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I often meet young leaders who aspire to, in their words, “be in charge.” That’s a normal and healthy desire. I get it, I mean, who wouldn’t rather call the shots if that’s an option, right?!

Well, as you might imagine, there is a little more to the idea of being “in charge.” And my heart and hope is that’s how this post might be helpful.

There is an often-quoted and significant misconception about leadership, and it is that the higher you rise in the organization, the more you can do what you want.

The perception is that because you are the “senior leader” (or one of them) you, therefore, don’t report to anyone.

In fact, the opposite is true, the higher you rise in any organization, the more you give up your rights and the fewer options you have.

Further, the higher you rise in responsibility and authority, the more people you report to, not less. It may not be a formal reporting, but you answer to them nonetheless.

Whether in business or the church, there is a long list of people who senior leaders answer to from stakeholders to the board of directors.

The list includes the customers, key influencers, denominational officials, members and church attendees, partners, donors, and the list goes on. Again, they may not carry formal authority, but they have influence, and they matter.

There may be few, or perhaps no one above the senior leader on the org chart, but that does not reflect the realities of little freedom and much responsibility.

Senior leadership is a role that is best understood before you step into it, rather than later. It’s difficult to communicate some of those nuances, but what can be described with clarity are the unique skills and abilities that are a must.

Some of the six skills I’ve listed may seem like any leadership role would need them, but for the senior leader, these skills become non-negotiable.

The critical factor here is that because they are skills, they can be learned. And because they can be learned, you can improve in any or all that you lean into and practice.

6 essential skills for senior/executive leaders: 1) Translate vision into strategy.

Translating vision into a workable strategy requires first the ability to select, trust, develop and work with a leadership team. I’ve never met a senior leader or executive that can do it all his or herself.

In fact, some senior leaders have a personality and wiring that makes them really good at what they do but also creates a few significant gaps that requires a team to make it all happen.

2) Communicate faith and hope.

The ability or skill to communicate what you believe at a heart level is a must. Further, it needs to become something natural to you. I’ve watched John Maxwell, and Kevin Myers do this for years. They just don’t tire of it.

These great leaders’ faith in a person’s ability to become their best self often exceeds that person’s faith in him or herself. Their ability to communicate the hope of a better future for the entire organization is so strong.

Faith and hope also include the idea of communicating calm in a storm and a positive outcome.

The key is that faith and hope must be sincere. As a senior leader, you can’t just read and quote the next big idea. You must have internalized it, own it, and believe it to the core.

3) Raise up and empower leaders.

In a large or very large church, this usually means hand-selecting the lead team. In a smaller church, it may mean hiring staff and selecting key volunteer leaders.

In either case, it always includes the ability to let go of key responsibilities with genuine empowerment for those leaders to do their job.

The senior leaders who struggle most are those who micro-manage and don’t trust their top leaders to do their job.

I talk about 5 Elements to Empower Your Leaders here.

4) Demonstrate self-leadership and cultivate spiritual vitality.

If you are or desire to be a senior leader in a local church, self-led spiritual growth toward maturity is a must.

This certainly does not suggest some kind of superiority or better than others notion. In fact, most of us who serve in a senior or exec role of some sort are quick to admit to our flaws and weaknesses.

The good news is that self-awareness and security help you/us get honest with God about who we are and how much we need Him.

There is no one there to hold your hand and prompt you in your day to day responsibilities, and your first responsibility is to pursue God and spiritual maturity.

Those you lead depend on your authentic and growing walk with God.

5) Solve problems and make difficult decisions at intricate levels.

The large and more complex, (often organization-wide), problems to solve are multi-dimensional, grey rather than black or white, and do not present a clear or obvious answer.

In fact, they often present multiple options of which others you serve have very strong and differing opinions.

Sometimes senior leadership can seem more like a dance than a clear direction.

Here’s a candid example, sometimes you must choose from two less than ideal choices.

Another way to see it is that no matter how good the decision, there’s a group who will not be happy. Being able to make difficult decisions is an essential skill for any senior leader.

If you prefer a more clear-cut and black and white world, senior leadership may not be your cup of tea.

This isn’t meant to be discouraging, it’s just part of the territory, and an effective senior leader can handle this in stride.

6) Take risks and lead change.

There is no escaping risk and change if you desire progress.

The risks you take are not always public or grand such as initiating a building project or raising millions of dollars.

It might be something private like a conversation that is confrontational nature, but the outcome is significant.

The process of change never ends. Next to momentum, change is something those in senior leadership continuously think about.

Change is disruptive but necessary. Comfort is the enemy of progress and a healthy organization.

The key is to stay in front of the change curve, so you are driving. (This is not about over-doing authority, it’s about living up to responsibility.)

When you are behind the curve (behind needed change) someone else usually has the wheel, and then it becomes difficult to drive.

Which of the six do you need to improve in?

I trust this post is helpful to you!

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The church term “Summer Slump” has been around for decades and I think it’s time to retire the phrase.

The idea of an anticipated attendance “slump” will deliver on its promise every time.

This is more than a numbers thing; it’s about how you perceive your church in the summer.

I certainly acknowledge a change in the rhythms of life during the summer, mostly centered on family. The kids are out of school and vacations kick in!

But there are equally large rhythms that remain steady, like the adults still go to work most of the summer and continue to go about their normal daily routine.

The church is very similar.

Summer is a different season; it brings some welcomed change with it every year. But it doesn’t need to be considered the “lost three months.”

Church continues, visitors attend, and lives are changed. In fact, summer can be some of your best months!

Intentional leadership can make the difference between a ho-hum, half throttle two to three months, and a season that is one of your church’s favorite times of the year.

Think of it this way, you are going to have church, so why not make it great? Don’t settle for a “B” Sunday. Make each weekend great!

You communicate exactly what you anticipate during the summer by your words, behavior and what you deliver on the weekend. 

7 Summer Myths About Your Church: Myth #1 – “Everybody’s” gone.

This phrase is quoted dozens even hundreds of times during the summer in nearly every church, almost as if it’s true. But everybody is not gone.

It’s so easy to start casually saying, “everybody’s gone,” and unintentionally lead in that direction. The idea gets in the water, and your church begins to believe it with you. The bar gets lowered, and church becomes more of an option.

Yes, you have families on vacation every week. That’s a healthy and good life rhythm. Let’s say an average of 20% of your congregation is out each week on vacation, or a long weekend, that means 80% are still in town.

Give them something worthwhile to come to.

Myth #2 – The potential for visitors is low, and they don’t return.

Summer is a common time for families to move because of the break from school. Therefore, summer is one of the best times to welcome new families.

New families move into your area. They try new things. Make a special effort to invite them and help them feel welcomed at your church!

Over the course of my 17 years at 12Stone Church, hundreds of people have said to me personally, “I came to 12Stone for the first time during the summer, and I’ve been coming ever since.”

Pray and plan for guests in the summer. 

Myth #3 – Most of the congregation skips church if the “main pastor” isn’t preaching.

That’s just not true.

We know it’s not a good choice for the pastor to teach Sunday after Sunday without a break. That pace is not sustainable if you want to maintain high quality, and not burn out.

It’s also a good idea for the congregation to occasionally hear another voice, and the summer can be a great time for some of those Sundays. A little variety is good for everyone.

The change of pace gives your pastor a break and an opportunity to recharge. It also may serve as a great opportunity for a young and gifted communicator to develop their skills.

Myth #4 – Your “best stuff” is wasted in the summer.

Momentum is a leader’s best friend. If your church can develop even modest momentum during the summer, that momentum boost provides a multiplied impact on your fall season.

One of the best examples is how the team at Life.Church (Senior Pastor – Craig Groeschel) launched the innovative idea of “At The Movies” every summer at their church of 29 locations.

It’s a creative approach that connects faith to film, and it’s one of their highest attended series of the year. Hundreds of churches now do their version of At The Movies.

Another example is camp. Summer camp is one of the strongest and most spiritually fruitful programs for your students. Thousands of churches across the country lead or participate in summer camp programs.

What is something special that your church can do this summer?

Myth #5 – Giving will be down.

Online giving has changed the game when it comes to stewardship in church today. It’s easy and allows people to be consistent in their generosity even if they miss a Sunday.

If your church does not make digital giving option available, I highly encourage you to check it out.

There is nothing wrong with placing your offering in a basket as it passes by, but the vast majority of your congregation’s financial world is digital.

Myth #6 – The staff and volunteers need the church to slow down.

Staff and volunteers need vision, training, encouragement, community, and prayer. If you provide these key elements, they don’t need your church to slow down or take a break in the summer.

If you have healthy teams, each team will have enough people to rotate so that volunteers don’t have to serve every Sunday.

Staff and volunteers can get some fun time away with their families because someone else on the team steps up.

Myth #7 – Your church won’t grow.

This is the summary of all the myths combined. It’s the false belief that your church won’t or can’t grow during the summer.

Keep in mind that even though you have some families out on vacation, your church can still be growing because new people are visiting, and a good number will return.

When it comes to momentum, don’t let summer fool you. Don’t discount the power of salvations, baptisms, and stories of life change in general. It’s not all about attendance.

Don’t buy into any of these myths, and ask God to help you think and lead differently this summer and in the summers to come.

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Every time I see a homemade chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven my self-control is pushed to its limits.

What’s your temptation?

What about the more serious kinds of temptations leaders face when it comes to self-control?

Under pressure it’s easy to be swayed by your own emotions, make reactionary decisions, or be tempted to trade long term success for more immediate rewards.

Self-control is the ninth and last in the list of fruit of the Holy Spirit. It has always appeared to me like an out of place add-on at the end of a list of positive attributes.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

It appears like it’s the only fruit that is defense and the other eight are offense.

But I’ve learned to see self-control not as the caboose at the end of a powerful train, but the backstop. Without it, the others may easily be lost.

Love may be the engine that pulls the locomotive, but self-control is what keeps it on the tracks.

Without self-control, a leader will be sidelined, derailed, or perhaps taken out of ministry.

You may need self-control to win over anger, discouragement or speaking too quickly. Another leader may need self-control for their thought life, managing money or how they use their authority.

None of us escape the great need for consistent self-control.

What is the area you have greatest need to exercise self-control?

Developing self-control: 1) Embrace the significance of life’s daily trades.

All of life consists of daily trades, and over your lifetime the wisdom of your trades becomes very evident.

I’ve made some poor trades along the way. Like trading my potential safety and the well-being of others in order to arrive somewhere faster. Yup. Speeding. Not cool, but I’ve done it.

That may seem like a relatively minor “poor” trade, but not really. I’m just banking on not getting caught. That’s the dark side of making bad trades. Hoping you won’t get caught, or at least no consequence or penalty.

There are more serious trades, but in the moment we can rationalize that they are minor. Like making an optional big purchase when you should be saving money.

It’s always about the bigger picture, and self-control or lack thereof is always involved.

In leadership it might be trading frustration for patience toward an employee, or trading lazy for study in developing a sermon. It might be trading a hurtful word for an encouraging word, or trading compassion instead of comfort.

Most of life is won or lost in these daily trades. These decisions develop patterns that determine the course and outcomes of your life and leadership.

2) Engage the wisdom of pay now and play later.

If you play now you will pay later. It’s not possible to alter the reality of that life principle. This is true in all areas of life, especially leadership.

The wisdom of delayed gratification (pay now play later) is a significant part of making smart daily trades. Self-control and smart daily trades go hand and hand to help you exercise discipline now and enjoy more freedoms later.

Think long-term, values-driven and character-based to build the right foundation to support self-control. This kind of “pay now” character yields the life and leadership you desire.

Discipline now rewards you with the freedom and options that allow you to live well and lead well.

Resist the desire to play now, and lean into the exponential dividends of discipline today. This paves the way for greater rewards in the future.

3) Ask God to help you do what you can’t do.

When it comes to self-control I think God wants to see some effort on my part. If I ask God to remove the need for any work, or even struggle on my part, there is no process that leads to maturity.

The process toward spiritual maturity requires that I face and handle real life tensions that don’t have easy solutions. That’s when God steps in.

As we pray and ask for help, God is eager to grant the power of the Holy Spirit that helps provide the self-control we need. Ultimately, this strengthens the first eight in the list of the fruit of the spirit.

It’s always been about a divine partnership. You do your part, God does His. It’s not works, it’s grace.

The quest is not for perfect leadership or discipline for the sake of discipline. Leaders with great self-control are still human beings who make mistakes, and fall short on occasion.

The point is that the seldom spoken of # 9 in the list of the fruits of the spirit, may just be a quiet key to much of your long term health and success as a leader.

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Prayer is the most powerful force in the world. It is truly life changing.

Nothing shapes the outcomes of your church more than prayer, and the longer I lead, the more I understand and appreciate the prayers of faithful intercessors.

Your pastor, (and the staff), are prime targets for spiritual attack. Your prayers help win the battle.

Satan doesn’t have to chase your entire congregation, just the leaders. And especially your pastor.

If the Enemy can get to your pastor and church leaders, even take them out, he can hurt the whole church.

The Enemy uses a lot of schemes to ensure everything from temptation to discouragement. He’s on the prowl and would be delighted to see your pastor anything from a little off his or her game to down for the count.

Your prayers can and will make a difference.

You can pray for your pastor daily, once a week, or every time the Holy Spirit prompts you. All prayer rhythms are good.

A practical plan to pray for your pastor: 1) Pray for God’s favor on your pastor.

God has given your pastor gifts, ability, energy, and passion to accomplish the work of ministry. However, without God’s power, there are no eternal results. It’s possible to build a church by human effort, but it won’t last.

Ministry has always been a divine partnership, your pastor does his or her part, and God does His part. Pray for that partnership.

Ask God for an anointing on your pastor. Pray for favor, the power of the Holy Spirit, and specifically for the salvation of many people!

2) Pray for your pastor’s spiritual vitality.

Your pastor is not superhuman, in fact, he is just as human as you are. He needs to tend to his spiritual growth on a consistent basis.

If you think about a good campfire, no matter how big the fire was, in time it goes out.

Pray for your pastor’s love of God, for her genuine and daily relationship with Jesus, and that it would remain close, real and fresh.

Pray that your pastor’s heart for lost people is white hot. Ask God to give your pastor timely biblical insights.

Pray that the Holy Spirit would stir your pastor’s passion for prayer and that your pastor would regularly hear God’s voice.

3) Pray for your pastor’s leadership.

A great pastor loves his people and is a good shepherd of those people. He is also, however, a good leader. Both are needed for a growing and healthy church.

I truly believe that next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership.

Pray that your pastor is not only open to growing as a leader but passionate and committed to that growth.

Ask God to give your pastor strength of character, wisdom in decision-making, and passion in preaching.

Pray that God would grant your pastor great vision that is clear and inspiring, along with the needed direction and strategy to achieve that vision.

4) Pray for your pastor’s family.

I’ve learned that when things are not going well at home, it’s very difficult to lead at church.

If Patti and I have argued, I can barely think straight until we have it resolved, and we are good again! We’ve been married 37 years and we have learned much through experience and maturity, but the commitment required to maintain a good home life is still significant.

Pray for your pastor’s spouse and children. Ask God to help them experience a deep and abiding love for each other. Pray for peace in their home and protection from spiritual attack.

Pray that the fruit of the Spirit would permeate their home: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And finally, pray that their home is filled with laughter.

5) Pray for your pastor’s physical health.

Your pastor’s life and leadership are limited without good health.

Far too many of my good pastor friends don’t exercise, eat well, or see a doctor unless their arm falls off! I’m not a fitness nut, in fact, I love a nice piece of chocolate cake every once in a while. But I do care about the physical well-being of spiritual leaders.

Your pastor may feel like he or she doesn’t have time to exercise or practice preventative medicine. I do understand. But you can pray!

God can intervene for good health and the Holy Spirit can speak to your pastor about taking care of their physical health.

Ask God specifically for stamina and energy, clear thinking and strength.

You may want to forward this post to many in your congregation!

For your encouragement in prayer, reflect on Jesus’ words in John 14:12-1:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

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Are you a Star Trek fan? If not, perhaps you’re not familiar with the term Kobayashi Maru.

The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Start Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario.

What does that have to do with Sunday sermons?

I admire and respect senior pastors and teaching pastors who carry the weight of communicating to such a diverse crowd on Sunday mornings.

It doesn’t really matter if it’s 80 people, 800 people or 8,000.

It’s nearly impossible to teach in such a way to reach the entire congregation right where they live.

Consider this list:

  1. The generational differences
  2. The cultural and ethnic diversity
  3. The varying levels of spiritual maturity
  4. The theological differences
  5. The individual life situations

This can feel like a no-win situation, but courageous communicators go for it every Sunday and make it work.

But there is ONE factor that in my observation appears like the un-winnable situation.

For more than 30 years I’ve heard this phrase from church attendees all over the country: “The sermon isn’t deep enough.”

The right amount of “depth” is the Kobayashi Maru of any Sunday morning sermon.  

  • Too deep for who?
  • Not deep enough for who?
  • What is “deep?”
  • What is the purpose of depth?

These questions are part of the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

4 ways to beat the Kobayashi Maru, without cheating! 1) Pick a lane and stay in it.

You can’t let 80 or 800 or 8,000 people vote on this. You’ll go crazy trying to make everyone happy. And yet people have a right to their own opinions.

The communication lane you choose will entirely define the ministry of your church.

What is your aim?

Do you aim toward the evangelistic side? Do you want to lean more toward those that are far from God? That may contain a little less depth. However, keep in mind, there is absolutely nothing shallow about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If your aim leans toward discipleship and mature believers then lean into that direction, but do it with intentionality. Know what your end goal is.

I don’t recommend that you go for the best of both worlds, attempting to land right smack in the middle with hopes of hitting both sides just perfectly.

When you try to straddle the middle, your teaching lacks the edge that makes it stand out, and you may risk missing nearly everyone.

2) Define depth with intentionality.

Let’s go back to the idea that the Gospel is not shallow, it is simple but contains great depth and strength. That’s a great place to start your thinking about intentional depth.

Nearly any trained Bible teacher can quickly plummet the great depths of theological truth to the utter confusion of most listeners. I think we can agree that is not helpful.

On the other hand, the congregation deserves a carefully thought through, biblical, and insightful message that challenges and encourages them to a practical response.

How do you define depth while you build your sermon?

  • Do you define depth according to your theological training or the needs of the people?
  • Do you take the time to dig out the deeper insights, but translate them into a language that all can absorb?

Here’s one practical example of how you might define depth in a Sunday message:

“Provide enough meat that they need to chew on it, but not so much that they choke on it.”

But be careful with that definition, you might be tempted to think that’s an “in the middle, I can reach everyone” approach. It’s not. It still requires you to wrestle down point #1 above.

It’s also important to gain alignment and agreement with your key staff and leaders, such as your board. Talk about this together, get agreement as a team.

3) Trust the Holy Spirit to make up the difference.

I’m not a senior pastor but I’ve preached several hundred sermons over more than a 30-year time span.

My experience is that the Holy Spirit communicates what needs to be said, and it often has nothing to do with what was in my notes!

I love it when someone says to me: “Here’s what I got from your message,” and I didn’t say anything like that!” That’s communication in the supernatural zone where we all want to be.

The Holy Spirit can fill in the gaps! That doesn’t negate, however, the need for intentionality along with much prayer and preparation. But it does remind us that the Word of God brings with it the supernatural, live and real-time, reality of God’s power.

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  II Tim 3:16-17

Scripture is your best asset!

4) Pray and lead toward a fresh perspective for your more mature Christians.

My hunch is that some of your more faithful and mature Christians are also the ones who might tell you the sermon isn’t deep enough.

I know that can be frustrating to you. But you can’t ignore it. Believe it or not, it’s not enough to pick your lane, define depth and trust the Holy Spirit. It’s very close to enough, but there is one more piece.

In most cases, a fresh perspective is the best approach.

Here’s a fresh perspective for a Christian who is growing in maturity (you will have to give your own definition to maturity):

Assuming the sermon is a biblically based message, regardless of the level of depth, the mature Christian will possess the passion to look for the insights, listen for God’s voice, and act upon what they hear. The mature Christian finds their own depth.

Then after the message, they have the ability to dig out any extra depth they are looking for on their own.

If you slowly add this principle to your overall discipleship and leadership, it’s possible to move your congregation to a new place.

I know this process is never done, and in fact, it’s always coming undone. But then again, that’s why you write another message for next Sunday.

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All great leaders are devoted students of human nature.

The more effort and energy you invest in understanding why people do what they do, the better leader you become.

That’s the practical essence of human nature – why people do what they do.

Your biblical view and theological bias play no small part in what shapes your thinking. Sin, selfishness and a broken world is obviously part of the equation. But equally so is redemption, the Holy Spirit’s power, and purpose through Christ.

The tension between both of those powerful forces for good and evil is real and active.

The daily choices we all make in what sometimes seems like a fine line between good and evil, forms the ongoing patterns of human nature.

With that in mind, let’s focus on the more practical expressions of human behavior.

No matter how long you lead, people will still surprise you.

For example, I’m surprised at what I see happening in long-established marriages. More couples than ever before getting divorced after being married for thirty years or longer. I don’t have research to back that, and I don’t have a statistic to quote. But I’m watching it. It’s real. And it’s an emerging pattern.

When I ask the question, “Why is this happening?” That’s an example of how you study human nature. The better I understand the reason(s), the better I can lead people.

Like a doctor can’t help you if she doesn’t know why you’re sick, you can’t lead people when you don’t know what makes them tick.

Let’s go back to theology for just a minute. Don’t be too quick to dump everything into the bucket of sin nature and selfishness. That reality is true, but so is redemption.

We can all choose a better way. Therefore, knowing why some people choose right over wrong is critical. (and vice versa)

The study of human nature delivers principles that help you lead.

6 classic examples of human nature principles you want to know:
  • Hurting people hurt people. They really don’t want to, but like the lion with a thorn in his paw, it’s just what happens. Find the thorn and help them remove it.
  • Healthy people want to help people. The greatest meaning, joy, and significance comes from helping people change their life for the good. Help people mature to this purpose and provide opportunities for them to make a difference in people’s lives.
  • If the reaction at hand is greater than the issue at hand, it’s always about something else. In those moments it’s important to refocus on discovering the real issue, and redirect your efforts there.
  • Everyone wants to love and be loved. This is a reflection of God’s creation, and the potential for this to be realized is at the core of the gospel. Self-sabotaging behavior is not a reflection of a person’s true desire.
  • When a person is under pressure or backed into a corner, they behave in a much more aggressive manner than usual. In those situations, a wise leader knows how to read the moment and “change the room” by relieving the pressure and helping to change their perspective.
  • Everyone wants to win. No one wakes up in the morning praying for failure, regardless of what their behavior indicates. Deep down they want their life count. Help them win.

The more of these kinds of principles you embrace in your thinking, the better you lead.

In boxing, they say it’s the punch you didn’t see coming that knocks you out.

The same is true in leadership. If I had a nickel for every time a leader in trouble said to me: “I didn’t see that coming,” well, I’d have a lot of nickels!

5 daily practices to gain wisdom in human nature:

(I recommend reading the book of proverbs once a year as a great foundation.)

1) Get close.

You will never learn about human nature from a distance. The people you lead are human beings that hurt, laugh, cry, experience fear and joy, succeed and fail. The more you live it with them, the better you understand human nature.

2) Pay attention.

Keep your head in the game.

Get around people you don’t know very well. Listen more. Break your routines enough to learn new things from new people.

Like it’s possible to drive a car without paying attention, you can lead the same way. In both situations, you are headed for trouble.

3) Ask meaningful questions.

Get beneath the surface. This doesn’t mean you become serious all the time but ask thoughtful questions. Great questions come from great listening and people who care.

Growing in your understanding of people takes time, and questions help slow things down. As leaders we tend to resist “slow,” but sometimes it’s needed.

4) Read between the lines.

The ability to connect the dots is a great skill to develop. It’s often not what’s being said, but what isn’t being said that matters. And sometimes it’s how it’s said.

I’m not suggesting you become a professional counselor, that’s not the point here. But knowing human nature, like the six examples I listed above, will help you discern, lead and serve people better.

5) Look for patterns and trends.

It’s not that you can’t learn from one situation, you can. But you gain more substance and application when you see a new trend from a repeated pattern.

For example, if you have a staff of thirty people and two are disgruntled, that doesn’t carry the same weight if thirteen are disgruntled. That is a trend, and you need to understand why!

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Is your staff team a healthy team?

How do you know?

It’s easier to know when a team is not healthy, especially if you look at the extremes.

The obvious symptoms are things like:

  • Gossip
  • Negativity
  • Silos
  • Complaining
  • Conflict
  • Unproductive

The outcome is that the team and organization do not function as they should.

But it’s not always that obvious because most teams are not in the red zone of extremes. There may be some isolated problems but not pervasive conditions.

Many teams are in fact healthy, but experiencing a temporary setback.

A good comparison is the human body. A healthy body will function as it should. All organs and systems are working together as designed.

However, a healthy team doesn’t mean a perfect team.

Your body can have a bad cold, flu, or bacterial infection and still be perfectly healthy. You can have a cut or a pulled muscle and still be in good health. The condition temporarily affects how you function, but you are still healthy.

Your healthy body goes to work to restore the condition.

If you ignore the health condition, it can get worse. If multiple issues arise, what was a simple cold or flu can become a complicated health risk, and your body may function poorly.

Your staff team is very similar. A healthy staff can handle difficulties, recognize problems and solve them. It has built-in systems to restore the condition back to health.

It’s possible to get overloaded if too many things happen all in the same season, but you can still regain maximum health, (functionality), it just takes longer.

Symptoms of health look like this:

  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Alignment
  • Joy
  • Commitment
  • Results

What is the state of your team’s health? Excellent? Good? Average? Poor?

Whatever the condition, this process will help you gain full health as a team.

5 Steps to Restore Health: 1) Don’t ignore the current condition.

If you have high blood pressure, it’s not smart to ignore it. Right? The same is true for your staff.

Get honest about whatever condition might be present in your staff team. From performance to attitude, always deal with reality. If a ministry isn’t working, expectations are unclear, trust is low, etc., get it on the table.

Don’t gossip in the hallways. Do what you can personally, and if you can’t solve it alone, get it to the table that can make a difference.

2) Play hurt.

It’s nearly impossible to run consistently for more than thirty years and not have some minor injuries, but I just keep going.

More than twenty years ago, I was inspired by a friend in San Diego who had severe shin splints but kept running anyway. Jan would ice them down and keep going. It was painful, but she pressed on. I asked her why and she said, “Until I simply can’t run, quitting is not an option.” I’ve never quit since.

Sometimes your team is hurting. Keep leading. It’s not a good practice to shut things down and focus so entirely inward that you can’t keep building. You build new leadership muscle when you press through.

Make another phone call, invite another guest, pray again tomorrow, but keep going.

3) Shift leadership energy and stick together.

A friend of mine asked for advice about a situation on his staff that really rattled the whole team.

One of their staff fell into significant ethical and moral misconduct. The repercussions shook up the team and part of the congregation.

It caused doubt, mistrust, some people took sides, and a few left the church. The staff was definitely off their game and results began to wane.

I’ve been around too many churches that shoot their wounded, and leave others to pick up the pieces themselves. That never helps.

Healthy teams stick together. They do make the necessary tough decisions, but with as much grace as possible. Other leaders on the team will need to shift some of their time to step in and help with the ministry that is now suffering.

In this story the staff member had to be released from the team, in other situations, restoration is possible.

In all cases, talk openly with the staff. Treat them like adults; they know what’s going on. Talk about it and process it appropriately. Stick together.

4) Establish benchmarks.

What does health look like for you on your team? Make that clear and talk about it openly.

You might include some of the things I mentioned like trust, honesty, alignment, joy, and commitment.

It’s important to be clear on vision, direction, expectations, and results.

What does full functionality look like and what outcomes do you desire? Think that through, write it down, and make it clear.

At 12Stone, we use a process we call MAPs. (Ministry Action Plans.) They contain measurable goals and elements of leadership development. The MAPs lead to an annual coaching conversation where open and honest conversations take place. This is a huge contribution to the health of a team.

5) Get some help.

There will be some things you and your staff can’t handle without some outside help.

I had some trouble with my left foot that required minor surgery not too long ago. It was not going to eventually heal merely with the use of homeopathic remedies and by continuing to “run through the pain.” I needed some help. I needed a good doctor!

You may need an outside consultant or leadership coach to come in with “fresh eyes,” who can help you gain a better perspective. Perhaps a pastor from a larger church can help.

The point is, sometimes the continued health of your staff needs a specialist who can help you focus on the issue and restoration to full health.

I have flown hundreds of miles just to get a couple of hours with a leader who could help me work through a problem that was bigger than my experience. That advice was transformative.

When you or your team needs some assistance, do what it takes to get the best help you can.

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People visit your church prompted by a variety of reasons such as:

  1. A positive message on social media.
  2. There’s a crisis in their family.
  3. The Holy Spirit stirred them to attend.
  4. A mailer to their home.
  5. The reputation of your pastor’s messages.
  6. They want a Christian influence for their kids.

But for at least the last fifty years, there is still nothing that beats

   7. Invited by a friend.

Because that is true, it’s vitally important to pay attention to the reasons people do and don’t invite their friends to your church.

People do invite their friends for some more obvious, visible and known reasons that are positive about your church. For example, a strong student ministry or great preaching.

Your raving fans talk about what they like, so these reasons are easier to know and continue to cultivate.

Here are two intriguing thoughts:

  • Typically, only a small number of people are highly verbal about what they don’t like, and the irony is they usually stay at your church.
  • The people who are loyal, but not fully happy with your church, (hopefully that’s not a lot of people), keep it to themselves. They stay for now because they are loyal, but are at high risk to quietly leave.

The unique angle in this post focuses on those loyal people who stay at your church. They may stay for many reasons from close friends and ministry relationships, to their kids love it. They stay at your church, but no longer invite their friends.

These five reasons will offer you insights that can serve as a catalyst for a turning point in your ministry. This turning point can help inspire your congregation to begin to invite their friends.

The primary principle is this:

People invite their friends because they love their church, they’re proud of it, and they have experienced spiritual life change.

The following are five of the most common reasons that are not easy to see but prevent people from inviting their friends.

5 Reasons: Are any true of your church? 1) They are not proud of your worship service.

Your worship service is good but not great. The people love your leadership, and they care about the church, so the worship service is “good enough” for them, but not good enough to invite their friends. This is a common situation.

It’s up to you as the leader(s) to get courageously honest about your worship service. Perhaps bring in a coach or consultant to help you see what you can’t see.

Don’t worry about perfection, focus on clear progress. The improvements will be noticed, and that will make a big difference.

2) Your overall Sunday experience is not consistent.

It’s possible that beyond your worship service, the full experience from the parking lot to the nursery to ushers, etc., is hit or miss in overall quality. Some weekends are great, some not so good.

Some Sundays it seems like there is vision, drive and energy and other Sundays it seems like business as usual. That kind of inconsistency will hurt your church, and that does not inspire people to invite.

We understand that the church is “open” virtually all the time, we serve people nearly 7/24, but worship services are (usually) only on one or two days a week. Imagine a business that is only open one day a week; they would have to be amazing on that day!

Identify the top needs for improvements and make a simple written plan. For example, let’s say you identify three areas that need improvement. Give each area six weeks of strong and intentional development, and in 18 weeks you and your congregation will notice a dramatic difference!

3) Your church has quietly drifted inward.

Inward drift is hidden in more ways than one. It’s difficult to see because you, the staff, and the volunteers can be working really hard and still be focused inward. This is not intentional, it’s not what you want, but it’s often the reality.

This is most common in churches that are overly busy with too many ministries. It’s also common in loving and friendly churches, but the hidden part is that you are friendly to the people who already attend. It’s not that you don’t want new people, but you don’t make time for them.

This is tough to break out of, but it definitely can be done. It requires a renewed heart for the lost. It also requires new ideas to help you reach people who don’t attend, and new systems to help you connect with guests when they come.

4) They are nervous about what might be said from the stage.

Current culture has everyone on edge. It’s nearly impossible not to offend someone every Sunday.

The margin for error in this highly sensitive time is thin, and nearly guarantees that leaders will say something “wrong,” or not say something that a particular group believes should have been said.

This makes many in the congregation nervous about what “might” be said and therefore they don’t invite unchurched friends.

  • First, you can’t worry about the possibility of offending someone. Just don’t be offensive because you were careless with your words.
  • Second, focus on the gospel, not on popular issues. You will still offend some by what you don’t say, but you will remain true to the purpose of the church.
  • Last, speak with love and grace for all.

This three-point formula will help serve as salt and light to anyone who attends and encourage many to invite their friends.

5) They have not recently experienced life change.

When people in your congregation personally experience a spiritually transformed life and see it in others, they are encouraged and inspired.

Stories of life change represent the power of the gospel, and those stories need to be told.

Numbers matter, (reach more people for Jesus), but stories of life change matter more. Design your ministry so that transformed lives is your big picture goal, and tell those stories!

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People pleasing is common among leaders in the local church.

People pleasing is when you lead in such a way that you attempt to keep everyone happy. You receive affirmation and therefore feel good.

The congregation is happy, so they feel good; seems harmless enough.

But the ill-gained affirmation you receive will hurt you and your leadership over the long-haul. And of course, you can’t keep everyone happy even if that was a good idea.

You will end up exhausted, and some of the followers that are happy with you at the moment will turn against you the first time you attempt to make a tough decision that doesn’t go to their liking.

It’s not always that dramatic, but the day-to-day idea still functions in the same manner.

It’s not unhealthy for you to enjoy knowing that the people you serve are happy. It’s natural to want people to enjoy working with you. And it’s normal for you to want people to like you.

The healthy place that comes from is a desire to serve and help people grow.

It becomes dangerous when you want people to approve of you more than you genuinely want to help people grow and mature in their faith.

People pleasing usually comes from insecurity and often results in a performance trap.

The performance trap is a condition where you work very hard to please others and gain their approval. The trap is that you can never do enough, and again, you can never make everyone happy all the time.

The trap includes feeling good about yourself when others approve of you, rather than finding your security in Christ.

6 practical reasons people pleasing hurts your leadership: 1) You may pull back on lighten up on the truth in Scripture.

It’s not uncommon for a people-pleasing leader to pull back on communicating the truth in God’s word, so they don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Their desire to be liked overtakes their passion for teaching the truth.

One common example is the reluctance to teach on tithing or challenge someone in their giving because that might make them uncomfortable or convict them spiritually. The thought of that resulting in conflict shuts down the right leadership behavior.

2) You may hide your real self.

People pleasers often have to pretend. They pretend they are happy with everything going on and they rarely are.

Secretly they often feel like they’re being taken advantage of, and like they work harder than everyone else. (They may be working harder, but it’s their choice.)

When this happens, you lose connection with people because you’re not presenting your real self.

3) You may avoid a tough decision.

Or worse, you may knowingly make the wrong decision just to keep people happy.

One of the more common stories here is when a leader keeps someone on staff who clearly should not remain on staff. They will tolerate poor performance or even a bad attitude because of the potential backlash that would come from letting that employee go.

4) You may overwork in order to gain approval.

Overworking is not always a pattern of people pleasing leaders, but often is. A strong work ethic is a good thing, overworking is not.

The result is usually exhaustion and regret. You end up hurt, and everyone wonders what happened.

5) You may delay or avoid an essential confrontation.

If you sidestep tough conversations to keep everything peaceful, and in your favor, your leadership will eventually suffer. It may be anything from confronting sin to restoring a broken relationship.

Your willingness to speak the truth in love, even when it’s uncomfortable or perhaps very difficult, is essential. Your willingness and ability to successfully have tough conversations will gain trust and respect in the long run.

6) You may inadvertently lower trust.

When your leadership fails to deliver courage and strength in the right moments, over time those who follow you may lose trust in you. Perhaps not in you personally, but in your leadership.

Your friends and followers may still trust your character but will lose trust in your leadership decision-making and execution.

People pleasing is not a new problem.

The apostle Paul talks about it in Galatians chapter 1:10.

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Your story, or my story may not be the same as Paul’s, but the big picture is the same.

The previous six points will help you know if people pleasing is a struggle or temptation for you.

If it is, the first stage of the way out is to begin to re-establish your identity and security in Christ.

As a servant of Christ:

  • Know you are loved by Him. Your sins are forgiven. God is your heavenly Father.
  • Find your security in Him, not in anything or anyone. God is your peace.
  • Trust that He can and will meet your deepest needs. God is your provider.
  • Know you are called by Him. He has chosen and gifted you. God is your power.

Breaking free isn’t always easy, or fast, but there is freedom in Christ for all who desire it.

The second stage is to begin to practice leadership in a new way:

  • Lead in order to set an example for spiritual growth, not gain someone’s approval.
  • Lead in order to serve people for their best interest, not to please them.
  • Lead in order to fulfill God’s purpose, not perform for anyone’s admiration.
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One of the best investments of your time is to intentionally break away from your routine.

A well-executed staff planning retreat can become a turning point for you and your church.

It can feel difficult to break away from the demands of ministry, but it’s necessary and highly valuable.

There are many styles, formats and places for a retreat. But I recommend you keep it simple. It’s good to get “out of town” but not so far that it makes the trip complicated and overly expensive, because you are then less likely to go again.

In a planning retreat with your staff, you are focused on the purpose of writing a clear and measurable plan, on one page if possible, that helps you realize:

  • Improvement
  • Innovation
  • Progress

The intent is not to improve everything, be innovative in all your ministries and make progress across the board.

The goal is to produce a short, specific and focused list that will result in measurable progress in alignment with your church mission.

Let me start with 7 quick tips to make the most of your time away, and then offer a practical plan for you to follow.

Seven quick tips for a productive planning retreat: 1) Deepen your connection and chemistry.

One of the highest values of a staff retreat is to deepen relationships and increase connection. Extended time away from the office is a great way to enhance the chemistry within your staff culture.

Take time to play together and pray together!!

2) Break your routine to increase creativity.

You are busy, run fast, and like all of us can fall into a very regular work pattern. This is your opportunity to break out and think out of the box. Resist the temptation to discuss some of your more immediate tasks and plans.

3) Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.

There is a certain amount of “machinery” at your church that you can’t ignore, and it needs to run smoothly. However, don’t let the machinery take over the mission! Don’t let it consume you.

Refuse to allow the retreat to drift into issues of maintenance. Focus on innovation, improvement and above all progress!

If you only make real and substantial headway in one area, that’s great and far better than dabbling 15 maintenance items

4) Don’t make the retreat complicated.

I’ve facilitated some church staff retreats where they made the actual retreat more complicated than the work they wanted to accomplish. They literally wore themselves out making a “cool” retreat; there was no energy left to do great thinking and planning.

5) Choose wisely the people who attend the retreat.

If you are a smaller church, there may be pressure to take the whole staff. I understand that, and that may be the best and right thing.

But as churches grow larger, it’s rare that the whole staff goes to any given retreat or learning event. It’s too many people.

Choose who attends not based on emotion or who might get their feelings hurt, but by who needs to be there to be most productive.

6) Don’t use retreat time to express unhappiness with the team, or surprise them with unexpected changes.

Speak the truth, deal with reality, but don’t confront a person or attack a ministry.

Yes, this happens on retreats. It’s obviously not a good practice. This kind of thing sucks the life right out of the retreat, breaks trust, and shuts down productivity almost entirely.

7) Bring a spirit of vision: God is with us, and we are in this together!

Cast vision and dream about what God can do!

Planning retreats are work but should also be fun. Enjoy your time together. Play a little and pray much!

These seven quick tips combined with an attitude of, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and make some progress,” will make for a great planning retreat!

Suggested practical plan:

This outline for your retreat is very simple. That’s why it works.

1) Begin with extended time in prayer.
Ask God to help you know His plans, more than asking Him to bless your plans.

2) Take some time to cast vision.
Talk about what you see God doing in the immediate future. About 18 months is a good time frame to dream and plan for.

3) Be sure to set aside some time to play together.
The important element here is “together.” Don’t give free time and say, “Go do your own thing.” It’s vital to have the staff engage in play together.

4) Set dedicated and defined sessions for planning.
Your best planning is typically focused at 12-18 months out. In more urgent situations, planning 3 – 6 – 9 months out may be appropriate.

Planning outline:

  1. What is working?
  2. What is not working?
  3. What will you improve?
  • Make a list, then prioritize.
  • Choose top 3-5 to focus on. 3 is better, 5 is pushing it.
  • Make assignments with dates and times.

Don’t be afraid to work late either playing, praying or planning.

Go for it!

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