The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

bookBen Horowitz’s new book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers is quite possibly one of the best church planting books I’ve ever read and it has nothing to do with church planting.

Horowitz shares so many insights from starting businesses, which is very similar to church planting. The hard road of raising funds, building teams, keeping great people and how to handle the high’s and low’s of being a CEO. The insights for lead planters are incredible. I found myself nodding over and over with all the lessons for pastor’s.

The whole book is great. If you are a church planter, thinking about planting or leading a church right now, this is the next book you need to read. It is that good.

Here are a few insights from it:

  • If there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.
  • A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news.
  • Build a culture that rewards—not punishes—people for getting problems into the open where they can be solved.
  • You don’t make yourself look good by trashing someone who worked for you.
  • Hire for strength rather than lack of weakness.
  • If your company is a good place to work, you too may live long enough to find your glory.
  • Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.   Things always go wrong.
  • There are only two ways for a manager to improve the output of an employee: motivation and training.
  • The most important difference between big and small companies is the amount of time running versus creating. A desire to do more creating is the right reason to want to join your company.
  • If you don’t know what you want, the chances that you’ll get it are extremely low.
  • The right kind of ambition is ambition for the company’s success with the executive’s own success only coming as a by-product of the company’s victory. The wrong kind of ambition is ambition for the executive’s personal success regardless of the company’s outcome.
  • While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization and then regain it.
  • A company will be most successful if the senior managers optimize for the company’s success (think of this as a global optimization) as opposed to their own personal success (local optimization).
  • Nothing motivates a great employee more than a mission that’s so important that it supersedes everyone’s personal ambition.
  • The CEO job as knowing what to do and getting the company to do what you want.
  • When an organization grows in size, things that were previously easy become difficult.
  • The further away people are in the organizational chart, the less they will communicate.
  • Evaluating people against the future needs of the company based on a theoretical view of how they will perform is counterproductive.
  • There is no such thing as a great executive. There is only a great executive for a specific company at a specific point in time.
  • Everybody learns to be a CEO by being a CEO.
  • If you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO.
  • When my partners and I meet with entrepreneurs, the two key characteristics that we look for are brilliance and courage.
  • Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions.

To see other book notes, go here.

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Leading Up


Leadership is hard. That isn’t news.

It is hard to lead people. It is hard to lead followers. It is hard to lead those under you or those who work next to you on the organizational chart (you know, the ones you can’t make do something).

It is really hard to lead those over you, to lead up.

Yet, to get anywhere in leadership, you must learn to lead up.


The person above you probably controls your budget, your salary, your benefits and if what you want to do gets done.

The person above you potentially controls a lot.

So, to accomplish what you want to accomplish at work and in your life, you need to lead them well.

This is especially true for guys who want to plant churches.

If this is you, you will at some point, find yourself working under someone. Someone that you are smarter than, someone that you are more relevant than, someone that you are more biblical than, someone that has sold out to risks and is now just collecting a paycheck.

Now, you won’t say these things to them.

But deep down, you know they “lost it.”

They now look and sound like the guy from Up. 

So how do you lead up? Here are 5 ways to lead up and accomplish what God has called you to without losing your leadership. Because don’t mistake this: if you don’t lead up well, you will have a hard time leaving your current spot to get the role you want. 

  1. Affirm and back their vision. Right now, if you aren’t the leader at the top of the organizational chart, you are a follower. If you can’t follow well, you can’t lead well. What if you don’t support their vision? Unless it isn’t biblical, you chose to be there. You need to be submissive to that. As long as it isn’t heretical, just different from what you would do, follow well. But you know better. You are an entrepreneur who God has called to something else. I know. But wait. Affirm them as the leader. Believe it or not (see #5), you will need them in the future.
  2. Be patientYour timing is not God’s timing. I knew when I was 21 that I would one day plant a church. I didn’t know where or when, but I knew. It was when I was 29 in a state I had never set foot in before. Those 8 years were hard, sometimes painful, but they were formative. Be in the moment. Seek to learn what you can. If you aren’t in charge, relish that. Prepare for when you will be. Watch. Listen. Ask questions. Seek out mentors. Read books. Be ready for when God says “Go.”
  3. Risk when the time is right. This is a timing and heart issue. I’ve watched countless guys say “Go” and it was terrible timing for them, their families and the church they left. Can God overcome anything and call anyone at anytime? Yes. God is also wise and doesn’t always call us to the stupidest thing we could do. If you think, “Is this stupid? That must be God’s will for my life.” That is a terrible way to discern that. But lots of people equate crazy risk with stupid. Don’t put your family in a bind. Don’t put the church you are leaving in a bind. Remember, the way you leave a church is how they will remember you. They will forget everything else you did.
  4. Be open and honest. Talk to those above you about what God has placed on your heart. What if they fire you? You don’t want to be there then. This also shows if you feel called or if you think planting or being the lead guy just sounds fun.
  5. Don’t leave unless they back you. The first question I ask a church planter who wants money, people, support or resources from Revolution Church is, “Does the church you just left support you? Are they giving you anything?” I’m very cautious of the guy who says “No” and then has a story or reasons why not. Is it always their fault? No. But to me that is a sign, a red flag that often reveals a character issue.


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Book Notes | The Business of Belief

bookI recently read a short, fascinating book by Tom Asacker called The Business of Belief: How the World’s Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to BelieveWhile written from a business leaders perspective, the application for pastors who preach every week are enormous. Because, let’s be honest, pastors are in the business of belief and seeing the beliefs of people changed.

I think one thing that is easy for pastors to forget is that changing beliefs is hard and an enormous task. We forget that when someone wrestles with Jesus and the implications of following Jesus, what barriers they have and what that will do to their lives.

Here are a few notes from it:

  • Every new product, service, cause and idea must now work overtime to capture people’s attention.
  • Today’s most forward-looking people and organizations are moving beyond attention. They’re acutely aware that it’s not enough to simply have people know about them and their agendas. They need people to choose them, support them, work with them, and recommend them. In other words, they need people to believe.
  • Belief is an incredibly difficult concept to wrap one’s head around because, like fish in water, our heads are swimming in belief. Beliefs touch every facet of our lives, mundane and profound, from the religions we choose to inform our spiritual and moral lives to the products we purchase to make us look.
  • We choose what we choose because we believe in it. And those beliefs are (or were) driven by our desires.
  • Belief is what humans do. Our personal beliefs define our choices, shape our lives and, collectively, determine our futures. Nothing is more important than belief. If you want to change the world, if you want to change your world, if you want to succeed at work, in the marketplace, or in any other social endeavor or organization, belief is your Holy Grail.
  • Beliefs are really nothing more than working assumptions. Most are provisional, conditional and have varying degrees of certainty
  • Reason is simply a tool to help the brain get what it cares about (and to feel good about it).
  • We only see what we’re prepared to see, and what we expect to experience influences what we do experience.
  • Our minds crave consistency in our beliefs and behaviors. We want to appear logical, to ourselves and to others. And when faced with evidence which contradicts our beliefs, our minds work to eliminate the psychological discomfort.
  • We don’t really want total control and responsibility. We want guided control—based on an empathetic assessment of our feelings and desires—along with the freedom to create our own meaning, our own story, without external pressure or coercion. What we want is the illusion of control.
  • There is no distinction between what you do and what you desire.
  • We are not computers. We don’t optimize our decisions. We decide, and believe, in order to feel good. And to avoid feeling bad.
  • If we desire something, we’ll be attentive to the evidence that supports it and inattentive to conflicting evidence.
  • Desire drives belief, which motivates people to seek out information and act in certain ways that help them attain those desires.
  • Changing a belief is like crossing a footbridge stretched above a deep chasm; it requires motivation (a reason) and consideration (evidence).
  • Every leader knows that before you can lead people, you have to know where they want to go.
  • Want is not the same impulse as need, nor is it simply a wish or a dream. Want, or desire, is a motivating force which shapes our choices.
  • People don’t venture down an unfamiliar path, unless they can visualize their desired destination.
  • Great leaders simplify the belief process by eliminating difficulties and competing options on our attention. They work really hard to make belief really easy.

4 Ways to Help People Connect to God


In his book The Business of Belief: How the World’s Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe, Tom Asacker makes this point:

We only see what we’re prepared to see, and what we expect to experience influences what we do experience.

This has enormous implications on church, preaching, atmosphere in a service, etc.

Often, when a worship leader or pastor get on a stage, they expect everyone wants to be there. That everyone has prepared themselves to be there or agrees with everything that is about to happen.

Think for a minute about how different a church service is from anything else you experience in life.

Where else do you stand with a bunch of people you don’t know and sing songs (that you often don’t know)? Where else do you sit and listen to someone talk for 30-60 minutes? Don’t even get me started on the churches that have the “turn around and say hi to someone” moment.

You must as a pastor, help people be prepared for what is coming. You cannot assume they are there or ready for what is about to come.

Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Explain what you are doing. If you sing, tell them why. I’ll often say, “We’re going to sing some songs that we believe to be true.” I’ve just told them what is coming, why we are doing and what they mean. I’ve given them an out. If they don’t believe them to be true, just listen. Also, tell them how long it will be. We always say, “For the next 75 minutes” or “For the next 80 minutes” depending on the week. This lets them know, “I know you are curious as to how long this will last and now you can set your watch.”
  2. Have great signs. Atmosphere and worship start out in the road as people drive up and walk up to your building. Have great signs. They should explain where to enter, the front door, bathrooms, kids space, worship space and food. Your signs should be so good a guest should be able to navigate your church without ever having to ask for help if they want to.
  3. Assure them they don’t have to do anything. Give them an out. More than likely, they’ll take it anyway. But, by giving them an out you also communicate you know how they feel and that it is okay. Pastors, remember this: the New Testament is largely written to churches, filled with Christians. Don’t make those who don’t believe feel guilty if they don’t apply a passage. Yes, you want them to and tell them that. Also say, “You don’t have to do this, but if you do, here’s what you can expect _______.” Cast a vision for how amazing applying the truth of Scripture to your life.
  4. Talk as if they have no idea what you are talking about. This is what The Heath Brothers in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die call the “curse of knowledge.” Christians and pastors forget what it is like to not understand the Bible. To not know the order of books of the Bible, what the sovereignty of God means, what justification or sanctification mean. Don’t assume everyone knows what you are talking about. If you use a big word (like the ones in the previous line), define them. It takes 10 seconds and if you don’t, you will give everyone who doesn’t know what you are talking about a great excuse to check out.


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.


Thabiti Anyabwile on A round-up of the holy hip hop squabble.

It’s entirely possible you live in a twitter circle completely independent of my own. If that’s the case, you might have missed something of a internet-age equivalent of strong rebuke of several men participating in a National Center for Family Integrated Churches panel discussion. The segment making the rounds includes a question about holy hip hop and whether it’s appropriate. The panelists shared what can only be described as statements of escalating idiocy and implicit (at least) cultural superiority. Following the NCFIC panel segment on Christian/Reformed hip hop, a number of thoughtful brothers responded. If you missed any of it, here’s a round-up.

Cheryl Connor on The practices mentally strong people avoid.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

Ohio State Study finds Casual sex contributes to depression and declines in mental health.

Those who had casual sex in their late teens and early 20s were significantly more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide as young adults, results showed. In fact, each additional casual sex relationship increased the odds of suicidal thoughts by 18 percent.

Timothy Paul Jones on Why celebrate advent.

Once upon a time, there was a season in the church year known as “Advent.” The word comes to us from the Latin for “coming.” The purpose of the season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.

15 Quotes from Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret


Every Saturday morning, I review a book that I read recently. If you missed any, you can read past reviews here. This week’s book is Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (kindle version) by Larry Osborne.

This book was fantastic. Instead of a full blown review, here are 15 quotes that jumped out to me:

  1. What is the dirty little secret of innovation? It’s simply this: most innovations fail.
  2. The success of people is not found in their ability to avoid failure. It’s found in their ability to minimize the impact of failure.
  3. Innovation is birthed out of answering these two questions: What frustrates me most? What’s broken most?
  4. Organizational innovation is often ignited by our deepest personal frustrations.
  5. The kind of mission statement that keeps an organization focused and accelerates innovation doesn’t just happen.
  6. A mission statement needs to be ruthlessly honest. It should reflect your organization’s passionate pursuit, not merely your wishful thinking, your marketing slogans, or a spirit of political correctness.
  7. Many leaders confuse mission with marketing.
  8. A mission statement should be aimed at insiders. Its purpose is to tell those on the inside of the organization where the bull’s-eye lies.
  9. The purpose of a mission statement is to tell everyone on the inside what we’re aiming at. It’s supposed to let them know what’s most important.
  10. To impact the daily decisions of an organization, a mission statement must be easily remembered and repeated ad nauseam – and then repeated again.
  11. When your mission statement is an honest reflection of your passion, is widely known, and is broadly accepted, it will not only help you get where you want to go; it will accelerate innovation.
  12. God’s will has three components: a what, a when, and a how. Each is equally important. Two out of three won’t cut it. Miss out on any of the three and you’ll end up in the weeds.
  13. It’s not always the best idea that succeeds. It’s the combination of a great idea, proper timing, and excellent execution that brings success.
  14. You can’t lead if you can’t live with low-level frustration.
  15. The important question is not, “Does this fail to help us fulfill our mission?” The important question is, “Does this keep us from fulfilling our mission?”