It seems nearly every week that a ministry or marketplace leader asks me about the blog, and how it works, not the technical aspects but the regular rhythm of sending out new content nearly every day. It took me more than a year of writing a blog to get into a good rhythm, but typically I spend a few hours one night a week and write 3-4 blog posts in batches, and then send them in to be edited and scheduled. The inspiration for each post can come from a variety of places: questions leaders have recently asked, something I have read, or a burden the Lord has given me to say something specifically. I have been as many as 9 weeks out in blog content, but typically I am 2-3 weeks out in scheduled posts.
And then there is now.
I don’t have anything scheduled.
This week I am speaking at one of our student camps while my girls are attending one of our kids camps at the same location, and next week I am taking Kaye on our annual summer just-the-two-of-us-we-get-to-sleep-in vacation.
I thought about writing a bunch while at camp but remembered a conversation with Trevin Wax who I am honored to serve alongside. When I first started blogging, Trevin was a big help and encourager in content and how to plan a blog. Trevin usually takes July off from blogging so he can proactively get ahead with new content. I am going to follow his example and take several summer weeks off from posting new content. All is well. I am extremely grateful for my family, my team, and the role the Lord has given me. I don’t deserve any of them.
We can change the church settings, pastoral personalities, and leadership scenarios, but one thing about church leadership remains the same: every day, every leader is one day closer to passing the baton to the next leader. The question is whether the baton will be passed willingly and wisely, effectively and efficiently.
It’s been said that there is no success without a successor. Yet many leaders hang on too long. They often don’t set up the next generation for fruitful service. And, the organizations they lead might be aging and growing less and less effective. In a few cases, some leaders die relatively young, like my dad did, without a successor in sight.
Summer is the perfect season to work on the ministry and not just in it. We have a little bit of breathing room before the fall groups semester kicks in, so this is the time to re-examine all aspects of our systems and processes. A good place to start digging in is with your leader training.
You should never ask a volunteer to do a role that you are not going to train them for. That doesn’t mean you have to cover every aspect of leadership in an 8-week course, but you should set them up for success in those critical first weeks of their small group.
First, what should you stop doing? What isn’t working? What isn’t effective? What isn’t contributing to your church’s leadership pipeline? What is out of alignment with your church’s vision and values? There may be things that were effective in the past that are no longer working. These are the things you should stop doing.
Leaders should always recognize their weaknesses. In some cases it is necessary to strengthen weaknesses, but in most cases I believe the best strategy is to focus on our strengths and assemble a team (or staff) that is strong where we are weak. Recognizing our weaknesses helps us not to overshoot our strategic aim, or to adopt different strategies when needed.
Video of the Week: 10 Differences Between Delegating and Dumpster Leadership
10 Differences Between Delegating and Dumpster Leadership - YouTube
Nearly seven years ago I stepped out of serving one local church and into a role designed to serve the broader Church, as one of the vice-presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources. Each year we serve 60,000 plus churches with some type of resource. It has been a deep honor to be in this role and it has given me a bird’s-eye view of how the Lord uses lots of churches to mature and shepherd His people. Here are five lessons I have learned or re-learned over the last seven years.
1. The basics are disproportionately powerful.
For all the innovations and all the new strategies that churches can employ, the basics are disproportionally powerful. For example, every research study I have been a part of that describes how one grows spiritually shows that Bible engagement is the biggest predictor of spiritual maturation. Another example, those who participate in biblical community in a class or group display attributes of discipleship to a much higher degree than those not in a group.
2. Local church ministry is really, really hard.
Weekly I interact with ministry leaders who are carrying the heavy weight of being a pastor. Though the joys are great, so are the burdens. In my role, I am responsible for a lot of employees (incredible folks) and a large budget ($500 million). Yet the weight I felt leading a church was much greater, though the budget and scope were much smaller. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said a pastor is one who is in charge of souls. Being responsible for the souls of others is an incalculable weight on the soul of the pastor.
3. Most church leaders believe their church is more “different” than it is.
If I had a dollar for every time a church leader said, “our culture is just different” or “our challenges are unique because…” I don’t know how many dollars I would have, but it seems like it would be a lot because I hear this all the time. Yes, each church has a unique culture, but the challenges are not that different from church to church. The church leaders that think they are sooo different from everyone else are often wrestling with the same struggles as everyone else: How do we move people from rows to circles? How do we mobilize people for ministry? How do we teach for transformation and not simply behavioral modification?
4. Most churches believe they are friendlier than they are.
I have not yet met a church that thinks they are not friendly, but we know not every church is friendly to guests who visit. What is the disconnect? Church members tend to evaluate friendliness based on their relationships and not on how the church welcomes and expresses hospitality to newcomers.
5. Many churches say they want to serve people who are “younger,” but not really.
It is one thing for a church to say they want to serve the next generation with words, and quite another to back up those words with actions. For example: actions that speak really loudly— handing significant responsibilities to younger leaders and allocating more resources to serving kids and their families.
I am honored to lead the Resources Division at LifeWay and serve with a team of leaders who are passionate to serve the Church in Her mission of making disciples. Each Wednesday, I share the heart behind one of the resources our team has developed and give an opportunity for you to register to win a free copy of the resource. This week’s resource is Gospel Foundations for Students. Our Students Team wrote this post.
Some Christians long for “the good ole days” when family values were celebrated in our culture. We complain about the shows on TV and wish there were more sitcoms focused on the perfect lives of nuclear families, whose problems can be resolved in thirty minutes or less. But the truth is families have always been sinful and dysfunctional. Because of sin, families have always shifted blame, reversed roles, and rebelled against God. It was true after the Fall, and it is still true today. Parents and the teenagers they parent both know this to be true.
No family is perfect, and we see this ever so clearly in the lives of the patriarchs. Abraham made some serious mistakes, two of which involved lying about his marriage with Sarah out of fear for his own life (with little to no regard about the potential consequences for her). And even Sarah herself messed up by suggesting Abraham sleep with her maidservant, Hagar, thinking that would help God’s promises come to pass.
Isaac and Rebekah showed extreme favoritism towards their sons, Esau and Jacob, who themselves had serious flaws of their own. Esau considered his birthright to be so trivial that he was willing to barter with it for a bowl of stew, and Rebekah and Jacob stooped to such levels of deception that involved outright lies to Isaac so that Jacob might get the blessing.
The deception and dysfunction that Jacob experienced in his own home life would be carried down into his own family. There were occasions of deception between himself and his uncle Laban, and the thread of favoritism that he experienced from his parents would be seen in his own parenting with Joseph and his brothers.
There’s no doubt that Genesis paints an unflattering picture of Abraham and his offspring. We see them lie, cheat, and manipulate. But the good news in all of this is that God does not reserve His love, mercy, and grace only for perfect families. He pours it out in abundance on the broken—on all of us. In fact, the lesson that we learn over and over from these stories is that God can and does use dysfunctional families to carry out His plans.
Of course, as our students read about these accounts in the pages of Scripture, the goal isn’t simply for them to recognize the grace of God in the lives of these unworthy individuals, but to see themselves, and even their own families in them in order to come to greater faith in what God is able to do through them. This is how character development in the Bible operates. As we read about the key figures mentioned in the pages of Scripture, the biblical authors are trying to get us to see ourselves in them, and in doing so, see how God’s grace might manifest itself in our own family life and situation.
Sure, these accounts certainly teach our students that conduct matters to God, and that God calls us to live with honesty and integrity before others. But they also teach us more than that, revealing to us that God is both able and willing to work in surprising ways in unlikely people who are just like us—broken individuals in desperate need of the saving grace of God in our lives.
Gospel Foundations for Students is a resource designed to take students through the storyline of Scripture over the course of one year, highlighting over and over again in each session God’s grace and mercy to save and use anyone to reach anyone with the gospel.
Clarity and creativity are both admirable qualities. People seek both when creating a resource, when delivering a message, when leading a team, and when designing ministry strategy. Authors, artists, song writers, communicators, ministry leaders, and a plethora of other people desire for their work to be both clear and creative.
But if you have to choose between clarity and creativity, choose clarity. Another way to say it is: Be sure your creativity doesn’t distract from your clarity.
Some examples may be helpful…
A kids ministry wants to offer a Vacation Bible School-type event for families in the summer, but the team doesn’t want to call it VBS because it sounds “too old school,” so the team works really hard on creating another name. But when they announce it, parents are not sure exactly what it is.
A well-known author confesses that what he believes to be his best, and even most important work, was the least received because the title was too clever and simultaneously unclear. People weren’t sure what the book was about. The creative title trumped the clarity of the message.
A pastor and creative team spend hours dreaming up and designing an elaborate illustration to kick off a new teaching series. It is super creative but little time is invested in ensuring the creativity is clearly connected to the main teaching point. Thus, people walk away remembering the illustration but struggling to remember its point.
A team works incredibly hard on a communication piece. The artwork is beautiful. The use of fonts, colors, and white space is intentional and well-designed. But after the piece is mailed and digital versions are shared online, people realize the substance of the message was unclear.
Creativity can enhance clarity; it doesn’t need to be the enemy of clarity. But if leaders and communicators take their eyes off the value of clarity, the creativity can fail to communicate. You can have both creativity and clarity, but if you must choose one, choose clarity. Marcus Buckingham stated it well: “Clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.”
The common leadership counsel to focus on your strengths is wise, with one important caveat. Your weaknesses must be addressed and brought to an acceptable norm or they will overshadow your strengths. Yes, focus on your strengths, but your weaknesses cannot be so overwhelming as to debilitate your leadership credibility. In his book, The Leadership Code, Dave Ulrich challenges leaders to be at least average in key disciplines of leadership or their weakness will crush them. Yet many leaders choose to ignore their weaknesses completely for the following two reasons:
1. We think our strengths are stronger than they are.
One primary reason leaders ignore their weaknesses is they overestimate their strengths. Overestimating your strengths is often synonymous with underestimating your weaknesses. A leader who overestimates his/her own strengths can unwisely ignore his/her weaknesses. The leader can shrug off the need to address certain leadership deficiencies because the leader assumes, “but I am so very strong in this area.” Having a higher view of oneself than one should always leads to foolish decision-making.
2. We hate to admit we are weak.
To address our weaknesses, we must first admit we have them, and we hate to admit we are weak. Pride keeps leaders from admitting their weaknesses and addressing them. Pride always hampers our effectiveness and our learning. But wise leaders admit their weaknesses, rely on others, and seek to grow and mature.
Of all leaders, Christian leaders should be the first to admit and address their weaknesses. Our faith is not for the strong, but for the weak. And we are all weak. We became Christians by recognizing our weakness, our inability to qualify ourselves to stand before God, and by relying on God for His mercy and grace. We continue in the faith by humbly depending on God’s strength, not by standing in our own. We live as Christians by walking in community with others who hold us up, who encourage us, and by refusing to live independently from others.
The cross has already shown us to be weak. Therefore, we can freely admit our weaknesses and seek to grow.
One of the challenges before all of us in striving to live in gospel-centered community is certainly our natural proclivity to stay in safe waters. So often we look like a group of snorkelers who are bunched up together peering into the deeper waters but hesitant to dive below.
Our hearts generate a myriad of justifications for why we stay on the surface. It feels more comfortable. Deeper waters present unpredictable challenges. We can’t breathe down there on our own. Control seems like something we possess as we float on top of the water.
We’re often told (including by me) that we should focus on the outcomes we want to achieve (for example, driving to a sales target). And we should. Usually.
But when we’re scared or intimidated or pursuing something so big that we don’t even really know where to begin, we need to focus on the process that will get to the outcome. A good process will guide you along the path to get you where you want to go, and you can follow a good process no matter what you’re feeling.
Anxiety does not create contentment. Nor is the contented person restless. Contentment is not grown by what one does or does not have. Contentment is knowing, by faith, that for those who seek the Lord this situation is precisely where and what He has for you. Learning contentment asks of the Lord, who sets the times and boundaries of men, “what do You have for me, even in this?”
We typically think about the summer as a time to pull back. To take a break. To rest up for what will be a busy fall. So we go to the beach, sleep late, and lounge around. Maybe we even shut down our Bible study groups for a while.
In other words, we play defense against the pressures of life. But what if, instead of playing defense this summer, we chose to play offense? What if we had a redemptive mindset toward the time we have rather than a defensive one?
In her book iGen, researcher Jean Twenge reports, “…56% more teens experienced a major depressive episode in 2015 than in 2010…and 60% more experienced severe impairment.” On college campuses, it’s not unusual for students to take a semester or a year off from school for mental health reasons, and both from what I’ve read and from what I’ve observed as I disciple and counsel ladies in our ministry, iGen increasingly struggles with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts and are overwhelmingly taking medication to address these issues.
Video of the Week: 4 Huge Distractions in Meetings and How to Fight Them
Podcast of the Week
One of my mentors, Brad Waggoner, has regularly quipped, “Most people struggle with self-awareness, so why would I think I am somehow different from everyone else?” He is right. Everyone struggles with self-awareness to a degree, and we are foolish if we think we are immune. Our lack of self-awareness in life and leadership is often referred to as our blind spots. I have been leading other leaders for a long time, watching them interact with their teams and with the team they serve on, and I’ve seen three common blind spots in leaders:
1. Many leaders talk longer than they realize.
Many leaders talk longer than they think they do. They can easily dominate meetings because of their convictions, their ideas, and the sheer amount of work to report. But by over-talking in meetings, leaders can unintentionally stifle the team. One practical way to combat the temptation to talk too much is to set a time for yourself and hold yourself accountable not to cross it.
2. Many leaders sound harsher than they mean.
Because leaders can underestimate the power of their position, they can sound harsher than they realize. Every word from the mouth of a leader is received with amplified impact, so leaders who bring sharp critiques to their teams must do so very carefully. If the leader thinks the rebuke is a “5,” the people likely hear it as an “8.” Wise leaders steward their words very carefully.
3. Many leaders change direction more than they know.
Leaders are often about new ideas, change, and vision. Because of that, leaders can err by constantly bringing new direction to the team. The team can sometimes feel as if they have yet to execute properly the last batch of ideas or see the fruit of the last direction before a leader brings a new direction. Effective leaders know that consistent direction over time is far better than constantly shifting the direction of the team.
Of course, there are other common blind spots, but these three can easily hamper a leader’s effectiveness. Blind spots can’t be corrected if the leader doesn’t know they exist. For blind spots to be corrected in a leader’s life, the leader must be in community and humbly listen to others whom the leader trusts.
I am honored to lead the Resources Division at LifeWay and serve with a team of leaders who are passionate to serve the Church in Her mission of making disciples. Each Wednesday, I share the heart behind one of the resources our team has developed and give an opportunity for you to register to win a free copy of the resource. This week’s resource is a ticket to the Main Day at Pipeline 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. Todd Adkins, our director of Leadership, wrote this blog.
Creating a church’s distinct culture is one of the most important but difficult aspects of leadership. Culture really comes down to shared behavior or values. We embed these shared values through Scripture, strategy, structure, systems, skills, and style.*
Each component correlates with our leadership pipeline framework. Leadership pipeline does not focus solely on top levels of leadership. Leadership pipeline is a long-term investment in a church’s most valuable resource: people. It provides a clear process of development for every volunteer, leader, coach, ministry director, or senior leader in your church. When these components are implemented, you create a culture that reproduces leaders at every level of your leadership pipeline.
Creating a culture for development begins with Scripture. Ephesians 4 clearly states the role of church leaders is to be equippers. Our job is to develop others. But consider passages like Matthew 28 that remind all believers to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples. Development is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of leadership level.
After establishing a conviction for development, you move into strategy. What’s your development process? Often what we call “training” is instructions to get someone started in a new role. We must shift to ongoing development that helps each person learn the role, then lead out, then multiply themselves in that role. You then know they’re ready for the next level of your leadership pipeline. If a person doesn’t want to advance, celebrate how they invest in and equip new leaders in their ministry role.
The next two phases are often difficult to implement: structure and systems. Your church may have a nice structure on paper, but in reality, your church operates in ministry silos. When we lack clarity and alignment, we create confusion for our people. The same is true for systems. Over time, churches drift toward complexity, not simplicity. We add new processes without evaluating or restructuring our current ones. Establishing a leadership pipeline creates clarity and alignment in your church’s language, leadership levels, and processes so your people understand where they are, their responsibilities, and their next step of development.
So how do you develop people? Through skills and style of training. You must identify core competencies required for every leadership level of your pipeline. For example, a small group leader and a parking team leader should be equipped in conflict management. Core competencies are universal, but skills also include role-specific skills unique to each ministry area.
Style is how you train and develop your people. We encourage flipping the classroom. In traditional training, people gather to learn from a church leader who is a “sage on stage.” In the flipped classroom, people watch training on a topic prior to the gathering time. Training is appropriate to each person’s level of competence, not the same for all. When the group gathers, they discuss their training, and the “sage on stage” becomes a “guide on the side,” allowing the group to process and grow together.
Recall again Paul’s command in Ephesians 4 to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” If we want to get serious about creating a culture of leadership development, we must do so through Scripture, strategy, structure, systems, skills, and style. Our legacy is not about what we do as leaders but those we develop. Let’s build an army to do just that.
*Adapted from Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 9-10.
In the Geiger house there is a moment on Father’s Day that is one of my favorite moments each year. Kaye started the tradition ten years ago when she gave me the “Daddy book,” a book each daughter gives me and adds to each year. They add pictures, list their favorite memories from the year, and write me an encouraging note. When they were babies and toddlers, Kaye chose the memories and the pictures, but as they got older they started filling out the book themselves. If our house were to ever be on fire, and I had 20 seconds to grab anything I could, I would grab the Daddy books (one from Eden and one from Evie). They remind me of the joy of being a father and of the special relationship I have with each daughter.
And they remind me of my relationship with God. When Kaye and I learned we were going to be parents, godly and wise people told me that being a parent would give me a new sense of awe and appreciation for God as my Father. They said, “having a child helps you understand, with greater depth, how much God loves you.” They were absolutely right. Being a dad for ten years has given me greater clarity on these four truths about God.
The love of the Father is intense.
Before my daughters were born, I knew that I would love them. I had no way of grasping just how intense my love for them would be. How they treat people, work hard, or walk in integrity causes me to be proud or disappointed, but it does not impact my love for them. My love is fixed on them because I am their father. Being a dad helps you better understand the beautiful truth that there is nothing you can ever do that will cause God to stop loving you.
The wisdom of the Father is unsearchable.
My kids don’t always know the good things I have planned for them. If I told them when they were five years old, for example, that the reason we were not spending money on something they wanted was so that I could set money aside for their college fund instead, the reasoning would have been incomprehensible for them. The ways of the Father are higher than our ways, and this is really good news for us. We don’t know what our Father has planned, and we don’t always understand what He is doing, but He is wise and He is good.
The discipline of the Father is gracious.
We discipline our daughters. Sometimes this means no television for a specific amount of time or no playing with friends. Sometimes it means a spanking. When the spanking is about to occur, in the laundry room away from anyone else, they often say, “Please give me grace.” They mean, of course, “please don’t spank me.” But I keep responding, “I am giving you grace. This is gracious. I am disciplining you because I love you and I am responsible to teach you.” Our Father disciplines us too, to mature us and develop us. His love for us motivates the discipline and it is for our good.
The Father’s commitment to provide is staggering.
I would do anything necessary to provide for my kids, to be sure they have their needs met. My commitment is strong, but it pales in comparison to His commitment to me (and to them). I am limited in my resources, but the Father is unlimited in His. I am imperfect in my love, but the Father is perfect in His. He will meet all our needs according to His riches in glory.