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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Why You Need a Summer Break

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I’m my summer preaching break and as always, it has been incredibly helpful. If you are a pastor, this is something you need to put into your yearly rhythm.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that personal health and leadership health is incredibly important to me. It seems every month I hear about another pastor burning out or running out of steam because they didn’t take care of themselves. If you burnout, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Over the last 3 weeks, I have played longer with my kids, walked on the beach and picked up seashells, took long walks with Katie, took some naps, watched the world cup, worked ahead on sermons, read some great books and spent time with friends.

Who benefits from a summer break. Literally everyone. The pastor taking it does as he is able to recharge physically and spiritually. His family does as they get some much needed down time. What many people fail to realize is that ministry can become an all encompassing endeavor. The church benefits as well from having a pastor come back more passionate and energized than when he left and they benefit from hearing sermons from other voices. It is a win-win for everyone.

Most pastors want to take a summer break, but don’t know how. If that’s you, here are some ideas on how to make your summer break successful:

  • Plan ahead. We think resting should just happen, but it doesn’t. This is especially true for your summer break. If you are taking vacation, you need to plan ahead so you can disconnect from social media, email and your job. Work out the details so everything is covered and you are not needed.
  • Disconnect early and connect early. My recommendation during your break is that you disconnect from email, social media, blogging, etc. For me, I can find myself getting angry at posts or distracted and that keeps me from recharging or doing what I should be doing on my break. Put an auto responder on your email a few days before you actually leave so you can begin disconnecting and then turn it back on a few days before you come back so you can ease in.
  • Leave town. You don’t need to be gone for your whole preaching break, but the more the better. This helps you to truly disconnect and recharge. This doesn’t have to be expensive as you can drive and visit friends or family or stay somewhere cheap. This is why planning ahead is such a benefit.
  • Don’t feel guilty. It’s summer, so don’t feel bad. Everyone is taking vacation, time off and slowing down. People go to the beach, lake, mountains, the park. Once summer hits, our mindset changes and our schedules change. This is why it is the ideal time for a pastor to take several weeks in a row from regular church activities.
  • Be purposeful. This isn’t simply about time off. Take a sabbatical for that. This is to recharge and have time off, but also to work ahead, evaluate the ministry and do things you need to do but often neglect because of the time ministry takes. By planning ahead purposefully, you make sure you accomplish what you need to. This summer I spent a lot of time talking to pastors of churches who have broken the 500 mark trying to discern what I need to know as we approach that in our next season of ministry, the kinds of leaders we need on board to break through that barrier.

In the end, a preaching break is really about the longevity of ministry for a pastor and his church. This keeps it fresh and moving in the direction God wants him to. Don’t minimize how important this is. The ones who do, end up burning out or losing passion very quickly.

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Leadership Paradox: Going Slow is Often Better Than Speed

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If there is one thing leaders love it is speed. They want to see things get done, churches and teams be more effective.

If there is one thing that followers love, it is the opposite of speed. It is sameness, normalcy, sometimes status quo, but something they are familiar with.

Here’s a leadership paradox I’ve been learning recently: going slow is often better than speed. 

This hard for leaders, especially church planters or younger leaders when they lead a change.

The reason is simple. Leaders see the preferred future, they have an idea where things are going and they want to get there.

They also have spent so much time researching it, thinking about it, praying about it, reading books that by the time they announce something, they have some times been thinking about a change for weeks, months or years.

The problem?

All your followers, team members, or employees just heard about it.

Part of the reason many young leaders aren’t willing to take changes slower is they aren’t planning to be there for a long time.

When you make a commitment to an organization or a church for more than 3 years, you have more of a willingness to take the long view on the speed of new things.

As the leader, you struggle with patience. I get it. It is one thing that makes you a strong leader. Yet, if you aren’t able to slow down, keep everyone with you, you will end up at your destination alone.

Are there times to speed up? Yes. Sometimes things are taking too long.

Sometimes, a decision simply has to be made. A lot of times we are moving slow not out of wisdom, but fear of what will happen if we decide, if people will be mad or leave. If that’s the case, be a leader and make a choice.

Just because people don’t seem like they are on board, doesn’t mean they are being divisive or unhelpful. Sometimes they don’t understand or you are moving too fast.

How do you know the difference in all these situations?

You don’t.

That’s what makes you the leader.

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Pastors Can Make the Worst Friends

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Most pastors are nice people, they just don’t make good friends.

That may seem harsh to say, but as a pastor, I think it is true.

Hear me out.

Pastoral ministry is an all encompassing job. It is highly relational, emotional, mental and spiritual. It can be draining physically and overwhelming. It isn’t harder than other jobs, it is just different.

Because you can get a call at any moment with something that needs attention, many pastors burnout and struggle to have boundaries so they can rest and recharge.

Pastors spend so much time counseling people, helping people work through issues or sitting in meetings that when they meet someone, they often see them as a project instead of a person. They see them as someone who will need something, someone who will need advice or need to be fixed instead of a person to simply spend time with.

For most pastors, church is something they are always thinking about. The next capital campaign, new ministry year, next sermon series, next issue, hiring a new person. It never stops. They spend all their time with people talking about church. They sit with their wife on date night and talk about church. It is not just a job, it is their life. It is who they are and this becomes unhealthy.

Then, they meet someone new and they can’t stop talking about church. They can’t shut it off.

What do you do then? How can you become a better friend if you are a pastor? Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Have friends who don’t attend church (or your church). This is crucial. If you don’t have any friends who don’t attend church, that’s a great clue that you aren’t good at friendships. Churched people will tolerate a pastor who don’t stop talking about church or is a poor friend because they want to be close to a pastor. An unchurched person won’t take that.
  2. Have a no church talk zone. There should be a time of day, a day each week where you stop talking about church stuff. Stop thinking about, stop checking your email. Don’t talk about it at least once a week. For many pastors this will be so hard to do, but incredibly healthy.
  3. Take a day off. If you aren’t taking your day off as a pastor, you are sinning. I’m blown away by how many pastors are killing themselves working 6 or 7 days a week. Stop it. Rest, recharge, take some down time.
  4. Get in a small group. I’m blown away by how many pastors are not in a small group or missional community at their church. They’ll often say that the elders are their small group. This line of thinking attempts to make a pastor untouchable and that’s a sin. In a small group, people see who you are, you can’t hide any longer. You start to see how people see you and if you are any good at community. This might feel like it goes against #1 but it doesn’t because many pastors don’t have friends in their church. Now, you need to be careful here. You don’t just share everything with someone in your church, you must show discretion on the information and with the person. There have been times Katie and I have shared everything about a situation with our MC, and sometimes not. Each situation is different, but you should be in community with some people in your church who are not in leadership.
  5. Get a hobby. I was talking with some pastors the other day I am coaching out of burnout and I asked them, “What do you do for fun? What recharges you? What is fun?” Blank stares. Many pastors do not have a hobby. Things like fixing a car, working with wood, hiking, playing sports, knitting or cooking. Nothing. If that’s you, sit down and answer that question, what do I find fun? If you don’t have a hobby, you won’t have anything that lets off steam, anything that is fun, anything to do with others.

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How to Transition a Church from Small Groups to Missional Communities

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve shared 7 things that I and my church has learned since we transitioned our church from small groups to missional communities. At the time, things were going great. We had over 85% of our adults in a small group, but it wasn’t producing the change, discipleship and leaders we hoped it would. So, we made the change to missional communities. Below are 7 things we learned in the process:

  1. Always Start with Why
  2. Get Essential Leaders on Board
  3. How to Handle Someone who is not on Board
  4. Leaders Lead by Example
  5. Remove Barriers to What is Most Important
  6. Prepare for Losses
  7. Celebrate Small Wins
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How to Prepare for Losses in Leadership

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Recently, 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 in this process is to start with why and the win of this transition. The second step is to get essential leaders on board. Next you need to handle leaders who do not get on board in a loving way, how leaders lead by example in showing a church what is most important and how a leaders shoots themselves in the foot by having too many options.

What I wasn’t prepared for as our church transitioned to MC’s and what I think many leaders are not prepared for when a change occurs is the losses that come with that change.

This isn’t just about losing people, although any change is such that not everyone will go with you, but also as a church grows and MC’s multiply, there is excitement and pain associated with that, which is often not discussed in church circles.

First, to lead any change, a leader must be prepared for not everyone to go with them. Some leaders will feel this more personally than others. Some will feel paralyzed with the fear of people leaving, others will try to move past it “for the sake of the vision.” Regardless of your personality, you will feel this personally. Every person who leaves Revolution Church hurts personally on some level to me. I want everyone to be a part of what we are doing, but know they can’t.

Leaders do not grieve well. When someone leaves your church, regardless of the reason, grieve it. Allow yourself to feel it before moving on. Too many pastors try to move on quickly and then as losses pile up they eventually snap. If God has called you to what you are doing, then losses will occur, they will hurt, but you will be able to move forward.

Men, this is an opportunity to shepherd your wife. She will feel the loss of people more than you do. When people leave a church over something the pastor does, he is able to shrug it off, get back to work or chalk it up to “they weren’t on board.” Your wife can’t do that. She will often think about it. She isn’t able to compartmentalize it and get back to work. She can’t write a sermon about divisive people and take out her frustration (although I wouldn’t recommend doing that when people leave your church).

The last loss I was not prepared for when it comes to MC’s is the loss that comes from multiplying MC’s. The reason is, no one talks about this pain. The focus is on the mission, the excitement, the moving forward, new leaders developed, new spaces for people to get connected, disciples are being made, people are following Jesus. This is all exciting and should be the focus. But multiplying hurts. Friendships change. People who you used to be with, you no longer see. We’ve been doing MC’s for 3 years now and have launched 4 MC’s out of ours in that time. It is exciting and it hurts. If your MC multiplies, you must create relationships outside of your MC that won’t change regardless of how many times your MC does. This has also caused me to be slower about pushing leaders to start MC’s.

A leader must also prepare other leaders for this. Multiplying is the goal and is exciting, but can also hurt. A strong, healthy MC should multiply out a new one once ever 12-18 months. I think this is a good ratio because it doubles your MC’s each year, but also keeps your leaders sane and relationships close.

I realize unlike the other posts in this series, this one ends on a downer, but stay tuned. The next post is how to celebrate what God is doing in MC’s.

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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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Why You Aren’t a Leader

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I meet a lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s who are really smart. The reason I know they are smart is because they tell me. Typically, in your 20’s, you are always the smartest person in the room, especially as it relates to churches. I get it. I was the same way. I’ve had to since apologize to some people I worked under for my arrogance.

If you are in your 20’s and 30’s, there is also a sense of people should just hand things to you.

I remember a couple of years ago being asked by some people at Revolution why we weren’t supporting a church plant in Tucson (sadly, this church plant no longer exists). My response was, “they never asked.” Now, the people asking knew the planter and asked why we didn’t just give money to them without them asking.

Answer: leaders cast a vision. Leaders make the ask. Leaders make it known what is needed. Leaders sit across the table from influencers, givers, and others leaders, cast a vision and say, “I want you to be involved and here’s how _____.”

Leaders do not wait for someone to give them something.

If you are a church planter or pastor and don’t have the volunteers you need, the money you need, the people you need. You have either not asked or you are not casting a compelling vision for people to join.

Don’t miss this: people are not looking for something else to give to or something else to do. 

They are looking for something worth their time, money and effort.

This is hard to do and this one reason is why so few dreamers ever reach their full potential. Here are 3 ways to ask:

  1. Don’t say no for someone. You have a need and you know the perfect person to fill that need, except they are really busy. Many pastors will not ask that person, they will ask someone less qualified. Don’t. Don’t say no for someone. Let them say no for themselves. They might be too busy. They might cut something out of their life to do what you ask them to do.
  2. Know what you are asking for. If you are asking them to give to something, know how much you are asking for. If it is serving, know for how long and how much time it will take. The more specific you are in what you are asking for, the higher the chance they will say yes.
  3. Know why you are asking. This is where many leaders miss the boat. They know “what” and “how” for their church plant, team, ministry, etc. but they don’t know why. Why should this person do this? What will it gain? Why is it worth their time or money? I once talked to a campus minister and all he told me in our hour meeting was what he would do on campus. I already knew that. I wanted to know why, I wanted to hear his heart, I wanted to hear his passion and why it drove him to give his life to it.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

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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Jill Popp on Having kids when you aren’t ready for them.

God doesn’t give us children when we are old and wise and mature, but when we are young and ignorant and need to grow. In other words, he gives us children in the middle of the sanctification process; and our children, in turn, become a significant means of producing growth in our lives.”

Art Rainer on 4 Reasons Why Churches Need Good Directional Signage.

One of the most common mistakes I noticed as a church consultant was the lack of directional signage in churches. It’s as if churches expected people who had never been in their building to know exactly where to go on their first visit. Obviously this is a problem. Art shares four reason why your church should not only have directional signage, but good directional signage.

Brian Dodd on 7 practices of growing churches.

Joe McCormick on 3 communication tips for leaders.

Choose your words carefully and economically. Effective leaders today are mindful communicators, aware of the needs of their audience as well as the message they are trying to get across, briefly.

Ronnie Floyd on How Should You Respond When You Do Not Meet the Expectations of Others?

As a pastor, people will have unreasonable expectations of how you are to lead the church and fulfill your pastoral duties. Ronnie shares how to respond when it happens.

Rick Warren on How to Stay Relevant

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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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The friendless pastor.

It’s ironic that pastors, who talk the most about the need for community, experience it the least. Our days and nights are filled with calls, meetings, and interactions with people. But despite lots of people contact, we have few trusted peers. We have too many relationships and too few friends. Isolated leaders are a danger to themselves and their churches.

Joel Garfinkle on What great leaders do.

What does a leader look like? Think of two leaders, famous or not, whom you admire and respect. What do they do that is so different? What traits do they have that help them excel at a high level? Leadership is not a great mystery. Great leaders have specific traits in common.

Are pastors kids prodigals?

The survey’s results say no. Barna found that PKs leave the church, experience periods of doubt, and abandon their Christian faith at a rate pretty equivalent to our peers.

Trevin Wax on Why pastors should preach the “why” before the “what.”

Plans are good. Programs are good. But the why behind the plan and the why behind the program is even better.

Brian Howard on Why we can’t be friends.

Most of us like to talk about ourselves. But unless you are in a counselor’s office at least half of any given conversation should be asking questions about the other person’s interests and desires. There is little that is more relationally life giving than having a person take a deep interest in you. Offer this blessing to those you are in relationship with. In a real friendship you are not only receiving but you are giving.

Brian Dodd on What churches can do to ensure guests come back after Easter.

 Churches do a great job of putting significant effort into their Sunday worship services.  I would like to challenge all churches to put an equal amount of effort into your children’s classes and programming.  The reason is because children can deliver “the win” of a 75% return rate.

 

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