how kind we are. Yet we do. Every day we make decisions that get our life somewhere.

Here’s the problem: we never sit down to ask, Where do I want to end up?

How to Know You’re Too Busy

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My book Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More comes out next month, and I’ve been asked by some people how to know if they should read the book. How do you know if you are too busy or getting tired in life? My response often is, “Well, if you are asking if you are too busy, you are probably too busy.”

But just in case, here are a few ways to know you’re too busy and need some Breathing Room:

1. What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row), and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.

2. Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, we spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30. I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.

This is counterintuitive to us because we think if we’re tired we should be able to fall asleep quickly, but that is often not the case. We have pushed ourselves so hard, our brains are not used to shutting off. We have pushed ourselves past 10pm on a regular basis, getting our “second wind,” that our body is accustomed to it. Getting back to a normal sleep pattern will take some time.

3. It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going; others are not. I’m not a morning person. But when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning: how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.

4. You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, and coworkers. Your reaction to situations does not match the situation. You get angry at small things or cry without knowing why.

5. You struggle to make simple decisions and find yourself paralyzed at making a choice. It is amazing how when we are tired and too busy, normal everyday decisions can become agonizing mountains that appear like we can’t get over them. Decisions become tiring and life altering. The mood swings we have when we make a decision we regret become huge mood swings. An example for me is I’ll struggle to know what to watch on TV, what I want to eat. As silly as that may sound, it is a sign I have not taken care of myself.

6. Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative, and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.

7. You have impulses to eat and drink, and you struggle to control them. You may also use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down, and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off,” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better,” you have a problem.

8. You think short-term instead of long-term. You can’t get past today or what is right in front of you, and you feel completely overwhelmed by it. All of the decisions you make are simply focused on right now, and you talk about “getting through the day” or “if we can just make it to bedtime” or “if only we can make it til the weekend.” What happens is this becomes our new normal, and everyday is about making it to the weekend or the next break where we simply collapse from exhaustion.

9. You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community. You are more irritable and have less courage. People are draining, and the only thing you want to do is be a bump on the log and watch TV. If you are an introvert, having fun with people, especially when you are tired, feels so taxing.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More. Click on the link to purchase it.

Your Personal Growth Plan (Or How You Will Get Better)

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If you want to grow at anything, learn more about something or simply improve an area of your life, you need a plan.

It doesn’t just happen.

You don’t just happen to lose weight, get out of debt or learn a language.

Every year, I choose an area of my life or leadership that I want to grow in. I think one of the reasons we don’t grow in life is we pick too many things to grow in at a time.

In years past I’ve worked on my prayer life, communication in my marriage, raising kids, preaching, team building and hiring. Now, this doesn’t mean you spend one year on something and you have it figured out.

It means, picking an area of your life that if you could learn more, grow more, it would make an enormous impact and put energy and effort into that area.

For me, this means finding books, blogs, podcasts, talking to people who I respect who are experts in that area and putting a concerted effort to grow in that.

I’m such a believer in this, it is required for all our staff and leaders at Revolution Church, so I hope you’ll do it this year as well.

Here’s how you create your plan:

  1. Decide. What is your one thing? Marriage, money, career, prayer, reading your bible, preaching, parenting, communication? You have to pick one thing. If you have two, save the other one for next year. Choose the one that will make the biggest impact in your life this year. I know this is hard, but being ruthless about only choosing one thing will help. 
  2. Choose books and mentors. Purchase some books, find some blogs and people you respect who know more than you. Ask them to mentor you in this area.
  3. Share it with someone. This is the accountability stage. If you don’t create accountability, the chances of you succeeding go way down. Share it online, with a group, a friend, a spouse. Accountability is good, because remember, you want to grow and improve. Ask for help.
  4. Do it again. Once you complete the year, celebrate and choose the next thing.

Every year is an opportunity to grow, don’t settle.

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How to Set Goals for 2015 You Will Reach

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Every year around this time, people begin thinking about the New Year and make resolutions. Sadly, many of these resolutions will not be reached. There is a way, a practice of creating goals you will not only keep but reach.

Here is a simple process I use each year to make goals and reach them:

  1. Call them goals, not resolutions. I want you to think of this as a goal, not a resolution. A goal is something you are working towards, with a destination in mind. It creates all kinds of sports analogies that I think help us in our mind.
  2. Look back before you look forward. One mistake I see a lot of people make when it comes to their goals is they don’t look back and celebrate. Often, our year was not as bad as we think it was. What did God do in the last year? How has God worked, blessed, challenged and sharpened you in the past year? I think an important part of setting goals is celebrating what has already happened (and sometimes lamenting missed opportunities). But, then you get to move forward.
  3. What is the one thing you want to accomplish this year? The last thing is choose one thing, not 15 goals for 2015. Will you accomplish more than one goal this year? Probably, but one of the things many people do that sabotages them is they pick too many things to reach for. What is the one thing, if you accomplished it would make the biggest impact in your life? That’s the one thing you need to do. What if you accomplish this by April? Then set another goal. Two years ago my one goal was writing a book. Six years ago is was losing 100 pounds. Both of those goals took over one year to complete, so it rolled over, but they happened. Choose one thing and only one thing and work until it is done. Is it getting out of debt? Going back to school? Starting a business? Mending a relationship? Do that one thing and then move forward. 

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The Benefit of Self-Discipline

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When I was losing 130 pounds several years ago, I wasn’t thinking about any side benefits outside of feeling better and living longer. Looking back now, one of the things I’ve learned is the self-discipline it created in me.

Before I lost weight, I was not as driven, organized or motivated in many areas of my life. In fact, I was often lazy. As my weighing almost 300 pounds exhibited.

Looking back, losing weight created a self-discipline in me to exercise and eat better that has far extended past my health. It has bled over into my marriage, with my kids, my work and almost every area of my life.

One of the reasons many change efforts fail is a lack of self-discipline. A reason many people don’t have the life they want is a lack of self-discipline.

The organization it takes to lose weight or get out of debt and ask anyone who has done it and they will tell you, it creates a self-discipline you previously did not have. The willingness to forgo dessert, a desire to not buy something you can’t afford. All of that takes discipline. To get at least 8 hours of sleep, takes discipline. Making time for your marriage with weekly date nights, takes discipline.

Pastors and leaders are notorious for a lack of self-discipline.

Here are some ways to know if you lack self-discipline:

  1. You find yourself in meetings you have no business being in.
  2. You are late on many things.
  3. You have a feeling of being overwhelmed.
  4. You don’t get enough sleep.
  5. You wish you could lose some weight.
  6. There are many things you wish you could do, but don’t know how you’ll find the time.

What do you do besides losing a bunch of weight or getting out of debt? There is a way to create self-discipline without making enormous life changes, although they will eventually come.

  1. Assign times to everything you do. Everything that is important gets a place on your calendar. In fact, almost everything that you do has a minute attached to it. Yet, we often do things we don’t want to do, go to places, meetings and events we don’t want to be at. Why? We didn’t assign times to what we want to do. Date night, days off, vacation, reading, taking naps, spending time with friends, working out. If you want to do these things, they will need to have minutes on your calendar.
  2. Master email instead of email mastering you. Most people check email way too much. If you are wondering if you check it too much, the answer is yes. We do the same with social media and this mastering of us, sucks the life and time out of us. We waste so much time by scrolling through Instagram and looking at emails. Set times aside that you will check email. For me, I usually check email before lunch and before the end of my day. Amazingly, I miss very little that is important.
  3. Control your calendar. You may be picking up a trend here, which is true. In the same way that you need to control email and social media, controlling your calendar is equally important. While assigning times is one thing, controlling what gets on your calendar is important. If you are going to do something, why are you doing it? Do you need to be in that meeting? Sometimes you don’t. Remember, every time you say yes to something you say no to something else. You don’t have to do everything and you can’t. You don’t have to meet with everyone and you can’t.
  4. Say no. If you have a hard time saying no and if you lack discipline in an area of your life, you probably struggle with this. Practice saying it out loud. No. Say it kindly, forcefully, but say it.

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How to Succeed at (Almost) Anything

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It is easy to look at successful people or anyone who has reached a goal and get smug. We think about the things that went their way, the success that just fell into their laps or how your life is so much harder than their life.

And who knows, maybe that is true.

Maybe it is easier for someone else to lose weight than it is for you. Maybe someone was born into a wealthier family and had things given to them you never got close to. Maybe school came easier for someone than it does for you.

Church planters and pastors do this. When you meet someone who has a larger or faster growing church, you immediately wonder how the deck got stacked in their favor. Maybe they had more funding, got a larger launch team from a partner church or they were someone who is well known in an area.

Sometimes, that is true and sometimes it isn’t.

There is a secret to succeeding at almost anything.

Ready?

Small wins.

Anyone who succeeds at something, take your pick on what it is, has done several things, several right things in a row.

They talk about this in debt seminars, weight loss seminars and addiction seminars. Get a small win. Pay off a credit card. Lose 5 pounds, cut soda out of your diet for a week. Quit smoking for a day. Anything. Just get a win.

We do this in relationships as well. We think of something big that will make a big impact on our marriage, with our kids or in community. We make a commitment and then fail. Much like the person wanting to lose weight does when they don’t wake up at 4am to run. Start small. Don’t shoot for the moon on your first step, focus on something you can do.

Growing churches focus on this.

Get a win. Someone accepts Jesus, joins a small group or MC, gets baptized, starts serving, start a new service. A win. Something moving in the right direction. When it does a moment happens and it is a moment that all success is built on: momentum.

Instead of focusing on how to lose 100 pounds, get rid of $20,000 in debt, or how to grow a church to 1,000. Focus on the next step. It is important to have an eventual goal in mind, but it is more important to have your first step.

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What to do When You Don’t Want to Workout

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If you lift or exercise on a regular basis, at some point you will have a day when you don’t feel like doing it. You may get home from work and you are exhausted. Or maybe you set your alarm for 5am and you feel how cold it is in your room and think, “I’ll just stay in bed today.”

While many positive, gung-ho people will say to just get going and cheerlead you on, most of us are not in that camp and would rather sit on the couch or stay in bed.

For me, I think you have 3 options when you don’t feel like exercising:

  1. Don’t exercise. It can actually be a good and healthy to not exercise, especially if you have done it a lot recently. The need for rest is incredibly important, not only for you to avoid burnout and fatigue, but also so that your muscles can recover and recuperate. In the crossfit world, you hear about the guys who lift 6 days a week and that isn’t healthy for everyone, maybe not anyone. You need to be careful that rest doesn’t become your normal routine or rhythm, but it can be a healthy thing to not exercise.
  2. Active rest. If you don’t need rest, but don’t have the energy for a full blown workout, have some soreness or an injury, do some active rest. Swim some laps, take a fast walk, do some jump rope, take a bike ride or a hike. Just get moving. Sometimes when you are worn out, you need fresh air or just need to move.
  3. Bite the bullet. In the end, you may be lazy and just making excuses so you need to bite the bullet, stop whining and just workout. Is it that simple? I’d say yes. One of the things I’ve learned in losing 130 pounds and keeping it off is that if working out is the next thing on your calendar, it gets done. While that sounds simplistic, we do what is on our calendar and to-do list. If working out is next and has a minute attached to it, it happens. If we say “we’ll workout after work” compared to “I’m working at 5:30 – 6:15.” Which one is more likely to happen? The one with time attached to it.

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Why You Aren’t Reaching Your Full Potential

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I’m part of the Reformed camp.

We are known for a few things: a deep love for theology, a desire to be right in that theology, and often, an unwillingness to bend and learn from people outside of our camp.

This isn’t true of everyone the Reformed camp, but it is what we are often known for.

I think the strongest leaders and the strongest churches are willing to learn from anyone. I didn’t say, they do everything they do or even agree with every part of their theology, but they learn from them.

I was asked by a new church planter in Acts 29 who my favorite preachers to listen to and he was surprised when I listed all guys who fall in the “seeker targeted” world of evangelicalism. Why? They know how to do things many in my world struggle with: making their messages relevant and calling people to action. They are also great at inspiring people.

Let me illustrate what can easily happen when we believe churches and leaders don’t learn from everyone: They look the same.

Recently, we were talking with someone that we were interviewing for a position at Revolution. When he learned that we organize our church around missional communities he said, “I can’t get on board with that, I don’t like that model.” At this point, he had no idea what our model looked like, only what he perceived it to be. He had an expectation, that we would be like every other MC model, which we aren’t.

Last year, I spoke at a church planting event that attracts thousands of planters to it. When I was talking to one of the organizers about it, he said, “I’m surprised you’re here because most people in your camp don’t come to our events.”

Why?

An unwillingness to learn from everyone.

This isn’t just the Reformed camp. This is everyone. Pastors not learning from business leaders and vice versa. Seeker churches not learning from the Reformed church or the high church. Worship leaders in attractional church not learning from missional/organic churches and vice versa.

Sadly, many pastors when they start their churches and settle into their camps seem to be above learning from outside their comfort zones. So, they read the same books they’ve always read, go to the same conferences with the same speakers who line up with them saying the things they are expected to say.

Here’s what it can look like. At Revolution, we’ve been heavily influenced by leaders like Tim Keller, Jeff Vanderstelt and Matt Chander. We’ve also been enormously blessed by Andy Stanley, Nelson Searcy and Bill Hybels.

How does this work? Two things need to happen:

  1. Humility. This is a willingness to learn from anyone, to read outside your camp and be pushed to think and be challenged. The moment you think you can’t learn from outside your camp, I’d say you’ve decided to stop being challenged and pushed and when that stops happening, you stop growing.
  2. Wisdom. This is knowing who to listen to and read. Not everyone is worth learning from. Sometimes your deeply held theological differences are worth listening to and not learning. Just because you differ on women’s roles in leadership, the purpose of preaching or worship, or how they do church doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. The people outside of my theological camp I learn specific things from. I don’t go to Nelson Searcy for Biblical knowledge (in fact, I’ve heard him mess up bible verses in seminars), but he is a systems guru. I could listen to Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley talk for days on leadership and never grow tired (in fact, those 2 guys have had a bigger impact on my life than any other leader), but I disagree with them on a number of doctrinal issues.

As long as leaders are able to hold humility and wisdom together, they are able to grow and do great things and see God use them to their full potential because, they are learning from everyone. 

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