What is Holding Your Church Back

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I’m not sure where I read it, but Nelson Searcy said, “Your church is not realizing as much of its potential as it could.” This can be off putting depending on your view of the church and your view of leadership. If pastors and church members are honest, most churches are not realizing their potential. They are not doing all that God is calling them to, they are not as healthy as they could be and they are not seeing the growth in people that they could.

Often, it isn’t intentional, they are just allowing church to happen to them. They are working in the church.

In his book Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley says one of the most important things for a pastor to do is work on the church. This is different than working in the church.

Work on it means that to maintain your relevance, your sanity, and your effectiveness, you must carve out time in your schedule to step back and evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Many churches do this on Monday when they look back on the weekend and evaluate things based off what is the win for them. How they evaluate it will vary. Some questions I ask myself are:

  • What did God do that we can celebrate?
  • Was it Christ centered?
  • Was everything clear? Would someone without a church background know what we were doing at all times?
  • Was it relevant to everyone who came?
  • Did we help people take their next step? Was that next step obvious?
  • Did everyone who was on stage, taught, led and volunteered, did they bring their best?

This is helpful and something that should be done weekly.

One area that many pastors fail to work on their church is the bigger picture. This is why a summer preaching break is so helpful. The summer is the ideal time for this as you get ready to head into the fall ministry season, hit the holidays and then roll into the new year. The summer is a reset time in many ways.

Here are some questions to ask for your organization:

  • Are we doing anything that does not help us accomplish our vision?
  • What size are we right now? If we doubled in the next year, what would we stop doing? What will we start doing when we reach twice our size?
  • What things are keeping us from growing?
  • What systems need to be changed or fixed to maintain health as we grow?
  • How can the preaching calendar help us take the next step as a church?
  • Do we need to replace any leaders as we grow because we have reached their lids? What can do to help expand their leadership lids?

Working on the church is not just about evaluating the organization and ministry of the church. Pastors and leaders also need to spend some time looking at their own hearts, leadership abilities and lives.

Here are some personal questions to ask:

  • How is my energy level? How do I recharge before the fall season?
  • What do I need to put into place so that I don’t burnout in the next year?
  • What areas do I need to grow as a leader so that I can help lead the church in this next season (each year I focus on an area of my job that I want to grow in and read or get coaching in that area)?
  • Is God calling our church to anything new in the coming year?
  • Am I wasting my energy or time in any area of my life?
  • Am I keeping appropriate boundaries with social media?
  • Where do my deepest frustrations come from? What can I do immediately about them?
  • What is the single most important thing to do or decide to do right now to achieve my life vision and the vision for our church?
  • How am I failing to give my best time and energy to my family? What changes do I need to make immediately about this?

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The Most Helpful Book on Productivity

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I am a big fan of being more productive, organizing your life for effectiveness and I’m always on the lookout for a helpful book in this area. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman is one of the best books on this topic.

What sets this book apart from others on productivity:

  1. Its emphasis on understanding how the gospel impacts productivity.
  2. How the gospel frees us to be productive.
  3. It also brings together some of the best ideas from other books on productivity to show a better system that combines the strengths of different systems.

If I had one criticism about the book, it would be how much time he spent convincing the reader that it is biblical to be productive. I know why he did this and the reasoning is sad: Christians seem to think productivity, organization or systems are unbiblical and have no place in the church. Sadly, this is why most churches are ineffective and why business leaders often feel like they don’t fit in churches.

One of the best reminders I took from this book and it immediately changed my stress level was planning my day in advance. I tried doing this the night before, but I then laid in bed thinking about the coming day. I now spend my first 5-10 minutes each morning at my desk, praying through and thinking through what I need to accomplish and list what is most important and remove everything else from my calendar or to-do list for that day.

If productivity is a struggle for you, or if you want to take your productivity to the next level, I’d highly recommend checking out this book. You won’t regret it.

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How to Forgive Your Father

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As I mentioned in a recent sermon, one of the hardest things for us as we see God as father is how we feel about our earthly father. That relationship impacts so much of how we see ourselves, the world around us and God. It impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we let others treat us.

As you take steps this week to let go of any hurt done by your earthly father and forgive him, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

One, remember your sin. It is easy to simply look at the brokenness of someone else and overlook our brokenness. As you forgive someone, you begin to come face to face with some of the things in your own heart. If you skip over these things or not deal with them, you will find yourself having a hard time understanding God’s forgiveness. Remember, God’s grace was extended to you and your sin, my sin, the sin of your father put Jesus on the cross.

Two, forgiveness does not mean you pretend something didn’t happen. Forgive and forget is a nice phrase, but I’m not sure it is realistic or biblical. We always remember something. It is part of our story, our life. We don’t simply pretend that hurt, broken promises, or even abuse happened. As you forgive and move forward, don’t pretend something didn’t happen as that will keep you from health and wholeness.

Third, forgiveness does not mean you have a relationship with someone. You can forgive someone and keep them at a distance, which you may need to do depending on the situation for your safety.

Last, God forgave you and this is the basis for letting go of anything. Why did God forgive you? He loved you and this forgiveness is what we are to extend to those who hurt us, including our father.

It may be hard to believe, but forgiving those who hurt you the most is not only something a follower of Jesus is called to, it is also the only way to living the life that God calls you to live. Many people walk around with hurt, that turns into bitterness because of something they won’t let go of. And that is not the life that God has called us to live.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

bookBrian Jennings on 2 healthy habits for a family over the summer.

Summer can bring some great opportunities for families, but it can also lead to lots of frustration. Plus, it goes by so fast that I am afraid to blink. I have not enjoyed feeling like we did not get the most out of a summer. So, my wife and I decided to implement a couple of habits/rules in our house (unique from our school year routines). Our goal was to establish some routines that would promote calmness, creativity and spiritual growth.

Russell Moore on What if your child is gay?

One of the reasons this is such a crushing experience for many is because they assume that their alternatives are affirmation or alienation. I either give up my relationship with my child or I give up the Bible. The gospel never suggests this set of alternatives, and in fact demonstrates just the opposite. Every child, whether gay or straight, is oriented toward sin, and so are you. If your child or grandchild says he or she is gay, you shouldn’t act shocked, as though you are surprised your child might be tempted toward sin, or that you find your own sinful inclinations somehow less deserving of God’s judgment.

Ron Edmondson on 7 hints to make a bad leadership decision.

Paul Alexander on How to pastor your staff.

But if you’re so busy that you don’t have time to focus on discipleship, development and knowing the team then you run the risk of not only building a toxic culture on your church staff team but missing the real work God has called you to. At the end of the day the church is not a business, it’s the body of Christ.

12 Things TED Speakers do that Pastors Don’t.

Don’t use your conclusion to simply summarize what you’ve already said; tell your audience how your idea might affect their lives if it’s implemented.

Links for Your Weekend Reading

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Millenials and the church.

Media consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s, and 30s have no such print alliances. To them, the idea of printing on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful. To these folks, paper-based publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears. For those who weren’t raised on paper, digital is superior in almost every way.

Chuck Lawless on Reflections on leadership.

You are the leader now, but you will not lead forever. Callings change. Health issues erupt. Organizations restructure. And – though this thought is difficult for some of us to imagine – those organizations often go on well without us. We sometimes become only one of the pictures of past leaders hanging on the wall, all photographic reminders that an organization is much bigger than we are.

Erik Raymond on Can you keep your kids from running away from God after graduation?

Who or what are you trying to make? When I look at my kids I want them to be able to do three things (concerning Christianity): 1) Read / Understand the Bible, 2) Pray, 3) Talk to people about the Bible. How do you do this? I think you have to regularly expose them to the Bible, the Sunday gathering, fellowship in the church, and family Bible reading, and discussions of spiritual things.

David Murray on 50 reasons to sleep longer.

We are sleeping between one and two hours less per night than people did 60 or so years ago and it’s having a devastating impact upon every part of our lives.

Don’t waste your loneliness.

I have found that the sooner a friendship boldly makes Christ the center of the relationship, the deeper the roots have grown.

Eric Geiger on Read or get out the ministry.

While I would not consider myself a “reading expert,” reading has been a significant part of my development for the last 20 years. I view reading as an opportunity to interact with great thinkers and leaders. I typically am working through multiple books at a time. Before kids entered our world, I averaged reading two books a week. The quantity of my reading has slowed for this season, but I still take reading very seriously. Here are some suggestions based on my experiences with books.

Common problems in modern preaching. This is right on. Listen up expository preachers.

Too many of our sermons are actually theological lectures, and our aim is usually to inform the mind rather than melt the heart.

How to preach in an age of distraction.

The preacher’s business is with the mind; we have to get people’s attention, and hold their attention, if we hope for our message to make a difference. Anything that distracts our listeners or readers from our message can impact our hours of work and prayer.

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Monday Morning Mind Dump…

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  • Today should be a big day in the course of my life.
  • If all goes as planned, I will finalize a book deal today for my first book.
  • Can’t believe that a goal I’ve had for over a decade is almost here.
  • I have spent the last 2 years working on a proposal and talking to publishers to finally reach this point.
  • Not sure how tonight will feel, but I hope it isn’t anti-climatic.
  • Yesterday was a busy day at Revolution.
  • We had 5 photographers taking free family pictures before and after the service.
  • Love how many gifted artists our church has and their willingness to bless our church like that.
  • The response to the pictures is always great.
  • Yesterday was one of those sermons that did not go as I expected it to go.
  • Preachers can relate to that.
  • In one regard it went really well and I communicated everything that I wanted to, which is always good.
  • In another regard, I felt like I preached 2 different sermons.
  • After I was done, the response was overwhelming, which was unexpected because how I felt.
  • Love how God works that way.
  • Had a first time guest come up right after the service and tell me he had become a Christian during the message.
  • Never gets old hearing that.
  • If you missed it, you can listen to it here.
  • Read the new book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration over the weekend. 
  • So many lessons for pastors and churches in it.
  • I don’t know about you, but I spent a good portion of the weekend following the NFL draft.
  • I can’t wait for football season.
  • I may have to blog about this, but maybe not, but I am tired of people saying, “Michael Sam is just a football player.”
  • So tired of hearing that because no one is treating him like that, especially Michael Sam.
  • Finally got to watch the new episode of 24 last night.
  • So good.
  • Funny how much it looks and feels like the old 24.
  • I thought, we really waited 5 years for them to do this?
  • Still great though.
  • I don’t know about you, but I am ready for summer to get here.
  • I’m excited for what lays ahead for my summer.
  • Hope you have some great plans.
  • Time to get back to it.
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Always Start with Why

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Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at Exponential on the topic of transitioning a church with small groups to a church with Missional Communities. A few asked for some notes on it and thought I’d do a few blog posts on it.

The first step to transitioning a church from small groups to MC’s is why do it. I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. In it, he makes the case that any church, organization or movement can answer why they do something.

If you are going to make any changes, you must be able to answer:

  1. Why are we making this change?
  2. What will we get by making this change?
  3. Why do we have to make this change?

In the church world, MC’s are the thing to do. They are hip and cool and the new church planters are doing it. All the mega-churches are transitioning to them. It is what you do if you are a smart pastor.

I met several people at Exponential who told me that was why they were doing MC’s.

That isn’t compelling. No one in your church cares about MC’s, unless you tell them why. And hearing about it at a conference or reading a book isn’t good enough.

When we started MC’s at Revolution, they were very focused on mission and social justice. Discipleship was not the goal of them. As we’ve grown in our knowledge of what God has called us to, discipleship is the obvious goal of the church and Christians (Matthew 28:18 – 20). Mission, serving together, community, praying together, eating together, walking with each other through hard times and celebrations is all part of discipleship.

Discipleship is the umbrella of missional communities, it is what everything points to.

Once this is clear it helps to answer everything else about missional communities and are church. Things like: what do MC’s do when they meet, what is the point of serving, eating together, how do we evaluate the health of an MC or MC leader?

While an MC lives out the identities of a servant, leader, family and missionary, those are all fuel for discipleship. Discipleship happens while we do those things.

Until this is clear, until the why is clear, until the win is clear, a church and missional communities will struggle to stay focused. They will easily become a family that never allows anyone else to join or they will serve and focus solely on social justice and reaching out to those in need without ever sharing the gospel with them.

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Make me Approve of You

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I preached on the need and desire for approval that we all have. Granted, we all feel it to different degrees. In my sermon, I mentioned how my desire to win, to be right, to have power and control always outweighs my desire for approval. It is still there though.

This blog post may feel more like a confession that I’m letting you in on. Hopefully this will be an encouragement to you or you’ll see yourself in it.

For me, I was convicted how out of my desire for power and control, I can very easily make my relationships about my approval of someone else.

I can be good at putting incredibly high standards on people, making them feel guilty so they will ultimately do what I want.

This is how I control things. In the end, it is also how I can easily help people sin by gaining my approval.

It is interesting when we talk about the idols of the heart or the sin in people’s lives, we focus on the person sinning. We should. They are responsible. In doing this, it is easy to let the people off who cause the sinning. Granted, someone seeking my approval is not my fault and they stand before God on that. I stand before God on how I cause someone to sin or stumble.

That is on me.

As I think about legalism, the gospel, the idols of my heart and hopefully as you think about those things, my hope with this blog post is to get you to realize in your quest for approval, control, comfort or power, you cause others to worship their idol by your actions. In your quest for comfort, you might help someone seek even more control so things don’t fall through the cracks because you are so laidback and letting whatever happens happen. In your quest for approval, you cause others to seek power because you are willing to be a doormat to their sin and ego.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Weakness is the way.

What does J.I. Packer mean by “weakness”? He defines it as “a state of inadequacy, or insufficiency, in relation to some standard or ideal to which we desire to conform” (p. 49). In the case of Paul in particular, and even of Christians in general, it means a realistic acknowledgment in facing not only our fundamental human limitations (such as those we encounter in the physical, intellectual, and relational realms of life), but more importantly our sinfulness, our transgressions, and the guilt that these entail. Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians (and to us) is that the only proper response is to “look to Christ as your loving Sin-Bearer and living Lord” (p. 50). The Christian must “love Christ, in unending gratitude for his unending love to you” (p. 51) and “lean on Christ and rely on him to supply through the Holy Spirit all the strength you need for his service, no matter how weak unhappy circumstances and unfriendly people may be making you feel at present” (p. 51).

Matt Walsh on The two worst arguments against homeschooling.

Why do I even need to debunk the socialization claim? You’ve seen our society, haven’t you? You’ve interacted with people, right? Homeschooling might be increasingly popular, but the vast majority of the people you meet have been public schooled. And you’re telling me that the vast majority of the people you meet are ‘socially well adjusted’? Really?

100% of mom’s are working moms.

By discouraging women from seeing motherhood as a job, we segment our lives into our own false categories of work and non-work. We inevitably pit one against the other.

Rich Birch on 15 things you need to know about Facebook if you are a pastor.

8 things healthy couples don’t do.

It’s often harder to see the good relationships, because they aren’t out slamming doors and stomping around and airing grievances on social media.

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When You are Most Likely to Sin

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Ever wonder why you sin? What if there was a specific time that you were most likely to give in to temptation? What if you could see negative emotions, thoughts from your past, addictions you thought you were free from coming a mile away?

You can.

In his book Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg shares this:

Psychologist Roy Baumeister has coined the term “ego depletion” to describe a level of fatigue that goes beyond mere physical tiredness. People living in this depleted condition report more tiredness and negative emotions, but those are not the only effects. Depleted people who watch a sad movie become extra sad. When facing temptations like eating chocolate chip cookies, they are more likely to give in. When faced with challenges like an especially difficult assignment at work, they are more likely to fail or turn in lower quality work. The brain area that’s crucial for self-control (the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) actually experiences a slowdown.

The reality is, you and I sin at specific times. Those times are most likely going to be when we are tired, worn down, exhausted. For a pastor, that is most likely on a Sunday night or on a Monday. We are tired at other times, but follow me.

When are you most tired? What time during the day do you feel the weakest in terms of your will to fight sin and temptation?

Let me apply this to pastors and help you understand why this as. I’ve learned while pastors are good at helping others fight sin in their lives, we tend to lack self-awareness.

On Sunday night you have preached hard, led worship hard, sat with people, hugged them, cried with them, counseled them, prayed with them. You have gone to battle for them and with them. You have had hard meetings with people who told you they are leaving the church, that you don’t live up to their standards of things, that you don’t preach the gospel, use too much Bible, are too deep, not deep enough and your head feels like it is spinning because you can’t please them all.

If you aren’t a pastor, you have a day of the week that simply runs you down. You come home exhausted, barely able to stand, let alone think and certainly not up for fighting sin and temptation.

This is the moment we must be aware of.

Often, the reason we fall into sin is because we don’t see it as a battle, or, once we feel tempted we feel like we have already lost the fight with sin so we simply give in to it.

Don’t.

When you see that moment coming, go to sleep, hand your smartphone or table to a spouse, pick up a banana, turn off the TV. Fight the sin you are facing by removing the temptation in your moment of weakness.

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