The more people there are in the room, the more pressure there is to perform well. This is counterintuitive, which is probably what makes it correct. The more people who are part of making the decision, the more clouded it will be. Everyone fights for their turf, their perspective and it is easy to get off track. As well, if you lead a team, the larger it is, the harder it is to connect with them all. I’m not advocating for smaller teams, but smaller amount of people who report to a leader in terms of giving that feedback. I know many pastors have committees with 20 people on them so everyone has a voice. That is often problematic and halts things from happening. Give a chance for people to give feedback and then have a smaller team make a choice.
People need to be wrong as fast as they can. The sooner someone can move into leadership, have a chance to mess up, the better. The fastest way to learn is failing yourself. Churches can wait too long to give someone the room and authority to fail and learn. This doesn’t mean you should make a second time guest an elder or teacher in the kids ministry, but give people a chance to lead and fail faster than you might normally.
To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail. If you haven’t tried anything that might go poorly recently, you aren’t really trying. Experiment, think outside the box. If you’ve never used a video sermon, use one. If you’ve never tried a certain style of music, use it. Bat around the craziest ideas and see if something sticks.
If you don’t use what’s gone wrong to educate yourself and your colleagues, then you’ll have missed an opportunity. If someone makes a mistake, discuss it with them, walk with them through it, talk about it with them. Don’t miss this chance to coach them and help them learn.
There is no growth or success without change. Churches and pastors don’t want to hear this because we love what we are comfortable with and what we know, but the reality is, if you don’t change, you’ll die. If you don’t adapt, you’ll fall behind. It is that simple. That doesn’t mean you change the message of the Bible, it means you figure out how to communicate things best to the environment you are in.
We were going to screw up, it was inevitable. And we didn’t know when or how. We had to prepare, then, for an unknown problem—a hidden problem. From that day on, I resolved to bring as many hidden problems as possible to light, a process that would require what might seem like an uncommon commitment to self-assessment. Failure is coming. If you aren’t failing now, it is around the corner. Churches though are in the habit of playing it safe and working against failing. It isn’t that we are trying to succeed, we aren’t often trying not to fail. That is a recipe for disaster.
Use the schedule to force reflection. If you are like most pastors, you have very little time for reflection. You run from one thing to the next, one fire to the next, one crisis, one email, one call or text to the next one. You are constantly dealing with what is urgent, not what is important. You have little time for solitude, thinking, planning, reflecting on your heart or what is working or not working. Build it in. It is that important. Build time into your schedule to learn, grow, and reflect.
While everyone appreciates cash bonuses, they value something else almost as much: being looked in the eye by someone they respect and told, “Thank you.” This is one area I think churches have an advantage over profit companies. Our vision must be clear for people to serve, otherwise they won’t see it as worth their time. We can’t give people raises, but we can say thanks for what they do. We can show them their value by how they serve and help.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through this great leadership book with me. I’d highly recommend you add this to your summer reading list. Such a fascinating story of how Pixar got started, the in’s and out’s of their movies and the leadership behind it.
The health of the team outweighs the results. Sadly, this is something churches and pastors can learn from Pixar. Catmull said, “The needs of a movie can never outweigh the needs of our people. We needed to do more than keep them healthy. A company must have strategies to prevent the deadlines from hurting their workers. What is usually considered a plus – a motivated, workaholic workforce pulling together to make a deadline – could destroy itself it left unchecked.” It is the leader’s job to put things into place to keep other leaders, volunteers and staff from burning out. Yes it is an individual’s job to keep themselves healthy, but they often get to a place of unhealth because of expectations or what they think are expectations. At Revolution, we require our MC’s to slow down in the summer time. It isn’t because we don’t value community, mission or want to see people get connected. We also run the risk of people not getting connected or losing momentum for things happening. We do it to help ensure our leaders slow down and not burnout.
For a senior leader to stay engaged, they must make new goals. At one point, when Toy Story came out Catmull had the empty feeling that he had reached his goal of producing a computer animated movie. When he did that, he had what all leaders have, the feeling of wondering if there is more to leadership and life. To stay engaged, a senior leader must continually set new goals, look to new heights personally and organizationally. They must look to new hills to climb or else they will quit or become disengaged.
The team is more important than the ideas. This is surprising to come from Pixar since they are so focused on the story. But according to Catmull, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.” I think many lead pastors and churches, in an effort to get things done or have people to take care of things, they don’t spend a great deal of time thinking through who is on the team. They have their requirements, whether that be schooling, experience, character, doctrine, agreed upon vision or a combination of the above, but they move too quickly and don’t hold out for the best team members, the best leaders.
Any hard problem should have many good minds simultaneously trying to solve it. In churches, we often keep power to a few at the top. By doing this, we often miss how knowledge can be found everywhere and answers can be found everywhere. There is also a fear that many churches and pastors harbor and not having a willingness to learn from other pastors and churches that are not in their camp. Acts 29, my camp does this. We are fearful of seeker-sensitive churches and only read books by dead guys or a few pastors we respect. Why not read books by business leaders? Or pastors of churches that have a different viewpoint than we do?
Whatever happens, we have to be loyal to each other. I’m sure loyalty is talked about in most churches and leadership teams, but I wonder how often it is held. Without loyalty, teams will fail, leaders will fail and churches will fail. If you teams aren’t able to continue working together when it gets hard, they won’t last. This is also seen when a lead pastor has someone come to him and say, “Did you hear what that leader did? Did you know this was happening?” I’ve often told our leaders, keep everyone up to date so that when a problem arises, we are able to have each other’s back.
The first impression sticks. First impressions always stick, they are almost impossible to break. That’s why the first moments on a Sunday morning are the most important minutes. There is something else about this that churches miss and that is the idea of being thought well of by outsiders. Many churches and pastors seem to want to stir up controversy, say stupid things so their blog gets more hits or they get more RT’s on twitter. Nothing brings in people like a controversy. That’s true, but your church doesn’t want any of those people. It also makes those outside the church think poorly of us and the gospel. Yes, but what if it is true? It won’t matter if it is true because they won’t hear it. A church and its leaders should strive to be thought well of, while at the same time being faithful to the Bible. It is possible.
Story Is King. For Revolution, the sermon is the most important piece of our gathering, but it is the thing that drives our gathering. Everything we do stems from the text and the theme for the day. The songs, videos, stories, readings, art, responses, next steps, etc. Everything stems from the passage and sermon. Start with that, start with what will be communicated and use everything to get that across. This is one of the things that sets Pixar apart, their stories are incredible and memorable.
Trust the Process. This is hard for leaders to do, especially pastors. We often want to control people, outcomes or how things will go. We see a problem brewing or a person who isn’t making it and we want to step in and end it or make something happen. We need to trust the processes that we have put into place. If you have an assessment process to be a leader, trust it. If you have a membership process for people, trust it. Let the process weed people out.
Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. One of the most important, if not most important, aspect of leadership is getting your leadership team right. All effort needs to be put into this because your church will rise and fall because of the caliber of leaders you have. The amount of time you spend developing leaders, finding leaders, hiring the right leaders needs to be more important than you probably make it.
Ironically, how we plan our preaching calendar at Revolution is one of the most common questions I get from other pastors. In fact, in the last 2 weeks I’ve been asked about it almost a dozen times that I thought I would share how we decide what we preach on and how far out we plan and why we do it this way.
First off, plan ahead. I am stunned by how little planning goes into some churches. You would think that pastors don’t care what is happening in their churches. Naturally, I am a planner, so this is easier for me and actually more comforting when it is done. For example, the other day I talked to a pastor that said, “It’s Thursday and all I have is a title.” That’s like saying, “All I need is a chip and a chair.” We need better odds than that when it comes to preaching. Now, before you get on my case, God does speak at the end of the week, God does change what we are to see while we are walking up to the stage. It has happened to me and it is exciting and scary all at the same time, but this cannot be our normal practice.
At Revolution, we have decided that the best way for us to reach our mission and target is to preach through books of the Bible. This does not mean we are against topical (that’s a bad discussion in my opinion), we just like doing it this way.
We split series up into two categories: attractional and missional. Attractional will feel more topical, felt needs, but are based on a book of the Bible. Some examples: Song of Solomon, 30 Days to Live (which was topical, see we aren’t against it), The Sermon on the Mount. The other category is missional which tends to be more formation, doctrine, theology. Some examples: Becoming, Jonah, and Hebrews.
We also try to alternate between Old and New Testament books of the Bible. What we are trying to do is to make sure we are giving our church a healthy balance not only of books of the Bible, but also styles and feel.
After the sermon on the mount, we are planning to kick 2010 off by preaching through Nehemiah which is a very mission/leadership focused book.
One thing that we preach on every year is marriage, dating and relationships. For our target and culture, this makes sense. You can check out the series we are starting in 2 weeks here: www.iwantanewmarriage.org.
What about length?
We haven’t bought into doing a 3 – 6 week series only. Hebrews took 18 weeks and Nehemiah will take 22 weeks. For the sermon on the mount, we decided to break it up into 4 smaller series to create more on ramps for our church and guests this fall. The length of the series is not that big of a deal as long as the speaker is up for it. Long series are draining. We try to stay away from doing long series back to back as that is draining on me, our team and our church. After the serious feel of Hebrews, we did a video teaching series with Dave Ramsey which felt completely different.
How far out do we plan?
We look about 12 months ahead when it comes to thinking through topics. This is where so many pastors do themseles a disservice. The other day I was reading a leadership book and the author was quoting and pointing to the book of Nehemiah all over the place. Without knowing that I wanted to preach through this book, I would have missed a ton of great information. Could I have remembered it and gone back to it? Sure, but that is risky.
My point is, plan ahead in some way. By planning ahead we are able to do a lot more creatively as opposed to go week to week.
Are we flexible?
Yes. Just because we are planning something does not mean it is written in stone and unchangable. Over the summer we were actually planning to preach through Habakkuk but decided about 4 weeks out to do the life of Elijah instead, which proved to be the right move. Before making the change though, our creative team let me know we had not gone far enough into the creative process for that series. It is important to not waste your team’s time.
For our creative process, we look 6 – 8 weeks out as we think through atmosphere, visuals, video clips, dramas, cover songs. As we get closer, Paul takes us through a process of honing in on what we will use and how it will flow.
How long would this take? Not very long. In fact, if you sat down right now and made a list of topics you would like to teach on in the next 6 – 12 months you would be well on your way.
When I started preaching through books of the Bible, I picked James to start out with because it was my favorite book of the Bible. Not very spiritual, I know, but it worked and I started to get used to it.
The point is, plan ahead. Way too much is at stake to go week to week.
Now I’ve told you how we do it, how do you plan your series? How do you decide what to preach on?